Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Roasted beet pasta with Barilla pasta

Roasted beet pasta sauce

This was the meal I was going to make on Valentine's Day. For some reason, Valentine's Day also falls on the same weekend as Family Day in Canada. That means that most restaurants and hotels are packed that weekend and Valentine's Day celebrations seem to be overshadowed by other things. Maybe the "family" part is more important now than those gushy, Valentine's Day gimmicks. In the case of my schedule it was, as my parents were visiting from out of town that weekend. I suppose beets aren't the most romantic of foods when you think about it. 

Beet tart

When you do eventually have time to celebrate Valentine's Day alone or have a quiet night together, I would recommend not bringing up the subject of the "beet test" while you're eating something like this beet tart I made awhile back (pictured above). Did you know that you can discover the "transit time" of your digestion by eating beets? And guess why? Because of the bold colour. Although with our relationship, this is probably something we would laugh about because we're the type who aren't afraid to talk about each other's digestive habits. According to the "beet test," you should be "seeing red" within 24 hours otherwise your insides are too slow. 

Barilla products

I am not normally a gluten-free eater, but sometimes a break from carbs is probably good for digestion. And luckily, Barilla knows the key to my heart with lots of pasta. The Zeno Group mailed me this lovely assortment of pasta and healthy living gifts to try, including 3 boxes of Barilla Plus pasta, a Barilla apron, a Mediterranean Diet cookbook, some 2012 Dolce Vita Chianti wine by David Rocco, some Olive and Olives extra virgin olive oil, an ibitz family activity monitor and a copy of the new Living with Gusto magazine. Barilla strongly supports the Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on vegetables, fresh ingredients and a balanced diet. According to the Mediterranean diet pyramid, you should be eating 55% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 15% protein. 

With some of the Barilla rotini I made an eggplant stew from this Persian seared eggplant and tomato beef recipe. Although it's not quite a Mediterranean recipe, it was a hearty mix of meat, vegetables, protein (with a spicy yoghurt sauce) and carbohydrates with the gluten-free Barilla pasta. 

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a pasta connoisseur. When it came to the difference between regular and gluten-free pasta, I really couldn't really tell the difference between the two taste wise. Barilla's is a white pasta using a blend of corn and rice flour. The only downside I would say is that after a few days in the fridge, the leftovers with the gluten-free pasta don't seem to hold up as well as regular pasta. For my next dish, I was inspired by one of the beet pasta recipes they sent me for a Valentine's Day inspired menu. 

Barilla Plus pasta

I used Barilla penne pasta and inspiration from a few other beet pasta recipes that I searched. When I am developing recipes, I usually search for quite a few recipes of the same thing and take bits and pieces from each to make my own. This beet pasta uses roasted garlic, milk and cottage cheese to add some creaminess to the tartness and bold flavours of the beets. To be honest, beets aren't my all-time favourite vegetable. I don't eat them by themselves as much as I probably should. It might be the fear of getting the colour everywhere or the strong earthiness taste. Either way, I did enjoy this pasta dish, as I usually do with most pasta dishes. 

Beet pasta recipe

Roasted Beet pasta (adapted from this recipe)
3 medium sized beets, peeled and cut into slices
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cottage cheese (or parmesan cheese)
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 pound penne pasta
A splash of red wine
Oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste

Roasted beets

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet with foil, toss the beets with olive oil, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Wrap the garlic cloves in foil with a bit of olive oil. Roast the garlic and beets for about 30 minutes.
2. Transfer beets to a food processor with 1/4 cup cottage cheese, garlic and a bit of water or oil if the mixture is too thick to blend. 
3. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the milk and the splash of wine. Add the remaining cheese, sugar and seasoning. You can also use a potato masher to make the mixture smoother. Heat for a few minutes until everything is combined. 
4. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Add the beet sauce to the cooked pasta and sprinkle with a few more herbs and more cheese if you want.

Roasted beet sauce

As soon as the beet sauces hits the pasta, it turns a lovely pinkish, red colour. Alternatively, you could boil the pasta in a bit of beet water to get the same effect. Did you know that bakers sometimes use beet juice in red velvet desserts for colour? It's like an all-natural food colouring. 

Roasted beet pasta

So there you go. You get some romance, digestion talk and a neat pasta dish that will impress your special someone. I'm pretty sure pasta is the second or maybe third love of my life--have to include my cat in there too. Barilla has some great pasta recipes on their website you should try that you can "feel good about." 

