Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Project Backyard // Pouring a Concrete Pad

When planning such a large DIY you have to be ready to pull up your sleeves and do the dirty work. You also have to know when to call defeat. In the beginning of this backyard journey (when we decided we were going to take this project on ourselves) "J" & I tossed around idea of pouring, setting and stamping the concrete ourselves... true DIY style!
Turns out there were a lot of barriers that would prevent us from doing that. We initially thought about purchasing the (very expensive) stamps ourselves, but then decided against it. We asked friends and family if they knew a concrete company who would rent us stamps, no one took. Turns out, getting your hands on concrete stamps (without hiring a concrete company) is harder  than it sounds.
The longer we thought about it, the more hesitant we got. As confident as we are when it comes to other DIY projects, pouring and stamping the concrete was not something we wanted to gamble with. I mean, I did not want to be chiseling out a botched concrete pad. We knew we needed help, but didn't want to hire a company to do it ALL for us.
After weeks of searching, calling, and looking around we found our "guy." Not only was he going to stamp the concrete for us, he was going to help us with the pour and set. It's important to note this type of arrangement is not typical. Concrete guys don't normally like finishing projects they didn't start, and rightly so, if the form is not built right and the a-gravel work is shoddy the concrete guy is always the first to blame when the pad cracks. But after a quick site visit, he deemed our work worthy enough to allow him to pour, set and stamp. The big was problem was... his schedule. He was booked solid every weekend until September. Every weekend! The ONLY day he had available was May 24th.
We were really taking a chance. With the concrete ordered and on the way, we had every single finger and toe crossed for good weather.
Bright and early on Saturday May 24th we were greeted by sunshine and 3.5 cubic meters of coloured concrete. Wheelbarrow trip after wheelbarrow trip, the forms slowly started to fill. Our "guy" worked his magic; raking it into the corners, getting all the air pockets out, and ensuring the rebar set in the middle. Literally 18,480 lbs of concrete later, both forms were filled.
The sun and the nice weather worked to our advantage speeding up the setting process. After an hour or so the concrete was ready to be stamped. A contrasting release powder was sprinkled onto the concrete and big, rubber patterned stamps were laid on top... It's actually a pretty cool process! And before we knew it, Saturday's 5 hour project was complete.
Following the major labour, the removal of the form boards and the hauling of the top soil seemed like a walk in the park! And now the hardest part... waiting for the grass to grow!

Stay Tuned for Part 3: Our New Concrete Patio Revealed!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gouda & Mushroom Beer Dip + The Niagara Craft Beer Festival

Have you ever noticed that as you get older your tastes and appreciation for food changes? I used to hate Brussels sprouts... now I love them. I wasn't a big beef eater... now I make burgers weekly. I could never understand why people drank craft beer... now I am slowly learning to appreciate the strong flavours.
In the past 7 months I have been exposed to more craft beer than I have in my entire (adult) life. And you know what? It's growing on me. As "J" would say, "it's about time you drink a real beer and get rid of that water you've been drinking." #TrueThat
This new found appreciation couldn't come at a better time. In one month I will be heading to the largest craft beer show in Ontario; the Niagara Craft Beer Festival at Montebello Park in St. Catharine's. A whole weekend filled with 20+ craft beers, great food, and talented entertainment (yup, The Trews and USS are going to be there!).
Of course there is still one thing I enjoy more than drinking beer - cooking with it. Inspired by the bold flavours of Mill St's Distillery Ale, I whipped up this delicious cheesy mushroom beer dip. Best served hot, this flavourful dip partners perfectly with a cold bottle of Distillery Ale.
Gouda & Mushroom Beer Dip
This dip is just the thing when entertaining a small or large crowd. Pairing perfectly with a frosty mug of beer and crispy tortilla chips, you'll have every guest at your party asking for the recipe!

1 head of garlic, roasted and cooled
1 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + another 1/4 cup for top
1 cup freshly grated smoked Gouda
1/2 cup Mill St. Distillery Ale
1/2 tsp red Thai chili sauce
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped green onions

1. Roast garlic and set aside to cool.
2. Roughly chop mushrooms and saute until most of the moisture has evaporated, approximately 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Preheat oven to 350.
4. Add cream cheese, Parmesan, Gouda, beer, Thai chili sauce, pepper, corn starch and cooled garlic (try not to include the skin) to food processor. Process until combined.
5. Add mushrooms to food processor and process just until combined.
6. Pour cheese mixture into a baking dish. Top with Panko breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
7. Bake until top starts to crisp up and turn a golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped green onions. Serve warm with tortilla chips or thinly sliced baguette.

What's your favourite way to cook with beer?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blueberry Skillet Cake

I've been dreaming up this skillet cake for quite some time now. First I considered apples. Then raspberries, and then strawberries. But when I saw the first batch of Ontario blueberries at the St. Jacobs Farmer's market last weekend, I knew they were destined for this cake.
I had never baked a cake in a cast iron skillet before, so the idea of making something sweet in my new Cuisinart pan was exciting. Turns out, during the 1800's most cakes were baked in a cast iron skillet on a stovetop because they were more reliable than ovens. #WhoKnew!?
The texture of this cake is phenomenal. The light and fluffy cake is slightly crisp on the bottom and dotted full of colourful, sweet blueberries. I highly suggest enjoying at least one slice of this cake when it's fresh out of the oven; the warm blueberries burst with flavour against the moist cake. So good!
Blueberry Skillet Cake
This skillet cake comes together quickly with several pantry staples. Blueberries are the name of the game in this particular recipe, however any fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries or strawberries can be used. Heating the pan beforehand and melting some butter will yield a nice crisp bottom on your cake - I highly suggest trying it!

2 large eggs
8 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup almond milk
2 cups all purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups blueberries

1. Preheat oven (with cast iron skillet inside) to 350.
2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy, then whisk in melted butter, sugar, and almond milk.
3. In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Slowly whisk flour mixture into egg mixture, just until combined.
5. Gently fold in blueberries; until all berries are coated.
6. Remove hot skillet from oven. Melt a tiny pat of butter in bottom of skillet. Pour batter in to skillet and spread until it's even.
7. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until top of cake is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Friday, July 18, 2014

5 Casual Items to Wear Every Weekend

It has been quite the week. As of today I am 95% caught up after my week long vacation.... it only took me two weeks. That said, I am ready for the weekend. With no plans, other than a date night with "J" tonight, I am looking forward to relaxing and keep it causal.

Hope you all have a lovely (casual) weekend!

p.s. yes, birkenstocks are back!