Category Archives: Food

Our Groaning Cookbook Shelves

Ward and I have run into a major dilemma: we’ve run out of room in our cookbook bookcase.

A few months ago, Ward confiscated shelf space in another bookcase for all the new cookbook additions he received at Christmas. But frankly, there isn’t any more spare shelf space anywhere. So no more shelf space for him to confiscate.

What this really means is, no more shelf space, period. For any kind of book.

We’ve resorted to squeezing books into any reasonably sized gaps we can find. It works, although it does make for somewhat messy looking shelves.

Unfortunately, most cookbooks tend to be on the large size.

Take Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima.

Nigellissima

Nigellissima is a beautiful book. It is also quite a large book. So large, we haven’t been able to find a gap the right size anywhere on our shelves.

So Nigellissima has been semi-permanently residing on our coffee table. (As a matter of fact, all manner of books have taken up semi-permanent residence on our coffee table, and honestly, there’s not much room for anything else, like coffee cups.)

The good news? I’ve discovered a very temporary solution to our cookbook problem.

The Library

When Candace posted her review of D’Lish Deviled Eggs, by Kathy Casey, I decided to check the Toronto Public Library to see if I could borrow a copy. Turned out I could, and so I did.

Deviled eggs

And I’m very glad I did. In addition to delicious recipes, it turns out this book, while available in hardcover, is small, in terms of its physical dimensions!

Which means it’s on my to-buy list, the next time I engage in a book buying spree. Which we all know I shouldn’t be doing, given the lack of bookshelf space here. But I think we all also know I’m not going to let a thing like lack of space stop me, right?

Ebook Versions

I’ve gotten used to viewing recipes electronically, since we subscribe to a few cooking magazines through Zinio. They look great on Zinio’s iPad app, and the iPad sits nicely on the cookbook stand in the kitchen so no problems there.

So why not ebook versions of cookbooks, I thought?

Well, actually, I didn’t go through this particular thought process. What really happened was this: I was cruising Amazon online, looking for cookbooks to buy Ward for his birthday earlier this month. And I came across Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Plenty

And as luck would have it, the Kindle version was on sale. I think it was $2.99, although it might have been $3.99.  (Unfortunately, it’s no longer on sale – I just checked, and it’s now $9.80. Still a good deal, though.)

So I decided to get it, sort of as a test case for ebook cookbooks.  And I’m very glad I did. The book reads beautifully on my iPad Kindle app, and the bonus? The recipes in the Table of Contents are hyperlinked to the recipes in the book, so it just takes a tap of your finger and you’re on the right page.

While nothing really beats a print copy of a  beautiful full-colour cookbook, ebook versions do work just as well for the purposes of cooking. With our lack of shelf space, I think this will be an ideal temporary solution.

But in the meantime, I’ve been scoping out various spots around the condo where we might be able to squeeze in another bookcase or two …

I’m participating in Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads with this post. For more delicious food-related posts, hop on over to check out many more wonderful foodie reads!

Five Ingredient Blueberry Buckle

It really wasn’t such a great thing for us to have an upright freezer back at the old house, where we had the room for it (plus an old fridge we kept as an extra fridge). When we cleaned it out in preparation for our “big move” to the city, we found food that had been in there for way too long – so long, it was rather pointless Googling “how long should _______ be kept frozen in the freezer?”

We had conversations like this:

Me: Say, that looks like the Moroccan beef stew we made that one time, the interesting one with the raisins.

Ward: How long ago was that? A couple of years?

Me: Actually, I’m pretty sure I was pregnant …

Both turn to look at our youngest, Dylan, who was 8 at the time. Long pause. Sound of something hitting the bottom of the garbage pail (although by the time we were through, that garbage was pretty full).

Yes, it appears we used the freezer for extremely long-term storage.

But old habits die hard, so you can probably imagine the state of our current freezer, the one that’s part of our fridge. It’s one of those bottom drawer pull-out ones, which is a little roomier than freezers in a regular fridge, but that just means we can stuff more things in. And every now and then we have to weed through things in there so we can add more things, if you know what I mean.

I was looking for something in the freezer recently, and saw that somehow, we had two big tubs of vanilla ice cream in there.

Now, having extra ice cream doesn’t sound like too much of a hardship, I know, but as a family we tend to like our ice cream in the shape of bars, wrapped in a lovely coating of chocolate. So ice cream generally doesn’t get eaten unless there’s pie or cake to go with it, which isn’t all that often, as we’re not that big on desserts here.

We knew we’d have to get rid of one, but it felt rather awful, the idea of pulling out one of the tubs and just letting it melt so we could pour it down the drain.

Luckily, this past weekend I decided to read the March 2013 issue of O! magazine. O! usually runs three or four recipes in each issue. When I came across this particular recipe, I rushed to the freezer and pulled out one of the tubs of ice cream, so it would be melted by the time my husband came home. Then I texted him. “I found a use for the extra ice cream!”

