Easy Avocado “Gelato”

After I tried making banana “ice cream”, one of my friends N sent me a recipe for avocado “gelato” (from this Tiffany Cruikshank Yoga Facebook post), which sounded delicious and easy to make, so I had to give it a try!

I whipped some up today and loved it! I know some people aren’t keen on avocados, but if you like them, this recipe is a must try.

Avocado "Gelato"
Ingredients
  • Half an avocado*
  • 1 cup of frozen fruit (we used mangoes)
  • 1 Tbsp of honey
  • 1/4 cup of coconut water

*A lot of people laugh about seemingly useless kitchen tools, but this all-in-one avocado tool is my friend (Crate & Barrel has since started selling a fancier one)… removing the seed with a knife always came with a risk of slicing my hand open! 😛

Directions

Throw everything into the blender and blend until smooth!

A couple weeks ago, I was lamenting about my potentially wrong decision to purchase a new blender because we haven’t used it that much lately, which Matt pointed out today as I excitedly blended and tasted my frozen avocado treat (darn, he does pay attention to what I say!). I guess it was a good idea afterall! Looking forward to trying other healthy blender recipes soon 🙂

2-Ingredient Frozen Treat: Banana “Ice Cream”

I love ice cream, frozen yogurt, and other dairy-based frozen treats as much as the next person, but this dairy-free, healthier option seemed too easy not to try!

Ingredients
  • 3–4 bananas (unlike the bananas in my photo below, the riper, the better)
  • Optional: peanut butter, Nutella, cocoa powder, vanilla, honey, or other fruit
Directions
  1. Peel and slice bananas and put them into a freezer bag or container.
  2. Once the bananas are frozen, blend them in a food processor or blender.
  3. Add the optional ingredients (if desired) and blend until smooth.

Banana "Ice Cream"!

I cannot stress the importance of Step 1! I obviously wasn’t thinking and made the mistake of throwing the bananas in the freezer whole—using a knife to remove the frozen peels and spending more time blending bigger chunks of banana = unnecessary extra work!

When first blended, the frozen bananas transform into a crumble, which gradually turns into smoother chunks. You may need to stop the blender/food processor intermittently and use a spoon or spatula to scrape the mixture off the sides and to push unblended chunks closer to the blades. Eventually, though, you should achieve a creamy consistency!

As you can see, I used peanut butter, but my friend also recommended cocoa powder. I’ve read about the other optional ingredients listed above, so I’m excited to try something different next time!

International Day of Happiness: All the Good Things

In Grade 8, when Chicken Soup for the Soul was all the rage, one of our teachers decided to try something that was in a story called All the Good Things (Snopes outlines the story, which has been proven to be true).

We were told to write something we liked about each of our classmates, which would be kept anonymous. Our teacher then compiled all of these things into one list for each person and printed them out for us to keep.

To this day, there are 2 things that I always keep with me in my wallet (aside from the essentials): an old Polaroid photo of me with my parents and that list from more than 15 years ago.

All the Good Things

It’s a pretty sad-looking piece of paper now, and I don’t read it all the time, but I keep it there as a reminder of something really special: a memory of a time when we all stopped to think about all the good things we saw in each other.

It sounds really cheesy, but the concept is pretty much why I started Our Happy Jar. To me, being happy is about appreciating the small things and about seeing the good things in other people—even those who are different from you—and in life.

This brings me to the event that sparked this post: March 20th is the International Day of Happiness! I love Pharrell (and everything i am OTHER stands for), who is partnering with the UN Foundation to celebrate happiness and to raise funds for the Central Emergency Response Fund, so support the cause!

If not, then at least celebrate Happy Day: do something that makes you or someone else in your life happy!

Favourite Spots: Emma’s Country Kitchen (Toronto)

We’ve tried quite a few brunch places in Toronto, but Emma’s Country Kitchen on St. Clair West has become one of our favourite spots for one main reason: their signature buttermilk biscuits!

Our very first visit was at the beginning of last year, and I was really excited when Matt suggested it. While the French toast and gingerbread pancakes sound amazing, it’s really hard to go there and not order Emma’s Benny or The Classic with their signature buttermilk biscuits, which are to die for! Matt describes them as big, fluffy, buttery goodness.

Emma’s Benny and The Classic, both with Emma’s signature buttermilk biscuit

On the weekends, they also serve donuts and dulce de leche-filled beignets. blogTO has Emma’s on the list for The Best Donuts in Toronto, and I saw an episode of the Food Network’s Donut Showdown where the owners of the restaurant actually won, which is pretty cool.

