Sweet Pepper Slaw with Fresh Herbs

Sweet Pepper Slaw

I spent my Easter weekend with good friends, my second family in lots of ways. All of us are from Ontario and away from our immediate families for the holiday, so it’s always nice to get together for way too many cocktails and an impressive spread of food. This year we had some incredible bacon and spinach stuffed mushrooms, green peppers stuffed with spiced rice, macaroni and cheese, strawberry Eton mess, and this sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs. When serving such a rich selection of food it’s always nice to have something light on the menu and this colourful salad was a bright addition the creaminess of the pasta and stuffed mushrooms. Use any singular fresh herb or combination you’d like, I’ve used my favourite fresh basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley in this version of the recipe. A mandolin would be useful for cutting the peppers, but a sharp chef’s knife will work perfectly well, albeit more slowly.

sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs:

5 large sweet peppers of various colours, cut into very thin strips

1 small cucumber, sliced into very thin half-moons and then drained on paper towel

4 scallions, sliced very thin

3 cups of torn spinach, romaine lettuce, baby kale, or bok choy (or a combination)

Several handfuls of fresh herbs (such as mint, cilantro, parsley, or basil), loosely torn so that they resemble delicate salad greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tsp. caster sugar, honey, or maple syrup

1 tsp. kosher salt

Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper

Toss all of the salad peppers and greens together in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sherry vinegar, sweetener of your choice, salt, and pepper in a measuring cup, pour over the salad and toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving with additional fresh herbs scattered over top.

Speaking of friends from home, this album was my best friend at one point in my life about 13 years ago. It’s so strange listening to something that was so important to me at a totally different time in my life. I listened to Change while I was riding my bike along the Springbank park bike path, I listened to it during a particularly dark winter in my early twenties, and I listened to it over and over again in my first apartment during freshman year of university.

The Dismemberment Plan – Sentimental Man

 

Pasta with Bacon, Zucchini, and Creme Fraiche

Bacon and Zucchini Pasta

There are some nights when nothing will calm the stresses of your day except fat and carbs, nothing but a warm bowl of pasta covered in the comforting flavours of bacon, creme fraiche, and softly cooked zucchini. When I get home from work and it’s cold and raining I feel an instant need to have a hot shower and get into soft pyjamas. Once these immediate goals are accomplished I put on some music and return to the most pressing need of all, the need to cook with simple and filling ingredients in order to create a sensation of quiet domestic happiness (and this is a sensation I strongly crave after days filled with extroverted chatter.) Creme fraiche, a sort of high fat version of sour cream, is an easy addition creamy sauces as it gives a heavenly and rich mouthfeel but doesn’t carry the risk of separating when heated (unlike yogurt or lower fat sour creams.) You could substitute thinly sliced white button mushrooms for the zucchini and add fresh thyme and basil along with lemon zest and a quick squeeze of lemon juice. If you prefer an aged pecorino in place of the the Reggiano I humbly suggest a good sharp chunk of black peppercorn studded pecorino pepato.

bacon and zucchini pasta with creme fraiche:

3 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces (can be snipped with scissors)

2 tsp. olive oil

1 small zucchini, sliced into thin half moons

1 small red onion, sliced into thin half moons

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 cup of dry white wine or dry vermouth

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1/2 cup of creme fraiche

1/2 tsp. red chilli flakes

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Juice of half a lemon

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Fresh parsley

200 g of dried pasta of your choice

100 g of Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely shredded (plus more for the table)

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining the pasta reserve 1/2 a cup of the pasta water to help thicken the sauce.

2. While the water is heating up cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crispy in a large skillet. Drain the bacon on paper towel and remove the excess bacon fat from the pan.

3. Add the olive oil to the pan and sauté the zucchini, onion, and garlic over medium-high heat until soft. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the chicken stock, white wine or vermouth, creme fraiche, bacon, chili, oregano, salt, a handful of Parmesan leaves, and kosher salt; allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes before stirring in the cooked pasta. Toss to coat and then toss again with the shredded Parmesan cheese. Serve in warmed bowls with extra child flakes, Reggiano, and fresh parsley.

