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Guiltless Leek and Potato Soup (in only 4 ingredients!)

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Leek season is upon us! It's a fleeting time of year - a brief period of time when it makes any kind of budgetary sense to buy leeks. Onions and I have a troubled relationship made complicated by my uncooperative digestive system. Leeks however, have never done me wrong. What's more, leeks, like other onions, are great for lowering cholesterol, which is all well and good as long as you don't slather them in cream and butter, which are the leeks most common pot-fellows. So, with that in mind, here is a super easy recipe for leek and potato soup sans cream (but with butter). I think this would be worth a shot with margarine, or even without butter at all, but I can't say I've tried it. Let me know how it works out if you do!

You'll need:
  • Soup pot
  • hand blender (other blenders are fine, just messier)
  • 3 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tbsp butter (depending on how much leek you get...they tend to vary a lot in size)
  • two russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
 Let's do it!:
  •  To prepare your leeks:
    •  wash all visible dirt off the outsides to keep your cutting board clean
    • Chop off the dark green leaves, leaving light green ones (they're perfectly fine in a soup)
    • Slice off the root and about 1/2-1 inch of the bottom white section, leaving as much as possible.
    • cut in half the long way. It doesn't have to be perfect- remember you're going to puree these anyways
    • Wash out all the dirt you can (I like to give them a good scrub using a vegetable brush) from the outside and inside of the leaves
    • Slice width-wise to get nice, manageable half-rounds of leek. 
  • Melt butter in your soup pot.
  • Add the leeks, and stir to coat.
  • Cook down for anywhere from 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until your leeks look translucent. I set my burner to medium heat and it worked well.
  • Add potatoes, stir.
  • Add bay leaf, if you're using one.
  • Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until potatoes begin to soften.
  • Add stock.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for another ten minutes or so.
  • Let cool.
  • Remove bay leaf .
  • Once cooled, blend with the hand blender.
Serve hot, with freshly cracked black pepper if you like.

SlowCooked Peanut and Spinach Tofu

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I've recently added a slow cooker to my kitchen, and it's completely changed the way M and I eat throughout the week. This is our current favourite thing to have on hand. It packs a serious amount of protein, and is a great way to eat spinach.

You'll need:
  • a slow cooker/crock pot
  • a skillet

  • 2 blocks of firm tofu, rinsed and cut into one-inch cubes
  • 1/2-1 cup of peanut satay sauce (I like President's Choice Memories of Szechuan)
  • 1 cup peanut butter (M likes crunchy best)
  • 1/4 cup terriyaki sauce
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger (mine are heaping)
  • 5-10 oz of baby spinach (I put about half a container into cook, and then add fresh spinach to the dish throughout the week, to liven it up without wilting)
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, crushed roughly (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

 To make this goodness:

Brown the tofu in the skillet by lightly frying it, using cooking spray or olive oil. Set aside.

In a bowl, stir together everything except the tofu and spinach. Move this sauce to the slow cooker.

Add the tofu, and stir. As the tofu cooks in the sauce, check on it every once in a while to evaluate its consistency. I like my sauce fairly thick, but if you like it thin, add a little more water until you reach your desired sauciness. Because you won't lose any water in the cooker, what you see is what you will pretty much get, though it will of course thicken a little through cooking, and will pull together nicely.

Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

At 3.5 hours (or half an hour before you turn it off), add your spinach, mixing it in gently. The goal is for the spinach to wilt, but not get too icky.

Serve hot, and don't be afraid to add more spinach ALWAYS MORE SPINACH!

xo
A

 

Sweet and Spicy Squash Soup

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Unfortunately, my photo makes the soup look a little blue. It's not.

Butternut squash is a great fall staple, and it's becoming a regular in my house. This soup makes excellent use of its nutty sweetness by balancing the squash with silky coconut and a bright kick of ginger.

You're gonna need:

  • a big soup pot
  • a blender or some kind (preferably immersion/hand)
  • 1-1.5 butternut squash, peeled and in big chunks
  • 1 onion, diced/chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp minced ginger (you can add this as you go along, tasting until you've added what's right for you and your buds)
  • 1-2 dried chillies (again, evaluate your own interest in spice)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can coconut milk (light if you can get it, but I used the regular cooking kind)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional)
  • freshly cracked black pepper 

To peel and dice your squash:

Use a heavy kitchen knife (I used the biggest one I had) to slice the top and bottom "caps" off the squash, creating a flat bottom to make it stand safely.

Use a potato peeler to skim the skin off the squash - try to take the layer of tough skin off without removing too much of the flesh.

Cut the squash lengthwise and widthwise, into four pieces. Scoop out the guts with a spoon. Cut the now cleaned and naked squash into large chunks.


To make the soup:

Sautée the onion, chillies, and ginger in the olive oil over medium heat until the mixture is fragrant and the onion becomes translucent.
Stir in the butternut squash and cook for about 5 minutes.

Add stock, curry, and coconut milk, mixing well. 
Cook until the squash has become tender.
Once the squash is softened, blend right in the pot if you are fortunate enough to own a hand blender.
Serve hot, seasoned with fresh black pepper.

Variation: if you like your soup thicker than thinner, try including a cauliflower as a thickener. Add cauliflower florets to the first mixture so it can absorb all the soup's great flavours.



