July 21, 2012

I just put a rhubarb cake in the oven (this recipe I found on Pinterest). Yes, despite my best efforts, I used my oven on one of the hottest days of the year. I also got sucked into using one of the latest, trendiest, freshest, in-season ingredients.

Rhubarb Grapefruit Marmalade

I am alright with seasonal, local food being trendy though. There are certain things that once they are in season I will not stop eating them with every meal (such as asparagus and corn) and in every baked good (peaches, strawberries, the list goes on); the summer is a bounty of fresh, exciting products.


I tried some in-season beet greens too that admittedly were a little odd. Apparently, you can eat the beet leaves like spinach. The actual beets are quite small, as the ones they use for beet greens are only young plants, but they make for an interesting addition to stirfries or roasted vegetables. This was more of a winter vegetable medley I suppose, with sweet potato, butternut squash, zucchini and beet greens:


There are all sorts of interesting finds at the farmer's markets right now.


Try some stewed rhubarb on top of yoghurt or ice cream: simply add 1/3 cups sugar per 1 cup of chopped rhubarb and simmer about 15 minutes until soft.


The mixture lasts in the fridge for up to a week, so you can scoop it onto anything sweet or eat it by itself.

Rhubarb sauce

One of the best ways to enjoy that fresh bounty is to can and preserve it for when the ingredients aren't as readily available. I love how the latest Canadian Living Magazine had a section devoted to canning summer fruits and vegetables. I have made jams, salsas and relishes before, but never marmalade, so I was intrigued by their Rhubarb Grapefruit Marmalade recipe.

Rhubarb Grapefruit Marmalade

Rhubarb Grapefruit Marmalade (recipe from Canadian Living)
Ingredients:

3 red grapefruit
1 lemon
6 cups sugar
4 cups sliced rhubarb


Directions:

1. Cut the grapefruits in half and cut off any stems and blossom ends.


2. Juice the grapefruits and lemon. A juicer helps a lot in this step. Thanks for the wonderful gift. You know who you are :) Make sure to not get any seeds in in the juice. Tie the leftover seeds and membranes into a cheesecloth.


3. Slice the grapefruit peels into thick strips. Add the peels and cheesecloth to a pot with the juices. Add 5 cups of water.


4. Cover and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours until the peels turn to mush. Remove the cheesecloth bag. Measure 5 cups of grapefruit mixture. In a new pot, stir together grapefruit mixture, sugar and rhubarb.


5. Boil vigorously for about 20 minutes until mixture reaches a gel-like consistency.


6. Pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace, and process in a canner for 10 minutes.


I have never been a huge marmalade fan, as I usually prefer jam, but I loved this marmalade. The rhubarb and citrus isn't as tangy as I thought. Albeit, there is quite a lot of sugar added. That's the thing with canning recipes; don't be alarmed by the amount of sugar added. The end result is quite sweet and actually goes wonderfully with peanut butter on toast or scones. I would have never thought rhubarb could be turned into a marmalade. Now, like with most canning recipes, I have more marmalade than I know what to do with. However, that comes in handy in the winter months when you're pining for some of that summer goodness.
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July 19, 2012

I am a mix of emotions right now because this weekend I am leaving for a HUGE trip. I will be traveling to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia for six weeks then to England for another two weeks to visit family. I am excited, nervous, scared, thrilled, happy, anxious and can't believe I will finally be going to Southeast Asia after daydreaming about going for so long. I also haven't seen my relatives in England in years, so I am excited to spend time with them again and see my favourite city in the world (that I've seen so far), London, England.


I've spent the last week trying to organize last minute details, shop for travel essentials and prepare myself for leaving the country for so long. In between shopping for backpacks, power adapters and clothes, I decided to stop and rest my legs at the newly opened Menchies in London.

I would consider myself a frozen yoghurt connoisseur by now after being a loyal customer of both YoYo's and Kiwi Kraze. But I had heard Menchies goes above and beyond regular yogurt establishments. They did have an impressive selection of yoghurt flavours and I ended up with a medley of cake batter, chocolate banana, butter pecan and caramel; not bad Menchies, not bad. My verdict: you really can't differentiate between yoghurt places that much--they offer most of the same selections-- but it's always a fun and tasty experience.


