Monday, 25 March 2013

30 Minute Cupboard Makeover

It has become apparent to me recently that I am going to have to be more organized as far as grocery shopping and cupboard-stocking go.  With a little one on the way, I have had to face the reality that my current habit of going to the store at least every second day is not something I’m going to be able to maintain.  It’s time to figure out an alternative. 
You might be asking yourself, “why in the world would anyone want to go to the grocery store every day?!”  Well, there have been a couple of reasons that I’ve been doing this.  First, I have a really hard time deciding what I want to eat.  I have a habit of blaming this on the fact that I’m a Libra.  If I decide on Monday what I want to eat on Wednesday, who knows whether or not I’ll be satisfied with that choice by the time Wednesday rolls around!   And second, I find that because of my fickle taste buds, if I forego having a planned meal, the produce I had purchased in well-intentioned preparation often goes bad.  I hate throwing away food – especially expensive produce!  I have found that shopping more often ensures that we always have fresh produce and waste less.  See – those are pretty good reasons!!

Well, the days when I am able to run to the store on a whim are numbered, so it’s time for a change!  I’ve already prepared my grocery shopping list (available here) according to the geography of my favourite grocery store.  That might seem a little “type A”, but I view grocery shopping as a time-based challenge.  The less time I spend shopping, the more time I have for more enjoyable endeavours. 
Now that I have a list ready to go, I will be able to (hopefully) reduce my number of trips to the store to 1 or 2 times a week.  (There’s a certain amount of anxiety even in typing that!)  This presents me with another challenge.  My kitchen is small.  I mean, really small.  I have one cupboard allotted to breakfast and lunch foods – this way I don’t have to make countless circles around the room when I’m preparing either. 
And, I have one cupboard which holds all other food items:

That’s not a lot of storage!  And get a load of the mess in there!!
So – it’s time to purge and restock!  In the spirit of the closet purge I did a couple of months back, I emptied everything out of the cupboard and divided the contents into “keep” and “toss” piles.

Then, after having taken stock of what I was keeping, I made a list of the items which I should have on hand as staples. From there, it was easy to generate a list of what I’d need to purchase to complete my stockpile.  Then, it was off to the grocery store.
I know, probably not the most economical choice of stores.  I have vowed to become a no-name-buying, coupon-clipping-mom in May, but for now, I just can’t give up my Longo’s!
After restocking and labeling, this is what we’re left with:
There was even room enough to add a coupe of cans of tuna and 2 spare bottles of salad dressing.
Now the challenge will be keeping it neat!  For those of you who are interested in whether or not I was able to stick to my goal of doing this in 30 minutes – I was (if you don’t count the trip to the grocery store).  Emptying and sorting the contents of the cupboard took about 8 minutes; making the list of what I needed took about 5 minutes; and restocking and labeling took about 15 minutes! (With the exception of the 3 minute snag I had when my label maker jammed.)
What I decided my cupboard should always contain:

·         1 bottle of salsa
·         1 bottle tomato sauce
·         1 bottle of hot sauce
·         1 jar of pickles
·         2 boxes of couscous
·         2 boxes of risotto
·         1 or 2 bags of rice
·         2 cans peaches
·         2 cans each of corn and mixed veg (for shepherd’s pie)
·         1 box each chicken and beef broth
·         Coffee (regular and decaf)                       
·         Espresso (regular and decaf)
·         2 boxes KD (for my twice a year craving)
·         1 box instant potatoes (for shepherd’s pie)
·         4 -6 cans soup
·         2 cans tomatoes
·         2 can beans (kidney and brown)
·         2 pkgs. Dry pasta
·         1 tub almonds
·         1 pkg. dry ranch dressing
·         2 pkgs. Fajita seasoning

So I’m now a little more prepared for having to pre-plan I think.  At the very least – the cupboard looks better, and if I don’t feel like going to the store (or don’t have time), there will always be something I can throw together to make a simple meal.  The next step will be to clean out the freezer and stock it with some basics!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Roasted Beet Salad with Maple Candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese, and Fresh Dill in a Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

It's maple season and, in my opinion, there is no better way to enjoy the taste of maple than to layer it into various components of the same dish. Yum! This salad is delightful, and flavourful, and I love it so much that I have made it at least six times in the past two weeks. I love it so much that I could not help but share it with you for this week's post.