Yogurt-Dill Salmon

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Wowzers has it been a long time since we posted anything! We would like to apologize for this long delay. Amanda and I have both been very busy in the last few months and finally got around to cooking again! We both got great new kitchen appliances that we are just dying to try out! :)

As we are supposed to be eating fish twice a week, I try to make a conscious effort to include it in my diet. I usually end up eating a can of sardines (I know, probably not the best...) or salmon to bake. Salmon is probably my favourite fish and it's great for my cholesterol!

In light of this, I decided to thaw my salmon in the fridge yesterday while I was at work. I knew I only had about a half hour to prepare supper since I had an evening appointment and salmon recipes are usually quite quick to make.

Thanks to the wonderful Martha Stewart, I was able to adapt her simple, delicious and quick roasted salmon recipe with ingredients in my pantry.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup 2% natural yogurt
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dry dill
  • Salmon filet
Prepare:
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees F
  2. Mix the yogurt, mustard, parsley and dill in a bowl
  3. Place your salmon filet, skin down, on a lined cookie sheet
  4. Spread your yogurt mixture on top of your salmon
  5. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked (it will be flaky)
That's it! I served it with boiled potatoes which take approximately the same time. Perfect and healthy dinner! :)

Enjoy!

-CK

Light Turkey-Stuffed Peppers

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Stuffed peppers. I always thought it was a very complex and long process to make. It just always looks so delicious and exotic in cookbooks, so I never thought I had the culinary prowess to come up with something so complex.

Last time I had my friend Annie over though, we decided to give it a shot. What's the worst thing that could've happened - except, you know, burning down the house? We substituted the traditional rice for couscous (because neither of us can cook rice properly. Guilty.), and added some vegetables to the mix.

Luckily for us, we didn't burn down my brand new condo and our dish turned out to be absolutely delectable and fairly easy to make! I would definitely file this under the "easy" category. PLUS, it's a great dish to please the crowds! Not sure what to cook your partner tonight but want to prepare a low-budget fancy date? Turkey-Stuffed Peppers! Having people over and not sure what to serve them? Turkey-Stuffed Peppers! Yes, this recipe is quite versatile!

Seriously, you won't regret it.

Ingredients (yields 4 portions):

  • 2 large red peppers, halfed and cleaned out
  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • Half a pound of extra-lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 large zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic (more or less, depending on your love for garlic)
  • 2 tsp Italian herbs seasonning
  • Grated cheese of your choice (we used Light cheddar)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Water

Method:

  1. Cook the couscous according to package instructions (I simply boil some water and pour it over the couscous in a bowl. Ready in 5 minutes!)
  2. In the meantime, fry up your onions and garlic in olive oil until your onion starts becoming translucent.
  3. Add your turkey to the pan and cook it completely.
  4. Add the zucchini, the italian herbs, salt and pepper, and continue cooking for approximately 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste and a tbsp of water, mix everything well. 
  6. Once your meat mixture is ready, add it to your couscous and mix well.
  7. Stuff your half peppers with your couscous/meat mixture and place them in a deep oven-proof dish.
  8. Add about 1.5 tbsp of water to the bottom of your dish, cover with alluminum foil and place in pre-heated oven at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the alluminum foil and top the peppers with cheese.
  10. Place back in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Have some left over mixture? Freeze it and save it for your next event! 

Enjoy!

- CK


Seafood Gratin

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C came back into town for the week end and we just couldn't resist getting back into our old habit of cooking together. Here's what we came up with this time:

Ingredients (for 2 large servings or 4 small servings):

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • half a bunch of broccoli, chopped
  • 5 white mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup seafood mix (I got the 10$ pack of frozen seafood from Super C - but feel free to use whatever seafood you prefer)
  • Half a shallot, chopped
  • Grated mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil the potatoes in a small sauce pan.
  3. In a separate pan, boil your seafood for a few minutes, simply to let them melt (Note: If your seafood isn't precooked, make sure it is cooked before proceeding with this recipe).
  4. In the meantime, mix your shallots, mushrooms and broccoli in a bowl.
  5. Once your seafood is ready, add to the veggies. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix. (Note: next time, I'll try adding coriander to the mixture. Feel free to add whatever spice you may think is appropriate for your taste buds)
  6. Once your potatoes are boiled, drain and add the milk. Mash until the potatoes and the milk have been properly combined.
  7. In large ramekins, layer the potatoes at the bottom and add the seafood mixture on top. 
  8. Top it off with mozzarella cheese (quantity to your liking) and slide in the oven until the cheese has melted, approximately 5-10 minutes. 
  9. Serve immediately. 
Enjoy!

- CK

Mixed Beans Salad

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While attending a BBQ back home a few weeks ago, my aunt prepared a bean salad/dip that she served with multigrain tostitos. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself eating quite a large amount of it! i.e. amazing deliciousness.

In an attempt to create something similar, I came up with the following:

Ingredients (5-7 servings):

  • 1 cup Garbanzo beans (Primo brand)
  • 1 cup White kidney beans (Irresistibles brand)
  • 1 cup canned corn, drained
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 diced white onion
  • 3/4 diced sweet red pepper
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 large minced garlic cloves
  • 1.5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • optional: red kidney beans - note that the more beans you add, the more carbs you add. 
  • Mutligrain tostitos scoops
Very simply mix everything together! Add 6 crushed tostitos to each serving. I wouldn't advise adding the tostitos to the main mix as they might get soggy from the vinegrette.

This salad is perfect for a potluck, BBQ or even as an appetizer when you have guests coming over! Serve them in the scoops and you've got yourself some healthy finger food! :)

Nutritional Information (1 portion - if parted in 7):
Salad + Tostitos
Calories: 270.42
Carbs: 40.33 g
Protein: 11.03 g
Fat: 7.55 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg 

Enjoy!

