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I’m planning to pay a brief visit to our son, Mark, tomorrow. He’s living and studying at a university campus about an hour’s drive from home; so it’s close enough to personally deliver the occasional care package.
Mark is mad for bananas, always has been. During his high school years, he could easily polish off four or five as an after school snack. So it’s not surprising that of all the muffins I make (and I seem to make a lot of muffins), banana chocolate chip are his favourite.
Knowing I’m going to see him tomorrow, I thought I’d take a batch along. This is a recipe I got from my sister, and the only modification I make is that I usually substitute whole wheat flour for the all purpose variety. They’re fast and simple and make a tasty snack or a nutritious treat for a breakfast.
Here’s how to make them:
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. milk
3 medium bananas, mashed
Place first five ingredients into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, then make a well in the centre.
Beat egg until frothy. Mix in oil, milk and mashed bananas. (I like to just throw the oil, egg, milk and banana into my mini-blender and blend.) Pour mixture into dry ingredient well. Stir only to moisten. (Batter will be lumpy.) Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
Yield: 12 – 14 little tastes of home!
They’re called, “Nuts and Bolts.” When I was a young girl, they were a family Christmas tradition – and a personal favourite of mine. I loved them for their crunch and flavour, and for the way my mom’s kitchen smelled as she roasted them. I loved to play with them as I ate – attaching the Cheerios to pretzels to make dumbbells, or stacking the Shreddies into towers. But truth be told, I suppose I also loved them because they represented a very special treat that made me think of happy, cherished outings alone with my mom.
As one of four children, it felt special and significant to have one-on-one time with mom. Even if it was only a quick trip to the bank or shopping, it must have felt that way to my mother as well – because she always seemed to know how to turn such excursions into small celebrations.
One of the ways we’d celebrate such times was to top them off with a once-in-a-while indulgence. I remember outings that would feature ice cream or piping hot french fries – sprinkled liberally with malt vinegar – and wrapped in a paper cone. But my favourite was warm Nuts and Bolts, freshly roasted and packed in a tiny cardboard box, from a little business a short bus ride from our home, called “Jim’s Nut Shack.”
I suppose I was destined to continue the tradition of roasting the tasty snack mix in my own home each Christmas.
When our children were small, Nuts and Bolts – packaged in pretty boxes or gift bags tied with colourful ribbon – made affordable gifts for teachers and friends that the kids were proud to give because they’d helped to make them. Nuts and Bolts freeze beautifully and preserve their freshness best that way. But usually, they wouldn’t last long enough to make it to the freezer, and we’d wind up roasting them throughout the Advent season.
Our two oldest kids are both coming home from university this weekend to help trim the Christmas tree, so in anticipatory celebration of their homecoming, I made a batch of Nuts and Bolts for us all to enjoy as we decorate.
Homemade Nuts and Bolts
- 1 box Cheerios cereal
- 1 box Shreddies cereal
- 2 1/2 cups unroasted, unsalted peanuts
- 4 cups pretzel sticks
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp seasoned salt
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts in a large roasting pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add Worcestershire Sauce and spices. Drizzle over cereal mix in roasting pan and stir well to evenly distribute. Roast for 1 1/2 hours – stirring well every 20 minutes. Serve warm, or cool and store in airtight containers.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Creamy Pumpkin Pie Squares
It’s something generations of moms have known; when home is a nice place to be, then people want to be there!
I had the wonderful blessing of growing up in a home that was a nice place to be. I’ve tried to replicate that for my own husband and kids. And a big part of my strategy for creating that kind of a home has involved food; always having plenty of good, nutritious, home-cooked food on hand, and filling the house with delicious aromas whenever possible.
As Thanksgiving weekend approached – and I looked ahead to my kids coming home – it was bothering me (ever so slightly) that our weekend plans meant I wouldn’t be cooking a traditional turkey dinner. So in order that the house would still feel like Thanksgiving, I threw together a batch of this scrumptious pumpkin-pie-like dessert in time for the kids’ home-coming.
If you’re not up to baking pies this weekend – for whatever reason – I highly recommend this recipe. I’m not kidding when I say I “threw it together.” It tastes like a lot more work than it is. A cousin first shared the recipe with me years ago, when she served it cold, cut in tiny squares at a fall shower. It’s fast and easy to make – (takes about 20 minutes from start to popping it in the oven), and it fills the house with that luscious-spicy-pumpkiny-scent that will have everyone wandering through the kitchen asking “What smells so good?!” Be prepared to smack away a few fingers, because everyone will try to talk you into snitching a nibble now.
