A quiet return with Creamed Spinach

Well, as you might have inferred from my lack of posting over the last (oh my) two months, I have been crazy busy. I think I have also been crazy tired, meaning that coming home meant schlumping around rather than whipping up tasty treats and posting them here! I have been feverishly working on finishing my Masters, as well as scrambling at work getting a couple big projects underway. All to say, sorry for the unbelievably long absence. I wanted to come back with something INSANE and PUNCHY, but this is a subdued, yet delicious recipe. I have some punchier things in the wings, so no fear. But let’s ease back into this.

I’ve missed NotCrocker, and I felt so terrible about my terribleness that I haven’t even been to the blog myself much in the last month or so. Avoidance is a bizarre strategy for coping, so here I am, posting and coming back, and making whatever promises I can that I will not run away again! Work is going to keep going like mad through the next two months, and my paper is top-priority in my off time, but NotCrocker will not fall by the wayside again. I love posting great dishes, and will continue to do so. Who needs to sleep?! Not this lady!

CreamedSpinach

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Shrimp & Artichoke Dip

Wow. Well, sorry for my incredibly long absence. I know I was JUST apologizing for being away from Not Crocker for a long time and here I am again after an epic stall. This time of year is bringing up a lot of sadness and I’ve been somewhat sapped of motivation. The funny thing is, it isn’t that I haven’t been baking and cooking, I just have been having a tough time getting to the computer to write up the recipes and prepare the photos. Sigh. I am going to try my best to get back on track, I promise.

I had a beautiful visit at home with my mom. I was only home for a whirlwind weekend and would have loved to have spent the summer lounging on the deck, taking in the sun, but it was not possible this year. We had a wonderful dinner party with all our friends, and things felt close to normal. Dad’s absence was/is startlingly noticeable and the times that I sit there and feel him not being here (if that makes any sense) are overwhelming. It’s almost been a year since his passing. The shocking thing is that it feels like there is no way this is real, even today, a year later I often feel like I can just call him up for a chat or advice or sass, but I am also achingly aware of how long it has been since I’ve heard his voice. I love my dad and am so thankful to have had him.

ShrimpArtichokeDip

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Artichoke & Spinach Dip

Summer is my favourite. Honestly, even being sick last weekend didn’t kill my love of sunshine, fresh air, and breezy clothes! Our apartment is northwest facing so we don’t get direct sunlight until the afternoon, but we have so many big windows that the entire apartment is bright and breezy all day long. Our balcony gets some incredible direct sunlight around dinnertime and I’ve been enjoying sitting out with a good book and some tunes. AND there are no bugs! Huzzah!

I am really looking forward to visiting mom in the Yukon in the first week of August, it will have been a year since I’ve been home, and I really need that recharge. It’s going to be hard to be in our home without dad, in fact this whole summer has been hard for everyone as summer was the time our family was at our best, spending so much time outdoors and together. I told mom that I fear going fishing without dad because I definitely depended on his line-tying skills. He definitely tried to teach me, but it was always so convenient to have him around. I will also have to retrieve my own stuck lures, kill my own fish, clean my own fish!, and determine the best spots to cast. He taught me so much, but I still have a lot to learn, I miss him every day.

ArtichokeandSpinachdip

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Beer Bread Revisited

I’ve corrected the error on the original cover page. Get Beer Breading!

As I sit here sipping on a glass of wine (thanks Uncle Jim and Auntie Karen!) I begin to think about all the things I appreciate in my life. It was my parents’ 30th anniversary yesterday. I thought about it all day, as I sat on the plane from Toronto and when I got home late at night, getting ready for bed. I am glad my parents had almost thirty years together, but know that them and their love deserved another thirty. I appreciate the time I had with my dad, though I too would’ve appreciated at least another thirty. This last week has been both wonderful and very sad in this way. I received the Kenneth Le M. Carter graduate award at a board of directors dinner in Toronto on Monday night. As I took to the stage to accept my award, I thought of how important my parents were in my success, but also how proud my father would’ve been. Similarly, whenever I get a new job or internship, or at a new university, my dad was always the first person I sent an email to with my new address. These little moments that I would like to share with my dad have been whisked away. Now I stop and think of him, bringing both joy in memory and utter sadness in realization of the fact that he is gone.

