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Happy Halloween!

It’s Halloween night
What are you to do?
The kids are in a fright
Over your scary spaghetti squash stew

All they want is candy
Their eyes are set on treats
but you insist on veggies
before they hit the streets

I’ll tell you what I suggest
and geez you might be sorry
Halloween is the theme (you probably rightly guessed)
and these meals are downright gory…

Halloween Recipes

STUFFED JACK-O-LANTERN BELL PEPPERS

Ingredients:

  •  6 bell peppers, any color (pick orange for Halloween!)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
  2. Lightly mix together the ground beef, egg, bread cubes, onion, tomato, garlic, chili sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  3. Wash the peppers, and cut jack-o’-lantern faces into the peppers with a sharp paring knife, making triangle eyes and noses, and pointy-teeth smiles. Slice off the tops of the peppers, and scoop out the seeds and cores. Stuff the peppers lightly with the beef stuffing, and place them into the prepared baking dish so they lean against each other.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until the peppers are tender and the stuffing is cooked through and juicy, about 1 hour.

GHOST OF MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices Bread
  • 4 slices Swiss Cheese
  • 2 slices Oven Roasted Breast of Turkey
  • 2 slices Virginia Brand Baked Ham
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

  1. Lay bread slices on work surface. On 2 bread slices, place 1 slice cheese, 1 slice turkey, 1 slice ham, and 1 more slice of cheese; top each with remaining bread slice.
  2. Using a 5-by-4-inch ghost-shaped cookie cutter, cut out a ghost-shaped sandwich; repeat with remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow dish, whisk together eggs, milk, and salt.
  4. In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Dip each sandwich in egg mixture to coat well on both sides, and place in skillet. Cook, turning once, until golden brown and cheese is melted, about 4 minutes per side. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

SWAMP CREATURES

Ingredients:

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Sautéed spinach
  • Olive slices

Directions:

  1. Mix up a batch of macaroni and cheese, then spoon it into greased muffin cups and bake until firm, about 25 minutes.
  2. Let the creatures rest for about 10 minutes, then gently remove them from the tins. Place them upside down on a swamp of sautéed spinach and add olive slice eyes.

What do you feed your little trick-or-treaters before they hit the streets on Halloween night?

Do you know what is in season in Ontario right now, aside from apples and pumpkins? I’ll give you a hint; they are small, tart, red berries that contain vitamin C, dietary fibre, manganese, as well as being touted as a super-food packed full of antioxidants. They are a go-to item for urinary tract infections, and a staple on this weekend’s Thanksgiving dinner table. All hail the cranberry!

Ok, let’s clear our plates a little, shall we? If you have turned your nose up in the past over the red jelly that slides out of a can with its ridges intact, I can’t say as how I blame you. There’s not much imagination there now, is there? We are in the 21st Century though and can do so much more with cranberries. And I’m not just talking about them on your dinner table either, but we can certainly start there. How about trying your hand at making some homemade cranberry sauce to serve up beside your turkey this Thanksgiving. This recipe from Canadian Living is a mere 68 calories per 2 tbsp, with only 16 g of carbohydrates, no fat, but 10% of your vitamin C intake for the day. 

SPICED WHOLE CRANBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) dry red wine or apple cider
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 star anise, optional)
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 pkg fresh cranberries

Directions:

  1. Peel rind (not including pith) off orange and cut into very thin strips (or use zester); set aside.
  2. Squeeze orange juice into saucepan; add sugar, wine, cinnamon, star anise (if using), cloves, salt and cayenne. Bring to boil over medium heat; boil until syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup (50 mL), about 18 minutes.
  3. Add cranberries and orange rind; simmer, stirring often, until cranberries are softened but still whole, about 8 minutes. Let cool. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Decorate your table with cranberries this Thanksgiving

If you can’t resist buying more than one bag of cranberries when they lie so tempting at the grocery store, there is far more that you can do with these humble fruits. They freeze well, so can be used later in baking, making jams, jellies or sauces. You can also add them to beverages for a festive flair, and they are even more practical if they are frozen to keep that drink cool. Instead of getting chintzy items from the dollar store, or expensive items at a home boutique, you can also turn to the simple cranberry to add a seasonal sensation to your holiday decor. Think cranberries floating in water, or on a tray with votive candles, to take you back to simpler times.

Ready to make a cranberry masterpiece?

Why stop there? If you’ve got the time, make up a cranberry topiary for a centrepiece that will wow your guests on Thanksgiving day. Cranberries last a long time, so this can be a make-ahead project. Maybe the kids would enjoy this craft project? If you want it to last, spray on a little shellac, and you are good to go for Thanksgiving day.

Cranberry Pueblo Cocktail anyone?

If you love the idea of cranberries, but your creativity stops at cranberry juice, don’t fret. Make up a cranberry punch for the kids and throw lemon and orange wedges in it. Dip a little bit out for the adults and add an ounce of vodka for a smooth Cape Cod. Or really impress your guests with a pre-dinner cocktail, like the Cranberry Pueble Cocktail from Oceanspray.

