Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chocolate-Orange Pancakes

My flipping skills need work. Like, a lot of work. As in there is batter flung all over the stove and me....

Well, if you are an enjoyer of Terry's Chocolate Oranges and other such treats, you'll probably enjoy these pancakes one heck of a lot. They have chocolate and orange too.... kind of what it sounds like.

I only ran into one major issue with this recipe, besides my newly discovered ability to create a big mess by slinging batter around. I melted the butter as directed for this recipe, but when I added it to the bowl with the rest of the wet ingredients, I was horrified to discover lumps of weird stuff when I began to stir. The butter unmelted itself when it hit the cold eggs and buttermilk. I fished out most of the lumps and remelted them, but this time I didn't add them back to the mixture until it was already half-mixed with the dry ingredients. Next time, I'll either let the buttermilk and eggs warm to room temperature, or hold off on adding any butter until almost the end of the mixing. Also, I really don't think 1/4 cup of butter is completely necessary. One could probably get by fine using slightly less butter.

Beware also how much batter you put in the pan. I made one pancake at a time and it's a good thing I did! I didn't measure them out to the suggested 1/4 cup which could have been part of the problem. Instead, I used a ladle that I found in my drawer although I used slightly less than a whole ladleful for each pancake. Problem is, the batter spreads across the hot pan so that by the time you're ready to flip the pancake, it's larger than your flipper spatula thing in my case. I felt as though I was flipping the world's biggest pancakes, and I had to do so in a hurry since the sides of it were hanging precariously off the flipper. My haste is how I ended up with batter splatter so keep that in mind for your versions...

Well, I'm done cooking now. I was a little worried about the pancakes tasting too "orange-y", but if anything, they're quite chocolately so that's all good. I cooked a few of them a little longer than I should have, mostly because I was distracted by having my laptop in the kitchen with me. Note to self: Don't play Bejeweled Blitz when I'm supposed to be watching for bubbles in the batter. The only part I'm not 100% fond of is the buttery-ness of the pancakes. Again, I think the 1/4 cup is a little excessive. It makes them tasty but kind of greasy. Since I'm a little horrified at the nutritional value of 3 pancakes, I'm only eating two tonight and I'll freeze the rest for instant dinners/breakfast-on-the-go at some future point.

This'll be my last recipe for the next little while. I'm off to the No PST Province on Thursday for a mini snowboarding vacation, hooray! Happy Holidays to all my loyal readers. See you when I'm back :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gin Gin Soup

WARNING: This recipe (see link above) is flawed as of time of writing this. It lists chickpeas in the ingredients, but fails to make any mention of them under "Method". As in when to add stuff to the pot. You may notice my comment on the web page asking about when to add the chickpeas. I only noticed they weren't accounted for as I was adding the broth so that's when I added the chickpeas to mine. I also rinsed and drained them prior to chucking them in the pot. No idea if that's correct or not.

My poor R index finger has another blister from chopping, chopping, chopping. My blister on my L ring finger from a cupcake pan burn is healed so maybe my destiny is for my hands to alternate blisters from various causes? Can't say I'm very impressed by the idea.

Aside from the endless chopping, this recipe seems fairly simple if you also disregard the lack of information in it (see warning at beginning). I chose it because it doesn't have peppers in it and because I wanted a chicken soup recipe for the impending-winter-potential-illness months ahead. If I get sick, I'm sure as anything not going to feel like cooking myself some chicken soup. Knock on wood that my preventative cooking pays off!

And may I suggest buying a cabbage on the smaller size for more reasons than just less to chop. I have a HUGE mound of cabbage on the counter. There's lots on the floor too but I'm too tired to go looking for it all. It blends too well with the lino here in the kitchen so my feet keep finding it before my eyes do. When I added it to the pot, it rose above the line of my liquid and threatened to overtake the entire stovetop. Be careful that yours doesn't fall under the stove burners like mine did because the smell is kind of gross. I had to really stir to find any other ingredients. I will not be using my soup as a "cabbage soup diet": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabbage_soup_diet

I used my new good-enough-for-government-work method of mincing garlic where I smash it flat with the side of the big, scary metal knife, then chop it into tiny pieces. I'm so pleased I figured this out. I really hate digging garlic mash out of the garlic press. When I added the garlic to the vegetable/chicken mixture, I even got a nice garlic facial out of the deal.

According to my calculations, the 2 quarts of chicken stock called for equals 8 cups. Don't pour part of yours on the counter and stove without noticing like I did while you add it to the pot. If you use as much bloody cabbage as I did, and your stock comes in 900mL tetra paks like mine does (currently on sale at Sobey's, fyi), you'll need a good 2 boxes and I used maybe 1/5-1/4 of a beef broth one I had already opened. Still, my cabbage is mostly overwhelming the pot so keep that in mind if you wonder where all your liquid went.

This soup is tasty if you don't mind cabbage in large quantities. I'm feeling rather eastern European as I eat. According to Wikipedia, cabbage is a good source of riboflavin, dietary fibre, vitamin C, and glutamine which is an amino acide with anti-inflammatory properties. Dig in!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Spaghetti Sauce Italiano

It's freeze it and forget it night. Two recipes, made mostly concurrently, that can both be hauled out of the freezer on a night when I'm too tired to cook.

Well, my spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker just finished bubbling away for the last 4 hours. I'm still full from the Garbanzo Bean Stew to sample much of the spaghetti sauce, but the bit that I did burn my mouth on was nice and flavourful, mostly tomato-y.

I could have made this recipe easier for myself if I hadn't suddenly decided to make it today, and subsequently had to work with minimally thawed ground beef. I also had to run to the grocery store for more tomato paste so now I've got an extra on hand for the future. I had everything else on hand save for the gross green pepper which will never live here if I have a say in the matter. We're not friends. By using the ground beef that I already had on hand, I've now got a little extra room in the deep freeze for my just-cooked recipes. Either them or sprinkle donuts, hmmm....

I didn't do much to this recipe if you don't count not technically mincing the garlic because I was too lazy to scrape it out of the mincer thing and then wash it. Instead, I smashed the garlic with the flat side of the big metal knife, then chopped it up really small. Same effect, if you ask me. Makes a sticky garlic mess either way. I didn't have the two cans of diced tomatoes on hand so I used a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes. I figure a 1 or 2 oz difference will not matter. Luckily, as I was draining the first can of mushrooms, I happened to look at the size of it (8oz) which saved me having to open the second one. These recipe people must shop in the teeniest grocery store. All their can sizes seem really small. I used a jazzy tomato paste that had garlic and herbs in it because I do like garlic, especially in Italian food recipes.

Other than having to wildly hack apart the mostly frozen meat as it cooked, the rest of the recipe was easy. Just throw it in the slow cooker and check it in 4 hours. That is, if you're not trying to make another recipe at the same time while talking on the phone and trying to answer the door...

Now I have something yummy to look forward to for dinner tomorrow. I love spaghetti!

Garbanzo Bean Stew

Oh, I have hit the stew recipe jackpot! Exactly what I need on a extraordinarily frustrating day like today where my internet connection and land line have both gone bananas for hours.

You've got to try this recipe. No whining about not liking beans or, in my case, strongly disliking hummus. This stew is thick, tasty, and filling. It probably has some degree of nutritional value too. Granted, the beef broth and the use of kielbasa sausage might not mesh well with a vegetarian lifestyle, but I'm sure there's a way around that. You'll have to come up with that on your own.

An easy recipe to make but a word of caution before you start: if you plan to follow the slow cookier method, know or measure to know the volume that your slow cooker holds before you start. Ah, fool me once, potato soup recipe, but not this time. I've long lost the papers that came with my slow cooker, but it's not big enough for what's suggested for this recipe, according to Google. So I followed the stovetop method way down at the bottom. In the end, it worked out well because I've got another recipe currently bubbling away in my slow cooker. I'll post it when it's done in a few hours.

As usual, I left out the gross peppers from this recipe. I may have convinced myself to use onion at last, but I still hate peppers so they're a no go. I used 1/4 tsp of squeeze-tube basil instead of the dried amount, I left out the salt at the bottom because things like broth are salty enough, and my tomato paste was a "herb and spice" version. I found it at the grocery store next to the plain, boring kind that I already had (I needed more for my other recipe) so I figured I'd try the jazzy kind to add a little more flavour.