I muscled through Father’s Day without much trouble as I was busy tooling around Toronto with two wonderful friends. The next day was my awards dinner, and then my parents’ anniversary on the following day. All moments of happiness and sadness rolled up into the neat little package that is my life. Speaking to my mom the day after their anniversary, it was clear that she felt the same roller coaster of emotions. I am so happy that my sister and nieces can be there with her through this first summer without dad. Yesterday, they left for the first camping trip of the season. An event that my dad eagerly awaited, I know that this first trip would be hard and was thankful that it would be made easier for all by the presence of my sweet and funny nieces and my sister.

Anyway, I had an absolutely incredible time in Toronto with my beautiful friends Heidi and Lauren. The R.Kelly sing-a-long was magical (a fairytale some may say… I may or may not have lost a shoe for part of the show). The girls took me around town, we drank great beer, enjoyed the sun, and I really loved getting to know their city. Another highlight, on my last day Heidi toured me around the Coach House coach house and Lauren gave me a thorough tour of her beloved Trinity campus, I certainly better understand the magic.

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Cheese and Walnut Stuffed Chicken

Oh sweet goodness, this is amazing. The stuffing adds texture and flavour that can’t be beat. I served the stuffed chicken breasts with some roasted broccoli that is similarly out of this world. I am going to throw some words out there to describe this dish: succulent, tender, scrumptious, flarghingyum. That’s right, I lost my ability to articulate at the end. The chicken breasts I had were really large, so you can easily stuff three or four regular-sized breasts and have a little less in each. OR double the stuffing and don’t fool around.

Cheese & Walnut Stuffed Chicken

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of dry curd cottage cheese (or use regular cottage cheese and omit the crème fraîche)
  • 1 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, crumbled (heat oven to 350°F, lay walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted and fragrant, 5-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes)
  • 1/4 cup of yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed red chili flakes (optional, we like spice)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp butter

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a medium bowl cream together the crème fraîche and cream cheese.
  2. Mix in the dry curds, walnuts, onion, and spices.
  3. Slice the chicken breasts length-wise through the centre, from the side. You are looking to create a pouch of sorts that is the length of the breast.
  4. Stuff the breasts with as much stuffing as you can manage. Sprinkle both sides of the breasts with salt, pepper, and paprika. Mine stayed together without assistance, but feel free to secure with a toothpick.
  5. Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Place the breasts in the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes per side until browned and cooked through.
  6. Serve with roasted broccoli.

Chicken breasts are stuffed and ready for the pan.

Nestled in, browning nicely.

Ham and Cheese Scones, a Sunday brunch idea.

 

I had these on my mind all morning, thinking that they’d be the perfect thing for my sister, mom, and I to take to the hospital on our sleeping nights, so we could have a savoury treat for breakfast. I’ve never made savoury scones before… well I’ve made biscuits, and these turned out pretty great. They are pitch-perfect for cheesiness and haminess (that is totally a thing); they are crunchy and tender; they are flaky and portable. Hospital breakfast achievement unlocked!
In non-food related news, we are coasting along. It is strange to think that I’ve been up north for a month now. I am happy to be here, any time spent with Dad is good time. I miss Vancouver quite a bit and I certainly miss my husband who has been great about this whole situation. Getting to see him last week, for my brief stint in Vancouver, was wonderful. We brought the nurses some Cookie Dough Dip  and Cheese Straws to show our appreciation for how great they’ve been. As weird as it is, we really feel at home at the hospital, we’ve gotten to know everyone and are feeling comfortable. On a crazy note, the RCMP were called to the hospital to deal with a patient across the hall last night.
Early in the evening I heard him grumbling at a nurse who was bringing around night snacks. She told him to stop swearing at her and went on her way. Well, not long after, Dad’s nurse went into this guy’s room and caught him smoking… in his hospital room. Well she rightfully flipped her lid and was yelling at him, “What is wrong with you?! This is a hospital!” The guy tried to argue with the nurse and she left down the hall. They forcibly discharged him and when he refused to leave, they called the RCMP to get him out of there. Apparently he damaged the room, had been abusive to nurses, and smoking was the last straw. Madness!
Whitehorse General Hospital is no Seattle Grace but there are a couple of exciting moments (Mom and Kellie were coming up to relieve me from night stay and found a long blood trail in the elevator that went through the surgical ward).

