Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lox and Bagel Cheese Strata

The past week has had some blogger fun incorporated into daily life. That's not to say that blogging isn't part of daily life but when life meets the internet in real time some special memories are shared with new friends and old. Val from More Than Burnt Toast had a planned trip from Kelowna, British Columbia to Ontario to visit family and in the plan was a stop over to Toronto for a dinner get together with bloggers and some catching up on the fine foodie sites of Toronto. Collectively you'll see blog posts about our time together but I'd like to extend a special thanks to Peter from Kalofagas and Paula of The Dragon's Kitchen who selflessly schlepped our visitor under the threat of heat stroke to make sure she saw as much as they could pack into a day of food fare.

Before Val came to Toronto we talked about sharing a breakfast/brunch recipe for her ongoing Invite a Blogger to Your Table event.

Val made a wonderful suggestion - why not do it together while she visits Toronto. We decided on my second pick from Norene Gilletz's Norene's Healthy Kitchen

The recipe calls for 8 cups of whole wheat bagels - what a great way to showcase Dempster's Thin only 100 calorie bagels!!! This recipe takes bagels and cheese to a whole different level; it only takes a good product, a little imagination and of course ahem ... a good cookbook.

5-6 whole-wheat or sesame bagels, cut in bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups)
8 oz (250 g) lox (smoked), cut in bite sized pieces
8 oz low-fat Swiss and/or havarti cheese (about 2 cups grated)
2 green onions, chopped
2-3 Tbsp minced fresh dillweed
6 large eggs (or 4 eggs plus 4 egg whites)
1 cup light sour cream or plain yogurt
2 cups milk (skim or 1%)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread the bagel pieces evenly in the dish. Top with lox and sprinkle with the grated cheese, green onions, and dillweed.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, milk and seasonings; blend well (you can use a blender, whisk, or large food processor) Pour evently over the bagel-cheese mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (If desired, you can prepare the recipe up to this point and refrigerate for 24 hours)

3. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake uncovered, for about 1 hour or until the mixture is puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes for easier cutting.

Paired with a brunch mimosa and fresh fruit - oh yum!! There are some who pack in the whole experience at one time. Val had been looking for a good perogie recipe and noticed THIS ONE on our blog. Sheepishly she asked "do you have any perogies left? So perogies and strata it was for Madame More Than Burnt Toast. Seeing is believing on Val's post


I know, I know - not a great shot but trust me - a great breakfast!!!


Monday, July 25, 2011

No Sugar Raspberry Jam

I recently learned about Rideau Pines Farms & Market, located just outside of Ottawa. It is a Pick Your Own or We Pick fresh fruit and vegetable farm. The farm is owned by the Vandenberg family. John Vangenberg is the former head of the Horticultural Department at the Kemptville campus of the University of Guelph.

My friend and I spent a good part of the day, picking berries and veggies a couple of weeks ago.

During our trip, we were greeted by Aslan, who is more than willing to humour those of us who really want to get a dog (but have a husband who won't allow it).

Raspberries are my favourite berry to pick -- no kneeling, not too many bugs and easy to do a "one for me, one for the basket" (that's allowed, right?).

They also had Red Currants

and Black Currants, ready for picking.

After eating about 1/4 of the raspberries I picked, I figured I better preserve the rest.

I followed the Bernardin no-sugar pectin recipe, except I followed Craving Greens' advice of using honey to sweeten, rather than Splenda.

No Sugar Raspberry Jam

5 cup-sized jars
4 cups crushed raspberries
1 cup unsweetened apple or grape juice
1 package of No Sugar Needed Pectin
3/4 cup of honey or agave nectar, or 1 1/2 cup of all natural cane sugar (or omit altogether)
1/2 tsp butter (to reduce foaming)

In medium-sized saucepan, combine the crushed fruit and fruit juice.

Stir in butter (I excluded this and just skimmed the foam off) and the pectin until dissolved. Over high heat, bring mixture to a full boil, stirring frequently. If using, add the sweetener. Stirring constantly, return mixture to a full boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and skim off foam, if necessary. Fill and process jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Remove bubbles, wipe jar rim and place hot disc on clean rim. Screw band down until resistance is met.

