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Happy Hump Day 10/08/2011

10 Aug

Remember my Happy Hump Day post of a couple weeks back? Well, I liked the idea, and, given all the negative things going on in the news these days (markets crashing, troops getting killed, people rioting), I figure we can all use more excuses to smile, right? So in an effort to spread the joy, I plan to share with you things that have made me smile lately on most (if not all) Wednesdays. So here’s the list for this week.IMG_2469

Smile# 1: Pre-boiled beets. I know, I know, a little odd to be on this list, especially at the top. What can I say? I’m a nerdy locavore food blogger. But just stop and consider the happiness made possible by the convenience of having this gorgeous purple gems ready to go in your fridge. You can make this pizza in about 20 minutes.

IMG_2483Doesn’t strike your fancy? How about using the beets in a salad as part of this summer-licious salad, ready in under half an hour, perfect for those Sunday nights when you’ve got caught up in finishing the scrapbook for the trip you went on over two months ago. The gloriousness to your left is a salad of spinach, chopped mushrooms, red pepper, and onions, topped with loads of beets (minus the few chunks I ate…can’t help myself), balsamic vinaigrette and feta. Then of course you see beautiful, fresh, local sweet corn on the cob (delicious enough to be a Smile in and of itself), and a turkey sausage on a bun with mustard, sauerkraut and pickled red onions.

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Still not sold on the pre-boiled beets? Throw ‘em in an unconventional slaw, along with broccoli slaw mix, onion, a crunchy baby cucumber and some fennel. Make your dressing out of PC Blue Menu Tzatziki, Greek yogurt, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Thank you, pre-boiled beets, for making all of this deliciousness possible in relatively little time. All kidding aside though, I really did beets a lot more accessible if they’re pre-cooked and ready to rock.

Smile #2: An hour of FREE personal training. Yep, you read that right. My workout week got off to a great start Monday morning when, after my run and breakfast, I went to the gym for a 9 AM body sculpting class. The gym was pretty quiet, and I was the only one who showed up for class. The instructor offered me an hour of personal training, or we could still do the class…I went with the training. I told her I liked to focus on my upper body, and that’s exactly what we did! I was feelin’ the burn after in the best way. We chatted away while working my arms and abs, and before I knew it, the hour had flown by. Thanks Evelina!

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Smile # 3: The Month of August. It’s easy to get sad thinking about summer being over this time of year, but I refuse. Here’s why I love August:

  • it’s the month of my birth, and celebrations will be extended this year because it falls on the day I leave for Philly
  • speaking of Philly, I am going to HLS in only 8 days!Open-mouthed smileThis is my excited face…and I found out Monday that the opening night cocktail party is being held at a farmers’ market…SO COOL!
  • August brings the yummy produce you see above (peaches, plums and blueberries) and so much more, it makes eating so delicious
  • I’ve been able to re-connect with lots of friends this month due to time off from school, which also puts a smile on this girl’s face

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Smile# 4: Summer Sundays involving the things pictured at right. In this case, a cold drink (two Source creme caramel  yogurts blended with coffee, sugar-free caramel syrup and ice), a bowl of fresh local fruit, sunglasses, ipod with summer music playlist, sunglasses and Food Network Magazine. Not pictured, but also essential to the smiley face: lounge chair with comfy cushion and sun in the sky. Only thing that could have made it better? A little less sweat going on (TMI? Sorry.) and/or easy access to a pool. Oh well. You can’t have it all.

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Smile #5: (sort of related to #4) Local Peaches and Blueberries. They make such a delicious flavour combo, always remind me of my birthday (since both usually find their way into a birthday breakfast), and make healthy, delicious eating just SO easy. Peaches and blueberries have found their way into (among many other things)IMG_2405:

This decadently delicious peach blueberry cobbler (crisp if you want to be culinarily correct, but always a cobbler in my family) at my long weekend BBQ Fiesta.

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This beautiful breakfast (many times over, this was just one of the prettier ones), atop a breakfast thin (digging the cinnamon raisin ones I got State-side) with sweetened vanilla light ricotta. Looks like some blackberries tagged along here, with cherries on the side, and either an iced coffee or cafe mocha to drink, depending on my mood (speaking of iced coffee, I feel like I should own shares in Almond Breeze. I am tearing through that stuff!).IMG_2495

A new twist on the bubbling berry biscuit bake. This time, used brown sugar twin and added sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg to my fruit – peaches, blueberries and two little plums. I also used regular skim milk, not buttermilk (didn’t have any that needed to be used up). Don’t worry, I did everything else the same – right down to the vanilla ice cream and mint on top. Winking smileIMG_2494

Smile # 6: Make your own Peanut Butter Magic Shell. Check out the link from the wannabechef. I haven’t tried it yet, but doesn’t it look so fun, so good, and like it contains so many less ingredients than any other “shell” ice cream topping out there?! And I LOVE the idea of pairing it with banana soft serve. If you try it, let me know!

So, in an even greater effort to spread the happiness around, I will close every happy hump day post by asking you to share something that has made you smile lately (you can have more than one thing, you know). What has made you Smile lately?

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Child’s Play

9 Aug

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My cooking is a lot of things. I like to think it’s healthy, delicious, fun, creative….(no, this is not a post dedicated to self-flattery, just in case you were wondering)….but kid-friendly isn’t always one of them. You all know how much I love fruits and veggies now. Well, really, I always have, but back when I was a kid, there was a list of ones I didn’t like, including squash, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts (I’m sure there were many more but I can’t think of them as of right now). Needless to say, I have embraced them and am trying to make up for lost time with those under-appreciated veggies.

