AOK "trial"Gourmet (4) - Raspberry/Apple Jam

(for an introduction to AOK "trial" Gourmet - read this)

A few words of caution...
  1. Multi-tasking can be dangerous
  2. Drinking while working in the kitchen might seem like a good idea... but...
  3. When one is having a week where everything one touches goes wrong - one should reconsider making jam (especially if one has never done it before!)

...with that out of the way, let me tell you about my very first jam making experience.

Around this time last year I was invited to my first "jam swap" party. Having never made jam or even considered "canning" - my first reaction was to think of excuses not to participate. A few days later I changed my mind when my monthly issue of Chatelaine featured an article with delicious looking canning recipes - in particular a chipotle salsa recipe. I decided that I could be domestic and try the whole canning thing AND bring something a little different (and a little spicy) to the jam swap. A friend came over and we spent an evening chopping, cooking and canning "Andrea's spicy chipotle salsa". We had fun, I learned how to make salsa AND how to can it! Success!

When I received my invitation to this year's jam swap (AND a virtual jam swap!) - I knew I wanted to try my hand at actual jam. Since my favorite pick from last year's swap was a cranberry and apple jelly (thank you Miranda!) and Brandon's favorite fruit is raspberry I started looking for apple raspberry jelly. My initial search told me that jelly seems like a lot more work than jam. So I started looking for an apple raspberry jam recipe and found this one on

Although I picked the recipe weeks ago, I procrastinated and put off the actual jam making until this week. What bad planning on my part. Not only was this week one of those weeks when everything I touched seemed to go wrong in some way - but it didn't give me a lot of time for a plan "B".

So on Monday evening, after the girls were tucked in for the night - I opened a bottle of red-wine (another birthday present... a very good one!), assembled all my ingredients, started the dishwasher "sani-rinse" cycle on the jars, set up the laptop on the kitchen table to "tweet" and write my "Dear Meaghan" blog post... and I got started. For some reason I thought it would be a relaxing evening... sipping on my wine, stirring the simmering jam every once in a while, thinking about my baby...

I cut up my apples. I dumped all of the ingredients into a big pot. I waited for the raspberries to start giving off some of their juice before stirring everything together.

Then I sat down at the laptop. I sipped my wine. I checked my e-mail. I started writing about Meaghan.... I lost track of time. I could hear the mixture bubbling, but I wanted to finish one more sentence... and then just one more...

And then... the smell hit. Burning fruit or burning sugar - something was going wrong with my pot of jam! It still looked delicious, but the bottom of the pot was bumpy with burnt "stuff".

When I tasted the jam I couldn't tell if it tasted burnt or if it just smelt that way. I took my chances, changed the contents to another pot and after letting it simmer a little longer, I started the canning process. Then I went to bed.

The next morning we opened one of the jars to try the jam that "Mama" made. The smell that wafted out of the jar very closely resembled the smell of the smokey kitchen from the night before. After tasting it, we all agreed that it wasn't very good... and later that morning I emptied the rest of the jars into the garbage can. What a waste of good fruit. What a waste of time. My first thought - I hate canning. I can just buy jam. Why make it?

I've calmed down a little bit since! In hindsight the canning process was actually a success (all of my jars were sterilized and sealed properly). And I learned a valuable lesson (or two... or three).... the most important being that if a recipe says to stir "constantly" - forget multi-tasking and "focus"!

And so... my contribution to this year's virtual jam swap is a flopped attempt to make what looked like a delicious raspberry apple jam. My contribution to this year's "real" jam swap was chipotle salsa (yeah. I made it again!).

Hope you're having better luck if you're canning this year!


This post is my contribution to the "UtHC virtual jam swap"

AOK (trial) Gourmet: Grilled Tuna & Asparagus

For an introduction to "AOK (trial) Gourmet" click here.

From one impromptu date night to tuna and asparagus on our dinner table...

With two young children, Brandon and I don't get out for very many "date nights". Although both of our girls are usually in bed around 7:30 p.m. and we have the rest of our evenings to spend time together - an actual date night now and then is really... really... nice (!)

For one of our more recent dates, we kept things really simple. We put the girls to bed and called a babysitter (a teenage babysitter... the first time we have ever paid someone to simply leave the house!) and headed over to the local INDIGO. Our trip to the bookstore was followed by drinks (a giant beer for me and milk for B), a plate of nachos and dessert at Les 3 Brasseurs (one of my new favorites).
For two people who LOVE books - the trip to the bookstore (without children) was so nice. We browsed, we leafed, we lost each other... then found each other again to show off a good find... it was soooo nice. The drinks and munchies afterwards were more for me. I'm a sucker for ambiance and I was itching for 'nachos & beer'. I actually really like both the nachos AND the beer at Les 3 Brasseurs and we discovered that they also have some very tasty cheesecake on the menu (which is more than enough to convince B that it's worth going again!).

What's my point...? indeed. And what in the world does this have to do with "Grilled Tuna"? I'm getting there. I promise.

