Organic Orange Cupcakes

These cupcakes are light, fluffy and flavourful.  The orange juice and orange zest give the cupcakes depth in their flavour.  The vanilla yogurt is a nice change from adding sour cream and there are fewer calories.  I thought I might try turbinado sugar in the cupcakes to see how it affected the flavour.  I was very pleased with the results.  Keeping with the theme of being ‘lighter’ there is just a simple dusting of icing sugar instead of a heavy buttercream icing.  There is no butter in these cupcakes, which makes me happy!  You could make an orange zest buttercream icing, but the cupcakes are delicious enough on their own.

Ingredients

½ cup of canola oil

¾ cup of turbinado sugar

zest of one organic orange

¼ cup freshly squeezed organic orange juice

2 eggs

½ cup of organic vanilla yogurt

1 ½ cups of all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar for dusting the tops

Instructions

  1. Grate the zest of one organic orange and put in bowl.
  2. Squeeze the organic orange for ¼ cup of juice.
  3. In a large bowl mix orange zest, turbinado sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. Whisk two eggs together in a separate bowl.
  5. Mix all of the wet ingredients (eggs, yogurt, orange juice and canola oil) with the dry ingredients.
  6. Stir all ingredients together and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  7. Grease the muffin pans and preheat the oven to 350 F.
  8. Divide batter into muffin pans, filling ¾ of the way full.
  9. Bake for 15-18 minutes.
  10. Makes about 12 regular sized orange cupcakes.
  11. Let cool fully.
  12. With icing sugar and a sieve, sprinkle icing sugar on top of cupcakes.
  13. Enjoy!
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Maunder’s Food Shop

Maunder’s is one of the best places for a foodie in Aurora.  They recently moved to a new location on Wellington just west of  Yonge Street.  In this new location there is more space, more new products, the same old favourites and same great quality meats.  There is also a new café with baked treats, coffee, tea and espresso.  Jonathan, I’m sure, will be excited to try it out – finally, an alternative to Starbucks!

On this Saturday afternoon in Aurora, it was bustling with people, buying things for dinners, entertaining and much more.  They were also taking orders for Easter as people start to plan out their menus for next weekend.  I’m so happy to see Maunder’s expanding into a new location that will continue to provide top quality gourmet foods.  I will still have a place to buy wonderful steaks for Jonathan on his birthday and other cooking projects that demand fresh, high quality ingredients.

Today we ordered a stuffed chicken with feta and spinach from the butcher, which is one of our family’s favourites.  In addition we tried out a new antipasto and it was delicious on toasted naan.  The antipasto has a little bit of heat to it, but just the right amount.  A welcome change from the mild antipasto our family usually purchases, Wicked Gourmet’s Vegetarian Antipasto is sure become a favourite in our household.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies are one of my favourites.  Since I’m allergic to chocolate, it is always disappointing to see oatmeal cookies at a party and find that they are actually oatmeal chocolate chip.  I searched the internet for a new recipe and I found this wonderful one from the blog Smitten Kitchen.

These cookies were nice and chunky and had the perfect amount of raisins.  The recipe makes a half batch, so about 2 dozen small oatmeal cookies, which is perfect for Jonathan and I.  The recipe can be doubled if you need a mountain of cookies or if you are going to freeze half of the dough.  Most cookie dough can be frozen for up to a month.  Should you chose to freeze them, form the dough into cookie sized balls and freeze them in a freezer bag.

Whenever oats are mentioned around Jonathan, he always pipes up that the Quaker Oats factory is located in Peterborough, Ontario – where he is from. He loves to tell people how in the summer, the downtown core always smells quite yummy. Maybe Peterborough is on to something – something delicious!

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (large flake oats, not instant!)
3/4 cup raisins

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together.  Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture.
  4. Then stir in the oats, and raisins.
  5. Chill the cookie dough in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.  Chilling the cookie dough will ensure the cookies are chunky and don’t turn thin in the oven.
  6. Form the cookies to your desired size, place cookies approximately 2 inches apart, and then bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden around the edges.
  7. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes after they come out of the oven.
  8. Then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

Mini Lasagne / Lasagna

Originally, I was going to make regular sized lasagna, but then Jonathan and I had the idea to make them mini, in a muffin pan.  First, I made a fresh thick tomato sauce from scratch.  I used ground pork instead of beef because it gives a lighter flavour that Jonathan and I quite enjoy.  Then, I constructed the lasagna layers of meaty tomato sauce and gooey mozzarella.  The top layer of cheese at the end gets a nice crisp, golden, and delicious finish in the oven.

