Sunday, December 7, 2014

Choco-Cherry Pound Cake

Holiday baking and delicious recipes abound this time of year! In 1989, I started making a Chocolate Cherry Fruit Cake to include with my Christmas baking gift trays. It was a favourite for many years, but it also took time to prepare and "age" with painted layers of cherry brandy before being ready to devour! I just didn't always have the time or the space to devote to the recipe.

By 2005, I was ready to try something different. I wanted to find something just as tasty but easier and less time consuming. I wanted a dense moist chocolate cake with cherries and almonds in it that would also be easy to slice and serve on trays with other baking.

I realized that a pound cake would work rather well. However finding just the right kind of pound cake was another story! I found recipes for chocolate pound cakes and cherry pound cakes but wasn't sure how to combine them or add just enough cherries to a chocolate one without ruining it! I really didn't want to waste all the ingredients! Granted, it may have turned into a delicious mess but I wanted a chocolate cherry pound cake for that Christmas!

I didn't have access to a computer at that point in my life, so I searched through my recipe books, my mom's vast array of recipes and many recipe books at the library. I also started making phone calls.

One day, I called the manufacturers of Fry's Cocoa. When I explained what I was looking for, I was told that they did indeed have a Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake recipe! They agreed to mail me a copy! Well, I got a letter and some coupons a week or so later but no recipe was included! I called again and a very kind rep promised to send me the recipe ASAP. A few days later, I received a package via courier that included an apology from the rep I'd spoken with, a $5 off coupon for Fry's cocoa and a full 100 page (8 1/2" x 11") collection of Fry's Cocoa recipes from an out of print Fry's Cocoa cookbook!

WOW! I was in chocolate heaven just reading them! Of course, I also phoned again to express how grateful I was for all of the recipes and the coupon!

My long desired Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake was near the back - and the recipe looked delicious! I wasn't thrilled with the idea of the glaze, but knew that was easily omitted. I also knew that adding roasted almonds with the cherries would be an easy addition.
Naturally, I tweaked the recipe over the next few years and it got rave reviews! I'd still be making it, but I was doing a lot of gift trays and it was getting expensive to prepare everything. The cost of most of my baking ingredients had risen - including cherries. Slivered almonds were also rather pricy! Whole almonds, were much cheaper but slivering by hand was not something I was willing to do. I'd prefer to keep all of my fingers! Yes, I could easily have just used chopped almonds and done them in a food processor (had I had one at that point) but the slivered ones just looked nicer when sliced.

So, I haven't made this recipe as part of the holiday baking gift bags for the last 4 years but it really is a wonderful treat around the holidays! My holiday baking and gift bags for this year are already done and in the freezer so I don't really have the room to make it this year ,,,,, but there is always next year!!

Happy Holidays!

Choco-Cherry Pound Cake

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups glace cherries, rinsed (to remove syrup), dried (to remove excess moisture) and quartered
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly roasted*
1 cup fat free or low fat sour cream
1/2 cup apple sauce (you can use a regular apple sauce or Motts Cherry/Apple blend if desired)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract* *
1 cup block margarine, softened
2 cups white sugar
6 large eggs, room temp

Spray 2  9" x 5" loaf pans with non stick spray such as Pam. For extra ease of removal, I also cut two strips of parchment paper and spray with Pam to line each pan. To do this cut a strip of parchment that is wide enough to just cover the bottom of the pan and long enough to reach up the sides at either end and about 1-2 inches above the top of the pan on both ends. Then cut a piece that is long enough to cover the bottom of the pan and wide enough to reach up the sides of the pan and 1-2 inches above the top on either side. You'll need two of each size - a long and a wide for each loaf pan. Lay each piece on a cookie sheet and spray with the Pam, then transfer and fit to the loaf pans with the long ends draped over the outside of the pan.

Preheat oven to 325F

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the cherries and almonds with 1 Tablespoon of the flour mixture. This lightly coats the fruit and nuts for a more even distribution of cherries and almonds in the loaf rather than clumps.

Combine the sour cream, apple sauce and extracts in a bowl or measuring cup and set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the margarine till light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time. mixing well after each addition.

Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream mixture to the margarine mixture - beginning and ending with dry ingredients - mixing thoroughly after each addition.

Add the cherries and almonds and mix on low speed till evenly distributed.

Divide batter equally between the two prepared pans being careful not to move the parchment lining or catching the extended ends within the pan. Spread batter evenly.

