Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's not's better

Any of my regular readers know that I am wheat intolerant. When I eat more than a bite or two of wheat products, I usually will see bloating for the next day or two, a temporary weight gain of 1-2 lb and a subtle but noticeable fogginess in my head the next day. Not too bad but not how I want to feel every day. But I'm not ready to give up wheat totally so I try to limit myself to enjoying wheat one day per week. And if I'm only having it once a week, then I'm gonna make sure it's worth it! My usual wheat indulgences are confined to white bread products, namely  fresh French bread with butter, warm bread rolls in a restaurant bread basket or pizza. I actually find I digest white, processed bread better that wholewheat. I'm not saying that processed foods are ok, just that if I do indulge, this is easier for me to digest. I have made homemade pizza many times but a few months ago decided that me and PB would start a weekly pizza night tradition. My quest was to create the perfect home-cooked pizza. I already had a tried and tested recipe for the base but found sometimes pizza came out amazing and other times not and wondered what the other variables were that I was missing. I have now made pizza once a week for about 3 months now and finally feel like I'm getting close to perfection. I previously posted a pizza dough recipe here.


 I still use this but usually add garlic powder and dried oregano to the flour as well as salt, about half teaspoon of salt and about one teaspoon each of the herbs and spices. I have found that the dough turns out waaay better if I add more water and then need to add more flour, rather than the other way round (which is contradictory to my original pizza post) so I tend to be more generous when adding the water. Of course kneading is key, at least 10 mins, which is a good arm workout. I suggest timing it and then watching something on TV while you are kneading as the time passes VERY slowly.

Here are the other steps I feel are crucial to a good pizza:

  • Dough should be seasoned well and well kneaded 
  • I double proof the dough for at least 30 mins each time. After the first proof, I re-knead for a minute and then place back in the slightly warmed warmed oven.
  • Proof dough in a slightly warmed oven.  I usually put the oven on as I gather my ingredients and then turn it off. The residual heat is enough for the proofing.
  • Hand stretch the dough. I don't use a rolling pin and I leave the outer edge a bit thicker.
  • Go easy on the pizza sauce! I use store bought but am planning on making my own soon. Too much sauce makes the dough soggy.  
  • Ensure you have the right cheese blend! I prefer a mix of pizza mozzarella, parmesan and provolone. This gives both texture and flavour.  Mozzarella alone doesn't have enough flavour. I buy a store bought pre shredded cheese blend for convenience, if you are going for delivery style pizza. I like Presidents Choice Three Cheese Blend the best. If you want rustic Italian style then you'll want fresh mozzarella slices.

  • Don't overdo the toppings, especially vegetables as they will be too watery.
  • Sauté any vegetables before putting on pizza. Any toppings you use should be pre cooked.
  • Add a layer of cheese on top of the sauce and then add and toppings. Finish with a bit more cheese on top.
  • Choose your cooking tray/ pan carefully. I don't have a pizza stone or pizza pan with the holes in it but I have been having lots of success with my two layer cookie sheet. It seems to allow the heat to get to the dough without overdoing it. The two layer sheet has an air space between the layers.
  • Ensure the oven is REALLY hot before putting pizza in. I go for 450 f and you must wait for it to reach temp. Place pizza on top shelf for max heat.
  • I sprinkle oregano on top of the pizza before baking.
A thin crust should only take about 10-12 mins total so keep an eye on it but try not to open the door too much or you will lose the heat.


I am still working on perfecting the pizza and am also going to try a gluten free base as well as making my own sauce. I am reluctant to use vegan cheese as it is FULL of additives and processed crap, so I'd rather have a small amount of real cheese (which I can tolerate) and enjoy that.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Long break, short post

Sooooo it's been, well, a while, since I blogged. I got busy with work, my nutrition diploma and just generally enjoying life. Oh, and I am having a baby! More on that in my next post but in summary, I have lost my food mojo a bit so not really had anything foodie that was new or interesting to post about!
Today's blog is just to get me going again so it's a short one. Enjoy!

