Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Decor in Pictures

Images from West Elm

In the past I have resisted the holiday ramp up that starts in late November.  I didn't want to be all Christmas'ed out before the 25th arrived.  This year though I decided to go with it.  One of my favorite parts about the holiday season is decorating my house.. and enjoying those decorations.  I love watching TV with the Christmas tree lite up or enjoying my window display while driving away.   I am pleased to say that I can kick back and enjoy these decorations now for a solid 3 weeks. This year birch branches are a real feature in much of my decor.  Koda and Kevin were hiking one day and came across a downed birch tree.  We went back the next day with saw in hand to grab as many branches as we could.  Combine that with the fact that Kevin loves to use power tools and cut wood, I have a lot of birch bark candles and branches. 

I have two of these urns that flank my front door.  The greenery is from my Christmas tree and a pine tree they were cutting down where I work. If you keep your eyes open, these materials are everywhere

This was created at the annual door design workshop held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.  A militant senior outfitted with a wireless mic guides you through it's creation piece by piece.

I used a mason jar and filled it with tiny spruce branches that needed to by trimmed off the Christmas tree.  I then added some red berry twigs for colour.  You could really put anything in that matched your Christmas decor scheme.

I have birch bark candles, the mason jar with twigs and some pine cone shaped candles as a vignette on a tray that sits on my coffee table.

From my crafty days where I was OBSESSED with painting little ornaments.  I still have them all and they make their way onto my tree each year.  This little bear and placard sit on a small shelf in my kitchen

Gotta have Santa.  The nice thing about most of these decorations is that they can last past Christmas as they aren't super Christmasy...just wintery

On my mantle.  Again the birch bark candles and a mason jar filled with wood berries and cinnamon sticks wrapped up in a festive ribbon.

My favorite this year for sure.  Kevin found this metal bin at a barn and it was perfect for what I had in mind.  I wanted something in my living/dining room that was substantial and that I could light but didn't want another tree.  We started by securing the large birch branches in the bottom of the bin with 2x4's.  We crossed over to construction from crafty a little bit on this one.  Once the braanches were in and secure I filled the bin with pine cones,ornaments, and red berry twigs.  The final touch were Martha Stewart gold leaf branches that you can plug in and light up.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Garam Masala Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

A dark and gloomy All Hallows Eve was upon us. Still undecided at 6:00 if we were going to "Grinch out", turn the lights off and hide in the basement...the Halloween spirit struck. Kevin began hunting for pumpkin carving implements and I scrambled to throw together a costume. Trick or Treaters were few and far between so I thought I would sift through that bowl of pumpkin guts sitting on the counter and try roosting the seeds.  Growing up, a lady across the street always roasted pumpkin seeds on Halloween. Despite the candy and chocolate that was on hand, I remember enjoying the salty crispy seeds after a night of pounding the pavement. I decided to branch out and try a more exotic version of roasted pumpkin seeds using some garam masala spice I've hand on hand for ages. There are lots of recipes for making your own Garam Masala as it is a combination of a bunch of spices.  This recipe definitely has a few steps so make sure you have sometime set aside ... the end product is worth it.

Garam Masala Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

seeds from 1 pumpkin
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp Garam masala spice
2 tsp sea salt

Cut the top of the pumpkin off (if you are carving it for Halloween) or cut it in half. Using a large metal spoon scoop the inside of the pumpkin into a large bowl. You will need to then separate the seeds and place them in a strainer. Rinse the seeds with water removing any bits of pumpkin flesh.

Preheat oven to 375.

Place the seeds in a small saucepan and add 1 tsp of sea salt and enough water to cover the seeds. Simmer over low heat until seeds are softened, about 1 hour.

Drain the water and pat the seeds dry. Throw the seeds back into the saucepan and toss with vegetable oil, 1tsp salt and Garam masala. Place seeds on a baking sheet in an single layer (you might need 2 baking sheets).

Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring once, or until seeds are golden brown.  Add another sprinkle of sea salt is you like them salty!