So when my little cousins (it should be noted that their ages are 14 and almost 12, so at this point they’re not really “kids,” and certainly not “little,” but since I was the youngest until they came along, they’ll always be my “little” cousins) accepted my invitation for a sleepover Saturday night, I racked my brain that would make us all happy: tasty, kid-friendly, and veggie packed. The answer?

POTATO BAR! My family got the idea for this meal from a summer camp that my sister attended growing up (I went one year, suffered terribly from homesickness, and never went back). Basically, everyone gets a baked potato and loads it up with their choice of toppings. I served the potatoes with salad on the side. Although the above two photos just look like a plate of veggies, I PROMISE there is a potato under there (I should have taken pictures of my cousins’ plates, as they were much more “conservative” with the veggies than I, and you can actually see the potatoes). The toppings we had to choose from were:IMG_2478

  • butter spray/butter/margarine
  • fat free sour cream
  • light grated Tex-Mex cheese
  • light feta
  • bacon
  • ham
  • chopped mushrooms
  • chopped green onion
  • salsa
  • lightly cooked broccoli
  • chopped tomatoes

I started with butter spray, then added all of the above (minus the bacon). As you can see, I had a heavy hand with the veggies. In my somewhat limited experience in cooking for kids and/or people with dietary restrictions/people you don’t know well, I’ve found that self-serve, build-your-own meals work best. That way, if there’s something that some like and others don’t it’s easy to leave out. I was happy with my ham, cheese and veggie extravaganza, my cousin was equally satisfied with bacon, cheese, a touch of salsa and some broccoli. This is a great meal to feed a crowd too. It’s fun for all, and, other than chopping, pretty low-maintenance in terms of prep.

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I promised my cousins that if they came to sleep over this summer, we could make ice cream in my new ice cream maker together. Once again, I wanted to find a recipe that would satisfy my desire for something healthier but also meet the taste criteria for younger tastebuds. So when an allrecipes email came into my inbox with a link to this new recipe for Strawberry Freeze by “Laurie” that contained only three ingredients – buttermilk, strawberries and sugar, I was intrigued. The local strawberries available sealed the deal.

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from Laurie at allrecipes.com

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup white sugar, or to taste
  • 3 cups buttermilk

Place 1 cup buttermilk, strawberries, and sugar into a blender. Cover, and puree until smooth. Pour in the remaining 3 cups buttermilk and blend until combined. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze or if using an ice cream maker, freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

*Obviously, I went the ice cream maker route, not the ice pop way. The recipe ways it makes 8 servings, but I’d say more than that or you’ll have 8 really big servings!

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Blending up the strawberry goodness.

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The finished product. I know it looks like we added food colouring, but I promise we didn’t – it’s 100% all natural. This “freeze” was quite delicious – not too sweet at all (thanks to the buttermilk I think). Although, it did suffer the same problem as many of my healthier frozen treats. It got quite hard the second day. Still delicious, just needs a bit of microwaving before serving.

Do you have any go-to menus/recipes when cooking for kids?

You say tomato…

8 Aug

IMG_2463Happy Monday all! So I promised you yesterday that I would show you some of what I’ve been doing with the tomato goodness from my garden. Just a quick refresher on the varieties I’m growing: golden cherry tomatoes, Roma/plum, beefsteak, and 2 kinds of heirloom tomatoes: Brandywine and Japanese Truffle. I seem to have a little blight on some of my plants, but happily, not all of them. I’m not in peak season yet, the tomatoes are coming slowly but surely. However, within a week or so, I’m sure I’ll be overloaded (and ready to share).

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Today’s spotlight is mostly going to be on the Romas. Last year was my first year growing plum tomatoes, and I LOVE them. They are perfect for cooking, making sauces, and roasting. Oh, how I LOVE roasted tomatoes. Confession: when I was out in the garden harvesting tomatoes on Saturday and thinking about roasting them, I *may* have made a rock fist and declared aloud how much I love roasted vegetables….that’s normal, right?

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The tasty lunch you see here is a salad of sorts. I roasted plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and onion with some fresh thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil (confession: I was actually running out to get a few groceries, and put these in the oven before I left (on a lower heat than I normally would), then turned them up when I got home. But I do not condone/recommend having the oven on when you’re not home, for obvious safety reasons). I tossed the warm veggies with some fresh spinach and spritzed with my fancy truffle balsamic vinegar. The spinach wilted slightly, but not all the way – it was just perfect. I also tossed in about 1/4 cup black beans (all that was left from the can I opened for the chili), some feta cheese, and a piece of chopped lunch meat chicken (seasoned with lime and an herb – I forget what).

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A close-up of the grilled goodness

On the side, as you can see, I enjoyed 2 slices of fresh local muskmelon wrapped in ham (my nod to the classic prosciutto/melon combo). Mmm! Such a perfectly delectable summer lunch. I mean, I love salads and vegetables, but roasting them just takes the flavour to a new dimension. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for?!IMG_2468

The other Roma/plum tomato usage I’m highlighting is in my Neapolitan green beans that were an accompaniment to my pizza Friday night (if it looks like a light meal, that’s because I was heading out to go to Costco and eat samples and then head to Starbucks with a friend). I made the beans the same way as I did when I first told you about them, only used fresh plum tomatoes. Garden fresh tomatoes + basil + beans = delicious side dish and happy Hilary.

