Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

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This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

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Learning to Be a Better Home Cook

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

A couple of years ago, inspired by a friend who cooks and talks about food like he’s a chef, as well as by the meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in Edmonton and during my travels, and from watching the more popular than ever Food Network, I decided that I want to better my own culinary skills. Cooking is a science and an art. A beautifully presented dish can bring joy to the eye, but you also need to know what can work together to create something pleasing to the palate.

I had every intention at the beginning of 2014 to learn a new recipe once a week (or perhaps every two or three) – actually take the time to make a delicious and balanced meal. But, now, more than 12 months later, that hadn’t really happened. However, after having enjoyed a year’s worth of amazing lunches and dinners at eateries across the city, I’m now feeling a little more motivated to go ahead with my initial idea. I want to be able to make myself, my family and my friends dishes that are as good as those at all the fine establishments I’ve had the opportunity to dine at.

Up until now I’ve been winging it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m not terrible in the kitchen. Everything I’ve ever cooked has been edible and even quite tasty, but I’d like to add variety by building on what I already know because I want what I put into my mouth to be healthy and nothing other than delectable.

But, where do I begin? My biggest dilemma is that I never have a fully stocked pantry of food or ingredients just lying around waiting to be molded into some spectacular meal. So, I have to be really proactive about planning ahead. I also think I have to slowly work my way towards dishes that require a little more technique.

My plan is to scour the cookbooks I’ve amassed and the Internet for what, I hope, will be a yearlong experiment. If I am able to keep up with it, I’ll do my best to chronicle the more successful attempts here on my blog.

And, should set recipes not work for me, I’ve told my parents that they can go the way of Chopped (or Chopped Canada) and bring me random baskets of various ingredients and I’ll take up the challenge of preparing them a meal that is fit for consumption. So, wish me luck!

In the meantime, I have dipped my toes in by learning how to make one of my favourite desserts. In no way does this recipe really help me add to my repertoire of main dishes, yet it is a handy one to have in my back pocket should I need to whip a little treat up with short notice.

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian “cooked cream” dessert. I typically order it at restaurants when I want something that is subtly sweet and feels relatively light. The ingredients and cooking method have changed over time, but, regardless, it’s a classic that is surprisingly simple to make. It can also be garnished a number of ways to bring in different flavours. Making this, you’ll feel like a proper dessert chef in no time!

Vanilla Panna Cotta*
6 servings
10 min. prep
6 hr. cooking time

7 g (1 pkg) unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (2% suggested)
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Fruit or cinnamon to garnish

1) Grease six 1/2 cup ramekins and set aside.

2) Pour milk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the entire package of gelatin into the milk. Let stand for 1 minute.

3) Heat the milk and gelatin mixture on medium, making sure to stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4) Add the cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the pan. Keep on medium heat so it remains hot, but not boiling (be very careful about this!). Stir occasionally until smooth.

5) Pour the liquid into the six ramekins. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

6) Once set, you can slide the panna cotta out of the ramekin and serve in a bowl or on a plate. You can also opt to serve it in the ramekin. Top with fruit, honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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*Modified from Cook iPad app contributor Reizel Ayeras’s recipe.

Things I Learned From a Book About Finding Love

One of the daily practices prescribed in the book, Calling in "The One."

One of the daily practices prescribed in the book, Calling in “The One.”

My friend talked a couple of us into starting a book club with her. The book was Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life by Katherine Woodward Thomas. Needless to say, I was skeptical. It ultimately took half a year to finish, but I did it. Six months for a seven week program, or approximately 178 days versus the 49 it should supposedly take. The point is, it was more drawn out than it should have been.

Nevertheless, we juggled our work schedules, hobbies, social lives along with the readings and exercises, and, eventually, we managed to finish our final discussion. It has been about a month since our group last met, and I’m not sure the premise of the book worked. It may have for one of my friends, just not for me. Not yet, anyway. Granted, it doesn’t guarantee love is going to magically appear in your life within the time allotted on the cover.

Rather, as I worked my way through the pages from cover to cover, I understood that it’s not about doing things to make you seem more attractive on the surface. Instead, it’s a matter of getting to know who you are as a person, aiming to better yourself, and knowing that what you put out there is what you hope to receive in return because that’s what you deserve, for better or worse.

Honestly, I never imagined I’d read a book like this. I didn’t think it would come down to that. Then again, I never used to think I’d try speed dating or online dating, so never say never! However, despite my reservations, I found the author’s writings to be quite interesting and insightful, even when I felt like the examples didn’t quite apply to me. So, if you’re interested in giving Calling in “The One” a go, I’d recommend it.

If you’d prefer not to, but you’re wondering what kinds of nuggets are tucked away in the tome, I thought it would be good for me to list out the most important things I learned (or, at least, was reminded of) and to share them with you.

