Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cottage Food

This past weekend we spent at the cottage with friends. We've done this particular 'friends weekend' at Limestone Lake for five years now, and every year we seem to have great weather and great food. This year was no exception.

I try to keep food simple at the cottage, since we're meant to be relaxing not slaving over a complicated meal. This year I reached for a recipe I had torn out of an LCBO flyer in early Spring for Mini Burgers when it came time for Saturday lunch. These burgers came together in a snap - combine ground beef and pork with chili sauce, mustard, wooster, egg, and bread crumbs, shape into small patties and you're off to the races. All that's left to do is grill 'em and top 'em.

My favourite sous-chef, James, had the honour of forming and grilling our meat patties. He did an excellent job as they came off the grill perfectly cooked and needing very little in the way of condiments. You know you have a good burger on your hands when toppings are optional. We offered grated cheddar and some grilled mushrooms and onions to our crowd. We served the burgers on some lovely mini whole-grain dinner rolls with a side of coleslaw, potato chips and some iced tea lemondade.

I was pleasantly suprised by how yummy the coleslaw was since I found the recipe in one of the cookbooks that lives at the cottage. It's an old Better Homes and Gardens title: The Meat Cookbook. Despite appearances, this cookbook does have recipes for more than just meat and includes a number of different coleslaw recipes. I tried the mayonaise based dressing that was super quick to make: 1/2 cup mayo, 2 tbsp prepared mustard, 1 tbsp wooster sauce, 1/2 tsp paprika. I mixed this up and added to a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix and let it sit for a few hours before serving.

Later that evening after dinner we enjoyed a great key-lime pie courtesy of James. I missed some of the prep but it looked pretty basic. I know I saw egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and keylime juice go into the filling, and it was served up in a graham cracker crust. The pie was fantastic, even if we cheated and didn't use real whipping cream for the top. We used Dream Whip, which I'm sure isn't even food but it was fast and actually pretty tasty.

Sue also brought joy to the masses with her homemade chocolate chip cookies and marble-walnut brownies. I didn't get pictures of these treats; understandable in a cottage featuring six children under the age of 7! We ate well, played hard and laughed often. The recipe for a great weekend.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time for pie

In the interest of full disclosure, I set out to make an in-season pie using all fresh ingredients but things didn't exactly work out that way. My particular craving this week was for strawberry rhubarb pie. I noticed fresh rhubarb in the grocery store last week (which I sometimes get mixed up with swiss chard, which is something else entirely) and in thinking about what I could do with this in-season fruit my mind wandered to strawberries (a nice complement to rhubarb) then to pie. Fast forward to the dairy case. As I picked up my usual weekly ration of yogurt products for the boys my eye fell on a Pillsbury product I had not seen before: Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts.

I hate making pie crust. Likely because I'm not very good at it and I have little patience for things I'm not good at; as an aside this character flaw may explain the way my kids react to life from time to time... Frozen pie shells are always hit and miss. Often when you go to use them they're cracked so you have to fix them. If I wanted to fiddle around fixing pie crust, I'd make my own thanks very much. So I decided to give these new-fangled refrigerated pie crusts a chance. Back to the fruit aisle where no local berries are available yet, so California imports it is. I knew that I had some frozen rhubarb at home so with these three essential pieces of the pie puzzle in place - to the kitchen!

I decided to use an epicurious recipe this time out: Lattice-Topped Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. Obviously I skipped the pastry making part (hurrah!) leaving that work to my friend Pill S. Bury. The filling was simple: chop up the rhubarb and strawberries, mix them with two kinds of sugar and a bit of cornstarch, a dash of cinnamon and sprinkle of salt. Nothing easier. Except perhaps the pastry!

The refrigerated pie-crust worked like a dream. It unrolled very easily and was a cinch to fit into my 9 inch round glass pie plate. I put the filling in then used the second pie crust to make the lattice topping. I just rolled out the flat pastry round and used my pizza wheel to cut out strips. Instant lattice. These I attempted to arrange artfully over top of my pie filling. Trimmed it up and into the oven. Best experience with pastry *ever*. So how did it taste? Here's how it looked:

This shot was taken mere seconds after the pie came out of the oven. You can see that the filling was all oozy and sticky. In the bottom right corner it's actually still bubbling. It actually bubbled right out of the pan, onto the bottom of my oven, which actually made for an oozy, sticky mess.

The pie crust stood up well, I thought. I brushed it with an egg and water wash which accounts for the nice browning effect.

My husband enjoyed this pie despite announcing he doesn't like rhubarb. Honestly, put enough sugar in something and it's bound to taste good. The filling was just sweet enough for my taste. I prefer this particular variety of pie warm out of the oven with vanilla ice cream melting over the top. So that's how I enjoyed it. The crust was perfectly acceptable. I'm not a pie crust aficionado myself, so considering the effort I was very pleased with the overall effect.

Friday, June 12, 2009


My sons both love Pixar films. It started with Cars when my oldest son was 4 and since then I think we've back-tracked through the entire Pixar canon, with the aforementioned Cars, Wall-e and Toy Story 2 the favourites. Now Pixar has 'up'd' the ante by producing films in 3-D! I knew that we'd be catching Up in the theatre on or near its release date but I didn't quite expect to be bankrolling admission for 10 children, along with my own nearest and dearest. It made sense when I first pitched it to my husband: our older son wanted to have a birthday party with friends from school, but his birthday is in August and it's hard to count on attendees during the Summer holidays. Given he was so excited about Up I figured two birds, one stone: we'll see the movie and move up his birthday by a couple of months so he could 'celebrate' with this classmates.

