It’s been one of those crazy weeks!

The other day I was browsing through WordPress Daily Post to get some inspiration and writing tips. After reading some of the suggested blogs (and finding some very interesting bloggers!), I signed up to get the Daily Prompt. Today’s prompt is “Mad Libs”, which is kinda cool because I’ve been working on this post and wasn’t sure which direction I should take it. Thanks for the Inspiration!

It’s really been one of those weeks.

My alarm clock didn’t go off on time Monday morning but I pulled it together to get to work just in time. My Tuesday’s “to do list” got rearranged to suit someone else’s (more important) agenda, leaving me with an even bigger list.  By Wednesday I was so stressed out I almost forget an important appointment. To top it off, today there was this massive shut down on the 401 highway westbound into Toronto that clogged up even the side streets. I’m sure all the commuters within a 60Km radius of the C.N.Tower were just desperately trying to find an alternate route to work, however, that turned my measly 8 minute trip into almost an hour. Who can plan for that?

I feel like I’ve been playing catch up since the week started and it’s finally got me grumpy. In fact I have to say, I’ve got quite the “grrrr” on right now.

I’ve always been a little envious of those people who can let things slide. Me? I have a temper. Yep, I admit it. It’s nasty, evil, fast, white hot and shows no mercy. Most days I keep it locked up in a box with a heavy rock on top, but I know it’s there, all shadowy and patient, waiting for that one thing that will make this, usually nice gal, crack.

Once that happens (like now!) it’s best to batten down the hatches and hit the deck! (At least until I can put it back in its box!) It’s a good thing I’m the only one home.

Time for a self imposed intervention…wait, is that even possible? Well you know what I mean. It’s time to break out the big guns to cure this cranky gal of “The Nasties”, before the family gets home.

For me there are only two things that work. Exercise and cooking. Since I’ve already done my workout for today (and my legs are screaming at me from the 160 squats I did), it looks like I’ll be cooking.

There is something I find therapeutic about preparing a meal.

I think I’ll start off whacking a big bud of garlic (to make it easier to peel, of course). Then there’s the part where I get to chop it, or even better, smoosh it with my mortar and pestle. Then, I’ll add a little pinch of course salt and grind it in until the juices release. Then, because I’m all fired up, I add something to help clear my head…like some extra hot horseradish. Today I’m having a “good” sinus day, so I’m gonna stick my nose close to the jar and inhale. That should help. Hmmm. Mustard? Something to “kick it up a notch”? This makes me think of a marinade I make for beef, Grilled Devilled Beef to be exact.

This will chase away my foul mood. Time to marinade some steaks and fire up the grill!

Grilled Devilled Beef

1 large clove of garlic
1 T extra hot horseradish (I used Kozlick’s X Extra Hot)
1 T strong flavoured mustard (I used Kozlick’s “Market Mustard”)
1 T balsamic vinegar
pinch of kosher salt
3 T Tamari sauce
3 T olive oil
1 ½ -3 ½ lbs steak

Place the garlic clove flat side down on your work surface. Lay the flat side of your favourite knife on the garlic; keeping the knife steady, use the heel of your free hand to whack the flat of the knife. Proceed to peel garlic and chop finely, or add to mortar and bang and smoosh it a bit. Sprinkle with salt and continue to pound with pestle, or use the flat side of your knife to smear the salt into the garlic. Add the remaining ingredients, except the steak, together in the mortar or in a small bowl, mix well. Pour over steak, making sure it has been completely coated. Let marinate for minimum 30 minutes. Grill steaks to desired doneness. Let steaks rest for at least as long as you grilled them.

Add some baked sweet potato fries with some chipotle mayo and a mixed green salad for a simple supper.

Hmm….I think I just smiled : )

Grilled Devilled Steak II

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Men vs Women: Groceries

In my house, I do all the grocery shopping but it wasn’t always like this.

Before my Sweetie and I decided to take the plunge and shack up, we used to shop together all the time. It may sound funny but when I reminisce about those early shopping expeditions, I don’t think of them as a chore that had to be done. Rather, I think they were an integral part of how we got to know each other. You can learn a lot about someone by the way they shop.

At the time, my Sweetie was a busy, self employed, single dad, living in a small town, a forty five minute drive away from where I live.  When I’d visit him, we’d head out to the one big grocery store in town.
My love never carried a grocery list.  He’d just grab a cart and proceed to go through every isle in the place, driving like he was in a slow motion recap of the Indy 500, taking the corners on two wheels. I thought it was hilarious and I looked forward to the next trip as a part of our “date”.

