Cucumber Salad with Oregano and Feta

Cucumber Salad with Feta and OreganoWhile we’ve just had a “glimpse” at warmer weather these past weeks, it still put me in the mood for some lighter fare that wasn’t composed solely of spinach leaves or romaine. This cucumber salad is quick to go together and has a very balanced flavour (not too creamy, nor too tangy), and pairs perfectly with grilled meats come barbecue season (any day now).

Cucumber Salad with Feta and Oregano
(serves 4)

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, plus more for garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
juice and zest from half an organic lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt

Place cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with salt. In a bowl, combine the feta, oregano, garlic, shallots, lemon juice, zest and olive oil.

Gently press the cucumbers to drain off any liquid that has accumulated. Toss the cucumber slices with the dressing and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Adapted from Michael Symon.

Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta…That’s Vegan (Shhh!)

Creamy Vegan Tomato Basil Pasta

Okay–so I am clearly not opposed to dairy products, but I do use almond milk for most “milk” purposes, save for in my lattes. (Have you ever tried to steam almond milk? It’s pretty disgusting and comes out like a weird dairy-like sponge…) Anyway, I received the Oh She Glows cookbook a couple of months back as a gift and was intrigued by a few of the recipes, which offered up some interesting, healthier alternatives for meals that didn’t seem too offensive.

Since I pretty much cut out pasta from my regular diet over the last year (I’ll still eat it on a night out, or make it at home maybe once a month), I was curious to try this recipe first to see how it would measure up as a guilt-free option. The main substitute is using blended cashews in place of cream or butter to get a really satisfying, creamy finish that’s similar to a “rose” sauce. Don’t get me wrong – this won’t blow you away à la a Batali or Jamie Oliver pasta dish, but it is very tasty and is a great sub if you’re in the mood for pasta (with leftovers!) and want to avoid using cups full of butter, oil and cream. Plus, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to guests for a casual lunch or dinner.

Oh She Glows Tomato Basil Pasta
(serves 3-4)

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavoured almond milk
255g uncooked pasta (I used gluten-free brown rice fusilli)
1 teaspoon olive oil (or coconut oil)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fresh or canned tomatoes (I used whole, canned plum tomatoes, just “squished” into the pan)
3 handfuls spinach
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt + pepper

Place the cashews in a small jar or bowl, cover with water and let sit for at least two hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and combine with almond milk. Blend until smooth and thick. Set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cool pasta al dente, according to package instructions.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for five to ten minutes until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes (do not use the liquid if using canned) and spinach and cook for ten more minutes over medium-high heat, until spinach has wilted. Stir in cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for five to ten more minutes until heated through.

Add cooked pasta to the pan and stir until well combined with sauce. Serve with fresh basil (and shredded parm if you’re not vegan…!) Enjoy!

Chocolate Breakfast Oats

Healthy Chocolate Breakfast Oats Pudding

We all know that breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but it can be increasingly difficult to set yourself up with healthy options when you’re most often eating at the office (or on the way), feeling sleepy/lazy and just in the need of a boost… often in the form of coffee and some kind of sweet and carby bite. Even though I don’t commute, I still find myself tempted to reach for something easy and pseudo-satisfying on some mornings, rather than whip up something that I know will keep me fuller for longer and with far more energy.

Hence, the importance of make-ahead breakfasts. Fast, simple, and with the ability to last for the better part of a week (see more here and here), ready-made morning meals are key when you’re rolling into the kitchen or out the door, and can just grab something without a second thought, and still feel good about what you’re eating. This is one of my new favourites, since it still satisfies my sneaky sweet tooth:

Chocolate Breakfast Oats

1 cup of rolled oats (use gluten-free oats, if you’d like)
1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup raw organic cocoa nibs
1 teaspoon Sucanat (unrefined cane sugar – but you can also use maple syrup or honey)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk
To garnish: Banana slices, berries, pepitas and hemp hearts

