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Monday, November 18, 2013

because I'm not at all late to the pumpkin bandwagon

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I feel like the second the leaves start to lose the slightest tinge of green, we are pretty much bombarded with pumpkin EVERYTHING.  A recent foray to the Trader Joe's in Rochester cemented this for me - pumpkin macarons?  pumpkin scone mix?  pumpkin cream cheese?  Pretty much pumpkin ANYTHING.  I'm not all that gung ho for the ubiquitous orange blob, and generally leave my pumpkins for carving and seed roasting.

However, Lil Z found her own little pie pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, on a flash-lit pumpkin hunt with her Sparks troop, so I really had no choice but to do something with it, lest it rot and she be devastated.

So I decided to make pumpkin muffins.  And I discovered that it's really hard to find a reasonably healthy pumpkin muffin recipe.  I find that life is already full of too much white flour, excess sugar and blood-sugar spiking treats, so when I actually get my schmidt together to make something, I'd prefer it be healthier (and less like cake in disguise).  I eventually found a recipe that fit the bill - these were really tasty - they aren't particularly sweet, and I'd be tempted to replace 1/4c. of the pumpkin puree with oil of some sort, but they are quite delicious.  This batch would make about 18 muffins, but I made 12 muffins and 30 baked mini-doughnuts (just pipe the batter into the pan and bake for about 10 minutes.  I immediately dipped the mini doughnuts in cinnamon sugar, and next time, I'd do the same to the muffins - the recipe could possibly use a bit more sweetness (but not too much; remember, we're not making cake!).  You have to love the fun papers too, eh?  I picked those up from Dollarama - 60 for $1.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins 
recipe lightly modified from Badger Girl Learns to Cook
pumpkin muffins
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade --> I would be tempted to replace 1/4 c of this with oil)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oatmeal (I used oat bran)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners (pro tip: you can spray the liners and they won't stick to your muffins).

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together honey, eggs, pumpkin, vanilla and water (since I didn't puree my pumpkin, I just put these in a mixing bowl and whizzed it with my immersion blender).

3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, oatmeal, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, powdered ginger and ground cloves. Combine dry ingredients with the wet. Stir until just blended.

4. Fill each muffin tin 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Makes 18 muffins (or 12 muffins plus 30 mini-doughnut).  If you want to make cinnamon sugar, just combine 2 T of sugar with about 1/2 t of cinnamon.  Dip the muffin tops/doughnuts while still hot and steamy.

Lil Z thought the donuts were pretty much the best thing ever. And I agree. :) pumpkin mini-donuts

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice 'florentine'

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cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice florentine

I'm not feeling great today - pounding headache, overall feeling of yuck, etc.  Fun stuff, right? Classic November misery.

I remember pre-kids (and also pre-blackberry), when I felt sick and could just doze in bed all day.  Nowadays, blackberry-guilt keeps me from dozing off, and despite me feeling cruddy, the hordes apparently still need to eat (and so do I, and I still need lunches for tomorrow).  So I still have to cook.

I wasn't really feeling up to anything crazy/elaborate, and I haven't got groceries in a while, so I was a bit restricted in what I had (mostly in terms of produce).  I was flipping though old versions of Clean Eating (which, BTW, is coming back on shelves - yay!), and came across a recipe for catfish fillets with warm corn relish - I loved the idea, and I knew I had most of the ingredients (and haddock in the freezer, in lieu of catfish).  The dish came together well - the fish was very flavourful, and I liked the sweetness of the corn and peppers on top of it.  The only downside is that this creates a bit of smoke as you're pan-frying (at least, it's a downside in my new kitchen, because I don't have a hood fan.  Some day.....some day, my friends).  You can peek at the kitchen here (this is, of course, *before* I put all my stuff in it).  I'm hoping to redo the kitchen at some point, as while it looks pretty, there are some brutal functionality issues.

