Friday, January 8, 2016

Meal Planning

So I have tried to meal plan for many years. There are definitely some weeks that it works out rather well and then there is the rest of the time. Now despite all appearances I rather like having a routine and normal schedule. However, I haven't had a routine or normal schedule well in probably at least a decade (...what does it say that my monkey is almost 10 years old...)

I also love the chaos of my life and unexpected turns and adventures - but sometimes it can be a little much and normal would be a nice change. But I think I have to give up on that.  It is one of the biggest issues with trying to meal plan and have it go off successfully.

The other problem I used to have is grocery shopping - I tend to know the majority of the stuff that is in my home (my brain is just like that) but sometimes I just forget what I have ran out of. I have tried many different ways of keeping lists and they all usually end up sucking until recently.  I was in the states and found white board paper that is tacky and sticks to any surface. I figured it would be good for Cadence to use so I picked some up.  I ended up putting some up in the pantry and hung a container from the dollar store for white board markers - voila a huge grocery list for everyone to see and/or add to!  It works relatively well - I just snap a picture as I am putting my shoes one and off we go.   I am working on a inventory system for the food in the house and deep freeze to cut down on wasting food. (I have one up already for my spice cabinet which is fantastic).
The original plan!

All this looks really good for getting organized right? Right!? except the farming meal planning is still an issue. So I usually do this as I'm shopping as I tend to get inspired (or see what's on sale.. same thing right?)  and as I'm there I try to plan.  Here is my text to the husband from this weeks grocery trip - I had a plan!

Croque madam, Bangers and mash (which turned into Toad in the Hole), Burritos with pulled beef, leftover, butter chicken and chana masala and the random day.

Well thanks to a microwave not working, husband with a sore tooth and other random things this week - this is how it has worked so far:
Sunday - croque madam for me and smoothie for Justin
Monday - Toad in the Hole
Tuesday - Sushi (take out because husband couldn't eat so I got a treat)
Wednesday - Toasted tuna salad sandwiches
Thursday - Grilled cheese and tomato soup.

So two out of five isn't great. I think the plan for tonight is the butter chicken and chana masala (it was suppose to be Thursday but we had a frozen chicken issues...) To be honest though - this is an exceptional good week for "following the plan! I have to figure out a way to be able to plan but not plan if that makes sense - but alas this has always been my struggle with meal planning!  I think it is a necessary evil as it prevents the I have NO idea what to cook syndrome that leads to eating out or being lazy so I will have to find a way to tough it out!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My request to Alton Brown

Dear Alton Brown,

I know we've never met - but it seems like we know you in our house. My 9-year old daughter is one of your biggest fans!  Since she was a little, one of her favourite shows to watch is "Good Eats" she loved the science of it.  Her current favourite is Cut Throat Kitchen (it's her reward being able to watch the show..) Her birthday is coming up very shortly and she is an inspiring chef!

We would love to extend an invitation to you to attend her birthday party - now I get that this is a little out there - but honestly she's a great kid!  (The past two years she has opted to not have birthday presents and instead ask for money to donate to the Winnipeg Humane Society and this year she will be doing the same and having her party there to show support for the WHS).

Now I understand you may not be able to attend (I mean I assume you are a busy person - plus its an invitation to join us in the freezing cold...) so as an alternative would there be any way you would be willing to sign and return to us some of your cookbooks?

At 9 her specialities currently are french crepes, french toast (these she does all on her own). She is also really good at making bread, pizza and pasta (including the sauce and meatballs) from scratch with some help!

Me - Cassandra  aka the loving Mom to a monkey!

Welcome to 2016 - Part 2

Because my goals for 2016 in terms of cooking and making it onto MasterChef Canada aren't lofty enough there are more things I want to do in this year and frankly at lot of them are focused on me. I hate this part of it and I was always made to feel really guilty in my first marriage for wanting to focus or work on me - didn't matter if it was professional improvement, health related goals or just relaxing. It caused a lot of problems and tensions.

