Archives for category: Gluten-free

I’m a big-time snacker.  Little bites of cheese, bread, and veggies is what I call deliciousness.  When my husband is on-call for work, I relish in the thought that I don’t have to cook a proper meal for dinner.  I can eat whatever I want.  What I want usually involves me raiding my always stocked cheese drawer in the fridge and picking up some nice crusty bread.  It’s not the healthiest of dinner options, but it’s my kind of meal.

This spread was inspired by those awful (actually, not so awful) premade onion dips you can buy at the grocery store.  They are full-on 80’s food nostalgia.  Back in the day, we would pop open some “helluva good” onion dip and some ruffles chips and we were set.  Those neon orange cheese curls would complete the picture of my favorite foods circa 1989.

Let’s fast forward 20 some odd years and though I would like to say I don’t like cheese curls – I still love them.  But, my overall taste palate has evolved beyond neon orange junk.  I used leeks in this version of onion dip.  Classy, I tell you. 😉  Instead of just sour cream I added goat cheese, because I love its tang combined with the sweetness of the caramelized leeks.

*I just wanted to say sorry for my lack of posts, I hope to be more frequent.  Sometimes we get writers’ block and need to find our way back. 🙂

Caramelized Leek and Goat Cheese Spread

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

olive oil

2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts, washed throughly

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely chopped

scallions and chives chopped, about 1/4 cup

zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of its juice

5 ounces softened goat cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek Yogurt

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

In a sauté pan, heat some olive oil on medium low-heat and add in the leeks with some salt and black pepper.  Cook slowly for about 20-30 minutes, or until the leeks caramelize.  Allow the leeks to cool down to room temperature.  Meanwhile whip together the goat cheese, sour cream, and lemon juice with an electric mixer or with a whisk.  Fold in the scallions, chives, jalapeño, and lemon zest.  When the leeks have cooled down add them in as well.  This spread can be eaten right away or chilled.  Serve with bread, crackers, or vegetables of your choice.

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I am the worst blogger ever.  My last post was in February.  I’m not even going to try and explain why I haven’t posted because there’s no real reason.  As a matter of fact, I photographed this recipe three weeks ago. Just. Plain. Lazy. Anyway, during my unplanned hiatus my husband and I took a much needed vacation.  We visited Thailand and had a fabulous time.  We went to Bangkok and Koh Samui.  Thailand was so different than what I had pictured in my mind.  It was the first time my husband or I had been there and we both loved it.

I pictured Bangkok to be a hectic city.  In some ways it is, but I mostly saw it as controlled chaos.  Traffic without beeping or honking.  Everything was beautifully orchestrated.  I can still hear the lovely greeting, “Sawadee kha”  echoing in my head.  I loved the Thai people.  They were so friendly.  I saw so many smiling faces in Thailand that I began to smile for no reason at all.

I could picture myself living in Bangkok.  I do say that for a lot of cities I visit, but Bangkok appealed to me very much.  Koh Samui was also fantastic.  The hotel we stayed at was super quirky and really fun.  The Island had some rundown parts and also some parts that were absolutely spectacular.  Beautiful ocean, like I’ve never seen before.  All in all I have fond memories of our trip to Thailand.

Let me discuss the food!  We ate and ate.  I got so used to eating lavish breakfast spreads that when I got back home a bowl of cereal and fruit in the morning was not cutting it at all.  We enjoyed spicy curries and surpassed our quota of seafood for a year.  I miss all the softshell crab dishes with lots of red chilies, Thai basil, and lemongrass.

We ate gargantuan river prawns, simply grilled and served with a refreshing fresh chopped vegetable relish.  This was one of my favorite dishes in Thailand.  We don’t get prawns like that here.  The week after we returned I was craving the grilled prawns so much that I had to make them.  I had no real recipe, but with some trial and error I got it right.

