Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate

This unusually cold weather has made us all want to hunker down and hibernate. Winters where we live are generally very mild and may or may not bring snow. This year we’ve had a couple of cold snaps with below freezing temperatures. Curling up by the fire with a warm mug of hot chocolate seems like just the thing to do.

Here’s a healthier version of traditional hot chocolate. It uses cacao powder (I just ground cacao nibs in my Vitamix) and coconut sugar and is spiced up with cinnamon and a tiny bit of cayenne to give it a kick.

The nutrition information on the back of my raw organic cacao nibs package reads, “Cacao is one of the best sources of magnesium and a powerful source of antioxidants. It also provides a vast array of essential minerals and nutrients including iron, potassium, proteins, and alkaloids.”
cacao nibs
My yoga teacher tells me my the cramps in my feet and legs may be due to low magnesium levels. If this is a solution, I’m all over it.

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • 2 Tbsp. organic coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups milk
  • cinnamon sticks for garnish

Directions

  1. Combine cacao, sugar, cinnamon and cayenne in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir until blended.
  2. Heat vanilla and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly add dry ingredients to milk. Whisk continuously until dissolved, about 2 minutes, or pour into blender and blend until smooth. If it is too rich, you can add a little hot water. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

MexHotChocolate

Sunset in Mexico

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How to Plan a Menu in 3 Easy Steps

dinner time

I love having people over for dinner. It’s one of my absolute favourite ways to spend an evening. Good friends or family. Easy conversation. Appies. Wine.*  First course. More wine. And so on, right through to dessert, which, in my opinion, should always be the crowning glory to a meal.

*Or maybe Prosecco. (Even though I’m the only one who seems to like it, I keep on offering it relentlessly with the hope that I can find a new convert–a Prosecco buddy, so to speak. Sigh. I’m working on it.)

As much as I love dinner partying, I have a love-hate relationship with menu planning. I agonize over it. Every. Single. Time. A regional meal–Greek? Italian? Middle Eastern? Maybe Thai. How about Asian-fusion? Do they like seafood? Should it be super casual or should I go all out?

And then I start looking. I scroll through my own recipes on this blog looking for inspiration. I head over to Pinterest and pin like crazy. I google. I pin some more. And this time I found:

I always seem to put off making a final decision until I’m down to the wire, time wise. It’s easy to get distracted on Pinterest– I want these boots, but I really need these ones.

  • roasted chicken with lemon and oregano. Okay, now this one sounds perfect. I could go with a lemon theme! Meyer lemons are readily available locally now.  Lemon chicken, a citrus salad . . . a lemon dessert. The chicken recipe is from Bon Appetit so I can trust it.

Right?

And then I read the reviews. “Tasted like formaldehyde and old people” read one. “My whole family, except the dog, was disappointed,” commented another, and then this one, “This was the first recipe that I’ve tried from Bon Appetit, and I must say we’re off to a very bad start.”

Back to Square One. I have no more time to pin or google. It’s crunch time. I just go with what I know.

I’ve since devised Three  Steps to Easy Menu Planning  that, hopefully,  I’ll  remember next time I’m trying to make decisions.

3 steps to Easy Menu Planning
One. Keep it simple. A simple menu, simple dishes, simple wholesome flavours. I’m here to enjoy my company, not to win a cooking competition.
Two. Cook what I know. Use tried and true dishes that I’ve made before.
Three. Plan and prep. Choose dishes that I can make ahead of time or at least make components of in advance.

So what did I finally come up with? Simple, tried and true, and it could all be prepped in advance.

1. Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Blackberry Balsamic Drizzle
Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops with Blackberry Balsamic Drizzle
2. Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries, Walnuts and Parmesan
Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Parmesan
3. Spring Chicken Thighs
"Spring" Chicken
4. Oven Roasted Seasonal Vegetables–carrots, parsnips, yams, potatoes, yellow and red beets, fennel, onions, cauliflower tossed in oil and rosemary.
5. Raspberries with Lemon Cream in Phyllo Cups
Raspberries & Lemon Cream in Filo Cups
And it was good. The best part? Hanging out with great friends. Easy conversation. Lots of laughs.

