Friday, August 30, 2013

seared halibut and gazpacho salsa with tomato vinaigrette

A little over a month ago I was shopping in preparation for our North Bay cottaging looking for a beach read. Although I spent a while attempting to find a novel, I ended up walking out of the store with the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Yes, I actually brought a cookbook as my reading material for up north. I first discovered Smitten Kitchen when I was in search of a candy popcorn recipe back last December and found Deb's sweet & spicy popcorn. Everything about the recipe was simplified, fool-proof and totally delicious. I was so happy to find a site that produces legitimately great recipes. So it’s no wonder Deb had this gorgeous cookbook published. As I read her intros and explanations before the recipes in this book I felt very akin to her sensibilities and ideas of what makes great food. When I first look through cookbooks I always spot my favourite ingredients and it's those recipes I’m always willing to try first. That's why I chose Seared Halibut and Gazpacho Salsa with Tomato Vinaigrette. Field tomatoes are pretty much all I’ve been eating the past 3 weeks, so with this salsa-like gazpacho & tomato vinaigrette it seemed like the perfect recipe to try right away.

Oh, how easy and over-the-top delicious this dinner is. I was in total heaven from first bite until I woefully stared at an empty plate of tomato juice. I felt like I was eating a restaurant quality dinner the entire time. Beautiful flavours, simple and quick preparation and minimal effort with outstanding results. I’m very pleased with my initial trial of this book and look forward to trying many more of Deb’s recipes in my kitchen.

While I'm online I thought I'd throw in a 25 week pregnant shot. Yep, looking the part these days I'd say.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

peach, prosciutto and blue cheese bbq pizza

As you can imagine, the freedom of eating outdoors in our own backyard is quite novelty for us right now. We always enjoyed picnics in parks, but the freedom to waltz in and out of your home should you need something from the kitchen or a quick bathroom break in your own clean washroom – what can I say, it’s wonderful! Our first real outdoor meal was this past Saturday night were we had Peach, Prosciutto and Blue Cheese BBQ Pizza.

Making a pizza on the BBQ is a helluva lot easier than making one in the oven. Seriously. We’ve only been making pizzas on the BBQ for just over a year, but it gets pretty addictive once you get the hang of it. For this pizza we first grilled fresh from the farmstand peach halves. The rest were just toppings thrown on, so it really was quite simple. But it tasted like a million bucks. The original recipe didn’t include blue cheese, but I feel like it added so much more to an already delicious pizza. We all enjoyed it, including Owen - a kid friendly pizza to boot!

Monday, August 26, 2013

backyard makeover

For the past few years our backyard, which was in poor condition when we purchased our home 8 years ago, had deteriorated into an overgrown mess of weeds. It was always our plan to renovate, but the job was going to be a huge undertaking that kept getting pushed back year after year with favour spent on indoor projects like our living and dining room, 2 bathroom renos and a nursery. Well, the timing this year seemed perfect to go ahead with a complete backyard overhaul. Now for the before to give a bit of context to see what was tackled.

Believe it or not Owen didn’t even know we had a backyard. It clearly wasn’t safe for him to be crusing around. This was once a flagstone patio which was never properly installed. It became the bane of our existence every summer as we were on our hands and knees weeding between each stone to have more weeds pop up a week later. Spraying weed killer kept them at bay, but they always seemed to return. The roots from neighbouring mature trees on our property jutted out sharp edges of the flagstones making it dangerous to walk around. That coupled with a couple Rose of Sharon stumps in the middle of the yard which weren’t visible (just ask Nuno who accidentally bent a lawn mower blade by moving over one).

The yard had an overgrown forsythia and tall cedar that needed to be uprooted and discarded. Along with one end of a rusty old clothes line, broken randomly placed patio stones and a dilapidated picnic bench.

The yard either made me want to cry or feel pretty ticked-off whenever I was back there. If I needed to blow off steam I’d mow the lawn to show it who’s boss... it gave me a great amount of satisfaction let me tell you.