I was so excited that I was upset my husband wasn’t at home to try them hot and fresh.  When he got home and tried them, I sat next to him eagerly and kept looking at him to say, “these taste just like the ones in Thailand!”  After I finally asked him, he agreed and continued to watch the TV un-phased, typical.  Here’s the recipe and I hope you try them.  And if you’ve been to Thailand and find they taste THE SAME, do let me know. 😉

Grilled Thai Prawns with a Fresh Vegetable Relish

serves 3-4, as a starter, can easily be doubled or tripled

Ingredients

for the shrimp

1 pound large-size shell-on prawns/shrimp, de-veined

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil of your choice

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp

2-3 cloves garlic, mashed

1 inch piece of ginger

1 stalk lemon grass

zest and juice of 1 lime

1 long red chilli, roughly chopped, de-seeded if you like

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste (this much will make it spicy)

sea salt, to taste

for the Fresh Vegetable Relish

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 radish, finely chopped (I used a watermelon radish for color)

1/2 cup cucumber, finely diced

1 red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 stalk of lemon grass, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

fresh chopped herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, or mint

salt, to taste

Method

Place the shrimp in a bowl.  Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp in a blender or food processor.  Pulse ingredients in the blender until pureed and well combined.  Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss with the shrimp.  Marinate the shrimp in the fridge for 1-2 hours.  After 1-2 hours, heat a grill pan or use an outdoor grill and grill the shrimp on each side until cooked.  it should take about 2 minutes per side.  If you would like you may grill the shrimp on skewers.

While the shrimp is marinating prepare the relish by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and allow it to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with the shrimp after it is done on the grill.  I also like to serve red chili paste on the side for some extra spice.  Serve with lime wedges as well.

I hope anyone on the Eastern seaboard stayed safe throughout Hurricane Irene.  My parents live in Rhode Island and haven’t had electricity since early Sunday.  My mom says she’s so bored.  I can imagine, but I’m glad the storm wasn’t as severe as anticipated.  Slowly, lights will turn back on and the scramble to cook something by candlelight will be a fond tale people tell their kids time and time again.  If the word hurricane is even mentioned my dad will go on about how my sister was born during Hurricane Gloria and about the little stream in the back of my house that was used for water.  He likes to tell us how they managed without electricity for over a week with a newborn baby.

We are so accustomed to a life where electricity runs all the time and food and water are plentiful.  In Toronto, where I live I looked out the window yesterday and the sun was peeking through the clouds.  Imagine, while life is normal where you are, people in other areas may not have the same luxury.  That’s what I thought as I looked outside and that a few hundred miles away the scene was completely different.

I hope the fallen trees get picked up soon and people are able to get back to their normal routine.  I know it won’t take very long.  But until then you can whip this salad as you read my blog on your mobile device or while using the free wireless at Starbucks. It’s a simple salad with clean flavors.  It requires no excessive work and is full of freshness.  I’ve been making this salad way too often, it’s the kind of thing where once you start you can’t stop.  I pair it with chicken, fish, or even on its own.  I love this recipe because it literally takes 5 minutes to make and it’s so healthy.  Give it a try before summer is over.

Cucumber Salad with Black Sesame Seeds

Serves 2, as a side can easily be doubled or tripled, etc.

Ingredients

1/2 a large English cucumber cut into thick match sticks (de-seeded if you like, I don’t mind the seeds)

3 scallions, sliced on an angle

1 tablespoon mint,  cut in a chiffonade

1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds

for the dressing:

1/2 a jalapeño pepper, chopped finely and seeds, removed if desired

1 small shallot, chopped finely

juice and zest of lime juicy lime

1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek, more or less depending on how spicy you like it

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon neutral-flavored vegetable oil

raw sugar, to taste

pinch sea salt

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

Method

Make the dressing first by adding the shallots and jalapeño to a bowl and letting them soften in the  lime juice and zest, soy sauce, rice vinegar for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, add in the Sambal Oelek, sesame oil, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, red chili flakes and whisk well until combined.  You can make the dressing ahead of time and toss it with the cucumbers and herbs at the last-minute.

Next, toss the dressing with the cucumbers, scallions, and mint.  Also add in the toasted black sesame seeds.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.  This is not a “make ahead” salad and should be served fresh.  But as I said before the dressing can be made in advance.

This is definitely not a Valentine’s Day dish.  It’s not special and it’s completely and utterly pedestrian, at least in Pakistani households.  Regardless, I wanted to share it with you today because it’s the first dish I ever cooked for my husband.  Way back when, five years ago, in April, I met my husband through my sister.  She met him and put him in touch with me, he was in grad school in Toronto and I was in grad school in Montreal and in my sister’s mind that was enough reason for us to get along.  We started talking and then one day on a whim he decided to visit me in Montreal.  As you can imagine, I was nervous.  In our conversations I told him I enjoyed cooking, though at the time I didn’t do much being a busy grad student.  So when he arrived and when we got over the initial awkwardness we both went grocery shopping together.

