Summer Dinner Party

Easy White Balloon Garland

Add a fun twist to any room with a quick balloon garland. I hung a gold ribbon across the dining room ceiling then tied white balloons to it at different lengths to create a tent-like feeling.

Summer Party Place SettingsPink peonies, sky blue napkins, fun, conversation starter place cards and my new favourite crystal goblets (snatched up at an antique market) make a colourful, summery table setting.

Winston Hamish Frenchie NecklaceWinston Hamish in his party best.

Tempt 9 Cider

While rosé and white wine were on ice for dinner, I always like to have some cocktail options on standby for when people walk in the door. Aside from serving these, this cider also caught my eye for its pretty packaging, so I made a batch of it in a pitcher along with mint and sliced strawberries and limes for quick and easy refills.

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

A classic Caprese salad is always one of my favourites for fresh, easy, summer dining. A high quality balsamic vinegar is a must – or you can take whatever you have up a notch by making a reduction. Just bring two parts vinegar and one part honey to a boil in a small saucepan, then reduce to a simmer until it thickens into a syrup-like sauce (about 15 minutes).

Halloumi Cheese wrapped in Grape Leaves

Halloumi baked in grape leaves is another excellent summer starter that doesn’t take much effort. Place thick slices of halloumi cheese on a rinsed and dried grape leaf (find them in a jar in most grocery stores), drizzle with olive oil, fresh, chopped garlic, basil and pepper. Wrap the leaf completely around the cheese and bake for about ten minutes at 400°F. Make a lot because your guests will love ‘em.

Ottolenghi Cucumber Salad with Chili and Poppyseeds

Ottolenghi’s Cucumber Salad with Chili and Poppyseeds is made with the tastier, smaller cucumbers and is another dish you can whip up ahead of time to keep your menu light and refreshing. Simply slice six to eight mini cucumbers on the diagonal and combine with all of the ingredients listed here.

Summer Salad with Green Figs Strawberries Goat Cheese Honey

This salad just looks like summer on a plate. Admittedly, I had a hard time finding fresh figs at this time of year (even at the farmer’s market) but I finally stumbled upon some great green ones in my neighborhood and they really made the dish. Combine arugula with a handful of chopped basil leaves, small strawberries, goat cheese, and a drizzle of honey and olive oil.

Chicken with Mint Lemon and Almonds

This roasted chicken from Donna Hay’s Seasons is another easy addition. I picked up two chickens just over a couple of pounds each and had the butcher butterfly them for me. Roasting them flat cuts your cooking time in half. Once out of the oven, top with a zesty sauce of mint, chopped almonds, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.

Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream Cake

What could be more fun (or summery) than ice cream cake? Bring this childhood throwback into an adult setting by skipping the frosting, whipped cream and sprinkles in favour of better flavours (Bordeaux cherry and classic vanilla) and a topping of fresh berries and mint leaves.

Havana Special

Havana Special CocktailLuxardo Maraschino Liqeur

While I had my fair share of mojitos and Cuba Libres while in Cuba a couple of weeks ago, I also discovered a new favourite cocktail perfect for the summer months–the Havana Special. The special ingredient is maraschino liqueur, which is made from sour Marasca cherries and their pits, which give it a very dry and subtle almond flavour (nothing like those syrupy-sweet maraschino cherries in the baking aisle).

The maraschino cherries we think of today did get their name from the original Marasca cherries, which are mostly found around the Dalmatian coast,  and were often preserved in maraschino liqueur and consumed as quite a rare delicacy. Since they were not readily available, and consequently very expensive, imitation “maraschino” cherries were soon being produced with other varieties of cherries and the help of food colouring and sweeteners.

You can serve this liqueur over ice cream, drink it alone over ice after dinner or use it to add complexity to many cocktails. I suggest you start with the below:

Havana Special

1 oz. light rum
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
pineapple juice (fresh, if possible)

Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve in a coupe glass, or simply serve on the rocks in an old fashioned glass. Enjoy!

 

Petits Fours

Sofia Rose Wine Francis CoppolaSummer of Rosé – my new favourite, Francis Coppola Sofia, looks just as gorgeous as it tastes, making it a perfect hostess gift for one of your summer barbecues.

Remedios Cuba

Stopping for Cubatas (a Cuba Libre with dark rum) in the town square of Remedios during our recent summer break in Cuba.