I am very blessed with Justin to have him support me in any and all of my endeavours - from saying "sure why not you can do it! I believe in you" to him picking up the pieces (sometimes literally) as I fail horribly at something.

It still makes it scary to say - and publicly say - hey there are these things that I want to try for this year and I might fail - actually let's be clear I am likely going to fail at one if not more of these goals. I am already scared that my goals for the 366 challenge might be too big (I've been typing and planning and noting away on different things to make and 366 is a LOT of things!).

So here are my other goals:

2. Photography - 

If you know me in any way you know that photography is a huge passion of mine. I have not taken nearly enough photographs lately. Justin and I signed up for two online photography courses - Thank you Groupon! (ok well maybe I signed us up but that's beside the point).

My goals are:

  • Finish the two online photography classes
  • Spend at least one day a week practicing and taking pictures
  • Spend at least one day a month exploring with the car and taking pictures (this has to be separate from the one day/week practicing).
  • Enter at least 5 photography competitions (this means researching them, planning the shots and then taking the pictures).
3. Health Goals 

Four years ago I really focused on my health - eating and exercising - but I've let that lax a little lot since then and I am feeling the effects agin. So I am determined to get back to something that is sustainable (particularly considering my other goals).

My goals are:
  • Get back to running - however I need to do this - even it is starting back slowly with biking, walking, elliptical - doesn't matter my goal is to be running. I would like to be able to set my goals for a 5K for the fall doesn't have to be a run - it can be a run/walk combination. I just need to remember to be careful.
  • Watch what I eat (hard with the food goals) but don't be crazy about what I eat. Last time my program was not sustainable - it was too much to keep up with so this time - keep a healthy balance and log what I eat.
4. Home and Relationship Goals 

I love my husband loads and I can't imagine my life without him. Even in the midst of our worst fights I could not and can not imagine my life without him. He pushes me to be better and to be me and to change but not change - but the last year has been really really hard with so many changes and a lot of stress because of that. I want to refocus and keep on the right path.

  • Get the house organized!  This is mostly done - but the office, garage and Cadence's play room needs to be done. 
  • Set up and follow a chore chart so that we keep on track with the house.
  • Create a budget (have one basically), follow the budget and track our finances more closely.
  • Go on a date with my husband at least once a week - doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy but something once a week that is just the two of us spending time together. (go back to the sticks project) 
  • Menu plan and stick to the plan!
5. Personal Miscellaneous goals

I used to be extremely involved in the community and it has always been important to me but sadly as I got busy in life this seemed to be one of the things I just couldn't keep up with (not to mention someone didn't support me in this endeavour in life...) 
  • Volunteer with at least two organizations through the year (I have already signed up to be a guider)
Well I think that's it. Here's to keeping 2016 fun!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Key Lime Pie!

The pie in progress
So Pies have always seemed like a really daunting task. Particularly with the whole concept of the crust and watching so many people fail at pies.

Well my first attempt at pies was last Christmas when I could not find any tourtiere in the stores and I really wanted to have one for Christmas. I figure I may as well try.  They turned out pretty well with little problems (except for an over water meat mixture which destroyed the base of the pie when you went to lift it - still tasted amazing).  (I will say that I had made cornmeal pie crust for mincemeat pie before but that is far more forgiving than regular pastry dough).

Then sometime in the spring I decided that I wanted to roast chickens. Yes, most of my adventures start with the simple desire to give something a whirl and with the thought of "well if it is terrible there is always take out..." (The best of my adventures usually start with a what the heck attitude!). Anyways roasting fresh whole chickens makes the entire house smell amazing but then I was left with two whole chickens. This lead to the foray into making Curried Chicken pot pie with puff pastry. Again with the that can't be that hard attitude I made the puff pastry from scratch and honestly after reading a lot on it - it wasn't that hard! I rocked it my first time. Then came Thanksgiving and a baking and bread making day with my best friend Serina (love my adventures with this girl!).  We rocked pumpkin pie entirely from scratch (OK I didn't roast or puree my own pumpkin but we did everything else!). 

