Loving the Windy City and Cantaloupe, Peach and Strawberry Smoothies

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The other weekend my best friend and I went to Chicago for the first time. We had heard so much about the architecture, the food and the lively music scene. Since Chicago is only a one and a half hour flight from Toronto, it is an easy place to visit for a long weekend.

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We took in the architecture by taking a boat cruise offered by the Architectural Society. I strongly suggest one of these cruises since the tour runs through the city along the river and features evidence of the historic transformation of Chicago from its rebirth after a major fire burned it to the ground in 1871. The city planners have done a wonderful job of protecting the river front by ensuring that all new buildings and renovations feature a river walk area that meets their standards.

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A visit to The Art Institute of Chicago was a great way to spend the afternoon taking in the contemporary art and photography exhibits.

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When not touring the river front area, we found great places to eat that could accommodate my friend’s gluten-free, vegan diet and still provide a great variety for my tastes. One place that I really loved was Eataly, a gourmet Italian food experience that was like Disneyland for food lovers. The large space is filled with a variety of delicacies from Italy from wines to pasta and wood fired pizzas. There are 9 mini restaurants nestled in between each department of this store. Since they were able to accommodate my friend’s diet, we had lunch there twice. I understand that there is also and Eataly in New York City and that they might be opening one in Toronto. I cannot wait.

Another thing that is well worth doing is taking in some of the local music scene. We went to a local club called Kingston Mines to hear blues bands one night. This low-key, earthy bar hosts 2 acts per night and rotates sets between two different rooms until 5 AM. It is really worth the short drive from downtown to see these talented blues artists.

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We also saw Motown the Musical as part of the Broadway in Chicago line up. The musical revue acts out the history of the Motown music scene from the beginning to the 25th anniversary. It was a great evening filled with the music made famous by groups like the Temptations, the Supremes and the Jackson 5.

We tried to see as much of Chicago as we could fit into a long weekend so like most tourists, we made sure that we visited the famous Bean in Millenium Park. It is difficult to really see a city in four days, but my first impression was that I would like to go back and see more of this lively place.

After a weekend of food and wine and fun I though I should get back to my healthy diet at home. A great way to help get back on track is to drink smoothies for breakfast or lunch. This smoothie recipe is really light and fresh while also being very healthy.

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Cantaloupe, Peach and Strawberry Smoothie

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 cup cantaloupe, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries, without stems
2 cups chopped peaches, peeled
1 cup coconut water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1-2 tbsp. honey, to your taste

Directions:
Blend the cantaloupe into a juice.
Add the strawberries, peaches, coconut water and lime juice.
Blend again until smooth and frothy.
Add honey to sweeten to your desired level of sweetness.

Recipe modified from Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris

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Celebrate the Strawberry Season with Strawberry Charlotte

strawberry-charlotte

Have you ever had a day when technology was not your friend?

This morning I was reading one of my favourite blogs on my ipad, while eating breakfast. I tried to comment on the blog using the WordPress App and instead of posting the comment on their blog it created a post for my blog including only my comment. If that is not bad enough it posted it to Twitter and emailed it to all of my email followers.

When I realized what had happened, I ran into the other room to fix my mistake on my computer, vowing to never post anything before having my morning coffee again.

To all who received this poor excuse for a blog post I hope to redeem myself by sharing this wonderful recipe with you. Now you might ask, “How that is going to earn redemption?”

It will, because it is one of the best looking and best tasting cakes I have ever made and you don’t even have to bake it! That is correct; no baking.

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I found the recipe online at the website of a popular French Canadian chef, Ricardo. I was looking for a way to use up some wonderful fresh Ontario strawberries from my local market. We are only able to enjoy the local strawberries for a few weeks each year, but the wait is worth every bite. You can taste the difference between the locally grown berries and the ones that have come from other countries. The flavour is more intense.

This Strawberry Charlotte is like a cross between Tiaramisu and Strawberry Mousse Cake. The mousse-like centre is creamy and light and the lady fingers create an interesting crust that looks like a fence post circling around a pool of strawberry heaven. Then you top it all off with fresh strawberries and tie it up with a pretty bow. So simple!

I think it would be a great dessert to serve at a Canada Day or the fourth of July BarBQ wrapped in a red or blue ribbon.

