Monday, August 30, 2010

Lazy Hazy Crazy

This photograph pretty much sums up my weekend:

It's been a hot few days here in Steel City, and everyone (myself and Kyle included) was in summer party mode. We both spent the whole weekend out with friends dancing, drinking and fully enjoying this last week of August. It was definitely a good one. By the time Sunday rolled around I was exhausted and in no mood for cooking. It was about all I could do to make guacomole-definitely a chilled out summer food. So easy-just mash up avocados, mix in some finely minced garlic and onions, bit of lime juice, salt and pepper, and tomatoes and cilantro if you're so inclined. We ate it with the A/C cranked while watching a movie. Perfect.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Who needs Valium when you have a meat mallet?

      It's been a bit of a rough week over here. So while tonight's dinner was a real delight, it's preparation was wildly violent. With not one, but two elements of the main dish that needed to have the living shit beat out them, I got to channel my frustrations and use one of my favourite kitchen tools: The Meat Mallet.
     Pulling inspiration from a few different recipes, I made what I'll call Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken. Now, there are 2 methods for getting stuffing inside a chicken breast. You can butterfly the breast, cutting it in half horizontally, but that's boring. The second method, and the one I obviously chose, is to put the breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and bash it with your meat mallet until all the piss and vinegar has left you and all that's left is sugar and spice. It feels great. I for one hammered a hole in one of the breasts. Maybe I was a little more pent up than I thought. Deep breath.
      For the stuffing I sauteed garlic, mushrooms, roma tomatoes and onions(all ingredients finely diced) in olive oil. To that I added feta cheese and roasted red peppers. Most "stuffings" require some sort of bread crumb in them to soak up moisture and bind everything. You can use stale bread to make breadcrumbs, but the only stale bread I had was also mouldy. I considered using it(you would too, don't lie), but thought better of it, and went with whole grain melba toast. Mostly because I didn't want to poison myself, but also because I got to put those guys in a baggie and bash the hell out of them too.

      For a side we had acorn squash from the garden. I didn't get to hammer it, but it did take a little elbow grease with a big knife to slice that baby up, and that was pretty fun too.
      I guess the moral of today's story is that when they say you should cook with love, it's a big lie. Tonight I cooked with all the rage and brute force I could muster. And it was delicious.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get it in ya'

      Food blogs are such a nice idea. You think, sure I can cook a really great meal a few times a week. And no problem, I can plate it all pretty-like, open up the curtains to let in some natural light, and get a great shot of it.
     And then sometimes you just want to make dinner and get it the frig in yer belly and you take a  picture more like this:

      Our model here is eating a fish sandwich, recipe courtesy Clean Eating magazine. It's a filet of tilapia, rolled in a mixture of ground almonds and cornmeal, and then baked and put on rye toast. The sandwich also features a really simple spread which consists of just jarred artichokes, roasted red peppers, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The ingredients go in a food processor, and um, that's it. Put it on the sandwich. Eat the sandwich. Enjoy the sandwich. I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while, and it lived up to my expectations of deliciousness. Another healthy meal down the hatch. Now please avert your eyes from the bag of Doritos. I don't know how they got in there.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Summer of Me and Stew

      Kyle wanted me to make beef stew for dinner, which is just outrageous-it's August. But since I was in a pretty decent mood(weird, I know), I made it for him. So for anyone who thinks couples who live together are domesticated and boring, think again. We ate STEW in the SUMMER. And that's what I call living on edge, biatch. 
      I didn't use a recipe, just looked up a couple for inspiration and based my stew around those. I did add one ingredient to make it a bit more summery fresh: sweet corn cut right off the cob. Hee-haw.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Margarita Cupcakes don't need a clever title

       The bar I work at is celebrating it's 4th anniversary tonight, and I wanted to bake something to mark the occasion. Since we serve burritos and other Mexican fare, I looked for a recipe for margarita cupcakes.  The best-reviewed recipe I could find on the internet came from the cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, by Isa Chandra Moskowicz and Terry Hope Romero. In my own vegan days I had lots of luck with their recipes, and I've only heard glowing reviews of that book, so I wasn't at all hesitant to try out these eggless cupcakes.  I don't always think it's a good idea to post recipes from cookbooks, but this one is floating around the internet many times over so I don't feel too bad. Here it is:

1/4 cup lime juice 
1 1/2 tsp lime zest (1 lime)
1 cup soy milk (plain or vanilla)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp tequila
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Fill a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.
In a large bowl, mix together lime juice, lime zest, soy milk, oil , tequila, vanilla and sugar.
In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to lime mixture and stir until just combined. Divide evenly into muffin tins.
Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly pressed.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

