Easy Pasta Salad

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Monday. Just get the baby to sleep and realize it’s lunch time. Priority number one is quickly grabbing something to eat before he wakes up and is on the move again! I open the fridge door and realize I don’t really have anything in there already made and ready to grab. So, looking around the kitchen and in the fridge, I do a quick inventory and my brain runs through options for what I could put together in haste that would be good.

This pasta salad is my fall back plan. I always have what I need to throw it together. Especially since the real name for it (in my head anyway) is “clean out the fridge pasta salad”. I have ripe tomatoes from my garden begging to be used, cucumber, corn I just blanched and took off the cob last night, half a jar of capers, and some green beans from the garden that need to be eaten now! Pasta is always in the pantry and the oil and vinegar dressing is a staple in my fridge. I also happen to have some delicious greek feta which is always an awesome salty addition to this mix.

Contrary to what you might this, this salad comes together FAST! And I make sure I make enough to last a few lunches so that Tuesday and Wednesday are a little less harried. While I have put quantities here, you really can just throw together whatever you have, in any quantity and balance the dressing vs. salad amount accordingly. This is really just a rough guide to get you started. Add whatever veggies you have on hand and leftover meat or fish is also a great addition to this dish. It’s a great way to enjoy those last tastes of summer!

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Summer Pasta Salad

1 ½ cups pasta noodles (any shape – I used mini penne noodles)
1 large tomato, cored and cut into large chunks
½ cup cucumber, quartered and sliced
½ cup green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds
½ cup fresh corn kernels (blanched and stripped from the cob)
3 tbsp capers
2 tbsp oil and vinegar dressing, plus more if needed (or Italian – just use your favourite!)
¼ cup crumbled feta (or goat cheese) *optional
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan of boiling water, add pasta and cook to al dente, according to the package directions (times will vary depending on the type of noodles you choose).

Meanwhile prepare vegetables and combine in a large bowl.

Once pasta is cooked, drain completely and add to the bowl of vegetables. Drizzle the dressing over the mixture, adding more if needed. Mix in crumbled feta and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Enjoy!

 

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Raw Rainbow Salad

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I mentioned the other day the goodness coming out of my backyard vegetable garden and that beets were next on my “to freeze” hit list. I decided to steal two from that batch to enjoy fresh from the garden and raw. If you haven’t tried raw beets, you really should. They have a mild flavour, pack tons of crunch, and, from a visual stand point, they are stunning and add fantastic colour to your dish.

I’ve had this recipe stashed away for a long time now, waiting for a good garden beet crop to give it a go. I also picked up fresh pears and carrots from our local farmers market. I had no idea how good this salad was going to taste, but with all these good, fresh ingredients, how could I go wrong!

I make the choice to shred everything separately as I was not going to use it all at once and didn’t want the colours and flavours to bleed during storage. However, if you plan to make this salad for a group and have it all devoured in one sitting, then don’t waste your time rinsing the food processor bowl after each ingredient – just let it layer in the bowl and then transfer it all to your dish for serving. That would make this a super easy and fast side.DSC_0910

Another piece of advice I have is in regards to the walnuts. I don’t use nuts very often, but love to have them on hand for when a recipe calls for them. However, they can spoil quickly if left at room temperature. My solution? I store all my nuts in the freezer. I have not noticed any degradation in taste or consistency and it means I can buy in bulk and have them ready when needed.

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Raw Rainbow Salad

(serves 8)

For the salad:
2 raw medium beets, trimmed, peeled and quartered (any colour)
½ white cabbage, quartered (or ¼ white and ¼ red)
2 large carrots, trimmed and peeled
2 pears, stems removed and quartered
¾ cup walnut pieces
2 handfuls fresh curly parsley or mint, chopped (optional)

For the dressing:
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce

Prepare a food processor with a coarse grater attachment. Process the vegetables through the grater in the following order to avoid beet juice staining. Beets, Red cabbage (if using), carrots, white cabbage,and pears. Alternatively, shred ingredients separately, cleaning the bowl after each. (You may also use a box grater if you don’t have a food processor.)

Transfer shredded vegetables to a platter or large bowl.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce.

Pour dressing over vegetables and mix gently until combined. Add walnuts and parsley/mint (if using) and toss until incorporated.

Serve immediately.

 

Source: Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living Everyday Food Magazine

Enjoy!

