Over a cup of tea…

July 2, 2013

If we were chatting over a cup of tea this morning, I’d tell you how amazing my Canada Day was. My friend has an apartment on Clarence Street in the Byward Market and through an awesome party complete with Canada trivia, sangria and delicious snacks. It was definitely one for the books. Canada Day is one of my favourite holidays (although I am not impressed to have had to go to work this morning).

Canada Day in Ottawa

If we were chatting over a cup of tea, I’d announce that summer has officially begun only because Big Brother is on! Honestly, it doesn’t feel like summer until it starts. It’s one of my favourite shows ever and I just love how it’s on three times a week. My Other Half and I watch it together and normally cheer for different sides of the house. I can’t believe it’s season 15! Right now, I obviously like Elissa (Rachel’s sister).

If we were chatting over a cup of tea, I’d tell you my intake of Thai food has sky rocketed lately. It might be because I love this little place close to my work (Baan Thai) so much. I also went to Khao Thai (our favourite Thai spot in Ottawa) for girls’ night last week and made yellow curry as my Canada Day potluck item (multicultural, right?). I’m probably going to order Thai takeout for lunch today too. Yum.

Thai food

If we were chatting over a cup of tea, I’d tell you how freakin’ busy I was last week. I ran around the city doing a billion things – renewing my passport, fixing watches and iPads, getting a new health card, going to the doctor and optometrist, and buying new batteries for our alarm system. I barely had a free moment! Thankfully I squeezed in a couple relaxing baths and a good book.

Now that I mention it, if we were chatting over a cup of tea, I’d tell you how I finally finished To Kill a Mockingbird and I loved it! It was slow in the beginning but it got really good around the middle. What a sweet story. Now I’m reading Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. It’s my friend Laura’s favourite book and it’s set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. So far, so good!

Baan Thai on Urbanspoon

Khao Thai on Urbanspoon

I hate the nights when I get home from work haven’t been organized enough to plan anything for supper. I open the fridge and freezer 50 times, look in the pantry 50 times and then pace around the kitchen frustrated that I have no idea what to make.

Most of the time I have all the ingredients on hand to make a fabulous meal, but my creative juices just aren’t flowing. Luckily, this exact situation happened a couple weeks ago and I did have my creative hat on. I think I even impressed My Other Half with my resourcefulness!

photo

The inspirational ingredients? Well, the goat cheese, mixed greens and cranberries should have been a dead giveaway. But I had to tie in a couple chicken thighs leftover from another meal. The result? Chicken, Candied Pecans, Goat Cheese & Cranberry Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette. It was delicious and nutritious.

Julia’s Chicken, Candied Pecans, Goat Cheese & Cranberry Salad
2 chicken thighs or 1 breast
1/2 Italian salad dressing
1/3 cup Pecan pieces
1 tbsp melted margarine
1 tbsp sugar
1 package mixed greens
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 sliced bell pepper (your choice of colour)

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from SimpleRecipes.com
2 tbsp honey mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper as needed

Marinate the chicken with the Italian dressing in a zip lock bag for as long as you can (overnight is best, but 20 minutes is fine too). Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes per side. Let cool and thinly slice. In a small baking dish, add pecans, margarine and sugar. Toss to coat the pecans and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Set aside. Make the dressing by adding all ingredients to a mason jar and then shake like crazy, until combined. Portion the mixed greens and top with goat cheese, dried cranberries, bell pepper, chicken and cooled pecans. Serve the dressing on the side (you don’t need very much).

Alternatively, I’m sure this salad would be great with plain chicken (not marinated) or without chicken at all. What’s your favourite salad recipe?

Hors d’oeuvres are difficult in the summer. I typically think of them as being hot finger foods served by waiters dressed as penguins. But when you’re hosting a dinner party in 40 degree heat, that’s not really going to fly, is it?

Let’s be honest – there will never be waiters dressed as penguins serving anything at my house. Not unless My Other Half owns a tuxedo I am unaware of.

But hors d’oeuvres, yes – I like to serve a pre-meal appetizer for when our guests arrive. More often than not this is a cheese platter, but recently I decided to try something new.

I am instantly drawn to anything containing avocado, so when I found these Shrimp, Avocado & Cucumber Bites, it was love at first sight. Refreshing and simple, I have yet to find better appetizer for a hot summer day.

Shrimp, Avocado & Cucumber Bites
Adapted from Canadian Living

170g cooked cold-water salad shrimp, chopped
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp light mayonnaise
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt & pepper
1 English cucumber, cut diagonally in 24 slices

Places cucumber slices on a platter. Mix remaining ingredients and serve 1 tbsp of the mixture on each cucumber slice. That’s it!

