Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saturday Teacupcakes and Sunday Strawberry Festival

On Saturday, Nuno went to a fishing tournament on Orr Lake , so it was just the girls and I at home for the day.  Anita was flipping through one of my cookbooks and asked, "Mommy, can we bake something today?".  I told her I would think about it, since I still had to finish up some chores and after all, it was Saturday, and I thought I should relax a bit.  Her request lingered in my mind and I remembered I had  new cupcake molds I still hadn't experimented with.  So the answer was, "Okay, we'll make cupcakes!".  And then, of course, Anita and Annabel cheered and waited as patiently as they could for me to finish my chores. 

Annabel sifting flour into the bowl.

Anita adding softened butter

Annabel adding sugar

Vanilla cupcakes cooling on the rack

I decorated them with cream cheese frosting (which I tinted pink).  The teacupcake molds were a hit! 

This past weekend, our local "pick your own" farm, celebrated their 5th annual Strawberry Festival.  We decided to go pick some strawberries on Sunday and enjoy the festivities.  The morning started off very grey and cloudy, so we waited till later in the afternoon to see if it would improve. 

Nuno and the girls on the tractor trailer, getting ready for the ride to the strawberry fields.

Fresh picked new potatoes, sweet peas and snow peas for sale.

Fresh spinach and asparagus for sale too!

We had to wait a while for this strawberry shortcake, as the organizers had run out of cake, but Annabel didn't want to go home without eating it.  So, we waited, and it was definitely worth the wait!

This is what we purchased at the farm on Sunday - fresh picked strawberries, new potatoes, and sweet peas! 
The weather did improve and we had a fun afternoon at the farm!  I feel so lucky to live within a few minutes of this wonderful farm that provides such a large assortment of  fresh-picked produce from May to September!

Sunday's dinner - grilled pork, local new potatoes and sweet peas.

And don't forget dessert! Our vanilla cupcakes, cut in bite-size pieces, vanilla ice cream, and sliced strawberries soaked in their own sugar syrup. So simple, yet so delicious!

I will end this post with the beautiful backyard sunset I captured on Sunday evening.  Sorry for the rather long post.  I just had so many pictures I wanted to share with you.  I hope you are enjoying your Wednesday.  It is rather chilly and blustery here in Barrie.  Hoping it's warm and sunny where you are!  Thank you for stopping by.  I so enjoy having you.  Happy Wednesday! xo

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Herb Garden & Greek Inspired Chicken Kabobs & Potatoes

After getting married in the summer of 2000, Nuno and I  moved into our first apartment in the big city - Toronto. We lived above a nail salon, on a busy main street.  It was a large, 2 bedroom apartment, not modern, but somehow, at the time, it was just perfect.  I remember falling in love with the large living room with the red brick fireplace.  That was the beginning of our married life.  One year later, we had a little girl, that little girl quickly grew up, and when she was 5, we had another little girl.  I recall my eldest, Anita, always asking for grass. Outside our apartment, there wasn't any grass, nowhere for the girls to play, only concrete and lots and lots of cars.  So 7 years later, we took the leap and bought our first home in the City of Barrie.  One of our main concerns was finding a place with plenty of grass for the girls to play.  And so we found our cozy little home, with lots and lots of grass, and soil for planting.  It's hard to believe we've only been here 4 years.  It seems like a lifetime ago since we lived in Toronto.  Last year, Nuno dug up a garden for us to plant our herbs in. One of my favorite things to do, is go out to the side of our house and pick fresh herbs to cook with.  In the fall, when things start dying off, I have to go to the grocery store to buy my herbs.  So I don't take for granted, this little herb garden, and all it provides during the summer months.

We have parsley, cilantro, chives, thyme, oregano, dill, lavender, rosemary, basil and mint.

And of course, a little gnome!

Look at the beautiful oregano!  It smells delicious!

On Thursday afternoon,  I went to the herb garden, saw all the oregano and decided to make a Greek inspired meal - grilled chicken kabobs and delicious baked potato wedges! 