 

However you roll it, cranberries are a big part of Thanksgiving celebrations. I wish you and your family the best over your holiday celebrations this weekend.

The weekend is almost here. You need to get through one more day of work to make it to two blissful days off. I normally regal you with all the fantastic things that London, Ontario has to offer. And there is plenty of stuff to get up to here. I know I am blessed to live in such a great city and can’t praise it enough.

But I have to say I am tired.

The Harvest Moon is at its peak tonight

I don’t know if it’s because I still haven’t adjusted to the back to school routine. It could be because the Harvest Moon has been shining bright this week. It might be because Fall officially arrives this weekend, so we can look forward to longer nights and shorter days, with potentially less sunshine available to perk up spirits. I know a lot of people who are hitting that nesting phase in preparation for winter, making soups, canning, baking, cleaning and organizing their lives.

I think it is my turn this weekend.

Sure, you could hit the theatre (Legally Blonde is getting great reviews at the Grand Theatre), check out the Old East Village Fall Festival, or attend one of the many sports events going on this weekend (watch the Western Mustangs, London City Soccer, or London Knights in action). I might do one or all of those things. I suspect that my weekend plans are going to be a little more low-key though. Sure it might be tempting to go apple picking, get lost in a corn maze, or just wander quietly through a forest to breathe in the Autumn air. In fact, all of those things are really tempting now that I think of it.

Then I think about the fact that maybe I could sleep in this weekend. Perhaps I could tick a few late summer projects off around the house before the cooler weather really sets in.  Once I have had my leisurely coffee over the newspaper that is. Or maybe I could make the rest of my week easier by prepping a few meals to freeze for mid-week crazy days. Yeah, how about pesto from the basil before it gets hit by frost, spaghetti sauce from your abundance of tomatoes, or a few pots of soup from all those great seasonal vegetables that are overflowing at farmers markets across Ontario. I know! Here’s a recipe that uses plenty of great Ontario veggies, from the Foodland Ontario site.

ONTARIO BORSCHT

Ingredients:

  • Borscht, a vegetable dish.

    Borscht, a vegetable dish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    tbsp (30 ml) butter

  • 6 Ontario Beets (peeled and shredded)
  • 4 Ontario leeks (chopped)
  • 2 cups (500 ml) Ontario mushrooms (sliced)
  • 2 Ontario Carrots (shredded)
  • 2 cloves Ontario Garlic (minced)
  • 1 Ontario Onion (chopped)
  • 1 Ontario White Turnip (peeled and shredded)
  • 1 stalk celery (chopped)
  • 1 Ontario Potato (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 7 cups (1750 ml) beef (or vegetable broth)
  • tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
  • 2 cups (500 ml) Ontario Cabbage (shredded)
  • 1 can white kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • tbsp (44 ml) red wine vinegar
  • tsp (5 ml) granulated sugar
  •  Salt and pepper
  •  Sour cream and snipped chives (or green onion tops)

Directions:

  • In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add beets, leeks, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, onion, white turnip, celery, potato and bay leaves; cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
  • Stir in broth and tomato paste. Bring to simmer and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in cabbage and beans; cook for 5 minutes.
  • Season with vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste, adding more vinegar and sugar if needed. (There should be a nice sweet and sour balance.) Discard bay leaves. Place dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chives on each serving.

Tip: This soup freezes well, so double the batch and freeze for later use.

 

Of course, I might not get out of bed at all. What are you up to this weekend?

Summer is officially here. Cottagers have fled to the country to relax far from home. Trailer parks have filled up with families looking for fun in the sun. And those left behind are looking for ways to beat the heat in the middle of the sweltering city. If you’ve got a pool, now is the time to use it! If you don’t, better make friend with your nearest neighbour that has. If even that seems like a stretch, take heart in the fact that you aren’t alone. Are you one of those folks? Don’t sweat it. Someone has to keep the economy going, right? The weekend will be here before you know it, but in the mean time there are plenty of ways to keep cool in your own backyard.

Ways to Beat the Heat

  • Plan a backyard picnic. Carve up a watermelon. Pull out your beach umbrella and sit with your feet in a kiddie pool full of ice. Refreshing!
  • How about making an ice bowl full of your favourite summer drink? Fill it full of edible flowers (ie, nasturtium, pansy, roses, day lilies, lilac, etc) or fruits (orange, lemon or lime slices) before freezing for a beautiful display piece that people will talk about long after the punch is gone.
  • If you have work to do around the yard, why not beat the heat by tackling your garden projects early in the morning or later in the day. Avoid the scorching mid-day sun and fit in a siesta instead.
  • Sprinklers aren’t just for the kids anymore. If you have to water the grass, gardens or trees in your yard, why stop there? When the temperature hits 30°C and keeps on rising, shed your inhibitions with your shoes and run through that cool water once or twice. Can’t beat feeling like a cool kid again.
  • Time to ditch the oven for the barbeque. You don’t want to heat up the house any more than it already is. Steaks and burgers are always welcome, but why not expand your bbq repertoire with pizza, veggies or even fruit! Anyone for stuffed peaches on the grill (via bbq.com)?

