Archives for category: Herbs

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Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

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I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

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When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

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I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

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Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

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Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

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It finally feels like Spring is around the corner.  The days are getting longer and the sun is shining a little brighter.  I can’t wait until we’re basking in the sun of summer and eating al fresco and drinking some refreshing mint lemonade.  I felt winter was long and brutal this year.  Not much exciting went on in my kitchen.  Just cranking out dishes for the daily grind – a few moments of deliciousness, but overall I can’t recall anything very special.

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Sometimes you feel the same way about life, you get in the doldrums.  I’ve felt this way this winter so I am very excited about the onslaught of spring.  By doldrums I mean that I felt stagnant – not going anywhere – in the same place.  That is not always a bad thing, but I wanted more.  I started a new job, which is fun and interesting.  I’ve also stepped back in the kitchen a bit more.  I’m glad about that because I’m always so inspired by cooking, recipes and food.

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Additionally, there are times I wish my sister lived close-by.  We are quite similar and love to cook together.  I always say “if” we lived close we “could” do something together, a business or catering or anything…I need that push and support from her.  We always talk about what-ifs and never follow-through.  Sometimes you have to just take that leap.  Sometimes you weren’t meant to succeed and that’s the scary part.

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But at the end of the day what’s important is that you have a passion for something and you can share it with your loved ones.  I consider my blog readers my loved ones and I really enjoy sharing recipes with you.  Sometimes I need a little push to get myself posting, but at the end of the day I always feel satisfied sharing a little of my kitchen with you all. 🙂  I wish we could have one long table dinner party and eat, talk and celebrate for no reason.  🙂

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I want to share this phyllo cigar appetizer with you all because it is really tasty!  I find it quite easy to make as well.  Phyllo can be annoying to work with, but I just keep it covered with a damp cloth and fudge any mistakes I make and it all comes together alright in the end.  It’s just food, it doesn’t have to be perfect!  I’ve made these a few times now and people always enjoy them.  I love them hot out of the oven – flakey, crunchy and savory.  If you’re bored on a weekend, make a bunch and freeze them for later.  You’ll be glad to have them on hand when a sudden hunger pang comes upon you!

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Feta, Dill and Red Chili Phyllo Cigars

Makes about 8 rolls

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing the phyllo and 1 tablespoon for the feta mixture

1/2 a 16 ounce package of phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

6 ounces of feta cheese

2 long red chilies, chopped, seeds removed

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

2 scallion, white and light green parts, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor, add the feta cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red chilies, dill, scallions, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse a few times until everything is combined.

Each roll will require 6 sheets of phyllo, so layer 12 sheets of phyllo and brush each sheet with olive oil.  Keep the sheets stacked on top of each other and cut the sheet into four equal-sized pieces.

Next, take about a tablespoon of the feta mixture and drop it into the quartered 6 phyllo sheets.  Roll the phyllo like a thin burrito, fold the long ends over the feta mixture and roll the rest like a cigar..  Repeat with the rest of the feta mixture and the remaining 7 quarters of phyllo dough.

Place the cigars onto a cookie sheet seam side down and top brush with a little extra olive oil and top with the lemon zest and nigella seeds.  Place in the hot oven and back for about 15 minutes, or until the cigars are golden.  Serve hot.

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I wanted to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year.  It’s still January so it’s not *so* late.  I wanted to post this recipe up around New Year’s because it’s a nice winter dish.  Lentils are also supposed to be a lucky food for the New Year – so eat up!  Well, as far as I can see it’s still winter and spring isn’t going to make its appearance for another month or two.  It’s still freezing cold so this rice will help feel you warm, cozy and satisfied.

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I didn’t post because I got sick.  It wasn’t the flu, just a very bad cold.  It took me about three weeks to fully recover and now I’m back to normal.  This year everyone is getting sick, or at least it seems that way to me.  Nourishing foods are the key.  Even though you don’t exactly feel like scarfing down food when you are sick – foods with chicken stock and healing spices can most certainly lift your spirits.

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I don’t know what to call this dish – I can’t say it’s particularly South Asian or Middle Eastern, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter.  I often make this dish as a side to chicken skewers.  I also made it in the summer for my sister and she loved it.  I love it because I always have every ingredient on hand.  I just marinate some chicken and make a nice salad and a perfect dinner is ready.

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Even in the depths of winter and believe me when I say that this year it feels especially long, we can still enjoy our favorite foods.  As much as I love fresh summery foods, the comforting feeling you get from some cold weather foods can’t be beat.