I was a little nervous about adding the hummus at the end. First of all, although I love chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and garlic, I dislike hummus. Weird, because it's basically those two ingredients smashed up together, but I stand by my palate. I wasn't really sure how it would taste in a stew recipe because my only experience with hummus so far has been as a vegetable dip that I skip past. But I trusted the recipe gods enough to add it (I bought regular hummus although there were some pretty fancy versions available), and although the stew smells a bit strange, it's quite flavourful and the hummus is barely noticeable. So go ahead and chuck yours in. Just make sure to stir it in well so the flavour can be absorbed while it simmers.

With all those high-in-fibre beans in there, your GI tract is sure to thank you later although your friends and family may disappear for a while. Dig in but don't say I didn't warn you....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Oh, these cupcakes are SO not low-fat, low-cholesterol, Atkins-friendly, or anything remotely good for you. I have 17 left, and if I eat them all myself, I will need to run for the next 16 years straight. Can someone take them off my hands please?

I have my friend Mandy to thank for suggesting these yummy cupcakes. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me before that the Food Network would have recipes online. Now I fear I might eventually make them all.

Well, this recipe was a good way to use up some of the buttermilk I had left over from the biscuits. I had to google conversions to figure out how much 1 lb of cream cheese equals in packages, and to translate 2 sticks of butter to a non-stick pound of butter. They are 2 packages of cream cheese and 1/2 cup of butter, respectively. I was a bit afraid of putting vinegar in my batter, but I ripped open one of the packets of vinegar I had from a Harvey's excursion and measured away. Turned out fine in the end although I'm still puzzled as to why it was required in the first place.

The oil was a bit of a problem. You see, I meant to make this recipe about a week ago when I bought the 3 packages of cream cheese on sale. Got busy, cooked other stuff, and by the time I got around to these cupcakes today, I didn't have enough oil anymore. That is, I didn't have enough canola oil, and I didn't realize it until I was midway through the recipe. That being said, I had to make up the remaining 1/2 cup of outstanding oil with some really nice olive oil that my Italian chef friend gave me. The man knows his olive oils. It's not exactly what the Food Network suggested but it's probably got good fats in it or something.

There weren't too many issues with these cupcakes, aside from the fact that I need new oven mitts badly. I was taking out the first batch of cupcakes with the oven mitts on, and managed to give my poor left ring finger a nice second degree burn through the mitt, nearly dropping the cupcake tray in the process. All this at about 8 in the morning on a Saturday :( Luckily, I have some new bandaids so later on, I slapped on a cupcake bandaid and some polysporin.

Funny enough, I was staring at my giant bowl of red batter and looking at my cupcake papers all neatly filling the pan, wondering how on earth I ended up with so much batter for just 12 cups, when something made me squint up at the recipe again where I suddenly realized I was making 24 cupcakes, not a dozen. Whew! In my overzealous filling, I ended up with only 21 cupcakes, the last 3 being rather large when they absorbed the batter from 3 pitiful ones before going in the oven.

Warning: when you make the icing, it makes A LOT! I iced my cupcakes rather heavy-handedly and still had a ton of icing left over which is now in the freezer. Even if I'd had 24 cupcakes to ice as generously as I did, I would still have a lot of leftover icing. That being said, you might want to reduce your icing recipe somewhat. Don't ask me by how much. Ask the lady who made the recipe why she wants so much!

In conclusion, I'm still somewhat of a baking menace in the kitchen, this time with crappy oven mitts to blame. The cupcake shop people here in town don't need to fear about me putting them out of business yet. I'm also going to be very fat soon unless I can find some people to regularly take my baking off my hands. I do suggest making this tasty recipe for yourselves (not with olive oil if you can help it), but not if you're home alone. They are very hard to resist.


Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie

It would seem these last few days have been spent doing everything but blogging. I actually made this recipe back then, but am only just now getting around to the writing part.

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how tricky it can be to make chicken pot pie when you don't actually have any chicken in the freezer like you were convinced you did? Good thing I've learned some improv skills in the kitchen over the last few months. You can rename this recipe "Deep Dish Steak Pot Pie" if you're going to emulate my version.

I have a kitchen scale now but was in too much of a hurry to whip it out to weigh the steaks that I was using to replace the chicken. Instead, I did some fancy math using the following formula: Two chicken breasts usually equals roughly a pound of chicken. Therefore, 2 flattish steaks will probably equal roughly a pound of meat. Voila! Instant substitution.

Since I was making the dead cow version of this recipe, I used beef broth instead of chicken broth. Personally, I don't favour one over the other; rather, I was trying to be consistent. I figured the kitchen gods might look more favourably upon me if I didn't get too carried away. Some days, I can use all the help I can get...

With the peas/carrots as well as the frozen bland bean mixture, I JUST had 3 cups of vegetables so I chucked in a drained can of mushrooms as well. I did make sure the frozen veggies were thawed as directed because I didn't want my mixture getting too soupy. I had read a review on the Kraft site where one person complained that their version was really runny although they conveniently didn't mention if they'd followed the recipe precisely or not. I also drained off a lot of the liquid that came after cooking the meat, but I don't know if the same amount would be generated had I used chicken.

The rest of the recipe was pretty uneventful, aside from trying to convince the thawed pie shell that it was no longer necessary to cling to the pie plate as it was so strongly trying to do. I manhandled it very gently and eventually it gave up the ghost. I tried to flute the edges of it in my Corelle dish, but yeah, not so much. It looks a little mangled.

Result: Well received by my taster even though I thought the sauce was a wee bit thin for my liking. I guess one could always increase the cream cheese to thicken it up. This recipe is also good for breakfast, fyi :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cajun Lemon Chicken Strips

Recipe #36: http://www.dietcoke.com/cooking-entertaining/#/recipes

I love the fact that I got this recipe (you'll have to search for it on the site above) from the Diet Coke site. Fear not to those who abhor aspartame: there's no Diet Coke in the recipe. In fact, I have no idea why they have it on their site. I love random internet surfing.

Compared to the horrible day of gingerbread cookies, this recipe was much easier. Maybe I'm meant to be a cook, not a baker? Anyway, not much to this one, aside from realizing halfway through it that I did not, in fact and since corrected, own garlic powder as I was convinced I did.

Thus, a couple of tweaks: no garlic powder (turns out I'm not always right), I used 1 tsp of squeeze-tube basil in lieu of dried, I got a little excited with the paprika by accident, and I randomly threw in a few shakes of cumin so I could finally use the spice that I bought after I had a previous recipe that required it.

I was afraid my zest with the paprika would turn out too spicy for my delicate self, but I'm still alive to say that I was wrong. Again. But this time it's a good thing. Mild wings make my nose run; I'm not a spice girl. I quickly threw the chicken and marinade together in a bag, massaged it for a bit, stuffed it in the fridge, and ran to meet Cat at the gym. The length of time for the marinating was as long as it took me to get there, do the class that was neither power nor barbell, and struggle home in traffic.

I didn't grill my chicken because it was in strips. I'm afraid of the BBQ on good days and you think I'm going to try to figure out a way to grill strips of chicken when I'm tired, hungry, and it's cold out? Ha, fat chance. I baked it a bit longer than 20 minutes to make sure it bubbled as I instructed it to, but that length of time might be why my chicken was a tad dry. That, and the lack of lengthy marinade. Next time, I'll try using tinfoil as a cover in the oven. I served the chicken with a pasta Sidekick and yellow wax beans. Yum!

Crisp Gingerbread with Pecans

This was the first of the "12 Days of Cookies" series of recipes that I somehow signed myself up for. Let's just say that so far it's been the only damn day of cookies although they keep sending me a new recipe every day since.

I must have missed something vital with this recipe. I got the "gingerbread" and "pecans" part of it right, but it was about as crisp as rice pudding. As in, not so much the crisp as bendy. If bendy cookies were the goal, then I would have aced this recipe. I have no idea what happened.

With the exception of not bothering to make sure all my stupid pecan pieces were perfect halves, I didn't alter any ingredients for this one. I even went and bought fancy molasses and allspice that I will probably never use again. Then, one day, similar to my mother, I will discover 30-year old molasses in my cupboard and worry people by threatening to bake with it. In her case, it was corn syrup as old as her firstborn, but you get my point.

Another thing that rubbed salt in the wound of these cookies was the dough. Now I know what wrestling with gingerbread-scented super glue feels like. I even chilled the dough overnight, figuring more is better than less as directed. Thank goodness for the wax paper. Without it, I'd probably still be scraping horridly-adherent gingerbread dough off my kitchen counter, floor, stove, cookie cutters, and self.

