Tag Archives: food

The Tastes of Home

No, I’m not talking about the magazine, though it’s certainly full of what I’m talking about. My mom received one of those every month for years, so I’m sure a few of those recipes made it into her regular repertoire.

Every time we go to my parents’ place, I gorge myself on my mother’s cooking. Perfectly grilled steak, lasagne, muffins for breakfast, brownies and delicious, delicious wine. I have realized my parents’ home, and as such, my childhood, has a taste. You know how songs can bring you back? This weekend, it was food. Specifically, these:

My mom didn’t make these often and perhaps that’s why they hold the power they do. They remind me of a time when I was, oh, seven or so, a time when I was tall enough to just stand over them. We would slather them with a maple syrup icing, made from our own maple syrup. Still warm, the icing dripped into the crevices of the bun and onto our hands as we pulled them apart and ate them piece by sugary, cinnamonny piece. I’m not sure what the best part was: the icing or the bun itself.

No recipe for these. I didn’t make them. But if I’ve got you feeling like you want to pull out your flour and yeast and sugar, you can hunt down a recipe here. I’m sure you’ll find something delicious.

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Oreo brownies and the Deception of Sunshine

Sunshine can be deceptive. Sunshine can glisten and warm everything up with light without actually adding any heat to the air. Sunshine can’t stop wind from blowing.

Sunshine can make you optimistically pull on your bright pink running shirt and slip into your baby blue, slightly chewed running shoes. It can give you a little bit of a boost as you run with the wind, pushing yourself a little farther than you should, enjoying the feeling of the strength in your legs and the sun in your eyes.

But, like I said, the sun can’t stop the wind. It can’t prevent the wind from blowing so hard as you turn back for home that you’re not sure if you’re even moving much anymore. It can’t warm up a face so frozen and wind-burnt that you can’t feel it and every face twinge feels odd.

Just don’t forget about the cyclist who, as she passed you in her layers of scarves and appropriate cycling clothes, grinned and said, “Good for you!” And don’t forget about the brownie waiting for you when you get back, chocolatey and delicious. These other bits of sunshine can’t stop the wind either, but they can keep you going, over the hill and back up the long, steep driveway of your parents’ house.

And don’t worry. That feeling like you’re going to pass out? It will pass.

(I ran 5.3 km on Sunday with the help of one green-clad cyclist and these tasty brownies, made by my mom who used the recipe from How Sweet It is.)

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Brunch with Hipsters at Aunties and Uncles

My brother is visiting from SF with his girlfriend. I always like it when my brother comes to visit. This is the second time he decided to arrange his trip schedule in such a way that he spent some time in TO with me and M before we headed out to the country to join our parents. My brother and I used to have a terrible case of sibling rivalry but sometime, somehow, in the process of growing up, I actually started to enjoy spending time with him. And L is just fun.

I took work off Friday afternoon in order to actually be able to spend some time with them. We spent the day romping around the city, drinking coffees, checking out hipster knitting stores (post to come!), and riding street cars. To set our appropriate mood, we had breakfast at the most hipster place we know of in the city. (Not that we know of many hipster restaurants or haunts. We aren’t particularly hipster.)

Aunties and Uncles is one of those restaurants built into a hollowed out, 100-year-old house. Upstairs, you can still see where there used to be walls separating the space into bedrooms. It seems a little grungy, a feeling confirmed by the state of the bathroom upstairs. If I remember correctly from our first visit, the sink was held up by an old cane and the presence of the old, cracked and dirty family shower was a little disconcerting.

But in reality, all of that is part of the charm of the restaurant. It’s filled with authentic 50s memorabilia, covered in a thin layer of dust as if the whole place has been carefully preserved in time. Tables and chairs are mismatched, beat up, well-worn. Old suitcases, posters, toys, and knickknacks are packed up to the ceiling. The place is adorable.