Add all of the solid ingredients together in a large jar and cover with almond milk. Shake well, making sure that the chia seeds have been well mixed in (give everything a stir, if need be). Refrigerate overnight. In the morning, serve a few large spoonfuls and top with garnishes of your choice, including berries, sliced banana (or other fruit), pepitas and hemp hearts. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Scones with Fleur de Sel

Dark Chocolate Fleur de Sel Scones

Easy Dark Chocolate Scones

One thing that makes waking up on a cold weekend morning a little better is the thought of freshly baked scones waiting for you in the kitchen. I must say, I have attempted to make scones a handful of times, with some mild disasters is the mix (one blueberry concoction was so flat and lifeless they’re still referred to as “those cookie scones” around here). Since I’m never totally happy with the results, and there just happens be an amazing scone shop down the street from me, I’ve not been particularly moved to try and make them on a regular basis.

However, when I came across this recipe and it’s author’s description of the buttery, flaky scones of his childhood something moved me to give them another go. And you guessed it–I’m pretty chuffed that I did. These scones are everything you think of when you think of a warm, delicious, traditional scone. They’re fast and easy to boot, and of course, can be a master recipe for any berry, spice, etc. that you feel like adding in. I added chopped 70% dark chocolate and a sprinkling of fleur de sel…served with a swipe of crème fraîche and my favourite Morello cherry Ottolenghi jam…heaven!

Cream Scones with Dark Chocolate and Fleur de Sel
(makes 9)

2 1/2 cups flour
5 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
6 tbsp. high-quality salted butter, chopped into cubes
1 cup whipping cream
1 egg, cold
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
70g dark chocolate, chopped
pinch of fleur de sel

Glaze
1 egg
1/2 tsp. + 1 tbsp. sugar
pinch of fleur de sel

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal and no pieces of butter are bigger than a pea. Whisk the cream, egg and vanilla in a large measuring cup and pour into the flour mixture. Stir together until a dough forms. Add in the chocolate pieces and knead lightly until they’re evenly distributed.

Lightly flour your work surface before turning out the dough and kneading it onto itself for 10 seconds. Pat the dough into a square about 2 cm. thick. Let rest for 15 minutes. Cut the dough into 9 even squares and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg, salt and 1/2 tsp. of sugar. Brush each scone with the glaze and let set for 1 minute. Use the last tbsp. of sugar to sprinkle each scone. Bake on a centre rack at 425°F for 13 to 18 minutes (mine were good at exactly 15 minutes) until golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through baking. Allow the scones to rest on the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Source: Hand Made Baking by Kamran Siddiqi

A Foodie Goes to Paris

Foodie Finds in Paris FranceI recently came back from Paris, and on the night before my flight, I had to laugh at myself while trying to jam my suitcase shut with as much of my upper body strength as possible. My how things had changed! Even though I was fortunate to land in the city during the famous soldes, the biannual sale season that delivers major designer discounts, I found myself only having to find room for one new pair of shoes, but was stressed to find space for my carefully wrapped packages of salts, sugar, cheese, tea and yes, even boxes of oh-so-delicate macarons. Paris, of course, is a food-lover’s dream come true and over my handful of visits to the city I’ve definitely accumulated a must-visit list of my favourite destinations for on-the-spot treats as well as take home items and gifts. Here are some of my favourites:

Le Grand Epicerie – this mega-emporium attached to the posh left bank department store Le Bon Marché is the do-all and end-all of French foodie items. If there’s something magical that belongs in your kitchen, this is where you’ll find it! Not only is it the perfect place to put together a beautiful picnic to tote to the Luxembourg Garden or the Île de la Cité, but you can also treat it as a one stop shop for all of your take home needs, including entire sections devoted to wine, salt, sugar, truffles (and all truffle-related goods!), cheese, chocolate, cookies, etc. The adorable canvas tote bags are also the perfect souvenir for your at-home grocery run, and make great gifts for friends (maybe stocked with some Kusmi Tea and Fauchon chocolate for good measure). On this visit, I picked up my favourite Le Beurre Bordier, fleur de sel, truffle salt, and some heart-shaped sugar cubes for my morning coffee (who could resist!?) Le Beurre Bordier is something I started searching out a few years ago after reading that it was David Lebovitz‘s favourite butter, and now, of course, I’m hooked. The packages alone are so chic–they look much more like lovely little soaps than a consumable dairy product. This time, I picked up the regular salted butter, smoked salted butter (delicious with scallops), and my absolute favourite, truffle butter. The latter smeared on a fresh baguette is, well, a heavenly experience that’s worth the visit to the Epicerie all on its own!

