Recipes, tips, and encouragement to cook and enjoy real, whole, seasonal food with your family. Simple Bites enables to prepare unprocessed, nourishing food and foster a desire to eat seasonally and locally.
I count myself among those who have realized that the act of gathering is much more important than a styled table or fancy food.
When I take a close look at the modern dinner party these days, I feel like it is about embracing the simpler things in life and valuing relationship above all else. We’re busy people, and getting together with friends is sacred in this digital age because face-to-face interaction is essential for true community.
My table – indoors and out – is going to be packed this summer; not only do we have a stream of family members coming to visit, but we’re making friends here in our new province. Everyone is invited over, basically, beginning with my cookbook club in June. Hooray!
So with summer entertaining kicking off I thought we’d take a look at the modern dinner party here on the blog. Read on!
How to Host a Modern Dinner Party
Hygge-style dinners have been on the rise for a while as people are embracing the Scandinavian-inspired comfy and cozy vibe over a stiff and formal setting. And thank goodness for that, especially for people like me who still doesn’t own a matching set of wine glasses.
I love this shift from entertaining to hospitality, when the focus moves from you, the host (and that perfectly set table), to the guest, and their comforts. For me, this is the simple difference between entertaining and hospitality: less show and more soul.
Creating a hygge atmosphere in summer is just as fun as in winter. Think patio string lights, soft cloth napkins, a seasonal menu and a table full of friends.
I remember when the popular website Kitchn defined a recent trend as the ‘crappy dinner party’’, a backlash to the Instagram-perfect parties showcased by lifestyle bloggers, and yes, food bloggers. The crappy dinner party is a low-key, come-as-you-are gathering, just friends connecting with friends over a plate of food and a drink or three.
Table dressings at these relaxed dinner parties are minimal, often mismatched plates and forks directly on the wooden table. The chairs are assorted, of course, because who has a dozen matching dining room chairs?
Zero waste is on the mind of the modern host, who avoids disposable dishes and uses the everyday stuff, along with thrifted cloth napkins and chilled tap water. They also aren’t shy to speak up and ask for help doing those dishes, either. The party carries on in the kitchen, as plated are loaded in the dishwasher and wine glasses are polished.
Centerpieces often come together out of items that the host already owns or has bought locally: small bunches of herbs as mini bouquets, tea lights in mason jars, branches or pinecones from the park or forest, seasonal fruits and vegetables (my favourite).
The modern host knows their way around the grill and isn’t afraid to throw on piles of vegetables along side the meat, as they are eco and budget conscious, too. Food sustainability is a topic of conversation.
Fresh, local and seasonal eats are common themes throughout the modern dinner party menu, as they should be. The dishes are globally-inspired now, no longer merely variations on North American meat + potatoes.
I’ve seen a trend away from the bread basket filled with crusty baguette or soft rolls and instead an extra vegetable side dish or two is added in. This dish usually features seasonal produce, prepared simply, like this Fresh Tomato and Peach Caprese Salad.
This way of eating makes so much sense, especially in summer.
The dishes are placed in the center of the table where folks gather around and help themselves, family-style. The meal is relaxed, slower, with young children coming and going.
From my experience, there’s always a place for children around this table. Mothers bounce a baby on their lap or entreat a toddler to stick around long enough to warrant a bowl of ice cream.
The children learn the importance of these gatherings, mostly through the commitment their parents make to show up. Showing up speaks volumes about the crucial value of face-to-face connections in a digital world.
Music sets the tone of the modern dinner party. Cranking some tunes just might be the easiest way to warm up a room full of people – whether you’re the type to plan a playlist in advance, or just read the room and pick a Spotify station.
This summer, I predict that there will be even more casual gatherings between friends to share a meal. The house won’t always be clean and the food might night be fancy, but it is enough just to be together. In the busyness of life, a crappy dinner party, shared with the ones you love, is enough.
My advice? Stress less. Let your dinner parties be spontaneous and simple, and leave the well-thought out affairs to a host who thrives on entertaining. Both events are equally valuable, as any effort that brings friends together for a meal is worthwhile.
Live in the moment and relish the community you’ve created by embracing the modern dinner party.
Friends! Leave a comment and tell me about your modern/crappy/casual dinners with friends. I’d love to hear about how you gather.
The Spring 2019 cookbook lineup has been so incredibly inspiring, it’s been challenging to pick my favourites.
I must have bookmarked at least twenty recipes to share with you, alas, other work commitments took precedence over recipe blogging. While my committments are exciting and fulfilling (hey, I’m speaking at Women Deliver 2019!) sometimes I wish I could cook, bake and write seven days a week.
You’re just going to have to discover these cookbooks for yourself. Pull up a chair at the Prairie Table or take a trip to the Wildness of Newfoundland. Cook up a modern lunch and remember that fibre is important. You’ll find inspiration aplenty on this list.