Boil in canner for 10 minutes. Wait 5 minutes and remove jars without tilting. You should hear the lids pop as they seal. Cool upright for 24 hours and refrigerate any that has not sealed, for immediate use.

The jam smells and tastes delicious!  I only added about 1/2 cup of honey.  Next time, I'll probably be a bit more generous with the honey.  But, I think I'll be sticking to the no-sugar pectin for the most part, because a one to one ratio of sugar to fruit just seems like too much sugar.

This dish is being shared with the Simple and In Season July Blog Event.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zucchini Banana Bread with Walnuts and Raisins

During a recent stumble browse I came upon a beautiful sounding recipe from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice for a healthy version of Zucchini Banana Bread. I've used zucchini for baking before in a Zucchini Pumpkin Cake and loved the texture and flavour and really wondered if changing up the fat contents would make a huge difference in the final product. I was really so pleased with the results.

(adapted from King Arthur Flour)

2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
1 cup banana
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour (like King Arthur)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 heaping cup zucchini (1 small to medium), shredded
3/4 cup raisins (I like golden)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F; lightly grease a standard sized loaf pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat eggs, banana, honey, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
3. In a separate bowl whisk the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, then stir in the zucchini, raisins and walnuts.
5. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean from center. Cool pan on wire rack for 20 minutes then turn out from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Another wonderful easy recipe with guaranteed good results. StumbleUpon

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Zealand: Part IV

Last post on New Zealand! Click on part 1, part 2 and part 3 to see my previous posts.

Five Signs You Don't Want to Leave New Zealand:

1. You contemplate purposefully missing your connecting flight and believe you can figure it out later.
2. You feel sad when the amount of time left in your trip is less than the amount of time passed.
3. You research temporary working visa options to extend your stay.
4. You spend your free time practising the Kiwi accent.

5. You stop at every real estate office to look at the listings posted in the window.

After Franz Josef, we took a short detour to Lake Matheson.

The views during this 5 km hike have got to be some of the most beautiful in the world. When the water is calm, you just can't beat the reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the lake.

Plus, the view along the path can be quite nice too. This mushroom reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Our next destination, Wanaka, was added on to our trip at the recommendation of other travellers. Wanaka has similar views to Queenstown, but is much lower least outside of ski season.

The YHA Wanaka was a great place to unwind. One of the nicest shared spaces and a well-stocked, clean kitchen. They have a nightly movie, making it a great spot to watch the Royal Wedding live.

On the first night our arrival, we visited Relishes Cafe. The place has a really nice vibe, with a large stone fireplace and simplistic decor.

For starter, we order the Warm goats cheese and sweet garlic fondue with char-grilled ciabatta, Kalamata olive and sundried tomato tapenade. Aside from running out of bread before running out of fondue and tepenade, the dish tasted good.

For the main, I order Prawns Fra Diavolo, chilli marinated prawns tossed with a garlic tomato sauce over steamed broccoli and spaghetti. Broccoli probably wouldn't be my first choice of vegetable to put with the dish. But, I was particularly impressed with the generous portion of shrimp. So often, I find restaurants skimp on shrimp. I think I counted 12 large shrimp.

R got a lamb dish. He really enjoyed the lamb and sauce, but was less enthusiastic about the rice pilaf.

The service was mixed. I felt like the server was annoyed with us. It started when we walked in and waited at the door for someone to seat us. When no one noticed us (the restaurant was practically empty), we figured we should just seat ourselves. Then, we were told that we couldn't sit at the table we had sat at because the spot was reserved and that we could only sit at a table with shared seating. All of that would be fine, but I would rather be told that before sitting down (or if that's not possible, put a reserved sign on the table).  It kind of felt like a punishment to be sent to be removed from the tables at the front to the shared tables at the back, when it really doesn't have to be.

The online reviews are mainly positive, so maybe it was just an one-off situation.