Mariage Frères – There are a handful of Mariage Frères tea houses in Paris where you can enjoy a lovely brunch or afternoon tea. However, even if you’re not going to sit for a snack, it’s worth stopping in for their beautiful selection of teas and tea-related items, including biscuits, jellies and chocolates. The packaging alone is hard to beat, making anything you choose the perfect gift. I always scoop up a box or two of the muslin tea sachets in my favourite Wedding Imperial blend, a black tea with gold Assam leaves and notes of chocolate and caramel, or Marco Polo, which is easier to find here at home, and is also a black tea with a fruity-floral finish.

Pierre Hermé – I doubt you would regret eating any macaron you stumble across in Paris, but for me, Pierre Hermé is hands down the best. Their amazing flavour combinations, such as rose, litchi and raspberry and pistachio, ceylon, cinnamon and morello cherry, are so unique, not to mention their beautiful laser-cut carrier bags that feel très spéciale. During this trip, I also enjoyed one of their individual Mont Blancs, which seems to be the trendiest dessert in Paris at the moment!

Poilâne – This tiny left bank boulangerie is known for its amazing breads, croissants and broiche. If you’re early enough you can scoop up a buttery croissant, otherwise a small bag of their trademark butter cookies, “Punitions“, which come in the shape of little rounds or even spoons or forks are definitely in order.

Buy Paris Duty-Free – In years past, I’ve attempted to pack away cheeses, wine and champagne in my suitcase only to be terrified to return home to crazy smelly clothes complete with broken bottles. Finally, I got smart and started waiting to pick up these delicate gourmand goods at the Duty-Free shop at Charles de Gaulle, which of course stocks an amazing selection of liquor (complete with sommelier recommendations, no less), cheese, foie gras and other condiments. If you can get your hands on this triple-cream Brillat-Savarin with truffle pictured above, I’d suggest dipping into it immediately upon your arrival home – it is just ridiculously indulgent and will instantly soothe any heartache leftover from leaving the City of Light behind. There’s just something about the ease that comes with the handy foil- and bubble-wrapped packages they’ll hand over at the cash register that is guaranteed to make your last shopping stop in Paris all the more enjoyable!

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Swirl Meringues with Chocolate Sauce and Crème Chantilly

A Kitchen in FranceA Kitchen in France Chocolate Meringue Swirls

Chocolate Swirl Meringue with Hazelnuts and PomegranateIf you haven’t already discovered it, you must pop on over to Manger. A blog created by Mimi Thorisson, a somewhat mythical creature who moved from Paris to Médoc, and now documents her life in the French countryside with her photographer husband, several children and more than a dozen Fox Terriers (!). It’s all very charming to say the least, and when Mimi released her first cookbook a few months ago, A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse, it went to the top of my must-have list. Of course, just before Christmas, me and my fellow French-food obsessed friend happened to gift it to each other in a happy and not-so-surprising turn of events.

Since I had already stolen a peek inside before wrapping hers, I knew one of the first recipes I wanted to try was the Chocolate Swirl Meringues with Chocolate Sauce. Now, I’m not even usually a fan of meringue, but the power of good photography really won me over and I just had to attempt them. Turns out, since I only have a hand mixer at my disposal, it seems I wasn’t able to whip those egg whites to the required level of stiffness–they propped up on the baking sheet just fine, but baked to smoother, flatter portions than Mimi’s picture-perfect swirls. Good thing a pour of chocolate sauce, dollop of whipped cream, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds can fix just about any nick in your presentation plans. These meringues have a soft and chewy centre, and accompanied by the chocolate sauce, are a complete pleasure to eat.