Fast forward to this Christmas - on my baking list again Tourtiere, Mincemeat pie, and butter tarts.  So I stock up on Crisco when it came on sale thinking this has to be the good stuff for making my pie crusts.  Turns out I was terribly TERRIBLY wrong. I followed the recipe on the box despite having the complete instinct that the recipe seemed way off - but I figured it is just different because I'm using shortening versus Lard. Well let me tell you after 5 attempts to roll out the dough and only one minor barely a success crust I was frustrated as all hell.  I figured I knew what the problem was (the recipe...) so I took some time and started again using plain, no name, old fashion lard.  The pie crusts were FANTASTIC.  But at the end of all my baking I still had tons of dough left. 

This lead to the idea for the Key Lime Pie which is the Husbands favourite pie!  I was worried about rolling out the dough - making it too thin or to think - I've never really been sure how thick it should bee and then how to gauge the thickness. So I rolled out this dough until I could see a difference in the colour. (I have black quartz counter tops and the dough was ever so slightly translucent).  I then put the dough into my amazing Pie Pan, docked the dough, loaded it down with beads and popped it into the oven. I made a second crust as a back up that was slightly thicker. Now, this is where I should point out that - really you should read the recipe the ENTIRE way through.. I had felt like I was forgetting something and after some thinking and then the wise decision to read again I realized I had forgotten to put parchment paper under the beans.  I grab the crust out of the oven and start to take the beans out (some had started to bake into the crust) and manage to get some parchment down and throw the crust back in the oven. 

The key-lime part of the pie was incredibly easy. I followed the recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. The only difference is I used regular lime juice as I have not been able to find Key Lime juice anywhere in the city (nor has anyone ever heard of the difference) and on the night I was making the pie I just wasn't in the mood to go find, buy and juice actual key limes. This was a more proof of concept (...that I can cook a pie).  The pie itself is pretty good - the curst is super thin and flaky. I even used my cake decorating skills and piped on the whip cream topping!

Notes for next time - stop being lazy - read the entire recipe, buy the key limes and try a meringue topping!
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The Finished Product!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Toad in the Hole

So the Husband is English (yes the accent is fantastic and yes it is the reason I agreed to go out with him in the first place and then sat and was memorized by his voice... ok I am drifting from the point).

One of his biggest complaints here is that he just can't seem to get a home-cooked meal that would be normal for him. I understand this after melting down in Tesco's on our trip to Europe - I think it was day 5 or 6 and we went to the store to get some food to make supper and I was dazed, confused and lost NOTHING seemed familiar or normal.

I have been trying my best to learn things that he would have at home in England and make them. Sometimes I run into problems like not being able to find proper english style sausages (yes it is on my list of things to cook/make for the 366 challenged).

Last night I made Toad in the Hole (a variation on Yorkshire pudding).  Basically it is bangers cooked into the yorkshire pudding, then served with mashed potatoes, veggies (normally - but don't get me started on the microwave..), and a red win reduction gravy (yum!).
I have had people say that they are afraid of making Yorkshire pudding but honestly it isn't that tough. I measure my dry ingredients with a scale.
Here is the recipe and my general directions:

Yorkshire Pudding 
  • 4 eggs
  • 140 g of flour
  • 200 mL Milk 
  • Salt and pepper (yes I know usually you don't use these but i do it anyways)
  • (for a variation the small ones in the pictures had rosemary added, and next time I might try some different spice combinations to see how they go). 
Using a metal whisk beat the eggs until they are smooth and creamy yellow colour. Add the flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Do not be afraid to beat the mixture hard you want to incorporate air into the mixture. Once smooth whisk in the milk.  

