Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's all over until next year...

Are you exhausted too? Well now all that is left is the relaxing and the New Year celebrating! I hope everyone's holidays were peaceful, safe and full of fun. We had an excellent holiday. I got gifts to placate my 2 passions, cooking and knitting. And a few more things I can put candles in. I'm a big fan of candlelight during these long winter nights. I really learned to appreciate the beauty of the long winter night while spending many of them in Sweden. Everywhere there are tealights to twinkle in the dark. It's so peaceful. Funny I would find the darkness peaceful but I do. So here's to winter! We had a green Christmas day but now there is a nice little blanket of snow, another thing I find peaceful. And when the sun shines on the brilliant snow it really boosts the spirits. But I'll admit, it does look cold out there today. I think I'll stay in.... snuggle up with my knitting and maybe cook up a yummy dinner later!

Just so you know that even us expert cooks screw up, I'll share my turkey story with you. Due to the hustle and bustle, I forgot to take the bird out to defrost. I remembered on Christmas Eve. And while I didn't have a huge bird this year (about 13 pounds, 5.7 kg) it still required some time to defrost. So I left it out on the counter, not in the fridge. Part of the reason I hadn't taken it out earlier was I had absolutely no fridge space. Nada, as in - no way was another thing fitting in my fridge! I kept feeling the bird to see how the defrosting was going. I'm extremely aware of the 4 hour, 4-40 rule. This is the rule where nothing should sit out between 4 and 40 degrees for more than 4 hours. I turned the bird upside down once one end had defrosted enough so that the cold water from the bird would drip down the defrosted part. Just a side note, we had a ham in the fridge in case the turkey became in any way, questionable. So I had a back up plan (just by luck really, we were to have the ham for Boxing Day dinner).

So I kept an eye on the turkey and once it was defrosted on the outside I took it out of the packaging. It was still a little frozen inside but I was able to wiggle out the neck and the giblets. There was only the heart. I put the neck and heart aside in the fridge and added them later to the pan right before it went in the over. I salted the bird and put it in the roasting pan with lots of foil. As I mentioned, there was no room in my fridge so mister bird had to spend the night outside. Last year I had a covered pan so all I did was put something heavy on top to keep out the critters and I think I taped the lid on. This year I was using an open pan so I had to put the pan in the bbq to keep it safe. All night I dreamt about my bird making a run for it. Luckily the temperature cooperated and stayed just around freezing. When I brought the bird in the next day it had some surface freezing but at least I knew it was safe from the temperature danger zone.

I didn't have a rack to put the bird on in the pan so after rinsing the salt off, I put the bird on some celery, carrots and onion. This natural rack also added great flavor to the pan drippings which were later used for the gravy. You can do this for any roast or bird. Since I had a lack of fridge space, once we finished with our main meal we cut up the rest of the bird and put it in freezer bags. Most of it ended up in the freezer but we kept some out for munching and leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers, here is an awesome leftover sandwich. Smear a little dijon and mayo on once slice of bread and layer on some turkey. On another slice of bread smear on some leftover cranberry sauce and then layer some sliced brie cheese. Heat both slices of bread in a 325 degree oven until the cheese melts (about 5 - 10 minutes). Take it out of the oven and put the 2 slices of bread together to make a sandwich. It's very tasty!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Turkey Tip #6 - Great Gravy

Now this recipe is about the gravy, not the turkey but without great gravy, how good can a turkey really be?! This is not terribly complicated and will give you great results.

Okay, you've removed the turkey from the roasting pan. Now you should have a lot of great turkey drippings on the bottom of the pan. You are going to put that pan on the stove top over medium heat. Add 1 cup of riesling wine (or you can use brandy, I like the wine better because it tastes more subtle) and 1 cup of either the homemade broth you made the night before or 1 cup of the store bought broth. Let this all simmer for about 20 minutes. You are looking for the liquid to reduce. You should be able to look at the side of the pan and see where the liquid line has shrunk down the side by about 1/3. While that is simmering, take another cup of broth and add about 1/2 cup of flour, mix it until smooth. A whisk or putting it all in a jar and shaking it works well. Just DO NOT USE HOT BROTH. You'll have an explosion. Happened once when I was a kid.... Not pretty.

Turn down your pan on the stove to med low. Mix in your flour/broth into the pan. This is when a whisk is essential. Otherwise get your kids to all get spoons going in the pan! Pour slowly and mix vigorously as you add the flour/broth mix. Keep stirring until it starts to bubble again. You'll see how it thickens up pretty quickly. If it doesn't thicken up, mix more flour with broth and add it in. Sometimes it takes a little more flour if you have a lot of liquid you are trying to thicken!

Where are those mashed potatoes!?

Christmas Morning Strata

My Aunt had just asked me for this recipe that I made the last time she visited. It's quick, it's easy, it can be made the night before and it's nutricious. So I thought I'd share it with everyone. It's a great way to start any day but it really was originally called "Christmas Morning Strata" so try it over the holidays. I don't have a pic but you don't need to know how it's suppose to look, you really can't screw it up. I promise!

1C broccoli florets
5C ½ inch French bread cubes
2C shredded cheddar
1C cooked ham, cubed
3 beaten eggs
1 3/4C milk
2 tbsp finely chopped onions
1 tsp dry mustard
Dash of pepper

Place broccoli and 1 tbsp water in a microwave dish, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, drain
Layer half on the bread cubes in a greased 2 qt. casserole dish
Top with cheese, ham and broccoli
Top with remaining bread cubes
Mix eggs, milk, onion, mustard and pepper
Pour egg mixture over layers
At this point you can cover and chill for 24 hours
Uncover and bake at 325 for 1 hour or until a knife comes out clean
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Turkey Tip #5 - Resting the Bird

This is the single most important tip but it's the easiest one yet. You MUST let the turkey rest before you cut into it. I mentioned it before but it bears repeating, it's that important. Once you take the turkey out of the oven and confirm it is done but either jiggling the leg or testing the temp with a themometer, move it to a cutting board or serving tray. COVER IT TIGHTLY WITH FOIL. It will stay warm for quite a while so don't worry. Keep it this way for A MINIMUM OF 20 MINUTES or up to 45 minutes. This is the best way to prevent your turkey from drying out. All the juices redistribute through out the bird and stay moist. It's easy so do it.

I thought I'd provide a before and after shot!

Turkey Tip #4 - Easy Cornbread Stuffing

One week and it will all be over! Are you all ready? Don't panic. I'm still making gifts, the house isn't decorated or even clean yet and I do this as a living! By this time next week, it won't matter and all that will be left will be the relaxing, eating, drinking and spending time with family and friends. You know, the stuff that really matters! But before then, let's see if we can share a few more tips for a great Christmas dinner.

This is less about the turkey and more about the stuffing. I have posted my super easy cornbread stuffing before but it deserves a repeat. There are lots of fancy stuffing out there but this is simple and tastes delicious. As I mentioned earlier, I don't stuff mine in the bird, I cook it separately making it dressing, not stuffing. It just means the bird cooks a little quicker with less time to dry out. You can do it either way, it's up to you.

All I do for my cornbread stuffing is make some store bought packages of cornbread up ahead of time. I leave them uncovered on the counter to help them dry out a bit. If you can get store made cornbread or the cornbread bread cubes, go ahead. Just don't get the cornbread cubes already seasoned for stuffing. It will have tons of salt and it's better to season it yourself.

Break up the cornbread in a bowl. Toss in a finely chopped onion and some dried herbs. I use about 1 tbsp per package of cornbread mix or if you get the bag of cornbread cubes, use about 1/4 cup of dried herbs. You can use fresh herbs if you like but it isn't necessary. I use rosemary, thyme and sage or poultry seasoning. Melt some butter in the microwave. I usually start with about 2 tbsp. Add to the stuffing mix until you can get a bit to form a loss ball in your hand. Keep adding until you get this consistency.

I'll add the dish into the oven about an hour before the turkey is done. If I have to wait until the turkey is finished before putting the dish in the oven then I usually only need to cook it about 45 minutes if it's a big dish. Use a long flat pan like a lasagna dish if you are putting it in after, it will cook quicker. Remember to put some turkey drippings in the dish. I use my baster or a spoon and take some of the drippings out of the pan and drizzle them on the stuffing dish. Perfect.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Turkey Tip #3 - Preparing the Bird for the Oven and Cooking!

