The Happy Birthday post

I'm going to get alot of milage teasing my sister-in-law about this, but I'm sure she knows it is all in good fun.

It is her birthday tomorrow, but we were going to be seeing her Friday, when she would be going for the hike in the woods with the boys, all 3 of mine, plus hers, followed by some kind of diner at our home. Earlier in the week I had asked her what she would like for her birthday desert, basically giving her carte blanche to ask for whatever she would want. The last two years she has asked for my apple crumble, made with caramel sauce drizzled over the apples instead of regular sugar, and extra crumble.

This is where the teasing comes in.....

She asked for a McCain Deep and Delicious frozen cake.

Or a vanilla cake mix cake. With canned icing.

I couldn't do it! I just couldn't do it! (Though I did buy her a McCain cake to bring home.)

Instead I made brownies. Ooey, gooey, chocolatey, fudgy, rich brownies.

Which I topped with chocolate and caramel ice cream.

Then I made a ganache sauce to go over top of the ice cream, because obviously the brownies and ice cream needed more chocolate!

The brownie recipe was the recipe I usually make, found on the Kraft website, One Bowl Brownies. I have never included nuts in my brownies, mostly because I don't like them there, and these were no different. Though I did have to make one little change - I accidentally bought some good semi-sweet chocolate instead of unsweetened, so I just reduced the sugar a bit to make up for it. They still turned out the same, full of rich, chocolatey goodness.

The chocolate sauce I made by combining good quality milk chocolate chips with a touch of cream, which I melted together in the microwave for 30 seconds. I stirred them together until the sauce was smooth and glossy, for about a minute.

Added together with the ice cream, it was chocolate nirvana.

In the end I think she was satisfied with her birthday dessert, plus she got to bring home her favorite type of cake.

Enjoying lunch out by myself

While enjoying my afternoon at the farmers market yesterday, I took the opportunity to treat myself to lunch out. Lunch that didn't involve french fries, lots of ketchup, and toys. A grown up meal with lots of, but unusual flavors.

The Mexican food at Calendario Azteca called to me. It said, "If you like us, you may want to make us at home! But you need to come try us first!"

The menu to this little restaurant is not huge, but includes Mexican staples such as tacos on it. Though not Taco Bell style tacos that most people are familiar with. Despite it's size, I could not decide what I wanted! So I asked for a recommendation from my waitress and ended up chosing Mole Rojo enchilladas.

It wasn't the most appetizing plate, with the dark beans and the mole sauce, made from roasted peppers, roasted nuts, spices and chocolate, but it sure was tasty. The side dish of rice had a nice little bite to it, and matched up well with the fried beans.

It is amazing how relaxing a lunch can be when you are on your own, your food is hot, and you are free to enjoy your magazine (a food one of course!) The only thing that would have made it better would have been lunch with my husband, while we were both reading our own magazines.

Taking the afternoon off

For the past few months my husband has worked a compressed workweek. It has meant late nights for him, but has also given him every other Friday off. This week he was very enthusiastic to go for a hike in the Gatineau Hills with the children, his sister and her husband.

I wasn't so thrilled with this idea, so opted instead to have him drop me off downtown to spend the afternoon at the ByWard Market.

By myself.

With no children.

Camera in hand, and with my backpack for carrying goodies home, at first I wandered the stalls to see what everyone was selling, to enjoy the colors and smells, from the tents of beautiful flowers, to the freshness of the fruits and vegetables. A leisurely pace, stopping frequently to just look, take a picture.

Of course there was the usual finds of carrots, brocolli, cauliflower and beans. Bright and beautiful, even for everyday vegetables. Trays of multi colored peppers included white and purple varieties as well as the usual green, red, yellow and orange (though the vendor I had would not let me mix and match colors, which is very unusual.)

The season for fresh berries is coming to an end but you couldn't tell from the displays of bright red raspberries, which sat next to a table covered in organic blueberries, fresh picked from Sudbury, only a short drive away from where my husband and I grew up. (I can still remember picking and cleaning blueberries with my grandmother when I was a child - I'd rather buy them from the farmer instead!)

A few rare finds among the produce - orange and purple cauliflower. The orange having been cross bred with carrots to produce a sweeter cauliflower, the purple bred with red cabbage. The purple is not sweet, instead having a peppery bite, almost bitterness to it. But oh so pretty to look at!

