Foodie Fun at the Home and Garden Show

Most people go to the Home and Garden show to look at things related to their homes. See a guy about high-tech new windows, or a security system. Buy a wonder mop, or a jacuzzi tub.

I went for the food demonstrations.

When FoodMode Magazine sent out an email letting people know about the upcoming show, they included a list of who would be doing some food demonstrations. Included on that list were Ron Eade, Food Editor of the Ottawa Citizen, whom I've mentioned before, and Marc Lepine, chef and owner of one of Ottawa's newest restaurants, Atelier. Both would be paired up with a local farmer and would showcase that farms product in their demonstration.

I was in!

First up was Ron, grilling some lovely lamb sliders that were made by Keith Salisbury of Goodwoods Farms, part of a five farm partnership that makes Natural Lamb. While Ron was attempting to keep the flames and smoke to a minimum on the massive Napoleon bbq (which looked to be a wonderful bbq), Keith shared a tonne of information with the audience about his lamb and the lamb industry.

Did you know that China is now the biggest producers of lamb in the world? And that any wool collected from lamb and sheep is now shipped in containers to China, to be returned as a finished product after it is manufactured?

Ron evenually got the flames under control and served up the audience these tasty little sliders, containing Keith's lamb and feta patties, Keith's homemade feta aioli, cherry tomatoes, Ron's homemade caramalized onions and his own balsamic reduction, which he blogged about a few weeks ago, here.

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Ron after his demonstration, and also asked if he would be posting the recipe for the lamb burgers on his own blog. Since the recipe came from Keith, and not Ron, we will have to have a bit of patience as Keith is in lambing season right now and the new mothers need him more than I need the recipe.

Head on over to Ron's blog to see about the show from his perspective. And look closely at his pictures, see if anyone looks familiar.

Next up was Marc Lapine, who I also had an opportunity to meet after his own demonstration. This quiet, young chef does some amazing things with food and I am only sorry that the battery of my camera chose that time to decide to fizzle out, so I did not get nearly as many pictures as I would have liked. And most of the ones I did get were not as good as I'd have liked.

Marc was paired up with Aartje de Boer, owner of The Pickle Patch. Aartje provided Marc with some pork belly from her own farm, where the pigs are part of the work force and are fed a special diet that includes spend grains from a nearby brewery and whey from a local cheese producer.

My friend and I were the lucky winners of some of Aartje's pork at the end of the demonstration, which we took back to my home and had for dinner, using the recipe supplied with the pork, for Succulent Tamworth Pork Chops. Tasty!

Back to that pork belly.

Atalier is a different type of restaurant, as its chef is skilled in what is known as Molecular Gastronomy. So while Marc briefly grilled the slices of pork belly, he told us about cooking it the night before, slowly, by sous-vide (sealed in a bag, immersed in water and held at a very specific tempurature for a long period of time) for 18 hours! The result, presented on a grilled piece of bbq bread (bbq flavored, and grilled, so double bbq), with an olive sauce and apples that had been "infused" with carbon dioxide, while rosemarry smoke filled the air, was melt in your mouth wonderful.

I could not discribe this dish well enough to do it justice. This sample here, as Marc would present it at the restaurant, included two different variations on caramalized onion, a celery syrup made from juicing celery, with a sprinkling of celery made from dehydrating the pulp left from juicing the celery, then grinding it into a fine powder, and so many more elements. Beautiful!

When I finally do make it to Atelier, I plan to have my camera with me, a notebook, and a back up battery for my camera!

When the show ended, I did have a "bonus" meet up, with Robin, publisher of Ottawa's FoodMode Magazine. What a nice gentleman, who kindly possed for me as he enjoyed Marc's plated sample.

If you've never read FoodMode magazine, since copies can be hard to get, they go so fast I didn't even get one from the Home Show, you can head over to their website and read not only the currently issue, but also back issues. And read Robin's own blog, Gastronomical.

I was not the only blogger in attendance, though I think I was the only one who came early so I could sit front row center. And while I didn't come away from the Home show with quotes for new windows, or even the awning I would like to put up on my back porch, I did come away with a bundle of information about some of our local farmers and producers.

I can't wait for the farmer's markets to open!

Menu Plan Monday: Planning to not plan?

Once again a good week - I pushed off Tuesday's meal, the steak and shrimp fajitas, until Wednesday and ended up getting pizza for our Tuesday dinner, which pushed everything else back, of course. So I didn't end up making Friday's planned meal of Strawberry and Basil salad with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Which I will try to make this week instead!

Sunday: Tamworth Pork chops with rice, green beans and corn. More about this one later.

Monday: Buttermilk fried chicken with corn spoon bread.

Tuesday: Let's try this again: Strawberry and Basil salad with grilled cheese (Tuesdays start before 5am for me, and I am not home until almost 7:30pm most times, so dinner needs to be prepped in advanced and take only minutes to finish, or I will pick up pizza on the way home.)

