Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quick and Easy Chili

Today was a gloomy, cool, rainy day and so for dinner, I wanted something nice and warm. Yesterday, as we were at my good friend and neighbour, Natalie's house having coffee, she was preparing a quick and easy dinner. I like chili very much but always thought nobody else in the family really enjoyed it so I just never got around to making a huge pot, but rather just buying the canned Stagg Chili. I find it a bit thick, but it would suffice. Today, I made a trip to Costo for a family pack of ground beef amongst all the other stuff I didn't really need, and chili for dinner it was going to be.

Quick and Easy Chili

1-1/2 lbs. ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey)
1 whole cooking onion, chopped
1/2 lb. of fresh mushrooms, sliced or 1 can sliced
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 12 oz. can of mixed beans, rinsed and drained
1 12 oz. can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of salsa sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

  1. Heat a large pot and add a bit of cooking oil. Saute onions and mushrooms. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink.
  2. Add the remainder of the ingredients to the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Top with cheddar cheese and serve with bread.

Cinnabon Clone Recipe

A fresh bun just out of the oven.

I've been meaning to make this recipe for quite a while now and finally remembered to buy "bread flour". I was also looking out for a breadmaker but then thought I'd better not. I have bad memories of bread makers. Years ago, my ex thought he was doing me a favour and got me a Black and Decker bread maker for one of my first mother's day. That was very nice except that it was something HE really wanted and wanted me to immediately make the f***ing bread right then and there! Needless to say, when we separated, I packed the bread maker up and out it went along with him so that he could make his own dang bread!

Ever wonder what the difference is between all-purpose flour and bread flour is? Well, here's an explanation:

Bread Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour

Bread flour is a high-gluten flour that has very small amounts of malted barley flour and vitamin C or potassium bromate added. The barley flour helps the yeast work, and the other additive increases the elasticity of the gluten and its ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes. Bread flour is called for in many bread and pizza crust recipes where you want the loftiness or chewiness that the extra gluten provides. It is especially useful as a component in rye, barley and other mixed-grain breads, where the added lift of the bread flour is necessary to boost the other grains.

All-purpose flour is made from a blend of high- and low-gluten wheats, and has a bit less protein than bread flour — 11% or 12% vs. 13% or 14%. You can always substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour, although your results may not be as glorious as you had hoped. There are many recipes, however, where the use of bread flour in place of all-purpose will produce a tough, chewy, disappointing result. Cakes, for instance, are often made with all-purpose flour, but would not be nearly as good made with bread flour

I found this recipe on I also have Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes collection which also offers up his version of a copy-cat real-thing ooey gooey Cinnabon. I actually like this homemade version better than the real Cinnabon, which is to say that it isn't an exact replica of Cinnabon's famous rolls. The real Cinnabons are actually not as fluffy as this one, I found, although both versions are scrumptious, I think at the prices that they charge for a large bun, I'll just charge my kids half price and I'm sure thye'd be happy to pay up for a piece!

Sliced before rising.

After 30 minutes of resting on the stove top.

Fresh from the oven.

The recipe below is for a bread maker. I no longer own one so I did the "no bread machine" version which is just as simple. See below for it.


1 cup warm milk (110F/45C)

2 eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup margarine, melted (I used butter)

4-1/2 cups bread flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup white sugar

2-1/2 tsp bread machine yeast (I used regular dry active yeast)


1 cup brown sugar, packed

2-1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup butter, softened (I accidently melted mine in the microwave)


1 pkg cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter

1-1/2 cups icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt


  1. Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough cycle; press start.
  2. After the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Roll dough into a 16" x 21" rectangle (I used a jelly roll pan). Spread dough with 1/3 cup butter and sprinkle evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9"x13" baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Bake rolls in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Spread frsting on warm rolls before serving.

Dissolve sugar in milk, add yeast. Let foam. Then add eggs, salt and butter/margarine. Use mixer to combine flour, then use bread hook to knead. Continue with step #2 above.