Lets talk about getting that bird ready to hit the heat. Many people still stuff their birds with stuffing. I stopped doing this a last year. One reason was the added length in cooking time required to get a stuffed bird cooked all the way through. This added time gives the white meat more opportunity to dry out. Definitely not a good thing. I was a little concerned as to how I would get the great turkey flavour into the stuffing, (which, when cooked outside the bird is called "dressing") but not to worry. I use my turkey baster to get the pan drippings out of the pan and onto the dressing either during the last hour of cooking if I am doing the dressing and the turkey in the oven at the same time or, if I have to do the dressing after the turkey because there simply isn't enough room for both, I siphon off some pan drippings when I take the turkey out and drizzle them over the dressing before it goes in the oven. I'll pass along my dressing recipe as a separate post.

Once you've rinsed off the salt coat from the night before, pat the turkey dry. Now it's time to get it ready for it's big day in the oven. I cut up some celery, onions, lemons and herbs to put inside both the body cavity and the neck cavity of the bird. The herbs I use are fresh thyme, rosemary and sage. If you don't have fresh use dried. You'll need dried in a minute anyway so if you want to save money and time, just buy dried. Cut the veggies into large 1 inch chunks. Before you stuff these goodies in the body cavity, check around the skin flaps and see if there are chunks of fat. If so, remove them. You will add your own moisture to the bird so you don't need these adding more grease to the mix.

Mix your dried herbs, thyme, rosemary, sage, summer savory, poultry seasoning, whatever, with a good amount of Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. I usually mix up about 1/2 cup of olive oil and a squeeze of half a lemon with about 2 tbsp of dried herbs. This is your basting mix. Spread it all over the turkey before it goes in the oven. You will use this to baste the bird every 20 to 30 minutes while cooking.

We have one more important step. Keeping the breast meat moist. The brining you did the night before will help but it won't be enough. Some people put cheesecloth over the breast meat at the beginning of cooking, some put bacon strips over the breast meat. I put butter mixed with herbs under the skin. Not a lot! For this 22 pound bird I used about 4 tablespoons. I have a 12.5 pound bird for Christmas dinner and I will only use 2 tablespoons for it. Mix the butter with the herbs and shove it under the skin. Make room between the skin and meat before you go in with the butter. It's easier if you have the space ready. This and basting will keep your meat moist!

And now - to the oven. I start mine at 425 for the first 30 minutes, uncovered. Then I baste, reduce the heat to 350 and tent foil over the bird. I cook it until the meat themometer says 180 degrees or until a leg gets loose. I usually do the leg method as I don't always have a themometer handy. Jiggle the leg, if it starts to give way from the body easily, it's done! And there should be no bloody juices coming from the bird. DO NOT CUT INTO THE BIRD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The meat must rest for at least 20 minutes after you take it out of the oven otherwise you will open it up, let all the juices out and end up with a dry bird. Blah!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turkey Tip #2 - Prep the Bird!

Here is my next turkey tip. How to prep the bird properly. DO THIS THE DAY BEFORE!! This is extremely important and can make the difference between a juicy bird and a dry bird. So here goes.

First, be sure to fully defrost your bird in the fridge. It takes about a day for every 5 pounds or 2 kilograms. I put our 22 pound turkey in the fridge on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening when I took it out to brine it (to be explained shortly), it was still frozen on the inside. Luckily it wasn't frozen solid so I was able to wiggle the neck, tail (also known around here as the pope's nose... my family is from Newfoundland, I can't explain it) and giblet packet out. It is imperative that you check the inside of the bird for these things. You don't want to cook the bird with these inside!!! My mom did this once. Yes we all have our turkey cooking horror stories.

You have some options as to what to do with the neck, tail and giblets. The liver should be separated from the group. It makes gravy or broth bitter. It looks just like a human liver, except much smaller, so it is easy to identify. Either cook the liver separately or toss it. The rest of the inside treasures can either be made into a broth that you will later use in the gravy or just tossed in the pan with the turkey to flavor the drippings. I support either choice! First let me explain brining and then I'll tell you about the broth. Both of these things should be done the night before.

There are 2 types of brining, wet and dry. I use the dry method simply because I do not have a container big enough to soak a big turkey in salt water overnight. And I find dry brining really simple so that is what I am going to focus on here. You can find lots of info about wet brining on the net, try the food network or Martha.

Dry brining is simple. After you empty out the giblets, give the bird a wash with cold water and pat dry, inside and out. Now take either some kosher salt (my preference) or regular table salt and coat the outside and sprinkle a lot on the inside in both the body cavity and the neck cavity. You want this bird well coated!

This is the bird the next day after a night of partying it up in its salt suit. Attractive, isn't it?!

Okay, on to the other step you should do the night before if you feel so inclined. The broth. The last 2 years I have made a broth out of the inside treasure collection, as opposed to just putting them in the pan with the turkey to add to the drippings flavour. It really is up to you. I'll share my whole turkey gravy recipe with you later. It is awesome, if I do say so myself!

In a pot, add some chopped onions, carrots and celery. This is the classic French flavour base known as mirepoix that is in all soup broths and stocks. Don't worry about the size or bother peeling the carrots, you are going to toss all this out after the broth is made. Add the inside treasure collection, except the LIVER to the pot. I also add a can of low sodium chicken broth. Add some herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage to the pot. Simmer gently until the pot reduces by about 1/3. Drain out everything but the liquid and ta da! You have broth! If you don't have time or energy, don't sweat it, just skip this step and use some can or box of broth tomorrow when you make gravy. It's the holidays! Relax, have a cocktail, chat with your guests. Don't stress yourself!

And about the sodium content. While I advocate strongly to reduce the salt in your diet, keep in mind that a turkey has no sodium to start with. The amount added by the salt brine in not huge and will result in less salting at the table by your dinner companions. And you will note, I didn't add any to the broth. I can add it later to taste when I make the gravy. After coming back from a week of eating out and a big turkey dinner, Tim's blood pressure is still fine. It's the big picture here, not one meal. But you'll see, I don't over do the salt during the rest of the turkey prep because it simple doesn't need it.

As always, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Turkey Tip #1 - Buying the Right Size!!

I'm back from the Big Apple! It is always great to see the city as it prepares for the holiday season.

The official lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center is this week! It's quite a sight to behold. Imagine, that tree was in someone's yard just a couple of weeks ago! It was discovered by helicopter. And for those of you concerned about the environment, it was getting old and would have soon fallen on it's own so the owners knew they were going to have to cut it down in the next year to avoid serious property damage. It's over 100 years old.

Saks was testing their lights for their official unveiling later that night. It's a beautiful display, don't you things?! And Cartier was not to be outdone by any of their neighbors.

Traveling around the holidays always puts me in the spirit. Even airports decorated for Christmas seem pleasant.

Okay, on to the bird. Thanksgiving dinner went well and I'll be sharing more tips, recipes and pics in the days to come. And then there will be recipes for the leftovers. So stay tuned. But today's tip is about size. Turkey's are one of the many things in life where size matters. Bigger isn't always better! I wrangled a 22 pound turkey for 7 people. It's kind of sad when the friends are gone but the leftovers linger... and linger... and linger. So what size bird should you buy? The rule is 2 pounds per person or just under 1 kilogram per person. This will leave you with leftovers but just enough for some sandwiches or a soup. If you want more leftovers, I wouldn't get more than 3 pounds per person or about 1.3 kilograms per person. Leftover turkey does freeze well and lots of recipes call for cooked turkey or chicken which make a great use for these leftovers. But be sure to wrap them up in serving sizes or meal sizes separately. One big block of turkey isn't going to do you much good when you only need a cup. And be sure to mark the freezer package with the name, amount (weight or size) and date. You'll be grateful when you are standing at your freezer door while juggling frozen packages as your fingers get frostbitten!

