Monday, November 29, 2010


I appear to have developed something of a crush on ginger. Ever since I made and subsequently devoured this awesome Gingerbread Cake I have been craving more ginger. I thought I could get my fix with this:

Which makes a very convincing gingerbread latte. In fact, I now prefer the gingerbread coffee/steamed milk/cinnamon and sugar concoction I brew up every morning to what Starbucks has to offer. But it turns out that the coffee isn't enough, so tonight I surfed around looking for something to further my ginger obsession. And I found it! Here. Chocolate banana gingerbread works on so many levels. One, it means I have something yummy to pack for school snack/lunches. Two, it's a loaf. As much as I loved my recent gingerbread cake triumph (yes, I'll go so far as to call it a triumph) I have this notion that gingerbread should be loafed rather than caked. Turns out, I was right. Chocolate banana gingerbread is gooo-d. It's still warm from the oven and between the boys and I, it's rapidly disappearing. And I have a feeling Chocolate Banana Gingerbread is the kind of loaf that just gets better as it cools. Oh yeah.

Chocolate Banana Gingerbread

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
2 medium bananas, mashed
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together. Add egg and vanilla, and mix until pale yellow and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in molasses and mashed bananas. Add half of dry ingredients, just mixing until combined, then add buttermilk. Add remaining dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray and pour batter in. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maple Mustard Pork Chops

The weekends before Christmas are so busy! We're not quite out of November so why does it feel like December is already over? The next few Sundays I need to do some baking since we have lots of people in our lives in need of holiday cheer. I've been making note of cookie recipes the last few weeks trying to narrow down what to make this year....

Our Sunday dinner last week was a recipe I've made before, Maple Mustard Pork Chops. I find that I tend to shy away from spicy sauces when cooking for the family. The kids aren't so adventerous and D. doesn't really like too much heat. Sweet sauces, however, go over well with my crew. This particular sauce is made with maple syrup, which means when I'm selling the dish to the boys I can say 'It's like pancakes'. Actually, my older son also loves mustard, so no wonder he didn't balk at all when it came to this particular dinner. He isn't a green bean lover, that's a nod to P's palate, but he got a substitution of carrots so all was well.

December typically promises some good eats around our house. We have lots o' birthdays to celebrate and I am oh so excited because we're going to The Only for dinner on my birthday. I had one of the best meals of my life at The Only last year and have been wanting to go back for ages. The menu changes with the seasons (and often week to week) and makes the most of what is fresh and local. Last time out I had the Chef's tasting menu, which turned out to be quite an adventerous choice. I'm torn between trying the tasting menu again or ordering off the menu. Either way I doubt I will be disappointed!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gingerbread Cake

I know I will regret admitting this, but I kind of wish there was a small dusting of snow on the ground and a few scattered snowflakes floating in the air. What is with this weather? Nearing the end of November and nary a snowflake in sight. How can I possibly get in the Christmas baking spirit without appropriate weather?

And yet, I manage. Exhibit A: Gingerbread Cake

My only quibble with this cake is that I kind of wish it was a loaf. No matter, it was delicious and very simple to prepare. Molasses, cinnamon, ginger and cloves; what's not to like? Tonight at the dinner table my oldest son told me how everyone was so jealous of his lunch today because he had a big ol' piece of gingerbread cake. If that isn't a ringing endorsement...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Battery Exhausted

The nose/ear/throat issue that I've been ignoring for about a month now finally walloped me hard yesterday. I gave up mid-afternoon and headed home, then decided to follow the advice of the nice doctor I saw last night in the after-hours clinic and rest today. Or at least attempt to rest.

Being sick when you have kids is nothing like being sick when you don't. You can call in sick to the office but you can't call in sick to your kids, who generally require breakfast, a packed lunch and transportation to and from school. At the point that I have to get up to accomplish the aforementioned tasks I figure I may as well suck it up and just go to work. Otherwise I come home from the school drop-off, look around my untidy house and think, 'I'll just clean up 'x' then I'll go back to bed'. But 'x' leads to 'y' leads to 'z' and before I know it, I've spent my sick day re-arranging the linen cupboard. Today I made an effort to actually be sick. I still got up and got the kids moving but when I came home I crashed right back into bed. I finally got up mid-afternoon and decided I wanted some soup.