It was on this fantastic date that I discovered a new cookbook - Jamie Oliver's "Jamie's Food Revolution - Rediscover how to cook simple delicious, affordable meals". What a find! I showed it to B. I considered splurging to buy it. I mentioned that it might be a good idea for a birthday gift (you know... those things that you really like but you just can't bring yourself to say "yeah, I'll pay $45 for that".).

Well... it was my birthday last week... and guess what I got from a certain someone? "A food book" as Layla would say. "mama's food book". yes!

I've barely leafed through the whole book and I know I love it. For starters, the pictures are AMAZING and for a wannabe foodie (& domestic diva) like myself, that is KEY for any good cookbook. It also helps that the idea behind Jamie's cookbook is very "inspiring". He has kick-started what he calls the pass-it-on movement. He asks his readers to commit to learning one recipe from each chapter of his book and teach it to a few other people (and in doing so... pass-it-on) - hence the whole idea of a food revolution. I love the idea. Not only does it jive perfectly with my AOK Gourmet series, but I'm already trying to figure out when I can manage hosting a girls night where we cook a meal together so that I can pass on another recipe!

So... back to the point of this post... the recipe!

We try to eat fish at least once a week in our house. I like to buy it fresh so it's usually served the day or the day after groceries are done. Last week I was browsing through the fish section. I usually just buy whatever is on sale but the tuna steaks caught my eye. The last time I had a good tuna steak I was pregnant with Meaghan and nervous about the uncooked centre. I figured it would be much more enjoyable without the "should I be eating this? what if it hurts the baby?" voices in my head.

Chapter 11: Quick-cooking meat and fish. It was quick. 15... 20 minutes at the most TOTAL prep and cooking time. Can you say AMAZING!? AND it was good. Ymmm. AND it looked good (or at least I think it looked good).

So here it is... the recipe:

Another great, quick meal... Very zingy, very brilliant.
(serves 2) or in my case... 2 adults and 1 toddler

  • A bunch of asparagus
  • olive oil
  • 2 tuna steaks (about 7 oz each, 1/2 in. thick)

(for the dressing)

  • a small bunch of fresh basil (what is a "small" bunch... I started chopping and added until I figured there was enough)
  • 1/2 a fresh red chili (I couldn't find a fresh red chili so I opted for some dried chili flakes and 1/2 a yellow pepper finely chopped to add texture)
  • a small handful of sun-dried tomatoes (the type packed in oil)
  • 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
To prepare:
  • Put a large grill pan (I used a regular frying pan) on a high heat and let it get screaming hot
  • pick the basil leaves off the stalks and finely chop
  • seek and finely chop the chili (or yellow pepper!)
  • finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes and put into a bowl with the basil and chili
  • halve the lemon and squeeze all the juice into the bowl
  • add a lug of extra virgin olive oil and mix
  • Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and put to one side
  • Bend the asparagus gently until the woody bottoms of the stalk break off
  • discard these woody ends (I don't know what you would use them for anyways!)
  • Drizzle a little olive oil over the tuna, then season with salt and pepper and rub into fish

To cook:

  • Lay your asparagus on the hot, dry grill pan.

  • Turn them every minute or two, letting them char a little but not burn - this will give them a wonderfully nutty flavor
  • After a few minutes, push them to one side and add the tuna to the pan
  • You will be able to see the heat cooking up the tuna from the bottom
  • After a minute or so, when the tuna has cooked halfway through, flip both steaks over
  • Cook for another minute or two (you may think it's strange, as it's fish, but tuna should actually remain slightly pink in the middle when you serve it - it will become too dry if you overcook it)

To serve:

  • Pile a few asparagus spears on each plate and spoon some of your tangy dressing over them
  • Lay the tuna over the asparagus and spoon another dollop of dressing on top
  • Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil before serving

The result... it might look like a lot of steps, but they are little steps and it really does all come together very quickly... and beautifully... and deliciously. Obviously I am a fan. B liked it too. I was a little skeptical of cooking the asparagus in a dry pan, but it worked. On this particular evening B was helping me in the kitchen so I nursed Meaghan while he moved the asparagus around the pan and cooked the tuna. So if I'm honest, I actually only put together the sauce and the "presentation". Oh well. The sauce was zingy and tangy (both words that Mr. Oliver used to describe it) and isn't perhaps the best for a toddler's taste buds, but Layla ate the fish and the asparagus which was good enough for me.

This will be a new recurring meal in my house. I hope you'll try it... and maybe even pass-it-on. It would make good ol' Jamie proud!


Dear Meaghan

Dear Meaghan,

You turned 6 months last weekend. I can hardly believe how fast the time has gone by since you were born. I can no longer imagine my life with only one child... and without you in it.

My sweet little Meggie-Moo. I'm not sure how you got that nickname (well that's not completely true, I'm almost sure that it comes from the fact that we called your sister "Layla-Lou") but it's stuck. Half of the time I call you Meaghan and the other half you're my "sweetie", my "meggie", my "meggie-moo", and of course my "little monkey"!

It's so hard not to compare you to your sister. And it's so amazing how different you are from her. I appreciate that so much. I feel like I'm living something completely different in your first year than I did in hers. And I can honestly say that both experiences have been / are incredible!

