Summertime sweets

On a recent weekday morning, I awoke to the sound of an incoming Snapchat at 7 a.m. While I was still adjusting to a new day, my cousin snapped me the entire process of her preparing a berry crisp for breakfast. My mind was blown by two things:

  1. Berry crisp for breakfast!
  2. Homemade berry crisp for breakfast at 7 a.m. on a weekday?

I knew I’d never be able to achieve the second, but I set myself a goal of indulging in a crisp breakfast on an upcoming morning.

Peach crisp for breakfast

I searched the web far and wide to find the most straightforward recipe for peach crisp. Along the way, I found this wonderfully explanatory video about creating the perfect peach cobbler.

I also learned the difference between a cobbler and crisp – a cobbler is topped with a biscuit batter, whereas a crisp includes an oat mix. Who knew!

I’ll be honest – this crisp did not go as planned. I had a few days off work and was absolutely determined this would be a wonderful start to a mini-vacation.  When I awoke to prepare my crisp, I had come down with quite possibly the worst summer cold I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, I was determined and set out preparing Chowhound’s Easy Peach Crisp. Did it taste good? I can’t tell you. I couldn’t taste it at all. But boy did it look good as it sizzled coming out of the oven.

Screenshot_20160725-234639-2

Sometimes appearance really is all that matters.

Lessons learned

This week’s lesson is pretty straightforward: despite your cooking goals, if you wake up with a deathly cold – give yourself a break. 45 minutes preparing a homemade crisp for breakfast is wasted if you can’t taste it.

 

 

Advertisements

Manageable date night in

Is that not the most romantic headline regarding a date night in you’ve ever read? There’s a running joke in our house that I have two levels of cooking: cereal for dinner or a masterpiece. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve promised a beautiful dinner and then spent two to three hours creating a disaster in the kitchen followed by a late-night feast. Very early on in our relationship, I spent hours preparing gnocchi only to have it fall apart immediately upon entering the pot. This resulted in both a bruised ego and an inedible flour/potato stew. Since starting this blog, I’ve been working on coming up with a list of go-to recipes that don’t take four years to prepare.

Three weekday date night dinners

After months of experimentation, and a strict requirement that each of these recipes be easy, relatively quick and require minimal clean-up, here’s what I’ve got.

  • Thai Mango Cabbage Wraps with Crispy Tofu and Peanut Sauce – Obviously no list of mine would be complete without a Cookie and Kate entry. These are so easy and so good – and the recipe is wonderfully detailed in providing instructions to keep the meal moving along smoothly while you’re cooking. The crispy tofu is to die for, and an excellent way to ease into tofu if it’s not typically your jam.
  • Garlic + Basil Chickpea Veggie Burgers with Creamy Avocado Pesto – Quick and delicious. In fact, I’ve taken to making a double batch of these and eating them on salads through the week. I’ve also substituted the egg for a flax egg to keep the recipe vegan-friendly.

    IMG_20160716_235427-2

    Not only delicious, but visually appealing this Vietnamese Shrimp Noodle Salad is destined to become a staple in our home.

  • Vietnamese Shrimp (Prawn) Noodle Salad – What a win. I have been talking about this salad to everyone who will listen since I made it. This was light, delicious, quick and felt fancy. Since we had this not too long ago, I’m just waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass until I can make it again without seeming repetitive.

One of the things I loved most about each of these recipes is the ingredient lists. Other than a few things here and there, all three of these are composed of things I already had in the house. This meant that I could decide day-of to make any of the recipes above and not need to worry too much about fitting in a big trip to the grocery store.

Lessons learned

  • As always, plan ahead – but if you can’t, pick a recipe that has ingredients you’re likely to have in your kitchen.
  • Find something you love? Make a double batch. Find different ways to fit it into various meals.
  • Fancy doesn’t need to mean complicated.

Three weekday breakfast solutions for the non-early bird

I’ve never been a morning person. When I was in high school, my dad would wake me up and I would get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and go back to sleep on the mat to squeeze out 10 more minutes. As an adult I now see how gross this practice was. I’m not that bad anymore, but I have been known to hit a snooze once or twice. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more envious of people who seem to enjoy their mornings.

One of the worst parts about not being a morning person is the hit it takes on you’re a.m. food consumption. It seems easy and straightforward and a ridiculous thing to be bad at, but I’m bad at breakfast.

Too often I’ve settle for coffee, or a baked good, or cheese and crackers. Breakfast seems straightforward, but the truth is I’ve never felt satiated with cereal or toast, and so over the past year I’ve made it my mission to sort out a few easy but filling breakfast solutions.

While breakfast before work isn’t exactly about hosting, it is about food and it is about eating at home, so with this in mind, here are my three best breakfast solutions.

Egg white banana oat pancake

Passed on from a colleague at work, this is by far the most balanced and filling breakfast on the list:

  • 1/3 cup egg white
  • 1/3 cup oatmeal
  • mashed banana

Mix it up and pan-fry it. You’re good to go. Make 100 in advance and freeze them. Now you’re good to go for 100 days. (Okay maybe 100 is a bit much).

Steel cut oats

This one is so easy. Just make a big ol’ batch of steel cut oats. Pack some the night before. Mix in some peanut butter if it’s too plain for you. Now you’re good to go.

Smoothie goodness

This is probably one of the things I’m most proud of for my breakfasts. I hate yogurt. I hate it so much. But I know it’s “good for you” and so I’ve tried to work against this. In fact, I have been working for years perfecting the balance of yogurt to fruit to water consistency so that a smoothie is both palatable and filling. Here it is:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup frozen fruit (if you use strawberries and bananas, you can even pretend it’s a strawberry milkshake)
  • 1 ice cube
  • whatever room is left in the magic bullet amount of water

Mix it all up and you’re good to go.