Bake for 60 minutes, then loosely drape foil over the cakes (without removing pans from the oven) and continue to bake for about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean.

Cool in pans for 1 hour on wire racks, then remove cakes from pans to finish cooling on the wire racks. Cool completely (I leave them at least a couple hours to allow full cool down in the center of the cake), then wrap each cake tightly in plastic wrap and store in fridge till ready to serve. Slice and serve as desired.

I generally cut thick slices, then into stick like pieces a la fruit cakes and serve as part of dainty trays during the holiday season, but this is also lovely just sliced and halved then served alongside a fruit salad or a dish of ice cream. It is also rather yummy, if lightly brushed with a liqueur such as cherry brandy, warmed (for a few seconds on medium in microwave) and topped with ice cream!

Note that this also freezes well for about 3 months if thoroughly wrapped and stored in a freezer bag.

* To roast almonds: Place almonds on microwave safe dish and roast on high power for about 4-5 minutes, stirring every minute until desired doneness. Cool to room temp before adding to dough. Or, place on cookie sheet in a 325F oven for about 5-10 minutes stirring every 2-3 minutes till lightly browned and fragrant. Either method works well but both can burn very quickly if not watched closely!

** I buy my Chocolate Extract from Watkins but you may find it in some specialty shops. If you can't find it, you can substitute with Almond extract, Cherry extract or additional Vanilla extract.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's Just That Time Of Year.....

Most parts of North America, turned the clocks back an hour overnight in that annual tradition of "fall back". For some, it is a chance to party an hour later on Saturday night! For many of us, it is a chance to get an extra hour of sleep!

On Saturday, I spent a few minutes resetting my clocks. Given how technology has taken over so much of our lives, it is surprising how many things still need to be adjusted manually!

But more than that, I also spent time reflecting on the seasonal changes...

The last couple of weeks, the sun has been rising shortly after 8AM and setting just after 6PM. With the clocks now set back, the sun will be rising shortly after 7AM and setting about 5PM but of course the days will get even shorter till the winter solstice.

For some reason, my internal clock really hasn't adapted the way it normally does. I was still waking up at about 6AM during the past couple of weeks - whether the alarm was set or not - and I was ready to crash not long after 9PM Yup, I'm sure not the night owl I used to be!

Then there is all the changes in nature...

A month ago, we here in Winnipeg, were enjoying our autumn colours and above normal temperatures. I took several walks to savour that fleeting beauty.

Well, most of the beautiful autumn colours have taken leave of their deciduous branches. Oh sure, there are still a few that are hanging on for dear life but they are shrivelling fast and will eventually fall!

The branches are looking bare and forlorn without their colourful attire but alas, that is the nature of this changing season.

There were many days in October that were above the seasonal norms. Sadly, the reality of this time of year has arrived. Since last Sunday, our temps have barely reached normal.
Reluctantly, the warmer clothes are now at the front of the bedroom closet and I've moved the summer clothes and sandals to the back. The cold weather outerwear is on the rack by the front door. The down duvet has replaced the down blanket on my bed.

When the temps were above normal these past few weeks, there was no need to turn on the heat in my apartment - even though the buildings heat had been on since mid September. When it cooled down a bit, I just closed the windows or put a hoodie on over my t-shirt. When my feet got cold, I put on socks. Some mornings, I did some baking to take the chill off the apartment. I cooked dinner in the oven. I still opened the bedroom window at night to get fresh air for sleeping though.

Silly? Maybe. Stubborn? Yup, but there is reason to my madness! Growing up in an old farmhouse, you got used to being a bit cool at times. The heating systems weren't very efficient and there were always drafts no matter how much we tried to stop them. When my mom took stuff out of the dryer, she'd often drape a warm towel or some piece of clothing around our necks to take the chill off. She also recommended putting ones hands in hot soapy dishwater to take off the chill! I didn't always enjoy that particular method, but it did work!

All of this helped me resist turning on the heat - until this past Tuesday afternoon. I had the oven on in the morning but I had leftovers in the fridge for supper. There was no need for the oven to be on. It was getting chillier so I finally relented and turned on the heat!

It always takes my body a day or two to adjust to the heat being on. Mostly, it feels stuffy after all that fresh air I'd been enjoying - but it also felt great not to be cold! That being said, I still turn off the heat completely at night AND open the bedroom window!
We also had a tiny hint of that white flaky stuff amidst some scattered showers this past Tuesday.

