An empty plate is a great compliment!

Every once in awhile I get creative. It usually involves paper and kids crafts, or icing and a cake, but sometimes it involves dinner.

I don't do it too often because some of the people I feed are picky and usually refuse to eat whatever I've been creative with. No matter how good it ends up being.

Despite this, I got creative with dinner, and made bbq'd meatball skewers. And when I said that dinner involved meatball skewers, I got some looks. Some "that is weird" and "are you serious?" looks.

The meatballs I had made in advance, mixing ground beef and finely diced onions together, and baking them off on the broiler pan in the oven. I made alot of meatballs and froze most of them in ziploc bags for future meals. The rest I saved for the bbq.

Threaded on soaked bamboo skewers with red pepper slices, red onions and pineapple chunks, the skewers were grilled over a medium heat on the bbq, turned frequently, before being basted with the sweet meatball sauce I had made to go with them.

Served with a side of steamed jasmine rice tossed with green onion slices, these fun kabobs went over well with 2 of my 3 picky eaters.

They both even had seconds.

Sweet Meatball Sauce

1/8 cup vinegar
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons juice from pineapple*

*The pineapple juice does not have a specific amount as it was the juice that had collected in the bottom of the container of peeled and cored pineapple I had bought. I simply used all the juice that was there.

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot and stir to combine and break up any cornstarch lumps. Heat to a gentle boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Keep warm.

Meatball skewers

red onion chunks
red pepper chunks
cored and peeled pineapple, cut into largish chunks
precooked meatballs - homemade is best
Sweet Meatball sauce, warm

Alternate the onions, peppers, pineapple and meatballs on a soaked wooden skewer. Place on grill of bbq that has been preheated to medium heat. Turn frequently so that all sides get a chance to caramelize. When red peppers seem cooked, baste with warm sweet sauce, turning to be sure to baste all sides.


Daring Baker's August Challenge - This time I mean it!

When Veronica and Patricia announced this month's Daring Baker's Challenge, my heart skipped a few beats.

Milk Chocolate...THUMP.... Caramel... THUMP... Tart...THUMP!

Chocolate and caramel and tart, OH MY!

I'm not a big fan of dark chocolate, but I love a good milk chocolate. Combine it with the sweet, sticky goodness that is caramel and you have to have a winner. Push my boundries and tell me to make a tart, something I'd been considering doing for awhile but had not yet done, and I could have given both ladies a kiss!

Yes, I was excited.

The recipe seemed very straight forward and not very complicated. So up it went in it's place of honor, tapped to my kitchen cupboard doors, and off I went to gather my ingredients.

First I was going to need some chocolate.

Think I will have enough for later? :-)

The crust for the tart is a chocolate and hazelnut cookie dough, made a day in advance and left to chill. Seeing as hazelnuts are on the banned list in my home, I was allowed to remove the hazelnut from the crust and able to replace it almost measure for measure for more flour. I was careful to add the flour gradually, just in case I wouldn't need the same amount, and as a result, used 1/4 cup less flour than the recipe called for. So pretty close to measure for measure!

I was thrilled with my success in modifying the crust, almost too thrilled. Everything rather went down hill from there.

Now that the challenge is over, I can tell you why that happened. Having reread the recipe several times now, I can tell you this recipe was badly written. It claims a 40 minute preparation time, a 30 minute baking time and a 1 hour refrigeration time.

Those times are highly unrealistic.

As usual, I made the recipe more than 1 time. I admit, I only made one batch of the shortbread crust, but as it made enough to make 3 tarts, I didn't need to make a second batch. (In retrospect, I should have made a second so I could eliminate the cinnamon, which we were allowed to do by then.) I had to make a second try as my first one was awful! The caramel seized when I added the cream in, but careful stirring over low heat eventually melted them together. The flour clumped when I added it to the eggs and had to be strained into the caramel mixture.

As the recipe times and instructions were not clear as to how cool, or for how long, the caramel needed to be cool before the eggs were added, I had to figure it out on my own. I tempered my eggs, just to be sure, then ended up straining the caramel and egg mixture into the tart shell before I baked it.

Fifteen minutes was not long enough to set the caramel. Neither was 20. But by then I was worried I was going to burn the caramel and took the tart out even though it had not set.

Yes, I let my tart cool before I added the chocolate mousse, but not to room temperature. Remember that 40 minute preparation time from the recipe? And the 1 hour chilling time? Well those didn't take into account time to allow the caramel to cool, time to allow the tart to cool, only time to let the mousse set once it was one the tart. So it was not surprise that my mousse seemed to melt slightly into the caramel.

