Monday, August 31, 2009

Tasting Summer in Bittman's Bake

Being the lazy pie maker that I am, I really wanted to love Mark Bittman's Stone Fruit Patchwork Bake; however it just wasn't all that it was talked up to be. He can call it what he likes, but it was only reminiscent of pie and I found myself wishing I had turned those gorgeous cherries and peaches into a cobbler with a fluffy cake-like topping.

We still had no problem eating our way through it, however, as the combination of peaches and cherries was irresistible. Seriously summer baked in a dish!

I did like the rustic side of this 'pie' and it was a great dessert to make with little helpers, I will say that. You don't have to worry about stray fingers poking a hole in your pie crust, if fact they can help lay the lattice pieces on top, like so.

Heh, maybe I need to give it a second chance, or maybe next time I'll try Emily's classic Stone Fruit Pie. Anyway, this lazy version of pie is easy, pretty quick, and may be just the thing to help you use up those fast-ripening peaches hanging around.

Stone Fruit Patchwork Bake
recipe by Mark Bittman

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into about 8 pieces, more for dish
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 pounds peaches, seeded and sliced (about 5 large)
1 cup cherries, stones in or pitted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Heat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9-by-13-inch or similar-size baking dish; set aside. ( I halved the recipe and made a 8 inch round. It was a little sparse, though.)

For pastry:
In a food processor, combine 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar; pulse once or twice. Add butter and turn on machine; process until butter and flour are blended and mixture looks like coarse cornmeal, about 15 to 20 seconds. Slowly add 1/4 cup ice water through feed tube and process until just combined. Form dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate dough for up to a couple of days, or freeze it, tightly wrapped, for up to a couple of weeks.)

For filling:
Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss fruit with remaining flour, 3/4 cup sugar and lemon juice; place in baking dish.

Put dough on a floured board or countertop and sprinkle with more flour. Roll dough into a 12-inch round, adding flour and rotating and turning dough as needed. Cut dough into 3-inch-wide strips, then cut again crosswise into 4-inch-long pieces. Scatter pieces over fruit in an overlapping patchwork pattern.

4. Brush top of dough lightly with water and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Transfer to oven and bake until top is golden brown and juices bubble, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool; serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Beef Chronicles: Cumin-Scented Kebabs & Best Broccoli Slaw

For a year now, I've been getting the wrong magazine subscription. Wowed by her Christmas cookie issues, I thought I wanted to receive Martha Stewart Living, but my husband knew better and ordered Gourmet as well, both Christmas gifts. For a while they competed for space in my mailbox and for attention on my coffee table, but it wasn't long before I was completely seduced by the recipes and articles in Gourmet, and read each issue cover to cover before glancing at MSL. It didn't help that MSL seemed to have less and less food articles and focused more and more on fashion. Sorry, but I just don't want to read eight pages of summer jacket requirements--I don't care that much about their versatility or how a good jacket is 'the ultimate team player'. (April-'09) Kudos to Martha for using her own staff to model the blazers and the like, but unfortunately I won't be renewing my subscription.

That being said, did you read the August '09 issue of Gourmet?? Cumin-Scented Beef Kebabs, Garlic-Oregano Grilled Pita, Corn-on-the-Cob with Mint and Feta, Ice Cream Sandwiches with Blueberry Swirl....The mag is chock-full of recipes, each one begging to be made this instant. Everything about the 'Freewheeling' feast appealed to me (p.62) and became the inspiration behind a recent casual BBQ in honour of my birthday.

Yes, I cooked for my own birthday. Get over it!
Does NO ONE know me by now? Friends and family were incredulous that I wanted to cook a meal for them and 'work' on my birthday. Don't they know by now that I truly DO love to cook?

Perhaps they didn't understand my terms:

"An afternoon of distraction-free cooking, with no children underfoot and no clean-up required by me."

I believe that was what the official contract read.
OK, so there was no such contract, but for the first time ever, I employed a 'Mother's Helper', which is about as close as I'll ever get to a nanny! My neighbor's teenage daughter brought the boys to the park, then bathed them and put them down for naps while I zipped around my kitchen in fifth gear. Then I enlisted her to shuck 24 ears of corn and skewer two dozen kebabs, while I freshened up before our guests arrived.

