Raindrops on Roses…

… and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things!

(Thank you Maria, you can go home to the Alps now. Or just exit Stage Left.)

I have heard that there is a strange phenomenon amongst couples everywhere.  My sources tell me that a man must never, ever, under ANY circumstance buy a woman any tool, gadget, device, appliance, or thingamabob that can be used in the kitchen.  I imagine the same rule also applies to the laundry room.  The only exception to this unspoken “rule” is that Kitchen Aid stand mixers are exempt and can be given for a birthday, anniversary, Christmas, or any random Tuesday. 

I hate this rule.  It makes no sense to me.  First of all, this rule is rooted in so many gender stereotypes its crazy.  Who is to say that a woman is or isn’t allowed to buy a man a kitchen tool or appliance? At the end of the day, if someone – regardless of gender – wants to give someone else a gift, shouldn’t he or she be able to receive it graciously instead of reprimanding the gift giver? Besides, this dumb “rule” suggests that if someone is a foodie and counts cooking and/or baking as a hobby, then you should instead buy them a sweater.  Because, in case you hadn’t heard, everyone needs a new Christmas sweater.

Friends, I believe its time for a revolution – a time where we can give and receive gifts wholeheartedly, without reservation or fear of judgement.  Where a woman can buy a man a whisk and a man can buy a woman a hammer.  Where the focus of Christmas isn’t what loot you did or didn’t get, but instead on the things that really matter.

Pretty sure I just heard an amen.  I know you’re with me!

In any event, if you’re looking for a few ideas for what to give to the resident foodie on your list, here are some of my favourites.  Let me know what yours are, and we can expand the list together. 

In no particular order:

1) Silpat Baking Mat:

These non-stick baking mats are fantastic – I line my cookie sheets with them every time I make cookies, and suddenly even the oldest cookie sheets produce the most beautifully browned cookies, every.single.time. It’s practically a facelift for bakeware. Amazing.  Also saves parchment paper, so perfect for a baker who wants to be more green.  Or eat more cookies without having to buy new cookie sheets.  I’ll let you guess which category I fall into.

2.) Cookie Dough Scoops, aka Dishers:

If you’re going to be making more cookies, you NEED these in your drawer – I have 3 different sizes, and they are fantastic.  My Mom started using these eons ago (she was very progressive), and my friends used to always wonder why her cookies always looked perfect.  Dishers ensure that your cookies are always the same size, so they bake evenly and look great.  They also can be used for portioning truffles, cake pops, muffins, etc.  Just don’t use them for a really stiff batter or ice cream – they are not indestructible.  However, they are fixed easily with a little bit of elbow grease from either yourself of someone who wants you to make more cookies.

3.) Microplane Zester:

We’ve spoken on more than one occasion about how much of a flavour boost a bit of citrus zest can give food.  These babies actually are based on a woodworking rasp – they’re extremely sharp but also safe. Trust me, it’s better for your relationship and food if you have separate kitchen and woodworking tools.  Don’t ask me how I know this.

4.) Digital Food Scale:

I know I’ve discussed this many times, but once you start baking with a scale you’ll never go back.  Not only is it much more accurate, but it’s also easier.  I can’t be the only one that hates washing a million measuring cups!  I use my scale daily – whether I’m baking bread or weighing chicken to keep my portion sizes in check, I couldn’t do without mine. 

5.) Immersion Blender:

This little gem is one of my favourites, and not just because its red! It is SO much easier to puree soups or sauces when you don’t have to put anything in your blender and puree it in batches, and you save yourself from dirtying more dishes.  I love mine so much I gave away my regular blender in the summer, and haven’t looked back.  As an added bonus, it takes up a lot less room in your cupboards, and can fall under the “power tool” category.  Just ask my Mom.

6.) Dutch Oven:

These enamel-coated cast iron pots can only be described as workhorses – they are an amazing cooking vessel for everything from soups and stews to bread and casseroles.  They have a tight-fitting lid that has little knobs on the inside that allow condensation to drip down on the food as it cooks – in other words, its self-basting.  I have 2 of these that I use more than any of my other pots or pans combined, and have given several as gifts.