1.5 c. all purpose flour
1 c. finely chopped nuts (I like pecans best)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
3/4 c. butter
15 oz (approx. 450 mL) canned pumpkin
1 tin Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. ground allspice (I used pumpkin pie spice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T. all purpose flour
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In medium bowl, combine 1.5 cups flour, nuts, sugars and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Add butter. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1 1/4 c. of the mixture. Pat remaining mixture on bottom of ungreased 9 X 13″ baking pan.
2. Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon, allspice and salt. Mix well. Pour evenly over crust. Mix reserved crumbs with 1 T. flour and 1/2 c. shredded coconut. Sprinkle evenly over pumpkin mixture.
3. Bake 30 – 35 minutes or until set. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers. (But if you invite friends and cut the pieces large – I can almost guarantee there won’t be any!)
“If the Divine Creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”
- Fernand Point
It’s been a busy, glorious summer. A summer that held time and fun with family and friends, long lazy beach days and book days, BBQ’s and gardening, excursions and work. Now our two oldest kids (yes, two!) are settled at university and our youngest has begun high school. And I’ve started to think about posting occasional thoughts here once more.
As a way of “getting back into the swing of things,” I thought I’d share another favourite recipe. This is one my daughter Stephanie asked me to be sure to send her, when she headed back to her “second home” to prepare for the start of her third year of university.
Every year, my small backyard garden seems to outdo itself in producing one certain thing. There are years that are great for tomatoes. Other years will be outstanding for peppers, egg plant or cucumbers. But this year was definitely the year of the zucchini!
The whopper at left – held aloft by my daughter Jenna – greeted us in the garden after a two-week vacation. I promise – we were only gone two weeks – and I’m positive there were only fingerlings on the plants when we left for our holiday.
Over the past month, I’ve harvested at least eight mega-zucchinis and countless smaller ones besides. We’ve enjoyed them grilled, battered and stir fried, in soups and sauces, breads and cakes. I’ve also given several of the moderately sized vegetables to friends, and tucked away 21 cups of the stuff grated in the freezer for winter baking.
But I think our favourite way to eat zucchini has been whipped up in this recipe for zucchini muffins. Try them warm, slathered with thick, deli cream cheese. Heaven!
- 3 cups grated, fresh zucchini
- 2/3 cup melted, unsalted butter
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- pinch salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I like to substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup walnuts (optional – but we enjoy them)
- 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (again – optional, but the cranberries make these muffins prettier and seem a special treat)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the zucchini mixture and mix in. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little vegetable spray or line with papers. Use a spoon to distribute the batter equally among the cups, filling the cups completely. Bake on a middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the tin and let cool for another 20 minutes.
You might want to make a double batch as they’ll vanish quickly!
Breakfast has always been my favourite meal of the day. I was raised in a home where sit-down family breakfast was the rule – not the exception – so I suppose it was inevitable that I would adopt the rule for my own household as well.
Around here, weekday breakfasts are fairly simple with hot or cold cereal, toast and eggs, or yoghurt and fruit – you get the picture. Sundays normally feature homemade muffins. And every once in a while, our Saturday breakfast table will offer up pancakes or French Toast. I say “every once in a while” because, truth be told, I find both pancakes and French Toast require more effort than I’m normally willing to muster at the start of a busy Saturday, and it seems Saturdays are always busy. So while my family loves them, such concoctions made from batter have definitely been a treat rather than a regular offering.
But several months ago – when I was looking for some fresh breakfast inspiration, I stumbled across a new recipe that’s so wonderful I wish I’d known about it when my kids were small. I’ve made it almost every Saturday since. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it’s versatile, easy-peasy – even fun – to make, and doesn’t involve standing over a hot frying pan or griddle flipping things. It’s a sort of pancake that’s baked in the oven, called Dutch Baby. And it’s as easy as this:
Once your oven is up to temperature, place one tablespoon of butter into each of two, 9″ round metal cake pans. Stick the pans into the oven for a minute or so, until the butter is melted and sizzling.
