Speedy Meatless Monday [Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup with Lemon]
Spring may be inching closer, but that doesn’t mean the lingering chill in the air can’t be battled with a warm bowl of bright, fragrant soup.
Today’s meatless Monday dish has spent many cold, winter nights wrapping my bones in a blanket of steaming hot, vibrant red soup made rich with the addition of savory caramelized fennel and roasted garlic. The splash of lemon at the end brightens the deep flavours and balances everything out. It’s a lick-the-bottom-of-the-bowl sort of soup and one that’s especially well-received when there is little in your fridge to make a meal out of, as seems to be my case lately.
If your evenings are cool and you need something soothing, this soup will fit the bill wonderfully.
Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup with Lemon
serves 2 as main, 4 as sides
1 large bulb fennel (about 1 1/2 cups), diced
1 head of garlic, roasted*
1 can (1/2 cup) tomato paste
4 cups chicken or veg stock
1 cup water
2-4 tbsp fresh lemon juice, depending on taste
salt and pepper to taste
fennel fronds, optional
Drizzle a pan over med-high heat with a few glugs of olive oil and let it get hot. Add the fennel and a few pinches of coarse salt and let it cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until deep brown and caramelized around the edges, 20-30 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and roasted garlic cloves and cook until the paste has deepened in colour and become very fragrant, 6-7 minutes. Add the stock and water, bring to a boil and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release all the flavourful bits of fennel and tomato paste. Turn down to a simmer and let it bubble away for 20 minutes. Puree if desired (I like it smooth, but there is nothing wrong with a chunky soup). Add lemon juice, 1 tbsp at a time and taste to see if you’d like to add more. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.
cut top off garlic, drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap in foil and roast at 400 until golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool, squeeze cloves out into soup.
MacGyvering Lunch [Anchovy Butter Toast with Spicy Tomato Jam & Broccoli Rabe]
I always imagine what chef’s and other food writers eat when no one is looking, when their fridges are almost empty save for a bit of produce and pantry basics. In my mind, they use these few ingredients to whip up extravagant dishes, the way MacGyver might tunnel his way out of a sticky situation with nothing but a paperclip and coffee spoon.
After interviewing a few chefs for other publications and learning that the meals they have once their aprons come off are less than gourmet, I realize that maybe I’m not alone in my pursuit for simple, but satisfying meals when the rare downtime happens. Eggs typically play a primary role in most of my quick meals, but while I was prepping to make lunch last week and realized the fridge was egg-less, I felt a little panic in the pit of my gut. What does one DO without eggs?! A thought I’m rarely faced with. I peered into the crisper and saw the bundle of broccoli rabe I’d purchased a few days ago and figured that, some greenhouse cherry tomatoes and a few leftover anchovies would have to suffice. What I didn’t realize was that this meal would become one of my favourites to date. The salty, rich anchovy butter, spicy-sweet tomato jam and bitter rabe make for a a mouth explosion I really wasn’t expecting. I’ve made it twice since and it’s still not let me down. This is one for the books and I hope you agree!
Anchovy Butter Toast with Spicy Tomato Jam & Broccoli Rabe
serves 4 as an appetizer or snack
I used a white country loaf because I had it on hand, but Rye bread would be a nice substitution, too!
4 thick slices of crusty country bread
2 tbsp Anchovy Butter, recipe follows
4 tbsp Spicy Tomato Jam, recipe follows
1/2lb garlicky broccoli rabe, recipe follows
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese, shaved into big pieces (optional)
Preheat oven to 400.
Spread 1/2 tbsp anchovy butter on each slice of bread. Top with tomato jam. Place on a baking sheet and bake until bread is crisp and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and top with rabe.
Top with fresh ground pepper and Parmesan shreds.
3 anchovy filets (packed in oil), strained
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
In a food processor, add the anchovies and give it a couple whirls so they break down. Add the butter and blend until anchovy is well incorporated into the butter. Keep at room temperature until you’re done with this recipe, and then put it in the fridge for anytime you want a salty, savory bite.
Spicy Tomato Jam
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups grape/cherry tomatoes
generous pinch red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
drizzle of honey
Add the olive oil and tomatoes to a heavy pot over med-high heat. Cook until tomatoes start releasing their juice and slumping down into a sauce-like consistency. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and a squeeze of honey and let cook until the sauces reduce and it’s slightly thickened., 10 minutes. Spoon into a sealable jar and set aside for toast. The rest will keep in the fridge for a week or two (and makes a great accompaniment for eggs - surprise, surprise!).
