Thursday, 22 November 2012

Radio Silence

I need to apologize in advance.  There is going to be 'radio silence' here for a little while while I work behind the scenes.

As few of you know, this blog started innocently as a record for my kids.... a record of their childhood. ....hence the name of the blog Life: A Study.....in other words, I was paying attention to their lives for them.  It wasn't that these kids, my kids, are any more important than anyone else's but that I knew my memory for their landmarks was going to be crap.  It is hard enough to remember first words when you have one on the go....but two!!?....forget it.  It is all happening too fast and if you haven't had a good night sleep in years.........

Anyway I digress.....my point here is that in the last few months I have decided to make an honest push for this sight.  My kids will be in full time school in the fall 2013 and I would like to be 'working' for this site by then.  Yes I do other things, teach seminars on cooking and preparing real foods, develop recipes, write for other sites and publications, and now apparently small scale catering but they all link back to this site......so it has to get it's shit together.

First I need to learn what SEO means......and then work on that.....I am only half kidding.  I know what it means but have very little concept of what it means to me and my site and how to 'work it'.  The way my brain works means that I have to have a pretty good grasp of how something works before I can use it.  I need to be able to 'teach it' before I feel confident to use it. So I have been tryin' to learn the ways of the internets.  Here's the rub, the kids are in school for 2 1/2 hours a day and I have been spending the entire time writing recipes/posts and taking the dam pictures.  Learning about RRS feeds and keyword search tools takes my whole brain, focused in one direction with my eyes open....and truth be told, there is nothing about this subject that makes it easy for me to keep my eyes open.  Twice I have woken up in a pool of drool, head on my desk.

So here it is.  I will try to make this quick and as painless as possible -  I am not redesigning the whole web site but I have to 'get on the ball' even if it is a very small ball to start
 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Knitting

I am knitting again....it's my winter sport.

For about 6 months of the year I knit. I am a good knitter, not a great knitter but I have gotten good enough to be able to design a few patterns of my own.  I have made tons of hats and booties for my own kids but for some reason I always make baby blankets for pregnant friends

I think I do it because it is meditative, rewarding and by giving it away, I can show off a little.....so in other words I do it for mostly shallow insecure reasons.

A is for Alex
Babies need a special blanket all their own. And for certain special little people I go ahead and make it.  Whether their parents want me to or not.


When I found out that a dear friend of mine from childhood was expecting I got started on the blanket even before the invite to the baby shower arrived. They found out the sex and had a name all picked out before he was born so I was able to incorporate his initial right into the design of the blanket. It is hard to make out in this picture but there is a textured 'A' in the center square.

for my niece





Then when a very close friend of mine found out she was unexpectedly pregnant I wanted to ensure her excitement and down play any fear and unpreparedness she might be feeling.  She found out she was having a girl so I went girl crazy and over-cuted all her gifts. This blanket is off-white with pale pink and raised textured hearts with a cable stitch separating the rows.










If I don't have time to make a blanket I will at least make a hat.  Like I said I am not fantastic but I can hold my own.  I like doing it so much that I decided to start a Stitch'n Bitch with some of the moms from the twins school. Unfortunately even though I planned the whole thing I ended up missing the first meeting.  SO tonight instead of knitting with friends I am at home blogging about knitting.

I am currently working on some fingerless gloves?.....tippless mitts?  I'll post a picture when I'm done.

On to the knitting!!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Health Benefits of Using Cast Iron

Those of you with children will remember those first few months when you brought the first one home.  The auto-pilot daze you went into.  A survival mode of sorts.  Well, times that buy 50 and you have bringing home preemie twins with medical issues.

It is possibly one of the worst ways to be welcomed into the parenting 'club' (BTW I never did receive my membership card?)  We were tired, exhausted, stressed out zombies.

Even all dressed up for New Years, you can see how tired we are.  Babies have been home for 3 weeks at this point
Those first few months we tried, faithfully, to burn the house down but to no avail. We just ruined pot after pot, kettle after kettle. Coming to when the smoke alarm went off.  I think we ruined close to $1000 worth of cookware in about 6 months.  I had inherited a set of Le Creuset cookware from an aunt when she past away.  At the time of inheritance I had no idea of it's value and was just glad I didn't have pots and pans to buy as I was just moving out on my own for the first time.  But as my love for cooking and food grew I learned what an enormous treasure I had. Then a few years of real pleasure cooking with it and then destroyed it all within a small time period.  I will say it again....these are the most expensive children on the planet....good thing they wear hand-me-downs.

