Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SANTA - HEALTH, LOGISTICS AND SCIENCE


If you believe in Santa Claus, you might not want to read this posting.......  A recent article in Science Daily (December 16, 2009) has questioned whether Santa exists.  It is based on an unhealthy lifestyle, working conditions and the stress of having to deliver gifts to 152 million homes in 24 hours.  Furthermore, these researchers from the University of Gotenburg in Sweden feel that Santa could not live at the north pole because there is a lack of reindeer pasture at the north pole.   Because of Santa's big round belly and red face, the researchers feel he is at risk for both a heart attack and a stroke and he likely has high blood pressure.

These researchers figured out the number of children (based on religion) that Santa would have to visit - 380 million.  They used the average of 2.5 children per house and got 152 million home visits on Christmas Eve.   Over a 24 hour period, that equals 900 visits per second.  To park his sleigh, climb down the chimney, distribute the Christmas gifts, shove some cookies into his mouth, take a swig of milk and then leave the building, his sleigh needs to cruise at the speed of 90 km per second or about 265 times the speed of sound.   Furthermore, the acceleration needed to accomplish this requires a g-force of 14 million times Earth's gravity.  Fighter pilots become unconscious at 7g's.   A further challenge is how many reindeer are really required.  To pull all of these presents for the 380 million children and knowing that a reindeer can pull 200 kilos, Santa would need 1.9 million airborne reindeer to pull his sleigh.  Finally.... the estimated speed of Santa's travel would make him and his reindeer explode and burn up-up.

I think we all need a bit of magic in our lives, so whether or not you believe in Santa, it is good to dream and wish for things that are magical.   The above picture is a male partridge who along with his female mate, come for an afternoon feed of bird seed each day in our backyard.   They are magical to watch.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

LEFTOVER TURKEY

It is sometimes a challenge to figure out the many ways to cook or use leftover turkey.  I made a 12 pound turkey on Christmas day and there were leftovers.  Thank goodness I didn't cook the 17 pound turkey that I have in the freezer.  I made up a care package for one of my guests and still had a bag of sliced meat left.  I did freeze the bones to make turkey broth.  


In case you are wondering why there is tin foil sticking out of the bird, the rationale is that I use that to help pull out the dressing/stuffing from the inside cavity.  I learned this trick several years ago from a wonderful cook.  I take a large piece of tin foil, fold it over so that it is double strength and line the bottom of the inside cavity with the tin foil.  The foil will go up the sides a bit.  I then stuff the dressing inside the bird.  I always make more dressing than what can go inside the turkey and the extra dressing gets wrapped into tin foil pouches and baked for the last hour with the turkey in the oven.   Once the turkey is ready to be carved, I pull on the tin foil that is sticking out and the tin foil and stuffing comes out in one piece.  I no longer have to 'scrape' the inside of the bird to get all of the stuffing out.  I know that some cooks use a metal cage that fits inside the bird and holds the stuffing.  


After eating turkey two days in a row, it was time to do something else.  I made turkey vegetable soup today and besides using the turkey I also used some of the leftover mashed potatoes in the soup.   I still had leftover turkey so I decided to check a number of cookbooks and websites for something that would catch my interest to make for supper tonight.  As a break was needed from eating more potatoes, I thought of making a pasta based dish.    The following recipe was adapted from the pioneer woman website and a number of changes were made.  You can improvise and use a variety of vegetables.  I used spaghetti sauce as the tomato base but you can also use canned or fresh diced tomatoes.  I used whole milk and some whipping cream which is unusual for me to have in the fridge.  I bought whole milk, half and half and a cartoon of whipping cream today as I am making ice cream tonight.  One gift that I received is an electric  ice cream maker and I am curious to test it out.




This pasta dish that I made tonight is quite good.  I likely added too much chopped fresh parsley but I didn't mind the taste.  The recipe makes three servings.