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And the pizza? Ok, it does not contain tomatoes, but it was so simple, fresh, delicious, and AMAZING that you’re just going to have to hear about it, okay?

Goat Cheese, Beet and Arugula Pizza

Crust – by now, you’ve got the idea (click the link if you’re new here).

For sauce, I topped it with a smear of red wine onion relish (if you haven’t made it yet, WHY NOT? Seriously, so good) for a little added flavour and so that I wouldn’t be putting my toppings on a naked crust.

I topped that off with 3 beets that I cooked earlier in the day (it’s my new thing with beets. I LOVE them, but they are a pain to cook, so when I know I want some, I just boil the whole basket and put them in the fridge, then they’re good to go when I want them), sliced.

I sprinkled the beets with some crumbled PC Blue Menu goat cheese, and added salt and pepper, then popped it in the oven.

Now, to get all fancy and “restaurant-y,” I topped the baked pizza with arugula that I lightly dressed in a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil and fat-free Italian salad dressing (basically my standard here). I’m really liking the fresh, cool salads on pizza thing lately (as in my spicy BBQ chicken pizza). Something about the contrast in flavour, texture and temperature just works.

Mmmm…this pizza was incredibly simple (as long as you’ve got the beets pre-cooked) but the flavours of summer produce really stood out in a delicious way. It’s so light that it would work for lunch, or cut in wedges it would make a great summer appetizer too.

Speaking of summer-fresh eating, head on over to Nourishing-Flourishing and check out her recipe for Garden Green Goddess Dressing. It uses avocado, fresh parsley, and a load of other delicious ingredients. I’ve really been digging the fresh parsley this summer. I’ve always planted it, but it took a backseat to Basil and my other fresh favs. But this year, I’m loving it’s fresh, grassy, herbaceous-ness and throwing into all kinds of salads (and dips – like that asparagus hummus and of course, cowboy caviar).

What is your favourite kind of tomato/favourite way to use fresh tomatoes (or you a hater, like I used to be)?

Confessions of a “healthy” food blogger

6 Aug

You’ve heard it here before. I’m not perfect. I like to eat things that are not always healthy for me (read: I am obsessed with dessert). My kitchen “experiments” don’t always turn out. I’m actually kind of jealous of Jamie of The Sometimes Healthy Living Blog for coming up with such a perfect name. I like to say that hungry comes before healthy in my blog name because I’m ALWAYS hungry and sometimes healthy. So are you ready for a round of HHH IMG_2412confessions? Fasten your seatbelts, ‘cause here we go!

Confession Number One: On Thursday night (designated as a splurge night back when I did WW, and can’t get the mentality out of my head) I ate 1.5 pieces of better than you-know-what cake and the little bit of homemade ice cream leftover from Sunday’s BBQ. I smartly gave most of it away, but kept these little pieces for myself. I didn’t post the recipe (because it’s dangerously addictive, and I care about you guys), but it’s basically chocolate cake soaked in the Nectar of the Gods (AKA sweetened condensed milk) and caramel sauce, then topped with Cool Whip and SKOR bars. It is, as Professor Harold Hill would say: “trouble with a capital T.”

I also ate a couple of jelly beans, a brownie, a cookie with PB (but both were small and low-fat), cereal, and a few frozen mango chunks (no, you’re not mis-reading, this is all in the SAME NIGHT). Oh well, just get on with things, start the next day with a workout, and it all works out in the end, right?

Confession Number One point five: This is one point five and not 2 because it relates to number one. I ate a sliver of a piece of better than you-know-what cake after my long run on Monday. Here’s my rationale: chocolate milk is supposed to be the perfect workout recovery food because it its protein/fat/carb ratio. And this cake was chocolate soaked in sweetened condensed milk, so pretty much the same thing, right? (just smile, nod, and agree with my rationalizations to eat insanely decadent desserts before noon). Winking smile

IMG_2450Confession Number Two: Inspired by Nourishing Flourishing’s Savory Summer Squash pancakes I decided to try and create my own variation on it with zucchini, adding fresh corn and black beans, and using a piece of crumbled leftover cornbread . I also added onion and fresh basil, and seasoned with garlic salt, pepper and cumin. While the results were delicious, they weren’t pancakes AT ALL.

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Everything crumbled and fell apart in the frying pan, creating what I called “zucchini hash.” Like I said, delicious, but not pancakes. I think I needed to better drain the zucchini and add some sort of binding agent. It isn’t really a “confession,” but I just HAVE to tell you about the sauce on the chicken in that photo. I made a red wine cherry onion sauce by simmering leftover onion relish (make it. Make it NOW. So good that you’ll eat it by the spoonful) with Dijon mustard, a splash of red wine and pitted fresh sweet cherries. Yeah. It was awesome. You know you want some.

IMG_2462Confession Number Three: I ate chocolate for breakfast yesterday morning. Okay, this really wasn’t a “bad”/unhealthy breakfast, it just sounds like it should be, and it was a really good breakfast and I wanted to share it with you and it’s my blog so I make the rules…okay? I had a deep chocolate VitaTop, a mix of fat-free regular and Greek yogurts, unsweetened cocoa powder, Splenda, fresh raspberries (last of my garden I think for this year) and a few strawberries. I finished it off with an iced coffee made with sugar-free caramel syrup (not chocolate, but still delicious). Mmm…if you want to get your day off to a great start, eat chocolate for breakfast! This one hit all the right spots! Smile

Happy Saturday! Do you have any healthy (or not-so healthy) eating/kitchen mishap confessions of late to share?