This is what he baked that night:

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Doesn’t it look delicious? And it uses two cups of melted vanilla ice cream!

So, if you ever end up with extra ice cream and need to make room in your freezer, here’s a super recipe you can try. The O! magazine recipe uses raspberries; we adapted it to our particular fruit preference, and used blueberries, but you can pretty well use any fruit that’s suitable for baking, I’d think.

Five Ingredient Blueberry Buckle

1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for greasing pan
2 cups vanilla ice cream, melted
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt*
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375° and lightly grease a 9” round pan with oil.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ice cream, flour, oil and salt, and pour into pan.

3. Scatter blueberries over the top and bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

*next time we make this, we’ll use less salt, and add a bit of sugar or use a sweeter fruit. The cake portion wasn’t very sweet, which we actually liked, but some of the blueberries were on the tart side.

It was so quick and easy to make, I think we might end up stocking vanilla ice cream regularly in the freezer just so we can make this when we feel a need for dessert coming on.

I’ll be linking up this post at Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking feature; come check back for the link, so you can read more wonderful food-related posts, many of them bookish!

Cookbook Review: Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals

About a month ago Ward happened to be on the stationary bicycle at the gym watching Food Network Canada when Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals came on. Ward’s a big fan of Jamie Oliver, so he was quite delighted and ended up adjusting his schedule so he could continue catching the show while working out.

He’d make notes in his head, then jot things down as soon as he got back so he could make a dish for dinner that night that he’d watched Jamie making earlier in the day.

The meal that was the biggest hit? Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad. It comes to the table all greens and reds, very veggie looking – and the first time Ward made this, Sean, my older son, sheepishly took seconds and then thirds. Sean doesn’t really like vegetables much (so much for all the homemade broccoli, sweet potato and other mashed veg I made for him when he was a baby!), hence the sheepishness. But he had to admit he really enjoyed the dish, despite what to him looked like an overabundance of greens and reds.

After quite a few delicious hits just from watching the show, we decided it was high time we got a copy of the book – only to discover it’s not sold here in North America. Fortunately, Book Depository came to our rescue. We bought Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals from the Book Depository and received it within a week.

Jamie's 15 Minute Meals

It’s a lovely cookbook, with the recipes organized in the following categories: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Fish, Pasta, Soups & Sarnies (I had to look up “sarnies”, so if you didn’t know either, it’s a British term for “sandwich”), Veggie and Breakfast. There’s also a great nutrition section at the back that tells you all the nutritional information for each dish.

Each recipe in Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals gives you a full meal: an entree and side dishes (except in cases where the main dish is an all-in-one kind of dish). The recipe is on the left hand side and a gorgeous (as in very yummy looking) photo is on the right hand side.

Just because the meals are supposed to be quick and easy to make, they’re not all the same old plain and boring fare, either. The recipes range from all over the world, and while you can pick something more basic, like Rosemary Chicken or Chicken Cacciatore, you can also go a little more exotic, like Moroccan Mussels, Tapenade Toasties & Cucumber Salad or Beef Kofta Curry, Fluffy Rice & Beans and Peas.

The recipes, unfortunately, aren’t accompanied by any descriptive or conversational paragraph telling us things about the meal. I know it’s not really necessary to the recipe itself, but I’m more of a cookbook reader than I am a cook (I guess it’s safe to say, I’m a cookbook reader, period, actually), and I found myself missing the little preambles to the entrees. How did this recipe come about? I’d wonder. From where did it originate?

We’ve tried a few more recipes from the book, but the Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad remains our favourite dish so far. We kept forgetting to take pictures, but the next time Ward makes it, I’ll be sure to get some pictures so I can post the recipe.

There’s one thing I can’t answer, though – the key question, perhaps. Can you really make these meals in 15 minutes?

I, of course, can’t answer this question personally, as I don’t do the cooking around here. So I asked Ward, byt he couldn’t tell me either, because he hasn’t tried to make any of the meals in 15 minutes. He likes to take his time when he’s cooking.  First of all, he likes all the chopping up of things – he finds it quite meditative. In Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, Jamie includes lots of time-saving tips like using your food processor to chop up all the things that require chopping, and your blender to quickly mix things.

Ward is also a clean-as-he-cooks kind of guy, and he’s not certain he’d be able to make the meals in 15 minutes and still clean things as he’s cooking. But overall he’s quite happy with the efficiency of the meals, and has turned to Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals on nights when he feels a little more pressed for time.

As for me, well, everything Ward’s prepared from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals has been quite delicious, so I’m quite happy with the book!

I’m participating in Candace’s Weekend Cooking with this post.  If you enjoy reading food-related posts, make sure to check out the links there!

An Evening With Jamie Oliver

On Friday Ward and I had a night out – we had tickets to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall in Toronto!

Last November, shortly after we moved into our new place in the city, we’d gone to see Jamie at Roy Thomson Hall. I never got around to blogging about it, but Jamie was funny, articulate and most impressively, he managed to make us feel like we were sitting in his living room, chatting away.