We leave the store with his usual, eggs, milk, cheese, bagels, a bag of Oreos and whatever looked like a good idea for dinner that night (those were my pre gluten/dairy free days). It filled about 2 bags.

Me? I approach the task in a very different way.

My family calls me “an ingredient snob” and I’m proud of it. I know all the stores in my city and I know which place has the best selection of produce, meats and dry goods. When I shop, I have a list and a route, a plan and I’m on a mission.

I have perfected the mid-week, mid-afternoon “Hit & Run”. The “Mad Dash to the Cash”, the “Zip in / Zip out”, all to avoid being in the store when 3:30pm rolls around. That’s when busy parents everywhere are scooping up their kids from daycare or school and draggin’ them out to get something for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch all before the lovely little munchkins have to be at “insert name of activity here”. Having been there, done that with my own boys when they were little, I learned a very valuable lesson. Just like shopping when you’re hungry never works out well, grocery shopping with bored hungry kids is worse!

Yeah, ok, so my Sweetie’s way is more fun. The other day I was thinkin’ how I missed those days.

My Sweetie and I just celebrated our four year anniversary….by going grocery shopping in my favourite place. Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.  It was a lovely date.

Dyson and the Omelet

There was a time, not so long ago, when my typical weekend mornings involved preparing a big breakfast of fresh fruit salad, bacon, sausages and freshly made waffles (gluten and dairy free, of course) to feed my hungry gang. My kids were fairly early risers. The youngest would trundle, down to the kitchen, still looking sleepy, around 7 in the morning. Then one by one, the others would drift down by about 10, just in time to help set the table. That was before my children started hitting their teen years.

Over the last few years, breakfast slowly turned into early brunch, served by about 11am to accommodate the sleepy-heads. When early brunch morphed into late brunch that didn’t finish until after 1 in the afternoon, I stopped cooking for the masses on weekend morning for fear I’d never leave the kitchen. :S

The current routine around my home on weekend mornings is that everyone fends for themselves for breakfast and /or lunch. I just provide plenty of options.

One Sunday morning few weeks back, I was sitting in my kitchen, enjoying a rice & coconut milk cappuccino when my 16 yr old son, Dyson asked if he could make himself an omelet for breakfast.

(Now, I have, on occasion, been told that I tend to behave a tad bit possessive about my kitchen. I’m not fully convinced but I am trying to be more aware of my behavior…)

I quickly told to myself that my first born was probably going to be leaving the nest sooner rather than later and I want to make sure he has enough confidence in the kitchen that he’ll be able to eat well. I figured, if I played my cards right, this could be a great teaching/bonding opportunity. In my most easy going mom voice, I said “Sure!”

Dyson began rummaging through the fridge and came up with a carton of eggs, several containers holding a cornucopia of leftovers, a box of fresh mushrooms and a massive hunk of cheese. (Not everyone in my family needs to follow a gluten & dairy free diet. I’m the only one, which comes with a learning curve about cross contamination for everyone in my house. I’ll write a post about this soon!)

I just sat back, watched, waited and enjoyed my cappuccino. I didn’t have to wait long before the conversation to begin..

Dyson: “Can I use these onions?”
Me: “Sure”
Dyson: “What about the peppers and zucchini?”
Me: “Yep.”
Dyson: “Mushrooms?”
Me: “Go for it!” I know my kids all have pretty mature palates so by this time I was intrigued.
“What ‘cha makin’?”I said.
Dyson: “There’s this diner that makes this thing called a “Roman Omelet”. It’s pretty good.”
Me: Not wanting to seem too enthusiastic, I said “Cool”.

Dyson continued to poke around in the fridge. A left over mild Italian sausage and a bit of marinara sauce was added to the growing bevy of omelet fixin’s. I watched, proudly as Dyson’s mis-en-place took shape.

Me: “How does this all go together?”
Dyson: “I want to cook the mushrooms. Then I want to put all this stuff in the omelet.”
Me: “Sounds great. Feel free to be generous with the mushrooms, I bought extra.”
Dyson aka “The Mushroom Fan”: “Excellent.”

I watched while my son rummaged for a pan. He went for the cute heavy, orange enamel covered cast iron, a great little pan, but way too small for what he had in mind. I know my kids hate to be micro managed, so I had to tread delicately.

