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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'tis the season...for heirloom tomatoes

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In a perfect world, I would eat a wonderful, sustainable, 100-mile diet.  But since I refuse to subsist entirely on root vegetables and preserves all winter, that doesn't really happen, and we enjoy product from around the world all winter long.

bryson farms layered heirloom tomato caprese salad

But come summer, I really want to do my best to enjoy the fantastic local produce grown (almost literally) in my own backyard (my own backyard having a massive patch of squash, which choked out everything else...maybe year two of gardening will be a bit more varied, hehe).

In the meantime, given my gardening failures, I get a local organic produce delivery from Bryson Farms, which isn't quite in my own backyard (Dekok, Acorn Creek and Shouldice are all closer), but I love the delivery aspect.  Farmers' markets are pretty awesome in theory, but I have a hard time scrambling everyone together to get going on a Saturday morning, and then the markets themselves are pretty crowded (not so awesome with an active two year old), and I never have enough small change.

So my lack of motivation/organization benefits to the extreme from nice farmers who are willing to bring their wares right to my front step.  You pay a premium, but I'm totally loving the variety of vegetables that we've been enjoying.

This past week, I got two containers of gorgeous rainbow heirloom tomatoes - all shapes, sizes and colours.  I knew they would be just perfect for a layered caprese-style salad.  There's no original recipe here - tomatoes + bocconcini + basil + salt + pepper - but I had a little fun with the presentation, and made a tomato pyramid.  I served this to six adults and three kids, and still had a bit left to take to work for lunch the next day.  It looked so pretty on the table, and I love how such simple, fresh ingredients can be showcased to perfection.  This is what eating local is all about, and I was happy to have these yummy tomatoes as the centrepiece for the meal.  :)

stacked heirloom tomato salad
serves 10 - easily made smaller
bryson farms layered heirloom tomato caprese salad
4 lbs heirloom tomatoes, assorted sizes and colours
2 containers bocconcini (mine came pre-sliced - bonus!)
1 bunch basil, cut in a chiffonade
fresh cracked pepper
fleur de sel

1. Slice the tomatoes with a serrated knife and arrange on a platter.  I find it's easiest if you start with the largest tomatoes, and then work the smaller ones in and around.  Mix up the colours and sizes.

2. While slicing the tomatoes, layer slices of bocconcini.  As you build up the layers of tomato/bocconcini, periodically add a light sprinkle of salt and pepper.

3. When you're done, sprinkle the basil over top.  I recommend keeping the dressing separate if you are in doubt of whether the salad will be finished in one sitting (the vinegar will make the tomatoes mushy).

balsamic-shallot vinaigrette
1/2 t sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 shallot, minced
3 T balsamic vinegar
2 T dijon mustard
1/2 c olive oil

1. Combine the salt, pepper, shallot and balsamic; whisk together.  Add in the mustard and whisk again.

2. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking until desired consistency/flavour is reached (usually somewhere between 2-3x the amount of vinegar that was used, depending on how acidic you like your dressing).

3. Drizzle over anything and everything.

That's it.  It's so yummy and simple and delicious.  And I had some of the leftover salad stuffed in a wrap with some turkey breast and it was also amazing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

party post - Frozen themed birthday party with DIY/game ideas

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If you're a regular reader, you probably already know that I have two little girls.  This means that my house, more often than not, is filled with strains of "Let it Go" and "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"  Accurate lyrics and pitch are optional, but spontaneous outbursts of song are not.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

My eldest just turned six, and with her Frozen obsession in full bloom (frost?), she wanted a Frozen-themed party. And she wanted to invite the whole class.


Since we recently moved to a place where a backyard party was a viable option, I decided to go with it.  And cross all fingers and toes that I hadn't just invited twenty tiny hooligans into my house.  Luck was with me - the day was a little warm (30C), but it was a beautiful day for a party.


And while I know this is a food blog, I have to confess that this post isn't *really* about the food.  With having an afternoon party, I kept the food simple and sort-of healthy - a rainbow fruit tray (huge hit), a rainbow veggie tray (slightly less of a hit), a cheese and kielbasa tray, crackers, pretzel sticks Olaf arms, tortilla chips and salsa.  I don't have a great photo of the set-up, because I put the food out right at the last second, and it was immediately swarmed by small people.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

We also had a separate bowl of Olaf noses (baby carrots) and some melted snowman punch.  Pinterest gave me a lot of ideas for Frozen-themed food, but a lot of them were either really labour intensive (there was no way I was going to fuss with making 20 individual servings of each food), or they were full of blue dye.

