Strawberry Mojito

29 05 2010

Strawberry mojitos are very refreshing on a hot afternoon.

The weather in Ontario this May has been incredible – unseasonably warm (hot even!) and very dry, which is unusual.  It feels like it could be mid-July instead of the end of May.  If this is any indication of what’s ahead, we’re in for quite a summer.

When the weather heats up, naturally we look for ways to cool down.  Iced tea, ice cream, lemonade and popsicles are just some of the treats that keep us cool.  For many adults, enjoying some frosty beverages on a patio is the perfect way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon with friends.

I was at the farmer’s market this morning and local strawberries were abundant. There were also a number of vendors selling bunches of fresh mint.  It was then that I had a light-bulb moment: hot weather + front porch + strawberries + mint = strawberry mojitos! A mojito is a Cuban cocktail traditionally made with rum, lime, mint , sugar and sparkling water.  I first learned to make them while attending a wedding in Cuba. The resort we were staying at had a demonstration one day on how to make Cuban cocktails such as Mojitos, Cuba Libres and Hemingway Specials.  The key to making a proper mojito is to muddle the mint well. There are wooden muddlers that you can buy but a wooden spoon will work just fine.

Balance is important in this drink – you don’t want to venture into Girl Drink Drunk territory.  Keep the sugar to a minimum and let the strawberries and lime add a sweet-tart note.  To keep things easy, I use simple syrup to sweeten the drink instead of cane syrup or bar sugar (a quick dissolving sugar).  It’s very easy to make and can be used in a number of cocktails.

Strawberry Mojito

Makes 1 drink – can easily be multiplied

  • 5 large mint leaves
  • 1 to 1-1/2 oz. simple syrup (see recipe below)
  • 3 large or 5 small very ripe strawberries, hulled and cut into a small dice
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice – from about 2 limes
  • 1-1/2 oz. white rum
  • Club soda
  • Ice
  • Fresh mint and a strawberry to garnish
  1. In a highball glass, add mint leaves and 1 oz. of simple syrup. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to mash the leaves in the syrup until they are broken up.
  2. Add the strawberry pieces and mash them with the spoon until they are broken up and juicy.
  3. Add ice cubes and pour in lime juice and rum.  Stir until combined and top with club soda.  Taste and add a bit more simple syrup if desired.
  4. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and a strawberry.

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is one part water, one part sugar so it can be adapted to any quantity.  For a half cup of syrup you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  1. In a small saucepan, add sugar and water and bring to a simmer on medium heat
  2. Stir sugar until it dissolves.  Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool before using.  Syrup can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  Extra syrup can be used in a number of other cocktail recipes.

Cheers and Enjoy!

Farmer’s Market Report – September 14th, 2009

14 09 2009
Ontario Grapes

Ontario Grapes

I didn’t post a Farmer’s Market Report last week but I actually visited three or four different ones.  I was on the quest for decent tomatoes, which have been difficult to find this year due to poor weather earlier in the summer.  I did find a few that were okay but sadly, many more that were disappointing.  However, there are were a lot of other great finds as summer draws to a close:


I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never tried Ontario grapes (except in wine, of course, but grapes used in wine production are different from edible grapes). It seems I’ve been missing out!  I bought some seedless Coronation grapes last week and they were fantastic.  They tasted like grape juice but with a bit of a sour finish.  It was almost like eating sweet and sour grape candies.  They were so good that I went back and bought more.  Highly recommended as a snack or as part of a cheese plate.

Corn, Peaches and Peppers

Corn and peaches are still going strong.  The peaches this year are quite good and I’ve been enjoying them in desserts and out of hand.  I have a few that are getting soft so I may puree them into juice so I can enjoy some Peach Sangria on a late summer afternoon.  All of the corn I’ve had this year has been good and I’ve enjoyed it both on the cob and in salads.  There were lots of red bell peppers and shepherd peppers available, perfect for making Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Thyme Croutons.

