Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Liberating Beef Tagine

Sometimes it pays to take a few liberties in life. On Sunday for instance, we are getting ready for church when Caleb hollers the frantic, 'We gotta go.' Neither of us, the hollerer or the hollered-at, exactly jump into action. Instead, we change hats (Caleb) purses (me) and shoes (me again) before wandering out to the car. On our property you really can wander out to the car. It lives under a tent down the driveway, to the right and across the grassy bit, which is neither a lawn nor a field but something in between.

By now Caleb has settled on a light brown fedora. He's also wearing his car coat, which is incredibly thick, built for a real Canadian winter, actually. Of course our experience of winter is second cousin twice removed to a real Canadian winter. But the car coat is important, nonetheless, because we drive a gold 76 Beetle and its drafty.

I've settled on boots, which also proves a good choice as the lawn/field is mucky. Anyhow, for two people with fifteen minutes to ten, church's projected start time, we are certainly taking some liberties with time.

Caleb points out a tall tree filled with birds and we watch and I think about how birds can fly and have no projected start times, and all those cliches about freedom. We stand there for a good five minutes, which is a long time for two people who now have ten minutes until church's projected start time. Caleb admitted later that he was just waiting to see how long I'd stand there. Five minutes, as it turns out, I'd take about a five minute liberty. And when we finally makje it to church, it turns out about half the congregates isn't too worried about time either and we start at quarter past ten as per usual.

Time doesn't mind the taking of a few liberties. Really, whoever wants to be the first one to arrive at the coffee shop? Especially at the coffee shop! You can't very well just order a coffee while you wait. Unless of course, you're amicable to ordering a second round once your date arrives. But lattes are running pretty steep these days and with the extra caffine jolt I might start racing sprints up and down the barista bar.

I found myself exactly in this situation a few weeks ago. And what did I do? Wrapped my coat into a ball, nervous reflex, I suppose, and jammed myself beside the little station that holds coffee and cream. The shop was tiny and legitimate customers with coffee in their hands had to push past me to get at the sugar. I just stayed standing, coat balled, rigid as a board, sweating by now, waiting for my date and wishing I'd taken a few liberties with time. 

Liberties with time are one thing. Liberties with a woman are quite another. I bring it up because it begs to be. You can't say the words 'taking liberties' without some part of your brain whispering, 'with a woman.' It's a pretty basic fill-in-the blank. But I wouldn't know much about that, never having tried my luck.

I've taken a few liberties with a man, though. Like a bite of whatever he's eating. Usual it's peanut butter on toast. 'Bite?' I say and reach for it. This is a pretty huge liberty. Especially when you live with a peanut butter aficionado. But I've bitten brownies, burritos, sausage rolls and cinnamon buns, too. I've sipped beers, taken over whole ends of drinks, made him go back to the kitchen and fix a second because I've changed my mind. These were all pretty serious liberties to take.

But I don't regret any of them. I've come to believe, actually, that men like you to take a few liberties. A quick squeeze, a little grab, is never wholly unwanted, even if it does leave them feeling a little exposed.

On a cooking note, if you've been following the blog you'll note that there's been quite a buzz around slow cookers or crock pots as they were once called before a massive rebranding. Well I found my crock tucked in a  thriftstore with a six dollar tag and I thought I might as well give it a whirl.

I've taken a recipe that I LOVE for lamb tagine and taken a few liberties. For one, I switched to beef because I had it, it tastes good, and its cheaper. I've moved the whole thing to the slow cooker and, massive liberty three, I chose not to brown the meat or the onions or anything beforehand. Instead, I just put it all in the slow cooker and turned the dial to low. I reasoned that the Irish, for the most part, don't brown their stew meat, just pop it in, add some veg and liquid and get simmering. I figured that if I'm simmering this beef with nice veggies and spices for nine hours, it's going to have plenty of flavour.

Guess what? I wasn't disappointed.

Beef Tagine with a few Liberties Taken or Added, Depending on How You Look at It

2 small onions chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsps cumin
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp tumeric
1 large carrot
1 large parsnip
2 large potatoes
1 pound beef
1/2 cup chopped apricots

Put all these ingredients in your slow cooker and mix them around with a big spoon or your hands.

In a small bowl combine:
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 Tbsp honey

Then add this to the slow cooker as well.

Put your slow cooker on low for about 9 to 10 hours.

Ta Da! Dance, show off, what the heck, take a few more liberties while your at it. You're on a roll.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Doing the Buckwheat Two-Step

Some days, you come home and eat toast. You top that toast with an egg and you're having dinner. You add two piece of bacon hacked from the icy package in the freezer and whoever sits across the dinner table from you will be smiling.

