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Down Home Potato Scallop

EAT, family meals By September 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , No Comments

When you’re out east, potato scallop is a diet staple.  With ham, turkey or on it’s own, there is no denying the comfort factor.  It can be prepared in kid-friendly individual ramekins for the little ones.

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling
(We also like to puree cauliflour and ‘hide’ it in the centre to get a few extra veggies into the kids.)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a saucepan, heat up the cream with a sprig of thyme, chopped garlic and nutmeg.

While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish. Place a layer of potato in an overlapping pattern and season with salt and pepper. Remove cream from heat, then pour a little over the potatoes. Top with some grated Parmesan. Make 2 more layers. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.


Kid’s Potato Latkes

EAT, holidays, snacks By September 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , No Comments

A traditional Hanukkah treat, potato latkes needn’t be reserved for the holidays.  A fantastic source of protein, they can be served with apple sauce or sour cream and are a perfect size for tiny toddler hands.  To reduce fat and calories, the latkes can also be baked in a 400 degree oven.


8 to 10 medium russet potatoes
1 large brown onion
2 rounded tablespoons jarred minced garlic
4 eggs
1 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup canola oil
coarse kosher salt

Peel and quarter the potatoes and onions.  Pulse in 2 batches in a food processor until the potatoes and onions are finely minced. Add 1 rounded tablespoon of minced garlic and 2 eggs and pulse again. Add half the matzo meal and pulse once more. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and start a second batch using the same steps. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot ladle 1/3 cup sized portions (or smaller for tiny hands!) into the oil and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Once the bottom side is brown use a fork to gently flip over the latke.  When both sides are golden brown, lift the latkes from the pan with a slotted spatula and place on a paper towel to drain. Repeat the process with the remaining batter. Add more oil if necessary. When ready to eat, sprinkle the top of each latke with coarse kosher salt (to taste) and serve with a dollop of apple sauce. Makes 12 to 15 latkes.


McDonald’s All-Access Moms: Off to see some Spuds!

EAT, family meals By September 26, 2011 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

As part of the McDonald’s All-Access Moms program, four Mom writers across Canada have been given the opportunity to see McDonald’s from behind the scenes.  September brings wooly sweaters and harvest season and I am now off to Grand Falls, New Brunswick to visit both a potato farm and the McCain french fry processing facility.  Born and raised in Halifax, the Maritimes are in my blood, and being back on the east coast is such a breath of fresh air.  There is a simplicity and an innocence that permeates the culture.  It will be so exciting to see these qualities juxtoposed against the huge corporation that purchases the french fries.  I can’t wait to don rubber boots and meet the farmers.  I can’t wait to ask gardening questions!  (My potatoes grow no bigger than a golf ball..)  I encourage you all to comment and ask as many questions as you can.

I started reading ‘Food Inc.’ and will be watching the film prior to my trip.  I feel that as an All-Access Mom I have a responsibility to educate myself about all facets of food production.  I don’t know if the potatoes are engineered and I am so excited to learn and discuss the issues.  Is there anything you are confused about?  Curious to ask?  Please let me know!

Photo: Hunter


Watermelon Dippers

EAT, snacks By September 16, 2011 Tags: , , No Comments

A healthy after-school snack, freshly sliced watermelon sticks dipped in a delightful sour cream dip will have kids coming back for more.  Kids will love the sweet flavour and parents will love the simple preparation!

20 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide by 4-inch ( 10 cm) long seedless watermelon sticks
1 cup (250 mL) low fat sour cream
4 tbsp (60 mL) sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

Cut watermelon into sticks.  Blend sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a small serving bowl. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Tip: Cover and store unused dip in the refrigerator for up to two days.

PER SERVING: about 170 cal, 5g pro, 5g total fat (3g sat fat), 30g carb, 1g fibre, 20mg chol, 45mg sodium. %RDI: iron 2%, calcium 15%, vit A 20%, vit C 15%



Homemade Baby Rice Congee

baby, EAT By September 16, 2011 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

This savoury rice porridge contains many of the ingredients that baby needs to get through the day. Adding scant amounts of ginger, garlic and chicken to mild rice is a great way to introduce new flavors to your baby. The oil in this recipe is a good source of fat, which supplies energy and aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. The carbohydrates found in rice provide another source of energy and assists in the utilization of fats.