If you’d like to give me one as a gift and have an extra $400 kicking around, there is a turquoise Le Crueset one that has my name on it. 

7.) Instant Espresso Powder:

 

Many years ago, my Mom started adding this to her chocolate chip cookies and they went to a whole new level.  Adding a bit of espresso powder really elevates the flavour profile of anything with chocolate in it – I add it to brownies, icing, cake, cereal, you name it.  Delicious!

8.) Peanut Butter:

I LOVE me some peanut butter.  On toast, with an apple, on a spoon or my arm – it doesn’t matter.  I will eat it anytime, in any form.  I love it pretty much any time of day.  It can be used for so many more applications than just toast or cookies – try stirring a spoonful into a soup to make it West African inspired, or make homemade peanut butter cups for someone who you know is a fan.  Warning – they will fall in love with you, so be careful who you cook for.  There are so many fantastic gourmet peanut butters out there – vanilla cranberry anyone? – that the peanut butter fan on your list would be thrilled with.  Orrrr….may I suggest a date to the Whole Foods peanut butter grinding bar? Seriously one of the highlights of my life thus far. 

If you’re having relationship troubles, please feel free to contact me for advice – but only if he or she is a peanut butter fan.  Anything outside of that is not in my parameters of experience, and therefore is best left to the experts on Bravo.

9.) Yoga Pants:

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in case you haven’t heard or personally experienced, I consider it my duty to warn you.   There is an epidemic all across the nation whereby thousands of calories have started living in cooks and professional eaters closets and dressers, sewing the seams on our clothes tighter and tighter.  There tends to be an alarmingly high incidence rate in the colder months, but don’t fret – I have the cure.  It has been scientifically proven* that calories are allergic to yoga pants.  Go get one, or ten pairs, today.  Until we catch these darn calories, I’m looking out for ya.

*tested by me, through trial and error. 

10.) The Missing Ingredient Subscription:

How fabulous is THIS – every month, you can receive a goodie box with 4-5 different product and ingredient samples, along with a recipe and chefs tips so you have ideas on how to use your new treasures.  You can sign up for a 1, 3, or 6 month subscription by going to missingingredient.ca, so head on over today – it just may the gift that keeps on giving, since you’re likely to get at least one dinner invitation out of giving this to a lucky recipient.

I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it short and sweet for now (that’s a first, huh?!?!) .  I’d love to know what some of your favourites are, so comment below and let me know!

Until we meet again,

xoxo

Funfetti Pancakes

(Alternate title: Have you eaten your hydrogenated oils today?) 

I may or may not be known to have some rather strong opinions about certain foods.  Ask me my opinion on butter vs.margarine, for example, and you will never wonder how I feel about the issue…or sugar vs. aspartame, or bacon vs. just about anything. I also have been known to picket in the grocery aisles that contain pre-made mixes of any kind, and to spend hours on end making something I could buy simply based on the principal that homemade is always better.  Yes, I’m “that girl” and I sometimes hate me too.

Except sometimes, I break my own rules.  Sometimes for good reasons, other times not.  Some might say I’m fickle; I say I’m human. Shh, don’t tell anyone, ok?

In case you don’t believe me, here is an excerpt from real conversation R and I had recently:

Me: (babbling intelligently discussing something of high importance)

R: You’re so funny.

Me: Me, funny?!?!  What’s that supposed to mean?!?! I’m not being funny!!! I’m being serious, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

R: You’re very funny.  All the time. Including right now.

Me: I don’t agree.

R: Well, you are.  You’re always either “haha funny” or peculuar funny.

Me. Hmm.  Please pass the margarine.

(end of conversation, beginning of heart disease)

In all seriousness, while I DO believe that homemade is best, I also sometimes cheat and use something out of convenience, cost, and/or Scottish guilt.  This recipe I’m about to show you is what happens when all 3 of those things get together for a party (In other words, when sleeping in is important, cake mixes are on sale for 88 cents each, and you feel guilty throwing something out). Go ahead, put your pride, common sense, and health-conscious ego aside and join me for breakfast…you know you want to!