Crack the cover of this beautifully crafted cookbook and prepare to be transported to one of my favourite remote corners of Canada. With recipes like Blueberry Oat Cake, and Vinegar Pie with Sagamite Crust, Jeremy pays tribute to these heritage recipes – and ingredients – yet elevates them into something entirely new and modern. A talented writer, he also includes a story with each recipe and the result is quite an evocative journey.
When in Newfoundland a few years ago, we lunched at The Merchant Tavern, and Jeremy came over, introduced himself and even offered to take us fishing. Such a generous man, as well as a talented chef — I think it’s fitting that he should be the one to shine a spotlight on the fare of this rugged, yet gentle East Coast province.
To say Priya’s first cookbook is full of vivacious personality is an understatement. Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family is a well-written and easy to understand cookbook that is just plain fun. I was sold on the book after reading the FAQ’s and by the time I reached the Spice and Lentil Guide, it was in my shopping cart.
My kids love lentils but I needed new inspiration. Bookmarked to make is Caramelized Onion Dal and paired with it, Garlic-Ginger Chicken with Cilantro and Mint.
The Prairie Table – Suppers, Potlucks & Socials: Crowd-Pleasing Recipes to Bring People Together is the latest book from Karlynn Johnston, bestselling author of Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky. I’m loving this whimsical title just as much as the first.
Mateo and I hit the kitchen to bake up a batch of Grandma Ellen’s Cold Picnic Barbecue Fried Chicken – a dynamite recipe which is surprisingly easy! This fried chicken will be making an appearance in my picnic baskets this summer for sure. And just as soon as I can get my hands on some local strawberries, I’ll be making a batch of Strawberry Rhubarb Gin Fizz to bring along, too.
If there is any kitchen I love to drop by for an afternoon apéro it would be Marie’s. I adore finger foods and this book offers seventy-five fresh and modern recipes for the ultimate happy hour. Beautifully photographed and designed, this little gem looks beautiful on the coffee table, too.
There’s nothing I love more than a cookbook with plenty of story interwoven throughout the recipes. Montrealer Kim delivers story, memoir and more in Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen: Simple Recipes from My Many Mothers. Vietnamese-inspired cuisine is one of my kids’ favourites but I seldom make it at home. Until now! From Lemongrass Tofu Cubes (yuuuuum) with rice noodles to Vietnamese Tapioca and Banana for dessert, I’ve finally got the inspiration I needed.
Here’s an artist who has managed to successfully bridge the gap between Instagram and the publishing world – twice! Icing on the Cake: Baking and Decorating Simple, Stunning Desserts at Home is an exciting expansion to Tessa’s stunning Insta feed – featuring step-by-step tutorials and unique decorating techniques.
I love the chapter on Rustic Bakes and Cakes and I can see the Rosy Rhubarb Strawberry Slab Pie becoming my go-to recipe for an upcoming Canada Day celebration. Also, my dad will be here with me for Father’s Day next month and I’m trying to decide on the perfect cake – or pie – for the occasion! I love having a reason to take on an epic baking project.
Marcella’s beautiful book Bake the Seasons: Sweet and Savoury Dishes to Enjoy Throughout the Year feels like an instant classic. It’s full of recipes that are sure to become family favourited for generations such as Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts and Cherry Almond Dutch Baby. We loved the Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies, made with a touch of buckwheat flour and both milk and dark chocolate.
I may be biased because Jeanine and I share the same editor at Penguin Random House, but gosh, this woman and her team make beautiful cookbooks. I loved the first Love & Lemons cookbook, but Love and Lemons Every Day: More than 100 Bright, Plant-Forward Recipes for Every Meal surpasses even that. This is my go-to book for the summer season ahead.
The Vegan Date Brownies with raspberries absolutely killed at a recent book party evening with a few girlfriends. And I’m made her chimichuri and am adding it it to pretty much everything savoury. Bookmarked to make very soon: Versatile Vegetable Lentil Soup.
Danish & Swedish cookbook authors David & Luise get feeding a family: the messy bits, the magic…the work. Their vibrant new book is a refreshing change from most family-focused cookbooks. It’s completely vegetarian, for starters. Around here we’re always looking for more meatless options that the whole family enjoys – and Little Green Kitchen offers inspiration aplenty. From Dino Burgers (with spinach and pea patties) to Blueberry and Avocado Creamsicles – the kids and I are ALL IN.
Our beloved ‘Queen of Fibre’ is Canadian culinary royalty and her latest book is just so much fun! It’s tempting to stare at the inviting cover all day long, but as soon as you crack open this book you’ll be pulled in by Mairlyn’s great humour, approachable recipes and helpful tips (like how to get an A+ on your colonoscopy…). Spicy Ginger Molasses Cookies are made with whole grain barley flour and her hearty Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad is also full of strawberries, mint and feta cheese. Yes please.
The Food in Jars Kitchen: 140 Ways to Cook, Bake, Plate, and Share Your Homemade Pantry is the latest book from beloved author (and former Simple Bites contributor) Marisa of Food in Jars.
Marmalade and Mixed Nut Granola is nothing short of genius (one of many genius recipe creations) and the Preserved Lemon Hummus is at the top of my list. I can’t wait to preserve produce all summer long so I can cook from Marisa’s book all winter long.
