Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint

Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint in a long, white serving dish on a white background.

As some of you may already know, I love halloumi cheese. This halloumi salad is, in fact, a natural progression from my recipe for Slow Roasted Sweet Pepper and Baked Halloumi Salad with Oregano and Chilies. This version adds smokey-sweet roasted jalapeño peppers, bright pink pickled red onions, and lots of fresh mint and basil to bring the salad together. Just in case you’re wondering, “is it ludicrous to add feta cheese to a baked cheese salad?” I’ll admit that you’d be correct in thinking this is too much cheese but for this recipe I use ultra-creamy (and only mildly salty) Macedonian feta. Surprisingly, the addition of creamy feta really brings the whole salad together (you can also use chèvre if you prefer.) If you have access to a barbecue on this fine Canada Day weekend (which I sadly do not) you can grill the peppers and halloumi, just make sure to brush everything with some oil before you begin. I like to let this halloumi salad sit for a good 30 minutes before serving at room temperature, this gives all the separate ingredients the chance to mingle and develop while you have a much-needed glass of wine or a cold beer. This halloumi salad recipe stands on its own as a main dish or you can serve it the way I prefer, with plenty of other dishes (think corn on the cob, a big green salad, olives, roasted chicken, marinated artichokes, potato salad, etc.)

halloumi salad with roasted red and jalapeño peppers, pickled red onions, and mint:

4 large sweet peppers

4 jalapeño peppers

1 + 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 medium-sized red onion, cut in half and then into thin slices

Juice of 2 limes

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 packages of halloumi

1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped

 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

1/2 cup crumbled Macedonian feta

Freshly cracked pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Add the red onion slices to a bowl and toss with the juice of 2 limes and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
  3. Pierce each pepper with a sharp paring knife (both sweet and spicy), this will prevent any accidental pepper explosions in your oven. Rub the peppers with 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil and evenly spread out on a baking sheet.
  4. Roast the whole peppers, turning occasionally, for 45 minutes. They should be evenly charred on the outside.
  5. Carefully remove the peppers from the oven and transfer them to a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a large plate. Set aside.
  6. Slice the halloumi lengthwise into pieces that are about 1-2 centimetres thick (or about the thickness of your pinky finger.) Add the remaining grapeseed oil to a large rimmed baking sheet.
  7. Cover the halloumi slices with the oil in baking sheet, turning once or twice to evenly coat.
  8. Bake the halloumi in the same hot oven as the peppers for 10-15 minutes, turning once. The cheese should soften and spread only slightly, halloumi will keep its shape when heated. Remove the halloumi from the oven and set aside.
  9. Go back to the roasted peppers. Remove the plastic wrap or plate and carefully peel away the charred skin (it should come off easily, use gloves if you feel more comfortable.) Using a sharp knife, cut the peppers into large thirds or halves and lay flat.
  10. To assemble the salad alternate slices of halloumi, roasted peppers, and pickled onion. I like to do this on a flat, narrow serving platter but any serving dish will work.
  11. Drizzle the remaining red onion pickling liquid over the layered salad. Top with crumbled Macedonian feta, fresh mint and basil, and freshly cracked pepper.
  12. Allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes before serving at room temperature.

Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint in a narrow white serving dish on a white tablecloth.

There’s something really calming about Kurt Vile’s music, it’s almost like listening to someone talk to themselves for a prolonged amount of time (and I talk to myself all day long since I work from home, alone.) It’s good, twangy summer music, too; even on a cold rainy day like today. At the very least it makes me feel like there’s a warm end in sight (and I hope that’s true, because I really want to go to the beach!)

Kurt Vile – Was All Talk

 

 

 

Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries

A pale green plate with 2 Kale and Ricotta Spinach Puff Pastries resting on top of 3 kale leaves.