Unfortunately, the service seems to be a little less adorable. We didn’t mind the wait to get a table. The entry way is rather cramped and, with staff moving between the rooms, inconvenient for everyone. And, we didn’t mind the wait for our order to be taken, especially since they were relatively quick with the coffees. We did, however, mind the wait for our food. Mostly because they forgot it. Or, rather, just mine. J and L sat with their food infront of them waiting for 5 minutes until I told them to go ahead and eat. My food was nowhere to be seen and our waiter hadn’t come around in a while. 10 minutes later, he made his rounds, saw the empty table infront of me and turned in annoyance toward the kitchen. Since the kitchen is open to the rest of the restaurant, we quite audibly head the cursing response of the kitchen staff.

5 minutes later my BLT finally sat infront of me.

Simple, delicious. Mmm… bacon.

And that salad? Their vinegrette is delicious.

Here’s something that’s not quite so charming: they don’t take plastic. This doesn’t exactly work for someone like me who doesn’t carry cash for reasons of cash flow control — I am far less likely to get coffee or make impulse purchases on little things if I have to swipe a card to do it. It didn’t exactly work for the American and Almost-American sitting across the table from me either. I left them there and scurried down the street to the Scotiabank on the corner, spent the extra $1.50 with a cringe to withdraw cash from a bank that is not my own and scurried back so we could get away from the restaurant we had already spent too much time at.

Bottom line: They’re hipster and they know they’re hipster. But they’re friendly. It’s a warm, relaxed atmosphere. My stomach thought maybe a little too relaxed. But they make good breakfast food and just for that, the next time an almost-hipster friend comes to town, or even a not-at-all-hipster friend comes to visit, I’d gladly take them there. I’ll just remember to bring enough cash next time.

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Crunchy Peanut Butter Muffins

An early meeting pushes me out of bed at 6:00 in the morning, half an hour before I would generally be moving. Mocha is still fast asleep, heavy on the blankets between us. The quiet left after I hit the snooze button is far too comfortable, far to dark, and the world outside the comforter is not appealing at all. I would love to just lie here indefinitely.

As difficult as it is to get out of bed, I kind of like these early mornings. (But ssshhh… don’t tell my boss…) There’s less pressure and more preparation. Oh, your hair is a mess today? Understandable. You had to be here at 7:30.

Since I knew last night that I would be up early, a situation that is not so good for my breakfast eating habits, I pulled out my muffin book, a little book full of delicious looking muffins. (Though there are really only a handful that I have any desire at all to make — odd how that is.) I wanted something that would give me a good amount of energy, not be too bad for me and, of course, be delicious.

You don’t want to eat too many of these all at once since they are about 289 calories each — I kind of missed the ‘good for you’ requirement. If you want healthy, opt for a Timmies donut instead — but um, peanut butter is awesome. Enough said.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Muffins
Adapted from 1 Mix, 100 Muffins by Susanna Tee

Muffins

2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
6 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

Topping

1/3 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp brown sugar

Make the topping first. It’s really simple. Chop your peanuts if all you have is whole peanuts. (Chopping peanuts is fun!) Then, in a small bowl, mix the peanuts and brown sugar together. Set aside and start preheating your oven to 400*.

For the muffins, mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Mix, but don’t overmix. If you overmix, the texture of the muffins will be off. So, just mix until the dry ingredients are wet. It will all clump together a bit in the bowl. This isn’t really a wet muffin batter, so don’t be too concerned if your mixture isn’t fully mixed and you feel like you might be overmixing. You probably aren’t.

Spoon the batter into a greased or lined muffin tin. Sprinkle with the topping and pop into the oven for 20 minutes.

The other wonderful thing about early morning meetings? When 3:30 rolls around, I can pack up and be home an hour early, which means supper is well underway long before M gets home, the kitchen is clean(-ish) and our evening has suddenly grown by an hour or even two.