Spaghetti with Turkey, Vegetables and Tomato Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
½ medium onion, diced
5 mushrooms, chopped
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
1 cup tomato or spaghetti sauce
1-2 cups of leftover turkey, chopped
½ cup whole milk and 1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream if you have on hand
1/4 cup chicken broth (more if required)
salt and pepper (to taste)
1/2 pound spaghetti
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tbsp fresh chives (or other herbs) chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Cook spaghetti till al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add mushrooms and tomato/spaghetti sauce.  Stir and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add spinach and turkey.  Reduce heat to low. Stir in cream and chicken broth. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook over low heat until heated through, and then turn off heat.
Place drained pasta in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan. Pour sauce over the top. Add chives. Toss lightly to combine and coat; add a tiny bit of reserved pasta water if sauce seems too thick.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

STUFFING FOR TURKEY

Some recipes are handed down through the generations with subtle changes being made by the individual cook.  I never learned to make stuffing or gravy while growing up.  Stuffing and gravy wasn't a staple in my childhood home so there was no transferring of these recipes between the generations.  I learned to make stuffing and gravy by watching others and following recipes.  I like stuffing that has more than just bread, melted butter and poultry seasoning in it.  One stuffing recipe that I make frequently when making turkey is from Canadian Living.  This recipe is flavourful and it always a hit with guests.  I haven't made too many changes from the original Canadian Living recipe.  I do dry out the bread in the oven before cubing it.  I find using dried bread makes the stuffing less mushy.  I make more stuffing than what can be put in the turkey so what can't fit into the turkey gets wrapped in tinfoil and baked during the last hour with the turkey.  Once I take the stuffing out of the cooked turkey, I mix it in a bowl with the stuffing baked in tinfoil.

HAZELNUT/ALMOND BREAD STUFFING

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup hazelnuts or almonds
3/4 cup butter
2-1/2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 apple (unpeeled), diced
4 tsp dried sage  ( I use mixed poultry seasoning)
1-1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp each dried rosemary and salt (I use less salt)
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, prosciutto or smoked ham, diced
14 cups or one loaf cubed multigrain or whole wheat bread
1 cup chopped fresh parsley


DIRECTIONS:
On baking sheet, bake nuts in 350°F (180°C) oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until fragrant.  If using hazelnuts, rub vigorously in tea towel to remove skins; coarsely chop. Set aside.
In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat; cook celery, onions, garlic, apple, sage, pepper, rosemary, salt and pancetta for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Place bread, parsley and nuts in bowl; add celery mixture and toss well. It is now ready for stuffing the turkey. Stuffing can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 1 week; if frozen, thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours before continuing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

COMPANY'S COMING

This is the time of year that I find more socializing and eating is accomplished than any other time of the year.  Depending on your culture and traditions, a number of different religious holidays are celebrated.   I am always looking for different appetizers to serve to company.  I have the usual standbys - cheese, hummus, veggies, dips, crackers and smoked oysters.  A friend introduced me to another kind of appetizer several years ago, it is a 'thumbprint cheese tart'.  It is easy to make and quite delicious.  It is challenging to not keep eating these once you make a batch of them.  The ingredient list is short but it takes more than ten minutes to make.  I should make these tarts throughout the year but for some reason I only make these during this time of the year.



THUMBPRINT CHEESE TARTS

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of grated cheddar cheese, old cheddar is preferred
1/2 cup or 4 ounces of softened butter
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
chili pepper jelly

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all of the ingredients except the pepper jelly in a bowl.  Combine well so that the softened butter is well mixed.   Chill the dough/mixture in the freezer for about 15 to 20 minutes.  I usually empty the dough/mixture onto two pieces of saran wrap, wrap it up and chill it this way.  Take a heaping teaspoon of the dough/mixture and spoon it into mini muffin pans.  Press your thumb into the dough, pat it down and make a well in the middle.  It should look like a mini tart.  Take 1/2 tsp of the jelly and place it in the well of the tart.  I use a combination of red and green pepper jelly.   Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.  Makes 4 dozen.

UPDATE ON MINCEMEAT

I made a new mincemeat recipe mid November and it has been in the fridge 'ripening' since then.  I finally tasted it yesterday and it tasted good so I decided to make tarts this weekend.  This afternoon I made 30 tarts plus a small pie.   I did not make my own tart shells and used three inch store bought tart shells.  I had originally made two ice cream pails of mincemeat and have only used one.   I likely will freeze some of the mincemeat to use at a later date.   Here is a photo of a some of the tarts.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

LENTIL, VEGETABLE AND BARLEY SOUP

I usually make a big pot of soup every weekend with the goal to have the ability to take soup for lunches for work during the week.  This soup craving is more of a fall/winter/spring occurrence than one occurring during the summer.    Of course you have to have some variety as after eating the same soup for five days in a row, you likely will want a change the following week.  I probably have about eight to ten different kinds of soups that tend to be my favorites.   In a perfect world one would freeze a number of containers of soup so that you could rotate recently made soup with frozen soup for lunches.

Provided below is one of my standard soups.  I made a big pot of it this past Sunday.  You can vary the vegetables based on what you have in the fridge or freezer.  With having a garden and of course growing zucchini, I shred garden zucchini each year and freeze it in two cup portions.  I tend to add shredded zucchini to many soup recipes.