Maybe I let it stand at room temperature too long? Granted, I was updating my status and packing to spend the day in the GTA, but I didn't let the time get completely out of hand. I had to keep throwing it back in the fridge while rotating through the three sections, and eventually I was putting it in the freezer to try and keep it cold enough to work with. It could have been the fact that I was wrestling with the dough next to the oven which was preheating. Could that have done me in? I just don't know.

Also to annoy me with this recipe, the darn cookies spread out while baking to become unrecognizable in their roles as gingerbread persons and bloody Christmas trees. Here's my chance to use my new holiday cookie cutters from Jenny, and the stupid cookies go all transformer on me! They look like seriously bloated people and arrowheads. Grrrr. I had to explain to my friends later that day that the thin, weird-looking treats I had made for them were, in fact, edible, just misshapen. I daren't ask as to whether anybody actually ate theirs.

I know I rolled the dough no more than 1/4" thick. I know this because I got a ruler and measured it so I'm eliminating that as a source for my disaster. The cookies cutters were not the 3.5 cm square as suggested, nor were they floured after more than one attempt, but I seriously doubt they're the trouble makers. They're just cute.

The first batch of gingerbread people and trees each got a non-perfect pecan gently pressed into them, but after they fell apart when I tried to transfer their baked selves to the racks to continue cooling, I chucked the pecans and just left the cookies plain. Did I mention I started baking at 8am, and was just wrapping up two hours later as I was supposed to be leaving for Toronto? So much for a stress-free start to the festive season.

So, long story short, if you try this recipe, please let me know how your version turns out. Also, if you have any ideas - based on my notes in this blog entry - where I went wrong, constructive criticism is always welcome. Leave me a comment or drop me a line: truehockeygirl@yahoo.com

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hot Fudge Monday

Sorry, no direct recipe link for this one. I borrowed the Looneyspoons cookbook from my best friend Sue. If you have your own copy, it's on page 145.

I had feared this recipe for a little while because my brain made it seem more complicated than it was. That, and the fearful "DO NOT STIR!" warning in the last paragraph...Really though, my fears were unfounded. Yes, adding boiling water to a perfectly nice-looking chocolate ensemble was a little odd, but the end result was fine.

Pretty simple list of ingredients for this recipe and I didn't substitute any. Heck, they even wanted me to use the skim milk I already had in the fridge! I had to put this recipe off by a day, however, when I realized I didn't have enough brown sugar to complete things. By the time I returned from the store yesterday, I was too tired to start baking. It's amazing how much more quickly ingredients need replacing when you actually start to use them more than once every three years....

The texture of this recipe is a little odd. It's kind of like a soft, slightly-jelly-ish chocolate cake with chocolate pudding sauce. It's nice and chocolatey, but the texture takes a little getting used to. Overall impression: pretty good for a low-fat chocolate dessert option. Try it yourself and let me know how yours turns out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tortellini Soup

It's back-to-Kraft day. After yesterday's marathon in the kitchen, I wanted a quick, simple recipe for tonight. Luckily for me, I usually get what I want.

Minor substitutions with my version, but nothing to make you gasp. I sort of measured the chicken stock -which was actually beef stock already opened and in a tetrapak - and sort of measured the water.....but not really. I finished the beef stock and opened a tetrapak of chicken stock, then added some water to about 900mL total....I think. Later, when I was serving myself some soup, I dumped in the rest of the chicken stock tetra so now I really don't know how much liquid I added. I just wanted to be rid of tetrapaks clogging up my wee fridge.

I didn't have dried basil so I used 1/2 teaspoon of squeeze tube basil. I also added 1 tsp of dried Italian seasoning because tortellini is Italian and I felt like adding some pizazz to my soup. My tortellini was frozen, not fresh, and it was chicken/proscuitto, not cheese. I cooked it for about 6 minutes. I also forgot the parmesan cheese at the end.

End result: Healthy, hot, and delicious!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Photocopier Corn Chowder with Buttermilk Biscuits

Recipe #32 a) Photocopier Corn Chowder - Recipe courtesy of Ellie @ work.
and b) Buttermilk Biscuits - Recipe courtesy of my friend Catherine Kilmer Taylor.
Email me for the exact recipes if you're interested: truehockeygirl@yahoo.com

You might be wondering why I used "Photocopier" in the title of this combination of recipes. Simply enough, Ellie dictated the recipe to me today at work while she was photocopying something. That's how I'll remember why I have it half-legibly scrawled on the back of my notes about something completely unrelated that happened to be in my pocket when she hailed me.

From start to finish, this dinner took nearly 4 hours to get finished. Can you say "exhausted"? Neither one had any indication of how long the prep should be expected to take (I always double the suggested time for myself), just the cooking times which can be somewhat deceptive. I did field a few phone calls while chopping celery which took some time away from that tedious task. I also ran into a time-consuming issue with the butter in the biscuit recipe. Thankfully, neither recipe came with a photo so I'm convinced my versions are correct.

The chowder, or "chowda" if you're from Bahstahn, recipe was pretty straightforward. I was a little skittish about making yet another creamy sauce, or roux, after last night's cauliflower disaster, but I decided to use evaporated milk (2%) instead of my usual skim milk to see if that made a difference. On the good advice of my friend Amanda, I whisked my dairy ingredients into the vegetables so much that my arm was ready to fall off, but it seems to have been worth it. No separation this time, hooray! Ellie suggested using chicken broth but I used beef since it was already in the fridge. I didn't add any salt, and used two "pinches" of red pepper flakes. I even got to use up my last 3 potatoes. You'll know what I mean if you email me for the recipe.

The only "oops" part of the chowder recipe was the fact that my pot was VERY full. As in slopping-over-the-edges-if-I-didn't-stir-carefully-full. The stove looks like I dropped a full pot from a height because there's soup splatter all around. The other thing was when I was making the biscuits while the soup simmered, and I suddenly remembered that I hadn't stirred the chowder for a long time only to discover that all the vegetables were slumbering soundly on the bottom of the pot, proving rather difficult to raise with my spatula. I also wasn't fond of the skin that formed a few times on the top of the chowder.

The biscuit recipe was a bit more challenging in different ways. First of all, I forgot to thaw some butter ahead of time so my "cold butter" was actually frozen butter. Quick, to the Bat Phone! "Hello? How do I make frozen butter into cold butter in, say, the next 5 minutes? Cut it smaller with a knife run (repeatedly) under hot water? Ok, thanks." And so I did, but it took more than 5 minutes because I was trying to be careful. Weird for me, being careful, but I'm trying to learn.

There were two variations mentioned at the bottom of the recipe: one to add cheese (I added it to the dry ingredients but didn't sprinkle it on top of the biscuits), another herb version where I added 1/2 tsp of thyme to the dry ingredients. It suggested 1 tsp each of "savoury" -whatever the hell that is! - and thyme. Once again, I opted not to sprinkle on top, primarily because I completely forgot.

The buttermilk is a little scary. I've never bought it before and now I have 3/4 of a litre sitting in the fridge. Can I use it in my tea tomorrow morning? I did notice a recipe for buttermilk bran muffins on the side of the carton so that will be a good use for both the buttermilk and the 3 million cups of bran I still have on hand. This ain't no low fat recipe, that's for sure!

I'm warning you now: biscuit dough is damn sticky, nearly as bad as the shortbread cookies I made so be prepared to douse yourself in flour again to handle it. I had to go find a ruler to see if I had flattened the dough to 1" (stop laughing), then it was time for the cookie cutters. First, I made a heart (photo above), a star, a Christmas tree and a gingerbread man that Jenny gave me, but after fighting with the cutters to release the dough, I just used the heart because it had the simplest shape. As I was to learn in 12 minutes, it didn't matter too much which cutters I used since all of my biscuits are severely deformed. Tasty but demented.

Now that it's nearly bedtime, I'm finally chowing down (pun intended) on my delicious marathon dinner. I seem to have made enough food for a family of 64 so I've lots of leftovers to look forward to this week!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cauliflower Casserole

Recipe #31: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/quick_and_easy/cauliflower_casserole.php?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dinnerclub_20Nov2009

Bah. I don't think this one turned out the way it was supposed to. I seem to have ongoing cheese sauce thickening issues. I don't know where I went wrong with this recipe. Was it using half an onion instead of a whole onion? Was it using skim milk although they don't specify what kind of milk to use? Surely it can't have been using dried parsley instead of fresh. I have no idea...