In a pickle

4 Aug

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I’ve wanted to get into canning/making preserves for several years now. It just seems like such a “lost art,” and with as much as I love summer produce, it seemed like something I should do.

But there were always so many reasons not to – I didn’t know how, it seemed scary and time-consuming, and I lacked the proper equipment. However, I have now ventured into the canning world (well, technically not, as I did my pickling in rectangular glass storage containers) and my recipes come from a surprising source – Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes.

Mr. Flay has a whole section devoted to condiments in this drool-inducing volume. Two of which caught my eye – the homemade dill pickles and the pickled red onion. Both require minimal time (think about 20 minutes each), no fancy equipment, don’t require you to know how to properly seal a jar (that’s one thing that’s always scared me about canning), and don’t make ginormous quantities – how could I go wrong? I figured last weekend’s burger party was the perfect venue to try these recipes out.

Homemade Dill Pickles – from Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes

Makes about 1 quartIMG_2340

  • 4 Kirby (or large pickling – that’s what I used) cucumbers
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh dill (this is the time of year to make these – that mega bouquet was only $1.50 at the market!)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (I used sea salt)
  • 3/4 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

*Spice note: I remembered that I had some pickling spices leftover from another recipe, so I just used 2 teaspoons of those instead of the mustard and coriander. Pickling spices include these anyway, plus Bobby says to feel free to experiment with spices, so I did!

Slice the cucumbers into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Put the cucumber slices into a medium bowl or other container with a fitted lid that is large enough to hold them.

Combine 1 cup water with all remaining ingredients in a small non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the sugar and salt dissolve, about two minutes. Bobby says to let this cool to room temperature before the next step – but I didn’t!

Pour the mixture over the cucumbers, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to a week, stirring the mixture at least once during this time (I found they had plenty of flavour after 48 hours). Drain before serving, discarding liquid and aromatics.

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Water, vinegar and aromatics in a pot all ready to boil! When this mixture was boiling, I thought my house smelled like Burger King. Smile

 

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Vinegar/aromatics mixture poured over the cucumber slices and into the fridge it goes!

 

 

 

These pickles are SO yummy – perfect for topping burgers and sandwiches all summer long (or just for straight-up snacking like I sometimes do). I like them so much that I made another batch yesterday (hey, I’ve gotta find something to do with all that dill).

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The pickled red onions I made are also quite tasty. Basically, they still taste onion-y, but don’t have that strong bite that fresh onions sometimes can, and the lime juice and flavourings give them an added dimension of flavour, or, as Bobby says, “they add a level of intrigue that raw onion slices could never do.” And this recipe is even simpler – no boiling! I really like the sort-of neon, pinkish hue they take, but be prepared for curious guests. To quote my friend Heather: “What are those things and why are they that colour?”

Pickled Red Onions from Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes

Makes about 2 cupsIMG_2360

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice (I used a mixture of bottled and fresh – sorry Bobby)
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher (or sea) salt
  • 2 large red onions
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 whole serrano chiles or jalapeno chiles, slit down the center (optional)

*Spice note: I used 2 small jalapenos, and didn’t find the heat overpowering at all.

Whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium nonreactive bowl and let sit until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and halve the onions, and then cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Add the onions, oregano, and chiles, if using, to the lime juice mixture and stir well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days, stirring the mixture at least once during this time. Drain before serving.

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Everything’s diced up and ready for action – let’s pickle some onions!

 

 

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Soaking up the lovely lime liquid.

 

 

 

If you, like me, are experiencing preserve-a-phobia (that’s a very scientific term meaning fear of canning), you should take the plunge with these recipes. Another bonus of pickled vegetables? Since they use very minimal sugar, calorie content is basically the same as fresh veggies, which = guilt-free snacking and topping! And while I have not done an official/scientific/nutritional comparison, I feel like the homemade versions would be lower in sodium than store-bought.

Both my grandmothers canned a lot (my one grandma still does), so I grew up eating homemade canned deliciousness, so maybe that’s part of the reason why I have a desire to do it. My dad’s mom makes delicious canned peaches (always a favourite growing up) as well as many other fruits. My mom’s mom’s repertoire wasn’t as varied, but my personal favourite growing up were her homemade sweet pickles. It took me years to realize why they were such a deep emerald green – she added food colouring! It was a days-long process that I, regretfully, never got to learn.

What is your experience with canning/preserving? Have you done it? Do you have a mother/grandmother who did/does? If so, any good tips/tricks/recipes for me?

By request…

3 Aug

Well, the readers have spoken! It seems that the recipe generating the most interest from Sunday’s BBQ fiesta is Cowboy Caviar. You asked, I deliver. So here’s the recipe. Warning: it makes a pretty big bowl. And it’s kinda addictive. You could make it if you don’t have a big crowd coming, but then you might be forced to eat large amounts of it. Your choice. But you’ve been warned.

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Cowboy Caviar from Cooking with Grace – A Cookbook from Point of Grace (one of my all-time favourite singing groups, btw)

  • 2 avocados, diced (mine were small so I used 3)
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 11 oz can shoe peg corn or petite white corn, drained (or use 2 large cobs worth of fresh corn kernels)
  • 15 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 2/3 cup fresh cilantro – leaves only, chopped (or, if you or your friends are cilantro-averse, use flat leaf parsley. I did so and it worked great!)
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • splash of lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • hot sauce to taste

Combine avocados, tomato, corn, black-eyed peas, cilantro and onions in a bowl. 