Shortly after I booked us in I asked my son what he was thinking for birthday cake. A small smile crept on to his face and he said: "I thought we could have 'Up-cakes'.". At that moment I knew that this was my child. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of this myself. Up-cakes. Brillant!

So Up-cakes, in case you haven't guessed, are basically themed cupcakes. Our version were made in both vanilla and chocolate (cake). Icing was vanilla, which if I had been thinking I would have tinted blue. (I'm slipping) For balloons I used jelly beans in assorted colours, with balloon strings made out of thin black licorce. Thank you Bulk Barn! I had no illusions that the children would actually eat the licorce and was amazed when several did. Leading me to believe these children have way better manners than my own children (who immediately flicked off the offending licorce strings) or they mistook the licorce for something more tasty like chocolate. It was a bit dark in the party room at the theatre. Here is the finished product:

Having a go-to, basic recipe for homemade cupcakes is a must for anyone with young children. I've used the following recipe a few times in my relatively short career as a mum. It's from a fun book I got one year for Mother's Day called Cupcakes Galore. I love this book. It has a ton of creative recipes, many of which are organized around a theme (and we all know I love me a theme).

Basic Yellow Cupcake

1.5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together and set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and beat until batter is smooth.

3. Spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool.

Variation: Basic Chocolate Cupcake - use the above recipe but replace 1/4 cup flour with 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.

On to the icing. For this I consulted another of my very favourite cookbooks: Dad's Own Cookbook. Here is a simple recipe for Quick Vanilla Frosting:

14 tablespoons butter at room temperature
5 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsps heavy cream or whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. I did this in my stand mixer (which I love, by the way. If you don't have one, you should get one). With the mixer running, gradually add 4 cups of the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until it is fully incorporated. Add the salt, cream or milk, and vanilla and continue beating until well combined. Gradually beat in the remaining cup of sugar a few tbsps at a time, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.

Frost your cakes and decorate them as you desire!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ribs. Mmmmmm.....

Ribs are something that I've only ever made once before in my life and they were a complicated affair, thanks mostly to a time consuming root beer based barbeque sauce. I saw ribs in the grocery store last week and they went into the cart pretty quickly, mostly owing to a find I had made several weeks earlier during a quick cross border hop to Port Huron.

It's no secret among those who know me well that I love U.S. grocery stores. The selection is so much more varied than Canada and occassionally you stumble across something you might actually want to try! While trolling the aisles of Meijer in PH I came across a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's Vidalia Onion BBQ sauce. I'm partial to sweet onions and the price tag ($1.50) was too good to pass up. Fast forward to my local grocery store; I couldn't resist picking up some pork ribs knowing I had a simple sauce solution waiting for me at home.

I think that ribs must be one of those foods that everyone has an opinion about as regards the 'best' way to cook them. I was going for 'quick and simple' so opted to read the package directions on the back of the styrofoam tray. The directions indicated I should boil the ribs for 30-40 minutes then grill them, basting with desired sauce. So that's what I did. More on the outcome in a second, because first I want to talk about side dishes.

I still can't get enough of roasted asparagus, it's my current go-to vegetable, so that was a given for one side. For the other I decided to make coleslaw, because somehow ribs don't work for me without coleslaw. Luckily bagged coleslaw mix was on sale at the grocery store, so whipping up a batch of my foolproof slaw proved very easy indeed. To my bag of slaw I added:

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seed

Put all of the above into a microwave safe measuring cup and heat one minute, then stir to dissolve sugar. Pour this over your bag of coleslaw mix (typically shredded cabbage / carrot mix) toss it all together and then stick it in the fridge until you're ready to eat. This particular recipe (From The New Canadian Basics Cookbook) is also excellent with tourtiere. But I digress.

Keeping with my 'simple' theme I went to the freezer for my last side dish - Cavendish Potato Wedges. I think I've mentioned these before. They are quite good for a frozen potato product. I know making fresh wedges isn't all that hard but I find when I buy potatoes a good number of them sprout on me before I've decided to use them.

So there you have it - ribs, roasted asparagus, coleslaw and potato wedges. The ribs turned out very well for a 'last minute' effort. After I boiled the ribs I grilled them on the BBQ for about 20 minutes, brushing with sauce near the end of the cooking time since I knew the sugar in the sauce would cause some charring (sounds better than burning, doesn't it?). If you do this leave the meaty side of the ribs 'up' on the grill until the very end - put them on the grill bone side down. The sauce was very, very good. Bones were picked dry, fingers were sucked clean. Kudos Sweet Baby Ray, kudos.

I tried to sell ribs as brontosaurus bones to the boys and they were intrigued by this dish until they figured out that if I was serving brontosaurus bones they would likely be bigger than the table at which we were eating. So a lot of carrot sticks were consumed at Sunday dinner this week. My husband loved this offering and we still have about half a jar of SBR left...I see more ribs in our future.