We are connected to everyone and everything.

We are connected to everyone and everything.

1. We might all live in our own little bubbles at times, but it’s important to remember that you are connected to everyone and everything. Think of the butterfly effect.

2. It’s necessary to make room for people in your life. If you cannot literally set aside space or time for them, you’re probably not mentally ready for a relationship.

3. Know what makes you happy and understand that you are allowed to be a bit selfish. Ask for what you want and need. Be okay with what people are willing and able to give to you.

4. Be the person you want to attract in your life. For example, you can’t expect to snag someone who’s ambitious if you’re perpetually lazy.

5. Have an idea of what you want in life. Vision boards can help you better visualize your goals and possibly guide you towards them.

6. Understand that you’re a work in progress and so is everyone else in this world. People are not perfect, but it’s important to be the best we’re capable of being at any given moment.

7. Believe that sometimes a loss is actually a gain. Often times, things happen for a reason, even if the reason isn’t clear at first.

8. Avoiding toxic ties and all around negativity is paramount in life. If we stew in all the bad, it makes it really hard to wash it out. Strive to be as positive as possible and only keep those whom you trust and who make you happy in your inner circle. Read about my quest for positivity here.

9. Take each mistake or failure as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself.

10. Life and love may not turn out to be exactly as you pictured, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Be open to possibilities.

11. Nurture any passions you have or think you might have because they build your character and make you who you are.

Simple pleasures can make a big impact.

Simple pleasures can make a big impact.

12. Live in the moment. Appreciate things as they happen because it may be your one and only chance to experience it. Show gratitude for even the smallest things because simple pleasures often make the biggest impact.

13. Know your own boundaries and don’t be afraid to draw lines if you need to. Others should have the decency to respect them. You’re allowed to say no and to speak up for yourself.

14. Your worries really can be put in a box and forgotten about until you wish to bring them out again. This one probably requires a little bit of explaining. One of the practices we were tasked with doing one week was to select a box, decorate it and then fill it with all of your worries. When you were done, you literally sealed them away. It made me realize that life can be overwhelming. We’re often trying to deal with multiple things at once. Yet, sometimes, it’s best to deal with difficult situations one at a time. It’s kind of a daunting thought, but if something isn’t solved right away, it’ll always be there later. For me, when I put my stresses on paper and then tucked them into my wisdom box, I felt so much lighter, and, truthfully, since I did that, I haven’t really dwelt as much on each and every thing that had been weighing me down.

15. There’s no point in having regrets about the past. You can’t change the past (unless you have a time machine). Just be sure to do the things you want to do now (as long as it’s feasible for you), so you don’t have any regrets in the future.

16. There are things I’d love to change about myself physically. However, it’ll either take a lot of time or it’s simply not going to happen (save for a body swap), so know that nobody has a truly perfect body (not even supermodels). You can be thankful for every inch of yourself for some reason or another. Ex. I wish my legs were longer and a lot slimmer, but, hey, I have legs and they give me the ability to walk. Win!

17. Cultivate solitude. You need to know who you are by yourself to know who you are when you’re with others. Read my post about being alone, but not lonely here.

18. Take some risks. Be a “yes” person.

Writing this post is my version of a personal risk. I probably would have been embarrassed to tell people about something like this in the past, but, nowadays, I believe that sharing is caring. I hope these words may inspire some of you or help you on your journeys in life and love. All the best!

10 Things I Learned At E-Town Festival

The masters program that I just completed has lured me into many things. Blogging, tweeting, an addiction to TED Talks to name a few. This September, it opened my eyes to one more thing: E-Town Festival.

This was the inaugural year of the event and, unbeknownst to me, the intention of the festival was to bring together entrepreneurs and allow them to exchange ideas on a larger scale. I was lucky to attend on a student rate and one look at the list of speakers was all the convincing I needed to go. The event was put together within a six month period and I have to say that they really went above and beyond.

Keynote speakers for the first year of what I hope will continue to be an annual occurrence for a long time to come included Bruce Croxon, David Usher, Chris Hadfield, John Herdman, Guy Kawasaki and Tiffany Shlain. All six of these guests were engaging, interesting, inspiring people who, most of all, seemed very down-to-earth.

What I would like to share here are 10 things I learned as an attendee of E-Town Festival. There were many more, but I could probably fill a book.

#1 – Chris Hadfield – Take care of your body, learn all the time and set a goal. In this YouTube video he addresses an attendee’s 10-year-old son.

These three pieces of advice from Colonel Chris Hadfield are things we are all likely aware of already. However, when a bonafide astronaut tells you that these are the things you need to do to succeed in life, you listen harder.

It’s true that if you don’t have a healthy body, you probably won’t live long enough to fulfill all your dreams. I want to experience a long life well lived where I will be able to achieve my goals. So, now I’m reminding myself to take care of my body and I’ll pass this on to you as well.

