Wednesday, November 18, 2009
This is one of my favorite muffin recipes. Something about the almond extract adds a touch of elegance and a nice decadence not found in your typical blueberry or bran muffin.
In my house, we always have sour cream in the fridge, and we always seem to have sour cream that needs to be used up. My husband loves the stuff, I can't stand it (on it's own - in baking it is pure magic), and he can never seem to eat enough perogies or tacos to finish the container he insists I buy at every trip to the grocery store. No worries though - this recipe will make use of it (as do many quick bread recipes and even some cakes), and it helps to create a moist and tender muffin as a result!
I prefer to use fresh cranberries in this recipe, so that's how it is written. If you choose to use dried (which I did for this photo as a matter of fact because it was all I had on hand at the time), that works too. Just reduce the amount ever so slightly as the dried cranberries are much sweeter. Also, these make great use of any fresh cranberries you may have popped in your freezer after Thanksgiving! (See Cranberry Post for more info on freezing cranberries).
Cranberry Almond Muffins
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
3/4 cup fresh cranberries, halved
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and butter twelve 1/3 cup muffin cups.
Into a bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Melt butter, and in a small bowl whisk together with sour cream, egg, and almond extract. Stir butter mixture, almonds, and fresh cranberries into flour mixture until just combined (do not over mix). Divide batter among muffin cups and bake in middle of oven until golden and tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Yup you read that right, but maybe I should backup a little so this makes more sense.
I love peanut butter. Not "have-it-everyday-on-toast-or-with-jelly" kinda love, but it is one of my favorite post-workout snacks, or when I'm starving for and afternoon munchie that's more "filling", it is pretty high on my go-to list. Usually, my vehicle of choice is a whole-wheat Stoned Wheat Thins cracker, and one or two does plenty to fill the void.
I am also not your typical Peanut Butter connoisseur because we didn't grow up on Kraft, Jiff, or Skippy. In fact, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've actually eaten Kraft peanut butter. My grandpa, when he was alive, actually used to make peanut butter. It was delicious. He roasted the peanuts, ground them up, and put a whole lot of love into each and every batch. When I wasn't at their house, my mom always bought natural peanut butter from wherever she could get it. Not all grocery stores carried it at the time, but health food stores certainly did. And to this day, it's still what I prefer. Peanut butter with just one ingredient - peanuts. As it should be in my opinion.
Currently, my absolute favorite peanut butter on the market is from Safeway, and it is from their "Organics" line (shown above). This one has two simple ingredients; peanuts, and a touch of sea salt. That bit of salt brings it from good to simply decadent. So good. If there is a Safeway in your area I highly recommend giving it a try. But really, natural peanut butter is available in all grocery stores now, so try whichever you can easily find.
Why go the all-natural route? Simple really. Peanut butter will naturally separate if made with only peanuts. All the natural peanut oil rises to the top and it has to be stirred back through the jar periodically (or usually right when you open it), to re-distribute it and return the butter back to it's spreadable state. Modern society thinks this is bit of nuisance (not going to lie to you - it is), and they've found a way to solve this problem. Peanut butter, such as Jiff or Skippy that is naturally "blended", requires hydrogenation. Meaning "bad fats" need to be added to stabilize the peanut butter and make it smooth and creamy. Now, some companies say that they use a minimal amount of trans fats to do this etc, etc, etc... All I can say is google it, and read the labels. Some brands even go as far as adding icing sugar into their peanut butter to further "enhance" the taste. But really, what's wrong with just plain peanuts? If you don't like them as is, eat something else in my opinion. It really should be that simple.
So, back to way I'm telling you to store it upside down. As alluded to above, one of the biggest nuisances of all-natural peanut butter, and one I've obviously dealt with my whole life is that it separates. It's a pain I do admit. What I've done in the past is open my fresh jar, taken a butter knife, and just gone to town stirring like mad until it resembled a more normal consistency. This would then last in the fridge until the jar was mostly gone, when I would realize that the last quarter of the jar was quite a bit thicker and drier than it had been in the beginning. I wrestled with this for a long time, trying different ways to get it stirred properly, until about 3 years ago when I learned the ULTIMATE trick. My mom was hosting out of town visitors that she didn't particularly like. Was finding it hard to come up with conversation topics, didn't share similar opinions on much of anything when she did, and kept thinking "who knew 2 days could last so long", when all of the sudden, out of the blue one of the guests said to her over tea "Do you know that if you store your peanut butter in the cupboard upside down for 2 or 3 weeks after you buy it, all the oil will start to run to the bottom of the jar re-distributing itself through the peanut butter."