LENTIL, VEGETABLE AND BARLEY SOUP


INGREDIENTS:

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup lentils
1/3 cup pearl barley
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 small potatoes, chopped
5 to 6 frozen or fresh tomatoes, if fresh chop them up
2 cups of zucchini, shredded or chopped
10 cups of water
4 tsp chicken bouillon
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried basil or dill
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 tbsp lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oil in a large pot and sauté onions, celery and garlic until golden brown.  Add carrots and potatoes and sauté for a few more minutes.  Add a little bit of water if vegetables are starting to stick.   Add all of the remaining ingredients except the lemon juice.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for an hour.   Stir occasionally.   Add lemon juice and discard bay leaf. 

Adapted from “Meal Lean i Yumm” by Noreen Gilletz

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BONNIE STERN - APPLE CAKE


One of my favorite chefs is Bonnie Stern.  I have a number of her cookbooks and keep them on the small book shelf in the kitchen along with a few other 'go to' cookbooks.  What I like about her style of cooking is that it is not complicated, the recipes are practical, she does heartsmart cooking and she has personality.

Earlier this year I bought one of her latest cookbooks - "Friday Night Suppers".  The recipes cover a variety of meals from different countries, are quick, include seasonal recipes, provides variations and are reproducible in your own kitchen.  She has many photographs of the various recipes which were taken by her son at her home.   In profiling different countries, Bonnie Stern will do a whole meal based on the specific country.  We had a dinner party to attend last night and I was asked to bring a dessert.  I decided to make one of her dessert recipes on Friday night.  I knew that if a complete disaster prevailed, there would be an opportunity to buy/make something else on Saturday.  I know that some people are hesitant about making new recipes and serving them to guests as there could be the potential that the recipe doesn't turn out.  I am more adventurous and will experiment.  What is hard sometimes is that if you make a new recipe and if it is something like a cake, you can not taste test it ahead of time.   Who wants to bring a cake to a dinner party with a piece missing?

I decided to make an apple cake after looking over the cookbook.  This recipe originated with Bonnie Stern's mom.  I followed the recipe and did not improvise.  I also decided to follow the directions and line the spring-form pan with oiled parchment paper.  This is a very good tip.  After the cake has cooled and you open the latch to the metal form that goes around the cake, it is very easy to peel off the parchment paper from the cake.  The cake says intact and then you can place it on a serving plate.  The cake was a hit.  The cake reminded me of a cross between a cake and a cobbler as the apple mixture is in  middle.  I will definitely make this recipe again.



RUTHIE’S APPLE CAKE

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup orange juice
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
4 to 5 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 tbsp coarse sugar, optional

DIRECTIONS:

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in a bowl until light.  Beat in oil.  Beat in orange and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to egg mixture and stir until combined.

In a third bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, apples and nuts.

Spread about half of the batter in an oiled and parchment lined 9 inch spring-form pan.  Spoon apples on top of this batter.  Drizzle remaining batter on top of the apples.  The batter on the top layer may not cover the apples completely.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  If the cake is browning too much, cover loosely with foil and reduce oven heat to 325 degree F.  Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Recipe from “Friday Night Dinners” by Bonnie Stern.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

MOROCCAN STEW

I like to try different recipes using beans.  I am a big fan of chick peas and will look for a variety of ways to use them in recipes.  Most of the recipes I make using chick peas are appetizers, salads, soups or some kind of stew.   Moroccan stew can be made in a variety of ways and if you goggle it, you will find a number of recipes.  Several years ago I found this recipe on a blog site posted by someone called Mandy.  This is one of her all time favorite recipes.  I made a few modifications in the measurements.  You can add more amount of spices than what I have listed in the recipe.  The original recipe called for 2 tsp of chili powder, I only used one.  I also used 2 heaping tbsp of peanut butter.  I was also generous in using lemon juice.  This is a great tasting stew for several reasons.  I think the peanut butter, sweet potato and spinach really adds to the taste.