Wimbledon Strawberries and Cream

Strawberries and cream for breakfast at Wimbledon early Sunday morning.

Nadege Tatin and Macarons

Late afternoon break at Nadège, complete with a coconut pineapple tatin (and macarons, of course).

Peaches Roasted in Honey with Rosemary and Lavender

Honey, Lemon and Rosemary

Roasted Peaches with Honey and Rosemary

Now that summer long weekends are in full effect, easy recipes that keep time in the kitchen to a minimum are key. These peaches fit the bill since they can be roasted ahead of time and kept on warm during dinner. They’re a simple approach to entertaining, but look summery and appetizing all the same.

Roasted Peaches with Honey, Rosemary and Lavender
(serves 8)

4 peaches
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp. butter
salt
cardamom
sprigs of fresh rosemary and lavender
mascarpone cheese
vanilla ice cream

Half each peach and remove the pit. Place each peach in a large baking dish, cut side up. Combine lemon zest, honey, water and pinches of salt and cardamom together and pour over the peaches, into the dish. Place a large dot of butter over each peach and sprinkle with herbs.

Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes, using the liquid to baste the peaches a couple of times as they roast. Serve each warm peach with a small scoop of mascarpone cheese and vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of liquid from the pan. Enjoy!

World Cup Snack: Fried Plantains

Green Plantains

Pressing Green Plantains

Flattened Plantain Fried Green Plantains with Salt

Fried plantains are a popular sidedish in many parts of South America–my favourite ones are actually made from ripe (brown) plantains, which make the final product quite sweet and perfect for dessert. These “chips”, however, are made from green plantains, which give them a savoury flavour perfect with salt and a even a little queso fresco on the side. Since we’re in the swing of World Cup fever, these would be an ideal snack to make if you’re having friends over to watch a match. I topped these ones off with a little Maldon sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, but a little chili pepper, garlic salt or even cinnamon would work nicely, as well.

Fried Plantains
(makes about 16)

4 large green plantains
vegetable oil
limes
salt + other spices

Use a small, sharp knife to cut the ends off each plantain. Hold each plantain vertically, balanced on a cutting board, and carefully use the knife to peel off all of the tough skin. (If the skin is not as tough, you may be able to slice it open and peel off the entire peel with your fingers.) Cut each plantain into 4 equal pieces.

In the meantime, add just under an inch of oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Line a cookie tray with paper towl, and a cutting board with wax paper. One the oil is hot enough (use a small piece of bread to check if it starts “frying” immediately when dipped in the pan), fry the plantain chunks in small batches for 2-3 minutes at a time. Use tongs to remove them to the paper towel-lined tray to cool and dry.

Once dry, place the plantains flat bottom down on the wax paper one at a time. Cover the top with another piece of wax paper and use another small board (we used a bamboo cheese board) to press hard against the top to flatten it (this takes a little bit of muscle power!) Once flattened, use a spatula to carefully pick up the plantain and place it in the pan to fry for 2 more minutes, until golden. Remove once again to the paper towel to dry. Sprinkle with salt and spice of your choice before placing on an oven-safe plate in a warm oven while you continue. Squeeze fresh lime over top right before serving. Enjoy!

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese

Carmelized Fennel with Goat Cheese

I’ve only ever used fennel in one other recipe, which is for a tomato-based fish stew I usually make in the fall and winter. However, thanks to this lovely dish (another stellar find in Plenty), which uses fennel as the star ingredient, I’ve decided I’ll probably start eating a lot more of it! It pretty much blew me away, and it would be a killer side dish to serve for guests if you’re looking to impress. I only made a few small changes to the original recipe, which were to omit the dill (I’m not a huge fan, and so didn’t happen to have any on hand) and switched out the butter and oil combo for straight coconut oil, which worked quite nicely.

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese
(serves 4)
4 small fennel bulbs (or 2 standard large ones)
3 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fennel seeds
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
3/4 cup roughly chopped dill
5 oz young and creamy goat cheese
zest of 1 lemon

Cut off the stalks and fronds from the fennel (you can reserve some of the fronds for garnish). Remove any tough or brown layers from the bulbs, and the hard part of the base, while still making sure the whole bulb will still be held together. Slice lengthways into half inch slices.