Meanwhile, combine 4 eggs, 1 cup milk and 1 cup all purpose flour in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Leaving the pans in the oven (so they stay sizzling hot), pour the batter into the pans and close your oven door. Bake for 15 minutes.
As the Dutch Babies cook, they’ll puff up and turn golden. When finished, turn out onto a plate. They’ll flatten almost as soon as they come out of the oven.
Dutch Baby is typically served sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh lemon juice, and I love it that way. But my husband likes it with sliced bananas and maple syrup, and the kids have been enjoying it with blueberry syrup. (I’d never even heard of blueberry syrup until recently when my sister and her family brought back a bottle of it as a souvenir for us, from a visit to Alberta, where fruit syrups are apparently common. It’s silky smooth and lusciously sweet with just the right note of tartness.)
On a hungry day, my teenaged son can eat two of the baked pancakes all by himself. If served with ham or bacon, he and his dad are content to split one Dutch Baby between them, leaving the second one for Jenna and me to share. So yummy, we eat every morsel.
“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’
‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’
‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”
- A. A. Milne
“For so long, women weren’t the ones writing history. Yet, they managed to pass it down through things like recipes,” my eldest daughter Stephanie observed this past weekend. We were talking – at the time – about food and family, friends and recipes, and about how much we both enjoy such things.
That particular morning, I’d baked muffins for breakfast - as I often do on a Sunday – specifically, ”Jayne’s Apple Muffins” in honour of an old friend of mine. Stephanie asked me for the recipe. And that’s what led to the conversation that prompted her remark.
You see, it was my great joy to reconnect with Jayne last week after not having seen her for many years. So she was on my heart and in my thoughts as I combined ingredients and mixed up batter that morning.
Twenty years ago, Jayne and I attended the same Bible study for young moms at our church. Every Tuesday morning, a dozen or so of us would gather in the coziness of the “fireside room” there for a couple of hours. And while kind hearted older women in the church would care for our pre-schoolers, we’d study the Bible, share the stories and struggles of our lives, pray for one another, cuddle each other’s babies, sip coffee and eat muffins.
Whenever it was Jayne’s turn to bring the muffins, she’d bring her wonderful homemade apple ones – fragrant with nutmeg and cinnamon and still warm from the oven. Those Tuesday mornings felt like a lifeline to me at the time, so it’s not surprising that Tuesdays became my favourite day of the week. And my favourite Tuesdays were the ones that included Jayne’s Apple Muffins.
I never asked Jayne where she got her recipe, or alternately, who else she might have shared it with. So it came as a delightful surprise when I clicked over to a friend’s wonderful photoblog last week and found a gorgeous picture of what I immediately recognized as “Jayne’s Apple Muffins” and the same recipe!
As a teen, Dana was a favourite babysitter for my three children. Now she has a beautiful boy of her own. She takes incredible photos, shares treasures from her heart and insights from her experiences as a young mom on her blog. She writes that she got her muffin recipe from her mom – another friend of mine – who also attends the same church I do.
When I saw the recipe on Dana’s blog, I smiled. And then I wondered at the origins of those lovely apple muffins that have obviously delighted and nourished generations of families.
For the time being, it’s a mystery. But now my daughter has the recipe. And so do you.
Honestly, in the cold winter weather, I often wonder what I’d do without it. This is especially true during busy weeks like the one just ended; it’s not uncommon for me to use my crockpot two or even three times over the course of seven days.
So you can imagine my dismay when I came home two nights in a row last week to an under-done crockpot meal, and had to admit that my 30-year-old appliance (a birthday gift from my parents when I was young, single and had just moved into my first apartment) had seen its last meal. The meat had cooked through, but on both nights, the veggies were still too crunchy. Now ordinarily, I like my vegetables tender-crisp, but not in a crockpot meal; as a result of the vegetables being undercooked, the overall flavour of the meal suffered because the fullness of the flavours hadn’t seeped out of those vegetables into the surrounding sauces.
Fortunately, my wonderful hubby knows how much I rely on this little appliance, and he surprised me with a lovely new one.
So this week, I used my new crockpot for the first (and second!) times.
On Wednesday, we all came home to a house filled with the aroma of a hearty, savoury, garlicky Sausage Minestrone. It’s a recipe I had cut out of a magazine ages ago, but this was the first time I’ve ever made it.
