Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beauty & Brunch Day

Last week a group of men from church were away at a men's retreat. My husband was one of them, and it was the first time we'd been apart overnight since we got married. I missed him a lot and was having a bit of a pity party on Friday night ... but on Saturday morning I had a group of girlfriends over for a manicure/pedicure party and brunch. That cheered me right up!

As I was planning out the menu for brunch I had a little "what the heck am I doing?" moment because breakfast isn't really my thing. Alan and I have pancakes on occasion but usually start our day with quick, simple things like oatmeal and cereal. I searched Pinterest for inspiration and came up with a brunch menu that included scrambled eggs, bacon, cranberry orange scones, lemon tarts, chocolate mousse, veggies, marshmellows dipped in chocolate and cookie crumbs, yogurt parfaits and earl grey cupcakes.

I woke up later than planned that morning and was really pinched for time but, amazingly, everything turned out great. The earl grey cupcakes were my favorite part of the meal. It was my first time baking them and I used this yummy recipe from the New York Family website. These cupcakes are perfect to serve after breakfast or with brunch as the earl grey flavor is subtle and they're aren't overly sweet. They also go perfectly with tea (no surprise there!)

What are some of your favorite breakfast foods?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Art of Eating In - Book Review

The library and I have an on-again, off-again kind of relationship. I seem to go through seasons where I am obsessed with taking out library books and I read through five or six books in a month ... and then there are other seasons where I'm lucky if I can reading finish a magazine article in thirty days. Lately I've been in a reading season and I've been reading a bunch of books about food. I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts on those books here on the blog in case any of my readers (all three of you) are looking for reading material.

I'll start with The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway. I actually read this book back in August, but it seems right for it to be the first book I share here on the blog as this was the book that really inspired me to start cooking proper meals at home.

Alan and I are both "foodies" so when we were dating the majority of our dates involved a restaurant. Then we got engaged and were crazy busy planning the wedding, so we ate out pretty much non-stop out for six months because it was just so convenient. By the time we actually got married we had settled into a routine of eating out 3 or 4 times a week, and I had gained almost 20 pounds. No joke. Apparently, restaurant food is pretty bad for you - even the nice, expensive restaurants load up their dishes with sugars, sodium and fats.

The Art of Eating In is the story of how author Cathy Erway gave up eating out in restaurants/bringing home take-out for an entire year. Oh, and did I mention that she lives in New York City, restaurant capital of the world? The book is a unique blend of genres ... part memoir, part cookbook,  part non-fiction ... but despite the hodge-podge of styles I thought it flowed really well from chapter to chapter. Erway introduces readers to a whole new world of dining options - urban foraging, freeganism, supper clubs, cook-offs, etc. If you're looking for ways to creatively indulge in good food without spending tons of money at restaurants, then this book is an absolute must-read.

My only disappointment with the book is that the title is a little misleading. There's actually not that much information about cooking and eating at home. Erway spends a lot of time discussing alternatives to traditional restaurant dining, but doesn't provide much practical information for those of us who just want to cook a basic meal at home. How does she get the most bang for her buck while grocery shopping? What's her backup plan when the meal she's spent the last hour preparing turns out to be an epic fail? Those kind of questions go unanswered in the book, but you can find the answers on her blog, Not Eating Out In New York.

The focus of The Art of Eating In is definitely the foodie scene, not so much the actual art of staying in. Even though I would have preferred more info on cooking at home and perhaps less info on elaborate cook-off competitions, the stories and anecdotes were interesting and inspiring. It was great to read about someone just like me (aka a city girl who works full-time and isn't a trained chef ) cook from scratch for an entire year.  Not only was I motivated to get my butt into the kitchen, but some of the statistics she provides regarding restaurants really challenged me to curb back on how often we eat out. If you eat out in restaurants more often than you probably should, or if you're looking for some cooking motivation, then you should add this book to your November reading list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crunchy Granola Sweet

Has anyone ever heard the song Crunchy Granola Suite by Neil Diamond? I love that song, but for the longest time I thought he was singing "crunchy granola sweet" ... and that's exactly how I'd describe this yummy toasted oat concoction I made the other day. 

I love sprinkling granola on my oatmeal and yogurt, but granola tends to be pricey in stores so I made my own. If you've never tried it before, making granola is super easy. Start with two cups of oats and an array of nuts and dried fruit. I went with macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, dried blueberries and coconut but you can customize the mix however you wish to suit your taste buds. You'll also need brown sugar and either agave nectar or honey. 

In a bowl, mix your oats (2 cups) with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of honey or agave nectar. Sprinkle in some shredded coconut if you want. Mix well. Once well tossed, spread your oats onto a baking tray and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until oats are a golden brown color.

Once cooked, take out of the oven and let cool - stir every few minutes so the oats don't stick to the tray. Once your oats are cool enough to touch, pour them into a bowl and mix in the chopped nuts and dried fruit. Serve with yogurt, oatmeal, cereal or whatever you wish.

Doesn't it look like just as good as the store-bought stuff? Or better? :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

My husband doesn't eat macaroni and cheese ... he hates the stuff. I know, I don't understand it either - I mean how could you NOT like macaroni and cheese?!?! He obviously didn't grow up in the same home as me; my mother makes the BEST macaroni and cheese in the whole world. Her recipe runs circles around Kraft Dinner.