One vendor sold this cauliflower in bags, allowing for a mixture of regular, purple and orange, with a touch of brocolli. I opt for the bag with no "normal" cauliflower, and plan a veggie tray as part of dinner later that evening.

Another unusual find, Ground Cherries, looking a bit like tomatilos, though smaller. Inside the papery skin a small, light orange colored "tomato." The flavor is bright and vibrant, with a mild sweetness to it. I bring home a small basket to share with my family, expecting that I may be the only person who will eat them. (My three year old loves them, but the others choose not to try them.)

In the end I had to limit my purchases to what I could carry, but still was rewarded with a rainbow of freshness.

And I got home in plenty of time to prepare a little birthday dinner for my sister-in-law, which I will post a few pictures of later!

I need to go shopping again

This time for bread pans that aren't the disposable kind.

Those pans worked just fine for me when I was only making the occassional banana bread recipe. They cleaned up faster and better than my stoneware pan and were the perfect size to make two loaves out of one recipe.

You see, I had these bananas. Just two of them, not the four I would need for my regular banana bread recipe. They were spotted and quickly turning brown, just perfect for bread, not so good for straight eating. I found a recipe that looked good and only took two bananas. It called for mini loaf pans but included cooking time for a regular bread pan. The kind I didn't have.

What, oh what, is a girl to do when the bananas are calling to be made into moist, delicious bread, when there is no bread pan to be found?

This girl made a cake instead.

A bundt cake.

Or more specifically, a banana blueberry bundt cake.

(Admit it, you expected me to make muffins.)

This cake took longer to gather ingredients than it did to mix it up, it was that easy to do. And while it used the creaming method, instead of creaming butter or shortening with the sugar, it used vegetable oil. No fancy spices or nuts called for in this "cake", just the natural goodness of bananas and blueberries.

It baked up light, moist and delicious. The flavors of the fruits married well with each other, neither being overwhelming. While it was good warm, it was even better the next morning for breakfast, and would go wonderfully with a soothing tea.

Bad news though. I can't figure out where I put the recipe. It came from a cookbook (which is currently buried under a bunch of other ones), however it was part of a section that had fallen out of the spin, which sometimes happens when you only ever open a book to one specific page (for a variation of banana bread, apple sauce bread.) When I find the recipe again, which hopefully will be soon, I'll post it here. And if I can find the rest of the book, I'll post the title of it too. I've been making alot more than my usual one recipe from the book, so it can't be far.

These aren't the pork chops he was looking for

In my ongoing quest to add variety and find new recipes, I decided to try this recipe from the June 2006 issue of Cooking Light magazine, Pork Chops with Country Gravy (page 200 for those who have it.)

I had planned ahead for some of the meal by preparing extra mashed potatoes on the weekend when I had made a slow cooker pot roast, with the intention of mixing those mashed potatoes with a bit of garlic, sour cream and cheese, then baking it together until it was warmed through and the cheese was melted in the potatoes. Then I added more cheese to the top and gave it another few minutes to get gooey.

I rounded it out with some steamed brocolli tossed with a touch of butter.

I enjoyed the pork chops, they weren't over cooked, were flavorful, as was the gravy, without being heavy or rich. However my husband ate it, but it did nothing at all for him, so I think he'd be happy if I didn't make this again. Oh well, the quest continues.

Sorry about the picture quality, my batteries must be running low. Plus there was steam coming off the plate when I snapped this shot, so I'm sure that didn't help.

I actually forgot to take a picture!

I've had a couple of sick kids around here this weekend, who weren't really interested in eating anything. Then my husband started showing similar symptoms to the children. A change in menu plan was definitely in order: greasy, homemade hamburgers were not a good fit for 3 boys who were having a hard time with food. What I needed was soup, warm, soothing and comforting.

What I chose was Asian Meatball noodle soup, a recipe I'd recently seen made on Fixing Dinner on the FoodNetwork, the show based on the Cooking for the Rushed cookbooks by Sandi Richard.