 

Go ahead and raid your pantry for Bisquick, cake mix, milk, eggs, vanilla, sprinkles.  Don’re pretend you don’t have those items on hand at all times!  

Pre-heat your griddle to medium-high heat while you introduce all of the batter ingredients to each other.

 1 c Bisquick, please meet 1 c cake mix, 2 eggs, 1 c milk, and 1 t vanilla.  Go ahead and mingle, but don’t get too friendly.

Oh look, the sprinkles are here!  All 3T of them!

You know the drill from here on in – ladle the batter onto the preheated and greased griddle, being sure to have some touch the sides of the griddle and therefore diminish any hopes, dreams, or aspirations of perfectly round pancakes.

 

And when the surface is dotted with bubbles, flip the pancakes over and continue cooking until they’re golden brown.

 

Yum!

Stack these babies up high, and dust with icing sugar and more sprinkles (obviously) before digging in.  Or, if you’re not watching your girlish figure, drizzle with an icing-sugar glaze, too.

Oh look, it’s a party on my plate!

 

 And a perfect breakfast in celebration of a certain someone’s 1 month birthday…

… even if this post is 2 months late going up and the birthday girl doesn’t have teeth :)

And on that note, please pass the margarine and Diet Coke. I’m a little thirsty.

P.S. If you feel guilty serving your family cake for breakfast, give them Cheerios and eat these once they’ve all left the house.  Take it from me, it’s sometimes worth it.

(Hello Dolly!) Swalty Chocolate Bars

Well hello there, thanks for stopping by!

I spent the last week in Vegas for a company trip, and upon returning home late on Friday night I knew I probably wouldn’t have the energy to do much on Saturday except catch up on sleep.  When a friend invited me to her house for a BBQ, I wanted to accept but knew I couldn’t go empty-handed.  I did a quick survey of my fridge and knew I would have to decide between either (a) going to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make a dessert, or (b) making do with what I had on hand, even if that meant making something without butter, eggs, or fresh fruit.  I’m never one to back down from a challenge, so I darted into my walk-in pantry (aka storage room) and contemplated my options.  Besides, I wanted to have a nap and going to the grocery store would cut into my precious sleeping time.

You should also know that this dilemma was further complicated by the fact that the hostess of said-BBQ was my lovely hairdresser Wendy, which meant that I couldn’t just show up; I had to show up and look half-decent.  In other words, I couldn’t spend long cooking; I had to do my hair!

Hmm…what to make, what to make.  I started grabbing random pantry ingredients, since the contents of my fridge were rather pathetic – a cake mix (embarrassing but true; I’m a hoarder, remember?), some marshmallows, and chocolate chips for good measure.  A can of petite diced tomatoes rounded out the mix, and with my arms full I sauntered into the kitchen ready to create something edible without having to change out of my sweats to go to the grocery store.

Once in the kitchen, I surveyed my goods, and made the executive decision to make a pan of gooey bar cookie/brownies/whatchamacallits.  Everyone loves chocolate, I reasoned, and a pan full of something would be less finicky to make than drop cookies.  I needed all the time I could get for my nap and hair, after all.

I vaguely recalled that Hello Dolly bars are always a hit at parties, and wondered if I could replicate something similar using what I had on hand.  I scrummaged around and found some shredded coconut and a bag of chopped walnuts in the freezer, and unearthed a can of sweetened condensed milk from the pantry. How this stuff gets here, I’ll never know, but on occasions like this one I’m always grateful to not have to leave my house or pick up TimBits.   I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, ditched the marshmallows and tomatoes, armed myself with an apron and spatula, and got to work!

I began by mixing the dry cake mix with 1/2 c of canola oil, until it formed a dough.  As a sidenote, have you ever made cookies using a cake mix?  I would have probably done that, if I had eggs or butter or the desire to get dressed and leave my house.

