Crispy Fish Tacos from EmmaEats

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Our guest for today is fellow Savvy Storyteller Liz from EmmaEats . . . and Katie too! Liz is a busy mom of two, so she knows first hand that time is at a premium. Somehow she manages to create delicious recipes that are big on taste but don’t require tons of prep. Liz and I have something in common; we both have kids with nut allergies. Her collection of recipes is nut-free, allowing me to just follow along without worrying about substitutions. Follow Liz on Food Gawker or Taste Spotting for meal inspiration or her blog, EmmaEats, for good food for busy families.

These Crispy Fish Tacos, adapted from LCBO’s Fried Fish Sandwiches, are perfect for an alfresco summer family dinner.

Crispy Fish Tacos
(serves 4)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4-5 tilapia fillets, cut in half into two strips (~1 lb)
  • salt and black pepper
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • tortillas (optional, to serve)
  • Zesty Avocado Dip (optional, to serve – recipe follows)
  • chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (to serve)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt (optional, to serve)
  • Chipotle sauce (optional, to serve)
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, oregano, paprika, cumin, coriander, white pepper and cayenne. Salt and pepper the tilapia and rub the seasoning mix over all sides of each strip. Drizzle with lime juice and let marinate for 15-30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.
Setup a workstation with egg in one platter and panko breadcrumbs in another.
Dredge each tilapia piece through the egg first and then through the breadcrumbs. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.
When all of the pieces are breaded, bake in the preheated oven for ~20-30 minutes, flipping once halfway through baking. The fish should be flaky and opaque with a crispy and golden exterior.
Serve in warmed tortillas, topped with Zesty Avocado Dip, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with a dollop of sour cream or drizzled with chipotle sauce.
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Zesty Avocado Dip
(serves 4)
  • 2 avocados
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Halve the avocados and roughly mash the flesh with the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips or over Crispy Fish Tacos.

Rhubarb BBQ Sauce by Dinner With Julie

Our guest for today is Julie Van Rosendaal food writer, stylist and columnist frequently featured in Parents Canada, Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One, a contributor to the online cooking series Good Bite and co-host of It’s Just Food on Viva Network.

Julie is a real foodie and her passion for good food goes beyond simply enjoying it. She shares it. Her blog, Dinner With Julie, is a compilation of recipes that run the gamut from appetizers to dessert, all indexed for easy search and execution. But here’s the thing. Even though she’s an accomplished gastronome, she’s a real mom. She knows that even with our best intentions to meal plan, we end up staring into the fridge trying to make sense of a disjointed collection of potential ingredients . . .some approaching their expiration date. She knows this, because she’s one of us.

For one less worry, bookmark her blog to figure out what’s for dinner or follow her on Instagram for meal inspiration.

Thank you Julie for sharing your recipe for Rhubarb BBQ Sauce. A summer condiment that is the perfect pairing for grilled meats and may even be sourced from your garden. Just remember, only the stalk of a rhubarb plant can be eaten, the leaves are poisonous.
Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

2-3 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup pure maple or golden syrup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

In a small saucepan, bring the rhubarb and water to a simmer and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, until soft; add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer; cook for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender or cool and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Use as you would any barbecue sauce – on grilled meats, in baked beans or drizzled on burgers.

Makes about 2 cups.

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Grilled Pineapple With Cinnamon Coconut Sugar

Jo-Anna of A Pretty Life and fellow Savvy Storyteller is our guest for today. Jo-Anna is a mom of three striving to live a more simple life. Her blog offers easy recipes, simple DIYs and housekeeping tips. Jo-Anna’s regular posts are always polished to perfection with gorgeous photographs and accessible suggestions but it’s her holiday posts that really wow!

For housekeeping pointers, help in the garden and figuring out what to make for the potluck, visit A Pretty Life and for simply beautiful inspiration follow Jo-Anna on Instagram.

Today Jo-Anna shares with us her mouth-watering recipe for Grilled Pineapple with Cinnamon Coconut Sugar. To view the recipe click here.

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Summer Salads with Jane’s Adventure In Dinner

We’re excited to have Jane from Jane’s Adventure In Dinner as our guest today. Jane’s blog is a go-to for everything from appetizers to desserts. She’s passionate about food like no other, but as a busy mom she also understands that recipes need to be both delicious and do-able. Regardless of your cooking level (ahem, I am still a beginner after all of these years) Jane is the best teacher and you’re in capable hands with her step-by-step instruction . . .accompanied by gorgeous photos!