I try to avoid artificial colours as much as I can, so my only cave to blue dye was a splash of blue gatorade in the melted snowman punch (recipe at the bottom of the post). And the cake icing, but most people don't really eat fondant, so I wasn't too concerned.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

Back to looking for party ideas on Pinterest.  There is definitely NO shortage of Frozen party ideas, and really, none of mine are terribly original. But one common theme that I found when looking through various craft ideas or favour ideas or food ideas is that many of them were either really time consuming, or really expensive.  I'm not going to lie, I did spend more than a few hours on this party, but none of the projects on their own were especially complicated/difficult, and none of the components (aside from Elsa and the cake) were particularly expensive.

What I'm telling you here is that if you like one of these ideas, you can easily do it and it won't take forever and it won't break the bank.

For decor, I primarily used balloons (made a quick garland with fishing twine) and tissue pompoms.  These are both cheap, and while the tissue poms can be a bit time-consuming, you can definitely knock off a few during an evening of netflix watching.  Funny story about the balloons - as the day got warmer and warmer, they started to self-destruct in the sun.  It was pretty funny.

  frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

I also stuck with inexpensive plastic table cloths, which was great because children spill everything everywhere, and this avoided a lot of clean-up woes. (As an aside, having an outdoor birthday party is the best thing...who cares about all the spilled drinks and all the messy crumbs....I shudder to think what my basement would have looked like after this party, but having it outdoors was GREAT!!!!!!).

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

In terms of the artwork, if I had photoshop skills, I'm sure I could have figured something out on my own.  Alas, I have no skills.  So I used instant digital downloads from Etsy - they are inexpensive and simple, as long as you have a printer.  Plus, I had slave labour in the form of an almost six-year-old so I didn't have to do that much cutting.

I got this cute birthday garland.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

And these adorable food labels.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

For entertainment/activities, I have to admit that I overthought this a bit and my initial plan had the kids way overscheduled.  Thankfully I came to my senses and just let the kids do their thing.

I hired a princess for our party (the Snow Queen, from OfficialPrincessParties) and she was awesome.

MY elsa wears sneakers

Most of the kids just loved her, and she kept them very well entertained.  I don't have many photos, because I want to respect the privacy of my mini party guests, but rest assured, the kids had a blast.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

I had planned to do a pin the nose on Olaf game - a family member printed Olaf out for me, and I had my little slave cut out the noses.  We didn't get to the game though (kids were having too much fun playing!), so poor Olaf is still noseless.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

The pinata I decided we HAD to have also went unsmashed. Again, we didn't get to it, because the kids were so engaged with the princess, that by the time she left, it was time for cake!

As for what we did do, the kids decorated Elsa crowns or Sven antlers with stickers as they arrived.  I found the printables off this great blog, and just picked up some craft foam at dollarama (I used some of the orange foam for the Olaf noses).  I had a large spool of ribbon, so I used that to tie the crowns/antlers over the kids' sunhats.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

The kids also did some "frozen fractal" paintings, which was a great idea I got from this blog.  This was awesome because it was SUPER cheap and easy (I already had epsom salts, and then got paint brushes and construction paper from the dollar store) and it was a neat craft.  Here's a sample from an older guest (all my other shots have kids in them!).  It's neat to watch the salt crystals form from what looks like water at first glance. I think batman would approve.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

I did get a few licensed products from PartyCity (the Anna/Elsa stand-up, and the table decorations, as well as the pinata, plates and napkins).  You can probably find these things at any party store!

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

I came across this beautiful cake idea on Pinterest, and as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for the party.  I liked the idea of a fondant cake on a hot day (to avoid melted icing) and I thought the little figurines were really cute on top of it.  I got the cake from Cakeadoodledoo and she did an awesome job, and saved me a lot of work.  I feel like this type of cake could probably DIY-able for someone with fondant skills, but I don't have those skills, and I always find cake is stressful, because you can't do it up in advance AND it makes a big mess in the kitchen. I had a 6" white cake on top and a 10" chocolate cake on the bottom and it was deeeeelicious.  And so cute, right?

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

For favours, I wanted to keep things simple.  We had a no-gifts party, and I didn't want to send kids home with an armload of plastic trinkets (i.e., exactly what we wanted to avoid with the no-gifts party!), and when I came across this recipe for glitter playdough, I thought it would be perfect.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

It came together really well, and Z was able to help me make it.  I used a combination of blue liquid and gel food colouring (didn't have to add any yellow, surprisingly), and I bought glitter caddies from the dollar store and used blue and silver glitter in it.  I found the chevron tape at Staples, and then the cute little labels on top were from Etsy, and I just shrunk them a bit and cut them with a scalloped round punch I already had.  I made two quadruple batches of the dough and it easily filled 24 1/2 cup mason jars.  The dough is super soft and my kids have really enjoyed playing with it.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

I hope the ideas help those of you who might be planning Frozen parties for your Frozen-obsessed kids.  My bottom line advice would be not to overplan the activities (just let them play - we have a playstructure/sand box and that was the biggest draw of the party!). And write their names on their cups.  Just trust me on that one.

