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Summer Celebrations

This weekend has been full of events so that means tons of cooking for me! The only downfall was the extreme heat, so no oven for me! Friday marked the one year anniversary of my marriage to Rob so we celebrated at home since last weekend we went back to the place where we got married and had dinner and went to a show. Besides it was raining and we have drove over 1300 miles in the past two weeks. Neither of us wanted to sit inside a car.

I wanted to prepare something special so I thought about all of the traveling we have done as well as all of the international cuisine that we try to imitate at home. Immediately I had flashbacks of the time we spent in Cambodia at the cooking school, Smokin Pot. (Yes that is really the name of restaurant/ cooking school!) We took a one day course and learned how to make some of the most fabulous food. Our ultimate favorite was Beef Laap. We came across variations of this dish in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. We decided to make it using the recipe from the Smokin Pot Cookbook, but enjoy it Laoation style… with our hands! Alongside of the Laap, we had a plate of olives, greens from the garden topped with olive oil and balsalmic, and black olive basil hummus. The two dishes don’t really go together but it didn’t matter today because they both bring make so many great memories.

I made the hummus first so that it could chill in the refrigerator while I prepared the Laap. I used the blender today to make it since I couldn’t be bothered with standing on top of chair rearranging everything in the cupboard to get the food processor out… ok so I have too much stuff in my kitchen cupboards or maybe I just don’t have enough cupboards. I prefer to say the later! So I rinsed a tin of white beans and put them in the blender, followed a few tablespoons of lemon juice (the fresh ones in the store looked like someone beat them up so I went for the bottled juice), a splash of olive oil, a handful of black olives, salt and pepper, fresh basil from the garden, and finally some red pepper flakes. I pureed this for just a few seconds because I like hummus a little bit lumpy. The taste of the fresh basil was amazing! Who can go wrong with basil and even better olives! Since I have this family of ants who won’t leave my basil alone leaving holes on just about every leaf, this is a perfect recipe to us the basil for because it gets finely chopped in the blender. When I make this again I think I would add some roasted red peppers to kick up the flavor a bit. But all it all it was very refreshing for a hot summer day!

Black Olive Hummus with Basil
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Servings: Depends on how many dips you make


1 can white beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 lemon or 1-2 TBS of lemon juice
1 TBS olive oil (add more depending on the consistency you prefer)
Salt and pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or more depending on your liking)
10-12 black olives
5-6 fresh basil leaves

1. Rinse and drain the beans. Place in a blender or food processor.
2. Roughly chop the basil and olives and put in the blender.
3. Add all of the other ingredients and pulse until pureed, adding more lemon juice or olive oil depending on the consistency you prefer.
4. Serve topped with feta cheese, marinated olives, and mixed greens.

In Lao, Laap is traditionally prepared with white sticky rice. This type of rice is very dry, yet sticky, making it very easy to roll it up into a ball to pick up your food. You got it, no chopsticks… just your fingers! Sticky rice is not popular in Canada for many reasons so I just used long grain brown rice as a substitute. After having the authentic sticky rice in Lao, I know that brown rice is far from a substitute. It is like saying make Pad Thai with spaghetti noodles.

I started the rice at the same time I was preparing the hummus since it takes nearly an hour to make.
Then in a non-stick skillet, I cooked the beef on a low setting with some lemon and salt and pepper. After a few minutes, I added the garlic, fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, chopped pepper, chili peppers. Once the meat was cooked, I turned off the heat and mixed in some chopped fresh mint, of course from our garden! I places some greens on the plate and topped them with the Laap mixture. Rice was served on the side in some pretty spiffy rice bowls/sushi plates from my dear friend Ilana!

We couldn't’ wait to dig in with our hands to enjoy! We set up our table and sat on big pillows on the floor and scooped up some rice. We tried to make the rice into a call like traditional sticky rice, but the brown rice did not cooperate. It made for a messy, but fun, meal as we tried to pick up the ground meat with our hands. The whole meal gave us flashbacks of the lush, green countryside of Lao. Check out the recipe below.

Beef Laap
Recipe From: Smokin Pot Thai/ Cambodian Cooking Cookbook
Serves 2

Ground Beef for 2 (I usually measure out two hamburger patties to judge the amount)
2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS fish sauce
1/2 TBS sugar
1 tsp ginza (ginger can be used as a substitute)
1 shallot sliced
5 garlic cloves
1 large chili, cut in half and thinly sliced
100 g lemon grass, thinly sliced (lemon peel can be used as a substitute)
Chopped Mint or basil

1. Heat skillet to medium. Add beef, lemon juice and salt.
2. After a few minutes add the fish sauce, ginza, shallot, garlic, chili, and sugar. Continue to simmer untl the meat is cooked through.
3. Meanwhile, prepare a salad of greens, tomato and chopped onion. Arrange this on a plate.
4. Once meat is cooked, add mint or basil to your likely. (The more the better!) Serve on top of salad with a side of sticky rice.