I use a 4-cup glass measuring cup for this entire process. Once the mixture is fully combined I cover it with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge (leave the whisk with the batter). This can be done right before you make them or in advance - I try to do it in advance or at least make the batter before I start heating the oven. 

Heat the oven to 350F. Once the oven is preheated I then put oil into my containers. I use either muffin tins (for the small ones) or glass cake pans (prefer metal) 9"x9" for the large ones. 

Put enough canola oil in each space so that there is about 1/4" at the bottom.  THIS IS THE KEY - anytime I have screwed up Yorkshire Pudding it is usually because I have second guessed myself having TOO much oil and then take some out - you can't have too much unless the space is over half full that would be too much.)

Put the pans/tins into the oven until the oil is HOT (at least 5 minutes) but pull if the oil starts to smoke.

Grab the batter from the fridge and whisk again then working as close to the oven as you can pour the batter into the tins/pan - I would guess until the space is about half full on muffin tins about 1" tall in the cake pans. 

Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Try to not open the oven door because the steam will escape. 

Toad in the Hole  
- This variant is basically done with cooking the sausages until they are no longer pink, then place into the oil and then cover with the batter as above. I had a problem with the sausages not being cooked into the dough itself - I didn't use enough of the batter apparently but still very tasty. 

I used the oil/fat from the sausages and cooked that with red wine until it reduced before adding some broth, salt and pepper and some flour to make a gravy. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Welcome 2016

It has been a while since I have shared on the blog and I think it is about high time that I get back to blogging. I am going to try and use that to keep me on track and accountable for the goals I set and track progress.

So... with that being said here are the current goals I am working on:

1. Auditioning for MasterChef Canada - which means baking and cooking a LOT which I am super excited for because well I LOVE TO COOK and I LOVE BAKING (I mean that is probably obvious right?!)

but what does this mean aside from that?  It also means pushing myself to learn more - learn knife skills, cooking techniques, different ingredients and as much as I can to push myself before I audition.

So I got a fantastic cook book (The Professional Chef) for my wedding Anniversary. Not to mention I may have gone a little (ok maybe a lot) crazy with Boxing Day sales on some other great cook books (Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking: Everything You Need To Know To Make Fabulous FoodGordon Ramsay - in the Heat of the KitchenMastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2In The Hands Of A Chef: The Professional Chefs Guide to Essential Kitchen ToolsMath for the Professional Kitchen)

In addition to that I recieved Canadian Living: The Ultimate Cookbook for Christmas from my husband (which I have taken a quick peek through and marked at least two or three dozen recipes).

In addition to this I got a pressure cooker and two knives to add to my wonderful collection of knives. (So far I have my 8" chef, 8" vegetable knife, 5" hollow santuko by Wusthof, a paring knife and a 7" Santility Rain Knife by Ken Onion. This Christmas I received the Wusthof boning knife and the 10" Super Slicer) Yes I'm very spoiled - this also explains some of my choices for books.

But what does this ultimately mean as a goal for the year or things that I want to do. I did take one course last year at Red River Community College on knife skills (sharpening to be specific) and I think I may one to take another class or two (braising or pies and pastry).

Ultimately with 52 weeks or 366 days in this year I should be able to accomplish at least something.

So my goal for cooking are:

  1. 52 new techniques to try in the kitchen - now this can count from anything like using a pressure cooker, to trying something knew with my knife skills to making an element of a dish in a manner I have  never done - I am going to give myself a fair amount of room to explore this challenge. 
  2. 366 new, never tried recipes. I would suggest that I am going to try for roughly 1/3 of them to be in the baking category. 
  3. 52 new ingredients - I want to force myself to explore what's out there (not that I don't want to do that any old time - but with the enormity of the other two challenges I don't want to limit myself or find myself falling back to things I know. 
Putting all of this together - I want to ensure that I work and home my audition for MasterChef Canada. 

I have more goals but this is the one I will post for toda.