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

 

Fireworks Party Cheese Plate

 

Plate of cheeses with fresh figs and cherries

Here’s a cheese plate I made for a fireworks party on Saturday night. We watched China compete in the Festival of Light on a rooftop garden and had barbecue sausages and beers to celebrate. Because I worked this Saturday I was late getting home so I assembled half of it the night before in order to save time. Luckily, it seems that everyone always has room for cheese so my board was eaten with relish long after dinner had actually been finished. This crowd pleasing cheese plate features (clockwise from top) triple cream Belle Creme, Five Counties cheddar, le Cendrillon, Allegretto, l’Edel de Cleron, fresh Brillat-Savarin, Pikauba, and a sharp smoked cheddar in the centre. I love when fresh figs are in season and experience actual joy when carrying a tray of these intensely pink filled green jewels home from the grocery store. It’s amazing how much fresh and dried fruit draws all of the elements together, it will always add life and lush appeal when added to an otherwise monochromatic cheese plate.

On the Cheese Board

how to make a cheese board

Pictured (clockwise from top right): Chateau du Bourgogne (French triple creme), Le Marechal (Swiss Alpine style), Fuoco (Quebec buffalo milk washed rind), Piave Vecchio (Italian firm), Landana gouda with tomatoes and olives (Dutch semi-firm).

I have worked with cheese for 10 years. I have learned about making cheese and the science behind it. I have discovered and tasted at least 500 types, each revealing their own unique intricacies as they are tasted repeatedly at various stages of their lives. I know about the subtle craft of pairing cheese with wine, spirits, beer, tea, coffee, your entire meal, and dessert through experimentation and conversation with friends. I have a stronger grasp of geography, chemistry, gastronomy, and storytelling because of being a cheesemonger. I started working in a cheese shop in high school. At the time it was a summer job, then a job throughout university, and then I moved to Vancouver, BC with my husband. After the course of a year I began anew at les amis du FROMAGE, where I would say my most valuable learning experiences began.

In light of all that, I have to say that my absolute favourite cheese related activity is building a beautiful cheese board. Unfortunately, I find that people can be very intimidated by this potentially enjoyable task, as cheese plates apparently come with set of preconceived rules which must not be deviated from. My approach is far gentler; pick out the cheeses that YOU like and that YOU think are interesting. What do YOU think would be delicious? If you love the idea of soft, unctuous cheeses then choose 2 or 3 that call out to you from the cheese case. Are you like me, with a preference for aged cheeses? These cheeses vary wildly in their complexities, tasting and smelling of everything from sharp barnyard to granular fruitiness. You can do this for any category you’d like; goat, sheep, washed rind, fresh, even a vibrant blue board served with sweet fortified wines or hard ciders is appropriate if you’re sure of your audience. As for accompaniments, I am a strong advocate of something that will highlight the cheese rather than smother it and from there on in I think it’s entirely a matter of what you think will taste good. In the case of the platter above, I made this last weekend for a group of friends whose tastes ran the gamut from safe to adventurous and each person was able to enjoy at least 3 cheeses and the accompanying fruit and charcuterie (Bertoia spicy salami). I’m working on a detailed entry about building the perfect cheese plate with lots of photos and advice, but in the meantime I wanted to let you all know how simple and fun it can be to pick out foods you love and serve them to your friends and loved ones.

Roasted Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup with Garlic Parmesan Croutons

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

2013 ended with busy upward momentum and just these first few days of 2014 have already featured a series of things to look forward to both in terms of freelance writing work and the fact that I’ll be going to Maui for a week with Ian for our honeymoon at the end of January which I am really, really excited about. I hope that the transition to the new year has been a positive one for you and that your holidays were relaxing and full of good company and delicious food.  I took the train to Seattle on December 24th and spent 3 low key days with Ian, my in-laws, and friends before returning to work until New Year’s Eve which was spent eating steak and colouring in Ian’s new colouring books on our living room floor until 2 in the morning.

