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Toffee Almond Squares

9 Aug

Remember when I said I would have Martin and Chris over for brunch? I hosted them on Sunday, along with my friend, Jen.

Trying out new recipes for company completely and totally stresses me out, but I couldn’t let the fear stop me — there were too many new things I wanted to try. In the end, I chose not one, two or three new recipes. No sirree. I made six new recipes and am delighted to say that I’d make them all again.

First, we had a peach white wine sangria and prosciutto crescent rolls. Next, we had bacon-wrapped eggs with polenta (recipe is here) served on a bed of spring greens with sherry vinaigrette (and find that here). Last, we had toffee almond squares, as well as a fruit salad spiked with Triple Sec and topped with lemon yogurt.

Before I get to the squares, let’s discuss the bacon-wrapped eggs with polenta. I may be addicted. They look gourmet and taste just as great — even reheated the next day. Something to note: I drove around trying to find a muffin tin with extra-big cups for this recipe. I’ll save you the journey and suggest you head to Williams-Sonoma to grab the Brooksters pan. Works like a charm.

As for the squares, I’d been wanting to try a recipe from the Island Lake Lodge cookbook forever. Forever = since Christina gave it to me nearly a year ago as a thank you for reading at her beautiful wedding in Fernie.

Many of the book’s recipes are quite involved, but I figured I could handle the toffee almond squares. Plus, anything toffee reminds me of how much I used to love Mackintosh’s Toffee as a kid. So, off I went. And eat and enjoy them, we did.

Toffee Almond Squares

Base

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Topping
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tbsp water
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • 2 oz. good-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
BASE Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until well combined. Beat in butter and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture until well combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into centre of base comes out clean.
TOPPING In a small saucepan, heat sugar, syrup, butter, water and salt over medium heat, stirring until melted. Bring to a boil, then boil gently for 4 minutes. Pour over base. Sprinkle evenly with almonds. Return pan to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes or until just set. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack.
In a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt chocolate until almost smooth. Remove bowl from the heat. Stir chocolate until smooth. With the tines of a fork, drizzle chocolate evenly over almonds. Set aside until chocolate sets. Cut into squares.
Makes about 24.
*****

Whether you try the egg dish or the squares (or both, to which I would say, “good call”) I hope you enjoy.

~Michelle

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Life In Ottawa

3 Aug

I’m here in Ottawa, my home for the next month. The boy is completing a month of training in Ottawa and I came along for the adventure.

I spent five years here as an undergrad eons ago. We didn’t have blogs back in my time. Between then and now, I forgot what a wonderful city this is in the summer. Warm weather, great restaurants with reams of patio space, countless pubs, history, architecture, art, and running and biking paths galore.

We found a one-bedroom apartment to sublet in Lower Town. Depending on which direction you walk, we’re in a beautiful neighbourhood with grand old homes and a view of the Gatineau Hills or a super-dodgy urban hood where eye contact with strangers is ill-advised. We also have a view of Parliament Hill. See? (Look closely. We took this photo with my phone because I forgot my camera back in Alberta.)

The boy bikes to work along the canal every morning at 5:45. I sleep in for a bit and then do a home yoga practice. We both work all day and I finish off with a run along one of the great pathways. Tonight, for instance, I cruised by the Prime Minister’s residence.

Almost every evening so far, we’ve walked to Byward Market for dinner al fresco. Stella Osteria is my favourite so far. Check out this fig pizza:

Our kitchen is pretty small and poorly equipped. We have no spices, one cooking pot and two flimsy knives that bend on impact with a tomato. Still, I’m intent on cooking here if only to justify buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. Who could resist?

                                                                                   Photo by Brandon Senior

After all that eating, our plan is to rent road bikes one weekend and go riding in Gatineau Park. It’s an ambitious plan, which will involve a steep climb. But I think this looks pretty irresistible, don’t you?

                                                                                Photo from www.gobiking.ca

~Chris

A Quinoa Feast: Part 2

21 Jul

On Tuesday, we discussed the healthy quinoa dishes that were devoured at Chris and Martin’s place last Sunday, like salad and casserole. Enough healthy talk. Let’s get to dessert!

