Archives for category: Salad

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.

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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.

Yes, I’m back after my very long hiatus.  I thought I could keep up with my blog after the big move to Toronto, my husband’s medical school graduation, a vacation to Dubai, and another mini-vacation to my parents’ house in Rhode Island.  I missed my blog, but it’s sort of like when you stop something in your routine  and then after a few weeks you don’t feel guilty about keeping up with it.  This happened with me.  As much as I love blogging, I just got out of my routine.  It’s good to take a breather and come back refreshed and full of new ideas.

For the past few nights, I’ve been thinking what I would write for my next post.  I felt the urge in the middle of the night to open up my laptop and just start typing and  telling you all about all the major events that have happened recently.  The big move, which still isn’t complete as far as setting up our place.  Slowly but surely.  And our wonderful vacation to see my sister in Dubai-we returned sulking because we had gotten so used to the pampered lifestyle and delicious cuisine from all over the world.  Now, I’m back at my childhood home, having fun, spending time with my husband and parents, enjoying the New England summer.  I hope to share more snippets and glimpses with you about all these things in upcoming posts.


I made my way to the Providence Farmers’ Market to get some inspiration.  I came back with gorgeous chives and their even lovelier blossoms, radishes, cucumbers, and potatoes.  Then I picked up the best yogurt ever, which is made by Narragansett Creamery.  I wanted to make something fresh, it’s been hot here and wanted to make something light, cooling, and refreshing.  I found some luscious mint in our herb garden and decided to make a potato salad with a few Pakistani twists.  I added a tarka of curry leaves, cumin seeds, and crushed red chili flakes. It sounds odd to add sizzling oil over a creamy potato salad, but trust me it works.

I had a great time creating this dish.  My mom helped me with the photos, something that a certain somebody (ahem, ahem…my husband) never does.  She also has the most amazing collection of plates, silverware, napkins, and other lovely pieces.  My parents’ house is also in the country.  Fresh wild flowers are abundant here along with shimmering sunshine.  I enjoyed this post, maybe it was because of my hiatus or new surroundings and new goodies to pick through.  Either way, I hope to make something else before we leave to go back to Canada,  where I also have a new condo kitchen waiting for me.

Until then, I’m enjoying myself here and hope too many of you haven’t forgotten about me.  I miss my friends in the food community and look forward to exploring your new posts as well.  🙂

Potato Salad with Radishes, Cucumbers, and a Tarka (Tempered Oil/Sizzling Oil with Spices)

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 medium-sized red potatoes, washed and scrubbed

1 bunch icicle radishes, or any radish of your choice

1 medium-sized English cucumber, sliced into discs

1/2 a small red onion, minced finely

1/4 cup chopped chives along with some chive blossoms, if available, plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped mint, plus extra for garnish

1/2 full-fat yogurt

1/2 cup crème fraîche, if in New England try Vermont Butter and Cheese crème fraîche

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

for the tarka:

1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil of your choice

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, or to taste (this amount will be spicy)

10-15 curry leaves, available at Pakistani or Indian grocery stores

Method

Boil the potatoes in salted water in a medium saucepan until tender.  Allow to cool and then peel and slice into half moons.

Next, in a bowl combine the yogurt, crème fraîche, lemon juice, salt pepper, chives, mint, salt, and pepper.  Once it forms a dressing add in the potatoes, radishes, cucumber, and red onion.  Set aside and allow the flavors to come together in the refrigerator for an hour.

Before serving, prepare the tarka by heating up the oil in a small frying pan on medium heat.  Once it has come to temperature add the cumin seeds and red chili flakes.  They may splatter a bit, so be careful.  Once they start to infuse the oil,  after about 2 minutes, add in the curry leaves and let them fry for a minute.  Once the tarka is done, pour over the potato salad.  Garnish with chopped chives, mint, and chive blossoms.  If you are serving in individual plates, place the potato salad in the individual plate and spoon a little of the tarka over each plate.

home

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.

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.