Happy belated Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My favourite wedding day details

I think my friends are starting to get sick of me talking about weddings. I know after my wedding I didn't want to look at anything wedding related for a long time. Then I found out our wedding was featured in Wedding Bells magazine 2015 edition and I was thrilled. I was an intern at the magazine ages ago and wrote quite a lot of wedding-related articles, so I was excited that my actual wedding could be in the magazine. It was featured on a one-page spread in the print edition and on the "Real Weddings" section of the website.

We were engaged for 5 years. That sounds like a long time for some people, but it just seemed to work for us at the time. Or original venue fell through, so we took a break from planning for a bit to take our time finding somewhere else--life got in the way a bit--and we just rode out the whole engagement thing for awhile. We were both cool with that. One thing that started to drive me crazy was that being engaged for long meant so many wedding ideas went through my head during that time. After so many back and forths, Pinterest boards, decisions and drafts, I think we came up with something that resembled us very well.

Recently, I started doing some D.I.Y projects to preserve some of those wedding memories. I printed out a bunch of photos and put them in an album that I really need to put one of our photos on the front because the stock image photo reminds me of "Gone Girl" for some reason. My parents got us a beautiful wooden keepsake box for Christmas with photos on the side that I have stored some momentos from the day inside, such as a dried piece of my bouquet, our invitation and some jewellery. It's as close to a "wedding shrine" that I will ever get. I believe they were called "hope chests" back in the day.

I wanted to share some of the details from the day in well, more detail. I had Excel spreadsheets going of my planning, projects and budget. After all of the work, I really did enjoy the process--as overwhelming and nerve wracking as it was. There were a few things I maybe wanted to splurge on but couldn't bring myself to go overboard; it was just one day after all. I also wanted to do a lot of the things myself instead of buying them to save money and add a bit of personal touch. It wasn't meticulously put together or elaborately planned by a designer and that is alright.

Obviously, after everything was said and done my favourite details weren't actually the details themselves. My favourite part was the people I shared the day with and the people who helped me along the way. Everyone was willing to pitch in and was eager to help and as stubborn as I can be sometimes, I welcomed the extra input. Here's a bit of a breakdown of some of the wedding day details:

For my invitations, I turned to Minted's Wedding Stationery. I mean, how do you ever choose on that site? There were so many options, from rustic to classic to bold to formal and you can customize each element of the invitation like the colour, type of paper, envelope and liner. The invitation is supposed to set the stage for the event, so I wanted something fun, rustic and slightly vintage-looking. I chose the "bud and blossom" design from Minted. Also, I realized afterwards that supposedly the bride's name should come first? I just put our names based on how people usually refer to us: "Mike and Laura."

Minted buds and blossom wedding invitation

Once the invitations were sent out and the venue booked, it was time to start in on the smaller details. You know where a good place is to find great little things for decorations, accessories and D.I.Y projects? Etsy. One store in particular, Create my Fete, came to the rescue when it came to favour bags and paper straws. I wanted Kraft paper everything and since it happens to be in style now with rustic weddings, some of the options were quite pricey. Etsy has some great options though, so I would recommend hunting through there before turning to some bigger online stores. For the place cards, I bought a stack of Kraft paper from Michael's and cut cards out from them and hand wrote people's names on them.

Mint polkadot paper straws

Kraft paper striped favour bags

The candy bar was my piece de resistance of the reception room. After going to many weddings, I knew I definitely wanted a candy bar. I incorporated some of the cake stands and dishes I already had in my kitchen with some new additions from the Dollar Store. I wanted to add some height to it, so I used a wooden crate as the middle base and then smaller baskets to elevate the galvanized buckets. Going to Bulk Barn to get the candy a few days before the wedding was so much fun. We ended up with far too much candy afterwards even with all of the guests taking bags home.

Rustic vintage wedding candy bar table

Another place I found some neat wedding finds was WeddingStar. They have all sorts of cute accessories, favours and wedding products at reasonable prices. I even bought our Save the Date cards from them:

These vintage typewriter place card holders were a neat find and instead of using them for place cards, I used them to hold various signs that I had set up for "sweets," "sips" and "signatures." I also bought some blue mason jars to add some colour to the rustic feel. You have to have mason jars at a rustic wedding.

WeddingStar vintage typewriter place card holder

As you may have noticed too, we decided on long tables instead of smaller, round tables. I loved the idea of "harvest tables" and people all sitting together. Since it was a small wedding, everyone fit at two long tables plus the head table. It added to the intimate feeling I think. I bought the burlap from a fabric store for the table runners. My husband painstakingly sewed the edges of all the burlap with a sewing machine so it would look nice. He is a much better sewer than I am. 