Monday, July 16, 2012

No Bake Blueberry Crisp

We have been experiencing some seriously scorching temps. in Southern Ontario this summer.  My crazy dog can barely handle a spin around the park without his tongue  dragging on the ground, eager to jump into his pool as soon as we walk through the backyard gate (yes, Koda has his own pool).

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Garlic Scape and Lemony Linguine

Farmer's Markets are in full force in Southern Ontario.  I am always amazed by what I see sitting on thier rustic little folding tables.  An array of veggies and fruits...many of which I have cannot identify.  Last year I discover jicama and kohlrabi.  This year, garlic scapes.  Garlic scapes are the shoots that grow up from the garlic bulb itself with a mild garlic favour and a texture similar to asparagus.  I saw these bright green, tangled stems at the Locke St. Farmers Market and decided to bring them home.  As it was nearing the end of the market, the farmer gave me a 2 for 1 deal!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Potluck picnic in the park

We celebrated Father's Day with a potluck picnic in the park (say that 3 times fast!)  I made muffins for the picnic that Kevin described as "salad muffins" when he saw all the ingredients laid out on the counter...carrots, zucchini, apples, raisins, walnuts.  They were a hit with the 6 to 60 year old crowd!  I did nothing to this recipe and followed it ingredient for ingredient.  People were asking for the recipe so instead of re-typing it, here is the link.

Morning Glory Muffins from  An Avocado a Day

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Banana Oatmeal Chia Seed Muffins

With no brown rice syrup on hand to make my go to energy bars for the week I opted to use some of the bananas that are slowly starting to take over my freezer. Like the Lemon Chia Seed Muffins, I used the Jean Pare Muffins and More cookbook as a starting point. You could doctor these up with nuts, chocolate chips, or raisins. I decided to keep it basic. Like the lemon chia seed muffins, I found that the batter is kind of elastic for lack of a better term and the muffins turn out almost chewy. I think this is a function of the chia seed getting a gelatinous coating around them when introduced to liquid. In addition to adding chia seeds, the other modifications I made were halving the sugar, substituting apple sauce for canola oil, and adding some cinnamon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grilled Strawberries and Basil Vanilla Gelato

I started this blog in the depths of winter when I was likely to be found in my "uniform" of track pants and hoody by 6:30 and unlikely to leave the house after that.  The nice weather and longer days have changed that...they always do.  Heading out at 8:00pm seems totally normal and PJ's do not get put on until right before I go to bed.  I just really like to be outside during the spring and summer.  Instead of puttering around my kitchen as I do in the fall and winter, I putter in the garden, talk my dog for, another, stroll around the park, or go for a spin on my bike. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tahini Stir Fry Sauce

For about a year now I have been making the sauces that I use in stir frys.  Given how ridiculously easy it is, I don't know why I used to buy the stir fry seasoning packets that you add water too.  I usually just eye ball it and add some chicken or vegetable broth, some soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil.  One key ingredient that makes most Asian food taste better is fish or oyster sauce.  A tiny splash of it can really change the flavour.  I had heard about tahini a while ago and had NO IDEA what it was.  I kept thinking it was like tzatziki sauce or tamari.  Regardless, I was clueless.  After some googling I realized it was sesame seed puree...kind of like sesame seed butter.  I bought some having to idea how I would use it!  As a side note, I have been doing this alot lately (buying new foods) and have been having fun trying to find recipes to make with the random and new (to me) ingredients I pick up.  I decided to doctor up one of my usual sauce recipes with same tahini and here you have new go to stir fry sauce.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cranberry Quinoa Squares

Call me a princess but I don't like to eat the same thing for dinner two nights in a row.  Leftovers for lunch the following day are totally cool though.  I know some people who have a severe aversion to leftovers. They cannot fathom eating something that has to be re-heated.  Not me.  I would prefer leftovers in my lunch sac (I sound like I am in grade 3:) over a salad or sandwich any day.