Garlicky Broccoli Rabe
1/2lb broccoli rabe (rapini, broccolini)
1 clove garlic
salt, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Trim the thick ends of the rabe off and cut into small tree-like piece. Plunge them into the boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and drain.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Add the drained rabe and toss until fragrant and bright.
Farmers, Chefs & Markets [Heirloom Tomato Tart w Lemon Ricotta & Cornmeal/Thyme Crust]
We rose, slower than usual, from our slumber Sunday morning, sipped our coffees as we rubbed our eyes, and had a small breakfast. We knew saving space in our tummies would pay off as we were in for a treat later in the afternoon.
As we pulled into the parking lot of Brewer Park, the current home of the Ottawa Farmers Market, it was apparent that this was no regular day at the market. The parking lot swelled with cars and chipper market-goers toting bags spilling over with vibrant locally grown produce and fares. We parked, far quicker than we imagined, and set our sites on the white tent that stood taller and more elegantly than all the other vendor booths. This was where we would soon share a meal with locals food-lovers, farmers and chefs alike. This was Ottawa’s 2nd annual Harvest Table.
Harvest Table is a much-anticipated yearly event, organized by Savour Ottawa, that offers patrons an opportunity to celebrate Ottawa’s ample harvest and culinary artistry by enjoying a meal with the hard working folks who both grow and prepared it. It brought some of the cities finest chefs, hardest working farmers and food-loving residents together under one charmingly decorated roof… err.. tent.
As we wandered the market waiting for lunch to start, we happened upon the C’est Bon Cooking tour, offered with Cream of the Crop tickets ($75 as opposed to $60 for the lunch alone) and we listened in as Paola St George, tour guide extraordinaire, expertly navigated the market followed closely by a crowd of wide-eyed, eager guests hungry for every bit of information she had to offer… or maybe it was the tantalizing samples they were hungry for. Either way, people were happy. So happy. And it was lovely to see everyone so anxiously gobbling up the full market experience. We listened in for a few minutes as Andy Terauds, owner of Acorn Creek Gardens and vice-president of the market itself, spoke about his farm but trailed off when we spotted Somerford & Halls booth. [Side note: if you’ve not been to check out C’est Bon Cooking, I urge you to click through to the link above. Team building, cooking classes, Byward Market food tours, and so much more!]
As we made our way to our table, Impromptu Strings setting the mood with their artfully performed classics, we took our seats, scanned the airy, outdoor space and breathed in the whole atmosphere. The tables were charming and simple, centerpieces made up of richly hued flowers and greens mixed with small tomatoes vines and kale, truly making use of every bit of summer’s harvest. Already present at the table was a platter of antipasti ripe with elk sausage, wild vegetables, edible flowers, soft cheeses and a deep purple blueberry ketchup. We passed it around the table as we acquainted ourselves with other diners over Kichessippi Beer’s Natural Blonde & a choice of either Chardonnay or Cab Franc from Casa-Dea Estates Winery. The Cab Franc was lovely; great acidity and a smooth plummy flavour.
The antipasti platter disappeared as quickly as it came, and we were served course after course of exquisitely executed dishes; Chilled Strawberry Melon Soup with Goat Cheese, Grainy Potato Salad with generous hunks of egg, Harvest Table Farm Salad filled with local veg, Fresh Basil Ravioli with Tomato Sauce (easily my favourite - the ravioli were pan-fried similar to gnocchi and exploded with a warm, delicate basil filling), Roast Beef with Summer BBQ Sauce, Heritage Breed Pork Duo (pulled shoulder and belly), a vibrant Tomato & Zucchini Millefeuille with Goat Feta, Swiss Chard with Heirloom Carrots and Cinnamon Honey, New Fingerling Potatoes with Jalapeno & Onion Confit, and finally, a variety of tantalizing summer pies bubbling over with fresh fruit filling.
I’m not sure how we managed to avoid slipping into a food-induced slumber right there at the table while we digested our pie and applauded the work of restaurants, chefs, farmers & food producers, volunteers, organizers and sponsors for their magnanimous efforts in putting this event together. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. The honour of dining in the presence of those who have toiled endlessly (particularly after a hard, drought-filled summer) to grow and produce our food, and the chefs who work long, often-thankless hours to prepare dinner so we can sit back, relax and enjoy left me feeling an overwhelming amount of gratitude. When the option to attend rolls around next year, I hope you’ll join Savour Ottawa in celebrating our great city’s harvest, farmers and chefs - there are so few events that bring all of these together to truly tell a story of Ottawa’s food and people.
