You don’t realize how much you need things until you don’t have them.
A bed? Yeah, sleeping bags don’t cut it.
Chairs? Sitting on the floor is actually not that much fun.
Lest I mislead you with some pre-written posts, things have been a tad chaotic since my arrival in Texas. We drive down separately from our stuff. The shipping pod that had nearly all of our belongings was 4 days late. We were only partially prepared for living without our stuff. Rob was smart enough to pack our sleeping bags in the car. However, after one night of sleeping on the hard floor, we knew that was not sustainable. We ended up visiting REI earlier than we thought, to buy two thermarest sleeping pads. Much better. Gosh, how did I ever enjoy sleeping parties as a kid?? The good thing about the pads was that I could bring them to the kitchen, too, so I had a more comfy spot to sit on the floor.
Eventually Rob emptied the pod (while I was at work) and slowly we’ve been unpacking our home. We prioritized: 1) bed; 2) computer and then 3) kitchen. Since we only packed the essentials, we kind of needed everything. Bathroom amenities were also important: our shower curtain was in there! And my bicycle to be assembled for commuting to work. (Even before we had the pod, our first priority was internet! Pick up a modem and hook up the wifi)
Those few days in limbo had me less focused on the kitchen. Overnight oats for breakfast and lots and lots of hummus, crackers and carrots. Trader Joe’s has such delicious hummus, no? Their chickpea Mediterranean Hummus is fabulous! I started to build up my pantry with trips to grocers (totally digging Fiesta Mart) but kept meals simple without much of a kitchen.
To celebrate my first American holiday, July 4, I made this patriotic-looking salad: strawberries and blueberries with cacao nibs, hemp and maca. A fun fruit salad with unusual but not unfamiliar flavours. Kind of like a Canadian in America, no? A bit different but kind of the same. I will save my American-Canadian observations for another post… so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, enjoy your summer with some tasty berries.
Rob and I like to
name rename things. People. Animals. You name it, and we’ll rename it.
The previous tenant in the basement had a cat. A big, fluffy black cat that would watch us whenever we were in the backyard. It took us a while to figure out his name. By that time we had christened him with a new name: Muffin.
A dog followed us for a few days while on our jungle trek in Colombia. Rob named him Danger Dog.
After our recent Colombian adventures, our new home also has been christened with a Spanish name: Casa Tarragona.
Thankfully a late summer purchase was a new tarragon plant.
I first tried tarragon last year and since discovered it is an easy-to-grow perennial. Tarragon has a subtle anise flavour that I like, even though I don’t like licorice. Here, I pair it with blueberries in a delicious dressing sweetened by dates. Coconut-sauteed onions make this a luscious dressing with a hint of citrus from the lemon.
Wanting a hearty main-course salad, I paired it with French du Puy lentils and spinach. Toasted walnuts add a satisfactory crunch and fresh blueberries provide bursts of sweetness.
Definitely one of my favourite salads, to date, I feel like this is definitely the summer of salads!
What are your favourite ways to use tarragon?
I planned for a stress-free brunch by making nearly everything in advance. I kind of ending up pulling out some of our normal breakfast foods (granola, yogurt, etc) along with the special crepes and pancakes. I had pimped my kale salad as the best kale salad ever, so I had that as a savoury option, too.
On the menu:
Avocado Mint Cream
Yogurt, for those wanting something more traditional
Rob’s Omelettes with Spinach and Mushrooms (which no one wanted with all the other food!)
Raw Strawberry Tart, as the birthday “cake”
Strawberry Smoothies (a surprise from one of my friends who came bearing a ton of frozen strawberries!)
and this Blueberry Vanilla Chia Jam.
With all the different filling options, it was a brunch extraveganza. Just look at Rob’s plate, complete with his new Android jelly bean toy (no jelly beans were in the crepes!):
Earlier that week, I made Angela‘s Blueberry Chia Jam, so I pulled it out as another option as an afterthought. Everyone enjoyed their mixed-and-matched creations, and agreed that the jam was awesome. Pure blueberry bliss. Without all the typical over-sugared pectin-laden jam, this spread is simply fresh blueberries reduced with a touch of maple syrup and vanilla, thickened with chia seeds. I was worried the chia seeds might be too slimy or crunchy, but it was neither. They blended in so well and helped make this a thicker spread. Such a simple recipe, but it highlights how fresh produce can be augmented in creative ways.