Wednesday: Fried ravioli. I know it isn't "balanced" but it is April Fool's Day, so why not?

Thursday: I think we will go out for subs here. I'll tell you why below.

Friday: Turkey burgers

While Tuesday is our normal busy night, Thursday comes in second. Normally I have an hour and a half between the kids getting off the school bus and our having to leave for music lessons. With planning and some advanced work, I can usually manage to have dinner ready when the kids get off the bus, or close to then, so that they do not eat a very large snack and then aren't ready to eat dinner before we leave for music. This week, however, it sounds like we might end up having a parent-teacher interview somewhere in that hour and a half time that I normally reserve for dinner, so the kids might not even make it home on the bus that night, and I know we will be pressed for time getting to music. Rather than stress about time, I am planning to not stress, planning to just take them out for sandwiches instead. Knowing what they will choose to eat (one will get tuna, cucumbers and pickles, with nothing else, not even cheese, on whole wheat, and the other will take ham and cheese, with lettuce and cucumbers, also on whole wheat,) and knowing that they will have eaten, takes some stress out of my evening. And the hubby and I can either join them or just have a little something later on, just the two of us.

Menu planning is very helpful, for organization, for budgeting and for stress-relief. But it stops being a stress-relief if it is too inflexible. By planning to not plan ahead for one evening, I've taken a load of stress off myself, and I've fixed it into my budget as well.

As usual, head on over to see all the other menu plans at Menu Plan Monday!

Bake Along 5: Root Beer Float or Cake?

What isn't to love about a cake that combines chocolate and root beer?

No, seriously. What isn't there to love? I mean, it has root beer and chocolate in it. And you get to eat it with ice cream.

Bonus in that it takes roughly 10 minutes to make and doesn't need any special ingredients or tools (assuming you have root beer on hand, which I normally don't.)

Now I could barely taste the root beer in it (I used A&W), and no one else could taste it at all, (we had friends over, so I had extra tasters), but everyone commented that it was a good chocolate cake.

I wonder, if I used a "strong" root beer, would it stand out more?

This cake was the choice of Nic, part of the Bake Along "team" of Nic and Megan, and was a nice choice. I'm not sure if this is a cake I would have made if I'd randomly opened the cookbook and saw the title. Root Beer Bundt Cake doesn't exactly sound appealing. Which would have been my loss, as this cake is a keeper.

Btw, I had planned to making mini's for this cake, but ran late on time as I was out to do something super fun (and educational) within the Ottawa food scene. More about that later! With pictures!

Root Beer Bundt Cake

from Baked

2 cups root beer (do not use diet root beer)
1 c. dark unsweetened cocoa powder (dark cocoa? I don't think I have ever seen dark cocoa)
½ c. butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 ¼ c. granulated sugar
½ c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 c. all purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs

Root Beer Fudge Frosting
2 oz. dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
½ c. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp salt
¼ c. root beer
2/3 c. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ c. powdered sugar
To Serve:
Vanilla Ice Cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously spray the inside of a 10” bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs just until beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy - do not overbeat it, as it will cause the cake to be tough.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time, until a small sharp knife inserted in the cake comes clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.

Root Beer Fudge Frosting:
Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until the frosting is shiny and smooth.

Use a spatula to spread the fudge frosting over the crown of the bundt in a thick layer. Let the frosting set before serving, with the ice cream on the side.

Bread Baking Babes: Pain Francese

It has been awhile since I joined in to become a Bread Baking Buddy, and I almost passed up this month. I'd glanced over a few blog posts, but kept hearing about a levian and a chef, and did not feel I really had the time to deal with either right now. Some encouragement, and "education" from my bread baking guru Breadchick, however, cleared up my misconceptions, which is why I'm here now, trying out the Pain Francese, this months BBB choice, chosen by fellow Canuck and DB'er, Sara.

Before I could start, I had to bring out my sour dough starter, Marvin, and give him a wake up. Poor Marvin almost lost it during our recent move, he was nearly thrown out at one point by someone unaware of who and what he was, and then was nearly abandoned in our old home when no one knew what to do with him, and I was not available. (Truth be told, I got some very funny looks from some family members when, with everything else coming and going and the stresses, I went into near panic mode, ripping containers apart, trying to find what had happened to Marvin. Unless you've put the time into making and nurturing your starter, how can you understand?) Fortunately he was found, safe and still dormant, but had been sitting quietly in my fridge since the move.

Using some of Marvin instead of the chef, I set out to work. I had forgotten what I both loved and hated about making bread. I love the feel of the dough, the way things come together, the destressing that comes with kneading, and of course, the final outcome, warm, fresh bread. What I dislike is the mess, on my hands, my clothes, my counter. And waiting. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

This bread involved alot of mess and alot of waiting.

And when all is said and done, I can't tell you if I like this bread or not. Yet.

