The last few days have certainly felt like a cold tap on the shoulder reminding me that summer is almost over. Yesterday morning I found myself reaching for a wrap to keep me warm while I checked on our vegetable garden before work. [I hate transitioning from zombie-like mode to work mode when I'm cold.]
While I like eating corn and peas fresh (they’re sweet!), it’s comforting to have them in a steaming bowl of soup to welcome the change in season. And that I did. I’ve been cooking less on the grill and utilizing the kitchen stove again — another indicator of the cooling temperature in the evenings.
Fresh peas from the farmer’s market
We’re so very lucky to have an amazing array of fresh ingredients throughout the year, and it’s not hard to make wonderful dishes from them with just a few additions.
Fresh peas and kernels of peaches and cream corn from the Okanagan
I get a lot of random late night cravings, anything from cherry clafoutis and fresh homemade margarita, down to the basics like fudge brownies. Alone in the house one night, going through unanswered emails, I had the strongest need for chocolate chip cookies. I had to stop what I was doing and bake some stat.
I make different kinds all the time, but I tend to favor this recipe because the resulting cookies remind me of the palm-sized ones you grab from bakeries right before you pay–you just couldn’t resist getting them. Comfort me with big, chewy mouthfuls of chocolate goodness, please.
I almost forgot to tell you that it takes under an hour to make and you don’t need any special equipment — just your able arms and a good-sized bowl and trusty spatula. It’s just perfect for those last-minute cravings.
I grew up in a culture and age where salads were mostly either made with vinegar + salt + pepper or mayo. I don’t remember salads being a big part of our meals in Manila when I was young. We had our double starches (rice, bread and noodles — any combination of those) to go with the main courses. Fresh or steamed vegetables were dipped in sauces like vinegar with anchovies, soy sauce and calamansi (my favorite), or mayo and ketchup. I have a very good taste memory, but without any childhood recollection of taste combinations, I’m at a loss in a salad-inclusive North America. I even avoided volunteering to bring a salad to potlucks. It stressed me out just to think about it. [It still does.] I would gladly make you pie or cake. You can just see my deer-in-the-headlights look.
One of my cooking-related goals this year is to get in there, try as many dressings/salads (sorry, friends and family), and make some more until I can whip them together with ease. I have a 50% failing rate as far as my own rating system goes–I’m hard on myself, but that helps me keep improving. I still have a lot to learn.
We’ve been enjoying the summer bounty from our local farmers markets. Here I used shaved carrots, radishes and a variety of tomatoes.
This dressing I’m sharing today is not one of those failures. This is my go-to recipe over the past year, my saving grace when my mind is blank at the end of the day and we have some beautiful vegetables to eat fresh. It’s a light sesame ginger dressing that has been well-received during family dinners. If we can make the kids eat a few bites of veggies, it’s considered a win.
It tastes similar to the light dressing that comes with the house salad at a Japanese restaurant. If you like that, you will love this. There’s just enough boost of flavor, but it lets the vegetables shine. It’s good to start with some lovely produce.
I wasn’t the type of person who kept frozen fruits in the freezer. A firm believer of eating everything fresh, I just bought what’s in season at the farmer’s markets. Shakes or smoothies weren’t my ‘thing’ either, preferring to masticate on my fruits and veggies to fill me up because I tend to snack throughout the day. It wasn’t until I lived with a smoothie-loving frozen fruit-stocking partner that I realized what I had been missing.
While I (still) rarely reach for a shock of cold fruit drink, except for two scorching-hot summer days every year, I appreciate those bags of frozen fruits now. They satisfy any last-minute cravings for fruit pies, especially for out-of-season fare. Whenever everyone in our household would have the patience to wait for a couple of hours, I would make pie–double crust and all– or tart, but a quicker substitute for our dessert-/sweets-loving family is this go-to simple crumble. This minimal-effort snack, dessert or breakfast treat requires only these 3 easy steps:
Toss the fruits in sugar and flour. [I add a pinch of ground cinnamon and nutmeg sometimes.]
Top with a layer of easy-mix crumble.
Bake for half an hour or so. Do something else.
We love having this for dessert and I usually prepare this right after dinner. While it’s baking, the girls either do homework and we’ll catch up on some reading (or knitting) or we’ll play board game if it’s a non-school night. Easy peasy.
How is it that we’re more than halfway through January? The three-week stretch before the holidays felt like the longest and slowest marathon of parties, get-togethers, preparation, shopping and errands and then Boom! time moves in lightning speeds.
