Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kitchen Tip

I can't remember where I read this, either in Cooking for Geeks or Cook Yourself Thin Faster. It's a way of taking low or no fat yogurt and turning it into Greek style, thick yogurt. Take a metal strainer, put a coffee filter on top, and strain the yogurt into a container. Leave it in the fridge for half an hour or so and your yogurt will be thicker and the liquid will be in the cup. It's a great tip and I've used it several times now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kitty Moment

And here's Mittens with her bear. She doesn't play with him too often, so I was lucky I had my camera ready.

Cottage Birds

Here are some of the birds the bluejay from my last post chased away from the feeder.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blue Jay at the Cottage

I'd intended to write a longer post with more video clips and pictures, but the kitties seem annoyed that we went away for the weekend and won't let me do much work in my office. So you're getting this, a quick video of a blue jay at the cottage where we spent the weekend. It chased away the goldfinches and chickadees that were giving me quite a show. Still, I've always love blue jays.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Freezing Herbs

A few weeks ago I tried something I've never really done before. I've actually tied up dill into bundles and hung it from my ceiling before, but if you can believe it, this is the first time I've tried freezing herbs.

In my defence, I only discovered the joy of using fresh herbs a few years back when I decided to try growing a basil plant. I can't stand little dried herb bits in my food, getting stuck in my teeth, so I'd only cook with ground herbs. Fresh has so much more flavour! And it's a better flavour too. Alas, it was short lived, as I soon moved to a basement apartment where I couldn't grow anything.

Years passed and I'm in a house now. I tried a balcony herb garden last year and it bombed because I didn't remove the mint early enough (when I did remove it to pot it separately, it had already sent roots beneath all the other plants and so ripped them out with it).

This year I didn't try mint. I did try basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill, chives (didn't work well on the balcony), sage and green onions. I loved grabbing basil, sage, dill and green onions for salads. I also started throwing in oregano. I'm not as good with using the thyme and rosemary (thicker herbs seem much like the dried bits I disliked before).

Anyway, I decided I didn't want my herb usage to vanish simply because fall was coming, so I decided to freeze some for the winter.

I washed the herbs (mostly to remove the dish detergent I've been using as a pesticide) and let them dry. I then laid them on a baking tray and tried flash freezing them so they wouldn't stick together once frozen. This gave mixed results. The rosemary, sage and thyme turned out ok, but the basil was pretty useless. I stuffed them all into labeled baggies anyway because when winter comes I probably won't mind the texture (and from frozen I won't expect it to look like it was fresh) and the taste in dishes will be worth it.

I've also heard that cutting up the herbs and freezing them in ice cube trays with water works well.

Have you tried freezing herbs? If so, how did you go about it and how did they work when you used them?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kitty Moment

Our cats are pretty partial to anything dairy (and turkey) related. But I never would have expected them to love yop of all things. Here they are, one being bottle fed the other drinking from the cap.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Organizing My Freezers

I have a tendency to stock up on food and then toss it months later after I'd forgotten I had it and it's gone bad. Therefore, I have wanted something for years that would let me program in what food I have at home and how long it will last. And with the iPad Ifinally have one. My husband did the footwork, looking through the possibilities. There were some dedicated apps for this purpose but none of them were quite what I wanted. Then he found hanDbase. It's a database that is completely customizable. There are several categories, and within them you can arrange your database however you like.

Let me show you.
The main screen shows your file folders. We put my freezer file in the 'personal' file. My husband set up the initial file, but given how easy adding new items is, I can't imagine it was that hard. To add a new product, simply hit the + button at the bottom of the screen. That gets you the 'edit records' screen. Then you touch each line to set the criteria. If you discover a criteria is missing, simply hit 'edit' on that pop-up screen and add it. You can also alphabetize the criteria once you've added something, so everything's easy to find.
(Image 1: the main screen. Image 2: the 'edit records' screen)
(Image 3: 'edit record' with the location subscreen. Image 4: editing the locations)
(Image 5: food inventory, sorted by expiry date. Image 6: food inventory alphabetically sorted by item.)
So, across my screen are a box to click if the package is open, what the food item is, what category it is (meat, vegetable, etc.), where it is in the house, expiry date, countdown to expiry, purchase date and notes. Clicking the top row labels allows me to sort the list using all the variables. Want a vegetable, simply click 'category' and it will show what comes up under each, alphabetically. The most useful is the expiry category. This calculates how long each food item has left.

I spent part of yesterday categorizing my freezers. Next up is the fridge and the cupboards. It's a lot of work, but it should make meal planning easier - as I'll know what I have and what needs to be used TODAY.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Watermelon Carving

I've seen carved carrots and cucumbers and smaller fruit before, butI was quite surprised to see a carved watermelon at Carassauga this past May. More recently, I stumbled upon a video showing how to carve a watermelon. Looks like a lot of work, but they're beautiful when they're done.