Thankfully, the white stuff hasn't descended on mass as yet! There are, of course, those who dread this time of year and are chomping at the bit for the white stuff to arrive! To me, they are a strange, misguided lot!

Me? I'm happy till the leaves fall - then I start to dread the coming of the white stuff! Even so, if the weather is cool or even cold - a day without the white stuff on the ground is fine by me!

It's not that I truly hate all of the white stuff. A little bit once in a while wouldn't be too bad. It's just that once Mother Nature turns the snow machine on, she tends to leave it on far too long or feels the need to run that confounded machine more often than necessary!

Granted, I didn't mind the snow so much when I was younger. Then again, I also had more mobility back then. Streets and sidewalks were also cleared more effectively as well - which makes a huge difference in one's ability to get out and move about freely and safely.

In more recent years, I've come to pretty much dread the arrival of the white stuff. It may be pretty to look at - at least from inside of a cozy room - but getting out in it is just plain exhausting for those of us with mobility issues. For that reason, I've spent part of the last month or so making the effort to run a number of errands to pick up some of the bulkier and heavier items for my pantry. Aside from perishables, most of the items that I will need for the coming holiday and winter seasons are now safely stored in my pantry and freezer. I've even started the holiday baking!

So, yes, it is just that time of year. Time to say farewell to the spectacular colours, the light weight clothing and the ease of mobility. Time to hunker down for the inevitable onslaught of white stuff . Time to semi-hibernation with books to read, TV to watch and recipes to try!

I am once again, reluctantly preparing for the inevitable seasonal changes!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beautiful Autumn

If you know anything about me, you know that Autumn is my favourite time of year! There is an abundance of fresh produce. The nights are cool for sleeping. The daytime temps are comfortable and you don't need to run fans to cool off! You can also do baking without being stifled by the heat.

Autumn officially arrived three weeks ago  For those of us here in the Winnipeg area, September was quite nice. Oh sure, there were a few cooler days, some rain and wind but there were also several days with temps well above seasonal. We even had a couple of days with temps around the 30C mark! Certainly not the usual but a lovely treat to enjoy the season while we still could!

The nice thing about warmer weather late in September or October is that the sun doesn't feel quite as hot as it does in the summer - and it cools off wonderfully at night!

Alas, those above seasonal temps disappeared this past week and we got our first hard frosts of the season. It had to happen eventually, but if the forecast is to believed, the temps will inch up above the seasonal norms for the next several days!

During the summer months, I have a micro fleece blanket on my bed and sometimes that was too warm (especially WITHOUT AC!). In mid September I switched that out for my down blanket which was great till the last few nights when I had to add a light throw over that. Of course most people would just close the window at that point, but I don't sleep well in a warm room or with stale air. One of these days, I will have to pull out the full down duvet, but I'm planning to hold out at least a few more days!

Even though the temps have dropped, I've yet to turn on the heat in my apartment. The buildings heat has been on for a few weeks now, but I avoid turning it on till I really have to! I'd rather warm the apartment by baking or making dinner in the oven! If I don't have the time/energy for that, I just put on a hoodie over my t-shirt. With only a few exceptions (strong winds or heavy rain), I kept my windows open day and night till October 3. My living room window had been closed for a week but was reopened on Saturday. The bedroom window still gets opened at night. Like I said, I just sleep better that way!

Warmer sweaters, heavier jackets and light gloves are slowly being pulled out. The summer clothing and sandals will be moved to the back of my closet all too soon.

I know that these Autumn days are fleeting and the ground will be covered all too soon in that other stuff. However, this is the time to get out and get things done! Time to gather in some of the supplies for the pantry that will be needed over the coming months. Time to clean up the yard and the other jobs that are easier done before the white stuff falls.

Most of all though, it is the all too short beauty of the leaves changing colours that draws me and my camera out to the tree lined streets and the scenic parks that Winnipeg is so known for!

The leaves slowly started to turn in early September. By the first day of fall, many of the leaves were well into the full range of spectacular colours - but thanks to strong winds, were also starting to drop! Even so. I was sure there would be several opportunities for long walks to enjoy the beauty!

On Monday, September 22, I walked around Osborne Village and out Wellington Crescent to Munson Park. Munson Park is one of my fave places to walk in autumn as there are several dirt packed paths that are close to the riverbank. Walking those paths can almost make me forget that I am still in the city! Though the leaves were changing, I was surprised that there were also a fair number of trees that were still rather green!

