Fall Comfort Food

One thing for which I am so grateful on a daily basis is the inspiration from other bloggers and from cookbook authors to make quick, healthy, filling meals for the boys with hollow legs who populate this house.  Left to my own devices, I’d probably just eat toast for dinner most nights, but you cannot grow healthy kids on toast alone, tempting though it might be.  I know, though, that if I spend a minute flipping through my cookbooks, or my bookmarked blogs, I will rise above my lethargy and get inspired to try something new.

Such was the case one cold night recently, and I made a stew that I knew would be my perfect comfort food.  The catch: I was fairly sure it would be a flop with the kids.  WRONG.  Youngest ate three bowls of this Chick Pea and Sweet Potato Stew, and then he asked for it in his lunchbox for the next day.  It was a lesson for all of us: do not be afraid to stray from the tried and true.

Sweet Potato Chickpea Stew

Here is the recipe, reprinted with permission, from Michael Smith’s Family Meals:

Sweet Potato Chickpea Stew

Serves 4 to 6

 2 tablespoons (30mL) of vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons (30mL) of curry powder

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes

A 19-ounce (540mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 cups (1L) of water

1 teaspoon (5mL) of salt

A 14-ounce (400mL) can coconut milk

2 cups (500mL) of fresh or frozen green peas

1 pint (500mL) of cherry tomatoes, halved

½ teaspoon (2mL) of your favorite hot sauce

The zest and juice of 1 lime

A handful of fresh cilantro sprigs

Splash the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Toss in the onions and garlic and cook, stirring as the onions soften, 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle in the curry and stir for a few moments to brighten its flavor. Toss in the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, water and salt. Bring to a slow, steady simmer, then simmer long enough for the sweet potato to soften, 20 minutes or so.

Pour in the coconut milk, peas and tomatoes. Continue cooking just long enough to heat everything through. Season with the hot sauce and lime zest and juice. Serve and share with the cilantro sprinkled over every bowl.

 

Is it no reflection on the quality of this recipe that one boy got up from the table after eating a bowl full of this for dinner to make himself a sandwich.  See above re: hollow legs.

We also had great success recently with an apple galette, inspired by Kitchen Counter Chronicles.  Jen’s recipe is ever so kid-friendly, and the kids really loved getting involved in making dessert.

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10626648_10154651485075014_1125483120492747965_n

p_238_274_238And if you do not have the time or energy to make your own baked goods, either for dinner or for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities, give thanks for the brilliant concept that is ShopBake, an on-line baked goods store with treats from over 50 Toronto bakeries.  They sent us a sample pack of some of their goodies, and I have to tell you that everything I tasted was delicious.  Best of all, because there are so many vendors, you can really narrow down your parameters: gluten-free, nut-free no problem!

Shop Bake sent us samples of their goodies, and Penguin sent us a copy of Michael Smith’s Family Meals.  Thank you for spreading the goodness!

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Guest Post by Aly Ruiz Tsourounis: Summer Sipping: Peach Vodka Fizz

peach fizz 3Our guest for this week is Aly from The Newlywed Life. Her lifestyle blog is a collection of healthy recipes, creative DIYs, affordable fashion and pretty fabulous parties; plus she’s Beth-Anne’s sister-in-law so she has it on good authority that she mixes up a tasty cocktail!

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My husband and I spend a lot of time entertaining and a big part of the fun in having dinner

parties is creating new recipes to enjoy with our guests. While my husband tackles most of the

food, I am usually in-charge of cocktails and appetizers, my favourite items at any dinner party!

My motto on summer cocktails is that they should be easy to prepare, easily doubled or tripled for

a group and refreshing. Say hello to the peach vodka fizz, my current go-to summer beverage.

 

Peach Vodka Fizz (serves one)

peach fizzIngredients:

• 1 – 2 shots of vodka (depends on the type of day you’re having!)

• 1⁄2 a peach, peeled and cubed

• Juice of 1⁄2 a lime

• Touch of agave syrup

• Club soda

• Ice

 

peach fizz 2Directions:

• Place cubed peach, lime juice and agave in a mason jar and muddle with a wooden

spoon

• Add vodka, place lid on mason jar and shake vigorously

• Remove lid, add ice and top mixture with soda

• Replace lid and give one final shake

• Remove lid and enjoy!

 

Hot Summer Drinks: Teas from the Garden

039Most summertime drinks rightly revolve around icy, chilled concoctions to quench our thirsts on hot summer nights. I venture, however, to make a case for tea, even in the summer.