Combine remaining ingredients in a separate container (makes it easier if it’s something you can shake) then add to avocado mixture. Stir and chill for at least 2 hours.

Serve with your favourite tortilla chips (naturally, I used Guiltless Gourmet).

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Confessions of a food blogger: I don’t always use fresh lemon juice. There was only a splash in my Realemon jar, so I just added the rest of the dressing ingredients in there and shook it up!

 

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Caviar close-up. I much prefer this to the real thing – which is fish eggs!

 

 

 

 

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Grab the Guiltless Gourmet and we are good to go!

 

 

 

 

So, while we are on a “by request” theme, I thought I’d answer the questions I received on last week’s Q and A post.

Question One: When/where do you find you are most culinarily creative/get your best ideas, and why? Answer: It took me a while to think about this one, but here’s what I came up with: I think I am most creative when I am forced to be, like when I have an abundance of a certain ingredient, or something that needs to be used up before it goes bad. This forces me to be creative/think outside the box, and often, it’s surprising what I can come up with!

Question Two: Do you set a goal each week regarding how many new recipes you are going to try out? Answer: No. I just see what I’m in the mood for/have time for/what inspires me from the blog world/magazines/food tv/what ingredients are available. And speaking of magazines…

Question Three: Do you subscribe to any food magazines? Answer: Yes. I get (and LOVE) Food Network Magazine. It is so fun to read, has great ideas and information, and interviews with my favourite Food Network stars. The one thing I really like about this magazine is it has all different recipes depending on your skill level and the time you have. There’s a “Weeknight Cooking” section of fast and easy meals, and a “Weekend Cooking” section with more elaborate, themed menus. I also enjoy the monthly “Try this at Home” feature, where a celebrity chef takes you through how to make something that seems a little scary, like sausage, tamales, or homemade canned green tomatoes (which I hope to try this summer). I used to get Rachael Ray magazine, and also LOVE that one, but their subscriber services to Canada STINK Sad smile, so I decided not to renew. I also get Shape, which is not a good magazine, but has a couple recipes each month.

Question Four: Could you do a post of some of your salad dressing greatest hits? I would love to have all your dressings (or at least a few of them) in one place!! Answer: You ask, I deliver! My basic salad dressing formula (for one serving) is as follows:

1. In a small container (I use the 1/2 cup Glad containers), put one teaspoon oil. My typical choice is olive oil. Sometimes I use avocado oil (although I don’t find it has any real flavour at all). I’ve also tried flax oil (because it’s supposed to be good for you). And if I am in an Asian mood, I use sesame oil – major flavour there.

2. Add the following ingredients (I NEVER measure these – play with proportions, use a little more or less, see what you like):

  • mustard (usually Dijon)
  • fat-free Italian salad dressing
  • vinegar

I have a little bit to say on each of the above ingredients.

The Mustard. Dijon is my go-to because it adds a nice tang, and blends easily. However, if I have some flavoured/fancy mustards around, it’s fun to use those to play with the flavour. I also really enjoy the texture of grainy mustard, so I go with that from time to time.

Fat-free Italian salad dressing. Okay, okay, I know it’s “fake food” – hear me out! This started back when I did Weight Watchers. FF Italian is a “0 point food,” so I started adding it to my dressings to make them go further. Here’s how I look at it: I figure that making my own dressing, even if it contains some processed/fake ingredients, is better than just buying a bottle off the shelf, right? And if I use part oil/part dressing, I can have more dressing for less calories. Even though it’s called “Italian” dressing, I find the flavour fairly neutral and that it goes well with multiple ingredients. If using this stuff really bothers you, just leave it out and add more oil or have less dressing.

The Vinegar. This is where you can really give your dressing some personality. The type of vinegar is what drives the flavour of the dressing. My most commonly used vinegars are balsamic, red wine and white wine. I also like to use my fancy flavoured wine vinegars from time-to time.

Variations: The above formula is my go-to basic. But, I like to play from time to time!

  • Asian: skip the mustard, use balsamic or rice vinegar, sesame oil, and add some soya sauce
  • Southwest: red wine vinegar, and add some salsa and cumin to the mix. I also like this when you add a touch of BBQ sauce
  • Citrus: swap out some (or all) of the vinegar for lemon or lime juice

A secret weapon that I have recently discovered kicks butt in salad dressings?! Pickle juice! Swap out the vinegar for that potent potion and your tastebuds will sing!

Answering your questions was really fun, so thank you for your submissions. Feel free to ask more anytime and I will be happy to answer (as long as you don’t stump me).

And before I leave, let me tell you that my blog buddy Donna nominated me for “7 links” (which I had never heard of), but apparently the goal is to: “unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavour to share lessons learned and create a bank of old, but not forgotten, blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.” I was going to find my 7 posts in this post, but I think it’s long enough already, so I will have to get to that later this week.

We’ve already made it to Wednesday friends! Question: Salad dressings – homemade, store-bought, or a combination of the two?

Corn to be wild

2 Aug

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I made a lot of corn on the cob for Sunday’s BBQ. So much so that I had to cook it on the stove in our HUGE roaster. See these bags of corn? That’s *almost* all of the leftovers (minus the one cob I used for lunch today).