After such a fantastic meal, I was inspired to create something with the beautiful heirloom tomatoes we grabbed on our way out. This tart is simple to make and so pretty to look at. I almost felt guilty cutting into it… but once I did, my guilt quickly faded away into the buttery layers of crunchy dough and sweet, warm tomatoes.
Heirloom Tomato Tart with Lemon Ricotta & Cornmeal-Thyme Crust
makes 1 10” pie
Cornmeal-Thyme Pate Brisee
adapted from Martha Stewart
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)
1 cup unsalted butter, frozen cut into small pieces
1/4 – 1/2 cup ice water
In the bowl of your food processor, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and thyme. Pulse the processor until butter pieces are about the size of a pea. Add water in 1 tbsp at a time until the dough starts to hold itself together. It should stick easily when pinched together. Dump the dough out and press together in a loosen ball. Divide in half and place each portion onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap each in the plastic and press into a flattened disc. Refrigerate for 1 hour (Make ahead: can be made 1 day ahead and kept in the fridge).
Remove 1 round of dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to approximately 1/4” thick. Press your dough into a 10 x 1 1/2” pie plate. Trim the excess dough off the edges and crimp the edges if you’re into that sort of thing (I totally am, but as you can see, I’m not the best at it as a result of my big clobber mitts - you can just leave the crust as it is…we’ll call it rustic. Shhh!). Place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes or until you’re ready to start prepping the filling.
1lb Heriloom Tomatoes, sliced into rounds
1 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup high quality ricotta
1 tbsp lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Prick all over with a fork and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
While the shell bakes, toss the sliced tomatoes and salt together in a colander. Let it sit in the sink or over a bowl, tossing gently every few minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon zest and salt. Stir well to combine.
Once pie is removed from the oven, turn heat up to 375. Spread the ricotta on the pre-baked pie shell. Arrange tomatoes around the pie plate in two layers. Give a few generous grinds of pepper and place in the oven until tomatoes are soft and reduced in size, about 40 minutes. If you notice the crust cooking too quickly, just lightly cover the pie with tin foil.
Finding Burgatory [Bison-Apple Burgers with Sage-Jalapeno Pesto & Smoked Blue Cheese]
Brace yourselves. I’m about to share something with you that I don’t divulge often. It’s something that is usually met with double-looks and wide eyes. Some conclude I’m crazy, others simply write me off as a friend. Are you ready for this?
I don’t really love burgers. [….I’ll wait for your eyes to return to normal size.]
Are we good? I hope so.
I just…don’t. They are big and awkward, messy and fall-aparty. Too many restaurants serve them with buns that are rock hard, causing the patty and toppings to spill out the back end. The same can be said for patties that are flavourless, over-cooked and resemble softballs made of ground beef. Unappetizing at the best of times. (It should be said that I have not visited Black Cat Bistro for Burger Tuesdays OR Absinthe Café for their Benevolence Burger….yet).
Upon finding some beautiful ground bison from La Maison Du Gibier, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. My goal, to make a burger that fulfilled my needs. A patty as flavourful as it is moist, seasoned properly, seared to a perfect crust on the outside but slightly pink in the center. A thin bun that is buttery and soft, with a good crunch when toasted. Toppings that compliment but don’t overpower the meat or fall out the second you touch the burger. All very simple needs, but they seem to be lacking from so many burgers these days.
I was entirely happy with the way the burger came out. The recipe came together quickly and with ease. The perfect weeknight burger, to be sure. The apples gave the bison a slightly sweet kick, while the pesto and smoked blue cheese gave it that bit of extra depth and saltiness needed to take it over the top. A successful experiment in my burger diaries.
If you have an aversion to burgers as I do, perhaps even if you don’t, you must give this burger a chance. It might be just the ticket you need to find your burgatory.
Bison-Apple Burgers with Sage-Jalapeno Pesto & Smoked Blue Cheese
Note on Bison:
Finding a quality bison is half the battle here. Choose a locally sourced meat from a butcher or market you trust.
Note on buns:
I used some thin and butter onion buns from Rideau Bakery. I like a thin bun that’s soft, but use whatever you like best. Brioche buns would be delicious, too.
Note on cheese:
If you can’t find smoked blue cheese (often referred to as ‘Blue Haze’), a Danish blue cheese will work well, too.
