Category: food

My first attempt at sourdough bread

After watching Cooked on Netflix, I was inspired to make my own sourdough bread. After all, Michael Pollan swore it was the easiest thing in the world. All it takes is flour, water, and some wild yeast encouraged by the bacteria floating through the air in your house. Easy!

Not so.

My first attempt to make sourdough starter was an abysmal failure. The flour and water looked–and smelled–like glue, which I guess it was.

Then I showed up at work with a homemade sour cherry pie (that’s another post!) and started talking about baking with a colleague. Little did I know that she, too, had been inspired to attempt sourdough bread after watching Michael Pollan and she had met with some success. She offered to share some of her sourdough starter with me, pointed me to a website that had easy to follow instructions and then I was off to the races!

I had my doubts about the starter. It failed once again and I ended up with a loaf of glue. See specimen here:

Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread
Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread

So I decided to persevere. For those who know me–and I mean, really know me, I am a relatively impatient person. So waiting for a sourdough starter to be ready, or waiting for bread to proof, are exercises in patience for me. And you can’t rush a good loaf of bread. I fed my starter again and decided to just watch it for about 24 hours. Sure enough it came back to life and started bubbling away, and almost “breathing”. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s literally alive! When it had filled up the bowl, I decided it was show time.

I mixed the starter with flour and water and mixed it with the dough hook. I added a spoonful of kosher salt too. Some recipes tell you to knead the bread a lot and to do some of the kneading by hand to encourage the glutens to bind with each other. Other recipes say to be careful not to overdo it with the kneading because you don’t want to destroy the wild yeast in the starter that will give the bread that lovely bubbled centre. It’s really hard to know which recipe to follow and what measurements to use when you’re a beginner. This is when the internet is not your friend, but seems to be deliberately working against you to leave you second guessing which is the best recipe to follow.

In the end I found a pretty straightforward recipe at Cultures for Health. There’s even a nifty video that walks you through the recipe, but I decided to try it without watching the video. I think I might watch the video next time.

So here are the results:

In the end the bread was quite tasty–crispy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside with some air bubbles that are indicative of sourdough bread. There is a nice tang to the flavour and the kids seemed to like it, which is a good thing. It didn’t puff up as much as it probably should have after proofing, which could mean one of two things: the sourdough starter wasn’t as mature as it should have been to help the bread rise, or else I didn’t leave it to proof long enough (12-ish hours???).

I can see why making bread is addictive. It’s not an exact science, and yet the success of your bread making depends entirely on science.

The sourdough starter is once again percolating away in the glass bowl on the counter and I look forward to my next attempt at making a loaf of sourdough. Let me know what the secret of your success is when making sourdough. I could use all the help I can get!

Half way through my month-long fitness challenge

I admit I have not exercised every day in the past two weeks. I think I’ve missed three days. I’m not going to make excuses. Yes, there were reasons, but I’m not making any excuses. Instead, I am resolving to make the next two weeks epic.

We took the kids to the Mandarin restaurant on the way down from the cottage just over a week ago (I know, you’re thinking, “The Mandarin??? How is that a healthy choice???” Believe me, when you’ve got three hungry boys in the car, healthy choices is pretty low down on the list of priorities) and this was the fortune I got in my fortune cookie:

A very timely fortune cookie
A very timely fortune cookie

I’m taking it as a sign to do my best to be true to the sentiment that you can only have good health if you’re healthy and that means eating good food and exercising.

So I’m trying to stick to both without it being about how much I sweat and feel the burn or by depriving myself.

Exercise has entailed many activities included biking around the neighbourhood with my kids on this thing:

My retro bicycle with white wall tires.
My retro bicycle with white wall tires.

And I’ve even managed an early morning hike with my four-legged friend through the ravine in my neighbourhood.

Puppy hike through the ravine
Puppy hike through the ravine

Food is always a tricky thing for me. I’m battling gallstones right now, so most of the time eating meals isn’t that much fun, and sometimes I give up and grab something that tastes good, but isn’t good for me. For the most part I’ve been good, having lots of fruit for snacks like this:

Fruit salad
Fruit salad

Today, I managed to squeeze in a run at lunch time–half an hour and just over 5 kilometers. Not bad, eh?

I also just ordered a new bikini, which gives me even greater incentive to work on my figure for the coming summer.

Now all I need is a drill sergeant, a nutritionist to make this into a reality TV show!

 

My Month-Long Fitness Challenge

It’s June 1st. Today is Day One of my month-long fitness challenge. This post is my way of being accountable. It forces me to stay honest. There is no goal. No planned outcome. No guaranteed result. It is simply my way of maintaining some semblance of fitness each day. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. It doesn’t have to mean exercising to the point of exhaustion. Nor does it have to mean depriving myself of my diet. If anything, it’s about managing my expectations. I told my husband I looked at the photos from the race I was in this past Sunday and was unhappy with what I saw. Here’s what I saw:

Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!
Looking like a hot, sweaty mess!

