Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winter Across the Prairies

It's bone chillingly cold across the Prairie provinces right now and even though it's not officially winter yet, it feels like it!  Some places have gotten large amounts of snow, but so far, we have had light snow here in  Calgary.  I hope it stays that way!!!  

It reminds me of an adventure I shared with my friend V, who likes to call us Thelma and Louise....because of all the great silly fun crazy adventures we have had together.  This adventure happened about 8 years ago now.  I was still living in Saskatoon.  V has a lovely cabin at a lake just an hour away from there  Now her cabin is winterized, but she hadn't been out to it since Christmas and this was Valentine's Day.  As we were both alone that Valentine's Day, we decided we would drive to the cabin, check to ensure the electric heat was working, nothing was frozen, pumps were operational, that kind of thing.  We also decided we would overnight at the cabin - there's something special about looking out at the frozen lake and the sparkling snow and both of us loved to watch for wildlife moving through the wintry landscape. We drove out from Saskatoon on a fairly cold day, I think it was about -22 Celsius.  As we got to the grid road that leads to her cabin, we saw that the lake had gotten fantastic amounts of snow with incredibly high drifts everywhere.  But the roads had been plowed and were great to drive on.  As we drove down the hill we could see her yard - full of big snow drifts everywhere.  There would be no parking in the yard because the approach was completely drifted in.   We parked the car on the road and waded through the snow with our overnight bags.  Most places we walked the snow was at least knee high, but we stopped at one drift and V took a picture of me with the snow up to my shoulders!  Snow was drifted up against the doors up to the doorknobs, or maybe even a little higher.  We cleared the snow away from the main entry and got inside.  It was a little chilly so V jacked up the thermostat to let the electric baseboard heaters pump out a little more warmth.  We got out of our coats and boots and put on slippers.  She turned on the water and the pumps so that they were working for our time there.  Next she wanted to get a good fire going in her wood stove, but the box by the wood stove was empty and she needed to get some.  She had a lean to at the back of her cabin, just off her kitchen,  where she stored chopped wood for the wood stove.  She told me she was going to the lean-to and fill the box and bring that back and then get the wood stove going so the cabin would get fully heated.  She tells me to let her back in when she knocks at the back door.  She said to leave the back door shut because sometimes mice get in the lean to in cold weather, and she didn't want one getting into the main cabin.  So as she is filling the wood box I am opening the blinds in the living room, and trying to keep myself occupied.  I think if I help her, the box will get filled up much faster and then we can have some fun together.  So I open the door, and head into the lean-to.  Just as I pull the door  shut, V says "don't let the door shut, it's still locked!"  Well, we just looked at each other, dumbly.  V says "we are locked out of the cabin now."  I try the door, and of course, it's locked!!!.  So we try to open the lean-to's door, hoping all we have to do is run from there to the front door (which we had opened and left unlocked) and back into the cabin.  Well, there was a huge deep drift right up to that door, and the snow was up past the doorknob, almost to the top of the window and try as hard as we could we could only budge the door open about 2 inches...the snow was piled high and deep for about four feet in front of that door...and unless we shoveled it away, that door wasn't about to budge!!!

So we slid open the window of the door and began yelling for help, our voices echoing through the stillness.   V explained to me about the back kitchen door being self locking, and I explained I thought it would go faster with me helping her but I shut the door behind me because of the mouse thing... and then we laughed so hard we cried.  But we were getting cold in that un-insulated space and so we tried yelling out the window again, hoping one of the year round residents was outside and might hear us.  But no-one heard us except the wildlife out in the nearby field.  V said "One of us is going to have to go through the window and then run through the snow to the front door and come into the cabin, get to the kitchen and open the kitchen door."  We looked at each other expectantly.  

Now the door had your typical 36 x 36 screened window.  I took a look at my then size 28 body which I knew had a much wider circumference and said "I can't do it, I am too fat for that window!!!"  V agreed and so we raised the glass up to the top of the frame and tore out the screening.  V carefully put one leg, then the other out into the snow on the other side.  For a moment the packed snow held her on its surface, and then one leg was rudely and abruptly forced through the snow pack to the ground below.  V lost her slipper!  But she maneuvered her torso through the opening and then sprinted to the front door.  I heard the front door open, then shut and in another minute, there was V at the kitchen door, holding it open.  I don't remember getting the firewood box back into the cabin, but I do remember V getting the stove going and the delicious smell of the wood fire filling the cabin with its wonderful scent.  Oh the blessed warmth!!!  

V made a pot of tea and we sat and drank tea and relived being in that lean-to.  We had the most incredible fit of giggles that would not go away after that.   Later on, we decided to head to town to the local restaurant and have perogies, cabbage rolls and sausage for supper...both to celebrate being together on Valentines Day and because we craved wonderful comforting food on such a cold day. As we told the waitress of our great adventure, she laughed until she cried.  We all wished each other the best for Valentines day and agreed it would be one we would remember with a great deal of fondness.  V, I think I still owe you some money because I think you ended up either replacing the screen or the whole window totally!!!