2 lbs ground bison meat
2 small apples (1 large), peeled
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh sage, minced
1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1 jalapeno, seeded, rough chopped
1 cup fresh sage, loosely packed
1 small clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper
Smoked Blue Cheese
For the Pesto:
Place everything but the Parmesan, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan, a pinch of salt and fresh pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
For the Burgers:
Grate the apples into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands to smoosh everything together until it’s just combined (try not to overmix). Form the meat into 4-5 patties and make a small indentation in the center (this helps the burger cook evenly). Sprinkle the patties with a bit more salt right before frying.
Lightly coat a cast iron pan in vegetable or canola oil and heat over med-high until oil is shimmering. Place patties in the pan, 2 at a time, for 2 minutes on each side. They should be beautifully golden when you flip them.
Toast up your buns, place a patty on each and top with a slather of the pesto, a few crumbles of blue cheese and a slice of ripe tomato. Serve with an ice cold wheat beer like Erdinger.
Expanding my Taco Horizons [Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables]
Did you just get so excited? I know I did.
The word ‘taco’ brings about emotions in me that food shouldn’t be able to. I get excited from the pit of my tummy to the tips of my toes when I hear that sacred word. TACO! It happened again. Oh god I love them so much.
Whenever my mom asks my sister or I what we want for our birthday dinners (yes, we still get to pick whatever we want even though we’re both well into our 20s) its consistently a resounding “TACOS!” or “FAJITAS!”. We do love our Mexican food so very much. So much, in fact, that Mr. GL doesn’t much like to be around me when I’m eating Mexican because I turn into a rabid dog focused only on stuffing as much of everything-on-the-table as I can in one tortilla. Often I fill my tortilla so full that I end up eating it with a fork and knife, defeating the whole purpose of tacos all together. Oh, what a life.
Over the summer I had the pleasure of dining Ottawa’s SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar a few times and was amazed to learn that there was more to tacos than Old El Paso had told to me. How pathetic, right? Somehow I believed that tacos were a thing of merely taco seasoning and ground meat. I feel ashamed to tell you this, but we’re friends. And friends tell each other the truth. My eyes were opened. And tacos have never been the same. Not that I plan on wiping Old El Paso from regular rotation around here, that will never happen, but I shall be expanding my taco-horizons.
When I accidentally stumbled across a recipe for crispy shrimp tacos this week, my world came to a sudden halt. A doughy taco shell, stuffed full of a cumin-spiked tomato, shrimp and cilantro mixture and then… get this, are you ready? Rolled up and DEEP FRIED. The resulting roll is somewhere between a taco and a taquito, bursting with this extremely bright and fresh filling. It was a game changer. A life changer. A WORLD changer, if you will. I know you won’t be surprised to learn it’s a recipe from White on Rice Couple’s stunning blog. They are the cat’s ass, Diane and Todd. If you haven’t been for a visit, I’ll wait here while you go and take a look. Go ahead. Right now. I insist!
See what I’m saying? Brilliant. And those photos? Forget about it. I can only dream of being that kind of talented some day.
These tacos are so good I didn’t even sit down to eat them. I stood there, hanging over the counter, tossing them back as fast as I could. What a pretty picture that paints. I served some quick pickles alongside to contrast with the rich filling and they were a perfect addition.
Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables
adapted from White on Rice Couple
The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but my market had run out the day I went in to grab some. I urge you to try and find some at your Latin Market, their flavour is so much better than flour tortillas, I find.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos (or chilies of your choice), diced
1 tsp ground cumin
3-4 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cut into 1/2” pieces
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Oil for frying, enough to fill 2” in your frying pan (preferably peanut or Grapeseed oil)
8-10 corn tortillas
Tomato Broth (recipe follows)
Quick pickled vegetables (recipe follows)
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and let them sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, chilies and cumin and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and shrimps and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is about ketchup-consistency. It shouldn’t be too watery. Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and let cool.
Roll and Fill the Tacos;
Fill frying pan with oil to a depth of about 2”. Heat the oil to about 350-375 or until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it in the oil.
Two at a time, drop the tortillas in the oil for 1 second just to soften. Place on paper towels to drain.
Lay tortillas flat and spoon 2-3 tbsp of the mixture onto one side of the tortilla. Roll them up tight (ends open) and secure with a tooth pick. Repeat until no more filling remains.
Place tacos, 3-4 at a time, into the hot oil for 1.5 minutes. Flip over and cook for another 1 minutes until golden brown.
Place fried tacos on paper towels to drain. Serve with tomato broth and quick pickles.
3-4 tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 sweet onion, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth.
Pour tomato puree into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. It should be a soupy consistency.