1 tsp                         oil                                                                                                   5 mL
2 tbsp                      minced shallots                                                                           30 mL
1                                 small clove garlic, minced                                                        1
1 tsp                         minced ginger                                                                              5 mL
1 cup                        cooked white or brown rice                                                       250 mL
2 cups                     water                                                                                               500 mL
1/4 cup                   finely chopped cooked chicken                                                  50 mL
2 tbsp                      finely chopped carrots                                                                 30 mL
1 tbsp                      finely chopped celery                                                                    15 mL

In a deep skillet, heat oil over medium high-heat. Cook shallots, garlic and ginger for one minute. Stir in rice. Add water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and stir in chicken, carrots and celery. Cook until rice is very soft and vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Per 1/4 cup (50 mL) serving: about 45 cal, 7 g carbs, 0 g fat, 2 g protein.


kid friendly snacks

Great Kid-Friendly Snacks

EAT, snacks By August 30, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

Nutrition is something we as parents have to take more seriously than we used to. Obesity and its wicked cousin, diabetes, are on the rise everywhere, and kids are the targets of all kinds of fast-food and convenience-foods marketing that tempts them with things that they don’t need. Snacks should be healthy, meaning low in fat and calories, filling, and have good nutrition. Sounds impossible, when you want them to taste good, too? Nay, my friend. There are tons of options out there! Here are just a few items you should always have on hand, because with them you can construct a legion of fun, flavorful and fully good-for-you treats!

Basic Ingredients (try to have on hand):

  • Whole wheat tortillas, bread, English muffins, bagels (as bases)
  • Fruit
  • Low-fat cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, edam, cream cheese)
  • Cut-up and cleaned veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, etc.)
  • Granola
  • Dry cereal
  • Chocolate chips
  • Raisins, Craisins, other dried fruit
  • Nuts (unsalted and unsweetened, preferably)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Salsa
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Yogurt
  • Low-sodium/fat lunch meats, like turkey and chicken breast

With these basic ingredients, you can assemble an amazing legion of simple, yummy and fun snacks, such as:

  • Mini-Pizzas: Season tomato sauce with some Italian spices, drizzle on an English muffin, top with mozzarella. For fun, add veggies; toast. Very crunchy, tasty and filling!
  • Mexi-Pizzas: Drizzle a tortilla with salsa, mozzarella, and chopped veggies; toast. Ole!
  • Fruity K-bobs: Cut fruit chunks and space them on a skewer with small pieces of cheese. Pear and apple with cheddar is awesome, and a great source of vitamins and calcium.
  • Banana Bombs: Dip a banana in yogurt, roll it in crushed cereal or granola; freeze for 30 minutes to an hour. A chilly treat.
  • Home-Made Lunchables: Cut up lunch meat and thinly-sliced cheese and serve with crackers, Lunchables-style.
  • Ants on a log: Fill celery with peanut butter or cream cheese, then stud it with raisins or craisins. Kids love it.
  • Faux Banana Split: Serve a banana with strawberry and vanilla yogurt, sprinkle with chocolate chips, in a “boat” like a banana split.

Other suggestions:

  • Clear, low-sodium broth-based or tomato soup served with whole-wheat toast or crackers
  • Half a turkey and veggie sandwich
  • A bowl of mixed granola and dried cereal, with a few chocolate chips thrown in every now and then
  • Peanut butter and jelly—try it as a sandwich or even as a yogurt smoothie!
  • Veggies served with hummus or low-fat ranch or Italian dressing for dipping. Most vegetables are fat-soluble, so it’s best to accompany them with a little bit of fat for better nutrient absorption.
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Unsalted, unbuttered popcorn tossed with a little salt and parmesan cheese
  • Peanut butter on crackers

Jill and Tenille’s Healthy Test Kitchen Smoothie Experiment

EAT, snacks By August 18, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

When in Chicago at McDonald’s head office, we met with Chef Dan and were given quite a lesson in how menu items are developed.  Remember that TV show ‘Just Like Mom’ (damn sexist title) where kids made different foods with a variety of crazy ingredients?  Same goes here.  Tenille (from Feisty, Frugal and Fabulous) and I had bunches of fresh fruits, veggies, yoghurt, juices and grains and were charged with creating a smoothie.  Being the health-consious gourmands that we are, we decided to camoflauge beets and spinach with yummy dark purple fruit.  Move over Jessica Seinfeld.  Here’s the lowdown:

½ cup frozen peaches
½ cup blueberries
½ cup blackberries
½ cup cooked and peeled beets
handful of spinach
handful of fresh mint
3 T. wheat bran
pinch cinnamon
1 cup ice cubes
1 cup plain yoghurt

Blend until smooth and brush your teeth afterwards, as there will be a dark purple tinge.