Today Jane shares simple salads that are perfect for the hot days of summer. Be sure to follow Jane’s website for meal inspiration and instruction. You won’t be disappointed.

Jane’s Summer Salad

I start with a nice big plate and drizzle it with 2 tsp. balsamic glaze.

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I added a layer (about 1 ½ cups) of spring greens.

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I took a firm pear (I’m a sucker for Anjou) and cut it into 6 wedges. I took out the core and started to lay it on the greens.

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Add 3 T Roquefort (or your favourite blue cheese) to the centre. Don’t like blue cheese? How about some Boursin or an herby cream cheese?

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Fold the pear pieces back together, top with toasted walnuts and drizzle with a really good quality olive oil.

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Drizzle on a bit more glaze . . .

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And add cracked pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Classic Salad Update

We seem to just live off the bbq in the summer.

I love to cook but I really like to keep the house cool and I’m not a huge fan of running the air conditioning all the time.

We’ve gotten used to having our little 1950’s bungalow vent itself for the most part and even though it’s lots bigger after the reno (yes, I promise to finally get all the pictures together this summer, I’ve got 1000’s) we designed the build to allow for our original airflow.

Having said that, if the oven is on all the time then nothing can keep the house cool so bbq it is.

I’ve been playing with a number of salad recipes lately that I’ll be sharing with everyone in the next couple of weeks but this is one that we’ve now had at least six times since I was happy with the recipe.

Hope you love it too.

To serve four adults for an appetizer start with four romaine hearts cut in half.

Bring them to room temperature, drizzle with olive oil, 3 crushed garlic cloves and lots of crushed, crunchy black pepper.

Let sit for 30 minutes.

Grill on high on each side JUST until a little charred.  This is about 30 seconds a side.

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While your one and only is grilling your lettuce (thinking that you are totally mental with your weird cooking ideas), crisp pancetta (I got super thin pieces that you blink at and they are cooked), or cook four really good pieces of bacon and crumble.

Put your yummy lettuce on a platter and top with; bacon/pancetta, slivers of parmesan, chunky croutons…

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drizzle with lemon juice.

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Plate one half per person (trust me, folks will be back for the other half) with plenty of pancetta and drizzle with balsamic glaze (you can find this all over the place OR boil balsamic until it is half its volume).

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Follow Jane on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

A Gluten-Free Confession

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-glut...

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-gluten wheat flour. Right: European spelt. Bottom: Barley. Left: Rolled rye flakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after I stopped eating gluten a few years ago, a friend of mine confronted me about it: “Are you just suddenly celiac or did your homeopath tell you to stop eating gluten?”

“Neither. I just feel better without it”.

“Oh. Whatever”, he said, with a dismissive wave.

That dismissive “whatever” cut close to the bone. I stopped eating gluten just as the current gluten free craze was starting to gain traction. I recall feeling a bit embarrassed at first when I told people that I no longer ate gluten. I felt like a bit of a poseur, jumping on the latest health craze based on something I found on the internet.

Now, it feels like the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, fad diet trend or no.

About three years ago, I started having terrible stomach and gastrointestinal pain. After the usual battery of tests, I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and prescribed daily medication. Occasionally, I’d find myself in terrible pain, all of my joints feeling like they were on fire. My doctor could find no reason for this. Most significantly, I’d also been having migraines with aura, sometimes two or three a week, for years. My neurologist told me to be happy with a 50% reduction in headaches while on medication, as that was the best that anyone could hope to achieve. I was trying my best to take care of myself; eating regularly and trying to exercise, but by this point, a fifteen minute slow run triggered a migraine. I was terribly unhappy, worried about work, and conscious of the effect that my having to crawl into bed constantly was having on my family.

Running out of options (and patience), and on a hunch, I started keeping a food diary. After a couple of weeks, an interesting pattern emerged: my migraines, which often came in the morning, were usually preceded by a dinner of pasta the night before. The migraines that hit during my Sunday morning run looked like they were the result of carbo loading on Saturday night. I started researching the connection between migraine and gluten, and found this article, which suggested that the connection, pardon my pun, was not all in my head.