The recipes from Gourmet are so easy to follow and the meal came together with no hitches. If only the weather was so manageable. It poured rain at the beginning of the evening - just as I was out barbecuing some lamb 'popsicles' - and thoroughly soaked me. The twenty or so guests took shelter in my kitchen and munched Greek meze while I panicked over how I was going to feed (and fit) everyone in our cozy bungalow. Fortunately the rain tapered off enough to allow us to move outdoors for the meal, and everyone had the luxury of a little elbow room after all.

Our beef stole the spotlight dressed as Cumin-Scented Beef Kebabs, tender chunked sirloin that had been marinated in garlic, coriander, cumin and loads of fresh oregano. The skewers were sandwiched between grilled pita bread that had been bathed in a pungent garlic and oregano infused olive oil and the whole thing dressed with homegrown tomatoes and slathered with Peter's Tzatziki. Several variations of Greek Salad were the colorful accompaniments, along with my Current Obsession Number 1: Corn-on-the-Cob with Mint & Feta, and Current Obsession Number 2: Broccoli Slaw --the recipe for the slaw is given at the end of the post.

And for sister brought a killer Carrot Cake (I do draw the line at making my own cake. Thanks, Miranda!) and our fingers got sticky with baklava from Montreal's own Patisserie Mahrouse. It felt a bit weird planning a party with no sweets, so a few days before I churned a batch of vanilla ice cream and made my own version of Gourmet's Ice Cream Sandwiches. Between thin layers of blondies (like a brownie, but no chocolate) I spread vanilla ice cream and swirled in a chunky blueberry jam. Delish! Of course they were consumed before I could get a photo. It didn't even cross my mind to photograph them--I was too busy eating as many as I could before they melted.

As usual, I was flying around the kitchen with an 18-month-old permanently attached to my leg--so there was no way I could snap as many photos as I would have liked. I handed my camera off to my brother-in-law at some point, and he snapped a few for this post.

This is a great menu for a big gang when you want to BBQ, but perhaps have had your fill of burgers for the season. Do try these recipes; this is food that gives maximum flavour for minimal effort.

Cumin-Scented Beef Kebabs
Recipe courtesy of the lovely Gourmet Magazine

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped oregano

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 pounds sirloin flap steak or flatiron steak, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Equipment: 12 (12-inch) skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes if wooden

Stir together oil, oregano, garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then toss with beef. Marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours.

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (high heat for gas); Thread about 4 pieces of beef onto each skewer, leaving small spaces between pieces, then transfer to a tray.

Oil grill rack, then grill beef, covered only if using a gas grill, turning, until browned but still pink inside, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with Garlic-Oregano Grilled Pita (recipe below) and fresh Tzatziki.

Beef can be marinated up to 8 hours

Serves 6

This is my favorite salad this summer and I've made it so many times! It's great to bring to a potluck or just for eating all by your lonesome for a healthy--and crunchy--lunch. You can't get much easier than four ingredients and a dressing! Don't forget to toast the almonds--they really make the salad. Oh, and I once used golden raisins instead of dried cranberries and they were fabulous, too.

Broccoli Slaw

Recipe slightly adapted from the original version given to us from that blogging queen of slaw, Smitten Kitchen
Makes about six cups of slaw

2 heads of broccoli

1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds, toasted

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Buttermilk Dressing

1/2 cup buttermilk, well-shaken

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

Trim broccoli and cut it into large chunks. From here, you can either feed it through your food processor’s slicing blade, use a mandoline to cut it into thin slices, or simply hand chop it into smaller pieces. I used both the stem and the flowerets, but you can just use the tops.

Toss the sliced broccoli with the almonds, cranberries and red onion in a large bowl. Meanwhile, whisk the dressing ingredients in a smaller one, with a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the broccoli (if you’ve skipped the stems, you might not want it all; I otherwise found this to be the perfect amount) and toss it well.
Season well with salt and pepper to taste.
Should keep up to a week in the fridge.