McDonald's All-Access Mom Q and A

EAT, family meals By August 18, 2011 Tags: , , , 3 Comments

As promised, UrbanMommies has been taking each and every one of your questions to the appropriate people at McDonald’s.  (So keep tweeting, facebooking and emailing us).  We will hold off on specific chicken, beef and potato-related questions until we see the various farms and plants. Even though I look like a dolt asking some of the queries (you’ll figure out which….) I still pipe up, and seem to provide the McDonald’s staff with either amusement or horror that some rumours still exist.  Here are the first few answers…

1.  Q: Does McDonald’s cook their fries with beef products?

A: In Canada they stopped using beef tallow 5 years ago. Now the fries are 100% animal fat free. In the US there are still traces of a flavour derived from animal fat in a quick par fry process before they are frozen. This is why the US can’t declare them totally animal free.

2.  Q: How much sugar is in the buns and French fries to make them so yummy (and addictive!)?

A: There is no sugar at all in the fries, though at some times of the year they do have to spray dextrose on the outside of them in order to keep the colour consistent. There is so much natural sugar in a potato they actually try to take it out. Blanching helps. If there is too much sugar, the outsides will caramelize in spots.

3. Q: How much of your ‘beef’ comes from land that was formerly Brazillian rainforest?

A: They have really strict regulations for their meat suppliers and no beef comes from rainforest land. I just asked. All beef and most chicken sold in Canada come from Canadian sources.

4. Q: What part of the chicken does a McNugget come from?

A: Nuggets are only breast meat (I actually asked if there were chicken lips and toenails). I think Chef Dan was mortified.

5.  Q: Are there standardized international cleaning practices in washrooms?

A: The standard for washroom cleaning is to ensure it is clean at all times.  Washrooms should be checked and spot cleaned every 15 minutes during peak customer times and every 30 minutes at non-peak times.

Throughout the day, the toilets will be cleaned and sanitized; walls, partitions, sinks, dispensers and vents etc. will also be cleaned and the floors damp mopped a  minimum of 5 times.

A thorough cleaning and sanitizing of all areas will be done at least once per day usually at the close of the restaurant.

6.  Q: How many McDonald’s products contain MSG?

A: MSG was a widely used flavour enhancer several years ago.  However, the growing scientific evidence of consumer sensitivity resulted in McDonald’s removing all added MSG in its menu items several years ago.  Today, MSG is on a list of ingredients that should not be used when formulating products for McDonald’s.
It should be noted however, that other ingredients high in glutamic acid (such as hydrolyzed plant/vegetable protein, yeast extract, soy extract, etc.) may cause similar reactions to those sensitive to MSG.  All these types of ingredients are shown in the Food Facts ingredient information found on the website.

7.  Do they have caffeine-free tea?

A:  Yes.  McDonald’s Canada uses Higgins and Burke tea, and the herbal varieties are not caffeinated.  Their green tea is also Higgins and Burke, and like most Green teas, contains caffeine.

8.  Q:  Are mealworms and beef plasma used as a bonding agent in the beef? Q: Are the apples in the apple pies actually turnips? Q: Do they put potatoes in the milkshakes to thicken them? Q: Do your buns contain styrofoam? Q: Do they use beef plasma as filler?

A: No to all of the above.  Thank goodness.  Styrofoam?

Please keep sending along your questions.  As you can see from what we’ve gotten so far – nothing is ridiculous to ask!  In all, I am learning a ton about ingredients and food preparation, and can’t wait to get to the New Brunswick McCain facility.  The full post from the first trip is here.


McDonalds All-Access Moms: Balanced Impressions from Inside the Arches

EAT, family meals By August 18, 2011 Tags: , , 1 Comment

Dichotomy.  Ying and yang.  That’s all I can think.  The All-Access Moms program is exciting but controversial.  One glance at Twitter and that becomes apparent.  But McDonald’s opening up their doors and business to prying eyes and questions must be nerve-wracking for them too.  I have witnessed so many things already, and now ask readers to hear me out.  There will be negatives and positives.  Please try to hear each.  We have not been hired to convince anybody that the whole menu at McDonald’s is healthy.  We’re not here to tell you to eat there daily.  We’re being shown the behind-the-scenes stuff to really see the operations and what goes into the food.  And we’re not being edited.  As promised, I will address each of your questions on as I find the answers – the first few Q and A are located here.

The first trip was intense. A few comments and impressions: I was pretty surprised that they use ingredients like Becel, Higgins & Burke teas and other brands I have around my own kitchen.  I can’t believe that Ronald McDonald houses are full 365 nights a year.  The senior people have been there for years (And they’re skinny and totally proud to be working for McDonald’s.)  Some of the reaction to the program has been disparaging. I (and the other 2 English bloggers) have been slandered on Twitter for participating.  We were dubbed ‘rainforest killers’, deemed to be ‘pimping our kids for profit’, and it was decided that we are ‘going to hell’.  Ironically, the controversy and lack of intelligent discussion has made me pay even more attention to what I am learning.  Juxtaposed against the genuine openness of the McDonald’s staff, I must admit that I’m listening hard.

