Portobello pesto pizza (and a new start)

Today I am taking a defibrillator to my blog.

As you can see, blogging inactivity has become the norm for the past week or so.  Sure, sure, I have plenty of excuses.  Whether it was my flu/summer cold showdown, visits from my family and boyfriend, or trying out some new Ottawa restaurants, I’ve been rather busy.

I’ve also been uninspired.  The second half of June left me in a slump, and it was only two days ago that I decided to finally start journeying out of my rut.  Now that I have less than a month left in Canada before my big European adventure, I figured I should probably food blog all I can.  Before I know it, this blog will be transformed into a storybook of my travels and lofty international tales.  To say I’m excited would be an understatement.

Anyways, what better way to kickstart my July blog posts than with foods that I love?  Pesto, portobello mushrooms and so much cheese.  It was impossible to go wrong.  Oh right, and the crust was also infused with the garlic oil Brittany got me for my birthday.  All in all, this vegetarian, Natalie-friendly pizza is probably one of the best things I have ever made.

And who better to share it with than my future travel companion himself, Gord?

My handsome travel and dinner companion.

We gorged on this pizza, since we’re blissfully naïve and under the impression that we’ll somehow lose weight in Europe.  Hah. Good one, right?

Like I said above, this pizza was amazing.  Even when it was in the oven it smelt delicious.  Seriously, I thought I was going to have to take it out early and eat it in a cavewoman-like manner.  It was painful enough having to take my usual two dozen pictures pre-meal eating.  Gord had already shovelled half a piece into his mouth while I was still plating.  I can’t say that I blame him.

In the end, is there really anything more beautiful than portobello mushrooms?  I think I cried a bit when I was cutting these.  They’re just such a wonderful, meaty vegetable.  Okay, it’s happened – I’m officially romantically involved with a vegetable.

An iPhone picture I took in the midst of making the pizza. Please take a moment appreciate the pesto and portobello mushroom concealed beneath the cheese.

PS: I splurged on REAL Parmesan cheese to make this pizza.  I found a small, fairly inexpensive block and snatched it up before anyone could find it.  There is still half in the fridge.  Happy times will be had in future meals.
PPS: I couldn’t find any actual provolone cheese, so I used the slices that were packaged for sandwiches.  That’s okay, right?

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Chicken pad thai (AKA the chopping olympics)

Oh hello.  Yes, I’m still here.  Blog updates have been sparse, I realize that, but I am still eating and am very much alive.  I just haven’t had time to write about it.  But here we are.

Making this meal made me wish I could chop veggies like the experts (seriously, check this out!!).

As was forewarned by the Canadian Living recipe that inspired this meal, this pad thai required quite a bit of vegetable chopping.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, though.  My dinner positivity came primarily in the form of our amazing garlic mincer, which meant I didn’t have to painstakingly mince six cloves of garlic while leaning over the counter in desperation.  It is my favourite kitchen utensil at the moment, and a god among all other chopping devices.  Get one.  Your life will be changed.

As for the dish itself, pad thai always produces the most crippling post-dinner stomach aches and, as a result, evening plans are often altered to include anywhere from 1-3 hours of lying around like a shlump.  This meal was no exception, and I sat off my food baby by watching an Alfred Hitchcock film at the Mayfair with Ariel.

The meal may have been drowsiness-from-so-much-food inducing, but it was definitely worth it.  The sauce was reminiscent of the pad thai I get at my favourite local Thai hangout, Siam Kitchen.  I think I’m even starting to like cilantro, and the fresh scent and taste of the herb worked perfectly here.

I have three meals worth of pad thai remaining, meaning that my mouth is already watering in anticipation of today’s leftover lunch (kind of thinking I’ll eat early…).  The chopping olympics are over, let the pad thai-eating olympics begin!

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Sunday dinner with Ariel and Alex: Chilled guacamole soup and double chocolate chipotle muffins

…And Ariel made the fajitas (and Alex hung out with us but ate some vegetarian-friendly meal)!

There is little I love more in life than an impromptu, Mexican-themed meal.  Throw a couple of good friends into the mix, and you have the ingredients for a terrific night.

My charming friends
My fajita, served with a side of iPhone

The dynamics of my friendship with Ariel
(I’m in the mood for headings)
This past Sunday, Ariel invited me over to her house (my old house) for a taco dinner.  Obviously, I accepted.  It was Ariel’s turn to make me something anyways.  You see, the two of us have a payback system that never involves the exchange of money.  I make Ariel supper?  She makes me supper in return.  Ariel buys me an oat fudge bar from Starbucks and a fun popsicle after I forget my wallet at home?  I buy her a movie ticket at the Mayfair.  It’s a good system.  Yesterday we even had a muffin exchange at lunch.  This is why we are friends.

The appetizer
When brainstorming things to make on Sunday, I came across two recipes on Tastespotting.

The first was for a chilled guacamole soup.  I was intrigued.  I had never made guacamole before, but am passionately in love with avocados.  I figured I’d try this one out, and cart it over to Ariel and Alex’s as an appetizer.  It was super easy to make (it took 20 minutes + chill time) and gave me an excuse to buy and munch on my favourite fruit.

Please note the metal chunk that was once attached to Ariel's bicycle, Hans

But don’t get me wrong – this soup was not made without sacrifice.  Oh whatever do I mean?  Well, you know how a few blog posts back I mentioned that you need to wear gloves when you cut jalapeno peppers?  I decided to disobey my own advice, promising that I would be careful and not burn my fingers.

