In My Active Kitchen

Having fun in the kitchen and out


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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Aioli Dip

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The thermometer has enjoyed being at the -300 mark for a few days.  Since I’m not yet required to spend my week days in an office, I have felt the need to pass the time huddled in my jammies and slippers sipping copious amounts of coffee, tea and soup.

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It’s made even worse when I spot Ashe napping outside in the freezing cold.  Then I crank up the fire place.

I know she’s a Siberian husky but, really?

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It makes me cold, just looking at her.

Yesterday, after getting extremely bored and probably overly caffeinated, I was really craving solid foods but like, snack food.  So I decided to roast some Brussels sprouts and serve them with homemade aioli for dipping.

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Because that’s a completely normal reaction, right?

However, these are so freaking delicious, they automatically replace any craving for fries or chips or other bad foods.  Plus, the aioli quickly tempers these morsels of goodness from obnoxiously healthy to half guilt-free snacking.

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Let’s talk about this aioli.  I was torn between three options: make by hand, use the food processor or simply add some garlic and lemon juice to store bought mayo.

So time consuming, but oh so deliciously worth it!

So time consuming, but oh so deliciously worth it!

If you’re not bored in your pajamas and have people coming over in t-15 minutes, by all means grab the mayo, add some crushed garlic, add some lemon juice and maybe get all fancy with some herbs  and stuff.  Since I definitely wasn’t in that group, I figured that I should at least make some sort of effort that day.

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Again, I was torn between the food processor or simply doing it by hand.  Maybe it was the caffeine talking, maybe it was the thought of having to clean the food processor after, but ultimately I decided to make the aioli by hand.  Again, I blame the caffeine and lack of fresh air.

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I’m 99% sure it took longer for me to make the aioli than it did for the sprouts to roast; I’m also nearly positive it gave me carpal tunnel.  So, proceed with that part of the recipe at your own risk.

But by all means, make these sprouts- what a fun little appetizer for your next dinner party.  Or you know, when you’re bored in your pajamas at home trying to convince your husky to keep you warm.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Aioli Dip

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Ingredients

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 lb of Brussels sprouts

2-3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

Sea salt + Pepper

Aioli

1 clove of garlic, mashed into a paste if made by hand, whole clove with food processor

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt

½ olive oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F

Cut off stems and remove 1-2 layers of the outer leaves from the sprouts, then slice in half.  In a large bowl, toss sprouts with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spread onto a large baking sheet and place in the middle rack of the oven.  Bake for 30-40 minutes shaking once or twice throughout to ensure the sprouts roast evenly.    They should be browned and slightly crispy on the outside.

To make the aioli using the food processor or blender, combine egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, salt and garlic clove and blend until well combined.  Reduce to low speed and very slowly add in olive oil, initially one tablespoon at a time to allow the oil to emulsify.  Once it starts to thicken, gradually add in your remainder of the olive oil.

To make the aioli by hand, place mixing bowl onto a saucepan on your counter or table top.  This will allow you to add in your oil while whisking without the bowl moving.  Whisk together egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, salt and mashed garlic.   Once well combine, add in oil one tablespoon at time while whisking constantly. Only add in more oil until the mixture in the bowl has thickened.  Warning: this requires a lot of time and patience.

Serve the roasted sprouts with aioli and enjoy!

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Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

risotto 1

I love risotto.  Simply love it.  It’s creamy, savory and freakin’ delicious.

So that’s why I decided to make butternut squash risotto for dinner last night.  But not just any butternut squash risotto, roasted butternut squash risotto.  Yep, I did that. It’s amazing. You should try it.

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For some reason, people are intimidated by risotto; but really is that it’s just time consuming.  All you need to do is stir, stir, and stir some more.

Risotto collage

It’s really not that difficult.   It can be a huge pain in the ass, but it’s not difficult.  Plus, the end result makes all the stirring worth it. I’m also pretty sure it helps tone your arms. (Hoping)

I opted to roast the butternut squash in this recipe for two reasons: one it’s a super easy way to prepare your squash and two, it makes it taste that much better.

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I could go on and on (and on) about why you should make this dish, but really you know you want to so do it already, and thank me later, k?