These delightful little puff pastries look impressive but couldn’t be simpler to make thanks to the wonders of frozen chopped kale and pre-rolled puff pastry sheets. I like to make these whenever an appetizer emergency strikes as I usually have all the ingredients handy (and by appetizer emergency I mean when I realize halfway through a glass of wine that I haven’t eaten all day). I’ve used feta, Boursin, and fresh goat cheese in place of the ricotta, but there’s something about the delicate pillowy texture ricotta that I feel is perfectly copacetic with the rest of the ingredients. Take the puff pastry out of the freezer at the same time as the kale and forget about them for a half or so until they’re both defrosted. If you can’t find frozen chopped kale feel free to use spinach instead (or any other green you can find in the freezer section). I should add that these make excellent cold or reheated leftovers, just brush them with some melted butter and heat in a warm oven for 5-6 minutes.

kale and ricotta spinach puff pastry:

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge or at room temperature

About 250 grams of frozen kale, thawed and squeezed out of all excess moisture

1 clove of minced garlic

1 shallot, finely diced

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 eggs

A couple of gratings of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of dried

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix together the thawed and thoroughly drained kale, garlic, shallots, ricotta, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and one egg until totally combined. Set aside.
  3. Unroll the puff pastry onto a baking sheet, using the attached parchment paper as a base. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter slice the puff pastry into 9 squares.
  4. Using two spoons evenly distribute the kale mixture into the centre of each square, you might not need the entire mixture (in which case, extras can be used as the base for a super tasty quiche).
  5. Carefully fold the corners of each puff pastry square into the centre and pinch together, it’s okay if you need to stretch the dough a bit to get the corners to stay together.
  6. Whisk the remaining egg and brush onto the puff pastries with a pastry brush. Bake for 25 minutes or until the puff pastries are nicely and lightly browned. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

And just because I saw Slowdive AKA my favourite band of all time just a few weeks ago (although it feels like a million years ago now) I’ve been listening to their latest album with the frequency of a fan obsessed. I think this song is so beautiful, I’m so happy I got to see them play it live. Just some very lovely shimmery shoegaze for a rainy afternoon.

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill

Zucchini, Caper, and Parmesan Naan Pizza

A naan pizza on parchment paper covered in thinly sliced zucchini, capers, parmesan cheese, and parsley.

I always keep a bag of naan in my freezer for those times where I’m cooking for one and I want a personal pizza or flatbread in under 20 minutes. I don’t have to worry about the annoying process of stretching out pizza dough (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be fun but I have very little patience with anything dough-related) and naan is the perfect size for a pizza meant for one person. This zucchini version comes together quickly, especially if you have a mandolin for the slicing, and the tanginess of the capers, the nuttiness of the parmesan, and the garlicky olive oil blend together effortlessly to form a naan pizza with big flavour and a very short list of ingredients.

zucchini, caper, and parmesan naan pizza:

Naan bread

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

A small handful of parsley, chopped into tiny pieces

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Very thinly sliced zucchini, enough to cover the naan with some overlap

1 tsp. pickled capers, chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano or other very firm and flavourful cheese, finely grated

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl combine the olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a a generous pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  3. Using a pastry brush, coat the naan with a generous amount of the oil and garlic mixture making sure to leave some for the brushing on top of the zucchini.
  4. Place the oil-brushed naan on a parchment-lined baking tray and warm in the oven for about 5-6 minutes or until the naan is just starting to crisp up. Remove from oven.
  5. Layer the zucchini slices on the naan with a slight overlap and brush with the remaining garlic and parsley oil. Scatter the chopped capers over the zucchini and top with a fine layer of parmesan.
  6. Broil the zucchini naan pizza for a couple of minutes, making sure the edges don’t brown too much and the cheese begins to melt. Slice into three pieces with a pizza cutter and enjoy while hot or at room temperature.

Close-up photo of olive oil with parsley and garlic.