This year’s venue, Massey Hall, has a cozier feel than Roy Thomson, and once again Jamie Oliver worked his magic. He’s such a wonderful speaker, and had the audience laughing several times. I forgot to be a good little blogger throughout the first half of the event, but halfway through, I came to my senses, whipped out my notebook, and began jotting down notes.

So yeah, this post is mostly about what second half of the program, which was the Q&A portion.

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A very bad picture of Jamie on stage (taken from the nosebleed section …)

Last year we purchased pretty good seats, but this year we decided to be thrifty and chose the centre gallery seats. Very high up, but the sound was fantastic. And considering we each received a complimentary copy of Jamie’s latest cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, it was quite a good deal.

(Although Ward wasn’t as thrilled as I was. He’s much taller than I am, and the centre gallery seats at Massey Hall don’t give you much leg room. He kept looking longingly at the newer, roomier seats in the side gallery one level below us …)

Jamie started the evening’s chat with Matt Galloway (host of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning) by going off on a tangent about his public school days, where he was one of seven or eight boys who were labelled “special needs” (Jamie is dyslexic). He had us laughing from the start, with his imitation of the teacher who was in charge of the special needs class, and how he and the other boys in the class got their revenge on the other boys by shooting spitballs at the students sitting below them in the library.

His point, from what I can remember, is that he never did well at school, but cooking saved him.

Other highlights from the first half of the program: Jamie sang us a few bars of the song the boys at school used to sing about the special needs kids. It was along the lines of  “Special needs, special needs” sung to the tune of “Let It Be”. (He regaled us with a few other bars of song a little later, and he didn’t sound half bad.)

He also talked about how working on the school lunch program in London made him realize how people, even very bright people, don’t deal very well with change.

Moving on to the second half of the program, in which he answered questions from the audience (people got to write their questions down on cards which were then collected and brought to stage) but also occasionally went off on some delightful tangents:

On what he would choose as his last meal: The original question was what was the best meal he’s ever had. He didn’t want to answer this one; it was just too hard because he’s had so many fabulous meals. Matt Galloway rephrased it as a last meal question. Jamie said it would have to be his mom’s roast dinner, because food isn’t just the taste, it’s the memories as well. His mom’s a good cook, but it’s all the memories that are tied into her roast dinners that would make him choose it as his last meal.

On romantic meals: Jamie said he’s not very good at romantic stuff at all. But probably no noodles or spaghetti – too difficult to eat without wearing some of it.

On rude veggies: This was one of the tangents. Jamie talked about how the machines that vegetable producers use aren’t capable of getting rid of malformed vegetables, so people are actually hired to scan the vegetables and pick out the ones which have extra bits sticking out of them (the point being the extra bits usually look like various parts of the male and female anatomy). And one of the things he’s doing is bringing back “bagged rude veg”, because rude veggies always make people laugh and have fun at the dinner table. People get a kick out of serving rude vegetables. Especially to their mother-in-laws.

On family life: His kids are totally not impressed with him, and whenever they see someone who treats him like he’s somebody, they’re in shock.

On possibly opening up a restaurant in Toronto: There aren’t any plans in the works, but if he did, he thinks Torontonians would enjoy a Jamie’s Italian: great food, good prices. He also talked about his new restaurant in Montreal, Maison Publique, which he and Montreal chef Derek Dammann opened earlier this month. One of the things Jamie wanted was for the restaurant, which serves British pub fare, to be accessible. (I gather DNA, which was chef Dammann’s previous restaurant in Montreal, was on the high-end side.)

On mentoring: You can either die of jealousy when your protegé gets better than you – and some of them will, whether it’s because of talent or because they have a passion for a specific niche -  or you can be supportive and continue to help them grow.

On New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of large sugary sodas: A brave man, showing brave leadership.

Jamie’s advice to chef Susur Lee, who is reforming school lunches in Toronto: Line up long term agreement amongst the people in government. And say “no” to the No Salt people, because when you’ve been giving kids 600 mgs of sodium, you can’t just take it all away like that. You need to give the kids flavour and that does include some salt.

On the most underrated British food: Desserts. Jamie talked about his newest show, Food Fight Club, in which Britain goes head to head with other countries in themed culinary battles. They took desserts to Italy; Britain’s hot desserts were pitted against Italy’s cold desserts. In all the other countries, the judging panel was made up of international judges. In Italy, they were told there would be no international judges; the Italians would do the judging themselves! Naturally, Jamie said, after being flabbergasted by this new wrinkle, they wrote it into the storyline, making for quite a good show.

His guilty food pleasure: Chiles. He loves all kinds of chiles. He told a story about playing a trick on one of his daughters with apples and – you guessed it – chiles.

