Sunday, March 29, 2009

BBQTop Sirloin steaks, roast potatoes, butternut squash soup, Queen of Tarts


BBQ season is near and my family and I love BBQs! During the warmer months, I probably cook 4 or 5 out of 7 dinners on the bbq. Everything from hamburgers, hotdogs to vegetables, seafood, beef, pork and chicken are marinated or not, and thrown onto the bbq. Yesterday's weather was the perfect call for firing it up again. OK, it was only about 12 C but warm considering the long winter that we had. It was a treat! We only had Lauren home, so I

A few weeks ago, during my shopping trip to Sam's Club for a last trip before they closed up shop in Canada, I bought a huge hunk of meat. It doesn't look too big in the picture but it was 13.5 lbs.! They were selling all their meats for about 40% off so I was lucky enough to find a whole top sirloin vacuumed packed so I didn't feel like I would have to cut it up within the next couple of days. It's not too expensive and it is nice and juicy when cut into large cubes. When I finally had time to portion the hunk of meat out, I had to decide what to do with it. This hunk of meat was well marbled and I knew that they were going to make good steaks because you can feel the "silkiness" (I don't know how else to describe it) when I was cutting it up, so I decided on about 10 steaks about 1.5" thick, and the rest divided into two batches of cubes for kebobs. Kebobs are marinated and placed in ziploc bags with all the air squeezed out and can be stored in the deep freezer for months. When you're ready to eat, defrost, skewer with veggies and cook on the BBQ. I just tightly wrap the unmarinated steaks in plastic wrap before placing them into a zip top bag squeezing out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Top sirloin (AAA always) is my choice of meat for beef kebobs on the bbq. As for steaks, we enjoy ribeye or NY striploin.

Well, last night, we had some steak from the first batch of steaks, served with steamed broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes and russett potatoes, corn and a homemade butternut squash soup.

For the steaks, I just sprinkle my favourite Montreal Steak Spice (Clubhouse brand) and a bit of seasoning spice on both sides. Then on a preheated bbq, place steaks on and only turn once. You'll lose your juices and don't cut into them if you don't have to, to check for doneness. You will lose the juiciness if you do either. Mmmm!....It was done to perfection (medium rare in our household)!

Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes

2 whole sweet potatoes/yams
4 medium sized russett potatoes
olive oil
Italian seasoning
granulated garlic or garlic powder
onion powder

Peel potatoes (if preferred), wash and chop into large chunks. Place in a plastic bag or ziploc bag and add olive oil, Italian seasoning, granulated garlic or garlic powder , onion powder, steak spice and toss in bag. Empty bag onto a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 30 minutes or golden brown, turning if you are not using stoneware pans. I prefer stoneware because it bakes evenly and no need to turn your items to crisp. It also stays hotter.

Butternut Squash Soup - So Simple, nutritious and delicious!

1 medium size fresh butternut squash, chopped into large chunks
2 cups chicken broth, add more broth is you prefer thinner soup
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup half and half cream

With a sharp vegetable peeler, peel skin off squash, remove seeds and save for roasting or discard. Place on a plate and steam until soft, or a fork can easily pierce the flesh. Remove and place into a medium size pot. Add chicken broth and ground pepper to the cooked squash and with an immersion hand blender, blend until smooth. Using a masher doesn't break up the fibres in the squash for the smooth consistency. Bring mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Spoon into bowls and add about a tbsp. of cream before serving. Or cream can be added to the mixture in the pot.

Dessert were an assortment of delicious handmade 4" tarts from a shop in the west end of Toronto, Queen of Tarts from my cousin. The assortment of tarts were incredible. I think there were (from top left clockwise) Chocolate Mocha, Blueberry, Mango, Chocolate Raspberry, lemon curd cheesecake and center is a Turtle Tart.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blogging? Why?? - my Ryan asks...

Over the weekend, my teenage son, Ryan was looking over my shoulder while I was on the computer and ask, "Mom, you do this for money?!" but not in a Wow!-that's-so-great kind of way. It was more of a sarcastic remark as in a "why-bother?" kind of way. Ryan has always has been very curious and wise child. From a very young age, he would figure out ways of getting away with something by thinking he was outsmarting us. What he didn't know and sometimes still doesn't understand is that there are reasons for rules and laws and not following rules can possibly result in serious consequences and/or dangerous situations.

When I enrolled him into skating lessons at the tender age of 3, there was a ratio of about 1 adult to 5 or 6 kids. He would be taken onto the ice by the instructor to join the other children and he would skate right back off again. Over and over until they just gave up on him. With a baby in tow, I didn't have the energy after two or three lessons to continue to be towing them back and forth each week to witness the same painful scene any longer. He won that year but I'd try again in a couple of years with hockey instead.

When he started hockey at around 6 years old, it was really quite embarrassing. The puck would be at the other end of the rink, along with the 9 other kids chasing it (rules weren't enforced yet), and where was my Ryan? Skating in little circles with his stick lagging behind him or in the wrong hand, or just standing there waiting for them to bring the puck back his way. His reasoning, is that he isn't the fastest skater, so by the time he skates towards it, the puck would've been shot off into another direction and the whole exercise would begin again. I think he missed the point of the game... He thought he was wasting his time and energy. What was he saving either for anyway? He was only 6 and had plenty of both in store.

