Instant Pot Coconut Curry Vegetable Soup

When I first got an Instant Pot, I asked several friends for their tried and true recipes using it. This Creamy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup recipe was one of the first ones I tried. The flavour was delicious, but I wanted more vegetables! Once I started adding more veggies, I was happy to cut out the meat. What evolved is the recipe I'm sharing today,  with just the right amount of spice to warm you up from the inside out!  It has become a staple for me to make ahead and have in the fridge for a quick and satisfying meal. 

1 Tblsp   oil
1  onion, sliced
1-2 Tblsp   curry paste
4 C   chicken stock
1   red bell pepper, sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 (500g) bag frozen cauliflower
2  Tblsp  fish sauce 
1  Tblsp   sugar
1 can (398ml)  coconut milk
2   Tblsp l ime juice
Cilantro (optional)

Set Instant Pot to saute, and saute onion in oil until soft. Add curry paste and stir until fragrant. Add chicken stock, deglazing the pot if necessary. Turn off saute function. Add peppers, sweet potato, cauliflower, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir to combine. Secure the cover and set to high pressure for 6 minutes. 

Once the time finishes, do a quick release until the pressure is dropped. Stir in coconut milk, lime juice, and fresh cilantro. 

Peeling Pineapple

As soon as I saw this video on Facebook, I knew I had to try it!  I must not be the only one: As I went through the checkout, the clerk asked: "Are you trying that trick from the video?" I read the comments and watched a couple other videos online, which suggested the pineapple be very ripe. I let this one ripen more than I normally would, but the fruit tasted excellent and not at all past its prime. 

To begin, start at either the top or the bottom. We chose to start at the bottom where the fruit was the most ripe. Cut into the fruit a zigzag pattern, following the segments of the pineapple, gradually working your way around the outside. Once you have cut all the way around, grab the centre of this piece and remove it. It may take a little force or twisting! After the end is removed, you can simply peel it apart, segment by segment. Press your thumb into the eye of the segment towards the core. Once the skin breaks, simple peel down towards the core until it pulls away on its own. 

Here's a little demonstration to show how simple it is to do.

Sneaky Veggie Mac and Cheese

So many recipes are shared on Facebook, and most of the time I just scroll past. This recipe shared  by Buzzfeed managed to catch my eye around "back to school" time. A balanced meal I could make in the morning and the kids would quickly gobble up? That's exactly what we need on busy weeknights! I didn't love the recipe quite as written, but loved the concept. Combining it with the seasoning from my mom's macaroni & cheese recipe, it has turned into something nutritious and delicious that has been a hit at our house!

1 454g package of macaroni
1 C chopped carrots
2 C chopped squash (I use this frozen kind)
2-3 C chopped cauliflower (I use this frozen kind)
1/2 C water
2 C milk
2 C shredded old cheddar cheese
1 tsp dry onion flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 Tblsp prepared mustard
2 Tblsp +/- parmesan cheese

Prepare macaroni al dente and set aside.

Place vegetables and water in a pot over medium heat. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Do not drain. Add milk. Puree using an immersion blender. (Alternatively, add to a blender and process until smooth). Stir in cheese and seasoning until cheese is melted.

Add macaroni to sauce and stir to coat. Place into baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350' for 30 minutes.

I've tried varying the the vegetable quantity, but these are the measurements that have been most successful. I've learned from experience that too many carrots really changes the texture of the sauce! You can add your own seasoning to the sauce to make it more like your usual family recipe. A pinch of nutmeg, a couple dashes of hot sauce...whatever floats your boat! My kids like this as is. I add a little salt and pepper to my dish, or some corn salsa if its in the fridge!

Corn Salsa

I've been obsessed with this salsa for the last couple of months. It's great on its own with nachos, or as an addition to tacos, fajitas, burrito bowls, etc. However you use it, it adds a sweet & spicy punch and unbeatable freshness. Like my food processor salsa, it uses minimal fresh ingredients, so it's easy to make on a whim. The original recipe I created made a batch half this size...but my family devoured those test batches SO quickly that a "double batch" became the new norm, and that's what I've written for you below.

