From the category archives:

Not completely domestically inept

When I was a kid, my dad did a fair bit of overnight traveling for work. I always knew my dad was on an out of town road trip when I smelled the unmistakeable odour of cabbage being boiled for dinner. My mom and granny loved it; my dad couldn’t stand even the smell of it cooking. I therefore called it a victory of considerable magnitude when we had my folks over for dinner recently and he not only didn’t hate the cabbage side dish I’d made with meatloaf – he actually liked it.

I had never cooked cabbage before this year. I neither liked nor disliked it as a kid so I never bothered to try cooking it or even paying much attention to it. I knew I liked coleslaw and cabbage rolls, though, and knew it was a fundamental ingredient in both. It turns out cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1, folate and copper, and weighs in at a hefty 22 calories per cup. (That’s about the same as one twisty snack pretzel!)

But you know what I love the very most about cabbage? You can fry it up with bacon, garlic and onions and have the world’s best side dish. My friend Danielle recommended this recipe not too long after Christmas and I’m sure we’ve had it at least twice a month, maybe more, ever since. The smell of garlic and onions frying in rendered bacon fat is a thing of beauty, and despite being fried in bacon fat the sheer volume of low-calorie cabbage turns this dish into a reasonably nutritious, low-calorie AND flavourful option. This is the dish that I want to cook up for Sobeys #PotluckChallenge for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day!

(Remember I mentioned it last week? The Better Food for All site is now live – you can now register your potluck event and to share tips and tools to host the perfect potluck event. And through it all, Sobeys will be donating to the Children’s Aid Foundation in support of cooking workshops for kids across Canada. And don’t forget to visit the Food Revolution Day site, too. Food Revolution Day is coming up two weeks from this Friday on May 16!)

So, back to the recipe – I streamlined and tweaked it a bit from the link above. Here’s how it rolls in my kitchen. Chop up three, or six, or however many you have available, strips of bacon and set them up to cook in a really big pot over medium heat. While the bacon is cooking and rendering, spend an inordinate of time cursing and trying to peel several cloves of garlic (seriously, there must be a trick to peeling garlic that I am missing. Help?) and decide that three cloves is better than the six you were aiming for, and chop that up with half an onion or so. When the bacon is mostly crispy, about 10 minutes or so, pour most of the fat into a jar without pouring it all over the outside of said jar (I am still perfecting this part) but don’t be too fussy about getting it all out. Put the pot with the bacon and a little bit of the fat back on the burner and dump in the garlic and onions. Give it all a good stir and wait for the magic.

While you are waiting for the alchemy, cut up the cabbage and swear that one day you will replace the ridiculous child’s toys that are your kitchen knives. I cut mine into strips that are small enough that they aren’t coleslaw candidates but not so large I can’t stuff a lot of them into my mouth at once. Avoid the core of the cabbage – you’ll have more than enough to fill your pot, trust me! Right about now take a deep whiff of the heavenly aroma that is the garlic and onions carmelizing in the bacon fat. There is no smell better in my kitchen, ever. Once the onion becomes translucent, maybe 5 or 7 minutes, start dumping the chopped-up cabbage into the pot. I dump some in and then use tongs to mix the cabbage in with the garlic, onions and bacon, then add more cabbage and mix some more, until the pot is full or I run out of cabbage. Despite the recipe, I usually only add a smallish pinch of kosher salt and that’s all – I find the bacon plenty salty and the onions and garlic give it all the flavour it needs.

If you perchance have burned the bacon to the bottom of the pot, which never happens to me regularly, don’t worry! Put a lid on the pot when you’ve crammed in as much cabbage as it can hold and let it stew in its own juices for 10 or 15 minutes, stirring frequently with tongs or a big spoon. The juice from the cabbage will soften up the flavourful burnt bits and you can scrape them into the mix as you’re cooking. Take the lid off the pot for another 10 to 15 minutes of cooking and you’re done. It is one of my favourite side dishes (goes great with meatloaf or any BBQ meat) and it’s even better by itself for lunch the next day, cold or warmed up. Best part? The kids eat it!!!!

Since I loved that dish so much I thought I would love this easy variation on the same theme – cabbage wrapped in bacon and grilled in foil on the BBQ. But meh, it was not worth trying a second time. I did expand my cabbage repertoire to include homemade coleslaw last week, though. I’ve always liked coleslaw but hate that the storebought versions have so much sugar and other things I can’t identify. This vinegar coleslaw recipe was fairly easy and I liked the tangy-ness of it.