I've had a recipe for Parsnip Carrot Soup hanging on my fridge door for literally two months. I like parnips (remember parsnip crumble?) and happened to have some on hand in the fridge along with carrots, so decided to do one productive thing with my sick day - make good soup. And it was good soup. I had it with some camembert cheese and crackers. Even in my hazy state I thought to take a picture of my soup in progress:

I know. This is a horrible food shot. It's obviously a pile of discarded parsnip/carrot peel, slightly out of focus. It looks how I feel. But I love this picture, because after I took it my camera beeped at me, then showed the message: 'battery exhausted' before conking out. Yeah, I totally get that, Mr. Nikon Coolpix P90. Sometimes the battery is just too exhausted.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And now, for something a little different...

When planning our sunday dinners, I tend to default to chicken an awful lot. I'm not sure why. All of us actually like beef, although when the kids were small I tended to avoid hamburger as I was certain I was going to give them e coli. That's when we discovered the wonders of ground soy. But I digress.

If you're going to make roast beef for dinner I figure you should go all out and serve it with all the traditional trimmings, which brings to (my) mind mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and popovers, which are kind of like Yorkshire Pudding. For this week's sunday dinner we bought a beautiful roast at Remark, a local 'boutique' grocery store. They have a wonderful meat counter at Remark. I bought some fresh lamb there a while back for Thanksgiving that was superb. What I like about shopping at Remark is how friendly and knowledgeable their staff are. For example, while I was browsing for the right size and cut of beef for my recipe, a staff person asked me what I was looking for, noted I wouldn't find that size of cut out in the case and offered to get me a fresh piece.

I didn't do anything fancy with my oven roast. I used a recipe from my New Canadian Basics cookbook for the roast, gravy and popovers. The roast was 4 pounds, and I rubbed it with a combination of olive oil, wooster sauce, Dijon mustard, garlic cloves, dried thyme and pepper. It went in to the oven on a rack in a roasting pan that had about an inch of water in the bottom; it started at very high heat (500F) for 30 minutes then I reduced the heat to 275F and let it roast until it was medium well, about an hour and a half longer.

The gravy I made using butter and flour because there wasn't a lot of fat on the roast for drippings. The water in the bottom of the pan had mostly evaporated by the time gravy was on my mind, so I threw in a few tablespoons of butter and some beef stock (about a cup and a half), scraped up what was stuck to the bottom of my roasting pan and thickened it with a 1/4 cup or so of flour. I poured the whole works through a sieve once it appeared a good consistency and happily, it tasted pretty good.

Popovers are one of those dishes that make me wish for one of these. Because I have to bake them at a different temperature than the beef I end up making them after the roast is done and they take about 30 minutes to cook. New Canadian Basics does say I could make them a day ahead but let's be realistic - I ain't that organized. Be forewarned: some of the ingredients for popovers have to be at room temperature. They sound fussy but are actually very easy to make.

2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Grease 12 muffin cups. Beat eggs lightly in bowl, stir in milk and butter. Add flour and salt mixing with a fork until just nearly smooth. Fill muffin cups half way full. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350F and bake 15 minutes longer or until well puffed and brown.

This is where it gets funky. I found that after 30 minutes my popovers were done. The recipe suggests you snip the tops of your popovers and return them to the oven for 10 more minutes to make them browned and crisp outside, nearly hollow inside. But we kind of like the chewy yummy-ness you get when you skip this step, which admittedly we discovered because we were too impatient to wait another ten minutes to eat.

This was a really well received sunday dinner. I think that since we started with sunday dinners (eat in the dining room, have to take at least one bite of everything served) the boys have grown to like our little tradition and even look forward to it each week. It's exposed them to foods they wouldn't necessarily have tried otherwise, and while sometimes it has taken a couple tries, they do discover new foods they like. Such as beef, which we no longer have to pretend is chicken.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Apple Crisp

See this? Doesn't it look good?

I made apple crisp for our Sunday dinner dessert. I have an 'old reliable' recipe for apple crisp but the last few times I've made it, it's been a bit lackluster. So I decided to thumb through my cookbook collection for some apple crisp inspiration. I ended up finding a simple sounding recipe in The Bon Appetit Cookbook for Apple and Raisin Crisp.