If you don't want leftovers, get about 1 1/2 pounds per person or about 6oo grams per person. If you aren't feeding a large crowd, consider a large chicken or just a turkey breast but be sure to follow my tips for keeping the meat moist (coming up in the next few days), even if you are cooking these smaller meals. I learned the hard way so you don't have to!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Healthy Fried Chicken

I can chew! Whew! I've had a Caesar salad the last 2 evenings just because I could! I made up some of my low far creamy Caesar dressing (see below). The first night I sauteed a piece of Salmon to go with it and last night I added in some grilled chicken. I still have to let the croutons get a little soggy in the dressing but I don't mind. It's better than pureed!

Tomorrow we had south for the American Thanksgiving. This is the 8th year in a row I have made the trip to cook a bird for some displaced Canadians on one of the best holiday's of the year. It is the single most relaxing weekend of the year for me even though I cook the whole Thanksgiving day dinner. Last year was my best dinner ever. I made notes and saved the recipes I used for inspiration. So I'm looking to make a repeat. Expect a lot of tips for a great holiday dinner over the next couple of weeks. You'll be all set for Christmas!

Here is a recipe to try now. Sorry no picture but it was a hit with my folks who were in town when I served it.

Healthy Fried Chicken
4 Chicken breasts, thighs or legs with the bone in but the skin removed. (I cut the breasts in half because they are usually so large)
1 cup Buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
(experiment with your spice and herb mixtures, come up with your own special homemade fried chicken!)
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil of your choice.

Preheat oven to 400
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat with the 2 tbsp of oil.
Beat the egg and add it to the buttermilk in a shallow dish.
Combine the flour and cornmeal in another shallow dish.
Dip the chicken in the buttermilk mixture and then the flour mixture.
Cook in the pain until lightly browned on all sides.
Place in a baking sheet and cook in the oven about 20 minutes for breasts and about 30 mintues for legs and thighs. Remember to let it sit for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute and to prevent it from getting dried out the minute you cut into it. Take it off the pan and put it on a room temp dish. But don't cover it or you will lose the crispiness on the skin.

It's quite tasty! Simply place any leftover chicken on a plate in the fridge until cool, then cover and you'll keep the skin crispy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Dinner Selections

Just thought I'd share a pic of my dining choices for today. The dish to the front left is a piece of donair pizza. Beside it is some perogies with sour cream and in the back is a chicken and spinach curry with mashed potatoes which was surprisingly good and easy for me to eat. Welcome to my world. Tomorrow I'm pureeing a steak. Wish me luck!

The Necessity of Chewing

As I mentioned I have had gum surgery lately. While it has put a damper on my cooking desires, my appetite is still good. Problem is that the thought of eating is exhausting. Everything must be pureed and then it takes forever to gnaw my way through a meal. Not really a meal, more like a snack. So by the time I'm done, I've managed to only get down half of a normal serving and then I'm hungry again in a couple of hours! When you can't chew and the roof of your mouth is covered in plastic (it would be so much worse to try and eat without the protection, the roof of my mouth is full of stitches...) it is impossible to taste anything. As I write this I am trying to gnaw on what would amount to one slice of donair pizza. When you can't chew you really want big taste. Tonight I'm going to make a curry chicken. Yes, it will be pureed but hopefully the big taste will come through. So to everyone out there who can chew... CHEERS! You don't know how good you've got it!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pastelli's Restaurant Review

I'm sorry to say I haven't been blogging much lately. This week I had gum surgery so I haven't felt up to doing to much. And the only thing going on in my kitchen is the pureeing of food from my freezer. Once again I am grateful that I freeze lots of leftovers. I haven't been in the mood to cook but we still have lots of healthy options right in the freezer. It's hard to be inspired to cook when all you are going to do is puree the food and swallow it. I'll be glad when I can chew again! And all this is after Tim having his wisdom teeth removed a month ago and then he was on pureed food. Now he has an infection so we have matching swollen faces at the same time....

Before my surgery, we had gone to Pastalli's. I'm not sure how long the Italian restaurant has been open but it was one of the first restaurants I went to when I first moved to Moncton over 7 years ago. And not once in the past 7+ years have I left there disappointed!

This visit we had some special appetizers and wine pairings put on the menu in honour of the wine festival that occurs here in Moncton annually. There is nothing quite as interesting as the proper pairing of food and wine. I had a fresh mozzarella salad with a bold Italian red wine while Tim had a spinach and goat cheese wrap with a nice French Sauvignon Blanc. We were both pleased with our selections. Although mine had a balsamic glaze that was way too thick but it was delicious anyway.

Since I had ordered an appetizer, I opted for a lighter main course. I have a terrible habit of ordering too much food. I went with the Scampi alla Romano. Basically shrimp and pasta in a garlic sauce. There may have been too much garlic but since I love garlic, I enjoyed it. Tim had the lamb chops and they were cooked to perfection. I brought home my leftover pasta and it filled the fridge with a garlic smell. I enjoyed it every time I opened the fridge door. It didn't last past lunchtime the next day...

Even when I look at the small complaints I may have with a dish at Pastalli's, the overall experience makes me glad I spent my entertainment dollar there. Not everything you have when you go out may be exactly as you expect but when you can walk away from the experience with a general feeling of pleasure, then that is an evening well spent!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Breakfast Pizza

Yes, you heard right. Pizza for breakfast is a fantastic idea. I usually make it for Christmas morning, it taste that good. But it is easy enough for anytime and leftovers make a great quick breakfast meal when your on the run!

First use either the flatbread pizza crusts or the refridgerator dough. Pre-cook the dough as the package directs. You can use a thin layer of dijon mustard (about a tbsp) if you want or you can leave it out. The one I made this morning didn't have any dijon. Layer on your toppings such as, back bacon, proscuitto, bacon, ham, pancetta, smoked salmon, breakfast sausage, etc. And add some veggies, onions, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, even spinach. Then drizzle on your eggs. You will need to bake this pizza on a cookie sheet or pizza pan... the eggs will often seep over the edge. Finally pick your cheese. I've used Oka, gruyere, swiss, cheddar, emmenthal. Bake until golden or follow the instructions for your crust.

This morning we had shallots, tomatoes, proscuitto, pancetta, eggs and gruyere. It was delish! And we have leftovers to grab tomorrow morning or for a snack later today.

Harvest Dinner

Last night was the first meeting of our dinner club. It was a nice evening. Very relaxing. And we weren't hungover this morning! I did the main course. I went with a stuffed roast beef, potato galettes, butternut squash ragout and chianti glazed beets.

Overall I was not impressed with my performance. The roast beef was more on the medium side then the rare side. I used my meat themometer but I still went a little too long. The potato galette was good. I made individual ones but I didn't fill up the dishes enough so when they cooked down the dish was only half full in the end. I filled them to the top but I should have gone over. A potato galette is simply some shallots sauteed in olive oil with some fresh chopped thyme tossed with some thinly sliced potatoes. I used my mandoline to make the potato slices. Layer it in a round dish with cheese between each layer. I used parmesan and gruyere. It's that simple! Bake it in the oven for 45 minutes or so until golden. It was my favorite part of the meal.

The butternut squash ragout had mushrooms (I used cremini) and brussel sprouts done in a white wine sauce. It was a weak sauce for such strong tasting veggies. The chianti glaze on the beets also was weak. I should have just oven roasted the beets and butternut squash, tossing them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil then about half way through, added in the brussel sprouts and mushrooms. Oven roasting veggies brings out the sweetness and is simple. Instead I had to try and get complicated and it didn't taste any better... One day I'll learn!

The next dinner club I will be doing the dessert. I don't usually make too much of a fuss about dessert which is why a dinner club is so much fun, you get to focus on your dish since you only have the one. I think I'm going to do a creme brulee. I have the torch and the right dishes. And I'll serve it with some Bailey's. We now have them in the different flavours and they will pair beautifully with a nice creme brulee!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Best Low Fat Caesar Salad Dressing Ever!

Here is my recipe for low fat Caesar salad dressing. It uses no fat!

Mix all of these in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender (braun stick blender).

2 large cloves of ROASTED garlic (I bring home 3 heads at a time, roast them in a 350 oven for 45 mintues with the tops cut off and then seperate the cloves and freeze them in a ziplock bag, then I have roasted garlic whenever I want it!)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or balsamic, depends on your taste)
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (one tube lasts me a year)
2 tbsp grated parmesan (just throw in a 1 inch cube cut up a bit, the blender or processor will take care of the rest)
1/2 cup fat free plain yogurt
2 tbsp - 1/4 cup of low fat sour cream (if I have it on hand)

If I want to make it southwestern style and give it a little heat then I'll add a few shots of tabassco sauce.