See, my "new" oven works on convection, and while I've figured out the adjustments I have needed to make for most baking, it didn't work for this one. The picture you see of the bread I made looks lovely, golden with a very hard crust. What it doesn't show is the burnt bottom and the almost raw, doughie inside. I was able to cut off a bit of the bread to share with the family, since they were starving and could not resist, but not enough for me to really have an opinion about this bread.

Another consultation with Mary has resulted in another batch rising on the counter right now. So I haven't given up on this yet, I just won't have a finished, cut, product ready in time for joining in.

Thanks for the "kick in the butt" Mary, and encouraging me to get back into bread. Now go see the other BBB's bread, and be a budy yourself. (And if you will excuse me, I need to go see a starter about some bread.)

Daring Bakers: Savory in layers

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Yes, you read that correctly - this month, the Daring Bakers made lasagna. From scratch. With a spinach pasta.

The challenge itself presented three different elements for a traditional, Italian lasagna: the fresh made pasta, a homemade ragu, and a bechamel sauce. The required component was the fresh made pasta, either sweet or savory.

I chose to go with the traditional recipe, making a "normal" lasagna rather than a sweet variation, and was not disappointed with the results.

I had an slight advantage over some of my other Daring Bakers, however. Not only have I made lasagna from scratch before, but I had one of our hostesses, Mary of Beans and Caviar, nearby if I needed to call for help. And I did call!

My pasta started out just fine: my well of flour, my well dried, chopped spinach, my eggs. Everything weighed out and ready to go. I rose my eyebrow a bit when I read the weight for the eggs: 60g or more, but also saw it said 2 jumbo eggs. Well my eggs were the large variety and one of them weighed 57g. Still, I used two and started mixing with a spoon, as per the instructions.

The spoon, btw, was a bad idea. More egg and spinach mixture stuck to the spoon than wanted to stick with the flour. After trying to patiently coax everything together, I ended up with this:

It was dry and most of the flour was still on the counter, not coming together. At which point I called Mary.

And she wasn't home.

I fired off a rapid email and then did something I don't normally do on a Daring Baker challenge: I cheated.

I scrapped the entire mess into Bob's mixing bowl, attached the dough hook and started to mix. It was too dry, so I added in a tablespoon of egg whites. I mixed some more, added in another tablespoon, and watched.

And was rewarded with some dough.

I did finish the kneading by hand, not letting Bob do it for me, as tempting as it was. This stiff dough would not have been good for Bob, but sure gave me a good arm work out.

Covering the dough with plastic, I gave it the maximum rest time and checked my email. Adding the extra egg whites was approved by Mary, who had gotten my message and heard my panic.

My next message to her was not as panicked, but not very happy either. I was really disliking this entire recipe by this point. I'd already emailed her earlier in the week about the ragu, finding and grinding the meats for it (we live in the same city, so I needed her shopping advice.) In the end, I made the ragu but used only Italian sausages as my meat, skipped the red wine entirely, and threw in the rind of a chunk of parmesan cheese.

Now despite the fact that I read and reread a recipe before I start, I still end up missing things along the way. This time I missed the rolling pin aspect of things, somehow. Not sure how, but I did. And I do have a lovely pasta machine, so using a rolling pin for my sheets didn't even occur to me.

One thing to remember about this dough, however, is that it is a bit sticky. When I'd made fresh lasagna dough before, I had been able to fold the sheets back on themselves to rest while I finished rolling the rest, using them without drying them first. So I didn't hesitate to do it this time either. Which means I rolled out the sheets of dough twice each. The second time through, I cut them to about the right size for my pan, and either hung them on my cupboard door while I rolled more, or threw them into the pot of water that was ready and waiting.

Roll, cut, boil, drain, dry, roll, cut, boil, drain, dry, roll, cut, boil, drain, dry....

At some point I reread the assembly instructions and fired off another email to Mary: 4 sheets of pasta per layer of lasagna? Are they kidding? Is that a typo? Sure my sheets rolled reasonably thin, but they weren't that thin after boiling and four just seemed wrong.

I went with two. But I did make 4 layers before I ran out of pan, bechamel and ragu. Nice how that all balances out.

At this point I have to say, I still had very little faith in how this was going to turn out. I'm not a huge lasagna fan to begin with, and my ongoing irritation was not putting me in a favorable mood for the end results.

My next email to Mary began like this: I take back everything I said.

This was good. Not overly heavy, though still a bit rich, with good flavors, a nice bite to the pasta and tasty. Both my children ate it (and they like lasagna less than I do - that's why there is garlic bread, so that we have something we do like to eat while the hubby happily eats his lasagna.) Since I didn't have any garlic bread or salad with this, they had no choice, it was this or nothing, but they still ate it, happily.

I even had some left overs the next day. And I never have left over lasagna.

Another Daring Baker challenge, completed with "success". I usually define my DB successes when I've learned something, and this challenge was no exception, I learned a number of things from it and will likely make it again sometime.

Thank you ladies, for your choice for this month, and for giving us a break from the sugar. I needed that break!

Now you may now be noticing the lack of our Daring Baker mountain, or our lovely siloutteta in this post, but now see the new Daring Kitchen badge instead.

