Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Original Mardi Gras

When planning my weekly dinners I always try to incorporate any "special days" into the schedule. Things like Sp-BOO-ghetti and meatballs for Halloween or enchiladas on Cinqo de Mayo help to create family tradition as well as learning opportunties.

This week was one of those days. Although not well known, it was always a treat in my house when I was growing up. I'm talking about Pancake Tuesday, of course.

The pancake can go by several names. Pancakes, flapjacks, hot cakes, griddle cakes, crepes. Similiarly, as you may not have heard of Pancake Tuesday, I can all but guarentee you have heard of one of it's other names... Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras literally translates into "Fat Tuesday". It is the day before Ash Wednesday, and Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent... a period of fasting and self sacrifice to prepare the soul for Easter, as Jesus did for 40 days in the desert. In the days preceeding Mardi Gras, Christians would be trying to use up all the non-essential items so they wouldn't go to waste. By the time Fat Tuesday can, typically all that was left was flour, eggs and milk - so what they made was pancakes. I can't be certain, but I believe this started in Canada with the Acadians and followed them to Louisana when they were expelled from Canada by the British in 1755.

So I can imagine in the days preceeding Ash Wednesday, great feasts and parties being prepared to empty the cupboards for Lent. And through evolution, transformed into the New Orleans festival of Mardi Gras.

So, pancakes for dinner? Sure. Why not? It's quick, easy and kids love them. I added a little bacon and a fruit salad to round things off.

You could use a pancake mix - that is totally acceptable. In fact, most times I make pancakes that's how I do it. To add a little healthy kick to it, I'll add a little ground flax seeds and oat bran to the mix. Just adjust the water to the right consistancy. But, if you wanted to make "From Scratch" pancakes here's a recipe that was given to me by my friend's mom several years ago.

Homemade Pancakes

2 cups flour

2 cups milk

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

You can substitute different flours, use buttermilk instead of regular, even soy milk would be good. But this is a good place to get started. If you want to try a traditional Acadian pancake (ployes) here's a recipe I found. It used buckwheat flour instead of all-purpose.

For something extrordinary, try this Cinnamon Bun pancakes. They are truely worth it.

If you have never cooked a pancake or are unsure; here are some tips.

1. Start with a hot pan

2. Use butter or some sort of fat to coat the pan. This will help the pancake not to stick, but also help to carmelize it.

3. When adding things like bananas, chocolate chips or blueberries, I like to add them in the pan. Pour the batter to the desired size, them sprinkle your additions on top. This way you can ensure even distribution.

4. Watch for bubbles. When the bubbles come to the top, and stay; and the edges of the pancake start to look dry, it is time to flip.

Whether you call them pancakes, hot cakes, johnny cakes or flap jacks flip your family's dinner over with this original Mardi Gras tradition.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stepping Out of the Weekly Rut

Last spring, when my boys had swimming lessons at 5:00, we had a pretty good routine. I would pick up my son from school and we would go right to the pool. The pool had a little sitting area where we would could have a snack (I usually packed something) and do homework. We finished up around 4:30, which gave us enough time to change without rushing and maybe watch the diving team. When we got home, we would have a quick dinner, which on most nights was scrambled eggs and toast. If you ask my kids, they'll tell you that this is their favourite dinner. So, eggs for dinner became synonymous with swimming night.

This year, the lessons start a little later which allowed us to eat a light dinner (eggs, toast and raw veggies) before we left, then a piece of fruit and glass of milk when we got home. This week, I had another idea. Something I thought the kids would like, that would give them enough protein and vegetables to make it through swimming, and not be starving by breakfast. I made Sloppy Joes. Too make it even easier, I used the slow cooker but in a short time you could also make it in a skillet. Or as a faster alternative, make the meat with sauce the night before. Place in some Tupperware in the fridge. Simply toast the buns and heat up the meat mixture in the microwave. (Nice lunch idea too)

To my surprise, I only found a couple cookbooks with recipes for Sloppy Joes, none of which jumped out at me so I came up with this one. But if you have a favourite recipe, call your mom or dig it out, and reintroduce your family to a busy-night, quick dinner solution that will have them coming back for more.

So, what's for dinner tonight?

Chipotle Ranch Sloppy Joes


1 T vegetable or canola oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb ground beef (pref. extra lean)

1/4 C ground flaxseeds

1 pobano pepper, finely chopped

1 small can chopped green chilies

1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed (or more to taste)

1 C chili sauce

1 t cumin

1 T red wine vinegar

1 C coleslaw mix

1-2 T ranch dressing


4 burger buns


In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic. Once the onions have cooked a couple minutes, add the meat; breaking it up with a spoon or spatula. When the meat is almost completely cooked, add the flaxseeds. Mix well.

Transfer mixture to a slow cooker. Add the pepper, chilies, chipotles, chili sauce, cumin and vinegar. Mix well. Set to low, and let cook 6 - 8 hours.

In a small bowl, mix together coleslaw mix and ranch dressing.

When you are ready to serve, butter the buns and toast in a skillet. Place 1/4 of the meat mixture on the bun. Top with 1/4 of the coleslaw mixture.

As a note, if you have never bought chipotle peppers before, they are smoked jalapeno peppers in a tomato/ vinegar sauce and are usually found in the Mexican food aisle in a can. When I bring them home, I place the entire jar in the food processor and puree it, then place it in a freezer bag or container and use it as I need it. You can also substitute it for Chipotle Chili Powder.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Superbowl Sunday is more than Football

I don't think there is anything more "American" than Superbowl Sunday. But as a Canadian, I too can appreciate the signifigance of this institution known all over the world as "Superbowl Sunday". But the Superbowl is more than just about the game... who wins, who loses, how many fumbles. And even more than the halftime show or commercials. It's about getting together with good friends and having good food.

I was never much of a football fan. I understand the game and appreciate it's nuances but it wasn't until my oldest son, Danny started playing when I really got excited about the game.

This Sunday, we are going to the home of good friends of ours. It so happens that our hostess is a wonderful cook, as is her daughter. (Wants to a chef when she grows up). So, there is our trifecta. Good football, good friends and good food. A glorious Sunday indeed. In addition to the flatbread salad (see previous post) I am bringing a Hot Spinach, Crab and Artichoke Dip served with pita crisps and assorted crackers. I can make it ahead of time and bake it when we get to our destination.

Spinach, Crab and Artichoke Dip


1 8oz package cream cheese at room temperature
1 10oz package frozen spinach (thawed, drained and patted dry)
1 can or jar (8-10 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (in food processor works great)
1 can (6-7oz) crab meat, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 pinch tarragon


In a bowl, soften cream cheese. Add in spinach, artichokes, crab and garlic. Mix well.

Add in the parmesan, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne and tarragon. Blend together.

Place mixture in an oven proof dish and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until it is bubbly. Serve with chips, crackers or pitas.

And trust me, in the off chance you have some leftover (and you proably won't) it is too good to waste. You can freeze it for a snack later or even use it as a pasta sauce heated in a pan with a little olive oil.

So to all of you - fill your plates and GO PATRIOTS!