Doesn’t the idea of making your own cheese make you all sweaty and agitated and overwhelmed? No? Maybe it’s just me.
I’m planning to set aside more time to experiment this year. With any luck, I’ll be a seasoned vet in the art of Burrata, Curds, Mozzarella and maybe another few. I’m starting off simple, giving myself some time to ease into the process before going balls (pun intended?) out.
This marinated labneh is EASY but god damn it’s delicious, too. I consider it a gateway cheese, if such a thing exists. I’ve made it once before and it was a success from the get-go so please don’t be intimidated by it in the slightest.
We ate this cheese on top of warm black kale with roasted garlic dressing, wholegrain croutons and spicy baked chicken - a new favourite - but I’ve suggested some uses at the bottom of the page if that doesn’t sound quite right for you.
We’re off for a week to Puerto Rico tomorrow so with any luck, I won’t be around these parts much but hopefully by the time I’m back, you’ll have a jar of this ready to go so we can virtually high five at your great success!
We’ll do our best to bring some warmth home with us!
Marinated Lemon-Za’atar Labneh
makes approx. 10-12 balls of cheese
If you can find za’atar at your Middle Eastern market, feel free to use that. I make mine at home because I usually have all the ingredients on hand. I’ve shared a recipe in case you’d like to make this spice blend from scratch.
2-3 coffee filters or layers of cheese cloth
1 4-cup or 2 2-cup seal-able jars
500g tub Greek yogurt (plain, unsweetened)
zest from 1/2 large lemon (about 1/2 tbsp)
1 tbsp za’atar, recipe to follow
2 cups good quality olive oil (I use California Olive Ranch's Arbequina)
2-4 bird chilies
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Place your coffee filter or cheese cloth in a fine mesh sieve and place the sieve in a bowl deep enough to catch about 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Stir the yogurt, lemon zest, za’atar and a pinch or two of salt together until combined. Pour into the lined-sieve. Place in the fridge, covered if you prefer, and let drain for 2 days. It should be slightly looser than a cream cheese consistency.
Take the strained yogurt from the fridge and roll into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball (wetting your fingers/hands makes this somewhat less messy). Place cheese-balls into the jar(s) and add in the chilies, oregano, thyme, garlic, peppercorns and salt. Top with enough olive oil to submerge everything. Place in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours. The olive oil might solidify and that’s ok. Place the jar on the fridge door so it’s not as cold. Remove the jar a few hours before you plan to eat the cheese.
spread on baguette
a few balls and some oil spooned over greens
with a cheese plate
served with pickles and smoked meats for sandwiches
I’ve been struggling through the last few weeks. Struggling to find sense and purpose in some days, feeling angry that I’m not where I thought I would be at this point in my life, crushing under the [self-induced] pressure of my late 20s (which, I know, is still very young and leaves plenty of time for change). It seems everyone is on a path these days, travelling towards their light at the end of the tunnel. Some days it feels like I’m a hamster running in a wheel. Constantly spinning, exhausted, but not going anywhere. It’s hard to remember that despite this feeling, I am on a path even if it’s not the one I intended to be on. I struggle constantly with the decision to start over. To take a giant leap into the unknown not knowing where my feet will land and what will be there to cushion my fall, if anything. Life can be so scary sometimes. But through all the nerves and anxiety, I can still hear that meager voice challenging “…but isn’t it better to be happy?” and I’m starting to feel like, yes, it probably is. To be happy and terrified, or comfortable and miserable. It’s a question that’s not so uncommon with my age group, it seems. And though the answer appears so simple, it just isn’t that easy.
I’m trying to take each day as it comes. To enjoy and embrace all the little things, as fleeting as they can sometimes feel. I’m lucky, selfish as it sounds, to have friends who are dealing with the same fears and struggles. It’s comforting to talk to someone that understands what it’s all about, how irrational and weighing those feelings can be.
Oh, the dramatics of it all. I hope I’m not the only one moaning and groaning over this – surely you’ve been (or are currently) there, too. I choose to believe you have and it brings us closer together as a result. See! That’s a nice way to look at it. You’ve always been so understanding. And to thank you for listening, I’ve prepared some Chickpea Melts. That’s right. Chickpea. Melts. A creamy, dill-pickley, slightly spicy chickpea salad schmeared over a piece of grainy bread and topped with greens, tomatoes and lots of gooey mozzarella. If that doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, or at least whatever you’re struggling with today, I don’t know what will. So go ahead, feed your problems away and smile. It could always be worse.