I'll mix this with some mayo to make a sauce to put on salmon (it was serious delicious) and I add a shot of cayenne pepper just to make the heat stand up to the bold taste of the salmon.

I always make this a few hours ahead, if not a whole day ahead, so the flavours can really come together. I keep the leftovers in the fridge for about 5 days.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Baked Ziti

Feel like swimming in pasta and sauce?!

The last time we were in the US, we bought a box of ziti. They were on sale for $1 each! And there were a bunch of different shapes we never see around here. If you can't find ziti then penne also does beautifully in this dish but any medium shape will work.

This dish is deadly easy, freezes well and doubles up no problem. Just boil your pasta (the whole box or bag unless it's mumbo jumbo size) and drain. In a large bowl mix a large container of light ricotta (or low fat cottage cheese if that's all you can find), about 2 cups of grated mozza and about 1 cup of grated parmesan, romano or asiago. Add a jar of sauce. Mix it all up, stir in the pasta, pour it in a greased 8 x13 inch casserole or lasagna dish and your are ready to bake. I like to sprinkle another 1/2 or so of mozza on top. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes uncovered until is nice and bubbly. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

You can easily up the veggie content of this meal. I used some leftover broccoli, fennel and yellow pepper. But if you don't have any leftover veggies laying around, try adding a box of defrosted frozen spinach or chopped broccoli.

You can prep this one the night before and just take it out of the fridge, pop it into the oven as soon as you turn it on. While the oven is preheating, the dish is coming up to temperature. You will most likely need to the full 45 minutes because of the time the dish had to warm up before cooking commenced. It's still all good!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thai Chicken Curry Crock Pot

I made a super-dee-duper dinner tonight. It's got a few ingredients you wouldn't expect but it makes a great dish.

In your crock pot mix the following:
1 cup of medium salsa
1/3 cup of peanut butter
2 tbsp of reduced sodium soya sauce
2 tbsp of honey or brown sugar
2 tbsp of orange juice
1 tbsp of minced ginger (I keep the bottled stuff on hand, much easier)

Toss in 12 chicken thighs and make sure they are coated. Cook on Low for 8 hours or hi for about 4-5 hours. I add in some veggies in the last hour. Tonight I used Cauliflower and peas but you can use diced carrots, snow peas, peppers, bean sprouts. It's a thai dish so think thai veggies. I served mine with rice noodles but you can use rice. You can also sprinkle on some green onions and/or chopped peanuts before serving but I always forget.

This recipe comes from the "Eat, Shrink and Be Merry" cookbook authors. They now run a regular article in Readers Digest with some excellent recipes. All healthy and I've never had one I didn't love. They also have 2 other cookbooks, "Looneyspoons" and "Crazy Plates". Pick any of them up if you see them, they are a must have for any cookbook collection!

Quick Chicken Skillet Dinner....and a cookbook recommendation.

Here is a super yummy quick dinner idea. I've been making this one for years and it still pleases my palatte.

1 tbsp oil or nonstick spray
400-500 grams or around 1 lbs of boneless chicken breast or thighs
3 large cloves of garlic, minced (I use the jar stuff, why easier!)
2 large onions, chopped
1 19 oz/540 ml can of stewed tomatoes
2 medium zucchini- sliced
1 red or green pepper, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or you can use 1 1/2 tsp of italian seasoning in place of the thyme and rosemary)
1/2 cup of red wine (optional)

Heat a big frying pan over medium high heat with the oil or spray in it.
Brown the chicken then add the onions and garlic and saute for another 3 minutes.
Toss in everything else and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium low.
Let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove lid, add wine and let simmer until the liquid has reduced.

Serve over rice, pasta or even mashed potatoes. This is a variation on a recipe I got off the back of a can of stewed tomatoes. Excellent!

If you buy frozen chicken breasts in bulk, watch that they aren't already seasoned or be aware and don't salt them before cooking. Seasoned means "salted"!

I'd like to make a recommendation for one of my favorite cookbooks. It can be hard to find but keep your eyes out in those second hand bins or discount bins. I had to buy my copy at amazon second hand. My mom has a copy and it is the greatest. Healthy and simple meals. I give it a "10"!! It's published by the people at Prevention and worth the effort to find.

Stuffed Potatoes - as a meal!

Here is a seriously overlooked meal idea. The stuffed potato. It's low fat, nutritious,inexpensive and quick! I poke some holes in mine with a fork and then toss them in the microwave for 3 minutes per potato. I cook one potato per person. You can prep the stuffing mix while you wait for the potatoes. The stuffing mix is only limited by your imagination. I used broccoli, cheese, a little bacon, garlic and onion powder, sour cream and buttermilk. I also had some fresh chives so I chopped them up and added them in. I scooped out the inside of the potato and mixed it with everything else, scooped it back into the potato then cooked it in the oven for 20 minutes until the top was starting to brown at 375.

Add a salad and this is a great meal. Or use the potato as a side and bake a boneless chicken breast in the same oven as the potatoes!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Greek Pasta and Ground Meat

This meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare and another 25 in the oven but the great thing is that you can double the recipe and freeze half of it for another meal! It's originally a weight watchers recipe and is worth 6 points for anyone counting. It's a one dish meal. Everything you need for a balanced meal is in the one dish!

1/2 lb (approximately 230 grams) of pasta. The recipe calls for orzo but I used orzo and tubetti and I have a friend who uses rotini. So it's up to you, whatever you have on hand will do.
6 ounces of ground meat. This is why I doubled the recipe, it's hard to bring home just 6 ounces of meat...Usually its around a pound which is 16 ounces. The recipe calls for lamb which I had so I used it. My friend makes it with beef but you could use chicken or turkey or even pork. Any of them would work here.
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced (I keep the bottled stuff on hand, it's a real time saver)
1/4 cup chopped fennel. Not everyone likes fennel or even knows what it is but this is a great recipe to get to know it but if you would rather use another veggie then I would recommend either 1/2 a package of frozen spinach or 2 cups of fresh spinach. Broccoli would also work well here. But those are just the ones I like, you'll have to come up with your own favorite substitutions.
1 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 (14 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp of tomato paste. (I used 3/4 of a small can of tomato paste for a double recipe. You can freeze the rest of the can if you can't find tomato paste in the tube. The tube is so convenient, you can squirt out just the amount you need!)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 ounces light feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Spray an 8 inch square baking dish with nonstick spray and preheat the oven to 350.

Cook Pasta as per directions on box. Drain and put in a large bowl.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown and break up the ground meat. Add it to the bowl.

Add the onion, fennel, garlic, mint and oregano to the skillet and cook until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato, tomato paste and cinnamon and cook until thickened, about 6 minutes.

Add the skillet mixture to the bowl. Toss in the feta and mix it all well. Pour it into the baking dish and sprinkle with the parmesan.

Bake for 25 minutes. Low fat, low sodium and delicious!

Want to take it to another level? Think about changing the herb/cheese/veggie combo to create other flavours. For example, Basil, oregano and thyme with fontina and provolone with zucchini and mushrooms would make a great Italian dish! It's only limited by your imagination.

Clam Chowder (or Fish or Seafood...)

Here is a great recipe for a cold fall evening. It's super simple, can be modified and totally delicious. I serve it with a salad and the meal is complete. Serves 4

2 slices of bacon (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, finely diced
1 can of clams OR 200g of fish fillets OR 200 g (around 1/2 lb) of seafood - shrimp, scallops, mussels
1/4 tsp liquid smoke (in your regular grocery aisle)
1/2 tsp oil, salt free marg or salt free butter
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 can of fat free evaporated milk or 1 1/2 cups of skim milk with 2 tbsp of corn starch added.

Heat the 1/4 tsp of the oil, margarine or butter in a saucepan over med heat. Add the bacon if using and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon and let it sit on a paper towel while you prepare the rest.