Ryan used to leave the school yard when he attended the local elementary school. Till this day, he still refuses to go to public washrooms. I first noticed this when he was around 2-1/2 years old. I took him to the local farm and he REALLY had to go. He would not no matter how much I insisted, go into one of the port-a-potties. Who would blame him though? So, when he got a little older and attended school full time, he would run home through the pathway onto our street to use the toilet at home. I tried to explain to him that there was a safety issue here but he just "didn't get it." He just kept insisting, "There's not going to be a fire or something. Nothing ever happens at school." When he went to overnight camp one summer when he was around 8 years old, he refused to do a "no. 2" because that would mean going into the washrooms. This kid, for a week, peed outdoors and didn't shower at all during his stay!! Imagine the stench! I'm sure I threw the clothes on his back away but this made for little laundry.

He is easily influenced by marketing campaigns. The more expensive the better it is. If he's heard of it, then it's good. It just has to be. It said so on TV. Ryan is a marketer's dream. I remember when he was about 3 years old, he came running down the stairs screaming, "Mom, we have to get one of those!" What? What is it that was SO great and we had to have? He was watching an infomercial on the Red Devil BBQ. He said, " We have to get one because it can do aaannnything!" It was really cute when he said that. The excitement in his voice and determination was unmistakeable. If he had a credit card, he would've order 10 of them, I'm sure.

Just the other day, during his spring break, we decided to treat him to Wendy's, a fast-food hamburger chain. When you go to a steakhouse, it's probably because you want a steak, a seafood house, for fish, etc. But today, instead of a hamburger, he wanted to try their NEW fish burger. Why? He just saw it on TV!

The other day, he said he wants his driver's permit but he's not sure if it's really worthwhile. Everyone knows why there are stages in attaining a driver's license. Not Ryan. He thinks that a driver's permit is of no use because he can't drive by himself anyway! I didn't feel I should have to explain so I just shook my head and roll my eyes at this one. What I really felt like doing was giving him a shake!

Studies have shown that kids that spend more energy trying to avoid doing something are actually VERY intelligent. This is because they actually have figured out why it would be a waste of energy to do something that has no results, or poor results. If IQ tests were given based on these facts, Ryan would be deemed a genius! In fact, as I stated already, he really is very intelligent. If only he would put his smarts and apply it to common sense sometimes, it would make him perfect! Today, he thinks he can manipulate a situation in pretty much the same way. "Persistence will win", is his motto, I'm sure. If this is his life's rule, then he will be successful in whatever he chooses. One thing is for sure, you won't find him blogging if he doesn't think he can make him a million bucks within the first week of opening shop.

So, back to the original question of why am I blogging...I don't think people do this for the money or to become famous. Obviously, I don't dream that I'll ever be able to earn enough money from doing something like this to even treat myself to a luxurious vacation to an Islands one winter with the family anytime soon. Although I might earn enough in a year for a nice dinner with the family. Everyone has their reasons for doing or not doing something. Mine happens to be that I think that this is a no-brainer and it actually helps me relax a bit while having fun. I get to type out anything I want to and express my feelings and share my recipes and ideas with others, although I wonder if anyone reads this at all. But the bottom line is that it doesn't matter. It only matters that I am having fun doing it. For myself.

Shepperd's Pie

This is an old favourite of mine and will probably be retired until the fall after tonight's dinner. It's one of those comfort foods that we all like during the colder months. Relatively inexpensive to make yet very tasty and simple. In our high school cafetaria, they used to make a delicious shepperd's pie - at least I thought so. One day, years later, I bought a cookbook from fundraiser where an organization have people contribute their favourite recipe and they print and bind the book. These types of cookbooks are very worthwhile to look at since they contain recipes that are favourites to the submitter and probably tasty and simple. I've participated in a few myself usually submitting my Easy Banana Bread recipe.

This recipe is adapted from the Second Harvest Cookbook (about 15 years ago). I no longer can find the book, so I can't tell you exactly how I originally learned to make this. Today, I make it to-taste without a recipe, in huge batches since it is loved by all and it freezes well. This can be baked straight from the freezer, or defrosted in the fridge overnight, making it very convenient for those with tight schedules.

2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium cooking onion, chopped
3 cups of frozen vegetables
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup flour (or more for gravy/sauce)
1 cup beef broth
6 medium russett potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed (see directions below)
1 egg
3 tbsp. margarine
1 cup milk

Heat large skillet. Add ground beef and chopped onion until beef is cooked through. Add Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir until combined. Stir in beef broth. Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to combine and bring to a slight boil. Add more water or flour if needed to reach the consistency you want. This will make the mixture a gravy within the pie. Add vegetables and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.

In a separate pot, cook cut up potatoes until done. Drain and make a mash potatoes by adding milk and margarine. Crack egg into separate bowl and lightly beat. Pour half of the beaten egg into the mash potato. Reserve other half for top to help brown. NO SALT. The meat combo will balance it out.