Garlic-Oregano Grilled Pita Bread
Also from Gourmet Magazine August 2009

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashes

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano

2 pocketless pita bread rounds

kosher salt to taste

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook garlic, turning once until pale golden. This took a few minutes. Discard garlic and remove skillet from heat, then stir in oregano.
Preheat grill. Oil grill rack. grill pitas, 3 at a time, turning once, until grill marks appear. Remove from grill and brush both sides with garlic-oregano oil. I had a friend stand by, brandishing a silicone brush, to do this part while I continued grilling.
Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve warm. May be cut into wedges.

Got Beef?

The Beef Chronicles: an introduction

TBC: Rib Steak au Buerre Rouge

TBC:T-Bone Goes Camping

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Montreal Foodie Tour with Foodie Suz

Blogging has provided me with the opportunity to connect with hundreds of wonderful people and there are so many of you who I would love to get to know better over a cup of coffee! I'll just have to get to one of those blogging conferences one of these years! Anyway, I recently had the chance to meet a fellow Canadian food blogger who was in Montreal on business: Sue Robbins, or as she is better known, Foodie Suz.

I picked her up at her hotel and whisked her around town to some of my favorite food spots. Sue was courageous to meet up with me, a total stranger, and while she expected a foodie tour, she didn't know that she was signing on for a white-knuckled drive. I can be, ahem, a rather aggressive driver, not to mention sometimes scatterbrained. Poor Sue!
Anyway, I only blew through one red light (our conversation was so engrossing!) and we survived the whirlwind trip. Here's a peek of where we got around to...

Illy coffees and chocolate brioche at Olive et Gourmando

Olive et Gourmando, my favorite bakery/cafe

More treats from the Old Montreal bakery

Artfully arranged produce at Jean-Talon Market, our biggest open air market. This stop also included a walk through the one-and-only Hamel cheese shop and a lengthy visit to Olives et Epices, which we later exited laden with exotic spices.

Of course we were working up an appetite so a stop at St-Viateur Bagels was not optional - it was mandatory! I love how this place never closes and the river of bagels is always flowing.
We later popped in to my favorite cupcake shop, Cocoa Locale, but much to my dismay, it was closed, so no Chocolate-Chai Cupcakes for us.

We still needed a chocolate fix, so instead we parked in my old neighbourhood, the Plateau, and walked to Les Chocolats de Chloé. A stunning little artisanal chocolate shop, I died and went to heaven with Chloe's Illy Espresso chocolate. I would happily accept treats from this one-of-a-kind shop for any occasion--as long as I live!

After drooling over upscale kitchen items at Arthur Quentin, we were in need of something a bit more substantial than chocolate. As Sue had already experienced the famous Schwartz's Deli on a previous visit, I decided L'Express would be a good option for lunch. The Parisian-like place was in fine form, including a grumpy Maître d', who huffily told me to remove my water bottle from the table. Or what? You won't serve me? Man, my days of snobby restaurant life are over. Lighten up!

I think Sue enjoyed her octopus and lentil salad and I was relieved when she also ordered a side of fries, or else my lunch would have looked mightily unhealthy in comparison. I feasted on what just may be the best sandwich in town, the Croque Monsieur from L'Express. Heaven. Think grilled ham and cheese, but such ham! and such cheese! Cooked to perfection and served with an immense jar of pickles maison (pictured above with Foodie Suz), this is the sandwich of my dreams.

I so enjoyed my time with Sue and we were never lacking for conversation. We swapped book titles, recipes and favorite blogs, yakked about our kids and compared travel stories. It was wonderful to meet her.

Thanks for looking me up, Sue, and for putting up with my driving!

PS: Here is Sue's rundown of our day, including a photo of yours truly on what was a very windy day where the wind was sculpting my hair into something unnatural!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Beef Chronicles: T-Bone Goes Camping & Laptop Tomato Salad

Curious about the Beef Chronicles? Read the intro to the series here.