Here’s my first trip..

Day One:  Corporate Headquarters and restaurant tour in Toronto. After meeting with the senior executives of McDonald’s Canada, we toured a restaurant and saw the processes behind the counter.  Here’s the good and bad.  Good: freshness of food, efficiency of production, and the treatment of staff were amazing.  Food safety was extraordinary.  The cleaning schedule for the play area was impressive, as was the fact that the cleaning solutions are child and earth-friendly.  Bad: they need to compost and recycle more.  Sometimes food safety and efficiency took precedence over environmental issues.  (Such as dumping a stale salad in the garbage instead of putting the lettuce in a compost and recycling the container.)  Also bad: the highchairs.  They are wiped down, but never get ‘Mom-clean’.  At the Innovation Center we suggested they invent a new highchair design that can be more easily sanitized.

Day Two: Chicago.  Test Kitchen with Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut and then Hamburger University.  We made smoothies (recipe on UrbanMommies) which are currently available in the US and are offered at select restaurants in Canada. Smoothies will be offered in most Canadian restaurants later this year or early 2012. Dan and his team consider every ingredient when creating menu items.  No food is off-limits and they try things in creative combinations.  I asked about adding quinoa and different grains, and they had already experimented with many of the ingredients I was suggesting.  I was interested in the varying foods offered in different countries.  There are even kosher options in Jerusalem.

It was apparent that McDonald’s is a business and is run as such.  I thought the questions posed to Dan were pretty heated, and was really impressed with how they were handled.  The bottom line is that it is a business, and if the business felt that people really wanted whole wheat buns and veggie burgers, they would change the menu.  But the majority of the 28.5 million people who eat at McDonald’s in North America every day don’t want that.  In tests in Seattle and Boston, veggie burgers didn’t sell.  The customer is the focus, and there are constant trials and tests in the restaurants to determine what the customer wants.

It was announced in the US that the Happy Meal is being made healthier.  Changes will also be made to the Happy Meal program in Canada, but with Canada at a slightly different stage in menu evolution, the changes will not be the same as the US.  Canada had already introduced 1% milk in 2004, apple slices in 2006 and reduced-sodium grilled chicken snack wrap as a Happy Meal option in 2010.  The new Canadian Happy Meal platform will see the automatic inclusion of a 50g serving of yogurt along with a reduced portion of fries.  As before, apple slices can be substituted for the fries.    This brought us into long chats about happy meal ‘issues’.  I don’t buy happy meals often, as there are healthier choices on the menu. Parents have the money and make the decisions on what their children eat.

Hamburger University was cool.  I love that the credits people earn there can be applied to college programs and people earn degrees.

Day Three: The Innovation Center.  This is where things got interesting.  The Innovation Center, originally opened in 1995 as a 5000 sq. ft facility, is now a 5x larger, fully equipped facility where new products, cooking methods, computer systems and processes can be tested.  Any restaurant in the world can be ‘replicated’ – from the positions of the counters to the location of computer monitors and cooking stations. There are 30 patents that have come out of the facility. Teams of employees act as customers or servers and there is even a drive-through window.  On some days food is produced and others it isn’t.  On days when food is produced, some of it is discarded and some is consumed.  (French fries and anything with mayonnaise are not safe to keep).  Cheeseburgers, nuggets and other sandwiches are frozen and sent to the food bank twice each week.  For some readers this waste will be controversial.  The Innovation Center exists in order to make the more than 30 thousand McDonald’s restaurants more efficient, and to sacrifice a few French fries in one location in order to save millions of potatoes from being thrown out around the world?  I think it’s worth it.  This is just my opinion and I know that others do not share my view.

Overall?  I am glad I am participating.  I knew it would be controversial but I am happy for the questions and discussion from the parenting community.  In the end, we are all responsible adults and have control over what enters our body and those of our children.  I’m really glad that when I choose to eat at McDonald’s, I will have a better understanding about what is going into it.  I think the corporation needs improvement in a few areas, but I was impressed at how open they were to our suggestions and questions.


And So Begins The First All-Access Trip

EAT, family meals By July 24, 2011 Tags: , , , No Comments

After several child organizational challenges and lego mishaps at home, I headed to Toronto for the first McDonald’s All-Access Moms trip.  (We managed to find Luke Skywalker’s body, so I was free to travel without worry.)   It’s hard to pinpoint how I feel as I begin on this journey.  I’ve been busy with the press, and am so excited to dive into the program.  Questions are pouring in, and I’ve been gently schooled in societal issues all the way from farming protocols to the perils of eating too quickly.