When my sister told me about this album I didn’t believe it existed, which is ridiculous in retrospect because why wouldn’t this be a real thing? This is the first remix on the album and in my opinion it’s the best one. I mean, I already listen to Enya without shame on my own but the combination of Enya as well as Dntel results in an ethereal layering of voices and warmth that makes for a beautiful listening experience.

Dntel – After Ventus (Enya Mixes)

Cucumber, Tomato, and Avocado Salad with Lemon, Feta, and Chilies

An orange plate full of cucumber, tomato, and avocado salad on a bright pink and blue tablecloth. The salad is garnished with chilies, feta cheese, and scallions.

Even just a cursory glance at my blog will expose my adoration for pretty little salads. My need for introverted activities that I can conduct as a mindfulness exercises are very real, and I find the exercise of composing carefully cut up fruits and vegetables an essential part of refocusing and staying present during my week. A long day, a tedious bus ride, and the fact that it was a rainy Thursday led me to this evening’s salad. You can use more or less of any ingredient, or omit one of them if you don’t have it immediately available. Use less or no chilies if you’re not as keen on the heat, my love for it knows no bounds so I like to use a whole chili pepper per recipe, which conveniently is exactly enough for one person.

cucumber, tomato, and avocado salad with lemon, feta, and chilies:

(makes one lovely salad for one lucky person)

1/2 English cucumber, partially peeled and sliced into thick half moons

2 small tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/2 an avocado, thinly sliced

1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 oz. feta cheese of your choice, crumbled

1 scallion, thinly sliced

Half a lemon, zest and juice

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Freshly cracked pepper

Pinch of kosher salt to taste

Arrange the cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado on a plate or shallow bowl. Scatter the chili pepper, feta cheese, and scallion over the salad. Drizzle over lemon juice and olive oil, top with lemon zest, freshly cracked pepper, and salt to taste. Admire your work and then enjoy immediately.

It’s the first day of September, which means I can now start playing all my favourite fall music (even though officially I should still be sticking with summer playlists).  Fall and winter music is the best music, in my opinion, and Mazzy Star is the best way I can think of to usher in the first hints of fall (Hope Sandoval’s solo work is more summery, come to think of it). I was so happy with Mazzy Star’s newest album, it’s just as broody as their older work and just as eerily melancholy.  More than anything, I want to switch from my rotating stock of sundresses into one of the many velvet versions I secretly favour.

Mazzy Star -Seasons of Your Day

Slow Roasted Sweet Pepper and Baked Halloumi Salad with Oregano and Chilies

Slow roasted sweet peppers layered with slices of halloumi on a bright blue plate with decorative sprigs of halloumi cheese.

Salt is my kitchen constant. Sweet is fine enough, but nothing makes me excited to eat quite like the prospect of impending salt does. I don’t feel particularly worried about this obsession, I don’t eat very much pre-packaged food so most salt content is of my own doing. Like cheese curds, halloumi is delightfully fun to chew – the squeak brings a feeling of whimsy to such a well-respected ingredient. Often made with a mix of sheep and goat’s milk (Canadian domestic brands are often made with cow’s milk) and sometimes flecked with fresh mint, halloumi is a wonderfully adaptable protein to introduce into your recipe repertoire. For the purposes of this recipe and for overall ease I’ve opted to bake the halloumi here, but it is just as at home on the grill or in a hot skillet where it will hold onto its shape in quite an uncheese-like manner. I don’t often bother with removing the blistered skins from roasted sweet peppers out of sheer laziness, but I feel that in this case it really makes a difference when presenting and eating the salad. It’s just salty slabs of marinated cheese with the yielding sweet flesh of peppers, topped with a little additional balsamic vinegar and olive oil to bind it all together. This salad could serve 2 for lunch or 4 as part of a dinner, I would present it alongside a mixed green salad and maybe a small antipasti plate with charcuterie, olives, fresh figs, and ripe peaches. A bottle of well-chilled and fruit-forward Gewurztraminer wouldn’t be amiss, nor would a gin and tonic with a slice of cucumber peel wrapped round the inside of the glass.