I didn't think that just fish + smattering of corn relish would be satisfying to my crew, nor would it be terribly economical, so I decided to do a rice side.  When I was a kid, every once in a while, we would have Uncle Ben's Rice Florentine (which doesn't seem to exist any more) and I always LOVED it.  It was delicious salty rice with bits of spinach (Florentine, right?). Of course, I try to avoid too much processed food, and buying rice in pre-flavoured tiny boxes is a REALLY expensive way of serving rice.

The recipe I came up with is pretty darn close to the flavour of the classic, ups the health factor with brown rice (though negates it with onion soup mix - oops) and also uses an entire package of frozen spinach.  I love this because you can buy massive bags of brown rice, you can stock up on frozen spinach on sale, and onion soup mix is relatively inexpensive (you could EASILY sub this with homemade broth and dried onion flakes - about 1/4 c of them if you wanted to avoid the onion soup mix - adjust salt to taste).  The great thing about this dish is that you toss it all in the rice cooker, and let it go while you prepare the rest of the meal.  It's super tasty and zero fuss.

lazy brown rice 'florentine'
2 cups brown rice (you can rinse if you feel so inclined)
1 package onion soup mix (OR replace water with broth and add dried onion flakes, or some a sauteed onion; adjust salt accordingly)
1 package frozen chopped spinach, ideally thawed, but you could probably stick the frozen block in the rice cooker and it would still be fine....haven't tried this though)
4 cups water

1. Put rice, onion soup, chopped spinach and water in rice cooker.  Stir.

2. Turn on rice cooker and let it do its thing (about 40-45 minutes for brown rice).

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish
modified from February 2011 Clean Eating Magazine

1 t olive oil
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c red pepper, diced
1/4 t dried thyme
1 c frozen corn
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
1 t balsamic vinegar

5-6 haddock fillets (or other white fish - about 2 lbs total - or less)
1 egg
2/3 c cornmeal
1 t hot smoked paprika
1 t garlic powder
1/2 sea salt
butter, for pan-frying

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice florentine

1. Prepare the relish - in a large skillet on medium high, preheat olive oil.  Add onion, red pepper and thyme and cook until veggies start to soften (about 3 minutes).  Add corn and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat, add balsamic, parsley, salt and pepper to combine, then put in a small bowl.  Cover to keep warm, and wipe pan out with a paper towel.

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice florentine

2. Beat the egg in a large dish.  Add haddock and coat with the egg (I actually put the egg in the bag my haddock came in, because I'm lazy (efficient?) like that.

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice florentine

3. In a shallow pan/pie plate, combine cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder, pepper and salt.  Re-heat your pan on medium/medium-high.  Coat 2-3 pieces of fish (depending on the size of the pieces and the size of your pan - you don't want them touching), add the butter to the pan, and then add the fish.  Cook 2-3 minutes each side, adding more butter as necessary and then repeat until all fish is cooked (my fillets were large, so I cut most of them in two).  Check the thickest fillets to make sure they are cooked, but fish doesn't take long.

4. Serve fish with corn relish over top.

This dish had great flavours - everyone loved it, including the small people.  I had a lot of fish (2 lbs), so after dinner and lunches made, I've decided to use the rest (about half) in fish tacos tomorrow night. :D

cajun cornmeal-crusted haddock with warm corn relish and brown rice florentine

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

laziness, procrastination, and a side of chocolate chip granola bars

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chocolate chips granola bars

I consider laziness a prime motivating factor to many of my decisions (if one can in fact consider laziness in that way, without seeming too oxymoronic).  Anyway, as I've mentioned before, life with two small people is just that much busier than life with one, so by the time I get home from work, dinner is had, and kids are in bed, I'm feeling like I just want to veg.

Except there's still stuff that has to happen - dishes, making lunches, laundry, general house stuff (our new place needs a lot of work, which falls primarily to hubs, which means that the dishes/laundry that we used to do together now mostly fall to me, while he does such fun things as sand, prime, paint, etc.).

I was procrastinating last night, and a FB friend of mine posted a link to these homemade granola bars, which looked super easy and met a couple of important criteria - 1) I had all the ingredients and 2) they were nut-free.  Neither of my mini-foodies has allergies, but one of Lil Z's good friends in her class is allergic, and the whole classroom is nut-free.