Fall Produce

Despite the fact that fall is my favourite season, I’m a bit saddened this year to see typical autumn vegetables at the market such as squash, Brussel sprouts, apples, pears and leeks.  Summer seemed to pass quickly this year and I’m not ready for fall quite yet! Luckily, the weather in Southern Ontario is the best it’s been all year so hopefully that will allow us to enjoy what’s left of the season for a little while longer. As soon as the days turn cool, my thoughts will turn to braising, roasting and hearty fall dishes such as Leek and Ham Tart, Braised Short Ribs and Apple Caramel Tart.

There’s no need to lament the end of summer just yet – there is still a week left in ‘official’ summer and hopefully the good weather will extend the season even longer.

Until next week…


Peach Sangria

22 08 2009


Baskets of peaches at the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto

Baskets of peaches at the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto

Peaches are at their peak right now and I’m fortunate to live about an hour from the Niagara region, a major peach growing area.  The peaches I picked up early last week were a bit firm but flavourful and their taste and texture improved after leaving them on the counter for a day or two.  

This sparkling sangria is a fun and refreshing way to enjoy fresh peaches and their juice.  I call for peach schnapps, which I enjoyed in my early twenties but hadn’t given much thought to in recent years, thinking it was too sweet and juvenile. However, I find a little bit adds a nice peachy flavour without being overly cloying. For peach juice, you can either puree and strain some fresh peaches or use a good quality bottled juice.

Peach Sangria

Makes 4-1/2 cups of sangria

  • 1 750-ml bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine such as a cava or prosecco
  • 1/2 cup peach schnapps
  • 1 cup peach juice
  • 1 large ripe peach, pitted and diced
  • Ice cubes

In a large pitcher, pour in the sparkling wine.  Mix in the peach schnapps and peach juice and stir together.  Add ice cubes and the diced peach.  Use a spoon when pouring to control the peach pieces in each drink.



Ice cold peach sangria - the perfect refreshment on a hot August afternoon

Ice cold peach sangria - the perfect refreshment on a hot August afternoon

Farmer’s Market Report – July 21st, 2009

21 07 2009


Fresh arugula (aka rocket or rucola) is great in a salad or on sandwiches

Fresh arugula (aka rocket/rucola/roquette) is great in a salad or on sandwiches

It’s mid-summer here in Southern Ontario, although you’d be hard pressed to tell. The weather has been unstable at best and downright cold at its worst.  We’ve hardly had any days over 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) and the temperature has generally topped out between 20 and 23 degrees Celsius. It’s usually pretty hot and humid in July so this is very unusual but hopefully the weather will improve as we move into August – summer’s days are numbered!  

Unfortunately, a cool and damp summer takes its toll on the produce.  Tomatoes, corn, grapes and peaches are at their best when the weather is hot and dry and other fruits and vegetables are also behind schedule.  The strawberries I’ve had this year have been very hit and miss – I’ll get a sweet batch in one box only to find the next one sour and tasteless.  The best advice I can offer is to ask vendors at the market if you can taste the produce before buying so you can avoid disappointment (unfortunately, this often isn’t possible at the supermarket).

Here are some highlights of this week’s market visit:


The very last asparagus of the season was still available.  We won’t have local asparagus again until next May so enjoy it while you can!  I think my husband will be kind of relieved that we won’t be eating it for a while – we definitely get our fill during the brief season.  Visit the Asparagus archives for lots of ideas on how to use this delicious vegetable.

Strawberries and Rhubarb

There are still local strawberries at the markets but their quality can vary.  The ones I got this week were actually better than last week’s tasteless berries.  A handful of rhubarb was still available but it was probably the last week for it.  It’s your last chance this season to enjoy a sweet-and-tart strawberry-rhubarb cocktail.


Enjoy the last rhubarb of the season in these delicious cocktails

Enjoy the last rhubarb of the season in these delicious cocktails


Local green and yellow zucchini were in abundance but some of them were almost past their peak as far as size is concerned.  Smaller zucchini tend to be sweeter and less watery – they can get seedy and wet once they get too big. Miniature summer squash were also available.  For a great recipe using zucchini, check out Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting.