Here's some recipes that I love making on a day when you just want to stay inside and be warm and comforted by the smell of something good cooking in the oven or slow cooker!!!

Sweet Potato Chicken Stew

24 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (6 or 7)
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1 inch chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
5 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 - 227 g packages of sliced white mushrooms
2 onions, quartered (I used LARGE ones)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced (use more if you like garlic)
1 cup no sodium chicken broth (another idea is white grape juice)
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (for dried, use 2 tsp)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried poultry seasoning pr 2 tsp herbs du Provence
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (I used balsamic for more flavour)

This comes from a recipe I found on the web.  Original instructions did not have the carrots or celery and you were to put everything except the vinegar in a 6 quart slow cooker, stir to mix and cook for 5 hours on low.  Add the vinegar at the end and serve.   I found this gave you overcooked, mushy disintegrating potatoes.  It also called for shallots (6) and I can't justify their cost unless it's a super duper special meal - while they do have a terrific flavour, regular onions do the trick nicely too.  I amped up and changed the recipe by adding carrots, celery, deleting the shallots originally called for and adding onion.  This makes a stew that has a broth like consistency.   My "destructions" follow:

1.  Place chicken thighs, broth, rosemary, pepper, poultry seasoning or herbs du provence, mushrooms, celery, carrots and onions in the slow cooker.   Cook on high for 3 hours.  

2.  Add the sweet potatoes  - taste stock and adjust seasonings.  I added more pepper, poultry seasoning at this stage (to taste).  The next time I make it I may put in some thyme as well. 

3.    Let cook another 1.5 hours.  Add the vinegar and let cook another 1/2 hour (if you want thicker broth, mix the vinegar with 1 Tbsp of cornstarch)

This makes about 6 servings, at 450 calories each.

Slow Cooked Asian Roast

1/2 cup beef broth or bouillion
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 lb (1 kg) boneless pot roast (blade, cross rib, boneless short rib)

Stir all ingredients but the meat together in the liner of your slow cooker.  Discard any netting around the roast.  Place the meat in the soy mixture and turn to coat.  Cover and cook until beef is fork tender (5 to 6 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low).

Remove beef to cutting board and let stand 5 minutes before thickly slicing.  Serve with pan juices and onions spooned on top.  Continue the Asian theme and serve it with steamed bok choy or steamed sugar snap peas, and asparagus topped with some chopped raw red pepper.  I usually serve steamed baby yellow potatoes with this for my starch.

Now you can get this ready and set it up to cook before you go to bed and it should be done when you get up.    If you are like me, in bed at midnight and up by 5 or 6 a.m., use the high setting.  Or set it on low and let it cook for 8 to 10 hours (if you are up at 6 a.m.  it means getting started by 8 p.m. to cook 10 hours).  Then when you get up, put it in the refrigerator.  When you get home, slice it up then microwave it to warm the meat up.  Doing the veggies shouldn't take more than a half hour and dinner is ready!!!

This can be done in an oven as well:  combine soy mix in a oven proof saucepan large enough to hold 2 lb roast.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often.  Add roast, turn to coat and roast in the centre of a preheated 325 degree oven for 3 to 4 hours.   

An 8 ounce serving of this will be about 505 calories.  

I love this because I use 3 ounces of leftover roast (chopped into bite sized pieces) in my lunch salad the next day.  I use chopped raw bok choy, bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms, sliced celery, spinach, diced red or green peppers, some carrot coins and a low cal oriental dressing.  Yummy.  

Lazy Cabbage Rolls 

1 large head of cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups rice, uncooked (long grain is best)
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp paprika
2 cloves of garlic, minced
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 cups of water

Mix the onion, ground beef, rice, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic together in a medium bowl.  Place one half of the shredded cabbage on the bottom of a 6 quart slow cooker.  Please the meat/rice mixture on top of the cabbage bed and spread it out over the entire bed of cabbage.  Then top that with the remaining shredded cabbage.  Pour the diced tomatoes and their juice over the the top of the lazy cabbage rolls.  Add the water.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

I DO NOT brown my beef for this recipe.  I don't when I make real cabbage rolls either and they turn out just fine in the slow cooker too.  However, rice takes forever to cook and soaks up a lot of liquid while doing so.  You should  check over the course of the cooking time if you need to add more water.  Or you can parboil your rice before combining it with the meat, onions and seasonings. Also I like a larger rice to meat ratio, so I only use 1 pound (1/2 kg) of beef.  I know others use more.

This makes 6  huge servings at about 405 calories each.  I think you can easily get 8 to 10 servings which would cut calories to 302 (for 8) or 242 (for 10).

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