It’s not exactly the first date most of us imagine, but that is what happened with us.  The premise of the grocery shopping was that I would cook lunch for us.  I had no clue what to make, we were wandering through the aisles and I said that I would make keema (ground beef).  It was a dish I was comfortable making and my now husband was pretty laid back about the whole thing.  He told me he liked it with green bell peppers, in my mind I thought, “ew,” but I put some green bell peppers into our cart and also picked up some spinach to  make aloo palak, a dish I had never made before.  Back then, I was polite and didn’t say anything about the bell peppers, if it was today, it would be an entirely different story.

We got back to my apartment and I started cooking in my tiny kitchen with very little proper kitchen equipment.  We began talking and pretty soon we were more comfortable and it felt as though we knew each other for ages.  I made the keema, aloo palak (it turned out good), basmati rice, salad, and chutney.  My husband stuck with me after that meal and it’s safe to say he was a fan of my cooking.  After eating lunch we explored Montreal, which in of itself is a very romantic city, and then later had some late night bites at a restaurant, a “proper” date, if you will.

My husband’s favorite Pakistani dish besides channay is keema. I don’t know if he liked it before or if his love for it blossomed after I made it that first time.  He now requests it on a weekly basis.  He was just away for three weeks on medical residency interviews and whenever he would get a few days in the middle to come home, he would ask me to make aloo keema. Luckily for me it’s an easy dish and I also enjoy it.

I know this isn’t a gorgeous Valentine’s dessert of gooey chocolate, but it is one of “our” dishes.  Since my husband and I consider food a big part of what we have in common, it doesn’t matter if it’s simple Pakistani home cooking or some form of haute cuisine, we always enjoy it in each other’s company.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Aloo Keema

serves 3 as a main, 4 if served with a side dish

Ingredients

Canola oil, or any neutral vegetable oil

1 pound ground beef (chicken, lamb, goat) It’s also up to you if you want to use lean or not.  I like to wash and drain it in a colander.

1 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (2 inch piece of ginger and 5-6 cloves of garlic blended together with a little water)

1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (you can also use peas, peppers, cauliflower, or any vegetable you choose, just adjust cooking times)

2 tomatoes, puréed (canned are alright, if they are out of season)

1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon red chili powder/cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3-4 whole black peppercorns

2 cloves

2-3 green chilies, julienned, seeds removed if you like

nice handful of cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, chopped, optional

garam masala, optional

limes, for garnish, optional

Method

Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and add in some oil, to your taste.  Let the oil heat up and add the onions and fry them for a few minutes until they start to almost turn light golden brown.

Add in the meat and ginger-garlic paste and keep stirring it until the ground beef is all broken up and in very small pieces.  Once the meat is slightly browned add in all the spices except the garam masala and keep mixing until everything is combined and the rawness is cooked out the spices.

Next, add in the tomato purée and mix it into the meat.  I also add in half a cup of water at this point.  Lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan and allow it to cook for 15 minutes or so.

After fifteen minutes, check the meat and mix it.  Cover and let it cook for fifteen more minutes.  After fifteen minutes, add in the potatoes and mix everything together a few times.  You should no longer see individual pieces of onion (it should have melted into the “masala,” and the oil should start to separate from the meat.  If necessary, add a little water (1/4 cup) to help the potatoes cook.

Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the green chilies, cilantro, scallions, and a sprinkling of garam masala and cook for another few minutes.  Serve with rice, chapati/roti, or naan and green chutney, limes, spicy pickles (achaar), and salad.

*Leftovers taste even better!

Sometimes they are recipes that you want to try and you just don’t for whatever reason.  This is one of those for me.  I first saw this recipe about a year ago in Food and Wine magazine and deemed it as an easy weeknight meal.  But the recipe used roasted eggplant instead of the fennel I used here.  I have been obsessed with fennel this winter.  I have been making a fennel and mushroom soup weekly.  When my husband asks what I made for dinner and I reply, “fennel mushroom soup,”  I get a grunt, a big one.  If my husband wants this to change he can step into the kitchen and make it happen.  Until then, or until I tire of this combination, either of which doesn’t look like anytime soon, I will keep making it.

But back to the recipe at hand, the eggplant and lentils fennel and lentils.  Well, it was really going to be eggplant and lentils.  I even bought an eggplant for this purpose and went as far as roasting it.  Then at the last-minute I opened the fridge for some herbs and there I saw my fennel.  Looking at it with longing eyes, I cheated on the eggplant with fennel.  The roasted eggplant is still in my fridge, oops.  Don’t worry, I will use it.  I’ll make baba ghanoush or eggplant bharta or something, who really cares, I’m talking about fennel right now!