Lessons learned

While not a traditional entertaining/hosting blog post, here’s what I’ve learned through my breakfast trials:

  • Aim low – don’t plan to do too much in the morning. Maybe you’ll make that omelette on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday’s a lost cause.
  • Prepare ahead – can you make a big batch on Sunday? Can you put your yogurt in the magic bullet the night before?
  • Not everyone is going to be an enjoy-the-morning-read-a-paper person. Accept it and work with what you’ve got – even if all you’ve got is 10 minutes.

Collaborative cooking versus have-everything-good-to-go-when-your-guests-arrive

I’m a fan of collaborative cooking – partly because I love alliterations and partly because it takes the pressure off. What I mean by this is that my preferred way to host is to invite a friend over and figure out how to make something new together. What’s an even bigger challenge for me (and if I’m being honest, what I almost never even try) is the have-everything-good-to-go-when-your-guests-arrive style of hosting.

A few weeks ago, we had some friends over. These pals had hosted us about a year ago, and so I was already feeling bad about the delay in returning the favour – I couldn’t risk a delay in serving food now that they would finally be in my home. I planned early and thoroughly:

The menu

As learned last week, I picked a straight-forward menu that could mostly be prepared before hand from Cookie and Kate recipes Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos and Herb Red Potato Salad. My friend volunteered to bring a green salad, so I was off the hook for that. I had never made either of these recipes before, but picked them because except for the roasted butternut squash in the tacos, each element could be served room temperature, maximizing my prep time and minimizing my mealtime work.

(A quick side note about this potato salad – it is amazing. I ended up making it again two days later to bring to a pot luck BBQ. A summer staple for sure. )

While these main seemed manageable, I still needed a backup plan in the form of appetizers. Should dinner take longer than planned, I could at least keep my pals satiated. I picked out some appetizers the only way I know how – googling “easy appetizers”. I settled on Garlic-Herb Pinwheels and Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta.

How it turned out

IMG_20160611_174847.jpg

Butternut squash taco leftovers. I’ll be the first to admit that if I plan to keep up this food blog I’m going to need to improve my food photography.

If you’re judging based on the have-everything-good-to-go-when-your-guests-arrive style of hosting, this evening was a major success. I was just plating the final bruschetta as I noticed my friends walking down my lane-way. The potato salad and black bean coleslaw for the tacos was prepped and the butternut squash was in the oven. Hell, I’d even started clean-up.

What I didn’t think about, until it was in front of my face, was how every single menu item was carb-based. Sure there were vegetables, but do butternut squash tacos really need a side of potato salad? And should that meal be prefaced with puff pastry and thick bread? My obsession with making sure everything was ready on time drove me to create an easy and straightforward meal while ignoring how it’d all come together.

Lessons learned

  • Plan ahead and pick things that don’t need to be serving piping hot.
  • Never listen to Martha Stewart when she recommends you tear bread for bruschetta – it will not look nice.
  • Be mindful of how the overall meal will come together to ensure balance.

If you can conquer pasta you can conquer anything

I have been majorly slacking on this initiative for a number of reasons – some good ones, some bad ones, but ultimately not interesting ones. So rather than writing a mea culpa about my blog negligence, I’m going to move onto bigger, better, more impressive things: I conquered homemade pasta.

Welcome to my home! Dinner will be served in approximately 4 hours.

I’ve made pasta a few times before to varying levels of success. It usually tastes good, but as with most kitchen endeavours of mine, the meal is served significantly later than planned and an egg almost makes it to the floor.

Screenshot_20160706-093301-2

The lighting in this photo is good because we took it at 10:30 p.m. and had to rely on candles. 

My most notable attempt was this past October when a good friend joined to make use of my recently acquired pasta machine. Together, we had picked out this amazing Winter Squash Carbonara, only with homemade noodles and added scallops. Go big or go home, as they say. We ate at 10:30 p.m.

Reflecting now, there are a lot of reasons this happened. I didn’t do any prep work (oops); I had never tried the recipe (my bad); I visited my parents out of town the night before (I’m sure I had a good reason); and I “forgot” to pick any ingredients until two hours before my friend was to arrive. In retrospect, it was a recipe for disaster – pun intended.

A goal without a plan is just a wish

Recently, having recovered from our previous attempt, this same friend and I decided it was time to give it another go.

The plan was to walk home together this past Thursday, make some mojitos, then make the noodles and enjoy the start of a long weekend. I was excited, but with this friend joining me immediately after work, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistakes again.

I picked a recipe I had tried before: Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil. I had made this for dinner last summer, and knew it would be a delicious. More importantly, I knew what was involved in making it and that it would be relatively straight forward to pull off with someone in the kitchen alongside me.

Attach44698_20160701_000320 (1)

The fruits of our labour – homemade pasta with lemon infused olive oil, parsley, scallops – and a side of bread and cheese.

I swapped the shrimp for scallops, knowing that peeling shrimp would add an unnecessary step to preparing dinner with a friend over. Perhaps most importantly, I made a written down list of what needed to be done and in what order to pull this dinner together. I also popped into the Bulk Barn and picked up semolina flour – known to be perfect for making pasta and picked a recipe that had “basic” in the title.

Small changes, big impacts

These things seem small – and they are. But they truly made a difference. My friend and I enjoyed our meal by 7:30, had most of the clean-up done by 8:30 and by 9 we were on my back stoop enjoying a beautiful summer Rose and a full tummy.

More importantly, I didn’t spend my time apologizing about how late we were eating, panicking about whether the food was going to turn out, or distractedly working away while ignoring my guest. And that, my friends, is progress.

Lessons learned this week

  • Plan ahead
  • Know your recipe
  • Make the extra effort to get the perfect ingredients (shout-out to the magic of semolina flour!)