I wrote the note below for Mother’s Day because I couldn’t stop thinking about how mothers can carry around a lot of guilt. We feel guilty for not doing enough. Guilty for doing too much. Guilty when we let our frustration or anger get the best of us. I’ve been trying hard to let go of all of this guilt and just enjoy the special moments as they come along. Moments like waking up to two little girls spilling over with excitement as they presented the gifts they’d made for Mother’s Day.
As a daughter, I love my mom dearly.
As a mom myself, I love my children with a kind of love that I’d never known before they came into my life. A love that wants to protect, nurture and teach. A love that is fierce, strong and true.
But it is also a love that is perfect in its imperfections. Real motherly love has small scratchy, rough patches where you’ll sometimes find impatience, anger or annoyance.
It’s a test of wills. It’s a daily dance. It’s a marathon.
Motherhood is all about finding the energy and spirit to keep countless balls in the air, without dropping one . . . or not losing hold of “strong and true” mom to “tired and impatient” mom.
But it’s a battle worth fighting, an important role to play. It’s a job I’m proud to hold.
And, it makes me love my own mom even more . . . because I now know how much went into each and every milestone celebration, family meal and hard-learned life lesson along the way.
Today, love your mom . . . or remember fondly the mom you once loved and still hold in your heart. Love yourself. And most of all, love and accept being perfectly imperfect . . . because you’re certainly not alone.
To all of you who are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and friends, I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day.
There’s no recipe today because, well, I think everyone needs at least one day off from the kitchen. Today, I highly recommend ordering in.
And before I sign off, I’d also like to apologize to all of my blogging buddies. I’m afraid that life has got in the way of commenting and posting lately. I promise I’ll be in touch soon.
Snooping on someone’s desk can get you into big trouble. But I know of one case where it lead to great things.
There was no way you could miss it. The bright photo on the cover of this book was like a neon sign that screamed “calling all foodies.”
Tell me that you wouldn’t have spotted this book under a pile of papers in the office and had a quick little look? Well? Am I wrong?
So, if you did lunge across your colleagues desk to thumb through Modern Flavors of Arabia, you too would have been rewarded with page after page of beautifully photographed dishes. And you likely would have run right out to the bookstore to buy it, just like I did.
I was immediately sold by the drool-inducing photos and the fact that many of my favourite local celebrity chefs (Anna and Michael Olson, Susur Lee and Lynn Crawford) have provided testimonials for the book. Of course I had to buy it.
You’d also note that pomegrante molasses and pomegrante seeds are featured prominently in the book, along with other ingredients such as cinnamon, pistachios, sumac, za’atar, orange blossom water and rosewater.
Thanks to my blogging friend Sawsan over at Chef in Disguise, I am becoming more familiar with many of these ingredients and the wonderful role that they play in Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine.
Two recipes really jumped out at me right away, so I started with them: Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing and Spicy Chicken Wings . . . although I adjusted the wing recipe and renamed it Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings. I was extremely pleased with the results of both recipes and look forward to making my way through the rest of this book.
If you’re not up for buying this book, I hope I can convince you to at least buy a bottle of pomegrante molasses. Widely available at specialty and Middle Eastern stores, it can also be used to make refreshing drinks, dips and glazes for meat. If you do take the plunge, this terrific article from Food52 will provide you with a range of ways to use up your bottle.
If you have trouble finding pomegranate molasses, you can always make your own with this easy recipe from Simply Recipes.
So, a big thank you goes out to my colleague Maria, who casually left this book on her desk, under a few papers, when I was visiting her in Ottawa. It was kind of like laying out a piece of cheese and then waiting for the mouse to arrive . . .
Arugula Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Sweet Pomegranate Dressing
Recipe from Modern Flavors of Arabia
- 2 medium egglplants
- 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
- sea salt
- 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup honey
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large handfuls arugula, washed
- 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 fresh pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.
Peel and cut the eggplants into thick rounds of about 1 inch thick, brush both sides with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and place on a shallow baking sheet. Place in the oven to roast until golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove, cool completely and slice each round in half. Set aside.
Using a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds and garlic to make a paste. Add the balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon juice, dijon mustard, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Whisk together to emulsify the dressing. Set aside.
Place the arugula on a shallow serving platter. Sprinkle the onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper on top. Toss to combine. Scatter the egglpant slices on the salad.
Drizzle some dressing all over. Garnish with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.
NOTE: I found that the recipe made about twice the amount of dressing that I needed. Next time I’ll cut the dressing recipe in half.
