Okay, I admit it: I hate going grocery shopping. Don’t get me wrong, given the right circumstances and absolutely no company, I can be compelled to wander aisles and read labels and get lost in shelves of various types of hot sauce or roasted red peppers. I can spend eons comparing breads and trying to decide just what kind of cheese to purchase. But I don’t like to grocery shop.
I love muffins. Breakfast, lunch or dinner I could eat one and be full and content. They come in all different flavours too: chocolate chip, raisin bran, lemon-cranberry, banana-nut, blueberry-buttermilk or apple-oatmeal or just about any combination of all of the above. When I’m grabbing my coffee in the late-morning after a super busy meeting or mid-afternoon after an intense morning I am often swayed in the direction of a muffin to go along with that coffee. After eating one though, I often tend to regret the rash decision…
It is really quite difficult to find a good muffin out there. You can, quite easily, procure great coffee, the perfect loaf of bread, amazing pastries and delicious cakes. Marvelous muffins however seem to be, for reasons unknown, a lot more difficult. Mainly because muffins have gone from being relatively healthy, light-ish breakfast fare to being heavy, super-sweet, full-of-sugar, cake-like delicacies. They are no longer the stuff of quick snacks, rather they are desserts…and quite filling ones at that.
While it’s not difficult to dutifully google "low fat muffin recipes" and be rewarded with page upon page of choices, not one recipe I found was actually appealing to me. I could easily have made any one of them, but knew I wouldn’t really want to eat the muffins after baking them. Most of the recipes unfortunately thought that "low-fat" should be synonymous with "low-taste" and in my books that does not a good muffin make. I mean, who wants to eat something that tastes like cardboard, and sometimes not even that good…?
After a few trials and errors, a few mishaps in my kitchen and a few curses at my own in disability as a muffin chef I almost gave up. Then last week I came across a fairly yummy-sounding recipe that I thought I could switch around just a bit and make it into some really worth-while, healthy — but still tasty and filling — muffins.
I do believe I succeeded in this endeavor this time with these meal replacement kitchen sink muffins. In fact, I took one to a co-worker and after scarfing the whole thing down quite quickly she turned to me and said "Well, Jennifer, that was probably the best muffin I have ever had".
Fall is such a peculiar season. One day it is sun-dappled and picturesque; you prance around, feeling as though it might be summer returned. The next it’s chilly and damp – verging on dismal. Unlike in the spring, when a string of rainy days can be balmy and bright, a welcome relief from snow and sleet; a wet autumn day can leach into your bones and chill you from the inside.
Unfortunately every one of my aches and pains come shining through on bitter fall days. My knees ache, my elbows hurt and my spine sends a migraine running up my neck to my head that just won’t go away. It’s days like this that I am in desperate need of warmth and coziness – and food has always been the most readily available source of comfort for me (let’s not get started on what that might possibly mean).
I love creating meals that make me smile when I eat them. Foods that remind me of my childhood are the usual fare that will cheer me up on a gloomy day. Cuisine that is rich and flavourful, slow-cooked and filled with love will do the same. Dishes that are colourful in presentation and robust in taste brighten up my evening, just when I need it most – and these last ones, I find, are the simplest dishes to prepare.
First, choose a vegetable that is cheerful in disposition, something with a nice sunny colour. Peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, squash…you get the general idea. Take your veggie of choice and roast it or quickly pan fry it with the tiniest bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Select another vegetable that you can�t live without (my own personal choice would be onion) and roast it as well. Add your two vegetables to something supple and scrumptious and hot, such as risotto, soup or pasta and voil�: the perfect meal to warm you on a cold, dark and stormy day.
Sun-kissed and sweet, straight from the celebrity capital of the world, California Strawberries are the official strawberry of the Toronto International Film Festival, 2010.
This "celebrity berry" will be on the red carpet at the festival, and now you can be there (or at least kind of close to it), too!
If you love film, you’ll love the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Toronto International Film Festival has become the launching pad for the best of international, Hollywood and Canadian cinema, and is recognized as the most important film festival after Cannes.
And now you (yes, you!) could win two non-gala Screening tickets to the festival.
Please send me an email telling me about your favourite strawberry dessert recipe. Entries will be accepted as of now (August 27) until next Friday, September 3 at 5pm (Eastern Standard time). One winner will be chosen randomly.
These non-gala tickets do not include a red carpet and the recipient must be 18 years or older. Obviously it would be best if you live in Toronto, but if you are willing to travel here to see a movie then by all means, enter the contest!
The winners of the Relax and Enjoy contest (chosen randomly from over 400 entrants) are Victoria Hyde (who declared her love of Carmel is due to it’s various forms and textures) and Masa Soliman (who claimed that caramel is "gooey and delicious and tastes good in everything — chocolate, ice cream, creme caramel, cookies, YOU NAME IT).
