Warmer Weather Batch Cooking

For some, batch cooking tends to go out the window when the thermometer rises outside, because, well, most batch cooking is not ideally suited to hot weather. Who wants to simmer a stew on the stove all day when you’re trying to keep the kitchen cool? And while we’re asking questions, who wants to spend hours cooking when the kids are calling you to come out and play?

Still,  it’s nice to jump-start dinner with something from the freezer, especially after a hard day’s work in the garden. Batch cooking can still be done in the summer heat, but in my kitchen it changes from pot-roasts and lasagnas, to something more suited to summer.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes to double and triple for stashing away. While they are not entire meals unto themselves, they proffer a spring board to dinner (or dessert!), and provide the opportunity for a meal with substance. [Read more…]

What You Need to Know About Cast-Iron Skillet Cooking

In an age of multi-colored and teflon-coated non-stick and stainless-steel cookware, it can be a challenge to remember the tried and true beauty of an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet.  Often a necessity in many a grandmother’s kitchen, the cast-iron skillet is a “back-to-basics” item worthy of any family cookery.

Both economical and healthy, these rustic cooking supplies are easily purchased at thrift stores, antique markets and neighborhood garage sales. Also known for releasing small amounts of iron into food, cast-iron skillets provide healthy benefits for those with iron deficiencies. Lasting for years when well cared for, skillet cast-offs or newly purchased pans require nothing more than a little loving care for capable cooking use.

Here’s a look at everything you need to know about why to cook with cast-iron, how to season and clean your skillet and simple cast-iron recipes for your family table. [Read more…]

Spices 101: Common Myths Debunked (recipe: Chai-Spiced Granola)

An ‘Introduction to Spices’ would be an entire module in cooking school if I were the instructor. I think spices are that important to cooking.

Proper selection and addition of good quality spices to a dish can elevate the flavor of a dish with little effort and minimal cost; that alone is reason to learn how to use spices and incorporate them into daily cooking.

What is a spice? Any plant material that modifies the flavor of foods. A spice can be a root, bark, various seeds, dried fruits and plenty of fresh and dried herbs. All of these ingredients appeal to individuals in different ways and that is why the best spice is the one that makes your senses dance. [Read more…]

Spotlight Ingredient: Oats

It is safe to say that oats are among the favorite grain choices here in North America. They are an absolute staple in our house, reinventing themselves through granola, muffins, scones, summer fruit crisps, and much more. Easy to source, affordable and nutritious, oats of every variety should be stocked in your pantry!

Oats don’t have their germ and bran removed during processing, and so they bring you the nutritious rewards of the whole grain to be enjoyed a myriad of ways. A source of both protein and carbohydrates, oats offer a reliable source of energy, making them an ideal choice for breakfast.

I was raised on porridge and now my boys and I enjoy it every weekday morning. I’ve even been known to pack a baggie of quick oats with me when I travel! At home, a turntable on our dining room table holds glass jars, each housing an assortment of oatmeal toppings: toasted almonds, golden raisins, wheat germ, organic honey, golden flax seed, and dried cranberries.

The garnish may vary, but hot oatmeal in the morning is our constant, and we wouldn’t change for all the Kellogg’s in the world.

Let’s take a quick look at the types of oatmeal and a few extra special recipes featuring it… [Read more…]

Coping With Chocolate-Glazed Cinnamon-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Say your cat is deathly ill and you rush it to the vet. Several days, a surgery, and many procedures later, you find out that the bill is going to be to the tune of $1000 dollars. Oh, and it’s coming out of your savings for that trip to Italy in 2010.
Do you…

A. Smile, hand over your AMEX and remind yourself that pets are people too. Italy can wait. Like its wine, it only gets better with age.

B. Grind your teeth, curse all things furry under the sun (vets included), but pay the bill anyway.

C. Resort to childish tactics: crying, swearing, arguing, flirting, etc…, and hope that they will lower the bill. (They don’t.)

D. Sign the credit card slip, walk out the door, straight into a drug store and fill a basket with chocolate. (Thank goodness it’s Valentine’s soon and the place is stocked!)

You can probably guess my coping strategy. Yep, “D” lots of chocolate. M & M’s (the big bag), Lindt Extra Thins, Nestle chocolate eggs, you name it, I bought it.

Note that all of the numbers above include paying the inflated veterinary bill. Somehow there are no other options. Grrr. Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy to have our Cassis home again, but had we been a little better informed of certain common complications that can occur in neutered male cats, we may have saved ourselves the stress and money*.

Anyhow, that is the very short version of how I found myself looking for ways to use up lots of chocolate. Having just mixed up a batch of our family favorite chewy oatmeal-raisin cookies with Noah, and watching him top them with M&M’s, I decided to melt a some of my Lindt Extra Thins on top as the cookies were cooling on the rack. The results were rather delicious:

The 70% cacao sliver of chocolate melted in the oatmeal cookie’s warm hug and created the most tantalizing and perfectly square glaze on the round cookie. The few left on the cooling rack that did not get devoured hardened nicely again, which helped for stacking and storing.

It’s fun to watch them melt…Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got lots of chocolate to eat.

Cinnamon-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Glaze

makes 3 dozen large
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut
3 cups oatmeal (not quick or instant)
1 cup raisins
36 Lindt thins, 70% Cacao

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Combine and add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix in coconut, oatmeal and raisins and stir just to combine.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes until edges start to brown slightly. Tops will still be slightly raw. (I like to under-bake my oatmeal cookies so they are chewy as opposed to crispy.)

Let cool on pan for a minute or so and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Place a Lindt Thin on the top of each cookie and watch them melt.

Allow cookies to cool completely and wait for the chocolate to harden before transferring cookies to a tin.

* * *

*UPDATE: Attention cat owners! For a detailed look at what happened to Cassis the Cat and, more importantly, how to easily prevent it from happening to your cat, visit my sisters’ blog My Mini Zoo. Miranda is well schooled in this area and gives a complete rundown on what every cat owner should know –and what vets don’t necessarily want you to know. Seriously, don’t go through what we did; educate yourself now!

Cassis sleeping in our bathroom sink. What a wack!