Some days this is reality. I tell myself this is okay. YOU know it's okay but the uptight drama queen buried deep beneath my easy-going facade cries, How have we come to this?!? Dinner, toast? An egg? Stir frying some chard and garlic to tuck under the egg placates me.  A little.

Planning ahead helps.

Post-Christmas, Haley and I are attempting to avoid the pre-Christmas culinary blues which invaded both our kitchens somewhere between turkey number one (Thanksgiving) and turkey number two (Happy Holidays). Last week, Haley tipped me off to the wonders of cooking chicken in the slow cooker. I was excited. She was excited. She thought about wearing a costume. She now calls the small hot appliance Mr. Crockpot and has christened him her sous-chef. Anything that gets Haley giddy on a weeknight must be good. The only sad part to this story is that I don't own a slow cooker. I'd like one. Why not? Who doesn't dream of a sous chef?

My kitchen is cosy, as in tiny, and so I make my appliance purchases carefully. Last week, when Haley reached out to readers for some chicken/crock tips, the response was so helpful. Therefore, I'm putting it out to you readers, what am I looking for in a slow cooker? Do some brands out perform others? Is the whole thing worth it? Let me know!!!

In the meantime, I'd like to offer up a good weekday solution of my own. I'm finding the two step to be particularly helpful to the working woman's schedule. That is, take step one the first night and slide into step two on the second night. My favourite two step of late is a buckwheat crepe filled with spaghetti squash. Yup, it's as good as it sounds and perfectly easy when you follow the two step theory.

Here's something of a recipe.

Buckwheat Crepes filled with Spaghetti Squash

You will need
1 medium to large spaghetti squash
1 recipe buckwheat crepes (provided below)
1-2 cups grated cheese--any type you like!

Sunday night
Tuck a spaghetti squash in alongside whatever else you're cooking.  Do this by heating your oven to 350 before slicing the squash in two lengthwise and scooping out any goop. Place the two pieces of squash cut side down in a large glass baking dish (or whatever you want to use). Add some water.
Add just enough so that it climbs about an inch up the squash. Put the squash in the oven and roast it until it can be easily pierced with a fork. This usually takes 45 minutes to an hour. Now, you can eat some of the squash but be sure to save about 4 cups for your day-two crepes.

Monday night
Make the Crepes:
(Adapted from the French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrman Loomis)
1 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (Loomis uses all buckwheat flour)
2 1/4 cups water
2 large eggs

Combine the flours in large bowl. Add the water. Mix. Add the eggs. Mix again.

Heat a 10 inch skillet and melt some butter on it. Add about 1/4 cup of batter to the pan and swirl it around to coat the whole surface. Add more batter if you need to. Fill in any holes with extra batter. Wait until little bubbles have formed before filliping the crepe.

Once you've cooked all your crepes (you should make about 15), fill each one with a scoop of spaghetti squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add a fist full of cheese. Place the rolled up crepes in greased baking pan and warm in a 350 oven for 20 minutes.

Alternately, you can reheat your spaghetti squash before rolling the crepes. That way you can skip placing the crepes in the oven and serve directly after filling and rolling the crepes. The hot squash should melt the cheese.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crockpot Chicken

There's something wonderful about having a meal in a crock pot. Friday was a bit more sparkly knowing that I was super woman. That while I was busy conquering the world, my trusty sous chef, my dependable Mr. Crock was toiling away. And the smell when I walked in the door - nothing better than that aroma, Dinner-is-served. It's all I could do from announcing that I was upping dinnertime to 4:00.

If you want to create your own Superhero alter ego, I present: Crockpot Chicken. This is going into my regular meal rotation. I'm thinking of getting a costume made. With 10 minutes of prep - I peeled a few potatoes and rough chopped a few carrots and an onion, a sprinkle of seasoning and that was it, Mr. Crock took it from there.

I had some great tips, Erin directed me to Allrecipes,  but advised me to crisscross carrots underneath. Betty told me to add an onion. And then came my cousin Sonja's brilliance, I am posting it below in full in case you missed her comment.

I took everyone's advice. My crockpot was crammed full with that bird perched on a bed on veggies, but the lid closed and I was in business. Sonja had great advice on sticking to root vegetables, and keeping them big and chunky. I love mushy veg, but not everyone does, including my children. They turned up their noses at mushy potatoes, onions, and brussel sprouts. But they gobbled down their chicken, the carrots, and leftover rice.