Next, I ate 1/4 of the dough patted the dough into a 9×13″ pan that had been lined with parchment paper.

If the dough looks glossy greasy, its because it is.  No way around that one, folks.  This was NOT a situation where I was trying to make something healthy; it was a situation where I was trying to make something quickly so I could do my hair.

It’s all about priorities, after all.

Once I made peace with the grease, I then sprinkled 1 c each of coconut, chopped walnuts, and chocolate chips on top of the chocolate base…

…and then poured a can of sweetened condensed milk, otherwise known as nectar of the South, evenly on top.

Sweet, sweet, goodness.

It was at this point that I stared at the pan that was before me; the pan that contained enough sugar to put anyone into a diabetic coma, and wanted to add another layer of complexity.  Since I adore anything that is sweet and salty (or swalty), I recalled the chocolate covered caramel pretzel rods that I love so dearly (and therefore never make), and knew instantly that I needed to add a salty element to these bars.  I dashed into my pantry again, and emerged exactly 11.27 seconds later with a bag of these beauties:

Oh happy day!  I smashed up 10 or so, using the bowl from the chocolate batter base and the jar of coconut since I try to avoid doing dishes at all costs.

I put the pretzel pieces over the sweetened condensed milk, and gently pressed them in so they’d stay put. And not end up on my hips by way of my mouth, since we all know that pretzels like to travel.

I popped the whole lot in the oven, jumped in the shower, and in 25 minutes pulled a pan of pure goodness out of the oven.  I left them to cool, and quickly got ready to head out.

A few hours later, after we were all stuffed with grilled chicken and fabulous side dishes, it was time for dessert.

(I’d show you a picture of the pan when it just came out of the oven, but it looks almost identical to the pre-oven shot so just use your imagination, ok?)

I nervously cut into the pan, not sure what to expect.

They cut cleanly; that was a good sign.

With the disclaimer that this was a last-minute throw together type dessert, I quickly summoned the children to do some quality control prior to placing the bars on a plate and bringing them to the adult table.  The children approved – 6 year olds have discerning palates, in case you weren’t aware – and deemed them “safe” for the grown-ups.

You guys.  These.Are. Awesome.  They are sweet, salty, rich, and decadent.  They are serious. Cut them into small pieces, or have insulin on stand-by. They were referred to as “the best dessert I’ve ever had”, and R told me the only time I could make them again was for special occasions, like winning the lottery.  Yes, they’re THAT good.  Make them for your next BBQ with your hairdresser, or your sister, or your neighbour, or The Bachelorette.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to make sure your hair looks good!

Indian Coconut Chicken Curry

Have you ever seen Hoarders or Extreme Couponing?  I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I have seen a few episodes of both shows in my day.  As a sidenote, I’ve found it to be quite effective to clean out your closet while watching Hoarders, but that’s another blog post for another time.  While I’m far from a (true) Hoarder or Couponer, I often occasionally find myself stockpiling things…because, well, you just never know when you might need 23 bottles of mustard.  What can I say, I like a good deal.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I think I may have a tendency towards being a pantry and condiment hoarder.  For reasons 90% of you will probably never understand, I sleep better at night if I have 32 types* of rice in the pantry and 59 opened jars* of random stuff things I can’t live without in my fridge.  The great thing about this is that I seldom have to run out to the grocery store for a teaspoon of something, but the downside is that I run out of storage if I’m not careful.  In my defense, I only have 1 fridge, do not have a deep freezer, and avoid Costco like the plague.  See if you can figure that one out!

(Actual numbers may vary; numbers are for illustrative purposes only).

I felt desperate inspired tonight to use up a few random odds and sods and call them dinner.  I had a few chicken thighs to use up, along with a wilting bunch of cilantro and an apple that was as big as a cats head.  A few more ingredients joined in, and dinner was served.  It was SO good that I wanted to share it with all of you, so I hope you enjoy :)

The cast of characters:

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Skinless chicken thighs (I suppose you could leave the skin on if you’re not watching your girlish figure), onion, bell peppers (whatever colours you want, except for green since they’re horrendous), garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, chili powder, tumeric, mango chutney, coconut milk, lime, cilantro, and an apple.