And in the world of homemade snack bars, nut free poses a bit of a challenge - it's easy enough to avoid the types of bars with chunks of nuts, but so many recipes use nut butters as a binding agent.  This recipe avoided the nut issue entirely (though you could totally add chopped nuts or anything else to them - raisins, craisins, dried cherries, coconut, seeds, flax, etc.).  I made it very simply the first time around, but I can tell you I'll make it again.

I halved the recipe, because I only had 2c of oats left, and I also used quick oats, rather than old-fashioned.  It turned out fine and had a good amount of crunch (not the yucky mushiness of a lot of homemade bars).  I pressed mine in a parchment-lined 9x9 pan, and then slid it onto a cookie sheet to bake, for 30 minutes.  Once cool, they sliced quite well and held together surprisingly well (not nearly as crumbly as most homemade granola bars....though still on the messier side to eat).  Kinda like a Nature Valley bar.

(can't find original author to credit's not mine, but it's pretty hilarious)

I sliced off the toastiest edges, and the bonus here is that you can keep those delicious crumbly bits, put them in a bag/container for a few days, and use them like granola, so there's no waste.

And did I mention you can get them in the oven in about 5-6 minutes?  That's my kind of home-made snack.  Nutrition wise, they are relatively comparable to a classic purchased granola bar, but in this case, you can use higher quality ingredients, and cut them whatever size/shape suits your audience.  Bam!

Lazy-Easy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
taken and slightly modified from The Domestic Mess
chocolate chips granola bars

2 cups oats
2 T whole wheat flour
3T brown sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 t salt
1/4 c canola oil (I think coconut oil would be fab in this)
splash vanilla extract
1/4 c honey (other liquid sweetener like maple syrup would work well)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Combine oats, flour, sugar, chocolate chips and salt in one bowl.

3. In other bowl, whisk together oil, vanilla and honey (pro tip: measure your oil before your honey, and the honey will slide right out of the measuring cup)

4. Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir to combine.

5. Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper (or foil), and squish the granola into as dense a square as you can.

6. Carefully slide the paper onto a baking sheet and cook for about 30 minutes (if you go longer, it will burn).  Let cool, then cut into bars, keeping the crumbly bits to use as granola.

And enjoy, because they are pretty tasty.

chocolate chips granola bars

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving mini-feast

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I was *supposed* to be off the hook this year for Thanksgiving dinner.  We were supposed to be visiting hubs' parents, and enjoying a delicious turkey that I didn't cook.

Thanksgiving deliciousness

Best laid plans and all that.

The smallest mini-foodie came down with a yucky cold, and mini-foodie one soon followed, so we decided to keep our germs to ourselves and have a low-key family Thanksgiving weekend.

Since I cooked a turkey last weekend, I decided to opt for chicken this weekend.  When I thawed my chicken, I noticed an intriguing recipe on the package (Roasted Caesar Chicken), so I decided to give it a try.  It was relatively simple and the taste was fantastic.  Definitely not the kind of recipe I would have expected on a package.

I tried to find it online, but I couldn't, which is what drove me to post this.  Because something this yum needs to be shared.  I served it with cauliflower puree (head of steam cauliflower blended with boursin), roasted asparagus, and a pumpkin-pecan flaugnarde, which is basically a pumpkin custard.  Simple and delish.

Caesar Roasted Chicken
roasted caesar chicken

1 chicken (4-5 lbs)
5 slices bacon
1 lemon, quarted (but zest it first)
4 cloves garlic
salt, pepper

lemon zest of one lemon
1/3 c finely-chopped parsley
1/4 c finely-grated parmesan
3 cloves garlic
1 T  olive oil

2 lbs chopped potatoes (bite-size pieces)
2 T olive oil
salt, pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Place chicken in a roasting pan (I used a disposable one because I am laaaazy).  Season the chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper.  Place the quartered lemon and 4 cloves of garlic inside, then drape the slices of bacon over top.  Roast for 40 minutes, until the bacon is close to crispy.