My mom listened to a lot of Suzanne Vega when I was growing up. A lot of it I can remember as the soundtrack for when we would go on road trips to the beach at Grand Bend or Toronto. I would look at the liner notes over and over again in the passenger side of the car, watching the Ontario countryside flash by us as we drove down the highway. Or curled up in the backseat under a beach blanket, skin smelling like sunscreen and campfire, looking at the roaming lights created by lone car head lights in the wide open darkness of rural routes and apple orchards. Suzanne Vega was the first version of a cool person that I can think of really wanting to emulate (one day anyway, at the time I was only 10 years old.) I still want to be like her and I still love her music, I can listen to the album 99.9 F° over and over again without ever tiring of its initial pull; there’s something comforting about music and art that continues to protect as you (and it) gets older.

Suzanne Vega – Rock in This Pocket (Song of David)

Honey and Chili Glazed Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

brussels sprouts carrots

This recipe for carrots and Brussels sprouts is a perfect example of the transformative power that a hot oven can have over certain vegetables that are, sadly, less likely to elicit strong feelings of excitement from their intended audience. The glaze cooks to a salty, sweet, and spicy finish, forming a caramelized crust with a creamy, fork tender interior. I can eat a large bowl of these vegetables for dinner a la carte, but I also like to pair them with something heartier such as roast chicken or red wine braised lamb shanks. The parsley doesn’t necessarily carry the recipe, but there’s something so lovely about the dish when the earthiness of the carrots and Brussels sprouts is softly touched with the pure green astringency of the parsley. You could also make this a more substantial menu item by grating in some Reggiano or Pecorino Pepato, or even crumbling up some mild Macedonian feta as a final addition.

honey and chili glazed brussels sprouts and carrots:

About 2 cups of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place carrots and Brussels sprouts in a large mixing bowl; normally I would just drizzle the glaze over the vegetables on the baking sheet but in this case it’s important that the vegetables are evenly coated.

3. Whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, chill flakes, salt, and pepper. Pour over the vegetables and stir to coat before tumbling out onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring 3 times in total over the duration of the roasting time. Finish with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, extra chilies (if you like), and a generous garnish of parsley.

carrots brussels sprouts chicken

I was really into Massive Attack’s album Blue Lines when I was in high school. I also had Mezzanine’s CD liner notes taped to the inside of my locker door (locker doors were kind of a big deal for me, as they were the most obvious way to display tastes and interests when you’re a shy 16 year old girl.) The intensity of the lyrics and opposing buoyancy of the music makes the song feel timeless and special, one that definitely stands apart as a favourite from their other works.

Like a soul without a mind
In a body without a heart
I’m missing every part

Massive Attack – Unfinished Symphony

Green Pesto

Greeen Pasta

This recipe has evolved in various green stages. Initially it was just a parsley and garlic based pesto, then I added the spinach and lemon, the cottage cheese and soaked almonds came last. I’m not sure about the original rational behind cottage cheese and almonds but I do know it lends an ethereal lightness to the immense creaminess of the pesto. This recipe makes quite a bit of pesto but it keeps well for 4-5 days if protected with a thin layer of olive oil in the fridge. With this pesto (and to be honest, all types of pesto that I like to make), the more garlic the better is my motto. I recognize this isn’t always a desired quality for everyone making this pasta and I have suggested a less garlicky amount in the recipe. Add some extra lemon juice and salt to taste, serve slightly chilled with lightly steamed pieces of asparagus and fresh sweet peas. This also makes an excellent take to work lunch, just make sure that afterwards you have a toothbrush or extremely powerful breath mint within easy reach.

green pesto:

1 whole head of flat leaf Italian parsley, stems removed

5 cups of raw spinach

1 cup of fresh basil

Juice of 1 lemon

1-3 garlic cloves (I like 3, but I freely admit that this will make the recipe very garlicky)

1/3 cup fruity olive oil

1/3 cup 2% cottage cheese

1/3 cup slivered almonds without skin, soaked in hot water for 1/2 an hour

1/2 cup grated Reggiano, Pecorino Pepato, Grana Padano, Asiago… (in other words, your favourite aged grating cheese that has some sharpness to it)

Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste

Dried chilis and extra cheese, for adding at the table

1. Combine all of the above, minus the chilis, in the blender and blitz until smooth. The spinach should be added in smaller batches, what looks like a lot blends down to a much smaller quantity of pesto.