Let’s get started, shall we?

I’m all about multi-tasking, so I figured that as long as I had to spend a few minutes chopping vegetables I might as well make the chicken do some work.  I made a quick spice rub (tumeric, chili powder, cinnamon, curry powder, salt and pepper) and massaged the chicken thighs until they were good and relaxed.

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Now, I know what some of you are wondering: why chicken thighs? Why not chicken breasts? Well folks, without going into details of my life over the last few months, lets just say that I’ve eaten a lot of chicken breasts for the last 126 days.  I mean, a LOT.  While I like chicken, I think I reached the point where I maxed out on boneless skinless chicken breasts.   Sure, they’re quick, convenient, and healthy, but sometimes a girl just needs to change things up, you know? However, if you have not eaten your lifetime supply of boneless skinless chicken breasts yet and you’d prefer to use them, knock yourself out.  Not literally of course; I don’t want to be responsible for that.  If you’d rather use tofu…well, then maybe you SHOULD knock yourself out first; it will be less painful for all of us that way.

Oh wait, what’s that? You’re wondering how this would taste with bacon?  Well, I don’t have too much to say about that except I’m not married, and open to proposals.

Moving on…

Chop up your veggies – I had 3 peppers in my fridge so I used a bit of each, along with a small-ish onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a knob of ginger.

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Set the veggies aside, and go put your feet up for another 10 minutes or so.  Go on, you deserve it!

Heat up a touch of oil (in a pan that has a lid, ideally), and brown the chicken thighs on both sides.  Smelling good in here!

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Remove the chicken from the pan, and add the onions and peppers into the pan. Saute them for a few minutes to soften them up, then add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so.

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See all those brown bits? Those are FLAVOUR so don’t you dare wash your pan now!

Add the chicken back in, along with the browned chicken thighs, some coconut milk, water, and mango chutney.  Bring everything to a boil then reduce it to a simmer for a few minutes while you chop an apple and zest a lime.

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I used a gigantic Fuji apple, because 2 weeks ago I bought a 5-lb bag of them and then discovered that they do not even come close to comparing to my beloved Pink Ladies.   Seemed like a good idea at the time…

All together now!

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Simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  Before you go put your feet up again though, make sure you make a pot of basmati rice to soak up all of the wonderful juices!

Bonus points if you make coconut basmati rice.

After 20-ish minutes, the chicken should be cooked so go ahead and chop up a few tablespoons of cilantro (from the wilting $0.79 bunch that you’re prepared to go to heroic lengths to use up) and toss it in.

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Get a spoon and taste for seasonings.  Are you happy with it?  Dip your spoon in again just to double-check.  Repeat as much as necessary.

Are you ready to eat yet?!?!  I know I sure am!

Serve up the chicken on a bed of spinach (if you’re feeling healthy) and that basmati rice that is ready to go.

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Hungry yet?

Here’s another one, just to whet your appetite:

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I know I was.  So I didn’t take a mid-meal shot, but I knew you’d understand.

Especially after you make this for yourself, dish up a steaming bowl of goodness, and watch Hoarders or Extreme Couponers.  The only thing this was missing was some naan bread, so please learn from my mistakes.

And now, the final kicker: a RECIPE!

(If you know me in real life, you’ll know why that’s ironic. If you don’t know me, just come introduce yourself to me – I’m the one hanging out in Aisle 4 in the grocery store on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons).

Indian Coconut Chicken Curry

*Serves 2 – 4 people

4 chicken thighs (either bone-in or boneless)

1/2 t chili powder

1 t curry powder

1/4 t cinnamon

1/4 t tumeric

1/4 t kosher salt

1/4 t pepper

1 T oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 T minced ginger

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1-2 T spicy mango chutney

1/2 c coconut milk+ 1/2 c water (OR 1 c light coconut milk…use the extra to make rice)

1 large apple or mango, peeled and chopped

zest of 1 lime

2T chopped cilantro

1. Mix together the chili powder, curry powder, cinnamon, tumeric, salt, and pepper.  Massage onto chicken thighs, and set aside for 15-20 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a pan, and brown chicken on both sides.  Remove from the pan, and set aside.