**TIP: After the frosting is whipped, place in a disposable zip top bag and snip a corner to pipe.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake (Sponge Cake)

The weather has been so great these last couple of weeks, the long lazy days of summer can't come soon enough. BBQ season has come, and the American fresh berries and other fresh produce are readily available at reasonable prices now. I had been looking for a good sponge cake recipe ever since the bakery, Diana Sweets, where we got all of our birthday cakes from when we were kids went out of business down on Yonge Street in Toronto. With fresh whipped cream and slices of fresh strawberries in between the layers, and the not-so attractively arranged whole strawberries as the decorations on around the edges on the face of the cake, with a scantly written message, we looked forward to this cake at each birthday.

Unfortunately, my kids never got to try a Diana Sweets cake since it closed down before my first child was born. It was my mission to replicate it as I still craved the taste of this special cake. I would scour libraries for baking cookbooks (no internet back then), and magazines looking for the perfect shortcake recipe. I made several different recipes, including some that were actually more like a scone, which is what a shortcake really should be.

Then one day, many years ago, a friend brought this AMAZING dessert to our house. I finally found it! I got the recipe and it has never failed me. Everyone LOVES this cake. I had been making it for a few years. It's a little bit of a nuisance in that you need two separate mixing bowls and quite a few different ingredients, but believe me, it is worth it!

A few years ago, the local grocery store started selling this in a roll form as their "jelly roll" (no jelly though). It was the perfect fix when I didn't feel like baking. About 5 years ago, it was selling for $8.95. The fresh cream, eggs and berries cost me that much! But today, they sell them for $15.95! We still buy it occasionally, but more often than not, I just make it and throw it together myself in a layered fashion.

It is just like the one that the local Village Grocer turns out. Actually, my husband says it's even BETTER!

Separate egg whites and egg yolks.

My little helper.
Beaten egg whites and egg yolks.

Flour added to the egg yolks create a thick pasty consistency.

Fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture.
It becomes a light batter.

Pour into a jelly roll pan and spread evenly.

Bake for a bout 15-17 minutes at 325 F. The baking time for a 10" round is about an hour!

Slice cake in half to roll or layer.

Spread whipping cream (my can was low on cream).

Get assistants to add fruit.

Roll or place second half on top and add more fruit and cream for garnish.

Sponge Cake

8 eggs, separated

½ tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp salt

1-1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 tbsp cold water

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

1 ½ tsp almond extract

½ tsp lemon extract

1 ¼ cup sifted flour

1. Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt at high speed until foamy. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat until stiff.

2. In another bowl, beat yolks and ½ cup sugar, water, vanilla, almond and lemon extract. Beat for 5 minutes at high speed until thick.

3. Stir in flour all at once.

4. Gradually fold in egg yolk mixture into egg white mixture.

5. Pour into 10" spring form pan, ungreased. Bake at 325 F for 60-65 minutes or until top springs back when touched.

** For this cake, I spray a 12 x 18 jelly roll pan, being sure to spread the batter evenly and bake for 15 minutes. You can either cut it in half and roll two halves or cut it in half and layer it. Before serving, layer with whipped cream and fresh berries and top with the second half. Before serving, slice cake up, place piece of cake of plate and garnish with a dollop of whipping cream and a strawberry.

**Normally, you don't spray or grease pans for sponge cake, but I find it a lot easier to remove when you give it a light coat of PAM.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (turned Craisin Chocolate Chip)

One of Nicholas's lovely teachers who adores him, occasionally sends him home with little treats. She happened to send along a few cookies last week. She knows how much Nicholas enjoys hanging out in the kitchen and also his favourite channel is the Food Network! I saw her in the hallway a few days ago and mentioned that they were delicious and two days later, Nicholas came home with the recipe and a little bag of toasted wheat germ. She knew I probably wouldn't have any of this at home, and she was right! We made a batch that same evening and they were just as good. But instead of the raisins that the recipe calls for, we put in craisins. They were quasi healthy right up until the part where we added a cup of chocolate chips for good measure!

These turned out nice and crispy and very delicious.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large egs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups raisin

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir together the oats, flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside

2. Put granulated and brown sugars and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

3. Reduce speed to low. Add oat mixture; mix until just combined. Mix in raisins.

4. Using a small (1-1/2 tbsp) icecream scoop, make balls of dough, and place them inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

5. Bake until cookies are golden and just set, 12-14 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

** You can roll these into balls and then place in a ziploc bag and freeze until needed. Just plop balls onto a baking sheet and bake as usual.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I can't even boil an egg!

