Friday, January 27, 2012

My First Ice Day

Dearest Sally,


I woke up this morning feeling joyful and ready for an exciting day in the world of kindergarten. I had wonderful plans for a letter N craft to be followed by a night scene

craft. My dreams were shattered when I got the phone call at 6:30 that is was an ice day. I always wondered what it would feel like to have a snow day as a teacher . . . . it is better than when you are a kid.

Last night was Jesse’s birthday (he is now 26) and I made him a feast! On the menu was Fig and Roasted Walnut Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette, No-knead Cranberry Focaccia, and Chicken Wellington with Mushrooms and Spinach. I had to work all the cooking

in and around a meeting at the school, which kept the evening exciting. I combined the recipes from two different Food and Drink magazines and it turned out quite well.

Since I have the day off today I will most likely be bothering you to talk about your wedding and such. Have fun! I know I will.

Fig and Roasted Walnut Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette


¼ cup walnut pieces

12 dried figs, but into eighths

8 cups spinach

½ cup sliced red onion

¼ cup crumbled feta cheese (I used soft goat cheese)


3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp honey

1 ½ tsp Dijon Mustard

1 clove garlic

Preheat oven to 350F

Place walnut pieces on a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes or until nuts are golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and cool.

In a large salad bowl, toss figs, spinach, onion, roasted nuts and feta cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, mustard and garlic.

Drizzle salad with dressing and serve immediately.

No-knead Cranberry Focaccia

1 tsp instant or traditional yeast

1 ½ cups water, just warm to the touch

2 ¾ to 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

½ cup raisins

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp coarse sugar (organic)

Proof yeast by sprinkling it over water in a large mixing bowl and setting it aside for 5 minutes. Then stir to dissolve yeast. Meanwhile, line a 9-inch round or square cake pan with aluminum foil, extending up and slightly over the side.

Add 2-¾ cups flour all at once to the proofed yeast; stir with a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon until flour is absorbed. Dough should be sticky, but not wet. Stir in additional flour if needed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let rest for 1 hour until doubled.

When dough has doubled, sprinkle salt evenly overtop; stir thoroughly. Let rest 10 minutes then add cranberries and raisins; mix well into dough.

Brush some melted butter over pan bottom and sides. Scrape dough into pan. Using buttered fingers, pat our to cover the pan bottom completely; top is rough in appearance. Brush with remaining butter.

Adjust rack below over centre; preheat over to 375F. Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes in warm spot on top of or near warm stove. Then uncover; sprinkle top evenly with coarse sugar.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until richly golden. Cool on rack for 5 minutes. Using foil edges, lift loaf from pan. Remove foil and continue cooling bread on a rack. Cut warm loaf into wedges or slices to serve.

Chicken Wellington with Mushrooms and Spinach

8 cups packed baby spinach

½ cup water

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic

¾ cup garlic and herb cheese (I used goat cheese)

2 tbsp breadcrumbs

2 cups chopped mushrooms

1-½ tsp herbs de Provence

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Pinch of salt and pepper

1 pkg. puff pastry

1 egg beaten

Bring spinach and water to a boil in large nonstick skillet, stirring for about 3 minutes or until wilted. Drain and press out excess water; place in bowl and set aside.

Return skillet to medium heat and add half of the oil. Cook shallots and garlic for e minutes or until softened. Add spinach and cook for 1 minute. Return to bowl and add cheese and bread crumbs. Stir until well coated; set aside.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat in same skillet and cook mushrooms and herbs de Provence for 5 minutes or until liquid starts to appear in skillet. Add chicken and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

On a floured surface, roll out pastry to a 26x12 inch rectangle; place on large piece of parchment paper. Spread spinach mixture in centre of pastry leaving about 4 inches on long sides and 2 inches on short sides. Top with chicken mixture. Brush edges with egg and fold up short sides over filling, then overlap 1 long side over filling and lift remaining pastry to reach pastry on top, overlapping slightly, and pinch seam to seal. Brush all over with egg and let stand for 5 minutes to dry slightly