This is Vid Nikolic carving a watermelon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kitty Moment

One of our cats likes to meow outside my office door. She doesn't do it because she wants attention, because once I'm outside she ignores me, she just doesn't like me in my office. She was banned from there for jumping on my desk and being a pest, so now she sits outside the door. And meows.

I decided to let her in again to see if she'd be good and let me work. She likes sitting in boxes, so I moved an empty box I had next to my reading chair and brought it close to my work chair. She entered the room and went straight for my desk. I introduced her to the box, which she sat in for a moment or two, grooming herself and liking it immensely. Then she jumped out and settled elsewhere.

Meanwhile our other cat decided HE liked the box, and sat there for a while.

All that silence got me antsy, so I looked for the first cat. Guess where she was sitting? On the floor by my reading chair, where the box used to be! Crazy kitty.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kitchen Island Shelf

Last year we bought a kitchen island to give me more counter and storage space. But I'm the type of person who acquires a lot of clutter, so this island is constantly a mess. In order to help with that, I decided to put a shelf on it. At first I looked at mini shelf units, to see if any would fit without taking up too much room. No luck. Then we tried the hardware store and stumbled across an already cut metal shelf. We bought it for $3 and brought it home.

The original idea was to suspend the metal shelf from the metal bars already in the island, but then my husband came up with a much better plan. And here it is. My new island shelf. I plan on storing things like freezer bags and tin foil on it - the things otherwise in a cupboard 'far' away from my cooking area and always falling over as they're stacked on top of each other (and the one I need is always on the bottom).

I love having a handy husband. :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

German Homestyle Potato Pancakes

I've been making my mother's potato pancakes for years. But for the interests of this blog I decided, the last time I made them, to go back to the recipe. To my surprise, the recipe I've been using (memorized after numerous uses) isn't the recipe I got from her!


So, here's what I've been doing vs what I was 'supposed' to be doing. I'll just say that both recipes make great pancakes, though my mother's come out fluffier (due to the flour). And use yellow potatoes. I kept forgetting which work best and so alternated for a while. The white turn out VERY sticky once cooked (like the packaged stuff), so make sure you use yellow (Yukon Gold work well for this).

So first, my recipe
3-4 raw, peeled potatoes (for 2 adults)
1/4 onion
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp salt (watch this, too much and it's inedible, too little and the pancakes don't taste as good - I generally make up the mix with a bit of salt and then try the first cooked pancake to see if I need to add more)
1 tbsp flour (to thicken the mix, only if necessary - this will make the pancakes fluffier)

This recipe makes a fairly thin mix, which is great if you like thinner, crispier pancakes.
1. either grate the potatoes by hand on a cheese grater or put them through an electric grinder (I throw everything into my Vita-Mix - it's a high tech blender with dull blades that crushes everything in the container. It makes a smoother mix then grinding and grating though, which some people might not like.)
2. add the other ingredients and mix well
3. pour onto a well oiled, heated frying pan
4. brown on both sides
5. serve with red current sauce, sour cream or grated cheese

Here's my mother's recipe:
5-6 potatoes (ground raw)
3 eggs
5-6 tablespoons flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk

1. mix ingredients
2. fry on stove in well oiled pan

One note of caution, I mix everything in my Vita-Mix, and found for my mother's recipe that the mix separated after a few minutes, so I had to stir it before pouring it onto the frying pan or I'd get one very fluffy pancake and one mostly made of liquid.

And if you have access to red currents, here's a sweet and sour sauce that goes great with potato pancakes:
1. put the currents into a pot and boil them 1-2 minutes (you may need to add a bit of water)
2. add 2 tbsp cornstarch (depending on the amount of currents used, adjust as necessary)
3. sugar to taste (2 tbsp)


So, are there any recipes you use that you found out you've been doing 'wrong' for years?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Kitty Moment

In Tuesday's post I mentioned I tried the 'No Machine Ice Cream' from the Cook Yourself Thin Faster cookbook. Well, I modified it a little. Instead of using cocoa powder and making a chocolate ice cream I used a tsp of maple extract and added score bar candy pieces. Oh, and since I have one I put it in my ice cream maker so it would finish faster.

My husband and I thought it was delicious. The recipe's use of sweetened condense milk meant no extra sugar was needed, and it was plenty sweet!

But most importantly, our cat liked it too.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

He's Just Not That Into You - Movie Review

Director: Ken Kwapis, 2009

Pros: showed several types of relationships (including a gay relationship in a positive light), showed several types of men (jerks, decent guys, beer drinking sports fans, players), realistic and practical advice

Cons: all of the women were portrayed as needy and obsessed with marriage, ending had a mixed message (explained in spoiler section)

He's Just Not That Into You was based on the book by that name written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. The book was designed to show women that they often delude themselves into believing men have more interest in them then they do. Once women realize this, they can move on.