I've been reminiscing about our travels last summer and I've been meaning to write some travel posts about my trips, so I'm sure with this trip coming up too I'll have a lot to write about when I get back. Last summer we went to Peru and Ecuador for two weeks:


Besides the amazing scenery, wildlife and history, the food in South America was also memorable. We enjoyed many versions of their layered potato dishes (Causa Rellena), ceviche, salsas, fish and quinoa. Mike even tried "cuy" (guinea pig) and "antichuchos" (beef hearts) although I was not as adventurous. This was one spectacular meal we had at a seafood restaurant in Lima, Peru:


We obviously have to try a new restaurant every time Londonlicious rolls around, so this time we decided to relive last summer's travels by trying some Latin American cuisine at Che Resto Bar. Che offers a selection of ceviches and Latin American-inspired dishes, including Pork Adobo, Tiraditos and Empanadas. When we got there we were the only customers in the restaurant, but it was a Monday night, so I suppose it was a slow night in general.

We both started with the Classic Ceviche: fish in a leche de tigre sauce with red onion, habanero, jicama, corn and yam. The ceviche wasn't as bold or acidic as the ones we had in Peru. Perhaps they made it a little tamer for North American taste buds, but there was quite a lot of fish and the sides of crispy onions, sweet potato, corn and jicama were a nice addition to the salad and extremely fresh. I would definitely come back to Che to order a few drinks and some ceviche for an evening snack.


For the mains Mike ordered a Chimichuri steak with yucca fries, mojo and pico de gallo (basically, a tomato and onion salsa). The steak was huge! I don't normally eat a lot of fried food, but I tried one of the yucca fries and they were such an interesting version of fries that I "stole" a few more. They were a lot more dense and tasted more like a root vegetable than regular potatoes. The herbs in the steak spice rub were the perfect mix of tangy and spicy.


I ordered the Paella with shrimp, mussels, chicken and calamari. It said it came with chorizo as well, but I didn't find any in mine. Everything was plated with a beautiful tamale leaf (I think?) or it could have been a banana leaf. The rice was creamy and buttery, but perhaps a little on the salty side. The bowl was bigger than it looks, so it was definitely a good value with all that seafood goodness and rice.


Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to snap a picture of dessert, but we both ordered the Passionfruit Cheesecake. The other option on the Londonlicious menu was a Creme Brulee infused with Guava. Overall, the three-course meal for $30 was an amazing deal and I've been meaning to try the restaurant ever since it opened last year. I wish London had more adventurous and modern restaurants like this.
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July 13, 2012

I am a big snacker and I am always looking for healthy and low-fat snacks, especially on the go. My guilty pleasure is Cripsy Minis and I usually have a cheese flavoured bag lying around for snacking in between meals. Now Special K makes their own version of "cracker chips" and they taste exactly like chips, but without all those calories. I would highly recommend them for an alternative to chips or crackers and they come in cheddar, sour cream and onion and original flavours:

Special K Cracker Chips

Sometimes I want something a little on the sweeter side. My favourite sweet snacks are rice cakes with peanut butter, yoghurt, fruit and some of these dessert/snack recipes: Frozen No-bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, 100 calorie chocolate mug cake and Butterfinger Dough Balls.

Banana Maple Oatmeal Cookies

But if I don't feel like making something myself --yes, even "foodies" have days when they don't want to cook--I'm glad there are ready-made alternatives out there. Navitas Naturals, a company based out of California, sent me some of their healthy snacks to try: Blueberry Hemp Superfood Power Snack bites and 3 Berry Trail Mix. I'm not sure of the availability of the products in Canadian stores, but you can order their products online

Update: Navitas has informed me that their products are widely available in Canadian stores, including Whole Foods and some grocery chains. 

Navitas Naturals power snacks

I took them along with me to snack on during our trip to Canada's Wonderland yesterday. As much as I enjoy the taste of funnel cakes and hot dogs, they are probably not the best option when you're walking around all day and zooming down terrifying roller coasters. The food options are always ridiculously overpriced at amusement parks as well, so there is nothing classier than a parking lot picnic for some rest in between all of the excitement. An iced cold Starbucks coffee also hits the spot in the warm weather:


We brought our own picnic of sandwiches, fruit salad, Navitas snacks and cookies. I enjoyed the Navitas Blueberry Hemp Power Snacks, as did some of my other "taste testers." They are made with date paste, tons of healthy seeds, dried blueberries and are organic, raw and gluten-free. The snacks tasted like mini date squares, which I love, even if the smell of the hemp in them was a bit odd. 

However, I didn't enjoy the 3 Berries Cacao Nibs Cashew Trail Mix as much. Perhaps if I tried their other flavour of trail mix (mulberries, goji and goldenberries) I would have liked it more. It was full of healthy power foods, such as dried berries and nuts, but I found the raw cacao nibs quite bitter and the mix was quite small and seedy, making it a little more difficult to eat than the "power snacks." 

