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Mediterranean Soiree 

8 Mar

This past weekend I hosted an intimate gathering in honour of my mother and sister’s upcoming birthdays as I won’t be seeing them on their respective special days.

I decided to go with a Mediterranean theme for the menu taking cues from Italian, French and Greek cuisines. 

As a rule, whenever I entertain I lays try not to bite off more than I can chew. Preparing for an event no matter how small or relaxed can become extremely stressful if you try to make everything yourself. So I chose the “semi-homemade” route, making simple recipes and using some ready made fare.

The menu served 10 persons and was as follows

Bruschetta

Mushroom crostini

Olive bar

Cheese and meat board

Chicken souvlaki (kebabs) with Tzatziki sauce

Assorted artisan mini pastries (premade)


Creme cheese croissants (premade)

Biscotti  (premade)

I will share how I prepared the items for this get together. 



BRUSCHETTA 

Bruschetta is a popular antipasto found in many Italian eateries and with good reason. It consists of slices of toasted bread coated in oil and topped with a variety of things including meats, cheeses and perhaps best known…tomato.

I made tomato bruschetta using a sliced baguette.

WHAT YOU NEED (makes 20-24 slices)

1/2 of a baguette  

Butter or olive oil

One large ripe tomato 

Spices- I used Italian spices and a pinch of salt


WHAT TO DO

Tomato

1)Dice tomato

2)Add salt and spices with a drizzle of olive oil

3)Stir to mix and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow flavour to mature.

Tomato mixture 

Bread 

4)Slice baguette into approximately 1/2 inch thick slices

5)Lay flat on a baking sheet

6)Coat with butter/oil.

7)Bake until golden or desired crispness 

Bread coated in melted butter




Top bread with tomato mixture just prior to serving to avoid bread becoming soggy.

Bruschetta 


MUSHROOM CROSTINI 

If you were to ask me the true difference between crostini and bruschetta I’m not sure I could answer clearly. Both have Italian origins, both involve slices of grilled bread and both are often topped with similar items. That being said, I’m totally comfortable with calling bread topped with tomato bruschetta,  but topped with mushrooms not so much. So I’m calling it crostini.

This recipe is almost identical to the bruschetta one except for the preparation of the topping so I’ll focus on that.

WHAT YOU NEED (makes 20-24 pieces)

12 OZ of fresh mushrooms -feel free to use canned ones 

1/4 cup of finely diced onion 

2 tbsp of brown sugar- I used coconut sugar 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 of a baguette 

Ingredients 



WHAT TO DO 

Mushrooms

1)Heat butter, sugar and onions in a skillet until onions sweat (become soft and translucent) 

2)Add mushrooms and Sautee until browned.

Onions,butter and sugar mixture 


Mushrooms being sautéed 


Bread

See 4-6 for bruschetta 

3)Top bread with mushrooms just before serving

Mushroom crostini 


CHICKEN SOUVLAKI/KEBABS 

Kebabs are always a favourite of mine for parties. Who doesn’t enjoy eating bites of food off a stick? Something about it is just so much fun. Lol.

The inspiration for this came from a blog post by Closet Cooking who created this recipe after tasting something similar while on vacation in Greece. The chicken is flavour education with the tart lemon and spices and topped with tzatziki. Tzatziki is a Mediterranean yogurt based dip infused with herbs and spices. It is served with meat or used with pita bread or vegetables as a dip. You can make it yourself but it is also widely available in most supermarkets  (I bought mine).

WHAT YOU NEED (makes about 15)

1/2 lb Chicken breast/thighs boneless

1 large lemon

Minced garlic or garlic powder 

Tzatziki

WHAT TO DO 

1)Cube chicken and coat with juice of lemon, garlic and any other seasonings and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2) Skewer chicken Bake until cooked

3)Drizzle with Tzatziki-I also served some on the side.