For Christmas, my daughter gave me a gift card for Williams Sonoma. Since there are only 2 locations in the Toronto area, neither of them are close by. So, during boxing week, my girlfriend and I went to the Yorkdale location and I thought I'd try to pick up something. I wanted to buy some kitchen bling but there wasn't anything that I REALLY wantedor needed. I did pick up a glass pedestal dessert plate with a domed lid and a really expensivee silicone spatula (the most expensive one I'll ever buy which had better last a lifetime - 23 fricken bucks plus tax!) and this device which helps you cook a perfect egg. This was an $8 gadget. Necessary? Yes!

All of us, except for Nicholas, love hard-boiled eggs. He chooses to be difficult and wants his eggs soft boiled so that he could spoon out the egg, dip his bread in the runny yolk and and try to have a near perfect egg shell in the end. I have tried many different ways to time an egg. Before this little discovery, I could never get the egg white cooked and the yolk warm, the way a soft boiled egg should be.

I could tell you how to cook eggs to perfect hard boiled but I'm at a loss and have actually gone around asking people and looking it up on the internet. Everyone has there own way and says it's perfect. I've tried 'em all and nothing works for soft-boiled. So, if you can't find one of these handy gadgets or refuse to pay the astronomical price for one, (I'm sure I got ripped off), and want a perfect hard-boiled egg, start with a pot of cold water with eggs straight from the fridge. Bring water to a boil and set the timer for 10 minutes. Simple. If you want a perfect soft or medium, run out and get one of these!

The Egg-Perfect is a simple ingenious little acrylic half egg-sized-shaped, flat-bottomed thingamajiggy really has perfected my egg-cooking skills and works like a charm!

Simple instructions.

Just place it in a pot of water with your eggs.

A perfect soft-boiled egg.

A perfect medium egg -the way I like it.
A perfect hard-boiled egg!

California Rolls & Avocado Salad

We got a real taste of summer over the last two days here with temperatures today reaching 30 C with humidity feeling like 34 C! Can you believe that my Nicholas, William and Lauren swam today?! The water is FREEZING COLD! They braved it and again, Nicholas was the first one in again this year.

This morning, I made some California Sushi Rolls for their lunch boxes. I just wanted to give them something different from the same humdrum of sandwiches almost everyday. I had made the rice and prepped it with the powdered vinegar last night and just left it in the rice cooker so that it would be cooled by morning. It's kind of more time consuming than making a sandwich but my kids are worth it. For whatever reason, whenever I make these rolls, I can't help but lay the rice on a little too thick making HUGE rolls. It all tastes good still though. We had these for breakfast as well.

California Rolls
I found a site that better explains how to make this - from making the rice in the beginning to rolling it at the end.

This is the way to make proper California Rolls - after putting the rice on, you flip it nori-side up before putting the filling.I like the nori on the outside.

I used the food processor to blend the crabmeat with some Miracle whip to give it a creamier sweetness. Except I had to make some unblended for William who likes the crab in chunks.

Too much sesame seeds, I think.

I prefer the nori on the outside.

What was for dinner? BBQ, of course. I just marinaded that last of my chicken drums from my last trip to Buffalo and put a few Octoberfest sausages on along with a few Costco Roadhouse burgers on the grill, boiled up some broccoli and made an avocado salad which was delicious and refreshing. Problem is, nobody really likes avocados in this family except Nicholas and myself. Even then, he's not a big salad eater and didn't even try this. Everyone else just picked out the avocado pieces.

Avocado Salad
1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 seedless cucumber, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 fresh lime, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Mother's Day Herb Garden

The beautiful potted herbs. Now I have to remember to water them!

I know I'm working backwards here, but I have been so busy lately, and so much to blog about I don't quite know where to start.

When my sister-in- law and I went out garage saleing the Saturday before Mother's day, it was POURING rain. We were one of the few who were either crazy enough or desparate enough to be out in the downpour. Then again, there were people who actually just pulled plastic tarps over their goods and it was business as usual. At one of the houses, there was a kid about 12 years old haggling for some brand new candles to match the candle holders he had just bought from another neighbour across the way. He said it was for his mother for mother's day. I think this gave him some bargaining power. That almost brought tears to my eyes that this kid, who probably didn't have much money was thoughtful enough to know that he could get something decent from a garage sale. HIs mom wouldn't care whether it was new or used, or if he spent $2 instead of $20. I'm sure of this because I wouldn't.