The film starts with an interesting, and unfortunately true, image. A little girl is insulted by a boy and told by her mother that this means he likes her. Seriously. And this HAPPENS. I remember being told and telling this very same, very pervasive lie. When women are trained to believe that being treated badly is a sign of love what sort of relationships will they settle for?

And the movie brings this out well. The film is told through several storylines that converge at various points in the film. There's the office worker desperate for a relationship who obsesses over guys, constantly waiting for her most recent date to call and making excuses for why he hasn't. There's the sexy babe who's convinced she's met her perfect mate, even though he's already married. There's the couple who have lived together for years, but the woman wants a ring and he dislikes the concept of marriage. And there's the player who teaches lady #1 that the guys she's dating just aren't that into her. And why.

Periodically the action stops as a group of people are asked a question posed in the book. It's an interesting technique and works some of the time. The pauses draw attention to whatever misconception, is going to come next, providing some measure of foreshadowing.

The storylines are interesting. Some characters grow and change, some stay the same or even regress with regards to their relationships. And not everyone ends up happily connected at the end.

I liked how the portrayal of men was varied. There was the guy willing to cheat on his wife, the guy who wouldn't dream of cheating on his girlfriend, the guy who treated women like dirt, the guy who was the perfect friend, gay guys giving advice and the jocks who would rather watch TV then help out around the house.

The women were less varied. All women are apparently obsessed with relationships and marriage. I disagree. It worked for the film but I think it did a disservice, ignoring that some women are happy alone and are more interested in their careers than starting a family.

If you haven't seen the film and don't want the spoilers, stop here. The movie had enough funny parts that my husband wasn't bored and enough truths that most women should watch it because we perpetuate a lot of myths about relationships, and a healthy relationship doesn't include myths like 'he treats me badly because he loves me' (and vice versa).

**** SPOILERS ****

I liked most of the ending. I was glad the woman who broke up the married couple didn't end up with the man. Her actions proved she wasn't mature enough to have a relationship, so seeing her realize that and decide to be on her own for a while worked for me. I also liked how the nice guy she confided in and used as an occasional sex partner eventually moved on and found someone who would appreciate him for who he was.

My complaint with the ending dealt with the couple who'd lived together for years and broke up because the woman wanted to get married. The film was very clear about showing that a committed relationship is worth more than a piece of paper. I know two couples wherein the 'husband''s parents went through a messy divorce so the IDEA of marriage doesn't appeal to them. Despite not being married their relationships are committed and monogamous. And that's fine. I think it would have validated those types of relationships had the couple in the film decided that the marriage paper wasn't the most important thing to them, their love was. By having them get married it showed that no matter how much they loved each other, that paper and ceremony were more important. And it showed the woman's desire to have the marriage ceremony as more important than his deep sated (though unexplained) dislike of the institution. Marriage and relationships are all about compromise, and the wedding scene upset the compromise they'd made in their reconciliation scene.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Cook Yourself Thin Faster - cookbook review

by: Lauren Deen

The premise of Cook Yourself Thin Faster, is lowering the fat content of the individual dishes, so you can eat well and still lose weight. There's a snack list for staying under 100 calories, notes on losing weight (including keeping a food diary) and success stories scattered among the recipes. I tried several of the recipes, with mixed results.
The 2 deserts I tried (no machine ice cream and white chocolate delight) turned out extremely well.
Of the main dishes, the stuffed peppers with orzo and olives was great (the orzo didn't dry out during baking the way rice does, and the olives added flavour to the stuffing mixture), and the pizza with sweet peppers and goat cheese was very flavourful (but follow the recipe and use 2 bottles of peppers as one won't cover a full pizza). The fettuccine con funghi and the white pizza with roasted mushrooms were underspiced. With the pasta, adding salt or another spice fixed the blandness, with the pizza, the ricotta cheese used as a base was too bland to work without more flavourful toppings than those requested. Of course, everything with cooking is (as with most things) a matter of taste. So what I considered bland others might find very flavourful. So take my comments as intended, as an indication that adjustment might be required depending on your own personal tastes.

The author is clever with her substitutions. Using sweetened condensed milk and half and half cream for the ice cream rather than whole cream and sugar still gets a sweet (almost too sweet) ice cream but without a lot of the fat content. The secret to the cream sauce for the fettuccine con funghi is mixing heavy cream with nonfat evaporated milk. These are easy tricks to lower the fat without sacrificing taste. And it really works.

The cookbook has over 75 recipes and a menu planner in the back.

Here's a sample:

Stuffed Peppers with Orzo and Olives

1/2 cup whole wheat orzo
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1 zucchini, diced
1 tomato, cored and diced
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and halved

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a 13X9-inch baking dish with aluminum foil.
2. Cook the orzo until al dente according to package directions.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the tomato, olives, and orzo.
4. Divide the orzo mixture among the peppers and arrange in a single layer in the prepared pan. Bake until the peppers are tender, about 25 minutes.