Chicken souvlaki 


OLIVE BAR

This one was easy-peasy. I saw an amazing olive bar at Whole foods and knew I had to recreate it even if on a micro scale. I bought a container of mixed olives and worked with that.

WHAT YOU NEED

Various olives- You can use as many types as your heart desires

Containers- to display the olives

WHAT TO DO

Distribute the olives in their various containers along with spoons and display. I used a wooden cutting board.

Olive bar 



CHEESE AND MEAT BOARD

I have to say, that out of all the dishes on this menu, this is the one I was most excited about. Cheese and meat boards or antipasti boards are becoming a bigger and bigger trend in the foodie world making appearances on lots of restaurant menus. But these amazing appetizer boards are well established in Mediterranean cuisine. 
WHAT YOU NEED

Cheeses- At least two types but as many as you wish. I used Asiago, Gouda and sweet onion Swiss cheese by Laughing Cow.

Meats- At least two types or skip it if you want a strict cheese board. I used sliced turkey and turkey salami

Extras- I used purple or red grapes, almonds and some crackers

Board- This can be your cutting board, a marble board, slate board, metal board etc. Whatever you have. I used a rectangular board and most that I’ve seen do the same but this can work on a circular or oblong board as well.

Ingredients 

WHAT TO DO

1)Arrange your cheeses and meats on the board. I tried to create something visually pleasing by placing the cheeses at differing heights and placing the meats in between.

2)Place your extras to fill in the empty spaces

Cheese and meat board


PREMADE items

To round out this Mediterranean inspired fest I purchased some items to cut down on prep time and stress.

Pastries 

I bought a box of frozen mini pastries which came in four flavours: spinach and cheese, red bell peppers and cheese, sweet onion and cheese and mushroom and cheese…there was a lot of cheese.

Assorted savory pastries 

Dessert

All the dessert was premade. Desserts are satisfying to make but boy will they eat up your time. I purchased some Biscotti, a tasty Italian treat often eaten along with coffee. I also bought some French Creme cheese pastries which I warmed in the oven and served.

Biscotti 

Cream cheese pastries


A few more shots of the finished table

The evening was great, spent with family and friends. There was good conversation and tasty food. As I say I always recommend doing some things yourself and getting help with others when entertaining,  it makes everything a bit easier.

I hope my Mediterranean inspired Soiree gives you some ideas for your next event. Have an awesome day and Happy International Womens Day to all!

Where to Travel- Orlando

23 Jan

Hello and welcome to my “Where to travel” series. Throughout the first part of the year, I will be posting on various travel destinations,  giving my personal reviews, experiences, and advice on where to go and what to do.

This concept began as an idea for a single post where I would simply list a few places I thought would be great to travel to, stating what to do there etc, but alas it became way too involved. So instead I decided to break it down into multiple posts doing one place at a time but doing it in depth.

Today we begin with Orlando

 

Wonderworks, an attraction found on International Drive Orlando 

Orlando, FL

Orlando is a city located in central Florida and is probably best known internationally for the presence of dozens of theme parks. But this popular vacation spot has so much more to offer.

I have been visiting Orlando on and off since I was six years old. In more recent times, my family and I have been going yearly and with good reason. Orlando is a great place to have a vacation.

 

 

WHY:
Orlando is fun! For a lot of younger, hardcore travelers looking for organic deep cultural experiences, an Orlando visit may seem almost laughable, but don’t knock it till you try it. Orlando has a lot to offer and I think of it as a slightly more family-friendly version of Las Vegas. There is something there for everyone no matter what your specific interest is. There are things to do and see for the art lover, the thrill seeker, the foodie, you name it!

 

 

WHEN:
Any time of year. Orlando is in Florida and because of this, it enjoys fairly warm weather year round although it does get cooler from December to February. Additionally, Orlando has events going on all year so you pick whenever works best for you.

