Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I am the queen of leftovers. On the weekends I make up giant batches of chilis, curries and sauces big enough for an army even though I'm only feeding our micro family. Our fridge is container city by the time Sunday evening rolls around.

The problem with leftovers is that no matter how good a meal it is things get a little less than exciting by the second and third go round.

I just have no motivation on weeknights to start a meal from scratch. It's not the actual food prep. I love the cooking part. It's the cleanup. When I come home in the evenings I want to go for a run, quickly reheat my dinner, and then park my butt on the couch for the rest of the night.

Technically the rule in our house is whoever cooks doesn't have to cleanup. But guilt usually takes over when it is time to tackle the dishes. Why should Chris have to wash dishes and tidy the kitchen (read: crappy hated job) after I've just messed it up doing something I love.

So I have been on the lookout for ways to make leftovers a little different each night, but with minimal effort. The other night it was veggie chili with some fresh bread. Tonight its veggie chili on a baked potato. Not exactly night and day, but I was pretty excited to think of it. I love potatoes, but I rarely bake them. I in fact googled 'how to bake a potato' just to confirm the oven temperature. Clean them, stick them in the over and forget about them for an hour or so. Easy. And no dishes to cleanup

I foresee alot of baked potatoes in our future.

Any tips for making leftovers a little more interesting?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

attempting to live up to my own standards

This past week I had to complete my first assignment for my photography class. It was a relatively straight forward exercise in demonstrating depth of field. We were specifically instructured to photograph in natural light. Not the easiest task at a time of year when I go to work in the dark and come in the dark.

So I dragged my camera gear to work with me and coaxed my coworker Erin to be my subject. Midweek we had the opportunity to sneak out on our lunch break for a quick session. I attempted what the assignment called for, but wasn't 100% happy with the result. I hoped for a reattempt but in typical fashion the weather did not cooperate for the remainder of the week.

Friday night arrived and I resigned that I would have to submit my first attempt photos. To add to my frustration I spent 90 minutes trying to compress the photos according to the instructions. I searched and searched online but only became more and more confused. So again I resigned to defeat, saved my photos to a portable drive and spent the night with a little pit of dread in my stomach. My inner nerd was not at all comfortable with completing an assignment that didn't satisfy my own standards and to make matters worse, not submitting it according to the instructions. Not much has changed in my inner psyche since grade school

Time for class arrived and not only was my teacher unfazed that I didn't submit my photos to him before class but I have got an 'atta girl' on my photos.

Flash to Sunday night when I attempted a Vegetable Dumpling Soup recipe that I was adapting from Simply Life. We are on a big of a pantry cleanout/grocery budget kick. I've been limiting our purchases of pantry staples until I dimish our current supplies. I tend to buy canned goods when they are onsale like we're stocking up for the apocolypse. They then tend to sit for months and months while I continue to buy more and more.

I was full of self-doubt about the recipe but it was received by Chris with rave reviews. Over and over. I am learning that I really can start to trust my instincts in the kitchen

Vegetable Dumpling Soup
Adapted from Simply Life

1 tbs. olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1-2 bay leaves
2 tbs. ketchup
2 cups chicken broth
A healthy pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of thyme or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
15.5 oz can of chickpeas
3/4 cup frozen green beans
1 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 1 tbsp water

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. butter
1/2 fat-free milk
1/3 cup frozen corn, thawed

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic and cook 5 minutes. Add celery and cook 3 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add bay leaves, ketchup, broth, chickpeas, green beans and seasonings. Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat, add the corn starch mixture and simmer 10 minutes.

2. While soup is simmering, prepare the dumplings. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in butter and mix until butter pieces are about the size of peas. Add milk and corn and stir just until mixed together.

3. Return the soup to a boil Drop dumplings into soup by rounded tablespoons (the recipe will make about 8-10 dumplings). Cover, reduce heat and cook over medium-low for about 20 minutes (do not boil) until the dumplings are set on the top. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The face of anticipation

Fletcher is a pretty perceptive dog. He is half border collie and they are the world's smartest dog. Fletcher has learned that certain preparation activities mean that outdoor adventures are afoot. Generally this involves grabbing equipment and clothing from our 'outdoors room' (aka the downstairs extra bedroom). He watches Chris and I get dressed in our merino layers and ski pants and it is almost as if you can hear him thinking 'oh, this is going to be a good day'. Many of the times he's right. Like last week's snowshoeing excursion on Burke Mountain.

But sometimes all this preparation means we are going skiing and snowboarding. And sadly most ski fields don't let dogs on chair lifts. It's so sad seeing that happy face, full of anticipation and knowing that we're going to have to leave him behind.

Luckily he is easily distracted by food. Much like me.

After a day skiing doing absolutely anything I love throwing together a homemade pizza and kicking back with Chris. Homemade pizza is the meal most likely in our house to trigger the comment 'I love our life' from either of us.

Summer pizzas are my favourite when I am able to slather on homemade pesto, tomatoes from our garden, a freshly snipped herbs. But wintertime pizzas are not too shabby either.

Last night's consisted of spinach, goat cheese and caramelized onions among other yumminess.

While I tried to snap a picture last night Chris whined noted that his dinner was getting cold. When we finally dug in, not only was it not cold but the crust bottom was that little bit extra crispy from leaving it on the stone leading Chris to proclaim this was my best pizza yet. I take his praise with a grain of salt since he makes this statement nearly every time so obviously the boy is easily pleased.