I took it one step further - I realized that once I opened the jar, the little bit of air seemed to help speed up this process, so I stored it for the first week or so upside down in the fridge as well.
The beauty of this method? The separation of the oil actually happens fairly slowly. It will take quite a while for ALL the oil to accumulate on the bottom of the jar, but in the meantime, it is slowly running through the peanut butter and returning it to a better consistency. Similarly, when you turn the jar back upright after a few weeks, the oil is again moving very slowly through the jar and it will be weeks before it all collects on the top again (and by then the jar could have significantly less peanut butter in it as well).
It's great. No more stirring, no more peanut butter oil flying around the kitchen, and still a great tasting product that you can feel good about. Those are the kind of tips I like!!!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Chef Bear's demo started with a few appetizers. Lobster stuffed with avocado anyone?
...and so was the lobster tempura (wow)......and the lobster skewers with Asian marinated beef tenderloin...
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
1 1/4 cups warm water
4 cups bleached flour (I use half all-purpose, and half whole wheat)
2 teaspoons sea salt, fine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl
5. If you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven while the dough rises. Heat for at least 45 minutes before baking pizza in an oven set at between 500 and 550 degrees.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Well, I'm not really on "vacation" so much as I am traveling with my family visiting relatives in my hometown. I am still trying to work while I'm visiting, but I'm finding limited Internet, changes in our schedule, and keeping up with my "wired from all the attention from grandparents" toddler making it difficult to keep up with some of the extras - such as this blog. We are home for a short stint, then away again for a few days of "real" vacation, home again for a bit, then off to Mexico for a "big time real" vacation, and my sister's wedding at the end of August.
So, I am taking this opportunity to apologize in advance for not blogging as much as I should. But, I'm keeping track of some of the good ideas I'm coming across, and will be back with a vengeance in the fall.
In the meantime, I'm going to hint at my next post: Thin Crusts Pizzas on the BBQ! My daughter just had her second birthday, and I decided a "make your own pizza" party would be fun for all! It was! The best part (for me - the cleanup lady) was it was all outdoors. Minimal mess for maximum fun. I will post the recipe, some pictures of our party, and how you can execute it all yourself in the coming weeks.
Until then, enjoy the summer. Take dinner outside tonight and enjoy some time in the yard. It won't last forever and come fall, you'll be glad you did!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I've always thought this succulent, rich, buttery fruit is a staple on everyone's kitchen counter as it is on mine, but have come to learn that this isn't necessarily true (but in my opinion it certainly should be). Avocados are not only rich in flavour, they are rich in nutrients. As well as containing 60% more potassium than bananas, they are rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, and contain the most fiber of any other fruit. Unfortunately, they also contain a whole ton of fat, but it's the good fat that our bodies need to absorb all these fantastic nutrients, which means in moderation they are still very good for you. The picture above comes from this site, which contains much more info on all the health benefits associated with the yummy avocado.
But, I'm here to tell you about the taste benefits, because of those there are also many! First off, it needs to be said that in most cases avocados are not sold ripe. They often need to be ripened on your kitchen counter for 3 or 4 days, even up to a week. The most common variety are Hass, and you'll often see them in the grocery store to be green in colour and firm to the touch. They are ripe when the skin turns darker, almost black, and there is some give to the touch. I'm now in the habit of buying a few avocados every time I'm buying produce. That way, when I have a recipe that calls for them, or I just need a quick snack I always have them ripe and ready (ripened, avocados will keep in the fridge for few more days).
Once they are ripe, the possibilities are endless. My favorite is straight up, as a snack. In fact, they are one of my favorite snacks. Simply mash one whole avocado with a sprinkling of salt and a splash of lime juice. Serve with tortilla chips, or on a toasted pita. Yum. This same mixture can also be labelled "guacamole" and served on everything from sandwiches to fajitas, even in burgers or smothered on a toasted English muffin and topped with a poached egg. Yum (again).
Dice avocados to toss into your favorite salads, or slice them to make a simple BLT out-of-this-world. Mash them and layer them with refried beans, sour cream and salsa for a fun party dip. Cut them in half, scoop out the flesh, and use the shells as a "bowl" for an elegant presentation of a nice salad using the avocado as the main ingredient.