MOROCCAN STEW


INGREDIENTS:

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup diced celery
1 green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups chicken broth
3 cups peeled, cubed sweet potato
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
19 oz can of chick peas, drained
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp dried ginger
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 large bag of fresh spinach

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, celery, green pepper and garlic.  Sauté for five minutes.  Add all of the remaining ingredients except the peanut butter and spinach.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer covered for about an hour.  Stir occasionally.   Add the peanut blend and blend in.   Remove about two cups of stew and place in a blender or food processor.  Add the puree back to the stew.   Add the bag of spinach to the pot and let simmer for about 10 minutes.  According to the recipe, a cup of stew is about 2 weight watchers points.  The recipe makes a big pot of stew.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TREASURES

Have you ever thought about the treasures you find and collect?  The extra special item you may find at store or a garage sale that brings you joy or makes you smile because it was a find?  Do you share your treasures?  But not all treasures are material in nature.   Treasures can be the time spent with loved ones; it can be allowing time for yourself to unwind, be lazy or self-indulgent; or it can represent an experience that you will treasure forever.

My dog loves his treasures and they are scattered around the house.  They include different kinds of balls, tugs, kongs and other descriptive names for a toy.  He also has a toy box which is suppose to be  the depository for his treasures.  The dog has discovered that treasures can be found when he is out walking with me.  We have found tennis balls and other toys left by other dogs along the walking paths.  There is one house that backs a walking path that we use.   This house does not have a back fence and a black lab lives there.  This dog has wonderful toys which my dog has discovered.   I let the dog off leash on certain portions of the path and he finds great joy in checking out some of the backyards that are not fenced.  He makes a direct beeline for this backyard where the black lab lives.  More often than not he comes running back to me with the great treasure in his mouth.   He will trot around with the toy in his mouth, his tail held high and a big grin on his face as he is so proud of myself and wants to show off the treasure he has found.

Last year I introduced myself to the owner of this house and black lab and explained how my dog will help himself to her lab's toys.  My dog is not the only neighbourhood dog who indulges himself in these treasures.  There is at least one other dog who follows a similar pattern.

My dog would love to keep these treasures he finds but he can't have everyone else's toys.  The typical routine that has been developed is that I let him trot home with the treasure in his mouth, bribe him once at home with a cookie to release the toy, quickly grab the toy and put it high up on a shelf in the garage or put it in my car.  That day or the following day I will drive over to the house and drop the toy off by the front door.   These people are very good natured about other dogs borrowing their dog's toys.   It is good to share your treasures....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

BISCOTTI

You could probably bake a different kind of cookie every day for a full year and not have to repeat the same recipe twice.  I have never tried that and you would need a few people people in your household to keep up with the cookie supply.   One of my favorite cookies is biscotti.  I like biscotti because it is a dry cookie and makes a great cookie for dunking in tea or coffee.  Biscotti, which is Italian in origin, is similar to mandelbrot (almond bread), a jewish dry cookie.  Before there was biscotti, I was making mandelbrot.  There are some small differences in the ingredients.  In the recipes I have, biscotti uses less oil.  Both of these two cookies requires twice baking.  After the first baking, the baked logs are sliced and put back into the oven to dry.  Here is one of the recipes I have.  I have adapted this from allrecipes.com.

BISCOTTI


INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sugar or splenda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries or chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups pistachio nuts or chopped almonds

DIRECTIONS:
1.              Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

2.             In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries/chocolate chips and nuts.

3.             Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough may be sticky; wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily.


4.             Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.

5.             Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.  Makes about 3 dozen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

SPINACH SALAD



This weekend I made a great spinach salad.  What made this salad taste so good was likely the dill sprinkled on the salad and the dressing.  I took the salad to a pot luck supper and it was a hit.  You can add more almonds or strawberries to the salad than what is provided in the ingredient list.

INGREDIENTS:


10 ounce bag of spinach, chopped
6 to 7 strawberries, thinly sliced
5 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 green onions, chopped
a handful of almonds, chopped
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup filled half way with water
1 heaping tbsp splenda or sugar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion flakes
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tbsp poppy seeds
pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, combine spinach, strawberries, green onions, mushrooms, almonds and dill.

In a glass or plastic jar that has a lid, combine the oil, vinegar, water, splenda, garlic powder, onion flakes, mustard, poppy seeds and pepper to taste,  Shake well.  Pour dressing over salad and serve.  Makes about 6 servings.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE BALANCE OF EATING

During the past several months I have bought two books by Dr. Joey Shulman.  She is a Canadian nutritionist and has written a number of books.  The books I have are: "the last 15 - A Weight-Loss Breakthrough" and "Healthy Sin Foods".   Dr. Shulman provides great recipes in both books and I will provide some of these recipes in upcoming postings.