When Rob’s parents came over for the barbecue, they helped out by bringing some marinaded meat for the grill. They also gifted us with some fresh, sweet corn on the cob for lunch and peaches for the smoothies. And as a bonus, mini cucumbers from their garden, new potatoes, apples and kohlrabi! And broccolini! These days, there is nothing better than fresh Ontario corn and peaches. The peaches were delectable as I have been snacking on them for breakfast all week.
I also made this stovetop simmered peach and blueberry dish with cardamom, courtesy of My New Roots. It reminded me of the baked rhubarb and apple dish I made with earl Grey tea, cardamom and orange last year, which was one of my favourite desserts. Instead of turning on your oven, though, you simmer peaches and blueberries with cardamom, vanilla and cloves for a warm, almost sultry combination. The level of sweetness will depend on your peaches, so add the maple syrup to taste.
To contrast with the warmness of the fruit, it is nice to pair with something cool. Pick your favourite – yogurt, ice cream, or in my case: banana soft-serve ice cream.
I still marvel at the simplicity of banana soft-serve ice cream and figure I should share the recipe/method for those who have yet to be introduced. Basically, you take a few just-ripe bananas, slice them and freeze them in a single layer. When you want your ice cream, take them out of the freezer, plop them into your food processor and whiz away. Your bananas will go from hard to a thick cream and if you keep going for a few minutes, eventually you get silky smooth ice cream with a hint of banana flavour. This trick also works with other frozen fruit – I’ve done mango and papaya, but banana remains my favourite. I only caution you not to let your fruit thaw first because then it won’t work!
I love desserts that can double as breakfasts. The fruits also worked well overtop my morning oatmeal. I have been going through Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats, and found they made much more firmer oatmeal than I was used to. Ricki’s idea to pan-fry the oatmeal sounded ideal. I took leftover oatmeal, cut in large slabs, and fried them with a touch of oil in a non-stick frypan. The outsides were nicely seared with a warm, oozy interior.
Thankfully, my pantry-substitute, Better Bulk, has steel cut oats that give me silky smooth morning oats.
I swear, I don’t eat mangoes every day (Rob could take that honour for the past few weeks, though). It may seem like it, though, since I happen to be posting those recipes more quickly. While I don’t share all my recipes, I have a treasure trove of half-finished posts, some with photos, others with a story, and most of them with an ingredient list and a scribbling of my thoughts about the dish.
There is something about meals with mango that makes me want to share the recipe right away. Adapted from Veggie Belly, this is savoury use of fresh mango in a beauty of a salad. Red quinoa is combined with fresh blueberries, chopped mango and dried cranberries and chopped snow peas for crunch. It is then tossed in a subtle lemon-basil dressing and topped with toasted pecans. Nothing is overpowering, nothing screams at you. Everything works well for a simple, yet flavourful salad. A great way to highlight different summer produce in a healthy salad.
I have been cycling a lot recently in preparation for cycling from Ottawa to Kingston and back in June. Rob and I have slowly increased our daily distances, and on Sunady we cycled 168km. Terrain around Toronto can be mostly flat, so we have been trying to incorporate hills into our routes. There will be some killer hills en route to Kingston.
Last year, The Toronto Star listed some scenic hills for cyclists and we have been exploring them one-by-one ever since. Two weeks ago, we conquered the brutal hill in Twyn Rivers and this week we tackled the steep and curvy hill at Appleby Line in Burlington. I have to zigzag up the hills because I can’t ride them straight – I just don’t have the gears to go that low nor are my legs that strong! We only have one more hill left on the list (Redway) but it has been fun to see different areas in Toronto.
I have been making tons of different energy bars for my cycling trips and will start by sharing these healthy snacks from the Thrive Diet (original recipe posted here, and video of Brendan making them is here). I like the Thrive Diet because it highlights eating nutrient-dense foods. Brendan just came out with a new cookbook, Whole Foods to Thrive, which I am really excited to explore because the recipes seem much more creative and include a lot of recipes from established raw restaurants including Live Food Bar in Toronto, Gorilla Food in Vancouver and one of my new finds, Thrive Juice Bar in Waterloo (sadly, they didn’t share the recipe for their awesome pad thai).
