The Writing Process Blog Tour

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TO BLOG OF COURSE!


I had the honour of being asked to participate in “The Writing Process Blog Tour”.  What a great idea!

The concept is to get bloggers to get to know one another and to have a venue to introduce their blog, and other blogs to a wider circle of people. Social media at it’s finest 😉

Once nominated you have to answer a few questions about your blogging process (which I will do further on) and then thank the person who nominated you (which again I will do) and then nominate 3 fellow bloggers who’s posts will then keep this going hopefully and we can all learn something interesting from each post. My only problem was several of the people I nominated are already doing this blog as they were nominated by someone else! That just goes to show you how great their blogs are so I encourage you to check them out (see blogs I follow for several).

So to begin I would like to thank a fairly new follower of my blog called oceanviewkitchen (click on the name for the link). This is such a great site – full of fabulous recipes and mouth watering photography. The recipes are usually quick and easy to make (always a good thing) and are just right for the season.  I am really enjoying reading this blog on a weekly basis. It’s worth checking out for some truly creative and delicious looking recipes.

The next step involves answering some questions about my writing process  – so here goes…..

1) What am I working on?

My day job (and sometimes night job 😉 ) is as a creative director.  I have run my own business for almost 20 years now specializing in graphic design and print production. Most of our clients are corporate but we do lots of non profits and some outside the box work that is always fun.

Cooking has been an outlet of creativity for me for a number of years and even more so in the last 2-3 years.  I have been cooking for others as a side line for a couple of years now (often older people and households where both parents work and cooking time is often not readily available and many times when a newborn is introduced into the family). The foods I prepare for these people is based on a healthy, low salt, low fat menu that is easy to heat up and always tasty.

I should qualify that I love to cook but am not so keen on baking.  Don’t get me wrong – I love baked goods and some of the blogs I follow make the most incredible baked goods that just looking at them is like food heaven.

For me cooking involves making something from an ingredient or dish that has inspired me me. I rarely follow a recipe and if I do it is more of a guideline to which I add my own 2 cents. I love to be creative and add an unusual ingredient to something just to give it that extra flair.  One of my pet peeves though is having to throw food out that has gone off in the fridge.  I like to create something that uses up the ingredients I have on hand in the fridge or pantry. Simple, quick and tasty!

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think everyone who blogs brings something unique and different to the food they make.  Even if you are following someone else’s recipe – many people will add their own “touch” to it. I can’t say that what I do is very different from other bloggers except that we all create in our own ways and with what inspires us – to that end we are all different yet very much the same.

 

3) Why do I write what I do?

Simple – I am a foodie!  I love cooking for others and developing a meal from start to finish is such a creative process for me that I savour very last drop of it. I will start planning a dinner party meal weeks in advance and tweak it until I am happy. What I love about blogging is that you can write about what you want and getting the reinforcement from other bloggers that they like what you are writing is INSPIRATIONAL! This seems like a great spot to include a thank you to those that follow my blog. I feel a real community spirit with the readers and with those who’s blogs I follow and with those who’s blogs I come across through recommendations and just surfing the blogsphere.

 

4) How does your writing process work?

Generally I write about 1 of 3 things; 1) a recipe I have developed, 2) food I ate at someones home and 3) restaurants I have visited.

I take pictures anytime I eat out either at a restaurant or at a friends place, find out how it is made if I can, and then come home and write my blog on it which I then schedule for publishing.  I will usually have about 2 weeks of blogs written ahead of time so I am not rushing.  I started writing 2 blogs a week (Wednesday and Saturday) but found it hard to come up with something twice a week.  Now I tend to do a new blog every Saturday and often Wednesdays (if I am not writing a review of a diner party or restaurant) I will reblog someones post that has caught my eye and I think people would like.  Generally that post is something of a fairly healthy nature and again follows the plan of quick, easy and tasty. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce others to new blogs.

I must say I have changed the way I write this blog – When I started writing a blog I realized it had a more formal tone but as I got more comfortable writing I noticed my tone eased up and now I tend to write as though I am having a conversation with fellow readers. I am a very informal person and I like feeling like I am talking to people through my blog and not at them. This community has become just that…a community.

 

So who is next?….

One of my absolute favourite blogs to read and follow is called The Vegan 8. It used to be The Health Flavor but Brandi has revamped and redesigned her blog to be all about vegan cooking and baking. I am still not sure how she manages to be so prolific in her recipes but rest assured they are out of this world.  So creative and absolutely mouth watering.  The photography is outstanding and I am not just saying these things because she has graciously accepted my invitation to continue the writing process blog but because I truly believe it.  The other end of Brandi’s blog is that it doesn’t use more than 8 ingredients!  Perfect! And many of the recipes use the same base ingredients so you are not always running out to buy something special for that one recipe, another factor I really like (using what you have on hand). I encourage you to check out The Vegan 8 blog but I warn you…once you see and try any of the recipes you will be hooked!