Turn beef mixture into a 9 x 13 inch roasting pan and top with mash potatoes, spreading evenly over meat mixture. Pour the remaining egg on potatoes and spread evenly again. Bake at 375 for approximately 30 - 40 minutes, or until browned.

**TIP**To prevent freezer burn, wrap with plastic wrap and try to squeeze out as much air as possible before covering with tin foil.

This Microwave is Looking Better Today

I went to Costco and saw that the microwave that I replaced just two weeks ago was less $30!! Of course I didn't have my receipt on me, so I guess I'll have to go back for my 30 bucks before April 4th! Now, at $212.43 (187.99 + tax) less $30, brings the total price down to $182.43. Now, that's not too bad of a price for the microwave that I got. See? It does pay to look around.

Now I have to remember if the dual flush toilets that we purchased last month at the store that had them around $64 cheaper than the other Costcos, keep their prices down to honour the Winter Savings coupon of $30 off next week. If so, I will be $90 richer! See Costcoholics blog.

I will be sleeping with a smile on my face tonight! And if I get $90 next week, I'll be grinning in my sleep! = )

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Us Poor Canadian Shoppers!

Shopping cross-border in the US when our dollar was stronger or near par was FUN! We couldn't believe the deals we were getting. I might go 3-4 times a year as a day trip with a bunch of girlfriends and spend a couple of hundred bucks but come home with a trunk load of stuff! It's like I hit the jackpot or something sometimes. But guess what? Even with our dollar today at a buying rate of US$1= C$1.25, or a few years ago US$1=$1.60, it was and IS STILL FUN and tons of deals to be had! In Canada, we don't have sales like they do. When they want to clear their floors for new inventory, they REALLY mark down their stock. If you hit the right weeks, which is probably around now, your dollars can stretch a LLLOOONNNGGG way. While you're shopping you have to keep in mind that you may get pulled over and pay duty/taxes. You have to factor in the exchange rate. If you live in the Toronto area, you would cross-border shop in Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Tonawonda/Williamsburg, New York.

It kills me that the Canadian government instead of charging us custom/duty fees, they're thinking that they'll be nice and charge us only the sales tax! What the heck is that all about? We're buying something in the USA and we're paying Canadian sales tax as well??? I know it's not helping the economy with us shopping outside of Canada, but it's not like most people do it every week or anything.

Shopping online? We Canadians get ripped off either way when it comes to postage whether the items are being shipped from a local or Canadian company, or if we're having it shipped from outside of Canada. It's downright mean. It's gouging! Remember to check which shipping service they use, too. If it's a private seller, like someone on ebay, and they're willing to mark the package under C$20 or as a gift under C$60, you might get lucky and not have to pay anything. If they ship via Canada Post and you have to pay only taxes, they'll charge you a non-refundable $5 plus the taxes. I have bad luck with customs. I think I have an "L" on my forehead sometimes. Once I ordered a book and paid US$12 including shipping. Wow! I would have save at least C$10 but ended up paying more because they opened up the package even though they sender declared a value of $10 and charged me the taxes which was 15% (8% PST* + 7% GST** for those of you who aren't familiar with our taxes in Canada but currently at 13% - the new gov't was nice enough to bring the oh so profitable GST down 1% at a time) at the time a couple of years ago), plus the $5 handling fee on the $24.95 Canadian retail value!! Can you believe it? It wouldn't even have been worthwhile for me to dispute it because it states that the $5 is a non-refundable service charge! If they are shipping via UPS or Fed Ex, be extra careful because their custom brokerage fee over a certain amount is substantial!

If you're shopping on eBay and the company has a link to their real store, you can sometimes call them and ask them if they'll give you a discount if you don't buy it off of eBay thus avoiding their eBay and Paypal fees which are hefty! A lot of times, they are more than happy to oblige and will even give you additional discounts. If you don't ask, you don't get!

The cheapest alternative was to pay for shipping to someone who lives in the states where we know is coming up next or to where someone we know is traveling to. Whoever carries all of our goodies back, we are forever grateful and indebted to and we affectionately call them our "pack mules". Another alternative is to ship directly to a hotel if you have a reservation and they will hold your packages for you.

Unfortunately, shipping directly from the US means possible customs/duty fees, plus taxes, much higher shipping costs which means it probably wouldn't be worthwhile. But, if we have the patience, shopping US$ companies can mean substantial savings and wonderful selection. Consumers in Canada will NEVER understand why we pay so much more for most things. I could complain all day and nothing will be done to help us bring down our costs, but I am allowed to rant and rave, aren't I?? Just look at the savings we benefited from when our Canadian dollar was almost at par! Not much. Oh yeah, Hallmark decided they'd do us a favour and take the two price tags off their cards. WooHoo!!

Did you know ... that when an online US company won't let us enter our Canadian billing address for our credit cards even though we're having the item shipped to a US address, you can "fool" their systems? I've done it many times!

* PST - Provincial Sales Tax
** GST - Goods and Services Tax - almost everything has this one tacked on

Sandwich Cutters - Gee, I must say, these are VERY cute!

