Archives for category: Main Course

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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 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!

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.

Lamb chops are something that have always daunted me.  I save lamb for restaurants where a more experienced chef can masterfully prepare them for me without the stress and over thinking that would be occurring in my kitchen.  The pros can  handle red meat better than I can.  What I’m scared of the most is overcooking a good piece of meat.  Why spend the money and then “accidentally” cook a juicy steak or lamb chop to well-done.  (No offense to those who like their meat well-done.)

My husband has been asking me to make him rack of lamb for five years.  Five years!  I’ve tried to maneuver my way around the issue and make him roasted leg of lamb or lamb shank.  But something about the rack of lamb scared me.  Every year on his birthday, he requests rack of lamb and every year I get myself out of it.  Since this year we have celebrated five birthdays together, I just made the dive and we both went to the butcher and got the rack of lamb.  I needed the support, that’s why we both went.

Once we got home, I contemplated what I should do with the lamb, the over thinking had begun.  After all, I’ve eaten lamb many many times at restaurants, so I calmed myself down and went with my instincts.  Herbs became the main attraction followed by lemon and nuts.  I raided my pantry and came up with a herb, walnut, lemon, capers crusted lamb.  I let it marinate so the flavors would penetrate the meat.

I roasted it and it came out perfectly, medium rare bordering medium.  (I do love steaks at medium-rare, but for me, lamb needs to be cooked a tad bit more.)  While it was roasting I also prepared a shallot and dijon sauce, which was lovely with the lamb.  When we sliced through the rack, I finally got over my fear and could do it again and again.  The end result makes you want to step back in the kitchen and expand your culinary horizons.  For now I’ve tackled rack of lamb, let’s see what comes up next.

Rack of Lamb with a Walnut and Herb Crust

Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 french rack of lamb, 8 chops in total

1 cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, chives) + extra for garnish

5 cloves of garlic

juice and zest of 2 lemons + plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the sauce:

olive oil

2 shallots or 1 large shallot finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups chicken or beef stock

1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche

fresh chopped parsley

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

To make the crust: in a food processor, combine the herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, capers, walnuts, flour, salt and pepper.  Pulse lightly until everything is crumbly yet a little sticky.

Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and then cover both sides with the crust and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Before baking preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake the lamb in an oven-safe pan or dish for 25 minutes.  If you like your meat cooked well-done, add another 7-10 minutes.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the sauce.  In a saute pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan on medium heat and once it comes to temperature, add in the shallots and cook until translucent and on the verge of turning light brown.  At this point, add in the Dijon mustard, chicken or beef stock, salt, black pepper and allow it to reduce.  Once reduced to your liking, add in the crème fraîche and parsley.  Once the lamb is cooked, let it rest outside the oven covered in aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Serve the lamb with the sauce and garnish with some fresh lemon and chopped herbs.

I also added some asparagus in the pan with the lamb, towards the end of cooking.  I served the lamb with a sunchoke mash as well.

I miss the ocean.  Even though I live right on (literally) Lake Ontario, I miss the ocean.  The lake isn’t the same.  There aren’t any seafood shacks like Champlin’s or Iggy’s.  Every summer in Rhode Island, we order clam cakes, lobster rolls, whole lobsters with fresh drawn butter.  The meat of the lobster is so sweet and succulent.  I always tell my husband that I hate being “landlocked,” that I need to be living on a coastline.  As usual he rolls his eyes and ignores me.  Don’t worry, one day I’ll get my way and we’ll be close to the ocean.

Trying to appease me somewhat, my husband brought lobsters from Halifax after an interview at Dalhousie University.  (Not my first choice of places to live.)  Last year, he was in Cape Breton Island on an elective and did I give him an earful for not bringing back lobsters that time.  This time, I didn’t even mention anything about lobsters and he brought them.

The Rhode Islander in me immediately thought to make lobster ravioli.  Federal Hill, our Little Italy, is the place for lobster ravioli.  Venda Ravioli makes amazing lobster ravioli.  What I wouldn’t give for a heaping plate of those beautiful pillows of flavor right now.  Once when I was at home in Rhode Island, I went to Trader Joe’s and noticed they had some prepackaged lobster ravioli.  I decided to try it out and the guy at the checkout told me that he couldn’t believe how popular the lobster ravioli was in Rhode Island and that he worked in several Trader Joe’s throughout the US and never even noticed them before coming to Rhode Island.

