Grilled Avocado & Smoky Corn Salad and Our Dinner with Julie & Cheryl

Meeting Calgary food bloggers Cheryl and Julie didn’t go exactly to plan, but isn’t that usually the case when you are looking forward to something?

On the day of the appointed dinner date we drove into Calgary from Jasper, Alberta. It was our second day of driving, meaning that clothes were rumpled, faces and hands were sticky and everyone was a little out of sorts. Jasper to Calgary is an easy 4 hour drive, but a breakfast stop at Moraine Lake stretched the journey to nearly 6. Making this drive without seeing some of the best scenery in North America is just silly and it was worth the detour.

We pulled into Calgary around lunchtime, but it wasn’t until we were on the doorstep of another friends’ home (coincidentally our hosts for the weekend and away on vacation themselves), did we discover that their neighbor had left us the wrong key and our access was denied. That meant no naps for the boys, no much-needed cup of tea for me, no fresh sundress for dinner–just packing everyone back into their car seats and freshening up in the car wash bathroom. It didn’t help that said neighbor was on a cruise and unreachable; we were pretty much stuck until our friends returned from New Brunswick that evening and opened up their place for us.
Of course, by that time we were saying our ‘Hellos’ to Cheryl, Julie and their families, where the TGIF celebrations were already in full swing.

I immediately felt at home in Cheryl’s comfortable home; gorgeous splashes of color on the walls and exquisite handmade quilts draped luxuriously over the furniture gave the place such a warmth, it would thaw the most timid of visitors. I soon forgot about my frustrating afternoon, especially after a few (OK, a lot) of these jicama sticks with chili salt and a glass of bubbly.

Cheryl–actually the entire family–had prepared quite the spread:

Watermelon and Jicama Sticks with Chili Salt
Hubby’s Famous Arkison Burgers w/ house ketchup
Grilled Avocado and Corn Salad with Smoky Caesar Dressing

Sour Cream Ice Cream
Cherry Hand Pies

Can I just say for the record that everything was stellar?!! Cheryl outdid herself and created the perfect, relaxed summer BBQ. The kids chowed down on buffalo hot dogs while I assembled the tastiest burger of the summer to date. Of course the presence of a wriggly one-year-old on my lap prevented me from getting any photos of the masterpiece, but Julie has a great shot in her recap of the night. I can’t wait to re-create the burgers with our own fresh beef.

The kids…before Noah and Julie’s son started a shoving match and Mateo swiped Noah’s hot dog

After two days of road food, I couldn’t get enough of the avocado and corn salad! It was indeed smoky and the grilled avocado gave it a sensual twist–ideal for a warm sultry night as that one. And those sour cherry hand pies! Killer. Lucky for us, Cheryl gives the recipe here, which you should promptly start prepping for because they were too good.

Julie provides the recipe for Sour Cream Ice Cream and plenty more great photos over at Dinner with Julie. Oh, and here Cheryl describes the evening as a perfect first date. This was one well documented dinner, but what do you expect when 3 food bloggers unite, really?

For the record, I can confirm that Julie does not have an assistant, yet she skillfully manages a career in freelance,TV & radio, plus mothers, cooks and blogs almost daily. Wonder Woman! Also Cheryl somehow fills the roll of full-time mom, food blogger, career woman and expert quilter without the help of a nanny. Did I mention she has a baby and a three-year-old?
One thing they both have–and I should say this because they are our backbone– are supportive husbands who know how to fix a plate of food that is camera-worthy AND keep the kids fed.
Cheers to the men behind these food blogs!

Romaine, Grilled Avocado and Smoky Corn Salad with Chipotle-Cesar Dressing
adapted from Gourmet

1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 ears of corn, shucked

2 firm-ripe 6- to 8-oz avocados, halved and pitted but not peeled

1 head romaine (1 lb), tough outer leaves discarded and head quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch strips

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over hot charcoal (high heat for gas);

Put parmesan in a medium bowl and add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in lime juice, garlic, chipotles, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper.

