Happy Halloween!

It’s a day where kids get trucked into neighbourhoods where they don’t belong, to obtain sugared treats that mom and pop are going to toss in the trash and give a “safe” bag of candy to.

Do I sound curmudgeonly? Damn right I do. When I was younger, we used to go around our neighbourhood, but we NEVER got taken to other neighbourhoods to beg for candy. Of course, unwrapped treats were off limits, as were candied apples, caramel apples, and popcorn balls.

These days? Kids (and I use that phrase LOOSELY) of all ages come and bang on your door — even if you don’t have your porch light on. Just the thing you want — kids of 17 or 18, looking over your shoulder to case your house and come back at a later time to steal your canned goods and your stereo.

No, really, I’m not paranoid. But in this day and age — there are FOUR children under the age of 12 that live in this neighbourhood. If you count five streets in each direction, you may have a total of 20 kids. I’ve stood, in the dark, and counted at least 60 kids going up and down the streets, as mom & pop, in a minivan, watch as they go from house to house.

With the economy being in a downturn, even buying treats from the Dollar store to hand out was more than I was willing to front. Of course, in the last 11 years, I’ve not given candy out once — simply because I work with a number of parents and the did all confirm what I mentioned above — they take the little plastic pumpkins or treat bags, and dispose of them once the kids are home, giving them a bag filled with treats that they bought themselves, just to make sure that no one has slipped poison, drugs, razor blades, or needles into the candies.  It’s a shame that our culture has come to this, isn’t it?

Moving past that, however, have a Happy Halloween. Go to a party, throw a party, BE the party. Turn the lights all on (after trick or treating hours are over, obviously) and dance like there’s no tomorrow. Drink wine from the bottle. Call up an old friend and tell them how much you miss them.

Most importantly, however, celebrate life. It’s another day that you’ve woken up alive, and if it’s worth living, it’s worth living WELL.


Braised Onions, Potatoes & Spinach

Braised Onions, Potatoes & Spinach

1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium onions, sliced thinly
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp minced, peeled ginger
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 14-ounce diced tomatoes in juice (fire roasted works nicely if you can find them)
1 cup vegetable broth
2 lbs potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 lb fresh spinach, washed, drained, and any tough stems removed
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

In large skillet, add oil over medium heat until light wisps of smoke appear (about 60 seconds). Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned (about 8 minutes). Add garlic, ginger, cumin, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cloves. Cook for and additional minute, stirring to combine. Add tomatoes with juice and vegetable broth, stirring to combine. Increase heat and bring to a boil.

Add potatoes and stir to combine. Place in a baking dish and bake in at 350 for 45-60 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. At this point, turn oven off. The residual heat will complete the cooking process. In 1/4 lb batches, add spinach, stirring well after each addition, until spinach submerged in the liquid. In small bowl, dissolve cayenne in lime juice. Add to baking dish and stir well. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.

Serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main course.


Getting the cold shoulder…

After having a year with basically no winter to speak of, Mother Nature has decided that it is well beyond time for those in my part of the world to “chill out”, as it were, and conveniently dropped the temperatures a good 40 degrees F from where we were just last week.

Mind you, I rather fancy the cooler weather, and since it’s almost November, it’s only right that the skies turn grey, that the flurries start to fly, and the frost comes on the pumpkin.

Speaking of pumpkin, however, brings back to mind those absolutely horrid supermarket pies that are overspiced, over cooked, and feel like you have a mouth of mush if you were so inclined to eat them. Myself? I’d rather take my chances and make a pumpkin ravioli. Or a soup. Something where the vegetable (fruit? Yes, a pumpkin is actually a fruit!) shines and not the spice cabinet. Think of it much like squash or sweet potatoes (which, also, common to popular misconceptions, are NOT “yams”. A yam is a different vegetable all together).

To-may-to, to-mah-to. The improtant thing to remember is to put some colour in your diet, and to eat what you like. Take it easy on the fats, and get your veggies in. (Say what you will, but there’s some correlation — I’ve been losing weight, and increasing my intake of veggies, and my eyes have IMPROVED as I have gotten older. Granted, I’m still nearsighted, but it’s not anywhere near as bad as it once was (in fact, it is over a full point improvement in each eye).