Anyway, this evening Alan had plans to go out for dinner with a friend so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to make something he wouldn't enjoy eating. I went online to search for recipes and stumbled on  one for pumpkin macaroni and cheese. Since pumpkins are in season, and since I had a can of pumpkin puree hanging out in my pantry, I decided to go for it. I modified the recipe a little bit, and here you go:

Ingredients -

2 cups of macaroni
Smoked Gouda cheese (approx one cup, shredded)
1 can of pumpkin puree (approx one cup)
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of skim milk
1 teaspoon of sea salt (or regular salt)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
Shredded Smoked Applewood Cheese (optional)
1/2 cup of bread crumbs


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the 2 cups of macaroni in boiling water until al dente. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, mix the butter, sea salt, flour, pumpkin, heavy cream and skim milk on medium heat until nice and bubbly. Add in the cheese and stir frequently so the cheese doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. You should end up with a thick, creamy texture like this:

Remove from heat. Add in the cooked macaroni.

Stir the sauce and the macaroni together until well blended. Pour into a casserole dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and, if you wish, additional cheese. I added shredded Smoked Applewood Cheddar to the top of mine. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve. Mmmmmmm.

I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed this. It was so creamy and rich, and the Gouda cheese really gave it an awesome smokey, woody flavor. Perfect for fall and I actually think it would be perfect as a side dish at a Thanksgiving feast. Delicious! Husband missed out, big time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Baked Mushrooms with Breadcrumbs & Cheese

My husband and I looooooove mushrooms - mushrooms as in the edible fungi, people, not the other kind that's so popular with some here in Vancouver! We often have sautéed mushrooms as a side dish and we never really get tired of it. When I saw a photo on Pinterest of baked mushrooms coated with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, I knew I had to give it a try. No recipe was include on the Pinterest post, but I put two and two together and figured it out.

These little mushroom bites couldn't have been easier to make. All you need are mushrooms, breadcrumbs, an egg and parmesan cheese - and you could probably toss in some spices, too, if you wanted extra flavor.

In a small bowl, beat an egg. In another bowl, whisk together breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese (sorry, no exact measurements here, it's really a matter of personal taste). One by one, roll the mushrooms in the egg yolk. Then roll the mushrooms in the breadcrumbs and cheese. Put the mushrooms on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve as a side dish ... ranch dressing or other dip optional.

Verdict? We LOVED it. Wow. The breadcrumb cheese coating gave the mushrooms a crunchy texture which was really unique. We ate them with a spicy Thai sauce dip and it was like eating chicken wings - only healthier! I think it's safe to say we'll be adding this recipe to our favorites list. There may be fewer sautéed mushrooms in our future and more of these.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Perfect Bite-Size Dessert

I have discovered the easiest, quickest, cheapest dessert on the planet! Marshmellows dipped in chocolate and then covered with sprinkles - or graham crackers, or cookie crumbs, or whatever else you have around that you can use to dress these babies up. I swear these took me no more than 15 minutes to make (including prep time) and look at how cute they are when they're done - 

I made them for the first time bright and early this morning for my church's Connection Sunday (aka potluck). They're perfect if you have a group event to go to because you can whip up a whole bunch in no time and they're easy to serve. I hate dragging plates and bowls and serving utensils to big events because something always seems to get lost. These couldn't be easier; just plop them on a plate and you're good to go.

Ingredients -

Giant marshmellows (you could use the mini ones too, but giant's easier to work with)
Sprinkles / cookies crumbs

* I used Wilton's meltable chocolate from Michaels ... they come in all sorts of fun colors and melt very easily in the microwave. If you don't have time to get to Michaels or a specialty shop you can use any meltable chocolate, including candy bars.

Directions -

1. Melt the chocolate on the stove top or in the microwave
2. Dip and roll the marshmellow in the chocolate
3. Dip and roll the marshmellow in the sprinkles
4. Put the marshmellow to the side for a few minutes to allow the chocolate and sprinkles to set
5. Serve & enjoy

It's THAT simple! :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

So, the second thing on my fall culinary goal list was to make potato and leek soup. I don't think I've ever actually had potato and leek soup in a restaurant, so I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or if I'd even like it. I wanted to tackle it because both potatoes and leeks are "in season" in the late fall/early winter ... a time of year when not much else is in season. If I could learn to successfully make this soup and if Alan and I both enjoyed it, it would be a great addition to our seasonal menu. 

Let me begin by saying that leeks are pretty intimidating. I mean just look at these suckers: 

They look like giant chunks of celery, they smell like onions and they take up a lot of room in the fridge. I looked up several potato and leek soup recipes online, but most of them called for ingredients that weren't available at my local grocery shop - specifically, creme fraiche. I didn't have the time or the energy to be running around from store to store so, in the end, I worked with this recipe and improvised. I used sour cream instead of creme fraiche and it worked out well. 

Ingredients -

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 large leek, diced 
Salt (to taste)
1/3 cup of heavy cream 
2 tablespoons of sour cream (or more, to taste)
Fresh parsley 

First, dice the leeks as you would celery or onions. Then, heat the tablespoons of oil in a large pot. Add the leeks and potatoes. Stir occasionally for about ten minutes. Add six cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. 

Once the water has boiled, reduce heat to low and allow the ingredients to simmer for a half hour or so. Once the potatoes are tender, use a hand mixer to blend all the ingredients together. Add the heavy cream and salt until you get the taste you want. Pour into bowls, add sour cream (I did one tablespoon of sour cream per bowl) and garnish with fresh parsley. 

And there you go! Potato and leek soup, nice and creamy and perfect for a crisp autumn evening. Alan and I liked it quite a bit, but next time I'm adding bacon or ham chunks to add even more flavor. Overall, I'd say it was a success!