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Carrot and Beef Stew

Stew and I get along quite well. Hot, piping, with a slice of generously buttered toast on the side. Usually, I don’t have the patience for stew though. I’ve thrown stewing beef into thick, chunky soups before, but scooped up my first bowl only an hour later, when everything’s hot, but the beef is still chewy, a bit of a chore to get through. Tasty still, but no, not ideal.

One night this week, I felt like cooking, but everything I wanted to make was going to take upwards of two hours and M and I were hungry now. There’s not a lot of room for getting too fancy when you get home at 5:30 and would really like to get some food into your stomach before 9:00. Besides, our fridge is looking pretty bare: our pantry is packed to the hilt, but when there’s no fresh food to accompany the pasta and canned ingredients, all the canned beans in the world aren’t going to get supper on the table. So, begrudgingly, I let M pull our last frozen pizza from the oven.

But, I wasn’t willing to give up quite so easily. There was stewing beef in the fridge, four sad looking carrots in the crisper, onions in the pantry and a box of red wine on the fridge. I pulled out M’s 5 quart crock pot and set to browning and chopping.

While stew and I get along quite well, the crock pot and I need a reconciliation. The concept is great: mix everything together, turn it on at 7:20 am before you leave for work and come back to the heavenly smell of your supper already waiting for you. This worked right up until 5:37 pm the next day when I dipped my spoon into the delicious smelling mix for a first taste.

Oh.

How disappointing.

An hour of chopping and 9 hours of cooking… wasted?

The meat was deliciously tender but it had stewed in liquid that consisted of far too much wine and not enough broth. I was disappointed. In an attempt to save the stew, I threw in a spoonful of bouillon and a cup of water. We waited an extra half hour before we ate until M, in tasting it, reported it was good and hot.

“There’s an odd taste,” he said.

The stew was still tasty. And like I said, that meat was so. tender. It even got better the longer it ‘aged’ in the fridge in the same way soups do. But, whatever you do, don’t put two cups of wine in it. Stick to one. Or half, even.

Beef Stew
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 package stewing beef
½ – 1 tsp herbs of your choice – thyme, basil, oregano, etc.
Flour to dredge
2 tbsp canola oil
Winter veggies of your choice – carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, etc.
1 cup wine
2 cups beef, chicken, or veggie broth
½-1 tsp of the same mix of herbs as above

Put your stewing beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the herbs and mix together so the meat is evenly coated. Gradually add flour to dredge beef in. I did this all in the same bowl because I didn’t want to use any more flour than I needed, but you can also do this the traditional way: drop the meat piece by piece into a bowl of flour and coat. Whichever way you do it, just make sure the pieces of meat are well-coated in flour.

Cook the flour coated pieces of meat in the oil over medium heat to brown. If necessary to provide your meat with enough space, do this in batches. When the meat is browned, transfer it to your crock pot.

Chop your veggies. You can make the pieces as small or as large as you like. Add them to your meat.

Mix in the wine, broth and herbs.

This whole mix filled my crock pot about halfway, so there’s plenty of room to double this recipe if desired.

Cook on low for 9 hours. If you can, taste the mix halfway through cooking and adjust accordingly.

(*My camera is completely dead and I don’t want to drop another $15 for yet another pair of batteries that will die on me again. These pictures are taken with M’s camera which is quite a bit older and, as you might be able to tell, I have absolutely no mastery with it.)

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Honey Barbecue Pork

We’ve been thinking a lot about bathrooms and kitchens, timelines, and demos. We’ve been dreaming, and wishing, planning and hoping. We’ve been thinking so much about the coming months that I’ve had very little time to find any food inspiration. A visit to a similarly food-minded friend, the woman behind the blog, An Extra Glimpse, sent me back to my cookbook collection for tonight’s dinner.

She made us a delicious meal of chicken casserole, sweet potato and a delightful, creamy bruschetta. While she cooked, I stood in her bright, cheerful, yellow kitchen and chatted, catching up, jumping from one topic to the next. Another’s kitchen can be so inspiring.

