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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

helloooooo summer (shrimp skewers and grilled veggies)

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After the most epic, dark and cold winter in recent memory, I am completely embracing the warmth.  Spending lazy afternoons outside with the kids, lazy evenings reading on the patio and many a delicious dinner cooked on the grill.  If only it were actually a bit warmer this summer.  But whatever.

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies
I remember when I used to think that meat was the only thing that you could grill, but I've since been introduced to a whole wide world of grilled vegetables and fruit (I haven't quite made it to grilled pizza yet, but it's on my list!).

Dinner these days often consists of me prepping a basket of veggies, some sort of protein, and having some sort of starchy side for the kids and hubs (rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc.).  It's simple, but it's SO good.

These shrimp skewers came about because I had shrimp on hand, and rather than grilling it plain, I decided to dress it up with something.  And I ran out of time to marinate it.  So this is really quick and easy and requires no advance planning (which is perfect for the lazy mood of summer).

As for the veggies, I've yet to find a veggie combination that wasn't somehow made more delicious through grilling - I recently picked up spray coconut oil from Costco, so I spray my basket, load it with veggies (make sure the slower-cooking [i.e., denser] veggies are cut smaller) and then for the last five minutes of cooking, I dress the veggies with some sort of seasoning (ponzu, in this case).  I kept the broccoli larger, because I prefer it almost raw, as do the kids, and I sliced the carrots super thin on my mandolin, because otherwise I find they just don't cook very well on the grill.  Last, peppers and onions are always great - just have to make sure I cut them large enough so they don't fall through the cracks.  I spray a bit of extra coconut oil on the veggies too.

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers
honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies

1 lb raw shrimp (larger is better, but smaller will work)
1/2 c chopped cilantro
2 large cloves garlic
3 T honey
2 T olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t salt
pepper to taste

1. Thaw your shrimp and peel it.

2. Thread it onto skewers (ideally, if you plan ahead, soak them if they are wood....but charred ends never really hurt anyone...)

3. Preheat your grill to medium-low (this keeps your skewers from charring)

4. Meanwhile, in some sort of mixing appliance (I used a measuring cup and an immersion blender, but any blender, food processor, magic bullet-type deal will work....alternatively, chop everything as fine as you can), combine the cilantro, garlic, honey, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  You can taste it if you want, but given that it's just a glaze, it's pretty intense and not that enjoyable on its own!).

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies

5. Put your skewers on the grill, and brush with the glaze (you could marinate it in the glaze as well, if you're planning/prepping in advance).  Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side (which will depend on the size of your shrimp - they are done when they are opaque all the way through), and when you flip them, brush the other side with glaze.  Flip at least one more time (you will have cross-contaminated your shrimp if you dipped in the same bowl and used the same brush as you did on the raw side....and foodborne illness will definitely kill the patio cook thoroughly!

Enjoy - they are really delicious!

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies

Simple grilled vegetables (barely a recipe because you can substitute everything)

1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 medium carrots, cut thinly
1 red onion, chopped coarsely (so it won't fall through the grill basket)
1 red pepper, chopped coarsely
cooking spray or oil with brush
seasoning of choice (I like ponzu)

1. Spray your grill basket or brush it with oil.
2. Chop veggies and combine, and you can either drizzle or spray a bit more oil.
3. Grill, stirring every couple of minutes (like a stir-fry) and when the veggies are close to done, sprinkle about 2-3 T of your favourite seasoning (soy sauce, ponzu, salad dressing, hot sauce, etc.).

Enjoy!  Veggies are done when you are happy with them.  I like mine practically raw, so they are on for about 10 minutes, but if you have them cut larger, or you prefer them more cooked, then you'll want to cook them for longer.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

seasonal peaches are the best

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Juicy, delicious Ontario peaches are yet another reason that I just love summer.  There is nothing else that compares to the amazing flavour, and the sensation of the juices just running down your chin and arm while you eat it.

Peaches are one of the few fruits that I 100% refuse to buy out of season.  I've grown to accept the mediocre California strawberries that we get (obviously still not as good as fresh local ones, but hey, in February, I will take what I can get).  I just don't have this acceptance for peaches.  They must be local(ish) - technically, no one in my area actually can grow peaches because I guess it's too cold.  But Niagara peaches are awesome.

All that to say, when I can get delicious local peaches, I pounce on them.  I like to keep things simple, and this is a great way to have an amazing (and quick!) dessert.

Grilling peaches introduces a really sophisticated flavour note, and it makes the whole thing look a lot fancier than it really is.  I made the caramel sauce myself, but if you didn't want to, you could definitely purchase a good quality one from a store...though you should totally try making it, because it's quite simple, once you get the sugar caramelized.

grilled peaches with crown royal caramel and ice cream
grilled niagara peach with vanilla ice cream and crown royal caramel sauce

1/4 c water
1 c sugar
1/2 c cream (I used half and half)
sea salt
2 T crown royal

6 peaches
vanilla ice cream

1. Make your caramel in advance - put 1 c sugar in a medium/large pot (it will bubble up a lot, later, when you add the cream).  Add the 1/4 c water.  Don't touch it or stir it.  Just turn the burner to medium and watch.  It will likely take about 10 minutes (possibly more?), but the sugar will melt, it will all start to boil, and then all the water will evaporate, and eventually, it will start to turn brown.  You want to let it get pretty brown, for a more flavourful caramel, but you have to watch things closely, because it can burn and that is crappy.  I was a bit of a chicken, so my caramel isn't as brown as I would have liked.  But it was still good.

2. Once the sugar mixture has browned, remove it from heat, stand back, and carefully pour in the cream.  It will bubble up like crazy.  That's okay.  Once it calms down, add a good sprinkle of sea salt and the crown royal, and then stir.  Stir until it all comes together, and then let it cool.  You should probably taste it too.  Because caramel.

3. Halve the peaches and remove their pits.  Hopefully this goes better for you than it did for me.  I crushed a couple of mine trying to get the darn pits out.  Still tasted good.

4. Preheat the grill, brush a bit of a neutral oil (canola/grapeseed/peanut) on the peaches, and grill them, cut site down, for about 7-9 minutes.  You want a tiny bit of a char, and to allow some of the smokiness to flavour them.

5.  Serve the peaches topped with a scoop of ice cream and a good drizzle of caramel.  This was soooooooooo good!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'tis the season...for heirloom tomatoes

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

bryson farms layered heirloom tomato caprese salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Drizzle over anything and everything.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

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

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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


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


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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

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

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

  frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

I got this cute birthday garland.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

And these adorable food labels.

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

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

MY elsa wears sneakers

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

frozen birthday party DIYs and decor

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

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

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