They say food tastes better when you are camping. Perhaps it's the smoke from the open fire, perhaps the fresh air that stimulates the appetite, at any rate I chose T-Bone steaks for our recent camping supper, hoping that perhaps Mother Nature would help inject some excitement into this otherwise boring cut.


Everything about the family-style dinner was absolutely delicious, from the potatoes that were baked in the campfire ashes to the sweet summer corn, but when I think back to that steak, the words 'best ever' come to mind.

Earlier in the afternoon, while the gang of us hit the beach, the T-Bone marinated ever so simply in olive oil, cracked black pepper, crushed garlic, and fresh rosemary--all ingredients I 'happened' to have on hand on our two-night camping trip. Later it was quickly seared on a portable grill and the result was fork-tender, flavorful steak.

This homegrown beef has got it going on.
This is my favorite marinade for meats of all kinds and it's approximately:

1/4 cup olive oil
four garlic cloves, a cast iron pan works well for crushing them when you're camping
generous handful of rosemary (or thyme, oregano, or sage)
plenty of cracked black pepper

Usually I'll add a squeeze of lemon, especially with poultry, and the herbs can be switched up for whatever suits your fancy. I season the steaks with salt just before grilling.

Cherry tomatoes and green beans, both from my potager, were sautéed up for a colourful side, while this juicy tomato salad was prepared on my lap while sitting around the campfire.

Tools? A bowl and a Swiss Army knife. I had fresh yellow and red tomatoes from my garden, which I carved up and let drop into a bowl to mix in their own juices. Next I cut up half a red onion (in the same way you would carve an apple and eat it slice by slice) and let that fall into the bowl as well. I tore up a generous handful of fresh herbs -oregano, basil and thyme-, drizzled olive oil over everything, and tossed the salad together with salt and pepper. Voilà, summer in a bowl.

After dinner I got to work on the S'mores, cranking them out three at a time to satiate the needs of the little campers. For the record, open faced is the only way to go, or else the cracker/chocolate ratio was way off. I like having a warm log to toast the graham crackers and warm the chocolate, while I brown the marshmallows. Perfection!

Alright, so far the Beef Chronicles have been pretty tame, I'll be the first to admit; however, it's been like 35 degrees all week around here and cooking is a chore in that heat. The Beef Bourguignon is just going to have to wait until the cool fall weather.
It's going to be fabulous paired with my ripening squash.

Hey! Tomorrow is my birthday! We're celebrating on the weekend, but tomorrow I'm going to go see the much talked about Julie & Julia with my sister. Maybe they'll cook some beef in the movie and I'll get inspired!

Previously in The Beef Chronicles: Rib Steak with Buerre Rouge and Corn with Feta-Mint Butter

Sunday, August 16, 2009

UtHC Virtual Jam Swap '09

All badges by

Calling all jam enthusiasts!

This fall, Under the High Chair is hosting its very first virtual jam swap and quite possibly the first event of this kind in the blogosphere! Come October, this will be the place to show off your home preserves and showcase how you captured summer in a jar.

Your last name doesn't have to be Smucker or Smith to contribute to the event; most of us are amateurs in the ancient art of home canning. Don't be shy! The goal is to inspire and be inspired.

No, we're not going to actually swap real jars of jam, as in mailing them all over creation. Somehow that just doesn't seem practical, frugal or even responsible in this day and age. Nope, no real jam, but if you will follow the simple steps to participate, I will provide the platform to bring us together to swap recipes and ideas.
(My husband is urging me to include that should a few of you expressly wish to bless us with a jar of jam here and there over the summer, we certainly won't turn them down. Ahem, our shipping address can be provided with a simple request.) ;)

Here's how to participate:

Step 1: Can it. Literally. Make your jam, jelly, fruit butter, marmalade or what ever you are inspired to create. Have fun and pay attention! Do NOT try to Tweet while home canning.

Step 2: Photograph and blog about your preserves. If you don't have a blog, don't worry, but do snap a photo to include with your submission. Do this anytime over the summer, but preferably before October 31. Include this post as a link in you blog post and feel free to grab one of our adorable badges designed by Jess Spring to decorate you post or sidebar.