Strawberry Charlotte

Ingredients:

Lemon Syrup
1 cup (250 ml) water
1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
2 tbsp. (30 ml) lemon juice

Filling
4 tsp. (20 ml) gelatin
6 tbsp. (90 ml) cold water
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) strawberry sauce (see note)
1 cup (250 ml) sugar
1 1/2 cup (375 ml) 35% cream
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups (500 ml) hulled fresh strawberries
22 store-bought ladyfinger cookies

Directions:
Lemon Syrup
In a saucepan, bring 60 ml (1/4 cup) of water with the sugar and lemon juice to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining water.

Filling
In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let bloom for 5 minutes. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) of strawberry sauce, 180 ml (3/4 cup) of sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the gelatin has dissolved. Let cool and stir in the remaining sauce. In a bowl, whip the cream with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the strawberry mixture, using a spatula. Set aside.

Assembly
Line the bottom of a 20-cm (8-inch) springform pan with parchment paper. Line the edge with a strip of parchment paper.
Cut each cookie into 7-cm (2 ¾-inch) long pieces. The smaller pieces will be used to line the bottom of the pan. Quickly dip the smaller cookie pieces in the syrup and cover the bottom of the pan. Repeat the soaking with the long cookie pieces and place them upright, flat side inward, along the inner walls of the pan. Fill with the strawberry mixture and garnish with the strawberries, pressing them lightly in the filling. Gently cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Cook’s Note:
For about 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) of strawberry sauce, just puree about 1-litre (4 cups) of strawberries in the food processor until smooth and strain through a sieve.

Recipe from http://RicardoCuisine.com

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Warm Spring Salad

strawberries-in-a-bowl

What a wonderful holiday weekend! The weather is beautiful and we have 4 days off to enjoy it.

I have been car shopping for the past few weeks and I must say that it is an arduous task. It takes days to compare all of the models and brands and then consult all of the review sites.

Do I buy new or save and buy a few years old?

Do I want a car to move things around or something more sporty?

Do I care about what colour it is?

All of these questions and more have been running through my head, endlessly. It’s driving me crazy!

Since I live in downtown Toronto I could almost get by without a car. There is public transit that will get me anywhere within the city. Then there are the car-by-the-hour places that can supply wheels to go, if I choose to venture further.

I have decided to walk away from the car shopping and the big decision, for a while. I will take my new bicycle for a ride. I will turn off the computer and get outside to enjoy the sun.

I hope you are all enjoying this wonderful season and that you are having a great weekend!

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On holiday weekend like this, it is easy to over indulge on sweets and heavy foods so I try to serve healthy side dishes to my meals.

I am featuring a vegan recipe that is simple to make, beautiful to look at and delightful to eat.

I found this recipe on a local vegan blog called Oh She Glows. I modified it by blanching the asparagus and adding sugar snap peas which are also blanched. I love how blanching brings out the rich green colour while leaving a bit of a crunch in the vegetables.

The salad would be great as a side dish or as a main dish. Either way, it is delicious and healthy,

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Warm Spring Salad

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked quinoa
½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leak, sliced into rounds or half moons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch asparagus, ends broken off and chopped in to 1-inch pieces
1 cup sliced strawberries
¾ cup sugar snap peas
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tbsp. pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Lemon zest for garnish, optional

Directions:
Cook quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Fluff with a fork, remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
Blanch the snap peas and asparagus in separate batches by inserting them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, sate leeks and garlic over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the asparagus and snap peas and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the parsley and strawberries. Heat for 1- 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

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Whisk together the dressing ingredients (olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, ¼ tsp. sea salt). Pour dressing over the cooked quinoa.
In a large bowl, toss the quinoa and the skillet mixture together. Can be served warm or cooled.

Recipe adapted from http://www.ohsheglows.com

Preserving the Taste of Summer in Mixed Berry Jam

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What are your favourite flavours of summer?

My favourites are:

the taste of a ripe tomato, fresh off of the vine;
grilled corn on the cob,
peaches and nectarines on the day that they are just ripe enough to be sweet, but not too ripe,
fresh salads filled with seasonal fruits and nuts,
watermelon,
fresh lemonade,
grilled chicken,
and most of all
fresh berries

When the season starts to change I will miss those summer treats.

One way that our ancestors were able to stretch their fresh fruits was to preserve the taste into jars of jams and jellies. You can open a jar in the dead of winter and still taste the wonderful fruit like it was the day you canned it.

I have wonderful memories of homemade jams from my childhood; memories of an older aunt who loved to cook. I remember her making luscious fruit jams and spicy chili sauce every summer. She was very generous with her cooking. We had a large family for which she would whip up sensational meals because she loved feeding a crowd. I miss her.