The book entitled 'the last 15" is about re-setting your metabolism, learning to control the sugar cravings and night time eating.  Her suggestions and approach to improving one's eating habits are sensible.    Dr. Shulman devotes chapters to carbohydrates, proteins and fats and the information provided is useful, interesting and easy to understand.  Her program is not about denying your enjoyment of food but learning to operate within boundaries.

The second book, "Healthy Sin Foods" describes how certain foods regulate your hormones which are involved with balancing cravings, controlling blood sugar, mood and body weight.  The book also profiles a group of foods that Dr. Shulman describes as the top 50 superfoods.  They are whole foods that have not been processed, refined or preserved.   Detail is provided on each food including nutritional breakdown, selection and storage, preparation, background information and recipe ideas.  Examples of some of the 50 superfoods include almonds, apples, apricot, avocados, black beans, black cod, blueberries, chickpeas, garlic, olives and olive oil.   Did you know that raw garlic juice was used as an antimicrobial field dressing in the trenches during World War 1?

If you are looking for an interesting read, some tools to improve your eating habits and motivational tips, I would recommend these two books.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

APRICOT AND WHEAT GERM MUFFINS AND ARTISAN BREAD

I like using wheat germ for baking or adding to cooked cereals.  I store it in the freezer so I don't have to worry about it getting old and potentially rancid, especially if a long time goes by without me using it.  What is so good about wheat germ?  It contains a phytonutrient, octacosanol, that helps to increase physical endurance and improve the body's ability to handle stress.  Wheat germ contains folic acid, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin E.   

I made these muffins using wheat germ and apricots.  You can always substitute another dry fruit for the apricots.  You can also decrease the caloric content of these muffins by using splenda instead of sugar,  apple sauce instead of oil, and egg whites instead of whole eggs.  This recipe is adapted from http://allrecipes.com




APRICOT WHEAT GERM MUFFINS
INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice, divided
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk, (see Tip)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 400°F.   Use muffin cups or coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Combine apricots and 1/4 cup orange juice in a small bowl. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on High for 1 minute. (Alternatively, bring to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat.) Set aside to plump.   Mix whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in buttermilk, oil, orange zest, vanilla and remaining 1/4 cup orange juice. Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until moistened. Add the plumped apricots and juice and mix just until blended. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake the muffins until lightly browned and the tops spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes.  Recipe makes one dozen muffins.

Tip:  If you don’t have buttermilk  you can make “sour milk”: the ratio is 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.

ARTISAN BREAD

This past weekend I made an artisan bread with raisins.  In an earlier posting this summer I provided a recipe from Bonnie Stern.  Here is a picture of the loaf I made this weekend.  Of course it turned out wonderful.




Sunday, November 22, 2009

BEEF ROAST



When cooking supper I usually cover three food groups - protein, carbs and vegetables.  Last night for supper I cooked a beef roast and a butternut squash in the oven and made a tossed salad to have as an appetizer.

I am a firm believer that not all beef roasts are created equal, some stores are better than others in the quality of the meat they sell and you get what you pay for.   I have bought sides of beef directly from a beef producer.  I like buying meat directly from the producer as you are supporting producers within the province, they will tell you how the animal was raised, what it was fed and you can have it packaged according to portion size.  Besides buying beef from producers, I have bought bison (still have some in the freezer), roast chickens and lamb.   There are a few butcher stores in my city and several grocery stores where I will buy meat.  There are some stores that I won't buy from as I think the quality of the meat is not as good.



One store I like to buy meat and fish from is Costco.  I like the quality of the products they carry.   When at the meat counter, there is always the decision on how much do I want to spend - what sort of roast do I want and how big.  I have been buying top premium sirloin oven roasts from Costco and they are worth the extra bit of money as compared to a regular sirloin roast.  The meat is more tender, easier to carve and flavourful.  Last night I made a top premium roast and I was not disappointed.  This roast does not require marinating.  Before it goes into the oven I spread dijon mustard all over the roast and sprinkle dried onion flakes.  I cook the roast until it is medium or a bit medium rare in the middle.


One way I like to cook butternut or other winter squash is the following.  Peel the squash, cut into cubes or small chunks, remove the seeds and place the cubes into a mixing bowl.  Add some olive oil and maple syrup to the squash.  Mix well and place onto a cookie sheet.  I use a non-stick cookie sheet.  Put in the oven for the last half hour with the roast.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

CARROT SWEET POTATO SOUP

The ingredients that go into making this carrot sweet potato soup include some of my favorite vegetables - carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips.   The recipe is high in fiber and low in fat.  The addition of ginger and dill at the end adds to the flavour.   I made enough soup to last the week for lunches.  Both myself and the DH enjoyed this soup and I will definitely make it again.  If you don't have sweet potato, using regular potato would be an alternative.  The soup will also taste fine if you don't have parsnips in your fridge.



