Friday, January 23, 2015

the simple five: roasted garlic cauliflower


I've read somewhere in those food magazines that cauliflower is the "new vegetable of the year".  Not sure why it's considered "new", since it's been available at grocery stores longer than kale has.  No matter the reason, I'm embracing this new "trend", using this wonderfully dense vegetable as a great side dish instead of potatoes.  It's quite filling, very nutritious, and easy to make.

What I also like about this dish, besides that it only uses five ingredients, is the fact that you can use the leftovers for soup. I've added this to potato and cheese, or broccoli and cheese soup with wonderful results (can you tell I like cheese in my soups!).

Enjoy!

Roasted Garlic Cauliflower
(makes approximately 6 servings)

Ingredients
  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 3 tsp dried thyme (or about 4 sprigs of thyme, if you're using fresh)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼  cup of Parmesan cheese
Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 425°. 
  • Cut 1 head cauliflower into florets; 
  • Toss on a large rimmed baking sheet (I used my cast iron skillet) with olive oil, thyme, and garlic cloves.
  • Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender, about 20 minutes. 
  • Remove from the oven and sprinkle the grated parmesan on top of the cauliflower.  Put back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes.




Friday, January 16, 2015

the simple five: five ingredient breakfast sandwich


In order to regulate the salt, sugar and fat intake in our diets, I try to avoid the temptation of convenient drive through/fast food establishments by cooking ahead of time and making use of our freezer. Although it may be convenient to go through the drive through for quick meals (especially in between commutes to work, school, extracurricular activities and social events), with a little planning, this recipe provides a (relatively) healthy and delicious breakfast, ready in minutes and can be taken to go.

I especially like this recipe for early morning commutes.  Usually a large batch of sausage patties are made on a weekend, serving what is needed for that morning, and freezing the remaining for subsequent breakfasts.  It makes the morning rush so much easier.

Enjoy!

Five Ingredient Breakfast Sandwich
(makes approximately 8-12 sausage patties)

Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon each of various spices and herbs to personal taste (I used chopped garlic, ground thyme and sage).
  • 2 pounds organic ground turkey or pork
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Whole wheat english muffins
  • Cheese of choice (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss are good choices).
Preparation
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, mix the garlic with the pork.  Add the thyme, sage and maple syrup.  Mix well until very well blended.
  • Using a spoon or your hands, form the meat into patties about 4 inches round.
  • Place as many patties that can fit in a cast iron skillet or glass baking dish.  
  • Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping sides midway, until patties are brown.
  • Toast the english muffins.  
  • Slice the cheese and place with the sausage patties, onto the english muffins (or you can bake eggs in a muffin tin at the same time as the sausage patties).
  • FREEZE FOR LATER:  You can freeze half of the sandwiches that will be consumed at a later date.  Wrap individual sandwiches into paper towels and place in a ziplock bag.  Freeze (good for up to 3 months).  When you want to heat the sandwiches, remove  the number of sandwiches you require and heat in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes, depending on the temperature of your microwave.
Serve.




Friday, January 09, 2015

The Simple Five: Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert traditionally made with cream, egg white and honey, which is then baked in the oven. This version is a simpler, non-bake version than the traditional panna cotta, and is served chilled (similar to a custard or pudding).

I love how flexible this dessert is considering there the basic recipe has only five ingredients. You can add any kind of flavourings to it (vanilla, chocolate, maple syrup) according to taste, and it can be served anytime of the year.  It's a fresh dessert alternative, particularly after heavier meals (or if you want something light after the indulgent holidays). It's easy to make ahead of time and kept in the fridge until it's ready to serve (perfect for dinner parties).




Enjoy!!!


Simple Panna Cotta
(Makes approximately 6 servings)


Ingredients
  • 4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • ⅓  cup sugar
  • 4 cups of half and half cream
  • 1 ¼  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt (optional)
Directions
  • Pour 2 cups of the cream into the saucepan and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over top. 
  • Let soften for 5 minutes or until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet (this is called "blooming the gelatin").
  • Warm gently over low heat, whisking frequently for approximately 2 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved (the cream should not be boiled...remove if you see steam and let it cool down).  
  • Add the sugar into the cream stir until dissolved.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat. 
  • Whisk in the remainder 2 cups of cream, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
  • Pour into small bowls or ramekins and chill for approximately 2 hours. (If you want to un-mold the panna cotta, chill overnight in greased bowls/ramekins).
Serve as is...or topped with any fruit, sauce or or chocolate shavings.  




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

climbing mountains


Usually at this time of the year, I try to clean up old files and sort through our photographs.  It's actually quite fun to go down memory lane to see what we've experienced, accomplished and enjoyed in the past 365 days.  I've seen so much growth in both of our children, and in ourselves, "the adults".