On people who inspire him: A lot of people inspire him. He named two for us:  Paul Smith, the fashion designer, who used to come regularly to the River Café when Jamie was cooking there. Jamie didn’t know who he was, but Smith would always ask to talk to him after dinner. One time, Jamie told Smith that he’d just bought a new suit, a rather nice one by Paul Smith. Smith said, “I’m Paul Smith.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “Yes, I am.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “But I am.” Jamie, who still thought Smith was putting him on, said, “Show me your driver’s licence.” Which was when he realized it really was Paul Smith! He also talked about Richard Curtis, known for his romantic comedies, including Notting Hill and Love Actually. Curtis is also the founder of Comic Relief in the UK, which does a tremendous lot of good.

It was such a great talk and like last year, the time passed by in a flash. I’d seen on Twitter earlier that day that Jamie had just done a presentation in the morning in Pittsburgh, so he must have been quite tired since he would have had to fly from Pittsburgh to Toronto, and then be ready for the Massey Hall event that very night. But he’s such a great speaker and he made it all seem effortless.

Last night Ward made Early Autumn Cornish Pasties from our new Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain cookbook; they were delicious. Since we each got a copy of the cookbook, I gave my copy to my sister Dawn. And hopefully she, too, will cook things for me out of it!

I’ll be linking this post to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking feature later this week. Be sure to drop by Beth Fish Reads on Friday to check out other great food posts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada – Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians! This year we’re heading over to my sister Dawn’s new place, to join her and her boys, my mom, my uncle and my cousin for s scrumptious non-traditional Thanksgiving feast.

A few years ago we all discussed the whole turkey thing and realized none of us really enjoyed turkey all that much. And as a result, our Thanksgiving feasts have been getting more and more non-traditional with each passing year.

This is what my sister’s planned for the menu (I took this directly from the group email she sent out – we started planning our family get-togethers via email and it works wonderfully):

  • Ribolita – twice cooked greens and white bean soup (starter)  (V)
  • Tofu marinated in poultry seasoning dust and fine sea salt. Pan roasted and glazed with a vegetable jus reduction infused with sage.  (V)
  • Braised bone-in chicken pieces with 40 cloves of garlic, herbs and lemon
  • Stuffing (with giblets and chicken stock) with chicken gravy
  • Vegan stuffing (V)
  • Mashed sweet potatoes  (V)
  • Kos salad with scallions (V)

“(V)” means the dish is vegan. Ward’s making the vegan stuffing, and last night he also made two pumpkin pies, one vegan and one non-vegan.

Dawn recently found the braised chicken recipe and tells me her two boys told her it was the best chicken ever when she cooked it on a test run a few weeks go.

I’m really looking forward to dinner tonight. My sister doesn’t have a table big enough for all of us, so we’ll get to sit on the sofa and armchairs – wonderfully informal. I envision a lot of talking and a lot of eating. My family doesn’t have very many expectations when it comes to our family get-togethers – as long as the food’s good, we’re all quite happy.

Feasting with family, great conversations, lots of laughing – to me, that’s the best kind of Thanksgiving dinner!

This post is my contribution to this week’s Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. For more delicious posts from bloggers, head on over and check out all the links!

Notes from the Kitchen (and A Call for Recipes)

Yes, I’m now in charge of the kitchen, for the next two to three weeks. (This is one of those for better or worse situations where you know you’re not anywhere in the vicinity of the “better” part of the equation.)

Ward had hip replacement surgery yesterday morning – he’s doing well, and was raring to go a mere two hours after the surgery.  He’s supposed to stay in the hospital for four days but I’m pretty sure he’s already hatched up some sort of early escape plan.

He’s probably driving the nursing staff crazy right now. The word he used the most yesterday? “Restless.”

But even after he gets out, he’ll be on crutches for a while. So there’s that to look forward to around here – we all know he’ll insist on doing everything around the place even though he won’t be able to.

And in the meantime, I’ve found myself back in the kitchen, since there are mouths to feed (the nine-year-old is much easier than the soon-to-be twenty-one year old, I’m finding).

Some notes from the kitchen:

1. When you put a can of cream-of-anything soup on the stove, those popping sounds mean: get ye back to the stove and fast, stirring utensil in hand and at the ready. Or else. (AKA “how to avoid burnt, blackened pots. Not to mention, inedible burnt soup.”)

2. President’s Choice frozen meat lasagna doesn’t taste half bad when you’re really hungry, even when you’re like me and don’t actually like lasagna, frozen or freshly made.

lasagnaBecause I needed a picture in this post …

3. Note to self: just because I think I’m only going to buy a few things at the grocery store, always take the large wheeled cart and not the small wheeled backpack. Because “a few things” never stays “a few things”.

4. A slow cooker recipe is not synonymous with “infallible”. Chicken thighs can still get overcooked; yes, indeed, even though they’re dark meat and usually tender and juicy. Also, six hours of slow cooking time does not mean seven hours and counting.

5. It really does take only a few minutes to wash up a pot and reuse it instead of fishing a clean one out of the cupboard. I’m not sure why it never seems that way to me. Still, if I want to avoid sink-overflowing-with-used-pots syndrome, this really is something I’ve got to remember.