Me: “You gonna cook a bunch of mushrooms?”
Dyson:”Of course.”
Me: “I’d go for the big nonstick, they’ll sauté better if they’re not crowded. Let it get nice and hot before you add some oil.”
Dyson: “I’m gonna use butter.”
Me: “Ok, but add some olive oil to raise the smoking point so the butter won’t burn.” I could tell I was appealing to my son’s love of chemistry. “Then sauté them until they squeak. They’ll release their liquid and it’ll cook off so they won’t make your omelet soggy.”
Dyson: “Cool. Thanks.”

I continued to watch as Dyson swapped the pan and put it on the stove and fired up the burner. He proceeded to cook the ‘shrooms (exclaiming that they really do squeak-he thought I was joking). When they were done, he looked at me and asked “now what?”

Me: “grab a bowl to hold the mushrooms. Add all your other filling ingredients, except the cheese to the bowl so the heat of the mushrooms will take the chill off the other stuff and the omelet won’t take long to heat through. Then you can scramble your eggs in another bowl. When you’re ready to add the filling to the omelet, put the cheese down first to let it melt, then add the rest.”
Dyson: “Oh, ok.”

I watched with pride as my first born put together an omelet that looked worthy of any diner menu.
I sipped my cappuccino and thought, he’s gonna do just fine.

I Am Not Superwoman! (Don’t Hear Me Grrrrr!)

Ok, so in my last post I mentioned how much I love family dinners.

That’s mostly true.

However, thinking about it now, after having spent most of the four day long Easter Weekend bound to my kitchen in preparation of one Birthday Dinner on Saturday, followed by an Easter Dinner on Sunday, I should have been more specific. What I should have written was ‘I love the kind of unhurried, relaxed meals that allow me the time to sit and enjoy a good conversation with the company of my family’.  Sometimes, the dinner part doesn’t always include the relaxed part. This past weekend I got one good dinner and two of the other kind.

I should probably fill in a few details.

Recently, my Sweetie and I made the decision to curb household spending a bit. That’s not to imply that we’re frivolous with our cash. I tend to pinch my pennies so hard Her Majesty yelps. We’ve set a short term financial goal that requires a bit of belt tightening. For us that means no eating out or going to the movies for a little while. Not a huge sacrifice, right? Except that because we have birthdays that fall so close to holidays we make it a point to mark them as special, by going out for dinner to celebrate as a family. Which leaves me, the meal planner and grocery shopper, with a conundrum. How does one pull off a special birthday meal AND a holiday meal, on the same weekend without going crazy?

I can think of a few options:

  1. Teach my kids that goal setting, saving money or keeping your word are ideas that aren’t really all that important by taking everyone out for Sushi.
  2. Show my Step Daughter that birthdays are special and worthy of a night out…except when it’s hers and we want to save some cash by staying in and combining her celebration with one that’s been on the calendar FOREVER.
  3. Don’t celebrate Easter (aka as “The Spring Festival of Chocolate” to my gang)
  4. Make a Special Birthday Dinner one night and an Easter Celebration Dinner the next night.

I’m sure there are other options I could list, but they’re just not comin’ to me. I chose option 4.

One of these days I’m gonna have to admit to myself that I’m not Superwoman. I will come to grips with the fact that I am a mortal. I don’t have super strength or super stamina or even magic powers. I can’t bend time. I only stand 5’4” and need a ladder to reach the top shelf. One of these days, I will learn to ask for help. I will learn that it’s ok to say I can’t do everything, and that my personal best usually far exceeds what others expect. One day, I’ll ask them to help with the dishes.

Until then, I’m glad that I have a home library of cookbooks and ten years of saved magazines to turn to for inspiration.

Our Birthday Girl’s celebration was a full-on “Gluten and Dairy Extravaganza” (If she wants pasta and garlic bread and chocolate raspberry cake, she will have it! I won’t allow my food issues to keep my kid’s from their favourite foods. I just made myself a simple risotto. J) So I won’t bore you with those details.

Easter was a spiral ham I cooked with ginger ale and candied ginger (inspired by the cola cooked ham recipes from The South); garlic and thyme roasted mini potatoes; asparagus sautéed with lemon and for dessert: Baked Lemon Meringue with Lemon Curd and Raspberries.

I have a habit of cooking by feel and not always by recipe. The ham, potatoes and the asparagus dishes just kind of “came together”. If anyone wants the recipe just ask I will try to work it out for you. The exception is when I bake. I try not to mess with chemistry. That said, I am always looking for ways to mix and match elements to satisfy a craving. Initially I was going to make little meringue cookies sandwiched with lemon curd. By making one big open faced “cookie” slathered with the most amazing dairy free lemon curd, and topped with fresh raspberries, I was able to enlist the help of my lemon loving son to put the three elements together….for the price of licking the spoon afterwards. J (Every bit helps!)