A pasta dish is never complete without a side of bread and garlic and herb infused olive oil.

As much as I wanted to make lobster ravioli, I deemed it as too much work.   My husband brought whole lobsters, he wasn’t bright enough to just get me the meat.  One step at a time.  I had to clean the meat out of the shell, and after that messy ordeal, we were lucky I didn’t just melt some butter and have us eat the lobster plain (even though this way is delicious in its own right).  I decided go with the Federal Hill idea and simply make an egg pasta with lobster that you could find almost anywhere on Federal Hill.  We enjoyed it and it brought me back to my Rhode Island roots and the lobster meat tasted like the ocean, almost making me feel as though I was near the coast.

Federal Hill Style Lobster with Pasta

inspired and adapted from Food and Wine and Gourmet

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, meat removed and cut into large chunks, and shells reserved

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

5 canned plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands

1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Vermouth, Pinot Grigio)

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

heavy cream, as much or as little as you like, I used 1/4 cup but you can go up to 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 lemon cut into slices or wedges

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

sea salt, to taste

3/4 a 500 g box of De Cecco pappardelle, or any egg pasta of your choice, cooked to al dente, 1/2 cup cooking liquid reserved

Method

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, heat the oil and add the chopped shallot and let it soften for a minute or two.  Next, add in the garlic, bay leaf, and crushed red chilies, and allow them to infuse the oil for a minute.  Add in the shells (from the tails and claws) and sauté them for two minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and crush them further with a cooking spoon.  Season with salt.  Pour in the wine and 1 cup of water and let the liquid reduce by half, about 10-15 minutes

Once the liquid is reduced, turn the heat to low, and add the saffron and let it infuse into the broth for five minutes. After five minutes, pour in the cream and whisk it so that it does not curdle.  Let the cream reduce for two minutes.  Once the cream has reduced slightly put the cooked lobster meat into the pan and let it warm through for a few minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid until the sauce reaches a consistency you like.

Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Sprinkle in the parsley and drop in the dab of butter and allow it to melt into the sauce.  Remove the bay leaf.  Next, toss in the cooked pasta and place the lemon wedges into the pasta for some brightness in color and flavor.  Drizzle with olive oil and use shells as a garnish, serve hot. You can also carb-load and serve some nice focaccia with olive oil on the side.

If anyone is interested, here’s an article on the “seafood shack” culture in Rhode Island.

I need a major detox right now.  For the past two weeks I have been overindulging to the max and have totally skipped the gym.  I know that most of us have resolutions to get healthy in the New Year and I do alright for most of the year, but when December rolls around I fall victim to holiday overeating.  The funny part of this all is that I don’t even celebrate Christmas.  I don’t have anything against partaking in the festivities, though.  I’m all ready to eat holiday cookies and spreads, no reservations for me there.

I’m sure many of you can share similar stories.  So I won’t go on and on about this because it’s been said and done before.  I made this dish before the holiday hoopla, before I got on the “see-food” diet.  I most certainly will come back to my normal routine now that I am no longer at my parents’ place for the holidays.

Speaking of the “see-food” diet, we can change that to the seafood diet.  This fish dish I made is full of clean and simple flavors.  I was lucky enough to find some local Bay of Quinte Perch, a lake fish that is very mild.  But feel free to use your favorite white fish as a substitute if perch isn’t available to you.  I “perched” the perch (forgive me for the cheesy joke) over a warm red cabbage salad with a leek vinaigrette.  It was a satisfying dish that made you feel good after you ate it not only when you ate it, as is the case with many guilty pleasures.

