Saturday, October 27, 2007

Order Amidst Chaos

In an attempt to regain control over my frequently chaotic household, I have made great efforts to be more organized and preplan as much as possible. Being someone who loves the unexpected, this is a struggle. Gone are the days when I can take luxury and enjoyment in the spontaneous question "What do you feel like for dinner tonight?" just when hunger strikes.
No, things are different now. Children get cranky (husbands too). Bath & bedtimes are serious business. You don't want to mess with me on that one!

That leaves little room for new recipes and artful experimentation mid week.
I had the sudden urge to take more control a few days ago, around the same time that my new copy of Nigella Express arrived. I couldn't read it fast enough. Between paragraphs, I would swat Glen and say "You see? You see? This is me!" I know, I am such a loser.
What remains in my mind most, is how she says that it's not the cooking itself that is stressful. On the contrary, cooking is something she (and I) adore. It's calming to me, in fact. It is the planning, shopping and prepping that cause the greatest stress when life's day to day stuff becomes overwhelming and draining.

I read the book cover to cover, made a list of things to pick up, and started planning my week. And it all went well. No stress! I started out with her Instant Pancake Mix on Sunday. It was excellent. Then I made the Quick Minestrone and Scallops with Chorizo. Delicious!

The following night, I blew the dust off my rice cooker (thanks for the reminder, Anna) and while it steamed away, I made my favorite Sechuan Bean dish from Cook's Illustrated magazine.

I made enough rice for the next night and made Nigella's Mirin Glazed Salmon to go with. Another winner. And extremely fast and stress free!
The following night, we decided to order take out so I could have a break. And because I was so chuffed with myself for my previous 3 nights work of perfectly planned meals, I felt no guilt about that. And, it left me a tidy kitchen and time to make a new cake. And what a delicious cake too! The Brown Sugar and Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple-Espresso Glaze from the October issue of Bon Appetit. I didn't get a chance to add the glaze, but will try to add it tonight. Although, it doesn't even need it. It was just right with my cup of coffee this morning.

To end my week of order and organization, I purchased a really cute new lunch bag to tote all of my delicious leftovers to work. Now, if I can only plan this well next week too!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Friendship Through Flowers.

I am such a novice gardener, but I have big dreams. I love the idea of flowers that will come back year after year, growing stronger and more beautiful with time. There are so many perennials that I love, and figuring out the names of them so that I can buy the right bulbs has become a small challenge.
In the short time that we've been in our new home, I've had people share some of their foliage and flowers with me. My Mom split her Hens & Chicks, which look like artichokes, and they are thriving along the pathway to our front door. My mother in law has taken Bleeding Hearts and Hostas out of her gorgeous garden so that we could add them to ours. My sister in law Paula gave us some yellow day lilies from her backyard, and our neighbors have shared so much with us too.
This weekend, I was visiting my girlfriend Renee who is originally from Saskatchewan. Her parents came to visit her last week from their farm and brought the biggest Lily bulbs I have ever seen. She graciously shared some with me and I've already planted them. I have my fingers crossed that the beautiful white and yellow lilies will enjoy a long life in my garden.
I feel like sharing things from your garden is so special. As I see different things this Spring pop through the ground, I will be able to point out which ones are from who, and hopefully one day share them with someone else too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Giving Thanks X 2

Fall is a time of new beginnings for me, even more so than the New Year. The change in seasons, the start of school and the start of my favorite holidays likeThanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas. This year, Thanksgiving felt early, but it was a celebration of food that just kept giving and giving! We are lucky to each have our extended families nearby and they celebrate on different days. That means 2 Thanksgiving meals and lots of leftovers.

The first dinner was with my in-laws. We had a delicious turkey, smoked ham, ribs, mashed and roasted potatoes, veggies, gravy and cranberry sauce. We ate everything so quickly, I didn't even get a chance to take a picture, but I did get the important stuff. This was the table that got swarmed by all the kids and me of course.

There were cupcakes......

There was a white chocolate cheesecake with chocolate covered strawberries......

There was also a carrot cake and a pumpkin pie. My mother in law is a fantastic baker and it was difficult to choose.

The second dinner was the following day at my parents house. We also had a traditional turkey dinner with 2 types of stuffing, cauliflower with cheese sauce, brussel sprouts, other veg, potatoes and some kind of veggie couscous 'thing' for my vegan sister. Dessert was pumpkin pie, Vanilla Cream Pie and a Funfetti cake with orange frosting which the kids decorated with sprinkles.

I have turkey and ham in my freezer which will be pulled out as soon as I decide what reincarnation they will take in my kitchen....turkey turnovers, Vietnemese Cold Noodle Salad with turkey, Ham and Peas with Bow ties. The possibilites are endless.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Coo-Coo for Coco

This is one of the easiest cakes I've ever made....Coco the Wonder Cake. I got the recipe from Mannix's The Love Bite which you really should check out. So many wonderful ideas and recipes. This cake uses Golden Syrup and sour delicious.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dinner a la Mama Lucy

There's a family tradition my Mom still upholds which is when it is your birthday, you get to pick anything you want for dinner and she will make it. I am in my thirties now, but thankfully this tradition lives on!
There have been some years I requested gnocchi, some years meatball soup and other years seafood feasts and other elaborate dishes. But this year, I craved something she hasn't made in years and I was itching for it......Smelts! Odd, I know, but I remember these little fish that were breaded and fried and when you opened them you had to take the tiny little bones out. For some odd reason, I loved doing this as a child and maybe in some sort of mid life nostalgic phase needed to have these again! Glen thought it was so odd. My sisters heard about it and thought I was nuts. They said "Why would you pick smelts of all things?" They were not invited, so I didn't really care.
The week preceeding my dinner, I spoke about them all the time. I would call my Mom and ask her "Did you find them?" Or I'd occasionally yell out 'Smelts!' in the car with Glen. Finally, the night came and I could hardly contain my excitement. We sat down to one of the best, most comforting and delicious dinners I've had in ages.

Mama Lucy totally outdid herself and mixed up her traditional cooking with a little Ina! We started with Ina's Penne with 5 Cheeses which is baked and creamy and hard to stop eating. Here is the recipe and photo.

Next came the Smelts. A platter of them along with a platter of what else? Crunchy Meat made with Veal and Chicken fillets, of course.
The Smelts were delicious. They were exactly how I remembered them and apparently very easy to make. You can buy them fresh or frozen, and as long as you buy them cleaned they are very easy to prepare. Heads and tails should be removed. Basically here's what you do:

Dust smelts in white flour (dip in a bowl, or toss in a bag to lightly coat them).
Dip them in beaten eggs.
Dip them in a bowl of breadcrumbs seasoned with oregano, parsley, salt and pepper.
Fry in vegetable oil until lightly browned and cooked through. Drain on some paper towels and pile them on platter.

It's basically the same way you cook Crunchy Meat.

Mama Lucy served it with fresh Italian Bread, Broccoli in Oil & Vinegar and her usual Green Salad. Fresh slices of cantaloupe followed, and then for dessert.........

Ina's Pear Clafouti from the Barefoot in Paris book. You can find the recipe here if you like.

I ate so much and happily watched Camden ripping the little bones out of the fish. We left with a huge bag of leftovers and a new recipe and tradition that I plan on starting in my house.