Everyone has a childhood memory or two that is related to food. We remember those wonderful days when we taste the dishes that our mothers, grandmothers, aunts or uncles used to make.

For me, making jam is like making a jar of memories.

Mixed-Berry-Jam

Mixed Berry Jam

Makes approximately 9 -500 ml or 1 cup jars

Ingredients:

9 cups mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, mulberries)
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 1/3 cups sugar, warmed
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. pectin

Directions:

Remove stems, stalks, leaves and any blemishes from the berries. If the berries are sandy or gritty, wash then gently under cold water. Be sure to drain them well in a colander.

Place the berries and lemon juice in a large pot and gently cook for 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir over low heat for 5 minutes, or until all sugar has dissolved.

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Boil for 15 minutes stirring often. Remove from heat.

Add the pectin and return to the heat. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove any scum from the surface with a spoon or ladle.

Pour immediately into clean, warm jars leaving ¾ inch headroom, and seal. Turn jars upside down for 2 minutes, then invert and let cool. Label the jars with the name of the jam and the date. Store the jars in a cool dark place for 6-12 months. Refrigerate after opening for up to 6 weeks.

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Recipe adapted from Jams and Preserves by Thunder Bay Press.

Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta and Almonds

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“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the  walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want  to see.”

John  Burroughs

While I still have my memories of our time in British Columbia I have started to land back in reality, once again.

The past 2 weeks have been an endless blur of rushing to and fro, catching up on family and work commitments that were put on hold, while we vacationed. I don’t think we spend enough time enjoying life as we should.

In North America we take our few weeks per year vacation and then promptly return to our routines, quickly forgetting about the special time that we spent. In Europe, many countries take longer vacation periods where people pack up and go to the beach for a month in the summer.

Most of the time we live to work; while they work to live. It makes you wonder which culture has the right idea, doesn’t it?

Although the weeks are passing quickly, we are able to savour our last days of summer. We need to pack in a few more Bar BQs and a few trips to the beach before the cooler nights set in.

I love to enjoy a nice light salad for dinner, when I can. It balances all of the indulging that we do when cooking for a crowd. This recipe for Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta and Almonds is a great salad that you can serve as a lunch or dinner entrée.

I also enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner, now and again. I paired this salad with a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery in the Niagara Escarpment. This wine has a soft, subtle taste of mango and honey that lingers on your tongue. The aroma of citrus, mango and lime; are a perfect complement to the spinach, feta and strawberries. The wine is available in Ontario at the LCBO or directly from the winery.

Spinach Salad with Chicken, Strawberries, Feta, and Almonds

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 medium shallot, minced
6 oz. loosely packed baby spinach leaves (about 6 cups)
8 oz. strawberries, stemmed and quartered (about 1-1/2 cups)
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese (about 3/4 cup)

Directions:

Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering hot. Pat the chicken dry and season with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Cook, turning once, until just cooked through, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 5 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil with the vinegar, honey, shallot, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries, feta cheese, and almonds and toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Arrange the salad on a platter or plates. Slice the chicken and arrange on the salad. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette, if desired, and serve.

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh & Quick Magazine

Fresh from the Market Strawberry Cheesecake

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I went on an adventure this week.

There was a special fair held at Toronto’s Queen’s Park to build awareness of Ontario growers and producers. They had set up tents on the lawn of the Ontario Legislature to showcase the local foods and to offer free samples.

The local producers included a local dairy that was handing out free ice cream cones and an apple orchard that provided free apple bumbles. There were also mushroom, strawberry and asparagus growers as well as representatives from Ontario Pork and the Ontario Beekeepers Associations. There was even a flower farmer who handed out free blooms to the guests.

We spend too much time in the winter months running from store to store to find the freshest produce. In the summer we are so lucky to have local markets popping up all over the city allowing us to taste the food fresh from the farms. Many of those markets offer organically grown produce.

I enjoyed seeing the fair and chatting with some of the participants. I learned a few things about Ontario farming and discovered a few gems. Did you know that there is a beekeeping operation on the roof of Toronto’s historic Royal York hotel that makes award-winning honey? I didn’t.

No matter where you live it is important to buy local and support your local farmers and food producers. I made this luscious Strawberry Cheesecake recipe to celebrate the local farmers and taste of the season.

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Strawberry Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

2 pounds (four 8 oz. boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two

For the topping:

4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced to 1/8 inch\

Directions

To make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.

Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn’t have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

To make the cheesecake:

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream.

Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roasting pan.

Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the spring form pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, top with strawberries and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.