Step 3: Send me an email aimee(dot)c(dot)bourque(at)gmail(dot)com with Jam Swap as the subject line containing the following info:
-your name
-your blog's name and url
-the name of your jam
-a link to your jam blog post with jam recipe*
-a photo of your jam

Step 4: (optional) Help spread the word! Twitter this event, write about it on your blog or discuss it over afternoon tea with friends. Thank you!

*(Please note that your submission should be for a jam recipe, not just a recipe that includes jam! Thanks.)

That's it!
The Under the High Chair Jam Swap '09 roundup will be posted in early November, a more specific date will be confirmed later in the summer. Questions? Comments? Speak up in the comments section below or drop me an email.

I can't wait to hear everyone's stories and see the creations from your kitchens.

Good luck and Happy Canning!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Beef Chronicles: Rib Steak with Beurre Rouge & Corn with Feta-Mint Butter

Now what are these Beef Chronicles all about? Get an introduction here.

Our first meal of beef was predestined.

One package in the 133lb haul had not been vacuumed-packed properly and was henceforth the only obvious choice for that night's dinner.

"Hmm, I guess we'll have to eat this first." I remarked to Danny, thankful it wasn't a package of liver that was slipping around in it's plastic shrink-wrap.

Apparently fate wanted us to start with steak. Rib Steak, to be exact. That was fine by me as I was in need of a quick meal as a result of dealing with the post-vacation-stress-disorder still manifesting itself in our home.

The day after we picked up our beef from the farm, I had made a grocery list of items I thought I better have on hand for cooking all this meat, items like red wine, sherry vinegar, and shallots. Sure enough, the recipe for Faux Filet au Beurre Rouge from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, called for French shallots and red wine. Apparently my intuition paid off.
It sounds very fancy, but was really the quickest of suppers: Preheat grill, season steaks, grill to desired doneness, transfer to a plate and top with a generous slice of red-wine butter. Voila. Tony's dish calls for a New York strip, but I used the pre-selected-for-me rib steak; pretty much any cut of steak would work for this recipe.

I served it with corn on the cob that had been tossed with a feta-mint butter, a recipe I've also included because it is rapturous.

Dinner with two different flavored butters? Julia Child would have been proud.

The red-wine butter is easy to make, yet tastes surprisingly sophisticated when melted and mixed with the steaks juices. It becomes a sauce in it's own way and elevates a rather boring steak to something, well, something worth writing about!

As for the beef itself? Sublime. Very lean. Flavorful. I can't wait to try more. We're off on another camping trip this weekend and I'm bringing--guess?--more steaks.

Beurre Rouge or Red-Wine Butter
adapted from Les Halles Cookbook

This recipe makes a lot--enough to top a dozen or so steaks--but it can keep for a while if it is well-wrapped in the freezer. It's nice to have something like this garnish a good steak, because, as Tony Bourdain puts it, you never know when your deadbeat friends are going to drop by demanding a meal.

1/2 cup red wine

1 shallot, finely chopped

8 oz butter, softened

1 handful of flat parsley
, finely chopped
salt and pepper

In a small pot combine the wine and shallot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated, taking care not to let the shallots burn. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and let cool.
In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter, shallot-wine mixture, the parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Scrap out of the bowl with a rubber spatula and place in the center of a large piece of plastic wrap. Gently form into a 1-inch diameter log, shaping and squeezing, like rolling a nori roll. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap tightly and refrigerated until the butter is firm enough to slice.
Serve over grilled steaks.

Corn on the Cob with Mint-Feta Butter
Adapted from Gourmet
August 2009

4 ears of corn, shucked and cut in half

2 tbsp butter, softened

2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled or grated

3 tbsp minced fresh mint

1/4 tsp (generous) kosher salt

In a large bowl, combine the butter, feta, minced fresh mint, and salt. Mix well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the corn pieces. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the corn kernels are just tender.

