Friendly Food Snobs

grilled halloumi caprese salad

grilled halloumi caprese saladRipe tomato slices play well with grilled salty halloumi in this grilled halloumi caprese salad. A rethink of the traditional tomato and mozzarella caprese, and I think maybe even better! It was a super busy weekend at our house Oscar turned two and we hosted a big family BBQ and Sunday was Father’s Day. My quick to make but still yummy Father’s Day dinner for Neil was BBQ flank steak and this salad, and some fresh garlic thyme pita bread and hummus. Fresh and tasted like summer.

I first tried halloumi about 15 years ago backpacking in Cyprus and we’d have it wrapped with grilled meats in a pita (usually at 2am after a night out). This meal reminds me of all those flavours.

As with all simple recipes, quality ingredients are key. Thankfully they’re not hard to find for this salad. I let my tomatoes ripen on the window sill for a few days, and just bought the halloumi from my local grocery store. You can get cow or sheep and both are great. The basil came from my garden, the olive oil from my mother-in-law’s recent trip to Italy and the balsamic reduction is store bought. You can find balsamic reduction at any major grocer now. It’s reduced balsamic vinegar (make sure you read the ingredients) and so handy to drizzle over a salad, BBQ meats or cheeses. I use it for salad dressing instead of honey often too.  My boys gobbled this salad up and used the fresh pita bread for the leftover olive oil on the plate. So if you occasionally eat carbs like we do, serve up a little good bread for this recipe – worth the calories to sop up that good olive oil! Makes four side portions.

grilled halloumi caprese salad

Ingredients:
250 gram package halloumi cheese
2 large or 3 small ripe tomatoes
salt and pepper
10 whole basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic reduction

Cut the halloumi cheese into 1/4 inch pieces. I usually get 10-12 slices per package. Pat dry with paper towel. Heat a non stick pan or case iron skillet to medium heat. Grill cheese for 2 mins a side until golden brown. Use a rubber spatula to check it every minute or so. I do it in two batches to not crowd the pan. Slice tomatoes in 1/4 inch slices and layer on serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Layer grilled halloumi on top of tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and toss basil leaves over top. Eat right away or can sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so until serving.  Recipe can easily be doubled. Enjoy and happy summer eating!

toasted quinoa granola

quinoa granola Quinoa granola is quickly becoming my favourite breakfast lately. Packed with oats, crispy toasted quinoa, cinnamon, coconut oil and maple syrup it makes me excited to hear that weekday alarm. No joke. The nutty and crispy quinoa is the best! Served over yogurt with a little drizzle of honey? Yum. It’s totally vegan, gluten free and packed with protein and good fats to keep you feeling full. Seriously it is so easy, once you start making your own granola it’s hard to go back to store bought. Feel free to swap in pepita seeds or sliced almonds if you have them on hand too instead of the hemp hearts. I just measure out all the ingredients and pour them directly into my glass baking dish, using it as my mixing bowl and minimizing clean up. Makes 6-8 servings.

toasted quinoa granola

Ingredients:
2 and 1/2 cups old fashioned large oats
1/2 cup uncooked dry quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweeteneed flaked coconut
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup melted coconut oil

Combine all ingredients. Bake at 300 degrees for 35-40 minutes in a glass or ceramic baking dish, stirring once halfway. Once done cooking give the granola a good stir all the way to the bottom (sometimes the quinoa can stick a little) and let cool completely before storing. Keeps well in a sealed container in the fridge or on the counter top for two weeks or in the freezer for longer. Hope you enjoy!

coconut curry squash lentil soup

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The return to work is really the last sort of triumph is new motherhood isn’t it? Another change, another end and beginning. Pluses: the option to actually drink hot coffee, and wear accessories that have been collecting dust, and that renewed sense of self [or yes my brain does still work!]. The downside, I’ve learned so quickly is less time with your babe and less time actually at home. I am so lucky here in Toronto, Canada we have one year of maternity leave. I stayed home with Oscar for 14 months and it was the happiest and craziest time of my life.

For me this transition back to work happened in late summer. Since then it’s also marked me shifting into uncharted cooking territory: meal planning. I used to totally mock it, now I get it. Leftovers are my friend, and the freezer is my BEST friend. I’ve found joy and maybe even a little calmness in spending Sunday cooking big catches of food like roast chicken, quinoa, homemade granola and now that it’s January and freezing out – soups. Weeknights become easier with three or four prepped dishes in the fridge or freezer. Soups freeze so well for up to several months.

Which brings me friends to this awesome little soup. Red lentils for protein meet coconut milk, butternut squash and a hint of curry. It’s kid approved and recipe makes 6-8 servings. You could easily swap out the butternut squash for acorn too. I’ve also stirred in some leftover rice or quinoa I had to use up in the fridge before serving and it’s yummy with or without. We’ve been eating it lately topped with a few chia seeds, cilantro, feta, or a big dollop of plain yogurt. It’s yummy just by itself too.

coconut curry squash lentil soup

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash
1 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp yellow curry powder
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
one can full-fat coconut milk
1 cup dry red lentils
3 cups water
olive oil

Cut squash into four pieces leaving the skin on. Scoop out the seeds. I find it easiest to use a metal spoon. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. While the squash bakes, I take a minute to prep the remaining ingredients and rinse my lentils. I just swish the lentils in a large metal bowl of cool water. Then I use my hand to hold the lentils in and tilt the bowl over the sink to drain the water. It’s not a science so if you don’t get all the water or lose some lentils, it’s all good.