Mimi Thorisson’s Chocolate Meringue Swirls with Chocolate Sauce and Crème Chantilly

(makes 6)

6 egg whites, room temperature
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 heavy cream, whipped with a pinch of sugar

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 2/3 cup)

6 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites in a perfectly clean bowl until they hold medium peaks. Add the salt and cornstarch and continue to whip. Add the sugar two tablespoons at a time, continuing to whip at a high speed until all the sugar has been added and the mixture holds very stiff, glossy peaks, about ten to fifteen minutes. Gently fold in the cocoa powder.

On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, make six meringues, about four to five inches wide and two and half inches tall. Use two large spoons to transfer the meringue onto the baking sheet, swirling it upward as you go. Once you get a shape you’re happy with, dust the top with some cocoa powder and use a small fork to swirl it some more. Bake at 275°F for one hour. Switch off the oven and open the oven door slightly and keep the meringues inside for fifteen more minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For the chocolate sauce, mix water, cocoa powder, sugar and syrup in a small pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring gently until it has melted. Allow to cool for an hour.

To serve (same day, if possible!), top each meringue with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a garnish of toasted hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds. Enjoy!

New Year Risotto with Leeks, Mushrooms and Truffle

Mushroom Leek Risotto with TruffleOne of my favourite holiday gifts that I received was a big black truffle that I’ve been slowly shaving off into deliciously indulgent dishes ever since. I love a good risotto (some of my favourites are here and here) and so I was looking for a dish with some new flavours to enjoy with some fresh truffle for a special New Year treat. This one definitely did the trick.

Leek and Mushroom Risotto with Truffle

2 large leeks, thinly sliced crosswise (white and light green parts only)
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 lb. shitake (or mixed) mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
5 cups vegetable broth, heated
freshly shaved truffle and parmigiano reggiano to garnish

Bring cleaned and sliced leeks and cream to a boil in a small pot. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook and stir until leeks are soft and the mixture is thick. Season well with salt and pepper and set aside.

Toss sliced mushrooms on a baking sheet with sliced onion, truffle oil, 1/2 cup melted butter, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes until mushrooms are tender.

Heat broth in a medium pot and continue to simmer. In a separate pot, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add rice and stir for one minute before adding wine. Stir until wine is absorbed then add one cup of broth. Continue to stir until absorbed. Add all broth one cup at a time, stirring and waiting for each cup to absorb before adding more. When risotto is thick and creamy, add in mushroom and leek mixtures. Garnish with shaved parmigiano reggiano and fresh truffle and serve.

Adapted from Epicurious.com

Classic Shortbread with Chocolate Chips

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Fingers Dough

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Dough in Pan

Chocolate Chip Classic Shortbread Fingers

When I was growing up, shortbread had a strict protocol in my family. Similar to classic meat pies, shortbread recipes were not to be experimented with if you wanted to be taken seriously as a holiday baker. While everyone claimed to use some adaptation of my great grandmother’s original recipe, everyone had their secret as to why they thought theirs was the best (or, slightly more likely, secrets as to why they thought others were inferior). Light colour, slender fingers and a buttery texture were all highly sought-after attributes.

These days, I like to add a little more flavour to my cookies and have experimented with toasted nuts, citrus zest and spice, and have even cut them into various shapes (oh, the horror!) This year, I decided to stay pretty classic with only a simple addition of chocolate chips and switched out the traditional granular sugar with icing sugar, which really gives the cookies a finer, creamier texture…and I hope my grandmother would agree!

Classic Shortbread Fingers
2 cups soft butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until fluffy and smooth. Slowly blend in flour until well combined. Add in chocolate chips if using and mix well. Divide dough in half, shape into discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes until firm.
Place one disc at a time on large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll into a square, about one centimetre thick. Place a piece of wax paper on top as you finish rolling to get a nice, smooth finish on top. Use a knife to slightly trim the edges of the square if they’re uneven.
Bake for about 25 minutes at 300°F. Once out of the oven, use a sharp knife to slice into long fingers (use a ruler, if necessary!) and trim away any more uneven edges. Finish by pricking the length of each finger with a fork for decoration. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Petits Fours

Homemade Eggnog Latte

Putting my seemingly endless stock of eggnog to good use for my morning coffee. Simply warm up about a cup of eggnog per person in a small saucepan over low heat and add to a shot of espresso for a homemade eggnog latte. Freshly ground nutmeg and a shortbread cookie round out the holiday indulgence.