Spicy Chickpea Salad Melts
inspired by Madison at Mad Faux Cheese
makes 4 open-faced sandwiches
1 1/2 cups (approx. a small can) canned chickpeas
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 red onions, diced very fine
2 tbsp Greek yogurt OR mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large dill pickle, diced
1/2 clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp fresh minced basil
juice form 1/2 lemon (or a whole lemon if you like it tangy!)
1 tbsp sriracha (+/- depending on heat tolerance) OR 1/2 tsp (+/-) cayenne pepper
6 slices crusty multigrain bread
greens of your choice (I like torn kale)
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (or fresh, torn mozzarella)
fresh ground pepper
Pour rinsed chickpeas into a flat, high sided dish, drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil and mash with a fork or potato masher until mixture starts to stick together. No need to be fussy, it’s even tastier when you get a whole chickpea in a bite.
Add in the celery, red onion, mayo, Dijon, pickle, garlic, basil, lemon juice, sriracha or cayenne and a good pinch of salt. Mix and taste for seasoning. Add more lemon, salt or cayenne if needed.
Preheat oven to 400.
Slice your bread, lay on a baking sheet and top each with 1/4 of the mixture. It may seem like a lot but trust me. Just trust me. Top the chickpea salad layer with some greens, a layer of tomatoes and mozzarella. Sprinkle with pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until golden. If necessary, turn the oven on to broil to brown the cheese in the last minute or two.
My brains are taking a brief sabbatical today, taking time to decompress and enjoy the long weekend, but I wanted to share this recipe with you before I start melting into a sunny chair on the deck with a cold glass of riesling in hand and my best friend to my side.
I hope Sunday is treating you kindly and feeding you well.
Baba Ghanoush Bowls with Pomegranate, Mint and Mozzarella
serves 4 as a snack, 2 as a main
I make this dish every so often when I want something decadent, rich but still healthy enough. The flavours are big and bold, but mellowed with the creamy, mild mozzarella, which may seem like an odd combination, but trust me. Just trust me.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggplants
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
pinch ground cumin (1/8 tsp)
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup pomegranate perils
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup mozzarella, pulled into bite size pieces
1/2 tsp sumac, optional (gives a lovely tartness)
Toasted Pita, to serve
Preheat the oven to 450.
Prick each eggplant about 10 times all over with a fork (this helps prevent them from exploding in the oven… a mistake I’m sad to say I made a mere day ago). Rub eggplants with olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning every 10-15 minutes, until flesh is very tender, 45mins-1 hour.
Let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh from the skins and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Scoop into a bowl and add the garlic, salt, lemon juice, paprika, cumin and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Spoon into 1 large serving dish or 4 personal sized ones. Can be made 1 day in advance. Keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, distribute the pomegranate perils, almonds, mint, mozzarella and sumac among the bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Scoop up with toasted pita or naan bread.
Last week I bought 3 kiwis on a whim. I don’t typically buy kiwis. They sort of freak me out for some reason – all weird and fuzzy and electric green inside. It seems almost unnatural, though I realize it’s in it’s most natural form. I bought them with the intention of cutting them in half and spooning out their soft, seedy flesh with a serrated edged spoon, like I did when I used to eat them as a child, but once I was home and had all the groceries unpacked, my longing for a kiwi faded and there they sat, unloved and untouched.
Fast forward a few days to a lunch date with my friend Steph at The Red Apron (pre-made dinners! Incredible coffee and sweet treats! Heat wave happy-maker!). She mentioned a friend of hers visiting from out of town made something called “kiwi nachos” with a kiwi/pomegranate/avocado salsa on top. Curiosity – piqued! I went home with kiwi salsa on the brain and decided to get busy with my new-found fuzzy friends and some jalapenos that looked like they had been sunbathing for just a little too long (mind you, anything that sits out in this 40 degree weather spoils before too long so we’ve been filling our guts with as much produce as we can before it does). One of my favourite things about cooking is finding that perfect balance between the sweets, the sours and the savouries. Adding a bit of this, tasting, a bit of that, tasting some more and finding that just-right flavour (which tends to lean a little more to the tart side for my personal taste).