Long before I ever saw this show I was already preplanning my menu in advance, sometimes with a grocery list. At my peak (and I've not been so good lately), I would write out a weeks worth of dinner ideas, some from cookbooks, in one notebook, while I wrote down the specific grocery items I would need for those plans in another, being sure to include what day of the week I would need the exact items. As a stay at home parent I had more flexibility to go to the grocery store more than once a week, so I preferred getting the veggies and fruit I would need for those later in the week recipes when I needed them, later in the week. Course now I have a great market at the end of my street so I this is more convenient, but unfortunately too often lately I have done my menu planning by day, frequently choosing what to make while I was standing in that market. It really is much better for my budget when I do the advanced planning.

Back to the soup!

This recipe is actually for a slow cooker soup, which I will attempt to do the next time I make it as I do plan to make it again, however I made it on the stove top. It was a bit spicy (though neither of the children were interested in any food, so it didn't matter) but very flavorful and hearty. The instructions didn't say anything about cutting the snow peas, so I didn't, but next time I would slice them up into smaller pieces to make them easier to eat, and I think I would also add some julienned carrots.

It wasn't exactly my favorite soup, Pho, but it was fairly close. Try this instead of chicken noodle the next time your family is under the weather and in need of some warming, comfort food.

Happy Birthday Lisa

I made another one of those Died and Gone to Heaven chocolate cake for a friends birthday, at her request.

I think she was pretty happy, and our chocoholic friend was also happy, able to eat TWO pieces of it. (I think I'd go into sugar/chocolate/richness shock before I could do that, and I am a junkfood-a-holic!)

It is all my son's fault!

I didn't do much baking this week, but what I did was prompted by my three year old's request that I finally use his cookie cutter.

A few months back I had taken him with me to one of my favorite kitchen stores and told him he could pick a cookie cutter, expecting him to pick either the car or the truck one. You have to understand, this child is vehicle crazy. He loves his cars and trucks. It was completely natural to expect him to pick one of those. But no, he decides to go another way all together.

He chose the dog bone. My son, who is afraid dogs bigger than poddles might eat him, chose a cookie cutter shapped like a dog bone.

He was quite proud to leave the store, paper bag in hand, holding his cookie cutter. And one for his brother, shapped like a maple leaf.

So this week I baked sugar cookies, at first making equal amounts of dog bones, maple leafs, and hearts. Later, with the last 1/3rd of the dough, I just made dog bones. The kids seemed to like them so much!

As a result of this silly little cutter, I've decided to start collecting a few more cookie cutters, all of them silly and fun and inspired to make the kids laugh when they eat their cookies.

Afterall, if you are going to make rolled cookies, shouldn't they be fun too?

Two entrees, one blog post

It's been a busy couple of days, lots of housework, getting the back to school stuff purchased and organized to avoid the last minute rush. Hence I'm going to do a short synopsis of the last few days.

After my meal time neglect this last weekend (okay I didn't totally neglect my family, but they didn't eat well or healthy, though I didn't hear complaints about it), I felt a need to make them a proper meal on Monday but admit I was still unable to come up with any good ideas for what to make. My brain was still in non-functioning mode.

Sometimes this kind of brain freeze results in a quick, throw-the-pizza-in-the-oven type meal. This time, however, I had company in this state, in my neighbour, who also couldn't think of what to make for her family for dinner that night. So we went shopping together, off to our local Farm Boy, with all of our children in tow.

I ended up picking our recipe for the night, though I don't know where this meal originated from, it is just something my mother used to make occassionally, pork chops in tomatoes and mushrooms with cheese.

Sautee some pork chops, whatever kind you like, though I find the bone in, slightly fatty kinds give more flavor, having seasoned them with salt, pepper and a bit of dried oregano. When they are browned, set them aside and sautee up some chopped onions, garlic and sliced mushrooms (canned actually works fine here if you don't have fresh.) Season with salt and pepper then add a generous amount of dried oregano to the vegetables. When you can smell the oregano, pour in one can of diced tomatoes, with juices and mix well. Add the pork chops back into the pan, covering with the tomato mixture. Bring to a boil - you want to reduce some of the tomato juices and cook the porkchops through at the same time. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes for this, and you don't want to overcook the pork. You have to trust that your pork chops are cooked through even though they show pink in the meat - afterall, you are cooking them in tomato juice so they are bound to pick up some color. (This is another reason to go for the more fatty, bone in style chops - they are more forgiving of being over cooked than a leaner cut, which will dry out much more quickly.) When the chops are almost done, add generous amounts of sliced or shredded cheese (mozzarella and cheddar work best here) over the chops and cover just long enough to let them melt. Serve with rice to soak up the sauce and the cheese.