So, just to see what would happen, I cut gluten out of my diet. Just for a week, I though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A week later, I felt like a new person. I can count on both hands the number of migraines I’ve had since that week. I don’t recall the last time my joints hurt. My stomach no longer cramps and my throat no longer feels like it’s burning.

Most importantly, I feel healthy, and I don’t crawl into bed unless I want to.

I am the first person to acknowledge that my general level of health may have improved for reasons unrelated to the removal of gluten from my diet, correlation not being equal to causation, and all of that. It could be because of a shift in hormone levels (I’m not getting any younger, after all) or because of a reduction in my general level of stress since that time (ha!). I eat better, of course, and eating better is bound to make one feel better. Maybe there’s an element of the psychosomatic at play: I’ve felt so incredibly awful after the few times that I’ve eaten gluten (my last slip up was half a McDonald’s chicken nugget a year ago, and let me tell you how much I regret that for so many reasons) that I always swear to myself I’ll never ever eat gluten again.

Then again, when I have had days when my joints flare up or my head pounds, I can almost always pin-point the source of the gluten I inadvertently ingested, after the fact.

So now, I live gluten-free. As a caveat, my experience is mine alone, and not to be taken as an endorsement for a gluten-free lifestyle. I strongly suggest consulting with a health care practitioner before someone cuts gluten from their diet — or in other words, do as I say, not as I do. A genuine diagnosis of celiac disease can be missed if someone cuts gluten out of their diet prior to testing, with potentially life-threatening consequences, and any unexplained changes in your health should always be thoroughly investigated. I certainly wouldn’t endorse it as a weight loss regimen, despite those claims that cutting out wheat will lead to a flat stomach, although I can’t say I miss the fifteen pounds that I lost almost immediately. It takes work to ensure that everything I eat is gluten free, and more importantly, that I’m not just filing myself up with gluten-free bread substitutes with minimal nutritional value. Yes, I miss baguettes and and croissants and good pizza with a thin crust; ales, porters in the winter, wiessbiers with oranges slices in the summer; and more than anything, going out to a restaurant without fear. But for all of that, it’s been worth it, because the pain? I don’t miss that at all.

Summer Recipes Continued: Cedar Planked Salmon

This dish has long been a summer favourite of ours. In the interest of full disclosure, I take no credit for this recipe — this version of it (there are likely hundreds) originated with my Dad, who got it who knows where.   If you haven’t yet tried grilling salmon or any other fish on a cedar plank, you should.  The cedar imbues the fish with a sweet, smoky flavour, and your kids will find it highly amusing that you’ve cooked dinner on a piece of wood.

As long as you remember to soak your cedar plank in advance, this dinner comes together in minutes.  Be sure to get the freshest WILD salmon you can find — the fine folks at the Vancouver Aquarium’s OceanWise program can tell you why you should avoid the farmed Atlantic salmon that you so often find at your local fish counter. A nice wild sockeye will do.

Summer is the time for wild salmon, so treat yourself.

What you need:

  • One length of cedar, approximately 7 inches by 15 inches. Grocers and fish counters often sell planks at ridiculously inflated prices. You can use clean, untreated cedar from your hardware store — just be sure to give it a good scrub first
  • A side of fresh wild salmon, skin on. A side will usually feed 5-7 people, depending on the variety of salmon you get
  • vegetable oil, for brushing
  • kosher salt
  • half a cup of fresh dill, minced
  • 1 half of a red onion, finely diced
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • lemon wedges, for serving
  • a spray bottle filled with water, for safety reasons

Important: About 6 hours before you want to eat, set your plank in a basin of water to soak. We’ve soaked for less than 2, and the smoke that emanated from the board made us all very nervous.

Method:

Preheat your barbeque.

Prepare the board: Take your board and pat it dry. Brush cooking surface of the plank with oil.

Prepare the fish: Generously sprinkle the plank with the kosher salt — it will seem like a lot of salt, but don’t skimp.

Lay your salmon skin-side down on the plank. If the tail end is thin, fold it under so that the fish is of uniform thickness throughout. I like to cut my salmon into serving-sized pieces before cooking, for the sake of convenience.

Cover the fish with the dill and onion.

Set the plank on the grill, close the lid, and cook the fish for 12-15 minutes, or until it easily flakes with a fork. I prefer my salmon on the slightly undercooked side, but your taste might vary.