2. Meanwhile, combine the lemon zest, parsley, parmesan, garlic and olive oil.  Chop the potatoes and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Remove the chicken from the oven, remove the bacon, chop it up, and set aside. Take the lemon-parsley-parm mixture and spread it over the chicken.  It's awkward, but do it.  Arrance the potatoes around the chicken.  Return to the oven for 1 hour more - potatoes should be tender, and chicken should be fully-cooked.  About ten minutes before time is up, add the bacon back in with the potatoes.  Double-check the internal temp of the chicken before removing (should be 74C).  Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.  Enjoy!

(sorry the pics are mediocre - I used hubs' phone, which is better than mine, but still no DSLR. ;) )

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving with delicious meals and wonderful times with family and friends.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2 tips for quick weeknight dinners and 2 quick recipes

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What excuse can one have for a dearth of posts lasting months and months and months.....

I'm not sure if there is a good excuse.  I could call it a combination of lost appetite, lack of energy, lack of time and just plain feeling tired.  Or I could just say I'm sorry and move on....let's do that, shall we?

Now that I'm back at work and wrangling two mini-foodies out the door every morning, I am finding things busy - still working on getting into any sort of routine that will allow a reasonable balance.  It really wouldn't be an overstatement to say that trying to keep meals, the house, etc., all on track can end up feeling more than a little chaotic.  Oh, and did I mention that we decided to sell our house and move to the country? (by country, I actually mean about 1 km from my current house, except instead of being surrounded by houses, I'll be surrounded by critters).

Anyway, life being what it is, I'm honing my expertise in REALLY quick meals - meals that can be on the table in 15-20 minutes.

I don't have photos of this meal, but I can tell you it's ridiculously simple, and relatively balanced.  And I use a cheater ingredient.

I have a couple of little tips when it comes to making weeknights less disastrous...

1. Batch cook, even on a weeknight.  Cooking something in the crockpot?  Roasting/grilling chicken breasts?  Always cook twice as much as you need, and keep the seasoning very simple.  That way, you can take half and use it for that night's dinner (and season appropriately), and use the other half for something completely different.

2. Find convenience foods that work for you.  You all know I"m no fan of processed crap, but there are sneaky little convenience products that can be huge timesavers when you haven't had the foresight to prep ahead.  Yes, it IS better to pre-cook a big pot of brown rice on the weekend.  But if you weren't that smart (and most of us aren't), there's still hope for you.  Hope that won't take 45 minutes to cook.  Check out these bad boys - (pre-cooked wholegrain brown rice, ready in 30 seconds).  It's WAY more expensive than cooking your own, but it's really fast.  But hey, when you get home and you have no idea what to make, it's not a bad idea to grab a bag or two at the grocery store and keep it in the pantry.

Easiest Pork Roast Ever
1-2 centre-cut pork loin roasts
bbq sauce

1. Put the pork roast in the crockpot.  Cook on low all day.  That's it.  No extra seasoning, no fussing.

2.  When you get home, remove the excess fat from the roasts, discard the liquid and shred.  I used half in this ridonkulously simple dish, and used the other half in my favourite enchiladas with salsa verde.

3. Mix in your favourite (or homemade) bbq sauce and enjoy.

Fibre-in-15 minutes side dish
2 T olive oil
1 onion
8-10 large mushrooms
4-6 cups baby spinach leaves
1 can chickpeas
1 package bistro express brown rice (or about 1.5 cups cooked brown rice)
1/3 c pesto

1. Preheat olive oil in a large heavy pan on medium heat.  While it's heating, dice onion.   Throw it in the pan.  While the onion is sautéing (stir it occasionally), Slice/chop the mushrooms.  Add them to the pan.

2. Once the mushrooms have released most of their liquid (about 5-6 minutes), add in the spinach, and cover, briefly, so the spinach wilts.

3. While spinach is wilting, drain and rinse the chickpeas.  Add the chickpeas and the rice to the pan and mix around for 2-3 minutes so it can all heat up.  Add in pesto (I like Kirkland Signatures pesto).  Combine.  Enjoy.

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