I served mine with corn on the cobb, though really it would be fine without an extra side.

(Sorry about the picture - I was in a hurry so didn't get a chance to clean the plate or present it better. With two hungry kids waiting impatiently for their dinner I'm lucky I was able to get a picture at all!)

I wasn't suffering from the same lack of ideas for Tuesday's dinner, though I was limited to the parameters of pre-soccer, easy to digest, high energy, style. And I inspired my neighbour to make the same thing this night as well, Pasta Insalata Caprese. Having tried the salad and not been wowed by it, I still wanted to try the pasta version. I still had some basil left over from my garden, so I purchased some fresh cherry tomatoes and little balls of bococcini.

Again, I wasn't wowed, I wasn't even thrilled by this. I think it needed garlic, alot of garlic, and after a few bites from this bowl, I added a huge amount of grated parmesan cheese. It needed it.

The bococcini was good, all melted and goey, though once it cooled off it was rather rubbery. The tomatoes were okay, a nice brightness in what was otherwise a bland pasta.

Oh well, next time I'll just make regular spaghetti before soccer.

No pictures for last nights dinner though. Last night we went and enjoyed dinner at the yearly Greekfest. If you live in the Ottawa area be sure to get there - it ends on the 20th but will be back again next August for 3 weeks of food and music.

Now to figure out what I'm going to make for dinner tonight, the last soccer night of the season!

Playing caterer

A good friend of mine decided to host a brunch for her parents combined 60th birthday, inviting all their friends and family into her home to celebrate. Many months ago she asked me to help her with the food. Of course I said yes. My chance to not only help a friend out, but do so doing something I like to do, cook and entertain.

We did a bit of advanced planning with her mother to set the menu, choose what she wanted and what they felt their friends would enjoy. In the end we decided on quiches, spinach and cheese as well as simple cheese quiches, caesar salad with homemade dressing, layered dip, bagels with cream cheese and lox, and some pre-frozen finger foods that were favorites of her father and put on the menu at his request, pigs in a blanket and vegetable egg rolls. I also added puff pastry with asparagus as another finger food.

This was to be a casual brunch, but would involve over 40 people, so we chose to simplify desserts and drinks by offering fresh cut fruit to dip in a chocolate fondue fountain, my lemon bundt cake, both to eat as is and also presented to people could dip it into the chocolate as well. Guests would be given a mimosa to drink upon arriving, with a single raspberry floating in the mixture of champagne and orange juice. We would also provided a fruity punch, coffee and teas.

The centerpiece of all of this would be a chocolate cake, with chocolate icing, the requested dessert of my friends father. I knew just the recipe I wanted to make for this.

As the "cook" of the two of us, I took on the responsibility of making those items that would be made from scratch: the quiches, and both cakes. My friend is very trusting of me - she asked me to make those items but did not specify recipes, allowed me to do my own shopping for the ingredients, and would wait and see what I provided when I showed up on party day. We checked in with each other frequently on our progress, so while she did a massive house cleaning, I went shopping and then set out to mess up my kitchen. (And both our husbands were charged with the task of keeping our children out of our way!)

First up on my to do list were the quiches. Keeping them both vegetarian was a deliberate choice. Three of each kind, I was to make spinach and cheese quiches. I started out with the spinach, using premade deep-dish pie shells for six pies. (We wanted them to look pretty as well as taste good, and I can't do that with pie dough. Yet.) Frozen, chopped spinach was thawed, drained, and then sauted up with onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of nutmeg. Once divided into the pastry shells, the spinach was generously covered with a hard swiss cheese then topped with a mixture of eggs, milk and cream. A light sprinkling of old cheddar was the finishing touch.

For the cheese only quiches, I decided on a combination of 4 cheeses, old cheddard, a sharp white cheddar, mozzarella and again that hard swiss cheese (whose proper name I cannot remember how to spell, so I'm not going to.) This time I added a sprinkling of nutmeg into the egg/milk/cream mixture.

Below you can see a picture of my spinach quiches cooling, along with my next item up for baking, the lemon bundt cake.

