Good Food Box Ottawa, recipe two: Single-serving chicken pot pies

Words cannot describe the irrational love I have for miniature foods. There is nothing better in the universe than a single-sized meal.

My positive conception of individual portion sizes can likely be blamed on one of three things:
1. My obsession with shamelessly showing off my homemade meals in class – meals that are neatly baked into a cute little Pyrex containers.
2. My childhood love of airplane food and the neat little single meals served up on a just-the-right-size plastic tray. 3. My OCD. Admit it, single-servings just look more organized and clean. Don’t believe my obsessiveness is accurate? My new favourite Tumblr blog shows evidence to the contrary.

Beautiful organization (my new desktop background)

Anyways, to say these chicken pot pies were an impulsive dinner decision would be an understatement. Besides the preemptive purchasing of a roast chicken, all prior planning was lost in the heat of a post-Wednesday class panic. Like I said in my previous post, I made these pot pies for my friend Jessey and I. Like I also said in that post, I have a completely unwarranted fear of cooking for people (can likely be blamed on the need-to-impress issues that took root as a child). Before deciding to make these for dinner, Jessey and I had been flirting with the idea of take out. Jessey said she was starving and was experiencing a violent craving for chow mein noodles.

In the end, it was my need to impress guests and the fear of a crippling post-Chinese-food coma that won, and I decided a dinner quickie (gutter, remove your head) was in order.

Luckily I just happened to have everything I needed thanks to my Good Food Box. Like I mentioned before, the box provided me with a bounty of vegetables to use and, unless I planned on making minestrone soup for a million armies, I needed to use it fast. These pot pies were the perfect veggie-users, and the meal guts contained onion, celery, mushrooms and red pepper. Unrelated to the good food box offerings, but can we just mention how half roast chickens from the grocery store are the Food God’s gift to student kind?

Seriously, fellow students. Buy a pre-roasted chicken. Your life will be changed; your meal-making time minimized.

But really, this was actually a very student-friendly meal. It took me about 40 minutes to prepare and involved several food cheats. Whatever do I mean? Well, my timesaver cheats came in the form of a can of peas/carrots and frozen puff pastry. Remember when Todd got called out on Top Chef Canada for not making his own puff pastry? Well I am not Todd. I am a student and will cheat at dinner as much as I possibly can. So there.

End result: these were pretty awesome. This recipe made two, baby Pyrex pot pies and one tiny Ramekin one. In an act of ultimate sacrifice, I only ate the tiny Ramekin worth of pot pie the night of in order to take pictures in daylight the next day. The things I do for food photography.

PS: IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT EVERYONE OWN A SET OF PYREX DISHES.

My food photography sets just keep getting more and more ridiculous. I had to reheat the pot pie after this one.

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Pumpkin molasses whoopie cookie pies and Halloween candy bark: embracing seasonal potlucks with Jessey

And here I thought I would have no time for Halloween baking. I was happily proven wrong.

Last week, my friend Jessey (and founder of the blog I help edit, Local Tourist Ottawa, GO CHECK IT OUT) sent me an email request. Her office was having a Halloween potluck on Thursday and she wanted to know if I could help her make some spooky treats. Of course, I had to make time for a friend. Enabling myself to bake for an entire night wasn’t a bad thing either.

After I got Jessey’s message, I spent the next few hours searching the Internet for perfect, not-too-difficult-but-still-impressive-looking recipes. I finally decided on the Halloween candy bark from Annie’s Eats and some super huge variation on this whoopie pie recipe in order to not use cake mix.

When Wednesday evening rolled around, it was time to ingredient shop. After a trip to the grocery store in which half of the world’s chocolate supply was carried home on my bike (seriously, I looked like a girl scorned by a terrible, broken relationship), Jessey came over to my place and we started the baking. But not before eating some mini chicken pot pies. Recipe to come.

Secret: I’m absolutely terrified to bake/cook with or for other people. Things could happen. My oven could explode, chocolate could burn, stovetop fires could occur or, heaven forbid, something could even taste bad. This isn’t me lying to you or exaggerating in any way. I’m scared that either A through D will happen and that the friend, family member and/or roommate that I’m with at the time will harshly judge me, comment all over my blog, and thereby destroy any sort of little community I’ve built for myself here. Luckily none of these things happened. I know, you were really holding your breath for a moment.

Hey look! It's me! I look super happy and about five-years-old. Photo by Jessey

In fact, there was only one thing that happened throughout our entire baking time that could be ranked on the “I’m judging you, Hilary” scale. Here’s the story:

It was the end of the evening and Jessey and I were making the filling for the whoopie pie cookies. During my trip to the grocery store, I had put both the all purpose flour bag and the icing sugar bag in one spot. Both were clear, since baking supplies are best bought at the Bulk Barn. Both looked pretty darn similar.