If you like Italian sausage, this is definitely worth a try. You need only add your favourite loaf of fresh, crusty bread and a green salad to make the meal complete.
My family are meat eaters, so I doubled the quantity of sausage called for in the original recipe, upped the amount of garlic slightly, and used an Italian Seasoning mix instead of the straight oregano as called for. I’m also lucky enough to have my own garden tomatoes in the freezer – stewed up last fall with fresh basil and green peppers (also from the garden) – so I used those instead of the canned variety. Since this recipe is meant to be cooked on top of the stove, I simply browned the sausage meat, and then threw everything into the crockpot together (with the exception of the pasta, which I forgot to add). Mouth-wateringly delicious!
2 T. vegetable oil (I eliminated the oil altogether and just sautéed the sausage in a pan coated with non-stick spray)
3 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
1 c. each, diced celery and carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. oregano (I think I used about a tsp. of Italian Seasoning)
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (19 oz.) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. dried alphabet pasta
Method: In Dutch oven, heat 1 T. oil over med-high heat; sauté sausages, breaking up with spoon, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat from pan.
Add remaining oil to pan. Sauté onion, celery, carrot, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper until softened, about 5 minutes.
Return sausages to pan. Add tomatoes, beans and 8 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in saucepan of boiling salted water, cook pasta until tender but firm, about 6 minutes. Drain and add to soup.
Makes about 10 cups or 8 to 10 servings.
Since writing about brownies a couple of days ago, I’ve had some requests for my favourite recipes for the delectable treats.
This first recipe is the one through which I learned to love the chewy squares. When I was a young girl, my best friend Sandra and I mixed up this particular concoction on dozens of occasions. With three cups of brown sugar, it’s not a brownie for the faint of heart or diet conscious. They’re also not as chocolatey as I like my brownies today. In fact – though I’m providing the original recipe below, if I were to make them now (I haven’t made them in years), I’d be tempted to increase the quantity of cocoa to 3/4 cup.
Extremely chewy. Best frosted (as if they needed any more sugar!) but a nice, rich, chocolate frosting adds to the overall decadence.
I remember as 13-year-olds, my friend and I used to laugh hysterically whenever we made them, referring to them as “Donkey Drops.” (That’s because one day while baking, we came across a recipe by that name – truly – and ever after, as we’d plop great dollops of the chocolate-brown batter into the pan, we’d exclaim, “Donkey Drops!!!” thereby amusing ourselves. What can I say? We were 13.) Wondering if a recipe for Donkey Drops could be still be found today, I conducted a quick search and found this one.
But back to the brownies. By request,
3/4 c. butter or margarine
3 large eggs
3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cocoa
1 c. chopped nuts
Method: Melt butter. Beat eggs well. Add brown sugar, vanilla, and melted butter. Stir until well blended. Add flour and cocoa and mix well together. Add chopped nuts. Bake in a 9 X 13 pan at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Frost and cut while warm.
My sister Sandy discovered this next recipe during our young, single years when we shared an apartment in downtown Toronto together. She’s made them as a gift for me on more than one occasion – but the time that really stands out in my memory was about 12 years ago.
I’d literally just lost my best friend, Mary-Lou, when she and her family moved from their home about five minutes from ours to a new home in Red Deer, Alberta. The day after the moving truck pulled away, I awoke feeling completely bereft. But Sandy showed up at my front door with Heaven In A Pan, something she’d planned to do in discussions with Mary-Lou before the move.
Those brownies came to me as a hug across the miles from my friend, and as a hug across the threshold from my sister. They were a reminder to me of my friend’s creativity, my sister’s love, and that people who care for one another can find meaningful ways to show it, no matter how near or far they are.
They have been my favourite brownies, ever since.
Sandy’s “Heaven In A Pan” Brownies
1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
3/4 c. cocoa
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
Method: Melt butter. Add sugar and cocoa, stirring constantly. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir well. Sift dry ingredients together. Add all at once. Pour into a non-greased 9 X 13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees, for 30 to 35 minutes.
… really does make so many things better!
Especially the kind of chocolate that comes mixed up in a pan full of brownies. I love brownies. They’re my favourite way to make the world right when everything seems wrong.