Fried Green Tomatoes

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My backyard vegetable garden is overflowing with goodness these days. After utter neglect of my lettuce and swiss chard garden resulted in having to rip everything out as it all bolted and went to seed, I am so happy that the second bed is thriving! Apparently neglect is good for tomato, beet, and bean plants! Note to self: plant only hardy, neglect tolerant plants for the foreseeable future.

I spent a few hours yesterday harvesting an unreal amount of green beans from my four plants. I vacuum packed and froze about 15 packages and still had so many left over I gave bags of beans to 4 friends! The beets are next on the freezer hit list. The tomatoes are not yet ripe, but are growing like crazy. I chose this year to plant a regular old beefsteak tomato and I am so glad I did. Other years I have tried small (cherry/grape) and heirloom varieties. None of them ever did very well (read: neglected). I am terrible at remembering to water so I was always dealing with splits, bugs, and rot. It was gross. But the ones I planted this year are thriving! In fact, I have so many that I decided to pull some off now for a batch of fried green tomatoes.

This is one of those recipes that gets made, at most, once a year. You have to time it perfectly for when your tomatoes are large enough, but still green and hard. You do not want any hint of colour on or in them at all. Here are some examples of what you want it to look like. The top photo is a perfect green tomato. The bottom shows slight colour on the inside which is not ideal for this recipe. While the tomatoes with slight colour do not taste bad, they just won’t have the best flavour or consistency. The green ones end up having a firm texture and slight citrus flavour. Trust me, these are addictive.

green tomato comparison

 

Fried Green Tomatoes

(makes 6-8 slices)

⅓ cup light mayonnaise
Juice of half a lemon
¼ tsp hot sauce
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup cornmeal
1½ tsp seafood seasoning
2 medium green tomatoes (cut crosswise into 3 or 4 slices, discarding both ends)
½ cup vegetable oil

Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and hot sauce in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Place the flour, cornmeal, and eggs each in their own separate bowl. Add ½ tsp of the seafood seasoning to each and mix to combine.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. While oil is heating, dredge half the slices with the flour, then egg, then cornmeal.

When oil is heated, fry the dredged tomato slices until they are golden brown (approx. 3 minutes per side). When finished, place on the paper towel lined baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse salt. Repeat with the rest of the slices.

Serve immediately with the sauce.

 

Source: Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living Everyday Food Magazine

Enjoy!

Strawberry Ice Cream

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Oh my goodness…summer…you are so packed with amazing flavours! Each summer I am reminded of how thankful I am to live where live. We have some amazing produce happening right now here in Ontario. If you have not taken advantage of it you are seriously missing out!

Once again I took advantage of strawberry season to fill my freezer with homemade jam for the long winter ahead. I also used some of those glorious strawberries to make some ice cream.

This ice cream is one of my favourites. It is so very simple and so very delicious. Don’t be scared off by the inclusion of sour cream in the ice cream. Once together, the tartness of the sour cream is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the strawberries. I always make sure a batch (or more) makes its way into my freezer each summer.

 

Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

1 lb  fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp vodka or kirsch **
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled and diced

Place the sliced strawberries, alcohol and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve. Let berries stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Blend the berries and their liquid together with the heavy cream, sour cream and lemon juice in either a food processor or blender until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds for a smoother finish.

Chill for 1 hour. Fold the diced strawberries into the chilled mixture. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

**I used Crème de cassis as I didn’t have vodka or kirsch and I like the balance between the strawberry and black current flavours.   

Source: Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

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I love the pumpkin spice season – the delicious spicy, sweet flavour that seems to infuse everything – but it only lasts a short time. This year I decided to maximize the season and make these little beauties.

The cake is extremely moist and flavourful and the cream cheese icing makes these taste so decadent without being overly sweet. It’s a perfect balance.

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Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
Makes 20-24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
15 ounces canned pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 large eggs

For the icing:

12 ounces cream cheese
7 ½ tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract**
5 cups icing sugar

Cinnamon sugar to garnish

**I used an extract with vanilla beans in it. I wanted the bean flecks to show through in the icing and add additional depth of flavour.


Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the pumpkin, both sugars and oil. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixture on low speed, add the flour mixture in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Fill the cupcake liners about two-thirds full. Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and let cool completely.

To make the icing, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. I used a round icing tip to pipe the icing on the cupcake and then a palette knife to smooth the tops.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

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Source: Slightly adapted from Annies Eats (from Williams Sonoma, frosting adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Enjoy!