The other day I made a double batch of quinoa thinking I would use it the next night in a different way...didn't happen.  The following day I realized this quinoa was going to get tossed if I didn't use it up.  I came across a recipe for dark chocolate quinoa bars and decided to use that as a starting point.  This recipe turned out really well.  Not only are these bars Kevin approved (have the icon ready but need to figure out how to post it) they are also endorsed by his bike team.  The majority of this batch got sent along with the team on a road trip to a race. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Energy Bars

Another variation of the "Energy Bars" here.  I bring two of these bars everyday in my lunch and have been doing so for 3 months now!  I have surprisingly not gotten tired of them.  Quite the opposite, I look forward to eating them.  That is how much a love them.  My original version was Mocha Macadamia Madness .   This variation is Oatmeal Rasian Cookie.  I have included cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice in the recipe but you can vary that depening of which spices you like/dislike.  I know many people aren't into nutmeg.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Leek and Mushroom Frittata

Eggs...Most people always have them on hand.
Random veggies that need to get eaten a few of those in the fridge.

This is such a super easy and really healthy recipe. There is one pan to clean and you can literally add any vegetable you have on hand. I think what I grew up calling an omelette was actually a frittata. We never folded ours and put the veggies in the middle. We would sautéed potatoes and veggies, pour the egg over top and then use a really funky method for flipping that bugger. I find this baking method a bit better especially when you are using a lot of eggs and making a big frittata.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gnocchi with Savory Mushroom Sauce

This recipe sparked a new Boysenberries category of "Kevin Approved" recipes. Kevin rarely comments with any vigor about how delicious something is. Well, this recipe elicited some serious compliments..."flavour packed, rich, savory". 

Since January we have made an effort to eat more whole food. I tend to stick to the "if I don't know what the ingredients are, I don't really want to eat it" rule.  One thing I have noticed from reading labels is that many sauces and dressings have the ingredient "spice" listed.  So sketchy.  I must note here that the Worcestershite sauce in this recipe does have "spice"...whatever that is!   I have been reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan and his message is eat food, not too much, mostly plants. So simple! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Citrus Avocado Potato Salad

We had a bunch of friends over for a BBQ on Friday.  We were at a bike race earlier in the day and I wasn't sure when we'd be home so I wanted to have an "easy dinner" planned.  Hamburgers and homemade, not by me,  Honey Garlic and Asiago Fig sausages on the grill.  I was shameless about the potluck format and took friends up on offers to bring apps, salads, and dessert :)  All I was planning on doing was making these crispy horseradish potatoes.

I don't know about you, but when I have people over that I want to hang out with (I guess if you don't want to hang with them it is a different story), I don't want to be in the kitchen!  So, the potatoes turned into straight up roasted potatoes and the smashing and brushing steps were omitted.  I also made WAY too many.  The next day we had our family Easter dinner and I took  said roast potatoes to my aunts only to find an over abundance of potatoes there as well. So, the potatoes come back home with me. Honestly!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lemon Chia Seed Muffins

Company's Coming .  My mom had practically the entire cookbook collection from Cookies to Casseroles.  I remember making recipes from those books when I was 10.  My specialty at that time were these no bake peanut butter balls (might have to re-visit those).  In the days before "googling" a recipe was an option, most of my muffin and cookie recipes came from these books.  On a nerdy note, the author, Jean Pare, is from Alberta.  Now, I don't know what channel I was watching while stretching post run in my basement but there was a circa late 80's documentary on about her and the rise of her cookbook empire.  It is actually a pretty interesting story that kept me stretching for a full 30 minutes (otherwise unheard of for me).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mexi-Quinoa Salad

I'm going to credit this recipe with the fact that this is the first time I have actually enjoyed eating quinoa. I make it every now and then because I know it is healthy but have never REALLY loved it.  I also tried a new method of rinsing the quinoa. When you forget the rinse step, you know it!  The quinoa tastes nasty and soapy in my opinion.   In the past I rinsed uncooked quinoa in a strainer.  I would run water over it and mix it up with my fingers.  This time, I soaked the uncooked quinoa in cold water for 3 minutes and then strained it. 