I’m open to suggestions, though – got a family favourite coleslaw recipe to share? I personally like mine on the oil and vinegar side of the spectrum, but I am not opposed to a creamy recipe if its a keeper. Do you cook cabbage? I’d love to hear your favourite recipe or tips!

And now for the giveaway part! Thanks to our friends at Sobeys and their Better Food for All campaign, I have a $50 Sobeys gift card to share with one lucky winner. You could buy a lot of cabbage at Sobeys for $50, I’m just sayin’! Want to win? Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favourite dish is to bring to a potluck. Or are you the one who volunteers to bring the plates and napkins?

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for one $50 gift card for Sobeys.
  2. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook, must appear on danigirl.ca/blog) telling me your favourite dish or item to bring to a potluck.
  3. One winner will be chosen at random from all comments posted.
  4. Everyone who “likes” Postcards from the Mothership on Facebook will get a bonus entry. (This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.) If you already like Postcards from the Mothership on FB, just say so in your comment.
  5. This giveaway is open only to residents of Canada, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  6. This giveaway will run until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday May 9, 2014.
  7. If you win, you must be willing to provide your full name and address to me so I can mail you the gift card.

Thanks to Sobeys for sponsoring this one and good luck to everyone who enters. :)

Disclosure: The author has received consideration from Sobeys or Sobeys’ media partners in exchange for this content. Sobeys has not reviewed these claims and is not responsible for the content.


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I love Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I was just beginning to think about learning to cook food rather than heat up food from packages when we started watching his Food Revolution television series back in 2010. Since then, I’ve become even more comfortable and adventurous in my cooking endeavours, so much so that when I invited my parents over for dinner not too long ago, my father got half way through his meatloaf and said with no guile whatsoever, “Wow, when did you learn to cook?”

It may have taken me until the fourth decade of my life, but to the surprise of my family and me alike, I have learned to cook! And you know what? When you actually understand what you’re doing, it’s a far less cumbersome and hateful chore. And when you’re cooking from scratch, you understand exactly what you are eating – no preservatives, no fillers, no stabilizers or unpronounceable chemicals, just FOOD!

That’s why I am happy to work with Sobeys in promoting Canada’s Biggest Potluck Party, in support of Food Revolution Day on May 16. When participants share a post or photo of their potluck with the hashtag #PotluckChallenge, Sobeys will donate $1 to the Cooking Toward Independence Project. The new initiative run by the Children’s Aid Foundation will improve the lives of young people leaving the child welfare system across Canada when they turn 18 by funding cooking skills workshops and creating access to healthy food.

It was this quote from Jamie Oliver that made me want to get behind this project. He said, “Every child should understand where food comes from, how to cook it, and how it affects their bodies. Food Revolution Day is about getting kids excited about food, helping them get food smart and setting them up for a long, healthy life.”

This is exactly the right time in our lives for this. Just a few weeks ago, I supervised while Tristan cooked up bacon, eggs, toast and fresh fruit salad for dinner one night. Simon has been pestering for his turn to make dinner as well. In fact, he said just the other day he has been trying to decide whether he wants to be a teacher or a chef when he grows up. I told him he could easily do both – any woman would love to be married to a fellow who not only knows how but is more than willing to cook dinner for her!

Leading up to Canada’s Biggest Potluck Party, Sobeys invites Canadians to test their own kitchen savvy and compare their skills against others with an interactive quiz available at BetterFoodForAll.com. The quiz says I am an “aspiring apprentice” – that seems about right. What did you get?

The website also includes information about Food Revolution Day and, later this month, will feature potluck inspiration and the #PotluckChallenge photo stream. There will be tips and tools to inspire you, and you’ll be able to register your own potluck event. And through it all, Sobeys will be donating to the Children’s Aid Foundation in support of cooking workshops for kids across Canada.

I feel like I got off to a late start in letting the boys help out in the kitchen. We talk a lot about nutrition and where food comes from and why healthy eating is important, but they haven’t taken much of an interest in food preparation before now. They make their own sandwiches and occasionally pack their own lunches, but I really feel like I should be empowering them with more responsibility.

How does it work in your house? When did you (or have you ever) start to give your kids responsibility in the kitchen? Do you agree with the idea that teaching kids to cook is a health issue as well as a social one?

In my next post, I’ll share some ideas for kid-capable recipes, and maybe even a progress report on getting the boys inspired in the kitchen. And stay tuned, there may be a little something extra in it for one of you, too!

(Disclosure: The author has received consideration from Sobeys or Sobeys’ media partners in exchange for this content. Sobeys has not reviewed these claims and is not responsible for the content.)


