Saturday, April 22, 2017

Celebrating Earth Day With A Sakura Picnic...

Looking forward to enjoying the beautiful cherry blossoms in Toronto's west end High Park this weekend where the gorgeous trees' flowers are said to be in full bloom...

It's sakura-viewing picnic time with the extended family-- a much anticipated traditional and fun fare which marks the beginning of Spring in Japan! We are so lucky to have some of those trees to savour over here. Will be back with more... :D

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easy Eggs-In-Meatloaf...

I love Easter as it moonlights or shall I say sunlights as a welcome celebration to Spring with warmth in the air, greenery everywhere and birds chirping their sweet tunes. Aside from the usual occasion activities, it's a time to slow down and enjoy a family home-cooked meal with the flavours and colours of spring produce. I wanted to make it an eggs-travaganzza weekend and that's just what we did! Egg painting for my kids and an eggs-in-meatloaf creation from me! I ran egg recipes in my head for something fun to cook up and toad-in-a-hole sprung to mind (egg cooked in the centre of a hollowed out slice of bread on a pan). Aha! How about inserting hard-boiled eggs in a ground chicken meatloaf (eggs in chicken-- get it?) and reveal a cross section of the beautiful white and yellow when it gets sliced up. With a sweet and sour ketchup-mustard topping, it was a delicious comfort and cute Easter meatloaf we all enjoyed.

Spring is here and we know this when we see our feathered friends aplenty. But when I saw a red-breasted robin on two brief occasions (in the mornings at the beginning and end of this Easter weekend) perched on my backyard patio I knew it was more than mere coincidence. I know if a robin flies into our lives it is symbolic, so what does it mean? It looks like seeing a robin signifies both renewal and letting go. He teaches that change can be made with joy, laughter and song in our hearts, and to move forward with grace, tenacity and independence. Maybe it is time to sing my own song for a new period in my life. It's about time and I'm looking forward to it... :D

Easter with kids is not complete without an egg-hunt of course!...

... and dyeing and colouring hard-boiled eggs! Make it a dozen why not?

My son says his looks like an oval earth. I think he is right!

The kids had amazing fun getting creative with these eggs. 
Now it's mama's turn to have some fun cooking with them... 

What beautiful splashy orbs!

Easy Eggs-In Meatloaf
Makes one 9 X 4 loaf or/ 12 mini loaves

1-1/2 lbs. lean ground chicken (I used part chicken and part pork)
1 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped

handful spinach leaves, liquid squeezed out and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup salsa
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 cup dried bread crumbs (use seasoned bread crumbs give more flavour)
4 hard boiled eggs, shells removed
2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
3/4 cup ketchup

My second son designed this one precisely for me to cook up.

Heat skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic until aromatic and translucent about three minutes; toss in the spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, salsa, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the cooked onion-spinach mixture. Mix well with spoon or hands (using disposable plastic gloves makes it easy). Then add milk and egg; incorporate well; lastly, add bread crumbs and mix well. If you can, allow it sit to in the fridge for one hour to let the flavours meld.

Place 1/3 of meat mixture into a foil-lined 9x5-inch loaf pan. Arrange the hard-boiled eggs in a row in the centre. Add some meat along the sides so the eggs are snug and top with remaining meat mixture to cover. 

In a separate small bowl, combine the mustard and ketchup. Mix and pour/spread evenly over the meatloaf. Bake in preheated oven at 350F (I like to use my toaster oven-- no need to waste that energy in a regular oven) for one hour. Remove. 

For Speedy Mini Meat Loaves: Preheat oven to 400F. Spread sauce over each mini loaf. Bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until its no longer pink in the centres.

Meanwhile, I stir-fried baby carrots and snow peas cut at a slant for simple veggie sides.

Let the meat rest five minutes and drain off fat and liquid-- carefully pour out from the corner of the pan. Slice into nice hearty slabs to show off its pretty egg centre.