STUFFED PEACHES ON THE GRILL

Ingredients:

  • 4 large peaches
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

Wash and halve peaches. Remove pit. Place peaches on aluminum foil so that you can fold up the foil and seal the peaches in. Spoon 2 tablespoons of berries into each peach half. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of brown sugar on each and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Fold up foil and seal. Place on hot grill and cook for 15-18 minutes Turn once. Serve right out of the foil.

What’s your favourite way to beat the heat?

Did you get a chance to stop and smell the flowers last weekend? It is amazing to watch them go from tiny buds to fully open colourful carpets of life in your yard. Of course I have also noticed that the warm weather has brought out carpets of another flower in my yard. More specifically, the field of yellow is a sea of dandelions that is competing with the newly green lawn.

Sigh…

Dandelions

Genus Taraxacum; sunny yellow dandelions

Welcome to life as a homeowner. So what do we do with these sunny weeds that were brought over to North America compliments of our early European settlers? Now that is a question that has been asked by lawn lovers for an awfully long time. How about one of these helpful suggestions;

DANDELIONS: Fight or Foster?

I remember picking dandelions as a child and chanting the ominous little ditty “Mama had a baby and its head popped off”, as I popped the end of the flower off of its stalk. A bit macabre, but it filled hours of entertainment for all the neighbourhood kids and potentially eradicated at least a few new weeds in our parent’s lawns. Nowadays though, most North Americans first response when they see these infamous yellow flowers is to grimace. It used to be that you would get out the weed killer and spray those little buggers out of existence, but since 2009 cosmetic pesticides have been banned in Ontario. That means that if you want to get rid of the virulent Taraxacum invasion in your yard, you have to other means.

Dandelion Digger from Lee Valley

The obvious, but extremely time-consuming answer is to dig the dandelions out of your yard. Cutting them down with the lawn mower might remove the flower head and some of the long, tooth-shaped leaves, but you have to get to the root of the problem. Literally. Because even if you shear the plant to the ground, this perennial plant will keep coming back year after year. That is unless you pull the dandelion out, tap-root and all. And those tap-roots can be 15 cm or longer. You will need a ‘dandelion digger’, or a simple trowel (if your back can hack it). Your only other ingredient is time to dig them up.

Vinegar; the natural herbicide

If digging dandelions doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are some other options to get rid of those pesky plants. Dandelions need plenty of sunlight to grow. If you smother them, cutting off their source of sun, you will kill the flower. Of course if your yard is overrun by them, you will also be effectively killing the grass around them too. Think of this as a small-sized solution or conversely, a wide-reaching one. You can also pour boiling water over the plant several times a day until it dies. Vinegar also works to clean your world inside and out. Spraying vinegar on a dandelion plant works as an effective natural herbicide that won’t harm the soil or contaminate ground water.

There are a few other methods to combat your battle with dandelions. One is to over-seed your lawn. This simple step not only improves the health and look of your lawn, but it also chokes out weeds, making it harder for them to flourish. Another tip that lawn care companies will gladly suggest is to improve the quality of your soil. Dandelions love acidic soil. If you improve your soil with mulch or compost, dandelions get weaker and less likely to thrive or take root in the first place. As a bonus, this also makes them easier to pull out!

Of course you could also learn to love the prevalent weed. They do make for sunny spots in amongst the green grass in the spring. They are also edible, from their roots, to bitter leaves, to brilliant yellow flowers. You can add leaves to your salad for a dash of calcium and iron. They also contain vitamin A, B complex, C, D, potassium, and even zinc. Plus, they are low in calories! The common dandelion has even been used in various herbal remedies, such as being used as a diuretic, stimulating appetite, aiding digestion, detoxifying the liver and gallbladder and just generally improving the immune system. Not bad for a plant that most homeowners consider a scourge on their property.

So if you break down and pick a pack of dandelions this spring, why not think of taking them to the kitchen, instead of depositing them in your local yard waste bags. This recipe for dandelion pesto from David Lebovitz, just might help to sway you in leaving at least a small pocket of yellow in your yard, if not for your children than at least for your culinary taste buds. Enjoy!

Dandelion Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces (350g) washed and cleaned dandelion leaves
  • 1 cup (250ml) olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6 tablespoons (40g) pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 1/2 ounces (70g) Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Directions:

1. Put about one-third of the dandelion greens in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining dandelion greens in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up.

2. Add the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, and process until everything is a smooth puree.

3. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with more olive oil or water.
Storage: The pesto can be refrigerated in a jar for up to four days. The top may darken, which is normal. You can pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent that. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Good luck with your (delicious/dastardly) dandelion dilemma!

Welcome to In Your Neighbourhood!

Allow me to introduce myself. The name is Jim. You want to know more? Well, check out my "About Me" page! Don't forget to take a peek at my "Local London Listings" while you are here too! I update it regularly. Enjoy your visit and drop me a line to let me know you were in the neighbourhood!

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