Mother Nature Hits Menopause?

April is supposed to be spring in southern Ontario.  You know, “April showers bring May flowers” and all that.

But I think Mother Nature missed the memo.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA for short) we’ve had a long, weird winter. We’ve had big storms followed by above zero temps that melt everything, then back down to frigid temps. Up and down, up and down. We’ve had a very cold, sloppy, long winter. It’s like Jack Frost doesn’t want to loosen his grip.

But spring was starting to take hold. Over the last two weeks you could feel it. The Canadian geese and the song birds are back. Most of the snow had melted away. Last Saturday it was warm enough outside to swap my winter coat for a light jacket. On Tuesday I left the gym after my workout still wearing my shorts and I didn’t freeze. Golf courses are opening up. People have started planning their cottage weekends for the summer.

And me? I’m shopping for a new barbeque to kick off the new season.

Then today, my local weather report tells me that there is a “winter storm watch that will include heavy freezing rain and ice pellets, temperatures hovering around freezing, accumulation of 4-5 cm, followed by more of the same tomorrow but with temperatures around 8°C”.  Really?

As a forty-something female, I’m very much aware of the changes my body will soon go through as I approach “the change of life”.

Two well know symptoms of the approach of menopause: hot flashes and mood swings.
Hmmm…Mama Nature has definitely got that.
With the crazy temperature shifts come colds.  It seems like there has been at least one person in my family with the sniffles at any given time this winter. I know I’ve been fighting something for few weeks.
The best way I know to help fight off a cold is to eat some homemade soup.

I think I’ve made more pots of soup this winter than I can count. My current “go-to, make everyone better recipe” is full of white beans and veggies. It’s an easy going kind of thing that comes together quick and can be modified to suit what’s in your fridge or pantry. I’m on a Cannellini bean “kick” lately, so they’re in the soup too but feel free to sub in potatoes or your favourite gluten free pasta.  For a vegetarian option, swap the chicken stock for your favourite vegetable broth and omit the chorizo.

Here’s hoping Spring will come back to us  soon.

Vegetable Bean Soup with Chorizo

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 ½ oz (100g) Spanish Chorizo sausage, diced

1 large Spanish onion, diced

1 medium fennel bulb, tops removed, diced

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium zucchini, diced

2 large carrots diced

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

14 oz (398mL) can of diced tomatoes

8 cups chicken stock or broth

14oz can Cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained

4 cups kale, stems removed, chopped

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add Chorizo, cook 3-4 minutes, letting the sausage flavour the pan. Add onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes. The Chorizo juices will colour the onions while they cook. Add fennel, carrots, zucchini and garlic; continue to sauté 3-4 minutes or until the veggies have softened. Add the smoked paprika, sauté for 1 minute to release the flavour. Add tomatoes and chicken stock; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Add beans and kale. Cook until vegetables are tender, kale is wilted and soup is slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

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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.

Let Them Eat….Waffles!

I’ve always had more of a savory tooth. My favourite quick meal was a sandwich. I would throw just about anything between a couple slices of bread to munch while on the go. It wasn’t long after going gluten & dairy free before I’d already been disappointed by several big brand, store bought GF breads. I found them dense and dry. They were hard to make into a sandwich and, in my opinion too expensive. I was even let down by some small batch GF bakery and café loaves. They were definitely better tasting, but again, very dense, hard to make into sandwich and very expensive. I’d buy this big loaf, use a couple slices to make a ( rather disappointing) PB&J, toast a few more slices and then the rest of the loaf would either fall apart  or go moldy within 2-3 days. Not a great value for something three times the price of good, gluten full artisanal bread!

The inspiration for using waffles in place of sliced bread was a revelation! The idea came from my newly purchased copy of “Cooking for Isaiah”, by Silvana Nardone.

One of the first recipes I made from the book was a batch of Sun-Dried Tomato Waffle Bread. They sounded delicious to me and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Silvana’s recipe starts with her own recipe for gluten free flour, which she mixes in large batches and is then made into a large batch of pancake mix and is the basis for her waffle recipe. I’ve made a few changes since my first batch and now I use my own basic flour mix, which is a combo of fine grind brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and xanthan gum. I usually whip up a big batch and store it in a huge jar, ready to make into waffles, cookies or muffins. I’ve also made the following recipe with store bought all purpose gluten free flour mix and it turns out well, so feel free to use your favourite (just remember to add in the correct amount of xanthan or guar gum- usually ½ tsp per cup of flour for quick breads, cookies and cakes).

Here’s my version of these tasty waffles.

Sun-Dried Tomato Waffles

1 cup all purpose gluten free flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup rice milk
1 large egg
½ cup oil packed, sundried tomatoes, drained, oil reserved
2 tablespoons sundried tomato oil
Italian seasoning mix, optional
Non-Stick Cooking Spray
vv

Pre-heat the waffle iron to med-high heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined.
Gently fold in the sundried tomatoes until incorporated throughout the batter.
Pour about 1/3 cup batter into each grid and spread it out to the edges.
Sprinkle with seasoning blend, if using.

Close and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove, let cool on wire rack
or keep warm in an oven set at 200°F. Repeat with remaining batter.

The first time I made these, I didn’t even get to turn them into sandwiches. They were sooo good!
I’ve since enjoyed these babies with rare roast beef, avocado and mayo; rotisserie chicken, roasted red peppers and tomato; and my favourite, open faced Italian sausage and grilled veggies.

The possibilities are endless! I’d love to read how you like them.