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Back in April, I had the brilliant idea for a series of blog posts on the theme of “ingredient of the week,” to explore new foods and share inspiration. I made it through Parmesan and kale. And now, after forgetting allowing the anticipation to build up for eight months, I’m back with another ingredient that is equal parts intimidating and delicious: POMEGRANATES.

Pomegranates

I love pomegranates. They’re just the right mix of sweet and tart, and they’re so good for you! The fact that they’re one of the few fruits that are only available in certain seasons makes then even more appealing. But seriously, is there a messier fruit? Apparently you can buy the arils (not seeds – the seeds are the crunch bits at the end of the arils, which are the red juicy kernels that you eat) bulk at Costco, but where’s the fun in that? Up until earlier this month, when I wanted to crack into a pomegranate I would cut one in quarters (spraying juice everywhere), invert the quarters one at a time over a bowl, and use my thumbs to liberate the arils. By the time I was done, the kitchen looked like a mass murder had been committed in the kitchen (which some who have eaten my cooking may intimate takes place on a regular basis. Ahem.) Convinced there had to be a better way, I turned to my friends on Facebook for tips.

Responses on how best to de-aril a pomegranate fall into two camps. You have those that swear by the spoon, and those that swear by the bowl of water. So vehement were the supporters of each method, I knew I had to try out each one. Oh the things I will do in the name of bloggy fodder. Welcome to my pomegranate test kitchen!

Both methods require the same beginning: start by scoring the pomegranate around its diameter so you’re cutting through the skin to where the arils are. Maybe half a centimeter deep?

Pomegranates

This part is a little tricky. You have to work your thumbs into the cut without spraying too much juice everywhere, and then pull the halves apart.

Pomegranates

Here’s where the methods diverge. The spoon method appealed to me because it involved whacking the living hell out of something. Sweet juicy fruit and therapy all rolled into one? Hells yes! It’s surprising how well this one works.

Take one of the halves and hold it arils-down loosely over your palm over a reasonably large bowl. Take a wooden spoon or other firm tool – Don from FoodiePrints says a pestle works well – and whack the skin side of the pomegranate. Avoid your fingers. (You might think that would go without saying. You’ve clearly never been in my kitchen.) The arils will drop into your palm and roll into the bowl. Keep whacking until all the arils fall out.

Pomegranates

You can see by the spatters on the inside of the bowl in the above photo that this was not a particularly tidy way to remove the arils. I wouldn’t say this method was much less messy that what I’d been doing before, especially since the skin split at one spot when I whacked too sharply, and thus sprayed pomegranate juice everywhere each time I hit it thereafter. Perhaps this is a practice thing. Regardless, I rate the wooden spoon method two stars out of five for neatness, three stars for ease of removal, and five stars for fun.

The other popular method is removing the arils in a bowl of water. As above, you score the skin and split the pomegranate in half. You then submerge half of the pomegranate in a bowl of water and use your thumbs to push the arils out. If you push down on the centre of the uncut skin, it’s super easy to pop the arils out and the arils conveniently sink to the bottom of the bowl while the skin floats to the top.

Pomegranates

I was surprised at how quickly this method worked. While it had taken me nearly 15 minutes to remove the arils with my thumbs but not underwater, using the bowl of water took maybe three minutes at most. I found it a bit of a pain to skim the bits of skin off the top of the water (I eventually dug out a mini-strainer for the task from my drawer of neglected kitchen tools) and it did the trick. The water method gets four stars for neatness (would have been five if not for the skimming issue), five for ease of removal, but only two stars for fun.

Pomegranates

So, now that you have a bowl full of juicy, delicious pomegranate arils and only a few flakes of white skin that you’re too lazy to bother picking out, now what? Well, you can just eat them out of the bowl. Oh so yummy! But here’s a great idea: kale salad with pomegranate, mandarins, pumpkin seeds and a honey-lemon dressing. (I continue to be astonished that I have actually learned how to cook.)

Here’s how: make your dressing with one part honey, two parts oil (I used olive) and one part lemon juice. Add just a tiny drop of mustard (or more if you like the flavour) to keep the liquids from separating after you whisk them. (I learned that one at the gym last week – thank you Food Network and Chef Michael Smith!)

Pour the dressing over the kale and rub it in to the leaves. I just learned about massaging kale, too – it helps cut the bitterness. Peel two mandarin oranges and throw them in with about half of the pomegranate seeds. Throw in a handful of pumpkin seeds or whatever you have on hand to add a little crunch – sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts. Voila! A crazy-healthy salad that the kids and adults both love.