These are definitely a healthy energy bar, filled with nuts, seeds, blueberries, lemon juice and carob powder. The texture is softer than what I usually expect from my cycling snacks, but Brendan is a big proponent of your mouth and stomach doing the least amount of work while fueling up during exercise. I found them too soft to transport a bunch of them with me while biking, but they are better at room temperature after a work-out or as a mid-day snack when the munchies come!
I eat oats for breakfast, in some shape or form, nearly every day. Lately, I have been enjoying steel cut oats. Steel cut oats are less refined than old-fashioned rolled oats, which means they retain more nutrients, but it also takes 40 minutes to cook (unless you snag some quick-cook steel cut oats from Trader Joe’s which have been partially steamed beforehand). I make a big batch of steel cut oats on the weekend and reheat portions in the microwave for 60 seconds each morning. Fast and simple.
While I typically make my oats quite plain, I can add different toppings each day to the blank canvas. I went through a phase where I added pomegranate molasses. Then, I tried soy sauce and/or toasted sesame oil for something savoury. My current favourite oatmeal topping is ponzu sauce, a citrus-flavoured soy sauce. The saltiness really enhances the oatmeal.
However, this weekend, I wanted to try something completely different, to highlight blueberries. I figured a lemony oatmeal with a touch of vanilla would complement the blueberries well, and after I topped the oatmeal with the blueberries, I thought of my recent Blueberry Salmon Teriyaki Spinach Salad, so I drizzled some balsamic vinegar overtop as well. It was divine. A cheery, gourmet way to start the day.
I haven’t tried yet, but I think dried blueberries could work as well when you can’t find fresh blueberries – just add them at the beginning to plump up nicely.
As you can probably tell, I don’t cook many meals a second time. However, I have some tried-and-true recipes up my sleeve that I can whip up stress-free when entertaining.
Salmon teriyaki is my signature dish. It helps that it is easy to make and tastes sublime. The ingredient list is simple, but with authentic Asian ingredients. Shin-mirin is definitely worth scoping out because you can taste the difference. I had forgotten how good it was until I made it for Rob’s birthday celebration – for 12 people (oh my!). Thankfully salmon teriyaki doubles, triples, quadruples AND quintuples very well (provided you have enough trays to hold the salmon in the oven, hehe).
I figured 3 lb of salmon for 12 people would be adequate (4 oz per person x 12 = 3 lbs!) but suggested 4 lb in case anyone wanted seconds. Rob ended up buying 5 lbs (oh my!), so suffice it to say we had leftover salmon teriyaki. While it is wonderful warm straight from the oven, leftovers are good, too, if kept chilled (I find salmon gets rubbery when reheated).
Originally, we served the salmon with an edamame and arame salad (recipe to come) and a simple side of soba noodles tossed with toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and sesame seeds, but I chose a different route for leftovers.
I surveyed my fridge and came up with this delectable salad. Baby spinach is the base, and it is topped with sliced bell pepper for some crunch, blueberries for tart-sweetness and green onions for a bit of zip. The salmon teriyaki (I had mine chilled, but warm would be great, too, if making it fresh) is plated on top and then balsamic vinegar is drizzled overtop. I was going to add toasted almonds, too, but forgot. By the time I remembered, I was already through half of the salad. The bell pepper conferred enough of a crunch so I didn’t miss it.
Don’t forget, this is another option for leftover salmon teriyaki: Salmon Teriyaki Miso Soup with Udon and Spinach.
This is being submitted to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Yasmeen from Health Nut, to this week’s Ingredient Challenge Monday for blueberries and to this month’s Monthly Mingle featuring pink foods.
I find eating through a cuisine a great way to learn about a new culture, which is what I typically do when I travel overseas. New York City is a foodie-paradise with abundant choices for high-end splurges, plentiful cheap eats, as well as a handful of grocery stores. Our main purpose for heading to New York City was a 9-course menu at Per Se, so I knew I had to save my stomach for the ultimate gastronomical experience.