Sliced Halloumi Marinating in Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Bird's Eye Chilies, and Fresh Oregano

for the slow roasted sweet peppers:

4 sweet peppers

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Leave the peppers whole/with stems intact but pierce them in a few spots with a sharp knife. Roast for 1 1/2 hours, turning a few times to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and transfer to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the peppers to steam for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the charred skin from the peppers and tear them into sections that are about 1 inch across. Drizzle with sherry vinegar and olive oil, allow to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature before using in the salad.

for the baked halloumi with oregano and chilies:

1 block of halloumi, sliced lengthwise in 1 cm pieces

Juice and zest from 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. olive oil

A small handful of fresh oregano leaves, roughly torn

3-5 Bird’s Eye chilies, halved lengthwise

Plenty of freshly cracked pepper

Arrange the halloumi in a single layer on a glass baking dish. Whisk together the lemon juice and zest, olive oil, oregano, chilies, and black pepper. Pour over the halloumi and allow to marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to bake the halloumi, preheat the oven to 400 degree. Once the oven is hot bake the cheese for 10-16 minutes or until browned, it should be soft but still retain its shape.

to assemble the salad:

Beginning with a piece of halloumi, layer the roasted sweet pepper strips and the cheese until the ingredients are all used up. This salad is perfect for playing individually, or layering it all up at once for an intimate salad for 2-3 people. Pour any leftover balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top and finish with sprigs of fresh oregano. Serve at room temperature.

I’m firmly entrenched in a delicate state of fake it til you make it, I’m wiping back tears at the most inopportune moments, feeling untethered and far away from everything and everyone. When I’m asleep I feel like I’m grasping at the darkness to make sure my eyes stay shut, when I’m awake I’m dreaming of the darkness. So I listen to music like Aurora’s amazingly present and self-assured album All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend to feel connected to the moment in a way that only loud music can.

Aurora – Conquerer

 

Easy Summer Spaghetti with Yellow Squash, Tomatoes, and Quick Homemade Pesto

A round white bowl full of spaghetti, yellow squash, and grape tomatoes covered with green pesto and topped with parmesan cheese,.

I have a very bad habit of getting overwhelmed with summer produce, the choice in colour and flavour is unmatched the rest of the year (at least for me, in British Columbia). This means that I’m sometimes able to convince myself it’s a good idea to buy 6 summer squash because I can’t resist their sunny coats, or an excess of tiny tomatoes smelling of pleasantly earthy and dried out vines. Or, I’ll buy huge quantities of fresh arugula or that overwhelmingly fresh-smelling gigantic bunch of mint. Luckily, this recipe for Easy Summer Spaghetti with Yellow Squash, Tomatoes, and Quick Homemade Pesto is a common fix for an overabundance of vegetables. The summer vegetables can be swapped out for whatever you have in your vegetable drawer, the options are virtually limitless in terms of variety and methods of combination. The pesto is easy, and yes, extremely quick to put together and once again can function as a delicious means to using up all those slightly wilted herbs and greens lurking in the crisper. I use pepitas instead of pine nuts in my quick pesto, because I rarely have them in the pantry and I’ve always been sensitive to nut allergies (I’m not allergic to pine nuts, but my mom is and I’ve grown up trying to be very careful). You could also use slivered almonds or cashews for an extra luxurious texture.

easy summer spaghetti with yellow squash, tomatoes, and quick homemade pesto:

1 yellow summer squash, cut into 2 cm slices and then into thick matchsticks

1 pint grape tomatoes, washed

2 shallots or 1/2 a small onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1 package of spaghetti

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  1. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil while you cut up your vegetables.
  2. Prepare the spaghetti according to package directions and as it cooks sauté the summer squash, tomatoes, shallots, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until everything starts to soften and the garlic gets really fragrant, season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining the spaghetti. Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the cooked vegetables and pesto, adding the cooking liquid in small increments until the desired sauce coverage is achieved.
  4. Serve the spaghetti in warmed shallow dishes with a liberal dusting of grated cheese and a few extra cracks of fresh pepper.

