Archives for posts with tag: Herbs

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.

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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.

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.

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.

There are some foods that you always say you don’t like, and then when you haven’t had them for a while you really crave them.  I remember when I first moved to Montreal for Grad School, I had not eaten Pakistani food in over a month.  Luckily, I made a Pakistani friend who had done her research and knew of several Pakistani restaurants.  I did not cook at my apartment, simply because I was grossed out.  I did no prior research and just opted for Graduate Housing and thought it would be fine (at least the pictures online looked fine).  When I arrived, I was almost in tears, looking back it wasn’t thattt bad, but still.  When that lease was finished, I moved out of there and into a new place like it was no one’s business.

That is why I never cooked, and lived off of takeout or meals that did not require cooking.  So, when my friend asked if I wanted to go out for Pakistani, I was so incredibly excited.  Thank God, she took me for a buffet.  That was one time that I was in the mood for “all you can eat.”  I don’t even remember what exactly we ate, but I do remember we were both extremely satiated.

I think it was during that dinner, we started talking about our moms’ cooking.  Most Pakistani moms do cook quite well, or so their kids say.  Even though my mom doesn’t look like the typical Pakistani mom, her food is always great.  My friend and I started talking about when our moms throw big parties and what their cooking specialties were.  It turned out that both our moms thought their maash ki dal (white lentils) was something special.  It’s different than the more soupy dals out there, and is “party-worthy” food.  My friend and I laughed so much thinking about how our moms thought their dishes were something unique.  My friend was saying that her mom makes the maash ki dal because it is everyone’s request.  It was the same story with my mom.

I never really paid maash ki dal much attention before.  But, there are those few times that I crave it.  Luckily for me, it is a snap to prepare and my husband will eat just about anything without being overly picky, so he enjoys it as well.  It is a different dish to add to your repertoire and you can also make this dal soupy, if you chose to.  The recipe here is a dry version.

White Lentils with a Sizzling Oil (Tarka) Garnish

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup maash dal sometimes called Urad dal, available at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores (soak the dal in water for 1 hour and then rinse away the old water a few times)

2 cups water, scant

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon turmeric, optional

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste

1/2 a tomato, chopped finely, optional (I just used one because I had half of one in the fridge)

for garnish:

3-4 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2  a small onion, sliced thinly

2 branches/stems of curry leaves (removed from stems), available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores

4-5 whole dried red chilies

handful chopped cilantro

a few mint leaves, chopped

2″ piece of ginger, julienned

1 green chili, sliced in half length-wise

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan bring the water to a boil on medium to medium-high heat.  Add in the maash ki dal, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, and tomato.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the water has evaporated and when you press on the dal with your finger it mashes easily.  The grains should be separate, not mushy.  Place the dal into your serving dish.  Next, in a frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat.  Add the onion and begin to fry it.  After 3 minutes add in the cumin seeds, curry leaves, whole dried red chilies and fry all of the items together until the onions turn golden brown.  You may want to run your exhaust fan during this process because it may cause you to cough a bit. When the onions are golden, pour the hot oil mixture over the lentils.  Then finish the garnish with the ginger, cilantro, mint leaves, and the green chili.  Serve with roti or naan.

This title might make it sound like I have a vendetta against mayonnaise.  It’s just a temporary “bye-bye.”  Actually, mayo and I are fine, except for the fact that I like to dollop mayo on fries like it’s no one’s business.  But other than that, I have little qualms with it.  I do like the classic potato salad.  Hmmm, let me rephrase that.  I do like the classic potato salad, if it’s made with red potatoes, tons of tarragon and other yummy herbs.  See, I don’t have any hang-ups.  You all must know of the classic potato salad, that is white, made with regular potatoes, vinegar, and mayo, I think.  I have not ventured into making that version, because of the no herbs thing, which does not fly in my books.  Just letting you all know (if you didn’t already).

In my mayo-less version, there are of course potatoes, baby new potatoes that were roasted rather than boiled for extra flavor and caramelized goodness.  By the way, this potato salad was in no way a planned recipe.  It was the outcome of hunger and a fridge raid.  Back to the ingredients, spring asparagus is EVERYWHERE, so rather than just roasting it and serving it as a side, I thought to make it part of this potato salad.  Then, I started thinking of Salad Nicoise, minus the boiled eggs, minus the tuna or salmon, and minus the haricots verts.  Essentially, I just conceptualized Kalamata olives and potatoes together in some form and did not have all the ingredients for Salad Nicoise.  Thus, the olives went in too.  The next biggest decision would be which herbs I would use.  Mint and chives are staples of mine and always in my fridge (along with parsley, thyme, and cilantro).  I crumbled in some feta and sliced in red onion, but leave these out if you do not care for them.  I love the purple pop the onion adds to the dish.

Through this, a new version of potato salad was born.  I imagine it would be great on a picnic. I would have rather been on a picnic while eating it.  Alas, the kitchen table had to suffice.  I will be making this potato salad again.  A new recipe, to my repertoire and it was so easy to come up with.  This makes me very happy.