This salsa is the perfect example of balancing flavours. The sweet and slightly tart kiwi mixed with mild, bitter charred jalapenos, creamy avocado and sweet, cooling cucumber combine for the perfect bite that tickles every taste bud on the tongue. It’s the kind of salsa that puckers your cheeks on the first bite, but mellows out as you bite into all the other little surprises in there. I ate it on it’s own with some salty toasted pita chips, but it would be equally delicious over white fish or chicken, on top of tacos (pork especially), on nachos (with a mild queso fresco), or just about anywhere else you need a bright kick of flavour. I hope you enjoy - it’s just the thing for all this hot, spicy weather we’re having.
Charred Jalapeño, Kiwi & Cucumber Salsa
makes approx. 1 1/2 cups
4 small (2 large) jalapeños
2 large kiwi, peeled and diced
2 baby cucumbers, diced
1/2 large avocado, diced
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro, rough chopped
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp salt (+/- depending on taste)
Turn your oven on to broil. Cut the jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and veins (that’s where all the heat lives). Place them cut-side-down on a sheet of tin foil or a baking sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes or until skins are blackened and blistered. Place them in a paper bag for 5 minutes. This helps steam the peppers and makes peeling the charred skin easier. Peel the skin and dice the peppers.
In a large bowl, add the roasted jalapenos and the rest of the ingredients. Taste and adjust salt and lime juice to taste.
We’ve been battling the heat like mad the past few weeks. Minimal movements, a lot of moaning and groaning and rolling around on the cold tile floors, a lot of sparkling water with crushed ice and lemon, and only a teensy amount of cooking. We’ve more or less been living on chop salads, hummus bowls (obviously), BBQ pizza, and Greek chicken with tzatziki from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook (go out and buy this immediately. It’s rocking my world!).
As I was browsing my instagram feed last week, I saw a photo of a big, beautiful Saskatoon berry (Lindenberry/Serviceberry) bush on Scott Perrie’s feed. I immediately felt envious and wished it was me plucking those berries from the bush and popping them into my mouth like sweet, juicy candy. I left a note saying I’d love to find somewhere local that sells the berries and within minutes, I had a note from Perrie explaining that he would be dropping some off to a restaurant near us and wondered if I’d like to have a pint to play with. WELL HELL YES I DO! Isn’t that the sweetest? This isn’t the first time Perrie has offered his hand-foraged goods for the sake of this blog. If you recall the Porcini Fettuccine from a while back, those mushrooms were also from Scott. He’s always generous with his finds and I am forever grateful to be able to enjoy the fruits of our local land thanks to all his toiling.
I decided to use the berries in this Baked Oatmeal adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Supernatural Everyday cookbook and it was every single bit worth turning the oven on and heating the kitchen up for. It’s fuss-free, comes together quickly and is as good fresh from the oven as it is from the fridge a day or two later (which makes it extra appealing since it makes a whole batch of grab-and-go breakfasts for the week!) I loved how easily adaptable the recipe was depending what you had on hand. For my version, I used the almonds as called for, but decided to jazz it up a bit with toasted coconut and pepitas and a substitution of coconut milk for regular whole milk. I could barely wait for it to cool before I was cramming it in my gob, hands burning from the hot jars and tongue on fire from the oozy, lava-like berries. A giant dollop of yogurt on top and you’re off to the races… or to wherever it is you need to go with a fully tummy.
Individual Coconut Saskatoon Berry Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson via Lottie +Doof.
If you can’t find Saskatoon berries, feel free to use blueberries or any berry you love.
2 cups Saskatoon Berries, plus extra for garnish
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup toasted, unsweetened coconut
½ cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1/3 - 1/2 Cup maple syrup, depending on taste
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 Cup raw sugar
Preheat the oven to 375’.
Divide the berries between six mason jars (small), or a medium sized baking dish if you prefer to do one big batch.
Mix the oats, coconut, pepitas, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Divide the dry mix between the jars or pour over the berries if using a baking dish, lightly layering on top of the berries, about 1/3 cup if using jars.