Melt the butter and oil (or coconut oil) in a large frying pan over high heat. Once hot, place the fennel slices into the pan (without crowding them – you may need to do a few batches) and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Once you have seared all of the fennel, add the sugar, fennel seeds and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan (I turned the heat down to medium here) and stir quickly for 30 seconds. Return the fennel slices to the pan and allow to caramelize (ensure they remain firm) for one to two minutes.

Allow to cool, then toss with garlic and dill (if you like!). Before serving, garnish with teaspoons of goat cheese, lemon zest and fennel fronds. Enjoy!

Chimichurri Sauce

 

Fresh Parsley and Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri Sauce

Once the summer rolls around, grilled meat and vegetables tends to become the standard for meals at home. To keep things interesting, I always whirl up a batch of herby Argentinean chimichurri sauce, which is a great way to punch up steak and pretty much anything else you decide to serve up on the barbecue.

You can use the chimichurri as a marinade before or after grilling, or simply serve it on the side. Since it’s oil-based, it keeps very well in a jar in the fridge, and can last up to a few weeks.

Chimichurri Sauce

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and whirl until well-blended. Store in a covered jar in the fridge for future use. Enjoy!

Baked Eggs with Yoghurt and Chile

Plenty Eggs with Greek Yoghurt Chilis and Sage

 

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

After indulging my obsession with Ottolenghi for the last couple of months, I was thrilled to receive Yotam Ottolenhi’s other book, Plenty, as a gift recently. I dug into it right away and decided to start with this amazing brunch dish that had my mouth watering as soon as I came across the photo. I made an individual portion for myself, but you could easily make two batches with eight eggs in a large baking dish for a family or guests, or prepare two eggs per person in smaller ramekins.

Baked Eggs with Yoghurt and Chile
(makes 2 servings)

3/4 lb. (about 14 cups) arugula
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt
4 eggs
3/4 cup Greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. dried red chiles
1/4 tsp. paprika
6 fresh sage leaves, shredded

Saute arugula drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of salt in a pan over medium heat until it wilts and any liquid has evaporated. Transfer arugula to a baking dish and create deep indentations where you want to place the eggs. Carefully break the eggs into each dent, keeping the yolks intact. Bake the dish at 300°F for 10-15 minutes, or until the egg whites are set.

While the eggs are baking, mix the yoghurt with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Do not chill. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the chiles, paprika and another pinch of salt. Cook for a minute or two until golden red and the butter starts to foam. Add the sage, let cook for a couple of seconds, then remove from heat.

Once the eggs are cooked, remove from the oven and garnish with the yoghurt and chile butter. Enjoy immediately with hot, buttered toast points!

Petits Fours

Baker & Scone TorontoA quick stop at my new favourite neighborhood spot, Baker and Scone. Their freshly baked scones (made in different sweet and savory flavours everyday) are delicious and also come gift-wrapped with butter, jam and homemade lemon curd – a perfect hostess gift.

Old Montreal QuebecI had a quick stop in Montreal last week and was lucky to have a couple of hours to wander around the old city.

Greek Yoghurt with Berries, Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds

Greek yoghurt with natural almonds, raspberries, cocoa nibs and pumpkin and chia seeds makes a great afternoon snack.  If you need a little sweetness, add a drizzle of honey or good, dark maple syrup.

Niagara on the Lake Wine Country

We celebrated the amazingly warm weather in Niagara’s wine country last weekend. This is the lovely view from the Niagara College Teaching Winery. Catch more of my favourite spots in the area here.

Easy & Delicious Turkey Burgers

Homemade Turkey Burgers

Homemade Turkey Burger Ingredients

Delicious Homemade Turkey Burger

Armed once again with ground turkey, I decided to make a batch of turkey burgers to freeze for easy lunches throughout the week. I kept the ingredients simple, but they turned out great–very juicy and with lots of flavour. You can grill the burgers up right away or freeze them raw for cooking off later. I ate mine without a bun, and with a heap of toppings, but you can easily pop them onto a fresh piece of bread or onto a small bun.

Delicious Turkey Burgers
(makes 4 small burgers)

1 lb. ground turkey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Divide evenly into four portions, and roll each into a ball. Gently flatten each ball with your palm to create each patty. Grill on a stovetop grill pan, cast iron skillet or on the barbecue. Resist pressing down on the patties as they cook, to prevent squeezing out the juices. Top with shredded cheese of your choice once half way cooked, and then once finished, with a slice of tomato, mayo, cubed avocado and some fresh cilantro. Enjoy!