Conversations from my kitchen

Me: "You didn't eat all your Asian Pear for lunch today, how come?"

7 year old: "Well I couldn't eat my Asian Pear because it was Jicama, not Asian Pear."

Me: "No, I cut it, it's Asian Pear. The Jicama is still in the cupboard, see?"

Him: "Oh.... Asian Pear, I love Asian Pear!"..... as he inhales his pear.

Later on...

Him: "Mom, you know, you and I really like Asian foods. That's good. No one else in our family likes Asian foods as much as we do."

Think I'm raising a little Foodie?

Menu Plan Monday: Pantry Challenge

Frugal bloggers around the world have been talking alot the last few weeks about a great challenge, the Eat From the Pantry Challenge, which challenges you to use what you have an avoid repeated trips to the grocery store. While it sounded like a great idea, I didn't pay much attention to it until last week.

Last week, when we had a friend over for dinner and she could not find any room in my freezer to put something temporarily.

Last week, when I went way, way, way over budget on groceries, taking advantage of a few sale items at Farm Boy and making a trip down to the US for some items I can't get here.

My having a job and an income has allowed me some leeway in my budget, but that money would be so much better spent paying off some bills, or going into savings, than making sure I have six packages of sausage in my freezer!

So this week I am making my own pantry challenge and dragging my family along with me. I set myself a rule or two: No trips to the store for anymore more than milk and/or bread. No picking up dinner. And cash only for what little I do buy.

I did give myself a bit of relaxation with a few items I needed, such as garbage bags, toilet paper and kleenex. As in things we don't eat.

And the pantry/freezer challenge began Saturday night:

Saturday: Chicken finger and tortilla wraps with soup - frozen chicken fingers, wrapped up in flour tortillas with left over salad mix, shredded cheese and ranch dressing, soup from the pantry.

Sunday: Prime rib roast with roasted cauliflower. Roast from the freezer (a good deal in December, I bought a couple), cauliflower from the fridge.

Monday: Stew with mashed potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Beef from the freezer, part of my cow from November, with the last of my pantry potatoes.

Tuesday: Spaghetti with meat sauce. Canned tomatoes and pasta from the pantry, either ground beef or sausage meat (or both) from the freezer.

Wednesday: I'm out tonight so the boys are on their own, hot dogs and fries, both from the freezer, including the buns.

Thursday: Stuffed chicken breast (freezer) with sauted veggies (freezer).

Friday: Lemon shrimp pasta. Lemon from my counter, shrimp from the freezer, pasta from the pantry.

While it isn't likely that next week's plan will involve not a single grocery trip, as I will need fresh fruit by then, I'll likely continue the freezer part. I've got an idea where I can get some good pork, but only when I take out a turkey and some other items from the freezer first.

For now, this is my submission to this week's Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Why I love the "I Hearts Cooking Clubs", but not Nigella

I was a regular contributor to Tyler Florence Fridays. Loved cooking with Tyler, loved the interaction of TFF and the ladies hosting. And I was unhappy that TFF was going to be ending, sad that I would not have the extra incentive to find the time to cook outside my list of regular dishes and get back to my blog.

When the "I Hearts (I can't find the symbol for a heart) Cooking Clubs" came up, this should have been my cue to jump right in with a new chef and have some fun. I wanted to, I really, really wanted to.

But the chef of choice was Nigella Lawson, and I have problems with that.

Nothing personal against Nigella. She is a beautiful woman who is entertaining to watch. Some of her recipes look stunning, some scream out to me to be tried.

But I have never had any luck whatsoever with her recipes. None at all.

Take this one, my choice for this week's theme of "Potluck":

This is supposed to be Easy Sticky-Toffee Dessert, found on page 216 of Nigella Bites.

Looks disgusting, doesn't it?

And it is the best of the two I made.

