Monday, 23 January 2012

By Cracky, I'm Snacky!

Funny how we get into moods when it comes to food!

We did a lot of eating this weekend.  Really good eating.

On Saturday we finally decided to do our splurge of the winter and cook fresh lobster.  It was a celebration of sorts, one that we had been waiting to do for awhile.  The smaller lobsters were on sale at Superstore this week for $7.98/lb; we got them for an average of $10/lobster.  We did a bit of reading up on the cooking process and asked a few questions of experienced lobster cooks AND recalled many things from the lobster lesson we'd heard on the lobster cruise we took in New Brunswick in July.  It was my third time eating lobster and I enjoyed it the most, even more than when we were in the Maritimes.  Maybe it was just nice to be in the comfort of my own home with people I love.  Such a messy meal!  The table needed a good scrub after we were done.  And it was EASY to cook.

Sunday we had a long-overdue dinner party with 2 other couples.  All of us are self-confessed foodies and we decided that, this time, we would cook together and we planned our menu accordingly.  Dean and I hosted the party and "gnocchi" in an Italian sausage tomato sauce was the main course.  Gnocchi is an Italian dish and Dean remembers learning this from Mario Batali's cooking show many years ago.  It is a dumpling of sorts, with similar ingredients to a homemade noodle.  The ingredients are Ricotta Cheese, flour and eggs mixed together, rolled into a rope, cut into 1" lengths and scored/marked with a fork.  The sauce is Italian sausage, onions/celery/carrots and tomatoes.  Plenty of fresh Parmesan cheese to top it all off and voila, there is one of our favorite comfort foods.  So us girls got busy chopping vegetables and frying the sausage meat and the men rolled the gnocchi and a good time was had by all.  One couple brought a lovely fresh salad, the other couple brought a terrific tiramisu.  We dined.  And then played a crazy round of "Quelf", our newest board game.  Crazy, crazy game. Right Peaches?!!  ;)

Today,  much simpler fare pleased the boys.  I became "Mother of the Year" when I made a double batch of Puffed Wheat Cake for Ben.  I am convinced that there is no "bad" recipe for Puffed Wheat Cake and that the secret is all in the temperature of the burner and length of boiling time.  I like to keep the temperature on med/low and boil the ingredients for 2 minutes max.  Homemade hamburgers for supper also pleased Mr. B. 

From Lobster to Hamburgers.  It's nice to have a few culinary hits in a row! 

But I'm the one who's insatiably hungry today.  I don't know if my body wants to bulk up to brave the remainder of the winter cold or if I'm a big bunch of crazy hormones or what my issue is, but I just want to eat and eat and eat this weekend.  Considering there are days when I don't have time/opportunity/appetite to do that, I've just gone ahead and done all kinds of crazy eating.  You know, make hay while the sun shines, and all.

So I was sitting here after supper, thinking about food, and I decided that I'd really like to eat a.....a.....hmmm....just what am I craving right now?  An  "oatmeal chocolate chip cake". 

I've never had an oatmeal chocolate chip cake before.

I've never heard of an oatmeal chocolate chip cake before.

BUT!!!!!

Google did NOT let me down!  There IS such a thing as Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake! 

So, while I'm telling you my dining menu from the weekend, the very cake I craved is baking in the oven and it smells delicious.  The original recipe calls for cream cheese icing.  While I'm usually all over that, I wanted something simple today, so am not sure that I'll add that.  After all, this cake is, um, healthy, what with the oatmeal.  Ahem.  I can even trick myself into believing that. 

Interesting technique in the recipe by the way.  See for yourself!  Here is:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake


8 ounces chocolate chips
1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, at room temperature
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 & 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375°. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9″x13″ baking pan.
Heat 1 & 1/4 cups water to boiling. Place the oats and butter in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over oat mixture. Wait 30 seconds, then stir to moisten oats and melt the butter. Seat aside for 25-30 minutes,or until slightly cooled and oatmeal has absorbed some of the water.  I've done recipes where you soak the oatmeal before adding to the rest of the ingredients, but adding the boiling water AND margarine was a first for me.  Hmm!
Whisk eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Fold in oatmeal, stirring until well combined. Fold in remaining flour, and then stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes.

Whadya think?  Cream cheese frosting or no cream cheese frosting?
I promise you from the bottom of my heart that I will insert some exercise and restraint into the rest of my week.  Pinky swear.  ;) 
At least, I'll try......



Wednesday, 18 January 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter

Can you sing that Christmas carol?  I don't know who's version I like better - James Taylor's or Annie Lennox's.

James Taylor:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qmtO6cebcU

or...

Annie Lennox:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXgoyKdsAD4

The carol tells the story of a typical bleak winter's day that turned special with the arrival of the Messiah.  Simplistic beauty.

Today is a bleak midwinter's day.  With a wind chill of -47 this morning, we made the "never before" decision to not send the boys to school.  Seems that school may not be that urgent in light of the rapid ability to get frostbitten.  Tomorrow will be a different day; I will go to work regardless of the weather - no snow days for health care professionals!  Perhaps the Arctic temperatures will turn a few things around for us at work and bring some health back to us there.  Nothing like a good bout of frost to destroy a few viruses handily.

I am sharing a stew recipe today.  I make this stew at least once per winter.  I found it many years ago in a magazine and was inspired enough by the description to give it a try, even though it's far from a typical stew.  My memory thinks that it's a fairly new recipe to our family.  However, when I called my mom to get her to read me the recipe again (I have lost it several times) she and I had a bit of a chuckle over a shared memory.