Avocado 2 ways

I saw this on a segment on Stephen and Chris recently. They were doing a feature on making your own homemade baby food. 
 1 Ripe avocado
1 ripe banana

Mash together! A quick, healthy snack on the go that works for babies and adults alike. I was skeptical but it just tastes like a richer banana that is moderately sweet.

1/2 avocado
1-2 tbsp salsa

This one I saw posted on a pregnancy forum where people were discussing easy, portable, healthy snacks.
Mash up the avocado still in the skin. Mix in the salsa, and serve! I tried this with lunch today and enjoyed it very much, will do again for sure!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To brine or not to brine

I think the Fall leaf colours are peaking this week, everywhere I go I'm "oohing" and "aaahing" at the amazing vibrancy all around. It's been quite dry and warm too so we've been enjoying nice walks on the trail with Nacho and traipsing through the crispy leaves. I've been particularly impressed by all the burning bushes that are in abundance here, every time I see one it's like the first time, they are just sooooo bright! I want one for our yard for sure, along with a billion other shrubs, trees and flowers. I had a mammoth bulb  planting session and put in 200 bulbs including snow drops, crocii/crocuses, tulips and daffs. We'll see how they turn out. Surprisingly, I think I could have done with another 200 easily but I didn't set aside an annual bulb budget so this will have to do for this year.

The veggie patch is almost done, still some letti/lettuces, and scallions and also the kale which is now holding on to whole leaves instead of being stripped bare by some kind of multi-legged, long bodied leaf chomping creature. I harvested some sizable parsnips, the rest of the leeks which hadn't grow much bigger than mini-size, and some juicy carrots. The parsnips were so fragrant when I was picking them, mmmm possibly my favorite root vegetable. I planned to use them all for the inaugural chicken brining I was planning for Thanksgiving dinner. it was just me and PB but I had a good sized juicy chicken ready and defrosted for us. I have wanted to brine meat for a long time but never got round to it or had sufficient space in the fridge to store the sizable container needed to fill with water and a bird so that the bird was submerged. But this year I was ready and reviewed some recipes, posted the obligatory plea for help status update on Facebook and ended up with a plan (Thanks Diana!). You can brine with salt, sugar or both and then add whatever other spices, herbs, etc you like. The brining apparently makes the roast extra tasty and tender but not overly salted as you might expect. There are a few tips to consider though:
  • ensure you have a container large enough to soak the bird
  • rinse thoroughly after brining otherwise you won't get crispy skin
  • if using a sugar brine, don't cook at too high a heat as the skin can burn 
  • determine if the recipe calls for kosher salt or table salt. if it's kosher salt and you are using table salk, half the recipe.     
 Apparantely dry brining is fast replacing traditional brining too, I am intrugied to try this. Many seasoned (haha) briners, are now converts to dry brining for superior taste, texture and less hassle preparing.

I had a large saucepan with lid which would just fit my bird in and it easily fit in the fridge too.
Here is the brine I used:

 1/4 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 whole chicken
sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary etc)

Fill container 1/4 cold water, add salt, sugar and mix to dissolve.Add chicken and herbs to liquid and then top up if needed to ensure it is submerged. you may need a lid or a weight to stop the chicken bobbing up.
 Refrigerate for 1 hour per lb or overnight. 
I let it brine overnight, probably 12 hours. More than that can over brine and make it mushy. You can brine for as little as a couple of hours if that's all you have.

I followed the plan, patted dry the chicken and roasted as usual at 375F for about 1.5 hours. It didn't brown as much as a liked so I did put oil on about 30 mins in which I think I will do at the beginning next time.