Pan Seared Perch over a Red Cabbage Salad with a Warm Leek Vinaigrette

Serves 2 (can easily be doubled, tripled)

Ingredients

for the fish:

extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound perch filets (or white fish of your choice and skin on or off)

1 cup flour (there will be flour left over, but I like to have enough to easily coat the fish)

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

the leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the red cabbage:

extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

red chili flakes, to taste

1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts

1 small shallot, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup of chopped green herbs, parsley and chives

3 cups thinly sliced red cabbage, can be done on a mandoline or by knife

salt and black pepper, to taste

sea salt

lemon wedges and extra green herbs, for garnish

Method

Prepare the fish first. Mix together the flour, Spanish paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a shallow dish and coat the fillets of fish with the flour mixture and tap off any excess flour.  Set the fish aside on a rack until ready to pan fry. This step can be done up to 2 hours in advance.

Next, make the leek vinaigrette by heating a sauté pan on medium heat with some olive oil.  Add in the garlic and red chili flakes (to taste) and allow them to infuse the oil for a minute.  Then, add in the leeks and shallots, season with salt and black pepper and allow them to soften and almost caramelize, this should take 10-15 minutes.  When the leeks are done squeeze in the lemon juice and toss in the herbs and red cabbage and turn off the heat.

Now, it is time to cook the fish.  In a clean sauté pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then add in the flour coated fish (skin side down if you are using fish with skin).  Allow the fish to sear on each side for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filet.  Once the fish is in the pan, don’t touch it until it is ready to flip because it might break.  Set the fish on paper towels to absorb any excess oil, but there should not be much because the fish wasn’t deep-fried.  At this point, also sprinkle a little sea salt over the fish. You can keep the fish warm in a low oven while making the red cabbage, if you like.

To serve place the fish over the warm red cabbage salad and you can garnish with lemon wedges and green herbs.

Growing up, my family was all about food.  My parents would drive us 3 hours to New York City to eat “real” Pakistani food.  On the weekend, we were travelers in search for the next delicious meal.  My sister and I would be ever so excited to explore new places and see the hustle and bustle of different cities.  Our eyes were always wide-open, ready for these experiences.  Whether, we went to Newport for fresh, straight from the ocean seafood, or to a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we still frequent to this day, we were set to feast.  We learned about other cultures this way, too.  What better way for parents to expose their children to different cultures than through their food.  Food welcomes you into a new culture.  The tastes of the cuisine transports you to a new place, somewhere less familiar than what we are used to, but at the same time we are ready to embrace the novelty.

Tucked away in the back seat, my sister and I would peer out of the  windows with utter enthusiasm waiting for a new exploration.  If you remember, we were the two sisters who played in the woods and pretended we were pioneers, Indians, French, you name it-we pretended it (the joys of childhood!).  These excursions took our make-believe world into reality.

I have very fond memories of attending the Greek Orthodox festival in Rhode Island.  As many of you are probably aware, Greeks (like most of us) are completely immersed in their cuisine and take great pride in hospitality and serving their traditional dishes to others.  There was food galore.  Souvlakis would be sizzling on hot coals, my sister and I would stare in awe at the roast lamb spinning on a spit with the juices dripping down and coating the lamb with deliciousness, and flaky phyllo pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.  This festival was overflowing with sensory delight.  We would also watch the Greek dancers in amazement.  My sister and I would “choreograph” Bollywood dance skits at home, so the Greek dances piqued our interest as well.

We would walk around just take it all in and we loved every minute of it.  Our main purpose was eating, of course.  Our favorite thing to indulge in were the spanakopitas.  To this day I love them, no matter how introductory they are to greek cuisine.  The flaky and paper-thin phyllo layers were (and still are) so fun to break off layer by layer and in the middle you would meet the spinach filling full of feta, parley, and olive oil.  This is one way to get your kids to eat spinach.  I make spanakopita from time to time and each time I do I am reminded of the Greek Orthodox festival and every time I think it would be so nice to go again.

Spanakopita with Kalamata Olives and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red chili flakes, to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4-1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

16 ounce package of phyllo dough, if frozen defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallots.  Allow the shallots to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they become to soften and add in the garlic and red chili flakes.  Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add in the chopped spinach.  Let the spinach wilt and cook down.  Add some salt, black pepper, and the pinch of nutmeg.  Once the spinach is all cooked, set it aside and allow it to cool slightly.  In the meantime, grease a 9″ by 13″ baking dish.

Once the spinach has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients (except the phyllo and remaining olive oil), there is no rhyme of reason to the order.  Mix to combine all the ingredients, make sure they are well incorporated.