William's card to me.

I could never say that any of my boys would do the same for me. That's not to say that they've never given me anything in the past. Sure, there were the arts & crafts from school, or the gifts that my hubby went out to buy and said it was from the kids. Although, when she was old enough, it was always my daughter who would save up her money to get me little something. For whatever reason, I always unwrapped some perfumey soap, bubble bath or cream of some sort. I think she knows now that I can't use up all of the supplies that she's gotten for me over the years. Except this year, she said she had no money and lately seems to be borrowing money from me quite frequently.

I have always said that they didn't have to buy me anything and to save their money for themselves. Perhaps this is to my own detriment that now I must eat my own words. Maybe I've taught them to be selfish by doing this. Do you think?

Transplanted a bit of chives and parsley into a planter we brought back from Southern Spain a couple of years ago. The pot was nothing special but we really couldn't find anything to buy as a little souvenier, believe it or not!

So, my eldest teenage son Ryan calls me on Saturday afternoon and to my surprise, he actually considered getting me a mother's day present! That was certainly unexpected. He said he was going to Chapters Book Store and wondered if there was a book that I would like. Wow! I was utterly speechless. Dumbfounded, as a matter of fact would be the correct word! You have to understand - the thought that he would part with his money at his own will to actually buy something for someone is a magical breakthrough! I was quite excited about it and thrilled! He's coming around! I then proceeded once again to say that he didn't have to get me anything but thanks for thinking of me and since it's garage sales season, I can get my books for about a quarter a piece so to think that he's going to pay $20 for one, I just couldn't get passed it. But then added, "Well, since you're going to the book store, maybe instead of a book, you can tell your dad to drive you to the grocery store's garden centre and pick me up a little potted herb garden. Oh, I was excited! I was going to get something similar to the potted herb garden that I was too cheap to buy ($16.99 plus 13% tax) earlier on in the day!

Sunday rolls around and he comes home for dinner. I expected my potted herbs. Maybe I could even use a few clippings from it for mother's day dinner! He came empty handed. :( What the... Well, it turns out that his dad said that if he buys me something, then he would have to buy something for his step-mother as well. He didn't want to, so we both got nothing. That's ok - it's the thought that counts, right?

During the week, I did however go out and get my herbs and transplanted them into existing pots that I had from last year. It was more or less the only thing that I wanted this year. I have to admit - I am a difficult person to buy for as I usually go out and get what I need/want on my own leaving nothing for anyone else in case they need to get me something. I'm SO BAD in that way.
Lauren's bean plant from Nursery School.

The rest of the family gave me cards with enclosed lottery tickets and scratch tickets (no, we're not rich YET and the Lotto 649 is $49 million buckeroos tonight!!) But I did win $5 from one of the ticket and traded it in for tonight's draw with which I think I have the winning ticket!! (A true gambler! I should quite while I'm ahead, right?) If you hear a scream from where you are at around 11 pm, don't panic - it's probably me doing the happy dance. But even if I don't get the chance to ever do the happy dance, I still have a million dollar family right here in our home.

On Saturday, Ryan handed me $20. He said that it was for me to go out and buy myself the herb garden that I wanted! I pointed at the herbs and said those were from him. I almost felt guilty taking it from him! It's sort of like stealing candy from a baby, isn't it? My sweet Ryan is growing up and is beginning to appreciate the things that I do for him. They look great and hopefully, I can bury them in the fall and have them come back year after year. I will remember this mother's day as a special one because apart from gifts that were made at school, which are usually made because it is part of an activity, this year, he thought to go out on his own will to get me something I wanted. This is a life lesson here. He's going to have to do the same for his wife one day. He only now has to learn how to learn what I want and go out and buy what he thinks I want. Maybe next year... But for now, I am perfectly happy with this...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

A proud Nick posing with his first steaks!

What we had for dinner...

One of my most favourite desserts!

Happy belated mother's day to all! Hope you had a nice relaxing day and that your kids and hubby were good to you.

We've had a busy week here, not that every week isn't busy but this past week and weekend had been a particularly busier one than usual with my brother-in-law and family staying with us. We had a wonderful weekend doing the touristy thing in downtown Toronto visiting the Hard Rock Cafe, CN Tower and Toronto Eaton Centre. I also think we ate too much AGAIN! What's new?