At the Rose & Kettle Tearoom, I made scones at least twice a week. They were the best – the kind you could eat without any butter or jam. I ate way too many of those things while I worked there!

Unfortunately I never wrote down the recipe for those scones. I had made them so many times, the process was committed to memory. Ten years later, however, it’s slipped my mind all together. Now I really wish I’d written it down!

I am sure a quick call to the tearoom would solve my problem, but in the meantime, I went on a hunt for the next best recipe. This one is pretty good – not the mouth-watering goodness I am accustomed to, but they were perfect for Strawberry Shortcake, one of my favourite summer desserts.

Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from Joy of Baking

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture until it resembles crumbs. Mix together the egg, cream and vanilla extract and add to flour mixture, just until the dough comes together. Do not over mix! Move to a floured surface and knead dough four or five times and then roll the dough into an 8-inch circle With a round cookie cutter, cut out smaller circles and place on the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with egg or cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees on the middle rack for about 20 minutes, or until scones are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a rack.

It’s now the totally wrong time of year to make this, since strawberries aren’t in season, but if you can get your hands on some (even the frozen kind), this dessert is sure to put a smile on your face. Why can’t we enjoy comfort foods like this all year round?!

Chipotle Steak Salad

September 18, 2012

If you haven’t already noticed… I love chipotle.

One of my very favourite things are chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I encountered them when I first made my Mexican Meatloaf. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I stock up on them regularly.

I love the flavour – spicy and smokey, and deliciously Mexican.

I also love steak. So this salad was a match made in heaven. And it really couldn’t be easier.

Chipotle Steak Salad
Adaptedfrom The Pioneer Woman

Lettuce of your choice (I used red leaf)
Steak (enough for the number of servings – we like top sirloin)
1 tomato, slivered
1/2 red onion, slivered
1/2 green pepper, cut into strips
1 cup light mayo
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

Arrange your lettuce, tomatoes, onions and green peppers on plates. Grill your steak to your liking (we prefer our steak on the rare side) and slice as thinly as possible. You can add seasonings before grilling too (My Other Half and I typically just use salt and pepper, which creates a crispy texture). Lay the steak on the salad. As the steak is cooking, put 1 cup of light mayo in food processor and add the chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Process until no chunks remain. Taste the dressing – if it’s not spicy enough, feel free to add more adobo sauce. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.

Could that be any easier? And you should have some dressing leftovers for other salads, which is great too… maybe try is on a taco salad – yum!

I know, I know. Lots of people don’t like mushrooms.

That’s one of the reasons I still haven’t made these goat cheese-stuffed mushroom caps yet. I pinned them back in November but every time I go to make them, someone says “eww, mushrooms”. So I don’t.

Would someone who likes mushrooms PLEASE come to my house for dinner?

I grew up disliking mushrooms too, but my Mama loves them so eventually I gave them a try. I now love them cooked… but still can’t pick up a raw mushroom on a veggie tray like My Other Half does.

But I mean, really, what’s a steak without sauteed mushrooms and onions?

Anyway, obviously it’s been BBQ season for quite some time, so I decided to try my hand at portobello mushroom burgers. Costco sells perfect-looking, huge portobello mushroom caps (just in case you’re looking) in the produce section. I’ve talked about these delicious meat substitutes before when I wrote about my leek, bacon and mushrooms carbonara.

My Other Half actually whipped up the marinade for these bad boys, and I had to decide what to top our burgers with. And they were fantastic! Honestly, the perfect combination.

Julia’s Portobello Burgers
An original recipe!

Marinade
Two large portobello mushroom caps (or four small)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Place all ingredients in ziplock bag with the mushrooms and coat. Seal and leave for 10 minutes to an 1 hour. To cook them, just grill for 5 minutes per side. Easy!

Toppings
My homemade guacamole
Goat cheese (crumbled)
Sliced tomato
Slivered red onion
Fresh whole basil leaves
Burger buns

Where has the summer gone? I feel like it just started and in fact, it’s almost over. It’s probably because we’ve been keeping so busy. There just aren’t enough hours in a day sometimes! This past week has been especially crazy. We were away for a beautiful wedding last weekend and this week My Other Half has been in extreme northern Ontario, leaving me to prepare for his dad’s first visit to our new house. This entailed literally scrubbing the house from top to bottom, stocking the fridge and of course, some yummy cooking!