- CK

Guillaume's Cooking: Chicken Quinoa Salad

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Before we head into this absolutely delicious recipe, I would like to introduce our new monthly guest blogger: Guillaume! While he is a work colleague of mine, he's worked in restaurants for many years. So, I'm sure he'll bring some great insight into the art of cooking! :) One of his recipes will be featured every second wednesday of every month. So make sure to check in! Welcome Guillaume!


This is one of my simple “go-to” dish I do very often as it requires very little preparation and it is enjoyed by all of my friends. If you wish to save a bit of time during the preparation, you can easily replace the tomato sauce by sun-dried tomato pesto or regular pesto. This dish incorporates many elements of a Greek salad with the feta bringing all components of the dish together with its saltiness and creaminess. The richness of the roasted pine nuts accentuates the texture of the quinoa. The use of quinoa instead of pasta keeps the dish light and fresh.

Preparation:
25 to 30 minutes

Ingredients:
Chicken
  • 2 chicken breasts (diced)
  • 1 Lemon or lime
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Quinoa
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • ½ cup of stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • ½ cup of water

Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup of finely chopped white onion
  • 1 finely chopped garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • ¼ cup of pine nuts

Vegetables
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped red pepper
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped green pepper
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped cucumber
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup of feta (crumbled)

Method:
  1. Place the chicken breasts in a plastic bag and add the juice from one lemon or lime. Add the cinnamon and bit of salt and pepper to taste. (the cinnamon can be replaced by oregano, thyme, cumin, or any other combination of spices you may enjoy). Vacuum seal the bag and place in the refrigerator while cutting the vegetables.
  2.  In a saucepan, boil water and blanche the tomatoes for five minutes. Remove the skin and dice the tomatoes. Keep some of the liquid used to blanche the tomatoes in a cup.
  3. In another saucepan, bring to boil ½ cup of water and ½ cup of stock. Incorporate the quinoa and cook on medium heat, stirring intermittently, until all the liquid has evaporated. Let the quinoa cool for 5 minutes.
  4.  In the saucepan used to blanche the tomatoes, combine a bit of oil and add the finely chopped white onions and garlic. Add the diced tomatoes, the oregano, and some salt and pepper to taste. Let the onions, garlic and tomatoes reduce at medium heat stirring once in while. As the tomatoes, onions and garlic reduce, add some of the liquid used to blanche the tomatoes as needed to help build the sauce base. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Lightly roast the pine nuts in a pan. In a blender, incorporate the tomato sauce and half of the roasted pine nuts. Blend until the texture of the sauce is nice and smooth. Let the sauce sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Cook the chicken in a pan or on the barbecue. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before dicing it.
  7.  In a bowl, combine the quinoa and tomato sauce, the rest of the pine nuts, the vegetables, the feta and the chicken.
  8. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Creamy Herb and Garlic Orzo Salad

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As mentioned in my previous post, we spent the beautiful Canada Day week end at our friend's cottage. We had quite the relaxing time, so we came back extremely rested, our ears ringing from all the fireworks and surely, our bellies full!

Before we left to part-take in the shenanigans, I had asked one of A's co-workers for an amazing salad recipe she whipped up for a BBQ we attended. With a few adjustments (the original recipe called for Feta cheese and capers, which I'm not a big fan of), I came up with a warm, yet refreshing salad that everybody enjoyed! 

Prep time: 15 minutes. BOOM!

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 cups Orzo
  • 1 cup diced black olives
  • 1.5 tbsp diced sun-dried tomatoes (make sure to keep the oil it's dipped in)
  • 1 tbsp herbs and garlic Boursin cheese
  • lime juice to taste
  • 1 extra tsp sun-dried tomatoes oil
  • 1/2 tbsp basil
Do it up:
  1. Cook the Orzo according to the package (it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to cook)
  2. Once your Orzo is ready, place it in a salad bowl and add the olives, the sun-dried tomatoes, the extra oil, and the basil. Mix well.
  3. Then add the Boursin cheese. The orzo will still be warm enough that the cheese will melt when mixed, creating a creamy looking salad.
  4. Finally, add the lime juice to taste, just to give it the kick it needs.
Pair this with spicy lime and chicken skewers, and you've got yourself a full meal! :) 


Enjoy!

- CK 


Dill Broccoli Salad

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C and I have just come back from a helluva long weekend at an amazing cottage on Leslie Lake. While we were there we revisited some favorite recipes from last year's cottage adventures, and mixed up some new ones. Because it was gonna be hot as heck, I focused on salads this year, making one coleslaw, and one pasta salad. M and I had prepared pretty awesomely for the cottage, but came back to empty pantries at home, so tonight I mixed together some leftover ingredients from the first two, and came up with something pretty tasty for a hot summer's night.

You're gonna need:
1 bag (roughly 5 cups) of broccoli, julienned (I had a bag of PC broccoli slaw in the fridge)
Half an onion, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced in cookies and quartered
1/4 fresh dill, chopped
PC Artichoke and asiago salad dressing (or anything creamy and cool)
a small handful of feta cheese, crumbled
tons of freshly cracked black pepper

Mix it all together and eat your heart out! Delicious with cheese pizza.

Kafta Burger Patties

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BBQ season is upon us! For what has now become a traditional annual cottage week end, this Canada day week end will be spent eating and bathing at a friend's cottage. Unfortunately, cottage-time often means quick and easy meals, which often equals store-bought hot dogs and burgers, and whatever other fast food you can find.