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DIY Almond Milk

How to make Almond Milk

Why make your own almond milk? Laura tells me it is definitely not to save money. Commercially processed almond milk can be produced much more cheaply than buying raw organic almonds. But if you’re like Laura, and you care about how food is produced, packaged, transported and marketed and you like to be in control of what you eat whenever you can, making your own almond milk just makes sense. Here are her instructions. You might want to borrow her friend Liza’s idea and try it in Silk Road’s Chocolate Panda tea.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole raw organic almonds
  • water to cover
  • maple syrup or other sweetener to taste

Directions
1. Put the almonds in a glass bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight or up to 2 days. The longer you soak them, the creamier the milk will be.
2. Strain and rinse with cold water. The almonds should feel squishy when pinched.
3. Transfer to a blender and add 2 cups of water. Blend until smooth.
4. Strain again, this time through a nut milk bag. You can squeeze the almonds to extract the milk.
5. Add a little pure maple syrup (or other sweetener) to sweeten it to your liking.
6. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate. Shake before using, as it will separate.

The leftover strained almond meal can be stored and added to muffins or quick breads, stirred into oatmeal or toasted and added to granola.

Try Silk Road’s Chocolate Panda tea with your homemade almond milk. This is a rooibos and chamomile tea flavoured with hints of chocolate, mint and vanilla. Whoever dreamed up this combination knew the recipe for relaxation after a busy day at work.

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Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Apples and Cranberries

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Parmesan
This Brussel Sprout salad has been making the rounds of Pinterest lately, and it is certainly pin-worthy. If you haven’t tried raw Brussel Sprouts, you must. They are nothing like their boiled or steamed cousins–no stench of cruciferous vegetables in this dish. This salad is fresh and sweet. The apples and cranberries make it sweet, the cheese provides the saltiness and the walnuts give it a nice crunch. Try it soon while sprouts are still in season.

I used the slicing disc in my food processor first to shave the sprouts, then switched to the large grating disc for the apples and the Parmesan.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups shaved Brussel sprouts
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, grated and tossed with 2 tsp lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (or pomegranate seeds)
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil

Directions
1. Toast the walnuts either quickly in a dry frying pan, or on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F. for about 5 minutes. Watch carefully and remove from oven promptly as they will continue to brown on the baking sheet.
2. Wash and trim the Brussel sprouts. Using the slicing disc of a food processor, a mandoline, or a very sharp knife, shave them thinly and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Grate the apple and toss with lemon juice. Add to the shaved sprouts.
4. Slice the onion and add.
5. Add the cranberries to the bowl.
6. Whisk together the apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and olive oil. Toss the salad with this dressing. Let stand to allow flavours to blend.
7. Just before serving, add the cheese and walnuts and toss together.
8. Enjoy, knowing you are eating one of the healthiest foods available. Beside the many nutritional benefits of cruciferous vegetables, Brussel Sprouts are also a good source of Vitamin K, which helps your body to absorb calcium.

 

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Apple

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Pomerita Cocktail

Pomerita CocktailIt’s time to celebrate as we welcome the New Year! What better way than with a heart-healthy glass of pomegranate juice. Or . . .  how about a pomegranate margarita–a pomerita.

The Prado restaurant in beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego was where I first ordered one of these. (I was just informed that it was not me who ordered it. He did. He honoured my pleas for just “one more sip” and apparently got very little of it. Unfortunately, the photo proves that he was right. The mojito in the foreground is actually closer to the photographer–me.)

prado refreshments

Regardless of whose drink it was, the sun was warm, the blossoms were blooming in the park, and I was on vacation with my best friend. Who apparently shares.

Balboa Park gardens

that's the one!

We’ve been hearing the health benefits of pomegranate seeds for years now. Known as one of the top super-foods, it is touted as being instrumental in lowering cholesterol, improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and it may have anti-cancer properties as well. Pomegranates are plentiful in the stores at this time of year, so you may want to get them before they’re gone for another year. You can sprinkle them on a salad or on top of yogurt or ice cream. Try spreading light cream cheese or goat cheese on a crostini and top with pomegranate seeds and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Or, to bring in the New Year, get out your blender and mix up a batch of this pomerita.

pomegranate margarita

For 4 cups (one blender full)
Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1 cup pure pomegranate juice ( I used Pom)
  • 1/4 cup Triple Sec
  • 1/2 lime, peeled
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 fresh lime, sliced thinly

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients except the whole lime in your Vitamix or blender. Turn machine on and slowly increase the speed to high, then blend for 45 seconds or until ice is finely crushed.
  2. Serve in chilled glasses, garnished with a slice of lime.
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Top 10 Reader Favourites of 2013

Have you noticed that having a Christmas tree in your room makes you sit and read more often? The soft light from the tree invites me to curl up on the couch and lose myself in a book, (or in my laptop).  This dark time of year provides an opportunity to reflect on all the things for which I am grateful, and I have such an abundance. It’s also a time to look ahead to the new year and the adventures it holds, and this year I’m almost giddy with excitement about what’s to come in 2014.