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Lentil Basmati Rice with Crispy Onions

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

vegetable oil of your choice

2 cups basmati rice soaked for at least 30 minutes and then washed with water a few times until the water runs clear

1 cup lentils of your choice, here I used Puy lentils

2 small to medium-sized onions, sliced

1/2 dried cranberries

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 inch piece of ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2-3 dried red chilies

2 cloves

4 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 small cinnamon stick

2 green cardamom pods

7-8 cups cups chicken stock

salt, to taste

1 lemon, zested

parsley and cilantro, or any herbs or your choice

toasted pine nuts

Method

First wash the Puy lentils and place them in a medium-sized stick pot with the chicken stock and cook on medium cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are cooked, but still firm, about 85% cooked.  The chicken stock should be almost entirely evaporated.

After the lentils have cooked, in a large pot on medium to medium-high heat, heat about 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and add in the onions.  Cook until golden.  Take out about half the onions and set aside and reserve for garnishing.  Next, add in the garlic and ginger and let them fry for about a minute.  Add in the cumin, coriander powder, dried red chilies, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves and salt.  Let all the spices toast and add in the lentils and dried cranberries.

Pour in 3 cups of chicken stock and bring to the boil.  Add in the washed and soaked rice and let the stock boil again.  Once the stock boils again turn the heat down to medium-low and cover.  After about 7-10 minutes the water should be evaporated and the rice should be al dente.  Turn the heat to very low and drape a paper towel or kitchen towel over the top of the pan and put the lid on and let the rice steam for 20 minutes.

Open the lid after 20 minutes and garnish with parsley, cilantro, the reserved fried onions, lemon zest, and the toasted pine nuts.  Serve with yogurt, if you like.

It was my dad’s birthday last month and my mom and sister organized a fabulous cocktail party for him.  It’s almost a month later and I’m still thinking about the spread they put together.  I wasn’t even there to taste anything, but the pictures of the food I saw have left a lasting impression. My sister and I brainstormed a menu together.  I think I can attribute that session of feeding off each other and coming up with ideas to my push to be more active on my blog again.  While we were discussing I became inspired,  I came up with some pretty good appetizer ideas if I say so myself!

While my sister went shopping for the ingredients I would be on Whatsapp receiving pictures of everything and giving my feedback.  If was a lot of fun and it would have been even more enjoyable if we could have done it together.  See, my whole family is obsessed with food and eating.  We always have been and always will be.  We take pride in having people over and entertaining them.  It’s our goal that people remember the food, ambiance and company.  I’m not being a hater, but I’ve been to way too many gatherings where food is just plopped into foil trays with no thought and no presentation.  I would rather curl up and retire in a cave than serve anything in such a manner.

I think it might have something to do with my upbringing.  If somebody comes over at the last-minute I get super stressed out if I don’t have fresh flowers in the house, if I don’t have anything to feed them.  I will go into panic mode and clean my already clean place and get everything I need as quickly as I can.  I’m sure my guest wouldn’t have noticed, but when I have people over I like to entertain in a certain way .  I also wish more people were into it, but when I see all these beautiful blogs and websites I get really happy inside to find people who think the same way as me. 🙂

As I was saying, my sister and mom did a fabulous job at arranging the birthday party.  One of the appetizers we all came up with was  Moroccan meatballs.  My sister and I made a variation together when I visited my family over the summer and they were delicious.  So I suggested she make a cocktail party style meatball.  Apparently they were a hit and everyone loved them.  I have been thinking about making them since the birthday party, but I made a dinner version with a tomato-based sauce.  My husband being my husband (not one to pick up on details!), thought they were Italian-style meatballs at first, but when he tasted them he said that they were just like the ones we had on our trip to Marrakesh.  Score.  🙂

These meatballs are lovely with some crusty Moroccan bread, couscous, or rice.  Enjoy!

Lamb and Harissa Meatballs

Serves 4

Ingredients

for the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 onion chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons of harissa paste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, optional

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper, to taste

for the meatballs:

oil for frying

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

2 gloves garlic, minced finely

fresh parsley and cilantro, about 1/2 cup, chopped

1 Serrano chili, chopped and deseeded, if you like

1/4 cup dried golden raisins and dried cranberries

1 egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/4 cup harissa paste (you can find it in most grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, if you want to make your own you can use my friend Sara’s recipe)

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and black pepper, to taste

for garnishing:

fresh parsley, scallions, cilantro (or whatever you like)

toasted almonds

lemon wedges

olive oil, for drizzling

Method

To make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a pot on medium heat and add the onions and allow them to get translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and let it cook for 2 minutes.  Add in the harissa, ground coriander, ground cumin, and crushed red chilies (optional) and let them cook for a minute.  Add in the crushed tomatoes and stir so that everything is combined.  Season with salt and pepper and after 10 minutes turn the heat down to low and leave the sauce to cook for about an hour.