Martin made three amazing treats: caramel and pecan pie, pumpkin ice cream and the quinoa chocolate cake. Here he is with all three:

Martin uses a KitchenAid to churn out his own ice cream concoctions:

After tasting the delicious pumpkin creation, I can see why the guys never venture past their own kitchen to get their ice cream fix. The pie also looked fantastic, but I passed because of my allergy to pecans. That was A-OK with me, because it meant  more room for the quinoa chocolate cake.

Let’s have a closer look at this masterpiece of a cake:

People, this cake is unbelievable. It’s chewy, moist, chocolatey and tastes amazing with Martha Stewart’s dark chocolate frosting, which is what Martin used.

Let’s have an even closer look at the deliciousness:

Here’s how you’re going to make the cake. Because there’s no question — you must make it.

Like Tuesday’s recipes, this one comes from the Quinoa 365 cookbook. (I’ll be adding the book to my next Amazon order.)

Moist Chocolate Cake

  • 2/3 cup white or golden quinoa
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups white or cane sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow the quinoa to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two 8-inch (20 cm) round or square cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.

Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of cooked quinoa and the butter and continue to blend until smooth.

Whisk together the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the contents of the blender and mix well. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake on the centre oven rack for 40 to 45 minutes or unil a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely in the pan before serving. Frost if desired.

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month. (**Or, take Michelle’s suggestion: invite Michelle over, who will ensure you have no leftovers.)

***

To repay Chris and Martin’s kindness — and to try out some new recipes — I’ve offered to make a  lunch for them in the near future. But how I will ever live up to last Sunday’s culinary prowess, I do not know.

~Michelle

A Quinoa Feast: Part 1

19 Jul

While Martin and Chris were nursing me and my big toe back to health a few weeks ago, we got to talking about food. Specifically, quinoa.

Martin said one of his favourite cookbooks, Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, is all quinoa, all the time. I was intrigued, because I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. This is how last Sunday’s quinoa feast came to be.

Martin and Chris, pictured below, offered to have me and a small group over for a quinoa-themed lunch:

After countless Stampede meals involving beef on a bun, a healthy lunch was just what I needed. And it was amazing! We feasted on potato salad and green salad with berries and toasted chia seeds (the only non-quinoa dishes), quinoa and cucumber salad, as well as a hearty chicken and broccoli casserole.

The “healthy” portion of the meal went out the window at dessert time. We had not one or two, but three homemade treats.

There were too many outstanding dishes to include in just one post, so here’s what we’re going to do, my quinoa-loving friends. Today, I’ll share two recipes: the Fresh Cucumber and Toasted Almond Salad with Dill and the Chicken Broccoli Casserole, both of which come from Quinoa 365.

On Thursday, we’ll get to the standout dessert — Moist Chocolate Cake, which was quite possibly the most amazing homemade chocolate cake I’ve tasted. Not only that, but it’s made from quinoa (yes, the recipe is from Quinoa 365) and has no flour whatsoever. That means the cake is practically a health food, right? That’s what I told myself in order to justify adding more chocolate icing to my piece, anyway.

Let’s get to these fantastic dishes. The salad is wonderful, but, with gooey cheese, tender chicken and a hint of curry — something I often crave — the casserole is the dish that pulled me back for seconds.

First, the salad.

Fresh Cucumber and Toasted Almond Salad with Dill

  • 1/2 cup sliced raw almonds
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar or white rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chopped English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet and bake on the centre oven rack for 5 to 7 minutes, until the almonds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Place the quinoa in a large saucepan over medium heat. Toast the quinoa for 3 to 5 minutes, until it is fragrant but not browned, shaking the saucepan from side to side occasionally to turn the quinoa and toast it evenly. (Note: if you use a saucepan with a larger bottom, it will toast faster.)
Add the stock to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for an additional 4 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a large bowl to cool completely.
Whisk together the oil, vinegar and salt in a small bowl. Add to the cooled quinoa and mix thoroughly. Add the cucumber, green onion and dill, tossing well. Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
Best if enjoyed immediately but can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 cups broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 cups light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp prepared mustard
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh basil (or a pinch of dried basil)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch (3.5L) casserole dish or spray with cooking oil.
Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 6 minutes. Fluff with a fork and cool. Evenly spread the cooked quinoa over the bottom of the casserole. Set aside.
Cook the broccoli in a steamer or medium saucepan until just tender or al dente. Arrange the broccoli over the quinoa in the casserole dish.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken breasts until cooked and the juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side. Cool the chicken slightly, then slice into 2-inch-wide strips and place evenly over the broccoli.
Combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, curry powder and basil in a small bowl and mix well. Spread evenly over the chicken and top with shredded cheese. Bake on the centre oven rack for about 25 minutes, until the casserole is hot and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Enjoy Part 1 of the quinoa feast and get ready for the chocolate cake. It’s ridiculously good.