Since both A and I are trying to watch what we eat, I inspired myself from last year's sweet and sour chicken skewers and amazing pasta salad, and decided to prepare everything ahead. That way, we'll make sure that we eat right and light. As I'm sure a whole bunch of other posts will follow post-cottage, I'll give you a pre-taste of the meals we'll be enjoying at the cottage. Let's start with burgers!

Image Source
This burger patty is a traditional Lebanese recipe (a.k.a Kafta) and is absolutely fantastic! These patties cost me around 7$ to make, if not less (for 10 regular size patties).

You'll need:

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • half an onion, diced
  • half a bunch of parsley, cut up into the tiniest pieces possible
  • 2 stalks green onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
The steps are very simple: 
  1. Mix all your ingredients in a bowl, making sure your veggies mesh well with the meat (think of it as kneading the meat)
  2. Once everything is mixed well, form 10 balls, approximately the size of golf balls (maybe slightly bigger)
  3. Take each ball and flatten it on the palm of your hand. Note: If the meat is sticking to your hand, don't hesitate to dab a little bit of cold water into the palm of your hand.

That's it. That's all. If you're not planning on eating them right away, freeze them!

If your boyfriend is anything like mine and likes the raw taste of meat, avoid buying the pre-made-fully-packed-with-fake-food burger patties, and simply add salt and pepper to a pound of lean ground beef and form patties. 

Enjoy BBQ season and stay tuned for our other cottage recipes! 

- CK

Sparkling Summer Salad: Or, How I learned to stop slicing and love the mandolin,

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I get a terrible feeling when I come to the end of a recipe I have all the ingredients for (ish) only to read the final instruction: crockpot-ing, immersion blending, dutch oven-ing...or any number of other final touches for which I don't have the right kitchen tool (yet!). So, having recently acquired a very handy mandolin from the previous owners of my new house (when someone leaves something in a cupboard still in the box, that's a housewarming gift right?), I've spent the better part of the afternoon julienning everything slice-able in my fridge (which is more than you'd think! Skinny cheese sticks anyone? Strawberry stick-men? Long long banana slices? No?).

The very tasty outcome of this little experiment is a pretty awesome summer salad: it's crunchy, tart, filling, and refreshing, and above all, easy (especially if you have a mandolin or any other kind of slicing tool).

You're gonna want:
A large bowl
A little bowl
A mandolin (you lucky duck)

In your big bowl toss together:

3 stalks of celery, sliced thick
half a cucumber, julienned
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
2 granny smith (or other tart) apples, julienned [to do this, cut the apple into 4 sides, then attempt to slice - I kept the peels on)
l large handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

In your small bowl mix:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp sugar (also optional - i wanted my dressing a little sweeter than lemony)
large grain salt to taste (I used a citrus chili salt mix and it was perfect)
cracked black pepper to taste

Drizzle the dressing over your salad mix and stir around until well distributed. Cover and keep in the fridge for an hour to let the flavours combine if you have the time, or serve fresh immediately!



WontonMama in the Byward Market

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Patio season is upon us! These sunny afternoons, long balmy evenings, and cool night breezes are the perfect excuse for leaving work early or staying up late on the Market's trendy street side hotspots. Though these trendy bistros and pubs have always been popular, affordable food in the market used to be blah at best. Lately though, the state of food in the city's hottest quarter is taking a turn for the delicious: there's no shortage of tasty and original culinary opportunities these days - the new challenge is getting the most bang for your buck.

Situated on the north side of Clarence, across from the ever popular Cornerstone, WontonMama is a relative newcomer to the Market's densest food strip. Though their website doesn't capitalize on it, the small restaurant is warmly decorated and the atmosphere is nothing short of cozy elegance. The staff is attentive and very polite. Briefly put, it's the kind of space you'd feel comfortable lounging in, sipping your white sangria for a few hours, and chatting with your girlfriends. All this is great of course, but is nothing without delicious, well-priced food, and luckily, WontonMama has got that too! A hidden GEM in the sushi department, and a real contender in the world of urban pad thai, this little restaurant punches above its cost-class in a serious and awesome way. At our table of six, not a single girl was disappointed with her meal, or her bill. Wontonmama offers great summer specials that we couldn't resist: 20$ pitchers of sangria (we had the white...very yummy and chock full of mangoes), 12$ for 3 appetizers (we sampled the very shareable edamame, spring rolls, and shrimp dumplings...those last ones were  a little messier to share so just get your own!) and of 15$ for 3 main-meal-quality sushi rolls. I took advantage of this last special to make up my meal, and man, was it good. Wontonmama proves that good, fresh sushi can be savored in a great atmosphere for an extremely reasonable price: my final bill (sangria (we had 2 L in the end), sushi, and 1/5th of the 3 apps (more than enough)) came to 28$.

So, if you like all of the above things as much as I do, get your butt on down to 109 Clarence street, or call (613) 241-0990 to make a reservation. Enjoy!

Restaurant Review: Big Easy's Seafood and Steak House

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Last night, two of my close girlfriends and I (let’s call them Nads and Annie) had our monthly girls-night-out. While we usually prefer a low key get together with a nice bottle of wine and take-out Chinese food, we decided to jazz it up a little. With Nads having recently travelled to New Orleans, it was only fitting that we try out Southern delicacies at Big Easy’s Seafood and Steakhouse on Preston, a place none of us had ever tried.