(Yes, they look like boring sandwiches but this is how they (and myself) like 'em - mayo or margarine with coldcuts only!)

Someone invented these especially for children like mine - kids that don't like eating the crust of sandwich bread! My cousin discovered this cool gadget and we "had" to get it. So the search was on about a month ago. The thing is, we couldn't find a site that offered these in Canada for a reasonable price plus reasonable shipping. Then the next thing we had to look for was a company that offered the shapes we each, at a reasonalbe price and shipping. So, to get these at a reasonable price, the shopping network alert is sounded, we order in bulk, find a company that will charge a flat rate for shipping, bringing our costs down.

It's something that I know is going to be available at the dollar store as a knock-off next week. The quality may not be the same, but it'll work just the same. For some things, quality isn't always an issue. It always happens to me when I buy something, I find something that is comparable with a substantial savings but then can't justify buying it again just because it's CHEAP! (Ok, sometimes, I hear myself saying, "...but it was SO CHEAP!" )

So, what was I talking about again? Yes, the Dino Bytes and Dolphin Bytes nifty sandwich bread crust remover. So, my brother came back for a short visit a month early due to unexpected circumstances. Yes, we were happy to see him, but also happy to see that he was bearing our cutters as well.

Guess what my kids had for lunch today??? You guessed it! Dino cut sandwiches for the boys and dolphin cut for the girl. They were as excited as I was. The plastic is more durable and the cutter fit the bread almost perfectly leaving not too much waste. When I make sandwiches without crusts, I usually remove the crust first. For obvious reasons, with these cutters, you have to stack the sandwiches and then you have possibly waste of the luncheon meats. Today there was no waste because my Nicholas was trying the new gadget out and he cleaned up the stray meat!

Will it make the sandwich taste any better? Probably not, but psychologically, yes. Which means they may eat the whole thing today though. If they eat the whole thing today, that means they'll eat less dinner. Dinner is more costly, so I won't have to cook as much. If I don't have to cook as much, that would mean my grocery bill will come down a bit. This will be enough to justify the $12 (including the US-Cdn$ exchange rate at time of purchase plus shipping for the two cutters) to my husband for these plastic molds! Hummph! But we all know in this household, there is no justifying anything (except to myself) and they will eat just as much so, it's again, only in my dreams that the grocery bill will ever come down with a teenage boy and two boys approaching their teenage years. I had good intentions though... : )

Monday, March 23, 2009

In a Hurry? Pizza Dough - No Need to Rise

Say Good-bye to frozen and take-out pizza and hello to homemade! You'll impress your family with this one!

This is the best homemade pizza crust and it tastes SO great! The best part is that it is simple and fast. I used the dough hook on the electric mixer and it comes out perfect every time! The recipe is adapted from submitted by Gudny Bjorg Kjaerbo. As you can see, I haven't quite figured out how to stretch the dough nicely but it all goes down the same.

3 cups flour
1 tbsp. quick rise dry active yeast
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 cup warm water (110F/45 C)

**I always double the recipe.**


1. Preheat oven with baking stone to 375F. (I use a Pampered Chef bar pan or cookie pan.)

2. Combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. Mix oil and warm water and add to flour mixture. Use dough hook and mix until fully combined.

3. Stretch the dough as thin as possible to fit the size of your stone or baking pan, or if you have a pizza peel. Top with ingredients and place pizza on the hot stone in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

You will never want to eat take-out pizza again!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Littlest Helper? (see photo on right)

My littlest helper, yesterday she was NOT! You see, this little Lauren is a very busy girl. She is curious and is fast moving. We call her the resident monkey. She has been a climber from the day she found her balance. She took off like a dart and hasn't stopped since!

While I was preparing the chicken, I placed the onion powder dispenser on the island where she can easily curl her little toes to wrap around each drawer pull. Well, she did just that and tried to pry the lid off. As she did, with a little bit too much force, guess what happened??

I guess one thing came of it - I ended up vacuuming all the crud off the entire main floor. So, for a few hours this morning, if you happen to be at our house, you can walk around without a pair of slippers on and not have anything stick to the bottom of your feet!!

Moist and Delicious Roast Chicken

It is probably the best roast chicken that I've ever made. It's pretty basic but SO juicy and flavourful! My cousin does this with her turkey as well. You'd probably think this is too good to be true and wonder how such a simple recipe just can't be as good as she says. Well, think again and give it a try...

1 large (approx. 3-4 lbs.) whole air chilled chicken
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 stalk celery, cut in quarters
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup margarine or butter
sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste. (sea salt is best since it's not as salty and it's more flavourful)

Preheat oven to 350F. Wash bird and remove giblets. Sprinkle onion powder, salt and pepper inside and out. Place 1/4 cup of margarine or butter, garlic and celery stalk inside the cavity. Dollop the other 1/4 cup of margarine/butter around the bottom of pan.