So now that I've spent just over 1/2 a year being your Mom...

I specifically choose not to count the time that you were growing inside it conjures too many negative emotions. Don't get me wrong, it was a blessing and I'm happy that I experienced it... but I have much... MUCH preferred bringing you into the world (yes... I prefer labour to pregnancy!) and figuring you out ever since. No more aches and pains. No more varicose veins. No more chronic hip/groin pain. No more nausea and fatigue...

...So back to what I was saying... before I went on a little tangent about how much I LOVE being pregnant... (I totally just need to write a post on it someday and get it all out in the open).

... and I love being your Mom. For so many reasons. So what are you like???

April - May - June

You are beautiful. From the time you were born, everyone has commented on how pretty and feminine you are. I completely agree.

You are serious. Or so people think. I know that you're just very selective about when, where and who you smile for... and you smile A LOT at home and for me.

You're kind of like me. You have my ears (they stick out a little... no one really notices that mine do so I'm sure no one will notice that yours do). You don't like needles (you've already cried more at your first 2 vaccinations than Layla did at all of hers combined). You suck your thumb (it's cute. now. we just need to kick that habit early on... no sucking it in private when you're in your elementary school years!)...

You don't transfer well (ie. stay sleeping from the car to the crib) but you're a great napper.

You laugh at your crazy sister and it's absolutely adorable and sweet and makes my heart swell.

You hated baths when you were first born (for months!) but now you love them. You also hated swimming the first time around. You warmed up to it by the end of the summer.

You love being able to sit on your own. You only started to within the last couple weeks but you much prefer sitting on your own to playing in the exersaucer.

You adore your dad. It's obvious by the way you smile when he comes into your field of vision.

July - August - September

Although you were a noisy newborn... not crying, but lots of grunting... you are actually a very quiet and calm baby now. People have commented that even your crying is now "quiet".

You are now captivated by Reuben (the family dog). If he's close to you, he's sure to get his hair pulled.

You've been chewing on things and drooling like mad since you were about 2 1/2 months old. No teeth yet though.

I swear you're starting to respond to your name. OK OK... maybe it's the sound of my voice, but I'm going to go with you're brilliant and you recognize your name already (!)

You smile soooo big when I start to sing to you. I wonder sometimes if it's because you heard me singing to Layla for every nap and bedtime while I was pregnant with you...

You really seem to enjoy our daily walks. Sometimes a good walk is the only thing that will settle you in the evening... but it doesn't put you to sleep... most of the time.

You've always been a pretty quick eater. When you first born, I was always worried that you weren't drinking enough. As it turns out 5-minute nursing sessions are good enough for you. go figure.


Your favorite food so far seems to be sweet potatoes and/or squash.


That's all I can think of "off the top of my head". Even though you're only 6-months old I know you do so much more than that... and I know that I've already forgotten so much of the beginning (though I do have a journal for that!).

Where Layla is my first for everything, you may be number "2" but never ever less in any way. I treasure all the moments I've had with you and I look forward to all that's to come.

You are my baby now. My sweet little Meaghan.

I love you. We all do.

Mom xx

A little motivation please...

Help! I don't know where my motivation to workout has gone, but it's missing. And it's been missing for a few weeks now. Is it the change in the weather? Is it the rapidly diminishing hours of daylight? I don't know.

Is there a such thing as a 4 or 5 month "itch" when it comes to exercise regimens? I've gone from working out consistently for 30 minutes (+) a day, 5 or 6 days a week to a couple lazy 20 minute sessions these past couple weeks. Although I haven't honestly seen a huge difference in my body - I have felt the change in my energy, my mood and my self-image. In the last week alone, I have gone from feeling great, to feeling soft & lazy, to feeling thin and sexy, to feeling chunky and bloated. My body can't actually be changing that much from day to day... so why does the way I see myself go from one extreme to the other?

So "just do it", right? I wish. Where I was enjoying my daily workouts and feeling great about my progress through the summer months - regular exercise now seems like such a chore. If I check it off my to-do list I'm more like "ugh. at least it's done" instead of thinking "I'm so glad I did that, I feel great!". Brandon thinks I'm bored and maybe I am... I've been doing the 10-minute trainer program for a while now - perhaps it's just too much of the same thing. But come on. I'm a mom. When push comes to shove I just don't have more than 30 minutes a day that I can (or am willing) to give to exercise (is that the wrong attitude?). The workouts I've been doing may have become boring, but I can't think of another program that will give me the same impact in that amount of time. (If you have suggestions... I'm open to new ideas.)

I want to be fit. If not for myself then for my family. I want to be a good example to my girls. I want to keep myself healthy and young (or at least feeling that way) as long as possible. I want to take care of my body. It's the only I have and I've been blessed with a strong one, it seems wrong to neglect it. And let's be honest here... I also just want to be "hot"for my husband! So whether it's through traditional exercise, incorporating more physical activity into my day, taking up a new hobby/sport... I have to do something. And I have to do something BEFORE my motivation completely disappears.

A good place for me to start is to ask myself "what has worked in the past?"