Beignets filled with Dulce de Leche

Beignets filled with Dulce de Leche

Brunch is served from 9 am to 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, but it’s best to go early. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations and the space is incredibly small, so it’s an almost guaranteed wait if you go later or if you have a larger party (really, more than 2 people). Go early to grab a spot or hang out and wait for awhile… the comfort food is worth it!

Getting cozy: the parents tucked underneath a stairwell

Emma's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Favourite Spots: Joso’s (Toronto)

Unfortunately, the hubby isn’t feeling too well today (poor guy), so we’re spending a low-key night in. The upside is that it makes for good blogging time!

As mentioned in my first Favourite Spots post, one of the places I wanted to write about was Joso’s.

What keeps us going back? The siciliana spaghettini!

Years before Drake rapped about it in 5AM in Toronto, Joso’s was already a restaurant that my best friend C and her family knew well. To this day (and it’s been more than 20 years since she’s lived here), she still raves about the siciliana at Joso’s!

While there are a lot of pastas that are made from squid ink, this dish is different in that regular pasta is cooked with cuttlefish that’s simmered in its ink. It’s deceivingly unappetizing-looking, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it—it’s AMAZING. I’ve been hooked since C got me to try it, and Matt, my friend A, and I get actual cravings for it!

Delish!

Delish!

On top of the regular menu, they also bring out a platter of fresh seafood that you can choose from; the server will go through each item, describing what it is, things like flavour and texture, and how it’s prepared (generally grilled with olive oil, salt, and pepper). It’s usually very good, but also pretty pricey.

Source: Joso's

Source: Joso’s

Overall, the restaurant’s décor is too eclectic for my taste, and I personally feel like it’s a little snooty—a lot of the clientele consists of older, richer people—so I don’t love the ambiance. But we’ll keep going back… just to get our siciliana fix on!

Joso's on Urbanspoon

Fine Dine-In Fridays: 3-Course Meal on a Budget

Work has been absolutely insane, and I’ve been starting to feel really burned out. Fortunately, home life has been the opposite—Matt has been doing a lot of little things to make my life easier and this week was no exception: he cleaned the house from top to bottom, and on Friday, he planned and cooked me a surprise 3-course meal!

Matt did his shopping at St. Lawrence Market (one of our favourite spots in the city), and the 3 courses x 2 people cost less than $40… not bad!

First Course: Gruyère, Duck Pâté with Pistachios, Roasted Bone Marrow, and Sliced Baguette

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All of this cost us just over $20. The cheese and the pâté made up a good chunk of that, but the marrow bones were surprisingly affordable (under $6 for the 2!). This was the first time we made roasted bone marrow, so I didn’t realize how easy it was (Matt used this recipe). Obviously, we can’t eat all of this stuff all the time, but it’s good to know that we can make it at home for a fraction of what we’d be paying at a restaurant!

Second Course: Filet Mignon with Caramelized Onions and Figs and  Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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The steaks were $5 each. After pan searing and baking them, Matt served them with caramelized onions and figs (yum!), as well as our easy roasted Brussels sprouts (see our go-to recipe here).

Dessert: Chinese Steamed Egg Pudding (燉蛋)

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When it comes to Chinese desserts, this is one of my absolute faves, which is why Matt chose it! As desserts go, it isn’t too hard to make (I’m not sure what recipe Matt used, but here’s one in case you’re interested), but getting the right consistency can be tricky. Matt’s first attempt was unsuccessful because the heat was too high and the tops should have been covered, but the second try was redemption: they were perfect!

All in all, a great way to spend my Friday night!

Favourite Spots: Auberge du Pommier (Toronto)

Auberge du Pommier is by far one of our favourite restaurants in Toronto. We’ve been to this beautiful, cozy French restaurant many times over the years, and the food is always delicious!

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I also personally think that it’s less pretentious than some of the other fine dining establishments we’ve been to, and the service is impeccable. There are a bunch of places with great service, but if I had to pinpoint some great experiences, I’d choose Auberge (and one memorable visit to Estiatorio VOLOS).

Here are some examples to prove it:

The Washroom Story

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This happened during our very first visit to Auberge. Matt had gone to the washroom, and instead of letting me awkwardly sit alone, one of the managers came over to chat with me until Matt came back. He was genuinely friendly, and I appreciated the small but very considerate gesture!

The Mother’s Day Lemon Soufflé Story

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The year Matt and I got married, my mom was in town for Mother’s Day because it was the weekend before the wedding. It was pretty special because with me being halfway around the world, I hadn’t celebrated it with her in person in years. We took her to Auberge and had a delicious meal, but when it came to dessert, we hit a slight hitch.

