Many (many) months ago, I was asked by Owlkids to review a new book they were publishing … and to be honest, I’m not exactly a pro at reviews of any sort. And clearly not a timely person when it comes to caring for a wee baby … However, the book, Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking written by Sarah Elton and beautifully illustrated by Jeff Kulak, is definitely worth recommending, and I have been attempting time-and-time again to write this post. Writing reviews won’t be a common occurrence on the blog (and I have not been compensated financially by Owlkids; I was only given an advance copy of the book), but if I’m asked to review something that I legitimately like, and I truly believe you may too, then I will be passing on my raving thoughts.
Although Starting From Scratch is targeted at children who are starting to be curious about food – where it comes from, how to cook it, etc. – I would say it is a great book for young adults who were never previously educated on cooking or food. The writing style is easy for young readers to understand, yet it’s not so juvenile that I didn’t enjoy reading through the entire book. Starting From Scratch covers everything from the science of taste (did you know that artichokes make sweet food taste sweeter?); to how differently people eat around the globe (there is an amazing section mapping out different chicken dishes eaten in various countries); to how “recipes” are developed (an education on how baking, especially, is all math or ratios); through to setting up a kitchen with the essential tools and of course, food and cooking safety. The book takes you on a journey that leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of where your food comes from, why and how you perceive food tastes the way it does, and ultimately, the importance of preparing as much of your food from scratch (would you have guessed that from the title??).
I believe that one of the most important things we can teach our children and ourselves is to be conscious about the food we eat and about the enjoyment and pride that comes in cooking that food yourself. My brother and I were lucky to be raised by parents who encouraged us to always try at least one bite of everything; and gave us each the duty to prepare 1-2 dinners a week as part of our “chores.” This has instilled the deepest appreciation for food in both of us – now we fight about who gets the offal at Thanksgiving dinner over any of the other meat; and we scour the depths of the internet, cook books, grocery stores and markets for inspiration for what to cook and eat next. In the words of Anthony Bourdain: “it is a good and noble thing to cook well.” And while Starting From Scratch only contains a few basic recipes at the end, it would assist any child with learning how to sustain themselves with real food rather than resorting to take out and frozen dinners all the time. Whether you know everything about food and cooking, or you don’t have a clue about how to feed yourself, this book would make an excellent addition to your child’s (or a child you love) library.
Now how about a kid-friendly recipe to wash down that review?
Peanut Butter & Banana French Toast Sticks
Clearly, you can save some time and skip the “sticks” part of this recipe. However, cutting your bread into the sticks makes it a little more fun for kids and, to be completely honest, helps reduce the amount you consume since you feel like you’re eating so much more. Let the littles do as much as you, and they, are comfortable with – maybe it’s simply dipping the sticks in the batter; or maybe you’re up for letting them flip the sticks while they are in the hot pan. Either way, get them involved in the kitchen as much as possible and you’re helping pave the way to a lifetime of cooking and eating happiness.
8 slices thick (Texas-style) bread
butter (to cook the toast in; about 2-4 Tbsp)
1/4 cup half & half cream
1/2 cup milk
4 Tbsp peanut butter
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Using a serrated knife, cut the toast into 4 even slices vertically and set aside. Prepare the french toast batter by whisking together the remaining ingredients (eggs through salt) in a large dish. Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a non-stick pan or griddle. Working in 2 – 4 batches (depending on the size of your pan – you don’t want to crowd the pan), dunk the bread sticks into the batter, allow the excess to drip off and then place into pan with melted butter. Cook the sticks on one side until golden brown (about 3-5 minutes), then flip and cook on the other side until golden. Continue with remaining batches of bread (melting an additional Tbsp of butter in between each batch). Serve warm with or without maple syrup.
Makes 32 sticks.
I may have neglected the blog over the the past 6 months, but you can bet I wouldn’t forget it’s 3 year anniversary! Compared to last year, there hasn’t been as many noteworthy blog-happenings. However, there were some really delicious and popular posts from the past year, such as this Red & White Sangria to celebrate Canada Day, the zesty Tequila Lime Bison Tacos, and some tasty Cranberry, Almond & Date Power Bars. Of course the biggest thing to happen for Kyle and I was the birth of our daughter in October; not exactly blog related, but being busy with her has definitely been the main reason the blogging has slowed down. The past six months with her have been so amazing … and the little bean has started to eat real food, so you can imagine how exciting that is for someone as food crazed as I! I’m sure we’ll be sharing lots of fun foods that we make with her as she grows up. Thanks again for another great year – and for sticking around even after the reduction in posts!
To celebrate this year, I figured why not cook up a good ‘ol Gorging George favourite? Tacos! Always my back up for those busy, “I-Haven’t-a-Clue-What-to-Cook” kind of days (I even have a pork shoulder currently braising away to pile onto some tortillas for tonight’s dinner). I’ve had beef, pork, bison, some vegetarian tacos and even enchiladas on the blog, but I have yet to share a fish taco. So I’m finally posting a recipe for some salmon tacos that I made a few months ago. They are crispy and spicy, and topped with a mound of freshly limed cabbage & jalapenos, some pickled red onions, creamy avocado, salty feta and a sour cream that has a slight kick to it. A great treat for a celebration or even a weeknight meal. If you don’t have dinner plans this long weekend, I suggest you get yourself to the grocery store ASAP to grab all the ingredients to make these – they will not disappoint. Here’s to another year of sharing my favourite recipes with you!
