Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe: No-knead Bread (whole wheat loaf)

I love the concept of baking bread, but I don't own a bread machine, and I find bread baking rather intimidating.  I have tried a different recipes for no-knead bread, and I have enjoyed them all - but I found that the 24 hour planning some of the recipes required were a bit much - and that meant that I couldn't manage loaf of bread quickly on a whim.  I also had yet to experiment putting it in a loaf pan, and using it as a sandwich/toast bread. I found a recipe on, for Chuck Hughes' No Knead Bread, which is a quick whole wheat recipe made in a bread pan, so I thought I would give it a shot. 
The bread was very delicious, and hearty - but mine didn't seem to rise enough - it was on the dense side(this seems to be a general theme with my bread baking.....I can never seem to get it to rise properly on baking - even when I follow the directions perfectly!). 
But even though I didn't get enough of a rise, it was still a tasty loaf, and so quick an easy to prepare that I thought I would share it.  I am going to keep playing with the recipe and see if I can get it to rise higher (since I never seem to get a good rise with any recipe, I think it is me, not the recipe - let me know how you fare!). I am publishing his original recipe, but I have made some changes in adding my own notes and comments.

Chuck Hughes' No-Knead Bread
Yield: 2 loaves


  • 3 cups very warm but not hot water
  • 1 tablespoon dry active yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 2 ½ cup – 3 cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  1. Mix together in your large bread making bowl (I used my KitchenAid with the dough hook) and allow to bubble up and foam: The yeast, sugar and water. Wait a few minutes till yeast starts to work then add vinegar and oil
  2. Add the white flour cup by cup stirring well after each addition. Then add the whole wheat flour mixing in the salt at one point, cup by cup stirring well after each addition. This dough will still be a little bit wet and spongy.
  3. Cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 – 40 minutes or until it has doubled in size. (I put it in my oven, which I preheated to 175 degrees F, then turned off - when you open the oven to put the dough in, enough heat escapes to make it the perfect proofing temp)
  4. Using a big spatula, spoon out into 2 well-greased loaf pans. Using your fingers if needed, press the sides down, helping to create the perfect loaf shape. (do not knead)
  5. With a knife make 2 or 3 diagonal shallow incisions in the loaves.
  6. Bake the loaves about 50 minutes @ 375 degrees F or until they are golden brown and crusty on top and sound hollow when tapped on the underside.
  7. Let sit if you can wait, for at least 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving with butter.
If you have ever wanted to make your own bread, this is a great recipe - because it is so easy and really doesn't take that long - give it a try and please share your results (especially if you get yours to rise properly when you bake it!).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Recipe: Awesome Cheater Banana Ice Cream

I love ice-cream.  My kids love ice-cream.  My ever-expanding rear end does not like ice cream.  Over the last week or so, I saw the host of Food Network's 5 ingredient dinners make a peanut butter and  banana "ice-cream" and then I saw it on a blog posting at Kitchen Simplicity where they made a chunky monkey version with nuts and chocolate chips - and there were many other posts as well.  I had to try it!  The magic of this ice cream is that it's really not ice cream at all, but rather just pureed frozen bananas, with the promise of ice cream flavour (great if you have any lactose intolerant kids!).  If I could really get the mouth feel of ice cream, with the calorie count of a banana, then perhaps there is hope for me yet.  Not to mention, I would be a rock star at home, letting my kids have "ice-cream" every night.   But I must say, I was skeptical....  But  now that I have made it, I must declare - that it' really good - much better than I had expected!

Luckily, I had a bunch of bananas that were getting somewhat over-ripe (and I really didn't feel like making banana bread), so I sliced them onto a parchment lined baking sheet and shoved them into the freezer until they were good and frozen (2-3 hours).  Once they were good and frozen I dumped the whole batch into the food processor.  At first it it's rather frustrating - but keep at it, keep using a rubber scraper to push the banana mixture down, then keep processing.  (As a side note, I first tried using my blender and my Magic Bullet - they don't work, you need the food processor with the larger blade).  Eventually, when the mixture has thawed a bit from all the processing, you will get something with the consistency of ice cream.  I scooped it out into bowls and garnished with a few chocolate chips.  The rest went into a storage container and into the freezer to serve to guests coming the next day.*

I think I will play around with this recipe, perhaps add in some maple syrup for a little more sweetness....or some honey.....I wonder if it would keep the consistency if I threw in some berries.....let me know if you try it and come up with a great combination!

