Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Wild Ride

We have been on a bit of a wild ride since Thursday!  A good wild ride, but a wild ride nonetheless.

Funny how some things come along your way and just seem right.

The short version of a potentially long story is that there has been a forest fire in our area.  Our church Camp is in the neighborhood of the fire and the camp was asked to house and feed the fire fighters.  Our friends are the Camp caretakers and, in the process, agreed to cook for the fire fighters and asked us if we could help. 

There, that's the basic story.  The end.

Well, no, it's been a wild ride, really!  And I have loved every minute of it! 

I consider myself to be a fairly experienced cook.  I can cook for 12-15 people easily.  I have cooked for a group of 25-30.  But this time we were asked to cook for 50 HUNGRY fire fighters (which actually turns out to be more than 50 people once you add in the security guys and all of the camp/kitchen staff and our kids).  In an industrial kitchen.  With the closest grocery store about 20 minutes away.  And they eat at 8 p.m.

Tracy has been our head cook.  She's had the tremendous job of planning the meals, getting all of the groceries, communicating with the officials, and keeping the kitchen a happy place.  Wow, good job, Tracy!  She's also been the unlucky soul who, along with her husband and one other Camp staff member, has been rising at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast for these guys.  We arrive later in the day and help to make sandwiches for their bag lunches and then do the supper prep, service, and clean up.  On a good day, there have been 3-5 adults cooking, plus 3-4 teenagers assisting with prep and dishes.

Oh, if you could see the sandwich making process.  These guys eat their breakfast around 6-6:30, leave for the fire site at 7, and don't come back to camp until 8 p.m. so they have to have a hefty lunch to take with them.  One bag lunch = 4 sandwiches (8 slices of bread) of meat, cheese and lettuce; 2 pieces of fruit and a granola bar.  We can't fit it all in one brown bag.  We get a pretty substantial assembly line going and it takes 1-2 hours of concerted effort.  16 loaves of sandwich bread.  200 sandwiches.  One loaf at a time.  Individually buttered, layered, wrapped, bagged. 

Tracy has planned a great variety of suppers - chicken, lasagna, pork chops, burgers.  But cooking for that many people has caused us to have to re-think how to do things, just from a quantity perspective.  On the night that we had pork chops, I stood at the grill for about 2 1/2 hours frying pork chops non-stop, so you have to work ahead and figure out how to keep things warm without drying them out.  We had a major panic moment on our first evening when, 25 minutes prior to serving time, the chicken breasts were still pink.  Can you believe that we managed to get them on the table on time?!!  You get creative and learn to think on the spot and improvise.  That night, we ripped the tin foil off, dumped half the mushroom sauce out of the roasters, boosted the heat and sprinkled them with onion soup mix and served (on time) completely cooked chicken breasts in a lovely sauce, lightly browned.  Whew. 

Did I mention that these guys are hungry fire fighters?  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I have never seen anyone eat such massive portions in my life!  2-3-4 chicken breasts.  Plates FULL of potatoes, heaped with potatoes.  The lasagna night - I won't quickly forget that night!  We miscalculated how many lasagnas we actually had, and so served the men single pieces, much to their disappointment.  When we made the call that there were seconds in abundance, they literally flooded the serving table with plates outstretched, eagerly asking for 1 - 2 more pieces.  And the plates come to the dish counter clean.  The only thing they aren't always wild about is dessert.  Dessert appears to be optional.  They love Caesar salad.

And I got one marriage proposal as a result of making coleslaw.

Yup.  It's been a wild ride!

On a serious, from-my-heart, note - I am grateful for where the last year has brought us.  You see, last year at this time, I was a completely burned out and broken soul.  There were a lot of reasons for that, which don't really matter any more, but I was in such a broken place.  We needed to pull apart from everything familiar and re-group, rest, try to put ourselves in a place where we could be restored.  That wasn't easy.  One of the places that we came to do all that was Camp last July.  God, in His immensely loving way, brought us some of that restoration while we were there. 

Another area that has healed my broken spirit has been that of finding fresh perspectives - via new/redeveloped friendships, new ways of thinking that had to come from my soul via letting go of the past, and new interests.