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Here’s the recipe:

1 1 ½ to 2lb butter nut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

1 head of garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 small or half a medium onion, diced

1 ¼ cups of Arborio rice

¼ cup white wine or water

5 cups of vegetable stock

¼ cup Asiago cheese, grated

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375

Combine squash, garlic and one tablespoon of olive oil into a large baking dish, season with salt and pepper and mix well to combine.  Bake for 20 minutes and stir, then bake for an additional 25 minutes until fork tender.  Let cool and mash until almost pureed- a bit chunkier than mashed potatoes.

Heat the vegetable broth in a small sauce pan until piping hot, but not boiling.   Meanwhile, in a large skillet or sauce pan, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat; add in onion and sauté for 5 minutes until tender and translucent.  Add in your arborio rice and stir until any remaining liquid has been absorbed.  Pour in white wine and stir continuously until, again, liquid has been absorbed.  Next, add in broth, one ladle-full at a time, stir continuously and only add in more broth until all liquid has been absorbed.  When only one cup of broth remains, add in your mashed squash and garlic mixture and Asiago cheese and mix well.  Add in the final cup of broth, season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.


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Drink, Write, Run… All week

Resolutions

Raise your  hands if you’ve made one or several New Years Resolutions.  Lower your hand if you’ve already “fallen off the wagon”.

So many of us set these large, lofty resolutions as the clock strikes midnight, bringing with us a sense of  hope and confidence as we enter into the New Year, slightly sauced off champagne.   The following morning, as the hang-over wears off, we begin to realize that our resolutions may not have been as manageable as we previously thought and we start to doubt ourselves.  On January 1st.

Fail

That’s why my only New Year’s resolution for t his year, was simply to set weekly goals on what I’d like to see myself accomplish on any given week. I’m a goal oriented person- it’s what motivates me to get done what I need to get done.  I don’t necessarily need a reward at the end of it, just a clear direction on where to go and what I want to accomplish. 

No minimum amount or maximum amount of goals required, just so long as I provide myself with some direction on what I should achieve on any given week.

So with that in mind, here are my goals for the week:

1)      Drink water, at least 1.5L every day.  I am always trying to remind myself to drink more water instead of coffee.  So there you have it- drink more water is my first goal.

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2)      Blog more often.  I blog because I like to write, I blog about food because I love to cook.  Plus, as someone who professes to be both a marketing and social media professional, it’s good practice and will hopefully improve my writing and communications skills over time.

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3)     Run three times this week.  Following a really awful half-marathon experience in Whistler this past June (was purely my own fault for not training properly) I have decided to sign up for the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon that takes place in May.  I haven’t been running much (read: at all) so I need to work myself up slowly to prevent any injuries when I begin proper training in mid-February.  I have a history of hip-flexor issues, so I want to avoid those at all costs.

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I will get back to this state… eventually 😉

Honestly, I feel much more capable of accomplishing these goals that I’ve set for a week, rather than setting goals for an entire year. I think if people broke down their New Year’s resolutions into more specific goals over smaller time frames, they would find them less daunting and far easier to accomplish.

On that note, I’m off to get a tall glass of water and go for a run (on the treadmill, it’s too bloody cold outside!)

-Jess


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Everything is Better with Kale… and Avocado

Happy New Year! May 2014 be the best year yet.

Honestly, despite many happy moments (like, you know, getting married!) I’m quite content to say goodbye to 2013.  I move into this year with hope, excitement and optimism.   So on that note, let’s kick this year off with one of my all- time favorite foods: kale.

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My husband, friends and family have all been tolerating my obsession with kale for many moons, but I can never seem to get enough.    When you pair it with creamy avocado, it’s pretty much the best thing ever.  Plus, despite whatever else you may have eaten that day, I think eating Kale should automatically cancel out the bad stuff.  So look upon this as a get out of jail free card.

Avocado makes it even better.

Avocado makes it even better.

This salad is just so damn yummy I could eat it all day.  Filled with toasted crunchy almonds, sweet cranberries, creamy avocado, and then topped with a tangy citrus-y dressing you’ll feel the health seep into your bones.  True story.