It was clearly time for a big change. Our property is a visible one and the view of the ships sailing the canal that was a huge selling feature that made us fall in love with our home in the first place. We felt we owed it to the property and the neighbourhood to proceed with a reno. Not only that, Owen needed room to play and run and our frequent visits to parks made us yearn for a space we could call our own. Now with a second child on the way and an upcoming maternity leave, this was the year to jump aboard.
Things started with meetings in March with various contractors. We decided on one that gave us the most for our buck and was located just blocks from our home making him super-accountable – I think I’ve watched too many HGTV shows I’m a little uneasy with contractors for no good reason (especially since everyone we ever used was pretty amazing). This contractor was really busy and we were finally penciled in for mid-July.

The contractors took one week to complete their part of the job and we were thrilled with the results. A demolition, leveling, interlocking brick patio installation and lawn sodding were all part of the teams job.

 They used the existing flagstones for stepping stone paths – one which leads to our shed.

And a second that leads to the front yard through this arbour.

We opted to erect the pergola and install a play set on our own. This took a month as we were vacationing most weekends. My father & Nuno built the pergola and Nuno built the play set on his own (with help from our neighbour and myself on the two-person jobs).

Oh, of course, Owen helped too with fetching tools and being a little too excited about his fort by insisting on playing on it before it was complete.

Here he is enjoying his lunch as Nuno continued to putter away on the construction.

We’ve been spending hours outside since this completion and look forward to having loads of guests over so we can host dinners, parties and outdoor movie nights.

We are so happy to finally have our entire home the way we want it to be. Every square foot is useful and feels like our own, and I can tell you, it’s a great feeling. I look forward to filling the planters with flowers, hanging baskets and planting gardens all next year while home for the summer. But most of all I'm thrilled to have a place to watch my kids run, play and grow up.

Friday, August 23, 2013

pad see ew

Owen is always pretty decisive when it comes to food and we are getting some pretty regular request these days. Some of which we aren’t too willing to oblige such as chips/snack food for breakfast (thanks to our cottaging Owen discovered a love for Munchies snack mix). Then there are the kinds we want to encourage, like his seemingly constant requests for broccoli. Funny thing is I don’t have many broccoli recipes up my sleeve. One we really enjoy is this pork and broccoli stir-fry and of course, you can toss broccoli into mac & cheese, or enjoy it as a side especially with this ham stuffed chicken (we make this all the time, it's super delish!). As a side I’ve found that taking small florets in a large, covered sautee pan with just about a quarter of a cup of water and steaming until bright green always works like a charm. I’ll often throw in minced garlic and finish with a few drops of sesame oil. They always get gobbled right up.

But I was interested in trying something new entering the school year (yes, Owen’s entering Junior Kindergarten in a week!). So I somehow (have no idea how) discovered this recipe for Pad See Ew. It’s from A Beautiful Mess – I’m now hooked on this blog, these sisters just rock and kinda remind me of me and my sister. What I love about this recipe is how simple it was to prepare using easy to find ingredients. In ingredients & technique it reminds me of the Panang Curry I developed a few years back – it’s not authentic but makes for a great family meal. For ours I used rice stick noodles and added sautéed chicken.

Here’s how to make it:

Easy Pad See Ew, serves three or four
adapted from A Beautiful Mess

Half package Thai rice stick noodles
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 bunches of broccoli, florettes cut into bite size pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles according to package instructions (be sure to not overcook – they continue to absorb the sauce once dressed).
Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp sesame oil in large non stick skillet. Season chicken breasts with salt & pepper and sautee. Once cooked remove from pan & set aside. Add remaining sesame oil and add garlic and broccoli. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan, cover and let steam until broccoli is bright & cooked to your liking. In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar and red pepper flakes if using.
Add chicken and noodles to broccoli in pan and pour the sauce over broccoli, mix to combine and reheat. Serve with a garnish of sesame seeds.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

salmon with couscous pilaf

One of my favourite barbequed meals is salmon! I feel like it's tastiest grilled on the bbq and I've have been searching around for different recipes to make fish a weekly meal. One new recipe we tried was Salmon with Couscous Pilaf from Everyday Food March 2005.