The first apricots are showing up at the markets although the ones I picked up this week were quite sour.  I find apricots are usually at their best when cooked or dried, as opposed to eating them raw out of hand.  Check out a quick and delicious recipe for Apricot Jam that makes a great addition to the breakfast table.


Ontario cherries are at their peak right now but the quality has been mixed this season.  Both sweet and sour cherries are at the markets.  For a delicious way to use them, see my recipe for Cherry Almond Bread.


A few vendors were advertising ‘Ontario Field Tomatoes’ but they aren’t in their peak season quite yet.  Within a couple of weeks we should be seeing more local tomatoes.  However, I did buy some locally grown grape tomatoes that didn’t look so great but were sweet and delicious.  You can’t always judge a tomato by its skin! Why not make a Caprese Salad with some sweet, local grape or cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil?

'Chopped' Caprese Salad

A chopped caprese salad made with cherry or grape tomatoes is a summer classic



The very first (very early) Ontario corn was on sale this week but it was a little disappointing.  I should have known better – corn doesn’t typically reach its peak here until August but I love it so much, I couldn’t resist!  I will wait a couple of weeks or so to try it again.  Soon it will be cheap and plentiful.


I have a minor addiction to arugula (also known as rocket, roquette or rucola) and usually buy the greenhouse grown stuff through the year.  However, Ontario grown arugula was at the market the other day and it was much more flavourful than the packaged kind.  It was peppery and pungent and really made my salad sing.  For simple vinaigrette ideas to dress an arugula salad, see my primer on Vinaigrettes. Arugula is also great on sandwiches or on top of a pizza – it adds a nice peppery bite.


I was very pleased to finally find locally grown garlic at the market.  Most of what’s in the grocery stores through the year is grown in China and tends to dry out and loses its flavour quickly.  The Ontario garlic I bought was very fresh and sweet.  To learn more about garlic, see my primer ‘Garlic 101’.

Cucumbers and Dill

Smart farmers are selling miniature cukes next to big batches of dill so it’s one-stop-shopping for pickle makers.  However, cucumber and dill are also great in other dishes, such as Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad and Smoked Salmon Spread (use the cucumber slices to scoop the dip for a lower carb treat).

Happy Marketing!

Until next week…


To My American Friends…

4 07 2009

Happy 4th of July!  I hope everyone enjoys the holiday by celebrating with some good old fashioned American food like burgers, hot dogs and apple pie.  And if you’re feeling really inspired, why not make a patriotic flag cake? Either purchase or bake a rectangular cake (any flavour you like) topped with white icing.  Use strawberries or raspberries and blueberries to decorate the top.  You can fill in the ‘stars and stripes’ with a pastry bag of whipped cream or frosting.

American Flag Cake

Cheers and Enjoy!


Kitchen Tip of the Week: Making a Grill Pan for the Barbeque

23 06 2009

iStock_000007977215XSmallNow that summer has finally arrived, the weather is nice enough that cooking often moves outdoors to the barbeque.  Whether you cook on gas or charcoal, there is nothing like a nice steak or ribs cooked to perfection on the ‘que.  In addition to the usual burgers and meats, I also like to grill vegetables and fish.  To do this, you may need a grill pan so your meal doesn’t wind up falling through the grate and getting charred to a crisp.

Grill pans can usually be found for less than $15 at many hardware stores and supermarkets

Grill pans can usually be found for less than $15 at many hardware stores and supermarkets

Inexpensive grill pans can be found at hardware stores, supermarkets, kitchen stores and places that specialize in barbeque equipment.  They are typically metal with medium sized holes along the bottom so smaller items can cook efficiently and still get a great smokey flavour (particularly if you’re cooking over charcoal).  There are also mesh grill pans available from stores such as Williams Sonoma.  They are a bit more expensive but come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I like the mesh ‘skillet’ I got last year because it cleans easily and the handle doesn’t get too hot (although I usually use an oven mitt anyway, just to be safe).