Well unless you've been living in a blog free hole, the new Daring Kitchen site was revealled this month, along with the introduction of a parter for the Daring Bakers, the Daring Cooks. There is still time to sign up and be part of the first ever Daring Cooks challenge, and even if you don't want to do that, there is lots of information available to everyone over at the Daring Kitchen. So head on over and check it out!

Once again, many thanks to this months hostesses, as well as to our leaders, Lisa and Ivonne for yet another wonderful Daring Baker month.

Onward and forward - let's see what April brings!

Tyler Florence Fridays: Step away from the deep fryer!

So many wonderful recipes, so much oil, so much fat, so much flavor!

I was going to submit something different for this week's Tyler Florence Fridays, something involving my deep fryer, but felt we needed a break from it.

Just a short one.

Instead, lets go back to a classic dish which I made for dinner one night, allowing my boys to have their pasta, and me to have something other than pasta. Chicken Parmesan. With pasta. (So I guess I didn't really get a break from the pasta.)

I'd read someone else's post about this recipe, from Tyler's Stirring the Pot, and kept in mind the recommendation of keeping the extra liquid nearby, just in case. Since I routinely double sauces for my family, I knew that extra sauce would not be an issue. Especially not a tomato sauce for pasta.

I have to say, though, that I found this boring. It was missing something. The chicken was fine (I used the griddle attachment to my stove to cook the chicken, essentially giving me an extra large pan to work with.) The sauce was boring. Everyone ate it, no one disliked it, but something was missing. (Yes, I did skip out on the olives, which would have reduced the salt in the recipe, but added a touch more to compensate.)

So here you go, healthy and different. Not a deep fryer in sight.

Chicken Parmesan
by Tyler Florence, recipe found on Food Network

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
Pinch sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 11/2 pounds)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 (8-ounce) ball fresh buffalo mozzarella, water drained (I can't remember if I used bococcini or mozzarella for this - but do know I did not use buffalo mozzarella as it is pricey and hard to find.)
Freshly grated Parmesan
1 pound spaghetti pasta, cooked al dente

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. When the oil gets hazy, add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves; cook and stir for 5 minutes until fragrant and soft. Add the olives and some hand-torn basil. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes), cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover, and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Get the ingredients together for the chicken so you have a little assembly line. Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them. Pound the chicken breasts with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/2-inch thick. Put the flour in a shallow platter and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to distribute evenly. In a wide bowl, combine the eggs and water, beat until frothy. Put the bread crumbs on a plate, season with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame in a large oven-proof skillet. Lightly dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, and then dip them in the egg wash to coat completely, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the bread crumbs. When the oil is nice and hot, add the cutlets and fry for 4 minutes on each side until golden and crusty, turning once.

Ladle the tomato sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. Bake the Chicken Parmesan for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot with spaghetti.

Dear Vita-Mix People

If I don't win your lovely blender from Brilynn, I'd be happy to be a tester too!

(I'd really like to win the Vita-Mix, so don't, no matter what, go over to Jumbo Empanadas and enter for your chance to win. Don't do it!)

Happy Birthday Bambam!

Today is Bambam's birthday. We celebrated with him on the weekend with a little party, and cake, of course.

The theme for the party was "Spring" so when Bambam's mom asked me to make him his cake, I decided to surprise her. The only things I would tell her were that I needed some time to assemble before the party, so we would be early, and I needed to know how many kids there would be.

I needed to make sure I would have enough flowers for all the children, not just Bambam and my own.

Now I have two boys of my own, so I had a pretty good idea that a spring cake centered around some flowers, even made from cookies, might not be exactly what a little boy would be thrilled about.

Dirt would appeal to him, especially dirt you could eat.

And what little boy doesn't like worms?

While the cake isn't exactly what I envisioned when I planned it (my children picked the color of the flower box when I could not find the materials I wanted for my initial concept), some things worked out better than others. My icing was too soft and dented easily, and my choice of cake, while perfect for "dirt" was a bit too crumbly for this. However, my grass and stems for my flowers worked well (and smelled wonderful!), and I was most pleased with how I was able to put a bit of detail into the "leaves", and still have them edible.

This little guy had to be one of my favorite parts:

No worms were harmed in the making of this cake....

Sorry, can't say the same for the eating.

Product Review: How do you test dishwasher detergent?

Do you have a favorite dishwasher detergent? One that cuts through everything you can throw at your dishes? Or do you just pick up whatever is on sale.

I used to pick mine by which one dissolved best in my dishwasher (the powder tabs did not work well), and left the dishes clean, which left me with lots of options to choose from. Usually I would pick the one that was on sale and that I could easily find a coupon for.

That, however, was before the dishwasher from ****.

That's right, I don't like my dishwasher. I had a beautiful, white, wonderfully efficient dishwasher, but traded it for my bigger kitchen. My new kitchen came with a dishwasher, but one that left most of my dishes dirty and had me rewashing everything.