To make the meatballs:

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix together with your hands.  Shape the meat mixture into balls (not too big and not too small) and let them marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

After they have marinated, heat a large frying pan with a good amount (about 4-5 tablespoons) of oil (I used olive oil) and fry until the meatballs are golden on all sides and mostly cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs from the pan and add into the tomato sauce.  Make sure you drain most of the grease from the meatballs.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes.  Garnish with parsley, cilantro, scallions, toasted almonds, lemon wedges and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with crusty bread, couscous, or rice.

My dad’s birthday spread prepared my my mom and sister!

There’s a cafeteria-type restaurant that I frequent because it has the best mutabbal (similar to baba ghanoush) ever.  It’s a Toronto-based Middle Eastern chain and I love it.  My husband grew up in the Middle East and it reminds him of his childhood, eating fresh and puffy pita breads out of the oven with some juicy chicken shawarma right off the spit.  I have to agree the vibe in there transports you to the Middle East.  I have been to Dubai a few times and have a lot of friends from Dubai here in Toronto and the consensus is the same — it’s the Middle East in Toronto!

My sister-in-law came to see me for a day over the summer (she lives in a small town, with no Middle Eastern food), we had lunch at a nice restaurant and shopped for a bit.  After we were done shopping she asked if I was hungry.  I’m always ready to eat, so then she suggested going to the Middle Eastern restaurant.  I’m sure it was her plan all along!  When my sister visited me it was the same scenario all over again.  We got takeout mutabbal every day of her visit!

I know I could easily buy mutabbal, but to be honest I’m kind of embarrassed going back to the same place so often.  The staff probably think, “This girl is crazy and doesn’t she every get sick of mutabbal?!!”  The answer to that is most definitely NO!  Anyway, to save one trip per week to the restaurant, I decided to start making mutabbal at home.  It’s just as good and easy to make.  But when I need a quick fix I know I can get takeout in 10 minutes.  My version tastes the same because I broil the eggplant for the last few minutes.  It gets a charcoal-y and smokey taste, which I love.  It is even better if you have a gas stove or grill where you can roast the eggplant.  The smokiness is my favorite part along with the crunchy contrast of the beautiful pomegranate seeds.  Do try to make this – don’t say I didn’t warn you when you become ADDICTED!

Mutabbal

adapted from this video

Makes a medium-sized bowl enough for 4 people, as a starter/appetizer

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium-sized eggplant

1 clove garlic

2 heaping tablespoons tahini

2 heaping tablespoons full-fat yogurt

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped parsley (I used curly parsley because the flat-leaf was out of stock and I actually liked the texture, even though it seems to be a culinary outcast!)

1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon of hot paprika, plus extra for sprinkling on top, or to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke a few holes in your eggplant with a knife and place on a baking tray.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes and after 30 minutes turn your broiler on and let the eggplant broil for 5-7 minutes.  If you can roast your eggplant on a gas stove or grill – it will be even smokier.

Once the eggplant is cooked, allow it cool so that you can scoop the flesh out.  Discard any extra seeds if your eggplant has a lot of seeds.

Next, make the garlic clove into a paste by sprinkling some salt on the garlic clove and scraping the garlic on a cutting board with a sharp knife at an angle.

Add the garlic to a bowl with the scooped out eggplant flesh.  Mash the eggplant with a potato masher, fork, or pestle until it starts to become smooth.  Next add in the tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice.  Keep mashing until the mixture becomes smoother.  Add in salt, pepper, paprika, half the parsley, and half the olive oil.  Stir until the mixture is well-combined.

Place the mutabbal onto a deep plate and top with the pomegranate arils, parsley, a little extra paprika, and olive oil.  Serve with warm pita bread.

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.

Today is one of those days where it looks like 7:00 pm at noon.   It’s rainy and thundering and all I want to do is stay in all day.  Is this a sign that summer’s over?  For the past few days I’ve been reading everywhere that summer is over and it’s time for fall.  I do love autumn, but I’m not quite ready for summer to be over.  This summer was a fun one.  I spent a whole month with my sister – something I haven’t done in years.  We had a fun time together, first she visited me in Toronto and then we went on a sister road trip from Toronto to Rhode Island to see my parents.