~Michelle

Miso-Glazed Trout and Other Favourite Things

18 Jul

Hi! Chris here.

I just walked in from a wonderful weekend. I’m walking a bit straight-legged, as my quadriceps are attempting to mutiny from my body after all the hiking. Otherwise, all systems perfect.

This weekend, we did all those things that make Alberta wonderful on a sunny summer weekend — a combination of patios, friends, mountains and muddy legs that require major scrubbing.

Friday kicked off with a dinner with dear friends on the patio at my favourite restaurant, The Living Room.

We burned off those calories Saturday with a leg-burning hike up and down Mount Lady Macdonald, and drinks on the patio at the Iron Goat. Then, Sunday was my nephew’s baptism, a great family brunch (along with margaritas) and a recovery road bike ride in the mountains. We hobbled into Canmore’s Grizzly Paw Brewery for quesadillas and sandwiches for dinner.

Now I’m home, trying to write a blog post before my eyes slam shut on me. So how’s this? I’ll give you one of my go-to dinners — very good for girls who have been out of the house all weekend long and are in need of a dinner at home — and then I’m hitting the hay.

Miso-Glazed Trout

From Alive Magazine, April 2011

  • 4 rainbow or steelhead trout
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp white miso
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, grated
  • 2 Tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 sheets nori, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
  • Black sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Rise trout filets and pay dry with paper towel. In bowl, whisk together rice vinegar, miso, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and chili flakes.

Place trout on 4 pieces of parchment paper; brush with miso mixture, and top each with an equal amount of nori slices. Place fish packets on baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before opening and garnish with sesame seeds if desired.

Serves 4.

PS – A few photos from our hike…


Cherry Vanilla Smoothie

12 Jul

Do you get hooked on breakfasts? It happens to me all the time. I’ll go months only eating one thing for breakfast, then — switcheroo — one day, I’m onto a hot and heavy affair with something else. I’m fickle like that.

Let me introduce my new breakfast fling, cherry vanilla smoothie.

I woke up this morning at 6 a.m., hours earlier than needed. I groaned and rolled over to go back to sleep. And then, I remembered my new breakfast paramour. I jumped out of bed and was at the blender before both eyes were open.

To feed my addiction, I’ve been buying fresh cherries whenever I find a sale. I’ll pit dozens at a time and toss them in the freezer. I’m hoping to stockpile enough to last me through October. I figure the mornings will be cold by then and I’ll launch into a dalliance with something warmer like oatmeal.

Until then, this is the reason I get out of bed in the morning.

Ingredients

1 cup vanilla almond milk

1 cup frozen cherries

1 handful spinach (I often freeze spinach for smoothies but fresh or frozen works well in smoothies)

1/2 scoop of a vanilla-flavoured whey protein fortified powder

1/2 scoop of ProGreens powder

Directions

Throw everything in blender. Blend away.

~Chris

What Happens In Vegas

4 Jul

Anna and I returned from Las Vegas one week ago. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep and I’ve stuffed myself with vegetables and water — two things I had little of that weekend — it’s time to give a brief recount of some of the trip’s highlights.

So, here we go:

FRIDAY

8:30 p.m.: We arrived at the Monte Carlo hotel, only to wonder why everyone was wearing underwear, glitter and angel wings. Quickly found out that they — along with roughly 250,000 others — were in town for a weekend-long rave, which made catching a cab impossible for the next two days. Thus began our stint of riding in town cars and limos. Not cheap. Very fun.