This was my second try at this recipe, in 12 hours. I made it last night, after dinner, and realized I'd made two mistakes with it almost immediately. First, I miss-measured my flour slightly, but not by a huge amount, and second, my pan, which had the right capacity, was not a good shape for this.

Still, I persevered and put it in the oven. Forty five minutes later, I had slightly bubbling water in a baking dish with something sludgy underneath, but no "springy and spongy" dessert. Thirty minutes later, the same.

I tried again this morning, more careful with my flour, different pan to give it more surface area for the boiling water to seep through the batter and make a sauce.

After more than 1 hour in the oven, I took it out and used a spoon to try and let some of the water get under the "cake", and then let it sit on the counter to meld together some.

Spooning it up looked like this:

Not very appetizing looking, and frankly, boring to eat. No toffee flavor at all, despite all the

I may try something else from Nigella again, something savory where if the conversions are off, it won't destroy the recipe and create something awful.

For now, this is my contribution for the potluck party at I Hearts Cooking Club.

Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman: Veggies a cowboy eat

In this round of Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman, Muneeba and Debbie chose the very general theme of salads and vegetables.

Did you know cowboys ate veggies other than corn on the cobb from the bbq? And salads? Do cowboys really eat salads?

It's been awhile since I lived in Alberta and spent alot of time on a farm, with horses, cows, chickens and turkeys. And, yes, cowboys and cowgirls.

I was neither a cowboy or a cowgirl back then, though I was a tomboy, and from what I recall, those cowfolks ate just about everything, including salad.

Despite knowing this, I went vegetable and made PW's Pico de Gallo, along with her Guacamole, found on paes 16 -17, and pages 20-21.

Ree does a fine job of detailing this very simple recipes, so I'll follow her cues:

About equal amounts of tomato, onion and cilantro.

Enough jalapeno for flavor for the hubby and I, not so much that the kids run from the room screaming in pain.

Just imagine I took a picture of my seasoning this bowl with salt and squeezing lime juice on it. Then testing it with a tortilla chip, a black corn one. Tasty!

Ignore the funky shape of my corn tortillas - I don't own a tortilla press and this was the best I could do with my rolling pin and my 7 year old helping me.

My pico de gallo, along with the guacamole, made with the pico de gallo, sat on top of a rib eye steak I had seasoned with cumin and chili powder, before grilling to medium rare, thinly slicing and mounding on top of a Monterey Jack laced tortilla. Yummy!

Poor hubby, though. He had to work late, and homemade corn tortillas do not sit well, so they weren't so yummy by the time he got home. Fortunately I had some flour tortillas in the freezer, so he got yummy for his lunch the next day, except for the guacamole.

I ate it with tortilla chips for my lunch instead.

Menu Plan Monday: I have time off this week

My usual Monday to Friday schedule has been changed slightly this week, due to various appointments, so I will actually have some time to do some baking and cooking during the week. While my freezer in no way will accept my premaking and freezing a few items, not without exploding, my family can benefit from my spending some time in the kitchen.

Because today, Monday, is one of the days I am going to have off, my husband is off the hook for making dinner tonight. He's going to work late instead.

So here is this week's submission to Menu Plan Monday:

Sunday: Braised Beef Ribs with mashed potatoes and sauted carrots. (Sorry, no recipe as my 7 year old and I just threw some stuff together after dredging the ribs in seasoned flour, browning them and then throwing them in a pot. We put a can of diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, fresh thyme and fresh bay leaf with the ribs and baked them for over 1 1/2 hours.)

Monday: Steak fajitas with corn tortillas and homemade salsa.

Tuesday: Pasta with sausage and tomato sauce.

Wednesday: Turkey stuffing burgers (I didn't get to this last week, so am trying for this week.)

Thursday: Pork chops with stuffed baked potatoes.

Friday: Whatever night.

Have a good week!

Menu Plan Monday: Is it summer yet?