for the pesto:

About 2-3 cups of fresh herbs and greens, loosely torn (I like to use a combination of fresh mint, basil, parsley and arugula for this recipe)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 Tbsp. pepitas

1 tsp kosher salt

1 ounce of parmesan, grated

3 Tbsp. olive oil

Blitz together the herbs/greens, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and parmesan in a food processor until everything is finely chopped. Slowly pour the olive oil into the the feed chute until the pesto is creamy and emulsified, scraping down the sides a couple of times as it’s being processed.

I’ve been mostly listening to classical music  while I cook, that or Iris Murdoch’s The Good Apprentice on audiobook. I have really nice, consistently calming summer memories involving classical piano music playing with the windows open. I have just as many wonderful thoughts about cooking at the end of the day to relax and unwind, floating around on a cloud of Chopin with my pyjamas on and a glass of wine. Either way, pleasant feelings.

Chopin – Complete Nocturnes (Brigitte Engerer)

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Hot Peppers

Bacon wrapped hot peppers stuffed with cream cheese on a yellow oval plate. Garnished with parsley.

By all means, use only jalapeño peppers for this recipe. I went to 2 different grocery stores when I made this particular batch and was only able to find 5 jalapeño peppers and so I subbed in whatever small hot peppers I could find. Although I roasted the peppers to help take out some of their heat, my guests still found the jalapeños overwhelmingly spicy (although I preferred them, so knowing your audience is helpful here). I like the reliability of cheddar when it comes to these peppers, but use any cheese that sounds good to you. I specify full fat cream cheese because I find that low fat versions tend to have a gritty texture when heated, and if you’re wrapping these in bacon I feel like the whole low fat idea becomes moot anyway. The most time consuming part of this recipe comes from hollowing out the peppers and removing the seeds, the stuffing and wrapping part goes by quickly in comparison. I’m always trying to convince myself I don’t need to wear gloves when I cut up hot peppers but after several fiery eyeball incidents I’ve resigned myself to a pair of rubber gloves reserved just for this purpose. Serve something ice cold to drink with these, I suggest a really cold light tasting beer or giving rosé slushies a try.

bacon wrapped stuffed hot peppers:

16 small hot peppers of your choice

8 oz. full fat cream cheese, softened at room temperature

2 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded

1 bunch of scallions, things sliced (both white and green parts)

1 medium-sized tomato with the seeds removed, cut into a very fine dice

About 2 Tbsp. worth of fresh sage, cut into fine ribbons

Juice of 1 lime

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

16 slices of bacon, sliced in half lengthwise

Cilantro or parsley for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prep the hot peppers by cutting them in half lengthwise, carefully removing the seeds without destroying the shape of the pepper – you’re aiming for little pepper boats. Roast the peppers cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about a half hour. Allow them to cool to room temperature, leaving the oven on if you’re making the peppers right away.
  2. Combine the cream cheese, cheddar, scallions, diced tomato, fresh sage, lime juice, kosher, and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Using 2 teaspoons, carefully stuff each pepper with the cream cheese mixture. I find that I usually have to reallocate some odds and ends once I’m finished, but you should have enough to generously fill each of the peppers.
  4. Carefully wrap each stuffed pepper with half a slice of bacon, being careful not to pull too tightly as the bacon will shrink as it’s heated. Arrange them on the same parchment-lined baking sheet that you used before, making sure there’s space between each pepper.
  5. Return the bacon wrapped peppers to the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes. Serve while still hot garnished with the parsley or cilantro, ideally with cold beer, and watch how quickly they disappear. In fact, you’ll probably be kicking yourself for not doubling the recipe so make note for any future stuffed hot pepper endeavours.

From Russia, with love.

Motorama – Ghost