Fun foodie fact courtesy of CHOW.com:

-Lasagna refers to the individual pasta

-Lasagne refers to the whole dish

We have been calling it the wrong thing all these years! However, the dish is now most commonly searched for and called lasagna, so really, both spellings are valid, as far as I’m concerned.

This tasty meal is delicious in both its miniature and original form.  I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Ingredients

1 jar of tomato puree

1 can of diced tomatoes

6 leaves of fresh basil

3 cloves of garlic minced

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 pound lean ground pork

salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp chili flakes

½ tsp dried oregano

1 package of wholewheat lasagna noodles

2 cups of shredded mozzarella

Instructions:

  1. Add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to a pot on medium-high heat.  Add in finely chopped onion and stir until slightly brown.  Add in minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Wash and then chop fresh basil into small pieces.  Stir in with the garlic and onion.  Add chili flakes, oregano, salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Pour in the tomato puree and diced tomatoes.  Bring to boil and then simmer for 30 minutes-1 hour.
  4. In the meantime, cook the ground pork in a fry pan.  Once it is cooked drain any excess fat.  Stir the cooked ground pork into the tomato sauce and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Boil the water as instructed by the lasagna noodle package.  Make sure the noodles do not stick together while they are boiling.
  6. Shred two cups of mozzarella cheese.
  7. Heat oven to 350 F.
  8. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray, so the lasagna does not stick to the muffin pan.
  9. Once the sauce and lasagna noodles have cooked, carefully place the pasta into the muffin pan.  Add sauce.  Add cheese.  Add more sauce.  Add more cheese.  And so on and so forth, until your muffin pan is full and the mini lasagna is layered perfectly.
  10. Bake for 10-15 minutes.
  11. Let cool for 3-5 minutes (the cooling time is essential for the cheese and pasta to set, so you will be able to get it out of the muffin pan) and then enjoy!

Guacamole Sliders

Last March, I was in California with my parents and Sarah. During our visit, we went to the Cheesecake Factory, after seeing it on The Big Bang Theory.  I ordered the California burger, which had guacamole on it – and it was delicious.

Since then, guacamole has become a favourite in our house. The avocado has a fresh and summery taste that reminds me of evenings sitting on the boathouse up north.  It’s major flavour with not too much work.  We were in a pinch for a tasty dinner last night, so out came the sliders and a tasty guacamole.

My only foodie sin from this dinner was the President’s Choice sparkling lemonade that was on sale at the grocery store.  In the ingredient listing there is tartrazine, which is a food colouring and oil by-product.  Usually I like to avoid such chemicals, but I was in a rush, and it really is a tasty beverage. I’m sure it is just as comparable to other carbonated beverages.  Next time I will make my own sparkling lemonade, I promise.

The instructions for guacamole are quite simple:

1. Slice two ripe avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit with a spoon.  With your spoon separate the soft green part from the skin.

2. Mush the avocado with the back of the spoon like mashed potatoes.

3. Dice about a cup of tomatoes.  I cut cherry tomatoes into fours.

4. Chop about half of a red onion finely.

5. Add in a dash of salt and pepper.  Add in a splash of lime juice. Stir in red onion and tomato with the avocado.  Stir the whole thing and then it is ready to serve!

*If you are serving the guacamole later, make sure to store in an air tight container, otherwise the top of the avocado mixture will turn brown.

Mini Strawberry Cheesecake

This is one of my Mom’s best recipes.  It is great for parties and they always get eaten quickly.  I love them because they are nut free.  Usually at parties or at restaurants I don’t take chances with desserts because of my allergies.  Many places these days don’t make their own desserts on site, or they will not guarantee anything to be nut-free.  Jonathan and I were in a restaurant about a year ago and they turned us away because the chef did not want to take any chances.  Currently we have found a few great restaurants that will accommodate my allergies.  However, making my own desserts is the only way to be 100% sure there is no cross contamination.

The occasion for these mini cheesecakes is my Grandma’s birthday dinner that we are having tonight at the house.  Mom is going to buy a cake as well, but we like to have lots of dessert options.  The cheesecake tarts have a strawberry on top for garnish, but strawberries were on sale this week, so there will be lots of strawberries on the side.  Fresh berries on the side always make the cheesecake part appear healthier.