Recipe from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar for a Gluten-free Life

Do you know anyone in your life that has a gluten allergy or has been diagnosed as a celiac?

I have more than a few relatives and friends who have had to change their diets due to one of these conditions. At first the idea of changing their eating habits was daunting but with a little research and the help of a few specialty stores they were able to get started. What I have noticed is the growing variety of Gluten-free and even Vegan Gluten-free products that have been showing up, even in the mainstream grocery stores.

A few weeks ago we went to a pop up market called Gluten-free Garage that was held at the Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. Dozens of food suppliers, bakeries and caterers were on hand allowing visitors to taste their products and ask about ingredients. We had attended the event in the hopes of finding a bakery that could offer gluten-free, dairy free and egg free cupcakes for my granddaughter’s first birthday party. Surprisingly, there were a few excellent choices that offered tasty solutions.

http://glutenfreegarage.ca/

While wandering the fair I spent some time chatting up a few of the vendors to get a sense of what each vendor had to offer this niche market. I came across two vendors who were offering classes in gluten-free cooking. Since I am so interested in new styles of cooking I immediately gravitated to their booths for tastings.

Arvinda’s offered us a lentil curry dish that was truly remarkable. They are suppliers of Indian spices through retail and online sales. Chefs Arvinda Chauhan and her daughter Preena teach classes in home-style, healthy and traditional Indian cooking at Nella Cucina in Toronto. I see an Indian cooking class in my future.

http://www.arvindas.com

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Pimenton offers cooking classes and catering for gluten-free events. Chef Jose Arato was serving up some Paella Vegetariana for those who like a little Spanish in their lives. Chef Jose was telling me that it was his birthday and he was having a great time meeting people at the market.

http://www.pimenton.ca/

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Other vendors who we spoke to were suppliers of ready-made gluten-free dinners for those who were looking for quick meal options. We particularly enjoyed the gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free Gnocchi from Antipastos Kitchens.

http://www.antipastoskitchen.com/

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I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the event even though I am not on a gluten-free diet. I found out more about these diet restrictions and what is available to accommodate those whose health is affected by them.

I have learned over the past few years to make a few gluten-free dinners that are not only tasty, but healthy options for everyone. This Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar is one of my favourites from Quinoa Revolution. Like many of you, I have added Quinoa to my diet for its health benefits but also because I like how it tastes in salads and baking. This recipe has a great blend of fruit and cucumbers with the Quinoa that tastes fresh and light.

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Berry Cucumber Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) water

1 cup (250 ml) quinoa

¼ cup (60 ml) white balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. (15 ml) pure maple syrup

1 tbsp. (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (250 ml) fresh blueberries

1 cup (250 ml) fresh strawberries, quartered

1 cup (250 ml) diced English cucumber

½ cup (60 ml) thinly sliced red onion

¼ cup (60 ml) sliced blanched almonds

Directions:

Combine the water and the quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil;. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer to a salad bowl and cool completely.

Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup and olive oil; stir into the quinoa. Gently toss in the blueberries, strawberries, cucumber and red onion. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving.

Recipe from Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Mint

This has been a wonderful week filled with family celebrations.

Both my mother and I are born in June so we were planning to celebrate our birthdays together, as we usually do. What we did not expect was that my grand-daughter would come a few weeks early and we would have a precious baby girl to celebrate with us.

I spent most of my birthday helping my daughter while she recovered in the hospital. I was able to hold my grand-daughter for hours, to sing to her and talk to her and to celebrate her birth. I could not have dreamed of a more wonderful gift.

One of my favourite memories of when my daughters were young is how we would go strawberry picking in June with my sister and her daughters. The girls would eat more berries than we could pick but we had lots of fun. Then we would cart berry covered girls and the baskets of fruit home and promptly start making jam.

One of my favourite things is the unique flavour combination of strawberries and rhubarb. This year I made a strawberry and rhubarb compote. This delightful, fruity topping can be served on ice cream, as a cheesecake topping or in crepes that are topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Any way that you choose to enjoy this recipe I hope it will remind you of this wonderful time of year.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Mint

Ingredients

3 cups 1/2-inch-wide pieces fresh rhubarb (cut from about 1 pound)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1-pint container fresh strawberries, hulled, halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Directions

Combine rhubarb, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Simmer gently until rhubarb is tender but not falling apart, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in strawberries. Transfer to bowl and stir in mint. Chill until cold, about 1 hour.

Use in your favourite recipe as a topping or crepe filling.

Recipe from Epicurious.com