Maybe not on the very hottest nights (and fellow Torontonians will know there haven’t been that many of those this summer) but pretty much all of the rest of the time, I love a good tea. And never more so than when the goods come from the garden. It’s a cinch to grow some lovely herbs in pots or in the yard that make perfect summertime teas.

First up is Fresh Mint Herbal Tea. Almost too easy to grow, mint is best grown in pots or defined areas, because it will spread and take over your garden.  With a few simple steps, you can have some for the cold winter nights when a hot tea is perfectly intuitive: just wash the sprigs, bunch, hang upside down until they’re completely dry, crush the leaves, and store in an airtight jar. But use the fresh leaves for a tea now, and you’re in for a special treat. Bonus: mint is reputed to relieve upset stomach and enhance mental focus, and its menthol can relieve cold symptoms like coughing and congestion.

And next is my all-time favourite, Chamomile Tea. I’ve grown chamomile for a few years in the garden, and it’s so lovely. It’s flowers, from which you steep the tea, are small dainty things, white delicate petals encircling a yellow bulb in the centre.  Chamomile will propogate itself (although less dramatically than mint), and encountering new patches of chamomile throughout the garden feels like bumping into old friends. You pick the flower off just at it’s base to make tea. If you have extra, spread the clean flowers on a sheet until completely dry, and then store in an airtight jar for the colder months. For now though, enjoy the fresh flowers in a teapot on the porch, and you’ve got a perfect summer beverage for a leisurely summer night. Bonus: chamomile has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and sedative qualities.

Fresh Mint or Fresh Chamomile Herbal Tea

You’ll need:

1/3 cup fresh mint or fresh chamomile flowers
2 cups boiling water
honey (optional – I never add it, but you might want to)

Place mint leaves or chamomile flowers in a ceramic pot and add boiling water, steep for 5 to 10 minutes.  Savour, smell, and sip.  Summer.

Summertime Margarita

This summer we’ve been all about margaritas! They are so yummy and can easily be made without alcohol. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not comfortable in the kitchen and I have a tendency to “wing” it (insert disastrous result), and I do the same when it comes to mixology too. I like to go by taste, so every measure that I am about to give you is an approximation. Let your sense be your guide!

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Start off with some limes, both regular run-of-the-mill juicy limes and those flavour-bursting key limes. Juice 2 limes per glass. This is where the math comes in. If you’re going to make a pitcher of 8 drinks, you’ll need sixteen limes. It’s a lot of squeezing but it will be worth it.

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Pour the lime juice into the pitcher and add some club soda (1:1 ratio). Now add a healthy dose of tequila. I prefer white (or clear) and I figure about 1.5 – 2 shots per glass. Again with the math.  Squeeze in some agave nectar. This is where it gets personal. Sweetness is subjective, so be sure to taste and add accordingly.

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Pour in a touch of orange juice. That’s a very technical measurement. Don’t screw that part up.

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I’ve sampled several versions of this recipe over the summer and each time I tweak it slightly. I know nothing for sure, other than this drink tastes best served in a tall glass over lots of ice and a thinly sliced key lime.

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Elderflower Everything

stgermainliquuerI am obsessed with Elderflower.  Obsessed.  I discovered it a few years ago in a pop I found at Winners.  Do you know, I sometimes go to Winners just to shop in the crazy impulse buy aisles they have you weaving through miles of just to get to the cash register.  Seriously.  Just for that.  I find the best stuff in those aisles!  It’s where I found this elderflower pop.  It’s where my elderflower adventure began!

From a rare find at Winners to England, where elderflower pop is readily available at Tesco, and a habit was formed.  I drank a lot of it in England and brought home a bottle of elderflower cordial in my suitcase.

From elderflower softdrinks, I moved on to a discovery of elderflower liqueur.  St. Germain is available at the LCBO, and mixed with a splash of soda, it’s a little taste of heaven.

Also available at the LCBO is Rekorderlig elderflower and pear cider.  Serve very well chilled.  See above re: heaven.

Finally, a friend, aware of my passion, brought me a bottle of elderflower cordial from Ikea.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can make your own!  Recipe here from the Tree Council.

So, I’ve got several ways to find it, and now I’m working on ways to mix it.

Elderflower Bellini

A really indulgent cocktail that’s perfect for summer, is a simple mix of Prosecco and St. Germain.  Pour half an ounce of St. Germain into a champagne flute, fill with chilled Prosecco and feel the bliss.