Although the air starts to get a bit chillier the further south you go. We had beautiful weather throughout our trip. We decided to take advantage of the weather by walking to and hiking up Mt. Iron. There are other, longer hikes in the area (if you're looking for a full day or multi-day hike.  Mt. Iron provides nice views of Wanaka, the lakes and mountains as you ascend.

The view is so beautiful, photos just don't do it justice.

As an added bonus, the mountain is right by Puzzling World, which would be fun for kids or for adults who don't feel discouraged by their inability to solve any puzzles.

Do you ever have a moment that is so perfect that you feel compelled to remember every detail? Sitting by Lake Wanaka with the warm sun would have to be one of those moments.

The next day, we left for the nearby Queenstown. Everyone who has been to New Zealand speaks highly of Queenstown. Between the beautiful scenery, nightlife, restaurants, extreme sports and winter skiing, many travellers spend a good deal of time there.

R decided that he couldn't go to NZ without risking his life in some way. For me, driving on the left side of the road was enough. But, R decided to take bungee to a new level with the Canyon Swing. The swing starts on a platform on the edge of a cliff 109m/360ft above the Shotover River. Each jumper picks a jump style and rather than a traditional up and down bungee, the harness is connected to the centre of the canyon, resulting in a swing at the end of the drop.

Check out the  multimedia video I took, below.  R is the first jumper in the video. For some crazy reason, R really felt that hanging upside down while waiting for someone else to release the cord would be the least scary. Keep an eye out for the small swinging figures that appear at the bottom of the canyon.

It was quite amusing to watch people after their jumps. You can see them just shaking from the adrenaline. One guy, apparently thinking ahead, brought a litre of milk with him to drink after his jump. Poor guy, the employees toyed with him for 2 minutes as he waited for them to let go of the strap preventing the chair he was in from tumbling backwards. Yeah - that sounds weird -- he was waiting to fall backwards in a chair.

The next day, we took a daytrip to Milford Sound. Located in Fjordland National Park, a 3 hour cruise will take you through the sound with views of spectacular fjords and waterfalls.

We had the option to drive our own rental vehicle, but opted to take a coach there. Really glad we went that route too because some of the roads can be a bit intimidating and it would be pretty exhausting to drive the distance (about 3 hours each way) in one day. Another option would be to fly to the sound or depart by vehicle from Te Anau, which is about half way between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Again, we had beautiful weather, which is not the norm. It was so clear that we even had a good view of Mitre Peak, which is often hidden by clouds and fog.

What you don't see in this picture is the sandflies that are relentless at Milford Sound, as you wait for the boat to depart. They are particularly attracted to dark colours, so bring bug spray and light coloured clothing.

Here's a map of our route on the last leg of the trip:

View Larger Map

Last step was a quick flight with Jetstar, from Queenstown to Auckland. We were very glad that we had booked this flight because the drive back would be around 20 hours and the gas would be more expensive than the flight. This is an important note -- gas is very expensive in New Zealand....around $2.20NZ/litre. After conversion, that's about $1.80CDN/litre, a good 50-60 cents more per litre than prices at home.  It adds up.

Next up....Australia! StumbleUpon

Monday, July 18, 2011

Strawberry Jam & Strawberry Oatmeal Muffins

Nothing like a good power outage to realize how so much of life revolves around electricity. Some crazy wind gusts swiftly took power to much of ottawa and collapsed the main stage at Bluesfest. Hopefully the person (people) injured from the stage collapsing is (are) okay*.

Here's a video of "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick, who was playing the mainstage just before it collapsed.

* Mixed reports about the number injured -- I've heard anywhere from one to five.
Now back to the intended post....

Growing up, I was a bit of a tattle. But, in my defence, Actorboy (my brother) did a lot to deserve being told on. One, perhaps less incriminating behaviour, was copying. You know - the ever so annoying - repeat everything I say. It would annoy me to no end when my parents would say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Puhlease!!! Let me imitate you for a while and we'll see how flattered you are.

Now, I am older and wiser, so I am okay with imitation. EXCEPT when it comes to my mother scooping my upcoming blog post!

What started out as an innocent phone conversation, during which time I was making strawberry jam, turned into Giz running to the market for strawberries to make her own jam and then post it later that day.