While the façade of the building looks like it’s a very fancy restaurant, the welcoming statue of the dancing jazz man gives you a good idea of the atmosphere that awaits you inside.

We quickly became acquainted with our friendly waiter and the service was impeccable. He accommodated our orders without complaint and welcomed suggestions and comments. He definitely made the place a little more welcoming than originally expected.

Once it was time to order, the girls and I shared what probably was the best crab cake we’ve ever had in our lives ($14). We then picked dishes from their specialties selection, with prices ranging from $21 to $40.

Nads was a little sceptic as it’s usually quite rare to be able to re-create dishes tasted while travelling. Nonetheless, she was very pleased with her Blackened Chicken Breast ($24), accompanied by vegetables and sweet potato purée. While the chicken was slightly overcooked, the spices gave it a very distinct taste, which can only be found in New Orleans.

We had no idea what to expect with Annie’s Shrimp and Crawfish Étouffé ($21). A mix between a stew and a purée, her étouffé was very delicious. So delicious in fact that Nads could not resist having more than one bite!

Finally, my Jambalaya Linguine (using linguine instead of the traditional rice, with shrimp, chicken, smoked sausage and Creole sauce) ($22) was absolutely fantastic. I’m not usually a big fan of spicy food, but it is a staple of the South so I had to yield. Luckily for me, they make their sauces from scratch, so they were able to adjust the spiciness, enough for me to devour my plate!

Note that Nads vouched for the authenticity of all our dishes!

With such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, the restaurant suits a fun night out with friends. The jazz music playing in the background and the various photographs of New Orleans’ restaurants surely give you a glimpse of the South without having to dish out on the plane ticket. While their prices are not on the cheap side, I would definitely recommend it for those who are looking for a new culinary experience.

I would also highly recommend it for those who’ve had a bad experience with Southern food (as I have in the past). It will definitely change your mind!

Big Easy’s is located at 228 Preston Street, Ottawa. You can make a reservation at 613-565-3279 or online at http://www.bigeasys.ca/.

Know Your Sunscreen!

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The sun is finally here and shining and I’m sure most of us are planning on spending A LOT of time outside this summer (I know I am!!!). However, I’ve started to feel like the sun has been getting stronger and stronger, meaning more protection is needed. As we now have more and more information about the harmful rays of the sun, it’s important that we practice safe measures in order to avoid dangerous health issues such as burns and, you know, skin cancer.

So sunscreen is key to be able to play in the sun all day without deteriorating into a puny dried grape. However, who TRULY knows the meaning of SPF levels? I’ve heard all kinds of different things about it and I’m here now to shed some light on the whole shebang.

Sunscreens
Before we try and clarify SPF levels, it’s important to note what to avoid and what to have in a good sunscreen lotion. According to a CNN Health article which warns about the potential harmful ingredients of some sunscreens, they warn that your sunscreen:
  • Should not contain Retinyl Palminate, a toxic ingredient that may increase the risk of skin cancer when exposed to the sun;
  • Should not contain Oxybenzone, a toxic ingredient that can cause hormone disruption, which leads to cell damage and ultimate skin cancer;
  • Should not be higher that an SPF 50. (we’ll see why later);
  • Should be labelled “broad spectrum”, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB (Ultra Violet rays that cause Aging and Burning); and
  • Should be a lotion. Lotions ensure that your skin is evenly protected, as opposed to sprays.

Always apply sunscreen after you’ve been in the water (even if your sunscreen is waterproof) or after extensive sweating.

Top 3 recommended sunscreens
1. La Roche-Posay Antherios Sunscreen (40$). Yes, it is an expensive product, but it’ll work wonders for you!

2. L’Oreal Ombrelle Complete (27$).


3. Coppertone Sensitive Skin (14$). This is for sure the cheapest option. If you can’t find this type exactly, make sure you check the ingredients on the bottle to match the criteria above. Not all Coppertone sunscreens are actually good for your skin.



If you’re not sure about the sunscreen you’re purchasing, you can check their health risks here:

SPF
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) can be really confusing, especially when you’re standing in the sunscreen isle and you’re trying to figure out which one is best for you.

First off, it’s important to know that SPF only protects against UVB, which is why it’s important that your sunscreen be labelled broad spectrum.

Second, all SPFs have much of the same protection against UVB:
SPF 15 = 93%
SPF 30 = 97%
SPF 50 = 98%
SPF 100+ = 99%

So you can see that purchasing a product beyond SPF 50 is essentially useless and only costs you more money because the protection is the same. So why purchase different SPF levels? It all depends on your skin tone. If it usually takes you about 20 minutes to start getting a sunburn, then an SPF 15 will cover you 15 times longer, so 300 minutes (5 hours).  However, the sun breaks down the ingredients in the sunscreen that protect your skin and most people don’t put nearly as much, so their skin isn’t actually protected for the full amount of time. In fact, we should be applying about the size of a shot glass of lotion every two hours to ensure continued protection.

You can follow this table to see which SPF you should be using according to your skin tone (source):
1. Always burns, never tans = SPF 25 or higher
2. Burns easily, tans eventually = SPF 15
3. Sometimes burns, tans slowly = SPF 15
4. Occasionally burns, tans well = SPF 8
5. Hardly ever burns, tans well = SPF 6
6. Never burns = SPF 2

Note that it is always recommended to use a minimum of SPF 15, no matter your skin tone.