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
2 jalapenos, sliced into rounds
2 carrots, cut into thing strips
1 small daikon, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
large pinch of salt
Large mason jar
In a bowl, add the vinegar, water sugar and salt. Whisk until sugar dissolves
Place half the cauliflower and jalapenos into the bottom of the jar. Add the carrot/daikon strips, and finish with the rest of the cauliflower jalapenos. Pour pickling bring over until the jar is filled and vegetables are submerged. Place the lid on the jar and let pickle for at least an hour in the fridge. These will keep for 1 week.
Damned by Writers Block [Vegetarian Chili with Cinnamon Yogurt]
I haven’t been taking as much time to write lately. Of course, all the normal things that life brings with it tend to stand in the way, but this time it’s something different.
Writers block. My head, knock on it as hard as I may, will not answer. Sometimes I wonder if it’s taken a vacation somewhere wonderful and left me behind to fend for myself. How terribly rude that would be. I have an arsenal of photos and recipes to share but when I sit down, excited to share them with you, I just can’t muster anything. There’s been a lot of “I like to eat…” and “This tastes good…”. And really, you deserve more than that. Especially when I’m sure, or at least semi-sure, I can provide you with something more entertaining than single syllable, unimaginative description of what graced my plate last night.
This morning, rather than laying the guilt trip I’ve been giving myself on any longer, I made a life-sized pot of peppermint tea, set up a nice comfy spot on the couch beside a sleepy black cat, and started to read anything food related that I could. While I certainly was inspired to write, it wasn’t really condusive to what I wanted to talk about. So here I sit, spilling my brainless guts out to you in hope that I’ll eventually get back onto a topic that will lead me to the recipe I want to share today.
However, since that’s not happening and I’m sure I could yammer on all day about how writing isn’t always the easiest of tasks, and how blog writing can be a lot of pressure sometimes, and how I’m sure if I listen hard enough I could hear the crickets who have inhabited my brain, I’ll jump right into the meat it. Which is not the most exact way to describe it, since today I’m talking chili. A meat-less, but still seemingly meaty, chili that’s packed with so many flavours, textures and colours that it makes the addition of meat completely unnecessary. I top mine with a dollop of cinnamon-spiked yogurt for added earthiness and something to tame the spice.
I also just happened upon a bottle of Muskoka Brewery’s dark Harvest Ale on my way home from work last night. So intead of using the stock I had, I opted for that instead. It gave it a bit more depth and earthiness with just a touch of bitterness. I loved the way it pairs with the smokey flavours.
Vegetarian Chili with Cinnamon Spiked Yogurt
adapted from 101cookbooks Pierce St Vegetarian Chili
This chili is so easily adaptable to both your personal tastes and whatever you happen to have in your pantry. Don’t like beer? Add stock or water. Don’t like chickpeas? Add black beans. Do what makes your mouth happiest. Afterall, if chili doesn’t make you happy, you’re not doing it right.
I thought I had a can of chipotle peppers at home but it turns out I was wrong. I’m going to call for them anyhow, but in a pinch, a tbsp or two of smoked paprika adds a nice smokey kick.
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 shallots, diced or sliced thin
8 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
1-2 tablespoons of ginger, peeled and grated
2 jalapenos peppers, seed and ribs removed and diced fine
2 tsp ground cumin
2-4 tbsp chili power (depending on how much spice you like)
1-2 chipotle peppers (from a can with adobo or dried and rehydrated), chopped
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 750ml (26oz) bottle of favourite dark ale
1 can chickpeas
2 cups lentils (I used brown, you can use your favourite or a mixture)
1/3 cup potted barley
1/3 cup bulgur
1 large sweet potato, cut into small cubes
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp good quality ground cinnamon
Topping options; fresh chopped cilantro, reserved jalapeno, minced red onion, feta cheese, olive oil
Sweat the onions and shallots in some olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once they’ve become translucent, add the garlic, ginger, jalapeno, cumin, chili powder and chipotle peppers. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until everything is very fragrant. Add the can of tomatoes and the beer. Give everything a good stir. At this point, have a taste of the liquid mixture. Add salt to taste and more spices if it’s not hot enough for you.
Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the chickpeas, lentils, barley and bulgur. Turn heat down to a simmer and let cook for 15-20 minutes. At this point, carefully have another taste for seasoning. Adjust to your liking. Add the cubed sweet potato. If the mixture is becoming too thick, add water 1 cup at a time too thin it out. Cover again and let simmer for another 20-30 minutes.
While cooking, mix yogurt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Refridgerate until ready to serve.
Spoon chili into big bowls and top with yogurt and whatever else your heart desires.
Take a bite and feel your mouth turn up in a toothy grin only a big bowl of chili can provide.