My mom informed me that she’s kind of tired of corn on the cob right now. I told her it’s a bad time to be tired of corn. So what to do with it all? Here’s what I’IMG_2424ve come up with so far….

For lunch yesterday, one cob’s worth of corn kernels made their way into a tasty salad, along with the teensiest bit of leftover “cowboy caviar,” red pepper, green onion, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, pickled red onions, fresh basil and parsley, and a tasty dressing made with chardonnay peach vinegar.

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What are those herbaceous cheesy topped veggies beside the salad? SO glad you asked. They don’t contain corn, but they were so tasty, I just have to share with you! I grilled a slice of eggplant and a portabella mushroom. Then I topped them with a couple of tablespoons of light ricotta cheese, salt and pepper, chopped thyme, basil and oregano, and lemon zest and juice. Mmmm! Summer deliciousness to the max. All the flavours worked SO well together and made a great light bite.

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Lunch was good. But more corn still remained. What to do, what to do? Then I thought, “I bet if I made cornbread with fresh corn kernels, it would be really good.” Then I thought, “I bet I could find a recipe that uses buttermilk, since I still have buttermilk kickin’ around in the fridge after making these biscuits.” Then I looked in Pioneer Woman’s cookbook and found her recipe for buttermilk cornbread. Then I though, “I bet I can make this healthier.” And here we are.

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I think that Pioneer Woman would be disappointed in me if she saw what I did for her cornbread. And this is why: 1. I sweetened it. I think I’ve heard that southerners DO NOT like their cornbread sweetened…but I do. And not only did I sweeten it, I used Splenda (the horror!). 2. I cut out the shortening and used a reduced amount of oil. You know how PW loves her ranch food. Since my long runs can never come close to the rigors of working on a ranch, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, ya know? I also used a square pan since I don’t have a cast iron skillet. PW, I love you, and hold you in highest esteem. Please don’t hate my northern cornbread, ok?

Fun fact: It took me three tries to get my “ingredients” (or cast of characters, as PW would say) shot since I kept forgetting things! The things I do for the blog!

Northern Girl’s Healthified Corny Cornbread

  • 1 cup Yellow CornmealIMG_2430
  • 1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • ¼ cup Splenda
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 1 whole Egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (optional)
  • non-stick spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While oven is pre-heating, put a 9 inch square stoneware pan or other oven-safe pan in the oven to get nice and hot. MAKE SURE YOUR PAN IS OVEN SAFE SO YOU DON’T HAVE A TRAGIC ACCIDENT AND HURT YOURSELF!!!!

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and Splenda in a bowl. Stir together.

Measure the buttermilk and milk in a measuring cup and add the egg. Stir together with a fork. Add the baking soda and stir.

Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until combined.

Slowly add vegetable oil to the batter, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in fresh corn and jalapenos (if using).

Remove the hot pan from the oven and spray liberally with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the hot pan. Spread to even out the surface. (Batter should sizzle.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Edges should be crispy! Cut into 12 pieces.

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Dry ingredients.

 

 

 

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Plus milk/buttermilk/egg/baking soda mixture.

 

 

 

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Add in the jalapenos and the corn kernels.

 

 

 

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Mix it all up, and ready to go in the oven.

 

 

 

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My pan is nice and hot. It’s really fun to pour in the batter and hear it sizzle.

 

 

 

 

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Now what goes good with cornbread? Can’t you tell what I’m going to make with olive oil, MORE CORN, zucchini and tomatoes from my garden, red pepper, mushrooms, onion, garlic, cauliflower, black beans, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, canned black beans, and leftover outside-in tamale pie (a little freezer burned after almost 4 months in the freezer, IMG_2441but not much worse for wear)? Don’t those leftovers just look SO appetizing in the photo? Smile with tongue out 

What? It’s not obvious? Ok, I’ll tell you: chili! And a darn tasty chili too! I just combined the above ingredients (well, sautéed the fresh veggies in the oil first) with a bit of water, salt, pepper, spices and Epicure seasonings, simmered away, and voila!

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The chili was delicious, and even better topped with Greek yogurt and leftover pickled onions, with a side of a cool cucumber salad, and of course, cornbread! I picked a pretty hot day to have chili, I’ll admit, but it did use up a lot of leftovers, so mission accomplished. At the end of the day, I said I felt like all I’d done was cut corn off the cob…do you understand why?!?!

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I was literally sweating after eating the hot chili for supper, so this chocolate cherry sundae (low fat vanilla ice cream, fresh sweet cherries, fat-free biscotti, light chocolate syrup, fat-free Reddi-Whip) cooled me down nicely.

 

I’ve still got a big bag o’ corn left. Any bright ideas to use it up?

Burger Bonanza

1 Aug

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I’ll admit it. I had a total “food baby” after last night’s delicious BBQ supper. But it was SO worth it. You all know how much I love burgers. Add on a buffet of delicious toppings, AMAZING local corn on the cob, tasty salads, baked beans and multiple tempting desserts? Summer perfection!

 

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These pictures don’t do it justice, but here you can see the array of toppings on the burger bar. This is the third time I’ve done build-your-own-burger as a summer party, and I have to say, it’s one of my favourite ways to entertain in the summer. After all, who doesn’t love a good burger? I used store-bought burgers and buns, but the tasty toppings take it up a notch.

