Sunday, July 22, 2007

Snakes & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails

Growing up in a house of mostly girls, I was pretty girlie. I loved makeup, Barbies, clothing and jewelry. I imagined myself one day having daughters that would share these interests with me. I thought they would cook with me, share beauty secrets and spend time chatting with me over manicures. Fast forward to now, and I'm happily surrounded by boys!

Aside from a little stomach bug, and the nastiest diapers I have ever had to change in my life, this weekend was perfect! For the first time in 17 years with Glen, he actually baked something for me. I slept in a little bit while he hung out with James in the kitchen and when I finally made my appearance, voila!

Cinnamon Buns! Yes, they were the Pillsbury variety, and they were delicious! Now, I have been with Glen since I was 15 years old, and never would I have ever believed such a thing could happen. It was a momentous occasion. He even snapped a picture for me before I inhaled one with his freshly brewed coffee. He scored major points this weekend!!!

Later on in the day, and countless vile diapers later, the boys went outside to enjoy the weather while I got dinner started. They got dirty, splashed around in the sprinkler and came back soaking wet and happy. The spiderman towels were a big hit with them!

I decided to make a pot roast dinner for the first time. I found an interesting recipe in Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking book which included a pureed red pepper 'gravy'. It was not like any gravy I've had before and it was so good! Easy too.

I wasn't sure what to make to end the meal, so I recruited Camden for some help. He's always been a big fan of Nigella and Ina (Barefoot Contessa) after watching countless episodes of their shows with me on the food network. But imagine my surprise when he reached straight for their books on my shelf! There were many to choose from, but he went straight for his 2 faves!

He really is a fan of Ina though and kept spotting her pictures and saying 'Look Mama, Ina is here and there and everywhere...and with cake too!' I am not surprised though. When he was just around 2 years old and I carried him through Williams & Sonoma, he spotted one of her books on the shelf and yelled 'INAAAAA!!!' And whenever he hears the theme song to her show, he stops dead in his tracks to see what's she's cooking next for Jeffery and all of their fabulous friends.
I eventually chose Nigella's Madeira cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess, but most definitely appreciated Camden's input on the matter.

While things were settling down in the kitchen, James quietly decided that crayons were his new thing. I spent a lot of time showing him that the coffee table, hard wood floors, kitchen chairs and other assorted places were not the right canvas for his new found art. He seemed to grasp this until I noticed him stashing crayons between the couch pillows for a later day I assume???

At the end of the day, everyone was full, tired and content. I am sitting here thinking about how much fun boys are and how I couldn't imagine our house any other way. They are fearless and fun and more than I ever imagined.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Eggplant & Empire's

Eggplant, (aka Aubergines or Melanzane) are one of my absolute favorite vegetables. I love them grilled, marinated, pickled, stuffed, parmigiano style, or used as the base of a simple tomato sauce. This eggplant sauce, referred to as Melanzane a fungetiello, was never made in my parents house but I picked up the idea from a girlfriend whose family originated in Calabria where eggplants are more commonly used than my father's region (Abruzzo). It is such a simple and flavorful sauce and a great substitution for meat.

Some people soak their eggplant in water before using. I have never bothered and all of my eggplant recipes work out fine. Here's how I made the sauce. I start with some olive oil in a large pot. I add one chopped shallot (an onion would be fine too), one or two large cloves of crushed garlic, and one medium sized eggplant, cubed. Saute for around 5-10 minutes until everything is very lightly browned and softened. Then I add one large tin of diced tomatoes and 1/2 tin of crushed tomatoes. Add sea salt, black pepper, freshly chopped parsley and basil (I used about 2 TBSP each of the fresh herbs).

Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for approximately 30 minutes. In the meantime, boil your preferred pasta (we like penne rigate), drain and serve with the sauce. I topped it with freshly chopped mint and a generous grating or parmigiano cheese. The mint really adds a freshness to the eggplant in the dish.

I love lemonade in the summertime and finally made the one in Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. It was really good and I will definitely use this recipe over and over. She suggests using fizzy water which I may do next time. I kept this one basic and used regular water with a bit of added mint leaves.