Mix the coconut milk, butter, maple and vanilla together. Pour a little under 1/2 cup on top of the oats (or all if using a baking dish), letting it soak through to the bottom. Place all the jars in a baking dish, sprinkle a few fresh berries and a generous pinch of sugar on top, and bake on the middle rack for about 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed, tops are just browned but the oats are still moist.
Sprinkle the tops with the toasted almonds and a pinch of sugar and serve warm or cold.
I promised myself I would picnic more this summer. Spend more time outside, feeling the breeze dance on my skin and the sounds of passing voices buzz in my ear, pack up a cooler filled with cold soups and icy drinks, sandwich-making ingredients and snacks and remember what it was like to not have deadlines breathing hot against my neck, or obligations too important to pass on.
So far this summer, I’ve managed to fit one picnic in – I’m not all that successful at keeping my word to myself. That said, it was a very lovely one where we gathered with friends at a dog park nearby, one brilliantly green and lush with weeping willows and an abundance of grassy spots to laze about during the seemingly infinite days of summer. We drank cold beers (illegally – gasp!) and used a pocket knife to gnaw hunks of Piave cheese onto waiting apple and pear slices. We watched the dogs, tails thwarting back and forth, up and down in cheerful celebration, and rubbed their bellies when they came by for a drink of water and a slice of fruit. It was everything a picnic should have, and could have been. I want more days like that. I vow to make time for them before the absolutely endless days of winter arrive again.
When I arrived at Pascale’s shop to pick up the Farmers Feast basket this month, she explained that she and Tara went with the theme of “green” for the basket, the sides of the it draped in leaves and stalks of every shade from emerald to forest green. It’s always such a treat poking through the ingredients, marvelling at the freshness of them and gently dusting the dirt from their roots. It was hard to ignore the only non-green sparks of colour from the purple kohlrabi and the crimson radish orbs.
Typically, I try to incorporate the Farmers Feast basket into one meal using as many of the ingredients as possible. This time around, Tara and Pascale decided that maybe it would be neat to create a few different dishes using the ingredients. Never being one to turn down a challenge, I got to work thinking of how I wanted to tackle the box and eventually came up with a theme of my own – a picnic lunch! I started out working off a soup and sandwich concept and came up with a cold, creamy and refreshing soup made with avocados and cucumbers (and topped with salty kohlrabi chips!) and an open faced rye crostini with a kicky garlic scape labneh (salted, strained yogurt that turns thick – almost like cream cheese, but way better), a fava bean/sweet pea/mizuna spread that was sweet and bright and just a tiny bit bitter from the greens, and some thinly sliced radishes to add crunch, colour and a bit of a spicy bite. Everyting married so well - each bite offering creamy, tart, spicy, crunchy, sour and savory. My mouth was happy, my stomach even more so. It’s been absolutely been my favourite Farmers Feast to create, and potentially one of my favourite recipes to post on the blog (which says a lot because I’ve been kicking around here for some time).
The key here is that you don’t have to put all the recipes together. You can just make the spread or the labneh, or you can just make the soup on its own. Use what you have in your garden and at your farmers market to decide what you’re able to make, and adapt the recipes based on your produce availability. If you don’t have garlic scapes for the labneh, add half a clove of fresh garlic or even some fresh herbs instead. If you don’t have fava beans, make the spread with just sweet peas. It’s that easy! This is just a guide to what you could be doing with all the greens that summer’s throwing at us right now.
The wonderful, tireless farmers that provided the ingredients for this month’s Farmers Feast are:
Mizuna – Jambican Studio Gardens
Bok Choy – Roots & Shoots Farm
Apple Cider Vinegar – Hall’s Apple Market
Kohlrabi – Luxy Farms
Cucumbers & Radishes – Linda’s Garden
Sweet Peas – Limeydale
Belarus Garlic – Acorn Creek Garden Farm
Fava Beans – Waratah Downs Organic Farm
We’ve started giving away some market bucks for those of you in Ottawa and this month is no different! See below on how you can enter to win one free item from one of this month’s participating farms.