For the crust I would recommend trying to find the Christie brand Nilla wafers. Sometimes they are tricky to find and I couldn’t find them yesterday.  So I today I made my own graham cracker crust.  I still prefer the Nilla wafer crust, but my crust turned out rather well, so I am pleased with it.

Ingredients

2 cups cream cheese

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

Crust

1 package Nilla (vanilla wafer cookies)

*These are a great instant crust, but if you can’t find them in the grocery store, you can make your own graham cracker crust.

or

1 cup graham crackers

2 tbsp melted butter

¼ cup sugar

Crust:

  1. Start by lining the cupcake pan with two paper wrappers or one foil wrapper.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  3. In the Cuisinart food processor blend graham crackers and sugar, until the graham crackers are crumbly.
  4. Add in melted butter and pulse again in the food processor.
  5. Add one spoonful of graham cracker mixture to the bottom of the cupcake tray.  Press down with fingers or with the back of the spoon.
  6. Bake crust at 325 F for 8-10 minutes, until the crust has set.

Cheesecake filling

  1. In you Cuisinart food processor blend cream cheese and sugar.  Blend until the cream cheese begins to soften.
  2. Add in vanilla extract and eggs.
  3. Blend until nice creamy consistency.
  4. Fill the cupcake pan until ¾ full.
  5. Bake at 350 F for 11 minutes.  (Do not over bake or it will be dry.)
  6. Let cool and then garnish with fresh fruit or jams.  Place in the refrigerator until it is time to serve the cheesecakes.

Minestrone Soup

Freshly made soup is a wonderful thing and I had fun making it this afternoon for lunch.  The minestrone soup recipe, I found online from the Food Network.  With my laptop out in the kitchen I read the recipe and began to gather ingredients.  In our cupboards we didn’t have crushed and diced tomatoes, but I was able to chop up some fresh tomatoes and add tomato paste.  I found the substitutions worked out well, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be eating an overwhelming amount of tomato anyway.  I liked the thinner consistency and more focus of the elbow noodles, kidney beans, green beans, carrots and fresh basil.  Soups are best when the fresh veggies, beans and noodles are abundant.  I’m not big on the broth part of soup, but this broth actually turned out well.  Add a little salt and pepper to taste and voilà – lovely soup.

The extra soup can be frozen so the noodles don’t get mushy.  It can be easily microwaved for a fast and easy lunch.  It’s hard to beat a nice hearty soup.  Salt content in a hearty soup can also be regulated when you make it at home, verses the soup-to-go things from the grocery store.  While I am on the topic of soup-to-go, maybe Mom or Dad will be interested in taking some of my soup to work for an easy and healthy lunch.  Dad swims every day at lunchtime, so perhaps a serving of vegetables would help him swim faster!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (you can add up to 4 cloves if you like garlic)
  • 2 handfuls of baby carrots, sliced thinly
  • 2 handfuls green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (I didn’t have this so I diced 2 fresh, medium sized tomatoes and got rid of the seeds.)
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I didn’t have this so I used 156mL can of tomato paste)
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup elbow pasta (after it was boiled my pasta was more like 2 cups, I love pasta)
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (it’s just for garnish, not mandatory)

* I didn’t have all the ingredients from the recipe I found online.  You could also add one stock of fresh celery sliced, 1 small onion chopped finely and more or less of the garlic or elbow noodles depending on preferences.  A can of diced tomatoes and a can of crushed tomatoes would have given the soup more tomato flavour, but the tomato paste and two freshly diced tomatoes seemed to be a good substitute.

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds.
  2. Add the green beans, freshly diced tomato and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in dried oregano, fresh chopped basil, salt, and pepper to taste; cook 3 minutes.
  4. Add the vegetable broth to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the kidney beans and continue to let simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Cook the elbow noodles separately and add in for the last two minutes.  (You could cook the elbow noodles in the soup, but I find it adds to much extra starch.)
  7. Ladle into bowls and top with the Parmesan (if desired).

If you use low sodium kidney beans and low sodium vegetable broth, the Food Network has calculated the nutritional values as follows:

Per serving (2 cups): Calories 260; Fat 8 g (Saturated 2 g); Cholesterol 5 mg; Sodium 560 mg; Carbohydrate 37 g; Fiber 10 g; Protein 15 g)

Tomato, Basil and Bocconcini Salad

I was inspired to make this recipe based on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  In the cookbook is a recipe for Evolution Tomato Salad.  With the ingredients I had at home I modified the ingredients and made a similar salad.  This is what Jamie Oliver intended I’m sure, with his food revolution, getting people to use simple and fresh ingredients to enjoy healthy eating.