Sunday night was my favourite day of the month – book club! My fellow blogger Kate Lalumiere hosted in her beautiful apartment. Her place is spacious, classy and full of character and we sampled some fantastic cheeses and I tried some wines I’d never heard of before. My contribution was an idea I stole from the wedding we attended the day before: Brie and Pear Pastries!

Brie and Pear Pastries

After the ceremony at the Nestleton Waters Inn, the guests had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. One of the things the waiters were passing around were these tiny pastries with pear and brie in them. When I got home from the wedding on Sunday (panicking because I had to pull a potluck item together for book club), I realized I had all those things on hand – phyllo pastry, brie and pears. And an egg for brushing.

It was that easy – I cut the pastry into 2” squares and filled them with a little cheese and pear. I then pinched the corners together to create a little pocket. I brushed them with beaten egg and baked them at 350ºC for 15 minutes (until golden). They were so yummy and went perfectly with our accidental wine/cheese night! Easy peezy.

Now for an update on my most recent attempt – Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake! I have only ever made one cheesecake before, and as you may recall they were Peanut Butter Cheesecake Squares, so this was really my first real try. The recipe looked so summery and fresh and delicious I just had to try it – you may have seen it on the front of this month’s Canadian Living magazine. When I read the recipe, it didn’t sound very hard, but making it was a whole other thing.

You pretty much have to make two batters – the strawberry and the regular, and then swirl them. Also, there’s a lot of waiting in this recipe. You have to cook the crust, the ingredients must be at room temperature, you must let it cool in the water for 15 minutes, then cool completely out of the water, and then chill for a minimum of four hours. Too much waiting for an impatient girl like me.

Ahh, yes… the water. So it says it bake the cheesecake in an inch of water. Problem is, most pans aren’t bigger than my 9” cheesecake pan. So halfway through the cake, I had to run to trusty ol’ Winners to pick up a big enough pan. Luckily they had a 12” cake pan for $6.99 – perfect!

What I don’t understand is how to tell when a cheesecake is cooked. The recipe said it was finished when the top wasn’t shiny, the sides were set and the inside still jiggled, which is exactly what I did, However, it didn’t crack like most homemade cheesecakes do and after 10 hours of refrigeration, when I poked at the centre, it seemed still really soft and jiggly… like it hadn’t set. I guess we’ll find our when our guests try it this weekend!

We’re also planning an hors d’oeuvres dinner of Chicken and Avocado Eggrolls, Ginger Pork Wontons and Bacon Jalapeno Duck Skewers… should be a lot of work, but totally delicious! More to come on that cooking adventure soon!

Smoothies and I go way back. Way, way back.

Yummy smoothie with raspberries

Smoothies are a summertime thing, even if the emergence of Booster Juice and Orange Julius would have us believe otherwise. But I have a special memory about smoothies from long before they became so mainstream.

When I think of summer as a kid, I think of my cousin Kelly. She has always been my closest friend. I guess you could say it helps that we’re family and she’s only 11 months older than me, but we’ve always got along – even as little kids – and have always loved spending time together. We never fought, and even though I was a mouthy brat and a troublesome teenager, she still liked me and never judged.

We truly grew up together. We saw each other all the time – Brownies, church every week, family birthdays and holidays, sleepovers… and as we grew up, we chose to spend more and more time together. I remember every summer was filled with Kelly & Julia time – swimming in Poppy’s pool, going to the cottage, laying under the sun or just wandering around our neighborhoods being social butterflies. Some of the best laughs I’ve ever had were with Kelly (like drawing all over the drywall in my basement, convincing ourselves that a robber/murderer was coming to get us, leaving a trail of bubblegum down Dorothea Drive, and lots of inside jokes… “for the rest of your life, the hair on this leg will be shorter than the hair on that leg!!!”)

One hot summer day when we were probably 13 or 14, we decided we needed a snack. It was Kelly’s great idea to make smoothies – something I’d never done before. I still remember the exact concoction to this day – she grabbed a frozen banana from freezer, fresh strawberries, milk, fruity yogurt and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and blended it all together. The result was better than any smoothie I’d ever imagined, and it was so simple to make! This started a series of smoothie creations and we finally decided that when we grew up, we were going to go into business together and open a smoothie shop called “Jelly’s”… (combination of Julia and Kelly… get it?)