Friday, September 26 was a perfect day for an autumn walk! Temps were well above normal, a light breeze and barely a cloud in the sky! I headed out to Assiniboine Park that morning. Once crossing the foot bridge from Portage Avenue, I took a western path that meanders around the outer edge of the park before I eventually headed south and out to Roblin Blvd. The paths are well groomed - as is the entire park. Once again, it was relatively easy to forget that you were still in the city! These paths are almost all paved, but are a favourite for walkers, joggers and cyclists! The cyclists who I encountered were very respectful in announcing their presence behind me with either a bell or calling out something along the lines of "bike coming up on your right". Almost everyone said Good Morning!

There were still some trees with green leaves but the autumn colours in Assiniboine Park were absolutely gorgeous! I stopped often to take pics but more often than not stopped just to admire the view, atmosphere, tranquility and beauty of my surroundings. I took a LOT of pics!

Thursday, October 2, I took another walk down Wellington Crescent to Munson Park. Still some trees of green, but many of the autumn leaves had already fallen. The park was almost deserted and I loved the peacefulness of my surroundings!

From those three walks, I created a slideshow that I call "Beautiful Autumn". The music I selected to accompany my pics is by a talented young acoustic guitar player named Michael Sobel who is based in LA. You can listen to many of his compositions on Sound Cloud or YouTube.

Sadly. our autumn beauty has mostly faded for yet another year. It really is too short a season here in Winnipeg and Manitoba. The cool weather and frosty nights of this last week has turned most of the remaining leaves to their autumn shades, but they are also starting to shrivel up on the trees before falling to the ground. Many trees are now bare. The frost and a bit of rain has stolen most of the crunching leaves sound under your feet as you walk. All too soon the ground will be covered in white.

As I said earlier, this coming week is supposed to be above normal temps. So even if the trees are somewhat bare, we should all make an effort to get out and enjoy the weather while we can.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

PB Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf

Autumn is here and that means time for baking! There is nothing like the smell of freshly baked goods in autumn! This recipe incorporates some of my very favourite flavours!

I came across a version of this recipe last fall. I made it then and it turned out okay but the baking times were way off and I knew I had to play with the recipes ingredients a bit to make it work for me!

First off, when a recipe calls for pumpkin, I ALWAYS substitute with butternut squash - which is far more economical and versatile for baking, side dishes and main courses. Besides, once the usual spices are added, you REALLY can't tell the difference in the flavour between pumpkin and butternut squash in a baked good! I buy at least 3 or 4 good sized butternut squash every fall - when they are the most abundant and cheapest - then cook them up and freeze in 1/2 cup portions. This is the perfect size for baking or individual servings for meals. The pic below shows the steps for preparing and freezing the squash for the freezer. For more details, see the recipe for "Autumn Chippers" from last year which details the process. It also has links to other "pumpkin"/squash recipes.

Adding peanut butter to a "pumpkin" recipe may seem a bit odd, but in this case, it is added instead of traditional fats like oil, margarine or butter. A nice twist on flavour without overpowering. Rather it blends in well and the use of crunchy peanut butter also adds to the texture and flavour of the loaf.  

The original recipe also called for yogurt - which I never buy as it doesn't agree with my digestive system. I used fat free sour cream.

I also never buy pumpkin pie spice as various brands/blends can be quite different in strength, taste and freshness. It should also be noted that not all recipes require all the pumpkin spice mix ingredients so it is better to just add the spices individually. Instead, I googled "pumpkin spice mix" and created my own combo of spices for this recipe after reading several recipe blends. The spice quantities here may seem like a lot but when it is done, the flavour is purely complimentary and not at all overwhelming.

The other major issue I had with the original recipe was the baking times. The poster seemed to like it undercooked and took it out of the oven at about 30 minutes! ICK! I'm not a fan of undercooked loaves so when I baked the original, it took about an hour to fully cook in the middle but by then the edges had started to dry out. I was not impressed!

The baking time variations was a direct result of too much batter for one loaf pan but not enough to divide it into two. The solution? It seemed obvious to me that the quantity of batter needed to be adjusted. I added 50% more of most of the ingredients and a bit more than that of the squash, sour cream and of course more of the chocolate chips! (DUH!) I then divided the recipe into two pans! The results are much more evenly baked loaves that are still bursting with autumn flavour!