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To choose from, we had:

  • sliced tomatoes
  • bacon Smile
  • sautéed onions
  • hot peppers
  • sliced avocado and leftover guacamole
  • salsa
  • the standard mustard, ketchup and relish
  • Dijon mustard
  • spicy mustard (mix of Dijon, grainy mustard and Ancho chile powder)IMG_2393
  • BBQ sauce
  • Velveeta cheese slices
  • goat cheese
  • homemade pickled red onions
  • homemade dill pickles
  • homemade red wine onion relish (those last three items are from my new Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes book – they were all pretty simple and DELICIOUS!)

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To start things off before the burgers, we had “Cowboy Caviar,” which is a tasty dip made with fresh corn (recipe says used canned, but why would I when the fresh stuff is so good?), black-eyed peas, green onions, tomatoes, avocadoes, fresh flat-leaf parsley (recipe calls for cilantro but I switched it – there’s a lot of haters out there when it comes to cilantro) and oil/vinegar/seasonings. Sooooo good! That big bowl disappeared pretty quickly! We also had a Hungry Girl cucumber dip and veggies.

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Main course was the aforementioned burgers, a salad I made, 3 other tasty salads brought by guests, baked beans Red heart brought by a guest, and LOTS of corn on the cob (I may have overestimated there just a bit – there’s quite a bit leftover – guess what you’ll be seeing in my meals this week? Winking smile). I had some of everything, and went back for more of the sides!

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Desserts. SO. GOOD. We had fruit (watermelon, muskmelon, honeydew, cherries) – gotta keep things healthy, you know? I made peach blueberry cobbler (I think what my family calls a cobbler is technically a crisp, as it has an oatmeal topping, but we’re not going to change now). Mmmm…one of my all-time favourite summer desserts. So simple, yet so delicious! To go with the cobbler, I made homemade vanilla bean ice cream – I may never buy store-bought again! And to top it all off, I made “Better than you-know-what Cake” (I think you can all guess what “you-know-what” is without me telling you, right?Winking smile). For those of you unfamiliar with this dessert, it’s basically a chocolate cake with chocolate chips, soaked in sweetened condensed milk (AKA the Nectar of the Gods) and caramel sauce, then topped with Cool Whip and Skor bits. Not for the faint of heart! But I cut back on the oil and sugar in the cake and used low fat Cool Whip, so it’s practically calorie-free, right?IMG_2421

It was a great night – tasty food, warm weather (as the shiny-ness from my sweaty face in this picture shows), and great friends. If I’m going to splurge on some 80/20 food, this is my favourite way to do it – tasty, homemade, comfort food…mmm!

I’m not going to share all the recipes with you today – but I’ll start with Bobby’s Red Wine Onion Relish. This stuff was so good, I would have no problem eating it straight up (in fact, when I got my second plate, I took a spoonful and did just thatEmbarrassed smile). And it was actually easier to make than I expected. I would have thought that you had to caramelize the onions, but the recipe only calls for sautéing for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before I give you the recipe, let me just say, even if you don’t like wine (which I don’t), this stuff is GOOD. It definitely kicks the burger up a notch, and I think it would be good on any sandwich, or even grilled meat. You really should try it soon!

Red Wine Onion Relish from Bobby Flay’s Burgers, Fries and Shakes

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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, halved and thinly sliced (I used one red onion, one Vidalia, because I have lots right now and I love their sweet flavour)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine, vinegar, honey and thyme and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl, stir in the parsley, and let cool to room temperature. The relish can be made 2 days ahead and stored, covered in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

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Sautéing the onions. The 10 minute cook time and occasional stirring were much more low maintenance than caramelizing them!

 

 

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This is right after I removed from the heat and stirred in the parsley. I didn’t transfer to a bowl first (sorry Bobby), but by now, that shouldn’t surprise you, as you know what a rebel I am in the kitchen.

 

Ok, for the other recipes, I thought we’d try something fun. Leave a comment in the comments section or on facebook, or email me, and let me know which recipe you’d like to see on here first. Depending on the response I get, I will post whichever recipe gets the most votes in an upcoming post (don’t worry, I may share more than one). I thought I’d do a “readers’ choice” post later this week, where I share the recipe you choose and answer the questions I got last week (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten)! So, the more you respond, the better the post will be!

Fellow Canadians, how did you celebrate the long weekend?

Fajita Fiesta

30 Jul

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Happy Long Weekend fellow Canadians (and happy Saturday everyone else)! I hope you are enjoying the beautiful summer weather.

Last night was our first round of entertaining for the weekend, so I decided to do a BBQ version of fajitas. I love fajitas. They’re actually one of my go-to choices at restaurants when there’s not a lot of healthy stuff to choose from, as it’s easy to pick and choose which toppings you want. And it’s a great meal to feed a group for the same reason – you put what you want on your fajita, so it suits a variety of preferences.

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But since it is summer time and grilling is practically an institution when entertaining, I decided to take things outside and do the meat and veggies on the BBQ instead of in a skillet on the stove (bonus: saves calories because you don’t need oil).

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I decided to do a “mixed grill” of chicken and steak (but I marinated all the meat in the same bag – I don’t know if that’s a no-no or not, but you know me, always the rebel).

The marinade was pretty simple, and, not to toot my own horn, but it turned out really well. The meat was tender and super-flavourful. I used 2 Mesquite-marinated steaks from M&M, so they added a bit of their seasoning, then I added:

  • lime juice
  • red wine vinegar
  • Ancho chile powder (Ancho is great because it’s not as spicy as a lot of other chiles, but still adds great Mexican flavour)
  • cumin
  • Epicure salsa seasoning
  • a few cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • salt and pepper

IMG_2336I put my steaks and chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag and marinated in the fridge for several hours, turning the bag several times to distribute the marinade.