Rub vegetable oil on corn and cut sides of avocados, then season with 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper. Grill avocados, cut sides down, and corn, covered only if using a gas grill, turning corn occasionally, until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Peel avocados and thinly slice. Cut corn kernels from cobs. Toss romaine with dressing and serve topped with avocado and corn.

WFD? Asparagus Gruyère Tart for Spring

I keep a small pad of paper on the nightstand next to my bed for those occasional nights where my body is exhausted, but my mind can’t seem to shut down.
Often some of my best menu ideas come as I am tossing and turning and so I jot them down for future reference in my notebook.

“What are you writing?” My husband will ask, knowing full well the answer.

“Oh, just a little menu planning” I’ll say,
“How does this sound?”

and I’ll rattle off to him a well-rounded cocktail menu for that upcoming wedding shower I am helping out with or list a trio of desserts I want to make for that weekends’ pot-luck with friends.

I realize this makes me sound really food-crazy, so I will reiterate that I occasionally menu-plan in bed and only when something genius comes to me and I don’t want to forget it in the morning.

This asparagus and gruyère tart was jotted down in the notebook, underlined a few times, with the note next to it:

“A must-try for spring. Ideal for an elegant outdoor meal.”

After making it this week, I would have to say it is ideal for several reasons.
First of all, it is ridiculously easy to make: if you can roll pastry and grate cheese, you can make this tart.
Secondly, it’s mighty tasty: what’s not to love about flaky pastry, a good strong cheese and toothsome spring asparagus?
Thirdly, look how pretty it is!

You’ll find the original recipe here with a how-to video that I fell asleep while watching.

Asparagus Gruyère Tart

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry

5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded

1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Remove pastry shell from oven, and sprinkle with Gruyère. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyère, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes

Winter Salad of Russet Apple, Pomegranate and Pecans

After all these sweets my teeth are starting to ache a little. Snow is piled up two feet deep over the garden and I am starting to crave something fresh. A deep rummage in my fridge unveils the ingredients for this ideal winter salad. Bright and pretty, crunchy and juicy, it satisfies that need for something healthy and light amidst all the rich holiday goodies. As a nice bonus, the colors are rather festive too!
(An alternate name could be ‘Play-Date Salad’ as it is a perfect salad to whip up for those Mama’s looking for a light lunch. We sure enjoyed ours.)Things have been busy here at Under the High Chair:
Extensive baking is still underway, with pretty packages of it being shipped to loved ones in New Mexico and British Columbia. A bake sale fund raiser I organized raised over $500 that will be turned into food baskets for needy family in the neighborhood. After three months of practice, our Christmas cantata gives two performances this weekend and we are looking forward to having that over and done with! (I am trying to remind myself why on earth I agreed to do a solo…) Gifts are slowly being made or purchased and wrapped up prettily. Grocery lists are getting longer and longer as menus are being formed and reworked.
I am thrilled that we have mounds of fluffy white snow and that I can organize a tobogganing party, just like my family hosted every year when I was growing up. Those are some Christmas memories worth repeating. Chili and Cornbread, anyone?

Here’s wishing you all an enjoyable and relaxed week-end leading into the last few days before Christmas!

Winter Salad of Russet Apple, Pomegranate, and Pecans 1 russet apple, julienne
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 stalk firm celery, julienne
¼ cup pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 shallot, julienne
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons grape seed oil
Salt and pepper In a very small saucepan, bring apple cider vinegar to a boil. Pour over julienne shallots and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix in grape seed oil and set aside. Reserve about ¼ cup of the pomegranate seeds and crush the rest to extract the juice. Pour off the juice into a wide, shallow bowl and place in microwave. Microwave on high for three minutes, then scrape down sides with a spatula a stir slightly. Juice will be reducing and thickening. Microwave, one minute at a time, checking consistency between each minute until juice is consistency of maple syrup. Cool. In a bowl, toss together the apple, reserved pomegranate seeds, celery, and shallots and some of the apple cider marinade. Season with salt and pepper and add more vinaigrette if needed. Add pecans, toss and mound onto a plate. Drizzle with pomegranate reduction and serve.