When you go through as many dishes as I do, that's really not fun.

So when I was offered the chance to try out some Cascade All-in-1 ActionPacs, dishwasher detergent, I thought, "Why not? I can't possibly make my dishes any dirtier."

I didn't really notice a difference at first. That could have been the dishwasher. So just to be sure, and because I had to, I scrubbed out the inside of my dishwasher, I ran it through several cycles with a special dishwasher cleaner, I sprayed it down with CLR and ran it again. Then I went back and tested what I had been using against the Cascade.

If you happen to have a dishwasher that isn't cousin to mine, the All-in-1 ActionPacs are a good choice for getting your dishes clean. The Cascade worked a bit better than what I had been using, but I was still indifferent about what I would buy the next time I was shopping.

Then I bought myself a package of the Cascade ActionPacs with Extra Bleach. Which, coincidentally enough, was on sale, and had a coupon.

And is now my regular dishwasher detergent.

So I guess I've answered my own question: you test dishwasher detergent by making alot of dirty dishes, then letting the detergent get them clean. And you pick one by how well it cleans your dishes.

Think I can find a detergent that will unload the dishwasher for me now?

Menu Plan Monday: It's a blog eat blog world

I started planning my menu a bit earlier than usual for this week, while trying to catch up on reading the accumulation of blogs on my reader. I kept finding myself opening the blogs into a new tab, so I could "go back to them" later for a closer look. Always a dangerous thing, at least for my printer. After I'd done this about 3 times, I realized I was menu planning for the next week.

So this week's plan involves meals from the blogging world. Just about all of them involve recipes (except one) and I have not made any of them before. Some take more time than I would normally put into a weeknight meal, but while my kids are back in school this week, I don't go back to my preschool job until Friday. Giving me a bit more time.

Sunday: Cajun Meatloaf. Okay it wasn't on my blog reader for this week, I'm not that far behind, but it still comes from a blog and is one I'd had marked on my "to make" list.

Monday: Cabbage Rolls. Make my hubby happy, make M&M's not so happy.

Tuesday: Steak and shrimp fajitas. The only non-recipe so far. But inspired by a blog, so it still counts.

Wednesday: Bourbon chicken and jasmine rice.

Thursday: Corned beef dinner. The blog that started this plan this week. (Hi Breadchick!)

Friday: Strawberry salad with mozzarella pesto grilled cheese. The salad and mozzarella grilled cheese should be easy, the pesto, we'll, we'll see how that goes.

Last week's plan, didn't go too badly, but derailed mid week. Wednesday, when I was planning to make lasagna. I just did not have the "umph" for it, though I did get the sauce made, and I was having a bad luck day: first I burned the inside of my arm, near my elbow, with the edge of a very hot cookie sheet while making chocolate chip cookies for a play date. I haven't burnt myself in years, so I guess I was due, but it HURT! Then I dropped my food processor when taking it out. I managed to catch the engine part, but my most used bowl, the one that attaches to my slicing/shredding blades, went flying and now has multiple pieces. I was still able to use the machine, with the mixing bowl and my big blade, but no more shredding for me.

So instead of making, and possibly ruining, lasagna, my youngest and I hit our closest grocery store, picked up the fixin's for sandwiches and chips, we spread out a blanket on the living room floor, broke out the cheap paper plates, some salad and pickles, popped Planet Earth into the dvd player (the children chose trees) and had a family picnic. A much better way to have dinner than by ruining a lasagna or breaking my oven, which I might have done by then.

I made the lasagna on Friday instead, skipping my indecisive plan of last Friday.

We are back to our "regularly scheduled" hostess for this week's Menu Plan, brought to you by I'm an Organizing Junkie. I'm early getting mine done this week, but doubt I will be high up on the list of bloggers posting their week's plan.

Ina versus Dorie, head to head, cake to cake

Lemon yogurt cake.

Two recipes, almost identical.

Not surprising when you read that Ina's recipe is based on Dorie's recipe.

Put the recipes side by side and see very few differences: Dorie gives the option of ground nuts, Ina doubles the yogurt and has a touch more lemon. A few minor things between the instructions, but really, on paper they are essentially the same cake (minus the glaze and/or syrup, both of which I ignored.)

I wanted to see how similar, exactly, they were, so I made them both, one after the other, and conducted a "blind taste test" amongst my boys.

Can you see a difference?

Ina barely nudged out Dorie in moistness, being a bit moister, which isn't surprising based on the amount of yogurt in her version. And while I agreed that Ina's was the more moist of the two, I preferred Dorie's for texture.

Taste wise, essentially identical. Both mildly lemon, both soft crumbed, both very good.

And isn't it good timing that this week's TWD pick is Dorie's Lemon Yogurt Cake? Which, since I conducted this little experiment of mine, I've made again and again. The last time I added some chopped fresh cranberries, and switched out the vanilla for a touch of lemon juice. Divine!