The second piece of advice was to learn all the time. Chris Hadfield said that if someone is willing to teach you something for free, learn it. He also said that everyone you meet knows something you don’t, even a three-year-old. Be open to reading a book, watching a documentary, going to a lecture, viewing art at the gallery; whatever you’re interested in, aim to learn all you can about it.

The third piece of advice is important, but personally I’ve always found it to be a difficult task to set a goal, especially long term ones. I feel like it is very hard for me to define what it is I’m aiming for. I think it is because I don’t really know what I want yet. Mainly that applies to my career. I’ve worked in advertising as a coordinator, researcher, sales planner and online administrator over the last six years. It has provided me with a lot of experience. Coupled with the Masters of Arts in Communications and Technology degree I’ve just finished, I’m looking to change my path. But where do I want to go? I enjoy blogging and the more I learn about and use various social media I’m inclined to look for something that fits in there.

#2 – Guy Kawasaki – Say what you need to in 10 points – people know how long it’s going to take. Hence the title of this post.

Guy Kawasaki once worked for Steve Jobs as chief evangelist at Apple. He could have run Yahoo!. And he is now the special advisor to the Motorola unit of Google. He is also a bestselling author. Needless to say, he has accomplished many things in his life.

Unlike Guy, the fact that I’m using 10 points in this post does not guarantee that I will be very succinct. However, as he stated, if you have 10 points and it’s interesting and entertaining, it’s okay. If you have 10 points, but it’s boring, it’s not okay. Hopefully I fall within the former category.

#3 – Tiffany Shlain – Being online all the time isn’t good for you, so take a break from the Internet and electronics once a week.

Tiffany Shlain is an inspiring cloud filmmaker and it was very interesting to hear her speak about what was important to her. Every week she takes one full day off from all things digital.

I think we are starting to see the tide turn and people are more inclined to step back from the world of the virtual and the screen. We’re too invested in this vast expanse of code that is emitted through our LCD or LED monitors and it’s starting to take its toll on us. Our eyes and brains literally hurt from staring at computers, phones and TVs constantly. It’s not healthy. This thought also ties back to Chris Hadfield’s advice. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to rediscover the world around us. Whether you play a board game, go for a walk outside, read a book, work on a DIY project or meet with friends, everyone needs to separate themselves from technology once in a while.

#4 – David Usher – Everyone is creative, but in different ways. Creative vision is important, but execution will deliver you.

I’ve been a David Usher fan for a long time. In fact, since I was in elementary school and he was still in the band Moist (they’ve reunited for a tour and perhaps new music!). His presentation blew me away because not only is he a musician, but he runs a company called CloudID Creativity Labs that pulls collaborators together to develop new ideas and projects. Additionally, David sits on the Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas advisory board at McGill University and is a co-founder of the Connexion Creativity Conference. From time-to-time the Huffington Post also utilizes his writing skills for a column on innovation. This tells me that David Usher follows what he says because, in order to do all of this, he must have excellent execution when it comes to his work.

His creativity was impressive. He and his guitarist John demonstrated their new musical experiment at the festival. They took a heart monitor and hooked it up to an audience member’s finger. Her heartbeat acted as percussion for their music. It was incredible. They showed us that our bodies truly can be used as instruments.

While I’m not a musically creative person, I’ve been an artist of sorts since I was a little girl. I loved to draw, paint, design and sew. I still enjoy those activities, but the time I spend on those things is few and far between, so I feel like I have to rediscover that passion in the arts again. At the end of August I exclaimed on Facebook that I was graduating from my Masters program and I asked my friends what I should do with my new found free time. My cousin suggested I help him write a screenplay. About what I do not know, but I’m inclined to say yes. Maybe that will be where my creativity lies.

#5 – John Herdman – Passion will take you places. Also, the lines of the Canadian National anthem are a great way to live your life by.

John Herdman is the coach that took the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Under his leadership the team rose to the occasion, representing Canada very well by showcasing an unbeatable spirit that took the country by storm. His passion is what pulled the players from the negativity that they had wallowed in prior to him taking over as their coach. He iterated that our national anthem was their model for success. “The True North strong and free” meant knowing what your true north is and letting it guide you in the right direction. Whether that be literal or figurative, it’s important to recognize where you’re heading. “We stand on guard for thee” for the team was their promise to our nation. On a personal level this should be a promise to yourself to live life by your values and morals.

#6 – Bruce Croxon – Success comes from organizational development, values and vision. Don’t compromise on your core values and don’t get stuck in the day-to-day muck because you’ll lose the overall vision.