Ham and Cheese Scones

Adapted from Emeril’s similar recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup of diced ham (I cut two 1/4-1/3-inch thick slices off of a ham we had in the fridge and diced those. Cut the slices into 1/4-inch strips and then cut the strips into 1/4-inch dice)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  3. Using a pastry cutter, or your fingers, cut in the butter until you have pea-sized pieces that are well combined with the flour mixture.
  4. Add the cheese, green onions, ham, and pepper and combine well.
  5. Add 1 cup of milk and work just until it becomes a sticky dough, adding more milk as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups. Stop once the dough has come together, do not overwork.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a flattened circle, about 3/4-inch thick. Cut into wedges and transfer to a greased or parchmented baking sheet., leaving some space between each wedge.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, checking for doneness by busting one open. They are done when they are golden and the inside is flaky.
  8. Move to a wire rack to cool briefly then eat away!

A text-free shot. Lovely.

Bonus photo of my parent’s yard in the vibrant fall colours!

Cheese Straws- an old family recipe

Picture will be updated when I make them again this week.

Cheese Straws, as mentioned in my previous post are a family favourite and a type of currency our family is encouraged to use outside of the home. Many of our friends and other family love these snacks, and requests are often made for us to bake up a batch. I’ve actually faced a lot of pressure to get these up on the blog but I just haven’t gotten around to baking any, fortunately that’s where my mom comes in. She baked up the pictured batch about a month ago and I’ve just gotten to posting about them. I am going to make some myself in the next few days and I will be sure to take some more pictures to share. They aren’t the prettiest treat, but they sure are tasty. In my opinion, the darker ones are the best, as they have that crispy cheese flavour. These are great for dipping and sharing, but they are also great to horde all to yourself.

This recipe was passed down to my mom from my Grandma Audrey and from her mother and possibly from her mother, etc. We are not sure how far these go back, but the love for them runs deep. My Grandma Aud is thrilled that the tradition of making these is being passed along, and I’ve included her note about rolling them in with my mom’s recipe. Mom took a ton of pictures, so there is a photo tutorial following the directions. You can tell it is an old family recipe because the measurements are not quite exact. Try it out with what I wrote and see how they turn out, adjust as necessary and bake these again and again!

What to eat with these? Anything! My mom especially likes equal parts salsa and sour cream mixed together as a dip. A good rule of thumbs is that your dip has to be on the lighter side, as these can be delicate. My Grandma eats them with dill pickles. I eat them plain mostly. My brother-in-law, husband, and father all like them sprinkled with some cayenne for a kick. They freeze really well too, so making a big batch is not usually a problem, if they even make it to the freezer.

Cheese Straws

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup less one tbsp margarine (or butter. **Mom’s recipe reads 1 1/3 squares of marg. — 1 square is 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups old/sharp cheddar, grated (more if you want, more is always good)
  • 6 tbsp milk (you might need more to make a soft dough)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 rounded/heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups flour

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, or lightly grease.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Using a pastry cutter (or your fingers), cut in the margarine until you have small, pea-sized pieces throughout.
  4. Add grated cheese and mix well.
  5. Using a fork, combine egg with milk in the measuring cup.
  6. Add the milk and egg to the flour mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms, DON’T OVER MIX.
  7. Place on a lightly floured counter and roll out until quite thin, though not transparent (Grandma’s note: if you don’t have a giant counter, separate dough into three chunks and do it in batches).
  8. Cut into strips and carefully move them onto baking sheet.
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned… or a minute or two long until really browned, if you are like me!

