Chasing Tomatoes

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring in the Valley

You can tell it's Spring in Chilliwack when the scent of blossoms is tinged with the sour notes of manure, as tractors plow up the wet Earth in fields around town to get ready to seed. This morning, a flock of sea gulls followed one such tractor, swooping and diving behind it; likely feasting on the worms being dug up from the rich soil.

On the playground, worms have been working their way out of the grassy fields and the kids find them at recess, all fat and slimy, dragging themselves along the sidewalks. I'm known as the adult who will pick up worms and drop them into waiting hands while chirping,

"Worms are your FRIENDS, and they make the dirt good for plants. Be nice to them."

Sometimes the worms are so large they look like small snakes, and we let those ones slither away undisturbed. I imagine that once the children head back inside the confines of the school to go back to reading or math, the circling sea gulls snap up the worms left behind. There's no sign of them at lunch time when we're back outside in the spring sunshine.

I haven't had much time in the kitchen these days. Dinner became something eaten on the run, thrown together at the last minute, and meal plans have unraveled one after another. We've found ourselves on the couch as a family, eating something defrosted from the fridge before we run our separate ways. I've been longing for a day to just putter around the house-one to organize my spice cupboard (don't scoff, you should see the thing), finish up laundry and chase after dust bunnies.

I love to putter.

Some time ago, I talked about going to Granville Island to help shoot a promo for Better Together, to encourage people to enter the Hands on Cookoff. I love the idea of adults cooking with kids. For me, an activity like this is my happy place; I love teaching kids about food, seeing them explore with their senses, witnessing their delight when they taste their results. It's purely magical.

This is the result of that day I spent over on Granville Island, standing in the market while people milled around, trying to remember my line and look natural on TV. I've never done TV things, so this was totally new to me!



This past weekend, I took a young friend with me to The Dirty Apron and spent an afternoon cooking with her to launch the Hands on Cook Off! That story will be coming up soon, but I can tell you this; it was hands down some of the most fun I've ever had.

Judging from my cooking partner's smile I think she enjoyed herself, too.


Cooking at the Dirty Apron
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Monday, April 7, 2014

Books: Starting From Scratch

Reading has always been one of my favourite pastimes. As a kid, I could polish off a 100 + page novel in just a few days. Books were hidden under my textbooks, my pillow, and I'd even read while walking home. Once someone became so concerned that I wasn't watching where I was going that they called my parents.

Years later, I read cookbooks, magazine articles, and websites just as voraciously. Forget TV, I'm always on the couch with either a laptop or a book-so when people want to send me a book to look at, I'm all over it.


Starting from Scratch arrived in my mailbox about a week ago. I wasn't sure what to expect with this one-often, I find that how-to cook books geared to older kids or teens are usually much too simplistic for me and often the food is either cutesy or includes too much processed food for my taste. This one is completely different.

Sarah Elton's book isn't a traditional cookbook packed with recipes, but it is a great jumping off point and resource for anyone who is new to the kitchen. The book is fairly small at about less than 100 pages but is a decent size without being overwhelming. There's a bit of everything; food safety, cooking terms, food ethics, tips on cleaning up and shopping, how to read a recipe, basic tools you'll need, different cultures, the science behind taste and baking, and more. It's like a resource for all things cooking, with even a measurement and conversion table, and a few really good cookbook recommendations tucked in the back.


The true test came when my 18 year old, who never usually reads any of the books I'm sent, saw the book lying on the counter and began reading it. Later he found me in the kitchen and pointed to the book.

"That's a really great book, Mom. I think it's perfect for teens. Actually it would be a fantastic textbook for high schools because it also includes bits about the science of cooking, and a lot of really useful information."

Besides, it's interesting. So interesting that I actually sat on the couch and read it, cover to cover. To inform without being preachy these days really is an art, and Sarah Elton does a very good job of this.