He said, “then you have to decide what you want to do about it and make sure your expectations are realistic. And if you want a different result, you have to do something different. But remember–make sure your expectations are realistic with what you are prepared to do.”

So I’m going to be realistic. This is not about getting on some wagon that I am inevitably going to fall off. This isn’t a diet or exercise regimen that I am setting myself up to fail at. It’s about mindfulness.

So this is how my morning began: I laced up my sneakers…

Sneakers on. Time to run.
Sneakers on. Time to run.

I did about 3.5km. Did a bunch of sit ups–say, 80. Got on the scale. Here’s what it said:

139

I know it’s just a number. It’s not a bad number. I’m just keeping it real. Keeping it honest. It may not change when the month is up. It may go up. It may go down. But it’s MY number and I’m going to own it.

I made my requisite smoothie this morning (banana, strawberries, pineapple, chia seeds and a splash of OJ). Ate a whole wheat bagel with tuna and chopped egg.

It’s lunch time now and I’m having a garden salad with a hunk of salami.

Garden salad
Garden salad

I’ve got my calendar all planned out, but as my neighbour once said to me, “Man plans and God laughs.” So this is by no means the gospel (no pun intended!), but it’s a guide. (Today is a perfect example: I ran this morning instead of doing the Body Fit class at the Y).

Here is the challenge....
Here is the challenge….

So let’s see how it goes!!! Let me know if you have ever done a month-long challenge. How did it go? What was the best part? What was the hardest part? Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

The Annual Hanukkah Party

Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of a go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).

I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.

 

Wine and Cheese Party

It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him. 

The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze  of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!

The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Boutique
The Cheese Refrigerator
The Cheese Refrigerator

We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.

 

Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Candles and plants interspersed with the food
Cheese and crackers
Cheese and crackers
Charcuterie
Charcuterie
The Whole Spread
The Whole Spread

 

 

 

Oh Ginger!

Okay, I’m finally getting back in the saddle and writing a post after a ridiculously long hiatus–and after I got my oven fixed. 

I love my range. It’s a Viking Professional. We had it installed when we renovated the house and I couldn’t bear to part with it, even if it has had to be repaired twice now. It’s kind of like a favourite blanket or pair of shoes. It’s comfortable and familiar and I can’t imagine any other range living up to it. It’s simple. No fancy knobs or bells or electronics. Straight up gas. But it was not baking evenly. I’d get a mixture of under done to slightly burnt depending on where the pan was located in the oven. It was a true range inside the range. Ha!

Now that Joe the Appliance Guy came and fixed the oven, my motivation to cook and bake has been reinvigorated.

Since it is the season for pumpkin and spice and all things hearty and warm, I copied my mom and baked a double batch of Evelyn Raab’s soft ginger cookies. My three-year-old could eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I sometimes let him do. They came out perfectly and have a nice sparkly sheen of sugar coating their little brown selves.

Evelyn Raab's Soft Ginger Cookies
Evelyn Raab’s Soft Ginger Cookies

Maybe it’s because these cookies are relatively unassuming and they have a healthy *look* to them, but you kind of feel like you’re eating something healthy, which is probably why it’s so easy to convince yourself to eat more (than one). Key ingredients to these tasty morsels is molasses and of course, powdered ginger. I can’t imagine adding anything to them, but let me know if you have experimented with ginger cookies and what combos work for you.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, water and molasses and continue mixing until smooth. In another bowl stir flour, ginger, baking soda and cinnamon together (I’m so lazy I actually skip this and mix it all together–but I digress). Add dry mixture to wet mixture and beat until everything is combined into a soft dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you tidy up and preheat oven to 350 F. Pour some sugar onto a plate–I used fine granulated sugar– Pull the dough out of the fridge and start rolling the dough into 1-1.5 inch little balls. Roll the dough balls in the sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They will look soft and like they’re not finished but really they are. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then move them to a plate. This recipe makes 4 dozen.

 

Polka Dot Party

I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.

I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….

This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to survive  feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.

My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).

Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.

And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.

Here are a few snaps of the big day.

I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
I made two 9# rounds and used a giant cookie cutter to cut out the centre to form the bottom of the number 6.
Here is the number 6 cake "in the raw" before applying icing.
Here is the number 6 cake “in the raw” before applying icing.

 

Here's the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
Here’s the six cake with a thick coat of cream cheese icing.
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
And here is the coolest every chevron smartie six cake!
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
A view of the polka dot plates I scored Dollarama
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!
And to cap it all off: polka dot and chevron loot bags!

 

 

 

 

What To Do With Leftovers: Rice

How many times have you found yourself transferring all the little bits and bites left canada cialis online over after a meal (in my case, and probably most cases it’s dinner) into various sizes of plastic containers?