Holiday Fresh Herb Wreath

I had an extra wreath to use this year, so decided to add some fresh herbs, including mint, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves to it to make it especially fitting (and fragrant!) for the door in my kitchen. Just spritz with water every day to keep it fresh and replace the herbs here and there as needed.

Red Wine Punch

I love whipping up a punch for any party because it helps guests serve themselves and saves you from spending the evening manning the bar (or the kitchen counter). To make this festive version I used a bottle of a shiraz/cabernet sauvingnon blend, a bottle of sparkling rose and two small bottles of sparkling strawberry-flavoured apple cider. I infused it with rosemary, bay leaves and mint, then made a giant ice cube (to prevent a watery mix) with a cake pan with apple cider, water, cranberries, pomegranate seeds and more herbs. Another tip is to have lots of napkins nearby, along with a decorative coaster for your ladle in order to avoid a dripping mess.

Traditional Meat Pie Tourtiere

I’m always experimenting with meat pie recipes this time of year. I tried this one and was able to get two pies out of the meat, which is great for freezing and warming up later…especially after a full day of running around with holiday shopping and errands.

Ultimate Lobster Sandwich

Roasted Tomato Aioli

Lobster BLTAbout a month ago, I had brunch at Rock Lobster here in Toronto for the first time. After ordering their delicious B-L-L-T, a triple-decker BLT sandwich with lobster, I was inspired to re-create it at home. There’s no need for subtlety here– I’ll just come out and say it– it was to.die.for. So indulgent, in fact, that I almost felt guilty eating it. Since the holidays are an ideal time to excuse indulgence, this would be an amazing treat to make for a small group of guests (or just yourself!) for Christmas brunch.

I used frozen lobster tails, which I defrosted then boiled in very salty water for five minutes, cooled and shelled. You could also use canned lobster meat, available in many grocery stores, which would make the process a lot easier and faster. The other keys to making this sandwich drool-worthy is good quailty, thick-cut bacon, fresh, thinly sliced bread (I bought an unsliced, white sandwich loaf so I could cut it extra-thin), and a flavour-packed tomato aioli in place of actual tomatoes. For the latter, I used this Bobby Flay recipe, which is fast, simple and leftovers can be stored in the fridge afterwards for use in omelettes, other sandwiches or even as a side for steak.

Ultimate Lobster Sandwich

Roasted Tomato Aioli

1 large plum tomato
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Splash of aged sherry vinegar
Splash of Tobasco (optional)

Slice the tomato in half lengthwise and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Place cut-side up on a baking sheet and roast at 450°F until tender, about five minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the onions and garlic until soft, about five minutes. Mix in the paprika and cook for thirty more seconds.
Combine onion mixture, mayonnaise, vinegar and Tobasco (if using) and the roasted tomato in a blender or food processor with some salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour so all the flavours meld together.

Sandwich

4 small (or 2 large) lobster tails per person
3 very thinly sliced pieces of fresh white bread per person
2 thick slices of bacon per person
Roasted tomato aioli
Butter
Fresh dill

If using tails, start by boiling and shelling all lobster and removing to a bowl. Place bacon on a baking sheet and broil until cooked, but still tender, about ten minutes.
Heat a knob of butter in a pan over medium-high heat, and toast each slice of bread on each side and remove to a plate. After all the bread has been toasted, heat another knob of butter in the pan and saute all of the lobster pieces until warm, and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble the sandwiches by spreading one slice of bread with the roasted tomato aioli and placing the bacon overtop (slice it to fit). Cover with another slice of bread. Place the lobster meat on top, then sprinkle with some fresh dill. Top with a final slice of bread and ENJOY!