I got down poured on yesterday. I wanted to use the dark stormy clouds as an excuse to not go to the gym. But, my inner dilemma and the impending guilt that would ensue made me get my act together and drag myself out the door. I wore my rain boots and took my husband’s heavy-duty umbrella and braved the dark skies. Neither of these two items would really help the upcoming downpour I was to face. Literally, the minute I stepped outside sheets of rain coming in at me from all directions soaked my entire body. I thought I should just go back up to my apartment, but no I kept going, all the way to the gym. When I arrived I must have looked like a frazzled lunatic. Hair all unkempt, wet clothes, and dripping arms.  As you can get my first stop was to the locker room to put the hair dryer into action.

When I was finished at the gym, believe me when I say I wanted to just order takeout. But, in the morning I took out chicken breasts to defrost. I’m sure we all know that we aren’t supposed to refreeze defrosted meat, I don’t know if this is true or an old wives’ tale. Either way, I was tempted to refreeze it, but decided to just cook it. My focus here isn’t the chicken though. I didn’t do anything that special with it. I tossed it with some mayonnaise, honey, herbs, harissa, then breaded it with panko and baked it. The main star of the meal was the pearl couscous that I made as a side dish. Usually, I make regular couscous and toss in whatever chopped vegetables I have on hand. This time, I basically did the same thing but amped it up a little.

I caramelized shallots and threw in some crunchy and crisp Napa cabbage. The Napa cabbage doesn’t have an overpowering taste yet adds great flavor and texture. I am all about the crunch, the crunch factor prompted me to add in cucumbers and almonds. I always add in dried cranberries to couscous and I did this time as well. I threw in some olives for saltiness. A dish isn’t made by me if there aren’t tons of herbs in it, so that’s what I did here; parsley and mint. A squeeze of lemon, some extra olive oil, and some crumbled sheep’s milk feta complete the dish.

I must talk about the spices here, I love adding cumin and coriander to couscous. Many times, I add a pinch of turmeric, but this time I didn’t feel I needed it. In addition, I threw in another flavor contrast; cane sugar and crushed red chilies. Everything balanced in the end. You might think I don’t know when to stop with ingredients and sometimes that may be the case, but usually it all works out.  Cooking calms me down, once I started preparing this dish I forgot about my rain fiasco.

Summer Pearl Couscous

Serves 4, as a side

Ingredients

1 cup dry pearl couscous (cooked according to package directions)

3 shallots, sliced

1/2 a head of Napa Cabbage, chopped

1 clove of garlic

1/4 of an English cucumber, in a small dice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (any variety you like)

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta (or any mild variety)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 sprigs of parsley, chopped

2 sprigs of mint, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar or turbinado sugar

extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat a saucepan on medium-low with some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add in the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 15 minutes. When the shallots are caramelized toss in the Napa cabbage and garlic and allow the cabbage to wilt down a bit and slightly pick up some caramelization. Add in all the spices and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add in the cranberries and allow them to plump up a little and rehydrate.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the prepared couscous and add in the shallots and cabbage mixture. Put in the cucumbers, olives, parsley, mint, lemon juice, a little extra olive oil, and the slivered almonds. Toss everything together so that everything is evenly distributed. Crumble the feta on top and serve, slightly warm, at room temperature, or even cold, if you like.

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’ve been a little uninspired lately.  That sounds lame, doesn’t it?  Summer is right around the corner and new produce is popping up galore and I’m uninspired.  It’s probably more that I’m lazy than uninspired.  I do love cooking (especially for others) but sometimes you get stuck in a rut.  Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and say, ” let’s go out for dinner”. Usually, I want to hit up a local sushi joint (the best sushi in Kingston, which isn’t hard to accomplish, but they are still pretty good).  My husband can only have so much sushi so this plan doesn’t fly as much as I would like it to.

As many of you know, I sometimes whip random things together when I’m uninspired.  I start without a plan and end up with something that triumphs or fails miserably.  I would like to think I get more hits than misses.  And sometimes, I have to make something because the husband might be on-call and says the hospital cafeteria food is basically mystery meat served under infrared lights.  So, I take pity and whip up something for him.  I know, I know, I deserve the best wife of the year award.