And while you’re doing this you’ve got a little angel sitting on one shoulder saying, “you are for sure going to find a way to use these leftovers and not let them go to waste. You will incorporate them into a future meal some time in the next 48 to 72 hours.”

Meanwhile on the other shoulder is perched a little devil saying, “Why bother? It’s just going to end up in the back of the fridge, also known as the wasteland of lost and forgotten food that is sure to become a science experiment utterly unrecognizable to any food group.”

Well if you’re anything like me your intentions are always noble but getting to those poor leftovers when there are fifty million other items on my daily to-do list doesn’t always happen. Not to mention coming up with a creative way to incorporate the leftovers into a meal that won’t have my kids groaning or turning their noses up.  Sometimes the mental exertion required to do this is just too much.

But there are some leftovers that are just too good to go to waste and I have resolved to make an effort to reinvent them into scrumptious dishes that will have my kids–and hubby–asking for seconds only to find it is all gone.

My mother was particularly good at upcycling our leftovers, although I wasn’t always that enthusiastic about eating them. I recall one time cutting into a piece of lasagna and looking at the filling, when I turned to my mom and said, “Wait a minute, isn’t this chicken from last night’s dinner?” She started out with a slightly sheepish look on her face mixed with a little giggle followed by an indignant glare (does that course of emotions make any sense to you?). I can’t remember what she said but it was a bit of a running joke with us because we could always count on my mom not to let good food go to waste. So I’m taking a page out of her book.

We had a couple of cups of basmati rice left over from dinner tonight, which got put into a container and shoved in the fridge. Feeling slightly more energetic than I have been in the last week because of a terrible cold, I decided to make rice pudding, which is one of my favourite comfort foods and the perfect antidote to winter.

The lowly leftovers
The lowly leftovers

 

My grandmother used to make a baked rice pudding that ended up with a thin layer of custard on top, but I have yet to find the recipe. Until then I’ve been playing around with recipes that I’ve found online.

I had roughly 2 cups of cooked rice so here’s my adaptation on a number of stove top rice pudding recipes I have found:

In a large sauce pan combine 2 cups of cooked rice with 1 1/2 cups of milk (I mixed skim and whole milk), reserving another 1/2 cup of milk for later. Add 3/4 cups of sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.

Mix the rice, milk, sugar and pinch of salt
Mix the rice, milk, sugar and pinch of salt

Beat 2 eggs and set aside. Turn down the heat and to the rice and milk mixture add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, beaten eggs (make sure they don’t cook when you add them otherwise you end up with scrambled eggs a la rice pudding). Stir for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat.

Add 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/2 cup of raisins to the mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined. You can serve this warm or cold and even divide it into individual cups. I prefer putting it in one big serving bowl and letting it cool a bit.

Butter, cinnamon, vanilla and raisins
Butter, cinnamon, vanilla and raisins

I could seriously eat this morning, noon and night it’s that yummy. Let me know if you have a much loved rice pudding recipe. Better yet: if you have a much loved leftover recipe let me know and I’d be happy to feature it!

Rice pudding: the ultimate comfort food
Rice pudding: the ultimate comfort food

Sweet Hearts

You know me: I’m an easy target when it comes to finding an excuse to bake for an occasion and what better occasion than Valentine’s Day? So I got out the trusty ol’ sugar cookie recipe care of Martha Stewart and dug out my heart shaped cookie cutter and got to work.

Heart shaped sugar cookies
Heart shaped sugar cookies

I whipped up some royal icing, also care of Martha Stewart, tinted it with a dash of pink gel to get a nice baby pink and got to work icing them.

Pale pink royal icing
Pale pink royal icing

I sampled a cookie–which I don’t normally do because I want to make sure there are enough for the kids to give out to all their classmates, but we had plenty. I was pleasantly surprised…it had a nice crispy outside and soft and moist inside. And the icing was sweet but it didn’t overwhelm the cookie. Now I remember why this is always my go to cookie recipe.

Sweet Heart cookies
Sweet Heart cookies

 

 

 

cialis

Mmm….garlic dills!

Until today the only canning I had done was making jam. As of today I can add pickling to my repertoire. On a whim I bought a batch of mini pickling cucumbers. I knew time was working against me so while the baby was napping this morning I got to work. Sterilizing, boiling, brining, cutting, pouring, processing and voila, pickles!!!!

I found the recipe on a fabulous site called Food In Jars, which was fairly simple to follow. The only deviation was the pickling spices. Rather than make my own I bought a pickling spice mix at the grocers–much easier and less time consuming. Oh yes, and I didn’t have cider vinegar so I went with straight white vinegar.

Now comes the hard part: waiting. The recipe says they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year but it doesn’t say when I can dig into them….maybe 3 months? 3 weeks? 3 days? 3 minutes? I’m not sure I can wait!!!