Thank you to everyone who entered. My email inbox is very tired and grateful that this contest is now closed.
There are few sweet combinations that I like more than caramel and chocolate. Actually, to be completely honest, chocolate does go with just about anything. But caramel, with it’s slow, subtle flavour and it’s deliberate texture, it is probably the ideal companion. The chocolate stains your fingers and the caramel lingers right alongside for serious licking enjoyment, long after the actual confection is gone. Dessert doesn’t get much better than that.
Caramel is one of those concoctions that make you slow down and take your time. Chocolate is dreamy and delicious and studies show that it actually does make you happier and more content. And now, thanks to Milky Way we can have our chocolate and our caramel too – with their new "Simply Caramel" bars.
And, thanks to the good people of the Milky Way brand, I have an amazing prize pack for two lucky winners. The "Simply Caramel Relax and Enjoy" gift packs each contain the a $75 gift certificate to SpaFinder.com (for a yoga class or a massage) and enough Simply Caramel Bars to indulge in for a month (that’s five, according to the chocolate bar professionals). I know my ideal prize is getting a massage WHILE eating all five of the chocolate bars in one afternoon though, and you are welcome to do that if you wish (just don’t tell anyone!).
So, if you’d like to win one of these prize packs, all you have to do is email me with why you love caramel. All entries must be received by 12 noon on Friday August 20th. The winner (randomly selected) will be announced here before 4pm that same day.
I adore blueberry season. Blueberry sauce for ice cream, blueberry pancakes, blueberry smoothies, blueberry bars, blueberry jam, blueberry pie, blueberry muffins and blueberry loaf. I can’t get enough of those brilliant little indigo spherical bursts of tender sweetness. They are also very good for you, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, C, as well as niacin, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron. Yummy AND healthy hasn’t come along very often in my lifetime.
Lately there have been days that I don’t even make it into the kitchen…which for me is extremely difficult. Many days I’ll grab a coffee while on my way to work after dropping Leith at school, to drink along with a yogurt for breakfast. Lunch these days is almost non-existent and is, more often than not, eaten while submitting payroll or editing reports at my desk. By dinner I’m famished and craving something hearty and delicious – that also takes little or no effort on my part.
Stop. Breathe. Seriously — take a whiff…deeply, through your nose. Do you smell it? I mean, really smell it? No, not the smog or the pollution. Not the boring everyday smells. The nice one. The sweet, light, airy scent that bounces and flits its way along, throwing itself beneath people’s noses as they make their way…wherever they’re going.
It’s not flowers or grass or water or even that odd scent that lightning leaves behind on the thick air after a storm. It’s neither warm nor cold and definitely not damp or dry. It’s got a heat like chili’s and a depth like really delicious, red wine. It bubbles and makes me light-headed much in the same way that champagne does and goes right along with it like strawberries. Chocolate, in shapes like bunnies or hearts or just in good, droolingly delicious lumps. Fresh, double cream brie with peppercorns — soft and sumptuous with just that little crack and spice of pepper between your teeth.
I can’t stop there…
It’s ice cold beer on patios and peanut butter cookies sold at lawn sales. It has the feeling of freshly picked tomatoes with home-grown basil in a salad with buffalo mozzarella that you buy on your way home from work one night, because you simply had to go to the gourmet cheese shop that was more than a half-hour walk out of your way…
It’s more than food though, too. It’s Frank Sinatra on the stereo and patio lanterns on the balconies. Oh, and who can forget having the window open again after a long cold winter? It’s the smile you swear you see on your son’s face when you are walking home in t-shirts and sunglasses…and your husband’s face when he sees you in a light summer dress again after so long in jeans and big, bulky sweaters. It’s freshly painted toenails and hair pinned up off of your neck…
My fickle friends, the summer wind has come blowing in. Leith and I celebrated it with a gorgeous, fresh Caprese Salad last night…a short swim before dinner and the windows in our apartment open all night (even though it rained). We made it through the winter. Summer is coming. It finally happened. I love it.
When I was young the term “left-overs” instilled pure, unadulterated fear into my immature, teen-aged heart. I wasn’t the only family member who felt this way, either — not by a long shot. You could easily see my one brothers’ eyes glaze over, the skin of the others’ cheeks become tinged with a greenish-greyish hue. My older sister would usually slink out of the house after hearing those two words… but not before having made a face and sticking her tongue out at me from behind my mother’s back. My dad, who loves absolutely everything would even look a little solemn at those woeful words and my little sister didn’t often have a choice in the matter (that’s what little sisters are for) and had to stick around, whether she wanted to or not.
You would think that I would have learned from such displays of anger and disappointment and that I would never, ever in a million years endure an evening that is based on left-overs, let alone create an entire meal from something so vile that it would remain “left over” for longer than a fortnight. Because, really, that is what left-overs are; food that is still there after a certain amount of time. Food that has outstayed it’s welcome. Food that has been… well, let’s be honest: left over after the other, more popular food has been eaten and enjoyed.