Coat the bottom on a large soup pot generously with olive oil and cook onion on medium heat with salt and pepper until fragrant. Add garlic, cumin, curry and red pepper flakes. Add a bit more oil if you need to and keep stirring, spices will become fragrant. Remove from heat and scoop the squash from its skin, adding to the pot. Add the coconut milk, water and lentils. Stir and bring to a light boil. Then reduce heat and let simmer on low for 30-40 minutes.

I use an immersion blender to quickly blitz this into a creamy consistency. A regular blender works well too. If you want a chunkier soup just mash with a plain old potato master. Tell me in the comments – do you meal prep too? Hope you love this soup as much as I do!

Canola Eat Well Holiday Baking Party

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Who doesn’t love baking up a storm, hanging with your girlfriends, learning about food, and sipping some wine? I got to do all this and more last week attending a farm-to-table holiday baking party hosted by Canola Eat Well. The event took place at Luxe Appliance Studio, a stunning cooking space on King St East here in Toronto, and was hosted by cookbook author and chef Emily Richards.

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A neutral oil, canola oil can be used for frying as well as in sweet or savory recipes. Emily explained its versatility and how well it lets other flavours shine. A great versatile healthy oil to have in your pantry, I often use it in baking and for making popcorn the old fashioned way on the stove top using a pot and kernels.

My dad’s family has run a successful family dairy operation for generations. At the event I especially loved getting to chat with a Canadian canola farmer from Alberta about how the farm-to-table dining craze supports Canadian farmers and their local communities. Just another reason to reach for canola oil!

To kick off the evening and get our hands dirty we crushed some canola seeds. A practice canola farmers still do today to grade the quality of their canola seed. We were even able to expel some canola oil.
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A highlight of the night for me was connecting with Emily, a successful cookbook author and mom of three. She shared some tips on weeknight family dinners and the beauty of cooking and eating as a family. Emily talked about watching her grandmother use canola oil this time of year in holiday baking and shared some of her favourite recipes. I have included her aranaci rice ball recipe below.  If arancini is on the menu at a restaurant I always order it to share as a starter. Crispy and cheesy, a perfect small bite with some wine. It’s featured, along many other delicious Southern Italian recipes in her latest cookbook Per La Famiglia. A great Christmas gift for a foodie!

Arancini (Cheese-filled Rice Balls)

Ingredients for filling:
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp saffron threads
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
2 tbsp butter
1 egg

Ingredients for Coating:
6 oz mozzarella, provolone, asiago or havarti cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 cup dry seasoned bread crumbs
4-6 cups canola oil (for frying)
good quality sea salt (to sprinkle after frying)

Filling: Boil water and saffron in large pot. Add rice and reduce heat to low stiring frequently for about 20 minutes or until tender but firm. Add romano cheese and butter. Set aside and let cool. Coating: Cut cheese into 16-18 small cubes and set aside. In a shallow dish whisk eggs. Divide rice filling into 16-18 small balls. Make an indentation in each ball and place cheese cube, then seal indentation. Roll balls in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. In a large saucepan heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry balls in small batches 2-3 minutes until golden. Drain on a paper towel lined dish. I added a sprinkle of coarse sea salt to these as they cooled as well.

I served these at home with a little tomato sauce for dipping and topping and they were a huge hit.

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Photo credit: photography by Josh Tenn-Yuk courtesy of Canola Eat Well. This event and post was sponsored by Canola Eat Well. All opinions and comments are my own.

tomato + zucchini baked egg shakshuka

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Tomatoes, zucchini, garlic and feta – maybe some of my favourite flavours ever. Shakshuka hails as a breakfast dish in the Middle East, but I often make it for weeknight suppers or late lunch on Sunday afternoons.

It cooks in one pan, and we sometimes have fresh bread from the market on Saturdays to scoop it all up with. Other wins? Shakshuka cooks in one pan, is meatless and loaded with veggies and protein from those eggs. Can you tell I have gone back to work with the cooks-in-one-pan business? Life’s full of big beautiful feelings with my boy now in daycare and it’s BUSY. Three of out four meals I am cooking these days cook in one pot or pan i.e.: soups, frittatas and dishes like this one. Okay enough about me, back to the recipe! I used tomatoes and zucchinis, but you can easily substitute any veggie your family likes. Red peppers, mushrooms or spinach all work. I’ll often make this on Sunday and enjoy it Monday for lunch, it’s one of those dishes that reheats well the next day too. Recipe makes four servings when paired with a green salad or fresh bread.

tomato + zucchini baked egg shakshuka

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion sliced into half moons
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 small or 1 large zucchini sliced into half moons
2 tomatoes diced
1 and 1/2 cups canned tomatoes or leftover tomato sauce
4 eggs
handful feta
chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat olive oil in an oven proof pan (like a cast iron) on the stove top. Add onion and salt and pepper. Saute onion on low-medium heat until fragrant, approximately 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, zucchini and fresh tomatoes and paprika and cumin. Cook for an additional 10 minutes until the tomatoes begin to break down and zucchini lightly browns. Add canned tomatoes or leftover tomato sauce scrapping up any bits that are sticking. I almost always use leftover marinara-style tomato sauce which I usually have hanging around in my fridge or freezer. This has some basil and oregano already in it, so feel free check the seasoning and add a pinch of each and some extra salt and pepper if using canned tomatoes. If they are whole canned tomatoes, break them up a bit with your hands as you add them. Cook and stir occasionally until canned tomatoes warm. Lastly, using a wooden spoon push back the sauce and veggies creating an empty space in the pan for each egg. Break the eggs (I use a bowl in case of shells) one by one and add in. Transfer pan to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes based on how well done you want your eggs. With a little toddler eating this at my house I veer more towards the 10 min mark. Serve straight from the oven topped with parsley and dive in!

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