Fennel and lentils, I can’t say I’ve heard of this combination before, but it works.  I gobbled down two platefuls.  Another thing that works brilliantly with fennel is smoked paprika.  I didn’t cook with it much before a few months ago, and now I quite enjoy it.  Initially, I was turned off by the overly smoky smell, but that’s not the case any longer.
Another plus to this dish is that I enjoyed it even more because my husband was out-of-town, well not for that exact reason, but  I didn’t have to deal with any grunts or disgusted faces because he is not a fan of French lentils (or at least the way I make them.)  Notice a pattern here.

Anyhow, I never got around to making the original recipe, maybe another day.

Fennel and Lentil Salad

inspired and adapted by Food and Wine (Eggplant-Lentil Salad) February 2010

Serves 2, as a main

Ingredients

2 cups sliced fennel, fronds reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

kosher salt, to taste

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 shallots, finely minced

1 cup French Lentils (du Puy), washed

2 1/2 cups water

zest of 1 lemon and its juice as well

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds removed, if you like

5-7 mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

some fennel fronds, chopped, optional

plain yogurt, for serving

Method

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add half of the smoked paprika to the oil and let it infuse the oil for a minute.  Next, add in the fennel and the rest of the smoked paprika.  Season with salt and allow the fennel to caramelize and soften for about 15 minutes.  Once it is ready set aside.

Heat a saucepan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil.  Add in the cumin seeds and crushed red chili flakes.  Allow the cumin seeds to crackle a bit and then add in the shallots and allow them to soften.  Once soft, add in the garlic and allow the garlic to get to the point where it is beginning it brown, but do not burn it.  Next, add in the lentils, water, and salt.  Cover and allow to come to a boil.  When the water starts to boil, remove the lid and and turn the heat to medium low and allow the lentils to simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated and the lentils mash when you press them between your fingers.

Toss in the fennel, herbs, jalapeño, lemon juice, and zest.   Serve warm or at room temperature. The Food and Wine recipe suggests topping this with yogurt, which I did and serving it with naan, which I did not.

The crisp fall breeze has arrived and with it yields the vibrant hues of Fall.  These colors and flavors are different than summer and allow us to cozy up with our favorite blanket and herald in the coming of Fall.  If you ask me, Autumn is far too short.  In these months, I often make roast chicken.  Roast chicken is simple enough and not very controversial.  However, for me, it reminds me of childhood and being Pakistani in a sea of non-Pakistanis.  Eating roast chicken would make me fit in.  This time of year meant a new year at school, new friends, and new teachers.

I don’t know if when you were children, if kids would ask each other what they had for dinner.  In my circle of friends, we did.  I don’t know what the case was: early foodies or a lack of conversation topics.  You would think I would want to discuss Jordan Knight of The New Kids on the Block and my stonewashed denim jacket covered with huge and gaudy pins pictured with him or those other things I obsessed about like bubble necklaces or snap bracelets.

As a child, I was on the radar about food.  There were times I would feel embarrassed and tell people I had a roast chicken for dinner, I didn’t want to be different.  I didn’t want to explain what chicken salan was or that we ate flatbreads with our meal or that I ate goat meat.  “Oh, the horror,” I thought.  I looked at other children’s chicken salad sandwiches on pumpernickel and made my mom duplicate those lunches for me.

I was the diversity in my school, I lived in a small town in Rhode Island.  I can’t say that anyone was particularly mean to me, despite my bushy eyebrows and my obvious difference in culture.  I can’t even convey to you how relieved I was when my mother let me get my eyebrows threaded.

I wasn’t embarrassed for long, I found the kids I went to school with thought these differences were actually cool.  We would wear my shalwar kameez and play Aladdin (how Orientalist of us, I know).  I could tell them what I actually had for dinner and they would love to try all the spicy and different dishes my parents would make when they came over.  There was no more pretending that we ate Kraft macaroni and cheese every night for dinner.

Through all this, roast chicken, Pakistani or not (it can most certainly be made Pakistani) is a comforting dish for me.  It is a reminder of a happy childhood and that although Pakistani food is something that is part of me, this roast chicken also brings out warm memories.