There really are so many more delicious ways to use your avocados. Trust me, they won't go to waste. So next time you are shopping (and then the time after that, and the time after that), buy a few. They'll soon become a regular on your shopping list, right after eggs, milk and bread.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Now, I just mentioned I have a toddler. To put this into perspective let me also mention that the trip from Calgary, Alberta Canada to Santiago, Chile South America is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump. To make matters worse, when we landed in Dallas after our first 4 hour leg of the journey I found out our overnight flight to Santiago had been cancelled, and I was stuck at a Dallas hotel with no luggage, minimal diapers, lacking in toys to entertain my child, and of course no hubby.
Needless to say after a very LONG journey we did make it Santiago, and it was fantastic. I was amazed by how wonderful everything was, the food, the wine, the Pisco sours (I may even post a recipe for these one day...we bought some Pisco, we took some pictures of locals making them, and as soon as I perfect this refreshing cocktail at home it will be passed on), and I got a much needed break with hubby around to change a few diapers.
Well, I'm home now (and he's still there), and let me tell you I forgot once I got to my destination in Santiago that I'd have to travel back - for 20 hours - with a toddler - by myself. I'm pooped.
But, we have to eat. And I don't know about you but after traveling for 10 days and eating in restaurants breakfast, lunch and dinner, I just can't do too much more take-out. Sure, the first night we got back I ordered in - couldn't even wrap my head around the idea of turning on the stove and tossing in a frozen pizza, but now I need to cook something.
Of course I had to hit the grocery store, so while I was there I picked up some chicken legs. Nothing fancy, and great on the grill (less dishes - perfect for tired cooking). When I got home I marinated them in red wine vinegar, a couple cloves of garlic, olive oil, and fresh rosemary (I happen to have got the inspiration for this recipe when I was at the grocery store, and picked up the fresh rosemary while I was there - but you can use dried no problem). I'm not going to give you a recipe for this because I just eye-balled it and you should too.
Then, into a plastic bag it all went, back into the fridge, and I forgot about them for 24 hours. When it came time for dinner tonight I fired up the BBQ (yes, I grill - my husband travels lots remember), and first prepared a tinfoil packet of red potatoes by cutting up the potatoes and laying them on a large sheet of the foil. Top with a tablespoon or so of butter, s&p, a small sprig of the rosemary (again whatever you have on hand will do) and about 3 tablespoons of water. Seal it up with another piece of foil and fold over all edges to make a tight pocket. That went on the top rack of the BBQ first where they will bake/steam as the rest of the food cooks. Then, on went my marinated chicken legs, and about 7 or so minutes before everything was done I threw on some seasoned (in olive oil and s&p) asparagus to char a little.
That was dinner. All on the grill for minimal cleanup, all homemade to make me feel human again, and all super easy so I didn't burst into tears out of exhaustion in the middle of it all!
It's good to be home, it's good to cook again, and it will be good to be totally back to normal very soon!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Anyway, when friends invited me for dinner this weekend, I figured that this was a good time to offer to bring a dessert, and strawberry shortcakes immediately came to mind. I've been meaning to come up with my own shortcake recipe for ages now, and with several fresh smelling strawberries consuming my senses at every turn, I decided this was the weekend. Unfortunately though, my husband is out of town - with the camera - so I couldn't document my progress (hence the borrowed picture witch I got from here).
So, onto the shortcakes. I looked at SEVERAL recipes before my first attempt, as I had a few stipulations. One, I didn't want to have to use buttermilk in my recipe. I didn't have any, and I was in no mood to a) go to the store to get some, and b) fuss about with vinegar and what have you to make my own. I wanted this recipe to be as approachable as possible, and buttermilk just isn't something people have on hand every day. The other thing I wanted was for the batter to be tasty, but not too sweet. I planned on adding sugar and booze to my strawberries, topping them with sweetened whipped cream, and dusting the whole lot with icing sugar. That's sweet enough. The shortcake I envisioned was going to be pillowy and soft, but not overpowering to the point that it would take away from the star ingredient (hello, strawberries!).
So, my first attempt was not good. The biscuits didn't rise properly, they had no colour whatsoever, and they were pretty much tasteless. Nope, simply would not do. Batch number two on the other hand...