Add remaining oil. margarine or butter, reduce the heat to medium-low and saute the onions, careful not to brown them, just soften them.
Add the potatoes and enough water just to cover them. You can use chicken, veggie or seafood broth if you want but water will work just fine. Simmer the potatoes for 15 minutes.
Add the clams, fish or seafood. Heat until just cooked through, the clams are already cooked so just heat them through, about 2 minutes. The fish or seafood will take about 5 minutes.
Add the milk and cook until thickened if using the cornstarch, otherwise just heat through.

The liquid smoke is a great thing. It adds a great bacon flavour to many dishes without the fat or salt. I've had the same bottle for years, it keeps well in the cupboard.

You can leave the potatoes unpeeled if you like. We sometimes do. I make chowder all the time. It's a real maritime tradition!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Curry Chili - Super Easy!

Looking for something quick, inexpensive and healthy? I gotcha covered. I used to call this dish bean burger stew but then I realized it really is a quick curry chili. Here is the ingredient list:

1 pound of extra lean ground beef
1 14 oz (398 ml) can of no salt added pinto beans (if you are watching your sodium level)
1 14 oz (398 ml) can of no salt added tomato sauce
1 green pepper chopped
1 onion chopped or 2 tsp of onion powder
2 cloves of minced garlic or 2 tsp of garlic powder
3 tsp curry powder.
3-5 cups of veggies (I used Cauliflower but spinach or peas or a combination would work well)

Spray frying pan with non-stick spray
Heat to medium-high
Saute onions and peppers until soft
add garlic and cook for another minute
add and break up beef, saute for 5 minutes
add in beans, tomato sauce, curry and veggies
simmer until veggies are tender and serve (2 - 10 minutes depending on the veggie you added)
but this can sit on your stove for up to an hour on low if you aren't ready to eat right away.

I did this in less than 30 minutes with nothing prepared before hand, I even had to wash my veggies and I had to cut up fresh cauliflower. Frozen veggies would work really well here.

You could certainly get more creative. If you have authentic Indian spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamon, etc., you could make your own spice blend, just toast up any whole spices before grinding. And if that were the case, I would use ground lamb. It would stand up well to the intensity of the fresh spice mixture.

Okay, this is just too funny! Are you ready for Halloween?!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fall Pics

These were suppose to go with the last post.

Fall at Last.

Today is one of those first real days of Fall. It’s my favorite season. Some think of the new year as a time of new beginnings but for me it’s Fall. Even though I haven’t been in school in, oh, let’s just say, a long time, it’s still the beginning of a new year for me. Fall means no longer sweating after you shower. Fall means getting to stop shaving everything all the time! Fall means no longer having to water and deadhead those damn flowers. Fall means boots; long sexy ones that make you feel like Tina Sinatra knew what she was talking about. And Fall means that Winter is just around the corner. And I really love winter! Winter is an excuse to snuggle down under the covers a little longer. Hats and scarves…. Oh boy! But let’s get through Fall first.

The colours of the leaves always amaze me, year after year. How can anything be so beautiful? For someone who is a “cool” colour tone herself, you wouldn’t think I would love the shades of Fall so much. The burnt umber, the yellow mums, orange pumpkins, the burgundy, red and flame orange of the leaves. Somehow the colours of the summer flowers pale in comparison. It’s warmth everywhere even as you start to see your breath.

And the smells of Fall. Pumpkin spice, vanilla, apple pies… and now that the windows are closed you can light all those scented candles and capture the scent indoors. And speaking of candles, how about those shorter days and longer night? Fall is the time to pull out all those sparkling candleholders and lighting them up. Those red wines that didn’t really go with summer’s warm evenings now sound like a great idea. Soups and stews make a reappearance after summer hibernation. Mmm, beef stew, chili, pea soup, chowders! Wow, I think I just planned the perfect evening. Light the pumpkin spice candles, put some plain tealights in all the holders (they tend to be safest), Get a pot of soup on the stove, open a bottle of good red wine and snuggle in for a romantic evening at home!

Maybe that’s why I like Fall so much… I associate the long dark evenings with romance. Curling up with the one you love (or even just lust after a little) with the twinkle of the candlelight in the background. Slap on some Jazz and it’s perfect. See it’s hard to do that in the heat of summer. Snuggling is less than sexy as you sweat like a rutting pig. And it’s too easy for me to get really drunk on white wine to stay sensible, let alone sexy for long. And all that flesh…it’s all out there. All having to be maintained…. In Fall you don’t have to worry nearly so much because candlelight does wonderful things to cellulite. It glistens in the glow of the flames. And the red wine makes you seem that much sexier without becoming completely stupid, well hopefully. Depends on your drink of choice but you get my drift. And Fall means being cool enough to enjoy Bailey’s Irish Cream again! Now that’s perfect. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Happy Turkey Day!!

Let's talk turkey. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love it so much, I do it twice each year, once for the Canadian Thanksgiving and then again for the American Thanksgiving. How's that for commitment?!

This year it was just myself, Tim and his son so I only cooked a turkey breast half. Now if you've been paying attention you'll remember that I cook low sodium. It's hard to leave salt out of a good turkey dinner. Especially when I find the best way to ensure a turkey is moist is to brine it. This is a crucial technique. You can baste until the cows come home but nothing will give you the moisture that brining does. There are 2 different ways to brine. One is to soak the bird in a water and salt solution for at least 24 hours. I find this difficult because I'm usually wrangling a pretty big bird. So I go for brining method number 2. I rub it in salt and let it sit over night. Then I rinse it off, pat it dry and we're good to go. This year I didn't do it... and the turkey was way too dry.

My nephew told me about an interesting cooking method he heard of, steaming. I've never steamed meat, let alone a whole turkey but it may be the low sodium solution I'm looking for. Like I mentioned, today I only did a half of a turkey breast (it really was enough meat for the three of us and I still have leftovers) and I was tempted to try it but I didn't. I do have some turkey thighs that I might try it with soon. Anyone ever steamed their turkey? I'd love to hear of some real life experiences with it.

The highlight of today's meal was the cornbread stuffing. I love cornbread stuffing so much that we never have bread stuffing anymore. I had some maple corn muffins I had made the week before last in the freezer. But often I just make one or two cornbread mixes up a couple of days before Thanksgiving to allow it to start to dry out. Then I just add some finely chopped onions, summer savory or sage and some melted butter. If I don't put it in the bird, I use some of the turkey drippings and mix it in during the cooking process to get a nicer flavor. It's a nice change from the ordinary.

Is it my imagination or do all my food pics lately look the same?!?!

Quiche me you fool!

Picture of this mornings quick quiche!

Ah the joy of weekend brunch...

I love a late breakfast on the weekend. I like to come up with something yummy that brings the whole family to the table, something that may even require a nap afterwards. And it doesn't require big grocery list, a lot of planning or a lot of prep work. I've been known to take the leftovers from dinner the night before, add some eggs and call it breakfast. Leftover roast chicken, broccoli and potatoes? Perfect. Chop them up, put them in a casserole dish, pour some eggs over and bake it for 20- 30 minutes at 350 degrees and you've got a great brunch. Toss in some cheese with the mixture before you bake it and you have a delectable delight!

Even if you just have some leftover steak and onions, great that'll work! Add some cheddar, even throw in some frozen veggies to make it a complete meal and you'll be impressed with the results. Even leftover seafood works (if you aren't too hungover from the night before). Shrimp, scallops or salmon make a fantastic breakfast bake! Spinach works well here or just go with some herbs. I tend to stay away from too much cheese with seafood. It just doesn't need it. But some cream cheese or a flavored soft spreadable cheese mixed in with the eggs adds a nice punch.

You can make these concoctions as either a quiche or scrambled eggs. And you don't have to add everything from the night before. Roasted beets with your steak and eggs may not be for everyone.

This morning I made a Ham and Spinach quiche. Oh, when I say "quiche" I mean an egg pie, there is no shell involved. It saves on fat and calories but if you want to use a frozen one or want to make one, go right ahead. I won't tell you not to!

For this mornings dish I used a slice of diced ham (this is an example of how to incorporate a high sodium food into your diet without having a huge portion but still getting the taste), some frozen spinach (you can get the chopped kind frozen in nuggets from Sobey's, it's really useful when you don't need a whole package), some Jarlsberg and some swiss cheese, a little herb and garlic seasoning and some onion powder mixed in with the eggs. It took me exactly 5 minutes to make this dish. 30 minutes in the oven at 350 and breakfast is ready! And here's the real kicker.... we'll have leftovers for quick breakfasts during the week. How awesome is that?!