So what’s the trick to eating healthy, plentiful meals while still wanting to experience everything NYC has to offer? I am sure not if we’ve mastered it just yet, but here are my tips to how NOT to eat out while in NYC.
The first step is to find yourself a kitchen, because that makes a world of difference. In a city where apartments are tiny, hotel rooms are equally as small and ridiculously expensive. We stayed at the Affinia Manhattan, across from Penn Station, with huge rooms and reasonable rates (we paid $139/night + tax). However, the main advantage is that each room has a kitchen, complete with a fridge/freezer, oven/stove, microwave, toaster and utensils/plates/cutlery. If you don’t have access to a kitchen, you may need to become more creative, storing food in the minibar, bringing cutlery/plastic containers, etc.
I will admit that we visited more grocery and food stores while we were in NYC than anything else, but that’s what we like! Trader Joe’s is great for picking up breakfast items. I bought some quick-cook steel cut oats (what an oxymoron, but true to the advertising they cooked up in 7 minutes over the stovetop) and we added some dried blueberries and bananas for a delicious breakfast. We picked up some apples, edamame hummus and baby carrots for snacks. Arugula and artichoke antipasto spread were bought for sandwiches. Other travelling-friendly breakfast options sans-stovetop would be granola overtop yogurt and fruit or overnight oats.
After Trader Joe’s, the next stop was Eataly, the upscale Mario Batali Italian superstore. My main purpose was to buy mosto cotto, a condensed balsamic vinegar made with reduced Concord grapes (any clue where to buy this in Toronto?). While the prices are not cheap, Eataly is a good place to pick up high-quality items for sandwiches.
Armed with a loaf of “rustic” fig bread (slightly sweet from the figs), 18-month-aged prosciutto (nicely flavoured), and taleggio (a mild cow’s milk creamy, soft cheese), we had the fixins for a super sandwich. With a limited number of ingredients, quality is the defining factor of your sandwich. I found the flavours worked really well, with the slightly sweet bread topped with the silky artichoke dip. Next, we topped it with overflowing arugula, laid a slice or two of prosciutto and lastly added a few pieces of silky, melt-in-your-mouth taleggio cheese. All the ingredients lasted us a few meals with some food left over to bring back to Canada (the artichoke surprisingly did not set off the alarms at the airport, hehe). For a vegetarian option, roasted red peppers could be substituted for the prosciutto and for vegans, the cheese could easily be omitted.
I will also give due credit to the most wondrous milk we bought at Eataly – Soloriso basmati rice milk. With a delicate smooth flavour, I never knew rice milk could taste so good. With a side of edamame hummus and carrots, this is how a foodie does not eat out in NYC.
Where we ate elsewhere in NYC:
Ess-A-Bagel – There are Montreal-style bagels and New York-style bagels. When in NYC, you should try New York-style bagels. Ess-A-Bagel is well-known for its huge, fluffy bagels (12 different varieties including whole wheat everything), and also serves up vegan-friendly tofu-spread in lieu of cream cheese (the traditional cream cheeses are there too, including the delectable lox cream cheese). The bagels are packed with filling, and 1 bagel could easily serve 2.
Alan’s Falafel – Battle of the street cart food falafel in NYC creates the most lusciously moist falafel with minimal grease. Get it in a wrap, a salad or combo spread with lettuce, tomato, hummus and a sesame dipping sauce. Can’t say I’ve compared it to Sam’s, but Alan’s was mighty tasty.
Candle Cafe – A long-time favourite vegan resto with a focus on local, organic foods. The collard rolls are a must-try!
Other worthwhile food-related places to visit in NYC:
Kalustyan’s – For all your kitchen desires, spices, vinegars, beans.. let’s just say I was stopped by the bean section, and didn’t really make it to any other floor (I think there are 3 levels). (Thanks for the tip, Joanne!)
Essex Street Market – For down-to-earth fresh produce and condiments
Chelsea Market – A bit too upscale for me (can you say not affordable?) but a cute, artsy renovated warehouse housing upscale gourmet food vendors, with the Food Network located upstairs
When I visited Japan two years ago, I swooned after I ate my first takoyaki. I describe them as octopus balls: a piece of octopus is coated in a savoury batter and cooked. Smothered with a Japanese barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and sprinkled with bonito flakes – it is nothing I ever thought would taste so good. When I visit restos, I prefer to order things I can’t make at home, so my go-to dish at Guu and Kenzo’s is takoyaki.