So, for me to return to Camp to cook (and not sing) for hungry fire fighting men with new friends - do you see why I am so grateful?  I feel like this weekend has been the culmination of a long journey, as if God Himself arranged this weekend to remind me of how firmly He has set me on new ground.

Yup, it's been a wild ride indeed.  No recipe for this post.  Just stories, memories and a piece of my heart.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Sometimes You Have To Go The Extra Mile

It seems we have all been going in a lot of directions around our house lately.  The boys have been having a few school adventures that I have missed because I've been at work.  Dean has been scooting off to Saskatoon, having P.A. rehearsals, and Skyping with some musician friends from Edmonton, working on a variety of music projects that are pretty interesting.  I have been immersed in my own work responsibilities, working some challenging days.  Dean and Andrew are currently at Band Camp.  The boys and Dean had a Boys Sleepover at youth on the weekend.  My garden has sent me a "you've neglected me" text.  My sinuses and allergies aren't allowing me to step foot outside.  We've had an unusual amount of supper company in the past few months.  At least one of us has been in Saskatoon almost every week since April. 

I am looking forward to a more peaceful week.  Think I'll find it?  Hard to say!

This isn't about the Dynna family and the demands on their time, though.  We're ALL busy, and it's mostly of our own choosing.

But sometimes, to accomplish your own goals, you have to go the extra mile.  We want to succeed in our careers, so we have to put the time in to do that.  Hey, we have to pay our bills, so we have to work, right?  We want our kids involved in healthy activities, and that takes effort and even takes time away from family time.  We want to develop and nurture friendships, so we invite people into our home so that we can do that. 

It all requires us to go the extra mile.

I was whining to my mom awhile ago about some things that I was tired of.  While she was understanding in what I was saying, she also reminded me that sometimes we simply have to "endure" things because you just can't quit everything that occasionally pushes you beyond your limit.

I have a wise mom.

The recipe that I want to talk about today is one that I have made 3 times (I think) with varying degrees of success.  It is "Broccoli Chicken Lasagna".  The first time I made it, it was for a group of people who were coming here for a potluck of sorts, and I was trying to feed a large-ish group on a budget so was reasonably satisfied with the results, because I pulled it off without too much money invested and was happy with an alternative lasagna option that stood apart from the usual hamburger/tomato sauce lasagna thing.

The next time I tried it, I think I cheaped out on pretty much everything and the results were SO disappointing.  That time, it turned into a bland bunch of noodley goo.  Terribly disappointing.

This time, we were having company and I wanted something that I could make ahead in the day, it had to be chicken or pork, and I wanted leftovers to assist us into the coming week so I pulled the recipe out again and told myself that failure really was optional and that I could absolutely opt for this to be better than it was before.  So I kicked it up a couple of notches (just small changes really) and decided to "go the extra mile".  The two things that kicked it up for me were:
          1.  Basil pesto - I am working my way through my first jar and have enjoyed it so far
          2.  So sorry to say this - but I used pre-grated cheese.  SORRY!!!!  I am not a fan of that.  I think it is expensive and perhaps not as fresh or nutritional as block cheese.  I don't mind grating cheese.  Grating cheese is cheaper.  BUT, I was on a time constraint that day and I grabbed the bag and plopped it into my cart and decided not to examine that move any further.  The end result, though, was that the 3 or 4 cheese combination in the lasagna was a real winner and took the cheesy part beyond the usual (somewhat mundane) mozzarella.

So, for your dining pleasure, here is:

Broccoli Chicken Lasagna

4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
3 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (fresh, please!)

Lasagna noodles (recommend oven-ready - why would you willingly add work to lasagna???)

2 Tbsp butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
2 chicken breasts, cubed
2-3 Tbsp basil pesto
2 cups broccoli, chopped

2-3 cups grated cheese (mozzarella, mixed, whatever floats your boat)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Sauce:  Melt butter, stir in flour.  Add milk and cook, whisking until smooth and thickening.  Add broth and continue to stir until thick.  Beat eggs in separate bowl; add a small amount of sauce to eggs to temper, then add entire egg mixture to white sauce.  Go the extra mile and do the tempering eggs thing.  If you don't, you may end up with scrambled eggs in a white sauce.  Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, s and p to taste.