Poor hindsight. Can you spot my error?

The icing for the cookies required a cup-and-a-half of icing sugar. Guess what cup-and-a-half went into the mixing bowl instead? You guessed it. Along with the orange gel food colouring, the filling started to resemble more of a magic potion (like the ones I stored in film canisters in my closet when I was 10) than an actual edible frosting (or anything for that matter). The mistake was spotted and we laughed. I was only flush red for a few minutes.

Other than that, everything was super. Realistically, the whoopie pies were more like delicious, soft pumpkin-molasses cookies with icing smushed in between them. My evening ended with me piping leftover frosting onto cookies and, when those were all gone, piping it straight into my mouth. Attractive, I know.

Jessey and I at the end of the evening (Photo by Jeremy)
Instagram, you take pretty cookie pictures

Moral of the story: you always have time to bake (and icing makes your stomach sore). Jessey said our dessert plate was a hit!

Food photo shoots are always better when your pretty roommates join in!

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Good Food Box Ottawa, recipe one: Pumpkin apple soup

Yes, I know, I know, enough with the pumpkin already.

Before you continue with your inaudible web whining, you should know that this one was for a good cause. Last month I saw a tweet from Ryan asking if any food bloggers were interested in receiving a food box from Good Food Box Ottawa.

Here’s an excerpt from their website to tell you more about the program:

We are a non-profit community-based initiative bringing neighbours together to buy a variety of delicious and nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. Our goal is to purchase food that is in season and is grown as close to home as possible.

Pretty rad, huh? Good Food Box is an especially good program for students, and I’ve heard of people splitting one of the large boxes with their roommates. The program has pick-up locations on both the Carleton and University of Ottawa campuses, which means you can avoid a produce run to the grocery store. Does it get much better than that?

A sample Good Food Box

Why yes, yes it does. The boxes can be easily bought online and the produce contained within each varies based on the time of year. Access to fresh food has never been easier. The normal boxes run from $10 to $20 and there’s a $5 fruit bag and $25 organic box as well.

Now, as you can imagine, I quickly messaged Ryan back and requested a Good Food Box of my own. After a slight mishap in which I picked up the box a few days late (I have scattered mind/scattered calendar syndrome), I made it home and examined my options. Since I plan on making a few more recipes with what was in my box, I won’t reveal all the goodies just yet.

I will, however, tell you that I made quick use of the pumpkin and apples (speaking of which, I looked only slightly ridiculous carrying a baby pumpkin across campus last night). I have been wanting to make a recipe like this since last October and had just never gotten around to it, so my Good Food Box gave me the perfect opportunity. After searching a few of my favourite recipe source sites (Canadian Living, Tastespotting) to get inspired, I decided to create a soup of my own.

But first, the preparation. Like I said in my previous blog post, it is completely against a pumpkin’s nature to want to be peeled. You think I would have learned better, but alas I did not. The difficulty it gave me was worth it, and the roasted pumpkin came out smelling and looking like a delicious cross between butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

The soup turned out great and I garnished it with a few seasoned pumpkin seeds that my roommate had made earlier in the week. They had cinnamon, salt and nutmeg on them, and added a crunchy surprise to the top of the soup. A pie in soup form. Awesome.

The sunny afternoon meant that I needed to crane my body over my meal setting in order to take pictures that weren’t harshly lit. I was out on the front patio for so long that (a) I had to reheat my soup after the photo shoot, and (b) I attracted the most annoying cat EVER. The little grey feline refused to leave, and insisted on brushing coyly up against my leg, eyes flickering towards my open dish of pumpkin seeds. You shall not induce my allergies today, punk. After much shooing and jumping about on the deck as though there was an earthquake, kitty retreated, choosing to sit instead at the end of our front path.

He may look cute, but this neighbourhood cat is NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (okay, so I'm not a cat person...)

Back to the soup: Of course, it is required that you serve such a meal in a pumpkin. Even if you cheat and keep the actual liquid in a bowl (I won’t tell if you don’t).

I can’t wait to decide what to make next with my Good Food Box finds. Hint: it will likely involve cranberries.

PS: don’t you just love it when your house has random planks of wood and bricks lying around that are perfect for food photo shoots?

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A very belated Thanksgiving post (in which I do not make turkey, but obviously dessert)

Woah, October 23 already? Yeah, I know, we’re now almost closer to American Thanksgiving than we are Canadian. Shame on me.