 

 

WHERE (to stay):
A hallmark of Orlando is the plentiful resort/villa/condos up for rent. Many of these are timeshare locations so if you or a family member owns one, be sure to check and see if the company has a location there. I think staying at a resort adds the overall Orlando experience. Many of them are located in a similar area which is close to lots of attractions particularly Disney parks. There are also a lot of hotels to chose from. They go from 2 star to 5 star and you chose based on your budget and preference. The areas I recommend staying include  Lake Buena Vista area (close to Disney), International Drive and Kissimmee, but really anywhere is pretty close to most things.

 

WHAT (to do):
Theme Parks

Theme Parks are probably what Orlando is best known for and indeed it hosts a massive number of parks with all the Disney parks and Universal Studios as well as lesser known ones like Wet and Wild water park and Bush Gardens. There is something for everyone whether you like roller coasters or prefer more relaxing rides.

 

Shopping

Orlando also has some great shopping especially if you like outlet malls. There are two major outlet malls: Orlando International Premium Outlet mall and Orland Vineland  PremiumOutlet mall. There are also multiple other malls and shopping complexes dotted around, for example, the mall at Aventura.

Premium Outlet mall at Vineland 

 

Entertainment

Apart from theme parks, there are lots of ways to be entertained in Orlando. If you like shows, there is a Cirque du Soleil at Disney Springs and the Blue Man Group performs at Universal Studio. There are a number of art galleries including Pop art Gallery at Disney Springs

Pop art Gallery at Disney Springs 

 

DINING

You cannot go hungry in Orlando that’s for sure. There are clusters of all the popular American eateries such as Golden Coral, Applebees, Olive Garden etc. There are also numerous dining experiences at places like Disney Springs and Universal Boardwalk and International Drive.

A few examples:

Disney Springs

Bongos Cuban Cafe

Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe

Morimoto Asian Cafe

Wolfgang Puck Cafe at Disney Springs 




International Drive

Banshoo Sushi Bar

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

 

TIPS

If you are particularly interested in the theme parks, a visit outside of the summer months is recommended. Many families vacation in Orlando because it is kid friendly and the most popular time to travel is summer so everywhere gets extra packed. However, everywhere is always kind of packed so be prepared for lines no matter what.

If you are doing the Disney Parks, there are buses that transport you free of charge to all the Disney Parks and Disney Springs so you can get around easily that way

IRide Trolley- This is a bus service that uses these cute San Francisco trolley-style buses. The iRide trolley has two routes that basically run the length of International Drive (I-Drive). On this route, you can get to major shopping areas including the two main Outlet malls, as well as the countless attractions, restaurants, and stores along International Drive.

I-Ride Trolley

Lynx- This is the other common bus service in Orlando. While iRide is more tourist oriented, Lynx is used by everyone including locals and that means it goes a fair amount more places than the iRide trolley. You can get to some of the theme parks as well as other malls using Lynx. Be sure to buy a day pass or even multi-day pass as you will likely have to switch buses a number of times while there.

Car Rental- This isn’t an absolute must when visiting Orlando. I have done trips with and without renting a car. Thanks to iRide trolley, Lynx and the fact that many things are clustered together e.g along I-Drive, you can have a great trip without renting a car, however, it definitely makes things easier. It means you can leave whenever you want and avoid long wait times and multiple stops. This is important especially if you have a tightly packed schedule.

IDrive website- International Drive has a website where there are loads of coupons offering savings and deals at the many businesses along International Drive as well as ideas on what to do there. Check it out.

 If you’re thinking about visiting Orlando be sure to use some of these tips and be sure to have an awesome day! 

Garbanzo bean Stew

8 Jan

Today I bring you a dinner recipe of Garbanzo bean Stew served with roasted sweet potato.

Garbanzo bean Stew and sweet potato 




Garbanzo beans also called Chickpeas or channa are a great source of protein and starch. They are pretty versitile and can be used in cold salads, ground to make hummus or cooked into a delicious vegetable stew like this. 