2 C frozen corn, thawed and drained
1/4 C red onion, finely chopped
2 Tbslp picked jalapenos, finely chopped
1/4 C cilantro, fine chopped
3 Tblsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar

Stir sugar into lime juice to dissolve, and toss with remaining ingredients. Prepare and chill at least 1 hour before serving.

Hospital Food

Have you missed me? I've been out of commission for the last five weeks! On May 12th, just a couple hours after I posted the recipe for my food processor salsa, my husband rushed me to the emergency room. I was having waves of extreme pulsating headaches coupled with chest pain and very high blood pressure. It turns out, I was in Pheo Crisis from a large Pheochromocytoma (an adrenal tumor) that had previously gone undetected (though in retrospect, I had a lot of the symptoms). What a shock to be diagnosed with a rare tumor, and what a change to go from my regular full life to days of just laying between four walls (or more accurately, 3 walls and a curtain). I was in the hospital for three weeks before surgery to remove the tumor and my adrenal gland, and one additional week afterwards. Let me tell you...that's a lot of hospital food! I can divide my hospital stay into two parts: before speaking with the dietitian & after speaking with the dietitian. Those two parts look something like this:

Before speaking with dietitian:
(Trust me, it was much worse than it looks)

After speaking with the dietitian:

Take my word for it...if you are going to be in the hospital for more than a day or two, you want to ask for a consult with a dietitian. She gave me some great alternative menu ideas that served me well over my extended stay. She provided me with a list of daily soups and sandwiches that were available as an alternative to the standard meal, and informed me of options that were always available to be written on my menu (from fresh fruit, to yogurt, to salad options). For local folks who would like specific information about the Saint John Regional Hospital, I'd be happy to talk to you about it more specifically.

Aside from what the hospital serves, most of us rely on friends and family to bring us some "real food." I am so grateful for all our friends and family who brought me food (and to all the folks who brought meals to my husband and children, who in turn brought a serving to me). After this experience, I have a few tips and suggestions to offer to anyone who wants to bring food to someone in hospital.
  • Know the facilities: My unit had a small kitchen with a fridge and microwave, but for the first few days (and then again for several days following surgery), I wasn't able to walk there alone. Since it wasn't easy for me to chill or reheat things for those few days, fruit, nuts, and crackers were a life saver. Be mindful of what tools are available to the patient before you make your delivery.
  • Early mornings & late nights: I was often up very early in the morning, long before the breakfast trays would be delivered. Thankfully, I had a few lovely people who brought me homemade scones and muffins. They were a lifesaver in those early mornings! My late nights were fueled by a friend who made my favourite oatcake recipe for me.
  • Keep it versatile: I found that I grazed more at the hospital than I ever do at home - partially because I didn't have a big appetite for meals, and partially because I was bored. Having healthy filling snacks was ideal. My favourites were:
    • Hummus and veggies 
    • Yogurt and granola
    • Cheese and crackers
    • Sliced apples and peanut butter
  • Something that lasts: Sometimes I already had dinner in the fridge, and I also had several rounds of tests that required fasting. Being given meals that could sit in the fridge for a day or two was ideal for those situations.
  • Don't forget about drinks: I drank ice water all day and all night while in hospital. I've always been a big water drinker, but even I got a bit bored of it. I was delighted to be brought Perrier and smoothies from kind friends! My parents also brought a jar of sliced lemons to perk up my water. A refreshing addition!
  • A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down: Friends who brought me chocolate lifted my spirits in a big way. Who wouldn't feel better after a Lindt bar or some Mini Eggs?! 
  • Fresh is king: When you are accustomed eating lots of shelf stable snacks and reheated meals, there is nothing as satisfying as a bowl of fresh berries or some juicy grape tomatoes. Think fresh and your friend will thank you!