STEP-BY-STEP: Brought to you by Not Crocker’s Mom.

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, or lightly grease.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

    Cutting the margarine into the flour mixture.

  3. Using a pastry cutter (or your fingers), cut in the margarine until you have small, pea-sized pieces throughout.

    Cheesed.

  4. Add grated cheese and mix well.
  5. Using a fork, combine egg with milk in the measuring cup.

    Stir in your milk.

  6. Add the milk and egg to the flour mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms, DON’T OVER MIX

    Lump of dough on my mom’s very long counter.

  7. Place on a lightly floured counter and roll out until quite thin, though not transparent (Grandma’s note: if you don’t have a giant counter, separate dough into three chunks and do it in batches).

    Cut long strips and cut across for perfectly sized

  8. Cut into strips and carefully move them onto baking sheet.

    Ready for browning. The dough is worth eating too…

  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned… or a minute or two long until really browned, if you are like me!

Stuffed Shells & Apple Dijion Kale Salad

This meal rocks. I know that is tooting my own horn, but seriously, this is good eats. Gen, when he came home at 11pm and took a bite of the cold leftovers, said, “This is better than most restaurant food.” Not loving the “most,” but I’ll take it! The stuffed shells are cozy, warm, downhome eats. The salad is bright, tangy, and texture-rich. Awesome combo that I will surely make again. Once again, I found the salad on the wonderful Budget Bytes and made very slight adjustments. While most recipes for stuffed shells call for spinach, I LOVE Swiss chard, and it was on sale, so I used it instead. It adds a little sweetness and a nice variety of colour to the dish. Also, the step-by-step is PACKED with pictures… just a warning.

Stuffed Shells

Adapted from a Canadian Living recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 3 small (or 1.5 large) red onions, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 can (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (28 oz/796 mL) tomato sauce
  • 1 box jumbo pasta shells (these were hard to find, I had to hit up 4 grocery stores… I was worried I’d have to stuff tiny little shells)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 bunches (about 10 leaves) of Swiss chard (I used both the white and red versions)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tub (475g) ricotta cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In large pan, heat half of the oil over medium-high heat; cook beef, breaking up with spoon, for 8 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain fat, and remove meat from pan. Set aside.
  3. Trim your Swiss chard, removing the tips of the stems and any brown spots. Rinse the chard and cut/tear into quarters. Steam the chard until tender, about 10 minutes. Place steamed chard onto a tea towel to dry a bit.
  4. Add remaining oil to pan; sauté the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Add basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Return beef to pan; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for 20 to 25 minutes or until thickened.
  5. Meanwhile, in large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package directions until tender but firm. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain well and place on damp tea towel.
  6. Filling: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine steamed Swiss chard, ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, parsley, onions, eggs, basil, nutmeg, and pepper.
  7. Pour half of the tomato-meat sauce into 13 x 9-inch casserole dish. Spoon heaping tablespoons of filling into each pasta shell. Arrange snugly, stuffed side up, in dish. Spoon remaining sauce over top; sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil.
  8. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.
  9. While baking, make salad!

Apple Dijion Kale Salad

From Budget Bytes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 medium granny smith apple
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Tear or cut the kale leaves from the stems. Cut the leaves into 2-inch squares and then rinse well under cool water (in a colander). Allow the kale to drain as you prepare the rest of the salad.
  2. In a bowl combine the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, clove of garlic, salt, and pepper. Using a hand blender, blend until the garlic is minced and the dressing is smooth.
  3. Wash the apple and chop it into chunks. Roughly chop the walnut halves. Make sure the kale is as dry as possible and then combine it in a large bowl with the apples, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Pour the dressing on top and toss to coat.