Here’s the recipe:

Baked Lemon Meringue with Lemon Curd and Raspberries

For the Meringue:

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated

For the Lemon Curd:

3 egg yolks
1 egg
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
½ cup lemon juice
pinch of salt

For the Garnish:

1 pint fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar,( to dust)

For the Meringue:

Preheat oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute; With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions, beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. Add powdered sugar; beat to blend, about 1 minute.

Spoon mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a spatula, spoon or pallet knife, spread meringue out into a 1” thick circle. Bake meringue until dry, about 3 1/2 hours. Let cool completely, about 1 hour (meringue will crisp as it cools). DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead: Store in an airtight container at room temperature, between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.

For the Lemon Curd:

In a heatproof bowl, stir together the egg yolks, egg, sugar, lemon juice and zest. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring often, for about 8-10 minutes, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and an instant read thermometer reads 71°C/ 160°F.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on surface and refrigerate until set. ). DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead.
Loosen curd with a spoon and spread over prepared meringue. Garnish with raspberries and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Next time, I’ll take my own advice and use the “do ahead” options!

Lemon Meringue with Lemon Curd and Raspberries

Lemon Meringue with Lemon Curd and Raspberries

Hope Everyone had a Happy Easter.

The Isle of Family Dinners

I’ve always been an advocate of the sit-down family-style dinner.

I grew up the oldest grandchild one side of the family and as a little kid I remember how I loved going to visit my grandparents for dinner. Back then, there were just a few grandkids in the family and because I was the oldest and able to feed myself, I was granted a spot at the dining room table with all the grown ups. I would quietly eat my dinner and listen to the conversations around me. I remember hearing about what was new at my Papa’s job. I heard about the courses my uncle was planning to take next in college. I heard about how poor Mr. So-N-So’s arthritis was acting up again and how the Italian lady next door had given my Nan some beautiful tomatoes from their massive garden. It wasn’t very philosophical conversation, but I got the feeling that this time spent at the table, breaking bread, wasn’t about debating who was gonna be the next Prime Minister. I remember plenty of laughter and good food. Even at a tender age, I found this simple event to be very comforting. The older I got, the more I was encouraged to participate, so that by the time I had a family of my own, I felt so strongly about dining together, I was practically militant about sitting down to eat as a family.
Nowadays, I have a growing family of my own. My two sons are now busy teenagers with homework part time jobs and have a few days at Mom’s/ a few days at Dad’s kind of schedule. My partner works late several nights a week and my step son and daughter are mostly with us alternate weekends. Sitting down to dinner as a family can’t always happen, so I had to relax my “everyone-dining-at-the-table-together” rule. I’ve even learned to embrace the TV-Dinner. : )
What I find is that more often than naught, on those alternate Fridays, when my gang is all together, we’ll end up hovering around the busy island in my not-so-eat-in kitchen, munching at whatever happens to be dinner, while holding our plates. This is our catch up time. We sit if there’s room and we stand if not. We eat, we talk and we laugh a lot.
We still have plenty of sit down meals. My recent favourite is a new twist on and old standard.
“Stuffed Roast Chicken”, inspired by the tv show “Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course”.
I absolutely adore cooking shows and I think Gordon Ramsay is brilliant, especially when he’s not cussing out a bunch of rookie chefs. When this aired in the UK last year, I had a pal record and send me every episode. I re-watch them often to get inspiration.

Now you can see episodes and register to get selected recipes from the show here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/gordon-ramsays-ultimate-cookery-course/4od
(While researching that link, I also came across this link: http://www.bookdepository.com and placed an order for the cookbook based on the show. I can’t wait for it to arrive!!)

This chicken is tender, juicy and deliciously flavoured with lemon and paprika. The bird steams in white wine and gives you an abundance of pan juices at the end to drizzle over the finished dish. But the best part is the stuffing. Since going gluten free I’m always interested in finding recipes that don’t rely on bread as a main ingredient for stuffing. This one uses Spanish Chorizo and Cannellini beans. It’s amazing.
I could eat the stuffing all by itself (and I have!). One of these days I will make it just to stuff into red bell peppers and roast- I’ll be sure to post about it!
Until then, here’s my interpretation of the recipe.