Crispy Chipotle Salmon Tacos
Note - I just listed “kosher salt” as an ingredient, omitting the quantity, as it’s used often throughout the recipe to season everything. I am assuming that you have at least 1 Tbsp of salt kicking around. If you don’t have any kosher salt and have to use Table Salt, please reduce the amount slightly as the smaller granules would make everything rather salty if used in the same quantity.
1/2 small red onion, sliced
red wine vinegar
8 flour tortillas
1 lb centre-cut salmon filet
1 1/2 – 2 tsp chipotle chili powder, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup panko
3 cups green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 juicy lime (or 2 if they are not juicy)
1 cup sour cream
1 avocado, pitted & sliced
1/2 cup feta, diced
Fill a mason jar or small container with the sliced red onion. Fill it up halfway with red wine vinegar. Add 1 tsp of salt and fill the rest of the jar with water. Allow to “pickle” while you make the tacos.
Heat your tortillas according to package instructions. Keep warm.
Heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat in a large non-stick pan. Slice the salmon into 8 equal strips (they should be around 3/4″ wide each). Sprinkle all the salmon pieces evenly with 1 tsp of the chipotle chili powder and 1/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Whisk the 2 eggs together in a medium dish and pour the panko into another medium dish; season both with salt and pepper.
Working with one piece of fish at a time, first dip the fish in the eggs then into the panko mixture, pressing all the sides gently to ensure they are evenly covered. Place the fish gently into the hot pan. Repeat with remaining fish pieces. You don’t want to crowd the pan, so if yours is not large enough, work in 2 batches. Cook for about 8 minutes, flipping once after 4 minutes to ensure both sides get golden brown. (If you like, you can quickly fry the two outer edges to crisp them up) Remove the cooked fish to a paper towel lined plate.
Meanwhile, combine the cabbage, jalapenos, cilantro, juice of 1 lime, 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt in a medium bowl, mixing thoroughly; set aside. In a small bowl stir together the sour cream and remaining chipotle chili powder – use 1/2 tsp to keep it mild, or a full tsp if you like a lot of heat!
Construct the tacos: smear each tortilla with some of the sour cream mixture, then top with a piece of salmon, some of the cabbage mix, pickled onions, avocado and feta. Devour.
Makes 8 tacos.
Oh lordy. How naive I was last month when I thought I was back on track with blogging! How quickly I forgot that these wee people need an abundance of attention from their mas and pas. However, here I am, after many attempts, writing again. I spent yesterday evening prepping meals for part of the week – it was a glorious feeling. I haven’t even thought about meal prep since Norah’s birth; as I’ve said before, it’s been a helluva lot of frozen pizzas and take out in this neck of the woods the past 5+ months. But Norah has been sleeping much better at night and has even graced us with some better napping throughout the day; so the heck with “sleep-when-the-baby-sleeps” my new motto in this household is “cook and eat when the baby is occupied with slumber!”
Since we’ve been eating so much junk, I’ve been attempting to eat “healthier” the past few months. We used to eat fairly balanced week-to-week prior to my pregnancy: lots of veggies and whole grains would compensate for fat-&-carb-&-alcohol laden indulgences. But the scales have been tipped on the indulgence side for quite a while; and I can’t seem to get back. I’ll admit (to probably a few skeptical readers) that I just recently joined Weight Watchers in order to “teach” myself some portion control again. Don’t worry though … this website isn’t going to undergo yet another change (after being gluten-free for over a year). The recipes here will continue to just be tasty dishes I want to share; whether they’re “healthy” or “indulgent.” Plus my plan is to only be part of the program for 3 months – I figure that should be enough time to get on track, plus summer will be here. And this girl wouldn’t consider tracking “points” when frosty beer season is upon us! (Finally I can drink real beer in the summer after going two without!)
I was motivated to join Weight Watchers mainly after seeing my sister-in-law have great success on the program after only a few weeks (check out her beauty-ful blog A Touch of Lush). She’s now been on Weight Watchers for almost 3 months, and she’s still enjoying it. I know she liked making things from the blog prior to starting WW, so I made up this recipe with her mind. It’s a tasty vegetable soup with a hint of umami flavour from roasting the squash. Plus, I would assume the soup would only be worth 1 or 2 points (from the beans and cheese), seeing that vegetables are worth 0 points. I could probably figure out the actual points and share; but like I said, this isn’t a blog about healthy eating. And don’t worry my regular readers: I’m just sending you a hint of where my current eating habits are right now. Next time I promise something dripping in butter.