What are your favourite pizza toppings? Do you make your own crust? (I don't, but I definitely plan to give it a try at some point)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Butternut Squash Pasta Bake

The rain has returned to Vancouver. I can't complain too much because we've been having some stunning days lately.

As much as I wanted to park my butt on the couch Fletcher would have none of it. So Chris and I bundled up in our waterproof gear and headed over to the trails. It was pitch dark but I had the new headlamp Chris gave me for Christmas. I am sure I was looking pretty good sporting a headlamp over my crochet hat but we didn't see a soul.

I came back wanting to make a baked pasta and use the butternut squash and ricotta that I had on hand. I'd tried a Weight Watchers recipe before but it turned out just a little bland and dry. Since I am trying to eat a little healthier after all the holiday indulgences I wanted to kick up the recipe without doing the obvious (as in add more cheese)

While the butternut squash was roasting I took a glance over at Chelsey's blog and spotted her sauteed spinach and tomatoes. Just what my pasta bake needed and the perfect way to use the spinach I forgot. Along with a pinch of nutmeg in the white sauce and this pasta bake went from bland to mouth watering

Healthy comfort food after a long walk on a drizzly winter night is the perfect way to snuggle up on the couch and catch up on a little Thursday night pvr.

Butternut Squash Pasta Bake (adapted from Weight Watchers)

Makes 4 - 6 servings

20 oz butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/8 tsp table salt, for cooking pasta
12 oz uncooked whole-wheat pasta, rotini
1 1/4 cup(s) fat-free skim milk
2 Tbsp white all-purpose flour
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste
pinch of nutmeg
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup(s) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup(s) grated Parmesan cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended
1/4 cup bread crumbs


* Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Coat a 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

* Place squash on prepared baking sheet cut side down; roast until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Place in a large bowl and mash.

* Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. After squash has been roasting for about 10 minutes, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pot.

* Heat a skillet over medium heat and add spinach cooking until wilted. When nearly done add the cherry tomatoes

* In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk, flour, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in mashed squash, spinach and tomatoes. Add sauce to pasta; toss to mix and coat.

* Transfer pasta mixture to prepared baking dish; dot with spoonfuls of ricotta and then sprinkle with Parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake until top is lightly browned in a few spots, about 15 to 20 minutes; remove from oven.

Beware the leftovers with this one. Pack them up straight away because it's far too easy to start eating them straight from the pan.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Goat Cheese and Spinach Souffles

I have wanted to try to make souffles ever since I bought my Kitchenaid mixer last year....longer even. So on New Year's Day I decided to go for it. New Year. New Challenge.

I entrusted Gordon Ramsey's Goat Cheese and Spinach Souffle recipe for my initial attempt. And yes, I forgot the spinach. Wilted it. Dried it. Minced it. Set it aside. Forgot about it.

Poor forgotten spinach

Prepping the ramekins

Here is something you might not have guessed. I have never before separated eggs. Hard to believe for someone who spends as much time in the kitchen as me. But I've only ever cooked recipes that called for egg whites. In which case I just break out the handy Naturegg carton.

Gordon instructed me to whip them into firm peaks. But my kitchenaid manual included descriptions for 'stiff and not dry' and 'stiff and dry'. What is a virgin souffle maker to do? I made a judgment call which was probably wrong.

Not looking very appetizing yet

I was so nervous while the souffles were in the oven I sat on the floor, staring through the oven window, sipping eggnog with rum and forbidding Chris to speak in anything above a whisper.

Rise little souffles rise

In the end they turned out okay. Not the poofiest souffles I have ever seen. Not as picture perfect as Gordon Ramsay's. Pretty tasty all the same. And certainly not the epic fail I feared.

As he finished eating inhaling his souffle Chris said 'I'm glad you forgot the spinach. It was nice to have it without.' Making me feel better after kitchen related goofs. Just one of the reasons I married him.

Have you ever made a souffle? Do you have any kitchen challenges to tackle in 2011?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

We awoke today to a brilliantly sunny morning with a heavy frost. Sure its winter, but this is the lower mainland of BC after all. Freezing temps and frost at sea level is a definite rarity. (I'm sure I just made anyone who might be reading this in other parts of Canada curse a little)

So we decided to bundle up, grab some take away coffee and stroll along the Pitt River. What a sight beheld us.

The trees were covered in a crystal frost and the snow capped mountains looked even more majestic than usual against the clear blue sky.

For the first thirty minutes or so we didn't see a single other person. They were probably all still nursing hangovers or some such nonsense but we were old farts who didn't even make it to midnight last night so we enjoyed soaking up the scenery in some peaceful solitude.

Fletcher over course loved having his run of the trail and the surroundings. He quickly discovered that by stepping in the frozen puddles he could break up the ice and chomp on it.

When we came across a large icy patch Chris and I had a good laugh skimming pebbles across the surface and watching Fletcher flail about as he chased them.

There is nothing like a good dose of natural beauty to make me realize how lucky I am to live where I do. I sometimes curse the commute and the fact that living in PoCo makes life that little bit more inconvenient. But when I think that moving closer to the city would mean giving up scenes like this only a short walk from our house...

I realize the suburbs can have their benefits. At least when those suburbs are in BC.