I served this quinoa salad as a side dish to some grilled chicken and sautéed rapini but it could easy be a main. It also makes a great lunch to take to work. I think the key with this recipe (and why I loved this quinoa) is that:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pita Pizza with Kale Pesto

Another great use for those frozen kale pesto cubes. Makes for a unique alternative to tomato sauce on a pita pizza. I topped mine with sautéed onion, mushroom, and spinach.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Crispy Zucchini Spears

I went to the Hamilton Food and Drink fest this weekend with some friends. We had four free tickets come our way and I had never been so figured what the heck.  Once inside the show you have to buy tokens that you can redeem for food and drink.   I read online that most items were between 2-7 tokens. 

Let's rewind a few hours to when our friends came over.  I figuring hitting to up this show on an empty stomach would be bad idea.  Firstly, because I would be on my way to drunkville in no time and second, I get grumpy when hungry.  The thought of being ravenous and waiting in huge line for a meatball or spring roll was not appealing.   I made a few apps at home including these Crispy Zucchini Spears.   So, the food and drink show ended at 10pm and after enjoying wine and snacks until 8:30 at home we figured we should head over.  We thought 12 tokens each would be good number to buy once inside the show (given I read that some items might be 7 tickets).  After visiting a few winery booths we quickly realized that most drinks were between 1 and 2 tokens.  We were enjoying ourselves sampling and snacking until we realized it was 9:45 and we had about 6 tokens left each.  Go time.  We made it our mission to use all those tokens in the last 15 minutes.  Seemed like a great idea in the moment..morning after not so much.  On a more mature note, the show was really neat and we think we will go back next year...but earlier.  The most interesting thing I tried was a Green Apple beer from Nicklebrook Brewery.  I imagine it would be a great beer to enjoy on a patio this summer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Boss Dijon Salad Dressing

This is my first post inspired by my recent to trip to Paris and Menton (a town on the French Riviera).  Before you go thinking I am J. Lo here jetting off to the Riviera, we did a home exchange 3 years ago where people came to stay at our place for 2 weeks and we stayed at thier place in Menton for one week.  We were owed a week and cashed in over March break holiday.  A trip report complete with pics is in the works.

I find that when I travel, after a few days away from home, I am craving vegatables.  Brocolli stir fry and carrots with dip run through my thoughts.  Don't get me wrong I love a good French baguette.  When travelling with my girlfriends after university I would buy one for myself almost each day.  Luckily we were walking alot which counteracted the baguette obsession:)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kale Pesto Sauce

Egg noodle tagliatelle with garlicy pesto sauce, mushrooms and chicken is pasta heaven for me.
Now, given that I am not a fan of cheese or cream sauces, I find store bought pesto sauces never suit my tastes. I found a recipe a few years back for an easy, basic pesto and it has been my go to. For a few years the Hamilton Farmers Market had a stall where they would sell huge bunches of basil for two bucks. I would stock up, make a bunch of sauce and freeze it. Unfortunately, said stall no longer exists. So this leaves the options of buying basil at the grocery store (can be pricey) or growing my own. Grow my own, sounds easy...not so! I have tried to grow basil for the past two summers with no success. A colleague at work, who is a gardening guru, has since filled me in that pinching the flowers off the plant is the key to big leaves. Crossing my fingers that this summer, third time will be a charm.

I decided to give my go to recipe a whirl with another leafy green...kale. Another twist was using walnuts instead of pine nuts (also pretty steep in the price department). Are you getting the hint that I am kinda cheap? Friends say frugal which is a nice way of putting it ;)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Coconut Caramel Corn

I love popcorn. I have it at least twice each week as my evening snack. Usually I air pop and go with a tiny bit of butter and salt. Sometimes, I dash some Chili Lime Franks Red Hot sauce on. Other times, I'll satisfy a chip craving and use salt and balsamic vinegar.

My dad is a ninja at the stove popping method. It really does taste so much better. I tried it once and made serious mess of my pot. To this day the bottom it is still stained slightly black with burnt on popcorn.