Using tongs, remove the corn from the water, drain slightly, and place it into the bowl with the feta-butter mixture. Toss the corn in the butter mixture until all of the pieces are well-coated.
Serve immediately.
Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Beef Chronicles: an introduction

Under the High Chair is happy to bring you...The Beef Chronicles!

What's this?
A new series on UtHC featuring beef in both classic recipes, such as Beef Bourguignon and steak tartare, and a few of my own creations. I'll cook almost every cut imaginable on a side of beef, and display the results, be they good or bad. With any luck, every meal will be a celebration of this noble animal and I'll learn a lot along the way.

Why beef?
We recently purchased a side of locally raised, grass fed Angus beef. It's hard not to be inspired after loading package after package of beautifully butchered young beef into one's freezer. After we made a glorious list of all the cuts, feeling pleased as punch over our padded freezer, I decided that this young cow deserved a tribute. We feel particularly blessed to have access to such fine beef and it deserves better treatment than getting groped with some Montreal Steak Spice and merely slapped on a grill.

Why now?
I need an exercise, a kick in the pants, so to speak, and a new focus on UtHC where the main ingredient isn't sugar! I tend not to blog everyday meals, mostly because I feel I have nothing new to share and honestly, they are pretty boring, what with two picky eaters to cook for and whatnot. Believe it or not, this new project will be a challenge for me.

Why would cooking a hundred and thirty three pounds of beef be stretching my culinary repertoire?
For one thing, cooking massive amounts of meat isn't really my forte. As a youngster, I grew up mainly vegetarian, as my mother had some insight into the questionable world of processed meat and we couldn't afford to buy organic all the time. While we raised some meat ourselves on our 1/4 acre (chicken & rabbit), we simply did without others (beef), so I seldom had a chance to learn to cook red meat.

Also, in my restaurant days I wasn't Forever Garde Manger Girl for nothing. Give me twelve dozen oysters to shuck or 48 quail to de-bone and I could give anyone a serious run for their knife skills, but seldom was this five-foot-three-inch girl allowed near the four-legged creatures.
Anyway, (and this is going to sound like a food snob pretty much any way it comes out), most of the fine dining establishments I worked for didn't even serve beef, so I wouldn't have gotten much expertise under my belt had I worked the meat station.

The Cuts
Here's what I'll be choosing from over the next few months--and hopefully well into the winter.

Cross Rib Roast
Filet Mignon
Bavette (skirt steak)
Veal Shank
Sirloin Point Roast
Spare Ribs
Blade Roast
Flank Steak
Stewing Veal
Veal Cutlets
T-Bone Steak
Minute Steak
Rib Steak
Sirloin Steak

The last three are intended for the cat, but you never know, I may get inspired to try them out. I'm not much of an offal-lover, but maybe I'll try a steak & kidney pie sometime.
I'm looking forward to my very first batch of Osso Bucco with the veal shanks, and also devising ways to use the stewing veal--somehow I ended up with ten bags of it. That's a lot of stew.

Please provide!! Send me your family recipes, give me your best tips, request a recipe; just talk to me!
I'll also be relying on my Twitter friends for input as I go along; the first question being:

"Can I even consider a decent carpaccio if the beef has been frozen?"

Hope so. I love carpaccio.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Grilled Avocado & Smoky Corn Salad and Our Dinner with Julie & Cheryl

Meeting Calgary food bloggers Cheryl and Julie didn't go exactly to plan, but isn't that usually the case when you are looking forward to something?

On the day of the appointed dinner date we drove into Calgary from Jasper, Alberta. It was our second day of driving, meaning that clothes were rumpled, faces and hands were sticky and everyone was a little out of sorts. Jasper to Calgary is an easy 4 hour drive, but a breakfast stop at Moraine Lake stretched the journey to nearly 6. Making this drive without seeing some of the best scenery in North America is just silly and it was worth the detour.