 

Thanks for taking the time to read all of this and I hope it inspires someone to start their own blog on whatever interests them. Be sure to check out Brandi’s The Vegan 8 blog and check out some of the blogs I follow (see the left side panel of this blog).

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Brunch with Elizabeth and David

My friends Elizabeth and Dave are busy people. Trying to organize a get together is not easy, so when someone has a day free we jump on it.  The other Saturday afternoon we gathered for brunch at their place.

Brunch is one of my favourite meals because it is usually laid back, spent with friends and served with delicious food. Does it get any better?

This day was no exception. While Dave may have been worried that the brunch wasn’t over the top enough I am here to say it was outstanding!  Perfect meal to enjoy with friends and just kick back and have a good yak.

Brunch was an avocado dish that I thought was quite brilliant and have to try making.  We had avocado mixed with baby shrimp put back into the avocado shell which it was served in (so smart!). Beautiful tri-coloured tomatoes (one of my favourite things) and a touch of smoked salmon on the side.  It screamed springtime even though it was only 1 degree outside and pretty darn cold (if you can’t get your fill of spring with the weather you may as well get it with your food 😉 ).

Take a look at how beautiful this brunch was.  2 hours later we were talked out and we all had other stuff to get done. I left with a big smile on my face and the feeling of warmth and contentment.

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Drop Scones (or… Pancakes from Heaven)

On a visit to my friend Victoria a few months ago I tasted these heavenly delights for breakfast. They are like a cross between a pancake and a scone I think.  Light and airy with the taste of a scone/pancake crossover. After requesting (read as begging 😉 ) for the recipe she emailed it over and I am sharing it with you all.
These “Pancakes from Heaven” as I call them are from Serena Bass’s book, Serena, Food and Stories.  She calls them drop scones.
IMG_0686Mix
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar.

Add
1 extra large egg
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup milk.

Put butter on hot griddle, drop tablespoons of batter into fry pan.  Cook for 3 minutes, turn and cook for 2 more minutes.

You can put the dry ingredients together the night before and the next morning you are eating as quickly as you can heat the fry pan.

These are a real treat.  Thanks Victoria! (and Serena Bass)

Conversion Chart

I saw this chart on a blog I follow called Simply Delicious.  Thought it was a very handy tool so I am sharing it with you all.  It’s worth keeping on hand. This chart was created for the recipes on the Simply Delicious website but it provides a good reference tool for all.

 

 

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Vietnamese Buns

My cousin Tamara was in town recently and that means we get to indulge in Asian flavours as we both love that style of food. This night we went to our neighbourhood Vietnamese hangout called Pho Huo’ng. The restaurant is on the corner of Pacific Ave and Dundas St. West and is a real local spot in the Junction. The restaurant is always busy but we always manage to get a table as the turn over is quite fast.

When you sit down they hand you menus and an order sheet where you write  down what you want.  The waiter swoops back and picks up your order, brings you a lovely tea and within 5 minutes your order arrives – fresh and delicious.

This night I had the lemongrass chicken bun and Tamara had the grilled chicken and pork with a spring roll bun.  Oh so good!!! Including tip and tax the meal is between $9-$10.  How can you go wrong?

For those not familiar with what a “Bun” is – it is “everything in a bowl” – fresh steamed rice noodle vermicelli on the bottom with sliced cucumber, sliced lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled carrots along with whatever grilled protein you order. You pour a vinaigrette over top that is a bit sweet and a bit tangy. Then you dig your chopsticks into it and enjoy.

Highly recommend this restaurant!

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Dinner at Playa Cabana Cantina (Toronto)

Had dinner with my friend Anne at a new hot spot in the Junction area of Toronto.  Mexican style seems to be the new “in” food this year as Mexican restaurants are popping up everywhere. This restaurant is part of a chain called Playa Cabana and this particular restaurant was called “Cantina”.

I had read all kinds of reviews mostly saying the food is great but the service not so much. What I do know is that we could not get a reservation after 5:30 on Saturday evening even a week in advance!  They didn’t think we could get a seat even at the bar if we just showed up as Friday, Saturday and Sunday are their big nights.

So we took the 5:30 reservation. We walked around the area for an hour or so before going to the restaurant and found several great furniture and accessory stores all with unusual items at reasonable prices. When we had enough looking and wondering around (it was cold out) we went into the restaurant and had our dinner.