Preheat over to 425F

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

I have so many things to share with you and I can't wait to see/talk to you.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tasty Spaghetti

Dear Jess,

The other night I was craving Spaghetti and Meatballs. The problem I had was the meatballs. They take a long time to make. You have to soften whatever veggies you put in them... let them cool. Mix them with your meat and spices... let them sit in the fridge for 30 minutes... bake them for 30 minutes... then let them sit for another 20 minutes! Now, when you're a hungry girl this just does not work. So I picked a meatball recipe that looked delicious and turned it into a sauce instead! It turned out to be very pretty, and quite tasty.

Tasty Spaghetti
Adapted from Canadian Living

2 tbsp (25 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) ricotta cheese
1-1/4 tsp (6 mL)  salt
3/4 tsp (4 mL) pepper
1/4 tsp (1 mL ) each ground cinnamon,  cloves and nutmeg
1/4 cup (50 mL) minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup (50 mL) Parmesan cheese

16 oz (500 g) lean ground pork
1/2 cup 125 mL ) dry red wine (or chicken stock)
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) crushed canned tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped  fresh basil (or 2 tsp/10 mL dried)
1/4 tsp (1 mL) granulated sugar
1-1/2 lb (750 g) whole grain spaghetti

1. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.

2. In large nonstick skillet, heat half of the oil over medium heat; fry onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add ground pork and simmer until fully cooked. Add ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. Stir and cook for another minute. Add wine, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, parsley, fresh basil and sugar. Bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 20 - 30 minutes.

3. Serve your sauce on top of the noodles. Garnish with Parmesan if desired. 

I can't wait for our next Skype date! 


Monday, January 16, 2012

Meatless Monday

Dearest Sally,

WE ARE GETTING MARRIED! I am sooo excited for this year. There is so much to do, so much to prepare and it is so much fun to be doing it together.

Today is cold, windy and I was in the mood for some experimentation today. I am still sick and read somewhere that hot and spicy foods will open up your sinuses. Here goes nothing! I had cauliflower, quinoa and a few other random ingredients in the house and so I decided on a Jamaican style dish with my own twist. I am letting it sit overnight so all the flavours can blend.

OH! I also had squash in apartment just sitting around so decided to make some soup. I used the Moosewood cookbook that you gave me. It smells awesome! I can’t wait to have some tomorrow.

Jamaican Mish Mash Rice

(Adapted from Eat, Shrink, and be Merry)

1/3 cup chopped green onions

¼ cup freshly squeezed limejuice

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp grated gingerroot

2 tsp minced garlic

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp dried thyme, salt, and pepper

½ tsp ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg

2 cups uncooked quinoa

1 head cauliflower

1 can mixed beans

I cooked the quinoa and let it cool. I washed the cauliflower and broke it into large pieces. I placed the pieces in a food processor and pulsed until it was a fine mixture. I put the quinoa and cauliflower in a big bowl and tossed in the mixed beans. I added all the rest of the ingredients to the mixture and stirred. Let it sit in the fridge overnight and it should be perfect by morning. It tastes good right away but I find some things better with time.

Curried Squash & Mushroom Soup

(Adapted from The New

Moosewood Cookbook)

1 medium squash

4 cups water

2 cubes broth

1 cup orange juice

½ cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ tsp. salt

½ ground cumin

½ coriander

½ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

¼ tsp mustard (Dijon)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Split the squash lengthwise, remove the seeds, and place face down on a lightly oiled tray. Bake until soft (about 30-40 minutes). Cool, then scoop out the insides. Place in a food processor or blender with some of the broth water, and puree until smooth. Add the orange juice, rest of the broth and squash to a pan.

2. While the soup is simmering cook the onions until soft. Add the garlic and stir. Cook for about 2 minutes then add the ingre

dients to the pan.