Now, as good as it is, it doesn't completely have the mouth feel of ice cream, but it is really close - better than some of those "light" ice creams out there.  So close, that it will satisfy an ice-cream craving and perhaps even reverse the butt-expansion process I have going on...... well, a girl can dream.

*When I served the ice cream the next day, it was still good, but it had lost a lot of it's creaminess, and had crystallized a bit - tasted more just like frozen banana.  In the future, I think I will process only what I need and keep extra frozen banana chunks in a freezer bag, ready to process whenever the urge strikes!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Go To Lunches: Beans on Toast

Beans on toast is one of my ultimate comfort foods - and what makes it a winner is it's absolute simplicity as a pantry meal.  I don't often eat canned food, but Heinz Beans in tomato sauce is an exception - and on a really cold day, or a day when I just don't want to think about cooking, it's a great lunch.  Sadly, my hubby still thinks that it's disgusting - but he's never bothered to try it, he just objects in principle.  Given that he has a British mother, I am surprised that he was never given this meal as a child because it was a staple in Leah's family home - where I spent a lot of my childhood.  In highschool, Leah and I would often end up at her house for lunch, and more often than not, we would have beans on toast.  No recipe here - just open a can of Heinz beans in tomato sauce (it's even better if you can get Marks and Spencer beans - but we don't have them in Canada anymore) and heat it up on the stove.  Meanwhile, toast a slice or two of bread and slather with butter.  Put beans on top of toast and sprinkle with some freshly ground  black pepper and enjoy with a large glass of milk.  YUM!  You'll need a knife and fork to eat it.  I encourage you to give this really simple go-to lunch a try.  Buy some beans (remember for an authentic experience, it's important that it's beans in tomato sauce, not browned beans) and keep them in your pantry - next time you have no idea what to have for lunch, give it a try!

So, I'll put it out there - is this disgusting?  Maybe I love it because it's so simple and brings back such happy memories......  Do you have any comforting foods like that?  Ones that make the rest of the world cringe, but make you smile?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Asking : Good Recipes for home-made "Shake 'n Bake"?

As in many households, chicken is a dinner time staple at our house.  My kids are rather fussy with meat, and one day out of sheer desperation I bought "shake 'n bake".  Well, my kids loved it.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am paranoid about hidden ingredients, or ones I can't pronounce - and my little man has an allergy to soy - which seems to be in everything.  So,  I have been on a mission to make my own shake 'n bake style coating that is ready to go in my pantry whenever I need it. 

My efforts so far have been great on crunch (using Panko instead of breadcrumbs) but not so great on flavour (tending to be over salty, or not flavourful enough). 

Has anyone out there come up with a great recipe that for home made Shake 'n Bake?  It would be even better if it could approximate the great flavours in KFC's 11 herbs and spices!

Help a girlfriend out?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy First Day of Spring - or if you're Persian, Happy New Year!

Spring officially arrives on Sunday (March 20th) at 7:21 PM EDT.  And if you ask me, not a day too soon!  It's hard not to get spring fever....I'm dying to put away all the hats, scarfs, gloves and boots, and bring on the light spring jackets and regular shoes!  As I have mentioned before, I come from a Persian background, and the first day of spring is the Persian New Year..... somewhat fitting I think!  Whenever spring comes, I feel the need to make New Year's resolutions, clean the house, purge myself of everything heavy and dull - and surround myself with light and colour. 

My family has always been rather low-key about the Persian New Year - we get together and have a meal and ring in the new year (thankfully this year it's at a decent hour!), and the kids get gifts.  We decorate eggs, and we all admire the table, laden with signs of spring (like the picture on this post I won't get into them, but if you are interested, here's a link to learn more about the traditions of the Persian New Year).
I particularly enjoy the array of cookies my grandma used to make - there were candied almonds, and delicate raisin cookies, and my favourite almond cardamom cookies (which I thankfully can now make myself). 