Important Factors to Remember
  1. Don't forget that reflection will intensify UV exposure (source):
Water - 5% to 7%
Grass - 2.5% to 3%
Sand - 20% to 30%
Snow and Ice - 80% to 90% (no, sunscreen is NOT only for summer days)

  1. Always check the UV index of the day on your local weather website. Once the risk is high, make sure to bump up your SPF by a level to ensure longer protection since it would take a shorter time for your skin to burn.
  2. Here are other steps that Health Canada recommends you take to protect against UV exposure:
    1. If possible, avoid being in the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
    2. Look for shade, stay under a tree, or use an umbrella.
    3. During outdoor activities, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. When the UV index is three or higher, you should also wear protective clothing and a large-brimmed hat.
    4. Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin.

Have fun in the sun and most importantly, be safe!! J

Spicy Lime and Honey Chicken

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Now that summer is right outside our door, the BBQ's are out!! Lately, I've had a craving chicken wings. I know, I know. Not very healthy you'll say. But I guess it all depends how it's prepared! BBQ or bake your wings and you'll see all the difference in the world :)

So, in addition to the most delicious sweet and sour sauce (tried it on wings - marinated them overnight in this sauce, it was absolutely fantastic!), I'm adding this spicy lime and honey sauce. Very easy and quick to make. Great to prepare for cottage week ends or summer potlucks! I adjusted this recipe from the What's Cooking, Chicago? blog since I didn't have all the ingredients. I also used chicken breasts instead of wings because I didn't have any wings available :(

Ingredients (Yields 3 portions):

  • 1/3 cup lime juice 
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground hot peppers (adjust according to spiciness liking)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 chicken breasts

Method:

  1. Pre-heat your BBQ or grill pan to medium-high heat.
  2. Prepare the marinade: Mix the lime juice, honey and ground hot peppers in a bowl and place aside. (Note: the original recipe asks to cook this sauce until it slightly thickens. I didn't try that, but go ahead and play around with this recipe!)
  3. Toss the chicken breasts with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Grill the chicken until marked, turning as needed.
  5. Baste your chicken with the marinade until your chicken is fully cooked. Make sure to keep basting to ensure that the chicken stays moist. 
You can also marinate overnight your chicken breasts/wings in a combination of all the ingredients and simply grill them the next day. I'll definitely try that out at my next BBQ! :)

Enjoy!

- CK

DIY Veggie Garden

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For a while now, I've been thinking about starting my own veggie garden. I honestly didn't think it was possible since I live in an apartment, until I found a wonderful chart on Pinterest (see image below). Planting your own garden can be an excellent way to make sure you're eating organic food and to save money (bell peppers can get expensive if you use a lot).


Starting indoors was perfect for me. When summer comes I will easily be able to transplant my garden into big pots onto my balcony. But before I started, I still had a lot of questions I needed answered: what type of soil should I get? What vegetables would I be planting? How big should my pots be? So, I went to Walmart where they were very helpful in helping me choose everything I needed to get my garden started.



First, I chose to plant cucumbers and mini bell peppers. As I don't have a very good track record with keeping plants alive, I thought they would probably be the easiest to plant and take care of.  Note that you can definitely use the seeds of the veggies you have at home! I was just too lazy and decided to purchase them :P


The very helpful young man at Walmart suggested I use Organic Choice as my soil of choice. It's specific to vegetables, is organic and is good for starting indoors and transplanting outdoors - using the same soil.


Once you get home, plant your seeds into pots. I bought biodegradable pots that I can just plant directly into my bigger pots once it's time to transplant, but you can easily use plastic yogurt boxes (make sure you pierce holes at the bottom).


That's it! 3 easy steps! Now, set next to a window and watch your veggies grow! :) Make sure to do a little bit of research on your veggies before you plant your garden. I found out that cucumbers and bell peppers need a lot of water so should water them daily!


Stute Kitchen will be taking a 2 week break to take care of the garden! We'll see you then with new recipes and an update on the garden! :)

Have fun!!

- CK

Easy Half-Pop Shrimp

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Sometimes I'm in the mood for something special, but I don't have a lot of time, ingredients, or energy. Usually this is because I've left dinner too late, and am so hungry I don't feel like cooking. On nights like these, I tend to throw together things in my cupboard and hope for the best. Tonight? Success!

These shrimp take all of 15-20 minutes (but, only 5 of which that you will spend actually doing anything) and are super tasty and flexible. I ate mine off the baking sheet, but they could definitely be dressed up, drizzled, or served on something green. They'd be nice and punchy on a salad, or would make a nice crunchy-chewy topping to a simple pasta.

You'll need:

Panko crumbs
Shrimp, tails removed (this is most of your 5 minutes). I did 30 medium sized.
1/2 - 1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp whole wheat flower
A few good cracks of black pepper
1-2 tsp minced garlic
(chili flakes or other seasonings optional)

DO:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Put shrimp in a bowl big enough to do some moderate mixing in.
Drizzle with olive oil. Stir in garlic and distribute as evenly as possible.
Sprinkle mix with flour and stir
Crack your pepper over the mix. If you want chili flakes or other seasonings for extra kick, go for it now.
Toss in enough Panko crumbs to more or less coat your shrimp to your liking (this works best if you use less rather than more - enough for a little crunch here and there).
Shake out onto a cookie or baking sheet.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, checking periodically to make sure they're the way you want. They should smell delicious.
Eat and enjoy!!