Place in oven, uncovered for 1-1/2 hour or until internal temperature reaches 185F. Remove from oven and baste with the juices. Let stand, covered for at least 20-30 minutes. Like any roast, if you let it sit after removing from the oven, the juices get reabsorbed and you won't lose as much when carving. In the meantime, prepare gravy with the juices and from the pan. Add chicken broth, thickening with cornstarch.

Sometimes I put place carrots, potatoes, a stalk of celery, 1/2 cooking onion around the chicken for a one dish meal. Serve this up with some carrots and beans and mash potatoes.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cantonese Spring Rolls

I've been making these for several years and every time someone new is introduced to these, they always rave about them and ask for the recipe. Often, it is my contribution to a lunch or dinner party. They are quite simple to make but a bit time consuming, and this is why I just set aside a day to make them and we can have them on-hand if we feel like something simple and flavourful! These are best when eaten immediately but my family and a few of my friends will eat the leftovers straight out of the fridge.

The photos shows a batch which yielded 40 spring rolls. I usually only follow the recipes when I make something for the first time and then I tweak it to my own/family's taste. This time, I didn't feel like shelling shrimp so I omitted it altogether. You can choose to make it more meaty or more vegetables, less salty, more 5 spice powder, etc. It's up to you - that's the beauty of home cooking! These are great served as an appetizer with or without any dipping sauce or plum sauce. The sauce on the side is Thai sweet chili sauce which is very yummy and my favourite.

½ lb. ground pork
3 tbsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. five spice powder
½ lb. raw shrimp, thawed, peeled, shelled, chopped
4 large shitake mushrooms, chopped, about ½ cup
½ lb. bean sprouts (blanch to get most of the water out)
1 carrot, shredded
1 tbsp. cornstarch
medium size spring roll wrappers (sold in most supermarkets in packages of appoximately 20 sheets)
1 egg, lightly beaten
oil for deep frying (corn/vegetable/canola)

Heat a large wok or pan and add 1 tbsp. oil, then add pork and stir-fry for about two minutes, or until it loses its pink color. Add soy sauce, sugar, shrimp and mushrooms. Stir-fry for another minutes or two, until the shrimp turns pink. Scoop and set side in a bowl.

Heat the skillet/wok again over moderate heat for 30 seconds and add oil and salt. Add blanched and drained bean sprouts and shredded carrots, and stir-fry for about 5 minutes. Add the salt, five spice powder and toss for a couple of minutes. Return the pork and shrimp mixture to the pan and stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Cook over high heat, stirring until the liquid starts to boil. There should be about 2 tablespoons of liquid remaining in the center when you push the food to the side. If there is more, spoon it out and discard.

Add a bit of water to the cornstarch and dribble it in the center of the pan. Stir until the liquids have thickened and then toss to coat all the ingredients with the light glaze. Scoop out filling and cool before wrapping.

Wrap and fry in a pot of heated oil until golden brown.

Here's a good easy-to-follow technique on wrapping at Ming Tsai's site. He says to brush all the sides with egg but I actually only use the back of a fork dipped in the beaten egg to the last corner (Ming Tsai's step 8) to seal it up before the last roll.

**HANDY TIP**When I am ready to wrap, I remove the wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator except for one pack. You have to peel the sheets apart which can be a job in itself. I find that it is easier to peel apart when the "skins" are still partially frozen so I remove a new pack from the fridge a pack at a time.

**HANDY TIP**This recipe is easily double or tripled. The above recipe will yield approximately 20 spring rolls. When I cook, I often cook in volumes. I will make a batch that will yield approximately 200 spring rolls. I freeze them layered between plastic wrap to prevent sticking. When you are ready to have them, I heat a pot of oil and deep fry frozen, and with anything, try to keep the oil temperature steady and hot by frying too many at the same time. If you defrost them first, the skin may get saturated by the water and burst in the oil.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Easy Banana Bread

I know everyone has a recipe for the easiest banana bread, but I'm sure this one takes the cake! I've been making this cake for almost 15 years. I think I was first introduced to it at my eldest daughter's preschool and NEEDED to have this recipe, so I begged and begged the mom relentlessly. This recipe is SO moist and delicious, everyone will be asking you for the recipe, too! What else do you do with those rotting bananas besides put them into milkshakes or smoothies? Here's what else...

½ cup salad dressing/mayonnaise (do not use NO FAT)


3 medium ripe bananas

cup flour

1 cup sugar

½ cup chopped nuts (optional)

1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine salad dressing, egg and bananas. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. (*HANDY TIP: I add the dry ingredients into the loaf pans and this will coat the pans with flour and one less bowl to clean up,too.)Add dry ingredients to salad dressing mixture and mix with fork.

Bread: Turn into 9” x 5” (2L) greased or floured (done, if you used my handy tip) loaf pan. Bake 60-70 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and remove from pan. Makes one loaf.

Muffins: Spoon into muffin tins. Makes 18 – 24 muffins. Bake 30-40 minutes.

**I usually double or even triple the recipe**

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Coconut Cream Pie

If you like coconut cream pie, and think there's too much involved in making it, think again! This recipe is fast and easy, the way I like 'em! The hardest part is trying to keep it around long enough so that I could have a slice!