CARROT SWEET POTATO SOUP

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced
2 celery stalks, chopped
8 or 9 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
8 cups of water
4 tsp chicken bouillon powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp dried dill or 2 tbsp fresh dill
¼ to ½ tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and saute the onion, garlic and celery until golden.    Add the rest of the vegetables, water and bouillon.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.   Puree the soup.  Add dill, ginger, salt and pepper.  Yields 8 to 10 servings.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DARK CHOCOLATE

I never find it hard to rationalize that chocolate should be a frequent indulgence.  Two recent articles that I read give support to daily consumption of dark chocolate.   When I read these two articles on the health benefits of dark chocolate, I wondered about how hard it must have been to find volunteers.  Can you imagine, being forced to eat between one to three ounces of chocolate!  This must have been a hard research project to conduct.

The first study (Science Daily November 12, 2009) found that eating dark chocolate helps ease emotional stress.  Eating an ounce and a half of dark chocolate on a daily basis for two weeks reduced the levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.  The chocolate also affected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.  So that may be why you feel better after eating a piece of chocolate.  The second research project (Science Daily December 23, 2008) found that dark chocolate is more filling than milk chocolate and lessens our cravings for sweet, salt or fatty foods.  Dark chocolate provides more satisfaction than milk chocolate.   When the 16 young and healthy male volunteers ate three ounces of dark chocolate 2.5 hours before being offered pizza and were instructed to eat pizza until they felt "satiated", those that ate the chocolate consumed less calories (15 percent) than those that did not eat the chocolate beforehand.   They stated that eating chocolate made them feel that they wanted to eat less sweet, salty or fatty food.   If I want to be a bit cheeky, I could connect some dots and say that during the upcoming holiday season, one should eat some dark chocolate instead of a salad and what fun this change would be.... before leaving your home to attend parties that are offering all sorts of food.  Eating chocolate beforehand may help you reduce your consumption of salty, sweet or fatty foods.   After this discussion on chocolate, I must go now and find in my pantry, a piece of dark chocolate with almonds.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SLOW COOKER CHILI

Years ago I never thought I would use a slow cooker.   I changed my mind several years ago after talking about recipes with some friends.  I bought a slow cooker and have used it for a variety of recipes.  It is a rather convenient way to cook if you are gone all day and want to come home to a meal already prepared and cooked.   It is also a good way to cook food that requires slow cooking and allows for the flavours to be slowly blended.  Certain meats cooked in a slow cooker are more tastier than regular cooking methods on the stove or in the oven.   Today I plan to cook several things and these recipes will be posted in due time.  One recipe already on the go is chili.   Using the slow cooker today will allow me to multi-task including laundry, watching two CFL games and cooking other recipes.  The picture I have taken is just at the start of the slow cooking process.  I used bison instead of beef in this recipe.  All of the ingredients have been added and in 7 hours the chili will be ready.  If you find there is too much liquid in the chili, add 1/3 cup of cornmeal during the last hour of cooking.



SLOW COOKER CHILI

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs lean beef or bison hamburger
1 onion chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped
1 green or red pepper chopped
1 large can of tomatoes or 6 to 8 frozen tomatoes
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 large can (19 oz) of red kidney beans
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 chopped/minced garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Brown hamburger meat in a frying pan.  Once browned, drain any excess liquid and add to the slow cooker pot.  Add all of the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 7 to 8 hours.  Adjust seasonings to taste during the cooking process. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MINCEMEAT


One of the holiday traditions I like at Christmas time is mincemeat.   I know a number of wonderful bakers who make all kinds of tarts, fruitcakes and squares at Christmas.  There will be raisin tarts; butter tarts; cherry tarts; squares with chocolates, nuts, cherries, coconut or dates; and fudge.  What catches my attention is mincemeat.  I really like mincemeat and will choose that over most other Christmas sweets.  I am not a big fan of store bought mincemeat as once you eat homemade mincemeat you can't go back.  Last Christmas I tasted a wonderful mincemeat pie made by a cousin of a good friend of mine.   I had to ask for the recipe.  It doesn't contain any suet and is just dried fruit; sugar; syrup; apples; orange, lemon and apple juices and spices.   I liked that this recipe doesn't contain any suet as it will be lower in fat and calories.  The recipe should be made in mid November so that it can cure over the 6 weeks before Christmas.  The following recipe can be halved if you want a smaller amount.  I made this recipe this afternoon and it is quick to make.  The longest step was peeling, coring and chopping the apples.