Step-by-steps

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In large pan, heat half of the oil over medium-high heat; cook beef, breaking up with spoon, for 8 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain fat, and remove meat from pan. Set aside.
  3. Trim your Swiss chard, removing the tips of the stems and any brown spots. Rinse the chard and cut/tear into quarters. Steam the chard until tender, about 10 minutes. Place steamed chard onto a tea towel to dry a bit.

    Swiss chard is one of my favourites. Also wonderful steamed and sautéed with butter and garlic.

  4. Add remaining oil to pan; sauté the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Add basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Return beef to pan; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for 20 to 25 minutes or until thickened.

    Sautéed onions and garlic, with spices added!

  5. Meanwhile, in large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package directions until tender but firm. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain well and place on damp tea towel.

    Jumbo shell is like the mama of the regular shells. Awww so cute.

  6. Filling: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine steamed Swiss chard, ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, parsley, onions, eggs, basil, nutmeg, and pepper.

    Stuffing for shells!

  7. Pour half of the tomato-meat sauce into 13 x 9-inch casserole dish. Spoon heaping tablespoons of filling into each pasta shell. Arrange snugly, stuffed side up, in dish. Spoon remaining sauce over top; sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil.

    Stuffing the shells. They looked nice and neat until I had to start shoving them into places to finishing the filling batch.

  8. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.

    Pre-oven layer confirmation. Niiiiice.

  9. While baking, make salad!

Salad! I have no idea why this picture is sideways… oh well.

Jalapeño Cheese Squares

Sorry for the ridiculous delay between posts, going away has meant a full schedule upon my return. I’ve been running around, working like a mad woman, trying to catchup, keep up, and not die trying. Anyway, this is one of the delightful appetizers from the wedding. I am waiting on some pictures and recipes from my mom whose camera I kept using because I couldn’t locate mine. These are ridiculously simple and really delicious. Crowd pleasers for sure!

Jalapeño Cheese Squares

Ingredients

  • 6 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 tsps green onion, minced
  • 1 small can of jalapeño peppers (fresh would be great too, 2 or three, well chopped)

Directions

  1. Whisk together cheese, eggs, cream and onions. Stir in jalapeños.
  2. Spread mixture in a greased 9 x 13 pan.
  3. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.
  4. Cut into 1-inch squares and serve. These are great hot or cold.

 

Spicy Pepperoni Cheesesticks

By request from my brother-in-law, my sister and I set about making spicy pepperoni cheesesticks to rival the ones he loved as a kid (or teen, or recently, I can’t remember). I knew we had a lot to live up to, so we made sure we were doing this right. I had been eyeing this recipe for a couple days, knowing that these jalapeño sticks would be the perfect prototype for what were trying to create. Reading the recipe I determined that pizza dough was the answer. So we used my regular pizza dough recipe, got some Tex Mex shredded cheese, some very spicy pepperoni sticks, and set about making these delicious treats. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. These came together like gangbusters, they were tasty and satisfied my brother-in-laws cravings. Success!

Spicy Pepperoni Cheesesticks

Ingredients

Pizza Dough
  • 1  package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps white sugar
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or Tex Mex)
The Rest
  • 1 package of spicy pepperoni sticks
  • shredded cheddar or Tex Mex cheese (jalapeño, cheddar, mozza, etc.)
  • chili powder for dusting

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, oregano, chili powder, cheese, salt, and white sugar. Stir well.
  3. Add in the olive oil and the yeast mixture; stir well to combine.

    Kel stirs as I pour.

  4. Mix well until a stiff dough has formed. Cover and rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Turn dough out onto a well floured surface. Form dough into a round and roll out in a rectangle (if possible) to about 1/4 inch thickness.
  6. Slice strips of dough 2 1/4 inches wide.
  7. Place a pepperoni stick in the middle of the strips, place some cheese along side the pepperoni, and pull the dough around and pinch to seal all the way along the stick. Fold the ends over (cut off excess dough and reserve for more sticks) and pinch to seal.
  8. Place sealed sticks on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle with more cheese and some chili powder.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, the sticks will be golden brown and the cheese will have melted. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating.

Heading into the oven.

Tasty.