My enthusiasm for the delectable, chewy, chocolatey treat began at the age of 13, when my best friend and I discovered the joys of baking. We’d get together at each other’s homes to while away a Saturday afternoon – or for a couple of hours on a weekday after school – and ask that age-old question kids often ask each other when they’re bored; “Whadda you wanna do?”
“I dunno. Whadda you wanna do?”
Baking was our default activity. If we couldn’t figure out anything else to do, at least we could create something wonderful to gorge ourselves on. Invariably, the something wonderful we’d bake was something called “Yummy Brownies.” And they were.
As a young, single woman, I shared an apartment with my sister. She discovered a new brownie recipe called “Heaven In A Pan.” And they were. On more than one occasion, Sandy made those brownies for me when she knew my world was off-kilter. A pan full of Heaven In A Pan was her way of saying, “I care.”
A couple of days ago, my world was starting to feel off-kilter once again. After having our eldest daughter Stephanie home for the past month to celebrate the holidays, we were preparing to take her back to university for second semester.
I’m realizing having university-aged kids means a constant adjusting; you adjust to them leaving, then adjust to them coming home for holidays, only to find you need to adjust all over again when they leave once more! It’s not that you mourn them when they’re gone, exactly, for you do find a new “normal.” It’s just that having them around feels like the really normally normal – or like “normal” should be.
I don’t dread Stephanie’s departures, exactly, because I know she is where she’s supposed to be. But I like having her home. So I often find as the time for her leaving draws near, and I look ahead to that other “normal” descending, I’m aware of an almost imperceptible feeling of sadness rising inside.
I was ever so slightly aware of it Saturday morning, when the entire family set out on the three-hour drive to Kingston. We were looking forward to making an outing of our day – with ice skating at City Hall – but the closer we got to Kingston, the more I found myself dreading saying “good-bye.”
Any feelings of melancholy evaporated, however, the instant we walked in the door of my daughter’s other home.
For just inside the door, on the table, was a note from Stephanie’s roommate, Katie. The note read “Welcome Home!” The first of the four roommates to arrive back in Kingston, Katie had left her message of love, welcome and friendship on a small square of plain white paper.
And in two pans of homemade brownies.
I remember my mom’s recipe collection. She had a little white tin box that held all her recipes, neatly written out by hand on separate cards. Mom was an excellent cook – and she loved to cook – so most of those cards were spotted, dog-eared and stained. But they were relatively organized. Indexed dividers separated the “Meats” from the “Salads” from the “Desserts” from the “Vegetables”.
My own collection is far less attractive. In fact, it’s a jumbled up, chaotic mess. Oh, I have a couple of binders in which I’ve attempted to attain some level of harmony over the years. A red binder filled with plastic sleeves holds dinner recipes; some handwritten, some typed, some torn hastily from newspapers or magazines. A white binder’s plastic sleeves display a similar assortment of recipes for breakfast and dessert.
But there’s one aspect in which my collection resembles my mother’s; mom had a habit of naming recipes after the people with whom the recipe originated.
I suppose there were various reasons for doing that: it helped to ensure you wouldn’t serve someone their own cooking if they came to your place, for one thing.
But it’s a habit I’ve continued. And the thing I love most about those little notations written at the top of each scrap or piece of paper that declares “Sandy’s Salsa Pork Chops”, “Jayne’s Apple Muffins”, “Dad’s Rice Pudding”, or “Joanna & Greg’s Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes”, is the way they cause me to remember the people behind the food as I’m cooking.
Some of them are people I haven’t seen in years. Some of them are people I see often. But each time I pull out a recipe with a friend’s name written at the top, I’m reminded of that person and what they mean to me now, or have meant to me in the past.
Last week I attended a festive potluck dinner and offered to take along a chicken dish. I knew right away what I would make: Patti’s Peach Chicken.
This is an easy, flavourful way to prepare chicken that makes a great impression. Topped with pecan halves, it looks and tastes extra-special so it’s an elegant addition to a festive buffet. I hadn’t made it in years, but as I went about my preparations, I thought of that other “Patti” who shared the recipe with me.
We were about the same age, and we worked together in a crazy TV newsroom in the early 80′s. Both of us went by “Patti” in those days. She was pretty, smart, had a great sense of style and spunk, and was always lots of fun. Married within a couple of months of each other, we shared many a conversation about planning our respective weddings, and adapting to married life.