Doesn't it look appetizing?

Taste wise, it was interesting. A friend described it as a chocolate bar on a crust base. I can't say chocolate crust base though, as all I could taste was the cinnamon, which overwhelmed the caramel and chocolate flavors.

Did I mention I'm not a big fan of Hershey's milk chocolate? Kinda makes that huge bar seem like a silly purchase, but I had forgotten I didn't like the aftertaste of the Hershey's chocolate when I bought it. Fortunately everyone else seems to like it, so I am down to about 1/2 of the chocolate bar through other use and the boys will all eat it straight.

Having been totally unimpressed with the first batch, I decided to make it again. Surely if I managed to get the caramel to set, the tart would taste different?

This time, instead of using a tart pan and making a large one, I decided to make mini's using my regular muffin pan. The dough did not like being rolled out for the tart pan, so for the muffin's, I didn't. Instead I took a piece, smooshed it flat and then pressed it up the sides of the muffin cups, being sure to make it even across the bottom and sides. Then I docked the heck out of them and blind baked them, giving me 12 tart cups to work with.

While they cooked, I started on the caramel base. Taking the option given to use by Veronica and Patricia, I started this base with 1/4 cup of water with my sugar, forgoing the dry heat method of making caramel. My cream stood ready at the side, almost at room temperature, and my eggs sat in a bowl, also coming to room temperature.

Having reached the color of amber I wanted for my caramel, I added the room temperature cream into the hot caramel, waiting for the bubble. And sure enough, the caramel seized again! Then bubbled and hissed as the cream seeped through the sugar to the bottom of the pan. Just like last time, careful stirring over a lower heat melted the caramel and cream together, before the butter was added. And then I walked away.

When the caramel mixture was cool enough, I gradually added the egg mixture, pouring it in through a strainer. Who wants flour lumps in their caramel? Not me, that's for sure!

I baked the muffin tarts for about 25 minutes, until they were mostly set and then let them cool to room temperature before I even started whipping the cream and melting the chocolate.

I loved the look of the mousse when I pipped it into the tarts, smooth and chocolaty. It needed a touch of decoration, but not much. The rustic edges of the crust went well with the swirls of mousse. A sprinkling of toffee pieces was all it needed to give it that finishing touch.

Flavor wise, I still had a hard time getting past the taste of the cinnamon. It overpowered the caramel and chocolate. The set layers allowed tasters to get a bit of everything in a bite, which was a much better way to enjoy them than the floating cloud of mousse on the sea of caramel.

I learned a few things making this recipe - mostly to follow my instincts when they tell me that something is missing from the recipe. If I end up making it again, I will omit the cinnamon and up the cocoa in the crust slightly. I will also not use Hershey chocolate for the mousse but instead find something that I like the flavor of on it's own before I mix it in with cream.

Many thanks to Veronica and Patricia for hosting this month's challenge! Yes I had my ups and downs with it, but no Daring Baker's challenge has been without some yet!

Be sure to check out the rest of the Daring Baker's posts - if you don't know who they are, follow the Daring Baker's Blogroll link and look them up!

I can't wait to see what September brings us! Though I really hope it isn't macaroons cause I think I am macarooned out for awhile!

Daring Baker's August Challenge - Sorry folks, I'm going to be late with it!

The Daring Baker's are posting like mad today, revealing the August challenge and all their trials and tribulations with the recipe!

I, on the other hand, spend a good part of the day driving home from picking up my children (who were visiting with Grandmama while Mommy went to PEI for a wedding - a few pictures of that later.) And so far no one has given me a computer that will let me do my post while driving safely, so my post did not get written today!

Check back tomorrow, thought, and you will find how I dealt with this months' challenge, including pictures! :-)

More macaroons

After my success with the Pistachio Macaroons, I decided to try again, just to see if the first time had been a fluke. I didn't have the luxury of no children around me this time, so knew my window of opportunity would only be as long as they stayed distracted somewhere else.

Since Helen had been the provider of my first recipe, I went back to her for this one as well. Only a few changes to it - I did not have the cute little pink and white candies that she did for the topping or the filling. And the white chocolate I had on hand did not want to melt in the warm cream. So I left my pink macaroons naked on top, and filled them with a milk chocolate ganache instead of a bright pink white chocolate ganache.

No one seemed to mind at all.

It looks like the first batch was not a fluke afterall!

Want to make these macaroons? Go see Tartelette!

"But it's APPLE salad!"