So, today, I felt like cooking, despite feeling a little rough from the late night. I pulled out a church cookbook I got from someone in M’s family. Both J and my mom are insistent that there is some value in these simple books. But I never know how to find the jewels among the rest, especially without a single picture. My love of food comes from a very visual origin: I appreciate the photography that so often goes along with delicious food.

The cookbook I pulled out is not a large one, so it wasn’t difficult picking out a recipe based on what was in my fridge and pantry. And you know what? It was delicious. And that’s not just me saying that: I even got a Good from M! And you all know how difficult that can be…

Honey Barbecue Pork
from the Treasured Recipes of the Lunch Bunch

4 pork chops or spare ribs or whatever type of pork you have
3 cloves garlic
1 onion
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
3/4 cup honey*
4 tbsp vinegar
6 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 dry mustard
1/4 tsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Boil the pork chops for about 20 minutes. Remove from the water and place in a baking dish that is just the right size for the amount of meat you have.

Chop your garlic and onion and mix in a bowl with the barbecue sauce, honey, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, mustard, ginger, chili powder, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the meet in the baking  dish and pop into a 325* oven for 1.5 hours or until as tender as you want. I only baked it for an hour and they were delicious, but if I had been more patient, I’m sure they would have become even more melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Serve with veggies or a salad.

* I ran out of honey. I didn’t have 3/4 cup. So, I opened my fridge and pondered the contents. Plum sauce? Hmm… table syrup! I just kind of threw some in. It was tasty. Really, you can’t mess up this recipe, what with all the delicious ingredients that go into it.

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Martha Lets Me Down: Bacon, Onion and Cheese Pasta

I’ve been feeling like I don’t make enough pasta. After all, it’s cheap, filling, and often delicious. My problem with pasta, though, is that it’s boring. I grew up on spaghetti and, while delicious, not exactly a cooking challenge.

So, I went looking for new recipes. Martha Stewart has a whole gallery of pasta dishes. Some of them were of no appeal at all, but most of them I dismissed simply because I didn’t have the ingredients in my cupboard and didn’t feel like going to a grocery store after work. So, I settled on this one. With a few substitutions, it seemed straightforward enough.

Guys, for the first time since I started using her recipes, Martha let me down. Sure, it was edible. I even didn’t mind taking it to work the next day. But unless you know for sure you like the flavour of thyme, I wouldn’t recommend trying this without some kind of substitution.

But, here’s the recipe anyway. If you have any brilliant ideas to make this recipe better, please share!

Bacon, Onion, and Cheese Pasta

1/2 package of short pasta, whichever kind you prefer

A whole bunch of thinly sliced back bacon

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbs thyme

1/2 package of cream cheese

Cook your pasta. This might seem a little weird, but when you drain it, reserve some of the water in which you cooked it, about 1 cup.

Cook your bacon. Cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.

Since it’s back bacon, there’s not nearly as much fat as regular bacon, so add a bit of oil to the skillet, just a splash. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are golden brown.

Add the cream cheese and the cup of pasta water to the onion mixture and allow the cream cheese to melt, stirring constantly. Add the pasta to the skillet and mix until coated. Add the bacon.

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    The Anatomy of a Bachelorette Party

    This past weekend was jam-packed with some responsible partying. With maybe a smidge or two of irresponsible partying. In a week and a half (!), my best friend of 22 years is getting married and, as her maid of honour* it was, of course, my responsibility to gather all her closest girlfriends together for one helluva girl’s night.

    I have never been to a bachelorette party, let alone plan one. And the Internet is pretty useless. I was not about to hire fake cops to waggle their hips in our faces and the expense of a limo to take us on a tour of the town was pretty much out of the question. So, I turned to what I’m familiar with: food.

    Instead of a meal, I put together a spread of appetizers for the girls to load up on. I asked them to bring what they could, but without certain numbers of how many girls were bringing food, I went all out and made sure I had enough for everyone. Which means, of course, there was way too much food. But too much, is always better than too little, right?

    On the menu for the night?