It was lovely to spend some relaxing time with our loved ones once the flurry of pre-Christmas stuff settled down. The beau’s brother and his girlfriend flew in for the holidays, so it was quite a treat to have the entire family around the table on Christmas Eve. I remember when we were kids, my cousins and I were too eager and impatient for everybody to show up so we could eat then open our gifts. As an adult, one thinks about how to keep the kids preoccupied so we can enjoy each other’s company in peace. On the beau’s side, the girls are old enough that they engage in our conversations–they have very interesting things to say! We don’t have to give them toys and talk over the noise of their toys! Ha. On my side, my nephews are four and five, living and breathing dinosaurs, Transformers and Angry Birds. They can be really blunt and honest, which make gift-opening around the tree hilarious. You never really know how they’d react or what they would say. Oh, I don’t like that! [My gifting success average has been great so far when it comes to them. I pick items based on what I would like if I was a kid. Now what does that say about me?] Christmas reminds me of how fun it was to be very young and carefree, but then I’m glad I can sit back and appreciate the comfort of, and being with, family.
Living in a beautiful city–a prime winter destination at that–means getting a chance to repeatedly explore it like tourists whenever friends and family visit. The beau and his brother love skiing so a day trip to Whistler during their short stay was a no-brainer. Vancouver being Vancouver, it did take a bit of wrestling with weather scheduling, but in the end one should just go and prepare for the worst. It wasn’t a great snow day for our skiing companions, but the rest of us who roamed the village and took the leisurely gondola ride between Whistler and Blackcomb didn’t have much to complain about the view and the powder.
I have this thing about bananas: I like to buy them. I anticipate that someone else would eat them if it’s available at home, but it’s really just me. I’ve been conservative with my banana purchases lately, but even so, I end up with 4 out of 5 bananas getting too ripe to fast before I can consume them. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m getting pretty tired of banana bread.Last week I looked for something else that’s fairly quick to make on a busy weeknight, because let’s face it–bananas won’t wait for you before they’re ready for the compost bin. And I really feel guilty throwing away food due to bad planning.
I turned to one of my go-to baking books, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, for inspiration. Sure enough, it saved the day (or evening) with an easy recipe for banana Bundt cake. It’s moist and light, almost like a teacake. The only ingredient change I made is with the sugar, decreasing it by a quarter of a cup. It was just the right sweetness for us.
All the ingredients for the recipe are readily available and you should be able to whip this up last minute. I used plain yogurt instead of sour cream (my preference of the two), which we almost always have except for that one evening. Oh, Murphy.
If you are fast, you can get this in the oven in 15 minutes. I did it in 20, photography included.
Once it’s done, the top will be shiny and moist, but a knife inserted in the middle of the cake would come out clean. Really try to control yourself from eating it right out of the oven.
We enjoyed this for breakfast, packed it for school and office snacks, nibbled on it while playing a board game and even gave a couple of slices to the out-laws. If you’re unsure of making this because of the size, I assure you, this will be gone in no time. Bring it to a party or to work and you will come home with an empty plate.
If you’re in Vancouver, baking this would be a great way to warm up the house and it’s a simple, yet delicious snack on this rainy weekend. I’d recommend it with a cup of tea and a good book.
There’s no getting around the too-lazy-too-cook-for-oneself bug when you’re at home for lunch on a hot summer day, or any day for that matter. I’ve heard it many times from friends who live alone: how do you get motivated to prepare a healthy meal or snack? Look no further than your local grocery store or farmer’s market and get what’s in season. That is my dirty little secret. I can admit to eating bananas or ants on a log (i.e. celery with peanut butter and dried cranberries) when I’m really pressed for time and need sustenance.
I had this for lunch last week and I felt much better about eating it than reaching out for a bag of chips. Hey, it happens.
This is as simple as it gets:
Peel and slice fresh peaches (or just slice nectarines)
Crumbled creamy goat cheese over the quarter moon slices
This dessert-turned-quick-experiment was brought to you by Jens’ chocolate mousse craving and his Greek yogurt substitution idea. I’m always happy to oblige his sweet tooth and even more so because we were both feeling under the weather, with him suffering most of the flu symptoms. After a trip out of town combined with the exhaustion from cycling over 100 kilometers, neither of us had any sense to check our dairy essentials for expiration dates. It turned out our heavy cream had gone bad, so he suggested using the only alternative we had left aside from milk: Greek yogurt. A quick online search proved that it was doable, so I trusted my kitchen instincts and went with it. Experience has shown that I do get good results when we collaborate on food this way, plus we had a chocolate bar on standby in case this produced an inedible pudding. I knew I had to add more sugar to counteract the sour yogurt, but when I tasted the whipped chocolate and yogurt mixture, it didn’t really need any more than a touch. An additional tablespoon was just the right amount of sweetness boost it needed.