Brimming with inspiration and super smart recipes, Modern Lunch is an absolutely beautiful work. Each recipe in this cookbook feels globally inspired and yet lovingly curated for the home cook. One of my top books of the year so far.
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My mother instilled a love of whole grains in me from a very early age, back on our original homestead in the Yukon.
I can still picture the orange oval cast iron pot that she would set in the middle of the table at meal time when the six of us were gathered. That pot of rice or barley or millet rounded out most of our meals, filling the corners in the tummies with comfort.
Nowadays grains of all kind fill my pantry – red quinoa, basmati rice, wheat berries and farro, in addition to my childhood favourites. I add them to everything from citrus salads to quick stir-fried dinners.
You all know that meal prep is key for helping me to get organized for dinner and I’m also a long-time believer in batch cooking. Freezing big batches of grains checks both those boxes and makes my life a little bit easier; here’s how I do it.
How to Freeze Grains
Today’s simple tutorial is how to freeze and successfully thaw grains. Sure, most cooked grains will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days, so if you are just meal prepping for the week ahead, it’s not always necessary to freeze them.
However, I mainly freeze quinoa, brown rice pilaf, etc in small, 1-2 cup portions so I have have them for a mid-day salad or side without having to turn on the stove or babysit a pot of rice. If I have whole grains portioned off and frozen in my freezer I am far more likely to include them in my Monday-Friday meals when life is hectic.
Step 1: Cool the cooked grains completely on a tray or sheet pan. You want them to dry properly so the extra moisture doesn’t cause them to clump. Use a fork to fluff the grains after a few minutes to vent the steam.
Step 2: Portion cooked grains into reusable, eco-friendly containers. I use an assortment of sizes, depending on my needs. I avoid the disposable plastic re-sealable bags that are so popular for this particular task. In my attempt to move towards a zero-waste kitchen, I’ve eliminated single-use plastic bags from my cupboards and stick with glass food storage containers with lids instead. Just be sure yours are microwave and freezer safe (mine can go in the oven too).
Step 3: Label containers and jars with the date and ingredient – and freeze! Even if the containers are glass and see-through, I try to write what’s inside for quick identification. ** Freeze grains for up to three months.**
How to Thaw Grains
I find that rice is best defrosted straight from the freezer, while heartier grains can defrost overnight in the fridge and not turn to mush. I usually defrost in the microwave for a quick thaw; the time varies per grain, just take it a minute at a time.
If I am adding the grains to something hot, like quinoa to a lentil dish, I will just add it in frozen. This adds a few minutes to the cooking time.
You’ll find the texture of previously frozen grains nearly identical to just-cooked. It helps to buy the best quality you can afford; freshness is definitely an important factor in maintaining the integrity of these whole grains.
Check out the products from my friends at Flourist (previously GRAIN) who source Canadian grown 100% traceable grains, beans and freshly milled flours.
Let me know how you freeze grains and what you’re using them for afterward.
It was almost exactly one year ago when I shared my recipe for Vanilla Cream Scones with you all, as well as details on an elaborate tea party.
A few friends and I had gathered to celebrate the Royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, and we toasted their happiness with many cups of tea – and a few gin & tonics. Today, as I sat down to write this post, the same Royal couple announced the birth of their son. Welcome Baby Sussex!
Now more than ever, it seems fitting to share a sweet and savoury scone recipe round-up with you. These are my favourites – plain and simple, cheesy and fruity. You’re bound to find a recipe you’ll love forever.
Scones aren’t just for Royal celebrations….Mother’s Day is coming up and kids, mum wants a pretty plate of warm scones and a terrific coffee for breakfast on Sunday. Trust me.
You can serve it up in bed or not, just be sure to give her plenty of alone time to enjoy breakfast in peace. If you include a jar of jam and a bowl of sliced fruit, then you’re really off to a great start to the day.
Here’s scone recipe inspiration for your next baking project. Why not get a batch or two in the freezer in preparation for Mother’s Day? You may want to also include instructions on how to re-heat the scones ( I always use the oven at 300F for about 10 minutes).
These are undoubtably my favourite for pairing with tea and slathering with jam. When I was working on the recipe, I tested British-style scones from well-known UK bakers – everyone from Nigella Lawson to Diana Henry. The best one I found was from Violet Bakery’s Claire Ptak, an American living in London.
This was the scone I had been looking for all along. Fluffy and flakey, moist enough, light as a feather and not too sweet. The recipe makes a nice big batch so you can freeze some for another morning.
For those of you who really love a savoury scone in the morning, we have the Irish and Jan Scott to thank for this recipe. Try splitting these cheesy biscuits and topping them with soft scrambled eggs and a pinch of fresh chives.
Of course I have a soft spot for these tender, nutty scones as they are from my second cookbook, The Simple Bites Kitchen. A while back I shared the recipe with The National Post and here it is. If you’ve never tried dates in scones, I’m here to tell you that they are the BEST.