1. Leave a comment below telling me what you would do with one (or all) of the ingredients above.
For extra entries (leave a new comment for each)
1. “Like” Ottawa Farmers Market on Facebook (1 extra entry)
2. Follow @OttawaFarmMkt on Twitter (1 extra entry)
3. Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and let me know you did in a separate comment (1 extra entry)
We will pick a winner at random this coming Tuesday, July 9th.
Toasted Rye w Labneh, Fava/Sweet Pea/Mizuna Spread + Cold Avocado & Cucumber Soup
toast recipe adapted from La Tartine Courmande
For the toasts:
1 1/2 cups Fava, Sweet Pea & Mizuna Spread, recipe follows
1 cup garlic scape labneh, recipe follows
4 slices rye (or bread of choice), toasted
4 radishes, sliced thin
pea shoots, optional
raw sweet peas, optional (for garnish)
fresh cracked pepper
Slather each slice of toasted bread with the labneh. Spoon a heaping mound of the bean/pea spread on top. Garnish with radish slices, pea shoots and raw sweet peas.
Fava, Sweet Pea & Mizuna Spread
makes 2 cups
1 1/2 cups cooked fava beans, shells removed
1 1/2 cups blanched sweet peas, out of the shell (save about 2 tbsp to stir into the finished spread)
2 tbsp chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped mizuna (a bitter leafy green)
Juice from 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
Place ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the dip is spreadable but still has a few chunks to it. Stir in the 2 tbsp of cooked sweet peas.
Garlic Scape Labneh
makes 1 cup
1 1/2 cups plain, full fat yogurt
2 garlic scapes, minced
1/2 tsp salt
Stir ingredients to combine. Place in a colander lined with a few layers of cheesecloth and let drain over night in the fridge. In the morning, pull the corners of the cheesecloth together and give the labneh a little squeeze to release any extra moisture. Scrape into a dish. Will keep covered for a week.
Chilled Lime, Avocado & Cucumber Soup
1 ripe avocado
4 baby (1/2 large) cucumbers, rough chopped
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
Juice of 1 lime (1/2 if you like it less tart)
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup cold water
Place all ingredients except for the water in the blender and blend until smooth. If it’s too thick, add water a little at a time until desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lime if needed.
makes about 1 cup of chips
2 large kohlrabi, stems removed and sliced thin on a mandolin
Preheat oven to 250.
Toss kohlrabi with oil and a few pinches of salt and place on a rack lined cookie sheet so the heat can evenly bake the chips. Bake for 30-45 minutes, turning the pan every so often, until golden brown and crisp.
Most of the recipes on this here blog are come by organically. Whether it be a dish that tells a story of where I am at some point, a bundle of asparagus that moves me to do some research and make something new, or a particularly moving line in a book (My Berlin Kitchen, these days) that sends me reeling for the kitchen, apron barely tied before I start rummaging through cupboards and tossing things into a basket to be turned into dinner.
But sometimes, when I’m too easily convinced that the couch is better than the grocery store, I go on the hunt. Looking for the perfect recipe, one that requires little more than what’s already housed in our kitchen. There are a few places I typically look, Food52 being one of my main one-stop-shops. They run the gamut of recipes, from 3 ingredient dishes, to full on dinner party menus that would stress even the greatest cooks. I tend towards the simpler, less involved varieties. Less is more in my life these days, and I’m sure you’ll agree that summer yearns for the simpler things.
When I stumbled on the recipe for David Lebovitz's Chocolate Sorbet, I knew I'd hit the motherload. Six ingredients (plus a few extras I chose to add in), very little hands-on time, and the resulting sorbet is impossibly creamy (like real ice cream), dark and cocoa-y, and rich beyond any sorbet I’ve tried. I knew I’d met my match immediately. And off I went, boiling and whisking, churning and freezing. This may just be my new favourite summer fling.
Vegan Mexican Chocolate Sorbet
recipe adapted from David Lebovitz via Food52
makes 2 pints
I made two pints of this because…well… more is more sometimes? I knew it would disappear fast in our freezer and I wanted to be sure I actually got to eat some of it before it was gone. Feel free to halve it based on the initial recipe if you’d like.
As I said, using the best cocoa, dark chocolate (with no milk ingredients if you’re concerned about it being vegan), spices and vanilla is important here. It will make all the difference. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can read David’s tips on how to churn by hand here.