3. Stir in the remaining ingredients and let simmer for at least 2 hours for best flavour.

I can't wait to chat or see you, whichev

er one comes first.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Ding-Dong the Bells are Gonna Chime: Eat Clean Meatloaf

Dearest Jess,

You are so amazing. I just really want you to know that. I was so touched that you and Jesse (despite you're busy schedule) came last minute to Peterborough to celebrate our engagement. (I am getting a little misty-eyed thinking about it.) You are such an amazing blessing in my life. I can't imagine how my life would be without you in it. Thank you thank you thank you.

That being said... here are some recipes that I made on Saturday with no idea that when they were finished I would become 'the future Mrs. Ufkes'! They all turned out amazing. I would recommend each of them. They are simple and delicious!

Turkey Loaf to Live By
From The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook, Page 202
2 tbsp/30ml best-quality olive oil
2 purple onions or Vidalia onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup/120ml finely chopped celery
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 cups / 1.4L baby spinach leaves, washed
6 cups / 1.4L baby arugula leaves
1 tsp / 5ml water
1 cup / 240ml basil leaves
1/4 cup / 60ml minced cilantro
4 egg whites + one yolk
1 tbsp / 15ml tomato paste mixed with one tablespoon water
3/4 cup . 180ml low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 lb / 600ml ground turkey breast (or chicken breast), no skin or fat included, or textured vegetable protein
3/4 cup / 180ml oat bran (if you don't have oat bran use oatmeal that has been ground in the blender) - uncontaminated for gluten free
1/4 cup / 60ml ground flax seeds
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 375F / 190C. Make sure there is a rack in the center of the oven. Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan and cook onions and celery until they are translucent but not brown. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a small bowl to cool.

2. Add baby spinach and arugula leaves to the pan with one teaspoon of water. Cook until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat and let cool. Add basil and cilantro to the wilted greens and mix well.

3. In a large bowl add egg whites, yolk, tomato paste mixture and stock. Mix well. Add ground turkey or TVP, oat bran and flax seeds along with cooked onions and celery. Spray clean hands with cooking spray and mix the turkey concoction well.

4. In a 10" loaf pan coated with cooking spray, place half of the turkey mixture, spread evenly, using clean hands, transfer wilted greens and herbs to loaf pan. Distribute evenly on top of the turkey mixture already in the pan. Now place remaining ground turkey mixture on top of the wilted greens. Make the top smooth with your hands.

5. Bake the turkey loaf for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat thermometer registers 160F / 71C. Remove loaf from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes so everything sets properly. Once cool, remove loaf from pan and cut into one-inch-thick slices using a very sharp knife. Arrange on a serving platter and serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers and use for lunch.

I also made Stuffed Red Peppers which I really liked. But we forgot to take pictures... so you will have to wait until the next time I make them to see pictures and get the recipe...

Goat Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper Bread
from the book that came with the Bread maker

I don't have the recipe for this with me now, but it's just out of the little booklet that came with the Bread maker. This was the very first time I had ever made bread. Even though it's considered cheating (in many circles...) I decided to use the Bread maker... and after using it I have decided I am in love with it.

It was after these pictures were taken that I turned around and gave Jason a big hug and said 'This is the perfect day' only to have him respond: 'You know what would make it even more perfect? If you said you'd marry me' while pulling out a ring from his pocket and getting down on one knee.

I love you so much. Thank you again for being you.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Jamie Oliver's Lebanese Lemon Chicken with Moorish Crunch Salad

Dearest Jessica,

It is well known that we like Jamie Oliver. His books, style, magazines, TV shows... everything.

That being said... Jason got me a present. Jamie's Kitchen. The book is beautiful! Full of amazing pictures, recipes and tutorials! I was given this gift during a work shift so I was unable to dive into it as soon as I would have preferred. When we got home, however, it was a whole different story. I snuggled up on the couch with a cup of peppermint tea, a stack of post-its, a pen, and the book. I only bookmarked the recipes I want to make immediately... because eventually I would like to make them all!

