Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Mulligatawny, mulligatawny, mulligatawny, mulligatawny...
Such a fun word to say :) On my first day on the job at the cafe I worked at through high school, one of my tasks was to stand in the kitchen for 15 minutes and say that word over and over and over again. My boss reasoned that since it was one of their most popular soups she wanted to make sure everyone selling/serving it knew how to say the name properly.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with mulligatawny, it is a soup - or, at least it is in this case. It has a light curry flavor, lamb or chicken meat, peppers, apples and a hit of allspice. Mmmmmmm...
I made it today for supper. We had a friend over with dietary restrictions and this fit the bill for things he could eat. And while it wasn't the roast duck that I had originally invited him over for, I can honestly say I didn't feel like I was missing out.
In my opinion, one of the defining factors of a good dish is that it still tastes as good on the last bite as it did on the second (I won't say first - that's a defining factor of an AMAZING dish). There are lots of dishes, particularly in the chain-restaurant realm, that load up so much flavor, any subtlety or surprise you might have had at first is lost half-way through. Flavors should be layered, teasing and playing - and even if there isn't a mystery ingredient, you should always feel surprised at how well the flavors marry or complement.
And on my last bite of my second bowl of mulligatawny tonight, my tongue still tingled with happiness!
Now comes the let down - I'm not publishing this recipe! I'm sorry! Why? Because it's not mine to share. One day, if I decide to tweak it and make enough changes that I can call it 'mine' I will be happy to publish it, but as it stands, nothing doing. But, I will give you a picture that you can try to deduce off of! I'll give you one last tip - my perfect recipe is a tomato base.
Furthermore, if you know me personally and would like the recipe, give me a call and we can work out a deal, but I by no means have sanction to divulge this trade secret on the world wide web.
So, would anyone care to know what I am scheming for next month? (MATT: if by some freak chance you finally decided to start read my blog, today of all days, stop reading now!!!!!!)

As I was saying, I am scheming! February has two great reasons to scheme in our household: Valentine's Day and Matt's birthday. My Valentines plans are actually quite low-key, which is why I plan on going over-the-top with them. You see, when plans that would originally be low-key are done with enough exuberance, they become fabulous. So what will Valentine's Day look like in our house? Probably pretty similar to a paper explosion. I am making 25 valentines for Matt that I will leave around the house - by his clock, his toothbrush, his coffee mug, his shoes, his work binder, on his windshield... you get the idea. I will also leave him digital Valentines. Texts, alarms set on his phone, facebook messages, etc. While he's at work, the real fun begins. I recently gave up on any idea I ever had of attempting scrapbooking. It's just not me. I tried. I hated. And I'm pretty sure it hated me. Which actually left me with quite a bit of pretty paper left over. So, I am making strands of paper hearts that I will hang in our windows and doorways. Then I'll be making crepe paper rose balls to load the couch with. And of course I'll have hearts drawn in the snow with dyed water. And perhaps some more crayon/wax paper hearts. And I'll maybe even break out the rose petals from our wedding and have those strewn around the house. Whatever I can get done it 8 hours, I will. Oh, and of course the whole day will start off with heart shaped pancakes. And I might make him a heart-shaped sandwich for lunch. And Gabriel will be doing his part making Valentines for Daddy too. Supper will be something simple - I'm not actually sure yet, but I'm confident it will follow the theme.
So while it wasn't plan A, which involved a romantic dinner of lamb chops and mussels, I'm sure it will be fun.
Why didn't I go with Plan A? Well, because I'll need to save my pennies for that weekend, when I'll be throwing a surprise birthday party for Matt!
He's never had a surprise party before and I decided this is the year for it! The name of this game will be convenience - no crazy, fancy, layered desserts for this shindig, mainly because things like that take time, and I won't have much time. In fact, I'll only have an hour and a half to pull off the actual prep for the party. Because I live with Matt (obviously) I can't have decorations laying around in advance, or be whipping up a birthday cake the day before. It just won't fly. And he's not dumb - which is a little bit of a disadvantage for me in this instance. I think though that I have my food for the party planned - and remember, it will all be prepared in an hour and a half. First up will be wings. If the weather is as cold as it has been lately it wouldn't be a push to buy a few packs of wings and keep them in the shed until the party. If outside isn't going to be cold enough then I'll just have to buy them the night before and keep them in a cooler. Next will be pies. Matt loves pie. This one I might outsource since I have a couple friends who are quite gifted, and generous, in the pie-making field. Otherwise, it wouldn't be too conspicuous to keep a few pie doughs in my freezer leading up to the party and put them in the fridge the night before. Matt never pays much attention to what's in the fridge. I'll prep and freeze the fillings in advance too and then just have to roll the dough and fill them on the day of. Done and done. Or, even simpler, I could just make and freeze the whole pie. (Duh! I must be tired...)