Makes 2 servings 

WHAT YOU NEED 

1) 1 can of Garbanzo beans

2) 1 large tomato (diced)

3) 1/2 a medium onion(diced)

4) 2 cloves of garlic(sliced)

5) Approximately 2 cups of fresh spinach 

6) 1tbsp of paprika 

7) 1tbsp of yellow curry powder 

8) 1/2 tsp of all purpose seasoning 

9) 1 tbsp of Sriracha pepper sauce (or other spicy sauce)

10) 2tbsp of tomato sauce

11) 1 medium-large sweet potato


Unlike baking, where precision is key, cooking is very subjective.  Feel free to add more or less of something as you see fit. 

Ingredients 

Spices and sauces




WHAT TO DO 

Sweet Potato 

1) In a saucepan bring water to a rolling boil then add both halves of sweet potato.

2) Once cooked through,  drain water and allow to cool.

Boiled sweet potato 




3) Take a fork and plough the centre of the potatoes and sprinkle with seasoning. 

Add seasoning




4) Bake around 350 F for 10-15 minutes.

Baked potatoes


Stew

1) Add 1tbsp of butter to a medium heat frying pan and allow to melt.

2) Add garlic and onion and Sautee

Butter, garlic and onions




3) Add spices and continue to Sautee

Spices

4) Add garbanzo beans and allow them to Sautee for a few minutes. Be sure to continually stir and coat the beans with spices,  not allowing them to burn.

Beans added

5) Add tomatoes and mix

Tomatoes added




6) Add spinach and let it sweat down then mix

Spinach added



Spinach cooked down


7) Add tomato sauce and Sriracha and mix.

Sauces

8) Turn heat down to low and let it simmer until preferred consistency. 

Simmer

Plate stew and sweet potato and serve.

Finished meal

This meal came together by happenstance one evening and I’m so glad it did. The stew is hearty without being heavy and the potato is starchy and filling (in a healthy way) What I love about it is that this dinner is so effortless yet is so complex in flavour. This is a great dinner to have at the end of a long day either alone or with family and friends.

Have an awesome day 

Christmas Appetizer -Honey Garlic glazed Meatballs 

18 Dec

BLOG-Mas DAY 18

Welcome to the 18th day if Blogmas where I bring you a simple recipe for a delectable appetizer great for your yuletide gathering (or any other time of year). 

This is a recipe my mother makes often.She got it from TasteofHome. She has altered it a bit and I have altered her version so this is a version of a version. Lol.

WHAT YOU NEED 

Meatballs 

1) Ground beef-you can substitute this with another ground meat : turkey, lamb, pork, chicken or for a vegetarian option you can use textured vegetable protein (minced soy chunks)

2) 1 large egg.

3) 1/2 cup(125mL) of milk

4) 1 cup breadcrumbs.

5) 1/4 cup of diced onion.

Meatball ingredients 


Sauce

6) 2 diced garlic cloves.

7) 3/4 cup(6oz/170g) of ketchup

8) 3/4 cup of honey

9) 3 tbsp(45mL) of soy sauce

10) 1  tbsp butter

Sauce ingredients 




WHAT TO DO 

Meatballs 

PREP

Season your ground meat-I use black pepper and Worcester sauce and let it sit for about 30 minutes. 

1) Mix egg and milk together.

Egg and milk 


2) Add breadcrumbs and onioin and mix well.

Breadcrumbs and onioin  added 




3) Add ground beef (turkey,  lamb, soy etc) and form a firm mixture.

Meat mixture 




4) Form balls, approximately 1 inch (2.5cm) in diameter. This recipe gives approximately 24 meatballs this size. Of course you can make them larger or smaller if you so desire.

Meatballs formed


5) Place on baking sheet and bake at 400 F (205 C) for 15 minutes or until cooked all the way through. 

Sauce

6) In a saucepan heat garlic and butter then add ketchup, soy sauce and honey. Allow to simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes.

Sauce


Serve Meatballs with sauce either on the side or coated.