Sweet and Sticky Pomegranate Chicken Wings
Recipe adapted from Modern Flavors of Arabia‘s Spicy Chicken Wings
- 2 lbs chicken wings
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup honey
- juice of one lemon
- 3 tbsp pomegrante molasses
- salt and pepper
Make a marinade by mixing all of the ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Add chicken wings and toss well. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place wings spread apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Increase temperature to 375 ˚ F and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the wings are well cooked and the glaze is sticky and carmelized.
NOTE: The original recipe called for 1 tsp of cayenne pepper and 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped). It is also served with a hot tomato salsa. I modified the recipe to make it work for my two young girls. It also recommended cooking the wings for 35 minutes at 350˚, but I found they needed quite a bit more time to cook well and carmelize.
Does this picture immediately make you think of Jamaica?
The scotch bonnets and Appleton Estate Rum are likely to get you headed in the right direction. But did you know that allspice berries are also quintessentially Jamaican? It’s true! Jamaica is one of the leading producers of allspice, but it’s called pimento or Jamaica Pepper there. The spice came to be called allspice because it displayed the flavour and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper–all combined in one spice. Nutmeg is another spice commonly grown in Jamaica and it is encased in a hard shell which is easily cracked to get to the nugget of spice within.
So why the sudden interest in Jamaica? You’ve probably guessed that I’ve just returned from a Jamaican get-away . . . and as usual, you are right. Boy, the world looks a whole lot different after you’ve had a restful vacation, doesn’t it? I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in so many ways. The best part was spending time as a family without cell phones, computers or television. We really connected and enjoyed our time together, but our favourite family experience was climbing Dunns River Falls. (Our tour guide Tammy made it her personal mission to get both of our girls to the top of the falls safely. They sure were in good hands with Tammy.)
The trip was a big success on all fronts. Beyond all the wonderful experiences, I was happy because I was able to load up on Jamaican spices and Rum Cream Liqueur . . . and the girls were happy because they came home with a souvenir that they love: braids!
One of the trip’s highlights was our daily lunches at the hotel’s jerk pit, which overlooked the ocean. Of course I had hot dogs all week. Just kidding! It was all jerk, all week long for me. I gradually worked my way up to the hell fire jerk sauce and boy was it spicy! They say that Jamaican jerk burns you twice: once on the way down and once on the way out. (Sorry!)
- After getting to know jerk so well in Jamaica, I had to recreate it for you when I got back home.
Jerk refers to both the cooking technique and the spice seasoning. I’ve opted for a wet marinade because it is known to produce jerked meat that is much moister and sweeter than dry rubs. Recipes for jerk marinades vary according to tastes and regional traditions. I’ve included all the key ingredients that are common in jerks–allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, scotch bonnets and soy sauce (yes, this is authentic and reflects the longstanding influence of the Chinese emigrants in Jamaica).
My oldest ponytail helped with all steps involved in making this jerk chicken and side dish (red beans and rice), as she was working on one of her Brownie badges. But don’t worry, I didn’t let her touch the scotch bonnets!
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dark rum
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeds removed and minced (be sure to wear gloves!) *
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tsp ground pimento (allspice)
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 to 4 lb whole chicken, backbone removed and quartered (see instructions for spatchcocking a chicken to learn how to remove the backbone)
* increase to 2 scotch bonnets if you like your jerk spicy
Mix all ingredients together in a food processor until well blended.
Pour the marinade over chicken pieces and rub in well. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, preferably overnight.
Preheat barbeque; grill chicken on low-medium heat for 45 minutes, turning once for the last 10 minutes, until juices run clear.
If using the oven, cook at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until juices run clear. (Note: if you are cooking in the oven, you could add a bit of liquid smoke to your marinade to give the jerk chicken that authentic smoking flavour that comes from the barbeque.)
Source: I used this recipe from Epicurious as a starting point in developing this recipe.
NOTE: I marinated the chicken overnight and reserved some of the marinade to serve with the chicken when cooked (as you’ll note in the photo). However, while the flavour of the marinade was lovely, I didn’t like the consistency of the marinade the next day. I recommend that you eat the marinade the same day if you want to serve it with your cooked chicken.
Jamaican-style Peas and Rice (Red beans and Rice)
- 2, 19-oz tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- 2 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
Combine rice, water and salt in a medium sized microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 10-13 minutes in microwave until water is absorbed (I start with 10 minutes and then cook in one minute intervals until all the water is absorbed). On the stove top, combine kidney beans and coconut milk in medium sauce pan; simmer on low for 10 minutes. Add cooked rice and cook on low for 5 minutes until well incorporated. (Alternatively you could substitute 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of coconut milk when cooking the rice, rather than adding the coconut milk to the cooked rice. I prefer the former method because I find the rice has a creamier texture this way. You could also add sauteed onions and other spices, but my daugther preferred to omit the onions.)