Anne ordered the chicken burrito “Cantina”  and I had two tacos – haddock and ancho braised short rib.  We decided to have a traditional drink and both ordered a “Paloma” made up of 1 ½ oz grapefruit infused Tromba Blanco (Tequila), citrus syrup and lime.  Yum!!!!!

The food tasted great and two tacos was certainly enough given we had guacamole and tortillas (made on site and delicious I might add). Anne barely made it through her burrito and we both left stuffed to the gills.

After everything I had read I expected the service to be mediocre but it was just fine and the meal was terrific!

I would however mention that it is quite loud with the music and the loud talking but it added to the ambience of the evening. Those of you who know me know I hate having to yell across the table but this was not anywhere near that bad. I would give this a definite thumbs up. The whole meal including drinks, tax and tip was $31 each.  Not bad.  Below are some pics of the meal.

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Shepherds Pie (with a twist)

So who doesn’t remember growing up having shepherds pie and loving it? Okay perhaps some of you didn’t have it – but I did, and I always loved it.  For the last few years though I have tried to reduce the number of carbohydrates I consume so I switched to sweet potatoes from white potatoes (when I have potatoes which isn’t that often). The “twist” I learned from my friend Zannat (who’s blog I have reposted a number of times – food4happiness). The twist is to add lentils to your ground beef. It adds fibre, protein and increases the amount of the beef mixture so you get much more for very little extra cost. I happen to love lentils so this is perfect for me. I substituted white potatoes for sweet and didn’t use too too much on top so it still remains healthy and low fat.

Shepherds pie 2

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Ingredients:

1 lb of lean (I used extra lean) ground beef

1 tin of lentils (cooked)

1 cooking onion – chopped

1-1.5 cups of mixed frozen vegetables (add as much as you like really)

1 pint of mushrooms chopped (about 10-12 large)

1 egg whisked

4-5 sweet potatoes medium sized (add more if you want a thicker topping)

¼ cup of low fat yogurt

½ cup of grated parmesan cheese

A couple of dashes of ketchup (less than ¼ cup)

1 tsp of Harissa spice mix (if you don’t have just add a pinch of cumin and a tiny pinch of cardamon and a pinch of cinnamon – really only a tiny amount of each).

1 tbsp of chopped garlic – about 2-3 cloves

I don’t use salt but if you want you can add a pinch of salt

½ tsp of cornstarch mixed with 3 tbsp of water or beef broth (not obligatory – this step just helps thicken the beef mixture and absorb some of the liquid)

3 tsp olive oil

Directions:

Sauté a chopped onion till tender and slightly browned in 1 tsp of olive oil (I sometimes add a tsp of brown sugar to help caramelize the onion a bit). Add 1 more tsp of oil with the garlic, mushrooms and  frozen vegetables once the onions are pretty much done. Sauté all together and add the broth and corn starch. Remove and put in a bowl for the time being.

Add beef and a tin of lentils to the pan along with the spices, ketchup, salt and pepper. Brown the meat with the lentils and then add back in the vegetables, onions and mushrooms and stir together. Add the egg and mix everything up.

While the meat is cooking, peel and cube the potatoes (try to make them even sized pieces so they will cook evenly). Microwave them in water until they are able to be pieced easily by a fork. You can also boil them if you prefer – if boiling then start the potatoes before the meat and vegetables.

Turn off the heat on the meat when all cooked and let sit in pan. Drain potato pieces into a bowl and add yogurt and parmesan cheese and whip using either a hand blender or a stand mixer. Using this type of equipment whips air into the potatoes and makes them a bit lighter. You can also do it by hand it just takes a bit longer and is more work. Once the potatoes are whipped taste and add seasoning as needed.

Put meat mixture into a deep dish and pat it down so it is firm. Then “frost” the top with the potato mixture as you would a cake. Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees (F) to brown the top a bit and then serve. I made it in several containers as you can see in the picture and froze it so I had lots of meals from the one cooking session.

Chicken Wrapped Asparagus

The other day I was rummaging around my freezer figuring out what to make for dinner. I found a tray of thin chicken breasts that were like scallopini. I remembered I bought them on sale for less than $4 (when I see sales like that I stock up and vacuum seal them). I also had a fresh bunch of asparagus sitting in the fridge. I knew I wanted to make something that incorporated both ingredients and then I remembered I also had some low fat old cheddar cheese (not old as in time spent in my fridge but old as in flavour 😉 )

I thought “how about wrapping the asparagus in the chicken lined with some cheese for extra flavour!”