The lemon cake was to be served along with the chocolate fondue, so I chose not to put on the lemon glaze that is called for in the recipe. This is the same cake I made here.

In presenting this cake, I decided to provide the guests with a choice, leaving a few slices of the cake on the platter for those who wanted just a bit of cake without the chocolate fondue. It must have been a good choice as I refilled that section of the plate twice.

The cake itself was a nice compliment to the chocolate fondue, not too lemony and just bright enough to still be flavorful against the dip.

The next item I chose to make was asparagus and puff pastry. My friend and I had seen this in a magazine earlier in the summer and both thought it looked wonderful. But neither of us could remember which of my many magazines it came from, and I never found the recipe.

How hard could it be? It called for puff pastry layed out flat, topped with fresh asparagus, and sprinkled with cheese. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't very good either.

So I tried a different method. Puff pastry, layed out flat and then cut into strips, sprinkled with cheese, the rolled around individual spears of asparagus, baked until golden. A bit of a chore to make as the pastry warmed up and stuck to the parchment, and the cheese needing to be pressed down into each piece of pastry, but in the end, this is what I had wanted to achive from this combination of ingredients. It was light, crispy, with no one flavor dominating the little morsel. And it must have been good because it went fast, fast, FAST!

The "piece de resistance" of the party would be my chocolate cake, the special request of the guest of honor. After all, no birthday party is complete without some cake!

I had a recipe in mind for this, Died and Gone to Heaven chocolate cake, from the Looneyspoon's Eat, Shrink and Be Merry cookbook. Yes these ladies provide healthy and low fat recipes, but just this once they decided to give their readers a little treat, to be eaten on that rare, rare occassion, such as for your 60th birthday.

The recipe starts with 3 cups of sugar. Just for the cake, not including the icing. It goes on to add chopped unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder, making 3, 9-inch layers of cake. The icing itself involved more chopped chocolate, this time semi-sweet, whipping cream, more cocoa, butter and cream cheese. The end result was a chocolatey cake that was not overwhelmingly sweet, and a smooth icing that could easily be chilled into a fudge, but a fudge that would not make your teeth itch from the sugar rush.

I chose to decorate this cake for a grown up, sprinkling more shaved chocolate along the sides (and washing way too much chocolate off my hands along the way,) as well as a layer of curled white chocolate on top. And I learned that I need alot more practice at curling chocolate as I was unable to get very that didn't fall apart into slivers.

I was very pleased with how this cake came out, and how it looked in the end (slightly lopsidded is not only allowed, it is required to show that this is a homemade cake made with love.) I recieved many compliments from the cake, the guests of this party were very generous in their praise.

In the end the party was a success, with both guests of honor happy, and the hostess happy and relaxed (without too messy a kitchen or a house afterwards.)

I wish I had taken more pictures, especially of the ice ring I made for the punch (layers of ice, whole cranberries and sliced oranges, which worked beautifully at both keeping the punch cold and looking pretty), however I was a bit busy keeping food topped up, a hard task when 40 people decide they are all going to stand in front of the food to chat, leaving no room for anyone to get through!

Someone suggested, both before and during the party, that I should have made up some business cards for myself, promoting myself as a caterer. I never did end up doing that, though it is something I will have to give some more serious thought to in the future. For now I was just happy to help out a friend and to have the opportunity to show off some of my creativity and abilities to a crowd of hungry people.

Note: A few other people took pictures, at least of the cake, so if I end up with some later, I will post them as well.

Eating a rainbow

More balance, ying-yang, going on in my kitchen.

Again a healthy dinner balanced out the unhealthy snack I had made earlier in those chocolatey cookies. This time it was a stir fry full of colors.

This simple stir fry consisted of julienned baby carrots, broccoli florettes, strips of yellow and red peppers, snow peas, red onions and minced garlic. Isn't it a pretty pan of colors?

I added in some hoisin sauce and tossed the veggies with soba noodles. All it was missing was a sprinkling of seasame seeds, which I didn't happen to have. Oh well. The vegetables all still had a bit of crispness to them, while the noodles were soft and soaked up the hoisin sauce.

Hope everyone else had as colorful a dinner as we did.

Being neighbourly - Tripple chocolate chip cookies

That is my excuse and I am sticking with it!