Keep the water bottle on hand in case the board catches fire. I find that cooking the salmon on indirect heat by turning off the burner right under the plank keeps flareups to a minimum, but safety should be your priority.

When done, remove the salmon from the board, remove the skin, and serve with freshly cracked pepper and lemon, or a dill-mustard sauce, if you’re so inclined. We had it with grilled fava beans on the day that the photo, above, was taken.

If dill and onion aren’t your thing, we’ve had great success with this recipe too.

May I have some more, please?

Here’s one of the things that has always worried me about having two boys: that one day, I might have to get a second job to keep us all in groceries. It happens to all of them, doesn’t it? One day they start eating, and a week later they’ve grown a foot taller, and they just keep eating constantly until they’re 25 and hopefully by then they’re buying their own food or at least bringing home dinner every now again but in the meantime you’ve wasted away because you continue to buy one pork chop too few, and you’re not going to deprive your growing boys, are you?

Tonight, they plowed through two packages of Italian sausage, an entire head of broccoli, and two servings each of these potatoes. Usually, we only make one package of sausage, and there are always left over broccoli bits or potatoes. It makes me wonder whether we’ve been starving them all these years. They’ve never been huge eaters — grazers, more likely — but have they been eating only half a sausage each all this time out of politeness? Has the sudden abundance of food made them reckless? I’m not sure what’s going on.

(Photo courtesty of Flickr Creative Commons/stu_spivack)

I do know this: the shoes we bought Sebastian at the beginning of January are already too small — and we had sized up a half-size larger than he’d been wearing so that he’d have room to grow. Daniel’s pants are all too short. They can’t keep their eyes open past 8:30. It might be too soon for a declaration, but I sense a trend: my bird-like grazers are on a growth spurt and appear to have turned into fully fledged eaters.  Send help. And more broccoli.

 

Candy Everybody Wants, or Doesn’t

Like most kids, my kids bring home more candy from trick-or-treating than they can possibly eat. In the past, I’ve struggled with how to handle this problem, since half of me thinks Hallowe’en is just wasteful and a huge boring mess, and the other half of me really dislikes Hallowe’en. I realize that, while I am not unique in my disdain of Hallowe’en, most people think dressing up and asking total strangers for more sugar than is reasonable to consume in a lifetime (and then doing it again the next year!) is fun, wow. Included among that group are my children, and so I play nice for their benefit.

A few years ago we realized that the boys got far too much candy and that we needed to do something about it. They collected so much that they couldn’t eat it all. Ever. Even the youngest, who could eat candy all day if we let him, was hard pressed to finish all of it by Christmas, and we usually just threw  out what was left. Still, they’d collected it, it was theirs, and it seemed unfair to just take it away (Ok, it wasn’t unfair.  We just didn’t want to listen to them howl).  We decided that we’d make it worth their while to give it up. We’d buy it off of them.

As it turns out, cold hard cash is more appealing than chocolate so every Hallowe’en the loot gets dumped on the living room floor, inspected,  and sorted into piles as follows:

  • candy you like and want to keep
  • candy you like but not that much
  • candy you hate and that your brother and parents hate, too
  • candy you hate but someone else likes
  • chips
  • sour candies (of which 50% are to be handed over to Mom because ain’t nobody happy if mama ain’t happy, and this helps)

Candy in the “like” pile is kept by the recipient. Candy that you hate but someone else likes gets traded or given away to another member of the family. Chips go into a big basket on the dining room table, because everyone likes those. I take my gummies with glee and promptly hide them. The rest gets counted out, and we pay a nickel a piece to haul it away. I usually take the discards to work, where I leave them in the lunch room, free for the taking.

It isn’t huge money that we’re handing out, and dental fillings cost more than their combined weight in candy measured at five cents a piece, so I figure we’re still ahead. I’m not entirely sure what parenting message we’re sending by buying it from them; I’m sure we’d be truer to our values if we just let them visit the houses on our block so that they didn’t end up with so much, but that would also be much less memorable, and as far as teachable moments go, I figure that Hallowe’en doesn’t have to be one of them.