As much as I love Greek yogurt, it doesn’t necessarily go with chocolate and I did cringe at the thought of combining them. Thankfully, my fears dissolved with my first spoonful of the mousse. It had a deep chocolate flavor with hint a of orange and vanilla. We couldn’t tell there was yogurt in it at all, unless we really tried to look for the taste. We shared the rest of it with his folks for dinner the following day and it tasted even better then!
A rich chocolate mousse goes exceptionally well with sweet blueberries. We’re lucky to be able to enjoy fresh ones in the summer and we take advantage of that as much as we can. The ones I took home from a BC Blueberry Council event were ginormous and almost as big as quarters! Mmm…I love the pop of fruit with the decadent mousse.
I was a tiny bit concerned that the thick yogurt would weigh down the mousse, but it didn’t affect its fluffiness at all. It was still light and smooth, and ridiculously good as can be. Here’s to another successful experiment and dessert–thanks to the beau for yet another wacky and awesome idea!
When I’m not devouring fresh blueberries or baking them into pies to share, some of them make it into frozen treats like these. There’s nothing better on a hot summer day. Of course, there’s always the alternative of directly freezing fresh blueberries to pop into your mouth or crush into your favorite fizzy water or bubbly booze. ;-)
⅓ cup cold simple syrup, or more to taste (made by cooking 2 cups sugar in 1 cup water in medium heat until completely dissolved)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss blueberries and sugar in a bowl, then transfer and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet/pan lined with aluminum foil. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Pour back into the bowl after roasting and let it cool.
Using your blender or blender stick with a bowl, pulse together yogurt and cream cheese until uniformly smooth. Add milk, blueberries and jam (if using) and blend. Taste the smoothie, and add simple syrup according to your preference. As a rule, make it a bit sweeter than you would like your drinking smoothie. Freezing tones down the sweetness.
Pour smoothie into popsicle molds and freeze for 30 minutes before inserting popsicle sticks. Note: soak popsicle sticks in warm water for half an hour before using to keep them from floating in the mixture while it freezes.
You can also use this recipe for strawberries (add balsamic vinegar for more flavor), cherries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, and other fruits that catch your fancy. Alternatively, you can just put raw blueberries/fruits in the smoothie -- the roasting step takes out the raw tartness from some fruits.
Chicken macaroni salad was one of my favorite party side dishes as a child. Back in Manila, it was dotted with raisins, which I’ve grown to dislike through the years. I’ve come to embrace it’s blushing cousin, the dried cranberries, which I simply adore in salads and use as often as I can. I love it with the tuna mac because it adds a touch of sweetness and tartness that complements the tuna and pineapple well.
Tuna is my preferred alternative to chicken in salads for convenience–just drain and voila, you’ll have flavorful protein to add. And thanks to that, you can make this salad in 15 minutes or less, not including the time to wait for the water to boil. To save time, I put the pot of water on maximum heat while I start chopping vegetables to make good on time.
This is a substantial lunch or a good snack to pack for work, but watch out for the tuna smell. The chicken would be less offensive to the olfactory senses for some, for sure. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days if you keep it in the coolest corner, so it’s a good make-ahead dish as well.
I’m making slow and steady progress on the eating-healthier-lunch front, and even smaller steps on blog posting, but I’m getting there. I’m almost ready to make this again for lunch, actually.
I’ve included meat and vegan alternatives in the recipe. Hope you enjoy!
Cook elbow macaroni in salty water according to the package directions for al dente pasta and drain. Transfer pasta into a large bowl and add all the ingredients except for the cranberries. Add salt and pepper as desired. Add cranberries last.
Meat Alternative: Chopped cooked chicken, especially if you have leftover rotisserie chicken.
Vegan Alternative: You use "simulated" chicken meat sauteed with a little bit of chicken bouillon powder or cube to add some flavor. For the mayo, Earth Balance has a "Mindful Mayo" that is dairy free.