I adapted this recipe slightly, leaving out the raisins (look too much like dead flies for my liking), omitting the lemon juice (because I didn't have any) and substituting macintosh apples for granny smith/pippin. And may I say, despite not following this recipe to the letter, it was delish. The whole time it was baking the house smelled heavenly, if heaven smells like apples, brown sugar and cinnamon. It was so good, I couldn't resist sneaking a taste while it was still warm. Hence the small dent you'll have noticed in the upper right hand corner of the dish pictured. It could easily have been a very large hole. P. claims not to like apple crisp, so he was the only one to sit out dessert tonight. Well, not entirely - he didn't pass up the vanilla ice cream that was on offer.

In other culinary news, I am very excited that we found a Trader Joe's in MI during our cross-border trek Saturday, because it means I can try out their Gingerbread coffee. I'm hoping this blend creates a mean gingerbread latte. I will, of course, advise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Particular Pancakes

I fear I have fallen into something of a rut when it comes to my weeknight dinner menus. I realized tonight when I was staring into the freezer looking for inspiration that I have let Thursday become 'breakfast for dinner' night. By 'breakfast for dinner' I don't mean toast or cereal, although my boys likely would eat toast or cereal breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let them. I mean 'fancy' breakfast stuff like scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes with sausage.

I am very particular about pancakes. Call it snobbish, but I won't make 'boxed mix' pancakes and I try to avoid eating them as well. When we go to the cottage, I make my own 'dry mix' for pancakes so I can be assured of the real deal. I also won't eat or serve pancakes without real maple syrup. I can't remember when this happened, my being so particular about pancakes, but my Joy of Cooking suggests it happened Spring of 2003, when I decided to make homemade pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.

In Spring 2003 my oldest son would have barely been 6 months old. My youngest son wouldn't arrive until two years later. We lived in our first house, not our current house. When I think of all that's happened between Spring 2003 and now it makes my head spin. People I had yet to meet, places I had never priorities have changed too (another 'p' word...I'm feeling very alliterative today). I must have made this pancake recipe a hundred times since that first batch. It's comfort cooking for me. And not just the result - the equipment for making my 'particular' pancakes even makes me happy. I have my favourite batter bowl (a warm sunshine yellow) and my griddle pan that D. got me for Christmas. My syrup pourer that looks just like the one I used to fling on to tables when I worked as a waitress and made dozens of pancakes every Saturday morning a million years and another lifetime ago. I even like the mess - the melted butter ramekin, the egg shells, the whiff of vanilla coming from the 'wet ingredients''s a definite kind of therapy, making pancakes for dinner.

Basic Pancakes (Joy of Cooking, page 795)

Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk together in another bowl:
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together until just combined. Spoon 1/3 cup batter onto preheated griddle. Cook until the top of each pancake is speckled with bubbles and some bubbles have popped open, then turn and cook until underside is lightly browned. Serve with (real) maple syrup.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Flash back about two weeks ago. D. comes home from work and amidst the hustle and bustle of our evening, throws out the following conundrum. Seems he needs to identify some kind of 'talent' or skill he can sell at work in an annual fundraiser for charity. Problem is, he doesn't seem to think he has any talents.

I beg to differ. D. is the hardest working person I know and he has many talents. For example, he does the laundry every Saturday. Or at least starts the laundry, knowing it needs to be done. He helps the kids with their homework. Particularly math, because we've only gotten to Grade 3 but I've already lost interest. He reads a bedtime story to the kids every night. I was very put out when he was away for a week and my oldest son asked me to stop reading to him at night because I wasn't (and I quote) "reading with as much enthusiasm" as daddy. So D.'s talents are many and varied, but I did take his point re: the charity fundraiser. He can't exactly offer to do laundry, help with math homework or tuck somebody in with a bedtime story. 'Why not bake something?' I says.

As much as I tend to monopolize the kitchen, the boy can cook. In fact, there are certain dishes I have entirely given over to D.. Lamb chops. Chewy double chocolate cookies. Mashed potatoes. Grilled cheese. He makes all of these things way better than I do. So being a progressive male of the 21st century he decided to offer some homemade baked goods as his talent. Now flash forward to this weekend. Someone bid on his delectables (that sounds a bit awkward - you know what I mean) and he had to come through with some goodies.