***This recipe can be easily doubled***

1 can (500 ml) of coconut milk
1 cup half and half cream

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flaked coconut, toasted

1 9" pie crust, baked

1 cup whipped cream for topping

· In a medium saucepan, combine half-and-half, coconut milk, eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat, and stir in 3/4 cup of the coconut. Pour into pie shell and chill for at least 4 hours, or until firm.

· Top with whipped topping, and with remaining 1/4 cup of coconut.

· Note: To toast coconut, spread it in an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a 350F oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Couldn't be easier! Unless you're like me and constantly walking away, you'll be safe from burning the batch of coconut!

Today I used three 7 inch pie crusts instead of two 9" - store bought crusts, of course. I still can't master a good flaky pie crust. A friend of mine tried this with oreo cookie crumb crust which she said was amazing, too! I'll have to try that one soon. I would also think that a graham cracker crust would be good as well. Will have to try that one, too! Also, I like to use fresh whipping cream especially for a freshly made pie. I have a 1/2 litre whipped cream dispensers (the ones that use the nitrous oxide chargers, and coffee baristas use) which comes in pretty handy for things like this. The problem is, the kids love the cream so much, everytime they open the fridge door, the kids keep squirting it in their mouths!! (okay, I do it too! Teehee!)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chinese Hot Pot Dinner

I am SO full from tonight's dinner . When I eat as much as I did tonight, even though it was mostly vegetables, I feel like a pig - fat and sleepy. Therefore, this will be a quick one.

My cousins came over for dinner with most of the ingredients for our hot pot dinner. I'm pretty sure that hotpot originated in the northern parts of China and is usually eaten during the cold winter months for obvious reasons. It looks like a ton of food but in actual fact, most of it is vegetables. It is very healthy in that no cooking oil is needed. All you need is a boiling pot of chicken broth (or any type of broth) with a portable burner (sold at most major Chinese grocery stores with the cans of butane gas fuel, and you're in business. When we have more than 6 people dining, we would have two pots going. It's nice because everyone sits around the table and chats while waiting for your food to cook. The food cooks very quickly since everything is either sliced thinly or in small bite-size pieces. Every diner is given a pair of chopsticks and a miniature mesh net to dunk and fetch your food, a plate and a bowl with a concoction of sauces such as soy sauce, garlic, chili sauce, hoisin sauce, etc. Tonight, the variety of foods was great. Sometimes we actually have more to choose from, believe it or not. After everyone is done cooking, the soup will be very flavorful and delicious to drink.

On the menu tonight was:

beef slices
pork slices
rainbow trout (usually we have salmon)
beef tripe
a combo of beef, shrimp and fish balls
vermicelli noodles
yam noodles (the cute little bundles)
fried tofu
fried gluten balls
thousand year old egg (remember this egg in "Survivor"? It's not really a thousand years old - it's the way it's preserved that gives it this coloring)
white Chinese radish
romaine lettuce
beach mushrooms
Chinese cabbage
bok choy
lotus root

For dessert, we had black sesame soup, one of my mom's specialties that I keep in the deep freezer in case of a craving, with black sesame paste rice balls (not sure of the name and these were bought). She grinds up black sesame seeds and rice that has been soaked overnight. Then more water is added to desired viscosity and stick brown sugar candy Unfortunately, I haven't learned the proportions yet. The store bought ready-to-serve just does not measure up to the homemade version.

A Whole Can of Worms

With the crazy winter weather we had last year, we had some major leaking in our master bedroom ceiling last winter. The fact that we had a new roof put on about 2 years before, lead us to believe that the roofing company that we used did a poor job. After the initial panic and clean up, and my heart dropping to the floor at the thought of the repair bill, I called the roofer to come and have a look. He said that because of the unusual sudden warm weather causing quick thaw of the ice and snow in a valley on our roof, the water had no place to go but up and under the shingles and down into the house through any which way it could seep. There was nothing that could be done to prevent it except for heating coils.

When we decided to replace our main floor ceramics, we also repaired all of the ceilings on the main floor which had water damage due to the kids' over zealous bath time fun over the last few years. We also though we might as well fix the damage from last winter in our master bedroom including this major damage in our master bedroom. With stucco ceilings, the contractor did a pretty good job matching the stipples and colour. WOW! Finally, almost back to normal except for the walls. I'll get to that when I have time to paint one day.

Procrastination doesn't pay off. Doubtful about the information the roofer told us and keeping our fingers crossed in case in fact he wasn't fooling us, we didn't rush out and buy the heating coils that we were recommended. We thought, "What are the chances of that happening again. The house is 25 years old and it's never happened before."

About three weeks ago, we had another quick thaw. Well, Guess what? 350 bucks down the drain, that's what! Hubby was going upstairs to watch a little TV and instead, he watched water dripping from the ceiling. That night, I didn't get a good night's sleep. I was up half of the night listening to the drip, drip, drip what was sounding more like, dollars, dollars, dollars, to me. With the constant dripping and pieces of plaster falling into the bucket, how could I possibly sleep??