Anyone have any suggestions for another head to head challenge for me? I'm open to ideas!

Tyler Florence Fridays: Megan's Bonus Challenge

Hello. My name is Jenny. I like to read cookbooks and cook. Despite having been a Daring Baker for over two years, sometimes, I just cannot follow a recipe.

Like this one, for Tyler Florence's Fish Tacos.

Good thing this is Megan's Challenge, and not the Daring Bakers, cause making changes is allowed!

Let's start with the major change: the fish. Mahi Mahi may be the perfect fish to match with tropical fruit, but have you priced it out lately? Well me either, because the last time I saw Mahi Mahi for sale in a fish market around here, well, let's just say that making lobster tacos might have been less expensive. So I used a combination of talapia (for the kids) and sole. The kids actually preferred the sole, yahoo!, so another fish I can add to the repetoire of fish they will eat. (Provided it is breaded or battered and deep fried.)

Next, well I skipped the sauce all together. Didn't think anyone would want or like it, so didn't bother.

Then the fruit. Mango's, sure, I can do that. Radishes? I don't think so, no one would like it. Instead I added some papaya. And orange. And strawberries. And a squeeze of lime juice. And a sprinkling of pepper. And skipped everything else in the recipe. Fruit salsa (which made a very nice smoothie the next day, with the left overs,) works well on crispy fish. Even wrapped in a tortilla (flour, not corn - I totally did not see the corn tortillas anywhere in the recipe.)

I did keep the cilantro and chives. And the lime to squeeze on the fish. And I served it family style, make your own. See? I did follow some instructions.

And panko breaded fish is crispy and wonderful, even reheated in the microwave the next day. You really should try it.

Here is the recipe, as posted by Megan. Not as I made it. I'll italics the parts I followed.

Tyler's Ultimate Fish Tacos

2 pounds mahi mahi (skinned, boned and cleaned) cut into 1-ounce strips
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons water
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 head savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked
1 bunch chives, chopped
3 limes, cut into wedges for garnish

Pink Chile Mayonnaise:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
3 chipotles in adobo, plus 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mango-Radish Salsa:
2 limes
2 mangoes, diced
4 to 5 red radishes, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the fish. Cut the pieces of fish into 1-ounce strips. Set up a breading station of flour, lightly beaten eggs with water, and seasoned panko bread crumbs. Season all with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces of fish in flour, egg then bread crumbs. Once all the fish is breaded deep-fry in small batches in (375 degrees F) oil. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Prepare the pink chile mayonnaise. Put the chipotles in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the sour cream, mayonnaise, adobo sauce and lemon juice and continue to process until the mixture is consistent and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the mango-radish salsa. Remove the peel and pith from the limes and cut between the membranes to remove the segments. Put these "supremes" into a bowl and squeeze over the juice from the membranes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Season and refrigerate until ready to use. You can also place all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree for a smoother salsa.

To serve, set up the tacos "family-style". Assemble the fish in a pile on a plate; the pink chile mayonnaise in a bowl; and mango-radish salsa in another. Set a pile of shredded savoy cabbage, cilantro leaves, chopped chives and lime wedges next to the fish. Toast the corn tortillas lightly over an open flame (on your stove top) and serve.

When one organizing project snowballs

Remember this? My plan to reorganize my recipes?

Well that turned into this. A reorganization of my entire "office" area. Not yet complete though, as there is still stuff to do and doors to put on one of my cabinets and things to put away.

If I wait for it to be complete before I put it up, however, you could be waiting a very long time.

So don't mind the mess. Not only is it a work in progress, I am working on other things at this desk right now.

This was what I was aiming for when I started this project. Instead of one binder with some divided sections, overflowing, print outs and magazine cut outs everywhere, I wanted less chaos. And I think I managed that using nothing more than a few things recycled from home and a few things from the dollar store.

Each binder has its own subsections within it, for example the baking binder has sections for cookies, or muffins, or breads. If I couldn't 3-hole punch the recipe, I put it into a protective sleeve instead.

I hope I've left some room to grow.

While cleaning up my existing recipes, I decided to add one extra binder in: The Menu Plan binder! I still have my list where I write my menu plan, but now I have all the recipes I want to use for the week in one place. On those days where I'm not using one, I either leave it blank or throw in a scrap piece of paper with a note as to what I'm making that night. Each day has it's own protective sleeve so I can just slip something in.

And I've even added in a baking tab so I can keep the recipes I want to make for snacks and such in one place and not have to go searching for loose pieces of paper.

Will this stop me from having printed out recipes everywhere? Likely not, especially since I think I have 3 different pancake recipe print outs on my kitchen counter right now. Guess I forgot I had a binder where I could put them.

Does this inspire you to clean up your own recipe collection? If it does, please leave me a message. My system may not be the best one for you, and it is possible that your system might even be better for me!

Menu Plan Monday

Slight change in this week's Menu Plan Monday: we have a guest host, Erin from 5$ Dinners will be heading up the round up this week, so we will be heading over to see her instead of our usual Menu Plan Monday site for the list of amazing menu plans.