Voila! Here is my easy eggs-in-meatloaf over a bed of "grass" snowpeas and bunny munchy carrots!

Moist and delicious. Did I say how pertty it was?

Cheers. Chow. Ciao.

I hope y'all had a Happy Eggs-tatic Easter!

What did we do with the remaining eggs you ask? Egg Salad for today's after school snack!

The kids enjoyed cracking and peeling their own eggs.

Chopping with IKEA's kid-friendly knife.

Just a quick mix with some mayo, Dijon mustard, and season with salt and pepper. 
Chow time! Eggs-cellent!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Simple Chicory Syrup to Boost Your Coffee NOLA-style...

If you've ever had the pleasure of sipping and savouring a cup of coffee in New Orleans, you'll perk up reminiscing how distinctive and full-bodied the heavenly brew is. They are famous for their dark strong coffee diluted with equal parts milk in their café au lait. What's the secret? Chicory. It is the finely ground root of the endive plant often mixed with ground coffee, resulting in Creole coffee or New Orleans blend. 

This vegetable was added to coffee grounds to stretch the scarce supply of coffee beans, in the late eighteenth century. Acadian pilgrims began making the trek to Louisiana from their Native Nova Scotia and they had to find ways to extend their provisions for the length of their trip. Even after they reached New Orleans and coffee was a-plenty, they preferred the bitter richness they've grown accustomed to on the trail. Other sources say the practice came from France during the Napoleonic era. The French loved their coffee and when a naval blockade denied them of their supply, they tried to extend the beans with barley but it was so bland, peppery chicory was added to pep it up. Napolean fell, the French continued to stay thrifty with this practice, brought it to New Orleans and it became a part of the culture. Authentic New Orleans coffee is dark roasted and blended with 30 and 40 percent chicory, and has a pungent flavour resembling marijuana smoke.

Chicory root has great health benefits. It is said to help optimize blood composition, has anti-inflammatory properties and protects the liver and gallbladder. It contains inulin, a soluble fiber that aids gut health and relieves constipation.

I came across a simple chicory syrup recipe during a food project for a client and thus my research into it. It was a delightful Eureka moment :). Super simple to make, the potent roasted root darkens the syrup instantly and all it takes is waiting a mere few minutes for the sugar to dissolve. I couldn't wait to use a teaspoon of it in my regular morning brew to kick-it-up-a-notch NOLA-style with some added goodness, and welcome a bit of energetic N'awlins flair to start my day! Yay!

Granulated roasted chicory root bought in a local Indian Spice store.

The famous French Quarter 1860 coffee stand that originated as a coffee kiosk.

A trip is not complete without a cuppa' café au lait and heavily powdered beignets.

My everyday hot beverage sugar is Sugar In The Raw.

Simple Chicory Syrup
Makes 1 cup

1 cup water
1 cup granulated or brown sugar (I used Sugar In The Raw)
1/4 cup roasted ground chicory

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Turn heat to medium and stir until sugar is completely dissolved and chicory has been well-steeped. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a mason jar to reserve for future use. A teaspoon in your mug of coffee goes a long way in flavour and sweetness.

The flavour of chicory is very similar to coffee. Alone, it is a dark and bitter brew, completely uncaffeinated for those who enjoy the taste of coffee but not the effects of caffeine. I love adding the syrup to give that extra bit of earthy, slightly nutty taste, and a touch of acidic note which is just how I love my coffee. And it's my nice mind-escape transport to the good ol' times sitting under the softly whirring ceiling fans at Café du Monde's large patio in the French Quarter eating a classic breakfast of fried beignets and sipping café au lait. 

If you want to try savoury seafood beignets (donuts), check out my delicious crispy shrimp beignets or whelk fritters :).

Whelk Fritters

Friday, April 7, 2017

Simple Avocado Tuna Salad...