These are the words my 4 year old kept repeating to his brother, over and over again, at dinner. It seemed to bother him immensely that his brother did not want to eat any of my salad!

Actually, he didn't want to eat any of dinner, neither the salad or the ribs. He did eat the slices of cucumber I had put on his plate though, hedging my bets that he wouldn't want to eat the salad and should probably have some kind of veggie.

Eventually he agreed to take a bite, one small sliver of fennel, liked it, and helped him self to a little bit of the salad. He also tried his ribs, enjoyed those, and even took another piece later.

The funniest part though, was his moaning over what I had made for dessert, grilled peaches with lemon honey cream, how he didn't like peaches! Until he took a bite. Then inhaled the rest. Then asked for another. Then asked if he could have what was left over!

What do you know, Mom can cook something, other than spaghetti, that he likes!

The salad came about as a result of a brain storm while wandering the produce section of my local store, trying to decide what to make as a side to two racks of spare ribs. My initial thought was something that would go well with a honey garlic glaze for the ribs, but then I decided I wanted a dry seasoning instead of sticky, and a bit more oomph than honey garlic would provide. Montreal chicken and rib seasoning gave the ribs the flavor I wanted, and matched well with the bright crispness of the apple, fennel and citrus salad.

Apple, Fennel and Citrus Salad

2 royal gala apples
1/2 head of fennel, reserving fronds
1/2 small red onion
1 small orange (I only had 1 clementine on hand so used it)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Grate the zest of the orange into the bottom of a large bowl. Juice the orange and add it to the zest, then add the rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil in a stream, until all the ingredients are combined.

Wash, quarter and core the apples. Slice thinly and immediately add the apple slices to the dressing, tossing to coat the apples and prevent browning.

Thinly slice the fennel, the fennel fronds, and the red onion and add to the bowl with the apples. Toss all together then serve.

This salad was even better the next day!

Grilled Peaches with Lemon Honey Cream

4 ripe peaches
1/2 cup whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons lemon honey

Cut peaches in half and remove the pits. Place cut side down on hot bbq grill and walk away. In 3-5 minutes, the peaches should have beautiful grill marks and have softened slightly. Remove from the grill and leave cut side down on a plate until ready to serve.

Whip the cream just until stiff peaks begin to form. Continue to whip slowly while adding in the lemon honey. Taste and add more if necessary.

If desired, remove the skin from the peaches, which should slip off easily. Top peach halves with the sweetened honey and enjoy!

Grow your own 2007.... Sorta

This event, hosted by Andrea of Andrea's Recipes, is such a good idea! Showcase a recipe you've made with your own home-grown produce! Show off your beans, your onions, your green tomatoes?

Okay, my green tomatoes! My not even close to being ripe, green tomatoes.

And my teeny, tiny baby broccoli, barely visible in it's outer leaves.

Guess who planted their garden a bit late this year?

With one exception....

I found this yesterday while watering my garden, hiding underneath the mountain of vines and leaves that have escaped my garden wall and are decorating my back fence.

Isn't it a beauty?

I've never grown pumpkin's before, but this year decided to try it as a spring experiment with my children. They lost interest in the project right after the seeds sprouted in their little greenhouse at the kitchen table. Neither child noticed I had actually moved the little seedlings out into the back garden until I pointed out how they were doing back there.

By the time we came back from vacation, there were vines all over the place, and yellow flowers started to open.

So no recipe for me, yet. The tomatoes are still growing on their vines, the pumpkin (a Jack-0-Lattern type, not an eating type) is getting bigger and bigger, and the broccoli is slowly, oh so slowly, growing still.

Here's hoping some more of these beautiful yellow flowers turn into more pumpkins, and I eventually get to eat a vine ripe tomato from my own garden.

Looking towards Paris

Macaroons are all the rage in Paris right now. At least that's what both David and Dorie tell me in their blogs, and I've seen it a few other places too.

But what do you do when you can't get to Paris to try Pierre Hermes macaroons?

Well if you can't convince Tartelette to come visit you and make them for you, then you use her recipe to make some of your own!

I think I was very intimidated making these, despite the increased confidence I've had in my baking abilities since becoming a Daring Baker back in January. Before I even tried, I badgered Helen with questions about conversions and what type of nuts are used - are they toasted or raw? Should I buy my pistachios with or without shells? Won't you please come make them with me?!

I even planned it out to make them on a morning when both my children would be away from home, so I would not have to worry about being distracted by them, or little hands trying to get in to help.