These savoury biscuits are absolutely delicious for breakfast paired with sweet butter and a wedge of cheddar. For a truly decadent brunch, make them into breakfast sandwiches by adding a fried egg and a strip of bacon. Delish!
Happy baking and Happy Mother’s Day to the mums reading. <3
The crocuses in our yard opened up this week and the tulip have pushed up next to them. It’s wonderfully exciting to watch spring creep over our new little homestead and it seems as though there are discoveries to be made after every warm rainstorm.
I’m channeling spring in the Simple Bites kitchen as well, and this Lobster Niçoise Salad is a perfect example. We enjoyed it over the Easter long weekend paired with a platter of lamb and lentils for a surf ‘n turf feast with friends.
I’f you don’t have a basic Salade Niçoise in your culinary repertoire, then please adopt my recipe and make it yours. It’s such a versatile salad and so well suited to spring greens.
The Foundations of a Niçoise Salad
The Niçoise is a salad you can start making in the spring, heaped with asparagus and baby lettuce, and carry on right through the summer, piling on those homegrown cherry tomatoes and fresh tarragon. I take my liberties with the ingredients, however if you are looking to compose a classic Niçoise, here’s what you will need.
Green beans – ideally haricots verts, the thin French string bean.
Boiled new potatoes – I always use red, but any will do
Tuna, generally oil-packed and the best quality
Tomatoes – cherries look so pretty
Butter lettuce – Boston or Bibb
Hard boiled eggs
Olives, capers & anchovies
Of course you’ll see many variations on this salad, in the same way a kale Ceasar salad exists – recipes like these merely inspire us in the kitchen.
I topped my most recent platter of Salade Niçoise with cold lobster tails and claws for a decadent East Coast twist on the classic. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to tuna now! The lobster paired so very well with the punchy tarragon vinaigrette. I hope you try it for yourself very soon.
The Niçoise is a fantastic do-ahead salad, as every ingredient can be prepped in advance and kept well chilled. A half hour or so before serving, compose your salad on a platter then drizzle with vinaigrette just before serving.
I’ve even layered my Niçoise salad into jars and packed it up for a picnic. Should you wish to do the same, start with a wide mouth quart mason jar and layer the ingredients in the following order: vinaigrette, potatoes, green beans, tuna (or lobster!), tomatoes, olives, eggs, tarragon and lettuce.
Lobster Nicoise Salad
This beautiful salad is a welcome burst of colour and flavor after a long winter. Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish.
1 large clove garlic (peeled)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon (chopped)
2 Tablespoons eggs
8 oz baby red potatoes (scrubbed)
1/2 pound green beans (trimmed)
1 head Boston lettuce (or Butter lettuce)
1/2 cup Kalamata olives (pitted)
1 medium watermelon radish (thinly sliced)
1 tail lobster (cooked)
2 claws lobster (cooked)
1 cluster cherry tomatoes
Prepare the salad dressing by mashing the garlic with salt, using the flat side of your knife blade on a cutting board. When it is a fine paste, transfer it to a small bowl and whisk in the vinegar, Dijon and pepper. Drizzle in olive oil while whisking; the dressing should look creamy. Stir in the tarragon.
Place the eggs in a small pot and fill with water to cover by 2 inches. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for 1 minute; turn off heat. Cover the pot with a lid and let stand for 8 minutes. Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl and when the timer has rung, transfer the boiled eggs to the ice bath to cool. Once cooled, peel eggs, slice in half and reserve. Keep the ice bath for the green beans.
Place the potatoes in a medium pot and fill with water to cover by 2 inches. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and boil for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are still firm but can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain and cool to room temperature.
Place the green beans in the same pot and pour in a half-inch of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Steam the green beans for 2-3 minutes or until bright green. Drain the pot and transfer the green beans to the ice bath. Once they are cool, drain well and lay them on a clean tea towel to dry.
To serve: Tear the leaves off the lettuce and distribute them around a large platter. Arange the cold potatoes and green beans on top, followed by the olives. Slice the eggs in half and add them to the salad along with the sliced radish. Top with cold lobster and stem of cherry tomatoes.
Just before serving, give the salad dressing a quick whisk and drizzle it all over the salad. Top with additional tarragon leaves if desired and finish with a sprinkling of sea salt on the eggs. Serve at once.
Simple tips for going zero-waste in the kitchen – with a goal of progress, not perfection.
Happy Earth Day!
Is anyone else watching Our Planet on Netflix? Each episode is equally inspiring and sobering. It is so important to be informed about the impact that our daily habits have on the environment.
As the snow melts in our yards and new life sprouts forth, let’s motivate each other to make more eco-friendly choices in the kitchen. I know you’re already doing a fantastic job, but there’s always room for improvement, right?
From energy-saving ideas to zero waste tips, here’s what I’m specifically doing in the Simple Bites kitchen. There are a hundred other directions we could take this topic, but I’m choosing to only list what I put into practice every single day.
So if you’re wondering how to move towards a zero-waste kitchen, begin with the small steps listed below and work up to the big ones.