As usual, I've passed out samples to several people. Everyone thought it was delicious! 

PB Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon all spice
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup light or fat free sour cream
1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin OR butternut squash
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (I use Skippy)
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips, divided*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 9"x5" loaf pans with cooking spray.
Combine the spices, baking soda, salt and flours in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, combine the sour cream, pumpkin/squash and peanut butter. Stir in sugars and combine thoroughly Add the eggs and beat till smooth. Add in the spice/flour mixture and combine thoroughly - stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. The batter will be stiff. Stir about 1 1/4 cup chocolate chips into batter and mix thoroughly.  

Divide the batter evenly into prepared pans. Smooth out the tops with the back of a spoon or fork.  Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top and lightly press into batter with the spoon or fork.

* If for some reason, you don't want to add as many chocolate chips, you could also add some chopped peanuts - either to the loaf itself or to press onto the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the toothpick test comes out  just shy of clean clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE!! If the edges seem to be drying out before the center is done, cover lightly with foil and continue baking. 

Cool on rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan to finish cooling.

Slice and serve. These also freeze well. I cut the loaves in half and wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap then place in a freezer bag for later enjoyment!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teaspoons Or Milliliters?

In my last post, I talked about Canada switching from imperial to metric and the confusion/frustrations that still continue 40 years later. Today, I want to share some thoughts on metric versus imperial in the kitchen.

I was helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen before I even went to school. They only knew the imperial system. When metric was introduced in the 1970's, my mom and I bought metric measures and tried a few recipes but just never got the hang of it. There was some metric instruction in the food section of my home economics classes at school (at that time it was a 1/2 day/6 day cycle for half the year) but the main focus was still imperial.

We eventually gave away our metric measures and never bothered with metric recipes.


When it comes to cooking/baking you can't do a straight conversion without a lot more measuring or adjusting to a recipe. It isn't as simple as following most charts that are available online. Not all charts are created equally. Some give exact conversion to the decimal and others round it off - sometimes up and sometimes down! How it is rounded off can make a huge difference in some recipes! So you have to ask: 1) Was the recipe created in one system and converted to the other? 2) Has it been tested to see how accurate the conversion was?

Measuring ingredients for an imperial based recipe in metric can be tricky. Once a direct conversion is done, the exact numbers are then rounded up or down to the nearest milliliter. Then you have to figure out how much to add or subtract - ingredient wise - using your metric measures.

Imperial measuring spoons are sold in sets of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 teaspoon and 1 Tablespoon
Metric measures generally come in 1, 2.5, 5, 10 and 15 milliliter.

Imperial measuring cups come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup (if you are lucky, your set will also include 2/3 and 3/4 cup measures)
Metric measures can be found in various forms but generally there is a 60 (in some sets it is a 50), 75, 125 and 250 ml.
From the chart above, you can see some of the potential problems in a direct conversion. The metric equivalent to the imperial cup has almost 1 Tablespoon more of that ingredient! The differences may not seem like much for the measuring spoons or even the smaller measuring cups but depending on the ingredient, that difference can make the difference in the success or failure of a recipe.

For example: Too little or too much of a spice/seasoning can ruin the taste. Too much baking powder can make a recipe fall while too little can prevent it from rising. Too much or little liquid can make a recipe fail as can too much or too little flour. Erring on the side of less isn't always a success either. It's a careful balancing act of ingredients.

Just thinking about the conversions is enough to give you a headache!

For home cooks/bakers such as myself, it can be a challenge at times. The imperial system for measuring ingredients was ingrained in my memory hard drive at a very young age. I have a basic grasp of metric but I still think in imperial. I have liquid measures that list both and a kitchen scale that can weigh things in ounces or grams. I don't own metric measuring cups and measuring spoons.
I find inspiration for my recipes by reading other recipes and the comments that others have on what they've done differently but I rarely give a second glance to a metric recipe. For me, it's rarely worth the time and effort.

Thankfully, most web sites give the ingredients in imperial on the left side, followed by the ingredient. Some will give a metric amount in brackets either after the imperial or to the right of the ingredient. Some sites will even give you an option as to which format you wish to view the recipe in (use those with caution!). I stick to imperial whenever I can and often ignore metric recipes rather than attempting to convert them.

I also get really frustrated with recipes that list metric first.