Despite getting conversions from Helen, I actually decided to try the recipe using her measurements, in grams, instead of in cups. While my scale is quite horrible, it was sufficient enough to use for this project. (Somewhere on my kitchen wish list is a digital kitchen scale, but for now, I work in cups and usually pull out the scale for chocolate.)

In the end, it took more time to grind up the nuts in the processor then it did for the entire balance of the recipe. Everything came together quite well and easily, and the cookies piped nicely onto the parchment lined trays. I probably should have made my mounds a bit larger, and it seems I could have given them one or two more turns of the spatula before I started piping, but aside from that, I apparently did them right!

By the time I was done, I had 39 beautiful little green macaroon sandwiches, and a bowl full of chocolate ganache!

Thanks for all the help Helen! I think I need to go make the other recipe you game me now, the one for the pink macaroons!

Oh, and a note for my husband.... No, this does not mean I don't still want to go to Paris. Someday.

***Note*** The only change I made to this recipe was to omit the ground ginger from the ganache. I knew my family would prefer the plainness of the ganache to the ginger.

Pistachio Macarons, adapted from Stephane Glacier.

Makes 35

225 gr powdered sugar
60 gr almonds
65 gr pistachios
3 egg whites (about 100gr)
green food coloring (optional) (powdered is better)
25 gr granulated sugar

In a food processor, run the nuts and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Run through a sieve if needed.
Whip the egg whites until foamy, slowly add the granulated sugar, until they are glossy. Add the green food coloring if using.
Slowly fold the nut/sugar mixture into the whites with a wide spatula. The mixture should remain shiny and flow easily.
Fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment lined baking sheets.
Let the macarons rest for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 315 and when they are ready, bake them for 12-15 minutes.
Let cool, remove from the paper and fill with the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache Filling:

8 ounces (227 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
1 tsp. ground ginger

Place the chocolate in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the ground ginger. Let cool to room temperature and use as desired.

Think Spice.... Think Cumin!

Sunita, a fellow Daring Baker, is hosting her first ever Blog Event. Good for you Sunita!

The topic of her first event should be pretty obvious from my own posts title, but just in case you missed it, CUMIN!

I have not been able to keep up with the tonnes of blog events available to me lately, no matter how badly I want to. But as cumin has to be one of my favorite spices, I had to find a way to participate in this one!

I didn't preplan this, I simply jumped on the opportunity to add cumin when we ended up with plans to have friends over for a bbq. Burgers are a favorite of the bbq, with recipes available everywhere, ranging from simple to highly complex. I like simple and very rarely look up a recipe for making burgers.

So no recipe, simply a mixture of lean ground beef, chopped red onions, lots of dried cumin (lots!), salt, pepper and a sprinkling of chili powder for a bit of a kick. Served on a fresh cheese bun with Monterey Jack Jalapeno cheese, fresh salsa and fresh guacamole.

And while I don't normally serve more than a salad with hamburgers, this time I had to take advantage of my friends bounty of zucchini and summer squash, from her CSA box, and see if I could add more cumin flavors to our meal. The result was the beautiful veggies tossed in a dressing made from lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and more cumin, then grilled on the bbq next to the burgers!

While the cumin really jumped out of the burgers (oh yes, they were good!), it was much milder with the veggies, providing a nice balance.

Thanks for giving me a chance to make something with my favorite spice Sunita! Looking forward to next month's spice to see if I can expand my spice world!

Keeping my 4 year old busy

Summer for a 4 year old who has started school has been a little tough. He's so used to being at work with me (at a preschool program), and being at school, that all this free time is too much for him.

Add to that the fact that his brother is old enough to do off up the street to play with friends, but he is not, and you have a grumpy little boy. And frankly, there is only so much Hard Hat Harry I can take!

So when his brother went off to play road hockey up the street last week, leaving him behind with me, there were tears and anguish from a little boy who felt left out and a bit bored. The tears dried up instantly when I offered to have him come help me do some baking, though.

Our decisions on what to make together came down to a few things - what recipes looked good to us in Dorie's Baking from my Home to Yours, and what recipes in that group we had the ingredients on hand for. We came up with two - Blueberry Sour Cream Ice cream, prepping it for the next night, and Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler (page 415), from then on designated as dessert for that night.

We had to pick two - getting the ingredients together for the ice cream, and making the base, would take us less than 10 minutes. And that's with my little guy running of to find his chefware and standing on a chair with my "squidger" to get the juice out of the lemon.

For a 4 year old who had never done it before, he uses a reemer very well and only lost a little bit of juice to his apron.