How to Move Towards a Zero-Waste Kitchen
For starters, our goal here is progress, not perfection. Going completely zero-waste in the kitchen is a daunting thought, but with mindfulness it is not such a stretch from what we’re already doing. In this post I’m choosing to focus on zero waste efforts around food, however for the rest of the home, I recommend Bea’s book, Zero Waste Home.
Each day we eat three meals and that’s three opportunities to make food choices that are better for the planet. I hope the lists below inspire you to take a few steps toward decreasing your environmental impact. I’ve included links wherever I think is helpful. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments.
For me, this is where mindfulness starts. It’s about ditching the single serving packages and buying in bulk. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Make a menu plan. This way you’re shopping only for what you need and can avoid unnecessary food waste.
Make a list, stick to it. See above regarding avoiding food waste.
Buy in Bulk. This only applies for pantry staples that you know you use in large quantities (for us: oatmeal, rice, flour, pulses, etc). You’ll save money and avoid packaging. How to Shop in Bulk via The Faux Martha.
Shop the Farmer’s Market. As much as possible, avoid plastic-wrapped and bagged produce.
Use reusable bags. Canvas/cloth/collapsable bags for groceries and cloth or nylon bags for produce. I keep mine in my car.
Bring containers and go package-free. Zero-waste grocery shops and co-ops are becoming more popular as consumers are increasingly conscious of the toll plastic has on the environment. Here in Halifax, I frequent The Tare Shop and Bulk Barn, as well as many markets around the city.
Shop in season/eat local. I feel like I’ve been banging the drum for seasonal eating for a decade around here. It’s simple: the the shorter the distance that your food has to travel, the less of an impact it has on the environment.
Food for thought via SDG2 Advocacy Hub: What we eat and how we produce it is damaging our planet. Eating lesser-known, highly nutritious foods such as purple yams or adzuki beans helps to protect biodiversity and climate resistance in our food systems.
Store foods in the fridge properly. Use regular rotation, clean frequently, use up the old foods first. Don’t overstock!
Use glass jars for pantry staples. It doesn’t just look pretty, but this keeps food airtight and preserves it longer.
Repurpose when possible. My new kitchen needed a bit more cupboard and counter space. Instead of building new, I found an old hoosier kitchen piece and added it to a corner of my kitchen (it’s featured in a few of these photos!).
Compost. For those food scraps that you are unable to repurpose.
Reuse Glass Jars: My collection of jars is varied and mismatched, but it holds everything from dried pantry staples to homemade stock in the freezer.
Go gadget-less, or at least think good and hard before you buy another small appliance that you may not use. If you’re convinced you need an Instant Pot (I don’t), borrow one from a friend for a week and see how you like it before you buy.
Use cleaning rags instead of paper towel. Paper towel is too expensive for restaurant kitchens – we always used rags and washed them.
Repurpose cans: You can recycle tin cans into little herb planters and they look quite cute. Here’s the tutorial.
Replace plastic wrap with bees wax wrap. I have a collection of bees wax wraps in various sizes and I use these for covering bowls of food and wrapping sandwiches, etc.
Ditch the disposables: Invest in enamelware or melamine dishes for picnics and outdoor eating. Try thrift stores or junk shops and reuse.
Cloth napkins. We have a few sets that we cycle through during a week.
Become a thrifter – use thrifted second-hand dishes and stemware instead of buying new when you can.
Embrace Oven-to-Table cooking – When you cook with fewer dishes, there’s less washing up and you use less water. Here are my favourite oven-to-table cookware and Jan’s Oven to Table cookbook is fantastic.
Choose live flowers over cut. When you can, use living, potted plants for table decoration. I love small pots of herbs or a grouping of bulbs.
Give your coffee routine a greenover: Be it a Chemex with reusable filter, French Press or Aeropress with the metal disk – there are many options for great coffee that don’t include single serve pods.
Ditch Single Use Tea Bags: Choose a reusable tea globe infuser and go looseleaf.
I was a natural-born feeder from as early as age four or five, when I would set the table for my mum and help with simple kitchen tasks for the family meal.
The days we were anticipating guests were always incredibly exciting; I’d get to pick the wildflowers for the table and draw place cards to set above the dinner plate. My mother instilled a love of hospitality in me at a young age, and to this day I love gathering people around my table.
Cooking for others has always been my most comfortable form of self-expression and Easter is one of my favourite times of the year to host friends. Last year I gave you an Easter brunch menu and two lunch menus for your entertaining inspiration; today I’m simplifying it even more with suggestions for spring appetizers.
I hope you’ll be encouraged to invite a few people into your home over the April long weekend and make a few memories around the table.
Easter Appetizer Round-Up
Spring appetizers are light and fresh, often featuring the the first produce of the season, like radishes, asparagus, peas and strawberries. This is a vibrant collection of recipes and I’m sure you’ll find an appy that’s perfect for your menu.