Chorizo and Cannellini Stuffed Roast Chicken

For the Stuffing:
1 cup Spanish Chorizo, peeled, diced. (about 2 sausages)
1 cup sweet onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1- 540mL/19 oz can Cannellini beans (White Kidney Beans)
½ cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes, not drained, roughly chopped
1 large lemon
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Chicken:
1 8-10lb (3.5-4.5kg) roasting chicken
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 2/3cups (400mL) white wine
1 2/3cups (400mL) chicken stock
bunch of fresh Thyme sprigs
2 or 3 more cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C

To prepare the stuffing:
In pan over, medium high heat, cook Chorizo, allowing the fat to render.
Add the onions to the pan and cook, letting the juices from the pan stain the onions.
When onions begin to soften, stir in the garlic. Cook for a minute then add the beans with their juices.
Add the Thyme by holding a sprig over the pan and pulling off some of the leaves. Add the sun dried tomatoes and stir into the mixture, season with salt & pepper. Remove from heat, set aside.
To prepare the chicken:
Rinse chicken if needed and pat dry with paper towel. Season the inside with salt & pepper.
Stuff the cavity with the sausage bean mixture, pushing the stuffing in to eliminate air pockets.
Once the cavity is almost full, take the lemon and place it at the opening, pulling the parson’s nose up and the skin from the breast down to cover the lemon.
Drizzle olive oil over the bird, season with salt & pepper and sprinkle with the smoked paprika. Gently massage this all over the skin of the bird.

In a roasting pan, combine the wine and stock. Place the chicken in the pan. Place remaining Thyme sprigs generously around the bird. Drop the unpeeled garlic into the pan and cover the whole thing with a tight fitting lid or foil wrap. Place the roaster in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the lid/foil, return to oven for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180°F or 82°C. Remove chicken from the pan and let rest. Remove the Thyme sprigs for the pan, discard. Skim off the fat from the pan juices and discard. Pierce the lemon and squeeze the juices into the pan. Squeeze the garlic cloves, allowing the roasted garlic to fall into the pan. Whisk the pan juices to combine. Strain if you feel it’s needed…I never have, but I’m big on “rustic” food.
Remove stuffing from the chicken and drizzle with pan juices. Carve the bird and drizzle with more juices. Serve any remaining juice on the side.
Matched with a salad like spinach or other leafy green, this meal is delish!
Makes enough for 6-8 people.

The Beginning, Part 3

This is the last of my 3 part story of how I got here. If you have read the previous two chapters, thanks for coming back.

Breathing is even better when you don’t have strange blobs growing in your nose.
Gross eh? Yep, but it’s true.

So…why am I still on a quest? My polyps came back! Three months after my first surgery, I was back on prednisone. I’ve been through several prescriptions to reduce the size of the polyps. Sometimes, it helps but mostly it just slows them down. In May of 2011 I had a second surgery to remove more polyps. Six weeks later, they were back again.  Something had to change.

Now by the time I had my second surgery, I was in a relationship with a wonderful man, who introduced me to a friend who is a nutritionist, specializing in people dealing with food allergies and intolerances. She suggested my sinus issues may be food related. After some education and some convincing, I went gluten and dairy free. I figured I had nothing to loose except my sanity.  Although, some say I never had any to begin with. ; )

At first I thought, this won’t be so bad…I’ll just switch over to gluten free bread and use margarine and I’ll be good…..Man was I wrong! Did you know that gluten and dairy are in practically everything? Well, maybe not everything. If it’s a processed, pre-packaged, ready made food, chances are it’s full of gluten or dairy, or both.

I had already been in consultation with a friend who is also a nutritionist and I did get some advice on what not to eat as well as a few brand names to look for in the grocery store.  However, I’d always loved flipping though my collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines for inspiration, so off I went to Chapters.

The first book that gave me hope of being a happy eater once again was “Cooking for Isaiah”, by Silvana Nardone.  All the recipes in the book looked everyday easy, made my mouth water and best of all each recipe was completely gluten and dairy free. I thought, well if this is what I have to eat, I can do this!

Since then, I’ve been testing and converting of my own recipes along with the several books, blogs, and other resources, full of gluten and dairy free recipes I’ve found to inspire me in the kitchen.

My nose is still a little stuffy, but much, much better these days. I’m still battling polyps and searching for the piece in my puzzle that will keep them from returning. But my asthma is more manageable and I’m much less congested. : )

Now it’s my turn to help….If any of this sounds familiar to you, I’d love to hear from you.

In the up coming posts I’ll be sharing info about my attempts at living a  balanced, healthy, gluten and dairy free lifestyle.