We pulled into Calgary around lunchtime, but it wasn't until we were on the doorstep of another friends' home (coincidentally our hosts for the weekend and away on vacation themselves), did we discover that their neighbor had left us the wrong key and our access was denied. That meant no naps for the boys, no much-needed cup of tea for me, no fresh sundress for dinner--just packing everyone back into their car seats and freshening up in the car wash bathroom. It didn't help that said neighbor was on a cruise and unreachable; we were pretty much stuck until our friends returned from New Brunswick that evening and opened up their place for us.
Of course, by that time we were saying our 'Hellos' to Cheryl, Julie and their families, where the TGIF celebrations were already in full swing.

I immediately felt at home in Cheryl's comfortable home; gorgeous splashes of color on the walls and exquisite handmade quilts draped luxuriously over the furniture gave the place such a warmth, it would thaw the most timid of visitors. I soon forgot about my frustrating afternoon, especially after a few (OK, a lot) of these jicama sticks with chili salt and a glass of bubbly.

Cheryl--actually the entire family--had prepared quite the spread:

Watermelon and Jicama Sticks with Chili Salt
Hubby's Famous Arkison Burgers w/ house ketchup
Grilled Avocado and Corn Salad with Smoky Caesar Dressing

Sour Cream Ice Cream
Cherry Hand Pies

Can I just say for the record that everything was stellar?!! Cheryl outdid herself and created the perfect, relaxed summer BBQ. The kids chowed down on buffalo hot dogs while I assembled the tastiest burger of the summer to date. Of course the presence of a wriggly one-year-old on my lap prevented me from getting any photos of the masterpiece, but Julie has a great shot in her recap of the night. I can't wait to re-create the burgers with our own fresh beef.

The kids...before Noah and Julie's son started a shoving match and Mateo swiped Noah's hot dog

After two days of road food, I couldn't get enough of the avocado and corn salad! It was indeed smoky and the grilled avocado gave it a sensual twist--ideal for a warm sultry night as that one. And those sour cherry hand pies! Killer. Lucky for us, Cheryl gives the recipe here, which you should promptly start prepping for because they were too good.

Julie provides the recipe for Sour Cream Ice Cream and plenty more great photos over at Dinner with Julie. Oh, and here Cheryl describes the evening as a perfect first date. This was one well documented dinner, but what do you expect when 3 food bloggers unite, really?

For the record, I can confirm that Julie does not have an assistant, yet she skillfully manages a career in freelance,TV & radio, plus mothers, cooks and blogs almost daily. Wonder Woman! Also Cheryl somehow fills the roll of full-time mom, food blogger, career woman and expert quilter without the help of a nanny. Did I mention she has a baby and a three-year-old?
One thing they both have--and I should say this because they are our backbone-- are supportive husbands who know how to fix a plate of food that is camera-worthy AND keep the kids fed.
Cheers to the men behind these food blogs!

Romaine, Grilled Avocado and Smoky Corn Salad with Chipotle-Cesar Dressing

adapted from Gourmet

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 ears of corn, shucked

2 firm-ripe 6- to 8-oz avocados, halved and pitted but not peeled

1 head romaine (1 lb), tough outer leaves discarded and head quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch strips

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over hot charcoal (high heat for gas);

Put parmesan in a medium bowl and add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in lime juice, garlic, chipotles, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper.

Rub vegetable oil on corn and cut sides of avocados, then season with 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper. Grill avocados, cut sides down, and corn, covered only if using a gas grill, turning corn occasionally, until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Peel avocados and thinly slice. Cut corn kernels from cobs.
Toss romaine with dressing and serve topped with avocado and corn.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

WFD? Peach & Ginger Glazed Salmon with Baby Beets

Last night's dinner effort started off as a sort of purge; brown rice, boiled beets and grilled salmon. Something healthy to follow those recent meals of gummy worms and other junky road food, as well as forgettable airport fare.

The boys will eat salmon if it is coated in something that is sticky and sweet, but I couldn't bring myself to make a boring old teriyaki. I spotted a nearly empty jar of peach and ginger jam in the fridge, and that became the base of my marinade/glaze. I heightened the ginger kick by adding a fresh knob of ginger, and gave the dish an Asian slant with a splash of soy and rice vinegar.

At dinner, Noah inhaled his entire fillet, licked his fork and announced,

"I LOVE fish!".