2. Boil the pasta of your choice in salted water until al dente. Reserve about a 1/2 of a cup of the cooking liquid and add to hot pasta and green sauce, stirring until the sauce thickens and the pasta is evenly coated. Serve with dried chilis and extra cheese, if desired.

blue cupboards

This song is so quiet and pretty, perfect for those days when everything else in the world seems unthinkably large and daunting. The loud beginnings of spring in Vancouver have begun, cherry and plum blossoms have burst into the landscape and people are playing beach volleyball in their bathing suits at Kits beach. I always feel so overwhelmed in the springtime, as if I’m having difficulty shaking off the grey and rainy winter blanket that is receding with each passing day. I thrive on quiet and pretty albums like The Radio Dept.’s Pet Grief  during early spring in order to stay in hibernation just a little bit longer.

The Radio Dept. – A Window

Roasted Tomato and Puy Lentil Salad

 

Simplicity is very important to me when it comes to workday dinners and lunches; while I will always have a soft place in my heart for recipes requiring patience and intricacy I am rarely in the mood to even consider them as dinner contenders after a long day of cheese selling. A meal such as this roasted tomato and Puy lentil salad is quintessentially easy; it’s very hands-off in terms of preparation, it tastes of caramelized summer tomato sweetness (whether you have summer tomatoes or not) and it keeps for up to 3 days in your fridge. The Puy lentils are a speckled sea stone grey backdrop for glowing Campari tomatoes that have been roasted until brightly sweet. Campari tomatoes retain their shape better than other varieties I have experimented with although grape tomatoes become deliciously chewy due to their low moisture content. The flat-leafed parlsey is haphazardly cut into the mixture with scissors, creating bursts of roughly shredded spring green with minimal effort while adding a fragrant and clean foil for the roasted Campari tomatoes. This salad can be enjoyed at room temperature or chilled, I especially like devouring a large bowl of it with a glass of well chilled Beaujolais and some strawberries.

roasted tomato and puy lentil salad:

1 cup of dried Puy lentils

7-10 Campari tomatoes, cut in half

An intensely green and fruity olive oil for drizzling

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, cut into smallish bits with scissors

2 shallots, cut into thin half moons

2 lemons, juiced

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Boil the lentils in salted water and begin checking for doneness after 15 minutes, they should be done at this point or may need another 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop any additional cooking from residual heat. Allow to drain completely.

2. While the lentils are cooking arrange the tomatoes on a baking tray cut side up on parchment or foil. For the roasting part of this recipe the oil doesn’t have to be the fruity olive oil, you can use a lighter olive oil or canola oil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, the salt will help draw the liquid out of the tomatoes. Roast for 30-40 minutes, you want the tomatoes to be slightly caramelized  when they come out of the oven to ensure maximum tomato sweetness in the salad. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

3. When the tomatoes are cooled combine in whole pieces with the Puy lentils, shallots, parsley, lemon juice, the extra green olive oil and additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve at either room temperature or chilled for lunch or a light dinner with a cold glass of sweetish red wine and fruit.

Perfect accompaniment: bright and beautiful.

Bibio – Saint Christopher

Garlicky Lamb and Grape Tomatoes

It’s been a while since my last post due to unforeseen computer problems, more computer problems, etc. but Happy Holidays! to everyone reading this. I hope you all had a chance to relax and recentre over the past few weeks; I had a much-appreciated quiet Christmas in Seattle watching The Adventures of Tintin and eating rather copious amounts of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered pomegranate candies. Working as a cheese monger is always insanely busy and hectic at this time of year; I have spent 7 Christmas seasons helping people assemble their festive dinners and I can say with all honesty that I love all of it. Once I’m home however, I rarely feel inspired to make anything very special for myself to eat – I’ve been eating a lot of grain salads that I can make a large batch of at the beginning of the week (and Romer’s burgers.) A couple of evenings ago I was at the grocery store thinking that I wanted something special but nothing that took longer than 20 minutes to assemble and cook. I chose lamb chops because they quick very quickly seared over high heat and grape tomatoes because you can just rinse them and drop them into the hot garlicky oil to cook in a matter of minutes. The garlic is only crushed with the side of a heavy knife, no chopping or mincing required. Make sure when you’re stirring the tomatoes at the end in the pan that you scrape off any small bits of the lamb chops stuck to the bottom, their addition to the pan sauce is essential.

garlicky lamb and grape tomatoes:

Lamb chops (I used 3 small ones for a single person)

About a cup of grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed

1 Tbsp. of light olive oil or vegetable oil

2 cloves of garlic, their skins removed by crushing the clove with the side of a heavy knife

1/4 cup of finely cut up parsley (cut with kitchen scissors for ultimate ease of preparation)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

1. If you have the time, take the lamb chops out of the fridge and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper about a half an hour before you’re planning to cook them.