6. Dirty dishes reproduce, naturally and organically. I should set up a camera with stop motion timing to see this in action and record it for prosperity. Or maybe not.

7. Bacon and eggs = easy when you use turkey bacon. No oil splatters so no need for protective eye gear. Just saying.

I’m sure there will be more notes from the kitchen to come; after all, I’ve only been back in there for a day and a half so far …

Share your recipes with me, pretty please? Key words: easy, few ingredients, slow cooker. (And for when Ward gets home, if it’s vegan, even better. Or the poor man will be living on bagels and peanut butter.)

My Top Ten Guilty Pleasures

I’m on a campaign to strip the guilt out of all my guilty pleasures. Needless to say, it’s not easy going (have you noticed, we humans seem to be hardwired for guilt?). But in the meantime, I thought I’d share my top ten guilty pleasures with you. You probably won’t be surprised that my list contains quite a few bookish things …

1. The Snacking Reader

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Anyone else do this? I LOVE to eat while I’m reading. The habit started when I was a kid; put a book in my hands and I’d automagically reach for an apple. I remember the first time I read a Hercule Poirot mystery that featured Ariadne Oliver, I was so happy: here was a fictional mystery writer who loved to eat apples all the time (presumably, then, while she was reading, too).

If I didn’t have kids, you’d probably find me sitting at the dinner table every night with a book propped on the salt and pepper shakers, long-suffering spouse by my side. However, once you have kids, you find you have to do that role-modelling stuff. So usually I just eat much slower than everyone else, then when everyone’s all done and hopping mad to leave the table, I graciously give them my leave and then surreptitiously whip out the latest read.

2. Red Wine and um, Salami

[I was going to upload a picture of a salami

but then thought better of it. You’re very welcome.]

The secret’s out! I like to have a glass of red wine every night (purely for medicinal purposes, of course). Since it’s for medicinal purposes, the wine itself doesn’t qualify as a guilty pleasure (don’t you just love how that works?!)

My problem? I like my wine with food, but since I usually relax with a glass of wine late at night, I’m not about to haul out the grill and cook up a rib steak (much as I’d like to). I’ve found that salami (the dry cured kind) works just as well with red wine. It’s not particularly healthy for you, true – but the way I look at it, it surely must be healthier than an 8 oz rib steak, right? When, that is, I can stay disciplined and only have a few slices (and that, my friends, is a battle to be saved for another post).

3. Plants vs. Zombies

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Lest you start thinking all my guilt comes from food (although, now that I think about it, there’s a very clear association there …), let me introduce you to my current addiction: Plants vs. Zombies. I love my iPad version, which I bought for a whopping $2.99, and which has given me much gaming pleasure. I’ve defeated the adventure mode level three times now, and am trying to accumulate enough to purchase the final bonus game pack.

My eight-year-old has it on his PC and loves the game, too, so lately a lot of our dinner conversation has centered on PvZ strategies (accompanied by a lot of eye-rolling from Ward, who refuses to go near the game. But that’s just because he’s an Angry Birds aficionado).

4. Cracked.com

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I don’t really know why I feel somewhat guilty about having the Cracked.com feed in my Google Reader, but I do – just a little bit of guilt. But I grew up reading MAD and Cracked magazines, you know. Not that it’s nostalgia that has me reading Cracked.com these days. I just find a lot of the posts quite fun – and I especially like the posts they do on conspiracy theories and hoaxes. I love the snarky humor, and of course, there are quite a lot of bookish and film topics. But I always have this funny feeling while I’m reading a Cracked.com post that surely, I’m a little bit old for this kind of thing now …?

5. Britain’s Got Talent on Youtube at 2 a.m.

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It’s not that I feel guilty about watching Britain’s Got Talent on Youtube. I don’t – everyone knows how much I LOVE this kind of TV talent show, and Britain’s Got Talent is one of my favorites. No, it’s the fact that I always seem to get a hankering to watch it at 2 in the morning, right around when I really should be falling asleep. One thing always leads to another (aka searching out old favorite clips) and before I know it, it’s 3 a.m.. Which, at my age, is most certainly Not a Good Thing.

6. Magazines

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I admit it. I’m a magazine junkie. Just ask Ward – he’ll give you all the confirmation you might need. When we made the big move to the city (trading down about 2000 sq. ft. in the process), I had to face the big question: what to do with all the magazines I’d accumulated over the years? Sadly, there was only one answer. I just hope they all found good homes with good people who will, at the very least, create cool artsy collages with them.

Where’s the guilt in being a magazine junkie, you might ask? Here’s the thing: most of the magazines in my stash were still unread. Yup. Of course, things are a little bit better now, because I’ve gone digital with almost all of my magazine subscriptions, so at least they’re not physically piling up taunting me with all of their naked unreadness.