REKORDERLIG-ELDERFLOWERElderflower Elvis

I made this cocktail for my Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon.  It was incredible.  At the time, I left out the beer from the original Bon Appetit recipe because I’m not a big fan of beer cocktails.  I’m thinking, though, that the Rekorderlig cider would be a delicious substitute for the beer and would amplify the elderflower flavour.

I also adapted the recipe by substituting vodka for gin and soaking segmented grapefruit in the vodka for a few hours.  I then used this flavour-infused vodka to make the cocktails and used the grapefruit for garnish.  Delish!

Virgin Elvis

Just add Elderflower cordial to pink grapefruit juice and add a splash of soda water.  Yum!

Please tell me about any other elderflower drinks you may know about!!

 

Theme Week: Summer Drinks Series

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What better way to cool off during a steamy summer night with a delicious cocktail? Earlier this summer I was invited to Minute Maid Cocktails & Creation hosted by Lena Almeida of the blog Listen to Lena.

We were treated to creations using Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Minute Maid Light Orange Juice created by food and entertaining expert and cooking instructor Nadine Hughes.

The event proved to be inspiring! This week we are sharing our favourite summer drinks that are perfect for an afternoon BBQ with friends or a date-night on the porch after the kids are tucked-in.

Our guest for this week is Aly from The Newlywed Life. Her lifestyle blog is a collection of healthy recipes, creative DIYs, affordable fashion and pretty fabulous parties; plus she’s my sister-in-law so I have it on good authority that she mixes up a tasty cocktail!

In the meantime, here are Nadine’s specialty cocktails for you to enjoy!

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Blueberry Lemon Pops

*makes approximately 8-10 pops. Preparation time: 20 min + 4-5 hours for freezing. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

For the blueberry lemon sauce:

½ cup (125 mL) water

1 cup (250 mL) Minute Maid Light Lemonade

1 cup (200 g) sugar

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoon water, in a small cup

For the frozen yogurt:

½ cup (125 mL) water

¼ cup (50 g) sugar

2 cup plain Greek yogurt

To make:

The blueberry lemon sauce:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add wate, Minute Maid Light Lemonade and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the blueberries, increase heat to high and bring ot a boil. Reduce heat back to medium, add cornstarch/water mixture and stir until mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

The lemon yogurt:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Once cool, fold in the plain yogurt until combined.

To assemble your pops:

In a frozen ice pop mould, fill the moulds ¼ the way up with the lemon yogurt mixture. Fill the next ¼ with blueberry lemon sauce and then repeat layers one more time. Freeze the pops for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Adult Option:

When making the lemon yogurt, replace ¼ cup (65 mL) water with ¼ cup (65 mL) Italian lemon liqueur and follow the same directions. Remember to drink responsibly.

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Toasted Coconut Orange Macarooni

*Makes 1 drink

Ingredients:

3 oz Minute Maid Light Orange Juice

2 oz Zico Pure Premuim Coconut Water

1 oz Light Coconut Milk

Ice

Garnish (enough for 3-4 drinks)

1 cup of toasted shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

¼ cup (65 mL) Minute Maid Light Orange Juice

Orange wheels

Pineapple triangles

To make:

The toasted coconut:

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup of coconut flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until the flakes are mostly golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool.

To rim the glass:

Put ¼ (65 mL) Minute Maid Light Orange Juice in a shallow bowl or saucer. Put the cooled coconut flakes into another shallow bowl or saucer. Turn a chilled martini glass upside down and dip the rim of the glass first into the orange juice and then into the coconut flakes.

The cocktail:

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the Minute Maid Light Orange Juice, Zico Pure Premium Coconut Water and coconut milk. Shake and strain into an orange-coconut rimmed martini glass. Garnish with a wheel of orange, triangle or pineapple and enjoy!

Adult Option:

Add 1.5 oz of coconut flavoured rum into the cocktail shaker and continue with the directions. Remember to please drink responsibly.