So, let's just pretend that you didn't see this post.

A few weeks ago, R and I went with a couple of friends to pick strawberries at Shouldice Farm. Between making jam, muffins, lunches and freezing, all 16 litres are now accounted for.

I asked Kat from A Good Appetite if she had any good recipes for strawberry jam and she came through with this one:

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

8 c (approx) strawberries (5 c after hulled and crushed)

4 T lemon juice

1 package powdered pectin

1 vanilla bean

7 c sugar

Sanitize 8 - 9 one cup jars in simmering water for about 20 minutes.

Also sanitize lids in a small saucepan.

Crush Strawberries (I used a potato masher after slicing up the strawberries into smaller chunks).

Put crushed strawberries, lemon juice and pectin in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Stir to dissolve pectin. Split the vanilla bean in half.

Scrape seeds into the pot. Add the pods and stir.

Bring to a boil. Pour the sugar in all at once. Turn heat to high and bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Once it reaches a boil that can't be stirred down, boil for one minute stirring continuously. Remove from heat. Skim off foam.

Ladle into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headroom.

Cap and add neckband. Put jars in boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit in hot water for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and let cool undisturbed overnight. Reprocess or refrigerate any jars that don't properly seal.

Makes 8 - 9 cups.

Here's 1/4 of the frozen strawberries. We use them throughout the year for smoothies.

I also made some strawberry oatmeal muffins, using this recipe.

Strawberry Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup light olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 pint chopped fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Grease 12 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, mix flour (used 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 all purpose), oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, olive oil (used apple sauce) and sugar. Mix in strawberries. Stir strawberry mixture into oat mixture just until evenly moist. Spoon into prepared muffin cups.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

We took the muffins to a picnic at Mooney's Bay.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Lemons and Olives

A tagine is a North African earthenware conical cooking vessel. We'd normally associate Moroccan food with a tagine. A tagine is also the name of the dish that's cooked in the vessel. These tagines go from the very basic to the completely elaborate with a multitude of reasons why each is better than the next. The beauty for me is that you can stove top or in oven cook with it, use it as a serving vessel and it retains heat for a very long time.

I bought my tagine quite a while ago and every time I cook with it I remind myself that I simply don't use it enough. This time was no different. Craving some flavourful Moroccan chicken I decided to make a simple Lemon Chicken with Olives recipe using the preserved lemons I made a few months ago. If you've never preserved lemons, it's just so easy and the result is nothing short of amazing. Check out How To by David Liebovitz

I found an interesting recipe HERE


•1 whole chicken, skin removed, cut into pieces
•2 large white or yellow onions, very finely chopped
•one small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped*
•one small handful of fresh parsley, chopped*
•2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
•2 teaspoons ginger
•1 teaspoon pepper
•1 teaspoon turmeric (or 1/4 teaspoon Moroccan yellow colorant)
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
•1 teaspoon smen (Moroccan preserved butter - optional)
•1 handful green or red olives, or mixed
•1 preserved lemon, quartered and seeds removed
•1/3 cup olive oil
•1/4 cup water, approximately
* Instead of chopping, you can tie the parsley and cilantro together into a bouquet and place on top of the chicken during cooking.

Prepare the Chicken
Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon, and finely chop it. Add the chopped lemon flesh to a bowl along with the chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, spices and smen, and mix well. If time allows, let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight.

To Cook the ChickenAdd enough of the olive oil to the tagine to coat the bottom. Arrange the chicken in the tagine (flesh-side down), and distribute the onions all around.

Add the olives and preserved lemon quarters, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken. Add the water to the tagine, cover, and place on a diffuser over a medium-low heat.

Give the tagine time to reach a simmer without peaking. If you don't hear the tagine simmering within 20 minutes, slightly increase the heat, and then maintain the lowest heat setting required for maintaining a gentle, not rapid, simmer.

Allow the chicken to cook undisturbed for 80 to 90 minutes, and then turn the chicken over so that it's flesh side up. Cover the tagine again, and allow the chicken to finish cooking until very tender.