4 1/2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (+/- depending on heat-tolerance)
1 1/2 cups dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups roughly chopped high quality dark chocolate (semi-sweet or bittersweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, add half of the water (2 1/4 cups), the sugar, spices and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, whisking often, and when it comes to a boil, let it bubble away for 45 seconds as you whisk constantly.
Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and the rest of the water. Transfer to a blender and blend for 15 seconds on high (don’t skip this step! Something science-y happens and I won’t try to explain it, but it makes a big difference in the overall texture of the sorbet). Chill completely in the fridge.
Pour into your prepared ice cream machine and freeze according to your machine’s manufacturer instructions (mine called for a 20-30 minute churn followed by a 6 hour stint in the freezer to firm it up).
Serve with a few flecks of salt.
I’m a yes girl.
Saying no has always been a task that stirred my anxiety (surprise, surprise). I don’t like to disappoint people and for some strange reason, saying no made me feel like I was letting someone down or hurting their feelings. It didn’t matter the invitation, I felt wholly obligated to say yes lest I disappoint the host, the organizer, my peers or even my family.
As I travel the bumps and rockier roads of adulthood, I’m realizing more and more than “no” has a valuable place in my vocabulary. Saying yes to everything may mean meeting more people, some of them truly wonderful, attending events that I take precious information away from, experiencing things I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and catching up with old friends, but it leaves me wondering: where in all those yes’s do the invaluable people and things that are already in my life fit in? The ones who have seen me through the highest of highs and some very dark lows. Shouldn’t my yes’s be reserved for them more often than strangers and
events I have no interest in? And for the people and things that I love?
Saying yes constantly had been leaving me heavy with agitation. I knew I didn’t want to say yes to all these request but I said it anyways. I was frequently disappointed in myself for cowering behind my inability to stand up for what I wanted, and I felt angry that I now had to attend or work on something that didn’t interest me in any way. It was a double-whammy of frustration and who got to feel the brunt of it? Those nearest to me. The ones who had to listen to me bitch and moan about having to attend this or do that even though I was the one who agreed to it in the first place.
With a certain reluctance, I’ve started saying no. At first, it tumbled awkwardly off my tongue and left a bitter taste, but the more I practiced the more confident my no’s became and the lighter my shoulders got. In the end, I’m the only one who’s accountable for the decision I make - not the people who asked in the first place or my poor friends who had to lend an ear to the protests. I’m learning to save my yes’s for the people and things that bring me joy - and there are so many. If I want to say no to an event that everyone is attending so I can sit at home curled into Al watching 4 episodes of Game of Thrones - I’m going to. And I’m not going to feel badly about it, either. If it means I miss events, that’s alright too. The great thing about events is that there will always be more. Always. There is no guarantee that there will always be more nights spent on the porch with my best friend, our laughs keeping the neighbours up, or more dinners in my mom’s backyard by the pool, margaritas with my sister, baseball games with my dad or dinner dates with Al. Those are what my yes’s should be reserved for. That, and doing just this. Coming here and having the time to talk, for real, about what’s going on. Time to focus on creating dishes and photos I’m proud of. Things I was missing by being too afraid to say no.
Of course, life comes with obligations and there are times when yes is all I can say. Likewise, there are times when I do really want to say yes to the events and the dinners. And that’s ok, too. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to go with my gut and trust what it’s urging me towards.
And today, my gut urged me towards veggie burgers. Ones that I made on the fly and used what I had for. Nutty Japonica rice, a blend of medium-grain black and short-grain mahogany rice, and earthy mushrooms speckled with a Turkish baharat blend. Topped with a cool garlic cucumber yogurt that I tried relentlessly not to scoop up with a spoon and eat before the burgers were ready. These are good. You should probably say YES to them.
Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt
makes 8 sliders, 4 large burgers
2 cups diced button mushrooms
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp baharat spice, recipe follows
1 cup cooked black or mahogany rice (brown rice is fine, too)
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 tbsp lemon zest (1/2 large lemon)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, to pan-fry
Ideas to serve:
4 large (8 small) buns of your choice
sprouts (I used pea shoots)
Drizzle a heavy skillet over med-high heat with vegetable oil and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until liquid has released and evaporated and the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown. Add the garlic and baharat spice and stir to combine. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes.