Think I have a little chef in the making here?

Next to twisting the lemon, his favorite part had to be turning the food processor on to puree the blueberries and sour cream together, while looking down the food tube to see things mix. Tasting the base to check for sugar had to be third on his list of favorites.

With the ice cream base off in the fridge, we headed out to the garden to pick some rhubarb, dropping the leaves into the composting. A big bowl of cherries awaited us in the kitchen, waiting impatiently to be pitted. I'm with Alton Brown though, not a fan of uni-taskers that don't get used often, such as a cherry pitter. So I don't own one.

Did you know that little fingers make the best cherry pitters?
I guess I own few sets then, don't I? :-)

Pitting a pound of cherries takes alot longer than throwing together a base for ice cream. Which makes it perfect for distraction baking! Add to that getting to turn on the food processor again, for making the cobbler dough, and you have one happy little chef!

The cherry rhubarb cobbler was good, but not really my thing. I would rather have eaten the cherries straight from the bowl. Perhaps if I had had some ice cream, I might have liked it better, but I suspect I would have just liked the ice cream.

While it didn't really do anything for me, my 8 year old inhaled his, my husband enjoyed all of his, with a touch of cream, and the little chef? Well he loved the cobbler balls, dipped in the juices of the fruit. Wasn't so fond of the fruit though - maybe he and I both disliked the ginger in the fruit.

The next night the blueberry sour cream ice cream made it into the ice cream machine, just in time to be shared with my brother and mother. The recipe did not make a large batch, especially not with 3 very hungry boys waiting to have some!

We didn't tell anyone about the sour cream in it, waiting instead to see what reaction the ice cream received before we suggested there might be a bit of a tang to it. Personally, I didn't taste one. I tasted wonderful blueberry creaminess!

Blueberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream
by Dorie Greenspan Baking from my Home to yours

1 cup blueberries - fresh or frozen (if frozen, thaw and drain)
1/3 cup sugar, or more to taste
pinch of salt
grated zest and juice of 1/4 lemon or lime or more juice to taste
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sour cream

Put the blueberries, sugar, salt and lemon zest and juice in a medium nonreactive sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture boils and the berries pop and soften, about 3 minutes.
Turn the berries into a blender and whir until you have fairly homogeneous puree, about 1 minutes. (It will never be completely smooth, and that's just fine.) Add the heavy cream and sour cream and pulse just to blend. Taste, and if you'd like, add a squirt more lemon juice or a tiny bit more sugar.
Pour the custard into a bowl and refrigerate until it is chilled before churning it into ice cream.
Scrape the chilled custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturers instructions. Pack the ice cream into a container and freeze for at least 2 hours, until it is firm enough to scoop.

End of Week One summary

Well I have come to the end of my first week of a cash only budget and have a bit of money left over.

A whole $9.51.

I think I found a penny somewhere, because according to all my receipts and my notes I should only have $9.50 left. :-)

My spending for the last week breaks down like this:

Groceries $171.04
Misc. $119.46

Included in the misc items are two birthday gifts, the remaining school supplies, things that don't fit anywhere else. Oh and both boy's allowance.

On to week two!

No take out pizza here tonight

With no pizza Friday's from school each week, my kids have not been getting their regular supply of one of their favorite foods.

Pizza is not that difficult to make on your own, but does involve a bit of advanced planning and time. Which is probably why I am more likely to pick up a walk-in special pepperoni pizza on a Sunday afternoon for lunch. Sure, not as healthy as making my own, but quicker and sometimes even less expensive.

It's summer, however, which means no working outside the home for me, no running off to pick up children from school, and a break in our usual taekwon-do schedule. Lots of time to pull out the mixer and throw together a batch of dough, or two!

And while the dough is rising, prepping my ingredients. The children, of course, will not even consider eating anything but pepperoni and cheese. Sometimes when we do make your own pizza, I can convince them to try other toppings, like pineapple, or broccoli, or ham. Sometimes even one strip of red pepper. Usually strategically placed to look like a happy face.

While I usually go vegetarian when I make pizza for myself, occasionally I want meat - lots of meat! And this time, when I set out to make pizza, I wanted lots and lots of sausage!

Okay, I also wanted veggies too, but not the usual broccoli, red pepper, mushroom, red onion toppings. The mushrooms could stay, but with a change, sauted up with garlic and butter first, and mixed in with fresh spinach, also sauted with the garlic butter mixture!

While I was at changing things up, I decided to change up the shape of the pizza as well, turning it right side in and making calzones instead of flat pizzas!