I've been particularly reminiscent when it comes to food lately. I started this blog with my Mom in mind (she's French Canadian and married my very Italian father). But I also have a wonderful mother in law with very different roots. She was born and raised in Scotland and is also a great cook and baker. If it wasn't for Norma, I might never have experienced the great Empire Biscuit! It is a melt in your mouth shortbread type cookie, sandwiched with raspberry jam and covered with an icing sugar topping. Mmmmm. I think I like them more than Glen, but thought he would appreciate having them around to nibble on. So, in my 'Ina pleasing Jeffery mode', I dug up the recipe from my archives and here it is:

Norma's Empire Biscuits
1 3/4 Cups Self Raising Flour
4 TBSP Cornflour
4 TBSP Icing Sugar
8 oz Butter at room temperature
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix butter and icing sugar until combined (using stand or hand mixer).
Add the cornflour and mix.
Add the flour and mix until incorporated.
Roll out to approximately 1/4" thickness or slightly less if possible. I find this dough a little difficult to work with...I think the less handling you do, the better. You need a well floured surface and rolling pin.
Cut cookies with a round cutter.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until barely golden. They should not brown too much.
Let cool on rack completely. Sandwich with your favorite raspberry jam. Ice the tops and add a glace cherry half to be totally traditional. I didn't have them but did find some silver balls from a previous cupcake project that I used. The icing is just confectioner's sugar with a touch of water. I think I used about 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1-2 TBSP of warm water and mixed until think and creamy.

They are a little fussy to make, but definitely worth it. They remind me of holidays, but are just as good with a coffee on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

More and more strawberries!

After strawberry picking, I have more berries than I know what to do with. We were invited to my mother in laws for dinner, so I gladly offered to make the dessert.

I have been making Nigella's Chocolate Pavlova from Forever Summer for years but thought I'd try this one instead. This one is also Nigella's recipe found in a back issue of Delicious (Australian version). It's called Pavlova with Balsamic Strawberries and was taken from a summer meal which included meatballs with tomato sauce and pine nuts.
The pav base puffed up to perfection and remained chewy on the inside (much more so than the chocolate version does for me). The whipped cream and balsamic soaked berries were the best compliment. It is such an easy dessert to pull together but makes such an impression. If you are looking for tips on pav's, check out this link. If you need a good pav recipe, this one is the same as the version I used.
The topping was 500g of strawberries with 1 TBSP of sugar, 1 generous TBSP of balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Mix and let the berries macerate for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours before placing on top of the whipped cream topped pavlova and enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

Today was the perfect Sunday. At long last the house is finally clean, the kitchen is gleaming, laundry sorted and started and I found an awesome recipe to use some of the strawberries I picked up at a local farm this weekend.

It was a pretty casual day for us. We had leftovers for dinner which made it much easier to find the time and energy to try a new dessert recipe- Strawberry Loaf. It came from a new cookbook I recently picked up called The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook by Barbara Grunes.
I added fresh whipped cream and a few strawberries to top off a slice and was surprised at how appropriate it was for Canada Day (the whole white and red thing!) . If I realized earlier, I might have tried to fashion it like the Canadian flag (yes, I would do something cheesy like that).

Very simple, but so good! Here is the recipe if you'd like to give it a try:

Strawberry Bread

2 Cups Flour

1 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Stick of butter, cut into pieces at room temperature

1 Cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I substituted with vanilla due to a treenut allergy in my son)

2 eggs

1 Cup crushed fresh strawberries or 1 10oz package of frozen strawberries drained

1/3 Cup sliced almonds (optional- I omitted)

Preheat oven to 325degrees and grease a 9 X 5" loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whick together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a seperate bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla or almond extract until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the flour mixture alternatively with the vrushed strawberries. Fill loaf pan with the batter and sprinkle almonds on the top if using them. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out on a rack and let cool completely.

I love making loaves and muffins. They come in handy when you are looking for a breakfast on the go or an afternoon snack for the boys. I've never come across a strawberry one before and will definitely make this again. It was moist with the perfect berry flavour. The last minute addition of whipped cream was very much appreciated by James as you can see here....

With the house clean, the kids sound asleep, and the sound of fireworks coming from my open window, I think I've found a few minutes of peace. And if I don't feel like making breakfast in the morning, we can always have some strawberry bread (with or without the whipped cream).

Happy Birthday Canada!