Meatballs with sauce on the side 



Meatballs glazed with sauce 



The original recipe(linked above) makes more meatballs than stated. My mother also finds the amount of breadcrumbs recommend isn’t quite enough to make a firm meatball. She also recommends using more honey than listed. For me I halved the amount of ground beef but had to tweak it in a few other places. The take home message is be careful if you plan to use the original recipe.

These Meatballs are always a hit. The meatballs themselves are firm but moist and flavourful. The sauce is has complex flavours but is super easy and affordable to concoct. The salty soy sauce , the sweetness of the honey and the tang from the ketchup make give a unique taste combination sure to impress your guests.

Definitely try this one out guys and have an awesome day.

FESTIVE DRINK -Hot (Chocolate) Shot

15 Dec

BLOG-Mas DAY 15

It’s the 15th day of Blogmas and we’re rounding out the Christmas drinks with a chocolate shot. 

WHAT YOU NEED 

1) Vodka-Regular or flavoured; this one happens to be chocolate flavored because it happened to be on sale but a marshmallow or vanilla flavored one would work too. 

2) Chocolate milk– Or chocolate almond/cashew/soy milk.

3) Mini Marshmallows – for topping.

4) Brown sugar– For the rim

5) Shot glass.



The ingredients 


WHAT TO DO 




1) Rim glass with using simple syrup (white sugar dissolved into water) then coat with brown sugar.

Glass rimmed with sugar



2) Pour shot glass 2/3 way with chocolate milk.

Milk



3) Fill remainder of glass with vodka and top with 3 mini marshmallows.

Vodka and marshmallows


4) Toast marshmallows- I used a long handled lighter. Be sure to let the flame touch the Marshmallows but not the shot itself (unless you want it flaming!)

Toasted marshmallows



Finished shot




The toasted marshmallows smell so good  (it’s fine with untoasted marshmallows as well). The rich chocolate flavour goes smoothly with the vodka. This a great little drink to get your guests in a party mood and it looks like hard work but is so easy and quick to do.

Thank you for reading and have an awesome day.

How to Entertain on the Cheap

27 Nov

Signature cocktail and simple decor
Hello

The Holiday season is fast approaching and this means entertaining and lots of it . As someone who does her fair share of soirees I know it can run you ragged; physically , emotionally and of course financially . 
Often, what begins as an intimate gathering with close loved ones can snowball into an all out zoo scene and that cute budget you set goes up in proverbial smoke . 

Here are some tips I often consider when planning to entertain:

1) Plan a menu around items you already have

Don’t go out and spend a fortune on a massive turkey if you already have piece if lamb in the freezer. Decide what you make using whatever you have sitting in your cupboard . 

2) Make the most of your menu

Try to get as much out of the items you do buy. For example , if you buy a pumpkin, use it in as many dishes as you can; pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin pie etc. Do this rather than buying dozens of different items to make different dishes. 

3) Be selective with your invites

The way of the world of entertaining is such that some of the persons you invite won’t come while others will show up with extra guests. Be sure to invite reliable friends asking them to RSVP and make it clear whether or not they are allowed to bring guests.

4) Do potluck 

This is an oldie but a goodie. I am guilty of telling people not to bring anything when I entertain because I somehow feel it is in poor taste. It doesn’t have to be, we all have those friends who always offer to bring something so engage them. Also, people like to feel useful, why deprive your cousin of making his world famous sweet potato pie?

5) Make a punch/cocktail

It can be expensive to purchase multiple bottles of wine, vodka, brandy, scotch, rum and so on. It is far more cost effective to purchase one type of alcohol in bulk and make a punch or signature drink from it. 

6) Keep decorations simple

We all love our homes to look beautiful and festive. This means trees and wreaths and tablesscapes and railing and mantle piece decor, new curtains, new cushions… I could go on. The costs of these things really add up! Focus on a few things e.g the tree and tablesscapes. Chose items that can mix and match and be reused in the future.

I hope some of these tips help to allay the anxiety that can often come with entertaining, I also hope I listen to my own advice. Have an awesome day!