Defrosting the chicken didn’t take long and here is how it turned out.  I got 4 wrapped pieces which is 4 meals along with a salad.  Not bad for a total of about $6 -$7 dollars. They looked great and where tasty too.

chicken wrapped asparagus

Ingredients:

2 Boneless skinless chicken breasts thinly sliced and pounded (or buy them this way as I did)

½ – 1 lb of asparagus

Old cheddar cheese thinly sliced (or any cheese of your liking – goat cheese would work well too – I just used what I had on hand – use 1-2 slices per roll – it will leak out a bit but who doesn’t like melted cheese?)

Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

Directions:

Lay a slice of chicken breast flat on a plate or piece of parchment or any type of sheet/board – I have a bunch of those thin plastic cutting boards. Lay down 1-2 slices of cheese (or spread goat cheese) per piece of chicken. Place about 4-5 stalks of asparagus trimmed (it can stick out the bottom and top) and roll the chicken and cheese around the asparagus. Hold together with a toothpick or two – remember to remove these before serving.

Place roll in heated frying pan with the olive oil an sear all around. Once chicken is lightly browned or cooked outside all around, place pan in oven at 350 degrees (F) for 15 minutes. This will finish the cooking and make sure the asparagus is also cooked nicely. Remember ovens vary so if you need a few minutes longer then leave it in for about 20 minutes – shouldn’t need any longer though.

Remove from the pan and serve.  This whole dish took 30 minutes from start to finish. Now thats what I call “Cheap and Cheerful”!

Broccoli, Peppers and Chicken Stir Fry

Well it was a Monday and I was at a loss for what to make for dinner.  I kept looking at my new rice cooker which I really use mostly when cooking for other people as I don’t eat much rice. It was calling out to me to use it so I looked in the fridge to see what there was. I had a couple of chicken breasts thawed and a head of broccoli so I thought”why not make a stir fry”?

I know I have blogged stir fries before but each is a bit different.  This one had a sweet and spicy base and I served it over the brown rice. I have to say I have never been any good at making rice – for some reason it never turns out well. I decided to invest in a rice cooker and went with the Cuisinart 7 cup cooker.  Aside from the fact that it looks great – boy is it easy and clean up is a breeze!

So here is what I made and how I made it.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp of olive oil

1 knob of ginger chopped

2 -3 cloves of garlic chopped

1/2 cup of sweet chilli sauce (asian variety)

2 tbsp of hoisin sauce

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cubed

1/5 – 2 cups of broccoli florets

1 pepper thinly sliced (colour of your choice)

pepper to taste (no salt as hoisin and the sweet chilli sauce have enough sodium)

Directions

Make 3/4 cup of brown rice (enough for two people) any way you choose, either in a pot or a rice cooker. While this is cooking….

Place cubed chicken in a bowl with the sauces and the ginger and garlic. As this is marinating, steam the broccoli and peppers for about 2 minutes in the microwave oven with a bit of water.

In a saucepan, toss the chicken, whatever sauce is left in the bowl, the broccoli and the peppers and stir fry till chicken is cooked and no longer pink. That’s it!  Now serve over some rice and you have a tasty meal ready in about half an hour.

Low Calorie Brownie (gluten free?)

So there I was reading through facebook and on my friend Katherine’s timeline I see a recipe for 37 calorie brownies!!!! Well it started a huge chain reaction on her timeline and so I had to make them then and there to see whether they were real and any good.

Below is the full recipe as it appears however I did change one or two things (hence my title “low calorie” versus 37 calorie). I also didn’t see gluten in anything but I wasn’t sure which is why I have a question mark by the title.

First the recipe and then the pictures. I have to say they were actually quite delicious.  Very very moist and somehow they held together too which when you read the ingredients you will wonder how. They were super quick and easy to make.  All done in about 40 minutes.

3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt  (original recipe used vanilla flavoured)

1/4 cup skim milk

1/2 cup Cocoa powder

1/2 cup Old fashioned rolled oats (like Quaker)

1/2 cup Truvia (or any natural/stevia based sweetener that pours like sugar) – I used mostly organic real sugar and topped it up with Splenda (I am not that crazy about artificial sweeteners – hence the more than 37 calories – but not high calorie by any means)

1 egg

1/3 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

* I added some chopped pecans to the mixture and blended and then topped with some chopped pecans when finished)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a square baking dish (I used 8″x8″). Combine all ingredients into a food processor or a blender, and blend until smooth (about 1 minute). Pour into the prepared dish and bake for about 15 minutes (I baked mine for 25 minutes as they were still wet at 15 minutes). Allow to cool completely before cutting into 9 large squares.

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brownies

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Enjoy!