I hope those few bits of advice serve you well when you want to serve a loved one in the hospital. After being on the receiving end of such an outpouring of love and generosity, I am eager to repay the favours once I am back on my feet.

Food Processor Salsa

Remember those Frank's Red Hot commercials with the older lady who said: "I put that sh!t on everything"...that's how I feel about this salsa. I put it just about everything: pizza, salad, chicken, rice, eggs, you name it!

(Off topic, looking for that commercial online, I found an interview with the actress. What a doll! She is a sweet woman from Vancouver, and I love so much of what she says about living life. )

I've gradually adjusted Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Salsa recipe to suit our tastes (a bit milder for the kids, and more cilantro and cumin for me), and to use a tomato product that is available in our area (Rotel tomatoes aren't sold in Canada). I make the following version every week or two, so it's always waiting in the fridge to be put on just about everything.

1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves or garlic, minced
A good handful of cilantro, chopped
1 can (540 ml) Aylmer Accents Spicy Red Pepper
1 can (796 ml) whole tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cumin
2 Tblsp lime juice

Combine onion, garlic, and cilantro in food processor until finely chopped. Add remaining in ingredients and pulse until desired consistency.

**This is not a sponsored post. I have not been compensated to endorse Aylmer Accents. I just love that product for this recipe!**

Meal Planning on a Budget - Sample Menu

Last night, I had the pleasure of being a speaker at Ignite SJ. This event invites people from various walks of life to address a crowd for just 5 minutes, with 20 slides that automatically change every 15 seconds. I was asked to speak about meal planning on a budget, and whittling down my favourite ideas into 15 second intervals was no small task. Those who know me, know that I have a hard time shutting up about things I'm passionate about! (The event was recorded and I plan to share the videos once they are posted.)

(Photo courtesy of Mark Burnett, @burnettisms)

During the question and answer period, I was asked how long it takes to do my weekly meal plan. I answered that it takes me about 20 minutes, and that I think the time is a good investment. However, as I sat down with the newest flyers this morning, my meal plan basically wrote itself in well under that estimate. There are so many great prices this week on foods that just asked to be served together!

For those who weren't in attendance last night, you can read this post (from 2012) about how I meal plan around the sales. I want to take that how-to a step further today by showing you an actual meal plan for the week, using the current sales in our area. Remember - you don't need to run all over town to get these specials. Simply bring your flyers to a store that price matches! I do this at No Frills each week, but it can also be done at Walmart or Giant Tiger. I also generally stop at On The Vine each week because they offer amazing weekly specials. And their staff offers to carry my bags out to the car...where can you get that kind of service anymore?!

Below, I'll highlight the best deals at each store followed by the week of dinners I have planned.

Welch's frozen fruit @ $2.99
Pineapple @ $1.99
Maple Leaf bacon @ $3.77

Giant Tiger
3 Lbs MacIntosh apples @ $1.99 (plus $1 off if you use the "Coupgon" app at Giant Tiger)

Pork loin roast @ $2.99/Lb

Cucumbers @ $0.88
Avocado @ $0.97

No Frills
Tangerines @ $0.99 /Lb
Cauliflower @ $2

On The Vine
Ground beef @ $1.99 /Lb
Tomatoes @ $0.97/Lb
Grape tomatoes @ $1.97
Watermelon @ $3.99
Mushrooms @ $1.47
Bell peppers @ 2.97/ 4-pack

The dinners I have planned are based around these sale items, which appear in parenthesis below:

  • Spicy Beef & Cucumber Wraps (ground beef and cucumbers)
  • Roasted Tomato Pasta (grape tomatoes)
  • Veggie Pizza with my favourite thin crust (tomato, mushrooms, peppers)
  • Tacos (ground beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, avocado)
  • Breakfast for Dinner: Bacon (bacon), veggie quiche (tomato, mushrooms, peppers), fruit salad (watermelon, tangerine, pineapple), blueberry muffins (frozen fruit) 
  • Apple Cinnamon Pork Loin  (apples, pork loin) with roasted cauliflower (cauliflower)
  • Pork sandwiches (using leftover pork loin) with sauteed veggies (peppers, mushrooms)