10:30 p.m.: Devoured an amazing Italian dinner at Lavo. Anna had the special pizza and I had spaghetti and meatballs. These meatballs were made of kobe beef. These meatballs were incredible. I polished off the entire dish, which was not small. When Antonio, our server, came to clear it, he took one look at my empty plate and said, “Wow, that’s impressive.”

Sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning: Left Marquee, a club in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, to hit Bond, a bar in the same hotel. Anna had heard that the Smalltown DJs — two awesome DJs from Calgary, Mike Grimes and Pete Emes — were going to be playing there. They were fantastic. And friendly — here we are in their booth:

SATURDAY

Day: Pool, pool, pool.

10:30 p.m.: I know there’s a cab in this picture, but the 100 people who were waiting for it are not. Limo, please.

One handy limo ride later, we arrived for dinner at Bouchon Bistro at the Venetian, which we loved. The restaurant has a cool vibe and our entrees were so tasty. Anna had chicken and I had lamb:

11:30 p.m.: We grabbed seats at a $25-minimum blackjack table. Apparently, riding around in town cars and limos for two days makes you think you’re a high-roller.

11:37 p.m.: We left the blackjack table with 50 fewer dollars.

Midnight: Dancing at a packed Tao, where we met up with two girlfriends who were also in town. Managed to stick with them for a solid 10 minutes before being split apart in the crowd.

5 a.m.: Ordered room service — burgers and fries. Anna was wise and ate only half of her burger. Not me. I ate my whole burger and all the fries and then proceeded to pass out. This did not make for an ideal stomach for Sunday’s Rehab pool party.

SUNDAY

Noon: Arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel for Rehab. Ordered Rockstar Lemonades for “breakfast.” And “lunch” and “snacks,” too. I don’t know what’s in these drinks, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just lemonade.

Afternoon/early evening: Blur, blur, blur. (*See Rockstar Lemonades above.) After an average meal at the Hard Rock, we caught a cab ride with some randoms and ended up close to the Monte Carlo. But not close enough. Anna was not impressed with the walk we still had left:

7 p.m.: Held a dance party for VIPs in our room. VIPs in attendance: Anna and me.

11 p.m.: Arrived at Vanity, the Hard Rock’s latest club. Thanks to great music (a mix of hip hop and Top 40), an invite into VIP (this time, other VIPs were in attendance) and a cool crowd, Vanity was our favourite nightclub. This picture sums up the night there:

We flew home Monday night feeling like the trip was a huge success. (We were also very, very tired.) I hope we head back there soon.

Next time, though, we’ll make sure that Vegas isn’t hosting a massive dance party for people wearing underwear and angel wings.

~Michelle

Healthy High-Protein Breakfast

29 Jun

I bought a dozen organic eggs on Saturday while I was checking out the new wonderful Market 17. On Sunday, I bought TWO dozen organic eggs from Community Natural Foods. I’d completely forgotten that I bought eggs the day before.

Clearly, my subconscious was staging a revolt against carbs.

Or maybe my subconscious was hankering for these mini-frittatas which I spotted sometime ago.

I made them Sunday night and have been raving about them ever since, yet I haven’t offered to share. I’m selfish like that.

I keep them in the fridge and eat one or two every morning. It’s much easier on my early-morning brain than fussing with frying pans to make eggs. They also work well for lunch. I’m planning an afternoon picnic with a checked blanket, lemonade and mini-frittatas.

I made a few modifications from the original based on what I had in the kitchen, including some leftover quinoa. As a test, I threw a spoonful of quinoa into three of the frittatas just before I put them in the oven. Mucho fabulouso.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups vegetables of your choice (I used 1 1/2 cups of steamed green beans, cut into one-inch pieces, and 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • 10 egg whites and two whole eggs
  • 2 tsp herbs (I used fresh basil) and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Using one regular sized muffin tin (or a 6-cup jumbo muffin tray like Sarah does on The Joy of Clean Eating), spray muffin cups with olive oil.
  2. Divide your vegetables and cheese among the muffin cups.
  3. Crack egg whites and eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork.
  4. Add herbs and pepper to eggs and mix well.
  5. Pour egg mixture into muffin cups.  (Throw in leftover quinoa at this point if you want!)
  6. Top with Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake for about 20-35 minutes or until the eggs are firm and the tops slightly brown.