Seems that many years ago I had told Mom about this recipe.  She sounded interested in it so I decided that I would send it to her in the mail along with a little letter to break up the winter monotony, both for her and for me.  I remember writing that letter to her, but it seemed like only a couple of years ago. 

However.

In the letter, I told her that the boys and I were feeling rather "housebound" in the cold, cold winter.  I told her that I had taken the boys down to the library and that we had borrowed some "videos" and that the boys were quite interested in the videos on "farming".  Then I said that Andrew was "showing interest" in learning how to write his name and that he had mastered the "A" and the "W" but needed a lot of help with the rest of the letters in between.

Hmm.

I guess that is awhile ago.

Today, he is busy cleaning up his room and rearranging his furniture by himself.  We went shopping yesterday to buy some trendy/slouchy toques for him to wear for the rest of the season, his idea (and he looks SO good).  He looks me in the eye and only lacks about 1/2 inch in order to be the same height as me.  He is a happy, fun and intelligent fella, one month away from his 13th birthday.  And it seems that he has mastered all of the letters in his name between the A and the W.

Eight or so years ago, the boys and I stayed put during the winter and longed for something to break up the monotony.  Today, the boys are home with us and we are all rather happy to be together for a change.

I like it when we get treasures in the middle of the bleak midwinter.

Here is:

Keilbasa Cabbage Stew

1/2 lb garlic sausage (or other smoked sausage of your choosing)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
dash pepper
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp flour

Brown the sausage in a dutch oven.  Add potatoes, cabbage, onion, broth, 1/2 cup water, sugar and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.

Add the kidney beans and continue to simmer briefly.

Whisk flour and 1/4 cup water together and add into the stew, stirring continuously.  Bring to a low boil and stir until stew thickens.

Serve in bowls!  It's a good occasion to drink a nice cup of Red Rose tea too!  And cover up with a good blanket, read a good book and, especially, be with people you love!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

"My Name Is Maureen and I'm A ....."

Let's just sit around in a circle for a few minutes and reflect. Whenever you're ready, go ahead, say it out loud.  Shy?  Okay, I'll start first.

"My name is Maureen and I'm a .... hoarder."

Whew.

That felt good.

Just saying the words liberated me.

I feel you understand me better.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I'm not the kind of hoarder that you're going to smugly watch on tv.  (Although I did just haul 200 lbs of "stuff" to the dump yesterday out of the basement.)

No, I think I have mastered that kind of hoarding.  The plan is simple - don't.  Don't buy it.  Don't use it?  Don't keep it.  And don't mentally add up how much that stuff cost as you throw it away or recycle/re purpose it.

No, I'm a hoarder of a different nature completely.

I buy groceries.

And then I hoard them.

I buy fresh broccoli on sale and then I admire it in my fridge for so long that, 3 weeks later, when I decide to use it, it has gone bad on me and/or I'm cutting off the bad parts so that I can use 25 cents worth of it so I at least get some value out of the original purchase.  I buy egg nog and reeeealllly want to SAVE it because it's so special AND ONLY AVAILABLE SEASONALLY, too, and I save it for so long that, yeah, it's gone bad on me and no one gets to enjoy it.  I buy a nice piece of fish and store it away in the freezer for months, saving it for some special day, and it gets freezer burned.  Just now, I decided to make a pan of Baked Oatmeal and figured that I would throw in some frozen cranberries that I bought for a really good deal at Christmas and I just couldn't do it.  I needed to save those cranberries for another occasion that might be more important than today.

Food in the fridge/freezer is like money to me.  I don't want to use it unless I absolutely HAVE TO.

How weird is that.

How weird am I.

Don't answer that question.  'Kay?

Anyway, I am a believer in making a menu plan for a week at a time and only shopping for that week, using up everything I buy by the time the week is over.

I am also a believer in buying things when they're on sale, being smart with my moola.  Thus, I do end up with a well stocked pantry.  "To save money you have to spend money."  My grocery shopping mantra.

I could easily live in a location where you go to the market every day to get your groceries.  I like grocery shopping and buying and saving and storing and planning.....

I definitely spend a lot of time thinking about food and cooking and eating.  Hmm.

Anyway, the recipe that I have for you today was prepared the other night as a result of looking in the fridge and realizing that I had a couple of things that needed to be used up.  The ingredients in this recipe may surprise you, but don't be put off; the results are very tasty!  Give it a try!  (I give credit for this recipe to my sister, Elaine, who prepared it for us a couple of years back.  Thanks E!)

Therefore, I'll call it:

Elaine's Asian Peanut Noodle Dish

360 grams uncooked spaghetti
2-3 cups chopped snow peas
1 cup red pepper strips (or cubes)
1/4 cup Catalina dressing
1 lb beef OR chicken strips
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp soya sauce

Garnish:
4 green onions, sliced
4 Tbsp chopped peanuts

Cook the spaghetti.  When you are 2 minutes away from the spaghetti being fully cooked, add the snow peas and peppers and boil for 2 more minutes.  Drain.

While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the Catalina in a separate pan and cook the beef (or chicken).  Add the peanut butter and soya sauce and stir to mix together/thicken slightly.

Toss the meat mixture with the cooked noodles.  Add green onions and chopped peanuts to garnish and enjoy!

(Don't skip on the garnish; it adds another flavor dimension.)

Love, love this recipe.