Radish butter is one of life’s simple pleasures and this decidedly grown up recipe is perfect for spring. You can make your own focaccia or pick one up from your local bakery. The radish butter is also delicious on little toasts (crostini) or whole grain crackers. Green onions can be substituted for wild ramps.
More radishes! This time paired with gorgeous new asparagus in a delectable tart. You can cut these in triangles and serve them on a board as finger food, or leave them whole and serve with salad for a light first course.
Prosciutto & Arugula Roll-Ups with Balsamic Reduction
If you want a gluten-free bite that still feels spring-like, my friend Kerrie rolls peppery arugula in slices of prosciutto and finishes them off with a balsamic drizzle. Simple and elegant.
If you’re looking for a vegan option that’s vibrant, round up your favourite crudite vegetables and top them with a seasoning of sumac, chili and lime. It’s bold way to begin a meal and guaranteed to wake up the tastebuds.
These homemade mini vegetarian pizzas are a great do-ahead option. Reheat them from frozen until the cheese bubbles, then drizzle with olive oil and serve. There won’t be a single pizzette leftover, I promise.
Simple and seasonal is my mantra when it comes to eating and entertaining and this little appetizer is both. It’s part savoury and part sweet, it’s a tantalizing bite you’ll want to assemble and serve up on your prettiest plate
I love to bake up a tray of gougères and then stuff them like tiny, bite-sized burgers. Smoked salmon and arugula is a favourite filling of mine, but try whipped cream cheese and cucumber, or roast beef and pickles.
These simple and elegant tea cakes are bursting with citrus flavour; serve them at your next spring gathering.
We Canadians have to wait for spring just a little longer than seems fair.
Each April we wait impatiently for the first rhubarb of the season and then we bake it into everything from hearty muffins to delicate galettes. We still have weeks – maybe months – to go until strawberries arrive at the markets, and until then, we’re juicing lemons and squeezing clementines for our kitchen baking projects.
Citrus is definitely the inspiration for these cakes. I wanted to create a delicate tea-time treat that evoked the feeling of spring while still using the winter ingredients we have on hand.
Just for fun, I created individual cakes studded with poppy seeds, a riff off my Meyer Lemon Bundt Cake. (Yes, just one of manylemoncakes I’ve presented over the years. I’m definitely more of a citrus girl than chocolate.)
These elegant citrus tea cakes are puckery through and through with a fine, delicate crimb. Lemon zest, lemon juice and minced preserved lemon all contribute to a truly tangy bite while a clementine and blood orange glaze tops it all off.
You can leave out the poppy seeds or toss them in; you can top the cakes with slivers of kumquat or a tiny spring blossom, it’s up to you.
These Glazed Mini Lemon Poppyseed Tea Cakes would be suitable for nearly every sort of spring gathering, from an elegant Mother’s Day tea to a simple Sunday lunch. Springtime makes me think of weddings or baby showers, and these cakes would be a beautiful addition to any sweet table.
Perhaps you’re throwing a tea part to celebrate the upcoming Royal Baby Sussex and wish to serve a little something sweet and delicate. In that case, break out the best china, arange a bouquet of flowers – and bake a plate of lemon cakes.
This April we’re celebrating our first Easter in our new house, in a new province. We’re expecting a few friends for Sunday lunch and I think cake is the perfect way to celebrate, don’t you?
We’ll have loads of kids around the table, they’ll bring their toys and crayons, and we’ll pass the afternoon sharing our hopes and dreams for the warm seasons ahead. Winter be gone!
These mini cakes also travel quite well, so pack them up for a spring picnic and don’t forget to bring a thermos of scalding hot tea. You could also box them up prettily and gift them to a friend or co-worker.
As you can see, there is no shortage of reasons to bake up a tray of mini tea cakes. All you need is a muffin pan, a few ingredients and someone to share them with. Happy Baking.
Glazed Mini Lemon Poppyseed Tea Cakes
A simple and elegant tea cake with a fine, moist crumb and an intense lemon flavour.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for the pan)
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 large eggs (room temperature)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon minced preserved lemon (optional)
1/2 cup buttermilk
FOR THE GLAZE
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons fresh clementine juice (or orange juice)
2 teaspoons Blood orange juice
Have all ingredients at room temperature if possible. Preheat an oven to 350F. Generously butter a muffin tin and lightly dust it with flour. Tap out the excess flour over your kitchen sink.
Sift together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the poppy seeds.
Zest the lemon over a small bowl with the sugar. Rub the zest into sugar with your fingertips.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the lemon sugar until smooth. Beat for 4 minutes on medium high until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 30 seconds after each one. Scrape down sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add lemon juice, vanilla and preserved lemon (if using) and mix well. Don’t worry if it looks curdled.
Remove the paddle and fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula, one cup at a time, alternating with the buttermilk like this: 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup flour, the remainder of the buttermilk, the remainder of the flour. Use a very light hand, and fold only until the streaks of flour have disappeared.
Use an ice cream scoop to divide the cake batter into the prepared muffin tins. Place in the oven on the center rack.