For the Salad:

Mesculin mix lettuce (as much as you need)
Spinach (as much as you need)
1 cup walnuts
1 shallot finely diced
3 red beets
2 tbsp maple syrup (I like the dark amber No. 2 for this recipe)
2 tbsp butter
75 g soft goat cheese
Fresh dill (as much as you like)
Grilled chicken breast (optional - this is a nice addition)

For the Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar (the good stuff)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit
Roast the beets - leave the skin on and rub the beets with olive oil. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil and roast for one hour or until you can pierce the beet easily with a knife. Remove from the oven and let cool.

In the meantime, candy the walnuts. In a medium fry pan and over medium heat toast the walnuts until they are fragrant or slightly browned. Add the butter and toss to coat the walnuts evenly. Then, add the maple syrup and reduce the heat to low. Continue to toast until the syrup dries a little. It is very important to watch the nuts as they can burn easily. Remove from heat and set aside. Reserve any syrup left in the pan for the dressing.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut off the ends. Cut the beets in half and then cut each half into eights.

Make the dressing - mix all of the ingredients and whisk until thick.

In a large salad bowl, place the lettuce and spinach on the bottom and add the chopped beets. Add the shallot, goat cheese, walnuts, and fresh dill. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat evenly. Yum! This salad is sooooooo delicious (and nutritious - BONUS)!

Make extra and take it for lunch - nothing says "I love myself" more than bringing gourmet salads for lunch!



Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Maybe it's Forgivable

Last month I was at the Frieda & Diego exhibit at the AGO.  I was standing in front of Diego's 'Man with a Hat' (similar: here) and I was struck by how simple the lines were.   The basic strokes and shape gave life and movement to a man.  It wasn't perfect, afterall, it was just a study.   It was forgivable that it wasn't perfect.   You were watching someone work out a process.  It inspired me to make a little promise to myself that I would draw more often.
When we got home I decided to dig under my bed for my supplies from university.  I had quit art late into my university career (much to the critical detriment of a second major).  Part of the reason was my course load at the time, but for the most part I was happy to be rid of it.   I was tired  of the mechanical failure between my eyes and my hands.  I was tired of having to stand next to my work in class and receive criticism that I only interpreted as negative.  I know it's terrible. I know you know it's terrible.  We don't have to talk about it, let alone making me stand in front of the other students.  I decide that I was never going to get it and that was frustrating.

I had avoided my portfolio for years;  it gathered dust and became buried under anything/everything.  It was worthless, but the sheer amount of time it represented kept me from throwing it away.  Five years later I still avoided looking at it.   Enclosed in this portfolio was the proof of my failing and basic inadequacies compared to my peers.   I was fundamentally flawed on a basic biological level where critical synapses between by eyes and hands just did not exist ...and under my bed was the proof.

As I unpacked the drawings, one after another, I realized something.   They weren't entirely terrible .  They were forgivable for not being perfect It was a basic drawing course - of course they weren't amazing, but they certainly did not reflect this self perceived handicap that needed to be buried .

In the five years since these drawings, I haven't really picked up a pencil.   The skills that I did have at the time have rusted into ruin.  It will take time to build back what I squandered.  This lead me to a couple questions:  what abilities are you currently not using because you don't think you are good enough?   What are you holding yourself back on?  What can you do today that you aren't working to improve or  maintain?  Being imperfect is forgivable....but maybe giving up for the wrong reasons isn't.


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Butter Tarts

“It’s simple, really.”  That was the claim from the folks at Style at Home Magazine about the butter tart recipe they had in their January issue.  Sounds like a challenge to me! 
Now I know we’ve been a bit recipe heavy lately, and I typically don’t post food entries, but seriously, I’m pregnant and hungry - cut me some slack. ;) As a heads-up, there will be a homemade donair recipe coming from me soon too.

My hubby loves butter tarts.  Correction, my hubby loves baked goods.  Can I blame this urge to try the recipe on him?  Regardless, butter tarts are delicious, the recipe claims it’s easy, and I have company coming for dinner and I’m too lazy to make a cake.