(Recipe adapted from The Joy of Clean Eating. Love this site! Check it out.)

I’ve thought of plenty of variations: roasted garlic, pesto and sauteed red pepper; sundried tomatoes, olives and feta cheese; goat cheese and spinach; salmon, tomatoes and capers.

You should try some new versions and invite me if you need a taste-tester.

~Chris

Recipe for Simple Baked Whole Seabass

21 Jun

Hi! Chris here. Remember me? I blog here but disappear for long stretches to swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

Yep, that’s me with the boy, on an airplane somewhere over France.

Our vacation was perfect. The days went, more or less, like this: wake, eat breakfast on balcony overlooking sea, make sandwiches, go for hike, follow with swim and beach time, force boy join me on pre-dinner run and then we eat dinner at home, again on balcony overlooking the sea.

The restaurants on Cyprus are very good. But the grocery stores and markets are incredible. Almost all the produce is grown locally, the fish caught in the waters right not far from our house. As soon as you enter the shops, you’re hit by the smell of fresh tomatoes, parsley and garlic.

If the smells weren’t enough, there’s nothing quite like buying fruits from an old town market.

And this is the view from our house, just after sunset:

When ingredients are this fresh, you really don’t need much to make a fantastic meal. Here I am making dinner in our wee kitchen:

Because I’m bossy in the kitchen, the boy usually set the table and sat outside, drinking one of these local beers and recovering from our run.

One of my favourite Cyprus meals is fresh seabass, covered with lemon and stuffed with parsley, then BBQ’ed (if available) or baked in the oven.

Doesn’t this make your mouth water? (The boy is standing here, saying that the fish head grosses him out.)

And if you laugh at my poor hacked-at lemons, go away and read a different blog. I was working with dull knives that I bought eons ago when I was a university student.

We had seabass twice, paired with salad and squeaky fried halloumi cheese (more on squeaky fried cheese another time, I promise).

I used to make this for my sister when she and I lived out in Cyprus together. I know it’s one of her faves. She’s heading back to the island with her husband later this year. So, Nic, here you go!

Recipe for Baked Whole Seabass

(Serves 2)

1 whole white fish, cleaned and gutted

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large bunch parsley, coarsely chopped

2 lemons, 1 thinly sliced (or as best as you can get with your knives)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup white wine

Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the fish in a  baking pan or ceramic baker. Season them with salt and pepper.

Stuff with parsley and garlic. The more parsley, the better, I figure.

Combine oil, lemon juice and wine and pour over fish. Cover fish with slices of lemon.

Bake the fillets uncovered for 45 -50 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

-Chris

Wurst: The Best Idea

20 Jun

Meet my new home away from home, Wurst Restaurant and Beer Hall. It’s gorgeous, has great beer and, perhaps best of all, has something called a lamb confit crepe that is destined to become its own food group in my diet.

The Bavarian-inspired spot opened last week, in the old Wildwood space on 24th Ave and 4th St. SW. The interior has been reworked extensively and features massive, beautiful trees between the tables on the main floor, which is the restaurant level, and rows of long wooden tables in the basement, the beer hall level.

Opening night was fantastic. Despite happening on the same night as Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, the place was packed from start to finish. Drinks were consumed, oysters were slurped and bratwurst was devoured. Here are a few party pics:

From left to right in the shot above, we have my friend Anna and three of my Calgary Herald friends and writers — Gwendolyn Richards, Valerie Berenyi and Lisa Kadane — and yours truly. (Note the navy blazer. I wasn’t kidding around when I said I’d shop for one.)

Two or seven drinks later — it’s hard to keep count when the servers are so on top of handing you another — we ran into Pierre Lamielle, chef and author of the Kitchen Scraps cookbook (which I’ve written about before, here):

And Kevin Kent, founder and owner of Knifewear, the coolest knife boutique in town:

Anyone looking for German-inspired eats or just a cool new drinking spot will appreciate Wurst. I have a feeling that includes lots and lots of YYC people. So, if the beer hall is full, please scooch over and make room for me. If I’m there first, I’ll do the same.

~Michelle

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