We've had a few new neighbours move in the last week or so, one directly next to us, one a few doors down. Big changes for us. We really liked our neighbours, and since we live in a townhome, that is essential, especially since they have access to our yard to get to theirs, and we share a drive way.

I decided to welcome these two sets of neighbours with some baked goods, specicifically more cookies.

Okay really I had 1/2 a pound of butter at room temperature on the counter, needed to do something with it and just needed a good excuse to make more cookies.

(Have I mentioned I'm really, really having alot of fun with my new mixer?)

Pulling out my trusty little blue book of hoarded recipes, partially to put away all the new print outs, I came accross one of the first cookie recipes I had ever made and copied out. It was called chocolate chippers and I think I wrote it out from a Company's Coming cookbook when I was in high school. Seemed like a good recipe to make, old fashion chocolate chip cookies. With a small change or two, that is.

My hand written recipe had one note on it already, cutting the chocolate chips down from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups. I seem to recall that 2 cups was just way too much - so much that you couldn't really taste the cookie part of it.

My new small change involved what type of chips to put in. Hence the new cookie name, tripple chocolate chip cookies. And I admit, that came about partially because I had three open bags of different types of chips in my baking cupboard and didn't feel like going to my basement pantry to get the full bag I had there. And I also didn't find the fourth kind of chips until after I had already started, otherwise I might have gone with four kinds. (Insert evil grin here.)

Oh and for those interested, the mixture of chocolate was semi-sweet, milk and white. And the fourth kind was butterscotch.

My poor husband, leaves work with one kind of cookie in his lunch, comes home to another. What is a poor marathoner to do? (Have another cookie of course, what else did you expect?)

Cookies were good, not too chocolatey despite the tripple. And they made good ice cream sandwiches too.

My new neighbours were both quite pleased when I presented them each with a plate of mixed cookies.

Incidentally, one of my other neighbours could smell my cookie baking and has happily given me leave to bake for her any time I want. I wonder how far out into the neighbourhood the smell of those cookies travelled?

Made to order

Despite all the cookies and pies and cakes I've been making lately, I do generally try to feed my family in a more healthy, balanced way. Sitting down at the table to eat together as a family is important to me, and while I'd rather my children eat homemade junk (that I can control what when into), they don't eat sweets all the time. I do try to provide a variety of foods and food groups and teach my children about healthy eating habits and the importance of nutrition.

Because I knew I would be making cookies earlier in the day, I preplanned a healthier dinner for the family, made to order pizza using home made whole wheat pizza dough.

The kids love it when I do pizza like this. They get to pick and choose their own toppings, and personalize their own pizzas. Plus they get mini sized pizzas, just the right size for them.

The topping choices for this little pizza party were pepperoni (a must with children), black forest ham, pinapple, roasted onions, roasted zuchinni, fresh tomato, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and goat cheese. Each dough was drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with garlic, dried basil and oregano. I think a few of the pizzas ended up with a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes too.

Presented with their dough ready for them to "decorate", the boys eagerly set out to sprinkle their own herbs, spread their own pizza sauce, and pile on the toppings.

My youngest son went for pepperoni and mounds of cheese. As an afterthough, he added a few pieces of pinapple.

My oldest child got brave, adding a few small pieces of tomato and onion in addition to his usual pepperoni, ham, pinapple and cheese. Eating it afterwards he announced that tomatoes were great on pizza, a big deal since he generally will only eat tomatoes in ketchup or spaghetti sauce.

My husband went for just about every topping, choosing only not to have parmesan and goat cheeses and zuchinni. Advanced planning on my part, he got to make two pizzas: one for dinner and one for his lunch the next day.

I chose to go the vegetarian option, which I seem to do fairly often when I make homemade pizza. First some mozzeralla cheese, followed by zuchinni and roasted onions. I didn't realize until I'd started getting the toppings for the children that I had forgotten to buy myself some mushrooms. A pitty, but I could live without my favorite fungus. A bit more mozzaralla followed by chunked up pieces of goat cheese and grated parmesan cheese.

Pizza night went over well, as it usually does. It was the first time I'd made my own dough (recipe below). I think for the next time I will replace a bit of the whole wheat flour with some regular all purpose, though I didn't hear any complaints from the children about having an all whole wheat crust. And I know I will be having a make your own pizza party dinner night again.