Perhaps it is because I come from a Persian background, or because getting a fresh start along with the rest of nature seems natural - but every year, I look on the first day of spring as a time of renewal, and a second chance at those New Year's resolutions I made on the first of January!

So, Happy First Day of Spring everyone!  With a nod to Persian culture bring in a cheerful spring plant (like a Hyacinth or a bunch of tulips), give your house a good cleaning, give all the rugs a good shake, and don't forget to dust off the new year's resolutions you made 3 months ago! 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reading: The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

I was at a school council meeting for my daughter's school, and one of the teachers was talking about a book written by Sean Covey called The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.  I own his father's book, "the 7 habits of highly effective people" and remembered that it had some great basic guiding principles.... basic things like "putting first things first".  I have been frustrated with some of the bad habits my children have been developing (needing an adult to entertain them, not taking responsibility for themselves or their things), so when I heard about this book, I borrowed it from the library - and gave it a read.  To be honest, I was skeptical, it all smelled a little bit too much like the Dr. Phil family empire with everyone in the family getting into the game....all recycled content for new profit.   But I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised....
At first glance, it doesn't look that engaging for kids - my kids looked at the cover and weren't interested - but I sat down and started reading out loud and very quickly they were engaged in the stories and kept asking me to read more.  The book has a group of fun characters who run through the 7 stories - each one focusing on one of the "habits":
  1. Being Proactive (taking responsibility for yourself)
  2. Begin with the End in Mind (goal setting and planning)
  3. Putting First things First (prioritizing - work first, then play)
  4. Think Win-Win (effective conflict resolution)
  5. Seek First to Understand and then to be Understood (listening with your ears, eyes and heart)
  6. Synergize (working as a team, appreciating everyone's strengths)
  7. Sharpen the Saw (the importance of balance in life - mind, heart, body and soul)
The kids enjoyed the stories, and getting to know the characters.  There were great questions at the end of each chapter so you could explore the themes with your kids.  My 7-year old got it - and my 4 year old just liked the stories, but hopefully it will sink in eventually!

I had the opportunity to put one of the 7 habits into action today - Think win-win.  My daughter was going to a "beach party" at the local community centre, and she wanted to wear a summer dress - I needed her to be warm while we walked there.  My usual impulse would have been to just tell her that if she wanted to go, she had to wear something warmer or put leggings on under the dress (the easiest solution when I am pressed for time).  But instead I told her about my need for her to be warm while walking there, and let her know that I understood her need to dress in beach wear. So, we came up with a list of solutions that would satisfy both of us.  I won't lie, the process was a little bumpy, and there were tears and it took longer than my just telling her what to do, but in the end, we worked together and came up with a win-win solution.  I guess the book was as much for me as it is for the kids!  Many of you out there probably already do these things with your kids - but for me, I am at best inconsistent - so it helps to have a framework and reference to drive these positive behaviours.

I think this is a book I would like to own - so I can keep reading the stories to the kids and reinforce the messages to them and to me!  Thought I would share it with you......

Does anyone else have great books that reinforce good values?  I am still looking for one that stresses the importance of taking care of your things and respecting what belongs to someone else.......

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recipe: Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie

It's March Break here in Ontario, and my kids are home for the week.  It's fine during the day, because I am at work, but at night when I come home I find they are bored and looking for something to do, having exhausted all entertainment options during the day.  Luckily a friend of my daughter's will be spending the next couple of days with us, so that should make for a good couple of days.  Kat's friend arrived this evening to spend the night.  I thought wewould kick off the fun fest by making a giant chocolate chip cookie.  I got the inspiration and recipe from a blog post done by thishomemadelife.  I basically followed her recipe but I have tweaked it a little and updated it with some of my observations. 

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie
2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (I didn't have pastry flour, so I just used plain whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (we used a mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt;  set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer cream butter and sugars until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla;  mix until fully incorporated.  Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined.  Add chocolate chips and just stir in until combined. The dough looks a little dry, but don't worry.

The kids had fun smooshing the
dough into the pan.
Transfer dough to 10 inch ovenproof skillet (I used my cast iron pan - it is 12" across the top, but the base is 10") and press to flatten, covering bottom of pan (this is great work for little hands!).  Bake until edges are brown and top is golden, 40-45 minutes (I found 30 minutes was about right- start checking after 25 minutes, and take it out just as it is turning golden brown, mine over baked).  Don’t over bake (again, check after 25 minutes);  it will continue to cook a few minutes out of the oven.  Cool for 15-20 minutes before serving (since I over baked mine, I flipped it out onto a cooling rack so that it wouldn't continue baking). 