I cut up vidalia onion, and green & red bell peppers.  I didn't have any mushrooms on hand, but they would be great too! I also cut up some boneless, skinless, chicken breast into chunks and wrapped them in bacon slices. 

I basted the kabobs with an olive oil marinade ( lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, finely chopped oregano) and set aside while I prepared the potatoes.

I used red baking potatoes.  Wash them and cut into wedges.  Next, add salt, pepper, olive oil, a little water, lemon juice, and freshly chopped oregano.  Thoroughly combine. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven.  Half way through cooking, remove pan from the oven and stir potatoes.  Add some more liquid, if it is drying out. Return to the oven until you reach desired crispiness. 

Grilled to perfection, on the BBQ, by Nuno, my grill king. ;)

Here are the potatoes, just out of the oven!  They smell absolutely delicious!  I can pretty much guarantee there will be NO leftovers, they're just too good!

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the food on a plate.  I was in such a rush to eat the food, I totally forgot the picture.  But you get the idea! 

It is a rainy Saturday here in Barrie.  It has been raining for several days now.  I'm getting a bit tired of it now, but it IS good for the garden!  I hop you all have a wonderful, happy weekend, no matter what the weather! xoxo

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lasagna Recipe

After being spoiled for an entire week, it was time to get back at it in the kitchen.  Although it was a treat, not having to cook any meals while on vacation, I did miss my kitchen and home cooking.  I decided to make a lasagna.

Tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, onion and lean ground beef

Brown & break up lean ground beef in a large skillet.  Drain fat.

In a large pot, saute chopped onion, peppers, and mushrooms in olive oil

Add cooked ground beef, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, and oregano and simmer over low heat

In the meantime, you can make the ricotta layer.  Mix ricotta cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, egg, and chopped parsley

A Lotta Layers...

In a 9x13 inch baking dish, spread approximately 1 cup of meat sauce and top with lasagna noodles

Top with more sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese

Top with second layer of noodles

Top noodles with more meat sauce

Gently, spread ricotta layer evenly over the sauce

Top with the third and final layer of noodles

Top with remaining meat sauce.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over top and bake for another 15 minutes.  Broil the top for a minute or two to give the cheese a golden color.

VERY IMPORTANT - Allow the lasagna to cool for approximately 20-30 minutes so it sets and slices nicely.  If you cut it while it's still hot, slices will be runny and not as pretty on the plate. 

The wonderful thing about lasagna is that it freezes well.  I cut up what was left into individual servings and froze them.  We actually enjoyed some of the leftovers last night!  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Culinary tour of Cayo Largo

Over a month ago, my husband and I booked an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean in celebration of our wedding anniversary.  Of course, we took our kids with us because we couldn't possibly enjoy it as much without them.  We also invited my Mom to come along, as she had never traveled anywhere in the Caribbean.  It was a real treat for us and the kids having her share the experience with us.  So, on Monday, June 6th, we flew to our topical destination - Cayo Largo del Sur.  This small, limestone island is part of the Canarreos Archipelago of Cuba.  Cayo Largo is the second largest of approximately 350 islets.  It is only 28 km long and approximately 3 km wide.  There are no permanent residents living here, only workers who stay in a small village while working at the hotels, etc.  They typically work for 20 days and return home for 10 days.  This was the schedule for all the people I spoke with.  The Island is very relaxing.  There is not much to do in terms of shopping, outside dining, or entertainment.  You are pretty much restricted to your hotel, beaches, and some limited excursions.  If you are looking to simply relax and enjoy incredible beaches, then this would be an ideal place for you!

Playa Blanca - beach in front of our hotel

Now since this is a cooking blog, I won't go into too much detail about what we did, but I would like to share with you some of the food and drink we experienced during our week's stay. 

This is a picture of me, on day two, eating a seafood entree at the restaurant located on Sirena Beach.  This was not part of our all-inclusive package. 

The entree included a large lobster tail, 2 grilled shrimp, and a delicious grilled fish as well.  It was absolutely divine!