Everyone has them, sitting in their fridge as we speak. A Tupperware container full of cold, sauced pasta, a foil-wrapped pile of grilled vegetables, a few frozen portions of lasagna… whatever the genre, whatever the denomination, they’re there, awaiting the time-honored tradition of left-over night in your house.
I have to say that I do believe I am the world’s most tenacious eschew-er of left-overs. You might say I am an Olympic Left-Over Evader. I will look at a container in the fridge and pass it over. I will know, on my way home from work, that there is already a perfectly good meal in the fridge or freezer, but because it is not new, not exciting, not tantalizingly up-to-the-minute, I don’t want it. There are nights where I eat toast-sticks and popcorn in order to avoid eating something made from food that has been patiently waiting to be eaten for who knows how long.
What does all of this have to do with the sparkling dish pictured above? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, this was our “left-over meal” quite recently. Left-overs, in a different way: we had a sweet potato that had lingered just a few days longer than I thought it should. We had a whole butternut squash lounging on the windowsill, which had remained uneaten for way too long. We had a half bag of Arborio rice in the cupboard that really, should have escorted itself out the door months ago. And, lastly we had a heel of Pecorino Romano that was dying to be used up — leaping out of the fridge at me every time I opened the door.
So left-over night became butternut squash and sweet potato risotto night. Redolent with memories of childhood left-over nights… with a new twist to make those nights just a little bit less painful and a little more delicious.
I want to hear your dinner disaster stories! Please send them to me (ASAP!!) and I will chose the four that make me laugh the most (yes, I’m mean that way) and post them on my site or link to them if they are online. Those four winners will each receive a $20 gift certificate from Longo’s to help out with their next dinner disaster**.
In the meantime, can you please explain to me why many moms feel as though they need to berate themselves on a regular basis because they are not short-order, haute cuisine chefs…? I’ve heard all the reasons a million times, and even muttered a few of them to myself under my breath while grocery shopping at 10pm on a weeknight. You know what I’m talking about – the sorrowful lament of "my mother cooked all of our meals from scratch when we were kids", and the sad refrain "my kids deserve the best", or even the melancholy chords of "I won’t pull out a frozen lasagna for dinner again this week".
Why is it that every day mothers have no problem forcing themselves to do tasks they don’t have the time, don’t have the inclination, or don’t have the resources to complete…? Dinner is one of those responsibilities around my house that seems to always fall to the mom. (Of course, these days I am the only one tall enough to reach the freezer or turn on the stove.) Moms everywhere (at-home, work-from-home, mom-preneurs, work-outside-the-home, retired) are made to feel as though they are utterly useless unless they are capable of preparing and serving a fresh, hot, not-from-frozen, not-from-takeaway, gourmet meal to their loved ones.
Dinner with children can rapidly go from being an easy-going affair to something akin to Fatal Attraction, especially on a weeknight. I personally have too many dinner disasters to count, but I try not to let them get me down. Obviously we still need to eat and macaroni and cheese is rarely on the menu (unless made from scratch, then I can’t wait to dig in). But there is the odd night when I haven’t had time to prepare for, time to shop for or time to think about dinner.
Evenings like these can easily turn into a complete disaster – particularly with a small, tired, ravenous boy (are boys always hungry?!?) in the mix who just wants to eat, maybe read a book and go to bed. And I will admit that once in a while I turn to someone else for help. Recently I found a good, inexpensive, tasty "helper" for just these occasions. Longo’s sent me a few of their Fresh Meals Made Easy packs to test out at home.
Usually when I buy something pre-packaged, I find it lacking. With these I was pleasantly surprised. For the price ($9.99) and the convenience (dinner from fridge to table in less than 10 minutes…really, less than 10 minutes!) I don’t think you can get a better meal. And the quantity was quite good. Enough to feed myself, my son and left just enough for my lunch the next day. Fresh ingredients, no preservatives, lots of veggies; these packages are right up my alley. And with so much variety (Ginger-Lime Beef Stir-Fry, Roasted Garlic and Red Pepper Chicken Linguine (Leith’s favourite), and Chili Garlic Shrimp Stir-Fry to name a few), how can you go wrong?
I did however have one small complaint: the instructions tell you to add the vegetables to the pan and saute for two minute and then to add the noodles. The veggies and the noodles are packaged together, sometimes all mixed in with each other. I’m a stickler for proper instructions, so I think they need to either tell you just to add it all in together or find a way to keep the vegetables and the noodles separate. I spent more time picking carrots out of noodles than I did cooking the entire meal. A small thing, but kind of irritating to someone as nit-picky as I am.
**Longo’s has locations in Ontario only – specifically across the GTA in areas like Downtown Toronto, Aurora and Brampton. Anyone can participate, but those living in/around the GTA would be best able to redeem the gift certificates.