I have been day dreaming about roasted cauliflower soup lately, especially on a rainy Thursday night when there is something to be said for a pale bowl of creamy roasted cauliflower, sharp white cheddar, and silken creme fraiche soup. The cheese doesn’t have to be cheddar, it could be gruyere, Swiss raclette, young Asiago, or a medium aged goat or sheep gouda if cow dairy bothers you. If you do use cheddar make sure it isn’t too old, anything over 3 years old begins to lose its capacity for even melting. When I first made this soup I was lucky to have on hand enough duck stock for the recipe which produced a luxurious mouth feel due the richness of the duck. However, I realize most people don’t have easy access to duck stock, I only had some because I made it from a duck I had recently roasted (which produced very little meat but left me with 2 cups of rendered fat and 8 litres of stock) and I would suggest vegetable stock in its place. The croutons aren’t required but add some heft to the soup and can be made quickly in your still-hot oven from roasting the cauliflower and garlic. Add an astringent leafy green salad by going heavy on the fresh parsley and lemon juice, finishing with elegant shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and cracked pepper.

roasted cauliflower and cheddar soup:

1 medium sized head of cauliflower, chopped into florets about 1-inch across

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 head of garlic, papers left on but separated into individual cloves

1 bunch of scallions, whites and greens finely chopped

3-4 cups of duck or vegetable stock (depending on how much cauliflower you use and how thick you prefer your soup)

2 cups/250 g of sharp white cheddar, or melting cheese of your choice

200 mL creme fraiche

Juice of half a lemon

Pinch of nutmeg

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Parsley, finely chopped for garnishing

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the cauliflower florets and garlic cloves in their paper over a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and top with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 30-40 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice to ensure even browning.

2. Once the cauliflower is close to being done begin to cook the scallions in the remaining olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower, garlic cloves (squeezed out from their papers, stock, and lemon juice before bringing to a simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, or a stand up blender in very small batches with a protective tea towel draped over the top, blitz the scallions, cauliflower, and stock until smooth.

4. Over medium heat stir in the nutmeg, shredded cheese, and creme fraiche until all the cheese has melted and the soup becomes fully emulsified. Serve strewn with parsley, garlic parmesan croutons, and a lemony green salad on the side.

garlic parmesan croutons:

1/2 baguette, sliced diagonally into 2 cm discs

Olive oil for brushing

Good quality garlic powder

Kosher salt

About 1/2 cup of finely grated parmesan

Brush the baguette slices with olive oil and top with garlic powder, kosher salt, and freshly grated parmesan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7-10 minutes, checking frequently that they don’t burn. Serve immediately in the cauliflower soup or store for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temperature.

I listen to music that makes me happy while I’m making food will also hopefully make me happy, as if I’m hoping for an especially uplifting Like Water For Chocolate scenario – no tears and sorrow for the recipients of my cooking! I went through a phase (an ongoing one) where I was obsessed with the 4AD record label and this song remains one of my all time favourites. New Wave and boppy, dreamy and bouncy, effortless and seamless; these are all definitive adjectives that come to mind when experiencing Modern English.

Modern English – Someone’s Calling

Favourite Cheese: Queso Maxorata

Queso Maxorata, Spanish cheese, Canary Islands

Queso Maxorata, a delicious unpasteurized goats’ cheese from the Spanish Canary Islands, is my current favourite cheese to eat with just about everything. This milky tasting cheese has a taste reminiscent of hazelnuts and a subtle spicy herbaciousness due to the goats’ steady diet of wild marjoram. While some goats’ cheeses have a distinct and sometimes overwhelming “goatiness” to their flavour, Queso Maxorata’s taste is smooth and lacks any of the aforementioned barnyardy qualities. I love this cheese with pomegranate, onion jam, fruit chutneys, and seed crackers alongside a glass of dry rosé.