If you have a young cook or an older teen, even a nearly adult child graduating and moving out, this book would be a great gift along with some basic kitchen gear to get them started. I highly recommend it. You'll find the book for about $14 at Chapters.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Spicy Chicken Almond Stirfry

spicy chicken stirfry 2

I have this huge jar of almond butter sitting in my fridge that I bought at Costco months ago when Kevin expressed an interest in eating the stuff, and sure enough, he's barely made his way through it. Do your kids do that? Do they ask you to buy something, and then there it sits forlornly in your pantry until you have to either eat it yourself, throw it away, or donate it? I'm not that fond of almond butter but with this giant jar I had to find something to do with it.

On a drizzly day I was watching Food Network and watched Rachael Ray make this stir fry. For about a year we've avoided anything containing soy (including soy sauce), but slowly Kevin has been able to re-introduce those things to his diet without an issue. With most of the ingredients already in the cupboard, this looked too good to pass by. The sauce gets it's thickness from the almond butter, and is a nice change from the usual peanut Asian style sauce. It's savory, thick, and you can add a great kick from the added hot sauce.

Sauce:
1/4 cup almond butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
 2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
juice of 1 lime
Sriracha to taste

Stirfry:
1 onion, halved and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
250 g sugar snap peas, thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 ribs of celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 sweet pepper (red/orange or yellow), sliced
1 hot chile, seeded and minced
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat
1/3 cup sliced almonds

In a small saucepan, stir together the almond butter, chicken broth, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, lime juice and ginger. Place the pot on the stove on medium low heat and allow to simmer until thickened.

Place the almonds in a dry frypan over medium low heat. Watch carefully and stir occasionally while they toast. Once the start to brown, remove them from the pan and let cool.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a wok or a large fry pan until the oil is shimmering and hot. Add the onions and saute briefly until softened and transluscent.Stir in the carrots, celery snap peas, sweet pepper and hot pepper. Saute for about 2 minutes and then add the chicken. Give it a good stir and keep it moving to prevent things from burning. Pour some of the sauce over top and stir to coat-you likely won't need all of it, but you'll have enough in case you like lots of sauce. Put any extra sauce in the fridge to put over rice later if you wish.

Serve immediately with steamed rice and topped with the toasted almonds.

Makes 4 generous servings


Adapted from Rachael Ray

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies

hazelnut cookies2

These cookies are amazing. In fact, so amazing that when I stood in the kitchen filling the buttery disks with Nutella, the smell wafting from them was so overpoweringly wonderful that I couldn't help but grab John by the hand and drag him over to the counter.

"Smell," It was more than a command. An invitation, of sorts, More like, please smell these cookies because oh my they make me want to drool all over the counter and I don't think I've ever smelled anything else even remotely as wonderful. 

Hazelnuts are something I've avoided for years. Hayfever morphed into cross reactions years ago and when nuts began giving me an itchy mouth I was advised to avoid them. As a result, the last time I actually ate a hazelnut was about 15 years ago. When we moved to Chilliwack, every time we passed the hazelnut trees down the road I'd gaze wistfully at them, and finally decided that I should just go ahead. In the past few years most of my sensitivities seem to have disappeared, so why not? Besides, my teenager who eats everything would just finish them off.

These buttery, nutty cookies remind me of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. They smell better than anything I've ever baked, and are not difficult to pull off at all.


toasting hazelnuts

In Chilliwack, it's not hard to find hazelnuts. We have some farms right here that grow them. Toasted lightly and whizzed up in a food processor, they help make a really tasty dough.

hazelnut cookies3

Once cooled and filled with Nutella, you can dust the cookies with icing sugar but you don't have to. I like how the sweet of the sugar plays off the rich buttery cookies and the chocolatey filling. If you choose to dust them, put some waxed or parchment paper under the rack to catch the mess so you don't have to clean it off the counter. I only used a little bit of icing sugar, but you can use more if you want.