Bake lemon tea cakes until the tops spring back lightly when pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remember that ovens will vary so keep an eye on them. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Loosen around the edges of the cakes with a butter knife. Invert the pan onto a cooling rack and tap gently so the cakes fall out. Cool mini cakes completely.
Whisk together the powdered sugar and citrus juice. Glaze should be quite thick, like creamy honey. Place the rack of cooled cakes onto a sheet pan and drizzle the glaze over the top. Serve within an hour or two or transfer to an airtight container to hold. Before serving, garnish as desired with fresh flowers, sliced citrus or a mint leaf.
I’ve tried these cakes with sour cream instead of buttermilk and with a combination of plain yogurt and buttermilk. Use what you have on hand. Tea cakes are best enjoyed on the same day they are baked, but they will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
All images created in partnership with my fellow foodie friend, Kelly of Kelly Neil Photography. Recipe & Food Styling by myself; Photography by Kelly. Thanks, Kelly!
A simple guide for packing a zero waste lunch, with tips for reliable gear.
I‘m coming up on a decade of packing school lunches and it’s high time I shared my tried and true gear guide for the zero waste lunchbox.
Good containers for lunches on the go have to be easy to clean and hold up year after year. There are so many options out there and I’ve tried my fair share. I know what breaks and what lasts, what kids enjoy using and what is actually worth the price tag.
At its simplest, packing a lunch requires a few containers, a jar and a tote; at its maximum we’re using everything from beeswax wraps to banana guards.
Hit the jump and keep scrolling because I’m about to show you aaaaaalll our items for a zero waste lunchbox.
Invest in Quality Lunchbox Gear
Brace yourself, because as you can see, I’m a bit of a reusable lunch gear maximalist – with good reason! I’m raising three healthy eaters and I like to keep the midday meal exciting.
Now, I’m about to throw a lot of information your way, but before you pass judgement on the amount of items, here’s a quick breakdown of just how often we put everything to use.
3 daily school lunches, 5x a week = 15 meals/week
1 daily office lunch – 5x week = 5 meals/week
Weekend picnics and lunches on the go for 5 people = 5 meals/week
Travel foods/road trip snacks x5
This gear gets us through upwards of 25 meals per week, with extra use for road trips and weekend excursions. That’s over a thousand meals throughout a 40-week school year.
As you can see, we use a wide variety of materials: glass, stainless steel, plastic, cloth, bamboo and beeswax. This well-curated selection saves us from using and tossing:
plastic sandwich bags, upwards of 20/week
juice boxes, estimated 15/week
yogourt cups/tubes – 10/week
plastic water bottles – 25/week
and so much more disposable plastic garbage.
I haven’t crunched all the numbers, but I’ve been packing homemade school lunches for a decade now. Investing in zero waste gear has kept me from sending thousands of baggies, bottles and plastic containers to the landfills.
Small Steps to Zero Waste Lunches
One of my favourite quotes about eco-consciousness is from Anne-Marie of Zero Waste Chef:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
For now we still use a lot of reusable plastic lunchbox items that are BPA-free and Phthalate Free. For us, this is one step better than plastic wrap/tin foil/plastic bags that will get trashed every day. Will I ever go completely plastic-free? I’m not sure.
Small steps. Good intentions. Day in and day out. Imperfectly.
Clara’s lunch gear (Grade 1)
Tried ‘n True Gear for the Zero Waste Lunchbox
Since we’re looking to be eco-friendly, I encourage you to recycle as much as possible by shopping at your local thrift store. Good quality reusable food storage is built to last and much of it can be found second hand.
I get our reusable water bottles and coffee to-go cups from a local Value Village where there are hundreds to choose from. Since they are the item our family tends to misplace the most, I’ve given up on buying new!
If you’re shopping new, here are a few website to bookmark.
FENIGO. Canadian zero-waste lifestyle products with a great selection of lunch gear.
Trudeau: Another Canadian brand for food-to-go containers.
For actual lunch bags, go with anything machine-washable (for kids). PlanetBox makes a very sturdy carry bag that still looks like new after years of use. On the other hand, this insulated cooler bag from YumBox was shredded on the inside after one school year.
Main Dish Lunch Gear
PlanetBox – The all-in-one stainless steel lunch box is ideal for elementary school aged kids. PlanetBox is the best of the best. It’s an investment that will last longer than your child is in school. Highly recommend! We love the Rover.
GlassLock Containers – A stash of these glass containers with snaplock lids are a must for the (adult, teen) lunchbox. I fill them with foods to be reheated – everything from lasagna to stew. I freeze them, bake them, and send them to be microwaved. I prefer the GlassLock brand.
Sandwich Guard – Keeps sandwiches from getting squished or soggy. We use these way more than I thought we would! Find the S’witch Guard at Fenigo.
Jars, Jars, Jars – For packing big salads, Weck Jars are a must. They last forever; I’ve never, ever broken a Weck jar and I take them everywhere. I use jars of all sizes, right down to mini, which are perfect for a single serving of vinaigrette.