Melted Snowman Punch
(slightly lower in sugar/dyes than most punches...but still sugar and dye)
1 L sprite
1 L club soda
1 cup blueberries
1 cup frozen mini marshmallows
1/2 c blue gatorade (just enough to give a blue tinge)

Monday, July 21, 2014

rustic mixed summer fruit crumble

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A few weeks ago, a sale on cherries (and over enthusiasm on my part) left me with a bit of a surplus that needed to be used up.  There are so many ways that you can use cherries, but when you combine my laziness with my love of flavour, I don't think you can beat a crumble/crisp.  It's rustic and simple, comes together quickly and makes for a really tasty dessert (or breakfast!).

I won't try to fool you into thinking this is health food (because it's not), but I like to use whole food/whole grain ingredients as much as I can and I think the whole grains really give a nice hearty balance with the fruit.

Because this was a recipe I came up with on the fly, I used some frozen fruit, but fresh would likely be better.  And the pictures are terrible because I took them on the phone.  But whatever...I figured the internet needed to have this dessert recipe.  Especially now that cherries are coming into season.

rustic mixed summer fruit crumble

(can be made with any combination of summer fruits - peaches, apricots, nectarines, berries, etc.)
mixed summer fruit crumble


1/2 c spelt flour (could use whole wheat or just substitute more oatmeal)

1/2 c chopped walnuts (or other nuts)

1/2 unsweetened flaked coconut

1/2 c brown sugar 

1/2 c melted butter (ideally salted; if not salted, add a couple of pinches of salt)

1. Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Spray/oil/butter a 9x9 baking dish.  Put the fruit directly in the dish, then scatter over the 1/3 c brown sugar and cornstarch.  Mix a bit to combine (if your fruit is really ripe, you can maybe skip the sugar, but I liked the level of sweetness this provided). BTW, if you don't have a cherry pitter (which I don't), I find that the easiest way to pit cherries is to squish them a bit with a knife until you feel them give a bit (squish away from yourself so you don't stain your clothes!), then you can cut around the pit and it will pop out easily.  Your kitchen will still look like a murder scene, but it's easier than trying to just dig out the pits.  

mixed summer fruit crumble

3. Combine the topping ingredients - I like to use melted butter because I'm lazy and it's easier to mix in.  You could take the long way around and cut the butter into the dry ingredients, but I wouldn't bother. ;)  Sprinkle/spread the topping over the fruit.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Squish it down a bit, but don't fuss too much.

4. Bake for about 30-35 minutes (keep an eye on your topping so it doesn't burn).

mixed summer fruit crumble

This is so delicious - it's pretty juicy when it comes out of the oven and would be AMAZING over vanilla ice cream, but it does firm up the next day and the leftovers make for a delicious breakfast.  As a bonus, using nuts in the topping means that the topping retains its crunch.And yes, I do fully realize that my oven needs cleaning. :p

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2-ingredient nutella popsicles

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Do you remember being a kid, and going to the ice cream cart (or corner store/camp store) and looking over the enticing array of popsicles in the freezer?  I remember them all - from the tart and tangy rocket, to the rich (and oh-so-expensive) drumstick....but my favourite was pretty much always the fudgesicle.  It was chocolatey and cold and just....perfection.  There was truly nothing better on a hot summer day, especially after an afternoon spent at the beach, biking or playing in the sun.

nutella peanut butter popsicles

I can only hope to foster those warm and fun kinds of memories in my kids too.  

nutella peanut butter popsicles

We just had a near-idyllic long weekend.  And it was perfect in that we really didn't do much of anything - the kids played, the weather held up wonderfully...there was a lot of sand and sidewalk chalk and BBQ food, eaten al fresco.  In short....perfect.

nutella peanut butter popsicles

I came across this recipe last year (from a site that is now defunct, which is a TRAGEDY), and I'm telling you, if you don't have a popsicle mold, NOW is the time to get one.  This is not the homemade popsicle of your memories (i.e., a frozen solid block of juice).  THIS, friends, is pretty much like a fudgesicle.  It's rich and creamy and chocolatey and delicious.   Any popsicle mold will do - I have a snazzier one (pictured) that makes larger popsicles and has a little trough to help you sip up the melted bits.  I also have a cheaper one that makes rocket-shaped pops and is actually way better sized for kids (these ones are a little too big and result in colossal mess of melted chocolate stickyness).

nutella peanut butter popsicles

I love just how simple this is, and the results are so TOTALLY worth it.  All you need is nutella and milk.  I usually only buy nutella to use in recipes, so when I checked (because I'm a super pro-star at advance prep), I was actually a bit short of nutella (I was making a double batch).  I just added some natural peanut butter and chocolate syrup to make up the correct amount.  This isn't health food - it's pure summer fun.

