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

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

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

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

Caramelized Leek and Goat Cheese Spread

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

olive oil

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

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely chopped

scallions and chives chopped, about 1/4 cup

zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of its juice

5 ounces softened goat cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek Yogurt

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Summer Corn and Potato Salad with Red Chilies

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

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

2 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and sliced

6-7 radishes, sliced

1 avocado, cut into chunks

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

salt, to taste

for the red chili dressing

4 mild long red chilies, sliced thinly

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sour cream or full-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chives, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

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

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

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

I thought to myself that I better get this post up before cherries go totally out of season and I will look like an idiot putting this post up in the dead of winter when cherries are hard to come by.  So here I am doing you all a favor by not taunting you with a cherry post in December.  Jokes aside, I love cherries and anything cherry flavored, including those artificial candies with not a lick of real cherry in them.  I’m ashamed of this but, cherry “flavored” food  and me go back a long way.  I remember being a big lover of cherry blowpops, gummy bears, if there was a candy I had to eat it was always the red one.  To this day, I have a secret addiction to all things gummy.  My husband’s niece has a big sweet tooth and whenever I go over to her place, I ask her to share some gummy-type candy with me from her stash and she never disappoints!

I was supposed to entice you all with a cherry custard pie and here I am talking about cherry-flavored candies – some food blogger I am.  Let me sidetrack a little more and tell you all how I am always reluctant to eat fresh cherries.  You see, whenever I eat fresh cherries, the next day I wake up with a sore throat.  This also happens to my sister so I am definitely not making it up as my husband thinks I do.  But this summer I have seen so many cherries in the markets that I had to try and make something with them.  If I got a sore throat then I would be off real cherries forever.  (Never the artificially-flavored gummy candies, mind you.)

I eagerly made this cherry custard pie.  I love fruit pies and tarts.  The flaky crust with a little custard or cream and some ripe fruit is an amazing combination.  And perfect for a summer day.

This cherry custard pie was a success and I steered clear from any signs of a sore throat so this will be part of my repertoire from now on.

(PS – I have two more posts photographed, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me on this space! 🙂 )

Cherry Custard Pie with a Corn Meal Crust

Serves 8

for the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup corn meal

1 teaspoon salt

tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 sticks of butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

2-4 tablespoons ice water

for the custard:

1 cup mascarpone cheese

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

10 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

1 cup pitted cherries

Method

To make the crust: In a food processor pulse together the flour, corn meal, salt, and sugar.  Next add in the chilled butter and pulse until combined.  Through the feed tube stream in the ice water tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to come together.  Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it just comes together and wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.  After it is chilled, roll-out the dough so that it fits into a 10-inch pie dish and then blind-bake the crust in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  If the dough expands and rises just use a spoon to press it down.

To make the custard:  In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the mascarpone, and eggs on medium speed for 2 minutes until fluffy.  Next add in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and the pinch of salt.  Beat together for another minute and add in the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Mix until just combined.  Take the bowl off the mixer and fold in the pitted cherries.

At this point preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Next, pour the custard mixture into the baked pie crust and place the pie pan on the cookie sheet.  Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes, or until the custard is set.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grilled Thai Prawns with a Fresh Vegetable Relish

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

Ingredients

for the shrimp

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

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil of your choice

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp

2-3 cloves garlic, mashed

1 inch piece of ginger

1 stalk lemon grass

zest and juice of 1 lime

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

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

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

sea salt, to taste

for the Fresh Vegetable Relish

2 shallots, finely chopped

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

1/2 cup cucumber, finely diced

1 red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 stalk of lemon grass, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

fresh chopped herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, or mint

salt, to taste

Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

Olive oil

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

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

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

1 small cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cooked chickpeas, or any bean of your choice

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

1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or currants

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

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

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon red chili flakes or to taste

for the dressing:

1 small clove of garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint

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

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Beet and Carrot Tart

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

for the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, frozen

up to 1/4 cup ice water

filling:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

salt and black pepper, to taste

for top:

2 golden beets

2 carrots

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

Method

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

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

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

When I was seven my family went on vacation to Cairo before going to see relatives in Pakistan.  I guess my parents wanted to enrich our childhood by taking us to see some of the wonders of the world – the pyramids.  Being seven, I didn’t appreciate or understand the greatness of what I was seeing.  I don’t remember much about this trip, but I do remember some highlights.  I’m sure my sister, who was four at the time and I were probably complaining about the heat and continually asking when we would see Mickey Mouse.  My parents were probably kicking themselves for taking their two little brats see these ancient landmarks.