The Bye-Bye Mayo Potato Salad with Asparagus, Kalamatas, Chives, and Mint

Serves 4 (as a side)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of baby new potatoes, washed and dried

1 small bunch of asparagus

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted (or as many as you would like)

1/2 a small red onion, sliced finely

1/4 cup crumbled feta, optional (good quality)

10-15 springs of chives, chopped

handful of mint, chopped

1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil + extra for coating the potatoes and asparagus (good quality)

juice of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, minced and mashed

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Season the potatoes and asparagus with salt and pepper.  Lay the potatoes on a sheet tray and put them into the heated oven for about 45 minutes or until fork tender.  When there are 10 minutes left on the cooking time of the potatoes add the asparagus to the oven.  In the meantime, whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice with salt, pepper, garlic, chives, and mint, set aside.  When the potatoes and asparagus have cooled slightly, cut the asparagus on an angle into 1 1/2″ pieces.  Next, toss the potatoes, asparagus, red onion, Kalamata olives with the lemon/herb dressing.  You may not have to use all of it.  Add in the crumbled feta on top.  You may add more chives and mint on top.  Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Cheese strikes, yet again.  I love it when I make something and people love it and rave about it.  I especially love it when what I made was simple and easy.  I sometimes get insecure about making things that do not take a lot of time for guests.  Will they judge me because I made something that took me literally five minutes to make.  Me and my hang-ups, difficult to understand for my husband some.  I mentioned this before, I like guests to feel welcome and enjoy the experience of coming over, and part of this includes good food.

In Rhode Island, I helped my parents throw a party for their friends.  Party planning is something that gives me a high.  (On a small scale, large 500 guest parties might cause me to go over the edge, but that’s another story.)  The non-stop action and preparations that are required for a party are thrilling as well as terrifying.  To ease this extreme range of emotions, it is important to have a few tricks up your sleeve.  (Wow, I said a few tricks up your sleeve, am I becoming cliche!?)

Baked Feta definitely qualifies as a crowd pleaser.  The night of the party, it was a big hit and was the first starter to be wiped clean.  Some people do not love cheese in the same way as I do (my husband grrrr, though I must admit he has come a LONG way).  But, even people who do not share in my enthusiasm for cheese enjoy this Baked Feta.  Feta is known to have a salty pungency, but the baking process really mellows it out.  I use a sheep’s or goat’s milk feta of good quality because I have tried this with average supermarket feta and it does not have the same consistency or smoothness.  The sundried tomatoes, and nuts, capers, and thyme ooze together in perfect unison.  I also add a drizzle of honey to cut the saltiness and though most could not discern the honey in the baked feta, they could certainly notice its absence if I did not include it.  The honey and almonds caramelize together, almost forming a candied crunch on top.  Enjoy this with some crusty bread, Greek pita, or crackers.

Baked Feta with Sundried Tomatoes, Almonds, Capers, and Thyme

Serves 6 (as a starter)

Ingredients

10 ounces of food quality Feta, sliced into 1/4″ thickness

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, julienned

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

10 springs of thyme, left whole

2 tablespoons honey

2-3 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Use a quiche dish and lay the feta slice son the bottom and assemble the sundried tomatoes, almonds, capers, and thyme on top in an attractive way.  Drizzle with the honey, extra-virgin olive oil, and the lemon juice.  Add a few cranks of freshly ground pepper over the top.  Bake the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes or until bubbly and oozing.  Switch the oven to broil for about a minute, stay near the oven because the thyme can burn easily.  Remove from the oven and serve hot with warmed Greek pita.

I used to hate smoked salmon.  I would not even touch it.  Oh and yes, I used to loathe capers too.  It’s funny how they both ended up in this spread.  I remember always asking a waitperson to omit the capers from anything I ordered.  Smoked salmon just smelled plain old fishy to me.  And then one day, I decided to stop being annoying and judging foods from some childhood notion I had of how they taste.  Just like that, I realized that they were actually good, really good.  Now, at brunch I am always torn between a smoked salmon platter (which most times includes capers) or some omelet or frittata or maybe pancakes, waffles or…As you can see I like EVERYTHING now.  I love the fact that I have gotten oven any hang-ups I used to have.  True confession:  I used to hate sushi/sashimi too.  Now, I simply cannot go a week without it.

I love when people are open-minded.  In this day and age, I see people having way too many issues about things when they haven’t even tried something or experienced something fully.  Go and dive into things and I’m sure most people will find more things they love than hate.  Of course, I feel this should be applied to all aspects of life.  However, since this blog is primarily about food, I would like to encourage all of us to get out of our culinary comfort zone and try something we think we dislike.  Imagine, something as everyday as smoked salmon was out of my comfort zone.  Things become part of our everyday and we do not even realize it.  That’s a great process of expanding the mind and more importantly, the taste-buds.

This smoked salmon spread is just what my taste-buds call out for.  My mind is calling out,” feeeeeeeeeeeed me,” most hours of the day and this spread surely satisfies my never-ending pit of an appetite.  Creamy and salty and soooo good!  Another benefit of this spread is that it is so simple.  I like to make dishes that have an elegance and oomph to them without too much effort.  The freshest ingredients will always yield the most delicious results, as is the case with this spread.

Smoked Salmon Spread with Dill, Chives, and Capers

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of spread

Ingredients

3 ounces of wild smoked salmon

1/2 cup creme fraiche

3/4 cup artisanal cream cheese (or regular cream cheese if you can’t find artisanal)

1 tablespoon capers (brine rinsed off)

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

15 sprigs of chives, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1 clove of garlic, chopped, optional

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

Pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor until just combined.  If you do not have a food processor, chop everything finely and mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until fluffy.  So easy!  Serve with crusty bread or some nice crackers.  This would also be great on a bagel.