I roasted my homegrown vegetables in the pan with the juices and they came out great. PB LOVED the chicken, raved about it. I too enjoyed it. I wouldn't say that it was that different from a normal roast, but it did taste like a really good roast and was very very moist. As moist as the crock pot roast chicken I did but this one was crispy so that was an advantage. I didn't find it too salty, I love salt so it's hard for anything to be to salty! I will brine again for sure and recommend it, next time...dry brining. I'm gonna need a truckload of salt for this!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A soup for September

September has been a blur of visitors, running races (one I was in and one I was part of the race committee), Crazy-busy work days and for the most part lots of sunshine. We've had a lot of rain but it was all concentrated in one day or overnight during thunderstorms so that's been good, although the lawn is totally waterlogged and more than once I've nearly bailed when slipping on the exposed clay soil in my flip flops (which I will attempt to wear at least until the end of October). I've winterized the veggie patch by harvesting all the chard, eating the last broccoli heads and pulling all the snap pea vines off.
There are still some parsnips, leeks, scallions, lettuce and kale growing but I've planted some garlic and also some more broccoli in the hopes of another harvest. Garlic is super easy to grow (says she who has never actually grown it before but has *read* about it). Plant individual cloves (unpeeled) about 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart in the Fall for a Spring harvest. Apparantly Fall is the best time to grow garlic. Guess I'll find out in the Spring.

While my mum was visiting, I harvested the larger of the 15 or so leeks I've been cultivating which are still baby sized but a success none the less. I oven roasted them and served with some freshly harvested, pan-sauteed chard with a side of beef tenderloin.....well, the homegrown veggies are clearly the star feature here!

The Summer of intense BBQ-ing is winding down although we will still BBQ quite a bit,  it's time to retreat to the kitchen in readiness for soups, stews and slow cooker feasts. I went to Costco yesterday and stocked up on tinned tomatoes, ground beef and other Winter pantry staples.
Today I'm making my favourite tomato soup. It's a roasted garlic, basil and tomato soup and I got the recipe from a friend way back when I started a cooking/eating group called The Culinary Queens. There were about 8 of us and each month, one person hosted and chose a featured ingredient. Each person then bought a dish made with that ingredient. I hosted the first event and the featured ingredient was garlic. The club went for a good year or 2 and we had a range of themes; lemon, blackberries, garlic (again) as well as a dessert themed meeting. This soup is really easy and I usually roast several extra garlic bulbs and use the pulp for other meals and spreads such as hummus or even just spread on to toasted french bread. I did this once while camping, drooling now thinking about it.

 The roasted garlic is a less intense garlic flavour and it's supper smooth and a bit sweeter. I also used my own homegrown basil in the recipe as it's coming to the end of the season and doesn't like the cold weather. I also add a splash of balsamic vinegar to this to sweeten it a little.

Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large cans chopped or whole plum tomatoes(I use plain but you could use stewed or fire roasted too)
1 head garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
handful fresh basil and parsley, chopped (optional)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

heat oven to 350F.
Drizzle garlic bulb in a bit of olive oil and wrap in foil. Place in oven and roast until soft, approx 40 mins. Let cool before handling (once I pierced a clove and it exploded sending hot garlic paste all over my face).
Once cooled, cut off top of bulb and then squeeze out pulp like toothpaste.
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven and add celery and onion to saute for 5 mins until soft.
Add tomatoes to pan and bring to boil. Add dried herbs, vinegar, seasoning and roasted garlic pulp, reduce heat and simmer for 10-20 mins.
Add fresh basil at end and let cool. Serve chunky and rustic or blend for a smoother soup.

This soup is quite thick so you may wish to add some stock or water if needed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I smell Fall....