Yes, I did a few minor modifications to this recipe. Skim milk, half an onion because it was left over from Thursday's recipe, dried parsley because fresh herbs don't live here (yet). I also used a full tsp of dried mustard to try and give a little more "zip" to the sauce. I don't think my cheese was old but it was definitely cheddar.

The cauliflower steamed well while I burnt the flour/onion/milk mixture into the bottom of the saucepan. Is that why it didn't thicken? I didn't even know about the burnt until I emptied the sauce onto the broccoli. Maybe I didn't simmer the mixture long enough? But I did wait until it coated the back of a spoon as directed. And we all know how hard waiting is for me...

In the end, while the sauce is fairly soupy and a teeny bit separated (don't look closely when you eat it), the final product is somewhat healthy and tasty so I guess I'll be eating it for the rest of the week. I think I'd better go back to making soups for a while to restock my freezer. I haven't messed up any soups too badly...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunflower Seed Granola Bars

I thought I'd branch out a little today and finally make a non-soup recipe that I've been meaning to get around to for a while. While it's not quite baking and dessert-esque, I figured learning to make my own granola bars would be a welcome change from making dinner after dinner....

I only made one slight modification to this recipe. I used dried cranberries instead of the dried apricots or raisins suggested. I don't have anything against raisins or apricots; I just happen to have an excess of dried cranberries this week for some reason. Whenever I go food shopping, I seem to forget that I already have cranberries at home. Oh well, at least they're good for me.

Overall, this recipe is pretty darn simple to make. It also gave me a chance to use my new metal baking pan. I think that's why I held out so long before making this one: I didn't have the baking pan although I could have used my glass one if I shortened the cooking time or lowered the oven temp. Too much fussing...

The only thing I found didn't quite work for me the way the recipe said it should was letting the oil/corn syrup/honey combination simmer to thicken. I let it simmer all right, but it didn't really thicken that I could tell. Maybe it was my mental block against the thought that I used 1/3 cup of oil as prescribed? Regardless, I gave it a chance to thicken, and when it didn't really thicken, I used it anyway.

A word to the wise: when you get near the bottom of the recipe and you've removed your pan from the oven to cool on a rack, DON'T do as I did and believe this to mean you should invert the contents of the pan onto the rack. Turns out this is NOT what is meant! You'll end up with 3/4 of your granola "bars" scattered all over the counter, stove and floor, even as you suddenly realize mid-inversion that maybe you shouldn't be doing that... too late.

If you and I make the same mistake, quickly grab a spatula and scoop your scattered granola back into the pan. Smoosh it down smoothly again so that it doesn't look like you accidently dumped it out and chuck it back in the oven for a couple of minutes. When you take it out again, LEAVE IT IN THE PAN and put the pan on the rack to cool. Then go for a 5k run in the park and your granola bars should be cool upon your return.

Be a little careful when eating your granola bars if your version had to cook a little longer for repairs like mine did. My bars are pretty solid, essentially just one 9x13 bar right now, but tasty nonetheless. I'll smash them apart a little later tonight so that I can take one for lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Penne with Broccoli, Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach

Recipe #29: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Six-OClock-Solutions-Eve-Johnson/9780969735618-item.html

I can't give you the recipe exactly because I got it from the above book that my grandmother gave me years ago. In mine, the recipe is on page 147 in the Vegetarian section. You should buy a copy. Then, when you read it for yourself, you'll see that the recipe really does say "wilted" spinach in it.

Overall impression before having tasted it? Meh, not so sure about this one. I don't have anything against vegetarian recipes; I'm just not sure if this one will have much flavour. I guess I'm used to pasta recipes having a proper sauce. Maybe I should spend more time in Italy, hmmm....

I dabbled a bit with this recipe. I ended up using whole wheat (omega 3, if it matters) rotini instead of penne because I didn't have enough penne and none of my other pasta choices on hand had the same cooking time as penne to make up the difference. I also didn't have crushed red pepper flakes. What am I, a pizzeria? I used about 3/4 of a 1/2 teaspoon of paprika instead. They're both red and I don't get to use paprika often and I have a lot of it. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. No red onion in my version. I hesitated in the onion dept. at the grocery, but in the end, I used half of a small regular onion. I cried less this time. Grated lemon zest turned into dig-the-nearly-dead-dried-up-skinless-lemon-out-of-the-fridge-and-squeeze-the-juice-into-the-half-teaspoon. I also spontaneously added a wee bit of squeeze-tube cilantro and squeeze-tube basil, along with a shake-shake-shake of dried Italian seasoning. Having just tasted the dinner, you might want even more seasoning as I found it a bit bland.

Well, dinner was certainly healthy and filling if it didn't quite make my tastebuds explode. As someone more famous than I once said, "Two out of three ain't bad".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whole Wheat Honey Oat Loaf

I don't know what possessed me to think I wanted to make bread from scratch without a breadmaker. I must have been hallucinating or something. What a lot of work!

I've been avoiding this recipe for a week or so now, primarily because of how much work and time I was convinced it would take. Let's just say I wasn't completely without reason when I finally got around to the recipe today. It's rather labour intensive, especially if it's your first time.

The first problem I encountered was the milk/yeast combination. Good thing those yeasties come in packs of 3. I now have but 1 left. I went and bought the homo milk as specified, but must not have had it sufficiently warm the first time I tried to make it "frothy". I waited the prescribed 10 minutes....nothing. I waited another 35 minutes....nothing, even after putting the bowl on the heat register while the furnace was on. Argh. Start over.

In the meantime, my oat/water/honey/butter combination was soaking nicely. I only drained a tiny bit of extra water out of it, otherwise no problems unless you count trying to get the honey out of the measuring spoon. That got a bit messy.

Second time around with the yeast and we're finally frothing. Add everything else and stir. Good grief, this dough is incredibly sticky! Baker beware, it will stick to freakin' everything, even if you coat your house and self in flour like I nearly did. When you manage to get it out of the bowl onto your floured surface, keep your bag of flour handy. You'll need it, trust me. I don't even know how much I had to use to keep that dough off the counter and my hands. Eventually, I kneaded it enough that it mostly behaved, and I managed to wrestle it into my (second) greased bowl. I used a glass bowl for this section where the evil dough is to rise in a warm place, and I put the covered bowl on the back burner of the stove with the oven on low for 1.5 hours.

90 minutes later, my dough looks monstrous, like a sea monkey left in water too long. I read the next step. Oh good! I get to punch the dough that made such a mess for me earlier. Darn, this crap is still so sticky. Now it's everywhere again, argh! I probably manhandled it a little more than I should have, but then again, I've never wrestled octopuses before and this felt quite similar.

Divide and conquer time. More like rip in half and attempt to reshape into lopsided, not-to-scale rectangles. Where's the damn flour? I think I have dough stuck to my entire upper body. Roll into bizarre-looking cylinders, seams naturally won't stick together, quickly flip seam-side down into pans and close my eyes. Now the plastic wrap won't stick to my new loaf pans and they keep fighting over which one gets which half of the warm burner where they've been sent to rise again.

Time's up, into the oven with you after your dressing with egg and oats. That's got to be good for the skin. I should try it sometime. I accidently smashed one loaf pan into the oven rack which probably explains why one loaf is smaller than the other. The dough sank like a rock in water after impact when my hand slipped. Oopsie.

Out of the oven now. How am I going to know if the bottom sounds hollow when they're in metal pans? Hmmm, dump them out onto the cooling racks and tap. Yep, hollow, but I doubt there's any candy in there if I whack them with a stick while blindfolded.

I tried a piece of the deformed, smaller loaf and it's good. It smells faintly of beer, probably the yeast since I made non-alcoholic bread products. Tasty, hard crust, slightly sweet. Still not sure if it was worth all the work, but at least I won't have to buy bread at the store this week...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Energy Soup Bowl

Yep, soup again. But only because I'm replenishing all the frozen soup that I've eaten from past recipes. Besides, I need some energy and this recipe is all about that.