There was something about this recipe that seemed like it was going to be just, OK. I'm not sure the reason I had a lack of high expectations on this, maybe because it seemed so simple. But it actually turned out great and exceeded all my inital expectations. This is a healthy dinner that we all went nuts for and will probably enjoy again soon. So simple to prepare, this is one of those recipes you want to keep in your back pocket when you need a dinner in a pinch and don't want to spend any time in the kitchen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

our cottage week up north in photos

We’re back from a week long cottage vacation up north. I had limited internet access – I’ve gotta invest in a phone on a network to stay more connected. But, you know what, being cut off from the world back home was almost a nice break. Owen loved it up north swimming, playing in the sand, catching frogs and spending time with the family. I loved having such an interrupted chunk of time with him, a rare luxury as a 2 parent working family. His humour and sweetness was pretty overwhelming over the course of the past week, I’m so glad my parents and sister had the opportunity to share in this time.
I thought I’d share some of the photos of our week to kick off this week since I’m still a little rusty getting back into the swing of things.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

cottage long weekend

This past weekend we went up to the family cottage in North Bay. Yes, us and the rest of Ontario were driving north for the long weekend, which we do twice a year so we come to expect traffic delays. Surprisingly, we hit the road earlier than anticipated on Friday so we had time to stop into Weber’s at dinnertime for a burger and somehow avoid most of the traffic delays. What wasn’t expected was the crazy weather we encountered on the drive which included torrential downpours, thunder & lightning and even hail! I have to hand it to Owen and Hot Tot for being amazing passengers because as nervous as I was hearing hail pelting the car they were pleasant travellers for our five hour trip. I’m now hoping our newest addition is such a great little traveller, she has a lot to live up to with Owen. Here’s Owen and Nuno the next morning celebrating our arrival.

Saturday morning found us checking out the city's waterfront, which seems to shock and awe us every year with all their massive improvements.
An older playground by a municipal beach has been completely transformed into the most amazing and creative playground we’ve ever seen which included this spider web-like climber.

Part of the infrastructure changes happening in North Bay included building a pedestrian tunnel under the railroad to connect the downtown to the waterfront. As we made our way downtown we found they’ve completed this project which includes transforming the old train station into a railway museum and art gallery.
It is very engaging for kids and adults.

Owen loved cranking the train around the track.

The pedestrian walkway is now complete and is home to the relocated Saturday morning Farmer’s Market which we spent a whole lot of time enjoying. It might be because this weekend was North Bay’s huge “Festival in the Park” (which included a midway and concerts featuring Metric, Carly Rae Jepson and April Wine) but the market also included face painting and a balloons for the kids.

Owen would not let go of this doggie for most of the vacation.

That is until he was given this Spiderman toy from a super generous neighbour Sam. Here he is completely unaware of getting measured on the cottage height chart. I was shocked to see a three year old Owen is the same height I was when I was five!

Although the forecast called for thunderstorms and rain for most of the weekend, I’m glad we didn’t back out of this vacation. It turned out sunny and mild, so we ended up with loads of beach time.

(there they are - way out there!)
It's sad to think our family is just about done with this cottage. It’s been in our family for 5 generations but it’s hard to maintain being so far away and all the zoning on the properties on this road which were once all cottages are now homes. So it looks like this might just be our last year before the family sells it. We’ll probably opt to continue renting in South Bay, which is where we’ll be all next week.

But I’ll miss the old charm of this place.

Hope this isn’t our last goodbye.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

lighter beef tacos

I wonder how many of us made tacos from a kit as one of our first ever ‘meals we made on our own’. I know I can remember being 16 and feeling very accomplished with my assortment of toppings displaying my chopping capabilities including tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese all loaded with sour cream. But the real technique in these kits is to not burn, but brown the beef. If you still look on these sort of meals fondly (or still rely on overpriced premade kits to help you along), let me share with you a simpler from scratch option. These Lighter Beef Tacos were featured on Everyday Food’s blog post about food recommended for kids, and like Sloppy Joe’s, every now and again I enjoy these sort of meals.

The recipe has topping suggestions, which you obviously don’t need to follow, but for us I didn’t substitute and probably never will because these were so perfectly satisfying with just salsa and lettuce. Unfortunately, I will have to substitute a key flavour ingredient when we make these again – the chili powder. Because Owen’s tried all the other ingredients in these tacos, when he broke out in a rash around his mouth and complained of burning, I knew the chili powder was just not going to work for him. A quick face wash and a bean and cheese quesadilla took the taco's place. Overall, this dinner is monstrously addictive – to the point of dangerous. They are simple & quick to prepare and a way better option than the usual greasy, calorie-laden tacos. A total winner.