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Lemon Ginger Punch

*Makes 9 ½ cups (2.25 L)

Ingredients:

½ English cucumber, cut into thin rounds

Small handful of fresh mint leaves

1 lemon cut into thin rounds

7 cups (1.75 mL) Minute Maid Light Lemonade

2 ½ cups (625 mL) Ginger-Ale

Crushed ice

Garnish:

Thin rounds of English cucumber

Fresh mint leaves

Thin rounds of fresh lemon slices

To make:

In a large pitcher or punch bowl, add the cucumber, mint and lemons, reserving some for garnish. Add the Minute Maid Light Lemonade and using a wooden spoon, stir until combined. (Note: you can make this in advance and refrigerate for a few hours allowing the fruits and vegetables to infuse the liquid.) Just before serving, add the Ginger-Ale and stir. To serve, fill a tall glass with crushed ice and pour mixture over top. Garnish individual glasses with a sprig of mint, cucumber round and lemon round.

Adult Option:

Add 2 cups (500 mL) of Gin based liqueur when you add the Minute Maid Light Lemonade. Stir and continue with recipe. Remember to drink responsibly.

Looking for some more delicious ways to enjoy Minute Maid Light? How about baked sweet potato fries with orange curry dip or fruit salad ice pops? Click through for the recipes!

Don’t forget to share with us your favourite summer mocktail or cocktail in the comment section.

The Final Stretch: Lunches

Here is a hilarious beginning vs end of the school year post on BuzzFeed.

Here is lunch at the beginning of the school year:

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and at the end:

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I have not quite sunk that low, but I can tell you that I have 49 lunches left to pack.  Yes, I’m counting.

applesAnd that is why I am always glad to hear about new things to put in the lunchbox.  Ontario grown and produced Martin’s Apple Chips are new to the market, and they were kind enough to send us a sample.

They are 100% apple.  That’s it, that’s all.  The apples are thinly sliced and dehydrated and have a lovely crispy crunch.  I really enjoyed them on their own, but they also make a great gluten-free alternative for cheese crackers.  Check out the other ideas on their blog.

We love to support local businesses and to tell you about the products that we have received and enjoyed.  This definitely checked a lot of boxes for us: healthy, tasty, local.

Enjoy!

 

The Pleasures of Handmade Chocolate

050I didn’t clue in on the second or third or fourth readings why my son was so fascinated with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Apart from the fact that it’s a timeless, fabulous read that’s entertaining for both children and adults.  We were also loving the edition illustrated by Quentin Blake, whose whimsical drawings seem to perfectly complement Dahl’s outlandish tale.

But there was another reason, and that’s because my boy really wanted to make chocolate.  I was ever so slow to catch on to this.  When he first talked about being a chocolate maker and a chocolate inventor, I said sure, and got on with whatever critical task I was doing.

When he kept talking about making chocolate, I clued in that he actually wanted to try and I told him one of two things:  a) I didn’t know how or b) you can’t make chocolate.  I’d like to think I made the former claim, but I’m pretty sure I said the dumber latter thing.

At last, when the poor child was blue in the face with asking, I had a glittering eureka moment.  Why don’t I just look into it, I thought?  And promptly discovered that it is not only possible to make chocolate at home, but not difficult at all (unless you are starting truly from scratch with cocoa beans, which we weren’t).  Snapping out of my no-can-do trance, I remembered that I love making things in the kitchen at home with my boys and at last we got to work.

We did some research, read a bit, watched a few youtube videos.  There are lots of different recipes out there, but I wanted to make one with cocoa butter, because this seemed the most delicious and pure way.

The recipe I used (and I cannot for the life of me find the source, sorry) contained exactly four ingredients.

250 grams of cocoa butter (edible, some kinds are intended for body care)

8 Tbs of powdered milk

12 Tbs of cocoa

250 grams of icing sugar

(pinch of salt, optional)

The most difficult part of making the chocolate was getting some really good ingredients, and even that was just a run to the natural food store.  I splurged on raw organic cocoa butter and got some good cocoa powder, because with a recipe with four ingredients, the quality of these would seem to really matter.

We melted the cocoa butter in a makeshift double boiler, and blended it with the mixed dry ingredients.  And, um, that’s it.

Then we poured our chocolate mixture into a variety of silicone molds (maybe some chocolate bar molds should go on my son’s gift wishlist?  If you don’t have these, you could line a loaf pan or baking tray with a lip with parchment paper and break the chocolate into bark.  Spooning out the liquid chocolate was messy so we poured it first into a little milk jug which made pouring into the molds much easier.

We chilled them, popped them out of the molds and wrapped them in mason jars as we had a bunch of May birthdays to celebrate.  I read somewhere that handmade chocolates melt more easily than storebought, so we kept the presents refrigerated until time to give them.