A mesh grill pan keeps cut up vegetables from falling through the grate

A mesh grill pan keeps cut up vegetables from falling through the grate

If you don’t have a grill pan and find yourself in a situation where you need one, it’s easy to improvise one for very little cost. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A disposable aluminum foil pan, any size and shape you choose
  • A sharp pointed knife or scissors
  • Cooking spray or neutral oil
  1. Pierce the  bottom of the foil pan with the tip of your knife. Twist the tip so that it makes a hole about 1/2″ around.  Repeat over the bottom of the pan. Carefully fold any sharp jagged edges under.  
  2. Spray pan with cooking spray or rub a small amount of neutral oil on the bottom of the pan.  Grill items on the barbeque as desired.
Use a disposable foil pan in any shape and size you wish

Use a disposable foil pan in any shape and size you wish

Use the tip of a sharp knife to pierce the foil pan, twisting it to make the hole bigger

Use the tip of a sharp knife to pierce the foil pan, twisting it to make the hole bigger

The finished product doesn't look fancy but it gets the job done

The finished product doesn't look fancy but it gets the job done

   A word of caution: Be careful when removing the foil pan from the hot grill.  They are flimsier than metal pans so use oven mitts and transfer the pan immediately to a baking sheet or large plate to carry.


There is a new Kitchen Tip of the Week posted each week.  You can also check out the archives for more tips and tricks.

Tuscan Lemonade

21 06 2009


Welcome to summer, at long last!  This year the first day of summer also coincides with Father’s Day (and my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary – Happy Anniversary!). Now that the weather is warming up and casual entertaining is moving outdoors, a sweet-tart adult lemonade is the perfect drink to get festivities rolling.

This refreshing version of lemonade draws its inspiration from the idyllic notion of Tuscan afternoons amongst the olive and lemon groves, sipping chilled limoncello. Limoncello is a lemony Italian liqueur that is actually from the Amalfi coast in Southern Italy but it is enjoyed throughout Italy and around the world.  I have to admit to shamelessly adopting the ‘Tuscan’ descriptor to make it sound more appealing.  It’s a bit of  a joke that anything labelled ‘Tuscan’ tends to sell, whether or not it actually has anything to do with Tuscany (As an example, see  ‘Tuscan’ frozen pizzas, or an article from the satirical magazine The Onion: “Area Woman Will Eat Anything with ‘Tuscan’ in Name“).  Call it what you will, this is a great summer sipper that is perfect as an afternoon drink or pre-dinner aperitif.


Dream of the Tuscan countryside while sipping a pre-dinner 'Tuscan' lemonade

Dream of Tuscan sunsets while sipping a pre-dinner adult lemonade

This can be made for 2 people, or served by the pitcher for a crowd – I have given instructions for both.  You can also lighten it up by using sparkling water in place of the prosecco/sparkling wine.

Helpful tip: Use fresh lemon juice instead of the bottled kind if possible.  To get the most juice from a lemon, roll it on the countertop before cutting it open, pressing down on it so the insides break up a bit.  Keep lemons at room temperature instead of in the fridge.

Tuscan Lemonade

Makes 2 drinks – see below for pitcher proportions to serve a crowd

  • 3 oz. limoncello liqueur
  • 2 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • About 200 to 250 ml / approximately 1 cup (8 oz.) prosecco, cava or other inexpensive sparkling wine to top drink (substitute sparkling water for a lighter drink)
  • Ice
  • Lemon slices to garnish
  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add limoncello and lemon juice.  Shake well and strain into lowball glasses or small wine glasses.  
  2. Top with prosecco/cava/sparkling water and garnish with a lemon slice.  
  3. Serve with a dish of olives, if desired.

To Make a Pitcher of Lemonade:

The proportions for 2 drinks are 3:2:8 so you can adjust it accordingly for a group.  For 8 people, you would need:

  • 12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) limoncello
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) fresh lemon juice
  • 32 oz. (4 cups) sparkling wine or water
  1. Instead of mixing in a cocktail shaker, just mix in a pitcher, add a few ice cubes and chill in the fridge until serving. Cut lemons into slices and toss into the pitcher.  Garnish glasses with lemon slices for serving, if desired.

Cheers and Enjoy!


A refreshing adult lemonade that's perfect for hot summer days.

A refreshing adult lemonade that's perfect for hot summer days.