Next, take the phyllo dough (make sure to cover it with a damp kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out) and cut the sheets so that they would fit into the baking dish.  I had to simply cut the sheets in half.  Once the sheets are the right size, divide the phyllo into two equal stacks.  One stack will be for the bottom layer, one will be for the top layer.

Take the phyllo dough two sheets at a time and layer into the baking dish.  Every second sheet should be brushes generously with olive oil.  Once the first stack of phyllo is finished layer all of the spinach mixture over the phyllo.  Then, repeat the process so that the spinach is covered and in the middle of the two stacks of phyllo dough.  Make sure the phyllo layers are well oiled so that they become crispier.

Bake the spanakopita in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown.  Once slightly cooled, cut into squares or diamonds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

You all might be getting sick of my husband stories.  I know, believe me, we do not need to know about every couple’s every move.  But, I try not to be so PDA (public display of affection) style.  So, maybe you guys don’t mind.

Regardless of all this, I had to make something for my husband’s birthday.  Out of the four years we have been together, two of them married, I have never cooked for him on his birthday.  We opt for going out.  When, I first met my husband, in the early stages, I made lofty promises that I would make my husband this and that, including a rack of lamb (forget about it), an all-American burger (done!) and other things I can’t even bother to remember.

On this birthday, I was stumped, I even considered making the rack of lamb, but the butcher only had one sorry-looking rack left.  Thus, I was saved from that task.  My husband is a carnivore, so I knew red meat would have to be an option.  I love ribeye steaks, so juicy, tender, and flavorful.  I picked some up and went on from there.

At the farmer’s market, I saw garlic scapes, for the first time in person.  They almost reminded me of coiled parrot-green snakes, smooth and bright.  I have been intrigued by them for a few years and really wanted to use the garlic scapes in a dish.  The vendor told me they are great grilled or in a pesto.  I bought them and brought them home, and decided to try and make a salsa out of them.  Mind you, I was taking a risk on my husband’s birthday dinner and it may have well all failed and we would be going out for his birthday.  Thankfully, the salsa came together nicely.  Pungent, herbacious and ready to take on the bold flavors of the steak.

All that was left was the the corn salad.  It was so simple and fresh.  As a last-minute addition I decided to toss in some toasted pumpkin seeds.  The crunch, texture, and most of all the salty goodness really elevated the salad.  I was proud of myself for coming up with this meal for my husband’s birthday.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and loved actually plating the dish in restaurant style.  For me, it’s all about the colors and this dish delivered vibrancy.  Most of all my husband loved it.

Ribeye Steaks with a Garlic Scape Salsa Verde and an Avocado, Corn, Tomato Salad

Serves 2 big eaters

for the Salsa Verde:

Ingredients

10-15 garlic scapes

1/2 a bunch cilantro

1 cup packed basil leaves

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded if you wish

juice of one juicy lime

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

water to loosen it up, if necessary

Method

On a grill pan or sauté pan, cook the garlic scapes on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until they are lightly charred.  Add all the herbs including the garlic scapes into a blender or food processor.  Begin to pulse a few times, toss in the jalapenos, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  Run your blender or food processor until everything is finely chopped, next stream in the extra virgin olive oil until everything is uniform and combined.  If the mixture is too thick, loosen it up with some water.  If you want to be extra perfect run the sauce through a sieve, I didn’t do this.  Before serving, lightly warm the salsa verde in a saucepan.

for the Avocado, Corn, and Tomato Salad:

Ingredients

1 cup fresh corn

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes,halved

1 avocado, in chunks

juice of one lime

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a few sprigs of cilantro, chives, and garlic scapes, chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Method

Mix together all the ingredients—so simple!

for the Steaks:

Ingredients

2- 1 pound ribeye steaks, at room temperature, I used boneless

generous amounts of salt and black pepper)

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Season the steaks with the salt and pepper on both sides and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Heat a large oven-safe sauté pan on the stove (medium heat).  Place the steaks in the hot pan on the stove and do not touch them for about 5 minutes.  Flip them over and cook for one minute on the stove top and transfer the pan to oven for 4-5 more minutes for medium rare.  Remove them from the oven and let them rest for 10-15 minutes.

to assemble the plate:

Spoon the salsa verde on the bottom of a plate, as much as you like, I used about 1/2 a cup per plate.  Place the rested steak on top, if you wish you can slice it against the grain on an angle and arrange it over top, I chose to leave it whole.  Place some of the corn salad on top on the steak and sprinkle a few toasted pumpkin seeds around the plate.