(1) Having a workout buddy - the first time I really got into a steady/regular exercise routine was during my first year of University. I joined a really cheap women's gym in town and would meet up with a girlfriend for aerobics classes. It was fantastic. Often I found myself going when I didn't feel like it because I knew that she'd be there and that we'd probably go out for tea afterwards. That was great for then... but if I want to continue working out at home (cut the travel time, fit it in during naps...) then my workout buddy has got be a 2 year old, a 6 month old, or my ridiculously fit husband (who I can't up with!).

(2) Seeing results - I don't think there is anything more motivating than seeing results. A little more toned, a little bit stronger, a little more energy... and I think that in order to see quick results it is important that the change not be limited to being active. Change also has to occur in the "kitchen" (or wherever it is that you're consuming your daily food). Being more active does not necessarily mean that you should compensate by eating more. This is a hard lesson for me to learn (and re-learn) but I know from past experience that if I'm more careful about what I'm eating, any extra pounds melt away much faster and I'm instantly leaner.

(3) Doing something I enjoy - I know I shouldn't take up running. I've tried it in the past and I just don't enjoy it. I know that I do tend to like the sculpting and toning exercises more than doing an aerobics dance routine. There's no point in me taking up something that I don't enjoy - no matter how efficient or good the workout might be - I'll never be able to stick to it.

(4) Scheduling time - It worked when I was going to classes with my "buddy" and it worked this past summer when I was exercising almost every day at the same time (It also helped that Brandon didn't work very much this summer and he could take the girls for a walk while I did my thing...). For some reason it also works best when I do it as early as possible in my day. After I've eaten something but before I've jumped in the shower... If I've showered it is much less likely that I will bother.

and (5) buying cute workout clothes - I know this seems silly, but I'm totally serious! When I start something new I feel so much more equipped and excited about starting if I have the right attire. I'm not just talking practical here. Yes it is important to have a good sports bra (especially if you're a nursing mom!) but it's also nice to have workout clothes that you feel good in. Unfortunately... the newness of the cute clothes wears off pretty quickly and I can't quite justify buying more yoga pants when I already have 2 pairs that fit me well.

The second question I'm asking myself is "what is stopping me now?"

(1) Going ONLINE to check my e-mail before I start working out. As much as I'm enjoying writing this blog and trying to figure out the whole social networking thing (and connecting with others while I'm at it) it can be extremely time consuming. The other morning I decided I was going to exercise so I put CBC Kids on for Layla to keep her distracted (& mesmerized) while I did my 30 minute workout. Well... that was a flop. I logged in to twitter and before I knew it 3/4 of an hour had gone by and I was still just sitting there. After that lame attempt it would have been wrong to have Layla continue to watch TV so that I could exercise. The opportunity came and went.

(2) I don't WANT to. What can I say, I'm just not into it anymore. I start and I'm counting the minutes and they never go by fast enough.

(3) I've hit a PLATEAU. Over the summer I watched as the pounds melted away and my pre-pregnancy clothes fit better and better (most of my old jeans are even a little too big now... kind cool). I also felt my body getting stronger as the exercise routine became easier and easier for me to do.

So now what?

It's pretty obvious to me now that I (1) need to add some variety or change things up a bit, even if it's just for a few weeks - enough time to get myself motivated and back into a good groove; (2) should start looking at my diet and watch what I'm eating a little more closely; and (3) have to schedule it in - and stick to my schedule (no e-mail checking until I'm done)!

I wonder if writing these thoughts down for anyone and everyone to read will help me to stick to some sort of resolve. Thanks for being my sounding board!


AOK (trial) Gourmet - Pumpkin Spice Cake

After my last (and first) AOK Gourmet post, this one is going to seem very simple.

The pumpkin that I pureed for my Thanksgiving meal was big. It provided enough puree to make 3 pumpkin pies, a couple trays of baby food ice cubes with about 4 cups to spare.

With the remaining puree, I had my heart... rather... my tummy (!) set on some sort of muffin or bready dessert that could be made with pumpkin. I have to give another shout out to my good friend and veteran blogger Aimee (over at Under the High Chair) for posting a recap of her "playing with pumpkin" series. I quickly skimmed the different recipes she suggests for pumpkin dessert (including fudge, brownies and muffins) and the pumpkin spice cake seemed perfect - especially since it included a maple-cream cheese icing (hello!). I've been eating the cake for 2 days now and the thought of that icing still makes my mouth water. And here I thought "salt" was my weakness...

The cake was incredibly easy to make (see the recipe at the end of this post) With my new (and much loved) kitchen aid stand mixer - the batter was whipped up in no time. I think I have issues following instructions so let me fill you in on what I did differently... (1) I baked the cake in a glass 9 x 13 (Pyrex) pan instead of a baking pan (for some reason I don't own a 13 x 10 in. baking pan) and (2) I just smeared the frosting over the entire cake instead of using a piping bag to pipe the frosting onto the individual bars. The glass pan didn't make a difference at all. The frosting on the other hand... well it certainly still tastes great... but it just doesn't look as nice as Aimee's!