We aren't in a position financially to replace this cookware and I thank my mom for slowly building up my stash again when every Christmas I am spoiled with a great piece she probably got from Marshells in the US. But there the few great pots and pans that I don't want made out of expensive enameled cast iron but plain ol'million year old cast iron.  In fact, in some cases, I don't even want to buy it new.

I have a cast iron Dutch Oven (go ahead....laugh...I'll wait) that was my moms, that is now mine.  It is probably over 40 years old.  The glass lid was broken many many years ago but the pot lives on...making endless pasta sauces and roasted potatoes on the BBQ.  It's one of my favs.  40 years ago it probably cost less than $20 (if my mom bought it new!) and now might cost around $40-$50.

Why Cast Iron?
  1. Cast iron is naturally non-stick. Unlike Teflon pans, the longer you have it the more non-stick it gets as the cooking surface gets a patina.  Just look after it properly *see below for care instructions
  2. Highly durable. Since it does not scratch, there is no need to use plastic utensils, and there is no fear of using your silverware to stir or scoop. It lasts for so long that many people still use cast iron cookware inherited from their parents and grandparents.
  3. Retains heat (always coast on waste heat) You can use it for high-heat cooking, like searing, or for mid-range heat, like sautéing.  
  4. It's free of toxic chemicals like PFOA and PTFE that coat many non-stick frying pans.
  5. It's cheap! Cooks looking to replace non-stick cookware often consider stainless steel. However, a high-end, 12-inch stainless skillet runs well over $100, while a similar-sized cast iron one costs less than $30.
  6. There are health benefits. You can actually boost your iron intake from eating food cooked in cast iron cookware. This vital mineral is crucial for maintaining energy levels, and it helps strengthen immune systems.  If you suffer from low iron as I do and know how hard it is to get it up, every little addition to help improve your numbers helps
  7. Cast iron cookware can be used over any heat source. Take it camping, throw it on the BBQ.  Loose power? You can use it in your fireplace!!
  8. Food cooks beautifully. Using a cast iron skillet you can create restaurant-quality, homemade fish sticks, potato pancakes and French toast, complete with golden brown, crispy exteriors. Contrast this with non-stick cookware, which makes browning nearly impossible.
  9. Besides the stove, you can use a cast iron skillet in the oven, at any temperature This comes in handy for making corn bread, frittatas, and flat bread.

How to season cast iron

Season your pan with a rich fat like animal grease. Don't eat animals? That's fine—use coconut oil. Coat the inside of your pan with the fat of your choice. Bake it for about 2 hours at 120C (250F), wiping off any excess and cool. There are a few different techniques to doing this.  I don't find one to be better than another.

How to clean cast iron

Never, ever wash cash iron with soap!
This will remove all your seasoning and food will stick. Instead, simply wipe clean or, scour with hot water and coarse salt for messy jobs. Cook it dry to prevent rust.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chicken Marbella with a Twist




I have started to attempt to add small scale catering to my resume.  Crazy I know but with everything else that I am doing it makes some sense. And in truth, I have had some requests.

So I thought I would try it.  I am probably more stupid than brave but then you are here reading about it......sooooo I win!.

I needed to pulled off finger food for 20-22 people, Tapas style.  One of the dishes that I thought would go over well was Chicken Marbella.  I love the flavour profile of this dish, it has Spanish roots and if I am organized far enough in advance I make a point of making it.....so not very often.

Now the classic recipe for this dish is the one from The Silver Palate Cook Book. I have one complaint about this recipe.  I find it produces the the worst kind of chicken skin.  Soft, fatty and thick with dimples - like it has been boiled. Now the original recipe calls for using 10 lbs of chicken......because it is so good you are going to want leftovers....made with broken down whole chickens. But I needed to make more than that and it had to be finger food so I wanted to use wings only. 

I knew the fatty skin aspect would only be emphasized by using wings.......and what is worse than chicken wings that have a skin that feels uncooked?  I also tend to enjoy the sauce so much (like spooning off other peoples plates so much) that I felt it needed more.

When you change one cut of meat for another there are a few things to consider

  1. Does it change the cooking time?
  2. Are these cuts inter-changeable?
  3. Will there be more or less fat rendered?
  4. Is there a point?

Here is my version based on using 12 pounds of wings
Chicken Marbella

12lbs chicken wings
1 1/2 heads of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/3 cup dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup red wine vinager
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes,coarsely chopped
1 cup Spanish green olives, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup capers with a bit of juice
8 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped




In a lg bowl combine chicken, garlic, oregano, pepper, salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with juice and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate over night.