Sonja's Crockpot Chicken
(Haley note: Mine was on low from 7:30 am until 5pm)

We do a whole chicken in the crock pot ALL the kids love whole chicken and so I have developed a variety of methods. For crock potting...

A roasting chicken works better.

Cook the chicken on low, skin on. I like a spice rub of paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, sometimes lemon juice....I think I followed a recipe once on All Recipes that was good but since I just make it up! Rub the spice on the inside and outside of the bird.

I sometimes put the bird on tinfoil balls if I want stuff to stay out of the fat, but it depends how full I am cramming the crockpot. It does help the veggies be less mushy. I ALWAYS put in potatoes and root veggies because I NEVER want to cook when I come home and the crock pot is on...but they get mushy, so make the pieces biggish and stick with root veggies. I find parsnip adds a lot of flavour, so I'd be tempted to try that.

Cook the chicken BREAST SIDE DOWN. This is from Deb on Smitten Kitchen. It means the juices flow through the bird into the dry breast meat. it makes a GIAGANTIC difference, creating a continually moist, succulent meat.

Finally, have all the stuff for chicken stock done when you're prepping the crock pot. Then you add the bones and make chicken noodle soup (again a la Deb in Smitten Kitchen for best results) and VOILA, another meal accomplished.

Enjoy!! If you like doing whole chicken, in the summer, you MUST try the Beer Ass Chicken. Amazing!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Working Women

There have been brief periods in my life where I've felt on top of things - nowadays my feelings of competency are directly correlated with the size of my laundry pile. When I put work into the mix, cooking, usually my procrastination method against housework, starts to feel like a chore. Rachel kick-started our new series last week. For the next month or two stay tuned to Reems Eats, we are hoping to get inspired again over weeknight cooking. We're in a rut, and want this to be an interactive series to help get us out. So, all you busy parents or career folk - we need tips and ideas to get us out of that 5 pm panic.

Along with my tenth wedding anniversary this summer, this fall marks my tenth year as an occupational therapist. A decade of pausing at some point during the day - sometimes at my desk, admittedly occasionally during rounds, and frequently while standing in front of my open fridge at 5 pm and asking myself: "What's for dinner?" I've picked up some tricks and tips along the way and in the next few months am going to be sharing some things that work for me, along with the things that don't (monthly meal planning!).

So today I'm not posting a recipe but am looking for some advice, I'm thinking a few days ahead - to Friday, I'm going to be working and am wanting to cook a chicken in a crock pot. A whole chicken. I hear this can be done but need some advice: Do you leave the skin on? Low or high? Do I need to add liquid. Should I put it in veggies? Thanks - and stay tuned for the results.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Getting Over Christmas

Technically, I don't go in big for Christmas presents. Example: staff Christmas party early December, at the optional (I thought mandatory) gift exchange, mine was the rumpled ten-times-used paper bag with a yellow star crayoned to its front. My bag threatened to disappear beneath the red bows and season-appropriate wrapping papers. No one was choosing my bag. It blended right into the beige carpet. I worried the others might mistake it for an old piece of tissue paper or an abused shopping bag or a child's crayon-drawing of a yellow star now discarded and forgotten. Not to worry. I pointed it out. I hollered, 'The white bag is a gift,' whenever a name was drawn from the Santa hat and the receiver crept toward the pile of presents in stockinged feet. It was almost as if they hoped I wouldn't notice their approach. No such luck. I'm on to stuff like that.

Turns out I must have missed the memo. The one instructing us to bring nice, thoughtful gifts priced at about fifteen dollars, which most of my generous coworkers translated into twenty or twenty-five. When I hear 'Gift Exchange' I get tunnel vision. Really, I'll forget about the whole deal until the day before, or in this case the day of, but when it's go time, my tunnel leads me right to the thrift store where you will find me elbow deep in just about everything, rooting for the perfect gift. And I feel I should mention, I passed on some good stuff this year, like a ceramic duck (slight discoloration), a tight-fitting army hat (duck tape inside), or the nearly-antique batman doll (fifteen bucks! rip off). Anyways, it wasn't until the final hour, at the final shop, in the most unlikely place, that I found my philosophers stone (so to speak). In the creepy-little Christmas room in the second-hand furniture store, tucked in amongst rubble, I found my gemstone: a two-hour video of the burning log! You know, the fake fireplace featured on Shaw cable year after year, where the only action occurs every half hour or so when a hand reaches in with a poker to adjust the logs.