Tomatoes, Bread and Cheese. Repeat Several Times.

Tomatoes, bread and cheese. Tomatoes, bread and cheese.
For a while now I have been craving little except for crusty fresh bread, sweet garden tomatoes and any cheese I can get my hands on. Something about the simple and classic combinations of flavors appeals to my occasionally queasy, first-trimester-preggers stomach. Of course the bountiful harvest of fresh tomatoes from my little kitchen garden would be tempting to just about anyone.

While tomato sandwiches have been a lunch staple for a good week now, I decided to take my trio of ingredients to the next level–and use up that fresh mozzarella in my fridge. What could be better than a pizza?
Allow me to share my current favorite pizza dough recipe with you. I say current, because I am always on the hunt for the perfect crust. Like the ones I had in Italy. Who knows if my search will ever come to an end this side of the pond, but for now this one will do.

Pizza Dough

60 ml warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
2 1/2 cups white flour
180 ml cool water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

In the bowl of your Kitchen Aid or stand mixer, dissolve yeast in warm water and let sit a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and with the dough hook, beat on medium for a minute until combined. Knead on low for five minutes. Dough will be soft.
Coat dough in olive oil and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place 30 minutes. Punch down dough and divide into portions. It is now ready for pizza making!
Makes enough for three 12 inch pizzas.
May be refrigerated for up to two days. Freezes well.

Cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella were my toppings of choice as well as a drizzle of olive oil, homemade sauce, and fresh cracked pepper.
Mmm, just what the doctor ordered!

One Zucchini, Two Zucchini, Three Zuccini, Four.

Yellow Zucchini Soup with Parmesan and Basil

It’s good to be home, or at the very least, it is good not to be traveling across Canada with a toddler. While it was difficult enough to leave beautiful British Columbia and my family, the flights home did very little to help boost my spirits.
Oh, to the Air Canada flight attendant who spilled hot coffee down the back of my neck and onto my (finally) sleeping child: MERCI.

That was one flight I have never been happier to exit.
But, we made it back safe and sound. My garden was not there to greet me upon my return; instead there was a mighty jungle that I hardly recognized. Three weeks of varied rain and hot sun had helped most plants to double in size…and the weeds were not far behind. I immediately harvested nearly a dozen foot-long zucchinis. I laid them all out on my lawn while Noah danced around happily saying “Nee! Nee!” (his word for zucchini) as they are his favorite vegetable.They were massive! I had my doubts as to how tasty they would be, but they were beautiful and have been featured in several dishes so far such as Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Zucchini Gratine with Cherry tomatoes and Gruyere, and of course, beautiful soup.

I’ve been delving into my copy of the River Cafe Cookbook and loving every recipe. It’s such a fantastic interpretation of Italian cooking and I dig how there is minimal focus on pasta. (Sometimes pasta gets much more than it’s deserved fifteen minutes of fame in Italian cookbooks) This zucchini soup recipe comes from the fabulous River Cafe cookbook and it was perfect- even Noah liked it.
Zuppa di Zucchini1 kg zucchini, trimmed
25 ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 ml chicken stock or water
140 ml double cream
1 small bunch basil, chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
120 g Parmesan, gratedCut the zucchini into quarters, then into 1 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the garlic and zucchini slowly for approximately 25 minutes until the zucchinis are brown and very soft. Add salt, pepper and the stock, and simmer for another few minutes. Remove from the stove.
Put three-quarters of the zucchini in a food processor and puree. Return to the pan, and add the cream, basil, parsley and Parmesan. Heat gently and serve.