 luv,
A



Pairing A Sauvignon Blanc For Your Next Party

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This past Thursday night we revisited our earlier experimentation with wine pairing. On the menu? My favorite 10$ or less brand of choice, Barefoot, in a bright green Sauvignon Blanc. These days it really feels like summer is upon us, and bright, crisp wines like a Sauvignon Blanc are just right for cutting through the heat. This one is very fruity, but not too sweet. It smells quite strong (too strong, I'd say) but doesn't deliver any kind of offensive flavors - rather, it's a little melon, a little pear, a little zest, and a little sparkle. Online wine reviews like to pooh-pooh some of these "beginner wines", but there is certainly also a market for people learning to drink and enjoy wines with their food, and Barefoot seems to specialize in these immediately drinkable wines. We matched this wine with guacamole and tortilla scoops. It certainly was an excellent pairing, and might improve this wine for those who aren't usually drinkers of white. Though this Sauvignon wouldn't be my first choice for a wine to drink on its own, it makes an excellent choice for pairing with the right foods (I can't recommend the guac pairing enough; it was really delicious, and party-ready) when you're kicking off a fun spring or summer evening.


9.94$ at your local LCBO!


A

Easy Escargot Appetizer

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Last week, A and I had our monthly date night. With a lot of different occasions coming up, we decided to have a romantic dinner at home, where we cooked together and enjoyed a nice bottle of wine. To start up the dinner, we put together a very easy escargot appetizer that will truly make you feel like you can open your own restaurant. Here we go:

Ingredients (for two large portions - this could easily have been 4 portions):

  • 2 tbsp garlic butter (the green package at the market, or you could make your own)
  • 2 cans of escargot
  • shredded mozarella cheese (you can ultimately use whatever cheese you want)
Do:
  1. In a non-stick frying pan, melt the butter on medium-low heat 
  2. Add the escargot and mix well until they are coated with the butter. Keep stirring for about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Set in plates and sprinkle some shredded cheese. Add as much cheese as you'd like. 
That's it! It was absolutely fantastic! 
You could even up it up a notch and cover them with cheese and broil them in the oven for a few minutes. You can serve these with some scoop tortilla chips (yes, yes, trust me on this one) at a potluck, your guests will love you forever! 

Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts

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C is not a big fan of tofu. But seeing that we're both following a strict vegetarian diet (for another 3 weeks), I thought I would try to prepare a recipe that might make her appreciate tofu when it's cooked to her taste. 101 Cookbooks offered a great recipe that we both came to enjoy (with minor alterations)! :)


Ingredients:
  • 1 package of firm tofu, cut into cubes 
  • 1.5 tbsp of olive oil 
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts 
  • 3 tbsp of brown sugar 
  • 1 tsp of dry coriander 
  • 6-7 brussels sprouts, washed and cut into wide ribbons salt to taste 
Preparation:
  1. Cook the tofu strips in large hot skillet with a bit of salt and half your olive oil. Saute until slightly golden, about 4 minutes.  
  2. Add the garlic and  walnuts, and cook for another minute.  
  3. Stir in sugar. Cook for another couple of minutes.  
  4. Remove from heat and stir in coriander.  
  5. Scrape the tofu out onto a plate and set aside while you cook the brussels sprouts. 
  6. In the same pan (no need to wash), add the other half of your oil, another pinch of salt, and dial the heat up to medium-high.  
  7. When the pan is nice and hot stir in the shredded brussels sprouts. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring a couple times until they start to get golden - you don't want to burn them! 
I served it with some pasta (mixed the brussels sprouts with the tofu and topped it on the pasta and mixed). If you think it's too dry, you can add some Soy sauce.


Next time, I would probably add some nice goat's cheese :)


Enjoy!

Springy fig salad

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I don't have pictures of my salad on hand, so here are some pictures of the spring flowers I do!
This Ottawa March weather seems to be alternating between salad and soup worthy (a bit like us!) so here's a bright tasting salad, replete with all sorts of chewiness and crunchiness to complement these new sunny days. Though you may have to invest in a package of figs (unless you're making a large number of salad servings), it will last you forever, and because the figs are dried, it will keep a really long time too!

To serve four:

Soak 5-6 dried figs in warm water for 10 minutes, in a small bowl.

Then:

Chop up 6-7 large leaves of washed romaine lettuce
Grate two large carrots
Slice up two mini cucumbers
Slice two-three hand fulls of fresh red grapes in half

Remove the figs from the water and dry them. Then, chop each fig into little wedges.


Mix your veggies, distributing them amongst your  4 plates or bowls, and combine your grapes with the figs.

Distribute the fruit evenly on the salad.

Dress with your favorite vinaigrette (I recommend Renee's Pear and Blue Cheese vinaigrette if you can get it! Most grocery stores carry this brand).


ENJOY!

Sweet and Sour Pork Chops

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Sweet and Sour sauces are always so delicious. I always wondered how to make a really good one to use on pork chops, chicken wings or anything else that I fancy! So after a good long while of studying various recipes on the Interwebs, I whipped up this amazing sweet and sour sauce that I used on pork chops in my crockpot!

Ingredients (covers 5 medium sized pork chops):
  • 1/3 cup of reduced sodium soya sauce
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 tbsp of cider vinegar (if you don't have cider vinegar, you can use pure apple juice)
  • 2 tbsp of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of cornstarch (more if you'd like your sauce to be thicker)
Simply mix all your ingredients together. Put the pork chops in your crockpot and pour the sauce over it. Set your crockpot on high for 3-5 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.

That's it! Deliciousness! :) I bet this would be amazing to marinate chicken wings in for game night!