I was quite nervous to drive 9-10 hours with just my sister.  I’ve done that drive with my husband before, but he drives most of it and I just keep him company.  Neither my sister or myself had tackled such a long drive on our own.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad and I drove for the majority of it.  Usually I tend to get sleepy while driving long distances, but I was fine and so was she.  My sister started to drive once we entered Massachusetts.

The funny thing about this drive is that my GPS took out the scenic route.  When I say scenic route I really mean it.  We drove through Amish country in upstate New York and drove for about 3 hours on a rural route.  I should have known better, my GPS is notorious for making me take the scenic route.  I guess it wants me to explore a little more and not just take the highways.  Usually, the scenic route takes way longer even though the calculated time is shorter.  But this time, my GPS knew what it was doing and we cut an hour off of our time.

The best part of this alternate route were all the farms and farm stands we got to see along the way.  It was a really beautiful drive.  Rows and rows of corn and other produce scattered the terrain.  We saw Amish horse and buggies riding along the edge of the road and whole families tending to the fields.  It was really nice and we both felt like we stepped back in time.  We really wanted to stop at the farm stands and pick up some produce – lots of fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, radishes and even dairy products like eggs, milk, and cheese.  If we didn’t have such a long drive ahead of us we surely would have.

The fields of corn came to an end once we got back on the highway, but it was truly a memorable drive.  I photographed this recipe back in June and wasn’t inspired to post it.  But after the trip and drive home I felt rejuvenated and felt like sharing this story with you all.  I know summer is over and fresh corn will be hard to find by October.  But August and September are the best produce months in my opinion and we should all relish these last weeks of summer because before we know it we will be sitting in snow again.  Or I will – because I live in Canada.  🙂

End of Summer Corn and Potato Salad with Red Chilies

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 ears corn shucked (can also use cooked grilled corn and take the corn off the cob)

2 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and sliced

6-7 radishes, sliced

1 avocado, cut into chunks

chives, cilantro, parsley or any herbs you like chopped – about a 1/4 cup

salt, to taste

for the red chili dressing

4 mild long red chilies, sliced thinly

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sour cream or full-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chives, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a pan on medium heat add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the potatoes and some salt and cook until they begin to get crispy and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Next, add in the shucked corn and cook for about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Now, make the chili dressing.  Start by heating a sauté pan on medium heat with the 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Add in the chopped garlic, once the garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes add in the sliced red chilies.  Lower the heat to medium-low and let the chilies soften and caramelize.  Cook the chilies like this for about 35 minutes.  Let the chilies cool a bit and then add them to a bowl with the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, pepper, and chives.  Mix the ingredients together. You may not want to add all the oil from the red chilies.

In a large bowl, add the avocado, radish, herbs,  potatoes and corn mixture, and the red chili dressing.  Mix everything together gently and check for salt and pepper.  Serve in a bowl at room temperature or cold.

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.

How many times have you bought something to cook and left it in your fridge and then totally forgot about it.  When you finally do remember it, it has already gone bad.  This will never be the case with Swiss chard.  I bought this Swiss chard two weeks before I actually used it.  Two weeks and it was still fresh.  You wouldn’t expect that with a leafy green.  I was trying to not cook it intentionally.  You see, my husband is back on the P90-X diet.  Agh, I hate that diet.  I bought this Swiss chard so that I could it as a side for his gargantuan portion of boring grilled chicken.  But his diet leaves me uninspired and I’m not going to cook a meal for him and a meal for me every night, so my diet, at least at dinner is very boring and bland.

I made the executive decision to introduce quinoa into his diet.  I don’t know if the P90-X gods allow it or not, but at this point I don’t really care.  I needed to expand the horizons of the P90-X cookbook, which my husband gave to me and said, “There are so many great recipes in here, use them, get inspired.”  Um, thanks, but no thanks is what I have to say about that.  I would love to complain that my husband doesn’t help around the house, but that’s not true so I feel a little guilty not making dinner for him (at least on weekdays).

Back to the quinoa, I decided to sauté the Swiss chard and add his favorite chickpeas and my usual salad additions of herbs, something sweet, sour, nuts, and cheese.  I did get a lot of scorn for the cheese -“TOO FATTENING, IT’S NOT FAT-FREE MOZZARELLA.”  Next time I’ll add more cheese, that’s me and my passive-aggressive ways.  If you’re on P90-X or not, this salad is a great lunch or side-dish and there are absolutely no rules.  If you don’t like Swiss chard, use spinach, if you don’t like chickpeas, use black beans, use any herbs you like.  Just as long as you follow my equation of sweet, sour, salty, nutty, herby you’ll be just fine.  Anything goes.