The key with kale, particularly curly leafed kale, is to allow the fats from the olive oil soften the leaves to make it easier to digest and kill off the bitterness.   I also cannot stress enough to remove those tough stems- they taste awful and will ruin any good taste created by the other ingredients.

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I’m also going to share another little secret: stop buying bottled dressing and start making your own.  Pre-made stuff is usually filled with all kinds of unnecessary preservatives and sugars you don’t need.   Making your own requires only a jar and ingredients you already have kicking around, so save yourself the 3.99 and buy some dark chocolate instead.  Glad we could have this chat.

Now, go make this salad tonight and thank me later.

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Tangy Kale Salad with Almonds, Avocado and Cranberries

1 head of curly leafed Kale

1-2 Tbsp. of olive oil

½ c. toasted almond slivers

½ c. dried cranberries

1 avocado, pitted and sliced

Grated parmesan cheese

Ground pepper

This dressing:

½ lemon, juiced

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

¼ c. apple cider vinegar

½ c. olive oil

In a mason jar or mixing bowl combine all dressing ingredients and shake/mix together thoroughly, taste and adjust to your preference.

To prepare salad, remove leaves from the stems of the kale, wash and dry thoroughly then toss with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large mixing bowl.  Gently massage the oil into the leaves of the kale to allow them to soften.     Add in your toasted almond slivers and dried cranberries and pour in dressing.  Mix well so all the leaves are coated with the dressing and serve onto individual plates, top with a few slices of avocado and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and ground pepper.


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English Christmas Scones

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Scones are a favorite family Christmas tradition of mine.  Actually, my Mom’s baked goods in general are a favorite family Christmas tradition of mine.  Sugar cookies, butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, peanut butter balls… Yep, life is pretty good at my parents’ house over the holidays.  Exercise? What exercise?

But the scones, the scones!  These hold a very special, dear place in my sugar and butter coated heart.   For the past week, I’ve woken every morning to the smell of these flaky, tender sour cream and currant scones warming in the oven only to be smothered in clotted cream and jam.

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Unsure about what Clotted Cream is? It’s a very thick, rich cream popular in England, most commonly in the South-West region, and it has a slightly sweet taste making it ideal for desserts and this scone recipe.  Your local supermarket might carry it- we get ours at Longo’s, or try your favorite specialty food shop.  If you can’t find Clotted Cream, Devonshire cream is also a great alternative.

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Try baking these scones to serve your family for breakfast or brunch over the holidays, I guarantee they will be a huge success.

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English Christmas Scones

1 ¾ c. All-purpose flour

¼ c. white sugar

2 tsp. Baking Powder

¾ tsp. Baking Soda

¼ tsp. salt

1/3 c. butter

1 egg

¾ c. sour cream

¼ c. black currants

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and currants.  Cut in butter using knives, or a pastry cutter if you have one, until crumbly.  Add egg and sour cream and blend until just well mixed.  Transfer batter to a cookie sheet and shape into a round pie shape. Slash the top for your slices.

Insert into middle rack and bake for 25-30 minutes until a light golden brown on the bottom.   Serve with Clotted cream and your favorite jam or jelly.

Tip: change the flavour by ditching the currants and replace with 1 teaspoon each of grated orange and lemon rind.  Serve with clotted cream and your favorite marmalade.


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When I Grow Up I Wanna Be…

Ever since my last post, this question has been percolating in my mind over and over:

What do I want to do with my life?

career choice

 

I mean, here I am with a part-time job and a few contracts to keep life interesting, but no set career job right now.  While this is obviously an uncomfortable situation to me, I am trying to view it as the opportunity to get it right.  To find that job that will hopefully leave me feeling professionally fulfilled and my bank account a little happier, too.

So with that in mind, I’m going to play the game of:

If I could wake up tomorrow and start any fantasy job, I would want to do any of these:

1)      Brand Marketing Specialist/Strategist/Manager (whatever title a company might be using)

 

Photo Credit: Boch & Fern

Photo Credit: Boch & Fern Brand Strategist Creative Agency

Not just because the title sounds cool but because this is what I feel my career has been building towards since my early days when I first entered into the big, bad world of Sports Marketing.  Branding is simply in my professional DNA.  I get it, it gets me.   We go together like PB& J.   I like plotting out the road map a brand should take, I like bringing together different marketing tactics to make one kick-ass campaign.  Plotting, planning and bringing those ideas into fruition- does it really get any better than that?