This recipe was pretty easy, save for the mounds of chopping in the boring prep part that always takes me longer than they say it will. I skipped out on the rutabaga because they don't come in 1/4 cup sizes and I don't really like them anyway. I used a potato instead because it was on the verge of kitchen death and looks the same colour as a rutabaga when you cut them both up. I was going to use frozen beans instead of the green beans called for, but figured I'd have enough vegetables without them and chucked them back in the freezer. Maybe next time. I also deleted the red pepper (blech) and dillweed which I don't own. However, I finally bought cumin today, even if I didn't use it for this recipe. I got tired of seeing it listed in other ones.

I ended up using 1 cup of potato, about 1 cup of broccoli, and 6 tbsp of the barley in lieu of the rice that I didn't have and wasn't going to buy 3 tbsp worth. I also ran out of chicken stock at the 4 3/4 cup mark so I made up the difference with beef stock. I have to go replenish my stock of stock soon, ha ha ha. I had a can of white kidney beans on hand so I used them instead of red ones, and I substituted 1 tsp of squeeze tube basil for the dried stuff. I also substituted 1/2 tsp of thyme for the dillweed. No idea if they taste similar but I think they're both green.

Aside from my soup forgetting how to simmer after the addition of the celery, cauliflower, etc., there weren't really any issues with it. It smells quite good although I haven't yet tasted it. I was too busy choking down the Cinnamon Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding for dinner.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding

Ok, in theory, this recipe sounded good. In the real life tasting department, it's kind of bland and gross with a rather disgusting aftertaste. Don't say I didn't warn you...

I realize that I've made a lot of soups recently, in part because I can freeze them in servings and have an easy meal. I thought I'd try a "real" breakfast recipe this time because I'm tired of eating soup for breakfast this week. There's a girl on the night shift at work who cringes when I come out of the lunch room at 6:30am toting my tortellini/casserole/soup for breakfast.

I had all the ingredients on hand for this recipe and I found it on the Healthy Living website (see above) so I thought I'd give it a go. Good way to use up eggs and oats too. Simple to make. I made it while waiting for my soup to finish simmering which it seems to have forgotten how to do. That'll be the next blogged recipe, btw.

I was a little leery about adding the egg mixture to boiling water (eggs will cook and I don't want to know about that in what I'm eating), but that's what it said to do so that's what I did. Sure enough, there were some suspiciously white pieces floating around in the water almost instantly. I quickly measured and stirred in the oats to cover them up. Yuck, looks kind of vile.

Finished product resembles oatmeal for the most part. I added a handful of dried cranberries at the end because I'm trying to use them up and they're probably good for me. I happen to have used homo milk because I had it on hand for a recipe coming up. I tasted the mixture while spooning it into a bowl and quickly added sugar which I almost never do to oatmeal. That might explain why I had to hunt down the sugar and couldn't find the Splenda. Then I added milk to my gloppy bowl of fun to further dilute the odd taste. I know this is a healthy breakfast, but I'm still trying not to think about the itty bitty white strings of egg that I can see. I'll think twice before making this one again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tex Mex Stovetop Casserole

Well, I'm not really sure I would consider my version of this recipe to be a "casserole" so much as a hearty pasta soup maybe? Good thing there's no photo on the website with the recipe. It's easier to pretend mine turned out perfectly that way.

As usual, a few substitutions and deletions in my version. Lacking the motivation to hit the grocery store again, I chopped up 1 1/3 carrots malingering in the fridge in lieu of celery. I ate the remainder of the second carrot raw. I used an entire can of black beans so as not to have a container of rinsed black beans sitting in the fridge with no purpose. I have no idea if my sausage was the appropriate mild. It was in the freezer and I cooked it. End of story.

My macaroni was that "smart" kind that looks white but is better for you than white. I think at some point I must have mixed in the remainder of a box of whole wheat macaroni as there were some suspiciously dark pieces in the box, but I have no actual memory of having done so. I used 2 cups of the chicken broth still in the fridge in lieu of the water. Frozen corn got translated to frozen-peas-and-carrots-already-in-the-freezer while hot sauce became something-close-to-1-tsp-of-paprika-but-I-didn't-measure-it-exactly-because-it-wouldn't-shake-well. The cumin got deleted altogether because I didn't own any, and the salt was omitted because I said so.

Pretty easy to make as long as you read the recipe carefully like me and realize that the sausages are supposed to go in the pot already cooked and my package said they're not cooked. Simple to fix. Just don't get distracted on Facebook or they'll be a little charred. Fret not, the rest of the ingredients will cover that smoky flavour and you'll end up with a delicious hot bowl of yum!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Santa Fe Shepherd's Pie

Another two-recipes-in-one dish. How about that? I'm starting to realize they are a LOT more work than just one.

I ran in to a bit of a mashed potato crisis with this recipe. First of all, the shepherd's pie recipe calls for 3 cups of freshly mashed potatoes. Putting yourself in my shoes, as in little experience in the kitchen and no recent experience eating shepherd's pie, you too would be wondering how to make mashed potatoes. Truthfully, you're probably laughing, but I really didn't know. Yes, I figured I could just cook some potatoes and smash them up, or as was later suggested to me, buy instant mashed potatoes, but I wanted to "make" mashed potatoes, something a little nicer that would use up the real potatoes at home which is how I ended up with the Kraft version.

After choosing the Kraft recipe and figuring I would only need to buy the parmesan cheese and chicken broth, I had a calculation problem. You see, the mashed potato recipe yields 10 of some unknown measurement, but a) I didn't have cute little red potatoes, just big, ugly, aging regular ones, and b) I had no idea what the quantity correlation would be between 3 cups for Campbell's shepherd's pie and this bloody "10" cited by Kraft. Can't these companies talk to one another? In the end, I made the mashed potato recipe as a half quantity, using only 1lb of my old, ugly potatoes. Unbeknownst to me, this would create another problem down the line.

The only ingredient I had to buy for the Campbell's shepherd's pie recipe was the cilantro. I don't own any and don't feel like growing any so what's a girl to do? I could do what I did the last time my recipe called for cilatro: just chuck in a variety of dried spices already on hand and hope for the best. But I decided it was time to invest in another herb so now I am the proud owner of a tube of cilantro. How did I never use this stuff before? I bought a tube of basil a couple of weeks ago to start my collection and it's great! No chopping, no picking herbs off the floor, no stuffing chopped herbs into a measuring spoon, no throwing out dead herbs that you forgot to water for weeks. Instead, I just squeeze the amount required into the measuring spoon and presto!

I dislike peppers of any kind: red, yellow, orange, green, purple, whatever. If I'm making the recipe, you're not eating peppers, so for this one, I substituted a cup of frozen peas and carrots occupying valuable real estate in the freezer. I also didn't use the low-fat soup because when you buy a flat of the soup at Costco at a very good price, it is what it is and that's what you have on hand. I've no idea whether the meat was uber-low-fat as requested. I simply dug enough out of the freezer and cooked it. I usually buy the extra lean or lean so I think I've still done Campbell's proud.

A word of advice here: after mixing the cooked meat with the spices and veggies, don't absentmindedly lick some of the mixture off your arm. The combination of cilatro and chili powder is really very unpleasant. Oh, and if, like me, you scrape the minced garlic into the pan from the squisher-thing with your fingers, don't forget to wash your hand quickly before you answer the phone, or we will both have a phone that smells like garlic.

All went pretty well until I added the potato slop to the meat mixture. Suddenly, I realized I probably didn't have 3 cups worth of potato, having conveniently neglected to actually measure my yield after finishing the mashed potato recipe. Crap. Well, I could "whip up" another batch of mashed potato, seeing as I still have some potatoes kicking around, or better yet, call up the dinner guest and casually ask if they could buy me some instant mashed potatoes on their way over. I chose the latter. However, when the guest arrived, we poked at the dinner (not yet in the oven) and estimated (semi-incorrectly) that there was already sufficient potato coverage.

I was aiming for 2/3 meat, 1/3 potato topping and fell slightly short on the latter, but overall the food was good. I didn't end up making any further potato, instant or "real", so I guess that's a vote for the carb-phobic side. I also had to request a new package of parmesan cheese from my shopping guest as the one I bought earlier today was green and fuzzy inside when I opened it. Guess where I'm going back to tomorrow? I'm also going to buy a potato masher while I'm at it...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Broccoli and Cheddar Cheese Soup

I picked this recipe originally because I thought the cheddar cheese was cooked into the soup. That way, I could use up some of the cheese in my fridge. After I went grocery shopping and actually read the recipe to the end, I realized the cheese stands alone...on top of the soup.