Before leaving for work, I checked the ingredient list to see what I’d need to grab at the grocery store on my way home from work.  Nothing!  Fantastic – I LOVE recipes that call for ingredients I already have on hand!  If this really is as simple as they claim, my hips could be in big trouble!
What you’ll need:
(For the pastry)
1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ c. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
4 to 8 tbsp ice water

(For the filling)
¼  c. unsalted butter, softened
¼ c. packed brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ c. corn syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

I didn’t want to get hubby’s hopes up, so the plan was to keep the whole thing hush, hush.  I generally have an hour or so home alone after work before he arrives so I wanted to have everything finished before he called to say he was on his way.  I know that I’ve tried to stick to the “30 minutes or less” promise with previous posts, but this was a new recipe so I gave myself a buffer.

First, the pastry.  I know that people say pastry is tricky, and it is; but like with so many other things, my motto is “ignorance is bliss” in this situation.  I just go ahead and assume it will be fine.  Making pastry doesn’t typically give me issues; trying to line up a double-crust pie properly and make it look nice, that’s another story.

Into my beautiful new Kitchen Aid went the flour, salt and sugar.  With the mixer on low, I added the butter cubes and processed until the mixture was crumbly.  Without turning off the mixer, I slowly poured 4 tablespoons of ice water.  The dough should just hold together.  You may need to add up to 4 more tablespoons. 
Don’t overwork the dough!  Then I rolled the dough into a ball and refrigerated it for 30 minutes.
After setting the oven to 400oF, I rolled out the dough on my lightly floured countertop and tried to get it as close to 1/8” thick.  Using a circular cookie cutter (4” in diameter), I cut out 16 circles of dough and fit them into muffin tins.  These then went into the fridge while I prepared the filling.  Note – these will be “obviously homemade” given the lack of perfection in the way I was able to get the dough into the tins.
To prepare the filling, I whisked together all of the ingredients.  If you hate working with ingredients like corn syrup or molasses, try rinsing the measuring cup with hot water before measuring out your ingredient.

Once mixed, I took the shells out of the fridge and divided the filling as evenly as I could between the shells and baked for 15-20 minutes.  The mixture was still bubbly when I took them out of the oven so I used the pastry as the gauge for readiness.
I removed the tarts from the pans after letting them cool for 10 minutes or so, and then let them cool completely on racks.  In the end, it took me 15 minutes longer than I had hoped.  Not too bad for a first try!
Verdict: Now, the recipe says it will make 16 tarts.  In my opinion, there’s not enough pastry or filling for 16.  Next time, I’m going to make a dozen and hope for the best!  But regardless - my hips are in BIG trouble!! 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Pear and Almond Steel-Cut Oats in a Slow-Cooker - Wake up to a Warm, Perfectly- Cooked, Healthy Breakfast!

I don't know about you, but I often find it difficult to eat a healthy breakfast. I usually only leave myself enough time to toast a piece of bread and make an instant coffee...not exactly the best (or most exciting) start to the day. I started to think about ways I could eat a healthier breakfast without having to sacrifice those precious moments in bed when you are still sleepy but awake enough to feel the bamboo sheets on your skin (because I know myself and I know that if a healthy breakfast means no bamboo sheet time, then I will likely be eating dry toast forever). During my search for a better way, I came across some recipes for steel-cut oats cooked in a slow-cooker overnight and I thought I would try it out because, well,  it's kind of a brilliant idea! Over the past week, I have made Apple Pie Oatmeal, Mixed Berry Oatmeal, Pear and Almond Oatmeal, Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, and Banana Bread Oatmeal. Below, I have documented the Pear and Almond literally takes less than 5 minutes to prepare.

Pear and Almond Steel-Cut Oats in a Slow-Cooker

Serves 2

1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 pears cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
large pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup brown sugar or maple syrup (you can use less or none at all if you prefer)
Milk for serving if you like

Grease the slow-cooker (make sure you do this). Put ingredients in a slow-cooker. Set it to cook for six  hours on low. Most slow-cookers will automatically shift to a Keep Warm setting so you will have warm oatmeal when you wake up!