Last week was a complete bust for me. The nasty cold/flu I had before New Years just would not go away and I ended up missing more work, being home sick. Even now, days later, I'm still coughing and feeling it in my chest. I am so ready for the cold weather to be over, taking with it all the winter weather illnesses that go with it.

Last week was our first week trying menu planning with my husband cooking during the week. We learned a few things from it: he isn't that comfortable in the kitchen anymore, and he has said he can't think of meal preparation and planning in advance. This wasn't an issue when he was only responsible for one meal a week and that meal was on Saturday, but since he is now making meals during the week, right after work, some planning and preparation is necessary.

We've reached a compromise on it for now - I will continue to plan the meals and get what's needed for him, so the planning part is done, and until he is more comfortable in the kitchen, I will also provide him with instructions. Yes, this does still involve work on my part, but alot less, and it will still keep both our stress levels down.

Let's see how things go this week!

Sunday: Pork roast with apple and fennel salad, green and yellow beans.

Monday: MYO pizza. I've bought premade crusts and toppings, they will make their own pizza to taste.

Tuesday: Penne with tomatoes, garlic and chili.

Wednesday: Lemon and garlic marinaded chicken breast with leeks and broccoli.

Thursday: Grilled cheese and soup.

Turkey stuffing burgers. Recipe to come later.

As usual, things are subject to change based on circumstances, including the whether: whether or not I feel like making and/or eating that particular item that day....

Do you have you own menu plan for Menu Plan Monday?

Foodie Fans of The Pioneer Woman: Cowgirl Food that everyone will love

I have to admit - I was a fan of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, long before she came out with a cookbook, so I was thrilled when my copy of the book showed up in the mail. I ignored my family and ran off with my new book, curled up in my bed and spend the rest of the night reading.

Some cookbooks are more fun to read than others. This one was too short for me. Or I read it too fast.

Either way, just about everything in it looked great to me (except the Sangria, I just don't get Sangria.)

I wasn't especially surprised when a blogging group came out celebrating this book and PW Ree. How can you not? Between the food and the "easy on the eyes" cowboy photo's, this book was bound to have fans everywhere!

I'm just a little late in getting into joining this lovely group, Foodie Fans of The Pioneer Woman, established by Muneeba, of An Edible Symphony, and Debbie, of A Feast for the Eyes, who have decided that this round up's theme is Cowgirl Food.

If you have your own copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, you know there is a section called Cowgirl Food, pages 194-209, where Ree provides recipes for things that Cowgirls love and Cowboys pretend not to love.

I chose to make creme brulee, a "low fat, no calorie" treat for my hubby, in belated celebration of his birthday (I was sick on his birthday and he was out at tkd with our boys.)

My only problem with this dessert was the little torch I have to brulee with - it was a thoughtful gift from my grandfather and hurt my hands trying to keep it on long enough to brulee the tops of these little babies.

Actually, I had another problem - eating more than two of these (my ramekins were much smaller than Ree's, I got 14 out of the recipe, just a few more than she did,) is overwhelming, but they are so good you want to eat more!

I'm hoping to be able to join in with this group on a regular basis, assuming I can remember to take pictures of the recipes I have made from this book.

Thanks Debbie and Muneeba for taking on the job of hosting and giving me an excuse to get the camera out again!

Menu Plan Monday: "Oh the weather outside is frightful....."

Do you think I'm doing a little wishful thinking with my choice of badge for this week's Menu Plan Monday? Well, I am. With the snow continuing to pile up around me, I can't wait for nicer weather. And it's only January. (Oh boy, am I in for a let down!)

To answer some questions from my lovely winter pictures, yes, BC, that is indeed the bbq I set fire to this summer, that has still not been repaired (if it can be) or removed or replaced. So, no, I don't have a cover for the bbq, as the bbq is essentially dead. Bbq's that have had a fire extinguisher taken to them are not generally good for cooking food on.

It does, however, look quite pretty all covered in snow. Snow, now, not ice. Lots and lots of snow. I mean lots.