Here is the recipe:
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
pinch of salt (if your butter is salted), or 1/8 of a teaspoon if it is not
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into small pieces
zest of half a lemon
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoon heaving cream (or 1 beaten egg mixed with a little milk) for brushing
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse mixture 5 or 6 times until the mixture reassembles a coarse meal (there should be little lumps of butter throughout) do not over mix. Add lemon zest and milk and pulse 3 or 4 more times until mixture just starts to come together into a ball.
Divide the dough into 6 equal portions and drop on prepared baking sheet. Lightly pat the dough into rounds, 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter and lightly brush the tops with the cream or egg mixture.
Bake the shortcakes in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
For the strawberries, I borrowed a topping from another recipe. Jazzing them up with a little booze just makes the dessert more elegant!
2 pounds of strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered
2 - 3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
To serve the shortcakes:
Cut the top 1/3 portion off the shortcake, set aside. Place bottom piece on a serving plate and top with about a cup of the strawberry mixture. Dollop with whipped cream, and place the "lid" back on the top. Garnish with an extra dollop of whipped cream (if desired) some additional strawberries and good dusting of icing sugar. Serve.
It was good...really good. Well worth the fact that I had to make them twice (and I'll most definitely be making them again...soon).
Friday, May 22, 2009
Here's what I think: It doesn't have to be perfect. Now, I'm not talking about that careless "good enough" attitude that some people have, leaving things that should be done properly done only halfway making it really, in essence, not "good enough". The chicken does need to be cooked, and the seafood probably shouldn't be served raw, but that's not what I'm talking about here.
What I am referring to is the social stigma that seems to equate "perfect" with being "good". Like the fashion magazines that make us feel like we should look thin and have perfect hair, teeth, makeup, abs, and of course flawless complexion, cookbooks and magazines often set recipes as unattainable or impossible to execute just by how good they look. The pressures of social media and this unrealistic view that everything "has to be perfect" has seeped into just about every aspect of our lives - and cooking has become just one more thing that we need to do "perfectly" in order for it to be of any value. Somewhere the true passion for cooking and what it actually means has been lost. It's not about the perfect garnish or glaze, airbrushing or photoshop, it's about making a meal for your family and taking pride in what you serve. It's not about being perfect or flawless, or looking just like the picture, it's about fresh ingredients and about nurturing your family - mind, body, and soul. In fact, your dish may need a little more salt, a little less garlic, or a touch more sugar. Half of the cake may still be stuck to the bottom of the pan, the sauce on the pasta may be a touch too thin, or the salad wilted ever so slightly because it was tossed too soon with the dressing. It doesn't matter. Really. This is how we learn, and this is how we all become better cooks. And it's still going to taste good. Trust me.
My advice: Just cook. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be honest food. Fresh ingredients, simple cooking methods, basic food knowledge, and a whole lot of love. That's all it takes. People will never know what it was "supposed" to look like, and quite frankly they'll be so happy to be treated to a freshly cooked meal they really won't care. So don't stress over your next dinner party, backyard BBQ, or get all worried about trying out a new recipe. Just do the best you can, and if it doesn't look like the picture, so what? It's just a picture, and they too probably made a few mistakes to get there.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Now these places are fantastic when you are on the go and need a snack that's not either full of sugar or deep fried. But, you can also make them yourself (and take them with you if you like when you are on the go) and it's easier than you think! We've been making fruit smoothies in our house for years, and ever since my daughter got into them when she was about a year old (she's almost two now), we've been making them several times a week at least. So, when I learned about a contest a fellow food blogger was hosting calling out for the best smoothie recipe, I figured this was perfect for me. I've gone through many "variations" of our smoothie recipe over the last few years, and I now figure I've got a pretty good one nailed (but of course...you be the judge). Below is the recipe and my tricks for the best ever smoothie. Then, starting May 11th, be sure to vote HERE if you like it...which you will...in fact you'll wonder how those "smoothie spots" even stay in business now that you (and I) are by far the ultimate smoothie makers!