At the last minute I also decided to add some slices of a mild Provolone cheese in addition to the Brick-Mozz blend I had on hand.

Baked up to a lovely golden brown, these calzones were HUGE! I had half of one for my dinner and the other half cold for lunch the next day. It was just as good cold as it had been warm on my plate.

Soon summer will be over, work will begin again, and unless I manage to think ahead and prepare some dough in advance (freeze it into balls maybe?) it's likely that pizza from scratch meals will soon be replaced with make your own pizza on a store bought pizza shell. So I'd better enjoy it while I still have the time to pull out the mixer and let flour, water and yeast rise up into a wonderful dinner!

Crusty Pizza Dough
From the KitchenAid Stand Mixer Instruction and Recipe Book

1 package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water, 105F to 115F
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add salt, olive oil and 2 1/2 cups of the flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer, turn to speed 2 and mix for about 1 minute.
Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to the hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on speed 2 for about 2 minutes longer.
Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place, free from drafts, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down.
Prepare pan, oiling bottom and sprinkling with cornmeal. Press dough across pan, or roll out for calzones. Add toppings, as desired. Bake 450F for 15 to 20 minutes.


Trying something different

I work on a two week budget and do my budget banking through Presidents Choice, where I am not charged for each and every debit transaction I make.

Which is good, because I live with my debit card! I use it everywhere! My having cash is a rare thing and usually happens because I know I am going somewhere that doesn't use debit, like a farmer's market.

I ran into a banking problem a few months back that essentially cut me off of my bank account (no fault of mine, though,) and left me debit cardless and without any cash. I couldn't get at my money at all and ended up doing my grocery shopping on my empty credit card for more than a week.

Not how I like to do things!

I've decided to try something different for awhile though - going strictly cash and keeping every receipt I get.

With that in mind, when my budget started yesterday, I withdrew what I had earmarked for this week in cash and started tracking.

Lucky me I had already done most of the back to school supply shopping, so there wasn't that much spent on those items, though I did have to get a birthday gift for a party my youngest is going to this weekend.

Do you have any idea how fast cash spends? Here is my bill from this morning's trip to Farm Boy to show how quickly things add up:

baby watermelon $2.99
English muffin package of 6 $1.69
4L of 1% milk $4.59
2 English cucumbers @ $0.88 each - $1.76
10% table cream (on sale) $1.99
Wonder Bread $2.19
Lite Sour Cream $2.59
Lean Ground Beef (on sale) $8.52 - I plan to make a big batch of meatballs for the freezer
4 Russet Baking potatoes $1.99
Spinach bunch $1.29
Broccoli $0.99
3 lemons $0.99
Haas Avocado $0.99
Whole Wheat Paris Toasts $1.99
Medium Cheddar $3.08
Havarti Cheese $2.47
2 bagels $1.10
pint of blueberries $2.99
4 golden kiwi $1.98
Mussel $1.19
Black Plum $0.47
White Peaches $1.08
2 packages of raspberries $5.00

Bag credit 6 @ $0.02 each - credit of $0.12

Total spent with credit - $53.80

I wanna be a Browniebabe!

The lovely Myriam is once again hosting her monthly Browniebabe event, where someone's delectable brownie will win a lovely Browniebabe apron!

Even though I have lots of aprons, I would not object to adding this lovely one to my collection. So when Myriam asks, who wants to be the next Browniebabe, I must answer.....

Memememememe! (hehehe)

I wanted to do this for the first two months, but with school and work ending, then our holidays, I just could not find the time to make much of anything. I'm sure my blog showed that.

But vacation time is over, I am home with the children, and have a bit more time for baking and experimenting. With the beautiful weather, we've been able to have friends over more often, and I've enjoyed being able to make desserts for them.

Now I have one question - is it cheating that my brownie also involves cheesecake?

Technically this is a recipe for a low fat chocolate cheesecake on a low fat brownie base. The recipe actually calls for using a low fat boxed brownie, but that would never do! Instead I followed the recipe for the cheesecake portion, but subbed my basic brownie recipe for the bottom instead. Making them mini's provided a form of portion control.