I remember taking the above picture last winter.  We spent a few days up north over the New Year holiday, and this was a particularly beautiful winter day with lots of sunshine, crisp cool air and fresh snow. We filled our days with skiing, tobogganing, trekking on snow trails and laughter.  So much laughter.


In the evenings, we headed back to the cottage cabin for some hot chocolate and warm comfort food. The kids were still full of energy and it seemed that our full days of activities didn't tire them at all (unlike their old mum!).  I remember asking them if they were tired from climbing "the mountain" (some of the hills felt as tall as a mountain).  They shook their heads and said "the higher the hill, the better the ride!"

As we approach 2015, this photo reminds me of that New Year's Day.  The moment when I realized our kids understood that hard work pays off.  Although I don't usually make resolutions, I begin this new year reminding ourselves that in order to enjoy the ride, you must climb the mountain first.


Wishing everyone all the best for 2015.

Happy New Year !!!


Make Ahead Banana Almond Bread Pudding 
with Chocolate Hazelnut Drizzle.
Recipe adapted & combined from
Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding and Baked French Toast


This bread pudding is a cross between baked french toast and traditional bread pudding.  It's worth the effort to make ahead of time...it's a wonderfully sweet morning treat and works well for a laid back New Year's Day morning, since can be easily placed in the oven while none of the creatures in the house are stirring.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream (or ½ cup of milk of you don't have cream)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 6 cups cubed French bread (or about 15- one inch slices)
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • Almond slices (to top with)
  • Brown sugar (to top)
  • Chocolate Hazelnut spread (like Nutella)...to drizzle on top.
DIRECTIONS:
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla and spices until smooth. Stir in bread, bananas (you can also stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips to make this extra sweet).
  • Pour into 9x13 greased glass baking dish and cover with tin foil.
  • Let the bread soak in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  • When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  
  • Top with almonds and sprinkle brown sugar on top.
  • Bake for 25 minutes covered with foil.
  • Bake another 25 minutes without foil, or until the knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  • If desired, slightly warm the chocolate hazelenut spread in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Drizzle.
Serve with syrup.  Enjoy.







Wednesday, December 24, 2014

merry christmas








From our family to yours, we wish you a very

Merry Christmas




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

happy face


Each year, the kids perform in their school's Christmas concert, and it's a busy week of rehearsals, costume preparations and a flurry of activity on the last week before the Christmas break.

This year, it felt like time rushed past us a little too quickly, as it seems like we were just adjusting to the new school year.  Now that the children are more and more involved with extracurricular activities, it becomes more challenging to dedicate what little precious time we have left, to prepare for the holidays. In the past, it is during this time of preparation...the baking, the decorating, when we participate as a family and talk about our year ahead, our year behind, or just about what we want to do during the holiday season.


Even though there is constant travel between regular school and work activities along with holiday events, I've found that we now have even more family conversations.  It is during our commute when I hear the funniest jokes, odd curiosities or reflective tales, spoken freely without intention or judgement, but rather just a casual chat to occupy the time while Mom is focused on driving the car.

Although we will continue to enjoy our some of our Christmas traditions...making gingerbread houses, baking cookies, ice skating at the local rink, I won't worry that we aren't "doing enough activities" with the kids this Christmas. Even on those days when we're not doing anything "special", we will choose to be present and in the moment during those precious times we have together...laughing, singing or just chit-chatting.  And watching their happy faces is special enough for me.


Cinnamon Infused Vanilla Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting 
(& gingerbread cookie topping)

These are cinnamon bun inspired cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  I made these for a party, and topped each cupcake with a gingerbread cookie for decoration {recipe, found here}, although these are pretty sweet without it.

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 and 2/3 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (60g) yogurt
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) milk
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Time saving alternate:
You can use pre-made white cake mix.  If you follow the instructions, replace the water with milk. )

For the cinnamon frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • ¼  cup heavy cream (milk works too)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
Time saving alternate:
You can use pre-made frosting.  Just mix in some of the cinnamon/sugar mixture into vanilla frosting, and add 3-4 tbsp of cream cheese to the whole frosting can.  Mix well.  (it tastes similar to cream cheese frosting for cinnamon buns).