So not only was the cake super EASY to make - it is super-moist, incredibly delicious... totally "comfort" food. I love it. Brandon loves it. Layla literally licked-up the frosting left in her dessert bowl! Meaghan was reaching and hoping and wishing (Of course I didn't giver her any. Well... maybe just a dab of icing on my finger tip!). The guys who were over to watch the hockey game last night thought it was yummy... And I just finished another piece alongside a cup of coffee. What? I needed a snack and it's really too easy to eat. Brandon described it as "carrot cake without the icky texture". I don't mind the carrot cake texture, but I think I prefer pumpkin spice cake.

So if you have a couple minutes and some pumpkin puree on hand (canned will do) - make it, enjoy it and tell me about it!


(PS) After writing out the recipe (below)... I realized that I also forgot to add the baking powder to the cake. It was still good.... I guess it would have been a little "fluffier" if I'd done it according to the instructions! Sigh... Please keep in mind that I never said I was a cook or a baker.


Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15 oz can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

8 oz package of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup butter (softened)
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (AKA icing sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
  3. Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
  4. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until smooth.
  5. Spread the batter into a greased 13 x 10 in. baking pan.
  6. Let bake 30 minutes.
  7. Cool completely before frosting

To make the icing:

  1. Combine cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl (with an electric mixer) until smooth.
  2. Add sugar and mix at low speed until combined.
  3. Stir in vanilla and maple syrup and mix again.
  4. Fill a piping bag and pipe frosting onto cooled pumpkin bars.

for love of "purée"!

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge.

As Meaghan approaches her 6-month birthday I find myself going a little crazy in the kitchen - making baby purée. Although I really tried to hold out on food until she was the recommended 6-months old, my little one was clearly ready to start being weened right around the time she hit 5-months. When I say she was "clearly ready" all I really mean is that she started having a little trouble with her naps and waking up in the middle of the night after already having slept through the night for a few months. She was otherwise happy and not necessarily "asking" for more food (aside from the engrossing starring at my food!!).

No going back...

I had hoped to hold out until 6-months because (Meaghan being my second baby) I (1) wasn't as excited about hitting the next milestone and (2) knew full well that once I started adding cereal and introducing foods - there was just no going back to the very simple days of nursing only... the days where going out only meant packing a couple extra diapers and a change of clothes... the days of predictable newborn breast milk "poo" (yes... it changes A LOT with food)... the days of... well I think you get the point. When Meaghan was only nursing it was just a little easier for me. Now I have to plan a little more.

My purée making frenzy began...

So when she first started eating I went on what I can only describe as a purée making frenzy. I returned home from my next grocery store outing with pumpkin, squash, apples, pears, sweet potato, zucchini... and instead of putting my feet up or checking my e-mail once the girls were both in bed... I started peeling and chopping and boiling/steaming everything to make Meaghan's food.

It's kind of silly really. She can only try one new food every 3 days. But once I get an idea in my head... and even more... once I actually start attacking a project - I'm unstoppable. (Trust me, there are lots other projects that I wish I could attack with such fervour!)

I got a little worried when a friend questioned how long the purées would stay good in my freezer. A quick check on the website calmed my fears. Most fruit and vegetable purées are good for 6 to 8 months if kept frozen. Meat keeps a little less long, but I haven't even gotten to that yet . Actually I don't know if I will purée my own meat. For my first daughter I relied on motherhen puréed meats instead and I'll probably do the same this time (no matter how much people assure me it's just as easy as making the vegetable purées... I'm just not that good!)

I know where the word "bleck" comes from...

Making the food is one thing. The question of whether Meaghan will eat it... like it... that's another thing all together.

Although I'm almost positive that Meaghan was ready to start cereal at 5 months old, I think I started her too quickly on other foods. We tried apple first. It's seasonal. It's sweet. I was sure she would gobble it up after eating rice and oat cereal for 2 weeks. I now know where the world "bleck" comes from. My adorable little Meaghan was not fan of the apple purée (AKA apple sauce with no sugar added). Brandon thinks that the apples I used were a little sour. I don't think so. Smooth, sweet.... "BLECK" according to Meaghan.

On the other hand, in the last week or so we've tried sweet potato and squash and those were big hits. She gobbles it right up and I swear she's smiling while she eating - go figure!

Now I suppose it's time I started adding a little green to her diet. Who knows how she'll react to that!


(PS) My 30-minutes is almost up - but I just have to add that feeding Meaghan these purées has Layla eating foods like squash - foods she hasn't eaten since she was very small. I've started giving her a little bowl of puréed vegetables when I feed Meaghan her lunch! It's great... and I'm much less worried about her eating the veggies with dinner cause I know that she at least had a few tablespoons of purée! Whatever works, right? right!

A.O.K (trial) Gourmet - Thanksgiving extravaganza

Alright... I'm a day early with this post!

I'm not sure when it started, but at some point during my teen years, I took over our family's thanksgiving dinner preparation. I can still vaguely remember the first time I ever held an uncooked turkey and had the task of pulling out the little bag of "innards" and the neck stuffed inside the big bird. I learned how to make an aluminum "tent" to cover the turkey in a roasting pan, how to prepare stuffing and sweet potatoes... and bake pumpkin pie!