I’ve made this dish three times since the beginning of this year.  As much as I like it, I hope to make something super decadent soon, just to get my husband off his silly diet.  🙂

Red Quinoa with Rainbow Chard, Chickpeas, and a Meyer Lemon Dressing

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

Olive oil

1 cup red quinoa, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes and drained

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

2 cups chopped rainbow chard, or any other sturdy leafy green

1 small cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cooked chickpeas, or any bean of your choice

1/4 cup, or to taste crumbly cheese, like goat or feta

1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or currants

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, or any nut of your choice

1/2 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint, plus a little extra for garnish

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon red chili flakes or to taste

for the dressing:

1 small clove of garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint

juice of 1 juicy Meyer lemon, about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a medium-sized sauce pan with the lid on, cook the quinoa with the chicken/veg stock or water on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the quinoa unravels and looks a little stringy.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan on medium heat, heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the red chili flakes and garlic and allow them to infuse the oil.  Once the garlic starts to brown just slightly, add in the rainbow chard, salt, pepper, and sauté until it is wilted down and cooked, about 10-12 minutes.  Once cooked, allow it to cool down for 10-15 minutes.

Make the dressing, by add all the ingredients into a blender and blend until emulsified.  If the mixture is too thick you can add a little water to loosen it up.

Next, combine the cooked quinoa with the rainbow chard, chickpeas, cranberries, pine nuts, herbs, and the dressing and toss to combine.  Top with crumbled cheese and extra herbs, for garnish.  Serve warm, at room-temperature, or cold.

I’ve totally lost touch with my blog.  I’ve been trying to write a post for ages, but something was stopping me.  I have no idea what it was, but I put my foot down finally and decided I really want to resume my posts.  They are fun for me and I love the interaction with all of you!  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but my resolution this year is to get back into blogging and stop making excuses about why I’m not, because there’s no valid reason except my own laziness.  I’m so silly, I will buy things thinking I’ll use them for my blog and they sit untouched.  I’m sure some of you with blogs know what I’m talking about.

I didn’t really fall off the wagon from cooking, but I haven’t been as enthusiastic about it as I used to be.  It’s slowly coming back and I’m ready to start up again.  Maybe it’s the winter – winter blues, I guess.  I know there’s lots to cook during the winter, but until recently I was totally uninspired.  Summer produce and colors inspire me.  This is probably also probably why I’ve been thinking once my husband is done residency we NEED to move somewhere warm.  It’s been on my mind for a few weeks now.  I’m craving sun and warmth.

Despite my love for summer, I do have a few winter produce favorites.  Most notable are beets.  I almost always have them on-hand.  Must have something to do with the color, I suspect.  As I’ve said before I’m a sucker for vibrant colors.  To the same effect, I buy watermelon radishes ALL THE TIME, not because I love thetaste, but more that I love the way they look.  For this dish there were no watermelon radishes, unfortunately.  But this tart is good with whatever you have on hand: mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions – you name it.  I used to be daunted by making dough, but now I’ve formulated my own proportions and it works every time like a charm.  This sort of tart is one of my go-to dishes.  Although it does take some time, it is by no means difficult to make.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Tart

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

for the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, frozen

up to 1/4 cup ice water

filling:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

salt and black pepper, to taste

for top:

2 golden beets

2 carrots

1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives, or any herbs of your choice, for garnish

Method

Roast the beets in the oven (at 350 degrees) in a foil pouch on a baking tray drizzled with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for 45 minutes or until cooked.  At the 30 minute mark add in the  whole carrots, also tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Once cooked, slice the beets and carrots into thin slices.

To make the tart dough: in a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse until they turn into a fine grind, add in the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined.  Grate the frozen butter and add it to the flour.  Pulse until the mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  Next, through the top, stream in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Once the dough comes together, cover it in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour.  After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and blind bake (cover it with foil and use pie weights or dried beans to weigh down the crust, so that it doesn’t puff up while baking) it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

For the filling: whisk the goat cheese, ricotta, and egg together.  Add in the salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Pour it into the partially baked crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and arrange the cut beets and carrots over the goat cheese and ricotta and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  Garnish the tart with chopped parsley and chives, or any herb of your choice.  You can also sprinkle the final product with some flaky sea salt and drizzle with olive oil, if you like.  Serve warm or at room temperature.