Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Salad So Nice, I Made it Thrice

Is thrice even a word?

Why are we talking about words when we could be talking about that salad? Oh, wait, you weren't talking about words, I was. So even though as an English teacher and avid reader, I'm in love with words, I'll stop. Instead, let's talk about my other favorite love, food:

Great food, great friends, and great weather.
These are a few of my favorite things. 
A little while ago, the folks from Loblaws invited me up north for a cottage weekend for bloggers to show me how President's Choice is going to help me have the most kick-butt summer. And since today is the first full day of summer, it seems like a great day to share what I learned that weekend.

I am sure that at this point, since this weekend was organized by Loblaws, you're expecting to hear a laundry list of the PC products we got to sample and while it's true that we did get to try a whole whack of awesome new products, what I learned about that weekend went way beyond.

I told you a bit about what I learned that weekend in this post about yoga vs. report cards. I told you how my new yoga guru taught me to exhale. Well, as it turns out, Andrea is also my food guru. In case you don't know, Andrea is a chef extraordinaire and culinary instructor for Loblaws. Andrea is also the mom of a teenage musician (like me), a writer (like me), a lover of the outdoors (like me), and living her life with more energy and confidence than seems humanly possible (like the me I want to be). You can see then, why when Andrea speaks, I listen.

Chef Andrea having a little bit
too much fun presiding over our
Saturday morning smoothie bar.
So when Andrea told me that it is entirely possible to cook and serve at least eight meals over 36  hours (2 cocktail hours, 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 campfire dessert, and countless snacks) and still have tons time to teach yoga, go paddle boarding, and generally hang out with out the gals, I was reluctant to believe her. The concept seemed odd to me since in my experience, being the self-proclaimed executive chef at the cottage (or pool or backyard bbq or dinner party or brunch or any other food-gathering occasion) meant that except for those rare moments in between courses when I was able to pop my head out and actually experience the party I was throwing, I was pretty much stuck in the kitchen.

Andrea proved me wrong. Andrea showed me that being a great cook and host has less to do with slaving over a hot stove all day and more about you bringing together a few fabulous ingredients along with a little help from your fabulous friends and families.

Take lunch for example...

Hmm...should I sip a sparkling lemonade
or blood orange soda?
Decisions, decisions...
Somewhere in between yoga and paddle boarding, Andrea made the most amazing meal. Because it tasted so yummy and seemed so easy to prepare, I attempted to duplicate that meal for Father's Day last weekend. It was so good that I made it again last night for an impromptu BBQ with our friends and their kids. And guess what? In both cases I spent just over an hour in the kitchen, leaving me oodles of time to actually be at my party. And in both cases, my guests loved the food and had tons of fun.

Here's what we had:
  • Burger with loads of different buns and condiments.
  • Tomato & avocado salad
  • Sweet Potato Salad
Here's proof that I only spent an hour in the kitchen:

3:00-3:30pm Peel and bake sweet potatoes. While they're baking, prepare most of the tomato salad (read the recipe and it'll all make sense), get your plates and cutlery and cups and stuff ready for the buffet table.

3:30-3:45pm Stick the three slices of bacon (or turkey bacon) on a cookie sheet and bake along with the sweet potatoes until lightly brown (sweet potatoes) and crisp (bacon).

3:45 - 5:30. After taking the meat and sweets out of the oven to cool, go read a book, chillax by the pool, or simple stare off into space before getting reading for the party.

My husband and chief BBQ-er posing
alongside my son's favorite burgers:
PC's Free From Bison Burgers
5:30 - 5:45 Crumble the bacon, chop your celery, and assemble the now-cooled sweet potatoes into their intended salad formation. Tell my sous-chef (aka my husband) to fire up the grill. It's party time!
5:45 - 6:00 While the burgers are cooking, put the finishing touch (avocado) on the tomato salad and lay out my buffet. Don't bother asking who wants cheese on their burger or who wants which bun; just put 'em all out there and let my guests be the masters of their domain. Andrea told us that letting our guests have a part in the play promotes conversation and adds to the fun. She was right.

My burger bar on display
The Spicy Chipotle's my fave.
What about you?
6:00 - ???? Eat, drink, and be merry

So there you go. Proof that it's possible to throw -and enjoy- a yummy summertime barbecue, whether it's next to the lake at the Loblaw's Bloggers' Cottage weekend or next to the pool at my Father's Day party or next to the Muskoka chair in your back yard when you celebrate nothing more than the fact that life is great.

Want the recipes? Here they are:

PC Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes & Avocado Salad with Herbs
You may have made a version of this before...or maybe not. Either way, everyone should know how to make a great tomato salad.

1 container PC heirloom cherry tomatoes, washed and halved (I swapped in the PC gourmet grape tomato trio for added colour...feel free to use either one)
2 ripe avocadoes (sliced just before serving so they don't discolor)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion (hint: red onions can be quite pungent; the fresher the onion, the more mellow the taste)
1 tbsp. each freshly chopped dill, chives, and parsley (they MUST be fresh, not dried)
2 tbsp. PC Olive Oil
1 tbsp. PC Black Label Lambrusco Grape Codiment (it tastes like balsamic vinegar's super-fun Italian cousin)
s & p to taste


Some people have an anthem that defines each summer.
I have a recipe that defines each summer.
Except this summer, I have two. And they're it.
1. Place tomatoes in a medium bowl along with the red onions, herbs, olive oil, Lambrusco, and s & p and toss to combine.
2. Cover and set aside on the counter (and definitely NOT in the fridge unless you want to completely murder the flavor of the tomatoes) until you're ready to serve.
3. Give the tomatoes one more good mix and then surround them with slices of avocado.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with PC Memories of Alabama Creamy BBQ Sauce
This is a much hipper and much healthier version of the classic potato salad normally served in the summer. And so super-pretty.

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2 pieces
3 strips of bacon (or turkey bacon), cooked and crumbled
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced (keep in a bowl of cold water in the fridge until you're ready to assemble)
2 green onions, chopped (just the green parts)
2 tbsp. dried cranberries
2 tbsp. PC roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup PC Memories of Alabama Creamy BBQ sauce (hint: this sauce is also fantastic as a dip for
lamb shishkebab and drizzled over grilled corn)
2 tbsp. PC Olive Oil
s & p to taste

Preheat over to 375
1. Place all the sweet potatoes in a bowl and toss with olive oil.
2. Put in a single layer on a cookie sheet and season lightly with s & p. Bake for 15 minutes, turn over and then bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until fork-tended and a little bit brown.
3. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely to room temperature (at least one hour).
4. Lay the cooled potatoes on a serving platter and drizzle with half of the sauce.
5. Evenly scatter the bacon, sliced celery, green onions, cranberries, and pepitas.
6. Drizzle on the remaining sauce and serve.

For information on more of President's Choice must-haves for this summer, check it out here.

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