Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why I don't bake.

I'm not one much for baking and there is a good reason for that. Aside from the fact that baking is more of a science and you must be precise, while I prefer to toss things in and use a recipe more as a guideline, I have another reason I don't bake. We eat it all. I have no self control. I made these fantastic Skor Bits Cookies on the weekend for the holidays. I ate 7 on Saturday. So did Tim. We had such a sugar high going. But for 2 people who don't eat a lot of sweets, it left us with a yucky feeling in our stomachs. I finally had to freeze most of them. I left us out a dozen. This is what was left by Tuesday....

Here is the recipe I got from a friend who got if from her mother. If anyone knows where it originally came from, let me know so we can give credit where credit is due. These really are fantastic and they freeze beautifully!


2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1-3/4 cups (10-oz. pkg.) SKOR English Toffee Bits

1. Heat oven to 350F. Lightly grease cookie sheet or use parchment paper.
2. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. In large bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended. Add eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in toffee bits. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet.
3. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly browned but still soft, don't over cook!! Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies

I cooked mine for 14 minutes because I thought they were too soft and they ended up too hard, still tasty and will dip nicely in coffee or hot chocolate over the holidays but won't cook them that long again.

Grocery List Efficiency

Yesterday a friend showed me a new gadget for grocery shopping. It's a SmartShopper Grocery List Organizer. I thought this was hilarious at first. There really is a gadget for everything. Some people love their gadgets. Although I have to admin, I'm a pretty big kitchen gadget gal myself but I am learning that no matter how big the kitchen, you can't have everything and there are a lot of good multi-purpose gadgets out there so I like to maximize my space and spending by only buying things if I really need them or if they can do more than one thing.

For people with severe arthritis or any other type of condition that makes writing difficult, these new electronic list keepers are a real god sent. Call me old fashioned but I use paper and a pen to do my lists. And I do a lot of lists. Now some may say, electronic lists save trees. True but a lot of electronic parts are hard to safely dispose of. In the future there are federal acts to ensure electronic equipment is made without some of the harmful parts so there is hope. In the meantime I use the old pages from my 'quote-a-day' calendar.

This gadget does something that both my friend and I agree is a necessity for efficient grocery shopping and general sanity. It organizes the list for you by category. That is the most important thing you can do before hitting the grocery store. Organize your list! I rewrite mine and have different areas of the page for different sections of the grocery store, top left is always fresh fruit and veggies, under that is shelf items, bottom left is household items, top right is meats, bottom right is dairy. But if you don't want to waste time and paper, pull out the highlighter set. Go through your list and highlight all the items in the dairy section in one colour, use another colour for the freezer section, another for meats, another for fresh items, another for items on the shelves, etc. You get the idea. Don't have highlighters in the house? Crayons will work too! Then when you get the the store, don't leave a section until you have all the items of that colour group. Easy!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Let's Talk Tofu!

I'm going to be honest. I'm not a huge tofu fan. I can have it out in a restaurant and enjoy it just fine but I hadn't had a lot of success cooking it at home. And Tim enjoys Tofu. It's certainly very healthy. As we head into the holiday season where eating delicious treats are as much a part of the season as Santa Claus and reindeer (which makes a lovely roast by the way, but that's another conversation altogether) I try to make sure we have healthy meals on the table in the time leading up to the actual holidays. So last night I attempted tofu again.

Armed with a recipe for Five Spice Tofu Stir-Fry from Weight Watchers magazine, Sept/Oct edition, I was prepared. I had extra veggies to add in, something I often do and I had soft tofu instead of extra firm but that was all I could find at the grocery store and it still felt pretty firm.

As per usual, I didn't follow the recipe but used it more as a guideline. First thing I learned this time was that tofu must be cooked in a little canola or vegetable oil (1/2 tbsp for about 1/2 lb) over a very high heat. I let the wok heat up over a medium high heat with the knob turned more to the high than the medium. Then I seared the tofu on all sides. It gives it a nice crispy outside. Take the tofu out of the pan, cook the rest of your veggies and such. Add the tofu back in at the end with any sauce to heat through.