MINCEMEAT

INGREDIENTS

3 lbs raisins
1 lb currants
1 lb mixed peel
6 to 8 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 3 oranges
½ cup golden syrup
2 cups brown sugar
1 litre carton of apple juice
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp mace
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves






DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, mix everything together except the apple juice.   Divide the mixture between two large ice cream pails.   Add ½ the carton of apple juice to each pail.  The apple juice should just come about up to the top of the mixture.   Place lids on the pails.  Leave on the counter for a few days to allow the mixture to start to ferment.  After a few days, put the pails in the fridge until Christmas.  What is not used at Christmas time can be frozen. 

You can cut this recipe in half which will make about 2 to 3 pies (not deep dish pies).  When making a pie, add about 4 dollops of butter on top of the unbaked piecrust before placing the mincemeat in the pie shell.  This mincemeat recipe should be made in mid November.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WHOLE GRAIN FLAX BREAD


In an earlier posting I wrote about non-knead bread and provided a recipe.   The non-knead bread is a great way to make bread and requires less work than the traditional bread that involves kneading.  Today I decided to make bread that requires kneading and more ingredients than the non-knead bread.  I have a bosch food processor with a dough paddle and I also have other attachments for this great kitchen tool.   You can use the old fashioned way and knead the bread with your hands.   This recipe calls for dough enhancer.  Dough enhancer accelerates the rising process and is basically ascorbic acid (vitamin c).  You can usually find dough enhancer at speciality stores that sell bulk baking and other food item.


WHOLE GRAIN FLAX BREAD


INGREDIENTS

1 ¼ cup ground flaxseed
1 cup oatmeal
5 cups whole wheat flour
7 cups white flour
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp dough enhancer
½ cup skim milk powder
5 cups warm water
4 tbsp honey or maple syrup
2 ½ tsp yeast

DIRECTIONS

Combine water, honey and yeast in a bowl.  Let it sit for 3 to 4 minutes.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients.  Knead well and if using a food processor with a bread paddle, knead on low speed for 7 minutes.  


Remove bread paddle from the bowl, cover bowl with saran wrap and a tea towel and let rise for an hour.   

Depending on the size of your loaf pans, divide the bread dough into three or four portions, knead a few times on a floured surface and place into loaf pans.   To not have the dough stick to your hands while handling it, rub your hands with vegetable oil.  Let rise in the pans for about an hour.  Cover pans with a tea towel while dough is rising.  Bake loaves at 350 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes.  While in the oven, you can spray the loaves with water.  The spray creates a little steam in the oven and helps give the bread a crustier taste.





Sunday, November 8, 2009

BREAKFAST

I have always been a breakfast eater.  I know that some people can't look at food until at least mid morning and others just want their morning coffee and can go until lunchtime before having anything that can be called food.   I think what is one of the deciding factors is how long you are up before eating breakfast and if you had a late night snack before going to bed.   If you get up 45 minutes or so before you have to leave for work, your time is limited and you haven't been up long enough to feel hungry.   As I go out walking the dog in the morning, I get up early and I am hungry by the time I get back from walking.  I am a firm believer in three meals a day plus snacks mid morning and afternoon.  I like grazing and distributing my calories throughout the day.

Two recent articles about breakfast caught my eye.  One is from the website called RealAge (www.realage.com).  RealAge has interesting material on its site and you can sign up for all sorts of newsletters.   In their article they rated the best breakfasts.  They call breakfast the most important meal of the day.  A nutritious, well-balanced breakfast boosts weight loss efforts as breakfast eaters are more successful at losing weight and maintaining the weight loss; eating a high-fiber breakfast makes you more alert than eating a high fat meal; eating whole-grain cereals versus refined cereals is better for your cardiovascular system; and it strengthens your immune system.  RealAge supports eating cereals that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.  Your total goal is 6 grams of fiber at breakfast.   You can get more fiber at breakfast by eating berries, apples, foods with bran or oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, and nuts.  Their article on breakfasts compares different breakfasts and their limitations.