Case in point: The website for Peak Of The Market (Manitoba grown produce) offers a daily recipe.

A little over a year ago, I posted the following comment online:
"I've been subscribing to peak recipes for several years and as much as I enjoy them, I find it extremely frustrating that the metric is on the left side. I know metric is "supposed" to be standard here in Canada, but frankly I don't know anyone who uses it for recipes or even owns metric measures (other than the dual labeling on liquid measures)! When you read recipes, you naturally read the ingredient on the left even when it isn't applicable to your measuring methods. Metric on the left is not just annoying, it can also lead to errors if you aren't really reading carefully. When I want to save one of your recipes, I have to copy/paste it into a doc, delete the metric line by line, then move the imperial to the left line by line before I save and/or print it. This is time consuming and annoying so I don't save/use as many as I might otherwise. IF the imperial can't be on the left then there really should be an option as to which format you want to print/save recipes in. Other sites have that capability and so should Peak."
Their reply - "Hello Thanks for your comments. We are required to list metric first in Canada in everything we do. Whether that is on our bags of vegetables or on our recipes."
My reply -  "I recognize that products here must be listed in metric first, HOWEVER if you check other Canadian sites that feature recipes such as Kraft Canada, Food Network Canada, Canadian Living, etc. you will find that the vast majority of their recipes are listed with imperial first. If they mention metric, it is in brackets after the imperial or for the size of the package required as per Canadian standards.
Also, IF you are in fact required to produce ALL recipes in metric - then why are these Manitoba sites posting the vast majority of their recipes with imperial (and metric in brackets if it is even added)?
I am not disagreeing with having the metric version in the recipe - just its positioning. It should be in brackets or to the right - NOT the first thing you see."

It seems they didn't have a response to common sense logic as they never replied - and my remarks were subsequently removed by them..

With the exception of Peak, all of the above listed sites are primarily in imperial - as are many Canadian cookbooks such as the wonderful books and website ofJanet and Greta Podleski. So, despite living in a supposedly metric country, there is lots of imperial based Canadian content to chose from as well as countless other recipe books and websites from around the world.

And YES, I'm sticking to my imperial roots! I have no intention of buying any metric measures or converting my recipes. All of my recipes are based on and/or created with the imperial system.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

After 40 Years With Metric. It Is Still Confusing!

The metric system is supposed to be the legal unit of measure in Canada. The federal government began implementing the system back in the early 1970's.

The concept of a base 10 system seems relatively simple. However, the problem is in the conversion.

Here in Canada, my generation (baby boomers) and those before me, grew up using the Imperial system. We were used to imperial. We knew how to do things and how to shop for things in imperial. We weighed things in pounds and ounces. We measured height/distance in inches, feet, yards and miles. Even our rural roads are generally laid out in miles. We measured land in acres. We bought liquids in ounces, pints, quarts and gallons. Our recipes were in teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. Our temperatures were in Fahrenheit.

Over the ensuing years, ALL Canadians were expected to learn and adapt to grams, kilos, centimeters, meters, kilometers, hectares, millilitres, litres and Celsius.

I was in junior high at the time, and like many of my peers, found the system somewhat confusing. Even though we were taught how to convert to metric, our instincts were more attuned to what we'd already learned of the imperial system.

Adapting to metric was even harder to comprehend for most of our parents and grandparents!

The general public was provided with conversion charts and instructions on how to convert the various measures. Note, that this was in the days long before the internet or mini calculators. We did the conversion in our heads or with pencil and paper!

It wasn't an easy sell. Despite the best efforts of the government and those who supported the switch, it has been an expensive and tedious process to get us to think metric.

Thankfully the system was introduced over several years - but it hasn't made it any easier to adjust for those of us who grew up with imperial.

Today - just over 40 years after it was first introduced - metric is still a bit of a mixed bag in Canada. Some items are sold strictly in metric while many others are advertized and labeled in both imperial and metric. Most people have generally gotten used to buying liquids (including gasoline) in litres, but adjusting from pounds to kilograms, teaspoons to millilitres and so on is a bit harder.

For instance. an inch is 2.54cm. There are 36 inches is a yard but the metric equivalent of a yard is a meter which is actually 39.37 inches. Three inches can make a lot of difference! Luckily, most rulers and measuring tapes are still sold with both metric and imperial!
Even so, measurements can be quite off if you aren't really careful what/how you are measuring.