It has been exactly two weeks since I made these pumpkin toffee tarts with my mom. In fact, it was probably about two weeks ago at this exact time that we were making them – my mom crushing up the Skor bars, me mixing the pumpkin filling and less-than-sleuthly stealing large masses of said chocolate.

The pre-purchased mini pie crusts. That's right, we cheated.
The inner-tart with a toffee base

But before I talk about the pumpkin toffee tarts, lets talk Thanksgiving. That was, after all, why I was at home.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel home every year for Thanksgiving since starting university. The past few trips have become much more family-oriented, which is to say that I let my parents spoil me, play more frisbee with my brother and watch more episodes of Criminal Minds with my mom.

This time around, I also gave in to their life long request of daily exercise. My parents have always been (and rightly so, I suppose) huge proponents of daily outdoor time. This made me miserable as a child. Temper tantrums accompanied trips to the cross country ski trails, whining would ensue while hiking,… you get the picture. Child Hilary was probably the exact opposite of child Brittany.

But now that I’m old, wise and mature (read: 21, still naive and more than occasionally a child), I decided a change of attitude was in order. The nagging of outdoor time has become less of a nagging and more of a necessity in my everyday life. I’ve started night jogging again, which is always nice. And I still bike places. Even in the rain (see: embarrassing skunk stripe of wet up my butt as I bike in the downpour).

Here! Have a pretty picture of leaves.

There was lots of daily outdoor time this Thanksgiving, thanks to Mother Nature who made the entire weekend a beautiful 25°C. It was seriously hot. All the fashionable fall clothing I brought home was laid aside. In its place, my mom’s stretchy workout shorts. Hell yeah.

On Saturday my mom, dad and I went hiking at Onaping Falls, a trail just a short distance out of Sudbury.

Mom and dad, being cute

Monday was another beautiful day, so we went kayaking as a family on Ramsey Lake. It was beautiful and I only pouted a little bit. I wrapped my iPhone in a plastic ziploc bag and tried to take some artistic shots on the water.

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend and exactly what I needed.

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Autumn defined in one meal: Pumpkin and meatball risotto

As you have witnessed over the past few posts, Thanksgiving home time gave me the excellent opportunity to reboot and rekindle my dearly beloved blog. This pumpkin and meatball risotto was the final meal I made for my family on the Monday evening before returning to Ottawa.

It, of course, used pumpkin, my favourite food during Thanksgiving and the subsequent October weeks. Like many wonderful things, I found the recipe on Tastespotting, and quickly worked to recreate the masterpiece as best I could.

And as per usual, no dish is made without its challenges. As soon as I saw a mention of meatballs, alarm bells went off. The last time I tried the make the spherical delicacies at home, bad things had happened. Many things could have factored into my previous failure, including a lack of non-stick pan, my mom’s psychotic cycling heat oven, too much egg in the meatballs or all of the above. That batch of meatballs became meatcubes became meat pancakes. Before I knew it, things weren’t looking so hot. Many cautions were taken this time around to avoid duplicating what is now known as the famous Swedish meatball incident.

September 2010's failed meatball attempt. Womp womp.

The first of these precautions was to use my mom’s only non-stick pan. I knew from the start that this medium-sized pan was not going to be large enough to make the entire meal, and that transferring the meatballs over at some point would be inevitable.

Happy, cooking meatballs

Luckily, my choice was a good one. Perfectly shaped meatballs bubbled and bounced about in the melted, popping butter. Potential disaster number one: averted.

My second issue: in no way does pumpkin enjoy being grated.

Like, not at all.

Being the sometimes (read: always) unprepared amateur chef that I am, I left the pumpkin preparing until the last second. As in about four minutes before I was to add it to the already cooking, half-completed risotto.

I quickly realized that I had to both hull and peel the pumpkin before going any further. I swear, you have never seen a girl scoop the innards out of a pumpkin so quickly. Then, it was time to grate. You know how sometimes you grate something and more ends up on the front of the grater than in the back, grated pile? Yeah, well that happened. A mess was made and half of the kitchen counter was covered in a light, pumpkin dandruff. I paint an appetizing picture, n’est ce pas?

Anyways, about 15 minutes later, the pumpkin was done, and added to the mix. Finally.

Just for good measure, I added in some nutmeg, which, combined with the white wine, led to an extremely flavourful dish.

Speaking of flavour, my dad paid me a lovely compliment that went something along the lines of how my food is no longer just nice looking, but now also has complex and delicious flavours as well. He says I’ve improved. I am proud.

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