Yesterday I decided to make dinner for my parents. I called Jason and asked him to pick out two recipes (one salad and one main) from the bookmarked pages of Jamie's Kitchen. He couldn't have chosen any better than this: Lebanese Lemon Chicken with Moorish Crunch Salad.

We learned many things from these two recipes alone. For the chicken we got to follow some great (and photo-illustrated!) instructions on how to cut a whole chicken down to sizes appropriate for a serving; and we learned what a 'cartouche' is and how to make one. For the salad we were reminded what 'tahini' is and where we can get it fresh in Peterborough (The Main Ingredient!) We were also reminded that salads can be so interesting and hold so much flavor by themselves. A lot of times we just see it as a 'side' to the main course. This salad held it's own for sure. (I added chicken to the leftovers and will eat it for lunch today! So excited!) 

Moorish Crunch Salad (serves 4)
adapted from Jamie's Kitchen, Page 29
10 1/2oz carrots, peeled
5 1/2oz radishes
2 crunchy eating apples
1 small handful of dark or white raisins (I left these out)
1 handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
4 tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar
8 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Tahiti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in the oven

First of all, finely slice your carrots into matchstick-sized batons. Finely slice your radishes - you can leave a little of the tops on if you like. Quarter your apples, remove the cores and finely slice. Add all these to a bowl with the rest of the ingredients, apart from the sesame seeds. Toss together, carefully checking the seasons, and serve with the sesame seeds sprinkled over the top. Eat straight away.

Try this: Turn it into a warm salad by adding some pan-seared chicken, shrimp or scallops which hae been dusted with a little paprika.

And this: Make it more of a snack by frying some halloumi cheese until golden with some chopped fresh chilli and crumbling this over the top.

Or this: Grill some pita bread and serve stuffed with Crunch Salad. Crumble in some feta cheese too. Lovely.

Lebanese Lemon Chicken (Serves 4)
adapted from Jamie's Kitchen, Page 164

Note: this can be made into a veggie dish. Instead of chicken you can use root veggies such as carrots, potatoes, onions etc. and veggie stock instead of chicken stock. It will still be very tasty!

1 large chicken, cut for sautéing (If you can't find instructions for this, you can just use 4 chicken breasts instead.)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp sea salt
3 heaping tbsp flour
extra virgin olive oil
1 large bulb of fennel, roughly chopped, herby tops chopped and reserved (I didn't use this. I'm not the biggest fan of fennel.)
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 small preserved lemons, chopped (no where in Peterborough has these... I just used lemon juice)
1 small bunch of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
2/3 cup farika or bulghur wheat (I used bulghur)
1 wineglass of tequila, vodka or white wine (I used white wine)
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 small tub of sour cream or créme fraiche (I used light sour cream... Greek yogurt would also work!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. First, cut your chicken for sauté, then bash all the spices up with a mortar and pestle with the salt until you have a fine powder. Add your flour and mix together well. Rub this intensely flavored flour all over your chicken and in every crack and cranny. You may have a little flour left over, so just reserve this for later.

2. Heat an appropriately sized casserole-type pan, or a roasting pan, on the stovetop and add 5 tbsp of olive oil. Begin to brown your chicken pieces on all sides - you want them to fry in one layer. Once they are nicely coloured, remove to a plate, turn down the heat and then add your fennel, onion, preserved lemons and rosemary to the pan. Fry for around 5 minutes, until nice and softened. Then add any excess flavored flour and your farika or bulghur wheat, and give it a good stir.

3. Add tequila, vodka or wine and allow to cook down to leave a fabulous fresh and fragrant taste. Cover with chicken stock or water until it reaches the same level as the grains and the veg. Now you need to make a cartouche. (a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of your dish/pan) Run it under the tap to make it flexible, then rub it with olive oil so it doesn't stick. Place the cartouche over the couscous and veg in the pan and put the chicken on top. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 45 minutes, until the chicken skin is really crisp. Sometimes the grains start to burn on the bottom and they get a little bit of colour. I quite like it when this happens, but to prevent it just make sure you place the pan at the top of the oven so it's not getting direct heat from the bottom. Serve straight away with a good dollop of sour cream or créme fraiche and sprinkle with the fennel tops.