So no salads or cool weather eating for this family this week, not with winter fully surrounding us!

We are making a slight change to how we do dinner, with me working until 6pm every night, and the hubby taking over the after school activities. I've always made dinner during the weekdays, asking only that hubby be responsible for dinner on Saturdays. Well these days Saturdays is one of the few days I get to cook, so instead he is going to make dinner on Monday and Tuesday, I'm going to start dinner for Thursday that he will finish off before he takes the kids to music, and I will be responsible for the rest of the week.

This may not end up working out for us, and will make a change to how I menu plan, but for now, this is what we are going to try.

Sunday: Pork loin chops in honey garlic sauce with rice and sauted carrots and bok choy. Sauce needed more honey.

Monday: Roast beef. Not sure what else he's making, but I know he's making roast.

Tuesday: Hamburgers, homemade.

Wednesday: It is the hubby's birthday, but we are going to wait until the weekend to celebrate, so tonight I will surprise him with something.

Thursday: Crock pot chicken.

Friday: Shortbread waffles with fruit. Just cause they are tasty and fun and I suspect by Friday I will need it.

Happy Birthday Mom

My mother's birthday is within days of Christmas. Not the best time of the year to have a birthday, being so close to a holiday.

For years my Grandparents made sure my mother always had a good birthday, and that she always received at least one gift, along with having a special dinner.

This year, however, they aren't well, and I knew that if I didn't do something, my mother would not get her traditional dinner of Hawaiian spare ribs and rice.

Now it isn't my fault my mother chose to have prime rib instead of spare ribs. Can you blame her?

I did, however, make her the cake she has had for years: an angel food cake, layered, with a lightened custard, served with strawberries.

I've watched my grandmother make this cake for years, so I knew what to do, but still made a few modifications. My grandmother always bought the angel food cake, I made mine from scratch. My grandmother used Birds Eye Custard powder, lightened up with whipped heavy cream, I made a pastry cream, with lots of vanilla bean seeds in it, lightened up with whipped heavy cream.

My mother would have been happy if I'd have just given her the cream and a spoon.

It isn't fancy. Actually, when put together, it isn't even pretty. But it sure tastes good.

We had to cut our visit to my mother short (I'm sick as can be, still, and really not looking forward to trying to work tomorrow,) but at least we were there long enough to carry on some of the birthday tradition.

Custard Cake

1 angel food cake (store bought is fine, if you don't want to make your own), cut into three layers
1 recipe for custard, below, cooled
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp sugar
Sliced fruit of your choice (my family has always used frozen strawberries, defrosted with a touch of sugar, as well as canned, sliced peaches in light syrup, though I admit I skipped that this year.)

Whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla until it is light and fluffy, being careful not to over whip. Fold the cream into the custard, until well mixed.

Place the bottom layer of cake on a large platter, one that will contain the custard that will fall off the sides of the cake. Spoon 1/4 of the custard on top of the cake, spreading slightly. Repeat with the next two layers. Use the last 1/4 of the custard to try and "ice" the sides of the cake.

If there is any left over, place it in the middle hole of the angel food cake.

Or use your fingers to lick the bowl clean.

To serve, put a slice of cake on a plate or in a bowl, and top with your choice of fruit.

(I know, it's pastry cream, but my grandmother calls it her custard for her banana cream pies, and who am I to argue with her about it?)

1/4 cup corn starch
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk, scalded
3 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla (or the seeds of one vanilla bean)

Mix corn starch, sugar and salt together in a medium pot. Gradually add milk. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until all the sugar and cornstarch has been dissolved and the milk is hot.

Add a ladle full of hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Whisk the egg mixture back into the hot milk in the pot. Continue to cook for approximately 5 minutes, still stirring, until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Remove from the heat and add in the butter and the vanilla, whisking well to incorporate.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

To use for banana cream pie, pour into a pre baked pie shell that has been lined with slices of banana, then top with slightly sweetened whipped cream.