If you are anything like me, you're rubbing your hands together with glee as you read this. You might even be cackling. You're certainly thinking,'This is it! Pure hilarity!' But then you've forgotten the memo and the fifteen dollar suggestion and the unspoken assumption that everybody would get everybody else something nice.

Anyhow, I bullied some poor sap of a co-worker into choosing the yule log at the exchange, lived down the shame, and took home a perfectly lovely, hand-pained glass Christmas ornament.

Next year I might just keep the yule log.

At my third gift exchange (number two, which I've left out, went well, incidentally) it became clearly that while technically I don't go in big for Christmas presents, I was going all in for a certain item under that tree. Well, it wasn't under the tree anymore, I had unwrapped it before Haley stole it from me. We were in the throws of one of those unwrap and steal gift-giving phenomena. The item that had both Haley and I more than slightly salivating as we went head to head was the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Naturally, I won.

If you didn't get the gift you wanted this year -- wait, that sounds awful. What I'm trying to say is that I recommend the book. It's full of fun little quips and stories from Deb Perelman, author of the Smitten Kitchen blog, and includes a nice selection of her recipes.

She's really a great cook, Deb Perelman

She really has a great blog, that Deb Perelman.

I'd say I'm jealous, but that also sounds awful. I'd say I'm jealous of how she hangs out at her apartment all day testing recipes with her incredibly cute toddler and then gets to write cute anecdotes about the recipes and the toddler that are widely read before collected into a book and published. I'd say that but it wouldn't be totally true because I actually love my job and I'm not all that eager to write out perfectly tested recipes for  you all -- the truth, you heard it here first. But I do like to ramble. And I like to cook. Although, I don't always like to work, as in at my job, and then cook. Sometimes working and cooking is just about the wost combination in my life. Which is why Haley and I are trying to brainstorm some strategies to make the whole thing -- working and cooking -- a little easier and a lot more fun.

Now I should probably be starting with a practical post about casseroles and freezing and how-to, but instead, I'm skipping right to the good stuff. In case you missed the picture at the top of the post, here's a closer view.
 Yup, you got it, steak!

Steak is my favourite fast food and I'd say, reigns supreme in the working woman's freezer. There are those who tut tut the frozen steak and worry that quality is compromised in the freezing/thawing process. But if you buy quality meat, and I would encourage you to choose free-range and locally sourced, you really won't notice a difference.

The perfectly nice thing about stocking some steak in your freezer is you're all set for Friday night when you want to have a scrumptious dinner but don't want to pay the exhibitionist price of eating out, or you're like me and once you've arrived home from work at the end of your week all you want is a pair of comfy pants, a glass of something-or-other and your feet up. There's no tipping you off the couch into heels and a sweater and a car to town. Forgetaboutit.

If you've taken your steak out to thaw in the morning or the night before, all it needs is a flash in the pan and you've got an amazing dinner on your plate. You can pair it with some roasted potatoes and other veggies if you've got it in you. Or set it beside a quick salad.

Now, for the 'recipe.'

Easy Grilled Steak

First you need to get the steak. I suggest you choose one of the following cuts of meat for flavour and tenderness, T-bone, sirloin, rib-eye or porter house. If you'd like to know more about different cuts of beef, this is a good site Now I should also mention that I use free-range beef that is raised locally. Last spring, we purchased a large portion of beef for a set rate from a local farm. If you have farms offering that service in your area check it out because you get great value and excellent product. Having passed a number of feed-lots in California while barrelling down super-highways I defiantly stay away from high-production beef...

Secondly, you need your equipment. Many people like to do steak on the BBQ or under the broiler in the oven. I've found that both these options don't give the level of control that I am looking for when I do a steak. I want fast, hot, steady heat. I find I get the best delivery of these three qualities from a cast iron pan. You might have a comparable frying pan that gives good heat and doesn't have an easily damaged finish.

Now, the work (just a little). Be sure to fully defrost the meat or it will not cook evenly. Salt and pepper your steaks on both sides.

Meanwhile, heat your pan on high with a little olive oil or butter. Wait until the pan is hot and smoking before you add the steaks. If you like your steaks medium rare, cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side. If you like your steak rare, cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side. I can't advise you as to well done because I don't do it. These times are based on 1 inch thick steaks.

Pop that bad boy on your plate beside you salad/potatoes/carrots/or what-have-you, light the candles and enjoy your Friday night.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Salad

It's almost Christmas, which maybe gives me some grace on my blogging absence - not blogging is much like not going to the gym: first you miss a day, then a week.. then you have a baby and suddenly it's been almost 6 years. Humour me and let me think that you've all been pining next to your computers; I don't know if it's a Reems trait, or an oldest child trait, but I do my best work under a cloak of guilt and expectations.