I about fell off my chair. If you only knew how picky this child is.

The baby beets were picked that morning from our garden; simply boiled and peeled, they almost look like big black olives in this photo! I don't trim their ends when boiling, but leave the stem and root on so I don't loose any colour or flavour when cooking. I start them in cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer gently, until I can slide a knife tip into their centers with ease. I peel them while they are still hot, using my fingers to rub off the skins.
I forgot how truly great home grown beets are. Ah, the sweetness!

Peach & Ginger Glazed Grilled Salmon

I think the next time I make this dish, I'll include a side of grilled peaches. Mmm, true summer fare!
serves 4

2 heaping tablespoons peach & ginger jam or preserves
1 knob of ginger, about an inch square
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
pinch of white pepper

4 portions of salmon fillets

In a small food processor, blitz up the jam, garlic and ginger until well chopped. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar and pepper and mix well. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the marinade to glaze the salmon while cooking and pour the rest over the fish. Turn gently to coat and marinade for an hour or up to four hours.

Preheat a grill and grill salmon for a few minutes on each side until almost cooked through (salmon should be served slightly rare). Brush with reserves peach glaze and remove from heat. Serve hot.

Monday, August 03, 2009

In Which I Meet Food Bloggers

N & M on the flight home

"No food in the fridge, suitcases burping up their contents everywhere, cranky kids & an overgrown garden, but it's all good b/c we are HOME!"

That was my Tweet this morning, well, more like afternoon. I dragged my butt out of bed at 7 (4:00AM BC time) with the best intentions of getting a jump on my day, but I promptly lay down on the sofa when I discovered that my body refused to function. Two and a half hours later I awoke to the sounds of Mateo chattering in the nursery and that was that. I played catch-up all day.

We arrived home last night and already the suitcases have spilled all over the living room, their entrails forming various paths throughout the house to the laundry room, the office and up the stairs. Although I make a point of leaving a clean home when we go away, we only get to enjoy it for about ten minutes upon our return before it gets ransacked.

Still it is wonderful to be back as Noah so aptly phrased it this morning as he walked from room to room:
"Mama, I love our new home."

Of course nothing is new, but I guess when you've been dragged around as much as our boys have over the last few weeks, a place to call home is a welcome site. They were so tired on the flight home to Montreal, that Mateo fell asleep while we were still on the tarmac and Noah almost immediately after take-off. I actually got to sip a drink and watch 'Cake Boss'. Amazing. (the experience, not the show--it's pretty lame.)

OK, so there's no food in the fridge (we had Mini Wheats for lunch, Mama's Meatballs from the freezer for supper) and we haven't yet picked up our cow, so I'm not back up to cooking and blogging anything just yet ( psst! meal donations are most welcome), however here are a few interesting links you might enjoy...

I've been lucky enough to meet up with several of Canada's finest West Coast food bloggers in the past month, and they've all posted about their experiences. It's pretty obvious who's the slacker here! Yep, moi.

Sue Robbins from Foodie Suz flew in to Montreal on business recently and I just couldn't have this smart foodie traipsing around town without a proper guide; so I offered my services. We blitzed several of my favorite spots and Sue proved to be fabulous company. Seems like she enjoyed herself too as per her post on the morning in Montreal.

When we planned a few nights in Calgary on our way to British Columbia, I thought, maybe, just maybe, Julie or Cheryl would want to hook up for coffee or a drink. Cheryl outdid herself by inviting the gang of us--husbands and kids, too--over for a BBQ. Plenty of good times ensued as a result.
Here's a recap on Dinner with Julie that will make your stomach growl and includes Cheryl's recipe for the Sour Cream Ice Cream that we devoured. Also visit Backseat Gourmet for Cheryl's very honest behind-the-scenes review of the day and the meal. You gotta hand it to her, she did such a beautiful job. Plenty of photos in both posts including a few where I look very short (I am).

I'm not making any promises on when my recount of the event will be up; that's entirely up to how fast I bounce back from to trip and get things ship-shape around here. And I'm talking about YOU, weeds.


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