The recipe for the pizza dough comes from The Laptop Lunch User's Guide and was included the the Laptop Lunchbox system I recently bought for my oldest son for school. You can learn more about Laptop Lunch boxes here. I likely will end up having posts in the future about some of the things I make for this lunch box, not dissimilar to The Vegan Lunch box (the first blog I really got into, despite not being vegetarian or vegan.) I've already been asked to make this pizza for his lunch in September.

Mini Whole-Wheat Pizza Rounds

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 2o minutes
Preheat oven to 475F

1 cup lukewarm water
1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablesppons extra-virgin olive oil
3-5 cups whole-wheat flour (I don't see how you could get 5 cups of flour into this as I had a bit of a hard time getting 3 cups to mix in)

In a large mixing bowl, combine water and yeast and stir well to dissolve.
Let stand for 5 minutes.
Add salt and olive oil and beat well.
Add 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour and beat until smooth.
Add 1 1/2 cups more flour and stir as much as possible.
Turn onto a floured board and kneed dough until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Divide dough into five equal balls.
With a rolling pin, roll to flatten, using additional flour to prevent sticking (I didn't need any extra flour.)
Place on cookie sheet or pizza pans and let rise for 20 minutes. (I didn't see any difference in the dough after a 20 minute rising period.)
Bursh lightly with olive oil, leaving an un-oiled border around the edge. Sprinkle with minced garlic and fresh herbs. Spoon tomato sauce onto surface and then top as you please.
Bake topped pizzas at 475F for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is firm and golden.

Keeping the family happy

I'm having alot of fun lately with my new mixer, trying different things, making things I might never have made before, such as bread and pie dough. (Actually I have bread dough in it's first rising right now.)

My family is certainly not suffering from this bout of experimental cooking that I am doing. Though waistlines may be!

This time round I decided to try a cookie recipe that I'd seen on Bakingsheet, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. An easy to make recipe, using the creaming method, that would produce a large amount of chewy cookies. The best and only way to eat oatmeal cookies.

I had long been planning on making a cookie using white chocolate chips and dried cranberries, but hadn't found the recipe I wanted to try them in. I admit I didn't look too hard to find an actual white chocolate, cranberry cookie. I knew I read enough blogs and recipes that sooner or later one would show up. This recipe seemed to be the right one. It already had chocolate chips, so I knew the white chocolate chips would be a reasonable substitute, and raisins and cranberries are interchangeable any time.

Time to bake!

This recipe makes a good amount of cookies, 4 dozen or so. Which is a good thing as it contains a full cup of butter, and a full cup of each white and brown sugar. Yes there is 2 1/2 cups of oatmeal in it, and dried cranberries are a healthy addition, but they aren't exactly a health food cookie.

The cookies baked up flattish, spreading out wide on the parchment paper to a golden color. I pulled them out of the oven while they were still a bit soft in the center, resulting in a soft, chewy cookie rather than a crisp on. I prefer crispness in my crackers, not in my cookies.

Sadly I doubt I will be able to test the shelf life of these cookies as they were a huge hit with my family and won't last long.

I've already made a few notes on my printed copy of the recipe, including: KEEPER! This one will be going into the cookie section of my blue book and I'm sure I will make it again and again for my happy to be experimented on family.

Yesterday was a busy day

It was supposed to rain all day yesterday. It was hot and muggy, and the entire Ottawa area was under a severe thunderstorm warning (which didn't end up even starting until after 9:30 at night.)

Having had a busy day with the kids the previous day, and taking into account the weather, I decided to spend my day puttering around my kitchen while the kids played in the house. I took alot of pictures of things I played with, and some of it was just play.

Instead of doing my usual post of, "I decided to try this recipe out, here is the picture, here is how it went," I'm going to post a bunch of the pictures from yesterday, maybe even a recipe, with little blurgs about them.


Peach and blueberry oat muffins. (From the 2004 Milk Calendar)

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
1 1/2 cups chopped resh, frozen or drained canned peaches (I didn't have enough for 1 cup so added wild blueberries in for the difference)

Prehead oven to 400F. Lightly butter or spray non stick muffin pans. In bowl, combine milk and oats, letting stand for 5 minutes. In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmet. Whisk egg, borwn sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon rind into oat mixture. Pour over dry ingredients and sprinkle with peaches (and blueberries). Stir just until moistened. Spoon into prepared muffin pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and firm to the touch. Let cool.