Yummy Avocado! It's lovely mild creamy texture, versatility and host of nutritional benefits makes it a welcomed addition in so many dishes! My kids light up whenever it's on the menu, mashed and tossed up in a guacamole served with tortilla chips, as a topping in tacos or fajitas, or simply sliced with a drizzle of good EVOO, a splash of lemon or lime and a sprinkling of sea salt. I was inspired recently by a vlogger with her sexy but simple chopped avocado, tuna, cucumber and onion salad! So I had to whip it up. Oh yes, the lovely combination of flavours and textures really shine harmoniously and it tastes even better than it looks. Now I got a good-for-you quick and easy, delicious salad recipe in my back pocket for any time hunger strikes with ingredients almost always in my pantry :). 

Avocado- is it a fruit or a vegetable? Technically, it is a fruit because it contains a seed, but it is actually classified as a vegetable. Did you know that its other names are alligator pear (due to its rough dark pebbly skin) and butter pear (self-explanatory). Avocados is native to Central America. It's luscious pear shape and creamy flesh naturally led to its reputation as an aphrodisiac. Its Aztec name, ahuacatl, means "testicle," referring to both the fruit's shape and the way it hangs from the trees in pairs. There are two main types of avocados. The popular Hass avocado has pebbly skin that ripens from green to purplish black, with a pliable skin for peeling and a small to medium-sized seed. The taste is more buttery than the other kind-- Florida or Caribbean avocados, that have deep green flesh covered with a smooth, green, pliable skin and a large pit. The Hass variety is harvested from early winter through spring while the California ones are available year-round.

Hass Avocados Photo Credit: California Avocado

Buying and Storing: When buying an avocado for immediate use, select fruit that yields to gentle pressure; if planning to use later, look for more firmness. To speed ripening, I place avocados sealed in a brown paper bag along with two apples on the counter. This traps the ethylene gas, which ripens the avocado. Avoid bright green, rock-hard avocados because they will be difficult to ripen properly, and those that are sunken, shriveled or mushy. Once ripe, eat immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. 

Preparing: Cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed. Rotate the halves to separate. Remove the seed by slipping tip of spoon gently underneath and lifting out, or bringing a knife down in the seed's centre, twist and lift out. Peel by pulling skin back from the stem end. Or simply scoop the avocado flesh out with a spoon. Sprinkle all cut surfaces with lemon or lime juice to prevent oxidation thus discolouration until ready to use.

Simple Avocado Tuna Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 cans flaked or chunk tuna, well drained
3 to 4 medium-sized ripe avocados, cut into chunks
1 medium cucumber, diced
1/4 medium red onion, sliced and diced
lemon wedge
sea/kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss tuna, avocado, cucumber and onions together in a large bowl. Splash with lemon juice, drizzle well with EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Toss again. That's it, that's all! Enjoy...

To Jazz it up: top with cilantro, hot sauce or pickled jalapeno peppers.

Creamy luscious, tangy and divine!

Serve with crunchy whole wheat crackers or crisps.

Avocados pair up nicely with flavour affinities such as chilies, cilantro, crab meat, grapefruit, lime shrimp, tomato, tropical fruits, tuna and vinaigrette. Here are some other easy ideas my family loves savouring with these lovelies.

My kids enjoy sliced ripe avocado dressed with crunchy bits of red onion, lime juice, EVOO, and sprinkled with sea salt and ground black pepper. Another delicious way is serving grapefruit segments along with avocados. It would be a perfect way to smooth out the sour notes of grapefruit. Together they make an incredibly beautiful and refreshing pair! Served side-by-side on a plate, grapefruit's juice intermingled with lime over buttery avocado is too delicious.
Sublime Avocado with Onions

Avocado and Grapefruit with Onions

Guacamole is such a simple recipe my kids love making from scratch to finish which lets them just do it without much assistance. From washing, prepping the fresh ingredients, scooping the avocado seed, mashing and seasoning to enjoying the fruits of their labour, they adore this healthy dip.