My dad is infamous for telling us stories from our childhood.  Stories we usually would not like every random stranger to know.  Regardless, my dad is always ready to share that he had to carry my crying sister on his back inside the Great Pyramid at Giza and how I complained that the pyramid had a weird smell to it.  As you can see, my sister and I really savored our experience there.  But I do remember bits and pieces of this trip.  We went to the Egyptian Museum, I relished the thought of telling my classmates that I had seen the mummy of King Tut.  We had a guide too, who helped us weave our way through souks and also showed us the famous Tahrir square.  I also recall that we stayed at the Shepheard Hotel, a hotel that my father told me that my grandfather had stayed at during a visit to Cairo.  In that hotel my sister and I feasted on mango ice cream and salade Niçoise.  Out of all the choices of food we had, these two were on our daily wish lists.  At the Shepheard hotel, I recall watching an Egyptian marriage procession in amazement.  I heard ululation for the first time, I did not know whether these high-pitched voices indicated happiness or sadness, whatever the case, I stood there in awe.

Amongst all of these memories, my father always highlights one story in particular.  Looking back, we laugh about the incident, but at the time I still remember my childhood panic.  It was nighttime and after a long day of sightseeing we were back at the hotel.  My sister and I were hungry and requested what we called “Egyptian Pizza,” which was available on the street close to the hotel.  My parents decided to get us some of this Egyptian pizza while they explicitly told my sister and I that they would be back in 5 minutes and we should stay in the room.

A few minutes after they left, I panicked.  I told my sister I was going to look for them.  I went down to the lobby in my nightie and untied Keds sneakers.  Because it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your Rainbow Brite nightie as long as you’ve got sneakers on – the logic of a child. Anyway, I hustled around the lobby looking for my parents.  I couldn’t find them so I went back up to the room.  My sister was gone.  Apparently, she had also panicked.  I went back down and saw her crying and sitting with an Egyptian man.  He asked us where our parents were and my sister said they left us.  He looked puzzled.  I at seven was slightly more mature and said they were coming back and went to get us pizza.  I don’t remember much else except that within a few minutes my parents arrived and saw us in the lobby with the man and my sister full of tears.  They must have realized that they shouldn’t have left us alone.  This is a story that is repeated practically every time I go to see my parents.

All that commotion was for this flatbread.  I think you can find this in Levant cuisine as well as Turkish cuisine known as Lahmajoun and Lahmacun.  I suspect this Egyptian version might have been Armenian because of the large Armenian population in Egypt.  I recreated it here, with a different crust.  I love adding flax and chia seeds to my dough.  They had a lovely nuttiness and texture as well.  The spicy and smokey ground meat is delicious and the bell peppers minced in shine through.  I made this and was reminded of that trip to Cairo.  I guess my parents did the right thing by taking us to Egypt.  If anything, I have this story to tell.

Spicy Beef Flatbreads

makes 4

Ingredients

for the whole-wheat, flax, chia dough:

1 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast (or half a sachet)

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

3/4 whole-wheat four

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

2 tablespoons ground chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

for the beef:

1/2 lb ground beef (you can also mix ground beef and ground lamb, or just use lamb)

1/2 an onion, chopped

5-6 mini bell peppers, red, orange, yellow, or 1 large bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green chili, chopped (seeds removed, if you like)

1/2 cup chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro

2 scallions, chopped

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon, red chili flakes, use less for less spicy

1 teaspoon ground cumin

kosher salt, to taste

olive oil

fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges, for serving

Method

First, make the dough by combining the yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Let the yeast bloom for 10 minutes.  Next, add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and salt.  Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Attach the dough hook to the mixer and put the bowl on the mixer and turn it to low-speed.  Gradually add the dry ingredients into the bowl, once the dry ingredients are all in the bowl, turn the speed to medium and let the dough knead for 2-3 minutes.  If you need extra water or flour, add it tablespoon at a time.  It should be a smooth dough.  Once kneaded, drizzle some olive oil over top so that it doesn’t form a skin and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

Once the dough has risen punch it down and knead slightly and put it back in the bowl for the second rising, about 30 minutes.  Once the dough has risen again knead it for a few minutes and separate it into four balls.

Next, in a food processor, add in the onions, garlic, peppers, green chili pepper, and herbs.  Pulse a few times until finely chopped.  Next, squeeze out the excess water from the vegetable mixture in a kitchen towel or strong paper towel.  In bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the ground meat and spices.  Mix it together with your hands.  Set aside

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Next, roll out the dough to 8-9 inch diameter circles, like individual sized pizzas.  dust with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.  Drizzle the dough circles with olive oil. Place the dough on a flat baking tray and then spread the meat mixture over the dough evenly and drizzle with olive oil again.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown.  Serve with fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges.

I often go through the dilemma as to whether I’m a city girl or a country girl.  I grew up in the country and always wanted to live in the city.  Now that I’m living in a city I love it.  I’m busy there’s way more to do and I think I see myself as someone who always needs to live near a big city.  But I do appreciate the beauty and peace the country has to offer.  Ultimately, I need to be close enough to a rural area that if I get the urge to unwind the option is there.