Only one small change last week - one again, I did not end up making soup. Thursday's schedule went right out the door and resulted in my not getting home, with kids, until after 7:30pm, with my having left at 5:30am, so there was not even time for me to prep something in advance.

Good news is that is is March break, so while I will still be going to swimming, and we have our usual activities, I have time in between to get stuff put together.

Sunday: Sausages on a bun with left over salad (apple and fennel salad I made here), and edamame beans

Monday: Experimental chili

Tuesday: Orange Mandarin Chicken with noodles

Wednesday: Lasagna

Thursday: Spice-Rubbed Pork with fruit salsa and snow pea coleslaw

Friday: Beef Noodle Bowls. Or homemade pizza.

Now March Break has begun and I am off to make some breakfast for my littlest and I, while his brother has a sleep over with his grandparents. No worries on fairness, the other one had one the night before, so each got a sleep over by themselves, each got time alone with the grandparents and each got time alone with the parents.

And even more importantly, each got one of these.

Magazine Mondays: Dinner Time

I think I've been mostly bringing in sweet dishes for Magazine Monday, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I don't just make desserts around here.

No matter that my children would love it if I only made dessert.

I've noticed something else - for the most part, most of the magazines I have around here come from one of four sources: Canadian Living, Fine Cooking, Everyday with Rachel Ray or Cooks Illustrated. Throw in the occasional, old Today's Parent and Cooking Light (I haven't gotten either of those in years) and you've described my magazine collection.

This week isn't any different.

This is an older recipe I had on hand, from the March 2005 Canadian Living, for a Beef and Green Bean Stir-fry. I know, that doesn't sound exciting or very exotic, and it probably involves things you don't normally associate with a stir fry, like the beef, which in this case, is ground beef.

It sure is tasty, though, and makes plenty for dinner, with left overs for the next day.

Typical of me, I doubled the sauce. I also didn't bother to measure the green beans but just cut until I was out of beans. The green beans still have a touch of bite to them, and match well with the sweetness of the sauce.

Oh, and if you are looking for a good frugal meal, this works as one.

And that magazine collection? Well I'm keeping Fine Cooking, Rachel Ray was a gift, and I will not be renewing either Cooks Illustrated or Canadian Living.

Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry
from Canadian Living Magazine, March 2005

1 sweet red pepper
1 lb lean ground beef
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
3 cups diagonally halved trimmed green beans
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Seed, core and cut red pepper into thin strips, set aside.

In a large skillet, cook beef over high heat until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to plate.

Drain fat from pan, then add the oil. Stir-fry garlic, ginger, salt and pepper over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add green beans, red pepper and 2 tbsp water; cover and steam until beans and pepper are tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.

Return beef and any juices to the pan. Whisk together beef stock, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and cornstarch; stir into pan. Bring to boil; boil, stirring, until sauce is thickened and glossy, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with green onions.

Serve with rice or noodles.

Daring Kitchen and a cookbook review

Goodmorning beautiful people!

Just a quick invite to pop on over to the Daring Kitchen, if you don't already read there regularly now, and have a read of my cookbook review.

And while you are there, why not register and join the Daring Cooks?

Breakfast and wishing

It is 5:30am right now, and I am about to walk out the door to go swimming. On a Saturday morning. When I'd much rather be sleeping right now.

When I get home, aside from going back to bed, I'd really like to see a stack of these waiting for me, warm with some melted butter.

And while I'm wishing, I'd also like someone to finish my big organizational project, and wash all my floors for me. While I sit on a beach somewhere warm, having that nap.

Perhaps I'd best settle for not drowning in the pool this morning. And make the pancakes myself tomorrow.

Brown Sugar Pancakes

from Baking Bites

1/2 cup brown sugar (pref dark.)
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 cups milk, any kind
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together brown sugar and butter. Stir well, then set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking power and salt. Pour in eggs, milk and vanilla extract, along with brown sugar mixture and stir until well combined. No streaks of dry ingredients should remain.
Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, until a drop of water skitters around when dropped on the surface. Lightly grease with butter or oil, and drop pancake batter by 1/4-cup measures on the pan. Cook until pancake is slightly dry around the edges and small bubbles form in the batter (bottom will be browned). Flip and cook for another minute or so on other side, until bottom is browned.
Serve with Brown Sugar Maple Syrup (below).

Serves 4-6

Brown Sugar Maple Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Serve warm, with brown sugar pancakes. This recipe can be halved if you don’t need quite so much syrup.

Bake Along 4: How do you eat your 'Reos?

Are you a dunker?

Do you take them apart to lick off all the cream inside?

Or do you just dig in with a big bite?

Personally, I'm a big bite, double stuffed Oreo kinda girl. And I try to not buy Oreos more than once or twice a year. Less often, if I can avoid the temptation.