Tonight I was feeling like dessert but had baked cookies a few nights earlier. I baked them to send to my sister and after much container decorating and parcel taping, they turned out to get delivered to the wrong address! I'm sure some stranger....albeit a lucky stranger... in Missisauga is enjoying my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies as I type. This is where my caramel corn idea comes in. I pretty much took the sticky portion of my energy bar recipe (brown rice syrup, brown sugar, salt and vanilla), drizzled that over air popped popcorn, and mixed in the coconut.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rookie Mistake

While getting a blog post ready last night I accidentally deleted the Stuffed Poblano Peppers and the Blueberry Cranberry Spelt Muffins recipes.  Arghhh.  I was in Starbucks when I realized what I had done. I dropped a few "F" bombs inside my may have slipped out under my breath.

Crispy Horseradish Potatoes

As promised, this is one of those side dishes that accompanied my roast chicken Oscar night fiasco. I was telling people at work about these potatoes and have already been asked for the recipe. A colleague of mine made them this week (minus the horseradish) as comfort food for her sick kids. Horseradish is a pretty "grown up" taste but I think it is what makes this recipe.

Kevin and I leave on Saturday for a March break trip to a town called Menton. Menton is just outside of Nice on the French Riviera. We did a home exchange a few years ago and have one week "banked" at this condo in France. We are cashing in. As of now the weather looks fantastic for strolling, sipping cappuccinos in the morning and wine in the evening...ok maybe afternoon too...we're on vacay after all!  I've scouted out some local specialities and hope to bring back some interesting recipe ideas...Nicois salad anyone?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Faux Pho

This recipe for a version of pho (Vietnamese soup) is the result of a dinner gone wrong the night before.

I guess it wasn't a total failure. I had a plan of making a nice Sunday dinner of roast chicken. Now, it is important to note that on this particular Sunday the Oscar's were on.   I love this night. I take over the TV at 6pm to watch the red carpet show on E!
Being a rookie when it come to roast chicken, I put it in the oven way too late. At 6pm (I know, shouldn't I be on the couch by now) I take the chicken out, check internal temperature and determine it done. I throw my two sides into the oven (both of which were really tasty and I will post about later). We are now at 6:30... sides are done, let's carve this chicken. Upon the first slice into the chicken it was apparent it was NOT ready! At this point all I could think of were the celebs and dresses I was missing on the red carpet so I loaded my plate with my sides and headed to the TV.  Long story short, I roasted the breast and legs for lunchtime sandwiches and made stock out of the carcass.

Back to my faux pho. This isn't so much of a recipe as an idea.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Energy bars

These are my Mocha Macademia Madness energy bars. They won first prize for taste...and second prize for a prestigious energy bar making contest held at a friends house last weekend.

Every Sunday I make a batch of these. I bring two in my lunch each day and they make a great mid morning and afternoon snack. On a 90 minute run the other day I brought half bar and it went down easy. The espresso adds a nice boost:)

I originally found a recipe for Big Sur Powerbars on the 101 cookbooks site. I made that version a few times then decided to branch out. I have a bunch of ideas for different varieties and will post when I test them out. My next trial will be Apple Chai Spice.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Asparagus "Risotto" with Barley

I love risotto. It is often my meal of choice at an Italian restaurant. However, I never make it at home. It is pretty labour intensive with adding the stock one ladle at a time. Just enough work to deter me on a weeknight.

I picked up some barley on the weekend. Although not terribly exotic, it is new to me! I am trying to experiment with new grains. I have been stuck in a rice and pasta rut and am blown away by the number of interesting grains you can get. I came across some recipes that substituted pearl barley for Arborio rice and thought about taking a risotto recipe and trying it with barley.  I settled on an asparagus and lemon risotto.  Once neat trick to use when preparing asparagus is that it has a natural break point.  This is where the woody part of the speer separates from the more tender part.  If you just bend it near the bottom of the speer, it will break at a given point