I made a few mods to this recipe. I hacked up the hapless wiggly celery hiding at the back of the fridge, and added a carrot for good measure. Soups are a good way to hide vegetables, especially soups that you blend. I used a 900mL tetra of chicken stock in lieu of the stock/water combination those tricky Kraft people list. You want me to drag out the can opener, dump out the can, then fill it up and dump it out again - twice? No. Not so much when I can shake, snap open, and pour. Nice try, Krafties, but you forgot about my lazy streak. Oh, and the first onion I tried to chop was disintegrating so I chucked it. I also cut back a bit on the milk due to 284mL of broth/water x 3 not quite equalling the 900 mL of broth I used.

My version turned out darker than the Kraft-photographed one but I didn't use photo shop. It was probably the extra veggies in mine that changed the colour. I also started compiling a list of things that can get done while waiting for stupid vegetables to cook or for soup to boil. I'm taking multi-tasking to a whole new level....one day.

By this, my 23rd recipe, I've also learned that I can chop vegetables in time to my iPod if I have the right bpm playing. How cool is that? I could take my show on the road! And I was even using the semi-scary knife, not my cute little yellow paring knife. The only tricky part is when I run out of veggies and have to slow down so that I don't mangle a finger. I could probably work that into the song if I practiced enough. I'll put it on my to-do list, right after: "Open my own soup kitchen".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake

Try saying that title three times fast without spitting on someone!

First off, this recipe is good! It's so good I'm having it for breakfast today. Say what you will about what breakfast foods are supposed to be, but it's good food and I'm hungry so there you go.

I only changed a couple of things with this recipe. My spinach bag was slightly smaller than called for (trust me, you'll get plenty of spinach anyway), I used a (drained) can of diced tomatoes that had italian flavouring, I used italian seasoning instead of the basil because the only basil I own is in a tube instead of dried, I chose a mushroom and garlic pasta sauce, and neither my cream cheese nor my parmesan cheese were of the "light" variety. Oh, the horror!

The pasta/spinach combination is a little tricky to drain well, but you'll get a nice spinach facial if you stick your head over the colander. The water is a fun green too. Mine probably still had some water in it which might account for the slightly runny sauce at the end.

Don't forget to preheat the oven. I was distracted by phone calls so I had some waiting to do when I finally remembered to turn the oven on. We all know how much I enjoy waiting. The last couple of pasta recipes I've made, I didn't cook the pasta right away because then it sits around congealing and getting cold. This time, cook the pasta first like they tell you to because the sauce won't take very long.

My baking dish ended up very full so don't be alarmed if that happens to you as well. Beware that the dish will still be bubbling away if, at the end of the oven time, you turn the oven off and try to go for a run. Better take it out and cover it with aluminum foil instead. You don't want to come back to a dessicated carcass that used to smell and look really good. The aluminum foil idea (if you're not eating right away) is a good one, but it may allow some extra moisture to accumulate in your dish. Not earth-shattering, just something to keep in mind.

And by the way, running in fall leaves is a lot of fun. It sounds and smells good, just like this recipe :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cranberry-Lemon Shortbread

Wow. This recipe was a PITA. Maybe I'm just tired from having been in the kitchen most of the day, but I'm not really excited about these cookies. They sure seem innocuous enough online, but I ran into numerous little problems while making them.

The ingredients are straight forward and easy. Nothing really exotic beyond the dried cranberries. I managed to prepare those while waiting for my White Bean & Pasta soup to simmer. I didn't really know what lemon zest was, but correctly guessed that it's the peel of a lemon, all grated up. Now's there's a partially naked lemon in my fridge. Any takers?

Once I mixed the dry and wet ingredients, the problems started. The dough is really sticky and I'm assuming that's why they recommend chilling it for 30 minutes prior to trying to roll it. First I had to wrestle it onto the plastic wrap. Then I had to remove it from my hands and the spatula I was using, and make it stick to the "ball" of dough. Not an easy feat. I finally shoved it in the fridge, only to suddenly realize I don't own a rolling pin. Quick call to two different friends finally yields me a new rolling pin to call my own. Sweet!

With the chilled dough in hand, and my new rolling pin unwrapped, I dusted the counter and rolling pin with flour and tried to flatten my dough. Easier said than done. This stuff is tenacious! I was rolling it too hard at first, but even when I lightened up, it still sticks like crazy to whatever isn't coated in flour. Roll, roll, flour up, peel dough off roller and try to adhere to rest of dough, roll, roll, flour up...

Finally, I was ready to start cutting out cool shapes. The only cookie cutters I had on hand were dinosaurs. Laugh all you want but they're fun. The only negative is that some of them have little bitty narrow parts that the dough likes to stick in. This would help explain the War Amps appearance of my poor Jurassic Park cookies.

I had to use a knife to scrape/cut around the cookie cutters, removing the excess dough. Then I had to scrape the cut shape off the counter and attempt to transfer it to the cookie sheet without arms, legs, or heads dropping off. I wasn't very good at the process which also helps to explain my mangled dinos.

Repeat, repeat, third sheet of pseudo-dinos is ready, I'll make a heart with the extra dough. That's the only shape of cookie that's recognizable for what it is. The other hard part about using the cookie cutters is that this recipe has dried fruit in it. Those cutters are probably better suited for a recipe such as sugar cookies, where the dough isn't quite so finicky and annoying.

The cookies are cooling, I've eaten dinner, time for the icing. I don't recommend making the icing up as they tell you to do. You'll end up with a peculiar ratio of a lot of juice to some lumps of icing sugar. Very, very runny, and not resembling icing in the slightest. After much addition of icing sugar and cream cheese, along with dragging out the electric beaters again, I managed to fix my icing to the point where it was useable, albeit still quite runny. It's not the pale pink they promise either.

This was a test run of this recipe for me. I'm going to use it again before the end of the year, when it will count, so now I have a better idea of what problems to anticipate, and possibly how to fix them. Until then, I'm chowing down on tasty, demented-looking, extinct creatures...

White Bean and Pasta Soup

20 recipes! Who would have thought I'd stick it out this long? I can honestly say it's been a "process", but I'm eating better (most days) and I've learned a lot. I'm a faster chopper of veggies now, and I even graduated to using a bigger - albeit scarier - knife yesterday. I still cry when I hack onions though.

I must say, as a warning, that if you do this whole recipe as I did (as in using the second one listed to prepare the beans), it will take you a while and will be fairly labour-intensive. I ended up doing the bean prep recipe last night and I finished the soup recipe this morning. It's confusing, I know. I did think about simply using canned beans for the soup recipe to make my life easier, but I'm trying to learn new things so I decided to do it from scratch the first time.

The bean prep recipe (Cannellini Beans with Sage) wasn't too bad overall, just time consuming. I made another batch of the Rib Stickin' Bean & Barley Soup (see Sept 1st blog entry), so by the time I got to this one, it was already 7pm. The package of beans I bought was heavier than I needed so I had to guesstimate how much a pound was. I haven't yet got a kitchen scale. I didn't have sage either so I used 3 bay leaves. Instead of kosher salt, I used half the amount required in sea salt. Apparently that's the way to go if you're substituting for kosher salt, just cut the amount called for in half. I love the internets.

I cheated a little bit on the bean soaking time. The recipe says overnight, but the package of beans says 3 hours so I used warmer water and went with the shorter time. The peppercorns are a bit of a PITA to remove later. I dug them out as they appeared in my slotted spoon at the end of the recipe, but I still found a few this morning. Not critical, just something to keep in mind. The garlic also fell apart somewhat so I had to retrieve a bit of floating garlic parts. For the record, the bean recipe will make far more than you need for the soup. I think I'll add all the extra cooked white beans to the Bean & Barley Soup I made earlier. It's either that or to the cookies I'm making next...

As for the White Bean & Pasta Soup I just made, I cut back a little on the freakin' onion, chopping up a large one instead of a whole 2 cups worth. Has onion got some super health benefit that I'm unaware of? Every bloody recipe seems to call for the crazy things! I also substituted 3 cups of the beef broth that was clogging up my fridge for the water, adding more water to make up the difference. That was the initial 3 1/2 cups of liquid called for, and by the end of the recipe, I'd added another 2 cups of water. Not that it makes a major difference, but I seeded and finely chopped 2 roma tomatoes instead of the large tomato. As for the green onion and drizzling of olive oil, I skipped those entirely.