Later in the day I prepared dinner. We had purchased some bacon wrapped filets from a nearby meta shop so we cooked those up on our indoors grill since it was pouring rain outside. We had just done a huge pick of green beans at my inlaws garden so I knew we were going to have beans with supper but I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook them. I looked out the window and saw that my basil and mint plants were growing out of control so I went out in the rain and plucked a few leaves. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with beans, basil, and mint. I cubed some potatoes and boiled them in a pot not sure what I was going to do with those. As the potatoes were almost finished cooking, I got an idea.. how about an herb pesto sauce for a potato green bean salad? So I chopped up the herbs and some walnuts in my mini food processor. Then I added some olive oil, lemon juice, and salt/ pepper and processed it until the taste was right. I tossed this with the beans and potatoes. I do have to say that this was a refreshing twist from the classic potato salad mixed with tons of mayo…yuck! So what can I say I am NOT a mayo fan. This recipe is especially nice if the beans are right from the garden because they still have that crisp and potatoes fresh from the garden just melt in your mouth- absolutely nothing like the ones from the store. Enjoy!

Potato Green Bean Salad with Herb Pesto
Recipe Created By: Gretchen Brown
Serves 4-6

4 red potatoes, cubed
1 1/2 cups fresh green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 TBS lemon juice
Handful of walnuts
Salt/ pepper
5-6 basil leaves
5-6 mint leaves

1. Wash and cube potatoes and boil until cooked. Drain and set aside.
2. Cut beans into 1 inch lengths and blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Be sure to not overcook them. Immediately place in cold water bath for 1 minute.
3. Meanwhile, prepare pesto. Chop herbs and walnuts in food processor or mini chopper. Slowly add lemon juice and olive oil and pulse to the desired consistency. It should be in between a paste and a runny sauce. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
4. Toss beans, potatoes and pesto. Serve.

On Saturday, we had another special event to celebrate. On of my students who I taught in Korea came to Canada for a summer camp. I have been in contact with her mother for the past few weeks and we set up a time to meet! They would be taking the train to our home of Belleville and then we would pick them up and go to my inlaws home in the countryside for lunch. I couldn’t believe it when they stepped off the train. I never would have thought that I would have seen one of my students from Korea in this part of the world.

Of course I prepared all of the food and brought it over to the house. The weather finally broke from the hot, humid weather that plagued the East Coast all week, so we planned for a bbq. I created a menu of Beef and Vegetable Kebabs, Mixed Berry Salad with Mint, Green Beans, and Fresh Greens. The night before I skewered the meat and let it marinade over night in a cumin, coriander sauce. In the morning I skewered the veggies and covered them in a lemon basil marinade. The peppers and onions were from the garden, and the rest of the veggies were store bought but from local sources! I cut up some fresh berries, leaving room for the raspberries that we would add once we got to the farm, and tossed in some lemon juice, orange peel, and fresh mint. The beans and lettuce greens we would pick when we arrived.

Once we arrived, we made all of our introductions, did a tour of the house, and then went out to the garden. We picked beans, lettuce, and raspberries. Rob and Glenn prepared the grill and loaded it up with skewers of meat, followed by the veggie skewers a few minutes later. The timing was perfect! Tracy and Wendy prepared the salad. Koogie helped me trim and cut the beans. Irene and the dog played bubbles on the porch. Finally it was time to eat. Dinner was lovely, except for some reason I forgot that children are picky eaters so the meal was only partially liked by Irene, leaving piles of mint and vegetables to the side of her plate.

After dinner we made our way outside to the campfire. We prepared the ingredients for Smores, which were a huge hit with Irene and Koogie. So much so that Irene almost climbed into the fire cooking her marshmallows. After Smores, Glenn and Irene went on a ride on the four-wheeler on the trails in the woods making for a true glimpse at Canadian country life! One ride wasn’t enough so after her second ride, we had to spoil the fun and make her aware that it was time to head to the train station. All in all, we had a great visit and I am still in awe that I was able to have one of my students visit me on this side of the world! What a great day!

Shish Kebab Marinade
Recipe From:
Serves 4-6

2 lbs beef sirloin or tenderloin, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 TBS white vinegar
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp minced garlic

Prepare marinade 24 hours prior to grilling. Add beef cubes into freezer bag. Turn after 12 hours. Spary skewers with cooking spray to prevent cooking. (I also soaked the skewers in water for 30 minutes before skewering to prevent splitting.)

Vegetable Kebabs
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Serves 4-6

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1 pint small button or cremini mushrooms
1 green pepper, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 red onion, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS white vinegar
1 TBS chopped fresh basil
Salt/ pepper

1. Place vegetables on skewer mixing vegetables on each skewer.
2. Place in glass baking dish. Brush marinade on both side of each skewer. Drizzle remaining marinade over the skewers. Place in the fridge and turn and brush marinade over veggies after a few hours.
3. Place on grill when meat skewers are about halfway cooked.

Mixed Summer Berry Salad with Mint
Recipe Created by: Gretchen Brown
Serves 6-8

1 quart starwberries
1 pint blueberries
1/2 pint raspberries and blackberries
10-12 mint leaves
1 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS grated orange peel

1. Wash all fruit. Cut strawberries into pieces. Mix all fruit. Stir in lemon juice and grated orange peel.
2. Add mint right before serving.
3. This can be chilled up to 4 hours before serving.

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