3. Saute onion and peppers until softened, then add garlic and ginger.  Saute for another minute or two.

4. Add the chicken back to the pan with the coconut milk, water, and mango chutney.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Add the apple (or mango…or both if you’re feeling adventurous!) and lime zest.  Cover and simmer for 20 more minutes.

6. Add cilantro, taste for seasonings, and serve on a bed of basmati rice. Enjoy!

You’re welcome.

Any guesses?

A sneak peak at what I made this week…let’s just say it was a first!

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Happy Valentines Day!

(p.s. recipe for baked chocolate donuts coming soon…)

Greek Orange Muffins

When my siblings and I were children (5 years ago, in case you were wondering), my Dad thought the timing was appropriate to fill us in on a bit of our family history.  He told us a sombre tale of a battle that our Scottish ancestors had with the Greeks in the 1800′s.  I’ll save you the details in hopes you will be able to sleep tonight, but let’s just say from that point onwards we felt a weighty responsibility, no, obligation, to our ancestors to never, ever, under any circumstances, eat Greek food.  In fact, one day my sister was out for lunch with my aunt and was horrified when my aunt suggested a local Greek place for lunch – how could she not know?!?!!?  My aunt, being the considerate person that she is, immediately called my mom to find out why on earth Jennie was so adamant about not eating at a Greek restaurant. Unbeknownst to our impressionable little minds, my lovely father simply didn’t care for chicken souvlaki and had made up the battlefield story so that we would agree to go to Swiss Chalet instead of asking to try somewhere new.

Funny guy, he is.  Creative, too.  I’m not sure if he ever has, or will ever, eat Greek food by choice, but I sure think of him whenever I do.

The other day, I felt like baking, but I also wanted to use up at least one of the 6 tubs of Greek yogurt that was in my fridge, courtesy of a great sale and going to the grocery store hungry.  My Dad may not like Greek food, but I’m pretty sure he’d like these muffins – they’re moist, tender, refreshing, and have more protein thanks to the generous amount of yogurt in them.  I think he’d approve, and maybe even think they’re worth going to battle for.

Ready? Here we go!

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Greek yogurt, eggs, olive oil, honey, vanilla, sugar, cake and pastry flour, baking powder, salt, and an orange.

To get started, sift the dry ingredients together and set aside.  I somehow neglected to take a picture of 1.5 c of cake and pastry flour, 1 T baking powder, and 1/2 t salt in a bowl, but you can just imagine how riveting it was.  Please don’t unsubscribe over this!

Next, zest a small orange (about 1 t worth) and add to 1/2 c sugar.

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Smoosh everything around, so that the essential oils in the orange zest have a chance to make friends with the sugar.

And of course, it smells AMAZING!

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With the rest of the wet ingredients, you can either add directly to the sugar (if you thought ahead enough to use a bigger bowl) or in a separate bowl if you consider washing dishes one of your top 5 hobbies.

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Whisk up 2 c Greek yogurt (I prefer 2%), 2 eggs, 1/4 c mild olive oil, 1/4 c honey (use a good quality, local honey if you can – I used Orange Blossom, which inspired the orange tone in these muffins), 1 t vanilla, and 2 T of orange juice.  You can either juice the orange you just zested, or, if you’re like me, eat that orange or a snack and use the Tropicana in your fridge.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry…

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Gently stir everything together just until the dry ingredients are acquainted with the wet ones.  Remember, no one likes tough muffins!

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After 24 minutes at 350 degrees, the battle was declared over!

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Or perhaps, a new battle was just beginning…one that involves a dozen muffins calling your name.  Oh my.  I surrender. Just don’t tell my Dad, ok?

Next up…souvlaki, anyone?