Shockolate Cheesecake

From Janet and Greta Podleski of Eat, Shrink and Be Merry

  • 1 x box (15.5 oz/440 g) low-fat brownie mix (such as Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies) I subbed this brownie recipe for the boxed, low-fat recipe. My brownies are NOT low-fat!
  • 2 cups 1% cottage cheese
  • 1 cup light sour cream (not fat-free)
  • 1 x pkg (8 oz/250 g) light cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces (170 g) semi-sweet chocolate squares, melted and cooled slightly (see Tip)
  • 1 cup fat-free egg substitute or 4 whole eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • Melted chocolate for drizzling (optional)

Shockolate Cheesecake

  1. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Prepare brownies according to package directions, baking in springform pan instead of regular cake pan. Brownies should bake in 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. Remove pan from oven and reset temperature to 325ºF. Set brownie crust aside to cool slightly while you prepare filling.
  3. To make filling, whirl cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese in a blender until perfectly smooth. Scrape out mixture into a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, sift together sugar, cocoa and flour.
  4. Gradually add sugar mixture to cream-cheese mixture and beat on medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat again, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat just until eggs are incorporated into batter.
  5. Before pouring batter over crust, lightly grease sides of pan. This will help prevent cheesecake from cracking as it cools. Pour batter over brownie crust and smooth top.
  6. Place on middle oven rack and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Cake will be puffed up and center will jiggle slightly when pan is shaken.
  7. Turn off oven, open oven door halfway, and leave cake in oven to cool for 1 hour. Remove from oven, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cake from sides, and cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  8. To serve, remove sides of pan, slice thinly (it’s rich!), and serve with fresh raspberries and chocolate drizzle, if desired.

One Bowl Brownies
from Kraft Canada

4 squares Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup toasted pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Microwave chocolate and butter in a large microwavable bowl on high for 2 minutes, or until melted. Stir in sugar until well blended; mix in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts, if using.

Spread mixture in lightly greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Do not overbake!

My notes:
Instead of using the springform pan, I used individual paper cups for each brownie base. I filled them 1/4 full and had a very large brownie base. I had so much left over brownie batter that I made two bite brownies mixed with M&M candies for the children, who aren't fond of cheesecake.
After filling 18 mini brownie bases with the cheesecake, I had enough batter left over to still make a full sized cheesecake. Since I had used the brownies somewhere else, I made a quick graham cracker crust for it - and let me tell you, you want the brownie base for this cheesecake! It makes a HUGE difference in the taste and texture of the entire recipe!

Dinner is served!

I'm such a multi-tasker.

For example, I made this meal while I was sitting in a coffee shop, sipping iced green tea, with Janet.

No, using my slow cooker in July does not mean I cheated! I just made use of a very valuable asset in my kitchen. It doesn't come out much in the summer but sometimes it is nice to be able to throw something in it and go have iced tea instead of standing over the bbq in the heat.

My children like vegetables, but aren't that fond of potatoes. They only like rice if it comes with a sauce. So I skipped the starch for this meal and made extra veggies.

Sweet Pork Roast

2-3 lb pork loin roast
salt and pepper
splash of apple juice

Add together in a slow cooker, throw on the lid and turn on to high. Come back 3 hours later and check on roast. If it starts to shred with a fork, it's time to take it out!

Strain left over juices into small pot, then heat over high, allowing to boil for several minutes until slightly thicker and syrupy. Pour over pot roast.

Serve slices of roast with the extra sauce and a side of apple sauce.

Herbed Corn Saute

4-5 ears of corn, steamed or boiled until crisp tender
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh chives

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tablespoon or so of butter and equal amount of olive oil.

Using a sharp knife, remove corn from the cobb and add to pan with melted butter and oil. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, being careful not to add too much salt.

Saute over high heat, coating all the kernels with the fat. The corn will begin to let off a lovely odor and will begin to brown on some of the kernels. Be sure to move the corn around alot in the pan so that as many kernels as possible get some browning.

Finely chop a small bunch of chives. You want about 2-3 tablespoons. Toss the chives in with the corn, give them a quick mix, then remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.

"Special" Broccoli

1 large bunch of broccoli, stalks removed and cut into florets
fleur de sel

Steam broccoli until crisp tender then drain. Heat large skillet over medium high heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of butter, being careful not to brown the butter. Add the broccoli and toss with butter, giving a quick browning and caramalization to the broccoli. Remove from heat, and place broccoli into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve.

I'm being spoiled! Blogging By Mail Package #2!

Yes, I know I just blogged about my package for Blogging by Mail yesterday, but I have another one today!

Now normally I wouldn't receive two packages, but as Stephanie told me a few weeks ago, there was a tiny little problem, and as a result, I ended up with two packages rather than the one. Considering it was in my favor, I didn't argue with her, but instead, got two surprises in the mail!

And what a surprise I got today! Just look at this!