2)      Café Owner

Cafe Owner in Paris would be even better.

Cafe Owner in Paris would be even better.

Okay, I know we just did a 180 here from corporate marketing chick to small business owner.  But this has been a dream of mine and Dustin’s since pretty much the beginning of our relationship, and it’s been a long-harbored dream of mine since before then.     I mean really, it’s not a secret that I love to cook and bake and that I can’t function without coffee.  I also love cooking for other people and experimenting with all kinds of different ingredients to make delicious meals.  So to be able to house that into a happy little business where I can come up with unique menus and celebrate what I love most about food on a daily basis and get paid for it, would be pretty incredible.

3)      Interior Designer

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I know, I know another random tangent.  To be honest, I don’t really know where this is coming from.   All I know is that I’ve probably watched way too many home decorating shows (hey-some people like to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians; I’m shamelessly addicted to Candice Tells All).  I’m also 99% sure that my drive towards home ownership is simply an excuse so I can finally design my dream house.  I love beautiful spaces and I love being inspired through magazines, TV shows and obviously Pinterest.  I love hunting through flea markets, home décor and fabric stores, and don’t even get me started on the home and kitchen sections at The Bay.  I like putting different fabrics together with paint colours, and exploring how this texture works with that one.  So why not- it’s a fantasy and I can dream, right?

Looking at this list though, I guess what I love most is the creative process.  I love starting with a concept and running with it.  New ideas excite me and I’m not a huge fan of the repetitive or mundane.  So while I clearly have a wide-variety of career interests, that may or may not make sense with my current work experience, at least I know fundamentally what I want out of a career, regardless of what the vocation may be.

If you could wake up tomorrow, what would your chosen profession be?


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My Life at 28

A few weeks ago, I turned 28 years old.  Not typically a milestone for people, this was kind of a big deal to me.  No longer do I really resonate with the “twenty something’s” crowds and articles that have been trending on Buzzfeed and facebook; I can’t really put myself into the “thirty something’s” either.  I feel like I’m kind of limbo, and not just because of my age.

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Thankfully, my PBR days are long gone.

Since graduating from University, my personal and professional lives have taken so many twists and turns, I think I need to download a special maps app just to figure it out.  I’ve now lived in three provinces, worked in a few different (all pretty awesome) industries, and I am now dealing with the dreaded sense of where do I go (grow?) from here.  On the flip side, I just married the man of my dreams and I am still on a happy little newly-wedded-bliss-cloud in that respect.

Photo Credit: Yao Photography

Photo Credit: Yao Photography

But then it all comes crashing down: the debt accumulated from multiple cross-country moves and bad luck; the realization that I gave up a dream job- and have yet to replace it- over a year ago; the fact that I am 28 years old, married, and moved back in with my parents working a part-time retail job.  Something I’ve managed to avoid since I was 21.

Life sure is a bitch sometimes.

Honestly, I think the hardest part for me in all this is that I know where I want to take my life. I know what I want to achieve and I can see the big picture: career back on track, the purchase of our first home, finances in order.    But now, I need to figure out what route to take in order to accomplish these goals.

This past year of career uncertainty has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  Since the departure from a job “most people would kill to have” I had the arrogant and naïve notion that I could just as easily attain an equally amazing job in a new city where I had next to no connections.  Sure enough, I did manage to find a job, but it “wasn’t good enough for me”.  Whether this was really true or not, it shot me (us) in the foot.  This was followed by a job where I was so unqualified I’m amazed they even hired me in the first place.  That’s not modesty it’s just the honest truth.

Now, in my third city in 2 years, I feel as if I’m back at square one career wise.  My drive to succeed has not changed, but my attitude sure has.  I know that when I finally attain that first step back on the career growth track I will take on the role with renewed appreciation for a job and the value I bring as an employee to the organization.

I’m just hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

My husband hopes so too.