I have two current obsessions: making loaves of quick bread and buying unique or pretty dishes to add to my collection.
One obsession makes my family happy. The other gets me into trouble because we’re running out of cupboard space to put all of the dishes.
There are just so many reasons to make a loaf of quick bread: it’s a great way to use up ripe bananas; it packs up nicely as a school or work snack; they make great gifts; and you can mix up all the ingredients and pop it into the oven in five to ten minutes. Although I think my favourite reason is the way the house smells when you’re baking a loaf—it takes you right back to childhood.
With any luck, the loaves will keep my husband in a sugar coma long enough that he’ll stay out of our overflowing cupboards and won’t discover all the new dishes I’ve bought recently. Although I think it’s too late—my friend Nancy was commenting on the weekend about all the new dishes she’s noticed in my recent posts.
Okay then, I guess my best bet is to win him over with the cost savings of the Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf. The girls absolutely love the version that you get at Starbucks—but a family visit to Starbucks these days comes close to setting you back as much as your monthly iPhone bill if everyone splurges on a drink and a snack. That was the incentive for coming up with this version of Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf, as I’d much rather
spend my spare money on dishes save money to pay down our mortgage.
If that doesn’t work, there’s always Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. My oldest daughter started requesting a new version of banana bread . . . she was getting sick of my Butterscotch Chip Wholewheat Banana Bread. That lead to thinking that I needed to try the coconut oil that I’ve been reading about all over the blogsphere in my recipe. Have you tried baking with it yet?
If not, you really should. I reckon that it’s better for you than broccoli—and it tastes a lot better too. According to Dr. Oz, it can help our bodies resist illness-causing viruses and bacteria; boost thyroid function helping to increase metabolism, energy and endurance; increase digestion and help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins; and help fight off yeast, fungus and candida.
I’m meeting my friend Eva tomorrow after work to go shopping at Tap Phong Trading Company in Chinatown. It’s a great place to buy dishes and cooking utensils at great prices. Do you think I need to bake another loaf this week?
Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (measured solid)
- 3 ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
- Mix dry ingredients (flours, salt, sugar and baking soda) in small bowl and set aside.
- Mix wet ingredients (bananas, egg, melted coconut oil and vanilla) in large bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and shredded coconut until incorporated.
- Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
- Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup oil
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup milk (I use 1%)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/3 cup poppy seeds
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp milk
- Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
- Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder) in small bowl and set aside.
- Mix wet ingredients (oil, sour cream, milk, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla) in large bowl. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Add poppy seeds.
- Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
- Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow loaf to cool completely. Mix drizzle ingredients in small bowl and spoon glaze over bread.
When time is short and the “to do” list is long, I reach for my slow cooker. Then I throw all my ingredients into the pot and set out to tackle that nagging list that just won’t leave me alone. But I’m always somewhat excited when I walk through the door at the end of the day. It is the next best thing to coming home to one of my mom’s home cooked meals . . . which incidentally is one of the many perks of having my mom stay with us every couple of months. (We’re very lucky because my mom has a wonderful, giving spirit—she’s the most generous and helpful person I know.)
One of my favourite things to make in the slow cooker is soup—especially in January. It’s a time when many of us are trying to lighten things up in the kitchen or being lured to the great outdoors for fun, family snow adventures (well, here in North America anyway). Is there any better way to soothe away the winter chills than with a piping hot bowl of nourishing soup? It just feels like home.
Here are 10 hearty, healthy and delicious soups that may just make you feel as good about yourself as walking up 19 flights of stairs two or three times a day. Some are from my trusty ”tried and true” collection of soups and a few are on my “must make soon” list after discovering them on blogs I love to read.
1. Beef and Barley Soup from Karista @ Karista’s Kitchen. This was my first attempt at making Beef and Barley Soup and I’ll never eat Campbell’s again. Thanks for the great recipe Karista! My only modification was to add an extra carrot and extra tablespoon of tomato paste.
3. Fassolada (Greek Bean Soup). I’ve made this soup countless times on the stove top and in the slow cooker. The ponytails never complain when I make this soup and that is really saying something. For my post on this soup, click here.
4. Acini di Pepe with Meatballs from John @ from the Bartolini Kitchen. This is one of four soups that John has posted that are based on his mother’s homemade brodo (broth). I can’t wait to make this soup!
6. Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls. For my post on this soup, click here.
7. Chicken Leek and Corn Soup that can also be transformed into Chicken and Leek Pot Pie from Saskia @ One Equals Two. Saskia says that this soup is a hit with parents and kids alike–and I believe her!