7. Blank Notebooks and Journals

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I simply cannot resist a blank notebook. I’ve amassed boxes and boxes of these over the years, many of which sport a line or two I jotted down in some fit of motivation (I’m rather prone to these short spurts of motivation which quickly peter out to nothingness, I’m afraid). My absolute favorites are Moleskines, which, as it turns out, is actually a good thing, because it’s rare to find a Moleskine on sale, and my accumulation habit usually has a lot to do with bargain bins.

This is what happens when I pick up a brand new blank journal at a store (usually nicely marked down): I hold it in my hot little hands and dream about all the creative nuggets that I’ll write into the beautiful blank pages … Alas, you all know the end of this particular story, no?

8. Browsing the Kindle Bestselling Freebie Lists

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I know. You’re asking yourself, “why on earth does this count as a guilty pleasure?” But it does. You see, my TBR pile is ginormous. It really and truly is. And every day I’m online, I come across yet another great title to add to the title, courtesy of all the wonderful book bloggers I know who post such fabulous reviews. I have holds galore at the library, and honestly, am never at a loss when it comes to reading material these days.

But does that stop me from browsing the free lists? Nah. Not at all. So I stuff my Kindle full of free books, and feel such guilt because I’m actively growing this TBR pile when I should really be trying to reduce its size. To make matters worse, I’ve found quite a few treasures in the bestselling freebie lists on Amazon (probably because my “secret weapon” is scanning the sample chapters first before I’ll even consider downloading a a book, free or otherwise), which, of course, means more authors to put on my “to watch out for” list. It’s a vicious cycle, folks.

9. Gel Pens

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I actually DO use all the gel pens I buy, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty about it. Probably because I buy them every chance I get. There are gel pens in every corner of our place, and I know Ward’s eyebrows always go up a fraction of an inch (or centimetre, as we say here in Canada. No, actually, we don’t. We still say inch. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it) whenever I get another fresh new batch of pens. Not that he ever says anything. But still, I feel the guilt.

In other words, gel pens are another thing I can’t resist, and I love nothing better than shopping for them at the art supply store, where you can buy them INDIVIDUALLY! (Seriously, I can spend days standing in front of those little pads they mount to the shelves so you can test out the gel-ness of the pens.) These Sarasa gel pens by Zebra are my go-to pens; I use them for writing in my notebooks (you know, the ones in point no. 7 above, whenever I feel that short spurt of motivation). But I also love the more colorful pens, too. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Yes.

10. Deep Fried Anything [Well, Almost Anything]

image Onion Rings

Here we go, back to food again. I do draw the line somewhere when it comes to deep fried foods, though. The 75 deep fried foods here, for example – probably not my kind of thing. But I do tend to gravitate toward deep-fried deliciousness. I discovered this when I first started on Pinterest and realized I pinned an awful lot of pictures of yummy deep fried foods. And not only was I pinning them, I was also sending the links to Ward, with the endearing line “Make this, pretty please?”

So, needless to say, our deep fryer has been getting quite a workout lately. Which ultimately means I am now in need of a workout (or ten) myself. Ahhh, guilt, you are such an easy thing to spawn …

So there you have it – my top ten list of guilty pleasures. What about you? Any of my guilty pleasures fit the bill for you? What guilty pleasures do you indulge in every now and then?

Eating Well, the Pinterest Way

Pinterest has really changed the way we eat around here. Now that it’s so handy – and visually appealing! – for me to bookmark a recipe, I’m not just reading through various food blogs and occasionally hollering to Ward (wherever he might be), “What do you think about this dish?”.

No, not at all. Now I have a routine. I pin all the recipes that entice me to Pinterest, and I email the ones I really, really want to try to Ward.

It’s been working out so well. I’d say at least two out of the four to five meals Ward cooks each week have been influenced by Pinterest (the other two nights he teaches, which means I haul out the ramen noodle packets).

Here’s a sampling of some of the lovely dishes I’ve had the chance to taste the past couple of weeks because of my new Pinterest routine. (Click on the image if you’d like to repin the recipe, and click on the link to get to the recipe itself.)

Dark Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream

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Can you say, ooh la la? That’s right. Bailey’s buttercream. Yum!

This was yesterday’s lucky find – I was simply delighted when I saw that Megan had shared her recipe for Dark Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey’s Buttercream. I was even happier when Ward came back from shopping yesterday afternoon and pulled out a small bottle of Bailey’s and a six-pack of Guinness.

He whipped a batch of these up last night after dinner; the whole place smelled just divine. Chocolate and Bailey’s. What a wonderful combination! And the taste? Delightful!

Braised Tofu and Radish

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I really like tofu, so when I came across this recipe for Braised Tofu and Radish at Beyond Kimchee I knew it would be perfect for our table – I’m constantly on the lookout for recipes that Ward can veganize but which I’d still enjoy after the veganization process (which usually means either tofu or mushrooms are involved).