That’s the bite, right there, that makes me supremely happy. Messy, unattractive, spicy and perfect.
And of course, it tastes even better the next day. I am mowing through bowl #3 in 24 hours.
No Bake Takes the Cake [Lasagna Caprese]
I came home tonight with full intentions of sharing a Frozen Lemon Soufflé with you. But given the circumstances, that can wait. Who cares about delicious light-as-air frozen lemony desserts, anyhow? (I do. A LOT. But it can wait one or two days, can’t it? CANT IT!?)
While I was sitting at my desk this afternoon, day-dreaming as is common after lunch, an idea popped into my head. Lasagna. But not just any lasagna. Caprese lasagna. Say it again with me, Capreeeese lasaaaaagna! Nice. Now if you’re like me, you’ll need to pick your jaw up off the floor before we continue. And I don’t mean to sound as though I’m tooting my own horn. But I totally am. I’m sorry.
(For some reason I have a much easier time copying recipes from my cookbooks to a notebook before cooking. It’s an OCD thing. And one that keeps my cookbooks free of stains)
Caprese salad is an Italian classic from the region of Campania that’s made up of tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and finished with a drizzle of of fruity olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. That alone is enough to make me and most others weak in the knees, but with the addition of soft lasagna noodles and the ingredients layered between them, it was, in a word, perfect. Fresh, colourful, simple and packed full of flavour. It’s also a wonderful dish to use up all the tomatoes and basil you’ve no doubt planted and are starting to pop up right this second.
The only unauthentic part of this dish is the switch from fresh basil to basil pesto. I was hesitant about adding a sauce or dressing, but was worried the dish might feel a little dry. The pesto is the perfect compromise and helps it feel creamy and smooth. Plus, the look and colour of the pesto make me feel swoony.
(I wasn’t going to post this picture, but I had to because it was so funny. I started pouring the olive oil and taking a photo at the same time and thought I was oh-so-coordinated before I realized I was pouring olive oil everywhere. Turns out I’m not nearly as talented as I seem to think)
Because there are so few ingredients in the dish, it’s important you get the best ones you can find. Ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and high quality cheese and olive oil are all majorly important in making this lasagna as delightful as it is. If you’re ever going to spend a little extra on something, now is the time.
Perfect for an evening thats too hot too turn the oven on, and even better paired with a hunk of grilled meat or tofu on the side.
I assembled this on individual plates the way you would a typical Caprese, but it would be just as lovely served family style from a glass casserole pan. If you’re planning on doing it that way, don’t worry about folding the noodles. Just layer them, add a thin layer of pesto, tomatoes and cheese etc etc.
The pesto recipe here belongs to Marcella Hazan and is from her brilliant book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She approves of the food processor method, so I feel safe in saying it is absolutely authentically Italian. So there.
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves, plus a few leaves to garnish each plate
3 tablespoons pine nuts, plus 2 tbsp to garnish
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before being added to the processor
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
12 lasagna noodles, boiled according to package instructions
4 large vine ripened tomatoes
1 1/2lbs fresh mozzarella
the best olive oil you can afford, to garnish
balsamic vinegar to garnish (optional)
fresh cracked pepper
Put first 4 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until creamy. Transfer to bowl (or leave in food processor bowl, but it’s a bit of a pain) and stir in cheese and butter. This gives it a nice rustic texture.
On each serving plate, place two slices of tomato. Top with one lasagna noodle, letting one half of it extend over the tomatoes. Spread 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp pesto over the half of the noodle that tops the tomatoes. Fold the noodle back over itself so it covers the pesto. Place two rounds of mozzarella on top of noodle. Place another noodle on top, spread with pesto and fold over. Repeat steps one more time ending at the mozzarella. (tomato, noodle/pesto, mozza, noodle/pesto, tomato, noodle/pesto, mozza = voila!)
Top each plate with a few basil leaves, a good drizzle of olive oil, some pepper and a little balsamic (if you like balsamic).
See? How easy was that? Almost too easy, am I right?
The Sale of Kale [Kale and Quinoa Pilaf with Grape Tomatoes]
My dad has taught me a lot of things.
For instance; Sales are good. Sales in abundance - better.
While this lesson is certainly valuable, my dear father had a bit of an obsessive sale problem. Upon finding 15 cans of beans in the cupboard, he’d simply look up from his newspaper and explain, “They were on sale.” It was as if there was never going to be another can of beans for $0.89 instead of $0.99. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be any sales on Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Doritos. He’s smart, that father of mine.