Vegetable & Bean Soup with Roasted Squash
1 acorn squash
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
14 oz canned diced tomatoes
19 oz beans of your choice (I used mixed beans)
4-5 cups kale, chopped
parmesan, freshly grated
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Peel the squash and discard seeds. Cut into 1/2″ cubes. Toss the squash with 1 tsp each salt and pepper and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Place onto a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic for 5 minutes or until starting to soften. Add the stock, water and diced tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the beans and kale; simmer soup for 30 minutes.
Add the squash to the soup and continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.
Serve soup hot or warm with parmesan grated on top.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Here it is. The post that only took nearly 6 months to write. Ha. Looking back at the blog, I can see where the posts slowed down during my pregnancy due to nausea and exhaustion, which led to the reduction in my cooking; that and the fact that all I really wanted to eat was hotdogs and potato chips. And when Norah was first born, cooking was the furthest thing from my mind; hell, I would have forgot to eat if our family and friends didn’t feed us – so the posts just stopped all together. But in the past few months, we’ve started to get a grip on being parents to Norah, and I have thought of numerous recipe ideas, and I’ve even cooked up a few things and snapped a few photos along the way. However, each day that passed without actually writing and posting something felt like it brought more and more pressure to write the most amazing recipe and post of my life. Then I finally gave my head a shake and realized no one else really cares that much, and I’m just doing that “mom” guilt thing where nothing seems good enough (why on Earth is this a thing? Seriously, after some parenting-related meltdowns, I am stunned by what I thought was a big deal mere moments ago…). Needless to say, this isn’t some thoroughly thought out recipe that took me several attempts to get just right so that you could eat the most perfect thing I’ve ever shared. No, this is a recipe for something that is quick, that basically uses pantry ingredients, and is comforting; which is exactly perfect for us at this point in our lives. Hopefully you like it too.
Oh. And one more thing: I am no longer eating strictly Gluten Free. As I had touched on in Life of George, when we were trying for a baby and having some challenges, I had gone to a naturopath to see if there was anything she could recommend (since the medical field here in Canada does not do any investigating unless a couple has 3 miscarriages or has had difficulty conceiving for 1 full year). When she suggested that I may have an intolerance for gluten and that I should refrain from consuming it for at least one full year (or until after we had a baby) I was fairly upset by the news at the time, but the end result was obviously worth it! The naturopath mentioned that 1 of 3 things could happen in that timeframe: 1) after giving birth, the hormone changes may also change the way my body processes gluten, and therefore I could potentially eat it again without any issues; 2) just giving up gluten for at least one year and allowing my body to “heal” from the damages it had done may mean I could eat it again without any pain; or 3) I will always have an intolerance for gluten (or potentially Celiac Disease) and would never be able to eat it again. Luckily, after Norah was born, I have found I’ve been able to eat gluten without any cramping, headaches, or lethargy (okay…maybe I can’t really tell if it’s making me lethargic because I’ve been exhausted most days regardless…). So, I realize that the blog has been gluten free for over a year now, and that a number of you have started to follow the site because you are also living gluten free, but potentially there will now be recipes showing up that contain gluten. However, most dishes we make are easily adapted to be gluten free (such as this one I’m sharing today – just swap in your favourite GF pasta), and I’m sure there will continue to be many dishes that don’t contain gluten; so hopefully this will still be a site you can enjoy. But, if a bunch of you decide to jump ship and stop reading, no hard feelings. I have enjoyed discovering how to eat and enjoy food without devouring all my gluten-filled favourites, and I thank you all for joining me. Now it’s time for me to tuck into some real pasta…
Adapted from Tyler’s Ultimate by Tyler Florence
Tyler’s recipe for Carbonara doesn’t include mushrooms, but I am a sucker for mushrooms and bacon combined in a pasta dish, so they inevitably get included in my creamy carbonara, even it’s a a tad untraditional. Tyler’s recipe also includes whole eggs, not just the yolks like I have decided to use. But I can not bring my self to consciously eat raw egg whites other than maybe a 7 minute meringue. I’m sure people have snuck them into some Caesar dressing I’ve eaten, but it’s more the slimy texture I am afraid of, not the potential health risks. Feel free to use whole eggs if you’re so inclined.
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp pepper
2 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp half & half cream
1/4 cup parmesan, freshly grated
1/2 lb linguine (or any pasta of your choice; clearly gluten free if you want this to be GF)
Prepare a pot of boiling, salted water and cook linguine according to directions. Save 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid before draining.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and onion, and cook until the onion has started to caramelize, about 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper; continue cooking until mushrooms are soft and the bacon is cooked to your desired level of crispness (I like mine with a little bit of chew left in it), this will take another 5-6 minutes. While the bacon,onions, and mushrooms are cooking, place the egg yolks, cream and parmesan into a large serving bowl (one you’ll serve the past in) and whisk together. Pour the bacon, onion, and any cooking fat into the bowl with the egg mixture and stir to combine.
Add the reserved 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid and the cooked linguine to the bowl with the bacon and egg mixture. Toss everything together, then cover with a plate or pan for about 5 minutes until the pasta has set. Have a quick taste and add additional salt and pepper if necessary.