The second article was from Science Daily (June 23, 2008).   The researchers quoted in the article have found that a big breakfast with protein and carbs followed by a low carb, low calorie diet for the rest of the day resulted in dieters staying on their diets as a big breakfast seemed to control appetite and carvings for sweets and carbs.  Women who ate a big breakfast were less hungry, especially before lunch and had fewer carvings for carbs.  These dieters ate more calories at breakfast, lunch had less calories and supper had even less calories.  Total calories for the day were about 1300.   This reminds me of the saving, "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and supper like a princess."  Consuming your calories in this style might be interesting to try.  You would have to plan out your menus so that you are aware of your carb, protein and fat limits at each meal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

My favourite treats or indulgences are oatmeal cookies and ice cream.  In earlier postings I have shared these important nuggets of revelation.  The recipe I have provided below is a lower calorie recipe as there is a reduced amount of oil, splenda is used instead of sugar and egg whites are used instead of whole eggs. Also, these cookies are not big but what I would call a three bite size cookie.   Another tip in making these cookies is to not let them cool on the baking sheet but transfer to a rack as once they cool off, it is harder to get them off the cookie sheet with a spatula.  You could spray the cookie sheet with Pam, I didn't.




OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats (regular or quick cooking)
½ cup sugar or splenda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 egg whites (2/3 cup egg whites from carton)
¼ cup canola oil
1/3 cup corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup chocolate chips
½ cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips and raisins/cranberries.

Mix the egg whites, oil, syrup and vanilla in a separate bowl.  Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients.  Mix well.   Drop dough from a teaspoon 2 inches apart on a non-stick cookie sheet.  Press slightly to flatten.  Bake at 375 degrees F for about 10 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the sheet and let cool on a rack.  Recipe makes about 3 ½ dozen cookies.

Adapted from Meal Lean i Yumm by Noreen Gilletz

Thursday, November 5, 2009

BRINGING UP THE REAR

I ran or what some people also call jogging for over 10 years.  I was never a fast runner and in fact I used to joke that I brought up the rear.  I never finished last in the 5 or 10 km runs or half marathons or marathon but I was also never in the top one-third finishers.  I didn't mind my race results as I felt fit, I had decent form and I knew that I was built for endurance and not speed.  I felt sometimes like the Ever Ready bunny in the battery commercials.   I once read an interesting article in Scientific American that explained long and short muscle twitch and that great thoroughbred race horses had short muscle twitches.  I definitely have long muscle twitches.

I recently read an article in Science Daily (November 4, 2009) on recent research that suggests longer toes and unique ankle structures provide sprinters with the ability to accelerate faster and thereby run faster.  The researchers found that long toes give sprinters the advantage of having more contact with the ground for a bit longer that runners with shorter toes.   They also measured the distance between the tendon and center of the rotation of the ankle.  Ostriches, greyhounds and cheetahs have feet built for sprinting.  So I wonder if Usain Bolt, the world record holder sprinter, has long toes?   Other recent research has also found that shorter toes provide for better endurance running. This supports what some coaches see - sprinters are born and are not made.  I tend to agree with this.  You see people who have natural athletic ability and while they still need training and development, they definitely have a talent.  I don't know if I have long or short toes but I am guessing I have short toes, I am not a sprinter and I am built for endurance.   For many years I had a great training partner, she loved to run with me and kept me company.   I knew where every bathroom was on the trails as she would need to get some water on warmer mornings.   Of course being a border collie, she wasn't allowed to run on the actually race days.   She actually deserved to get a race medal for the practice runs she did with me.  Amen...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

I know some people may question eating chocolate in the morning or a more cake like muffin/bread versus an oatmeal/flax/bran kind of breakfast.  Eating something that has chocolate or is sweet in the morning has never been my problem.  Years ago I went to an all inclusive resort in the caribbean and the resort provided great food including bread.  One of the breads they made was a french loaf style chocolate chip.  It was amazing, so amazing that I would skip the other desserts they offered and have a slice of chocolate chip french bread for dessert with my meals.   I tried to make it when I got back home but I couldn't quite duplicate it.  It may have been the quality of chocolate I was using along with the smell of the ocean and the sand.

I recently made banana chocolate chip muffins.  They are good muffins and if you are following the point systems on weight watchers, each one is equivalent to four points.  You can cut the points down to two by using splenda instead of sugar and apple sauce instead of the oil.



BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

INGREDIENTS:

1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 egg beaten
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ripe banana mashed
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

1.     In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder and salt.
2.     In another bowl, combine the egg, oil, yogurt and vanilla.   Mix thoroughly.
3.     Fold in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until moistened.  Add the banana and chocolate chips and fold in.
4.     Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two thirds full.
5.     Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 to 25 minutes. 

OPTIONS:

You can also add chopped nuts, chopped dried apricots or other dried berries to the mixture.

Adapted from allrecipes.com