Cinnamon Sugar topping/layer:


  • Mix ¼ cup of sugar with 1 tsp. of cinnamon.  (double the quantity if needed).
Directions:

Cupcakes
  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees. 
  • Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 
  • In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. 
  • Whisk in 1 cup of sugar.
  • Stir in egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. 
  • Slowly mix in dry ingredients until no lumps remain. 
  • Spoon about 2 tbsp. of batter into each cupcake liner.  
  • Sprinkle 1 tsp. cinnamon sugar mixture on top.
  • Top another tbsp. of cupcake batter on top of the cinnamon sugar mixture or until the liners are about 3/4 full.
  • Top each cupcake with 1 tsp. of cinnamon sugar.
  • Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before frosting.
Cinnamon Frosting:


  • Beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. 
  • Add icing sugar, cream (or milk), and vanilla extract.  Continue to mix.
  • Increase to high speed and beat for 3 more minutes or until really creamy.
  • Add more confectioners' sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if the frosting is too thick.   
  • Add 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
  • Frost each cupcake.
If you wish, top with gingerbread cookies for decoration, or just serve as is.  Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

Enjoy!






Wednesday, December 10, 2014

shining star




We've been very fortunate to enjoy many holiday celebrations so far...gatherings with friends, stage productions, holiday festivities...taking it all in and enjoying each moment.

Last week, we had the privilege of watching a charming musical production of Cinderella, making it a family-only night of good food and entertainment.  During the intermission, one of the stage managers approached our daughter and asked if she wanted to go on stage to meet Cinderella in front of the live audience. Although my husband and I were enthusiastic and thought it would have been a fun opportunity for her, we didn't want to pressure her into any decisions and allowed her to go with whatever her heart felt.  Although she was flattered by the invitation, she kindly smiled, thanked the young gentleman and declined the offer.


Later that evening, she sensed our curiosity with her decision and as we were driving home, she stated that she really enjoyed kicking back and just watching the show with her family and didn't want to disrupt that time with us just for a few minutes of "performing and be the centre of attention".

Although the lure of the bright lights and audience applause was tempting for her to go on stage, her decision made me proud and amazed at how mature she has become.  She doesn't get easily dazzled or persuaded by what's flashy, but stood her ground with knowing what she felt was important to her at that moment and didn't need false admiration to fulfill her. 

As her parents, we know that the world will be our children's stage, with many more opportunities in the future for both our daughter and son to show how amazing they are. And when that time comes, we know in our hearts, that their star will shine long and bright, beyond any brief spotlight on stage.


Traditional Gingerbread Cookies
(makes approximately 4 dozen)

This recipe makes a crisp cookie, making it ideal to decorate gingerbread people with icing.  Light, simple and easy.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½  tsp. ground ginger
Preparation
  • Preheat the oven to 350degrees F.  Line cookie trays with parchment paper.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and water, and mix until fluffy.
  • Stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger.  
  • Add to the first mixture and beat until the dough is mixed.
  • Shape the dough into 2 equal sized rolls, flour your hands and the work surface, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of about ⅓ to ¼  inch (the thicker the better for icing).  Cut out shapes (or put through a cookie press, as I used for the star shaped cookies above) and place about 1 inch apart on the cooking sheet.
  • Make the remaining shapes until all the dough is used.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.
  • Transfer to racks to cool
If you desire, you can decorate with icing.  Recipe found here: Christmas Past

Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

sounds corny


While I was growing up near Toronto, one of the traditions my family did every year, was to take a day trip to the Toronto Eaton Centre (a historical, six-storey glass-ceiling landmark built before outlets and super-malls ever existed) to see their annual showcase of Christmas trees and window displays.

On an early Saturday morning in December (stores weren't open on Sundays back then), my brother and I would rush through breakfast and our family would take an hour long drive to the Eaton Centre, wearing our snowsuits, hats and mitts (there seemed to be more snow back then), sweating in the car long before our arrival to the world's longest wait to get a parking spot at our destination.

Our parents then clutched our hands as we maneuvered amongst other excited children as we entered the front door of the big department store called Simpsons, where the Christmas trees were displayed. As a child, it seemed like a Winter Storybook/Wonderland was created, and my brother and I would visit Santa, stare in amazement at all the beautifully lit and decorated trees, pick out one special toy we wanted, and purchase as many presents on our lists for family and friends. We'd then go to the World's Biggest Book store next door to get a few Christmas books, then head out to Chinatown for a quick dinner before heading home. It was always a big and exciting day.

It was a Christmas ritual that faded as department stores closed or moved, and retailers put less effort into the magic of Christmas, and more into the commercialization of it.  Other than the craze for the Cabbage Patch Kids, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon and MonChiChi Monkeys (I dare you to Google down memory lane for that one), one of my most fondest memories weren't the toys under the tree, but the day when the Christmas season officially began for us...our trip to the Eaton Centre.

Now the Christmas season seems to begin when the flurry of ads for Black Friday sales dominate, enticing everyone to trample each other hurry in to get the cheapest TV, just in time for the Christmas season.  As much as I love sales, I wonder if we'll have a generation who will only associate the start of this magical season by the sounds of cash registers and hours of lining up at the mall.