Fresh Lemonade

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I decided today to embrace one last vestige of summer in hopes that perhaps the summer weather isn’t totally gone. A girl can hope, can’t she? Nothing says bright warm summer days like a cold glass of fresh lemonade.

This lemonade is fresh, sweet, tangy and hits all the right notes for being a totally refreshing drink. It’s very quick to pull together so in no time you can be enjoying a cold glass in the sun.

This is also a milestone for me as it’s the first time in 3 months that I have made anything, and I mean, ANYTHING other than toast or kraft dinner in my kitchen. I’ve been suffering from terrible morning sickness (read: all day nausea) and exhaustion and have not been able to handle cooking or pretty much anything. Even if it was just lemonade, it gave me hope that this phase is on its way out. Small steps!

 

Fresh Lemonade

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Zest of 1 lemon, cut in strips with a peeler
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (8-10 lemons) **
8 cups cold water

In a small saucepan, stir together sugar, water and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Strain out and discard the lemon zest.

In a large pitcher, combine lemon juice, cold water and sugar syrup and stir until well mixed. Refrigerate.

Keeps well in the fridge up to 5 days.

**strain the lemon juice through a fine sieve if you prefer less pulp in your lemonade

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Enjoy!

Valentines Vanilla Soft Sugar Cookies

I don’t usually go for store bought cookies. But there is something about those soft  frosted sugar cookies at the grocery store that make them hard to resist. But I can honestly say I will never buy them again since I have discovered I can make a much better version at home!

The combination of the soft vanilla cookie with the sweet icing is perfect. These cookies are so easy to make, they might just be my new standby…and they are a perfect valentines day treat!

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Vanilla Soft Sugar Cookies
Makes 24 large cookies

Cookies:

4½ cups all purpose flour
4½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1½ cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting:

5 cups icing sugar, sifted
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
7-8 tbsp milk (plus more if needed)
Food colouring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)

To make the cookies:

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy (2-3 minutes).  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed.  Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Scoop just under a quarter cup of dough (I used an ice cream scoop) and roll into a ball.  Place the ball on the prepared baking sheet and flaten slightly.  Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart.  Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set.  The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting:

Place the icing sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container.

**I frosted mine when the cookies were still just barely warm so the icing melted a bit – which didn’t make them taste any different, but I think I will wait next time until they are totally cool to frost just purely for aesthetic reasons.

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Source: Annies Eats

Enjoy!

French Toast Maple Bacon Cupakes

Bacon. How can you go wrong with bacon?! While I’m sure some of you are cringing at the thought of a cupcake topped with it, others will understand the perfect salty and sweet combination that is bacon on a cupcake.

I have been contemplating doing a savoury/sweet cupcake for a long time, and have had this recipe sitting on my shelf just waiting to be made. So, when one of the guys at work mentioned his birthday was coming, I knew this was the perfect excuse to try this one out. I mean, what guy doesn’t love bacon?

These were a total hit! The dense cake base tasted like flavourful french toast and when combined with the maple buttercream and bacon, it was like breakfast in a cupcake wrapper. The only thing that would have sent this one over the top would be if I had candied the bacon with maple syrup.If I make these again, I will be doing that for sure!

I made the buttercream and bacon in advance  – but my recommendation is to not do that if you can help it. These were delicious, but the icing is far better freshly whipped and I prefer my bacon to be fresh and crispy.  (I made these on a week night to take into work the next day and I had no interest in getting up at 5 a.m. to make icing.)

French Toast Maple Bacon Cupcakes
Makes 12

Cupcakes:

¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), room temperature
1 cup sugar
1½ cups cake flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup milk, room temperature
¼ cup light cream (5%), room temperature
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, room temperature, separated

Maple Syrup Buttercream:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2¾ cups icing sugar
2 tsp heavy cream, room temperature
2 tbsp real maple syrup

bacon, cooked and crumbled, garnish*
extra maple syrup, garnish

*I bake my bacon at 350 degrees F on a wire rack on a cookie sheet. I cook until the bacon is crispy (anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the bacon).

Preheat to 375 degrees F. Line the cupcake pan with liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla and set aside.

In a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and mix on low speed until well incorporated. Add the egg yolks to the creamed butter one at time, waiting for each one to be fully combined before adding the next.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Alternately, add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, ending with the flour mixture. Continue mixing until batter is smooth. Set aside.