     The only things I did differently were add a little extra tequila (I would) and a teaspoon of orange extract to simulate the flavour of triple sec, which usually goes in margaritas.
     Instead of using the icing recipe that's published in the book, I made a buttercream icing. I do think that vegan baking can be delicious, but when it comes to icing no brand of margarine can equal butter.
    I sugared the 'rims' (I didn't think salt would go over that well in cupcakes) and topped them with a tropical jellybean. I made a few extras so that Kyle could taste test them for me, and he gave them his highest rating: "Fucking dynamite babe"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Misadventures in Curry

      Tonight for dinner I made Fruity Curried Chicken with a brown rice pilaf. The curry recipe, which featured apples, pears and cranberries, came from Clean Eating magazine. I improvised the pilaf, toasting the rice with almonds, onions, crushed coriander seeds and cardamom, and then cooking it all in chicken broth. I don't always love fruit in savory dishes, but this one had enough spice and depth of flavour to carry the sweetness.
       If I had to give a tip of the day it would be this: Don't pick your nose while handling jalapenos or other hot peppers. I really thought I had long ago outgrown that habit. Apparenly not so, because after dicing a jalapeno for the curry I had to run to the sink because the inside of my nose was on fire.  But once I recovered and thoroughly washed my hands, dinner turned out great.

p.s. I'm totally kidding about picking my nose while cooking. That's disgusting. I was scratching it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Think Dirty, Eat Clean

      I've been going to the gym for years. It's one of my main priorities and it is without a doubt the best thing that I do for myself. As a training guide I often turn to Oxygen magazine. In my opinion it is by and far the best magazine of its kind. Many of Oxygen's competitors claim to be dedicated to fitness but really just seem like regular fashion/celebrity magazines with a few wimpy workouts thrown in. But every month Oxygen publishes multiple really hard workouts for at home and at the gym.  At $6.99 an issue on newstands compared to the $80 an hour my gym charges for a trainer, Oxygen is probably the most valuable magazine I buy each month (and I buy a lot of magazines).
Tosca Reno on the cover of Oxygen
      Oxygen also provides information in other areas related to fitness, especially nutrition. One of the magazine's columnists, Tosca Reno, entered the fitness world at the age of 40 after divorcing and losing over 70 lbs. Now at 51, Reno has published a series of books based on the concept of eating clean. After reading about her in Oxygen, I purchased her first book, "The Eat Clean Diet". I don't really like that it's called a "diet", because Eating Clean really seems like more of a way of eating-like how veganism is a way of eating and not a diet. But the concepts of eating clean make a lot of sense to me. In many ways they parallel the ideas brought forth by Michael Pollan in his books "The Onmivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food". Reno presents the idea of "eating the way nature intended". That is, foods that are close to their natural state. She recommends a combination of lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Other guidelines include avoiding processed foods, white flour and sugar, and drinking lots of water. With over half a dozen books in the Eat Clean series, and a spinoff magazine published every other month, there's definitely more to it than that, but the basic concepts are really simple.
I would recommend these books to anyone who wants to eat healthy. Yeah, Tosca Reno is one of those ultra peppy fitness kind of gals. And she so often makes mention of her "past life"-the marriage that didn't work out (she is now remarried), that you almost start to wonder if the whole thing isn't just an incredibly blown up version of "getting hotter is the best revenge". But then you think well, even if it is, girlfriend sure did it. She looks bangin'.
      Eating clean really does feel good. Even though I do love to bake cookies and banana bread, healthy meals are really what I eat on a daily basis. Like breakfast this morning, a bowl of hot whole grain cereal topped with strawberries, blueberries and almonds. I also ate some scrambled egg whites but those poor guys just weren't pretty enough to make the photo cut.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

BBQ, me and you

    Soon after I began eating meat, Kyle took me to The Keg for dinner. After eight years of vegetarianism I made a surprising discovery. I. LOVE. STEAK. And I like it rare. That first steak dinner is seared in my mind for eternity. That piece of meat was juicy and tender, and the fact that I fell absolutely in love with it had nothing whatsoever to do with the bottle of wine and keg sized caesars we indulged in.
   But I've never really been able to make a steak THAT satisfying at home. I've tried different marinades, dry rubs, and I even made Mr. Bobby Flay's steak sauce. The results were good. But never awesome. And I think I figured out why: I was cheaping out. Today I decided to go for it and buy the most expensive cut available and it was worth it my friend. Yeah, these babies were $20/pound, but they were melt in your mouth meaty goodness. I don't think red meat should be eaten every day, but if you're gonna do it, do it well. Or rare.