I know there was some skepticism around the office as to whether D. was actually going to make the promised baked goods himself or whether he would delegate this task to his wife. Which is a bit insulting because if you work with D. you know he is a person of great integrity. If he says he's going to do something, he does. So he spent much of Saturday in the kitchen churning out cookies, brownies and buckeyes.

Okay - so I did have some input. The buckeyes were my idea. See, I read this blog called smitten kitchen, which I love. Every week I see something I want to make. Last week it was buckeyes, a peanut butter chocolate confection that looked and sounded like a little piece of heaven. So when D. was finished with cookies and brownies, and felt like he needed one more thing, I suggested buckeyes.

Which is how we came to spend Saturday night in the kitchen together. The hockey game was on as usual but we spent most of our time assembling a few dozen peanut butter/cream cheese/graham cracker crumb balls. Which we dipped in chocolate. They were a bit fussy to make - we found we had to chill the dough so it stayed firm enough to dip in the chocolate, which needed to be just the right consistency to coat the balls correctly. But even the uggers tasted good. We saved the best for the paying customer who ended up with this:

Okay. So I also gave some suggestions regarding the presentation of the baked goods. And I tied the bows. I'm a details person! Here is a closer look at the buckeyes:

Yeah. These are all gone. And after all that baking, D. made sunday dinner too! Lasagna, salad and Cornflake Peanut Butter squares, because around our house we can't get enough PB. I was busy laying hardwood floor for four hours Sunday, an activity that appears to be the equivalent of doing a zillion squats. A few muscles of mine are very, very sore today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sweet Potato Carrot Soup

For the last week I've had one sad, lonely sweet potato sitting forlornly in my crisper. It was left over from when I made spiced sweet potato fries. Now, the spiced sweet potato fries may have underwhelmed but they didn't put me off sweet potatoes. So I felt guilty looking at it every day when I opened the fridge to get milk or cheese or some fruit. It looked so vulnerable, since it was already peeled. So exposed. I knew where this relationship was heading. Sure, I'd put it off this weekend, and maybe even next, but slowly, slowly, the sweet potato would shrivel and rot until I finally removed it from the fridge to the greater indignity of the garbage during our weekly apres grocery shop fridge-purge.

Cuddling up next to the sad sweet potato was a half bag of carrots, also languishing in my crisper. See, this happens in my fridge. A lot. I buy an ingredient with a dish in mind and then, if/when I buy too much, I let the leftovers languish, unloved, in my fridge until they get thrown out. I hate being so wasteful and I'm appalled at my general lack of creativity when it comes to using ingredients I bought for one dish in Monday night I threw down the gauntlet and vowed to make dinner using the contents of my crisper.

Enter Google. You can learn a lot about how people cook from an innocent Google search for sweet potato soup. For example, most recipes for sweet potato soup tend to involve curry. Which I don't really like all that much, so I don't have any on hand. And a lot of recipes want you to have more than one sweet potato to make your soup. Fair enough. Finally, after modifying my search to 'make sweet potato soup with one potato' I landed on a promising recipe here.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well this soup turned out. I didn't bother with adding milk or cream. It was nice and light and went well with some aged white cheddar and crackers. The boys, of course, declined the soup. My kids are not big soup eaters, which frustrates me because when they were smaller and didn't know any better, they ate soup quite happily. Since I can't put soup on a stick or disguise it as chicken, I'm not sure when soup might become part of our regular repertoire.

Sweet Potato Carrot Soup

  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 small onions or leeks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes (2 medium or one large), peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 lb. carrots (3 to 4 medium), peeled and chopped
  • 6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth OR 4 cups commercial broth and 2 cups water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream, half-and-half, or sour cream (optional)
  1. In a large pot over medium high heat melt butter or heat oil. Add onions or leeks and garlic. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add sweet potatoes, carrots, and broth (or broth and water). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all vegetables are very soft.
  3. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Taste and add salt to taste. Stir in cream, if using.

Makes 4 to 6 servings