I think it would be a great idea to decorate this cookie with some icing, perhaps with a birthday message for a friend.... but we didn't put icing on tonight, it was too close to bedtime and the last thing I needed was to have them pumped full of even more sugar!
As you can see, even though I over baked it a little, it was still enjoyed!  Do you have any fun kid-friendly recipes to share?  I still have the rest of the March Break to go!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Being Green: The Story of Stuff

I struggle with my desire to be more environmentally friendly and my need for comfort and well, stuff.  I also do daily battle with all the stuff in my  house.... I wouldn't have to spend so much time de-cluttering if I didn't have as much.  I saw this video several months ago, and I really thought it was a great simple way to explain the impact our need for "stuff" has on the environment.  Since watching this short film, I have made the conscious choice to consume less - we often forget that the first of the 3 Rs of Recycling is to REDUCE!  It is a US based analysis, and a little "left leaning", but now those sensitive to that have been warned - still watch it - it will make you question what you buy and bring into your home.  So, from girlfriend to girlfriend, take the time to watch this video clip, it's worth it!

If you want to learn more, or watch other videos (I may post them later) please go to the website The Story of Stuff

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Girlfriend Picks: Porcelain Tea Mugs

Ever since I was a little girl, spending lots of time with my friend Leigh and her very British family, I have gained an appreciation for tea and the porcelain (fine bone china) mugs that must be used to enjoy it!  My family, being Persian (also a very strong tea culture) drinks black tea out of clear glasses - but the porcelain tea mug is more my style.  Milky black tea in a large yet delicate mug.  For some reason, I am quite content drinking coffee from a large chunky ceramic mug, but tea..... has to be out of fine delicate porcelain.  My porcelain tea mugs are one of the great little pleasures in my life, which I really appreciate.  They bring me comfort and make me feel civilized  - even on the most harried of days!

TIP!  Do you know how to tell if something is porcelain vs. ceramic?  If you hold porcelain up to a light, and put your hand behind it, you can see the shadow of your hand through the piece (porcelain is translucent). 

Traditional porcelain tea cups are fine (you know, the pinkie up cups that came with your wedding china)  - but they hold so very little.  I NEED VOLUME to satisfy my desire for a large mug of morning tea to wrap my hands around.  My favourites are my porcelain mugs form Harrods (a famous department store in England).  They are delicate yet tall (8cm/3inches in diameter and 12cm/5inches high) and hold just the right volume of tea (320ml or 1.5 cups).  I bought these on a trip to England about 15 years ago, and I have yet to find a comparable product readily available in Canada (usually size is the issue).  Drinking tea from these mugs is one of the true pleasures of my day, and I wish I had more of them (when Leigh's family comes over, as they frequently do, I don't have enough to go around!).  I think it is so important to have "little pleasures" in our lives which we can use to ground us and calm us when things are getting a little nuts.  These mugs will forever remind me of the countless hours I have spend with Leigh and her family, in their kitchens, enjoying the company of some of my favourite people on the planet.

Has anyone out there come across something that I can source in North America?
Are there any little items in your life which bring you great pleasure - share with your girlfriends!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Organizing: Spice Cabinet

We moved into our house just over 4 years ago, and I was very pregnant at the time.  So, needless to say, packing and unpacking was done very quickly, and I didn't have much energy to put into purging and setting things up the way I want.  We had renovated the kitchen, and I had installed something which I loved (and still do) - a spice cabinet with roll out shelves, right next to my stove.  So, in went all the spices and condiments.  I have been enjoying this convenient cabinet for the last several years, but it has gradually gotten a bit out of control.  A few things were particularly bothering me:

  • My spice tins were designed for the spice cabinet at my old house.  The labels were on the side of the tin, since my old cabinet was an upper one, and I would look at the spices head on. 
    In our new house, my spice cabinet is a roll-out shelf, and I am looking at my spice tins from above, so I can no longer see the labels without taking the tins out.  It is time consuming and annoying playing the "guessing game" every time I need a spice.  I needed to find a way to label the top.
**I have been asked where I got the tins from - they are from a store called Lee Valley Tools.  A great size and good value!
  • The second shelf is where I keep extra spices. This one had gotten especially out of control.  There are so many packages of spices that I don't even know what I have anymore - and I keep buying more.  I needed to go through, throw out old ones and find a way to organize what I have so that I can easily refill my little tins when they run empty.