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Okay, now you! Any thoughts on the best method for getting the arils out of the pomegranate? Or better yet, any pomegranate recipes to share? Whatever you do, just promise me you’ll never be intimidated by these lovely fruit again, and don’t you even consider paying for one of those silly tools they sell in the grocery store!


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I am posting this here partly to share, but also because I want to remind myself how I did it so I can do it again!

I have been looking for a hearty beef stew recipe for ages, and I’ve tried a few flops over the last few years, but this is the first one where I feel like I got it right. I started with this recipe from Canadian Living, and followed the basic instructions here for browning the beef, adding the onions and the flour – I think this was the part that made it a thick, tasty stew instead of the more soupy stews I’ve made in the past.

I didn’t have any stock, so I used a bit of something called Better than Bouillon with three cups of water and one cup of red wine. (I started out in the grocery store looking for bouillon cubes, but have you ever read the ingredients in those things? Yikes! I was trying to find one with less sodium, but they’re all thick with MSG. This is the only one I could find without it. I may just substitute veggie stock next time, as it was still a tad too salty.)

So I put all that on the stove in a big pot around 1 pm and let it simmer. Around 3:30, I chopped up two turnips, a handful of fat mutant carrots from our Roots and Shoots share, most of a leek and two cloves of garlic (also from R&S) and dumped those in. About an hour after that, I chopped up four potatoes (also R&S – I love my CSA share!) and put those and another cup of water in. About an hour after that, I popped about 3/4 of a cup of frozen peas and let it simmer for about 10 more minutes. So good! I learned today that if you put the veg in too early, it gets mushy, but leaving the meat to simmer for hours tenderizes it.

I meant to take a photo before we ate it but it smelled too good and we were starving. See?

I’ve been working really hard lately on making dinners from whole foods sourced locally where possible. We did pretty good on this stew – most of the veggies were from Roots and Shoots (the farm is about 3 km from here) and the beef was from O’Brien Farms in Winchester via the Manotick Village Butcher. Best of all, four out of five of us loved it and the fifth one tolerated it, so I’ll take that as a win.

Time to swap out the BBQ for the soup pot. Got any good soup recipes to share this autumn?


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When I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto in 2008, it radically changed how I thought about food and eating. I took to heart then and still try hard to live by his simple prescriptive advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Every time I visit the grocery store, I think about his tests to ensure you are consuming actual food and not just foodlike substances: “would your great-grandmother recognize it as food” and “don’t eat it if it has ingredients you don’t recognize and/or can’t pronounce.”

Because I was so deeply moved by In Defense of Food, I knew I would like his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. About two months ago, I read an interesting interview with Pollan in a blog on the NY Times. In that interview, he said:

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.”

I believe that, wholeheartedly. I believe in just about everything Pollan in preaching, and so I was delighted last week to be stuck in the car for drive across the city long enough to catch all of Jian Ghomeshi’s interview of Michael Pollan on the radio program Q. Pollan discussed Big Food and how (pardon me as a paraphrase from my memory of something I heard a week ago) any industrialized food production will automatically choose the least expensive (and therefore lowest quality and least healthy) ingredients, because companies are all about making profits. But to cover up the fact that they are using marginal ingredients (think of the quality of cheese and flour, for example, used to make a frozen pizza) they add all sorts of other things that are salty or sugary or fatty because when our body detects those things it says YUM, and those salty/fatty/sugary additives mask the meh of the mediocre ingredients. And it’s those salty/fatty/sugary additives that are the problem, the huge problem, the biggest food problem of them all.

Jian Ghomeshi asked Pollan about adding things like butter, gobs of butter, to a home cooked meal to make it tastier and Pollan said that you basically can’t go wrong with home-cooked food, and no matter how much salt you shake out or butter you slather on, if you are cooking real food you are ingesting a mere fraction of what you get in pre-packaged Big Food foodlike products.

This makes so much sense to me. SO much. I totally buy this argument. Eating at home is a touchstone in our family. I’m also a rabid believer in the whole “family dinner” concept, and while we do takeout pizza about once a week, we mostly eat meals I cook at home.