Calactus Review (Vegetarian can be awesome!)

So I haven't really spoken much about restaurants here in my blog. One of the reasons is that I believe if you don't have anything nice to say, then you shouldn't say anything at all. I find a lot of places make heavy, flavorless, overly salty food and I often leave disappointed that I wasted my entertainment dollar on a meal I didn't enjoy... Although I must say, there are a few chain restaurants around that, while having heavy meals, have been flavourful and a decent experience for my entertaining dollar, which is a surprise for me because I'm a big fan of local ingredients made fresh. But I want to talk about my most pleasant surprise as of late.... Calactus! If you haven't been, you need to go. Bring along your 'Earth Muffin' side and an open mind. This place respects the earth and your body, even if you don't. They do things with vegetarian cuisine that make me seriously contemplate a vegetarian lifestyle. Meat?! Who needs it?! This is the stuff of a foodie's dreams.

I've been there twice so far and both times were divine. They have a full menu of coffee and teas to make your lunchtime experience complete. And they have a nice little wine list to make your dinner a truly grown-up experience, all organic of course. The first time I had the daily special, the Mustafa Melt. It was amazing. Flavors that you would never think of putting together... This chef needs to put out a cookbook! The second time I had a wrap type dish off the menu. Again I was impressed. I took Tim there for dinner for my second visit. He too was quite impressed. And he didn't have to feel guilty about blowing his healthy eating regime. What a treat!

We even had a vegetarian parfait with tofu cream. It was good! And I'm not a big tofu fan. I'm still developing my taste for it. But this dessert was fabulous.

So go to Calactus and have a delicious dinner or lunch. And you won't even have to feel guilty about a great meal out!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stir Fry...anything!

First I'd like to say that I've turned off the "comment moderation". I was having a problem with an automatically generated comment maker! After a few rejected comments, it seemed to have stopped. So I apologize for any inconvenience. Comment away! I enjoy the feedback.

Let's talk about stir fry. Everyone assumes you have to do it Chinese or Asian style but I'm here to tell you that's just not true. I use my wok style pan for all sorts of things. You can use a lot of the same base ingredients but just by changing the seasonings, you can change the flavor. And it doesn't take much.

A good stir fry consists of meat, chicken, fish or tofu, sauteed over medium high heat (if you have a non-stick pan). Add in some onions and garlic, maybe some ginger. Remove and throw in your veggie combo. Add some sauce and/or seasonings, return the meat, chicken, fish or tofu to the pan to combine and you're done!

Okay so think about it, the right combo of meat, chicken, fish or tofu with veggies and the right seasoning and you can go with a totally different flavor! I did a nice Greek version the other night. I used chicken, onions, garlic and some of my homemade Greek salt free seasoning for the first saute. (You can use store bought seasoning but if you are watching your sodium, use it sparingly) I used green and yellow zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, green pepper and mushrooms. I was going to use spinach and tomatoes and that would have been it but I had some veggies to use up. For the sauce I used yogurt with a squirt of lemon juice, some dried oregano and a good bit of crumbled feta. Voila! We had Greek stir fry and it was awesome. I served it over brown rice because that is what I had on hand but we could have used a pita bread or even potatoes.

So think your favorite flavors and stir fry them. It's a quick method of cooking that is pretty darn healthy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I've been slack...

Okay, I've been really slack about sharing recipes lately. Mostly because I've been creating quick throw togethers and I haven't been photographing them. And let's face it, this site is way more interesting with pictures...

I did make some beautiful Halibut steaks on the weekend. I marinated them just for a couple of hours in olive oil, lemon juice and lemon pepper seasoning and a bit of minced garlic and chopped shallots. I BBQed them about 7 minutes per side over medium heat and they were perfect. What a taste! I forget how much I love Halibut. I served them on grilled zucchini which was tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and italian seasoning. Yum!

I also did a Curry Beef Stew. It was a nice alternative to traditional stew even though it had most of the same ingredients.

1 plb of stew meat
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 turnip, cut into cubes
2 large carrots, diced
low sodium beef broth
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp tumeric
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of ginger minced or 1/2 tbsp of the bottled stuff.
and 2 squeezes of tomato paste (I get it in the tube but you could add a whole small can if you want)

I sauted the meat, onions, garlic and ginger. And then tossed everything in the crock pot and let it simmer all day. Right before serving I stir in 2 cups of yogurt. Make sure it doesn't boil! And I serve the stew on top of mashed sweet potatoes. Easy! And it was good enough for company (which we had)

This week I'm going to start my official recipe review. I've got recipes I've developed over the years and I'm going to start putting them to the test of time. Will they make the grade? Stay tuned! And if you are a meat lover be sure to come back often. I'm working on a quick and simple meat lovers healthy recipe collection!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How sad is this?

I have no new recipes to share. Not because we haven't been eating. We ate all week out of the freezer. Here's to doubling recipes and freezing leftovers! Wahoo! Next week I plan to start a recipe review to determine what recipes can go in my sister-in-laws cookbook. It should be a fun challenge. English isn't her first language so the cookbook needs to be very clear, clean and concise. They are a meat and potato type family. But that doesn't mean they can't eat healthy!

I was hoping to share an amazing brisket recipe for you but the brisket turned out tough even after I marinated it for 48 hours, rubbed it and mopped it over a slow smoke! So I'm taking the leftovers, throwing them in the crockpot and making a chili. Slow cooking lean cuts of meat tends to make them very tender. I have a nice cornbread recipe that tastes nice but wasn't very light and fluffy when I made it the week before. So I'm going to re-make it with fresh ingredients (like baking powder, etc.). If it turns out well, I'll pass it along. If not, then the search for a good cornbread recipe continues.... Tim loves cornbread so I must find one that is healthy and tasty!

I did make a fabulous beer can chicken on the weekend. I said it was the last beer can chicken of the season (I froze my keester off while bbqing it!). However, it was so tender, falling off the bones good that I see myself freezing my way through a few more in the fall. I used a Belgium beer, some lemons and no salt added herb and garlic seasoning and no salt added grilled chicken seasoning (I think both were Ms. Dash). The skin was to die for! And the meat was so tender and juicy! It was raves all around. I'm finding that lemon brightens the flavors of chicken the same way salt does. I'm not sure that the lemon usage will work the same way with beef, lamb or pork but we'll have to see. You certainly couldn't miss the salt on the chicken. The middle meat of the bird needed salt but tim's son eats a lot of processed and pre-made food so his salt intake level is fairly high (he likes the stuff with no lemon or added flavors). I just ask that you taste first before you salt. We had steamed New Brunswick grown broccoli and cauliflower with it. Wow, the local fresh ingredients are amazing! I highly recommend buying whatever is fresh and local when you can. What a difference!

So stay tuned as I review my recipe collection. I will remake some of my oldies but goodies. Hopefully there will be something yummy and nutritious and easy for you to try at home!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A great little Salsa, and other easy snacks

First a quick report on the buffalo burgers. They were awesome. We had friends over and one of them had developed a dislike for buffalo because they always found it dry. These burgers were really moist and I had overcooked them a smidge (there was wine involved). The other burgers I made earlier in the summer with part extra lean ground beef and chicken were also really moist. I'm convinced it is the fresh bread crumbs! I freeze the ends of bread and then put them through the food processor when I need bread crumbs. This way I never have a box of bread crumbs going stale in my cupboard. Don't have a food processor? Your coffee grinder will work too, even a blender will do. You can even just crumble it with your fingers!

Now on to snacks. You know I like a low fat, low sodium snack. And when your going to be enjoying a cocktail or two, it's good to get some food in your belly. Here is the quickest salsa I know. And I don't even like pineapple but this stuff is delicious!

  • 1/2 - 3/4 of a pineapple, I get the already cleaned stuff in the produce section.
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 green onions (scallions)
  • a bunch of cilantro (can you really have too much?!)
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
  • pinch of brown sugar
  • squirt of lime juice (about 2 tbsp or 1 fresh squeezed)
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder or 1 chipotle pepper from a can

Chop the pineapple and red pepper into small pieces, about 1/4 inch chunks. Chop up the cilantro. Add in the rest, mix and let sit for a couple of hours before serving. Yum!