When Brandon and I got married, I decided to try and start a new tradition - where we would host the 2 sides of our families for thanksgiving dinner. The first year, I really wanted to go all out and start everything from scratch. No boxed stuffing. No canned cranberry sauce. If I was going to host, I was going to be the "hostess with the mostest" (well- I didn't actually think that, but I really wanted to do a good job and impress the family with my domestic skills!). I surfed the net for recipes and printed up a thanksgiving dinner menu from

Last year was the first year that I didn't host (we were in the middle of a big move and our kitchen was being torn apart by renovations) so when we invited everyone back this year - I was determined that everything would be yummy AND well-organized. I tapped into different resources (including the blogosphere) for ideas and recipes and tried a couple new things.

First things first (and unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this one) - I was inspired for the pre-dinner "snack" by a Mediterranean platter that we shared when we were out for dinner with my SIL and her husband at Ottawa's Empire Grill. Not typically "thanksgiving" at all, but a giant platter with dips (tzatziki, roasted onion dip and red pepper hummus) fancy olives and sweet red peppers (a new favorite for sure!). I had to re-stock the dips and pita a couple times so I think it was a hit!

On the menu for dinner were much more traditional and typical thanksgiving dishes. Turkey (& ham), stuffing, potatoes, carrots, cranberries and rolls. This year's "new" recipes were the turkey (a turPIGon turkey done in the crock pot from Dinner with Julie and the rolls (sweet onion and buttermilk rolls from Under the High Chair).

What's a TurPIGon turkey? It's basically a turkey, stuffed with a ham (what?!?!?). I followed the instructions from where she suggests cooking your bird in a crock pot. So I rinsed and patted the turkey dry with paper towels and opted to stuff it with 1/2 a ham instead of the 1 kilo Julie suggests (since I knew I was already going to have gazillion leftovers to deal with). I proceeded to stuff my turkey into my crock pot. When I say stuff... it is an understatement. It didn't fit. At all. I didn't even try to use the actual cover and instead covered the turkey with aluminum foil and started up the crock pot on HIGH for the first 2 hours and then MEDIUM for the next 4 (to 6) hours. When I checked it at around the 4 hour mark, it was done. No need for 6 hours in my crock pot...

The result? I don't know if I would say it was the best turkey I've ever had but it definitely wasn't the worst (far from it). The cooking method was VERY EASY and left my oven free for other dishes (which I would say was the biggest pro). The ham was good, but as I kind of expected it was rather unnecessary and excessive. Would I do it again? Yeah I think I would - though next time I'll probably opt for just turkey with a little seasoning (like some garlic cloves and fresh herbs).

As for the Sweet onion and buttermilk roles. I actually took the time to prepare these in advance and freeze them as Aimée suggests at This recipe was much more labour intensive than the turkey (see recipe at the end of this post). There were several steps to preparing the dough (mixing, kneading, rising,...). I think I have a thing for shortcuts because the recipe says to mix until a soft dough forms (approx 10 minutes) and I SWEAR I had soft dough in forming in less than 2 minutes! (This may have something to do with the fact that my end result not matching UTHC's... trust me, I've since tasted her rolls and they are better than mine!) The sweet onion mixture also took some time (30 minutes of stirring the cooking onions on the stove) - but the taste of the buttery golden brown onion spread was well worth the effort. I can easily picture myself with the onion mixture, some crusty bread, a glass of wine and some good cheese... yyyyyyymmmmmmmmmmm.

The result? Well... here's the real kicker. I made them ahead of time. I re-heated them in the still-hot oven right before we sat down for dinner. I lined a basket with a clean dish-towel and covered them up............ and left them on the counter until we were more than half way through dinner. RRRRR. With that said, here's what I'm thinking. Very tasty. Not so easy the first time around, but I don't think it would seem as laboursome a second time around. And though I just raved about the onion spread, I actually think the next time I make the dough I'm going to try cinnamon buns instead.

I won't go into the details for the rest of the meal but I will say that everything was delicious (if I do say so myself!). I added chopped mushrooms, cranberries and apples to my basic bread stuffing and was really happy with the result; my mashed potatoes had a ridiculous amount of butter and cream in them (this only happens at thanksgiving!); and I made cranberry "jelly" instead of sauce this year. Dinner culminated with a slice of pumpkin pie (which I need to specify was made with real pumpkin - Brandon seems to think this makes a huge difference in the taste... I'm not convinced but I guess I can still boast that it was made completely from scratch) and warm apple crisp (a favorite in my house...especially this time of year).

And that pretty much culminates my first recipe experiment(s) for my blog project "A.O.K (trial) Gourmet). What to make next week????



Buttermilk-Onion Pull-Apart Rolls
As posted at UTCH
(from Martha Stewart Living, November 2005)
Makes one dozen large rolls.