nutella peanut butter popsicles

So what I photographed and what I'm telling you to make are not exactly the same thing this time, because of the aforementioned peanut butter and chocolate syrup substitution.  But I will say, this sub totally worked and the peanut butter/chocolate/nutella combo was just as good as the pure nutella version.  One caveat - the longer you leave these, the icier they get.  They are best the first day frozen (i.e., after a few hours), because they have the BEST fudgey texture then.  They are still totally good for a few days after, but I would recommend eating them sooner rather than later.  Besides, once you have one, you likely will keep on going.  ;)  They are that good!

nutella peanut butter popsicles

2-ingredient nutella fudgesicles
(makes 4 large popsicles or 8 small - large popsicles pictured)
nutella-peanut butter popsicles

1/3 c nutella (or use less nutella and make up the difference with peanut butter and a touch of chocolate syrup)
1 c milk

1. Blend nutella with milk (I use a standard blender, but an immersion blender, magic bullet, food processor, or even good ole elbow grease would work - I'd recommend softening the nutella if you're doing it by hand!)

2. Pour into molds and freeze until frozen.

3. If you're reading this and are sad that you don't have popsicle molds....>GO GET SOME!!!!  I have a set from the dollar store that is great!  Just do it!  Or use cups and coffee stirrers.  Whatever it takes to get you a nutella popsicle.....just do that.  And thank me later.

Monday, May 19, 2014

vegetarian grilling - pesto-bruschetta portobello mushroom caps

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I hope everyone is having a glorious holiday weekend (Victoria day, here in Canada).  The weather in Ottawa has been pretty decent (20C, mostly sun) and we've really been enjoying our patio and the great outdoors.


It's also grilling season - we've already been enjoying some beer can chicken, burgers and other meaty fare, but I thought I'd share a veg alternative today....delicious whether you are trying to serve up a creative vegetarian grilled dinner, or if you're looking for a hearty side dish.  I picked these portobello grilling caps up at Costco - they are SO good - they make a great burger patty (just marinate, grill and enjoy) and I thought they would be perfect for trying out this idea I had.

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

I also picked up pesto at Costco (I LOVE the kirkland signature brand pesto - it's bright green and fresher than most of the jarred alternatives, and it lasts a few weeks in the fridge - highly recommend it!).  Last, I had a couple of nice local tomatoes from my organic veggie delivery that I wanted to use up in something fabulous.

This is a little bit more involved than just grilling the mushroom caps, but it's not really a lot of fuss/work.  I just brushed the mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, then had hubs pre-grill them for about 10 minutes - until they were partially cooked, but not completely done.

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

While he was grilling, I chopped up my tomatoes, added some fresh crushed garlic, olive oil and italian seasoning, and grated some mozzarella.

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

So when he brought in my 'pre-grilled' mushrooms, I placed them in a foil 9x13, topped them each with a scoop of pesto, divided up the tomato mixture, and topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheese (this dish could easily be made vegan through using vegan pesto, and using a cashew cream or vegan parmesan on top).

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

Back on the grill went the 9x13, for just enough time to finish cooking the mushrooms and melting the cheese.  If you're more ambitious than I, you could try putting the stuffed caps right on the grill, but it seemed like a recipe for disaster, so I went the easy route.  I had these as a side dish for grilled chicken and kale salad and it was delicious.

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

grilled pesto-bruschetta portobello mushroom caps

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps
5-6 large portobello mushroom caps
1 T olive oil
salt, pepper

1/3 c pesto
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 cloved garlic, minced
1/2 T olive oil
1/2 t italian seasoning
salt, pepper
1 c. grated mozzarella
1/3 c grated parmesan

1. Preheat the grill to medium (you could also roast at 450F if you don't have a grill) Clean mushroom caps and brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.

2. Grill caps for about 10 minutes (5 mins per side) until they feel mostly-cooked.  Do not overcook, because you'll be putting them back on to finish.

3. Meanwhile, dice your tomatoes and combine with olive oil, garlic, italian herbs, salt and pepper.

4. Once the mushrooms are grilled, place them in a grill-safe dish (I recommend a foil 9x13).  Top each mushroom with about 1 T of pesto.  Divide the tomato mixture among the mushrooms.  Top with mozzarella and parmesan.

5. Grill the mushrooms (in the dish) about about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are heated through and the cheese is melted.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm delicious......

pesto-bruschetta grilled portobello mushroom caps

One of my other grill-faves is zucchini - I love it cut in half lengthwise, brushed with oil and sprinkled with montreal steak spice, then grilled to perfection.  It's so good!  What are your favourite vegetables to grill?

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