We did however, finally learn our lesson and had someone come and put the heating coils up on our rooftop and run the cables through our eavestroughs and out through the drainpipes. Hopefully, this will never happen again. For now, we'll just have to live with the damage until we get someone in to repair it at a later date. Why is it that when you think everything is fine, something else happens to pull you back down??

Friday, March 13, 2009


My son Nicholas. He is the third child of 5, smack in the middle of the bunch. Nicholas is a great kid. He's 11 years old, in grade 6, is so funny and doesn't even know it. He is smart, loving, sweet, compassionate, and has a great sense of humour. His classmates are great and are so caring towards him. He loves them as well. He has a few favourite teachers who also adore him. He touches everyone's lives by brightening their days. He brings a smile to anyone who crosses his path.

His Education Assistant, Donna, along with a few past teachers have given the things that come out of Nicholas' mouth, that make them smile or laugh till tears pour out. These are Nicholisms. A special name for a special child.

I only wish I had written more of them down over the years. As busy as I am, I know I should find the time to jot things down so I would never forget them. Unfortunately, I haven't been diligent enough. Sometimes, the teachers email me, or in passing, they'd tell me a Nicholism and visa versa. We all enjoy these Nicholisms and I sure hope you will too. If you know Nicholas, you'd understand why these are called Nicholisms. If you ever get a chance to meet this kid, I'm sure he'd make you smile, too.

March 12, 2009.

Email Donna wrote:

Hi Anna,
I have a new Nicholism for you. I told N. that the new American president is getting a Portugese Water dog just like his. N. said "Is that because they're black". After I got myself off the floor I explained that it's becaude they're hypo allergenic. I don't spent as much time with him as I used to because I'm scheduled elsewhere. He stopped me in the hall and said "How come I rarely see you?" I'm going to miss him sooooo much when him goes to high school. Who else is going to ask me about death,( "where did your mother go when she died?" ) divorce etc. He certainly brightens my day.

March 6, 2009.

Ms. Worthington wrote:

The word 'ignorance' came up in our reading the other day and we discussed the meaning of the word. I then asked students to think of something they were ignorant about. Some kids said the rules of basketball or how to roller blade. Nicholas responded with "women". :)

June 3, 2008.
I wrote an email to Ms. Dyer:

He has been really making us laugh a lot at home with his jokes and
pranks. For example, a friend of mine was over and she asked him for
ketchup. He came back with a dab on his hand and said, "Here you go!" She
didn't say how much she wanted, you see.

Or she asked my cousin if she was
pregnant, so my husband explained that you NEVER ask a woman if she's
pregnant. He later came to me and said, "Mom, you know something, Never
tell a woman she's fat!"

A month ago, she told my friend who he hasn't seen
in a while that she looked old. She laughed and said that Nicholas must be
blind as a bat!

Email from Ms. Dyer
Monday, May 05, 2008 1:43 PM

...Nicholas had an amazing morning. Very independent and he took a lot of initiative. It was funny when he came he declared he was doing a marathon of doing nothing today. I told him this might conflict with my schedule and maybe he could do a marathon of learning instead. But despite declaring this he did everything that was asked of him. Required very few prompts and really had a wonderful morning. He was joking with everyone and so I told him at the end of the lesson that he must be on a marathon of awesomeness as he did so well today.

For those who know him, and remember a story, please feel free to share it with me so I could add it to the list. But for now, it's late and I will definitely add to this list soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome to Our Home...

So I did as I said. I went to Costco and brought home our new addition - it was born this afternoon, named Panasonic Inverter (model NN-SD688), 1.2 cu. ft. and 1200 watts of power - like a reincarnation of the old one but somehow, the DNA got screwed up and spit out a stainless steel exterior!

Actually, here are the specs:

The Panasonic NNSD688S features Inverter® technology which perfects the art of cooking with microwave ovens, delivering delicious flavour, excellent colour, and superb shape and texture in the foods you cook. The keep-warm menu includes 5 items, so food like stew, gravy and desserts can stay warm until you are ready to serve. The menu action screen is like having a gourmet chef to assist you in the kitchen. It scrolls step-by-step cooking instructions across the display in a choice of English, Spanish, or French.


  • Stainless-steel door and body
  • Half-mirror glass door
  • Fingerprint-resistant front
  • Capacity: 34 L (1.2 cu. ft.)
  • Cooking power: 1200 W
  • Multi-stage cooking with 5 levels
  • Multilingual cooking instructions: English, Spanish, or French)
  • Genius sensor reheat
  • Genius sensor cook
  • Inverter® turbo defrost
  • Popcorn key
  • Keep-warm menu
  • Quick minute
  • Child safety lock


  • Dimensions (W x D x H):
    51.8 cm x 40.4 cm x 30.5 cm
    (20.4 in. x 15.9 in. x 12 in.)
  • Weight: 10.5 kg (23 lb.)