Aside

Champagne mouth but Prosecco pocket- Fine dining on a budget

18 Oct

Hello

So the saying goes :”champagne mouth and beer pocket” or in my homeland  Barbados : ” champagne mouth and mauby pocket”. Mauby is a drink made from the bark of the tree with the same name. It is fairly popular throughout the Caribbean and like beer, is very inexpensive compared to champagne.   I drink neither beer nor mauby, but I do drink Prosecco which I often refer to as Champagne’s cheaper Italian cousin so this is the drink I use for comparison.  

I digress…

The point I’m making is this post is about enjoying something very pricey without spending all your savings at once.

A couple nights ago I had dinner with family and friends at a fairly upscale osteria. The ambience was gorgeous with glass light shades housing Edison bulbs and tall glass vases with sheaths of wheat inside them not to mention an open faced floor to ceiling shelf housing an eclectic array of items from metal colanders to cook books reflecting the Italian cuisine they serve.

As we sipped and supped, and believe you me, we did, I thought to myself about the fact that I love food and love fine dining but my entire life mantra is to stick to a budget. I basically assessed the entire experience along with other previous similar ones and came up with some tips that a budget savvy individual might want to use.

The point of living life on a budget isn’t to always choose the cheapest option and deny yourself of enjoyable,  meaningful experiences but rather to achieve what you want in the most cost effective way.

TIPS



1) Eat the bread

Most dine-in restaurants will offer a complimentary bread basket. It can be as basic as sliced french bread or as varied as olive bread, cheese crusted bread etc. A few restaurants will devitae from bread and offer things like popcorn. But the point is…EAT IT. 

Many times most persons will nibble at a piece and leave the rest behind, hoping not to ruin their appetite with empty calories but trust me the bread will fill you up and decrease the need for extra food. You may be able to skip an appetizer or avoid having to order a soup or salad if you fill up on that bread.

Olive bread- came with balsamic  vinegar and olive oil to dip.
2) Make the most of appetizers


If you decide to order appetizers this can be where more savings come in. Most appetizer servings are now as large or in some cases larger than mains. You may want to order an appetizer and eat it as your main since it will be cheaper.

Another benifit to appetizers is the ability to share. For example our dinner party was comprised of eight persons and we had 3 appetizers between us. The combination of the bread and the appetizers left most of us almost full.

Tempura fried portobello mushrooms


Bruschetta with: tomato, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola cheese



Tagliere with Prosciutto, salami, olives and cheeses.
3) Share your food

This was touched on in the previous tip but to reiterate the point, ordering something that can be spread among two or more persons is almost always more cost effective. This means selecting dishes that are easily shared such as pizza or large pasta dishes.

Pizza



Seafood soup, easy to share 


Meatballs 

Ravioli 
4) Have water


Just like the bread basket, most respectable restaurants offer complimentary,  refillable glasses of water. DRINK IT! Ordering a fountain drink or juice will cost you especially if you go through more than one drink per meal. Just stick to the water.

5) Order the bottle

Most “fancy” meals are never complete without a glass of wine. We all know the alcohol sold in restaurants is always ridiculously marked up, however the wine gets cheaper with increased volume. If eight persons were to order a glass of wine each, it would have easily added up to more than an entire bottle from which you can get multiple servings.

 

6) Skip dessert

This is not a hard and fast rule (none of these are). If for example the restaurant is known for it’s desserts then it’s different, or if you are like my close friend Mark and totally addicted to sweet treats then go ahead. 

I personally have found that no matter how good a restaurant is, the desserts are often just okay. There are usually limited to just 4 or 5 options and it’s either some kind of cake or some kind of ice cream. When I go to a fine dining restaurant I am going for the appetizers and mains. If I want desserts I go to a bakery.

Dessert- Ice cream with espresso 




I hope my tips are useful to anyone planning a fine dining dinner experience and I hope you have an awesome day! 

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