One of the many things I am thankful for is this blog and my readers. It’s been fun sharing food experiences with you, and even more fun hearing that you made one of the recipes. Studying the site statistics showed that the following were the top 10 most viewed recipes of the past year on Join Me For Dinner.

Readers’ Favourite Finger Foods

Mini Cheese Balls on a Stick Mini Cheese Balls I’m not surprised that this post received so many views. These things are the easiest appetizer ever. Besides that, they’re awfully cute. rosemary crackers by joinmefordinner Rosemary Gruyère Sea Salt Crisps  I cannot count the number of times I’ve whipped these up in my kitchen this year. The recipe comes from the beautiful (and worth every penny) Smitten Kitchen cookbook, so I wasn’t surprised to see just how many of you viewed this post too.

Readers’ Favourite Dinners

favourite dinner dishes1. Baked (Not Fried) Zucchini Patties with Dill Sauce  Really? Zucchini is that popular? Or maybe we just find ourselves with such an abundance that we don’t know what to do with it all. These patties are delicious. This summer I also discovered that they make a fantastic pre-dinner snack when made into mini patties. Great finger food for camping or boating too.

2. West Coast Seafood Chowder Our go-to chowder recipe. Add whatever seafood you like or find fresh in the market.

3. The Best Chicken Kabob Marinade This one has consistently been my most-viewed post every month, thanks to Pinterest, despite the fact that it is not a great photo.

Readers’ Favourite Desserts

In the Dessert category, mini desserts topped the list. Shot glass desserts were the favourites. We all want a taste, but a taste is enough, right? Top Desserts of 20131. Lemon Meringue Pie in a Shot Glass

2. Kahlua (or Limoncello) Cheesecake in a Shot Glass

3. Raspberry Mint Yogurt Parfait in a Shot Glass

My Favourite Meal of 2013

Why? It’s a salad. It features smoked salmon. And best of all, I was able to use all fresh local ingredients, many directly from my garden. Pacific Coast Nicoise Salad Pacific Coast Nicoise Salad

And let’s end with

My Favourite Dessert of the year:

Goat Cheesecake with Almond-Crisped Peaches Goat Cheesecake with Almond Crisped Peaches Light and creamy with a sweet crunchy topping, this cheesecake brings back warm summer memories of August birthdays in my family.

Wishing you all the best in the coming year! What will be on your dinner table in 2014? Old favourites? New dishes to try?

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Gingerbread Smoothie

Gingerbread Smoothie
What do you serve for Christmas breakfast?

A search of Pinterest boards dedicated to Christmas breakfasts brings up fat and sugar-laden dishes:  cinnamon rolls baked in the shape of a Christmas tree, Monkey Bread dripping with eggnog drizzle, baked French toast casserole, or the traditional “Wife-Saver” casserole made with white bread, eggs, bacon and cheese. They all taste good, but with a big meal later on in the day, a lighter breakfast appeals to me.

Since becoming the owners of a Vitamix, breakfast has been a healthy shake. We often start with almond or coconut milk and add fresh or frozen fruit, hemp seeds or chia seeds, flax, and flavourings, such as vanilla or ginger. Sometimes we skip the milk base and make green shakes with spinach, kale or other greens, celery, grapes, apples or oranges or whatever we have in the refrigerator.

For Christmas breakfast however, we’ll be having this Gingerbread Shake. I have adapted the recipe from Green Kitchen Stories to suit our tastes.

Serves 2
Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 frozen (or fresh) banana
  • 4 fresh Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom (ground if you are using a regular blender)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger (or use fresh)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. flax seeds (ground if you are using a regular blender)
  • 4-6 ice cubes

Directions

  1. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve in a tall glass and dust with cinnamon.
  2. We’ll be having this with a fruit salad and homemade yogurt.
    Fruit salad

    Citrus Fruit Salad

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Cranberry Coconut Smoothie

cranberry coconut smoothie

Posted in beverages, breakfast, Christmas, vegetarian meals | 2 Comments