Once I came back to Canada, I wished I could recreate it at home, but you need a special pan with round grooves to make the round balls. The restos were the only way to get my takoyaki-fix. Until now! One of my Christmas gifts this year was a takoyaki/aebleskiver pan! Not soon after Christmas, I whipped the pan out for its inaugural use. Not for takoyaki, though. I had no octopus, you see.
Instead, I made Danish stuffed pancakes, also known as ebelskiver, ebleskiver, aebleskiver, or æbleskiver. These are light, fluffy, round, buttermilk-based pancakes stuffed with your favourite filling. My tip is not to overstuff the pancakes because leaking quickly leads to a dirty pan that is hard to clean!
I adapted Williams-Sonoma’s recipe to experiment with different fillings. We started with blueberries, which were probably my favourite filling. Frozen blueberries can be used but are best when they have thawed. Otherwise, they change the temperature of the batter and it doesn’t cook as well.
Next, we tried mulberry jam as a filling. It was delicious, too, although much sweeter. The only trick is to make sure it doesn’t leak while flipping because it is a bugger to get the jam off the pan.
For the ebleskiver, I employed the two-flip method, but for more round ebelskivers, you can do it in three or four turns. I was so eager to use my pan, I didn’t research how to make proper ebleskiver. I’ll try it next time.
This is my submission to this month’s My Kitchen, My World, featuring dishes from Denmark and to this month’s Breakfast Club for Sweet Treats. Also props to Rob, for the action shots since I can’t cook and photograph at the same time.
I am fighting it.
I know it is now mid-September. The kids have gone back to school. My century ride last weekend was called “Summer’s End Century Tour” and yes, I have started to wear a jacket while cycling to work. I will have to abandon my cycling shorts, too, because it is pretty frigid with the wind in the mornings and evenings. I even close my balcony door at night, which has been on perma-open since May.
I think fall is here.
But that doesn’t mean I am jumping for the butternut squashes just yet (in due time!*). I am still lingering in summer’s bounty of fresh local fruit and vegetables, including fruit for these tasty crumbles: local peaches, blueberries and raspberries.**
*Bestwin has butternut squash on sale for 17 cents/lb this week. I may be stocking up afterall!
**Frozen fruit would work well if baking this out of season.
I know everyone already has a favourite crumble, crisp or cobbler recipe – usually the one that Mom made. But when I spotted this on Joy the Baker, I was intrigued by the combination of fruit and spice. Peaches and blueberries work well together, but how would it work with raspberries? (And why would I even consider baking with fresh, juicy, light raspberries?? I must be mad!) But Joy paired them with cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup, which was a match in heaven. The raspberries were a nice sweet/tart addition to the fruit trio and I enjoyed how they all worked well with the nutmeg and maple.
At first, I enjoyed this warm from the oven as dessert, but throughout the week, the leftovers made their way into breakfast. The crumble topping was reminiscent of granola and with the baked fruit, it was great with yogurt. A perfectly healthy dessert and breakfast. Got to love the transition!
I don’t like late brunches because I have to eat something right away in the morning. Something about hypoglycemia if I wait too long.
But there are a few times when breakfast doesn’t sit well with me.
And that’s when I am nervous.
Nervous about writing an exam that morning, or tripping on my bridesmaid dress while I help my (now) sister-in-law walk around the altar 3 times, or you know, the butterflies before cycling to/from Woodstock (a possible 300km round-trip, but we ended up taking the go-train for a portion of the trip once the total downpour started so our total was 250km). Those butterflies don’t let much sit well in my stomach even if I know this is the most important time to be eating.
But I think I have found my favourite pre-jitters breakfast: Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Pudding.
Adapted from Diet, Dessert n Dogs, this is a healthy breakfast creamy pudding (sans creme) with oats and nuts, speckled with juicy, succulent blueberries. And it glides down so easily. A small portion is surprisingly filling and the fresh blueberries really make this a knock-out morning treat. Who says lunch and dinner should have all the fun? Bake this once and have a delicious breakfast all week. Personally, I preferred it cold, but it is also good warmed up.