Stainless steel vacuum insulated food jar – The kids take soups, stews, pasta – leftovers of all kinds in these containers. I use both a classic Thermos and a Canadian brand called Trudeau. Here’s the exact container my teen uses and loves.
Lunch gear for my tween & teen.
Gear for Packing Snacks
Beeswax Wraps – Super great for snacks like cheese, pepperoni, cookies, vegetables, crackers…. I like that I can cut an apple, wrap it tight in a beeswax wrap and it doesn’t go brown in the lunchbox. I buy a local brand called BodyHonour; a bigger brands is Bee’s Wrap. Check your local markets and buy local.
Reusable Snack Bags – I use super cute ones from Colibri Canada. Two sisters started this company and I love supporting their work.
Snack Box – for vegetables and dip, we love these Trudeau Snack & Dip Sets. There’s never any leaks and they come with a little spreader utensil for peanut butter or hummus.
Banana Guard – I thought these were a gimmick for the longest time – until I invested in three and NOW my kids happily eat their bruise-free bananas.
Stainless snack containers – We use the little Dipper containers from PlanetBox. They are easy to open and spill-proof. Absolutely everything goes in these from yellow mustard to a single cookie.
Water bottle – Stainless steel insulated water bottles is an absolute essential. I can recommend Klean Kanteen as well as Manna, but any alternative to disposable plastic water bottles is a step in the right direction.
Bamboo straws – Or glass straws, which we love. Or silicone. Just not plastic.
Cloth napkin – My kids take a napkin from home every day.
Cloth bags and totes – I pick these up from all over! Check your farmer’s market and buy local.
I remember when little five-year-old Noah started kindergarten and I began building my reusable lunch gear with a single PlanetBox Rover, a bamboo fork and a cloth napkin. It was the start of it all.
He loved eating from that lunchbox and I loved packing it for him. I know that having a special lunch from home helped ease that transition for him.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of options out there. Start small, shop local, reuse when you can- every step towards zero waste helps.
For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to start a cookbook club, the kind where you all read the same book, prepare a recipe, and bring it to a pot-luck to share.
There just wasn’t enough margin in my life before now; I couldn’t have added another event to the calendar. However, now that we are in Halifax, our lifestyle change has opened up pockets of time and I’ve been intentional about filling those spaces with activities that bring me joy.
Enter the cookbook club. While it’s technically a social event, the gathering dovetails nicely into my line of work as an author and recipe developer – a perfect intertwine of work and play with delicious food as a result.
What is a Cookbook Club?
A cookbook club is a gathering of cookbook enthusiasts – the best kind of people! They exchange opinions on the book and share experiences from cooking the recipes. There’s a spread of pot-luck dishes, each contributed by the members, which makes hosting a cinch.
Think of it as a dinner club and a book club combined into one.
Usually one cookbook is the focus, and it is discussed in depth at each meet up. This allows for a pot-luck feast that is quite cohesive, since the recipes are all from the same book. The group could also focus on a specific author, such as Nigella Lawson, and cook anything from her collection of works. It depends on how you wish to structure the cookbook club.
Why Start a Cookbook Club?
A cookbook club is a wonderful excuse to get together with fellow cookbook and food lovers. In our small group we have cookbook authors, an editor, book reviewer, cookbook photographers, podcasters, food stylists, former chefs and serious home cooks. Our careers intersect with the cookbook world in wildly different ways which makes for lively conversation.
It’s also a chance to slow down, meet around a table and share stories of connecting (or not) with the author. It provides the opportunity to see the book through different eyes, and experience a unique perspective.
And then there is the feast. One cook would have to slave for hours in the kitchen to turn out ten or more recipes from a specific cookbook, but when a group of club members share their cooking efforts together, the results are spectacular.
How to Start a Cookbook Club
Invite a core group of cookbook enthusiasts to the club and encourage them to invite 1-2 people each. This will round out the numbers and ensure everyone has a friend. Aim for a group of 12-16 people, which may seem like a lot, but realistically only about half will be able to make each meet-up. 6-8 people is a great number for a pot-luck, ensuring an array of dishes, without burdening the host.
We use a Facebook group to chit chat, swap info and make decisions. First up? Decide on how often you’ll want to meet. We’re starting with every 6-8 weeks, as every month felt like too much of a commitment. Eight weeks also feels like a good time to sit with a cookbook, get a feel for the author’s voice and test a number of recipes.
Toss out a few titles to the group and pick one to get you started. Subsequently, pick the next book at each meet up.
Pick your first date and get cooking! Our group is rotating hosting duties, meaning that we’ll meet in and around Halifax, moving from kitchen to kitchen. We may gravitate to the beach in the height of summer – who knows.
A few of us own these cookbook titles, others track them down from the library and a few choose to buy them for their collection. The library is definitely the way to go if you are unfamiliar with the author and their work at first. The if you fall in love with the cookbook, you can always add it to your collection later.
One last thing….should you decide to start a cookbook club and feature either of my books, drop me a note at aimee @ simplebites (dot) net or tag me on the socials! That would be so fun. Happy Cooking and Happy Reading.