Mix the cooked rice and mushroom mixture with the carrot, cayenne, egg, bread crumbs, parsley and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. If the mixture is a bit wet, add more breadcrumbs or a bit of flour to help dry them out a bit. Form into patties and pan fry on a heavy skillet drizzled with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on to bottom. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a bun slathered with yogurt sauce and topped with whatever you like most.
Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Sauce
makes 1 cup
3” piece of english cucumber, grated
1 cup Greek yogurt (must be Greek)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
Squeeze as much moisture from the grated cucumber as you can. Place in a food processor (or bullet/blender) with the yogurt and garlic and blend until smooth.
makes about 1/3 cup
"Baharat" literally means "spice" in Arabic. There are many different varieties but I prefer this Turkish style blend. If you have the time, toasting your coriander and cumin and grinding them fresh makes a huge difference in the flavour here.
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight jar.
My past with food isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes wish it was. I didn’t learn to mix, knead and roll pasta with my grandmother on Sundays and I wasn’t teetering on my tip toes, nose barely reaching the counter, while my Dad taught me how to break down a chicken, sear it to a golden brown and simmer it in tomatoes and capers, olives and hot peppers. It wasn’t my reality. There are times I feel nostalgic for the stories of those whose family and food lives were wrapped around each other like a sturdy vine, but I forget that I, too, have a past in food, glamorous or not.
The older I get the more I remember the things I did learn about food from my family. They may not be the stories I longed for or the romantic ones some of my friends and peers can tell, but they were the ones that shaped me. My Dad passed along his fearlessness towards all food. Mold? Just cut it off and carry on. Leftovers there for a while? Details, details - just eat it. Expiry dates? A mere suggestion. He joked endlessly about liver and onions, terrifying my sister and I at the thought of having to join him at the table. He ate any cut, any way. If there was something on a menu that he hadn’t heard of before, there was an 80% chance it would arrive in front of him minutes later. At the time I may not have appreciated his ways with food, but theses days I embrace them. He made me a fearless eater, never one to turn anything down, never afraid to try anything at least once. Especially creamy, mayonnaise-filled items like chicken salad, egg salad, any kind of canned meat… I was my fathers daughter and it made me proud to say that I liked what he liked.
Years later, when it was just my mom and I living in her place, I learned how to cook the first meals I made for my friends and first real boyfriend. Meaty spaghetti sauces studded with big hunks of tomato (something that made my sister squirm in disgust), tomato soup jazzed up with a hit of Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and melted cheese slice that I still crave today when I’m under the weather, dreamy whipped mashed potatoes that I can still claim as the best I’ve ever had and still make today, much to Al and my friend’s delight. She taught me that cooking for people made them feel special and showed them how much you cared for them. It was a high I still haven’t come down from despite not getting into cooking until I was about 24. Sunday dinners at her place brought us all together so we could slow down, laugh hysterically and tell our stories from the week. I still relish her cooking and it always makes me feel important and loved when she cooks for us.
My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese. She comes from the kind of food background that I’ve always longed for. Her mother cooks everything from scratch. When I used to go there, back when I was only just learning to love cooking, I remember seeing hot peppers from her garden drying on the window sill. Amanda explained that she would grind them and use that as seasoning in her dishes. That nearly blew my mind. Do people do that? Don’t spices come from a clear jar with a sage-green lid in the spice aisle? She would feed us labneh, a soft cheese made with strained yogurt (also homemade) and I would sit, bewildered at her dedication to feeding her family ingredients that she pulled from the garden or created from a few humble items in her fridge. Her cooking is a nudge to her past, rich with tradition and memories of Lebanon. I remember Amanda always felt a bit weird about her entirely ethnic lunches (at least to suburban kids who ate french fries or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), and I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a bit put off by them in the high school cafeteria, but those are the meals I now hope I can feed my kids someday. Meals rich in culture and tradition, meals that have a past and a story to them. Meals and ingredients that I made with my two hands. Ones that I might even be able to say Mary Melhem, your Aunt Amanda’s mom, taught me about when I was just a bratty 10th grader.