Of course, my grocery list will need to be rounded out to include a few additional items for the recipes above, along with things we need for breakfast, school lunches, and to replenish the pantry. I'm also always keeping my eye open for "stock up-portunities" for items with a long shelf-life that my family uses regularly. Saving money on those staples leaves lots of money in the budget for the fresh healthy foods I want to serve my family! {Those in attendance last night, you can laugh about my laundry detergent stash here. :) }

I'd love to hear your feedback about this process, or any question you might have about meal planning. As I said last night, we can all live well and eat well if we spend thoughtfully!

COCOZIA Coconut Water Smoothie

I was excited to be offered an opportunity to review COCOZIA Organic Coconut Water...especially once I heard that they wanted to send me the chocolate version. The chocolate flavour did not disappoint! It had a true chocolate taste, without seeming artificial or too sweet. The texture was smooth and very easy to drink. It's organic, kosher, gluten-free, and vegan...but still delicious for those of us without dietary restrictions.   I liked the chocolate coconut water on its own, but my kids (who are accustomed to chocolate dairy milk as a treat at their grandparents' house) didn't find it creamy enough. I decided to blend some up in this smoothie to see if they preferred it that way. Did they ever! Simon and Ruthie slurped these up in a flash!

4 ice cubes
1 ripe banana
1 Tblsp peanut butter
1 C COCOZIA Organic Chocolate Coconut Water 

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth. (This recipe perfectly fits the Magic Bullet Single Shot.)

*This is a sponsored posts. I have received free product and/or compensation for this post. The opinions featured here are always honest and my own.*

Everything Pita Chips

A couple years ago, I saved a recipe for "Everything Seasoning" from an issue of Food Network Magazine (November 2013: Recipe listing here). As a lover of the popular Everything Bagel, I knew I wanted to make this seasoning and find some fun ways to use it. I've enjoyed experimenting with it in a variety of ways, but none as popular as these baked pita chips. My family gobbles them up like crazy, and they get rave reviews whenever I take them anywhere. I didn't realize that I hadn't shared the recipe until a friend asked me for it this weekend, which prompted me to share them with all of you. 

5 Pitas, split to create 10 rounds
3 Tblsp butter, room temperature
1 Tblsp Everything Seasoning (recipe below)

In a small bowl, mix butter and seasoning until evenly combined. Spread lightly over cut side of pita rounds. Cut into wedges. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400` for 7-9 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks completely before storing in an airtight container. (FYI: This amount of chips fills my largest baking sheet twice, so be prepared to bake these in 2-3 groups)

Everything Seasoning

1 Tblsp poppy seeds
1 Tblsp sesame seeds
1 Tblsp dried minced garlic
1 Tblsp dried minced onion
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Combine in a jar and shake until thoroughly mixed. Store in a cool dry place until ready to use.

Food Blog Forum Orlando 2015

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure (seriously, such a pleasure) to attend Food Blog Forum in Orlando Florida.  In past years, I've followed along with Food Blog Forum by way of the Twitter & Instagram accounts of other bloggers in attendance. I decided to write this post to share the event in the same way with those who weren't able to be there. 

Food Blog Forum is an intimate conference with just 100 food blogs represented. It really gives you an opportunity to meet most other attendees and a chance to ask questions and get feedback from presenters. I was SO delighted to be able to get a ticket through the "Newbie Presales", and that I was able to score a family pass which allowed me to bring my husband along for the fun. (If flights from here weren't so expensive, we would have loved to bring the kids too!) Before leaving, I was absolutely delighted by the schedule of speakers and special events...and there were even more surprises waiting for me that added to the special experience.

Our accommodations were at the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort, right on the monorail in Walt Disney World. Staying on the monorail was so easy and convenient to get to the parks, and the hotel is simply gorgeous.

We checked in, and these items made me excited...