Autumn Roast Chicken

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1- 3-4 pound free-range organic chicken

2 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter (if you are in Ontario, try Stirling Creamery butter)

2-3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 cup parsley leaves

15 sprigs of chives

2 tablespoons of thyme leaves

1 bulb of garlic, peeled

2 medium-sized onions, roughly sliced

3 lemons, 2 sliced and 1 juiced

1 cup dry white wine

plenty of kosher salt and black pepper

extra green herbs for the cavity of the chicken

Method

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Make sure your chicken is clean and patted dry, season it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the body.  Make the herb spread for the chicken by combining the butter, olive oil, half the garlic cloves, lemon juice, parsley, chives, thyme, salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse the ingredients into a paste.

Place the chicken into a large oven proof baking dish.  Rub and massage the paste into the chicken and carefully lift up the skin and rub it under the skin.  Make sure you have rubbed it in well.

Place half the lemon slices and under the skin and fill the cavity with 1 onion, the lemon slices, half of the remaining garlic, and leftover green herbs.    Scatter the other onion, garlic, and herbs around the chicken in the baking dish.  Pour the white wine around the chicken.

Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.   After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for an additional hour. Every 15 minutes or so, baste the chicken with the wine and pan juices.

Make sure the chicken is cooked through.  Serve on a nice large platter with some lemon wedges and chopped parsley.  I like to throw in some potatoes and carrots about 30 minutes before the chicken is done.  Allow the chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.  Don’t be shy about soaking up some bread with the pan juices.  Yum.

*There are thousands of roast chicken recipes out there, I’m sure there are several similar recipes out there.

I know you all are probably sick of hearing, “here’s another unique zucchini recipe for you.”  I am.  I’ve had enough frittatas, galettes, and zucchini bread/muffins/cookies, you get the picture.  Maybe you are even tired of eating zucchini, it is after all September!  Despite all of this, I’m going to throw another zucchini recipe at you.  It’s super quick, easy, flavorful, and all of those other clichéd adjectives.

Plus, it is economical.  I feel as though I sound like a food personality full of gimmicks.  Trust me, I am not and I just want to share this dish with you all.  Sometimes, my mind goes out of the practical zone and dreams of buying caviar, foie gras, fine cheeses, truffles, and the like.  Then, I snap myself back to reality and remember that I am not working (yet!) and my husband is an overworked and underpaid medical student.

Pakistani food doesn’t break the bank for us.  When I’m trying to budget (which, is rarely successful) I proclaim that I am only cooking Pakistani food.  The spices are reasonable if you buy them at a Pakistani or Indian grocer and the other ingredients are basic pantry staples.  This dish would be even more economical if you have a garden and it grows copious amounts of zucchini.

I love how the zucchini in this dish gets almost caramelized with the onions and tomatoes, creating an almost chutney-like consistency.  You can use this recipe as a template for many other vegetables: eggplant, okra, potatoes, green beans.  I serve this dish with a huge spoonful of yogurt, the yogurt mellows out the spices and adds creaminess.  Whether or not you are sick of zucchini,  the spices in this dish will revive your passion for late summer produce.

Pakistani-Style Zucchini

Serves 3 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients

2-3 tablespoons canola oil, or any other neutral-flavored vegetable oil

4 medium-size zucchini, peeled and cut into thin half-moons

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 ripe and juicy tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste

1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

juice of 1/2 a lime, optional

1-2 sliced green chilies, for garnish

10 springs of cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat, add the red onions and allow them to cook until they just begin to lightly turn brown, about 5-7 minutes.  At this point, add in the tomatoes and stir with the onions for 2 minutes.  Then, add in the spices and cook the rawness out of the spices.  Next, add in the zucchini and mix for 5 minutes.  Cover the pan and allow the zucchini to cook for an additional 20-25 minutes until the zucchini wilts down and the oil begins to separate from the zucchini.  Squeeze on the juice of the lime and garnish with the green chilies and cilantro.  Serve with roti, chapati, or naan.

My stomach is grumbling quite loudly as I am typing this.  It’s the first day of Ramadan and I am fasting.  It’s going to be almost impossible for me to survive this month.  I am feeling the pangs already.  I stocked up on some posts because cooking is going to be hard for me this month, especially since sunset is around 8:15pm.  It’s also difficult for me because my husband is not fasting with me.  His schedule is too busy and he has to study.  I won’t complain much because complaining totally negates the essence of Ramadan.  Cheers to solo fasting!