    Savory shortbread cookies.

    Spinach dip and pumpernickel bread.

    Hummus and pita bread.

    Stuffed mushrooms. That’s right. These stuffed mushrooms.

    Lots of cheese and crackers. Lots of veggies.

    Apple tart. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it because it never even got out of the freezer, into the oven and onto the table. There was no space left anywhere on that table. But M and I pulled a second one I made out of the freezer on Sunday, baked it up and ate it straight from the pan. Holy crap delicious.

    No one went hungry. Because I had focused so much on food, I forgot to really think too much about what to actually do while eating, but the thing about hanging out with a group of girls is that it doesn’t matter: conversation ticks along, jumps from one thing to the next and by 9, everyone was happily talked out and ready to get gorgeous for a night of dancing.

    Oh. And did I mention our drinks for the night? Pornstars, White Freezies, Polar Bears… Proper girly drinks which we sweated out on the dance floor before they could reach our head.

    (* I know that, since I’m married, technically, I’m a ‘matron of honour’. But seriously. Who wants to be known as a matron?)

    Because I like to share,

    Quick Apple Tart

    Completely made up by me. On the fly. When I decided I didn’t want to make apple dumplings after all.

    1 pie shell, store-bought or homemade if you’re patient and talented.
    Approximately 4 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced.
    1/4 cup white sugar
    2 tbs all purpose flour
    A couple spoonfuls of cinnamon, depending on how much you like cinnamon.

    Mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Toss apples in the dry mixture. Arrange apple slices in a swirl, starting in the centre of the pie shell and working outwards in a circle, overlapping each apple slice. Or, just dump all the apples in and hope for the best.

    You could also arrange the apple slices and then sift the dry mixture over top. I didn’t get to taste it using this method though. Probably worked just as well.

    Carefully peel the edges of the pie shell away from the pie pan and over the apples along the edge. Pinch the pastry down into the apples to remove any bunching in the pasty edge. Try not to rip the pastry. If you’re using a cheap pie shell as I was, it’s really hard to get it to stick back together again.

    Bake in an 375* oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until the folded over edge is a beautiful golden brown and the apples are tender.

    Consume directly from the pan, sharing forkfuls with your husband.

    It was a little runny, possibly because I didn’t want to let it sit before eating it after it came out of the oven. But I think it probably needs a little more flour, or maybe even some corn starch. I should probably beg my grandmother for her apple pie recipe and just adapt it to this. It was delicious. Which is partially why there are no pictures. Just trust me. Delicious.

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    Stuffed Mushrooms

    Mushrooms and I have a history. Not that interesting of a history. Not really. But a small one.

    Ask my parents if I like mushrooms and they’ll tell you no. It was one of the few things that, as a child, I refused to eat. They were slimy and chewy at the same time and, on top of the mushroomy taste, just… icky.

    But, ask M and he’ll have a different story. I often order pizza with mushrooms. I kind of like picking out pretty white button mushrooms. I haven’t moved up to large portebello mushrooms, but I’m getting there. I like mushroom soup, I chop mushrooms up into sauces and grill steak with slices of mushrooms.

    I do have one good memory of mushrooms when I was a kid: as a family, we were in Waterloo, looking for a place to eat. We walked into a restaurant called Fool on a Hill. The staff kindly informed us that, actually, they weren’t open yet. Their grand opening was the next day and they were just there getting everything ready. But wait! said the manager or owner, or whoever. Why don’t we practice on you?

    We ordered the mushroom appetizer. They were hot, juicy, delicious. I had never had mushrooms like that. These stuffed mushrooms remind me of those mushrooms.

    These seem so… gourmet, so complicated. On the outside. But trust me, these are simpler than you expect. So try them already!

    Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms
    Adapted from Kraft’s Ultimate Stuffed Mushrooms

    20 fresh mushrooms (I only had about 10, but this recipe will make stuffing for 20.
    3 tbsp butter or margarine
    1 tsp minced garlic, one clove
    1 tbsp finely chopped onion (I used half a smallish onion)
    About half a cup of bread crumbs made from Caesar salad croutons, put through a food processor
    2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
    1 tsp Cajun seasoning
    Cheddar cheese for sprinkling, finely grated

    Wash and dry the mushrooms. Carefully remove the stems. Hold the mushrooms with the button in your palm and push gently on the stem until you feel it let go of the side. Push on the other side. Gently wiggly the stem out of the button of the mushroom.

    Finely chop the stems. The finer the better. You probably don’t need all of them. About half a cup.

    Now, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the garlic, onions, and mushroom stems. Cook until everything is tender. Then, add the crouton crumbs, cheese and seasoning. Mix together. The mixture should be perfectly moist.

    Spoon it into the mushroom caps packing it in well so you can get as much stuffing in the mushrooms as possible. Top the mushrooms off with a sprinkle or two of cheddar cheese. Bake the stuffed mushroom buttons in a 400* oven for 15 minutes.

    They were delicious. And, they got me thinking about appetizers. I have a few more I want to try: spinach dip, devilled eggs, home-made bruchetta, antojitos. I’d like to learn more about tapas, perhaps, and put together a dinner menu of finger foods.

    Do you have a favourite appetizer?

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    Mom’s Slow Cooker Chili

    I hit fall and, along with my desire to run, I discover an overwhelming wish to use my crock pot. It seems to be the source of all things comfort food: my mom’s soup, my mom’s chili, my mom’s meatballs, my mom’s super-chocolatey crock pot cake. When I was in university, I bought a small, 2 quart crock pot, originally designed for dips and warm spreads, but perfect for my single person crock pot desires. There’s something about throwing some meat, broth, veggies, and seasonings in a pot and letting it simmer all day, making your house smell divine, that demands an afghan and a good book.

    Now that I’m working full-time and have a husband to feed on top of that, my crock pot uses have become far more practical and, surprisingly, far more infrequent. Getting a good mix into the crock pot, all set for the morning so I can plug it in before I have to leave takes way more energy and forward planning than it ever did when I had class at 11:30 am and didn’t have to leave the house until 10:50. Ideally, if I want a good crock pot meal, I should have everything ready to go the night before. Which means making two meals in one night. I barely have enough time and imagination for one!

    But honestly, this chili is, in the end, so worth it. It’s worth making the kitchen dirty again after cleaning up from dinner. It’s worth staying up a little later to get the meat sautéed. It’s definitely worth the two extra minutes it takes to pull the mix from the fridge and plug it in. Walking through the door after work to the welcome smell of chili is one of those small comforts that makes every difficult moment, every imperfection of the day disappear. It’s like a welcome-home hug from M, like Mocha bouncing with excitement in her crate, so happy to see me home.

    The truth about this chili is that there isn’t really any recipe. I learned the basics from my mom: tomato sauce, tomato paste, ground beef, beans (pureed in a blender if you hate the beans themselves), chili powder, maybe some salsa if you have it on hand. After that, you can alter as you wish.

    Here’s this one:

    Mom’s Chili

    1 pound ground beef, browned
    1 can pasta sauce
    1 can tomato paste
    1 can diced tomatoes
    1 can kidney beans
    1 stalk celery, chopped in reasonably sized pieces
    1 tbs cumin
    1 tbs chili powder

    Throw it all in a crock pot. Cook on low for 8 hours or so.

    And that’s about it…  I often skip using a spoon with my chili at all, preferring to scoop it up with tortilla chips, or a delicious bit of toasted bread. This will store in the fridge for a number of days, and is easily reheated in the microwave. Since I made it on a Friday, it never made it to work, but it would probably be a delicious portable lunch too. Freeze leftovers if you wish and use it as a base for future chilies.

    (Yes, I realize I already posted about chili. It’s awesome enough that I think it deserves two posts. Especially since I didn’t share the recipe in the previous post!)

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