Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Harvest Salad

This salad combines autumn flavours with the ease and lightness of a meal you would normally serve in hot weather. Perfect for these Indian summer evenings we've been lucky to have lately!

For the Salad:
200 grams smoked chicken or turkey, shredded
4 cups baby spinach
handful of dried cranberries
handful of chopped pecans, roasted and sprinkled with a little salt
1 small Granny Smith apple, diced
1 small carrot, grated
1 small avocado, peeled and diced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 10 minutes

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl or in individual dishes.
Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a clean glass jar, put the lid on and give it a good shake. Drizzle over the salad, toss and serve. 


Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's peach time

Mimi came home from Chilliwack last weekend with big juicy peaches, which I turned into Sunday dessert - fresh peach cobbler.

This recipe will make a mini peach cobbler for two. You'll need a small glass oven-proof dish that fits into your toaster oven.

Preheat the toaster oven to 425 degrees.

For the filling:
4 large peaches, ripe but firm (so you can use a vegetable peeler to peel them; if they are soft, you'll need to blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds then plunge them into ice water to remove the skins)
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsps. lemon juice
pinch of salt

Peel the peaches, split each and remove the pit. Quarter each section and put all the pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over all and toss gently. Leave for 30 minutes, tossing once in a while. Empty the pieces into a colander and let the peach juice drain into a bowl. Save 1/8 cup of the juice (discard the rest) and whisk in the cornstarch, lemon juice and salt. Add the peaches and toss to coat evenly. Put the peaches into the glass dish and bake until bubbling gently around the edges, about 10 minutes.

While the peaches are baking, assemble the topping:
1 cup Bisquick mix
4 1/2 tsps. sugar
5 tbsps. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup plain yogurt
pinch of salt

Stir the sugar and salt into the Bisquick. Use a whisk to mix well. Add the butter and rub into the Bisquick mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. With a rubber spatula, stir in the yogurt until the dough sticks together. (Do not overwork the dough or the biscuits will be tough. All it needs is a few gentle pats and turns with the spatula.)

When the peaches are bubbling, remove from the toaster oven and spoon the biscuit mixture on top into separate mounds about 1/2 inch apart. The mounds must not touch each other. Put the whole thing back into the toaster oven and bake for 15 minutes more, or until the fruit is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown on top. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. 


Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's bring back the family dinner!

When my mom and her sisters were growing up, my grandmother always insisted they eat at least one meal a day all together. Since my grandfather often had business functions to attend in the evening, for them the family meal was breakfast. Not only did her own children benefit from this healthy, happy tradition, so did we of the next generation. Many of my happy memories of home take place around the dining table. Thanks, Mom and Pops, for working hard to put great food on the table, and even more important, for showing us that you really enjoyed your children's company, that you looked forward to us coming home for dinner, and were interested in everything we had to say.

Sitting down to supper together
Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post
Published: Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's been a couple of years since I last wrote about "National Family Dinner Night." Tonight is the fifth annual occurrence of the venture launched by MacVoisin, proprietor of M&M Meat Shops, to encourage families to sit down and have dinner together. No TV, no cellphones, no text messaging, no BlackBerrys, no iPhones -- just family dinner. Food to eat and conversations to be had. You don't have to eat M&M products to have a family dinner, of course, but if you register your participation with M&M they make a contribution to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada. The family dinner promotion has contributed to the more than $18-million which M&M has raised for the charity.

I have returned to this subject more than once because I think the regular family dinner is a powerful support to family unity and the successful raising of children. Last week I wrote in this space about my own parents as an example of a successful immigrant family. Regular family dinner and family prayer were key parts of that. The old saying went that the family that prays together stays together. The family that doesn't eat together likely won't get a chance to pray together either.

It's easy enough to bang on about how things were better when life was simpler, so I was pleased to read in a Toronto newspaper this past weekend about recent studies that appear to link family dining to better brain development in teens.

Adolescence is a time of significant brain development and integration, especially for boys. Dr. Tomas Paus, a neuroscientist working in the Saguenay region of Quebec, has done brain scans and interviews with some 600 teenage volunteers. His studies have examined the impact on brain development of "positive youth development." He summarizes that in terms of five Cs: connectedness with friends and families, character, caring, competence and confidence. Dr. Paus' team thinks that family meals together can boost all five Cs and lead to better brain development, more successful teenage outcomes and fewer psychiatric problems.

It's always good to find experimental science confirming what common sense and traditional wisdom hold, if only because common sense is not all that common, and traditions of all kinds are weakening. You shouldn't need a neuroscientist to convince you to have dinner regularly with your kids, but if it helps, no harm is done.

Children today are in an unusual state. Fewer and fewer of them are ever allowed to do anything truly independent, like walk to school or take a bus across town with their friends. Their parents, motivated as parents are by the best of intentions, hover over them at all times. Few children have any extended periods of unsupervised play. Yet at the same time, studies tell us that parents and children spend remarkably little time actually talking to each other. The child often gets the worst of both worlds -- his parents are always around, but he doesn't actually converse with them.

The family dinner can correct something of that. Obviously Mom can't ask Junior about what he did during the day if she has been driving him everywhere, but the kitchen table can be a place where children are not so much supervised as they are encouraged to be contributing participants. The family dinner is a remarkably egalitarian institution; it permits the young ones to tell their stories to adults who listen, and teaches children (not without difficulties!) to listen to each other. The family dinner, presided over by cheerful but firm parents, also channels one of nature's primal urges -- the desire to eat -- into a social grace, complete with manners and courtesy.

Family dinner can also be a regular teacher of how everyone should contribute to the family. Even little children can help set the table, and older ones can take their turns doing the dishes, taking out the garbage or cleaning up the kitchen. With the range of easy-to-prepare meals available, teenagers can even help with the cooking, such as it is.

But talking about family dinner in terms of character development and brain chemistry is to put secondary things first. Family dinner, with parents and children (grandma too in our family's case), and friends on occasion, is for the happy family simple, inexpensive, wholesome, good fun. And what family could not use more of that? 


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chicken with Beer

A friend of mine who knew me when I was a sweet little girl of seventeen is surprised to learn I now drink beer. This is thanks to another friend who on learning I didn't like beer, suggested I just hadn't found the right one. After many experimental sips I found a few beers that actually did the trick for me: from cool, pale Stella Artois and Grolsch, to caramelly Sleeman's Honey Lager, to rich dark Guinness, served double-cold.

Before I ever started drinking beer though, I was cooking with it. Chicken with beer is a recipe I adapted years ago from James Barber's Urban Peasant series. Yesterday I made it for dinner. My roomie was intrigued as she watched me pour Stella over the chicken browning in the pan, and I was gratified when she kept dipping into the dish for "just one more."

1 pound chicken wings
2 tbsp butter
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
355 ml (1 can) beer (any kind will do)
1 tbsp soy sauce, preferably Tamari
Dash of sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsps sesame seeds, toasted

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the butter until it stops sizzling and turns golden brown. Add the minced shallot and garlic and saute until soft and semi-transparent. Add the chicken, toss evenly to coat with the butter, and cook until starting to turn golden. Pour the beer over all. Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid starts to thicken. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. If serving over rice, remove from the heat while the sauce is still a bit runny. If serving as a finger food, cook until the beer caramelizes completely and each piece is sticky and dark golden brown. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving. 

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