Now how about some other quick snacks. We all know how much I like to stuff things. Sometimes this is too time consuming for a crowd. But I had some "red hots" peppers so I made a filling with light herb and garlic cream cheese and grated cheddar. With a hot pepper, it is important to not only get all the seeds out but to also get out the white pithe.

Like I said, this can be time consuming. But since there was only 4 of us, I did 8 red hots, some tomatoes and some mushrooms. Now the mushrooms can be a quick stuffer. Just wash, gently rock the stem back and forth to remove them. Then you can spoon in stuffing mix of any sort. Or if you want a really quick and tasty snack, add blue cheese. Broil, bake or grill those puppies up and you have a great snack!

Friday, September 15, 2006


I'm attempting buffalo burgers for the first time. I've eaten them before, just never made them. I love the rich taste so I'm keeping it simple. I have 2 1/2 lbs of ground buffalo so I added 3 eggs, 2+ cups of fresh bread crumbs made from multi-grain and flax seed breads (but you can use any type of bread), 2 tbsp of minced garlic, 3 tbsp of Worshestershire sauce, 1 cup of finely chopped red onion and about a tbsp of my homemade no-salt added steak seasoning. I made the patties large, between 5 to 6 1/2 oz. each. Usually I make my burger patties only 1/4 lb (or 4 oz). But buffalo is lower in calories and fat than beef! Plus tomorrow will be relaxing on the deck all day, drinking the last of the summer cocktails. It's suppose to be 25 (that's 77 for you non-metric types) and sunny! So we'll want a good size burger to prevent us from getting too tipsy...

I'm going to top the burgers with a good aged cheddar cheese and my homemade BBQ sauce on a whole wheat bun. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I'll let you know how they turn out and snap a pic or two!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The art of freezing

Let's talk about freezing. No, I'm not implying that it has gotten that cold here... I'm talking about filling your freezer with ready made meals. This is a huge help for busy people. What can you freeze? Just about anything. Except potatoes. They go mealy. Uck!! You can, however, freeze mashed potatoes.

Look, it's not that complicated. When you do have the time and energy to cook, make double. Freeze the difference! Pasta will continue to absorb the water in a soup so you may want to freezer a bag of cooked pasta separate from a soup and then add them together before serving. I'm personally not that fussy, I can handle thick soup. But for my clients, I freeze them separately. Barley too will do this. For stew, instead of adding chunks of potato, I make mashed and serve the stew over it. Then I can freeze then separately.

Now you may only think of the obvious things to freeze like soups, stews, chili, casseroles but think about separate courses too. I freeze meatloaf, sauted veggies, taco filling, quesadillas, calzones (yes, we made our own), pasta sauce and even stir-fries. I keep a list outside the freezer so I know what's inside and I cross things off as I take them out. This is not that time consuming, trust me. But the little extra effort goes a looooong way! Doing extra veggie side dishes is great because then you can just bake or grill a piece of fish, chicken or a steak to go with it and dinner is done.

Cooked meals shouldn't be kept in your freezer for longer than 6 months. And for goodness sake, LABEL things. Masking tape works perfectly. And then you aren't taking off lids wondering what in the heck is in the container! I label with content and date. And there is still more evidence that we shouldn't be microwaving in those leftover margarine type containers. Use real tupperware or rubbermaid if you heat in the container. I just store it in those leftover margarine containers and then take it out and put it in a microwave safe container. It only takes a minute under hot running water to loosen up the contents so they pop right out of the freezer container! No problem!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Odds and Ends

I haven't posted much lately because I haven't thought the meals I've been making at home were recipes I could share. I have a tendency to shake the cupboards and fridge and whatever falls out (or is getting old) I make into a meal. Now I realize not everyone can do this. It's a talent for sure, but on the other hand, I can't bake. All that following of instructions makes me crazy!

So what did I pull together the last couple of nights? Well one night we had a Tex-Mex inspired soup with a leftover steak, some roasted corn on the cob (removed from the cob of course), a can of no-salt added kidney beans, red pepper, red onion, a can of no-salt added tomatoes and some chili powder, chipotle powder, garlic and cayenne pepper for seasoning. I served it with a sprinkle of cheddar on top and a dollop of sour cream. Tim preferred his without the sour cream. It turned out great. I'm having some leftovers for lunch today and I can't wait.

Last night I once again stuffed a zucchini. The mutant size ones are still available. This time I did a greek inspired filling with couscous, spinach, red onion, red pepper, garlic, my homemade greek seasoning (dried oregano, garlic, mint) and feta. I also have a jar of marinated mixed italian vegetables that consists of artichokes, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, eggplant and portabello mushrooms. I threw in about 3/4 cup of that mixture too. It was yummy too!

Tomorrow I'm making salmon cakes so stay tuned for that recipe. It will be one worth sharing!

To keep you entertained, here is a pic from our drive to the cottage this weekend. It was the balloon festival in Sussex this weekend so Friday as we were driving through we got to see the balloons up and running!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Let's talk Risotto

I love risotto. How can you not?! The creamy texture, the bite of the rice bits. Add some parmesan and it's heaven in a bowl. But a lot of people are intimidated by risotto. All that stirring and continual adding of liquid. How do you know what to do?! It's not that hard although you may mess up the first batch but don't dispare. Once you get the knack, you'll be whipping up this quick and delicious dinner on a regular basis.

First saute some Onion and a little garlic in Olive Oil over medium heat. We don't want any brown bits on the onions.
Add the arborio rice and let it saute for a minute. Then add some broth. Have broth ready. The boxed broth is very convenient and you can get the low sodium broth. Just have the box ready. Add about 1/2 cup at a time. Simmer over medium low heat, stirring regularily but not constantly.

Once the liquid absorbs into the rice, when you stir the rice out of the way and there is no water at the bottom of the pan, add more broth. You want to add the broth before the pan gets too dry. This is the part you have to get the hang of. But once you do, it's easy. Don't get discouraged if you don't get the first batch right. Once it comes to you that's it, you'll be making risotto for life!

Now you can just have risotto but I like to add veggies. This becomes a fantastic veggie dish. You can add meat. I like chicken. Have the veggies ready to go before you start cooking. The meat should be sauted first before adding to the risotto just so you don't have to worry about it being undercooked.

I added zucchini, asparagus and red pepper to my last risotto. I add it before the rice is done but is about halfway there. I wanted the veggies to remain their vibrant colours. If you are new to risotto, you may want to steam or saute your veggies seperately just to ensure you don't overcook them. Once you get comfortable with cooking arborio rice, you will find it easy to add veggies to allow them to cook with the rice without overcooking them.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

We had a large "steak" in the matter!

Last night we had steak. Something we both really appreciate. This was from a box of frozen steaks. The price was good... the steak was not. It was a decent thickness and reasonably marbled, enough to be juicy but not enough to be too fatty. I sprinkled it with some of the salt free steak seasoning that I had made and cooked it to just past rare. Now you will often hear chefs say that you must salt and pepper steaks well. But why? If the meat is of a good quality, shouldn't it have a great taste without salt to bring it alive? Tim figures that the steaks we had last night were exactly the reason that sauces like A1 were invented. He may be on to something... From now on I will only spend our hard earned red meat money at a proper butcher. And I think we will also run a comparison on organic steaks to see what the taste difference is. Can I really get away without covering it in salt? Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Here are the pics I promised. This is Ollie after he has eaten his homemade dinner. On a plus side, the homemade food is harder for them to eat so they end up taking their time which is a huge bonus for dogs that run the risk of bloat.

And this is Miss Emily in her spot where she watches the world go by...