I knew the four-course meal that the venue made for us would be a lot of food, so we opted for the candy bar and a few little desserts instead of a huge cake. When I heard about Boomf, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. They make marshmallows out of your Instagram photos! I also heard later that it was owned by Kate Middleton's brother, so you could say our wedding had a bit of a "royal" touch. Boomf recommends using lighter rather than darker photos so they show up better on the marshmallows and you can see how some of them are a bit harder to figure out what they are than others. They were still a neat touch to the dessert table. And of course, I had to have my favourite French macarons from Le Petit Bon Bon on there too. 

Boomf marshmallows

Le Petit Bon Bon macarons

To get that "rustic, vintage" wedding feel, you have to do a little vintage shopping. I mean, there are a lot of vintage-inspired wedding things out there now and you can certainly get the look without stepping into an antique store. It is nice to have some kind of heirloom or actual vintage piece to tie everything together though. Luckily, I heard about a vintage wedding rental company that was going out of business (well, not so lucky for her I guess) and was selling off some of the props. One cold night in November, I drove an hour out of town after work to see what she had in her barn--the things I will do for vintage. I ended up buying some old signs, crates, frames, windows and tables for a great price. A friend gave me a bunch of vintage tea cups to use.

vintage tea cups

Guess where my mother-in-law found these glass vases for the tables? From salad dressing bottles. She saved every glass salad dressing bottle from the previous year so I could use them for the centrepiece flowers. They were gorgeous with a bit of baby's breath and ribbon tied around. Seriously though, that's the secret to some of this wedding stuff. As long as it looks good--and you like it--it doesn't matter whether it came from the dollar store, a garage sale or the grocery store. 

Baby's breath and jar

I re-painted the signs with our names on it to put outside of the reception venue. My father-in-law did some handy work to put the sign and the old windows together so it would fold out as a seating chart. I wrote everyone's names on the windows with a Sharpie and stuck old photos onto the wood. We also displayed old photos of our parent's and grandparent's wedding days. For our "guest book," we had a Jenga set with some coloured markers for guests to sign their names.

Wooden wedding sign

Vintage window seating chart

As you can tell already, we did a lot of D.I.Y projects for the wedding, even down to the wedding rings that we made ourselves. I really did enjoy doing all of these projects though. I've documented them in previous blog posts, including the seat signs and chalkboard frames. For the table numbers, I glued some postcards of places we have traveled to cardboard numbers that I found at the Dollar Store. Since we had long tables, we didn't really have "tables" per se. They were more guidelines for where people were grouped.

wedding menu chalkboard frame

Mr and Mrs wedding seat signs

One of the big debates was around the chairs for the reception. I'm sorry to the chair cover lovers of the world out there. I hate chair covers. They work for some rooms, but not for me. I would say this was the closest thing to an "argument" we had over wedding things. The venue offered us chairs included, however they wanted us to use chair covers as the chairs by themselves were not nice looking. I love the look of folding chairs. We were worried that for people to sit so long in folding chairs would not be ergonomically nice to them. And to rent extra chairs instead of using the ones the venue had would be extra money. I am glad I splurged on the extra white folding chairs and also glad that they had cushioning on the seats. I had to put my foot down for that one. In the end, like most wedding things, it all worked out well.

I don't know if I have even talked about all the details. I can't even remember half of the things now because all I remember was enjoying the day. It has also been quite a few months now since we were married. As tempting as it is to only focus on the party aspect of the wedding with all of the reception details, it is also important to remember the ceremony too--as well as what everyone is going to wear.

Once I had the dress, all of the other fashion details fell into place. I was intrigued by this necklace on Anthropologie by its crafty, vintage flair. I knew it would be a statement piece, so I didn't go for anything else too flashy with the jewellery. On the day of the wedding, my Mom gave me an antique brooch from my Great Grandmother that I pinned to my bouquet; it was a complete surprise. My mother-in-law also gave me an heirloom engagement ring from their family to wear.

Anthropologie necklace

My dress was a White by Vera wang a-line lace dress from David's Bridal. As you can see, it looks quite different on a model than a real person. When I tried it on, I loved how it fit me like a glove. It's not the flashiest, puffiest dress of all time. I thought it matched my personality and the style of the wedding. You can't really wear a ballgown to a barn wedding anyway. 