Easy Peasy Guacamole

My friend Alvin has avocado in practically everything. It's not unusual for him to have half a dozen or more sitting on his counter at varying degrees of ripeness. And its all for him. Aside from eating it sliced as a side to his meals, another way he enjoys it is encased in his ever-changing burrito-style wraps. This one is vegetarian with tofu, and it's super delicious!

Photo Credit: Alvin Hoang

Food Revolution Toronto continues to host our monthly cooking contest, and this month it's all about fruits and vegetables. Show us how you eat your favourite, snap a photo, tag us at #cookwithfoodrevto and enter to win. See here for contest rules!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Food Revolution Toronto April Contest-- Eat More Fruits and Veg!

Resharing from Food Revolution Toronto:

Hello April and gorgeous spring produce which will soon be hitting our markets! For our #CookwithFoodRevTO challenge this month, we've chosen a really simple task: EAT MORE FRUIT AND VEG!

In today's edition of Sunday Times Food, Jamie Oliver says:

"Embrace and challenge yourself to up your intake of colourful, vibrant and exciting veg and fruit. Any improvement — however small — is a step in the right direction. My personal goal is to eat meat less often (quality over quantity), and find as many ways as possible to enjoy delicious seasonal produce. Good luck."

(read more of the article by creating an account - super simple, no credit card required and you'll be able to read two articles a month from the Food section - well worth it!)

I personally can't wait to explore the farmer's markets and take in all the beauty, vibrant colours, greenery and discover new finds and tastes! YAY to fresh Spring! 

In Belleville's Farmer's Market

So, let's up our fruit and veg intake this month and hey, just by showing us your fruit and veg, you could win a Jamie Oliver cookbook thanks to Harper-Collins Canada!

How to Enter:

Show us your fruit and veg! Snap a photo of how you get your fruits and veggies in each day - it can be as simple as your daily apple or your lunchtime salad!

You MUST use the hashtag #CookwithFoodRevTO AND tag us either on Facebook, or at @FoodRevToronto on Twitter or Instagram. That's it! Then you'll be entered to win a cookbook!

Eligibility and Contest Rules:

– Contest begins on April 2nd 2017 at 9am EST on and closes April 30th 2017 at 6pm EST.
– Prize consists of one (1) Jamie Oliver cookbook
– Open to readers of the age of majority with a Canadian mailing address.
– No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
– Winner will be chosen randomly (using from all qualified entries on April 30th 2017 after 6pm EST.
– Winner will be notified via email May 1st 2017 and will have 48 hours to respond to the email.
– Winner will be required to answer a skill testing question.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Exploring Ethiopian Vegetarian Cuisine....

Ethiopian cuisine is new to me despite having lived walking distance to a popular Toronto Ethiopian restaurant landmark more than a decade ago and a pulsing desire to try it. Eat with your hand as a utensil-- picking up various kinds of vegetarian and meat stews with pieces of injera bread and finishing off the meal with a coffee ceremony appeals to me. I finally tried the heavenly food late last year and I've been regularly dining on their vegetarian offerings at various locations in the city. Just not sure why I waited so long. So happy late than never. Many super-satisfying dishes that are healthy nutritious for vegetarian, vegan, gluten and lactose-free eaters that also gives meat a break. Something I will indeed explore in my kitchen very soon.

Enjoying a vegetarian platter with a side of fish stew (Asa Gulash) at Lalibela Ethiopian

First, a little history on Ethiopia. Along with the countries of Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, these make up the region known as the Horn of Africa in its Northeastern part. Although among the poorest in the world, Ethiopia has an agricultural economy, with most of the people involved in subsistence farming. Interesting fact-- many coffee drinkers do not know that the birthplace of coffee plantations originated in the mountains of Keffa, a province of Ethiopia- the very word where 'coffee' comes from. The hot beverage is served to honour guests and elaborate rituals accompany the preparation of the drink. 