Good news: I didn’t burn my fingers.

JUST EVERY SINGLE PART OF MY FACE, INCLUDING EYELIDS, NOSE AND FOREHEAD.

Pain and agony.  Whine, whine, whine.

The dessert
Okay, I’m over the pepper burns.

I spotted these “muffins” shortly after the soup discovery.  Why the air quotes?  It’s because these were more or less cupcakes.  I’m sorry, anything with the term “double chocolate” in its name has no choice but to be excluded all together from the muffin category.  The addition of the chipotle spice was simply an excuse for me to use more of that $8 bottle of chipotle chili pepper that I bought when I made my Cinco de Mayo brownies (yes, I realize that these are the muffin equivalent of that dessert, shh).

I decided that if I was going to classify these as dessert, I might as well go all out.  I scooped out the top and plopped in a spoonful of ice cream.  Great summer dessert.  In true west coast fashion, Ariel had blackberries with hers.

Final note: the vanilla I used for the cuppins wasn’t just any old vanilla.  When I babysat for this family the other week (the girls and I made 50 cupcakes from scratch for their school classes, but that’s another story…), the mom gave me a bottle of homemade vanilla extract.  It was made with boiled down Grey Goose vodka and real vanilla beans (which were still sitting in the bottle).  So awesome.

PS: Oh old front porch, it was good to be back.  I missed standing on a chair to take photos (not).

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Summer Salad Series II: Quinoa strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Before I start, may I just say that I CANNOT spell “vinaigrette” to save my life.  I knew I was bad at spelling, but even I am impressed by my ability to spell the damn word wrong every single time.  Once again spell checker, you are a constant source of sanity.

BREAKING: The rumours surrounding the apparent deliciousness of balsamic vinegar and strawberries are true.  Completely, 100% true.

The other night was the first time I tried this fantastic blend, the likes of which can only be trumped by the combination of chocolate and strawberries.

But that wouldn’t be any good on a salad, now would it?

As you can tell from the blog title, this is the second salad in my new Summer Salad Series (alliterations are truly an underappreciated literary device).

A beautiful picture I saw on Tastespotting last week was what inspired the creation of this salad.  The blog Salad Pride features one new delicious looking salad a day, and will surely be the victim of much idea borrowing as the summer months progress.

Since normal couscous and I have a love-hate relationship (translation: to my dismay my couscous somehow always comes out resembling mashed potatoes), I decided to try out something new: Israeli couscous.

When I saw it in the Bulk Barn, I was intrigued.  It looked like the tiny noodles you used to get in East Side Mario’s Italian wedding soup.  Heck, maybe it was one in the same.

Turns out I didn’t love this couscous.  It had a strange sort of taste to it, and got clumpy when brought as leftovers the next day.  In the future I’ll probably stick to quinoa or just normal couscous, which I will hopefully develop some sort of ability to make.

On top of the couscous I, of course, had to add my favourite food of summer 2011: quinoa.  You can’t tell me I’m not getting my protein intake!  Topping it all off were freshly quartered strawberries, whose soft crunch and succulent juices provided the sweet contrast that only berries can offer.

All of this was piled on top of a bed of fresh baby arugula – a curiously spicy and tasty salad green.  I still have loads of it left, so watch for it making an appearance in upcoming dishes (arugula: I’ll be here till Wednesday!).

Also, I accidentally threw out the recipe I created, so the one you see below the jump is as accurate a rendition as I can remember… Apologies, friends.

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Sweet potato and black bean burrito bowls

Sadly enough, this is the first time I’ve used a recipe inspired by one of Ottawa’s many fantastic food bloggers.

A few weeks ago Kelly tweeted a picture of the sweet potato and black bean burritos she made on her super fun blog, The Gouda Life.

Her pictures made my mouth water.  I tweeted back at Kelly in excitement of my food discovery, and almost immediately got a reply from my friend Gord over at the Savoury Starving Student.  Apparently he made a dish very similar to this last summer.  Two trusted bloggers endorsing a recipe?  I was sold.

I filed this one away to make for later.  When I found out Matt was coming to visit for the weekend, I decided this was the perfect time to use it.  I always feel bad making such extravagant meals for myself, so I have no choice but to take full advantage of visiting guests.  I don’t think they mind.

Since I have never once succeeded in making a wrap/burrito/taco look photogenic in any of my shots, I decided on an alternative serving method for this meal.

And so, the burrito bowl was born.

After a last-minute, neurotic kitchen breakdown sparked by me trying to bake the small tortillas into bowl form, Matt (my voice of reason, apparently), suggested we broil them.  Of course he was right, and the crisis was averted in mere minutes.

One thing I will say about this meal was that it dirtied a record-breaking amount of bowls (this is an impressive statement coming from a girl who almost always uses every dish in her kitchen to make dinner) and required the carefully timed co-ordination of cooking methods.  With three different meal components: the lime zested black beans, Mexican rice and sweet potato mash, not to mention the creation of the aforementioned tortilla bowls, this was quite the ordeal.

The end result was awesome, though.  Happy porch eating times were achieved.

PS: did you know that cutting jalapeño peppers can burn your fingertips?  Luckily I found this out just as I was about to slice in.  I created tiny thimbles for my fingers using aluminum foil, and thanked google for informing me of such a thing.

"Hmm, I wonder if I could ever make something this awesome?"

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