Monday, February 28, 2011

Incongruous items of interest

The item the first: brownies. We had company over for bagels after church, which was our traditional lunch growing up. I hadn't planned anything for dessert, so I just looked in the cupboards and decided to make the easiest thing. Only we didn't have enough chocolate squares, so I adapted the recipe to be 2/3 the usual amount, which also worked out well when I discovered that my 9 x 13 pan wasn't here. We ended up with thick brownies baked in an 8 x 8 pan. Here's the original recipe.

Source: a typewritten sheet in my mom's kitchen
Great for: dessert
Serves: 12 people, or 6 people over two days.

6 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup butter
5 eggs (yes, five)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and chocolate together. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Beat in, one ingredient at a time, the eggs, vanilla, and sugar, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Sift together flour and salt, and add to chocolate mixture, beating until just combined.
Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Note: we are fans of less-baked brownies, and my dad, while being the biggest chocolate fan in our household, has been known not to eat even slightly overbaked brownies.

The item the second: baby D has been getting terrible diaper rashes lately, and I can't tie it to any particular food. It seems to crop up most often when she wears her cloth diapers overnight, and then it takes days of copious diaper cream and wearing disposables to get rid of it. I was starting to think we would either have to stop using cloth, or get some special cream to use with her cloth, since you're not supposed to use creams that contain zinc oxide, petroleum, or anything else you'd find in the diaper creams we happen to have at home. These ingredients can apparently hinder absorption, which I personally would not want to do.

Anyway, it turned out that there was a simple solution, and we had it at home, too. A few weeks ago, a friend gave us some cloth diapers that her grandkids had outgrown, along with several rolls of biodegradable, flushable diaper liners. This would go between the actual cloth of the diaper and the bum. When I checked the website for our cloth diapers, this is what they suggest using if you want to also use regular diaper creams. Problem solved! Baby D is back in cloth diapers as of today. Speaking of which, she needs a change! As a joke, we're teaching her to hold her nose if she stinks, or to say "mouffette" (French for skunk).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My very own marinade

Hubby and I celebrated Valentine's Day with steaks and sides cooked at home. Restaurants are too crazy for the likes of us. I went hunting for a marinade recipe, and ended up putting together one of my own, based on what I had around. I did have to borrow soy sauce from my mom. It's shocking, the things we don't have in our fridge sometimes.

My Marinade
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp steak spice

Blend and marinate steak in covered glass dish for at least an hour. We did an hour and a half, and it soaked up a good amount of flavour. It's really the steak spice that makes it.

I made a half batch, since we were only marinating two little steaks, but when I was typing it out, it seemed absurd to be writing 1/6 of a cup of anything.

The accompanying sides were a potato soufflé and oven-roasted carrots. Baby D, sadly, had to content herself with leftover mac & cheese, and peas. She was okay with it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A parade for my blogiversary

It's an ordinary Friday here; we've had an easygoing morning of breakfast, list-writing, snacks, and knitting. We'll venture to the grocery store later on, and probably tidy the house (though I'll be on my own for that, Baby D assures me). What is unusual about today is that it bookends the week with finished knitting. Thus, I celebrate my one-year anniversary of blogging with a parade of finished objects.

On Monday, my sister came by for a visit, just in time to pick up some finished socks that she had requested and to play with her favourite niece, who happens to have matching leg warmers knit a year and a half ago. Because the socks were made with DK weight yarn, they took only about a month to knit, and during that same time frame, I was working on this:

The adorable Anouk pinafore, which I had wanted to knit from the moment I saw it! The yarn was the first purchase following the Year of No Yarn, and it was from Australia (hence the main colours of gold and green). Owing again to DK yarn and a daughter who can occasionally amuse herself, it knit up in a trice. In fact, it took me much longer to get a decent shot of baby D in it. When she's not running around, she likes to make a squinty face at the camera. Anyway, she did a beautiful job modelling for me, when it suited her.

A note about the shoes: after a friend tipped me off to Value Village's 50% off sale, I high-tailed it over there and spent as much time shopping as D would allow. Among our purchases were these black t-strap Mary Janes for 2$! I also found her some simple white Mary Janes (in great condition) for 1.50$. I daresay the child is fond of her new footwear; she's been clomping around the house in alternate pairs (or sometimes one shoe from each pair) all week.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My go-to Mac & Cheese

Hubby forgot to bring his lunch today, so in anticipation of his rumbling tummy arriving home, I made two of his favourite dishes: oven fries and, more importantly, mac & cheese. The recipe I use is a mishmash of "Macaroni and Cheese Not From a Box" (Clueless in the Kitchen) and Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious Mac and Cheese I. Here's how it goes:

The best healthy Mac and Cheese*
Source: aforementioned mishmash
Great for: lunch or dinner
Serves: 4-6, depending on appetite (Hubby and I usually have generous first helpings, and there are leftovers for both of our lunches the next day)

3 cups macaroni (ideally whole wheat or enriched in some way)
boiling water
1/4 margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk (we use 1%)
2 cups grated cheese
1 cup vegetable puree

To make your life easier, make a bunch of veggie purees ahead of time and stick them in the freezer. Cauliflower's an easy one to do, but we've also used roasted squash and sweet potato. Start by steaming the cauliflower for 10 minutes, then throw it in a food processor for 2 minutes or so, until it's smooth. Freeze in 1/2 cup portions. Defrost in the microwave.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, boil the water for the macaroni, and cook the pasta for about 10 minutes. This is, conveniently, about the same amount of time required to make the cheese sauce.

In a smaller pot, melt the margarine over medium heat, then stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Blend in the milk and leave it to thicken, stirring occasionally. Once it starts to thicken, keep it on the heat for about five more minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cheese and veggie puree.

When the pasta's done cooking, drain it thoroughly, then put it into a greased 3-quart casserole dish along with the cheese sauce. Mix it up right, and put it in the oven (or toaster oven, if you are also making oven fries) for half and hour. Or don't bake it at all if you're really hungry. Haven't I always said I love a forgiving recipe?

*Yes, I will take you on, KD Smart. Expect a sound trouncing on nutrition and cost per serving!

And now, an unrelated picture of me and a very sleepy toddler. This was following a Sunday afternoon walk in the freezing cold, during which she lounged cozily in her stroller under a plastic cover.
I. love. this. kid.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New month's resolution

It seems I'm a little late to the party with my New Year's resolutions this year. Maybe it was being away for the first week of 2011, or just recently readjusting to our schedule and time zone here, who knows. The point is, I just paid my credit card bill, looked at my bank account, and decided I want to do a whole lot more home cooking. Like instead of going out for meals, even just fast food.

The one thing everyone looks for in a great dinner to add to the rotation is actually three things: easy, cheap, and healthy. And tasty. Four things. And people, do I have ideas for you! Some of them come from my favourite cookbooks, others from blogs, and still others are experiments. I'd like to share them over the next month or so, doled out in bi-weekly servings. So as not to infringe on copyright, any recipes I post here will include my own modifications.

Here's my first offering: Spinach and Chickpeas
Great for: appetizer, lunch, dinner, potluck
Qualifies as: easy, cheap, healthy, tasty and toddler-tested (by this, I mean that I've fed it to baby D and she liked it)
Serves: 4

Recipe source:

½ lb spinach, washed
3 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 can chickpeas (19 oz), drained
680mL tomato sauce (I use Primo pasta sauce)

Cook spinach in oil til tender; remove from pan and drain in colander

Mix together in still-hot pan: garlic, cumin, pepper flakes, vinegar and paprika. Cook for a minute

Add cooked spinach, tomato sauce and chick peas, and heat through

Serve with toast, nachos or warm flatbread.