So why am I here with the Megan and Nic doing a cookie bake along that is about Oreos? Well, it's Oreos! If I could make them, and have to put the effort into making this very stiff dough, rolling, flattening, chilling, baking, the torture of cooling the cookies while making the overly sweet vanilla icing, then I might be less tempted to buy them!

Do you think you could resist?

- King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion (Can you buy King Arthur Flour at a regular grocery store in the US? I must investigate!)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 7/8 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all- purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 envelope (1 teaspoon plus heaping 1/4 teaspoon) unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold water
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the salt, egg, water, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in the flour and cocoa until well combined; the dough will be very stiff.
Roll the dough into balls about the size of a shelled chestnut, or a “shooter” marble - the big marble you use to shoot at the little ones. (For those unfamiliar with either chestnuts or marbles, this is about 2 level teaspoons of dough.) Place the balls on parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheets and flatten each ball until it’s 1/8 inch thick, using the bottom of a glass dipped in cocoa powder. You may also use a cookie stamp, for a more realistic faux-reo effect. To get a nice crisp cookie, it’s important to press them thin use a ruler on the first one so you can see just how thin 1/8 inch is. (If you press them thinner than 1/8 inch, you run the risk of having them burn.) Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator to chill the dough for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake the cookies for 18 minutes. It’s important to bake them just the right amount of time: too little and they won’t crisp properly; too much and they’ll scorch. Watch them closely at the end of the baking time, and at the first sign of darkening edges or first whiff of scorching chocolate, remove them from the oven immediately: Remove the cookies from the baking pans and cool them completely on a wire rack.

TO MAKE THE FILLING: Soften the gelatin in a cup containing the 2 tablespoons of cold water, then place the cup in a larger dish of hot water and leave it there until the gelatin is completely dissolved and the liquid is transparent. Remove the gelatin from the hot water and let it cool until it’s room temperature but hasn’t begun to set.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream the shortening, then beat in the vanilla and the confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, beating until the mixture is light and creamy Beat in the gelatin.
Sandwich the cookies, using about 1 1/2 teaspoons for regular faux-reos, more for double-stuffed. (You’ll have some filling left over if you fill the cookies moderately.)

If you want the flavor variations, go see Megan's post. But don't tell me about them because, frankly, messing with the traditional vanilla icing is a terrible thing to do and I don't want to know about it.

TFF: A deep fryer is a fun thing

I had to have had fried chicken on the brain when shopping. That would explain why I picked up two cartons of buttermilk, thinking I needed one for muffins, and one for some pancakes, and forgetting I had a full carton in the fridge already. Or it was karma, and buttermilk fried chicken was fated to be made.

Nothing personal to the rest of the chicken, but for crispy fried chicken, we like the drumsticks the best, so I used only drumsticks instead of carving up a whole chicken. Besides, that makes it much less expensive (especially when you get a big pack of drumsticks reduced 50% off a few days before - a big freezer is a very good thing.)

I took a risk and made the dressing for the salad that was listed with the recipe for the chicken, in Tyler Florence's Stirring the Pot (hence this will be this weeks submission for Tyler Florence Fridays.) A big risk in two ways: first the minor risk of a salad that is primarily tomatoes, which my children do not like, and the bigger risk of making a dressing with blue cheese. Partially because there are some definite opinions about how much people dislike blue cheese in this family, and partially because I am still not sure if my allergy to penicillin will cause me to react to blue cheese or not.

The salad was good, but the dressing was too strong (and I had only a small amount, just in case.) Even using the mildest cheese I could find. I loved the balance of the sweet tomatoes with the barely bitter baby arugula. My kids ate the greens, mostly ignored the tomatoes, but only one of them liked the dressing. At least they both tried it.

Oh and a note about the chicken recipe: Tyler's instructions for the pieces of chicken said to fry them for 20 minutes. I pulled my legs out (boy, that sounds painful!) after about 10 minutes and could have pulled them out a bit sooner. I did pull out the last few earlier and that made a big difference in how they appeared, golden and crunchy.

And very delicious.

I'm not going to post up the recipe here for the chicken. Not only is it in the book that just about everyone should own now, or at least have access to, its fried chicken, so it is fairly simple: marinade your chicken overnight in seasoned buttermilk. Dredge the drained pieces in seasoned flour before frying them in oil. How easy is that? Tyler's recipe uses some seasonings that I didn't use, onion and garlic powder, because I didn't have any at the time, but that's my only changes.

I will, however, put the recipe up for the salad and dressing, also from Tyler Florence.

Cherry Tomatoes with Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
by Tyler Florence, from Stirring the Pot, posted on FoodTv

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh chives, minced
2 pints red grape tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cups of a peppery green, I used baby arugula

Place the blue cheese, buttermilk, and olive oil in a medium bowl and stir together with a fork, mashing a little to break up the cheese. Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chives. Set aside.

Wash the tomatoes, and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice each tomato in half lengthwise and season with a pinch of salt. Arrange the greens on a platter with the tomatoes on top. Serve the dressing on the side.