During the 25 minutes or so of simmering time, I managed to wash the dishes I'd created, and chop up the cranberries needed for my cookies later today. I'm learning to use cooking time wisely!

The soup is quite good. Mine needed that last cup of water added at the end because it's quite thick, but it's tasty and hot and full of delicious goodness. Mmmm! I'd say the only overall drawback would be cooking with the never-ending headache that has plagued me off and on for a week now...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Broccoli and Tortellini Light Alfredo

Recipe #19: Sorry, no link for this recipe. I found it on the back of a package of Green Giant frozen broccoli so you should be able to find it easily too. Alternatively, email me (truehockeygirl@yahoo.com) and I'll send it to you.

Luckily for me, I only needed to buy one ingredient for this one: the sour cream. I figured I didn't have nutmeg at home, and was willing to substitute a random spice picked at the last minute, but was pleasantly surprised to discover I do own nutmeg. I can't remember when I bought it but it's not too old.

This recipe also mentions white pepper and hot pepper. White pepper? What the heck is white pepper? I know now, because I asked a friend, but do people seriously buy pepper according to colour? As for the hot pepper, no. I don't do those. Verboten. I had an intensely painful experience with some Flamin' Hot Cheetos recently - thankfully they're not currently available in Canada - and I don't gravitate to spicy food in general. Too much pain and running nose.

I'm glad I read this recipe more than once before I started making it. I was assembling the ingredients and hauled out an onion which I was prepared to try grating in lieu of slicing this time. Something made me look once more at the quantities and I noticed it said 1 tbsp of "finely chopped onion". 1 TBSP??! You want me to go to the trouble of hacking up 1 tbsp of onion? No. Not going to happen. Because then I will have leftover onion stinking up my fridge. If I'm going to destruct an onion for cooking purposes, it's all or nothing. This time, I chose nothing. I added extra garlic to compensate because garlic's good for my immune system.

I was afraid I'd wrecked the sauce when I panicked at the hissing milk slowly being poured into the pot and quickly dumped the rest of it in. Once I whisked in the flour gradually, and waited a while for it to come to a boil, the sauce managed to save itself by thickening somewhat. Whew! I was wracking my brain trying to remember how I made sauce before but was coming up blank. Patience appears to have paid off in this case.

Overall this recipe is pretty easy to make. It doesn't call for a lot of exotic ingredients, save for the container of fat-free sour cream sitting in the fridge with no calling now. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the missing noxious onion and hot pepper, my version turned out kind of bland. My upbringing in the House of Bland coming back to haunt me perhaps? I did think about hurling some mustard powder into the sauce, but never actually got around to doing it. I discussed the situation of bland sauce with a culinary friend who suggested maybe some lemon juice in the boiling water to infuse the pasta and broccoli with flavour, or a bit of that Lea & Perrins "rooster" sauce added to my sauce. Now I have some ideas for next time, and some semi-bland food for lunch tomorrow...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crock Pot Potato Soup

Since I'm pressed for time these days necessitating a temporary departure from blogging, I figured I'd make a crock pot recipe, thus freeing me up to do other things while my dinner essentially cooked itself. I didn't anticipate the hour of prep this one would take...

My index finger is sporting a large blister (covered by Polysporin under a Scooby Doo band-aid, naturally) from chopping, chopping, and more stupid chopping. I hate leeks and onions! Ok, admittedly, part of the problem is probably the fact that I chop, slice, and dice EVERYTHING with my little yellow paring knife. But that's because it's the only good knife on the premises that I'm not afraid of using.

This was my first time using leeks in anything. I usually avoid eating them too. They look weird at the grocery store, and seem to be related to onions. Why would I want them? But, with this cooking experiment voyage I have embarked on, I figured I'd better try some new things or what's the point of it all? Yes, I could become an expert at making Kraft Dinner, but it really wouldn't get me too far in life, and I hate being one dimensional.

Since leeks are foreign to me, I hacked out a quick email to the Maman to pick her culinary brain on which parts I use, and how best to use them. She doesn't cook with them much either but gave me some suggestions which I coupled with the tag that came on the leeks. Recipe calls for 2 leeks so naturally the grocery store sells the blasted things in a bunch of 3. You don't know how tempted I was, there in the produce section, to yank one leek out and just buy two. I didn't do it because I was on lunch and didn't have time to explain to the police why I'd done that if anyone had noticed. Now I have a lone leek in the fridge. Free to a good home other than mine....

Leeks, like my nemesis onions, are slippery and difficult to chop. I was getting better at chopping onions through tears, and wisely saved them for last this time, but the leeks got to me long before I got to the onions. Tedious, tedious, chop, chop, leek ala floor, chop, chop, chop, now I have a blister. Woe is me. I chopped the first leek up into really small pieces because I don't want a big mouthful of yuck, and I don't want to taste the yuck either. That's become my way of working with recipes that request onions: I chop them into microscopic pieces so to better pretend they're not there. By the time I got to the second leek, I just hacked it into somewhat bigger pieces and hoped for the best.

Another suggestion for this recipe before it turns into an anti-leek-and-onion-rant: Unless you're using sodium-reduced everything, this one might not be so good to partake in if you're on a sodium-restricted diet. To my palate, so far it's pretty salty, but it is still cooking while I type this. Once I finally found the bloody bouillon cubes, I had a few different choices for chicken flavour so you might want the less salt ones that I didn't end up choosing. And if you're shopping at the Metro on Wellington Road in London, the cubes are not in the soup aisle - the organic ones are but they don't come in chicken flavour - they're in the spice section, two aisles over. Annoying, I know.

Oh, and I'll give you another little tidbit of information: get a BIG crockpot if you don't reduce the ingredients. If you follow the link at the top of this blog, you'll notice that the recipe is helpfully lacking some key information such as how many servings it makes (more than my crockpot can hold I discovered the hard way), any nutritional information (is it that bad?), and how long to expect the prep to take (if you're me, better allow at least an hour, including the cursing). Jenny warned me this recipe might make large quantities but I didn't listen.

I haven't yet reached the point where I can look at a recipe, see that it calls for 6 potatoes, and know that it will cause a near overflow of my crockpot. My brain sees this instead: "Oh, 6 potatoes. Ok, this is a good recipe. I have 12 potatoes that I'm trying to use up and this will take care of half of them. Leeks? Gross. I guess I'll try them. I wonder if I have the celery soup at home already? I think I ran out of carrots last week. Hey, basil in a squeeze tube, cool!"....and so it goes.

Well, since this freakin' recipe took forever (4 hours on high, milk in for the last hour), I've already had a salad for dinner and I'm close to going to bed but I'll try it. Salty, yessir, but that's probably more a result of my palate not being used to salty foods. I don't normally add salt to stuff. The vegetables are nice and tender (hot too, I just burned my mouth), and the microscopic onion and leek are hardly noticeable. Just the way they should be.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Parmesan, Chicken & Broccoli Pasta

Finally, a recipe that doesn't feed 12 people! My freezer is pretty full from all of the recent leftovers.

You may be wondering about all the chicken recipes I've made lately. Number one, it was on sale... in bulk. Number two, beef is a PITA to me as I've mentioned before. Number three, chicken turns white when it's done. Easier to tell.

I have a stomachache while I write this, but I swear it's from stress, not my dinner. Don't let that turn you off trying this recipe yourself. It's pretty tasty. Just don't let it get cold while you eat like I did.

Based on an idea I gleaned from comments on the Kraft site, I added a bit of extra salad dressing to this version. Pretty much everything else is the same, save for the freshly grated parmesan in place of canned stuff. I had some fresh stuff left over. I pitched the bit of cammo broccoli in the fridge in favour of fresh. I ate the softly wrinkled tomato in a salad the other night and used a fresher one for this. I had a 454g pasta package so I pinched out what I figured to be about 1/4 of that, then flung in a few more noodles (twice) when it didn't look like enough.

Heck, I even grated the mozzarella into my 1/4 cup measuring spoon, although a lot of it ended up on the counter. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a "packed" measured amount like brown sugar, or more loose, as it came out of the grater. I compromised and mashed one 1/4 cup and not the other.

You might find this recipe to be a bit runny at the end. Mine was probably from adding the extra dressing, but the tomatoes will also contribute some liquid. I think next time I'll probably add some (dry) Italian seasoning to give it a bit of a flavour boost. You could probably also try a wee bit of that Lee & Perrins "rooster" sauce, the dark bottle with the orange label.