It's the end of August already! Well, Friday is, and besides it getting dark shockingly early at around 8pm, for all other intents and purposes, it's still Summer between 10am and 4pm most days. The mornings are cooler, the nights are breezier (thank goodness) but it's still sunglasses and air conditioning on in the car. However, today was the first day where I wore..... a hoodie...when I walked the puppy at 5pm. I probably could have managed without but there was just the slightest chill in the strong breeze. In contrast  though, summer still lingers at times. Last night I ran with my weekly run group and the humidity was intense...In my half marathon training, by far the hardest runs have been the 5-7k on Tuesday nights. Way harder than the 90-120 min early morning weekend runs. I guess mentally and physically I prepare for a long run by hydrating the day before, eating a good clean meal (clean meaning no allergens or foods I don't usually eat), no alcohol (well maybe a glass of wine with dinner) and getting a good nights sleep (except when the puppy wakes up with a nightmare or a pair or racoons is attacking the BBQ). In my head, the Tuesday night run should be a breeze, it's short, I run with other people so it's social and I have a pace to keep up with people so that's motivation. However, every single Tues since Canada day has been accompanied by a brutal humidex of 30-35C.......eeuughhhh! It's so gross, you sweat everywhere (think inner ear, between your fingers and inside your eyelids) and I run sooooo slooowwwly. I ran a long 18km on Sunday morning in 17C with no humidex and my pace per km was 20 seconds faster than a short Tues night run. Ah well, it's all part of the fun of running! I have loved our long hot summer for the most part though and the perfectly timed rain every 7-10 days has been perfect for the lawn and the veggies. The carrots are almost fully grown,  we've enjoyed a fresh head of broccoli every week, Nacho the puppy has developed a taste for snap peas fresh off the vine and I finally have some lettuce!
Cooking wise, it's been exclusively BBQ every night. PB even suggested we sell our stove as we never use it anymore but then what would I hang my tea-towels on?
Have not really tried any new recipes although I did do a roast chicken dinner on the BBQ on Sunday. I knew there would be a lot of fat dripping from the chicken skin so I placed a few layers of foil in the vegetable basket and then put the chicken in there, surrounded by some halved baby potatoes. and that was it. The chicken was lightly oiled, salted and rosemary-ed (with fresh homegrown rosemary) and I cooked the whole thing for about 50 mins. Done and done. We had some peas on the side, I did not BBQ them as they would fall through the grates but maybe one day I'll try!
 Here's a pic of the newest family member, Nacho. He's almost 4 months old, a yellow lab and he's awesome, quite the little character!

My other recent foodie find was as Costco. I usually don't buy pre-made sauces but they had samples of this sauce, Habanero pepper and pineapple made by Rothschild Farms out of the states. I had a steak rub from the same company as a gift and it was hands down the best steak rub ever and now I can't find it anywhere to buy here without ordering it from the US. So this caught my eye. It's spicy and sweet and I basted a pork tenderloin with it on Monday.  Incidentally I'd like to report an easy cooking method for this that I found on a random webpage. It's the 7-6-5 method. Heat the BBQ. Place tenderloin on for 7 minutes. Turn and cook for 6 minutes. Turn off BBQ and leave closed for 5 mins. Done perfectly exactly as promised.
 I'm most excited to try the sauce with some halibut or cod though, I think that will be the dream combo and the plan is to try that on Friday evening, on the BBQ of course. The stove is full of dust so I can't use that!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Grill marks with that?

whew, what a scorcher this summer has turned into! My veggie patch is going crazy and I thinned out some baby carrots yesterday to allow the remaining ones to really flourish. We rinsed the small ones and chomped through them on the deck while sipping Budweiser. This is the life!

As you can see, we loved them!
I recently tried a variation on a previous recipe, black bean and avocado salsa, by grilling the avocado instead of just putting it in raw. I also omitted the black beans for a lighter version. The salad certainly looked even more appetizing (and I thought that wasn't possible), grill marks have that effect on everything. Taste wise, the avocado was a little nuttier and softer, but the big thing was the aesthetics...and I got the chance to grill yet another food that is not your average grill fare.

As for the veggie patch, we have eaten 3 heads of broccoli. made a batch of kale chips, eaten a bunch of baby carrots as detailed above, made Warm Sweet Potato and Kale salad with homegrown Kale and munched on numerous snap peas picked freshly about 2 seconds beforehand. The leeks, carrots and parsnips still have a way to go, the Rainbow chard is taking over and finally I have some lettuces appearing. Tomatoes are slow but some fruits are materialising.