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-3/4 sticks), softened, plus more for bowl, plus 5 tablespoons melted
3 t. active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and pin
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds sweet onions (1 1/2 pounds cut into 1/4-inch slices, 1/2 pound finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Butter a 9-inch cake pan using 1 tablespoon softened butter. Butter a large bowl; set aside. Stir together yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl; let mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir until dissolved. Stir in buttermilk and egg.
  2. Mix 2-3/4 cups flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Make a well in center. Pour in buttermilk mixture; mix to combine. Add 6 tablespoons softened butter; mix on medium-high speed until a soft dough forms, about 10 minutes.
  3. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to buttered bowl. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons softened butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; raise heat to high, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Stir in nutmeg. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cool.
  5. Punch down dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 17-by-10-inch rectangle, and brush with 3 tablespoons melted butter.
  6. Spread onions evenly over dough. Starting on 1 long side, roll dough into a log. Press seam to seal. Cut into about 12 slices, about 1 1/4 inches thick each. Arrange slices, cut sides up, in buttered pan, and brush with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Immediately invert and unmould rolls onto a wire rack. Serve warm.

Dear Layla...

Dear Layla,
You turned 2 1/2 this weekend. For some reason your 1/2 birthday seems like it should be a milestone... something that I should mark in time.

Watching you grow "up" in front of me - I sometimes wish that I could freeze time and keep you just the way you are, right here, right now...

- You are such a happy little girl. Singing, smiling, joking and laughing all the time.
- You talk A LOT! On our way home from Ottawa last week, you talked for 3 hours straight (!)
- You talk in French too (thanks to the time you spend in daycare)... and are showing a clearer and clearer understanding of what words are "french" and "english".
- You make up songs by putting several different songs together... it's weird and funny... and very cute!
- You are so bossy! (Remember, Dad's the boss... you're just bossy!)
- You love people - especially the ones you know well. It's actually quite interesting how sure and how confident you are around the people you are comfortable with and how shy and uncertain you become when you're around strangers.

- You absolutely adore your little sister and as she comes up on her first 1/2 birthday (6 months... already... wow.) there is more and more interaction between the two of you. She watches your every move. You make her smile. You make her laugh. You climb into her bed and try to use her exersaucer. You even try to fit yourself into the jolly jumper. I keep telling you you're going to hurt yourself and that you're too big for Meaghan's toys, but I'm not sure you believe me just yet.
- You have a best friend. "N" is a sweet little girl, just a little older than you. You knew her before you were born and I wonder sometimes if that's part of why you have such a close bond for two such young girls (her mom and I were pregnant together and used to work out in the morning's before work... maybe the two of you will work out together one day too!).
-You're still "too little" when you want to be and "too big" when you want to be (!)
- You love sugar. When we bake together, you always want to eat handfuls of sugar - especially brown sugar!
- You like to WALK when we go out to walk Reuben (the dog) but we can usually convince you to get in the stroller if we want to go for a longer (& faster) walk. You're getting better and better at running too. And you love to play games and hide from your dad or from me... sometimes your hiding spots aren't so great though. I can still see you when you crouch down in the middle of the sidewalk to "hide" :-P
- You're discovering your body and you wonder if you'll have "boobies" like me one day... you know that Meaghan is just like you and you wonder why Dad is "different". I try to be very matter-of-fact about the whole anatomy issue... though it's still a little weird for me too.
- You tried to shave your legs with my razor in the bathtub today. I'll make sure I don't leave it in there again. I'm very lucky you didn't cut yourself.
- You are usually a good little eater - but you give me a hard time when it comes to vegetables. You ate Meaghan's pureed squash the other day though... I wonder if this will be the way you eat your vegetables?!?
- You still love your little "mousie" but have started taking other toys to bed with you. Tonight you went to sleep with mousie, your little baby doll, mo (teddy bear) and a little toy from the dollarstore (?)
- You like to "help" your Dad work out... whether you are mimicking his moves beside him or sitting on him while he tries to exercise!
- You like playing with your toy-kitchen... or "chicken" as you like to call it. For some reason you can only say "K-itchen" when you're whispering... otherwise when we try to correct you - you always say "K...K...K-CHICKEN".
- You like to help me cook for real too.

-You make me laugh every night when I wake you up to go pee (before I head to bed). You are half asleep on the little potty in your room and I'm sure you'd fall off if I wasn't holding you. I've got to get it on video!
- You are sooo cute when you say grace before we eat. Last week you started thanking God for people you love... on top of "for the food... and for ...riding for us" (providing for us).
- We aren't thrilled when we hear you little feet coming up the stairs to our room EARLY in the morning... but we can't help but think it's cute when you climb into bed tell us that you're "awake now". But seriously... what happened to your 7/7:30 wake up time?????
- You "go to work" in the front entrance of the house (between the two-doors). You take a bag and some books and when I ask you what you're going to do at work, you're response is "I'm going to play math... and play science too".
- You really like it when I trace pictures on your back when I sing "oh mr sun, sun, mr golden sun, please shine down on me..."
- You give us a run for our money at bedtime these days... "I have to pee", "I want milk", "I want a hug"... sigh...
- You love books and seem to always pick nighttime reading that is way out of your league. It's awfully weird to be reading about greenhouse gases to a toddler!!
- You also LOVE movies and along with your dad have discovered a new bedtime routine watching little clips on YouTube or "drawing" on the computer (Dad's laptop has a touchscreen).
-You're getting much better at sitting still while I do your hair. I was able to do 2 french braids in ONE try today!
- ...