And then receiving this swag bag made me REALLY excited!
Our swag bags were full of fun and useful items from KitchenAid, Florida Dairy Farmers, Oxo, Sabra, and Bertolli. There were also some delicious nibblies like Goo Goo Clusters, Moose Munch Gourmet Popcorn, Moravian Chocolate Dipped Ginger Cookies.(In case you are wondering how I got everything home...I didn't. The KitchenAid Avocado Scoop and the Bertolli Olive Oil Spray were confiscated by airport security. Booooo!!!)

The events began with a meet and greet hosted by the stunning Four Seasons Orlando Resort. Recently opened in late 2014, this hotel is the only in central Florida to have received the AAA five diamond rating. We were treated to a variety of delicious dishes and drinks from various restaurants on property. What a way to kick off the weekend!

On Saturday morning, we met bright and early for breakfast, which included a strawberry tasting of several varieties grown in Plant City, FL. I know very little about strawberries, so it was fun (and yummy) to taste and compare them.
After breakfast, we moved into a conference room to hear from various presenters throughout the day. We had an array of session on topics like Repeatable Creativity, Food Photography & Food Styling, Monetization Strategies, Pinterest Best Practices, and Battling Blogger Burnout. Aside from the presentations, we were lucky enough to participate in small group round table discussions with each presenter. It was a great opportunity for everyone to ask questions and get more personal feedback from some knowledgeable experts. Scattered in among all these sessions were prize drawings...oh the prizes! I was blown away by the items they were giving away! KitchenAid gas range, KitchenAid French door fridge, Nespresso machines, sets of Oxo pots and pans, and $1000 Visa gift cards just to name a few! To say we were spoiled would be an understatement. 

Speaking of being spoiled, I need to share some photos of our Delicious Disney Lunch. We were whisked away to the California Grill on the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort. I was shocked and delighted to learn that 10 chefs from Disney's top restaurants were there, each with their own tasting station. Whhhhaaaaat?! So exciting. 

I have to share this photo of our menu, just so you can see how terribly spoiled we were. Everything was amazing! In case you are interested, my favourites were Narcoossee's Wild Striped Bass, California Grill's Braised Pork Belly, and Sanaa's Lamb Potjie. 

Sunday was our free day to enjoy the Disney Parks. Did we ever! We were incredibly fortunate to be given Media Fast Passes, which meant that our Magic Band could get us into the Fast Pass line at any time, without pre-booking. Woah! How can we ever wait in line again after this? It felt like we owned the place! 

 We rode a few rides so many times that we knew exactly where the cameras were and decided to take some silly pictures.

Food Blog Forum was capped off by an fantastic venture off Disney property to explore some of the awesome expanding food scene in Orlando with a visit to the East End Market. I can't even tell you how many tasting stations there were, because I didn't get to visit them all and I was still stuffed!

I need to take a moment to tell you about Olde Hearth Bread, which had THE most gorgeous display of their beautiful artisan loaves (pictured above). They served us a delicious Fruit Galette, and were sweet enough to send me away with some perfect pastries for Josh and I to enjoy en route to our early morning flight the next day.

 My favourite bite of the day was the Grilled Cheese Stuffed French Toast from La Femme Du Fromage. It was the ultimate pairing of comfort foods that I never would have thought of  combining. My other favourites included Shrimp Toast from The Rusty Spoon, Cold Brew Coffee from The Lineage Coffee, and the Earl Grey Tea Cake from Fatto In Casa. And have you ever seen a drink as gorgeous as this White Bloody Mary from Pharmacy?

The entire weekend was full of "pinch me" moments. I felt like a kid in a candy store the entire time! I can't thank the organizers, sponsors, and other attendees enough for making it an incredibly memorable learning experience.

I wanted to be sure to share a list of the attendees of Food Blog Forum 2015. I've been following some of these folks for years, so I have to admit that I was a wee bit starstruck a few times! Take a moment to check out some of these fantastic bloggers.