One evening, Patti hosted some of the girls from the newsroom for dinner and she prepared this chicken dish. When I made it for the potluck party last week, I tripled the recipe and used breasts, thighs and drumsticks. (But because it calls for bone-in, skin-on chicken it’s more economical than some recipes. You could also buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself.) Everyone seemed to enjoy the dish and several people asked me for the recipe, so I thought I’d share it here as well:
Patti’s Peach Chicken
4 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
3/4 c. peach jam
1/4 c. chili sauce (I used Willi’s chili – but anything comparable will do)
2 T. soya sauce
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 375. Combine all ingredients & pour over chicken in baking dish. Bake 30 – 40 min., basting as chicken cooks.
To celebrate our oldest daughter’s homecoming from university yesterday, I wanted to make something warm and rich and wonderful for dinner. But as I had to be at the office of a client all day, I knew that “that something” would have to come from my crockpot.
In the mood to try something a little different, I did a quick Internet search for pot roast, and came upon this recipe.
Food purists might balk at the pre-packaged ingredients. But on a busy day, that’s exactly what appealed to me. The recipe is simple – has only a couple of ingredients (all of which I had on hand), and I knew I could throw it together quickly and easily, always an important consideration at 6 a.m.
The only thing I did differently was this: we had some lovely Italian red wine (made by our lovely Italian neighbour) so I added some of that (I’m guessing about a half-cup) to the mixture, thinking it might help further tenderize the meat and enhance flavours. I set the crockpot on low and it did its thing while I was out all day.
When I got home, I took the recipe’s advice and roasted the vegetables separately. I cut up a large onion, scrubbed and cut (in one-inch chunks) half-a-dozen potatoes and a couple handfuls of baby carrots. Tossed everything together with some olive oil, coarse salt and Herbes de Provence, then spread the works on a tray and baked for about 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
Dinner was scrumptious! The roast literally fell apart, the vegetables demanded second helpings and the gravy was thick, rich, silky smooth and intensely satisfying.
Our hungry student’s reaction? At first mouthful, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back – ever so slightly. She didn’t chew. She didn’t move. I honestly wondered for the briefest moment if she might be praying.
When she opened her eyes and saw we were all staring at her, she laughed, “Just savouring every one of the flavours.”
Welcome home, honey.
“An ordinary meal is an extraordinary coming together of life … The sharing of such meals is the most ordinary of human endeavours … and, at the same time, the most extraordinary. The most earthly … and the most heavenly. The most routine … and the most spiritual.” – Eugene H. Peterson
“She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children, but because of the friendship formed while raising them.” - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that give rise to the greatest delight.
Last week for instance: my eldest daughter Stephanie sent me a recipe. Away from home, studying in her second year at university, she sent it via email.
“Last night I made this really awesome salad for dinner and just thought I’d share the recipe – invented by moi,” she wrote.
I know it’s normal for parents to worry a little when a child first leaves home. We wonder if they’ll be alright. If they’re ready for independent living. Will they take care of themselves? Pay their bills on time? Manage the workload? Get along with roommates? Eat well?
Last year, Stephanie lived in residence and ate her meals in the university’s various cafeterias. But this year she’s sharing a house with three other girls. It’s a lovely little place and together they’re making it a home. Since September the girls have combined their culinary talents to create meals together, but they also host friends, and cook for themselves individually.
My daughter seems to have inherited the “foodie” gene. She loves pouring over recipe books and trying new things in the kitchen as much as I do. Since she’s been away she’s called or emailed a few times to ask for recipes or let me know about some of the things she’s made. “Spent all day in the kitchen making veggie lasagna and homemade dinner rolls,” she told me one weekend. “I made muffins!” she enthused on another. “The house smells heavenly and my tummy is happy!”
But the arrival of last week’s recipe in my inbox caused me to pause and reflect; for it was the first time my now-adult daughter has ever sent a recipe to me. And that simple act on her part signified a deeper reality: we share a whole lot more than just DNA. We have common interests. We hold similar values. She is my daughter. But she is also my friend.
And she is indeed doing all right.
Stephanie’s Christmas-y Couscous
- chicken thighs stir fried & cut into small strips
- lots and lots and lots and lots of parsley (at least 1 1/2 cups of the big leaf Italian parsley)
- seeds of 1 pomegranate
- lime juice, olive oil & pepper to taste