The second thing I learned when cooking tofu is to marinate it. Tofu acts as a sponge for marinates. I marinated mine for the afternoon but not everyone is home in the middle of the day to put their tofu in marinade. I would say to prepare the marinade and tofu (cut it in chunks) the night before and then before you head out for the day, simply toss the tofu in the marinade and let it sit all day. There will be some serious flavour absorption. At the very least, if you can't get it together in the morning to get the marinating action started, when you come home get that tofu right in the marinade and let it sit for at least 30 minutes but preferably for an hour. Asian inspired marinades are the best starting place since tofu is often used in this style of food. Yes, you can cheat and use a bottled sauce just watch the sodium content. I had a nice Szechuan-style sauce I added into mine.

I have leftovers for lunch and I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Some entertaining advice. Or "the holidays don't have to suck the life out of you"

This is the time of year when people start baking and planning their holiday party menus. This year I'm a humbug! I'm so overwhelmed with Christmas knitting (see other blog) that I can't be bothered with anything else. Luckily we have a freezer full of leftovers so there is no need to cook most nights. I'm not a baker so my Christmas baking has always been minimal at best. I made some pumpkin biscotti the other day. It was good but the friend I got the recipe from put white chocolate chips in hers which made them taste quite a bit better but I didn't realize this so mine didn't have the chips. I have since added it to the written recipe. I like making biscotti, since they need to end up dried out and hard, it's a pretty easy recipe for a non-baker. And they are great to have on hand to dunk in warm drinks when guest stop by.

Last night Tim informs me that he wants for finally do a tapas type party for his team at work. We had talked about this last year but the team couldn't set a date so it fell off the Christmas schedule. This year they have a date set. Great. Tim says he is going to do all the cooking (which is better than last year when he wanted me to help even on the night of the event). He only needs my help to set the menu. We had solidified a menu last year but do you think I can find that now? No, of course not. So we have to sit down and do it again. And argue over it again. As an inexperienced caterer, Tim wants to do unrealistic things. So I have to burst his bubble to make sure he doesn't make the whole thing too labour intensive.

That's the problem when people entertain, they tend to make the whole event too labour intensive. My advice, do as much a head as possible, pick only one labour intensive item for the time of the event, and plan out everything in advance. Make a project plan like itinerary for the food prep during the event. What has to go in the oven at what time, what you can put out on plates while waiting for the oven stuff to get done. Plan what order you will serve things. Even plan what serving dishes will be used for what items.

Here is how I break it down. For each item I write out the following:
Preparations - ahead and at serving time
Cooking or chilling instructions and times
Serving instructions and serving ware.

Then I piece it together like a puzzle, not thinking of the dishes as a whole but as each task as an event that can be done when it best fits in the puzzle. You'll be surprised as how much you can do ahead of time. For example Tim wants to do a version of my layered salad on a stick. That's his theme, "Everything on a Stick". So he can put the cherry tomato, a small boccochini, a slice of proscuitto and a basil leaf on each skewer ahead of time on serving trays if he can fit them in the fridge. This can be done the day of the event (some things can be done a couple of days ahead of time). Then about 20 - 30 minutes before serving, he can drizzle the skewers with a olive oil balsamic drizzle. And they are good to go! So as soon as he gets to the event, he would drizzle these skewers and have them ready to go out as the first course while doing everything else he needs to do. I always try to have something either waiting for my guests as soon as they arrive or within minutes of their arrival. Best to get some food into those bellies as the drinks start to flow!

Planning how you are going to serve the food is actually more important than what you serve, in my opinion. If your guests are waiting around for food or it is overcooked, undercooked or turns out wrong, it's a bad thing. Do less but do it right. Less really is more!

Now back to knitting!