I hope my husband’s parents didn’t read the line about him not fasting (I’m pretty sure they won’t), they might get upset with him.  Oh well, I guess I can be *evil.*  My parents, on the other hand would not mind.  We try our best to fast, even if we don’t complete the 30 days.

I mentioned I stocked up on posts.  This first one is a roasted beet and carrot dish.  I love beets and love them even more when they are miniature and multicolored.  The Kingston farmer’s market yielded some gorgeous produce this summer.  The taste is incredible, out of this world fresh and full of flavor.  My favorite vendors and Okee Farms and Patchwork Gardens.  I adore their stands and their produce.  Everything is so honest and pure.

I also picked up some basil at the market.  I was at another stall ready to buy some basil, but a fellow shopper yielded me to Pathwork Gardens.  A lady and stroller approached me in a very incognito manner and quietly whispered to me, “Put this basil down and go to Pathwork Gardens, their basil is the best ever.”  Taking her cue, I sneakily put my bunch of basil back on the table and headed over to Patchwork gardens.  I smelled the basil before I saw it, so very fragrant.  I picked it up and thanked the stroller mommy for her help.  She was right and next time if I see someone picking up basil from anyone else, I might be inclined to do the same thing, minus the stroller of course.

I wanted to let the ingredients I have shine through.  Being Pakistani, it seems almost blasphemous to add only salt and pepper to a dish.  I kept it simple and resisted my urges to add more than necessary.  I coated the beets and carrots in olive oil and honey and roasted them.  The honey brought out their natural sweetness and slightly caramelized them.  I topped the beets and carrots with a simple basil and lemon dressing and tossed some toasted walnuts and sliced onion over top.  I must say this dish was truly divine and all the credit goes to the wonderful ingredients.

Honey Glazed & Roasted Beets and Carrots with a Lemon Basil Dressing

Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1 bunch baby beets (red, orange, zebra), about 6

1 bunch red carrots

2 tablespoons honey

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 of a red onion, sliced finely

some leaves of arugula and basil for garnish

for the dressing:

1 cup packed basil

1 clove of garlic

juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons sour cream

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can get)

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Coat the beets and carrots with the honey, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Place in a foil pouch on a baking tray and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until cooked.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the basil, garlic, lemon juice, sour cream, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor.  Pulse a few times and stream in the olive oil until it forms a dressing.  If it is thick stream in some water until it reaches the desired consistency.

Slice the beets and arrange on a platter.  I leave a little of the stem on for visual appeal.  I like to put a few leaves of arugula on the bottom as a bed.  Next, top with the red onions and walnuts.  Drizzle on the dressing and tear a few leaves of basil, as a garnish.

You would think this fennel salad is perfect for a ladies’ luncheon or perhaps for a crowd that is not into heavy or decadent foods.  But no, I made it for a “boy’s night.”  My husband was quite excited to invite his boys over for as he put it, “burgers.”  I’m sure in his mind, burgers meant, burgers, fries, nachos, wings and all that sort of food.  Don’t get me wrong I love it all but, all that fried food together is overkill.

Yes, I made burgers, but tried to elevate to something beyond a product a local place called, Bubba’s produces.  With a name like that, you can just imagine.  My husband is going to be all, “Why are you hatin’ on Bubba’s, their poutine is the best!”  Boys will be boys, period.  I also made an appetizer platter (it’s not me without an appetizer platter), grilled harissa chicken, dried fruit and nut couscous, chili lime corn on the cob, the fennel salad, and for dessert, brownie pudding with whipped vanilla bean mascarpone.  As you can probably tell, the menu was entirely catered for me.  I don’t always pick things that are my taste, but I like to mess with my husband.

Usually when we have people over it’s, “the boys.”  “The boys” are my friends too, but I do miss the girly bonding that every girl needs.  I can hold my own amongst “the boys” and sometimes it’s better to hang out with boys because there’s none of that girly cattiness involved.  Not that any of my girl friends are catty, they all are sweet and nowhere near catty.  I must admit, my husband’s close friends are very nice and I’m glad he has friends like them.  I might have painted the picture that they are the screaming hockey loving, beer chugging neanderthal guys, but they are not.  I like to be a little dramatic.  Girls will be girls. 😉

Regarding the salad, it is fresh and super simple.  Fennel and grapefruit are a very common pairing and I enjoy the flavors together.  Sorry, I didn’t go out of the box too much here.  But what works, works.  I added the avocado simply because I loveeeee avocados.  I don’t think I can be real friends with anyone who doesn’t.  Yes, I’m judgmental like that.  (Totally kidding)  I added toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.  The vinaigrette was typical me, everything in the mini food processor and whirled into a dressing.  I used dijon, herbs, garlic, and a little shallot in the dressing.  It came out yummy. No one missed the wings and nachos. Most importantly, “the boys” enjoyed the entire night and so did I.