This dish did not disappoint. In fact, it was one of this past week’s hits. It’s a simple dish that’s so very tasty. Ward omitted the shrimp and used vegetarian oyster sauce, but the veganizing substitutions didn’t hurt the recipe at all. We had no leftovers that night!

Manhattan Clam Chowder

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Clams are one of my favourite foods – I have very fond childhood memories of driving up to Seattle, walking on the beach and snacking on steamed clams with melted butter. Manhattan clam chowder is one of my favourite clam dishes, but around here it’s very difficult to find a restaurant that serves it; most of them serve Boston clam chowder, which I find just a little too creamy (I like my soups on the lighter, brothier side).

So I was thrilled when I came across this recipe for Manhattan clam chowder. Our grocery store didn’t have any fresh clams that day, so Ward bought a bag of frozen (in-shell) clams as a substitute, along with the cans of baby clams and clam juice. He made a big pot of chowder for me, so I was set for lunch for the rest of this week. This version was actually better than any I’ve had in a restaurant, because it is simply filled to the brim with clams!

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

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I’m not really much of a curry person, but both Ward and our older son Sean enjoy curry. So last weekend Ward made a veganized version of this Curried Chicken Pot Pie for himself, along with the regular version for Sean. I got a cute little version, so I could have a taste (Ward made me something else that night, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was.).

Both of them really enjoyed it, so I’m sure it will be on the menu again soon!

Mini Fish Tacos

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These delightful Mini Fish Tacos from Very Culinary were delicious: chunks of lightly spiced white fish mixed with a cooling slaw. So tasty! We had some egg roll wrappers on hand so Ward used them instead of wonton wrappers; next time around, we’ll go with the wonton wrappers the recipe calls for, because the egg roll wrappers were a bit too big and the result was on the doughy side.

But that didn’t detract from the delicious filling! I had seconds, just minus the fun little cups. Lovely!

I’ve been loving all these new food adventures showing up on our table because of Pinterest. What about you? Have you tried recipes you’ve pinned on Pinterest? Are you finding a greater variety of dishes as a result?

Enjoy this foodie post? For more food-related fun, check out this week’s Weekend Cooking, hosted each week by Candace at Beth Fish Reads!

Saturday Ramblings: Hollywood, Tosca, and Americas Test Kitchen

Whew! What a wild week this has been. I’m supposed to be in my “less busy” season, but somehow, what with projects showing up earlier than expected, I ended up with three deadlines this week. That kind of stuff is only supposed to happen in November and December!

So I thought it would be good to unwind with a rambly post. Because a lot of other stuff happened/is happening so I have tons to talk about.

As I type this, guess where my daughter, Hayley, is? In Hollywood!

She flew out on Thursday morning to spend a few days with a good friend of mine, Holly Sorenson. Holly’s the executive producer of ABC Family’s Make It Or Break It, and they’re shooting the season finale right now. We thought it would be a great way for Hayley to experience a real live television set in action, so to speak, so she took a short break from her filmmaking studies to fly out to LA.

HollyandHayleyHayley and Holly on the MIOBI set

I love this picture of the two of them on set! They’re having a great time together, and Holly took Hayley out for some pampering, too:

hayleypampering2Hayley getting some pampering

And if you’ve never watched Make It Or Break It before, you’re in for a treat! The show follows a gymnastics team on their journey to the gold; Season 3 premieres next month, and you can catch up on the earlier episodes online.

While Hayley’s deep in Hollywood excitement, I’m going to the opera for the very first time tonight! A friend of mine has season’s tickets, and she asked if I’d like to go see Tosca. I listen to opera only via Ward, who loves it (we’re planning on going together ourselves once we’ve really settled into our city lives), but other than that, I’m a total opera newbie. So I thought a classic opera like Tosca would be a good way to start my opera experiences.

My main dilemma? I have nothing to wear! <insert wail here> And while you might have heard other people say this kind of thing, I can assure you, I truly have nothing to wear. I don’t have dress boots, so that leaves out all my winter dresses (all one of them) and winter skirts (all one of them, too). I know you can wear jeans to the opera but I’d like to be dressed at least a cut above jeans. So the only thing I have left are these black cotton pants which are in no way dressy – but they’re not jeans! I’ve decided to be happy with that.

(I can’t even wear my dressy ankle boots because it snowed last night, and given the choice of walking in snow and ice in heels or my sturdy, dependable Thinsulate boots … well, let’s just say I’ve never been one to pick fashion over comfort and safety …)

Okay, this has been a long ramble, but I’ve really got to tell you about a fabulous recipe resource Ward recently discovered. (And then I’ll stop rambling – I promise!). It’s the magazine version of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen: Best Recipes and Reviews 2012, and it is simply amazing.

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So far this week, Ward has made the following recipes:

Chicken and Slicks: this is the Appalachian version of chicken and dumplings. We had it last night and it was SO delicious. You make your own noodles for it (well, I didn’t – Ward did all of that), and instead of using water in the noodle recipe, you actually use chicken broth. Very tasty noodles, very tasty dish.