Saute chicken in butter with onion and garlic.  Stir in basil pesto and toss.  Stir in broccoli and cook 5 minutes longer or until broccoli is tender.  S and P to taste.

Layer in a 9 x 13 pan - sauce, grated cheese (mozzarella or mixed), noodles, chicken.  Repeat.  Finish with cheese.

Cover with foil.  Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.  Remove foil to brown a bit if desired.  (What do I mean "IF desired"?  What is better than lightly browned cheesy goodness?  Brown it, for heaven sake!)

Go the extra mile on this one.  If you don't want to buy basil pesto, it will still turn out good, but the basil pesto completely enhanced the recipe.  I am sure you could saute the chicken with fresh or dried basil and get satisfying results as well.  But the chicken, with only onion and garlic for flavoring, was bland on my previous attempts.

If you want this to be good......
  • Don't be stingy on the chicken; if 2 breasts looks like too little, use 3 breasts.
  • Don't be stingy on the broccoli either. 
  • Don't be stingy on cheese either.  That will NEVER do.
  • Don't be stingy on the salt and pepper either.  You have to be careful with this, for sure, but under-seasoned food doesn't cut it.
Don't be stingy.  Share with friends.  Amen.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Bars From Mars

Hay-lo!!

I'm in the mood for after-school-snack baking!  I am hoping to make some very ordinary chocolate chip cookies today, but, whew, the kitchen is warming up in this heat!  No, wait, I'm still in my pajamas and housecoat.   That could be the heat issue...

Wanting to bake something to share with friends yesterday, my mind turned to a recipe that our Barclay cousins had shared with us on a camping trip a few years back.  I don't make it often as I have to make a special trip to the store to get the main ingredient, but, yum, it is a nice treat now and then.

Hmm, what to call them.  Mars Bars Bars.  Barclay Bars.  Barclays From Mars Bars. BarcMarsBars.  Barclay Marclay Bars.

Ach!!  They are bars made from Mars Bars.

Now everything is sounding ridiculous.

SO SIMPLE!!  Here's the recipe!

4 Mars Bars, regular size
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups Rice Krispies

Melt the Mars Bars together with the butter over medium heat.  IF you melt these for too long, your bars will be faaarrrr tooooo crunchy.  This is the voice of experience.

Toss the rice krispies with the melted mixture of Mars until well blended, and press into a well greased 9 x 9" pan. 

Cool and cut.

Cool, huh? 

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Oranges and Lemons, Part 2!

So that the "Oranges and Lemons" title from yesterday's post makes sense, let me share the other recipe that was on my mind yesterday when I said that I couldn't decide which recipe to share from our birthday supper!

We LOVE fish in this house!  Love all kinds of fish.  For a long time, our favorite splurge meal was a side of steel-head trout.  We had no "extra special" way of preparing this fish, except olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled on the barbecue until cooked to perfection.  Then our grocery store stopped carrying those trout sides and we lived in deep sorrow for many months, even years, sobbing each time we passed the fresh fish section.

Nah.  No sobbing.  Just a little bit of sorrow.  But, like a rejected lover, we had to move on.

We then moved in the direction of salmon - sides, fillets, whatever format we could get our hands on.  Pretty easy to find, and even reasonably economical.  My sister shared a recipe passed on to her, and, so, for those many moons where we could not cook trout, we cooked salmon like this:

Place salmon fillets on foil.  Top with LOTS of minced garlic (mince really small if you can), salt and pepper, and LOTS of butter.  Seal foil.  BBQ or broil until almost done; open the foil and slather (don't be stingy) the fish with brown sugar.  Re-seal the foil and continue to BBQ or broil until the brown sugar is melted.  Be still my soul.  So good.

And just as we were getting ready for a new approach to salmon, lo and behold, we found steel head trout at Costco last week!  And it is still one glorious feed of fish!  I think we'll buy in bulk next time we're there.

But.......getting back to Salmon for a minute......I found this recipe online last week as well, and it became the meal centerpiece for Donna's birthday supper.