I grilled the meat over high heat, then removed, covered with foil and let it rest while I grilled the veggies (red pepper, Vidalia onion and zucchini), which I sprayed with PAM for the grill and seasoned with salt and pepper.

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After the meat had rested for about 10 minutes (this helps keep all the juices in), I thinly sliced it (along with the veggies) and plated it all up. For tortillas, I went with Dempster’s whole wheat Body Wise tortillas (I know corn is more authentic, but the grocery store didn’t have them and I wasn’t in the mood to go hunting).

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We had a wide variety of other toppings, which included:

Our sides were delicious, local corn on the cob and red cabbage slaw (same recipe I made for my mom’s birthday, only with the addition of a Granny Smith apple I had leftover) .

I think it was safe to say that the meal was enjoyed by all. This is a pretty easy meal to put together for summer entertaining, and a nice change from the usual steaks or burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Speaking of burgers, we’re hosting a build-your-own-burger bar supper here tomorrow night for between 12 to 18 people! It’s going to be epic, with lots of decadent toppings and some seriously delicious 80/20 style desserts! So I may or may not make it on to HHH to update you tomorrow, but I plan to do NOTHING Monday, so for sure I’ll be back by then.

Since in my town on the August long weekend, we celebrate Friendship Festival (yes, one of the advantages of living in a small town, we are cool enough that we have a weekend-long festival devoted to friends), I would like once again to wish you, my blog-friends, a happy long weekend. May it be filled with food, family, and FRIENDS!

Tea for Two

28 Jul

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I had an awesome landlady for the 3 years I lived off-campus during university. As in, free parking in the driveway, drive you to the hospital and wait with you for 5 hours and pay the parking ticket when you needed stitches kind of awesome. So when I bought a groupon to Dishington’s, a tea room just outside of London, I called her and asked her if she wanted to get together for lunch to catch up (she’s an avid HHH reader…Hi Lynne!). Thankfully, she accepted, and Tuesday we had lunch.

When I thought tea room, I was thinking creamy salads, sandwiches and baked goods, but thankfully, I managed to find some healthier options (since this week/weekend are PACKED with food-focused occasions, I didn’t want to start 80/20 –ing too early Winking smile). I ordered the “soup, salad and biscuits” with a garden salad. The soup of the day was tomato vegetable, so pretty healthy. I didn’t snap a picture of the biscuits, but I only ate one (no butter). I LOVE biscuits, but rarely eat them, so it was a nice treat. The salad was your average salad, and the soup was good.IMG_2306

Lynne and I decided to share a dessert. Given my love for peanut butter and chocolate, when we heard that peanut butter chocolate ice cream cake was the feature, that was our choice – YUM! It was pretty much just as delicious as it looked and sounded. The tea was good, but I was a little disappointed that at a fancy tea room, it was just Lipton! I was hoping for something a little more special.

All-in-all, it was a great lunch though. So nice to catch up with Lynne, who is no longer my landlady, but a dear friend. And I treated myself without going too overboard.IMG_2313

After saying good bye to Lynne, I headed downtown to The Running Room to get new runners. My current pair have been through a marathon and a half marathon with me, so they were well past their prime. After consulting with the helpful staff, I came away with the most expensive running shoes I’ve ever owned – these Asics. The guy told me that the shoes I have now weren’t supportive enough for my arches (I expected as much. I have flat feet and was in MAJOR pain when I crossed the finish line last fall at my marathon). I’m planning my “maiden run” in them today, so I’ll keep you posted!

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I was really hungry by the time I got back home (around 6). Although my lunch included some yummy treats, what it didn’t include was very much protein. I wanted something that would be satisfying and filling, but still pretty light. Enter: zucchini “pasta” with meat sauce.

Not only does zucchini “pasta” IMG_2309have way less carbs and calories than the usual stuff, it also cooks up WAY quicker ( a great benefit when your stomach’s eating itself). All you do is use a vegetable peeler to make thing strands from the zucchini. As long as it’s not too big and seedy, you can use the whole thing (one medium zucchini makes one serving).

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I cooked my “noodles” in salted water in my microwave cooker for 4 minutes, drained, seasoned with salt and pepper and that’s it!

 

 

 

 

For my quick meat sauce, I sauteed ground turkey, onion, garlic, mushrooms, IMG_2308red pepper and yellow pepper (from my garden!) in a teaspoon of olive oil until browned. Then, I added part of a can of San Marzano tomatoes, a splash of red wine (because it was sitting there, I was feeling rebellious, and I like the taste of wine in sauces, just not to drink)and salt and pepper; brought to a boil, then reduced the heat and simmered for a few minutes.

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Right at the end, I stirred in a generous handful of chopped fresh basil and oregano, simmered for a few more minutes, and we were good to go. I poured the sauce over my “pasta,” added some Parmesan, garnished with more fresh basil, and dinner was served!

 

Thank you to those of you who submitted questions to me earlier in the week. I plan to answer them in a post to come – it’s just been a bit crazy this week. Stay tuned for the rest of my eating adventures (and a shoe summary).

If you are a runner (or any other type of exerciser for that matter) have you shelled out the big bucks for shoes, and was it worth it?