Ethiopia is largely populated with both Muslims and Christians, and their influence makes their cuisine the most distinctive in Northeast Africa. Vegetarian dishes are prominent due to many fasting days of the Christian Church (with no consumption of meat or animal products), however, fish, mutton, beef and chicken abound on their menu and traditionally cooked in lots of butter. A great variety of fruits and vegetables are cultivated there with their staple food injera-- a thick, spongy pancake-like sourdough bread made from the smallest grain in the world-- teff (Ethiopia's principle grain). Injera is not only a food but it serves as a utensil and plate. Accompanying dishes are placed on it-- a bit of bread is torn off and used to wrap the food to eat. Widely used flavours of spicy and complexity include hot chilies, fenugreek, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, mint, garlic and onions. Some of these aromatic spices and herbs are concocted in a fiery paste (herbere) that is used to cook in the stews or serve with the meal, particularly mutton dishes.

A typical dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, mutton, vegetables and various types of legumes, such as lentils and chick peas. I always go for their vegetarian platter for two-- an array of colourful veggies and pulse stews to share with my dining companion. After eating up the accompanying rolled injera we dig into the injera "plate" below often soaked with the special sauces to finish the remaining morsels. Deelish!

Vegan platter at Ethiopian Vegan Restaurant

Aside from grounding to make injera, whole grain teff is a great healthy addition to porridge, stews, pilafs or baked goods. It's mild nutty flavour, has a unique texture and packs a serious nutritional punch! Teff has an excellent balance of amino acids, and it is also high in protein, calcium, and iron. I add it when I cook rice-- it doesn't compromise the flavour and your kids won't taste a difference (this is one Ethiopian influence I have in my family food repertoire).

Teff is the tiniest grain in the world but packs a supergrain punch!

Want an easy change up to your cooking routine? To give a simple health boost regularly with teff, add it to rice. For Chinese rice cooked in a rice cooker, add 2 Tbsp. teff to 2-1/2 rice cups measure of Jasmine rice and 1/4 cup more water. Teff will cook settled on the rice surface. Toss to mix. Your kids will see the little brown specks but won't taste it. Before you know it, it may be incorporated in your regular routine. I know it makes me feel better serving white rice.

 Ethiopian Teff Stew (right)-- See Recipe

Enjoying a cup of tea flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves.

After an Ethiopian meal, one can enjoy the relaxing aromas of burning frankincense (an aromatic gum resin obtained from an African tree and burned as incense), and hand-roasting of coffee beans and ground by the hostess. It is custom for Ethiopians to drink the strong coffee with a pinch of salt or clarified butter and serve it with popcorn.

Photo Credit: Ethiopian Photo Gallery

I am really looking forward to introducing this lovely and healthy cuisine with exotic flavours to my boys. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Play, Eat and Shop in Myrtle Beach...

You know the saying, 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?' Sometimes you got to escape from it all and just play, eat and shop/sleep your day away... :) Relaxin' and chillin' with family and friends in Myrtle Beach during March break before coming back to a multitude of exciting projects.

New digs from outlet shopping deals!

Winning 1000 tickets jackpot x two at the arcade! Why can't it be $2000?!

First time rollerblading...

When in America, you hit up the American fast food joints... 'specially mom and pop diners!

BBQ pulled pork sammies and chicken tenders at Little Piggy's

Joey Doggs

Double Joey Chili Dog Bowl-- yes in a dog bowl!

Italian Hot Dog with sauteed peppers, onions and potatoes on Italian pizza bread,
and hunky onion rings!

And of course, treat ourselves to some finer dining, like MB seafood favourite Bonefish Grill.

Jumbo Maryland lump crab cakes with red remoulade sauce (left)
and grilled scallops and bacon over Parmesan risotto.

Garlic and crab crumb dusted Alaskan cod, topped with lump crab
and white wine lemon butter sauce.

Ahhhhh.........At home sweet home, after a week of playing, eating and shopping, a bowl of noodles in nourishing homemade pork bone broth hits the spot every time. Now, I am ready to rock and roll with come what may.... YAY!