The main dish at this shindig is going to be... walk-around tacos! I've seen this idea around, but the gist is that you take an individual baggie of chips (fritos, doritos, tostitos...), break them up and add in taco toppings! Cute, hey? Since I'm anticipating anywhere from 15 - 25 people, this will be easy to throw together, for everyone to have their own and with minimal clean up. It can also be discreet. I always buy my ground beef in warehouse packs so for Matt to see a 5 lbs pack of beef in the fridge would not be unusual.
Since the party will be an afternoon one, I'm not planning on too much more food, except that the party may go late and transition into a poker party, in which place people would be staying for supper. ...At which time we would order pizza.
The funny thing is, I have to hold myself back from doing fancy dishes and hoity-toity appetizers, but I realize that for this crowd and this particular party, wings, pizza and tacos would probably be better appreciated! Crazy, I know, but one of the big things about being a hostess is catering to your guests and ensuring their comfort and enjoyment, and if that means putting down the apron and picking up the phone this time, I guess I can make that sacrifice :)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Feast

As usually happens, my meal planning for this week went down the drain - however the reasons for my schedule being thrown off were good reasons this time: company! We had made arrangements to have dinner with my parents on Friday but when Monday arrived there was a scheduling conflict discovered and we bumped the meal to Tuesday. Since this was going to be a bit tight for my Mom, I offered to host, and cook, the meal.
I had been holding on to a pork tenderloin for a couple days and decided to save it one more day so I could cook it up for company. However, since there were 6 people supposedly dining that night I knew I needed another entree, so I bought a pack of drumsticks to oven-fry. I had fresh green beans and asparagus and figured I'd throw together some potatoes at some point so I was remarkably unstressed about the whole meal. Considering the beans, asparagus and tenderloin needed minimal cooking times, it was a relief to realize that I wasn't going to have to be cooking the whole day (which is good, because I needed that time to clean!)
SO I got my house spotless (save the three baskets of folded laundry I had to put away - but considering every room in my house, even the laundry room, was guest worthy, I think I did well) and found a fancy-pants potato recipe from the combined efforts of Pinterest and Martha Stewart. I threw together the Crispy Potato Roast(thin slices of potatoes vertically layered around a cake pan) and had it in the oven by 3:30 and then leisurely whipped up an impromptu breading for my chicken. I was running low on panko so I added some crushed corn flakes and then seasoned with chili powder, Lawry's Seasoning Salt, some Sundried Tomato and Herb mix and a touch of chipotle. The chicken was in the oven (all 10 pieces of it) and I was just beginning to dress the pork tenderloin when my mom called to inform me that my brother and sister-in-law were going to be unable to make it, so there would only be 4 people eating. While I was on the phone with her, I was opening up the cryovac packaging the tenderloin came in, when I pulled out, not one, but two tenderloins (for $4!!!). So, we had 10 pieces of chicken and 2 pork tenderloins for 4 people. Not to mention an 8" round cake pan full of thinly sliced potatoes, asparagus, green beans, baked beans and bread. And I'm almost ashamed to say how little was left at the end of the meal :)
It was a pretty nice experience however. The leftovers were enough for lunch for me today and dinner for our family tomorrow. And the low stress assembly for a dinner for 6 showed me how ridiculous I am sometimes when it comes to meal planning. I need to learn to pair labor-intensive entrees with easy-peasy sides more. Typically when I have company coming, I am cooking from about 2:00 on, particularly if I am doing a roast. Had it not been for a last minute decision to make pretty potatoes, I could have started making dinner an hour and a half before we ate and not felt pressed for time at all.
Oh, I did forget to mention one sad component to this tale: the epic cheesecake flop. I had found a recipe for a Japanese 'Cotton' Cheesecake through Pinterest. This recipe intruiged me. Fluffy texture, at least half the amount of cream cheese of a normal cheesecake and still meriting the name cheesecake? I had to try it. Well, since the recipe was in grams it took me a bit longer than usual to throw some of the ingredients together while I weighed them on my kitchen scale (which was a great investment by the way - if you can call $10 an investment...) and I began to be quite glad that I had started this at 8:30 a.m. I took care to wrap the bottom of my spring form pan in foil so the water bath wouldn't leak in, and I even converted the cooking time and temperature for my convection setting on my oven to make sure I got the most even baking possible. At the end of the baking process I was pleased with the general result but I had noticed that the top wasn't browned exactly evenly. Since I had already turned off my oven I just turned it on to 'bake' and set the timer for three minutes and hoped the top would be done by then. Do you know what can happen to the top of a cheesecake in 3 minutes under direct, uneven heat from an oven element that hasn't been preheated? It burns. Alot. It goes totally black across the whole top. It also smokes. And it makes me feel like crying. Seriously, I was heartbroken. The cake had been beautiful! From what I could tell, it had cooked perfectly, except for one side was 'slightly' lighter that the other across the top. ARGH!!!!