2 years on parts and labour

They had three to choose from. As far as Costco shopping goes, this is as good as it gets. Normally, you don't have more than one choice, so three was an extraordinary bonus! I may not have gotten the best price but I know I got a good price and I didn't have to do the runaround. The choices were not great but this makes it less confusing. One in white like our old one for about $118.99, the one that I bought which has the fancy knob and even "speaks to me" for $187.99. Well, the instructions scroll out on the little screen and tells me exactly what needs to be pressed, making it guest-friendly. And a full stainless-steel Sanyo model for $99 which was too small both in size and power, and no Inverter or any other features.

Actually, it has a few features that the old one didn't have. For one, there is a "child safety lock" feature. My acrobatic 3 year old is very quick and smart. She has in the past, started popping her own microwave popcorn. I'm sure she could figure out how to unlock this in a flash! So far tonight, she hasn't even noticed that we have a new toy in the kitchen. The box is all the rage!

There is also a "keep warm" feature. It will keep something warm for up to 30 minutes! The "popcorn" look at this - there are three different settings for different size bags! Too bad we stopped buying microwave popcorn a few months ago. What I really need this for is last minute defrosting of my meats or spaghetti sauce some days and heating up lunches. The rest of the family use it to heat up leftovers and snacks like pizza pops, beef patties, and burritos from the freezer.

Why did I welcome something so similar that I didn't think served us well in the past? Well, for many reasons:

1) Because Costco has competitive pricing for this kind of stuff
2) I'm not particularly picky about a little microwave oven except for capacity and wattage
3) I didn't feel like dragging a child around to look at different models at different stores
4) This one matches the rest of the appliances better
5) I needed one in a hurry!

Well, if this microwave's lifespan is as short as the last one, I'll have learned my lesson and choose a Kenmore Elite next time since it's this year's Consumer's Reports Best Buy. At least this one looks a little nicer! ;)

PS. Did you know that American Express offers extended warranty free if you use your card to purchase? Most people either don't know, or forget when an item needs repairs. NEVER BUY EXTENDED WARRANTY FROM BEST BUY! USE YOUR AMEX! (see link)

Death of a Microwave Oven

HEADINE NEWS: Panasonic Inverter Microwave Oven dies at the tender age of 3!

This morning, I am mourning the short life of my microwave oven. It's incredible how our lives depend on the little modern conveniences such as this. Maybe I just depended too much on it. We used the thing almost everyday. Perhaps, that's the cause of death.

A couple of years ago, I decided that the Frigidaire Gallery microwave/vent wasn't strong enough. So, we invested in a heavy-duty range vent hood and therefore, had to get a new microwave oven. The old one worked fine, it was the range hood that was all noise, no action. I'm not kidding: when I turned the thing on at full speed, the steam would literally be going everywhere but up and out! Well, it was going "out", just out towards me!! They sure don't make 'em like they used to! With Consumer's Reports great rating backing me up, I was sure I had a winner. Not!

So, I guess today's job is to go to Costco to pick up another one. Does a day go by where I DON'T have to buy anything?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shrimp Teriyaki Stir-Fry

What should we have for dinner? That is the question every day! Sometimes, I just don't know what to cook anymore. Most days, I don't have an idea until 4:30 (thanks to the defrost mode on the microwave oven) but because I have a pretty well-stocked fridge and freezer, I can cook almost anything that I feel like. I usually don't get any ideas from anyone even if I begged. I must say that I am quite fortunate to have a bunch of willing eaters to feed each day. This of course, would make anyone's life easy.

So, today, as I squat in front of my refrigerator thinking, I see and take out a pound of shrimp and start defrosting in cold water. I buy the shrimps that are cleaned and slit down the back from Costco. This makes it that much quicker to remove the shell. I also found this great teriyaki sauce by Ton-Ton which they no longer carry at Costco and I haven't seen it anywhere else either. I've tried others but they are too "winey" for my liking. When I run out, I will start using my own combo which consists of Kikkoman light soy sauce, Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce, a bit of sugar, black pepper and salt. That's it!!

Have you ever ordered a teriyaki fast food at the mall? If you watch, they do not add anything except fresh ingredients, salt and pepper, then the teriyaki sauce before they serve it to you. You can use shrimp, chicken breast, pork, beef, etc. and any vegetables you have in the fridge. Heck, we sometimes eat just vegetables! That's the beauty of stir-fry! The teriyaki sauce will make anything taste good. It's so simple and delicious, not to mention nutritious as well!

Today, I used:

1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 carrot, julienned
1 stalk of celery
1 lb. young bean sprouts
1/2 bunch of broccoli
1 cooking onion, sliced
1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
canola/vegetable/corn oil cooking oil

  • Heat up a large skillet and add about 1 tablespoon of oil and heat up. Cook the shrimp until it it turn pink. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Heat the skillet up and add about 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Add the carrots and stir for about 30 seconds. Then add the remainder of the ingredients, pepper to tasteand about 1/4 cup of water bring to a boil stirring constantly.
  • Cover with lid and cook until desired doneness of veggies (about 1-2 minutes). Return shrimp to pan, and add teriyaki sauce. Stir again and serve over a bed of Japanese (not to be confused with long grain rice).

** If you are using the bottled variety of teriyaki sauce, you can also add it on at the end.

**I think the fast food outlets at the malls, Made In Japan also sells their Teriyaki sauce.