8. Cauliflower Soup and Pecorino Puffs from Under the Blue Gum Tree. I’ve been wanting to make a cauliflower soup for a while now and so this recipe caught my eye. I’m equally excited about giving the pecorino puffs a try. I’m sure I could stop at just one puff. . . or ten!
10. Greek Lentil Soup. I made this soup on the weekend because I have a cupboard full of lentils that I need to start using. I pureed one cup of the soup to thicken it, but you could puree the entire soup if you prefer it that way. For the recipe, see below.
Greek Lentil Soup
Adapted from Three Sisters Around the Greek Table
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup brown lentils, dried
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp oregano, dried
- 1 tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- 6 cups water
- Red wine viegar, as desired
- Kalamata olives (for garnish)
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lentils, onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.
- Add the carrots celery and saute for 2 minutes further.
- Add the bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
- Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the soup becomes too thick, just add some hot water.
- Discard the bay leaf before serving and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar to each bowl and garnish with olives before serving.
Keeping Your Soup Jazzy
Biscuits on the side . . . croutons on top . . . sprinkled with cheese . . . there are so many ways that I try to jazz up soup for the ponytails. I can’t wait to try these Goat Cheese and Scallions Muffins from Anne (at Uni Homemaker) or Naan Bread from Eva (at Kitchen Inspirations) with my next batch of soup. In the meantime, here’s my current favourite biscuit recipe:
Mini Cheddar Biscuits
Recipe from Cuisine Grilling Magazine
Makes 12 biscuits
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp shortening
- 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 tbsp melted unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 450˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
- Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized. Mix in cheddar, chives and parsley then stir in buttermilk.
- Knead dough on a floured surface just to incorporate. Shape into a 6” square, 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 pieces and arrange on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart; brush with melted butter. Bake until golden, 15 minutes.
“There are no words to describe how good this is,” said my husband after just one bite of the Nutella Molten Lava Cakes that I made for a dinner party over the holidays. One of the ponytails was quick to follow up with: “This is the best dessert ever!”
So, it is without hesitation that I recommend this recipe to you as one to make when you want to impress and delight your dinner guests. Your guests will love the luscious chocolately goodness that oozes onto your plate and melts in your mouth. You will love how easy it is to make.
Now, I have to say that I’m all for making my husband happy these days. He really hit the ball out of the park on Christmas morning with a beautiful new automated cappaccino maker and the Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia. Both items were a complete surprize, as I had forgotten all about the book recommendations that many of you left on the blog post for my book giveaway in November. I owe a special thanks to Tandy from Lavender and Lime for recommending this book. It’s nice to know that my husband reads the blog, isn’t it?
From what I’ve read so far, this book is a must-have for foodies. Packed with recipes, tips and detailed explanations, it is regarded as the French cooking bible. In fact, Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”
I’m sure that this book will successfully keep me out of trouble for countless hours this year and I promise to share a few highlights with you.
In the meantime, I’ll be able to keep up with working by day and blogging by night thanks to my convenient new source of caffeine! (I must tell you that I’m addicted to cappuccinos!)
Our dinner guests Tammy and Les asked for the recipe for these Nutella Molten Lava Cakes, so this post is really for them. They both enjoyed these molten lava cakes and liked that the recipe is no fuss, no muss. (The microwave conveniently melts the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella for you and then you just have to stir in the remaining ingredients.) The recipe is from my new favourite cookbook Savory Sweet Life, which my mom gave me for Christmas along with Ina Garten’s Foolproof. I’d say all around I’m a pretty lucky foodie, wouldn’t you? (Remember, my husband reads this blog . . .)
Nutella Molten Lava Cakes
Makes 12 cakes; recipe from Savory Sweet Life
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1- 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whole hazelnuts, toasted
fresh strawberry slices
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 60 seconds, and then in three 30-second increments, stirring it until smooth after each interval. Stir the flour and confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture. Mix in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
- Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft.
- Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 3 minutes to set up. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and invert them onto a cutting board. Transfer each cake to a serving plate. Lightly dust confectioners’ sugar over each one, followed by a dollop of Nutella, a hazelnut and strawberry half (optional).
- Molten lava batter can be made up to a week in advance. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and cover it with plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them. Set the muffin tin on the counter while the oven is preheating. The baking time will be the same.
- Because I only needed six of these cakes for my dinner party, I scooped the batter for six cakes into my muffin tin to cook that day and the remaining batter into six small ramekins to store in the fridge for a later date. This worked well. I just found that the cakes in the ramekins needed to cook for a minute or two longer than they day that I first made them.