Before I go on, I want to preface this by saying that A) Auberge has the most amazing lemon soufflé with white chocolate ganache and B) this soufflé-related incident has never happened to us again!

Source: Oliver & Bonacini

Source: Oliver & Bonacini

Anyway, we were told that the soufflé we ordered had collapsed. Our server was very apologetic and made our wait an enjoyable one by bringing us multiple rounds of complimentary ice wine and petit fours. A while later, more bad news: the second one had also collapsed. This time, our server returned with the manager, who told us that they were making a third one and that because of our wait, our entire almost $300-meal would be comped by the restaurant!

They then not only brought us the 3rd perfectly made soufflé, but also the 2 collapsed ones, which were just as delicious. Needless to say, we were stuffed and happy by the end of it all—we left them a very generous tip, and they left us with a great impression of the restaurant!

The Parents’ 30th Anniversary Story

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Last February, my parents celebrated their 30th anniversary, so when they came to visit us in Toronto during the summer, we took them out for a belated anniversary dinner at Auberge (my mom actually requested it!). I made reservations well in advance via OpenTable, and in the Special Requests box, I added a note indicating that we were going there to celebrate my parents’ 30th anniversary and that it’d be great if they could do something special.

Up until that point, I honestly didn’t know if restaurants actually ever read those notes—OpenTable even has a little disclaimer saying that they can’t guarantee that requests will be accommodated—so I didn’t really expect anything, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try!

By the time my parents were in town, I had long forgotten about that note, and we had another great dinner at Auberge. At the end of the meal, we ordered soufflés all around, and to our surprise, one of them came out with a chocolate-written “joyeux anniversaire 30ème de mariage” (happy 30th wedding anniversary)! Nothing extravagant by any means, but it was awesome to see my parents so pleasantly surprised and happy.

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Auberge du Pommier on Urbanspoon

At this point, I’m starting to sound like a spokesperson for Auberge, but really, the great food and service are what make this restaurant one of our favourite places in the city! Stay tuned for future blog posts showcasing some of our other favourite spots: Joso’sEmma’s Country Kitchen, St. Lawrence Market, and Evergreen Brick Works are some of the ones on the top of my list!

2 Easy Meals: Curry Coconut-Crusted Fish + Roma Tomato Sauce Pasta

Over the past couple of days, Matt and I cooked two meals that we consider staples in our list of home-cooked dinner options. It’s driving me nuts that my photos are not the same sizes, but it’ll have to do for today!

Curry Coconut-Crusted Fish

This has become one of our favourites ever since my friend A shared this recipe with me! Instead of fish tacos, we sometimes pair it with veggies or quinoa, and we’ve tweaked the recipe a little bit.

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Ingredients
  • 1 lb white fish (any type you prefer), cut into 4  pieces
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 1½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1½ tbsp curry powder
  • Salt to taste

Optional marinating time (30 min): Soak the fish fillets in the coconut milk about 30 min to an hour before cooking. This is not a must, but marinating the fish in the coconut milk gives it a sweeter flavour and keeps it moist.

Prep time (10 min): Mix the shredded coconut, curry powder, and salt in a dish or bowl. Take the fish fillets out of the coconut milk and coat them with the shredded coconut mixture.

Cook time (25 min): While you can pan fry the fish as per the recipe, we opted for baking it until it was golden brown. The fish was baked at 350ºF for 25 minutes (may need to be adjusted depending on the size of your fish).

Roma Tomato Sauce Pasta

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This is my dad’s recipe, and the day we learned how to make this pretty much marked the end of our store-bought pasta sauce days! We now have two go-to “sauces” for pasta nights: homemade Roma tomato sauce or lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil.

The recipe below is more so for the sauce than the entire dish. Matt and I used minced meat with spinach this week, but we often switch it up and use shrimp, mushrooms, and/or bell peppers. A protein or seafood obviously isn’t necessary either—all-veggie works too!

Ingredients
  • 8 to 10 Roma tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 156 mL (5.5 oz) can of tomato paste
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Basil, chopped
  • Salt, pepper, and oregano to taste

Directions: 

  1. In a pan, saucepan, or wok, cook down the diced onions for a few minutes.
  2. Add in the minced garlic, some of the basil, and the chunks of Roma tomatoes. Cook down until the tomatoes have softened.
  3. Stir in the can of tomato paste (you can use ketchup instead, but we opt for tomato paste because it has a little less sodium), salt, pepper, and oregano.
  4. Cook for a few more minutes, adding vegetables or meat/seafood if desired (we opted for spinach with minced meat today).
  5. Serve over al dente pasta, garnish with fresh basil and chili flakes.