Well, after speaking with my husband and getting his honestly brilliant input ("If you can't just cut the burnt portion off, why don't you crumble it and layer it with some whipped cream and berries and make it like a trifle?") I decided to see how much of it was salvageable. It was only when I opened up the springform that I realized how much worse off my cake was than I had realized. The foil hadn't kept all of the water out and the springform hadn't held its seal, so the bottom 1/3 of my cake was soggy. Yuck. So, the top 1/3 got cut off because it was burnt and dry. The bottom 1/3 got cut off because it was soggy and gross. And the middle 1/3 got crumbled, stuck in a bowl, and set aside for me to not serve that night because I was too grumpy about how my cake turned out. Thank goodness for Dairy Queen ice cream cakes!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Normal meal planning... yay!

I'm working on getting back into the swing of regular meal planning following my gallbladder removal and for some reason it's a lot harder now than I've ever found it before. I have a feeling the difficulty lies in the scope of foods I can once again eat. When I had fewer options, I had an easier time, and before my gallbladder issues I didn't crave every dish in the world because it hadn't been 6 months since I had last eaten it!
As it stands, I'm still trying to make sure our meals are healthy, which, really, should always be one of your main goals when meal planning. Let's face it, no one intentionally sets out to plan unhealthy meals, but it's often much easier to find an unhealthy recipe than a healthy one. For example, I discovered Pinterest shortly after my gallbladder issues began and was appalled to find how many times one recipe in particular was being repinned. The recipe apparently called for chicken, cream cheese, cheddar, butter, cream and more cheese. Many pinners opted to put the word "*drool*" in their caption when they repinned it. To be honest, I couldn't even stand to look at the picture! I'd hate to think how much fat would be in one serving of that dish. And that is far from the only unhealthy dish to ever pop up in the feeds on Pinterest. Some chefs are worse than others (Apparently Jaime Oliver's cook book was recently branded as having the worst recipes for your health over all the other cookbooks in the US - has anyone involved in that decision ever heard of Paula Deen???) but in general, most recipes that you pull out of a cookbook will opt for flavor over healthy options.
That being said, it's not the end of the healthy effort! While your lasagna may have 50% of the daily recommended fat intake in one serving, that doesn't mean that you can never eat it again. Just, perhaps, not every week, and it's always important to keep portions in mind when you do eat something less than healthful.
My family mean plan this week hopefully will measure up to the healthy standards I'm trying for: Pork tenderloin with green beans and asparagus tomorrow, Thai Chicken soup the next night with a Coconut Mango Rice Pudding for dessert, Fish Stick tacos the night after that and BBQ ribs the next night. While there isn't a single one of those entrees that I could have eaten when I had my gallstones, if treated properly, they don't have to be a dip in the healthy road. For starters, while pork is typically a very fatty meat, the tenderloin is actually quite lean. The thai chicken soup will have coconut milk in it, but I'll be sure to use light coconut milk. The fish sticks in the tacos can really throw off your low-fat ambitions if they are the focal point of your meal, but by wrapping them up in corn tortillas with lots of veggies, you'll actually eat less of them than if you are eating the sticks by themselves (and let's stop pairing fried fish and french fries - seriously, heart attack waiting to happen). Lastly, the BBQ ribs. I'm ecstatic about those. I clearly remember my last time eating those because that was the first time I had a gallbladder attack. Nathaniel was only 2 weeks old. The secret to my family's perfect BBQ ribs is boiling the ribs before you grill them. I personally love the flavor of boiled pork, but the real benefit comes from the fat that melts off during the boiling process. This is also great for breakfast sausage.
Besides getting back into meal planning, I am itching to get back to baking. Realizing that one of the muffins that my husband bought last week for breakfast had 22 grams of fat in it(about 45% of the daily recommended intake) I have vowed to provide my poor hubby with some lower fat options. I found some great low-fat muffin recipes a few months ago ( and bagels are very low fat and kinda fun to make.
I did branch out from the strictly healthy realm this weekend and I attempted to make rolled florentines for the first time. "Attempted" because I didn't read the recipe before I began and ran into a couple snags because of that. The recipe instructed you to mix equal parts flour, sugar, corn syrup and butter together, pour the mix into little circles and sprinkle finely chopped almonds on top of the circles. Silly me, I mixed the almond in and then tried to shape thin little circles with that mix. Sooooo did not work as well as it ought to. What I did learn, however, is that a mistake like that still tastes great.
I've been determined to make rolled florentines as yummy as the ones I buy from Glamorgan Bakery in Calgary. Those ones are filled with hazelnut cream and their ends are dipped in chocolate. Mmmmmmm... but before I work on the cream I need to figure out the perfect florentine recipe and technique - caramelly, chewy and perfectly rolled. My first try wasn't perfect, but hopefully the second will yield better results.
Anyway, I'd better get back to catching up on life!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)