Let's see what we had for mother's day:

Grilled T-Bone Steak with Chipotle-Chili Rub and Cilantro-Lime Compound Butter

My son Nicholas got a new cookbook - Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids. It is a very nice spiral bound cookbook that has very enticing simple recipes that kids can make and of course, kid-friendly. Nicholas wanted to make T-Bone Steaks from this book so I said he could cook dinner for me on Mother's day. Out I went to get all the ingredients and he did a fabulous job. Everything we delicious and we had a feast!The beginnings of the butter compound.

1 lime
1 cup butter, cut into chunks (2 sticks)
3 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
4 T-Bone Steaks (we used ribeye), 1-1/2" thick
2 tbsp steak seasoning blend for the grill, such as Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick (we used Clubhouse)
1 tbsp chiptle (smoky) gruond chili powder or dark chili powder
1 tbsp sweet paprika

Preheat a two-burner grill pan over high heat or a tabletop electric grill to high, or preheat the outdoor grill. Grate the zest of the lime (the green part of the skin - not the white part) on the small holes of a grater. Cut the lime in half crosswise and squeeze all the juice from the lime halves into a bowl.

Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Place bowl in microwave and cook on high for 15 seconds. Stir in cilantro and lime zest and juice using a rubber spatula. Transfer the butter onto a large piece of plastic wrap.

Gather the ends of the plastic wrap in one hand and use a straight edge, like a small cookie sheet pan, to push the butter back and away from your body making the butter take on a log shape.

Gently roll the log wrapped in plastic back and forth on the counterop to evenly round out the shape. Twist up the extra wrap on the ends and place the compound butter log into the freezer to make the butter cold enough to slice.

Remove the steaks form teh refrigerator and unwrap. Combine the steak seasoning blend with ground chiptole pepper (smoked jalepeno powder) and sweet paprika. A tablespoon is about a palmful of powdered or ground seasonings. Rub the seasoning blend into the steaks, distributing the spices eveningly amond them. Go wash your hands. Using tongs, place steaks on hot grill , carefully place the thin tip of one steak facing the wide end of the next so that all 4 steaks fit onto the grill at the same time. Cook steaks 6 to 7 minutes on each side for medium doneness. Remove steaks and let them rest so the juices can redistribute, 5 minutes.

When ready to serve, top steaks with discs of sliced compound butter, and serve with salad or vegetables on the side.

We also had grilled Shrimp Satay served with Thai Peanut Sauce (SO GOOD!!) both from I didn't have coriander so I substituted cilantro and size 31-35 shrimps because that's all I had :( They didn't quite look like hers, but they were delicious still.

I think I should have mixed all the ingredients in a bowl and then poured it over the shrimp. I don't follow directions very well. Live and learn...

Looks and tasted a bit pasty but with the Peanut Sauce, it was PERFECT!

A very yummy combo.

Oh so simple and delish peanut sauce. Just combine all ingredients...

Stir to blend everything...

Bring to a boil and it's peanut sauce which can keep in the fridge for months!!

My cousin also celebrated her first mother's day with us and brought korean short ribs. I will post the recipe on a separate post. We wrapped it in lettuce and dressed with the Thai Peanut Sauce and MMMMMM! SO Yummy!!Korean BBQ Beef Short Ribs

Beef short-ribs wrapped in lettuce with peanut sauce and grilled veggies would make a hearty meal. YUM!

Grilled vegetables seasoned sliced and tossed with olive oil, Montreal Steak Spice and bit of seasoning salt and baked potatoes and baked sweet potatoes, wrapped individually in foil and cooked over the BBQ for about 45 minutes, were our sides. For dessert, we had a delicious White and Chocolate Mousse cake from Baby Cole's Daddy. It's one of my MOST favourite combinations for a cake from our local fabulous Village Grocer who make some of the best desserts around town. I think I gained 8 pounds that day alone!

Veggies with olive oil, steak spice and seasoning salt. So simple and delish.

We then finished off our evening watching The Amazing Race. We haven't been able to follow a show or program in years! We are finally see the light as our kids reach an age where they can entertain themselves and we can watch something WE want to watch on tv once a week! I'm sure the day will come that I will miss them at this age. But for now, I'll look forward to the day that we can start calling the shots again on everything from what to watch on TV, what and where to eat, what movies to go to, etc.