Preheat your broiler on HI. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a large baking pan (I used a large roasting pan I have), trying to avoid the caper, olives, prunes and bay leaves, leaving them in the marinade bowl.  Crisp up the wings under the broiler.  Don't let them burn but it is ok if the tip of the wing blackens a little.  Turn to brown other side.  Then remove from oven.  Turn off the broiler and preheat oven to 350. The wings don't need to be cooked through at this point, it just to crisp up the skin.

Pour the marinade evenly over the chicken. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and pour the white wine in around the pan.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting frequently with pan juices.

When you take it out it is done but it only improves with flavour the longer the chicken sits in the marinade.  Top with parsley or cilantro. I made this the day before the party and reheated it at the party.  It is also delicious at room temp.

**I know I say that this site is gluten free, sugar free and crap free.  And I do stick to my guns on that one.  This is one of the few recipes that I will post that has any sugar in it.  Get a high quality brown sugar or unrefined cane sugar.  In this rare case I don't recommend a replacement.  The pure sweet and ability to caramelize is why real sugar is indispensable this time.  There is also a case to be made for the fact that it is being consumed with a fatty protein therefore greatly slowing the sugars ability to raise your blood sugar.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Pad Thai



My life is getting in the way of my life again.  I know I say this every couple of months, like I am surprised, and like I should've gotten it all under-control since the last time I felt it but the fact of the matter is........it isn't a matter of control but a matter of attitude.......and I gotta bad one.

My daily 'to-do' lists are always longer than is possible for one human to accomplish in one day....or probably a lifetime  I always push and stress and 'natter' (my grandparents used this word interchangeably with worry about or stress...I know it isn't a real word)  I have the attitude that some day.....that one magic day I will some how mount Mount Laundry, scrub the house unto a cleanliness that is yet unknown to man kind, be showered and dress, hair done and maybe some make up, have all the days meals prepared, have a pantry full of a years preserves, the garden perfectly weeded, the kids fully supplied with all the clothes they need for the season, all things that need to be repaired - repaired, all things that need to be painted - painted, all beds made, all books read, all blog posts written, all recipes tested .....do you catch my drift?? Essentially I want to wrap my whole life up in a tidy bow because then and only then I can relax......

Until then I have this 'to-do list'.....

But my true problem isn't that I am busy (to be fair, I am busy) but that I have no idea how to relax and justify my stress level for my logical brain by filling 'to-do lists'.  The biggest draw back to this kind of psychosis is that it makes it impossible to enjoy in the moment.  Instead I am making lists of the things I should be doing, could be getting done and need to be accomplished.  But to what means? And really to whose benefit?

To wrap this up in a tidy package and to create some, albeit contrived, connective tissue between my mental health issues and Pad Thai I will say this.  I worry about how many vegetables my kids are eating.  Kids are so carb-centric that it can be difficult to know that they are getting enough greens and protein. It is also completely stress inducing to fight them at the dinner table.....and what a nice environment to then try to bring down to getting ready for bed calmness.  Pad Thai in this house is a 'clean out the crisper', 'use up the left overs' kind of meal.  I know the Thai would probably balk at me saying that and that I haven't preserved the traditional Pad Thai recipe but I use mental illness as my excuse.

My Way Pad Thai
I am posting the recipe for the version in the picture.  Like I said above, you can use any vegetables you like or that need to be used up.  I will list some ideas at the bottom of the recipe

454g of vermicelli rice noodles, cooked as per instructions and rinsed with cool water
Some firm tofu, cut into cubes.  Quantity is up to preference (make sure it is organic and non-GMO'd)
1 med Salmon filet, salt and peppered
6 tbsp Olive Oil
3 tbsp Hoisin sauce
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1-2 tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce (an Asian chili paste) to taste.  My kids can eat it with the full 2 tbsps with no issue.
1 lg sweet pepper, sliced
1 lg onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
A small knob of fresh ginger, minced or grated on cheese grater
1 med zucchini, diced
1 bunch of broccoli, steamed over the cooking noodles
salt and pepper
a hand full of coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tbsp of the olive oil and fry salmon filet skin side up and flip once the pan has released it and you don't have to scrape it up off the pan. Approx 2 minutes.  Cook on skin side for about 1 minute, remove and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the hot pan and saute the onion and peppers until they start to soften. Once they are starting to turn translucent add the garlic and ginger, saute for about 2 minutes. Add the Hoisin, fish sauce and chili paste, combine and add the tofu and zucchini. Saute for 2 minutes before adding noodles.  Toss to warm up noodles. Remove the skin from the salmon and dice. Toss in and combine. Serve with broccoli and top with soy sauce (or if you are gluten free - gluten free tamari)


Possible additions - bean sprouts, grated carrot, chicken, shrimp, egg, any left over vegetables.