Maybe it sounds corny, but as Thanksgiving is celebrated south of the border, I'll be thankful to continue our own holiday traditions, starting the season by making our annual gingerbread houses, setting up the tree on the first weekend of December and avoiding the aggravation of long line ups this Friday.

Tarragon Creamed Corn
(makes approximately 6-8 servings)


This is a great dish to go with turkey for the holidays.  The sweet corn balances the creamy texture, making it a comforting cold weather side dish.

Ingredients
  • 8 ears of corn on the cob
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 small shallot, finely chopped 
  • 4 sprigs tarragon (or 3 tsp. of dried)
  • 1  cup heavy cream (I used table cream)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
Directions
  • Remove kernels from the corn (I find it easiest to cut the corn in half first, then with the flat end down, with a sharp knife, slice downwards to remove the kernels).  Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add corn kernels and 3/4 cup water.  (When there is an abundance of corn in the summer, I cook the corn, remove the kernels and freeze them.  You can omit adding water if you use pre-cooked corn...just use the back of a spoon to press out the "juice" out of the corn)
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook, until corn is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add cream, parmesan, tarragon; simmer, uncovered, until cream has thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 
Serve.





Friday, November 21, 2014

the simple five: giving


After the Santa Claus Parade arrives and leaves town, it is a signal to start holiday preparations. Gift basket displays, festive music, non stop ads, enticing sales...reminding us to join the crowd as the hustle and bustle of gift shopping begins. 

Amongst the distractions, we should also try remind ourselves on how blessed we truly are, and remember to help those in need. Although it may be difficult to squeeze extra time into this busy season, here are five quick, simple and easy ways (that take very little time) to give back.  
  1. Donate to your local hospital. We are long-time supporters of the Sick Kids Hospital & Foundation. Their beautiful website provides many easy (and fantastic) ways to give. Send a card, enter their "lotttery", or just donate online.  Easy.
  2. Donate food to your local food bank. On your next grocery shopping trip, just add a few non-perishable items into your cart, and drop off a bag on your way out of the store. Many major chain grocery stores have donation bins right at the entrance, so it's easy to give.
  3. Help a senior in your neighbourhood. With all this snow, help shovel their driveway. It might be just an extra ten minutes of exercise (a health benefit for you...or get the kids involved!), but it's a small way that makes a big difference for someone else.  
  4. Donate toys to bring a smile to a child's face this Christmas. Many malls have toy drives/drop-offs (usually found at entrances or at customer service desks). Operation Christmas Child is a great way to bring a smile to a child overseas. Just fill a shoebox with necessities, school supplies and toys and drop it off at one of the many drop off locations. It's easy to fill up these boxes with readily available stocking stuffer-sized items, bringing a smile to children in need. You can also fill a shoebox online, if a drop off location isn't close to you.
  5. Buy gifts that "give back". Luckily there are items now available (in time for the holiday season), that are either made and/or sold by a nonprofit organization or a commercial company, which donates a portion of the proceeds to charity.  Right now, TOMS provides free shipping when you purchase items online. With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. (One for One ®).  So now you can skip the crowds, buy gifts online, and give back at the same time. Awesome!
Happy Giving.



{Disclaimer}: There were no endorsements with any of the charities or companies mentioned (or hyperlinked), for this post.  I just wanted to share the simple ways our family gives back, and a few of the beautiful  charitable organizations we support. All opinions are my own.

Friday, November 14, 2014

the simple five: chocolate avocado pudding


We love avocado in our house, and I often purchase bags of them for various dishes (my tomato avocado salsa is a house favourite).

Although my intentions are overly hopeful that we will consume all of the avocados in a week, on occasion, I have a few left that are on the cusp of being overripe.  

This simple recipe turns avocado into a sweet and relatively healthy dessert (you won't taste the avocado), and it is quite adaptable.  You can add more cocoa powder for a more intense chocolate taste, or you can add bananas, peanut butter or even apple sauce instead of brown sugar to add interest.  Or just increase the amount of sugar to make it more sweet.  This is a great way to have a chocolate dessert with the added health benefits of avocado.


Chocolate Avocado Pudding 
(makes approximately 4 servings)


Ingredients:
  • 2 avocados, peeled and pitted.
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (I also liked using almond extract).
  • 1 tbsp. of brown sugar (alternates: one whole banana , ½ cup of peanut butter, ¼ cup apple sauce.) 
  • ½  cup honey or maple syrup
  • ½ cup Organic cocoa powder (I like using the Camino brand).
Directions:
  • Place all the ingredients into a food processor (I just use a hand immersion blender, with it's blender attachment) and blend until creamy and smooth.  
  • Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Enjoy.