P.S. Looking for something Hallowe’en related to do with your family this weekend? Tynan Studios is holding its third annual Click or Treat! fundraiser supporting the Daily Bread Food Bank this Sunday between 9 and 3 at Royal St. George’s College campus, located at 12o Howland Avenue, Toronto.  Receive a free 4×6 of your little trick-or-treater for every bag of non-perishable food items you donate. Further details can be found on Tynan Studio’s website . Happy Hallowe’en!

With a Side of Garlic Butter

As I write, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I’m attending a work-related conference. It’s rare that I travel for work, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve been away from my family for longer than a weekend away with girlfriends.

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of bringing home a “souvenir” of my trip for the boys. Over the years, this has varied from the mundane (a Thomas train from the toy store in the Ottawa Rideau Centre) to the unusual(wooden puzzles from a toy store on Granville Island). My souvenir isn’t always a toy. Sometimes I bring home brochures for local attractions, a map of local transit,  or postcards so that the boys can see where I’ve been — although, we’re just as likely to pull up Google streetview now.

This time, the boys have made a specific request (other than, “Not something to wear, Mom“).  They want me to bring home a lobster.

A genuine, fresh-from-the-sea lobster. Never mind the fact that I’m not sure when I will have time to procure a lobster while at a conference 15 hours a day, or the fact that I can get one, ready-steamed, at my local grocer. It’s not even lobster season, from what I understand.  They’ve got crustacean on the brain.

So if you see a frazzled lady leaving the Toronto Island Airport on Friday, juggling a lap top case and a lobster in a cooler, say hi. It’s probably me.

Surviving 6 p.m.

Dinner time.

These two words strike fear in the heart of working parents everywhere. I’m sure someone out there has mastered the art of getting a nutritious, inexpensive and quick dinner (that everyone in the family will eat!) on the table every night, but it sure isn’t us. Given our schedule and after-school activities, dinner needs to be more or less prepared by the time we get home; or at the very least, ready within 20 or 30 minutes. The more we can do in advance to prepare, the better.

Here are some of ways to maximize your time with a little bit of planning:

  • if you buy big club packs of meat for the freezer, package your chicken breasts or pork chops in meal-sized portions and add your favourite marinade to the bag (bottled will do)before you freeze it. The meat marinates as it defrosts;
  • whenever possible, cook extra, especially when cooking on the weekend. It takes as long to make two chickens as one, and then you’ve got chicken for the week.
  • use a menu-planning service. We’ve just started using Six O’Clock Scramble.  Having someone else do the shopping list is a lovely perk;
  • as Nathalie suggests, breakfast for dinner is your friend.  Peter makes a big batch of waffles every weekend and freezes them — a couple of those with some sausage and sliced fruit make a perfectly decent dinner.
I’m also always on the lookout for ways to maximize the nutritional punch of anything we cook. Here’s a recipe for a sauce that I made this weekend that does just that.  It’s nothing fancy — just a standard tomato sauce that you can rely on for any number of meals: pasta, chicken parm, or meatball subs.  I feel a bit guilty suggesting that you use canned tomatoes when the stores are full of bushels of beautiful Roma tomatoes just begging to be made into sauce, but such is life. Unlike those homemade tomato sauces, this one can be on the table in just over half an hour.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m guessing it can also be easily doubled or tripled; the proportions should be about right for everything except the oregano. No one needs that much oregano!

Sneaky tomato sauce

1 onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup dry red wine (Technically optional. Skip as your conscience dictates).

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2-3 Roma tomatoes (optional — when in season)

1 398 ml can low salt tomato sauce

1/2 can tomato paste

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped, or marjoram if you prefer. You could also use basil, but I despise dried basil, so I don’t)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are soft and start to take on colour — about 8-10 minutes. You want them on the verge of caramelization, not scorching, so turn down the heat if they go too fast. When the onions are browned and softened, add the wine (if using; if not, skip to next step) and stir until the wine is reduced by half.

Stir in carrots, celery and tomatoes if using.  Reduce heat and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the carrots are softened.  At this point, add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, sugar, and salt and pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until the carrots are completely softened.  Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes.

Here’s the sneaky part: at this point, carefully transfer the sauce to your blender, or use an immersion blender to process the sauce until smooth. Once blended, season to taste. The carrots and celery lend a nice sweetness and thicken the sauce so that you don’t have to cook it for hours.  Serve as you would any other tomato sauce.