Makes 12 muffins.

Chopped garlic.

"Yummus" hummus with steamed green beans. (Recipe for "yummus" from Eat, Shrink and be Merry, by Greta and Janet Podleski.)

Olive oil with drops of balsamic vinegar.

More olive oil play.

Banana cream pie

I made this using the left over pie dough I had from the lemon meringue pie a few days ago. I sliced bananas into the bottom of the cooled shell, covered the bananas with custard made using a custard mix, then topped the custard with freshly whipped cream. Yummy!

Dinner out with the girls

Monday night was Girl's Night Out.

No men.

No children.

Just us girls, chatting, eating and having fun without having to deal with our children.

It is our one evening where we are sure to eat our meals while the are still hot, and don't have to reach accross to cut someone's meat or dash off in the middle of dinner for yet another drink.

One of the unwritten rules of Girls Night Out is to try not to repeat a restaurant that we've been to before. So Monday night we headed out to try Milestones Bar and Grill.

I'll apologize in advance regarding my pictures. Milestones has "intimate" lighting for each table, so it was dark, which meant every picture required a flash, which my dining companions can tell you was very bright.

Most of us are not known for alchoholic drinks, so we started our evening with some non-alchoholic versions of some funky twists on traditional summer drinks.

Blood Orange, non-alchololic Mojitos. Also available in Passion fruit and Prickly Pear flavors.

Described by one woman as a perfect summer drink.

Pomegranate Margarita, served on the rocks, without the alchohol. Also available in Blood Orange, Prickly Pear, Passionfruit, Traditional Lime and Strawberry.

This is more my idea of a perfect summer drink. Cool yet slightly tart. Very refreshing. I could have drunk 3 of these easily.

Milestones Famous Hot Spinach and Artichoke dip, served with fresh cut salsa, sour cream and red tortillas chips.

Tastier than it looked, though what purpose the salsa and sour cream served, we don't know. Alot more chips than were needed for this smallish portion of dip.

Signature Roasted Garlic Caesar Salad.

See that brownish blog near the top of the salad? That is roasted garlic. There is another blog hidden under the dressed romaine leaves. A lot of garlic. Too much? Not for me! And no mere grating of fresh parmesan cheese but generous shavings.

Certified Angus Beef 8 oz Top Sirloin, fire grilled, served with tiger prawns simmered in a Brazilian Lime Sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

This was the main course for three of the four women that evening. (The one woman who didn't order it is allergic to shrimp so had the steak without the shrimp.) The steak and shrimp were both cooked to perfection, the steak a mouth melting medium rare, the lime sauce a smooth accompaniment. The garlic potatoes, however, were blah, boring potatoes with no garlic flavors. The seasonal vegetables were boring green beans with strips of white onion, both steamed, a smallish piece of red and yellow pepper each, also steamed, also boring. It was edible, but if you like fresh vegetables, and I do, it was a sad end to what should have been fresh and vibrant side.

Ganache Torte, with pecan crust, served with caramel sauce.

What this torte lacked in strong chocolate flavor, it made up for in richness. The pecans seemed a bit overwhelming to me, but then I didn't order this and only tasted it, so it wasn't there to please me.

White chocolate cheesecake.

Cheesecake is normally my go to dessert as I love it in just about any form. Had I not had my eye on something else already, this would have easily satisfied me. It was creamy and rich, not too overwhelming in white chocolate.

I'm sorry to say I can't remember what the name of this desert is! A chocolate lava cake, topped with vanilla ice cream, caramalized goats milk, whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

I was debating between this and the butterscotch pot au creme when the server said this one had oozing chocolate in the center. That was the kicker, mind made up, I'll have one of those please! Every bite of this warm cake was wonderful, the flavors mingling together to melt into your mouth. The contrast between warm cake, soft, cool ice cream and room temperature caramel worked perfectly. My desert plate was empty, and I'm sure I could have eaten another even though I was quite full.

All together Milestones was a pleasant night out. The prices were high, the music too loud but despite that, we girls had an enjoyable evening out, and not just because we got to leave our children at home with their fathers.