I'm loving growing these vegetables, so satisfying to see the daily changes and then to harvest them. Already planning my Winter garden and next Summer's one too. I think my focus will be on kale, broccoli and lettuce next year. And I want to grow some garlic too. And more herbs. And peppers. I think I'm gonna need some more raised beds.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

run, chew, run, chew, run, chew

I am currently in training for a half marathon in the middle of September. I trained for and ran a 10k race (the Bluenose) in May so I already had a decent base although I'm nowhere near in the good shape I was 2 years ago when I was regularly running 10k 2-3 times a week for general exercise, albeit on the pancake flat seawall in Vancouver but still, I was making good time and was doing lots of other exercise such as netball twice a week and spinning classes as well as kickboxing and hiking the Grouse Grind. Since moving last year, my workout routine has gone, well.... it's just gone. Only now that things are more settled, am I able to get into a regular routine. I always do best when training for something in particular so me and my running buddy K-Mac decided to both enter the same race so we can train together. We don't do all our runs together as schedules do not permit but we keep each other in check with updates in-between our weekly Tues night run club. Up to 10k is my ideal run/ race distance but the downside is, it's easy to slack off because as long as you are generally fit, you can run 10k without too much trouble. A half marathon (21k) on the other hand, does require training if you wish to have the use of your legs for the 2 weeks after the race. Factor in a late Summer race date where temps could be in the mid 20's and if you haven't done any hot weather training, you likely won't make it to the first water station. What does this  have to do with food? Well, doing any kind of exercise longer than an hour requires nutritional preparation. I planned an 11k training run for last Saturday morning so that meant Friday day and night were all part of it. We've been having very hot weather, high 20's with humidex in the mid 30's and so I planned a 7 am run to beat the heat. For anything where dehydration is an issue either for medical or performance reasons, it's key to start your hydration a couple of days before hand to give your body time to "top up" it's water reserves. Also, if you drink too much on the day, you just need to pee the whole time and that just sucks. Food wise, I had an evening meal of salmon skewers (on sale at Superstore for $1.25 each!) and an avocado mango salsa I made, minus the black beans from the original recipe, as I find they bloat me a bit which impedes the enjoyment of the run. I had a poor sleep as was flying solo with the new puppy that night so was up every 2 hours to take him outside to pee. On runs of 7k or less, I usually do not take water with me. I find carrying water is a hassle and not that comfortable whether you have a fuel belt, camelbak or handheld. But, this run required a water source and my subsequent longer training runs will require water and fuel in the form of gels, electrolyte drinks etc. I found a fuel belt from Nike with 4 bottles and 2 pouches which I thought would be fine. I have previously had a camelbak which I loved as it was so easy to sip and no bulky belt hitting my elbows but you can only have one liquid type as there is only one bladder. With the belts you can have water in one, electrolyte drink in another, wine in another (kidding). I also had new runners (got them on sale at $60 off!), and I was going to try out some electrolyte chews. There are 3 main fuels on the market for endurance activities: gels, chews and sport jelly beans. In the past when I did a half marathon and a triathlon a few years ago, I used gels which I like but they can be very sickly sweet and stick to your gums if your mouth is dry, which it usually is when running. You need to take with water and this can be fiddly when running and then there is the sticky packet that you have to put back in your pocket...yuck. Also, if you only want half, the other half gets squished all over your hand, your bag or just wasted if you toss it away. Training runs for endurance events are not just to get your body ready, they are to try out gear, figure out what pre-race preparations work for you and what you need during the race. A bad training run will lead to a good race! I decided to try out the Sharkie gels, they are soft chews with some carbs and electrolytes. You are supposed to have one every 15 mins or so. I put them in my pouch and could easily retrieve them while running. They were easy to chew and the chewing motion increased salivation in my mouth which was good. However,  I didn't like the taste of most of them. The packet was "berry splash" so they were all different but I did get a cherry one. I love cherries. I hate cherry flavour. But I ate in anyway and carried on. Energy wise, the run was great, the chews sat well in my stomach and I felt really good on the run. I'm going to try some other brands of chews and also re-test the old faithful gels (which can be premixed with water to avoid the whole sticky mess I mentioned) to see how it goes. Either way, each training run is a mission and what  I learn will give me great confidence in the run and hopefully make for an enjoyable (and fast) 21k.