But look a little closer, because the secret to the best smoothie is in this picture...I'm not sure if Oasis is purely Canadian or if it's available everywhere, but it is FANTASTIC stuff. A very dark, rich, fruit juice made from dark super fruits such as pomegranates, blueberries, and blackberries. Extremely high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and flavour, and extremely low in sugar and additives (actually there isn't any). On it's own it's not overly sweet, and taste like it's straight from the fruit itself. It's a little pricey (about $4 for this container), but totally worth it in my mind. Why? Well, because of this juice, I get all the nutrition and goodness from the dark berry fruit without all the little annoying pips! Yup, no seeds in this smoothie! To me this is huge. Smoothies of years past were chalk full of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries - super delicious and healthy no doubt, but I was picking seeds out of my teeth until lunch...at least. Not to mention it's totally not cool going into a business meeting with bits of raspberry stuck in your teeth. Now we use this as our juice base along with frozen mixed fruit (usually peaches, melons, pineapple, etc...) instead of berries. The result is an amazing smoothie. Truly. Just about every fruit you can imagine (and just about every vitamin too) in a deliciously smooth and silky texture. We love it. You will too.Here's the exact recipe:
Party Designers Super Smooth and Healthy Fruit Smoothie
1 handful ice
1 large banana
1 cup yogurt (any kind will do - we use organic vanilla quite often)
2 - 3 cups frozen mixed fruit
1 tsp ground flax seed (optional)
2 - 3 cups good quality berry juice (such as Oasis Antioxia)
Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Start with about 2 cups of juice and add additional juice to desired consistency.
Makes about 5 -6 cups.
I didn't get a photo of the the finished product in the blender. These are so good that once my daughter hears that blender going, there isn't much time for foolin' around. But I did snap this...
And this... (that's a smile by the way - trust me - she drank the whole thing!). And, I also snapped this...my broken and cracked blender:Did I fail to mention that the winner of this contest will get a new blender? Well, um, they will. This one http://www.myhealthmaster.com/. And well, um, I need one. Bad. My daughter does too for that matter!
Win or lose of course I still think this is a great recipe that you and your family will really enjoy, so I still encourage you to make it, but I also encourage you to vote (for me) HERE!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 gloves garlic
1 can tomato paste
3/4 cup white wine
3 vine ripened tomatoes, blanched, and finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Heat olive in a medium size saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are just starting to brown. Add tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scrapping any brown bits. Add tomatoes and half the basil, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Let cook, uncovered, on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, or until mixture starts to thicken. Add remaining basil as well as salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
While I was off something crazy happened - SRRING! Now, here in Calgary, Spring is relative. Yes, we have the same official start date as the rest of the world, but up until a few days ago we were still shoveling snow on a regular basis. Today though it sits at a comfortable +15 C., so I think I can safely declare that Spring has arrived.
Asparagus is certainly a vegetable that screams this change of season. Sure, it's available all year round now, but it's harvested more often in the Spring to early summer than any other time of the year, making it at it's peak in flavour and freshness. Not to mention it's far less expensive to buy vegetables in season, so now is the time to stock up on some asparagus.
Browsing the internet for some additional info, I also learned that asparagus is actually extremely high if folacin (also knows as folic acid) - 60% of our recommended daily allowance in fact! This is extremely useful information for women especially - folacin is key in preventing neural tube defects in babies during pregnancy. Known mostly to be found in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, I actually had no idea there was such a large amount in asparagus! Of course, it is widely known that folacin needs to be consumed well before the pregnancy even occurs to have an adequate supply in the system, so it is recommended that all women in "childbearing age" consume at least 0.4mg daily. (This is also a super important vitamin for people who are not "women of childbearing age" as folic acid deficiency can lead to fatigue, poor growth and intestinal problems).
Luckily, asparagus is delicious, and we eat it quite frequently. The most common method to prepare it at our house is roasting. Simply drizzle washed and trimmed asparagus spears (the bottom of an asparagus spear is very woody - simply break off the bottom at it's "natural" point. You can also cut the bottoms, or even grate the bottom with a vegetable peeler if you prefer) with a glug or two of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss on a sheet pan and roast in 450 - 500 degree oven for 5 - 8 minutes (depending on the thickness of your spears). Shake the pan once during roasting to ensure all sides are well caramelized.
Another favorite in our family is asparagus pasta. Wash, trim, and cut a couple handfuls of asparagus into bite size pieces. On very low heat, cook a tablespoons or so of garlic with a teaspoon or so of hot pepper flakes along with 3 - 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon or so of butter (like my measurements? This is a very forgiving recipe so you can cook to your own taste). Add asparagus and gently cook until spears are tender-crisp. Toss with enough pasta for two, a handful of good quality Parmesan cheese and some freshly ground pepper. This makes an amazing side dish, or simply dinner all on it's own (has been for me on many an occasion!).
So, run to the grocery store, buy some asparagus, make yourself a tasty meal, and procreate healthy children. Sounds good to me!
Pictures and nutritional information courtesy of http://www.asparagus.org/