2. Over medium heat melt the butter and oil together in the pan. Add the bruised cloves of garlic to the butter and oil mixture and allow to cook for 30 seconds to a minute.

3. Drop in the grape or cherry tomatoes adding salt and pepper to taste, cook for approximately 8 minutes shaking the pan every few minutes so that the tomatoes become evenly blistered and soft.

4. Turn the heat up to medium-high and check to see that your garlic hasn’t browned too much, if they look like they are burning remove to avoid an unpleasant bitter taste. Once the pan is nice and hot add the lamb chops and cook according to your preference, I like mine very rare but I’ll leave you with this link of lamb cooking times as a guideline.

5. Quickly move the lamb chops to a warm plate and add the parsley to the hot butter/oil mixture, tomatoes, optional lemon juice, and bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir to combine and pour over the lamb chops; season with additional salt and pepper if required.

Despite all of the chaos of the season I feel overwhelmingly positive about the state my life is in right now. Throughout December I’ve been oscillating between  nostalgia and the here and now, somehow I’ve been able to balance the two by treating my first Christmas away from home as a chance to create something unique and special for myself. I’m feeling independent and fully capable of taking care of myself for maybe the first time ever in my life and I’m comfortable thinking of past years with those I love that are far away. I’ve been listening to both of these songs almost every night because one inspires confidence while the other recreates the absolute quiet of dense Ontario winter nights; both feeling completely right for me this December.

Bjork – Alarm Call

Low – Just Like Christmas

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

I am not one for bragging about my own cooking, in fact I would say that if anything I need to work on my self-confidence when presenting friends and family with offerings designed to please their gastronomic senses. However, I can say with the utmost self-assuredness that I make absolutely perfect roasted fingerling potatoes and I have many people that could testify on my behalf. There are two important aspects of my method and both will ensure a delicious and tender fingerling potato: first of all, par-boil the potatoes for ten minutes in salted water as fingerlings tend to be slightly on the woody side and secondly, if you can find it and aren’t a vegetarian use rendered duck fat for roasting purposes, you won’t believe the difference this will make in flavour. I get my duck fat at Les Amis du Fromage in Vancouver, many other fine food stores should also carry this product. If you’re vegetarian or can’t find rendered duck fat any mild oil with a high smoke point will do (so don’t use your best extra virgin olive oil for this recipe.) Even though the fingerling potatoes are par-boiled they still need plenty of time in a very hot oven so make sure that you give yourself plenty of time and don’t be tempted to take them out early – I promise you that the wait is entirely worth it.

roasted fingerling potatoes:

About 2 lbs. of fingerling potatoes, scrubbed clean and with the peels left on

1 Tbsp. sea salt

2 Tbsp. rendered duck fat

Additional sea salt to taste

Freshly ground pepper

2 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the clean fingerling potatoes in a large pot and cover with water and 1 Tbsp. of sea salt. Bring to a boil and allow to cook for 10 minutes, drain and set aside.

2. In a rimmed glass baking dish (I often use a glass pie plate) melt the 2 Tbsp. of rendered duck fat in the hot oven for about 10 minutes. Working quickly take the glass baking dish out of the oven and carefully add the fingerling potatoes, taking care not to burn yourself. Add any additional salt you would like and place in the oven for 45-60 minutes, tossing occasionally so that the potatoes are evenly roasted on all sides.

3. When the fingerling potatoes are browned take out of the oven and immediately toss with the freshly ground pepper and the parsley. Serve at once with practically anything or eat by themselves.

I am having pangs of homesickness attacks the last couple of days; I have been talking about my wedding plans with my mom and missing my dad and wondering how my little sister is doing. Royal City always somehow makes home seem closer, my heart roams a little bit less when I listen to something that I loved throughout high school and university; I begin to attach emotional meaning to a constant soundtrack I have playing throughout my life. This song makes me feel closer to snow, family, and that elusive smell of familiarity that I’m always searching for.

Royal City – Baby Let Your Heart Out