*No birthday is complete without a cake.  So, I also made him his favorite vanilla bean cheesecake, which I will put up soon.

I did it again, I pulled another ladies luncheon type of dish on my husband.  I’m telling you all (over and over again), I miss the girly bonding.   I was never the type to solely hang with the guys, but someway, somehow this has become my existence.  Much to the contrary, I consider myself a girly girl.  Ruffles, lace, pink, and jewels all make me *swoon.* Therefore, all the talk of the Habs, cardiothoracic this and that and I am at a loss.  Cooking fuels my girly aspirations.

Many of you might be wondering why I complain.  Just to be clear, it’s all light-hearted.  I moved to a small university town after I got married and it has been an adjustment.  For the first time in my life, I don’t have someone in this city I can just call and say let’s go grab a coffee.  My husband goes to medical school here and is quite busy.  I have been hunting for jobs for a few months now and no luck.  There are very limited options here, but I am hoping I find something because we have 1 more year in this city.  Essentially, I am a housewife (until I find a job).  I never pictured myself as a housewife.  The plus side to being a housewife is that I have time to cook.  There’s good and bad in every situation.

I’m glad I have the free time to explore my culinary interests.  This is why I made this savory roasted tomato tart all from *scratch.*  I was quite proud of myself because dough rolling/preparing and I have never quite on the same page.  So you can imagine my utmost and complete anger when my husband walked in and said, “where’s the meat?”  Grrrrrrrr.  In my head it was, “I’ll tell you where the meat is!”  But, in reality it was more, “I made you a fresh and delicious meal, so stop complaining.”  When he came into the kitchen and saw my farmer’s cheese all whipped up looking smooth and silky and the garnet-red roasted tomatoes and the sprinkling of thyme, I could tell he was getting excited and eating his own words.  That’s when he started saying, “I haven’t eaten all day, when will dinner be ready.”

Once my husband started eating, he actually really enjoyed this tomato tart, maybe even more than did.  Plus, he wanted to take it for lunch the next day.  Men, they are all the same.  I like to say, “simple minds.”  They will most probably come back and say women are all the same.  Tit for tat.  My husband and I call it revenge tactics.

The tomato tart is bursting with rich concentrated tomato flavor.  It is summer on a plate, a nice and light slice with a fresh farmer’s market salad so absolute bliss on a warm, sunny day.  The farmer’s market is beginning to boom with tomatoes, lettuces, rhubarb, berries, asparagus, radishes, and fiddleheads.

For the past few weeks, the farmer’s market was kind of drab and desolate but slowly the produce selection is expanding.  It’s a Saturday tradition, albeit a new one, for my husband and I to go to the farmer’s market.  We never stayed in Kingston for the summer, during the off-season the market only had maple syrup and a few odds and ends.  I am glad it is blossoming.  I look forward to the upcoming months and creating dishes for my husband and myself and of course, anyone who wants to visit.

Oven Roasted Tomato Tart with Whipped Farmer’s Cheese

Serves 3-4

adapted from Susan Spungen’s, RECIPES: a collection for the modern cook

Ingredients

for the cheese base:

1/2 cup farmer’s cheese

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, (I used fleur de sel)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

for the oven roasted tomatoes:

4-5 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

3 cloves garlic, minced finely

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3-4 sprigs thyme

sprinkling of sea salt

a few grinds of black pepper

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

for the crust:

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 ice water

Set aside 1 tablespoon of capers or olives for the tart, optional

Method

Start by making the dough.  Combine all the ingredients for the dough except the ice water in a food processor and pulse until the butter and flour combine into pea-sized pieces.  Next, stream in the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together.  You may not have to use all the water.  Next, pour out the dough onto a floured surface and knead into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and meanwhile place the tomatoes on a baking tray with the herbs, salt, pepper, and the olive oil.  When the oven has come to temperature place the tomatoes in the oven for about 2 1/2-3 hours or until they shrivel up.