This is especially true when it comes to food - both in selling and in preparation. Some products are labeled in both systems. Dairy, deli and bulk foods are labeled primarily in metric with only some carrying the imperial unit price in smaller print. Meat is advertized in pounds with metric in small print, often labeled in both at the meat counter but sold by the kilo. Produce is advertized and generally labeled in pounds but sold in kilos. Canned/packaged products are frequently labeled in both systems.

Temperatures are reported in Celsius, but many of us still think in Fahrenheit especially when it comes to oven temperatures. Confusion abounds if you post temperatures in Celsius on social media sites. The Fahrenheit people in the US and other countries think that 25C sounds downright cold since many think that means 25F which would be below freezing. WRONG! 25C is actually a comfy 77F! The formulas for temp conversion are as follows:
F to C Deduct 32, then multiply by 5, then divide by 9
C to F Multiply by 9, then divide by 5, then add 32

Confused? Join the club! Yes, there are all kinds of conversion charts and apps available for anyone with an internet connection but we should know how to do at least a little bit of it in our heads or with a pencil and paper shouldn't we?

So, what about those who started school after the conversion started as well as the youth of today and of the future? I asked some acquaintances with current connections to schools (teachers and students) if Imperial is even being taught. To my surprise, only metric is being taught in most Canadian schools. Some curriculum's offer a very short section within science or math programs on conversions but many aren't even bothering to teach students how to convert to either system.

I also learned that some schools aren't even teaching home economics anymore. Among those that are, the students are maybe getting an 80 minute class once per week/cycle for a semester! That's not even enough time to get a basic grasp of cooking let alone preparing recipes! Unless a student has been taught imperial measures in the home or elsewhere, they have no clue as to what a cup, tablespoon or teaspoon even are! (FYI, in the 1970's, the home economics classes in my school were a half day/6 day cycle - half the year in food and the other half in sewing.)

Given our close economic ties and physical proximity to the USA - which has not switched to metric - the Imperial measures are still a dominant force in our society and especially online. So those of us who haven't adapted can still find pretty much anything we need with a bit of effort.

Back when I was in school, I was quite good in math and actually understood metric fairly well - I just didn't like the conversion part.  Almost 40 years later, I've forgotten most of what I knew. I can still do some rough calculations in conversion while grocery shopping but I often have to stop and think about it or grab a calculator.

As for the students that are only being taught metric? Yes, as I stated above, there are umpteen "apps for that" but being able to do at least some basic math and conversion without the use of apps would go a long way in educating and preparing younger generations for the future. Without that, I fear we are raising generations of young people who will be woefully ill prepared for the realities of living and working in the real world. Not to mention that their lack of cooking knowledge/skills is leaving them at the mercy of the convenience/prepackaged world of food.

In the post on September 14. I'll share some thoughts on cooking in imperial versus metric.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pasta The Salad Please!

During the summer, I rarely turn on my oven. My apartment has no AC, which means that even with fans, the place can get warm in a hurry! So, a lot of my evening meals are salad plates or various kinds of salads.

One of my faves is a pasta salad! There is SO much you can do with a pasta salad! I cook up the pasta in the morning while the kitchen is still relatively cool. After draining and rinsing the pasta, I either make up the salad for that day's evening meal or store the pasta in an air tight container in the fridge till I'm ready to make the salad. I also switch up the type of pasta for more variety. I've used broken linguini or fettuccini for a Greek or Italian inspired pasta salad in the past, but my go to pastas tend to be macaroni, baby shells, spiral/corkscrew or the rainbow mix. I generally buy Catelli brand pasta as I like the quality and flavour. It goes on sale fairly often in this part of the country so I just buy an extra box or two when my supplies are running low.
There really aren't any rules to making a pasta salad - other than adding some kind of pasta of course! You can add as many different veggies as you want in whatever quantities you want. You can add fish such as tuna or salmon. How about ham, shredded pork, beef, chicken or turkey? Cheese can also be a great addition for texture and flavour. Lots of possibilities there! Personally, I go fairly light on the protein and dairy for the salads - choosing to focus more on the veggies and pasta. The choice is yours though, so feel free to play with quantities!