This will be my last recipe post for a little while. I'm heading to the White House for our Thanksgiving (I hope I don't need a dinner reservation), then I need to go off the grid for a bit to catch up on some neglected parts of my life. Fear not, I will return. In the meantime, try some of my blogged recipes and tell me how they went for you. I changed the comment settings for this blog so you *should* be able to post a comment without having to have a special email account. Let me know if this is not the case.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Creamy Chicken & Rice Bake

How ironic that I'm writing this as the smoke detector for the troll's lair downstairs has been going off for about a minute. That's usually what happens to me when I cook. I can hear her dragging a chair around, probably because of her lack of stature. I just hope she doesn't take the battery out and forget to put it back in.

Well, another recipe done that looks mostly like the photo on the website I got it from (link above). I only ran into a couple of "issues" with this one.

I bought the few ingredients I needed on my way home, and started thawing the chicken as soon as I was home. Oh ho! I'm learning to think ahead in the cooking department. Unfortunately, when I hauled out all the ingredients, I realized that I had just about every other kind of soup except cream of chicken. I ended up using low fat cream of celery, mostly because I had two cans for some unknown reason, and really had no idea when or in what I would ever end up using them.

I didn't really have any onion powder, nor was I about to buy yet another spice I'll use twice and leave sitting on the shelf for 6 years. I dug some onion soup mix powder out of the cupboard and used the required amount from that, managing to mostly avoid the little dried bits of whatever that come with the powder. I hate onion soup.

The rice? Well, yes, the rice was a bit of a problem. Not one I had seen coming either. In my planning brilliance, I failed to realize that just because I had a box of rice sitting in the cupboard, that did not automatically translate to having enough actual rice inside the box. I came up just shy of the 3/4 cup required, and knew enough that making up the difference with the instant rice on the shelf would not necessarily bring the desired result. Not yet at least. What I also didn't think of at the time was to simply adjust my added water to account for the missing rice. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 for a reason.

When my dish came out of the oven still quite soupy, I figured out the lack of rice and non-adjustment of water was almost certainly to blame. That would save me blaming myself for jerry-thawing the frozen vegetables under hot water at the last minute, thereby potentially inadvertedly adding undesired extra water to the recipe. Nope, wasn't that. I have now fixed the soupy problem by making some extra instant rice on the stove and stirring it into the pan. You can hardly even tell it didn't come out like that, or so I keep telling myself.

I don't really know yet how the whole thing tastes because I got tired of waiting for it to cook and had a burger for dinner instead. The chicken/rice combo is for lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chocolate, Cranberry & Oat Bars

A funny thing happened the other day when I did a Healthier Living Dessert search on the Kraft Kitchens site: It gave me a list of 63 dessert recipes, one of which was Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie. I know I haven't been cooking stuff very long, but where I come from, chicken pot pie is not considered a dessert! I laughed. A lot.

Our family closes up our cottage on Thanksgiving, but we did it a week early this year due to scheduling conflicts on the real weekend. As part of our closing up weekend, we have a nice potluck dinner, usually with a bunch of our neighbours up there, and it's a relaxing evening of good food and great socializing, often while taking warm refuge from the inclement weather that can accommodate the holiday. This year, we kept it pretty low-key with just our family, about 15 of us altogether. We all pitched in for food and I made this recipe for dessert.

I periodically wish my kitchen had more counter space. Better still, I wish the dishes would clean themselves, but I think the counter wish will come true before the dish wish. The dishes usually get in the way of the counter, especially in recipes like this one where there's a greased pan lying around, plus a bowl with the dry ingredients, plus the bowl where you're blending the butter and sugar, plus the bowl that you were blending the butter in until you realized it wasn't going to work, etc. You get the picture. Jenny gave me a suggestion to deal with the dishes, but I've yet to take her up on it out of laziness to date.

I was a little pressed for time with this recipe so I recruited the Chocolatarian to help me speed up the process. He's an experienced baker and loves chocolate so I delegated the "coarsly chopped" chocolate task to him. Next time, I'll hack the pecans to pieces before I start the recipe, but thankfully I was able to squeeze that tedious task in while he blended the sugar and butter for me. I was apprehensive about using cranberries since I'm not a big cranberry fan, but they're not overpowering and they lend a bit of tartness to offset any excess sweetness in this recipe. I noticed that one can also use raisins instead of cranberries if that's an issue for you.

These bars that I cut into squares were quite well received. No one seemed to even care that they were a "healthier" dessert option which means to me that they didn't taste too "diet-esque" or anything equally revolting. In fact, both Jeff and Jenny were eager to take some extra squares home with them which I heartily encouraged since otherwise I'll be stuck with them for weeks. The squares I mean, not my cousins. We had an extensive dessert collection this year for our holiday meal, and my little bars got snatched up as quickly as all the chocolatey-goodness options which made me feel good. I even got asked for the recipe, hooray!

Creamy Chicken, Bacon & Tomato Pasta

We're back to Kraft again. What can I say? Their "healthier" recipes are easiest for me to find, and I like all the bright colours on their website. I'm partial to bright colours.

This recipe turned out pretty well, if you ignore the fact that it took me a long time to get the darn sauce to thicken. I'm not really sure why that was a problem, seeing as I did everything just the way I was supposed to. Was it the spontaneous mushrooms perhaps?

The only things I altered with this recipe were the addition of some dried oregano, some dried italian blend seasoning, some freshly grated parmesan, and a drained can of mushrooms because I like them. Don't ask me how much spices I added. I said "some" for a reason because it was a "shake-shake-shake, looks like enough" moment times two. I figured that since I have these spices hanging out in my kitchen already, and since I was supposed to buy the italian blend tomatoes, then those spices should go nicely with the recipe.

Not that it made much difference, but you might want to read the tomato can label carefully. I was so focused on buying the italian blend in the right size that I failed to notice that I wasn't buying the "diced" tomatoes. I didn't know this until I slopped them in the pot but it wasn't too bad. I just whacked at them with the edge of a spatula until they looked more diced. There. Problem fixed.

By the time I got around to eating this dinner, I was nearly asleep with fatigue (a lot on the go right now) so I was only able to eat half of what I put in my bowl. My GI tract has also been rather unhappy with me lately so my opinion of this dish tasting a bit too salty for my palate may not be an accurate impression. The other person that I managed to convince to try this liked it a lot so there you go. At least the mushrooms gave me something to snack on while I waited for the stupid sauce to thicken. If you add the mushrooms like me, you may want to see how watery your sauce is and adjust the water addition accordingly, something I will do next time...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yogurt Bran Muffins

Let's see how the folks at Canadian Living measure up to those crafty people at Kraft, shall we?

Well, I'm back to attempting desserts or dessert-esque recipes, at least for this one. It's been a long stretch of mostly dinners so I thought I'd try something different. The muffins are still cooling on the rack so I don't yet know how they taste, but they sure smell good! Better still, using the oven heated up my place a bit so I'm no longer freezing.

Does anyone have any use for about 400g of bran? Not the cereal, the flaky stuff that looks like what my hamster and gerbil used to sleep in. I seem to have a lot of it left, but that was the only size available at the grocery. Oh well, I guess I'll be very regular for an indefinite period of time.

I did quite well with this recipe, taste-test notwithstanding. The only part I need to improve would be the end, where it says to PRESS the remaining apricot pieces into the muffin batter. If you don't read that part like me, and simply drop them on top of the batter, they will burn and you'll have to pick them off before you take a photo of your otherwise masterful product.

A word here: The recipe says it makes 12 muffins, and to fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Not so much if your muffin pans are like mine. I rewrote the recipe to say "Fill the muffin cups to heaping because you have a ton of batter".

Tomorrow, I have to return an extra bag of oats (different recipe - I was planning ahead but didn't realize I already had some), a surplus container of baking powder (found some in the cupboard while trying to find the muffin pan liners), and figure out how I ended up with 4 boxes of baking soda, all in different parts of the kitchen.

: Yum! These muffins are good. They're nice and moist inside, and mine was still warm when I ate it. I don't, however, recommend eating too many in a day, seeing as the recipe has both bran and apricots in it - two ingredients known for helping to um, "regulate" your GI tract. I once ate a couple of handfuls of dried apricots in about a 10 minute span and paid the price for hours. I had no friends that day...