Prepare the cheese base by whipping together (using a mixer, food processor, or whisk) the cheeses, egg, salt, and pepper together.  Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the tart.

At this point, set your oven to 400 degrees, for the baking of the tart make sure your oven rack is in the middle of your oven and not too close to the top.

When the tomatoes are done, start rolling out the tart shell.  Hit it a few times with your rolling-pin so it becomes more pliable.  Roll it out until it can fill a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place the tart shell into the pan once it’s the right size.  Press it into the sides, it doesn’t have to be perfect and rustic looks better.

Next, spread the cheese mixture onto the base of the tart and arrange the tomatoes over the cheese mixture.  You can add some extra thyme on top if you chose.  Also, sprinkle the capers or olives on top, if you are using them.  If you wish, you can add on some extra farmer’s cheese.  Bake the tart for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is fully cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a garden salad with whatever vegetables are fresh and tasty.

Lately my routine has not allowed me to update my blog as frequently as I would have liked to.  I have come up with a bout of forgetfulness.  Not to say I forgot about my blog, but I have been misplaced from my apartment and have had a very ill-regimented schedule.  I really missed cooking but now I’m ready to forge ahead with full force!  I was staying at my in-law’s house in Toronto and my sister-in-law is a great cook on her own, so I was not really needed in the kitchen.  Not that I’m complaining, this was easy for me. Not to say that my sister-in-law’s purpose is to cook for me.  She is very sweet and I am lucky to have her as a sister-in-law. But, my time off from the kitchen had something to do with my absolute absent-mindedness.  With no responsibilities, I became somewhat aloof.

My husband and I were going to drive back to Kingston to drop off some stuff I had accumulated on my US trip.  After sitting in two hours of traffic I suddenly realized I forgot the apartment keys at home.  As you can guess my husband was not amused.  That’s was when I got the lecture about, “my irresponsibility.”  I became a little paranoid, was I showing early signs of dementia?  When I mentioned this you should have seen the glare my husband gave me.  He was already angry with me forgetting the keys, and my ridiculousness put him over the edge.  Thankfully, my husband is a calm person and got over it quickly.  Mistakes happen!

I also forgot my camera at my in-law’s.  I am quite upset about this, because though I was going through a cooking drought I did manage to make one Spring version of a potato salad.  Me being myself, did not upload the pictures beforehand and cannot post the recipe until I get my camera back.  These are the two major things I have forgotten recently, but there are countless other things I will not bore you with.

Had enough of my rambling yet?  Let’s get on to the chicken, to be honest, I started writing the post for the chicken skewers in green marinade more than a month ago and forgot about it.  Then as I was looking through my posts I saw this and wondered why I never finished the post.  I guess things always come around to full circle.  I really wanted to get back into my blog and thankfully, I had some uploaded pictures on my computer.  So here I am now bringing this to you.

This chicken dish is a staple of mine.  One thing I never forget to do is to use herbs.  My dishes are naked without them.  This exemplifies my use of some of my favorite herbs: cilantro and mint.  The flavors meld into one.  I really think someone should make a hybrid of mint and cilantro.  Maybe I should get going on that idea.  🙂  The marination process really allows the chicken to moisten.  This also has something to do with the addition of cream into the marinade, indulgent, yes, but well worth it.  It also is also a variant from the traditional Pakistani food I cook most of the time.  I love using similar and familiar flavors but with a twist.  This keeps cooking and eating fun.

Chicken Skewers in a Green Marinade

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless chicken in chunks (breast or thigh)

4 cloves of garlic made into a paste

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1 long green chili, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon  crushed red chilis, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1/4 cup heavy cream

Method

Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a blender or food processor.  Place the chicken in a bowl and pour the marinade over it.  Allow it to marinate for 3-4 hours.  After 3-4 hours place the chicken on skewers and bake on a  lightly oiled baking tray in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.  Now that the weather is getting better, this would be great on a charcoal grill.  Serve with lime wedges and garnish with mint and cilantro.  Accompany with rice or naan.