All of these stories shaped the way I cook, the way I eat and my relationship with food. Though I longed for more then, I realize now that I couldn’t want for any more. Fearlessness and an open mind, the knowledge that cooking equates to loving and that making a meal for someone is the best way to show them you care, and a dedication to create meals from scratch for my family and share the tradition and stories behind them.
Egg salad always reminds me of my Dad. He liked his creamy and mayonnaise-filled (expired or not) and studded with green olives. I haven’t eaten egg salad in a long time but when I do, I prefer mine a touch healthier and with plenty of flavour from tarragon, pickled celery and hot sauce. I still thought of him as I spread it thick on bread and took a monstrous bite as the salad pushed out the sides like toothpaste.
Healthier Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Tarragon
makes 4 sandwiches
Though this recipe is mostly mine, I did use Smitten Kitchen's idea of picking the celery. This adds such a welcome kick of sour bite to the salad without having to bite down on a pickle. Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case - add a few pickles diced really tiny.
Hard boiled egg method courtesy of 101Cookbooks. Follow it to the tee and you’ll have perfect eggs every time.
1/4 cup (2 stalks) celery, diced
1/2 cup pickle brine (from dill pickles, sweet gherkins, pickled jalapenos)
6 hard boiled eggs, method follows
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or favourite hot sauce)
1 tsp dijon
1 tbsp caper berries (2 tbsp if you really like them)
1/2 tsp salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
sliced whole wheat bread
romaine, kale or greens of your choice
Place the diced celery in a pickle brine of your choice. I used jalapeno because I wanted that spicy kick. Let it sit in the brine for at least 45 minutes up to overnight.
Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place your eggs in a pot and cover by 1-2” with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes. Plunge into the ice water and let cool for at least 3 minutes to stop the cooking process.
Peel the eggs, place in a big bowl with the celery, greek yogurt, tarragon, Tabasco, dijon, capers lots of pepper and salt. Mash everything together, paying most attention to the eggs, until you’re left with a well combined, coarse textured salad. Taste and adjust to your liking. Spread a nice, thick layer onto bread and top with greens of your choice. Place the second slice of bread on top and take a big, messy bite.
Was your childhood ripe with tradition and history in food or did you have a past similar to mine?
I love breakfast. Love it like I love a glass of wine at the end of a long day (and that says a lot) and can’t bear the thought of getting out of bed without knowing there is something scrumptious waiting for me when I do. The thought of waking to the same bowl of plain old oatmeal or natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast every day makes my heart sink. I’m not getting up for that – I refuse to! I want something that tastes good, something that tames my ravenous morning hunger and nourishes my body as it does.
I’ve been in the bad habit of grabbing a bagel or croissant sandwich (from Bread and Sons in Ottawa. It’s a show-stopper. Go there immediately!) lately and it needs to end. So I decided to whip up a batch of breakfast muffins. Who says a muffin can’t be delicious as well as nutrient-packed, hunger-staving, and fibre-filled? Not me. I don’t say that, guys. It’s not true and I’m tired of hearing it. Muffins are not the bad guys – it’s the people who are loading them up with butter (tasty, tasty butter) and unrefined sugars who should bare the blame for their bad rap. If you trust me (I think we’ve been hanging out long enough to warrant a small to medium amount of trust between us, no?) then you’ll believe me when I tell you that these muffins are healthy (they have some brown sugar… but it’s brown so it’s ok…right?) and so full of flavour that you won’t even miss that whats-it-called muffin you’ve been spending your hard earned coins on each morning. Filled with wheat bran, flax seeds, toasted pecans and coconut, dried cherries and cinnamon and just enough brown sugar to keep things interesting, they are good enough to get me up in the morning and filling enough to tame that noisy beast that makes home in my gut from 7-8am each day. Don’t settle for saw-dusty bran muffins that taste like cardboard or butter-filled muffins that may as well be breakfast-hamburgers; these are better and will make your mornings bright and sun-shiny and happy (probably). If you’re interested, I’ve calculated the nutritional information here.
Coconut Red Quinoa Muffins with Sour Cherries and Pecans
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 12 muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/3 toasted pecans, crushed
1/4 cup flax, freshly ground
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup dried cherries, rough-chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup milk (I like 2% best)