Jamie Oliver’s version has black olives, cannellini beans and tuna, which would be lovely.  However, we didn’t have those ingredients, but we did have cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, cherry sized bocconcini, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with strawberry.  The balsamic vinegar with strawberry can be purchased at specialty food stores.  Toss the ingredients together and what you get is a delicious lunch.

If you would like to support me in my foodie adventures, feel free to click on “My Amazon Store.”  I have posted some of my favourite cookbooks that inspire me.

Tomato, Basil and Bocconcini Salad (Makes a side salad for two)

One hand full of cherry tomatoes per person (sliced in half)

8 basil leaves (washed and torn into bite sided pieces)

4 cherry sized Bocconcini sliced into bite sided pieces

½ tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp of Balsalmic Vinegar of Moderna with strawberry

1 pinch of salt and pepper

Add ingredients into a bowl, toss with oil and vinegar and then enjoy!

Afternoon Snack – Cucumber Rounds with Red Pepper Jelly

This recipe is an easy and tasty appetizer or afternoon snack.  It was simple to prepare and refreshing to eat!  I received the red pepper jelly from Jonathan’s Mom and was excited to use it.  The red pepper jelly was sweet and really quite lovely.

I used a Pampered Chef crinkle cutter to slice the cucumber.  If you don’t have one you can just slice the cucumber with a regular knife.  However, if you would like to buy a fun kitchen gadget, this could be for you.  It makes slicing vegetables more fun and gives them texture.

Ingredients

1 cup of whipped cream cheese

1 minced clove of fresh garlic

1/8 tsp of black pepper

1/8 tsp of dried basil

1/8 tsp of oregano

1 cucumber sliced with crinkle cutter (depending on how many you would like to make)

Enough red pepper jelly for a pea-sized amount on each cucumber

Instructions:

  1. Cut cucumber with a crinkle cutter, like shown below.  It will help the cream cheese stay on the cucumber better.
  2. Mix whipped cream cheese with minced garlic, pepper, dried basil, and oregano.
  3. Spread cream cheese on cucumber round.
  4. Add a pea-sized amount red pepper jelly on each cucumber.

Glow Fresh Grill and Wine Bar – Shops at Don Mills, Toronto

Last week Jonathan, Sarah and I were in Toronto and we tried  Glow Fresh Grill and Wine Bar. Glow is owned by Pickle Barrel and features Rose Reisman’s recipes.  Restaurants can give you ideas or make you feel like your cooking is really awesome.

First up, the kitchen brought out crostini with three sampler-sized dips.  There was an artichoke and Asiago dip, a hummus dip, and finally a beet and mascarpone dip.  The best by far was the artichoke and Asiago dip.  In later posts on my blog I will share some of my own recipes for appetizers and dips.

We ordered sliders to share.  These were extremely well done with lots of flavour and there were three different sliders.  The three types of sliders were: turkey topped with dried fruit chutney, beef with caramelized onions and aged cheddar, and lamb over mint infused hummus and feta.  Jonathan, Sarah and I, each tried a different one.  There were no buns with them, because Rose Reisman’s recipes are about healthy eating.

After that it was a long wait until our main lunch dishes came out.  I ordered the fish tacos, Jonathan ordered the Mediterranean burger and Sarah ordered the white chicken chili. 

These main dishes weren’t anything too special.  The burger without the bun didn’t really meet Jonathan’s expectations for flavour.  The fish in the fish tacos could have had a crispier breading.  The guacamole was average, I feel like I could have made it better myself.  Sarah’s ordered the white chicken chili and it wasn’t photograph worthy, it was kind of plain looking.  The décor at the restaurant was fun and the patio was open because of the lovely weather.  It was fun to try a new restaurant, but the food wasn’t inspiring.  The best part for me was probably the coffee I ordered, it was from Balzac’s and was quite tasty!  My Mom has many of Rose Reisman’s cookbooks, so maybe I will have to experiment at home with some of her recipes. 

After lunch, we shopped around a bit.  The concept of Shops at Don Mills is interesting, very walkable, but it still doesn’t compare to the outdoor mall Fashion Island, that Sarah and I visited last year in Newport Beach, California.  I would really love to go back to California, but if I can’t go back now, at least we are getting some nice California weather in Toronto this week (its been around 20-25 C this week).  It was a fun day though, I love trying new places and exploring in Toronto.