Cod Fish Cakes: ever have a fish cake and it really tasted more pasty than seafood-y? The fish cakes Ward made from this magazine were the absolute best I’ve ever tasted, and that includes fish cakes I’ve ordered at a restaurant. Solid chunks of cod, with nothing to hide the flavor. Yummy!

Black Bean Chili: I didn’t have any of this, because I’m not one for chili, but it fits the bill for a vegan entrée for Ward. He had a bit of trouble getting the beans soft, but other than that, he said it was delicious.

Rosemary Focaccia: our latest joke is that this recipe alone is worth the cost of the magazine (It’s $9.95, kind of hefty for a magazine but really really worth it). Seriously, I’ve never had focaccia that tasted this good: fluffy with just the right amount of density and chewiness, and a beautiful rosemary flavor through and through.

It’s a plan-ahead recipe, as you have to make the starter between 8 and 24 hours before you prepare the actual dish. You also need a very hot oven, and since our oven is very close to our fire alarm, every time Ward opened the oven door, I had to stand on a chair and fan the hot air from the alarm so we didn’t set the thing blaring. But it was well worth it – it’s so good, Ward has made it twice this past week.

Okay, I’m done rambling, like I promised!

And since I can’t ramble and not talk about food at one point or another, I’m including this as a Weekend Cooking post. For more food-related posts, make sure you head over to Beth Fish Reads!

My First Cookbook: Fear of Frying, by James Barber

I thought I’d take you all on a trip down memory lane with this week’s Weekend Cooking post.

Fear of Frying, by James Barber

This is the very first cookbook I ever bought: James Barber’s Fear of Frying. In addition to writing cookbooks, Barber (1923-2007)  was also the host of CBC’s Urban Peasant.

I bought this cookbook back in my student days at the University of Toronto. I’d just moved out with my boyfriend, and other than boiling water, I had no idea how to cook a thing. As the price tag shows, I found this little gem of a book in the bargain bin of a local book store for $2.40.

It was a bittersweet time in my life. My family had all moved back to Vancouver, and I was all alone in a new city (I was never actually living  in the city, but in the suburban outskirts), attending my first year of classes at U of T and mired in a relationship that was destined to become a  rocky,  unhappy marriage. But there were some fond memories from that time too, and this little book was one of them.

It was just such a fun book!

When Ward and I went through our major book decluttering last year, in preparation for our move to Toronto, I came across Fear of Frying on our cookbook shelves. “Oh!” I said to Ward. “Make sure you don’t put this in the giveaway box! I LOVED this book so much!”

A few sample pages may show you why (Barber also illustrated the book):

MmmushroomsMmmushrooms

The preamble to Mmmushrooms (each spread in the book has a chatty little preamble on one page, and the illustrated recipe on the facing page):

… But the most lily white and virginal mushrooms can also be made into a flavourful, textured, thoroughly dignified meal, instead of just something to add to a steak, if you remember to cook them with the lid on. That was my uncle’s secret. Sprinkled them with a little lemon juice if you want to be super-sophisticated, or use basil instead of tarragon. Just be kind and just be gentle.

Consider the OysterConsider the Oyster

And from Consider the Oyster:

Very few restaurants are to be trusted with an oyster. They don’t have time to be gentle, to carefully watch, to feel for them, to understand them.

And now you can do it. When we did this on television I received over 2,000 letters. The nicest one said “Sir, you are wicked. I love you.” See what trouble a little simplicity can get you into.

So, did I ever make anything from this wonderful little gem? Yes! I did! I have vague memories of attempting this dish:

Garlic ChickenGarlic Chicken

Just don’t tell ‘em. Not unless you can trust ‘em. You pick up a clove, put it close and squeeze the skin. The middle pops out into your mouth. It tastes as soft and gentle as lichee nuts, not at all like garlic. Once they get the feel of it they’ll want more.

Don’t be scared of garlic. There’s nothing wrong with my social life.

How did it turn out? Unfortunately, I don’t remember. But I never thought of myself as being any great shakes in the cooking department, so it probably didn’t turn out all that well.

And to be honest, when I first started writing this post, I thought this was the Barber book that contained THE recipe I did make all the time – the one recipe I could make, and make well. But paging through it, I realized it wasn’t. A quick Google search revealed that my favourite recipe came from another of Barber’s books, Ginger Tea Makes Friends. I must have lost that book somewhere in the many years between those university days and now.

So I’ve ordered a used copy from Amazon! (So much for my no-more-print-books-if-I-can-help-it resolution). When the book arrives, I’ll post my favourite recipe in an upcoming Weekend Cooking post. I’ll probably wrestle control of the kitchen from Ward and make it myself first. I’m looking forward to taking another trip down memory lane, but next time with my taste buds, too!

For more fun food-related posts, make sure you head on over to this week’s Weekend Cooking. Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted at Beth Fish Reads.