(Every slow-cooker is different...if you find that the oatmeal is too runny for your liking...cook it for 6.5 hours next time...if it's too dry, cook it for less time.)

So easy...just put it all in the slow-cooker and stir.

and...8 hours later...woohoo! It comes out caramelized on top...yum!



Monday, 18 February 2013

Best Ever: Homemade Granola

My affair with this granola started a few months ago when Fraser and I went on our epic one day road trip around Caledon (documented here).  Days later, Fraser confessed to fondling a boutique box of granola and it had been on his mind.    Maybe it's my selectively competitive nature, but as is my reaction to most things, I spat out a 'pfft, I could make that' and set off to prove that I can make something so basic and beautiful in my kitchen.    Be warned, this granola is ridiculously tasty and it will go quickly.   The recipe below makes nearly 4 cups and you will find excuses to incorporate it into most meals.
Because of a change in my work schedule, I have also severely abused this poor body and digestive tract with fast food,  company lunch and more coffee (read: 5x the normal amount consumed).   I managed to break away for a few hours, which I naturally dedicated to making easy/ wholesome/ fibre filled meals for the next few days.

Homemade Granola
·         2 c oats (old fashion/ large flake kind)
·         1 1/2 nuts and/or seeds
·         1/3 c oil
·         1 tsp salt
·         1/4 tsp cinnamon
·         nutmeg
·         ginger
·         1/3 c honey or maple syrup
·         1/2 tsp vanilla
·         1/4 c dried fruit (but I am usually more generous with this)

Combine your oats, nuts, seeds, oil, salt, spices, honey, vanilla in a large bowl.   On a parchment lined baking sheet, bake at 350 for 35 - 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.   Add the dried fruit in the last 10 minutes of baking. 

From the recipe above you can clearly see that it is very much open to interpretation.   I usually stick with olive oil, though coconut oil might be nice since it is heat stable.  In terms of spice, I will add a little bit of everything (cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon).    A word to the wise, do not add the fruit earlier.   It will burn and turn into bitter nuggets making the most miserable granola, and that's no way to start a day.  Stick to the instructions and you will be able to bask in your own brilliance over an awesome bowl of granola.

Remember how I said that this granola is so good you will want to eat it all the time?  Here is an easy dessert idea that will fulfil that need while looking semi fancy:   take a solid perfectly round scoop of vanilla ice cream and roll it around on a plate covered in said granola.  I'm willing to call this a Canadian version of Tartufo.   You have the crunch, you have the cream and you have a brilliantly easy dessert.

- Jess

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Update: Changing the Monday to Friday Attitude

In an effort to build accountability, it made sense to provide a follow-up to my post from three weeks ago. So, have I been taking my own advice and spending a few minutes a day trying to make the ordinary moments more beautiful?  You bet I have!

I won't ramble on with all of the details, but I thought you might like the highlights. A "best of" so to speak. 

"Make it better Monday" was my favourite I think - although, I didn't realize how much I associated Tim Hortons with doing a random act of kindness. The pay-for-the-person-behind-you bit, the surprise-a-coworker-with-coffee bit, etc. I tried to put a different spin on it last week...still a Tim's thing though.  Our Canada Post carrier always looks so cold. I picked up a gift card for him and left it attached to our mailbox when I left for work.
 To change up my special hot beverage on "tasty Tuesday" last week, I left work at lunchtime and got myself a delicious strawberry smoothie.  Yum!

"Wedding Wednesday" is always a hit but I'm thinking I might change it up a bit tomorrow and switch from TLC to the movie "Bridesmaids".

Thursdays have been designated for reconnecting which has been neat. So far it's been via email, but it's led to a coffee date already and a general feeling of happiness.  :)

Fancy Friday got a bit interrupted this past week thanks to a (much appreciated) snow day. So instead of adding an over-the-top accessory to my outfit, I added some over-the-top accessories to a cheap IKEA light. Thought this might make a nice addition to baby's room!
I'm not sure the pictures really do it justice.

My question to you now is - what have you done to make your week more beautiful?

~ Shannon