(For serving: place chicken in one dish, discard your cartouche and place bulghur mixture in another dish.)

It all came together so wonderfully! I prepared the chicken first, and put the salad together in the last 10 minutes of the chicken baking. The flavours were amazing in both the chicken and the salad. The salad is so crunchy and satisfying! To add to all this, my mom did a quick calculation of how much this meal costs, and she estimated it came to only four dollars a plate! I was very impressed with this meal.

I hope all is well on your end. Wedding plans, teaching and everything else. I am very excited to start our training program for Oxfam. Lots of fun times to come!

All My Love,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stuffed Fillet Steak, and Savory Cheese and Bacon Muffins

Dearest Jess,

I hope your holidays have been everything you hoped them to be. I found mine to be busy, but perfectly balanced with relaxation. As always, there were many family dinners, and friends in from out of town. It was all wonderful.

Yesterday was my first day back to work since the 23rd. Jason and I had planned a dinner to make on Sunday night, but other things came up, so it was pushed to last night. We got the recipes from this great book that Robin gave me for my birthday. It's called Mix & Match Meals. To fully appreciate this book you really need to go pick one up. When you open it, the pages are split horizontally in three sections. The top one: appetizers, the middle: entrees, the bottom: desserts. So as you pick which one you want for each stage of your meal, you can flip through all the sections separately and in the end have all three recipes open at the same time. This means the process of making your grocery list is greatly simplified.

The Menu: Stuffed Fillet Steak with chili and parsley butter, with Savory Cheese and Bacon Muffins.

I have mixed feelings about this meal. The muffins were surprisingly amazing. If you make them with whole wheat/grain bread crumbs they become a healthier option. The steak was... interesting. I'm not sure I'm a fan of a cream cheese filling for a steak. Maybe if it was whipped with some fresh herbs and spices? Or spinach? Or feta and/or goat cheese instead? It needed something else. The butter I would put more chili flakes in. That being said, it would be delicious spread on some fresh bread.

All in all, it was a pretty plate.

Savory Cheese and Bacon Muffins
adapted from Mix&Match Meals, Page 108 (starters) 
5 1/2 oz (150g) Canadian bacon, sliced
7oz (200g) Cheddar cheese, cut up into small cubes
1 1/4 cups whole wheat/grain bread crumbs
1/2 bunch of scallions, finely chopped
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt and ground black pepper
Pam for greasing

1. Fry the bacon until cooked but not too crispy, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Mix together the cheese with the bread crumbs, scallions, eggs and milk. Stir in the bacon.
2. Season generously with salt and pepper, then spoon into 4 buttered ramekins (or into your muffin trays). Bake in the oven at 375F (190C) for about 25 minutes until risen and golden. Serve hot or cold.

Stuffed Fillet Steak with Chili and Parsley Butter
adapted from Mix&Match Meals, Page 64 (Main Course)
4 sirloin steaks, about 8oz (225g) each, cut to a minimum 1 inch (2.5cm) thick
4 1/2oz (125g) light cream cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

for Chili and Parsley Butter
5 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Spinach to serve

1. To make the chili and parsley butter, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Form into a sausage shape, and place in a piece of parchment paper. Roll up into a tube, twist each end of pepper, and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Heat the barbecue until hot. Take each fillet steak and, using a thin pointed knife pierce the side and move the knife from side to side to create a cavity, trying not to increase the size of the opening too much. Place a portion of cream cheese into each opening. Do not over stuff.
3. Grill the steaks on the barbecue over high heat for 3 minutes on each side, turning once. Set on a plate, and let rest for 5 minutes.
4. Serve on top of fresh spinach with a dollop of Chili and Parsley Butter for garnish.

I can't wait to hear about your travels! I hope all is and will continue to go safely.