White by Vera wang wedding dress

The lace bolero, also White by Vera Wang, was a last minute addition. When I went back to pick up my dress after it had been altered, my parents noticed the bolero in the store and thought I should try it on. It seemed to match so perfectly with the dress and complete the whole look. My bouquet was made of lovely, blue hydrangeas. The corsages for the Moms were made up of baby's breath. 

White by Vera Wang lace bolero

And we can't forget about the groom's fashion. The dapper groom wore a suit from Sidonio's for Men in Guelph, Ontario with a blue tie from Moores and suspenders from Le Chateau. My Mother-in-law and I made his boutonnière the day before the wedding with some of the lavender and baby's breath we bought for the tables. That is some Pinterest-worthy D.I.Y inspiration:

D.I.Y baby's breath boutonniere

I also loved this "bride" shirt from J Crew that I wore on the day of the wedding to get ready in and the day after at breakfast. It was nice that many of the guests were able to join us the next day after all of the wedding hype had died down. I think everyone genuinely enjoyed themselves. 

J Crew bride shirt

Don't be fooled: wedding planning is a lot of work. Is it worth it? I would say it's worth it to make something you are both happy with, but not worth it enough to kill yourself with stress over. Enjoy the process and most of all, enjoy the day as much as you can. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Item of the Week: Valentine's Day picks

When I was in University, I lived in a house with three other girls and on Valentine's Day, like clockwork, flowers started arriving at the house one by one. Since some of the girl's boyfriends lived in another city it was still nice for them to get a gift on Valentine's Day. Each time the door rang, we would all race to see who would get the next set of flowers. I was wondering what my boyfriend--now husband--would get me and when he came over, he presented me with this incredible shortbread cookie creation. He had handmade all of these petals with shortbread and made the whole thing into an amazing flower. As nice as it is to get flowers sometimes, I thought the time and effort he put into a gift was wonderful. Valentine's Day is a little different when you're married and not dating, but it's still special--and I always appreciate a well-thought gift.

Here are a few of my picks for this Valentine's Day:

polymer clay pears "love lives here" engraving, Etsy

Like I said, something handmade is always a nice gift and you know the person has usually put a lot of thought and time into it. In the case that you don't want to make something yourself and still need a special gift, then try something from Etsy (where someone who is super talented makes it for you), like these engraved polymer clay pears, $39.29.

Steam Whistle Pilsner gift pack with chocolates

This is something that would be a great gift for girls or the special man in your life. Steam Whistle Brewing and Toronto chocolatier Dufflet have teamed up to bring a limited-time beer and chocolate gift pack to LCBO stores for $24.95. The pack includes 6 bottles of Steam Whistle and a collectible tin of chocolates infused with Steam Whistle pilsner: Pretzel Beer Bites and Beer Ganache Truffles. Sounds like an interesting combination.

Flora 2000 flowers

There is nothing wrong with sending flowers either. According to Flora 2000, the estimate number of roses sent for Valentine's Day last year was 257 million. They are a perfect go-to gift for someone special and it's even easier if you can order them online. Flora 2000 serves and ships to more than 190 countries and also has a few good deals on their site right now, including $15 off a dozen roses and a complimentary box of chocolates.

Beauty Box 5 subscription

I only buy beauty products for myself once in awhile and usually when I have saved up quite a few Shoppers Optimum points. And if I'm trying a new product I usually research it quite a bit first. I love this idea of having a beauty product subscription where you can try different products and see what you like before committing to something. I am frugal like that, however, I like indulging myself once in awhile.

Beauty Box Five is a monthly beauty box subscription of beauty accessories, skincare products and fragrances that are high quality, luxury and even eco-conscious. You receive samples and sometimes full products for a fraction of the cost of buying them new and get to try a bunch of things you might not have tried before. Guys, if you're reading, this would be something you could order if you're clueless about what products your lady likes. You can also get a free box of the previous month when you sign up for the first time. Subscribe to Beauty Box 5.

Minted Valentine's Day cards

I still love sending and receiving cards in the mail and Valentine's Day is another occasion to send beautiful photos and messages. Minted.com lets you easily design a custom design and send it to your Valentine or anyone you choose, really. I used Minted for my wedding invitations and they were speedy, reliable and well-designed. Right now you can save 15% on all Valentine's Day cards until Jan. 29th, 2015.