This package came from Los Angeles, California, thanks to Rachel of Fresh Approach. Rachel's latest blog post says she is taking a hiatus from blogging (once she has blogged about her own package), but hopefully it will be a short one and she will find happiness in her blog again.

Now back to my little package!

The customs label on it said candy, but what it meant was CANDY!!!! :-)

Okay, a few non candy items, like Peppered Soy Jerky, and Spiced Dried Mango, and Sweet and Spicy Herbal Tea, as well as Wasabi Peas, plus my absolute favorite, a little whisk key chain!

What an adventure this gift is turning out to be!

I admit I don't know what the little White Rabbit candies will be like, but I am really looking forward to these Marshmallow Caramel from Sur La Table!

Also included were two bars of dark chocolate and some lemon honey sticks - my children went just wild over the idea of lemon honey sticks!

Thanks so much Rachael!

And an extra big thanks for Stephanie!

Blogging by Mail!

Well despite the address being off by a number, my Blogging by Mail package came yesterday!

And if you thought I was excited, you should have seen my children, who were jumping up and down, wanting me to open it at the post office, then in the van, then before I even came through the door with it! In contrast to them, I was a model of cool and serenity - and honestly, when am I ever serene? :-)

For those of you who don't know, this version of Blogging By Mail is being hosted by Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness! I think it looks like it is alot of work and am not sure I would want to host it, but sure am glad when someone else does! Thanks Stephanie!

So back to the package....

My package came by way of South Carolina, courtesy of Renee, who's blog is The Beauty of Gray. Thanks Renee!

It was a bit difficult to get a good picture, especially with those kids trying to get at everything all at once, but I tried. And here is a list of what was in my package:

Two of Renee's favorite recipes, one for English Trifle (her grandmother's!) and one for Taco Dip
A small witch, celebrating her favorite Holiday, Halloween.
Gevalia Green Tea
Four books: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Brown; Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; a book from the Andy Griffith show, and a cartoon book on the differences between cats and dogs.
A package of Lemony Snicket postcards and matching pencil.
A package of Extra Polar Ice, Renee's favorite gum.
A copy of two of Renee's favorite Gene Kelly movies, The Pirate and Summer Stock.

Thanks again Renee - the kids tore into the books, but left me the tea and the movies. :-)

Herb Fest 2007

This past weekend we had planned on going biking as a family, until I spotted this on the scheduled events for the day. HerbFest 2007.

It had been listed as a free event but wasn't - $2 for parking and then $5 a person to get in, $15 for a family. Upside - children were free so we only paid the $10.

Honestly, considering I was going in to buy things, I wasn't impressed about having to pay to get in. Especially since I didn't feel there were enough vendors for the price, especially if you ignore the vendors that sell creams, incense and oils. Not edible oils, herb infused "healing" oils. Ugh.

Still, I spent too much money buying lots of little goodies, and took alot of pictures. Here are a few I took.

I almost bought one of these plants, the Chocolate Mint, simply because it fascinated me.

We missed the Weed Walk (that is my little boys blue crocs under the sign) but took the self guided tour through the herb patches. Did you know you could also plant Banana Mint? Can't even imagine what that would be like, or what I would use it for!

A lovely baking vendor, with all kinds of beautiful looking breads (but no sign that I saw for a name.) I bought a loaf of the foccacia, the bread you see up front, which I sliced up for dinner with pasta the next night. However it had a very spicy taste that I did not like. And I wasn't fond of the texture either, very tough.

Tonnes of jams and chutneys and other handmade items.

I bought a jar of sliced beets, at $10 for the jar. Its a big jar!

Can you "spot" the queen bee? :-)

The same vendor that had the queen bee, also had some lovely honey. After testing a few kinds, the children and I settled on some plain honey and a small jar of lemon honey, which my children have been eating on sandwiches.

Fresh garlic, available from many vendors who were preparing for the Perth Garlic Fest, coming up in a few weeks.

These hand made wooden bowls were absolutely beautiful! I would have loved to have brought a few home but the prices started at $175 and went up.

I bought a jar of this Red Pepper Jelly. Not the Hot! Hot! Hot! stuff though. :-)

I did also come home with a few of the little tubes of spice, including 2 types of salt, some peppercorns and a Mexican Hat Dance spice.

I also bought a lovely sea grass basket, but didn't take a picture of it (because I put it to instant use, carrying things in it.) And the vendor selling them had such a huge crowd around him that I could not get a picture of their baskets, or their signs, but plenty of the backs of other people. Oh well!