Though I used to chuckle about it, my dad’s love of a good sale, I often find myself stocking up on random items for no reason other than the promise of 30 cents off. If it’s not a sale, I’m picking through every single piece of produce (the stuff that isn’t charged based on weight) for the largest one I can find. I won’t be had, Grocery Lords. I won’t.
As a result of this , I am now the proud owner of a bush-sized bundle of kale. I’ve been eating the stuff at least once a day. Steamed, braised, baked, raw… I don’t know how many more kale recipes I can make in one week. It’s a race against time to finish it before it starts to fade on me. Lucky for you, you’re probably not in the same predicament and might like a little kale dish.
I decided on a very simple pilaf using some quinoa I had in the cupboard, a little crumble of goat cheese, grape tomatoes and some toasty walnuts. It’s all pulled together and brightened with a little citrus. A definite winner if you’re looking to use up an extraordinarily large bush or kale, or if you simply want a bite to eat.
Kale & Quinoa Pilaf with Grape Tomatoes & Goat Cheese
This pilaf is easily adaptable to your liking. Change the greens, the grain, the cheese or the nuts to whatever your favourites may be.
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water or stock
1 bunch kale (curly or lacinato), stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 orange, zested and juiced
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
two handfuls grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup toasted walnuts (or nut of your choice)
Salt and Pepper
In a large dry skillet over medium heat, toast the quinoa until it starts to pop, 10 minutes.
While quinoa is toasting, add the water to a large pot and season well with salt. Bring to a boil. Once quinoa is toasted, add to boiling water, turn heat down to simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, add kale to the pot and cover. Let it cook for another 5-10 minutes or until kale is wilted and quinoa is cooked. While cooking, combine the orange, lemon (juices + zest) and olive oil together.
Once everything is cooked and delicious, add the citrus, goat cheese and toasted nuts. Have a taste and season to your liking.
I’ll see you again real soon for another kale related delicacy. I bet you’re pretty excited, and so you should be. Until then, dear friends.
Shoots and Grains and Things [Spelt Salad with Pea-Shoot Pesto]
When I first started cooking for myself, cooking meals as opposed to cans of soup or boxes of Kraft Dinner, I would read recipe after recipe trying to figure out how to do something properly. Examining photos so closely I’m surprised I’m not cross-eyed, to see what techniques created what textures, what colour the finished product should be, what finishing touches made it look so beautiful. I couldn’t imagine ever being in a spot where I could create a recipe based on what’s in my cupboards. The thought terrified me. Beans and tomatoes!? I can’t make anything with those?! [insert panic] [insert durrr].
Though I do not and would never claim to posses the talents of a chef/cookbook author by any stretch of the imagination, my abilities to toss together what I have on hand has become increasingly more creative than adding lemon rind to tuna in recent years. Especially once spring hits and the produce aisle becomes a colourful palate of tastes, shapes and smells. It’s hard not to feel inspired while strolling through.
While grabbing for my weekly bunch of arugula, I spied some beautiful dwarf pea shoots from Bryson Farms. What to do with them? Oh I don’t know. That’s not important. But I did need to have them. And I was nice enough to leave one of the containers behind for some lucky individual. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
After deciding I was going to make some pea-shoot pesto, the question remained: what do I have with the pesto? Pasta? Smeared on fish or pork? It’s so typical of me, though. I hadn’t had pea shoots before, so why not keep adding to the list of new tastes?
A quick stroll and a few questions later, I found myself tentatively filling a little sac with spelt berries at Herb & Spice. What in name of noodles is a spelt berry, right? I had the same question, but sometimes I’m a little oblivious. Spelt is an ancient grain often ground into a flour that serves as a healthy alternative to more processed versions. When left whole, the berry (or kernel) can be cooked much like barley or rice. They contain great amounts of fibre and protein and are easy to throw into a salad, a wrap or whatever else blows your skirt up. Go and buy some today and test it out. I’d love to hear what you think of it.
I tossed a few simple ingredients I had hanging around in the crisper and windowsill and came out with a salad I could eat again and again. I had it hot off the stove for dinner and cold out of the fridge for lunch. Honestly, I think I liked it better cold. But I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Spelt Salad with Pea-Shoot & Ricotta Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes
If you can’t find pea-shoots, feel free to make your favourite pesto instead.
If you haven’t had roasted tomatoes before, don’t skip them! They have a wonderfully concentrated tomato flavour that pairs so well with the pesto and nutty grains.