Ingredients:

1 cup toasted hazelnuts
2 cups of flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella
icing sugar, for dusting

Toast the hazelnuts: Heat your oven to 350 F. Place the hazelnuts on a dry rimmed baking sheet and set them on the middle rack of the oven. Watch them carefully, stirring every couple of minutes. They should take about 10 minutes. Many recipes say to skin them, but I left the skins on and thought they were just fine. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Measure out the flour, baking powder, and salt into a food processor. Add the cooled hazelnuts and process, pulsing until finely ground but not until it becomes a paste.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the egg yolks and vanilla, beating until well blended. Add the flour mixture and blend until a dough forms. Dump the dough out onto the counter and gently kneading, bring it together into two disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for about an hour.

 Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. I used a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter for the bottoms, and a 3/4 inch cutter to create the small hole in the tops. You can use whatever shapes you like, but these sizes seemed to work best for me. Bake the cookies on parchment paper lined sheets for about 8 minutes or so. Let them sit on the sheets for about 5 minutes longer before transfering to the counter or a cooling rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before spreading the bottoms with about 1 tsp of Nutella each. If you choose to dust the top pieces with icing sugar, you can do it before you sandwich them together, but I forgot to do that and dusted them after, which worked out just fine.

Makes about 25 cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mexi Pasta Toss with Windset Farms

Treats from Windset Farms!

I love fresh, crunchy vegetables. In our house, cherry tomatoes are eaten by the handful on their own or with slices of cheese, and sweet peppers are munched on in lunches, dipped in hummus, tossed in salads, or just about any way you can imagine. In the summer, being veggi-fied (is that a word?) kicks into high gear and our fridge is always bursting with all kinds of produce. What can I say? We love our vegetables. Every day, I take a small container of sugar snap peas, carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, and pepper slices in my lunch. Grape tomatoes and the mini peppers are quick and easy to pack-and eat!

One of my favourite brands to buy that's greenhouse grown is Windset farms. The cukes, peppers and tomatoes are always so delicious and they are readily available. This post isn't really sponsored by them; I've bought their veggies for a few years now and often chat with them on twitter. Since BC Veggie Day was recently and we were celebrating green house grown tastiness that is now making it's way into the grocery stores, the nice folks over at Windset Farms sent me the above veggies  I wasn't asked to post anything, but offered to because I loved them so much. I immediately got down to work and transformed the veggies into something delicious-not that those lovely tomatoes weren't delicious enough that I wanted to just sit and munch them raw, all by themselves.

Mexipasta 2

Anyway you really should try this pasta. It's not a heavy, full of cheese and sour cream or other greasy stuff that some would associate with Mexican type food. It's light and bursting with all kinds of things that are good for you-veggies, beans, some cheese, and a bit of spice. We came up with it on the fly and ended up eating the leftovers the next day for lunch, too.

Ingredients:

200 g of fusilli pasta
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sweet peppers, slivered
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1-2 chunked avocados
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup Mexicana Touch of Philadelphia Cheese
fresh lime
*like it spicy? Add a bit of chopped fresh jalapeno

Directions:

Get the water boiling and cook the pasta according to the package directions. While it's bubbling away on the stove, heat up a large, deep pan and saute up the shallots in a little olive oil until they are softened. Add the garlic (and jalapeno if using)  and continue to saute until fragrant. Stir in the beans, chili powder and cumin, stirring and cooking it for another 2-3 minutes. Take the beans off the heat and set aside.

When the pasta is finished cooking, reserve about 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Drain the rest. Add the hot, drained pasta to the pan with the beans and shallots, tossing and adding a little of the reserved water to moisten, and then stir in the cheese. Transfer everything to a large bowl.

Toss the pasta and beans with peppers, tomatoes, avocados and cilantro until everything is well mixed together.

Serve the pasta with slices of lime to squeeze over top.