Enjoy!
- CK

Potato, Asparagus and Beans Creamy Soup

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Asparagus is in season and they've got deals all over town! So, for Meatless Monday this week, I wanted to prepare a creamy asparagus soup but wanted to make sure to incorporate some proteins - enter the beans. Those of you who've been reading the blog will know that I'm not a big fan of beans. So while I was a little reluctant to incorporate the beans into this soup, I still took the chance - and it turned out great!

This soup is great to use as an appetizer or even for a main course!

Ingredients (yielding 4 large portions):

  • 6 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 16 stalks of asparagus (or about half a bunch), chopped
  • 1 large can of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp of dry thyme
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 2 cups of chicken broth (I know, I know...I just didn't have vegetable broth. Feel free to substitute)
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 2/3 cups of milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
Method:
  1. Boil your potatoes, asparagus and beans into your broth and water over high heat until the potatoes are tender and ready (about 20 minutes or so)
  2. About midway through the boiling process, add your thyme and ginger
  3. Remove your pot from heat and blend your veggies and beans mixture. (I used my magic bullet, so I had to do it in several portions)
  4. Once your mixture is all blended, pour back into your pot on low heat and add the milk, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Voila! :) I must admit it turned out a little more bean-y than expected. Perhaps I would only put either half or 3/4 of the can next time, but that's just my personal  taste.

Enjoy!

- CK

100 calorie Sweet Potato and Zuke Latkes

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3 100-cal latkes with astro biobest plain yogurt!

I love love love latkes and regularly order them when I'm out for brunch, but I know they're not the healthiest way to eat a potato. Some experimenting with different grate-ables led me to this combo, which significantly improves the nutrition factor, and minimizes the caloric intake. Plus, this is a great way to use zucchini (I'm always wondering what the heck to do when I'm not making it into a risotto or my mom's curry-zucchini soup (coming soon!).

You'll need:

1 medium zucchini (funny ends sliced off)
1 big sweet potato (peeled)
1/4 cup onion (chopped as finely as possible, unless you really love onion and want longer strings in your latkes)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

optional: plain yogurt (instead of sour cream) or your favorite applesauce (if you're that kind of latke person...I've never understood the applesauce thing)

Do: (do these things in order - you want to prepare the batter RIGHT before cooking to keep things from getting soggy, and while cooking, pour off any excess liquid for the same reason)

Slice your zuke lengthwise and remove its seeds.
Grate your potato and zucchini (coarsely) either in a food processor (preferred) or by hand on a grater.
In a big bowl, mix your egg, onion, salt and pepper: stir in your grated veggies.
Heat half the oil in a large skillet (med-hi, but more med than high).
You're going to do this the same way you do pancakes: add a heaping tablespoon of the mixed ingredients to the skillet, flattening down a touch with your spoon (don't overdo this - let the latke be once it's frying).
When the edges start to lightly brown, flip the lakte, and cook the other side for about a minute or two - depending on your oven, the first side can take from 2-4 minutes (mine is slow).
Remove and rest on paper towels to absorb excess liquid.
Repeat until your batter is used up (if you need, use the remaining 1.5 tbsp of oil to refresh your skillet).

Should make about 24 latkes. If you want to reheat them later, bake them at 375 on a cookie sheet for about 5 minutes.

Serve hot and enjoy guilt-free.






Basic Marinara Sauce

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In order to make the shrimp-stuffed shells, I had to quickly whip up a basic marinara sauce. This works with any kind of dish that would require marinara sauce. Also a great recipe to make and freeze to later use as a base to many recipes! The quantities below yield approximately 3 cups - maybe a little less. Nonetheless, it'll be enough for the shells recipe. Here we go:

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 small cans of tomato paste
  • 2 tomato paste cans of water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dry basil
Method:
  1. In a small pot, sauté your onion in your olive oil for about 2-3 minutes
  2. Add in your garlic and stir for about a minute or so
  3. Add in your tomato paste and your water, and stir until combined into a thick sauce
  4. Add your basil and stir.
  5. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes or so
That's it! Easy peasy! :)

- CK

Shrimp-Stuffed Shells

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Stumble Upon is a great tool to find all kinds of fantastic recipes. Not usually being a full time vegetarian, yet choosing to be vegetarian for the next month and a half, I have to make sure to find filling, nutritious and delicious recipes to fill the void. This adapted shrimp-stuffed shell recipe from Cooking Light was easy and quick to make (minus the shrimp procedure, read on...), and definitely hit the spot!

Ingredients (yield 3 large servings)
  • 20 uncooked jumbo pasta shells (about 8 ounces)
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup skim milk reduced-fat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 3 cups basic marinara sauce, divided
  • Grated Mozarella and Parmesan cheese (as much as you want)
Method
  1. Put your frozen shrimp in a bowl of warm water.
  2. Preheat your oven to 400°.
  3. Cook pasta 7 minutes or until almost al dente, omitting salt and fat. Drain well.
  4. While your pasta is cooking, peel your shrimp and coarsely chop them.
  5. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.
  6. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly
  7. Add cottage cheese, milk, and pepper; cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. 
  8. Sprinkle your shrimp with with corn starch and toss well to coat. Add the cottage cheese mixture to the shrimp shrimp and toss well.
  9. Divide shrimp mixture evenly among pasta shells.
  10. Spread 1 cup marinara over bottom of dish. Arrange shells in prepared dish and top with the remaining 2 cups marinara. Sprinkle shells evenly with your cheese. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until shrimp is done. 
Enjoy!

- CK