Friendly Food Snobs

appetizer

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!

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.

best kale caesar salad

kale caesar I brought kale into my life with this recipe! Two years of tinkering and I thought it time to share. The secret tricks to this being healthy and absolutely delicious are fresh lemon juice and a quick massage of the kale with the dressing. Unlike most salads, the kale leaves hold up to the dressing, and once tossed and dressed this salad tastes better an hour after mixing or a day later. It’s a great side dish for just about any protein, or stirred into quinoa for a quick quinoa salad. Hello leftover lunches. I use organic kale so a head is about 5 leaves.

best kale caesar salad

Ingredients:
head of kale washed and chopped into 1 or 2 inch strips
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 tsp honey or substitute like maple syrup or agave
1 and 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
pinch red pepper flake
3/4 cup grated parmesean cheese (half goes in dressing, half on top)

I find it easiest to chop the kale, then wash it in a salad spinner. Another quick trick is to measure the olive oil and whisk the dressing together in the same glass measuring cup. Less clean up! Combine all ingredients for the dressing, reserving half of the grated parmesean. Pour the dressing over the kale in a large bowl. Massage the dressing into the kale (30 seconds max). Top with remaining cheese and that’s it. I have made this dozens of times and find it tastes best after hanging out covered with cling wrap in the fridge for an hour before serving.

balsamic chicken salad

balsamic chicken salad

It’s almost Christmas! The house abounds with cookies, chocolate, wine and treats. Time for a mini detox and lots of salads and greens leading up to Christmas Day and New Year’s. Whipped up this salad today and the chicken and roasted peppers are really the stars. The recipe for the roasted peppers can be found on my blog here. The balsamic glaze at the end really makes the dish. You can find it at any grocery store or specialty food shop. I add it to salads or over cheese on a cheese board. If you have time on your hands here is a great recipe for how to make it at home from the Pioneer Woman. I have also added toasted pine nuts and asiago or parmesean cheese to this salad to fancy it up for guests too. Recipe below serves two.

balsamic chicken salad

2 big handfuls salad greens
2 roasted peppers (hint: recipe here)
2 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
herbamare (can be found here)
olive oil
half of a lemon
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
balsamic glaze for drizzling on plate

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Coat chicken breasts with a little olive oil and season each side with salt, pepper and herbamare. Roast in oven (I use my cast iron pan) 10 to 15 minutes a side until browned. Pour the balsamic vinegar over the chicken when you flip it halfway during cooking. Remove chicken from oven to cutting board and let cool. Divide greens onto two plates. Dress the greens with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Top with roasted pepper pieces. Slice the chicken and add to salad plates. Drizzle balsamic glaze over the chicken and dig in!

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