...and I just know that there is so much I'm forgetting... so many special little habits or moments... I wish I could remember it all. I hope that writing some of this down will jog my memory in years to come... and be special for you to read when you're older.

Layla...Lay-li... Layla-Lou...Laylou... monkey...

You are my FIRST. My first pregnancy, my first baby, my first toddler, my first daughter... my first try at being a good mother (!) You will always be my first. In a way I will always be figuring things out with you. We will always be learning together. But as long as I'm living... my baby you'll be (just like I sing to you whenever I put you to bed!)

I love you sweetie. Happy 2 1/2. That means it's only 6 more months until your first bike!!!

Mamma (a.k.a Mom, Mommy, Mommio, .... or just A.)

365...? Let's make it 52!

A few weeks ago, I wrote "365" - deliberating the idea of doing a 365 project (a la Julie and Julia). A picture every day, a series of new recipes, that kind of thing. Well - I've come to a decision. My first blog project is going to be called (drum role please...)

The challenge... Try a new recipe every week for one year (or 52 weeks). Post a blog about each new recipe and rate the experience (easy to make? tasty or not? kid-friendly?)

Start date... Next Wednesday (October 14)

End date... Thanksgiving 2010

I'm starting next week because this will take some planning on my part (and this week has been particularly hectic... who knew being home with the girls could be so BUSY). I'll have to select the recipes in advance, have the ingredients in my kitchen and (of course) have my camera on hand so that I can post pictures of the results for you to drool (or grimace) over. It's the kick in the butt that I need to mix things up in the kitchen (especially at dinner time) and try some new things. I'm no professional cook so you can be pretty sure that things will stay fairly simple for the most part. The title (A.O.K trial Gourmet) is really just for fun... there may be absolutely nothing "gourmet" about the entire year of recipes! (sigh) On the other hand, I may become a self-taught incredibly saught after chef! Yeah. Right.

Some of the types of recipes I'm thinking of blogging about...

- Apple-raspberry jam (for a jam-swap that's coming up... quickly)

- Cajun shrimp casserole

- Buttermilk and sweet onion roles (recipe curteousy of UTCH)

- Some sort of beef roast (thanks to the 1/2 cow in our freezer)

- Some sort of lamb chops (the lamb is coming soon...)

- cheese-cake (this one is for Brandon... and there may be several over the 52 weeks!)

And much much more.

Hope you'll join me for a year of A.O.K (trial) Gourmet and maybe even try out some of the recipes I'll be posting!


I was so sure that I wanted boys...

A big family please. 4 boys please.

Had you asked me a few years ago if I wanted a big family... whether I wanted boys or girls... my answer would have come easily. I knew I wanted a big family. I knew I wanted 4 boys.

I've learned since then (and in a number of different circumstances) not to hold my breath when I start making plans. I've learned that it's true what they say... "plans" are simply made to be broken!

Sitting here - the mother of two girls - I'm ashamed and a little embarrassed to admit to you that I always wanted boys. 4 boys.

2 girls later...

...and unsure whether we'll have another child or not, (and if we do, I think I'll finally be hoping for a girl at that 20 week ultrasound!) it would seem that I didn't get what I thought I wanted. And I am happy to say that I'm thrilled. For real. Not just because I should be or I have to be... I am embracing PINK!

For some reason I always thought that I would be a better Mom to boys. I don't know if it's because I grew up with 2 brothers or because I had this vision of myself as a "soccer Mom" or what... but when I found out that we were expecting a girl (during my first pregnancy) I was scared. Will I be a good mom to a girl? Will I be a good example? Will we have a good relationship? How am I going to do this?

Since I always thought about having boys... I never really thought about what it would be like to have girls.

I didn't realize how special it would be to have girls. To be their Mom. I didn't think about how much I would love to experiment with their hair, dress them up, play with dolls... AND I can still play with trucks, in the sandbox - and be a soccer mom (one day!)

I definitely didn't foresee the way it would melt my heart when Layla says to me "I'm like you Mom". Nowadays she is usually referring to ponytails or body parts (she's becoming quite aware of her "boobies" and her "v" these days... eeek!) but I know that the "female" bond will run much deeper than appearances as the years go by.

I now look forward to the things (and the conversations) that a mom can only share with a daughter.

Sure... it'll be interesting around the house once the girls have hit puberty and all of our monthly cycles are aligned (Brandon might disappear for a few days each month...). But no matter how much people may say that they look like their Dad - they will always be "like" me.

So... the big question is - Will I be a good Mom to girls? I pray that I will. That I'll provide them with a good example of a loving, generous, confident and happy woman. That they will see in my relationship with their dad - that kind of relationship that they will one day want. That they will never be afraid to tell me anything (that my disapproval will not = rejection).

My daughters make me happy to be a mom to girls. A mom to them. Now I just have make sure that I'm a good one!

Related Posts with Thumbnails