387:1000 Cake baking

Before we had kids, cooking dinner meant taking a box from the freezer or fridge and making it warm. I’ve come a long way since then, I have to admit that much. But as I am listening to Michael cursed Pollan and nodding my head in agreement, I am beginning to think critically about what “cooking” means in our house. I think about how I make spaghetti and meatballs, for instance. Box of (whole wheat, natch) noodles, jar of sauce, frozen meatballs from M&M. Um, okay, so not exactly home cooked. But my veggie primavera with noodles and fresh zukes, peppers, snowpeas and mushrooms – I cook all that from scratch. Well, except for the noodles. And the jarred pesto. Hmm. Oh wait! Fajitas, my specialty, with guacamole from scratch and Farm Boy (but fresh, dammit!) salsa. Totally from scratch. Except the spice rub on the chicken. And the prepackaged tortillas.

Damn. There is almost nothing I cook that doesn’t come somehow from Big Food, that is not processed. Even hamburgers with meat I go out of my way to get from the local butcher (ethically and sustainably farmed!) goes on buns from a bag beside beans from a can.

I want to make the good choices, I honestly do. I have a local, organic CSA farm share, for god’s sake. I am trying.so.hard. But I stood in the grocery store the day after I listened to that interview and I was paralyzed. What can I buy? What can I make for dinner? How can I possibly conceptualize and home-cook from scratch seven dinners that all five people in my house will eat and not completely lose my ever-loving mind? And then do it all again the next week? And the next?

By the time I reached the check-out, I had completely capitulated. Not only were the usual suspects in my cart (cans of beans, jars of sauce, those amazing chicken dumplings from the freezer section) but also several signs of my utter resignation: sugary cereal, frozen waffles, a bag of chips so big it needed its own shopping bag.

Curse you, Michael Pollan. Curse you for opening my eyes, eyes which I thought were already wide open for the love of god, and making me think about eating all over again. I’m afraid to read your bloody damn book in case it makes me think even more because my head may just explode.

Deep breaths.

Now that we’ve eaten the can of beans and the pre-prepped macaroni salad, I’ve shaken off my ennui and vowed to try again. If I’ve made the leap from simply heating crap up to making large swaths of most of our meals, I can incrementally start to cook more and more from scratch, right? Maybe even start with the basics?

You think the family will mind if we have home-made from scratch spaghetti sauce on noodles from a box four times next week? Because the older I get, the harder it is for this dog to learn new tricks.


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Despite my best efforts so far, the family stubbornly refuses to ban me from the kitchen. One would think that more than a decade of mediocre cooking would at least leave them looking for an alternative, but they seem to show a remarkable tolerance for unremarkable food.

A few weeks ago I played what I thought was my best card by setting the oven on fire. Alas, I fell short once again of my goal. My family, in fact, barely raised a collective eyebrow, and certainly made no move to banish me from the room at the domestic heart of the house.

Realizing the need for more drastic measures, I have once again attempted to set the oven on fire, this time by strategically dumping a pan full of bacon and grease into the bottom of the oven. I have nefariously gambled that the combination of safety hazard and waste of a pound of perfectly good bacon will be enough to force the family into action. If nothing else, I have ensured that a residue of bacon grease will remain embedded into the sides of the oven drawer and its collection of baking sheets and muffin tins well into the next decade.

How much more of this torture can they withstand before they are forced to take action and remove me from the kitchen for their own good – and mine?

Edited to add: And I clearly did an excellent and thorough job scouring all traces of bacon drippings from the stove.

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Ingredient of the week: Kale!

25 April 2013 Not completely domestically inept

This is the second post in a new semi-regular feature here on the blog. The idea is that I propose an ingredient and we swap ideas on what to do with it, and I’ll keep an archive of them here for easy reference. Last week it was Parmesan Reggiano. On that post, Karen specifically asked [...]

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Bloggy inspiration: Ingredient of the week

11 April 2013 Not completely domestically inept

This is not a food blog. You might have noticed that. (snort) I may be a good writer, a decent photographer, a loving mother and a loyal friend, but I am hopeless in the kitchen. I cook because we need to eat and since I’ve already got Beloved doing the rest of the menial chores [...]

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Kale Caesar!

9 August 2012 Not completely domestically inept

Here’s an actual conversation that I would have never in a million years expected to hear around our dinner table. Beloved, gesturing at salad: “Is there kale in this?” Me: “No, we didn’t get any in the CSA this week.” Beloved: “Aw, that’s too bad.” Me: “I know, but it looks like we get some [...]

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Our first CSA share from Roots and Shoots Farm!

29 June 2012 Life, the Universe and Everything

Yesterday I picked up our first CSA (community shared agriculture) share from Roots and Shoots farm. I was supposed to pick it up Wednesday in Manotick, but apparently I can’t read simple directions and managed to miss the first pick-up entirely, but they were nice enough to let me come out to the farm for [...]

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