1 cup spelt berries, rinsed well
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 lb pea shoots
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan
2-4 tbsp olive oil (the best quality you can afford)
2 tbsp ricotta
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp olive oil
2 handfuls arugula (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan and pepper to garnish
Preheat oven to 350.
Add the rinsed berries and water to a large pot over high heat. Salt well. Once boiling, turn the heat down to simmer and cover. Cook 1 1/2 hours. The berries will stay al dente, so taste to make sure they are cooked to your liking. If any water remains, strain.
While spelt is cooking, add tomato halves to a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast until the juices are released and the tomatoes have shriveled slightly. Around 45 minutes.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the pea shoots, garlic, salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. Blend until it becomes a paste. If it seems dry, add more olive oil. It won’t emulsify properly if there isn’t enough. Stir in the ricotta and parmesan until it’s thick and creamy. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.
Add 1/4 cup of the pesto to the cooked spelt berries and stir to combine. There should be a fairly good layer of pesto covering the berries, so add more if you need to.
On a large plate or individual bowls, add a handful of arugula and top with pesto berries. Add the roasted tomatoes on top and finish with a drizzle of olive oil, shaved Parmesan and fresh cracked pepper.
Will serve two as a main course or 4 as a side.
Frivolous Spending and Frugal Beans
Everyone does them. Some willingly, some hesitantly. Some cut coupons, some buy extravagantly. I don’t often stop to look at the way I buy food. I put what I want in my basket, and I move on. I often don’t look at prices. I swipe my card confidently knowing that I don’t have to worry about the dreaded “Insuff Funds” coming up on the screen in front of me. I’m lucky. And I know there are plenty out there that don’t have this luxury. And yes, good food is a luxury. Food in general is a luxury that we don’t even think to be thankful for. A lot of us have never known anything different.
Before going any further, I want you to know that I’m certainly not trying to leap up onto my soapbox and make everyone feel badly for the way they buy food. I am more than guilty of buying things frivolously and not paying mind to how much things are or how unnecessary certain purchases may be. Please do not take this as a stern talking-to.
My friend Mel is participating in the Do The Math Challenge, which basically asks groups or individuals to live exclusively off the contents of a food hamper for as long as they can (typically 3-4 days but some can stretch it as long as 10). You’re encouraged to eat at least two meals at a drop-in but are not allowed to accept free food or drink other than that. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and ask the Ontario Government to immediately increase, by $100 a month, the social assistance received by adults in Ontario.
While I’m not participating in the challenge, I’ve definitely been paying closer attention to what I’m buying, how often, and how much I waste. Unfortunately, it’s not something I pay attention to because I’ve really never had to.
I often tell you to eat organically, buy local, get the best there is… but all I’m asking of you today is that you eat consciously. Even for a week. Pay attention to what’s in your grocery basket and if you actually need it. It may change the way you shop, or it may not. But at least you have a better idea of how you buy. It can be as small as bringing your grocery bags. Five cents for each bag can add up quickly when you’re living on Social Assistance.
In keeping with conscious eating, I’ve got a recipe that is as cheap as it is delicious. The grocery bill was $19.86, making each of the 5 servings come in at a reasonable $3.97 per bowl. That’s assuming you don’t have any ingredients on hand, otherwise it will be significantly cheaper (I did already have some pantry staples on hand).
Baked Chipotle White Beans with Kale, Cilantro Pesto and Mozzarella
based on Heidi Swanson’s Giant Chipotle White Beans
1 pound of dried white beans (the bigger the better) rinsed, picked over and soaked overnight - or up to 24 hours. If you’re like me and don’t always think in advance, you can try the no-soak method for softening beans.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 big pinches of red pepper flakes
2 pinches of salt
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers (or as much as you like)
1 medium clove of garlic
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
big pinch of salt
2/3 cup kale or chard, washed and cut into ribbons
1 cup goat’s milk mozzarella, cubed (optional)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (optional)
Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic to a cold pan. Turn the heat on to medium and put the pan on the element. Stir the red pepper and garlic constantly until fragrant (45 seconds-1minute). Don’t burn the garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes and oregano leaves and heat through for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the adobo sauce. Stir in kale/chard. Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, blender, or if you’re old fashioned and awesome, your mortar and pestle, add the garlic clove, cilantro, olive oil and salt. Blend until smooth. It will be quite liquidy, don’t panic. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375.
Add your beans to a large casserole dish, stir in the chipotle-tomato sauce, and the cheese. Top with bread crumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes or until crumbs are golden brown.
Drizzle with pesto and serve.
And before you chow, be conscious, appreciate and be glad that you’re eating a delicious meal that some are not lucky enough to enjoy.