Now, for my return I needed to pull out all the stops, and I guarantee that this is 100% Haley Inspired Brilliance. Sheer gastronomic and seasonal genius combined, I am totally wasted changing diapers.The kids and I were sharing their first pomegranate experience this afternoon; while we were delving into the fun and messiness that is eating a pomegranate, the lightning bolt struck - CHRISTMAS SALAD. Red, White, Green. Even Finn, who normally shies away from salads loved it.I encourage you to make this for Christmas dinner.

Christmas Salad (Pomegranate Hazelnut Spinach Salad)

Adjust amounts to your groups, this will serve 4

Baby Spinach - 4 cups
1/2 sliced avocado
1/3 cup roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts (bragging time, the ones in this salad came from the trees in the park behind our house)
1/4 cup crumbled feta (or chevre)
 pomegranate - 1/3 or so of the seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions (or sub chopped green onions)
1/4 cup julienned red pepper

Dressing: 3 T balsamic vinegar, 3T olive oil, dash honey, tiny pinch sea salt
(You could substitute a bottled vinaigrette)

Toss with dressing. Serve. Raise a glass to me. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Roast Chicken for les Paresseaux

Usually, I don't pick the easy route. Like, why drive when you can bike through the dark, wet morning? Or buy sliced and bagged bakery bread if you can spend your Saturday kneading, punching down, and waiting by the oven? Or walk the beach if you can be in the water, eating bottom beneath a giant wave?

The above list sounds cute, happy-go-lucky, even. Well step back because there lurks a dark underbelly. (Can a dark underbelly lurk? Probably.) The dark underbelly's a tense one, a tich manic, a lot uptight, basically an undiagnosed anxiety-plagued soul. If you're after a five am wake up call, don't pick the easy road because you'd rather be wide-eyed in the dark running through your day, mentally confirming the purple-pants selection, sticky-noting your brain with don't-forget-to's, while worrying that you're up to early and so must inevitably crash sometime this afternoon and in that case how will you get it all done?

It's rough.

But don't worry, I'm chilling out, drinking more tea, pausing to enjoy the moment -- like the feel of hot water in a sink of dishes, or the darkness of an early morning ride, or the scent of Borax as I scrub out the tub. Nope, not an easy task, living in the moment, but I'm on it. Oh wait, I'm trying to be a little less on it.

Which brings me to dinner and how I took a chicken out of the freezer on Sunday, and so it was all thawed out today and ready for the oven. I had Dorrie Greenspan's lovely French cookbook in front of me. I wanted to follow the recipe that instructed a ring of dough be placed around the edge of the pot. The dough is meant to seal up the pot so everything inside becomes incredibly delicious. Dorrie advises the reader to make a big splash with her guests by breaking the dough seal at the table and allowing the mouthwatering aromas to waft forward. Well, I didn't have any guests, just potatoes and two carrots.

A second recipe caught my eye: Roast Chicken for les Paresseux, which translates to: Roast Chicken for Lazy People. Exactly, I thought, exactly what I need.

So I stuffed everything in the pot and popped it in a 450 degree, oven looked at the clock and realized I had just enough time. I whipped into a pair of shorts and pulled my runners from beneath the heater. Thanks to Dorrie, I managed to get a ten km run in and cook dinner.

I love this new life outlook.

Really, Dorrie's recipe led me to do basically what I always do when roasting a chicken, but I did add the veg to the pot. Thanks for that, Dorrie.

Roasted Chicken with Two Veggies

1 chicken
salt and pepper
rosemary if you have it
half a lemon in two piece
4-8 cloves of peeled garlic, half whole, half diced
6 small potatoes (obviously you can choose how many potatoes you want; just don't overload the pot)
2 carrots
1 onion, quartered (or leave it out if you're not partial)

Preheat the oven to 450.

Rub the chicken all over with salt and pepper. This includes pushing your fingers under the skin over the breast and rubbing the skin of the breast. If your fingers are long, lean, and nibble like mine, also try to reach and rub under the skin over the legs. Put the whole garlic and the lemon inside the chicken.

Rub a dutch oven or pot of your choice with olive oil and put the chicken and the rosemary inside.

Toss the veggies with a little olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper and tuck them in the pot with the chicken.

Roast for 30-90 minutes depending on the size of your chick.