I had been urging my husband to go apple picking with me for years now.  I remember there was a farm very close to my house that I used to go to as a child.  We would all sit on the back of a large tractor and go off into the orchard picking apples and pumpkins and coming back to the farm to drink warm apple cider and munch on freshly baked pies.  Just thinking about it is making me all warm inside.  It was those simple things I enjoyed, I see some children now who would think such an outing would be lame.  In this day and age everything has changed and it makes me feel old.  Taking a drive 45 minutes out of the city brings back so many memories and sort of gives you a reality check.  We let go of our selfishness and just enjoy nature.

My husband eats up country living, he would have been content to stay in the country-ish city we were in before.  He says it’s because he grew up in the desert (the Middle East) so everything there was man-made and new.  No greenery, no trees, just sand and more sand.  We’ve come to the compromise that once we settle wherever we will end up permanently has to be within 45 minutes of the countryside.  I think I can handle that.  After all, I am a country girl at heart.

Back to the apple picking, I have with so many apples I don’t know what to do with them.  We got a little over zealous and picked way too many.  I started off by making this caramel apple cake.  Though it was delicious it only used up about 5 apples.  If I make about 10 more, I might be able to use up all the apples.  This cake is actually worth making 10 more times.  It’s easy and the apple flavor really shines through.  I added crushed nuts on top, which not only added extra flavor, but also made the cake look even prettier.  It’s a rustic cake, it sort of reminds me of a clafoutis – very light and airy.  Give it a go and make it with apples you’ve picked yourself.

Salted Caramel Apple Cake

*The consistency of reminds me of Dorie Greenspan’s Apple Cake.

Ingredients

1 cup Salted Caramel*

3 cups chopped apples, preferably baking apples, I used Spartan and Cortland

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

squeeze of lemon juice

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

crushed nuts (any that you like – pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans), for garnish

confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Method

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, set aside.

Mix together chopped apples, cinnamon, and lemon in a bowl.  Next, combine with the caramel and set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until light an airy.  At this point, add in the eggs, one at a time and beat until combined.  Add in the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

Next, with the mixer on low-speed, slowly incorporate the flour mixture into the batter and beat until just combined.

Lay the apple and caramel mixture on the bottom of the springform pan and then lay the batter on top of the apples.  Spread the batter evenly on top.  Place the springform pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  When done, remove the cake from the oven and let it sit at for 30 minutes before removing the springform pan.  Invert the cake on the serving dish so that the apples are on top and then garnish with the chopped nuts and confectioners’ sugar.

*for the caramel I use this recipe and replaced the kosher salt with fleur de sel.


I’m all about quick bites lately.  I’m a woman on a mission.  The mission is to get a job and get my career rolling again.  Now, that we’re in a bigger city, I’m more than ready to jumpstart my career and this has been my main focus.  I’ve been cooking, but I really haven’t made anything that could warrant a blog post, or even if it could, I have too lazy to get my camera out and start shooting.

Excuses, excuses.  Just a few days ago, I realized I was becoming a laptop zombie in the vortex of job postings.  Suddenly, the sun began to stream into the room so beautifully and I thought I would be a fool not to take advantage of the sunlight.  It was ethereal and glowing.  When you’re in the zone on your laptop, you don’t take the time to notice the small things.  I’m glad I snapped out of the twilight zone and I instantly went into the kitchen and started to make something.  A lunch for myself.  Why not, I thought.  My husband has been working at all hours of the day, so I’m usually eating cereal for dinner.  Who is this person?  It’s so not me.

Anyway, I started roasted some figs, caramelizing onions, grilling halloumi – getting back into my element.  It was truly fun for me, how can it not be fun when you’re working with such beauties.  When I look at figs I’m amazed, the color, shape, the little seeds, they’re all just perfect.  Griddled, golden and salty cheese, sweet and savory onions – that’s why I love cooking.  Sometimes you just need a refresher.

Sugar-Roasted Figs, Caramelized Onions, and Halloumi Plate

Serves 3-4, a snack or starter

Ingredients

olive oil

6-8 figs, cut in half

1/4 cup caramelized onions*

halloumi cheese, cut into 1/4″ slices, as much or as little as you want, I used about 1/4 lb

1/4 cup brown sugar

a few sprigs of thyme

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

sea salt and black pepper

flatbread, for serving

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Line the figs on the tray and sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize and become candied.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized sauté pan on medium heat with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, grill the halloumi on each side until both sides are golden, about 1-2 minutes per side.  Set aside.

To assemble: you can either serve everything separately or combine everything on one platter.  Use your own creativity and arrange the figs, halloumi, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and mint.  Serve with bread of your choice.

*To caramelize onions: Slice 2 small onions (I used red).  Heat a sauté pan on medium-low heat and add in a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions to the pan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and gently cook them on for about 25 minutes.  Season them with a sprinkling of sea salt.

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.