They are still a nutritious snack though and a lot better than traditional trail mix, which can contain quite a bit of fat and sugar (remember the mix with the Smarties in it?!) Navitas says their trail mix contains antioxidants, trace minerals, iron, essential vitamins and dietary fibre and is perfect for "outdoor adventures, workplace snacks, road trips," and for including in cookies and granola.


It's nice to know there are packaged goods that will make you feel good, but sometimes I like making something myself just to know what's in it and how it's made. These banana oatmeal cookies taste exactly like "normal" cookies, but with no butter or white sugar added.

You can make them vegan by substituting the egg for a flax or chia egg (see the original recipe) and gluten-free by using almond or gluten-free flour. They have approximately 100 calories per cookie; however, they are still cookies even if they are on the "healthier" side, so like with all baked goods, approach with caution. This is also a perfect recipe to use up some "browned" bananas:

Banana Maple Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies (adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:

1 egg
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 banana, mashed

bananas

I love and hate buying bananas. Why? Because when you don't eat them fast enough and they start to go brown, you think, "Well, I have to use them up somehow. Perhaps I should make banana bread for the hundredth time?" And then you get stuck with yet another banana dessert. I could be stuck with these cookies any day though. I don't mind.


Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together and add the chocolate chips.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, vanilla, mashed banana and lemon juice.
4. Combine with the dry ingredients and stir well.
5. Drop heaping tablespoons worth of dough onto a greased cookie sheet and slightly flatten the top with a fork.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Banana Maple Oatmeal Cookies

You can also substitute the chocolate chips for raisins or nuts if you choose. These would freeze well, but a warning: you may not have many left to freeze after you make them.

Disclosure: I received samples from Navitas Natural Snacks for review purposes. The opinions expressed are completely my own.
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July 09, 2012

When it's hot outside, all want to do is spend my weekends like this:


And not go anywhere near this:


Am I right? By the way, thank you Joe Fresh for making a neon floppy beach hat. I saw it at Loblaws and proceeded to wear it around the store as I was shopping.


During the summer all I want is cool, fresh food like fruit, iced treats, iced coffee, iced lemonade--basically anything iced--and light meals. Enter the summer salad: an excuse to get your daily vegetables, protein and carbs without sweating up a storm. Everyone loves those cartons of readymade salads from the grocery store, such as potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and man they are good, but they are definitely not good for you. Oil-based salads are somewhat better than mayo drenched ones I suppose, but not always.

Speaking of olive oil, if there's a new foodie trend, store, restaurant or "fad" food, I am usually in the know. But I had not heard about olive-oil tasting bars until one opened up the other week in London, Ontario. Olive-Me & Co offers speciality, high quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars. The best part is you can taste test them in the store and combine your favourite flavours into a customizable bottle.


Drinking and tasting the olive oil out of little cups is quite odd, but they have some neat flavours. I got a Bacon Olive Oil and Peruvian Lime Olive Oil as gifts for a friend and some Basil Flavoured Oil for myself. I thought it would be perfect to try in a summer pasta salad.


Granted you'll have to turn your oven on a little bit, but nothing excessive.


Low-fat Zucchini Provencal Pasta Salad (adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:

1 cup elbow macaroni pasta
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
2 tbsp sliced olives
2 garlic cloves
A few sprigs of fresh parsley and basil
Sauce:1/3 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup low-fat plain yoghurt (or greek yoghurt)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil


The vegetables in the salad are a basic Zucchini Provencal that I learned in my culinary class at George Brown College. The Zucchini Provencal--the base of any ratatouille--is basically sauteed onions, tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs. The trick to the garlic (besides having a beautiful chef's knife) is to chop it up, then add a dash of salt and use the edge of the knife to basically "mush" it up and puree it. This tutorial explains it well.


In the end you have the Italian version of a stir fry that you can then add eggplant or peppers to make a ratatouille or eat by itself as a side.


I really liked how the sauce turned out. Although it's not quite a mayo substitute, it tastes almost like ranch dressing and would make a good alternative dip for a vegetable platter. All you do is blend the sauce ingredients together in a food processor and combine it with the cooked pasta, vegetables and olives if you choose.


The other salad I made for a long weekend BBQ was almost the same concept, but I roasted the vegetables in the oven and then added a basic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and diced garlic to Israeli Couscous. I used some chopped fresh basil, but the flavoured olive oil I bought added a little more pizazz. Go here for the full recipe.


Both of these salads were refreshing and much better than buying a bucket of potato or macaroni salad from the store. I had some macaroni salad with shrimp and edamame for dinner one night and I barely had to cook anything.


They don't taste exactly the same as mayo-based salads, but they're a nice alternative that will give you plenty of time to go back to relaxing outside with a good book and a floppy sunhat.
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