Working for a company that has seen many ups and downs over the last several years, I can certainly see why Bruce Croxon, co-founder of Lavalife and current dragon on CBC’s The Dragons’ Den, thinks that organizational development is so important. Just because the company is experiencing hardships, it should not mean that the development of employees and the organization, as a whole, should be forgotten. Employers need to demonstrate that there is a reason why the employees they have are still here and show them that their skills are important to where the organization is intending to go. When a company doesn’t provide a nurturing culture that is when staff get stuck in the day-to-day muck that Bruce Croxon talks about and that’s when everyone loses the overall vision and they start to jump ship. People have a tendency to focus on the negatives in life, but we have to look past the little nuisances and keep the positive picture of the future in view.

#7 – Bruce Croxon – Don’t work with arrogant people. You need someone who’s willing to accept other people’s ideas and sometimes admit that their idea might not be the best one.

We’ve all met arrogant people at some point in our lives. They’re usually the loudest ones in the room, which often means their ideas are the ones used, but it might not be because they’re the best or right, it’s simply because no one wants to deal with listening to them anymore. So, if you can avoid them, do yourself a favour and choose not to surround yourself with those kinds of people. This is similar advice to something else Guy Kawasaki said about avoiding bozos.

#8 – I’m not an entrepreneur, but I felt like I learned so much going to this festival. It was inspiring and thought provoking. I’m glad I took a chance. Attendees were welcoming and ready to meet, mingle and discuss.

My advice for entrepreneurs as written on the button I created.

My advice for entrepreneurs as written on the button I created.

#9 – No idea is too silly or stupid.

I lean towards creative thinkers, so more people like David Usher or Tiffany Shlain would be great to see at future events. Chris Hadfield as the man of the moment was such a fantastic get. To me, the theme I think I saw running through the E-Town Festival this year was “dreamers.” Entrepreneurs have to be dreamers because they have to picture what their vision is and bring it to life. And you cannot be a dreamer by putting down ideas that others may deem to be silly or stupid. Sometimes those ideas are actually brilliant.

#10 – There’s probably someone out there who is wondering or thinking the same thing as you.

All of the sponsors were given a chance to pose one question each to the attendees of the festival. The questions were posted and we were tasked with providing answers. I always tried to answer first and then read what others said and, surprisingly enough, many people came up with similar responses. It’s not to say that we didn’t have original thoughts because what we added may be something the sponsor never considered before, but it was interesting to see how many others could see the same potential.

Various answers to a question posed by the City of Edmonton.

Various answers to a question posed by the City of Edmonton.

All-in-all, I had a fantastic time at E-Town Festival this year. Kudos to everyone who played a part in putting this wonderful event together. I think this wrap up video sums it up well (yours truly at the 15 second mark).

I look forward to next year. The bar was set very high in 2013, so bring on the speakers, networking, music and food trucks again!

If you are interested in participating or volunteering, E-Town Festival will take place from September 11-13, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta.

http://www.e-town.ca/

Hoarding in the Digital Age

A sampling of some of my own Pinterest boards.

 

We’ve all heard about hoarding; pack rats gone extreme. Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC shows us the devastation it can bring by taking us into the homes of people who have serious issues letting go and keeping clean. It’s a scary reality that has possibly touched you or someone you know.

I’m glad to say that even as someone who loves to collect things – shoes, clothes, movies, albums, etc. – it has never gotten to the point to where I’ve thought all my stuff would one day literally smother me. But, with so much being accessible online these days, and our increasing affinity as a society to “favorite” things as we surf the Internet, I began to think that our digital world is not unlike real life hoarding.

How many of you have a favorites list on your Internet browser that is so long you don’t remember everything that’s there? Do you keep it all organized?

The epiphany that we have become collectors of digital content came to me as I sat at my computer late one night liking things and pinning things to my boards on Pinterest. It’s an addictive site. Everywhere you go online, if you see something you like, you can add it to your boards. It’s the instant gratification of having something without truly needing to possess it. Digital life has allowed us to become pack rats without the physical luggage.

Worst of all, I believe it’s increasing our prevalance as human beings to procrastinate. It’s making us less proactive. Our “save for later mentality” has grown stronger. The more we pin, the more we save, the more time it takes to click and read everything we’ve set aside, the less likely we will be to go back and view it all.

Yet, I’m not ready or willing to give up my Pinterest boards or my favorites. I’d much rather be a hoarder of digital images and links as opposed to a hoarder of real life clutter.

What I love most about Pinterest is the ability for us to share what we love with others whether they be friends or strangers. Not only can I save things, but I can find DIY instructions, recipes, products, music videos, wedding ideas and more that I might never have come across on my own. For now, Pinterest is my new addiction. It feeds my materialistic side without the requirement of physical space or money.

What do you think about digital hoarding? Is it harmful? Is it the best thing that’s come along in awhile? What’s on your Pinterest boards?

Please comment below and be sure to include your own Pinterest links. I would be glad to check out what you’ve been sharing with others.

And, feel free to follow me on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/carwinlee/.