In a different bowl, whip the egg whites on high speed, using the whisk attachment, until stiff peaks are formed. Working in 3 batches, using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the cupcake batter, until just combined.

Fill cupcake liners about 1/2 full. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely before frosting.

To make the buttercream:

In a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and icing sugar on low speed until combined. Continuing mixing until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the heavy cream and maple extract. Raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Using a piping bag fitted with a large tip, pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes. Garnish with crumbled bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.

**The buttercream is best if made and piped on immediately before consuming. I made mine in advance and it lost it’s light, fluffy factor.**

Source: adapted from I Heart Cuppycakes (adapted from Life With Cake)

Enjoy!

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I’ve been busy in the kitchen this strawberry season trying to make the most of this delicious fruit while it’s here.

Every summer I make sure to make many batches of freezer jam so I can enjoy the summer flavours all year long. I have not been adventurous enough to tackle real canning, so freezer jam it is! Plus, this recipe is so easy you can whip up your own home-made jam in no time. And the best part is, it’s ready to eat immediately!

You can use any fruit with this recipe – I’ve done raspberry and peach as well and both turned out excellent.

Strawberry Freezer Jam
Makes 5 jars

4 cups washed, hulled and diced strawberries (do not puree or mash the fruit)
1½ cups sugar
1 package Club House No Cook Freezer Jam gelling powder
5 jars with a tight fitting lid (I used Bernardin freezer jars with twist lock lid -1 cup)

I like to use the Club House gelling powder as it requires less sugar than most and it’s very easy to use.

Wash your jars with hot soapy water and ensure they are rinsed well.

Wash the strawberries. I fill my sink with cold water and then add the berries. After gently moving them around to get any grit off, I gently lift them out with my fingers and transfer them to a towel where I gently pat them dry.

Hull and dice the berries to a finely chopped consistency.

Place the diced berries into a large bowl and gently stir in the sugar. Let stand for 15 minutes. The berries will release some of their juices.

After 15 minutes, slowly sprinkle the gelling powder onto the fruit mixture while stirring for 3 minutes.

Let stand for 5 minutes then gently stir again for 1 minute.

Pour the jam into the jars, leaving ½ – 1 inch headroom. Seal the jars tightly and put in the freezer.

You can store the jam in the refrigerator for use within 6 weeks or in the freezer for up to one year.

Source: Club House No Cook Freezer Jam Gelling Powder

Enjoy!

Strawberry Shortcakes

I love strawberry season! It seems like such a small window  of opportunity every year in Ontario when these are available from local sources so I try to find as many things as I can to make with them – well, in addition to just eating them on their own.

One of my favourite strawberry deserts is, what I consider, a classic. Strawberry shortcakes. They take no time at all to whip together and taste amazing! They scream summer to me and can be adapted to use with any fresh fruit.

Strawberry Shortcakes
Makes 6

Fruit:
1½ lbs sliced strawberries
6 tbsp sugar
2 tablespoons creme de Cassis (optional – if using different fruit, substitute for a liqueur that suits it best or fruit juice)

Biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup cold buttermilk
1 large egg
8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Whipped Cream:
1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

To prepare the fruit, wash, hull and slice the strawberries. Combine sliced berries with the sugar and liqueur and let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

To make the biscuits, preheat the oven to 475˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together the buttermilk and egg and then whisk in the melted butter.  Stir the mixture until the butter forms small clumps. If the butter is not cooled, it will not form clumps properly.  Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough comes together and no dry ingredients remain.  Using a greased 1/3 cup measuring cup ( I use a canola oil spray), scoop a mound of dough and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet. Don’t smooth the dough into the cup, just scoop it into the cup and then onto the sheet. You want them to be irregular in shape and texture.  Repeat with the remaining dough spacing the biscuits about 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle extra sugar over the top of the biscuits.  Bake until the tops are golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Let cool slightly.

To prepare the whipped cream, combine the cream and the sugar into the metal bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a wire whisk. Whip on medium-high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful to not over mix. Add the vanilla and mix until just combined.

Using a serrated knife, slice each biscuit in half. Spoon some of the strawberry mixture over the biscuit and top off with some whipped cream. Place the other half of the biscuit on top and serve.

Source: adapted from Annie’s Eats (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 2008)

Enjoy!