Jelly’s Standard Smoothie
(makes two servings)

  1. 1 banana
  2. 1/2 cup fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries etc.)
  3. 1/2 cup yogurt
  4. 1/4 cup milk
  5. 1 scoop vanilla or fruity ice cream

Julia and Kelly circa 1990

This love for smoothies followed me to university. When my Roomie got a Magic Bullet, I was making a smoothie every day. I pretty much use the same ingredients as Kelly did on that summer day, depending on what I have around. I’ve learned that ice is an excellent addition (especially if you don’t have ice cream) and bananas have a very dominant flavour well-countered by blueberries or raspberries. Regardless, almost every smoothie I make brings me back to Kelly’s old kitchen on Dorothea Drive.

Those were the best summers. Now we’re all grown up and I’ve moved away, but Kelly is one of the first people I see every time I come home. We know each other so well. We’ve been there for each other through absolutely everything – all the ups and downs little girls, teenagers and women go through. It seems we get closer the older we get. Although my mother is the third of four kids, I only have two cousins on her side (affectionately referred to as DeDe and BooBoo… and my sister’s nickname is George… how I managed to escape a weird pet name is beyond me). This side of my family is very close. As I get older and even closer with my cousins, I increasingly feel as though I have two extra sisters. I guess you could say I’m pretty darn lucky.

So this post is about smoothies, but is also an ode to my cousin and best friend. Cheers to BooBoo!

The Canadian Living obsession continues… but I sometimes wonder why I have pretty much given up all other cookbooks and recipe resources since getting my Canadian Living subscription.

Grilled Chicken and Charred Corn Salad

I guess I can offer a couple reasons. The first would be that the magazine comes every month, so it’s a novelty and it’s always around. But it’s more than just convenience. Their recipes are very much “my taste”… they cook things that I like cooking (and eating). We have a similar style, I guess. The recipes aren’t super fancy or fine dining like Chef Ramsay, but they’re also not as basic as some of Nigella’s recipes either. I’m not bashing Nigella… I still love her, especially since I credit her for making me fall in love with cooking, but it’s true – some of her recipes are really basic.  (i.e. “This mouth-watering pork chop recipe is brilliant… it’s positively divine it’s so simple… just sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill for 5 minutes a side.”)

This Grilled Chicken and Charred Corn Salad is on the cover of the latest Canadian Living magazine. It’s one of the amazing meals we had last week (as mentioned in my last post). It’s a medley of all sorts of great things, but the best part is that it’s a BBQ salad. We cooked asparagus (or, rather, I watched) and it tasted amazing. We also used a chicken spice over the chicken which was a nice touch.

We did cheat on one part though – I didn’t want to buy corn on the cob, so I just used frozen corn in a pot which  let go golden brown just a bit (to mimic the “charred” BBQ effect).

My fellow j-skooler and cooking blog diva Miss Hilary Duff is also a Canadian Living fan and she recently posted her own rendition of this dish! Check it out here.

The best part? There is a lovely video for the recipe. And since I am addicted to Channel 95 (the Food Network), I think this is great!

Savoury Summer Suppers!

June 21, 2011

Mushroom Cheeseburger and a yummy salad

We’ve been on a bit of a cooking rampage at our house. This past week, I made a whole slew of recipes. We have been eating like kings! It’s always more fun to make recipes than to take the easy way out and throw in a pizza or something. You always feel better after and definitely more satisfied.

Last week, I’ve made:

-          Grilled Corn, Asparagus and Chicken Summer Salad

-          Sweet and Tangy Sausage Kabobs

-          Chicken, Bacon Avocado Sandwich with Blue Cheese Dressing

-          Mushroom Cheeseburgers

My favourite part about BBQ season is that it involved both of us in the meal preparation process. We’re both a bit controlling when we’re cooking, so unless we delegate specific tasks, we’ve learned to stay out of each other’s way in the kitchen. All of the recipes above are BBQ recipes, which means I do the interior prep and My Other Half mans the grill.

The Chicken, Bacon Avocado Sandwich with Blue Cheese Dressing didn’t live up to my expectations, but I think that’s because we overdid the blue cheese. With about ¼ of the dressing, the other flavours – like the bacon and avocado – would really pop. Lesson learned!

The Sweet and Tangy Sausage Kabobs were so easy and so healthy. We had them without any other side dish and it was such a nice, light supper! We got to thinking that kabobs of any kind are just a great summer meal idea.

The Mushroom Cheeseburgers were delicious, but that aren’t nearly as good as the Jalapeno Cheese-Stuffed Hamburgers we made a couple weeks ago. Those are the most delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth.

What a great week of cooking! Stay tuned for my post on the Grilled Corn, Asparagus and Chicken Summer Salad!

Sandwich!

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