The outcome?  It’s a lovely chocolate.  Not a true dark chocolate, but more dark than milk chocolate, partly because of the milk powder but especially because it was just sweet enough and no more.  It was strikingly similar to some very nice, very expensive handmade chocolate I sampled at a high end farmer’s market.  The texture of ours was a little grainy, which I can only attribute to the milk powder as the other dry ingredients are so fine.  There are lots of other recipes out there, and since it’s so easy and pleasurable and great for gift-giving, I can’t see why we won’t be doing this more and more.

It should come as no surprise that I was enamoured with the process entire.  With reading to my son a wonderful story and having it make a deep enough impression on both his imagination and sense of possibility that he’s spurred to try new things.  And that his energy moves me to try new things.  That I have the opportunity to stretch a little more a mind that I thought was already open to adventures in the kitchen with my kids.  That we get to create and taste and share really decadent and quite healthful treats.  I still can’t explain the blinders that delayed this handmade foray, but thank goodness for the persistent child who helped knock them away; it’s reason enough for me to love these chocolates completely.

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Three New Cookbooks I Love

madYou know that awesome feeling you get when you talk to another parent, and they just get you?  They just get what it is to be harried and hurried and run off your feet?  Well, Madhouse Cookbook is that, with recipes!  Recipes for cocktails!  Recipes you can make with the kids!  It even has recipes that you can make in less than 30 minutes!  It’s week-night salvation, people!  (Full disclosure: a copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.)

This is a recipe book that recognizes that parents wear many hats.  There are sections for kid-friendly meals, hurried week night meals, relaxed family weekend brunches and, best of all, adults-only entertaining.  This is a cookbook that encourages you to put yourself first sometimes, and get creative in the kitchen.  I loved that push to get us to push the kids out of the limelight.  Elderflower martini, anyone?

glowsOh She Glows is another recent acquisition, named for Angela Liddon’s blog of the same name.  I cannot begin to tell you what a joy it has been to cook from this book.  The fun!  The flavour!  The guilt-free healthy goodness!  The recipe for the roasted rainbow carrots was a huge hit at our family Easter dinner, as was the lentil walnut loaf.  The non-vegetarians among us looked longingly at it, and I confess I love it when that happens.  What I especially love is that I can make the flavourful, interesting recipes from this book, and still serve my kids the plain steamed veggies and simple food that they like by simplifying the recipe for them as I go along.  I get food bursting with flavour, they have to abide by the one-bite rule, and if they don’t like it, they can still have the simple version.  Win win.

Finally, I have had had great success with Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, a gift from my sister-in-law who has gifted multiple copies, all to rave reviews.  Some of the recipes are crazy, and I will never attempt them.  (Salted fish, I’m looking at you.)imagesABD5QV3DBut others are crazy simple and delicious and total crowd pleasers.  The roasted cauliflower and chick pea recipe is one I now have memorized, and after too many nights of boring steamed cauliflower made for my kids’ tastes, it has made cauliflower a joy again.  Truly.  And, again, it’s one of those recipes that I can adapt easily for my fussy eaters by just putting aside some of the chick peas and cauliflower before adding the spices.  It’s all good!

It’s Finally Time to Use the Gift Certificates

dinnerYears ago (could it be as many as three?!) my husband gave me the best Mother’s Day gift ever: a gift certificate from a caterer for three family meals to be delivered to the house.  Words cannot express the delight I felt.  Having dinner cooked for me and mine is almost as good as a date night when I don’t have to feed my offspring at all.

I treasured those gift certificates.  I held on to them, banking them against a day when I would Really Need Them.  They sat in my in-box and sent off a submarine-like ping to my subconscious: help is always on hand.

The thing is, by the time you are up to your eyeballs in the kind of turmoil that makes a day when You Really Need Them, the gift certificates aren’t much good anyway.  Because ordering from a caterer requires Advanced Planning.

And another thing: I began to look on the gift certificates, not as a blessing that would free me from preparing dinner, but as a manifestation of my having reached Rock Bottom.  They went from being an ace up my sleeve to being something more like a lifeline, a lifeline that was a sign that I was drowning.  I don’t like to think about drowning or needing saving or Rock Bottom, so I did not use them.

In fit of spring-induced energy, I finally, finally tackled the towering pile of papers in my office, and in amongst them was the gift certificate, and I decided, it’s time.

I don’t need saving.  I am not drowning.  I am not at rock bottom.  But I do intend to give myself a week off from dinner preparation before the next Mother’s Day comes along.  A delightful gift, pure and simple.  Spending it out.