On one of these on-call nights, I literally had 1 leek, 1/2 a bunch of asparagus, 1 orange pepper, a lemon, a little greek yogurt, chives, and parsley in my fridge.  I could see very little rhyme or reason in these ingredients, so I was thinking I would not use those ingredients and make a simple chicken curry, something I’m not really a fan of, but it’s easy and quick.  But, when I flew this idea by my husband it was a no-go.  There I was, left stuck with these ingredients.  I just tossed the asparagus, leek, pepper, and half a bulb of garlic in the oven and let them roast.  I even started photographing them just in case my no-plan recipe actually led to something that I could share it with you all.

Once roasted, I decided to purée and leeks and garlic with the greek yogurt.  Tasting and trying led me to add lemon and extra-virgin olive oil, but it still needed something.  I whipped through my cupboards and thought nuts would make a good addition.  I was making a corrupted form of a pesto.  My gut told me to reach for pine nuts, but instead I went for pistachios.  Thank god, for a well stocked pantry.  Even when there’s nothing I have the staples.  I threw everything into the blender until the nuts were smooth and when I tasted it again I literally exclaimed to myself, “this is soooooo good!”  I even woke up my husband who was napping before his shift and made him try it.  Half asleep and dazed, he loved it too.

I was left with a sauce and some roasted vegetables.  If it was just me, I would have eaten the vegetables tossed in the sauce but my carnivore husband was already going vegetarian for the day and to make him carb free would have been absolutely blasphemous.  I didn’t really have a choice here, it was either pasta, rice, or the tiniest amount of cous cous.  I went with the pasta and boiled it and tossed everything together with the herbs and it all worked perfectly in harmony and unison.  I chopped up a few more pistachios as a garnish for good measure.  Although this is more lunch-worthy than a dinner meal it worked for my purposes and I was happy I came up with something half-way decent.

You don’t need to be an expert cook to come up with a good dish, you just need the instinct and the taste for ingredients and everything comes together in the end.  I love that there is no right or wrong and that cooking can make you feel inspired even when you have no plan or road map initially.  I don’t really follow the rules and who is to say you aren’t supposed to pair a with b or c.  If I had to cook using only classic techniques and ingredients that were “supposed” to be paired together I might not be so enthusiastic about cooking.

Pasta Salad with a Roasted Leek, Garlic, Greek Yogurt, and Pistachio Dressing

Serves 3

Ingredients

1-2 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned well and chopped

1/2 head of garlic

1/2 bunch of asparagus

1 pepper, any color

3/4 cup of greek yogurt

1 lemon, juice and zest

1/4 cup pistachios, plus some extra for garnish

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 cups short dry pasta, I used gemelli (cooked according to package instructions)

15 sprigs of chives, chopped

1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped (you can use any herbs you like)

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the leeks, the half head of garlic (skin on and intact), and the pepper on a baking tray tossed with some olive oil and salt and black pepper.  Roast until the leeks around beginning to lightly caramelize about 20-25 minutes.  The garlic should be cooked through, mushy, and just slightly caramelized.  If the garlic is done first, remove it from the oven.  The pepper should be just lightly charred and cooked through.  Remove from the oven. Allow the leeks, garlic, and pepper to cool for 15 minutes.  Once cooled, remove the garlic from the skin and remove the skin and seeds of the pepper and cut it into strips.

Next, toss the asparagus with some olive oil, salt and black pepper and roast in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes.  When it is done, the asparagus should be crisp and not mushy.  When the asparagus to cooked, cut it on an angle into 2″ pieces.

Use a blender of food processor to make the dressing.  Put the leeks, garlic, pistachios, lemon zest, and greek yogurt in the blender.  Start to blend so that they start to come together.  Next, squeeze in the juice of them lemon.  Blend and then add in the olive oil.  Keep blending until there are no large chunks of pistachio in the sauce and it is smooth and creamy.  If the sauce is too thick you can add in some water to loosen it a bit.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Toss the dressing with the cooked pasta.  Add in the asparagus and pepper strips.  Garnish with the chives and parsley and top with some extra chopped pistachios and a drizzle of olive oil.  This can be chilled for up to an hour.  I thought it tasted best at room temperature.

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.

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.