Going to the dogs

Now here is a little diversion. I'm going to talk about dog food. As someone who cooks for a living, I finally started making my dogs their own homemade dog food. I was so sick of trying to decipher the ingredient lists on the commercial products on the market. And I was so sick of hearing about dogs dying of cancer. I figure all that processing that the dog food goes through can't be good for it. I actually started with this recipe the last time the dogs were sick with diarrhea.
  • 2 packs of ground chicken (each are less than a pound)
  • 12 servings of brown rice
  • 1/2 cup of flax seeds
  • 2 cups of veggies, right now I am using broccoli, cauliflower and string beans.
  • 1 large container of plain yogurt, I was using fat free but I'm now experiementing with a full fat yogurt. I do look for the one with the least amount of added ingredients. All we need is milk and active bacterial cultures.

I cook the chicken in a microwave safe dish at full power for about 5 minutes, I then stir it and check for pink. There usually is some in the middle. I add the flax seeds and, if I have room, the veggies. I microwave this for another 3 - 5 minutes. I like the veggies to be good and soft. My dogs won't eat raw broccoli or cauliflower but they like it cooked. In the mean time, I have started the rice on the stove, following the package instructions. Once the meat is done, I transfer all if it, juices and all, to a mixing bowl. I add the rice and let it all cool down, stiring often to help it cool down quicker. Remember, we don't want it at room temp for any period of time. I just want it cool enough to I can add the yogurt without killing the bacteria in the yogurt or making it curdle. Once it is almost to room temp, I mix in the yogurt. This will only last my dogs 4 days so I double it. I feed them a regular kibble meal in the morning and they get this homemade mix for supper. They get 15 ounces or roughly 2 cups. They are 85 and 95 pounds so they are big dogs who need a lot of food. I still feed some kibble in case there are nutrients I am missing in my homemade stuff. But I do find a difference when they get just kibble. They fart a lot, have huge poops and Ollie has big eye boogers.

Aren't they beautiful! They are Bouvier des Flandres. And if anyone is interested in getting one, please contact me. These are not ordinary house pets and I wish someone had told me the truth before I got my beasts. (today blogger is not letting me post pics... check back tomorrow!)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Knives, Corn and Veggie Meals

You may be wondering why it's been so quiet lately, well we were on vacation. We made a lovely trip to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to see Fortress Louisbourg. It is a 1700's era fortress that has been reconstructed. We took my nephew and Tim's son who are 14 and 13 respectively. An old fort is a great place for boys that age. They were expecting ruins where one has to image that there once was a fort there. But what they got was a whole other story.

By the end of it, they were over stimulated.

We even ate at the inn at the fortress. Period food was not Alec's cup of tea but he coped... Note to parents - expose your kids to all types of food early on. If you only feed them "what they like" they will end up only eating chicken nuggets and fries. And no one on this planet needs to live off of that crap!

While we were away, I had my knives sharpened. A sharp knife is a safe knife. And if you do cut yourself, the cut will be a clean cut so re-attachment will be easy! I can cut through a squash no problem because instead of using force, I use the sharpness of my blade.

After our journey we needed to eat healthy. Restaurant food is full of sodium and fat. So I made a corn and broccoli stew. On top of the 27 ears corn I had previously roasted and shucked, I roasted some more for this stew and shucked it. The ingredients for this stew are easy.

  • 2 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 6 cups of broccoli (2 stalks)
  • 4 ears of corn (or 3 cups of nibblets)
  • 2 cups of skim or 1% milk
  • pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Ms. Dash or salt.

First saute the bacon over low heat until almost cooked but not browned, add the onions and cook until soft. Add the potatoes and half the milk. Cover and simmer 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft when poked with a fork. Add the broccoli and the rest of the milk and the Ms. Dash and Pepper. Cover and cook another 5 minutes. Add the corn, cover and cook another 5 minutes. That's it. Tasty! And low in sodium and fat!

As you can see, I used red potatoes and left the skin on. Just a reminder to stock up on corn while it's in season. Roast it on the bbq or boil it, shuck it from the cob and freeze it. The roasted corn is great thrown in all sorts of winter soups, stew, etc. Yum!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hot Weather Tip

I just thought I'd share a pic of the beautiful loon family we have on the lake this summer. Loones mate for life and return to the same lake every year. I've named them Maurice and Fredricka. This year they had 3 babies! I love my new camera!

About the tip, to help keep the heat out of your kitchen, use the crock pot, also known as a slow cooker, to make your meals on hot days. It throws off little heat, you can fill it the night before and is super convenient. If you don't have one, consider investing in one. Get one with a removable liner for easier clean up. You can get them for around $30 and it's still a good quality unit. They come in a variety of sizes so you can get one to meet your needs. And there are a ton of great slow cooker cookbooks on the market these days but here's a great recipe to get you started.

Curry Chicken and Veggies:
Serves 4-6
1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts (or you could use pork, lamb or beef, cubed)
3 cups frozen veggies (peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots or a mixture)
1 can of cream of chicken, broccoli or onion soup (if you want to keep the sodium low and can't find low sodium cream of anything soup, use 1 1/2 cups of low sodium chicken or veggie broth and stir in 1 cup of yogurt right before serving)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or try the Madras curry powder if you can find it, or experiment with any indian spices if you feel like it)

Throw all of it in the crock pot/slow cooker and cook on low for 7 - 8 hours or high for 3 - 4 hours. Serve over rice (make it in your microwave, it's quicker and won't heat up the house)

Now get out there and enjoy what's left of the summer!

Kabobs and Corn at the Cottage

We're at the cottage again. It looks like a bit of a shack from the outside. I've got better shots that I'll share over time. It's better than it looks!

My nephew requested kabobs last night. And Tim brought home 27 ears of corn leftover from a party he had attended. So there was dinner.We are officially corned-out. I had to cook them all last night because, as I've mentioned, corn starts to convert its sugars to starch as soon as it is picked. This was picked the morning before. So I roasted most of it on the bbq and boiled a few. I'll take them home and shuck them off the knob and freeze them. I'll have great roasted corn for the next couple of months!

The kabobs consisted of steak, potatoes and red onion. I made a marinade of dijon mustard, balsalmic vinegar, no salt steak grilling spice, rosemary and chives. I cooked them on the bbq for about 20 minutes. I didn't want to make the steak well done. I had parboiled the potatoes so they were partially cooked that way they finished on the kabobs at the same time as the steak. It was delish!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Yes, I'm stuffing things again, but this time you can see it!

Last night we had stuffed zucchini. Now I know what you are thinking.. wow, she's at it again. But last night was different. Usually I use couscous or rice with some veggies and call it stuffing. Well last night I used ground pork (1/2 lb of the lean variety), sun dried tomatoes, a little tomato paste, onion, garlic, basil, herb and garlic boursin and parmesan cheese. I also added about half of the zucchini bits I had scooped out of the zucchini to make room for the stuffing. I sauteed the ground pork, added the onion, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, sauteed for a couple more minutes. Then I mixed in the tomato paste and both cheeses.

I cooked it at 350 for 35 minutes. While it was cooking, I first steamed until just that vibrant green, some brussel sprouts. Then I sauteed them in about a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkled in some no salt herb and garlic seasoning. Once they were carmalized (had brown bits on them) I tossed in about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar. My nephew hadn't eaten brussel sprouts before so I was a little worried he may not like them.

He liked them! He liked it all. Although he's not the most picky kid. He grew up on Kielbassa and the like. So there you have it, Stuffed Zucchini and Brussel Sprouts! Yum!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Changing my mind on the fly...

Yesterday I had intended to bbq a pork tenderloin and steam some veggies but it was rainy and chilly so I changed my mind as the day went on. Instead I made a soup out of the pork tenderloin, which was already marinating in a Cuban Chipotle marinade. So I had my flavor base, hot and spicy!

I seared the pork on all sides then put it in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes. Then I let it rest for another 20 minutes and diced it up to go in the soup.

I sauteed some onions, diced carrots and garlic until soft, added in some low sodium veggie broth and some wild brown rice. I let that come to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes until the rice was done. Then I tossed in the beans and corn (the corn was frozen corn I had cut off ears I had bbqed when the local corn was fresh) and the seasoning mix. The seasoning mix consisted of Chiopotle powder, chili powder, cumin, coriander, table Ms. Dash, Sweet Paprika and my homemade essence blend. I let it all simmer for about 20 minutes. We had it with a salad. The soup definately had a good kick! And I froze the leftovers. When I thaw a serving, it will likely need a bit of water added to thin the broth. It should keep well in the freezer for 6 months.