What are you giving this year for Valentine's Day? Do you usually make a big deal about it every year? Check out more of my gift ideas on Pinterest.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014

Snowball cookies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014

It's that time of year again. That time when I make way too many cookies and I start eating cookies with every meal. They say you gain an average of 15 pounds during your first year of marriage and about 5-10 pounds during the holiday season. Judging by my calculations, you may have to roll me into the New Year. It's also the time when my fridge contains stacks upon stacks of butter and I keep having to go to the grocery store for "one more thing...I just need some more sugar...I need to get this one obscure baking ingredient." All of these things are acceptable practices during December.

This is my third year participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and the fourth year running. Every year, food bloggers from around the world come together to bake cookies, "meet" each other and show off their recipes. I participated in 2011 with sugar spiral cookies and then in 2012 with fruitcake, candy cane and ginger shortbread cookies. Check out some of the recipe roundups from 2013 and 2012.

I wanted to keep it somewhat simple this year, so I made these cookies based on snowdrops, Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cookies or whatever you want to call them; they are a basic shortbread recipe rolled into round balls and dusted with sugar. I did coloured design cookies one year and decorated cookies last year and it makes things more complicated when you're doing a bunch of equally difficult cookies. This year I decided one simple recipe with two different flavourings: one with chocolate chips and the other with almonds and a hint of cinnamon.

Chocolate Chip snowball cookies

Chocolate Chip Snowballs (adapted from this recipe)
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Additional icing sugar for rolling

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla. Mix in the flour gradually and make sure to mix thoroughly. Shape into rounds and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F. When the cookies are sightly cooled, roll them in icing sugar and then let them cool. 

Almond and cinnamon snowball cookies

Almond and Cinnamon Snowballs (adapted from this recipe)
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped almonds
Additional icing sugar and 1 tbsp cinnamon for dusting

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the nuts and vanilla. Mix in the flour gradually and make sure to mix thoroughly. Shape into rounds and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F. Add the icing sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. When the cookies are sightly cooled, roll them in the sugar mixture and then let them cool. 

Kitchen Aid standmixer

I made about 5 or 6 different batches, alternating with the chocolate chip and almond batches and ended up losing count after awhile. When you're asked to make 3 dozen cookies, it's more like "I'll just double the recipes and make a few extra here and there." Stand mixers are a god send in the process. Sooner or later you have cookies coming out of every corner of the kitchen. And that "sprinkling" of icing sugar makes your floor looked like a mini snow storm. I made all of the batches in an afternoon a few days before we went on a week-long trip. 

The idea behind the swap is that when you sign up, you're sent three food blogger's addresses--usually from the same country, although there are participants from around the world--and asked to mail them a dozen cookies each before a deadline. Then three different bloggers mail cookies back to you. I believe the number of participants has grown to more than 1,000 since the cookie swap began. It's also neat because then you find out about other blogs and the wonderful people behind them who you might not have known before. I also love getting mail. We had a friend housesitting for a week while we were away and I was like "keep an eye on the mail in case my cookies get here!"

The packaging and decorations are an important element. This year, I packaged them in red holiday Ziploc containers with red and white tissue paper. There isn't a Bulk Barn or Michael's craft store close to me anymore, so I picked these containers up at the Superstore. They weren't bad as a gift box. The ladies who sent me cookies definitely showed me up in the packaging department--and the cookies were fabulous too.

Cranberry bliss cookies

Am I allowed to have a favourite? My favourite might have been these cranberry bliss cookies from Claude at A la Claude. They are based on the Starbucks version and are a ginger cookie base with white chocolate icing and cranberries. These were heavenly. 

Hazelnut and chocolate biscotti

The second batch were hazelnut chocolate biscotti from Robyn at Planet Byn. These were lovely with coffee. You don't often think of biscotti being along the lines of "cookies." I like that they were something different. 

Ancho chilli chocolate cookies

These ancho chilli chocolate cookies from Bernice at Dish N' the Kitchen were also a surprise for me. When I figured out they were spicy I wasn't sure I was going to like them, however, the spice was subtle and added a bit of a kick after a few seconds of eating it. I enjoyed them a lot. Thank you everyone for the cookies. I look forward to seeing everyone else's recipes posted today.

Great Food Cookie Swap 2014

This year, each participant donated $4 for Cookies for Kids' Cancer--an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer through baking--in order to participate in the swap. See all of the other creations, check out #fbcookieswap on Twitter and Instagram and visit the Facebook page for more information. To sign up next year, fill out this form to be notified of the next swap deadlines. 

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