Salmon With Orange Glaze

8 salmon fillets

Glaze:
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 tsp oil (I used olive oil)
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (actually I grated them)
3 Tbsp white rice vinegar

Combine the glaze ingredients.  Lay salmon fillets on a broiler pan, salt and pepper moderately.  Brush one side of the fillets with the glaze and bake at 400 F for 10 minutes.  Flip fillets, brush second side with the glaze and bake for 10 more minutes or until done.  Serve, garnishing with thinly sliced green onions.

Next time I would be far more generous with the glaze.  I probably used only 1/2 the glaze.  In the future, I would use more with the basting steps, plus set some aside for additional application at the table, if so desired.

We served the orange glazed salmon with tri-color roasted baby potatoes (tossed with butter and onions and roasted at 400 until tender), broccoli salad, peas, and, of course, those lemon meringue cupcakes for dessert!  Oranges and lemons and a few other things thrown in for good measure!  I think I heard the bells of St. Clements as I ate this meal. 

(Get it?....."oranges and lemons and the bells of St. Clements....")  Sorry.  A flash to my musical past from my ABC Beginner piano books.

Oh, how I love food.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Oranges and Lemons, Elections, Princes and Princesses and Other Odd Things

Wow, there's been a lot happening in the news lately!  We just finished watching the Election results, with our heads still reeling from the news of bin Laden and with visions of the beautiful Royal wedding still dancing through our heads.  That's a lot of news!

We invited Dean's parents to come for supper tonight as his mom, Donna, had had a birthday while I was working this weekend.  Even as I write, I'm still not sure which one of the 2 new recipes that I tried tonight I should share with you.

Okay.  I thought about it.  I know!  And maybe I'll share the other recipe with you tomorrow?

Because Donna is a very important lady to me, and because she loves lemon meringue pie, and because it was her birthday celebration, I decided to attempt a cupcake recipe that would (hopefully) be special for my dear mother in law! 

I had done an internet search a couple of mornings ago for this recipe.  I ended up selecting 3 recipes and combining them to get the results that worked for me today.  Don't be put off by the 3 part recipe.  The cupcake batter is truly easy to work with, and that's coming from me, a 'cake-mix-is-good-enough" cake baker.

I present to you:

LEMON MERINGUE CUPCAKES

Step 1 - Cupcakes:
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 Tbsp grated lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (guess where I bought mine?  Grin!)

Prehead oven to 325 F.  Line 2 muffin tins with paper liners.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
Crema butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.  Beat in zest and vanilla.
Add in flour in 3 batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk and lemon juice; beat until combined after each addition.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, about 3/4 full.  Bake about 25 minutes.  Cool completely.

Step 2 - Lemon Filling
I used store bought lemon curd (found in the jam aisle).  You could make homemade lemon curd or lemon pie filling.  The store bought curd is delicious and saved me some time today.
Using a paring knife, cut a cone shaped chunk out of each cupcake (about the circumference of your ring finger-ISH).  Fill each hole with lemon curd.

Step 3 - Meringue
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
Whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy.  Add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks are formed.
Top each cupcake with meringue (I used a piping bag with no tip to pipe mine on.  You could simply use a knife to spread it on.)
Heat oven to 400 F and place cupcakes back in the oven until the meringue browns. 

Cool and serve.

Ideally, I would own one of those little kitchen torches that would brown the meringue without the cupcake being back in the oven as I found the bottom of the cupcakes darkened a little more than I wanted them to with being back in the oven for a few minutes.  OR maybe the broiler is okay for browning meringue?  I didn't have the opportunity to vigilantly watch them under the broiler so opted to not do that this time.

Also, I would have liked to have been more generous with the meringue and would consider making slightly more meringue than I did this time.  However, maybe spreading meringue with a knife instead of a piping bag might have spread the meringue further?

All in all, they turned out really well and the cupcake base recipe is a DEFINITE "make again" standard recipe.  I think it's probably a "no fail" cupcake recipe.  I don't consider myself terribly gifted at making cakes from scratch and was very pleased with these.  I expect that they will be even better tomorrow as the lemon flavor develops.

And, for heaven sakes, use fresh lemons and fresh lemon juice.  I made lemon bars last week with lemon from a bottle and I was "soured" by the experience...it had no flavor.  Fresh lemons, fresh lemon zest = lovely lemon flavor!

Happy baking!