Makes 4 servings


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Coconut Cupcakes with Dairy Free 7 Minute Frosting

coconut cupcake close up

I love cupcakes-more than making a whole cake, truthfully. I think it's because a large cake just feels like too much, somedays. You feel obligated to eat the whole thing eventually. With a family as small as mine, it seems like too much commitment to make a cake.

Cupcakes, on the other hand, are just little bites here and there. You can have one or four. Recipes can be halved, some can be frozen for later, and you can even bake a few different kinds if you are feeling fancy. Or possibly if you are like me and have a birthday coming, for which you need to provide the treats at your workplace. Not everyone loves chocolate (I know, it's sacriligious, isn't it?) and so on the hunt for a good alternative, I found these. The frosting is very sweet-almost too much so for me, but its light and fluffy, like a marshmallow topping. You could, if you were feeling decadent, substitute chocolate ganache topping and some chopped almonds to achieve something akin to an Almond Joy chocolate bar. See there I go again, wanting to dip everything in chocolate.

These bake up light and fluffy, and can stay on the counter iced for up to three days in an airtight container. That is, if they last that long.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar, divided (3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
4 eggs, at room temperature, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup sweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Directions:

 If you are making a layer cake, grease and flour two 8 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat in the egg yolks until well blended. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the butter mixture in three different portions, alternating with the coconut milk and beginning and ending with flour. Blend well. The batter will be very thick.

In a different bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until foamy, and then add the 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Fold half of the egg white mixture into the batter until not quite incorporated. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold until they are incorporated.

Spoon the mixture either into two 8 inch cake pans or into a muffin tin lined with paper liners. You should get about 18-20 cupcakes. Bake the cakes for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow them to sit in the tin for a few minutes to cool before removing to a wire rack and cooling completely.

Frost with chocolate ganache or a marshmallow-like seven minute frosting.

Adapted from Anna Olson

coconut cupcakes4
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Birthday Baby Vanilla Cheesecakes

Mini Vanilla Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is one of my most favourite desserts. Topped with fresh whipping cream and fruit or drizzled with chocolate sauce, if there is cheesecake in the house I'm eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's just too hard to resist it's siren call from the fridge, calling me to sample yet more of it's creamy goodness.

A whole cheesecake feels overly indulgent to make just for myself; rich, far too large for our little family of three, but little babycakes are acceptable. Babycakes can be frozen for another day or shared with friends. Baby cheesecakes don't seem so sinful, right? This week I turned 43 and took these little bites to work. Repeatedly people stopped me in the hall, asking (begging?) me to bring the recipe so they can make these as well because oh my, were they delicious.

Be warned; if you make these, you won't be able to resist eating them all. I certainly couldn't.

Ingredients: 

2 cups of graham wafer crumbs
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup sugar
three 8 oz packages of brick cream cheese, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and if you can find Meyer lemons, some zest too
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whipping cream for garnish
fresh berries

Directions: 

Pre-heat the oven to 325 F. Line two muffin tins with paper cups and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together graham wafer crumbs, sesame seeds, 2 tbsp sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter with a fork until well blended. Divide the mixture among  the 24 cups ( about 1 1/2 tbsp per cup) and press into the bottom. Bake the crusts 5 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Beating the mixture well is important, so you don't end up with little bits of cream cheese floating around in it. Be sure to take the time and scrape down the bowl as you go, so that your filling is nice and smooth. It doesn't have to be perfect, but taking the time is worth it.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Pour the filling over the warm crusts that you removed from the oven until they are about 3/4 full. Bake the filled pans for 18-20 minutes. Cool the pans on the stovetop, then gently remove the cheesecakes from the muffin tins and cool completely. Place in an airtight container and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Overnight is even better because the cheesecake develops even more flavour if it has to sit for a day.

Top cooled and chilled cheesecakes with whipping cream and fruit, or chocolate sauce if you wish. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge.

Makes 24

Adapted from Whitewater Cooks with Friends
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