      I used a dry rub to season the steaks, because I find that marinades don't really do that much to add flavour and are usually just a waste of wine.
      Oh yeah, and I made a Greek salad too. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leave it to Beavers

      Maybe I've had a little too much family togetherness and domestic bliss lately. If I read this blog I might think that whoever is writing it uses words like "darn" and sides with Elisabeth Hasselback over Kathy Griffin. Sometimes I freak myself out and worry that I'm becoming a bit June Cleaver.
     But then I drink wine with some rad chicks and feel better. Maybe because the conversation quickly degenerates to a level that assures me I've got a LONG way to go before I reach "Classic TV Mom" status. Or maybe it's just the wine. And I did make food too: Heirloom tomato and roasted red pepper bruschetta.
But in this case the food isn't really the point. I love cooking, but sometimes it freaks me out. Like I'm becoming too wholesome. But then I remind myself that a) I overthink everything, b) food is often paired with alcohol, and c) MY QUEEN Martha Stewart went to jail and there ain't nothing wholesome about THAT.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Take THAT Kikkoman!

      Tonight for dinner I made a chicken and vegetable stirfry. Wow, amazing, I know, no one has ever done that before. Applause please.
      Yes, stirfry is pretty ordinary. But what I didn't realize until recently is how easy it is to make your own stirfry sauce. Instead of using a bottled or powdered sauce that contains a ton of excess sugar and weird additives, you can make a really good sauce out of just a few ingredients. This time I used garlic, ginger, soy sauce, orange rind and zest and agave nectar. No real recipe, I just kept tasting it until I thought the sweet and salty ingredients balanced out. I served it on quinoa and we ate it up yum.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A wholesome day of family values. And trans-fat.

     Today was my Grandpa's 80th birthday. My contribution to the party was red velvet cupcakes. The perfect recipe for this classic southern treat seems like a bit of a holy grail in the world of online recipe websites. There were tons of options on the sites I frequent, but for each one it seemed like some of the reviewers loved the results and some hated them. It seems like there's a lot of dispute about how to make them right: cream cheese or buttercream icing, a touch of cocao or a full on chocolate flavour, buttermilk in the batter or sour cream? So I just picked a recipe and went with it. Red velvet cake is usually adorned with pecans, but I topped these cupcakes with chocolate rosebuds. I never understand why anyone would use nuts in a situation where they could use chocolate.

Traditional or not, everyone like them, especially Kyle (my guy). He eat/inhaled at least three. But he eats everything, so the real vindication was having my Grandma tell me they were great. What a woman.

And while I'm on the topic of great women, I gotta give props to my mother. She taught me how to cook. And use the potty, for which I am eternally grateful.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I bring to the table....

     Tonight I made green tea poached salmon for dinner. The recipe came from "Clean Eating" magazine, which is one of my most frequent references for everyday cooking. The salmon was really moist and delicately flavoured, but I still think I prefer it baked or grilled. To go with it I made a salad with mixed greens, strawberries, blackberries, dried cranberries, almonds and goat cheese. It was a really simple dinner, which is great because I didn't have to put in a lot of effort, and I still got to call 'not it' on dishes duty. That's a great Household Tip from Ruth: "Be the first person in your house to throw ANYTHING on a plate, so that you can say you made dinner and not have to do any other chores that night"

Monday, August 2, 2010

But seriously, how the %$*@ does your garden grow?

      Earlier this summer my man decided to plant a vegetable garden. I have to admit that I had nothing to do with this-he gets 100% of the credit for that particular food adventure. I love vegetables, and the thought of having fresh ones in my own back yard makes me feel like a real salt-of-the-earth kind of gal. But there's something about gardening that scares me. For some reason I can just never believe that real food is going to grow out of little specks that you buy from Canadian Tire-it seems like impossible magic. Now the garden is producing awesome vegetables and the only logical explanation is that my boyfriend is some sort of witch. But I think he's a good witch because the zucchini we had with dinner tonight was great

I roasted the zucchini in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper.  For the main dish I cooked chicken breasts in a chili-lime marinade, topped with a salsa-ish mix of black beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, red onion and cilantro. This meal is a good representation of the kind of food I cook and eat on a daily basis; lean proteins, lots of vegetables. It's good to stay in shape so that you're prepared for anything, like zombie takeovers.

Daily Bread

Banana bread is one of my favourite things to make. Almost everyone likes it, and baking it makes me feel wholesome. There's something mysterious about it let bananas pretty much go rotten and they somehow  make something delicious. I wouldn't recommend trying this method with most ingredients. It's unlikely that rotten-egg bread would be a hit with your friends and loved ones. But this recipe seems to make people happy. Like this:
There's not much else to say about banana bread other than stop pretending it's health food and put chocolate chips in it, ok? And try to be more like my friend Rowan here, because he is a real dapper guy. I hope he enjoyed eating this banana bread, and that it was a good food pairing for his rye and coke.