Seasonings - both fresh and dried such as, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, garlic powder or a blend such as the "No Salt Added" ones made by McCormick's add a great dimension to the flavour! I use the McCormick's blends for seasoning SO many dishes as it adds great flavour without the salt! Lots of flavours to choose from on the spice aisle! The dressing can be as simple as mayo, some bottled dressing or a homemade favourite!
A full on pasta salad is a meal in itself! With all the veggies, meat/fish/poultry, cheese and pasta it has all the food groups covered in one dish!  Whole wheat pastas and a light dressing also help to reduce calories! Without the fish, meat or poultry, this is still a great salad on its own or you can serve it alongside grilled meat, poultry or fish.

As you can see, the possibilities are pretty much deliciously endless!

Today, I'm sharing my basic Pasta Salad. This can be made with canned tuna, salmon or a variety of other proteins. Check the notes at the bottom. I've also included a note with other suggestions for dressings.

I'm posting two versions of this recipe. The first is for 4-6 servings. The second is for a single serving. I make the single serving more often than not, but I still cook the full amount of pasta as for the 4-6 serving, then store covered in the fridge to make each days salad fresh. The cooked pasta (without ANY of the additional ingredients!) can be kept in the fridge for up to four days. Any fully prepared salad should be eaten within two days.

Pasta Salad
4 cups cooked pasta such as elbow, corkscrew/spiral, baby shells or rainbow mix (that's about 2 cups of the dried pasta before cooking)
1 170gram/6ounce can tuna (packed in water), drained*
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/3 cup diced red or orange sweet bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped broccoli florets
1/3 cup diced mushrooms (about 3 large or 4 medium white)
1/3 cup diced cucumber (I prefer long english as no need to peel or seed)
1/3 cup cheese such as cheddar, Mozzarella, Havarti or Monterey Jack
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Citrus & Pepper Seasoning (no salt added)
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Garlic & Herb Seasoning (no salt added)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil OR 1 teaspoon fresh
1/2 cup Ranch or Caesar dressing, light**
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper if desired/needed
4-5 cups torn lettuce - leaf or romaine
2 medium tomatoes, cut in small wedges or 16 - 20 grape/cherry tomatoes halved

In a large bowl, gently combine all but the last TWO ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry, add 1 Tablespoon more dressing at a time, mixing thoroughly to combine. Repeat with another Tablespoon if necessary.

Divide the torn lettuce leaves evenly between four dinner sized serving plates. Place the lettuce in a ring around the edge of the plate.
Divide the combined salad ingredients among the four plates - leaving at least a bit of the lettuce showing around the rim. Garnish with the tomatoes - either on top of the lettuce around the edge or on top of the salad.

Serves 4 as an entrée. This could also be divided into 6 servings on luncheon sized plates if smaller portions are desired. Add a serving of bread such as a baking powder biscuit, baguette, french, or focaccia on the side of each plate if desired.

Pasta Salad (single serving)
1 cup cooked pasta such as elbow, corkscrew/spiral, baby shells or rainbow mix
3 Tablespoons tuna*
2/3 cup chopped various raw vegetables - such as celery, carrot, green onion, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, mushrooms, broccoli etc - in whatever quantities you prefer
2 Tablespoons diced or grated cheese such as cheddar, mozzarella, havarti or monterey jack
dash McCormick's Citrus & Pepper Seasoning (no salt added)
dash McCormick's Garlic & Herb Seasoning (no salt added)
1/8 teaspoon dried basil or 1/4 teaspoon fresh
2-3 Tablespoons Ranch or Caesar dressing, light**
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper if desired/needed
1 - 1 1/4 cups torn lettuce - leaf or romaine
1/2 medium tomato, cut in small wedges or 3-4 grape/cherry tomatoes halved

Prepare as above and serve with a bread if desired

* Rather than the tuna, you can substitute canned salmon, (skin and bones removed), 1/2 - 2/3 cup diced ham or diced cooked chicken/turkey, shredded cooked pork or shredded/diced cooked beef (2 - 3 Tablespoons for the single serving). A little fish, meat or poultry goes a long way in a pasta salad!
** Rather than using Ranch or Caesar as the dressing, you could substitute with 1/2 cup of a bottled dressing such as Sweet Onion Dressing (pictured below), Italian, Roasted Red Pepper, Greek, or Sun Dried Tomato. You could also use a light mayo such as Miracle Whip or a homemade dressing. Add the dressing and combine. If it seems a bit too dry, add an additional Tablespoon of your chosen dressing at a time - mixing after each addition so you don't saturate the salad. If making the "Pasta Salad (single serving)" add about 2 Tablespoons of the dressing to start and more if needed.