  • The bottom shelf is where I keep things like sauces and oils.  Again, a little out of control, and some really old stuff in there that I just need to purge.  I had also noticed that the bottom was a bit "sticky" - time to give everything a good scrub.

Special things I was saving for "someday".
Got too old, now they are in the
garbage bin!

So, I embarked on what I knew wouldn't be one of those 10 minute jobs (like the time I organized my tupperware drawer) - but one that would take a bit longer but would be very satisfying.  So, I went at it - I started with the bottom shelf - took everything out - and scrubbed.  I ended throwing out most of what was in there - a lot of specialty oils I was saving for "some day".  This was a valuable lesson - use your specialty items now, don't save them for some day - because like mine, they may just end up getting old and thrown out. 

Labeling with a Sharpie now lets me
see what is in the little tins from
 Then, I moved on to the top shelf (I'll admit, it's because the middle one was still intimidating) - I took out all the tins, emptied the ones I knew had been sitting there for a while, gave them all a good wipe down.  Then I scrubbed out the bottom of that drawer.   But the big thing I did here was use a Sharpie marker to write the content of the tin on the top of the tin (I tested it and I learned that you can remove Sharpie off of glass by rubbing it with alcohol).  So, off I went, labelling away - so that I will no longer have to play the guessing game everytime I need a spice!  YIPPEE!

Onto the dreaded second drawer, I started by emptying everything out - and putting the unopened bags of spices into alphabetical order.  I was shocked by how many of the same item I had, what a waste!  I threw out all opened bags (even though the general rule is that spices are only good for 6 months, I tend to stretch that out to a year....ok, maybe two).  It "hurt so good" to throw out so much stuff.  Then I put everything back into the drawer - with my unopened spices in alphabetical order so that when one of my tins is empty, I can just go to the second drawer and see if I have another package or if I need to take a trip to the store. 

TADA!!!  It took about an hour and half, but I think it really was time well spent!  What little space have you been organizing lately?  Do share!

Top shelf for easily accessible spices while I am cooking.

Bottom shelf now has room to spare!

Middle shelf to house "refills" and
some other small items.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Recipe: Apple Squash Soup

I can't recall which of my girlfriends gave me this recipe - but it has become a staple amongst my circle of friends.  It is easy to prepare, delicious and very impressive to serve to guests (but I just like having it in the fridge for lunches!).  I can almost smell spring in the air - the days are starting to get longer (my little man asked why we were having dinner so early the other night - because it wasn't dark yet!).  So with spring coming, I have to get in the last of my soup making - and had to use up the last butternut squash we had from our garden.....

The blend of butternut squash, apples and onions gives this smooth soup a very delicate taste.  It is a staple in my entertaining repertoire, and I hope it becomes a staple in yours!

Apple Squash Soup
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups apple, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups squash, peeled and diced (I use butternut squash - but you could experiment!)
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of light cream or whole mile
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt and pepper (or to taste)
  • ground cinnamon or chili powder to taste

  1. Melt butter in a large pot, add onions and apples and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft (do not brown). 
  2. Stir in squash and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer covered for 20-30 minutes (until the squash is tender).
  3. Puree with immersion blender (or you can put it in a food processor or blender). Push puree through a fine sieve if you want an extra fine texture.
  4. Return soup to the pot and add cream/milk and salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with a garnish of chili powder or cinnamon (I sprinkle these into the bowl just before serving  - that way everyone can pick which flavour they want).
This recipe is easily doubled.  I have tried making it vegetarian by replacing the chicken stock with a vegetable broth - but I find that the soup loses too much richness - please let me know if you have any success making a vegetarian version.

I hope you enjoy it and give it a try before spring fever makes us want to put all the soup recipes away until next year!