Shaved Fennel, Grapefruit, Avocado Salad with a Dijon Shallot Vinaigrette

Serves 4-6 as a side

adapted from here

Ingredients

1 large bulb of fennel, shaved as thinly as possible (if you have a mandoline, use it,) reserve the fronds for garnish and the dressing

1 avocado, sliced

1 grapefruit, cut into supremes, membranes reserved for dressing

a scattering of baby arugula, about 2 cups

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (toast on a dry frying pan on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes)

Maldon sea salt for sprinkling

black pepper, to taste

for the dressing:

1 small clove garlic

1/2 a small shallot

1/2 teaspoon country dijon, coarse ground

juice squeezed from the grapefruit membrane, if it is stingy, add a splash of orange juice

3-4 sprigs of chives

2 tablespoons fennel fronds

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil of good quality

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Method

Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a blender or food processor and run until combined.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.

In a bowl, toss the fennel with the dressing.  You may not need to use all of the dressing.  Arrange the fennel on a platter and top it with the avocado slices and grapefruit supremes.  Sprinkle the toasted pumpkin seeds over the salad.  Add extra dressing, if necessary.  Place some fennel fronds in an attractive manner over the salad.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.  Sprinkle on some extra black pepper and some Maldon sea salt at the end.  This salad can be kept in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.  However, to keep the avocado from browning squeeze some lemon juice over them.

If you are from New England and you don’t love chowder, something is seriously wrong with you.  Chowdahh as it is more accurately pronounced is a seaside staple, especially during the summer months.  I remember going to the beach and feasting on chowder and clam cakes.  One of my earliest memories of cooking myself revolves around chowder.  I would open up a can of Snow’s Clam Chowder in a small saucepan thinking I was really cooking and add some pepper, red chili powder (that would be the Pakistani inside me), and some dried herbs.  I was incredibly proud of myself and would make everyone in my family try what I “made.”

In this shrimp chowder I basically did the same thing, except I made the soup from scratch.  I doctored up the original version.  Although some would consider it blasphemous to alter a Clam Chowder, well the New England Version, at least.  Come to think of it, it has been adulterated a few times.  There are of course the Manhattan and Rhode Island clear version (which I never really cared for, not rich enough for me).  Taking that into consideration my version is perfectly fine and any purists can…umm, not eat it, I guess.

In this version, I omitted the clams, because my husband is allergic to them, grrrrr.  I think I was going for a Southwest feel for this chowder, but I can’t exactly say that turned out to be Southwest, it actually was a little Thai tasting.  This is probably because I relate the taste of coconut milk so much to Thai food.  I was anticipating that this soup would take hours with me hovering over the pot stirring away.  This was not the case, it was done in 30 minutes and left me with some free time.

My husband loved this chowder and was oohing and ahhing, saying he can’t wait to come home for dinner and getting all sentimental.  Ladies and gentleman, cook this for your significant other and you may get a similar reaction.

Shrimp, Coconut Milk, and Corn Chowder

adapted from Real Simple, recipe here

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 a pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined (I remove the tails, because it is a pain to remove when eating soup)

1 small red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Yukon Gold potato, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1-2 jalapenos, diced, seeds and ribs removed (use only 1 for a mild chowder)

1/2 cup haricots verts, ends removed and cut into small pieces on an angle

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

crushed red chilies, to taste (optional)

1 bay leaf

salt, to taste

4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade and low-sodium

1 cup light coconut milk

chives, cilantro, and lime wedges, for garnish

Method

Heat the oil on medium to medium-low heat in a large stewing pot or saucepan.  Add in the onion, carrot, jalapenos, and bay leaf.  Allow them to sweat and become translucent, about 10 minutes.  Next, add in the potatoes, corn, and all the spices including the salt and cook for two minutes.  Pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer.  Let the potatoes get cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  When the potatoes are cooked, toss in the shrimp and the haricots verts and allow the shrimp to get pink and cooked, about 4-5 minutes.  Serve with a garnish of cilantro and chives, and a wedge of lime.