At our hotel, at every lunch hour, there were offerings of grilled chicken, pork, and fresh fish for patrons.  I enjoyed this fish and rice with a glass of white wine.  If fish is not your fancy, there are also grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, personal pizzas, as well as pasta, and other buffet items. 

And this here, is one of the most famous Cuban cocktails -  a Mojito.  It was made by a bartender named Mathew at the Paraiso beach bar.  It contains sugar, mint leaves, lime juice, club soda, and of course, Cuban rum.  He also added a couple of drops of something called "angostura", typically used for flavoring drinks.  It was the BEST mojito I ever had!

Nuno and I went on a special sunset cruise on the day of our anniversary.  This gigantic skillet was filled with over one dozen large lobster tails for the guests.  I took this shot while sneaking into the boat's galley, when no one was looking!  The smell of the lobster and rice cooking was unforgettable!  We waited for our food to be served while we watched the sun set.  It was very romantic!
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Looking back, I wish I had taken more pics of the food.  But then again, I didn't always want to carry my camera with me to lunches and dinners.  After all, I was on vacation.  I hope you enjoyed the images of what I did capture.  We had such a wonderful, relaxing week in beautiful Cayo Largo.  It is nice to be home again after being spoiled for an entire week.  Although it was nice to get a break from cooking meals, I really miss  cooking!  I do hope you enjoyed this post.  Your comments are so welcome and appreciated.  Have a wonderful day! xo

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Free Rhubarb Makes For Some Yummy Pie!

Today's post is first and foremost, about the making of a lovely strawberry rhubarb pie, but it is also about the kindness of strangers.  Last Friday, my husband and I took a drive to nearby Cookstown,  about 20 minutes from where we live in Barrie.  We were on our way to visit the Cookstown Antique Market where antiques and collectibles are housed in a century old barn.  I first had the pleasure of visiting this charming market last summer, when we drove by and saw a big sign leading to it. 

I didn't have my camera with me that day, so I've used a picture from their website.

I had a great time browsing through all the booths, upstairs and downstairs!  I even found a couple of treasures for myself, like a pink glass pedestal cake stand, and a beautiful cake/pie server (not that I needed another cake stand!).  Now, what I haven't mentioned, is that there was a sign by the entrance that read, "Free Rhubarb" - you can pick it yourself!  As I was paying for my items, I inquired with Debbie Lou about the rhubarb and how we could go about getting some.  Another of the girls, I didn't get her name, asked if either I or my husband had rubber boots (because it had rained and it was muddy by the rhubarb).  We of course, didn't, so the girls were kind enough to give me a large bunch which had been freshly picked. 

And here they are in all their glory!  Look at those crimson stalks!

When I saw the beautiful red color of the stalks, I was inspired to make rhubarb pie - the first rhubarb pie I would ever make.  There is something really special about pie.  Just the word "pie" conjures up thoughts and feelings of comfort, warmth, and happiness.  It reminds me of childhood books and cartoons where you see freshly baked pies cooling on window sills.  It was decided then and there - a pie it would be! 

First, I made the pie dough - an all-butter pate brisee - as I learned from Martha Stewart.

Here are my top and bottom crusts, ready to be refrigerated, for about an hour.

Measuring out the chopped strawberries and rhubarb - equal parts.

Ready to be filled     

Filled with rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon juice, and topped with bits of butter.  And in the center, is my beloved vintage pie bird, which I bought a few months ago.  This is the first pie I baked with him in it.  It reminds me of the old nursery rhyme:
Sing a Song of Sixpence
Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
Here, I brushed the top crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with turbinado sugar.
Fresh out of the oven, cooling on a rack, smelling delicious.  The only problem, is that we have to let it cool for at least a few hours, so it can set. 
Pie has cooled and is ready to cut...
"A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around"- Edgar Watson Howe

I would like to thank the girls at Cookstown Antique Market for the delicious tasting rhubarb.  Your kindness made my day extra special and I SO enjoyed baking this pie.  As well,  thank you to my followers and any new readers for visiting my kitchen today.  Hope you all have a wonderful day!  As always, I would love to read your comments.  xoxo