Turn off the heat, and let the tagine to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Moroccan tradition is to eat directly from the tagine, using Moroccan bread to scoop up the chicken and sauce. French fries are frequently served with this dish, and may even be placed on top of the chicken.

Notes: I used chicken legs instead of whole chicken - it was great
Black olives instead of green or red - don't think I'd do that again - too salty
Added carrots - nice sweetness to offset the spice

If you don't have a tagine, this dish can easily be reproduced in a large skillet at low temperatures StumbleUpon

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Zealand: Part III

Time for part 3 of my trip report. Click on part 1 and part 2 to read about earlier parts of our trip to New Zealand.

Last post left off in the central-east region of the North Island, Hawke's Bay. We departed the Hawke's Bay area early in the morning to catch the Interisland Ferry to the South Island. It was cheaper to book the ferry through our car rental company and there are many ways to get a reduced price, so I'd suggest looking around for discounts rather than booking for full price.

We were a bit panicked as we neared Wellington, knowing that we had a good 30 minutes of driving to get to the ferry when we were supposed to be there in 10 minutes in order to be one hour in advance, as instructed. Picture me freaking out as we're heading through the foggy mountains you must pass to head south to Wellington.

Of course, in true New Zealander style, the gate agent you must pass in order to load the boat didn't seem at all phased by our tardiness.

After the ferry, it was a quick drive to our hostel, Sequoia Lodge in Picton. Good thing too because it was getting dark and their free chocolate pudding with ice cream should not be missed.

If I had to make any modifications to our itinerary (other than extend it all together), I would change this next part of the trip. After a full day of travel to Picton (keep in mind that we were travelling in the fall and it gets dark around 5:30-6:00pm), we left early the next day for Nelson (2.5 hour drive). We dropped off our stuff at the next hostel, Tasman Bay Backpackers (a sister hostel to Sequoia Lodge) and drove on to Marahou, next to Abel Tasman, a well-known national park.

People often go to Abel Tasman to canoe, hike or camp (among other activities). Our main goal was to go canoeing. But, by the time we got to Marahou, our options were pretty limited since companies renting canoes also require a 1 hour safety lesson. So, we were limited to a short hike and lengthy boat ride.

This is the Split Apple Rock, the most photographed site in Abel Tasman.

What we should have done was spend as least 2 nights in Nelson, so that we could get to Marahou early in the morning to take advantage of the canoe + hiking options available. Or, if you have the equipment, camping would be nice too.

All in all, I thought Abel Tasman was nice, but, quite similar in appearance to what you'd find in Canada.

The next day was another travel day (about 7 hours to Franz Josef). We stopped in Hokitika for meat pie and to look at jade. Don't quote me on this, but I think the restaurant was called Clocktower Cafe. R got a venison pie and I got beef.

After a brief stop, we continued on to Franz Josef, located in the central-west part of the island. This area is known for glaciers -- there are two: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.

Both Franz Josef and the nearby (30 minute drive) Fox are fairly similar and we debated which one is better. Franz Josef is steeper and probably the more crowded of the two. I think our decision came down to accommodation. The YHA in Franz Josef seemed nice and had space.

Next decision (just ask Giz how torturous it can be to wait for R or I to make a decision)... how we were going to see the glacier? Half day hike, full day hike, helihike, longer helicopter tour? (Did I mention that my new favourite expression is : "First-world problem")

We decided to take a Helihike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. This entails a helicopter ride up the glacier followed by a hike around the glacier.

The pictures just don't do it justice. Despite large amounts of rain (2-3 metres/ year) being common to this region, we had beautiful weather for our hike.

After a quick lesson about how to put on clampons, we spent the next couple of hours walking around, being careful to follow in the footsteps of our guide.

Here is the guide, soaking wet, after proving that he could squeeze through a crevasse (the other guide had to come and help pull him out). Apparently, as long as you don't freak out, exhale to reduce your chest circumference and let your body heat melt the ice, you can get through tight holes in the ice. Yeah...I'll take his word for it.

Here's some video footage of our helihike:

Here is a map of the route:

View Larger Map
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