Also… take time each day, even if only 30 seconds, to close your eyes and focus on something that brings you a great deal of joy. There’s really no better medicine for the spirit.


Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
2 cups raisins
8 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp milk
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon

Heat the milk in a small saucepan just to a simmer, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in warm water, and set aside until yeast is frothy (proofed). In your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together eggs, sugar, butter or margarine, salt, and raisins with the proofed yeast. Stir in cooled milk. Add the flour gradually to make a stiff dough.

Knead dough for three minutes in the mixer, then turn out on a lightly floured surface. If overly sticky, kneed in a little more flour. Be careful not to overwork the dough and develop the gluten, however. Place in a large, greased mixing bowl. Roll the ball around to completely grease the surface of the dough. Cover with a cloth, and place in a draft free area. Allow to rise until doubled, which should take about 45 minutes.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Moisten dough with 2 tablespoons milk. Mix together 3/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons cinnamon, and sprinkle mixture on top of the moistened dough. Roll the rectangle up tightly — the finished roll will be about 3″ thick. Divide in half, tucking under the ends. Place loaves into greased 9 x 5 inch pans. Lightly spray the tops of the loaves with cooking spray. Allow to rise again for 30-40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350, and bake for 45 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned and sound hollow when knocked. Remove loaves from pans, and allow to cool before slicing.


Another weekend, more rain

I had such great plans for my kitchen time this weekend — and I’m not going to let some rain keep me from making a dish that I’ve really been craving — a simple thing, really — Cinnamon Raisin Bread. Oh, sure, I could go off and buy the bread from the store, but where’s the satisfaction in a job well done? Not there, I guarantee you.

Since I’m talking about dishes, I guess I should fill you in on some of the dishes that I’ve posted previously. Yes, I do make every dish you see. Yes, I eat the food I create. No, the photos have not been doctored (except, in the very rare occasion, for a bit of contrast/lighting correction). Most importantly, no, the food has had no additives added to it to make it look “pretty”. Sure, I’ve read it all — glycerin, oil, cotton balls soaked in water and microwaved, “stand in food”, spray bottles with water, etc. The thing is — that kind of food, while it looks pretty in the kitchen, isn’t something you can replicate in your own kitchen — unless, that is, you happen to be married to a food stylist.

That being said, not every dish I make is photo worthy. Some, even, don’t turn out. I had one dish, which in all honestly I had planned on attempting to make for a pot luck — called Sausage Stroganoff Dip. Now, I love Beef Stroganoff, and since I love sausage, it sounded like a wonderful thing. Besides, it was in the Junior League of Colorado cookbook. Those recipes are usually awesome. The food? It photographed well:

At least, *I* think it photographed well. The problem? It tasted like … well, you can fill in your own adjective here.  Even with taking the sausage and draining it after browning, and even rinsing with hot water (which I was afraid to do because of the spices inherent to the sausage), do you see the little orange globules on the surface of the dip? That fat, which could not be removed, coated your tongue like a straitjacket. It made you take a bite and go, I’ll forgo the dip and just have the chips (which, in honesty, are store bought). I don’t make my own pita (yet, I have a great recipe I’m going to try, and soon, however), tortillas, or chips. What I call crisps (what are commonly referred to as veggie chips or potato chips), I do, but very, very infrequently. I tend to shy away from fried foods — that was part of the problem that helped me climb the scales to an unhealthy weight and a round shape. Fat in = fat on. If I can, at all, when I post recipes here on The Wannabe Gourmet, I do “lighten them up”.

And that’s the babble from Jonathan, in the rain. Before I leave you, however, I’d like to make a request. I’m needing links for a blogroll — if you’d like to be on my blogroll, please email me. My address is Jonathan at this domain. I look forward to hearing from you!


Double Chocolate Apricot Muffins

Double Chocolate Apricot Muffins

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch Process Cocoa (sifted)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely
2/3 cup dried fruit

2 tbsp granulated sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients and incorporate. Fold in chocolate and dried fruit. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.

Sprinkle tops with sugar.

Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees F for 22 minutes or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Let muffins cool in a pan on wire rack.

Yields 12 muffins