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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Cinco de Mayo, pt. 1: Black bean, red pepper and corn salad with a lime dressing

Cinco de Mayo always makes me nostalgic for the Spanish class I took back in grade nine.  My teacher was one of those fantastically exuberant educators who would bounce around the classroom, laughing playfully as your face contorted as you attempted to pronounce a word.

Our class fell in the second semester of the school year.  Needless to say, that teacher loved Cinco de Mayo.

As I ate my leftover green pepper and mushroom quinoa yesterday for lunch, it dawned on be that it was May 5.  Well that was that – the cardinal rules of food blogging say that a themed holiday must not be overlooked.  Sitting on the floor of my living room (we don’t have a single chair in our house yet), I started sketching out my dinner plans.

(Aside: This whole planning my dinner while eating my lunch thing is starting to become a dangerous trend, I’m practically living from meal to meal)

In true Hilary fashion, I ended up going all out for my fiesta last night.  As a result of my hard work and kitchen toils, I’m going to be doing three different posts, one for each of my three course.  That’s right.  On a Thursday night, I cooked myself a three course meal.  I am the queen of indulgences.

For my first course, I decided to make a salad that was inspired by a nacho dip my mom makes at home.  As my good friend Gord informs me, this is also quite similar to a sante fe salad he made back last September.  Please visit and shamelessly refresh his blog.

I had red pepper and red onion lying around already, meaning that I just had to run out (bike) and get a few more things at the grocery store.  At the last minute, I realized I had accidentally bought kidney beans instead of black beans (I tend to do a lot of incorrect buying, tsk, tsk), so get this – I ran to the corner store that is literally ten steps away from my front door, and bounded back to the kitchen in a record-breaking 30 seconds.  I love my house.

One more thing – in a complete and utter Cinco de Mayo fail, I realized we didn’t have chili powder.  Yeah. I know, what sort of sad Mexican-inspired meal doesn’t have this spice?  Luckily, a combination of oregano, cumin and hot pepper sauce saved my life.  Thank you Yahoo Answers.

The salad turned out to be refreshing and fast/inexpensive to make, meaning that it would be the perfect potluck/BBQ/quick dinner meal for any night this summer.  ENJOY.

PS: Just ate this for a leftover dinner.  The leftovers are actually BETTER.  A little bit of refrigerator chill time will make all the difference.

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Dilled Potato and Corn Salad

I have finally decided to use the precious Prince Edward Island potatoes that my friend Emma brought me after her trip home to the island.  Waiting for the ideal moment and ideal meal to cook these potatoes was difficult, considering that I place PEI potatoes in the same value category as things like “gold” and “seasons 1-6 of LOST.”  That being said, my expectations were pretty high as I searched for a recipe worthy of their goodness.

This recipe came from the September issue of Canadian Living, which my mom kindly dropped off to me before leaving for Chicago.  The recipe incorporated the potatoes nicely (they are so key they even got a special mention in the title!) as well as took advantage of the fact that it is now corn season!  Since we don’t have a BBQ, I grilled the corn on the stove using a non-stick pan.  How did this work out?  Alright, I guess, but I am mourning over the absence of those photogenic grill lines that BBQ’s provide.  I may have to do something drastic and make my own homemade griller…

An added bonus for this meal?  It cost me a grand total of $3.56 to make.  This minimal amount included: a large bottle of red wine vinegar (which I am not extremely fond of but I think the taste may grow on me), fresh dill, green onions and corn.  Not too shabby for a filling dinner and leftover lunch.  Also, I’m so glad I went with the fresh dill, it was so refreshing.  New goal for the school year: plant and maintain my own spice garden.

The pictures turned out so well that I couldn’t select only two, so we have a hat trick of photos for your viewing pleasure!  Next up: more birthday surprises and the completion of Gord’s challenge.

Grilled Chicken Barley Salad

I made this salad exactly one week ago to this day.  The reason I am just posting it now can probably only be attributed to sheer laziness and my extreme backlog of blog posts.  Get ready for some frequent (I’m talking maybe everyday) updates for the next week or so!

ANYWAYS, back to this Grilled Chicken Barley Salad.  Surprisingly (or maybe not), this dish reminded me so much of the Mediterranean Barley Rice Salad I made back at the beginning of July.  That being said, they were both delicious, and perhaps in the end the only similarities were my extremely poor palette and the fact that both dinners contained barley.  Since I have been majorly lacking chicken in my diet lately (considering I ate plain chicken three times a week this school year – I’m in withdrawls), I decided I needed to find a recipe that incorporated both summer flavours and this favourite protein.  Once again, Canadian Living pulled through for me, and this dish ended up being extremely easy to make as well as super effective as a work lunch for the next two days.  Could a student ask for anything else?

Also, no matter how hard I try, I cannot bring myself to like raw tomatoes.  I used grape tomatoes in this recipe, and I thought the sweetness of them would make me fall in love.  How wrong I was.  I will need to find another way to conquer this ever-expanding tomato hatred.

ALSO PART TWO: My friend Gord at the Savoury Starving Studenthas once again blog challenged me!  This time, I need to make one of the recipes that he has posted on his site.  Like a true journalism student, he gave me a deadline (August 26).  I’ll keep you posted with what I choose, and will obviously post an absurd amount of pictures once the challenge is complete.

Watermelon Salsa (And a Blogger challenge finally completed) (And part one of my dinner party meal)

Well let me just say that WEEKS and WEEKS ago (JUNE 30) when my friend and fellow blogger Carly (check out her cheerful blog Carly Loves), challenged me to make a recipe “that contains an unexpected, out-of-place ingredient,” I was completed boggled.  Sure I’m creative, but food-wise?  I was just learning the ropes.  Obviously, I had a major case of chef’s block (is that a thing?), and endlessly searched the internet in hopes of finding something both shocking and delicious.  Failure.  The next logical step?  CALL MOM.  Of course, my dearest mother had a solution for me: watermelon salsa, a dish which I had curiously ignored during past home get-togethers.  After asking about half a million people if watermelon in salsa was unusual (I got an overwhelming “yes”), I decided to go forth with this recipe.  So I had the dish, the only question was when I should make it, which leads nicely into the second part of this post…

…I decided to have a dinner party!  Sick of cooking for just myself, and still dreading the thought of leftovers sitting in my fridge for days at a time, I decided to have some of my culinarily spoiled co-workers over for a casual three-course meal.  Not knowing what I should make for an appetizer, it dawned on me that this was the perfect opportunity for me to make the salsa.  Once I got to Loblaws, the Grocery Store Gods confirmed my choice to make this dish: both watermelon and tortilla chips were on sale, a miracle for my student budget.  Strangely enough, the end product hardly tasted like watermelon, and the combination of garlic, onion, soy sauce (weird) and brown sugar somehow made it delicious.  Even my roommate who is allergic to tomatoes could eat salsa for the very first time!  If you’re looking for the recipe, I’ll post it under my Recipes tab sometime in the next few days.

In the end, I think this salsa was a big hit, and it gave me an excuse to use my new 99¢ silver platter from Value Village!  Also, please note the impressive “watermelon bowl.”  I thought it was quite ingenious, and gave me one less dish to wash.  Hilary: 1, Messy Kitchen: 0.

Stay tuned over the next few days as I post course two and three from my very first dinner party!