Here are other variations that have sparked my interest:
Some fruit just don’t last long once ripe. OK, perhaps many of them. Peaches especially, though. You might buy them a bit on the firm side, and within 2 days on your counter, your basket of peaches are bursting with flavour. In another half a day, they may be overripe and start to go bad. So what’s a girl got to do with ripe peaches? Bake with them!
Last year, I made one of my favourite cakes, a few times actually – especially when underbaked just slightly – Stone Fruit Tea Cake, with its heavy vanilla presence. I didn’t have enough peaches to bake that cake, as I have been pretty good about restraining myself from buying 3L baskets of peaches. However, I had 2 peaches and some blueberries to throw together these lovely muffins.
I was intrigued by these muffins when I originally spotted them on Very Culinary, who found them originally at Joy the Baker. She used raspberries and blueberries but I knew I wanted to use up some peaches. Peaches and blueberries are a wonderful combination, which I learned after making peach and blueberry salsa earlier this month. But what’s with this browned butter? I’ve never used it before but it sounded divine. Butter makes everything taste better and this seemed like a way to incorporate even more flavour into the batter. With a vanilla crumb topping that I had extra from Cranberry Buckle with Vanilla Crumb, these looked to be a very texture-tickling and flavourful dessert.
The muffins were delicious. I really liked the pieces of peaches and blueberries with the vanilla topping. These muffins were definitely more dense cake-like, and despite the fruit definitely not healthy. It didn’t stop me from gobbling them down with each meal.
But not because the bars weren’t photogenic.
They just didn’t have the substance to back up their looks.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the first few bars I tried. The bars weren’t really sweet at all and the filling had that cornstarch feel to it. I didn’t think it was fit for dessert. Adapted from Fat Free Vegan, these blueberry oat bars boasted no refined flour, no white sugar, no added fat, no soy, and no gluten. Another healthy recipe that fools you, I thought. The decreased sweetness was partly my fault, though, as I substituted brown sugar for agave nectar in a 1:1 ratio without modifying the liquid content, which is a no-no. Who knew agave nectar was 1/3 more sweet than brown sugar? I digress…
Then I wrapped one up and brought it with me on my long bicycle rides. And this is where the bar shined. It travelled well, in spite of the gooey centre, and its lack of sweetness was perfect. I am figuring out what I like to eat pre-, post- and during exercise, and I am definitely shunning sweet, dry and heavy dishes. These bars were perfect specifically because they were not that sweet, they were very moist and they were filled with carbs (only 1g of fat per serving).
I had already eaten 2/3rds of the bars before I decided to snap some photos. Thank goodness I still had some left!
During the summer, grocery stores overflow with local ripe fruit and vegetables. It would be a shame not to catch some fresh Niagara peaches, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, or cash in on cheap, overflowing zucchini during their seasonal peak. There is nothing better than fresh produce.
Right now, peaches from Niagara are tricking into stores. They arrived earlier than previous years due to the hot weather, and I am embracing their early arrival. Sweet, juicy peaches are incredible but sadly don’t last very long. Last summer, I made a succulent peach tea cake, when I bought a few 3L containers of peaches. I have restrained myself so far, and only bought a handful of peaches. But I did buy a big clamshell of blueberries, so expect to see a few more blueberry dishes here.
I spotted a lovely summer savoury dish on Fat Free Vegan, with maple-chili grilled tofu steaks with a blueberry-peach salsa. I adapted the recipe to suit my own tastes, substituting Aleppo chili flakes for the heat, increasing the peach to blueberry ratio, and swapping lime juice for the lemon juice (I am slowing going through the 18 limes I picked up for $1 at Bestwin). I also don’t like parsley so I used mint instead, which was a great choice.
The salsa was the highlight of the dish: peaches and blueberries work surprisingly well together, especially when mixed in a slightly spicy and sweet-tart dressing. The maple-chili tofu was good, too, but can’t compete with the perfect allspice-marinated tofu in my tofu in a zesty rhubarb sauce. I don’t think the salsa would mix well though with that tofu, unfortunately, so this is the next best thing.
This is a wonderful way to play with the flavours of the summer. Enjoy!