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

 

Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini, Red Peppers and Sweet Corn

Square white bowl with creamy orzo pasta salad with roasted red peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. On a blue and white striped tablecloth.

Cooking in the summer is so easy, it’s just a matter or picking out what looks best at the market on the way home from work (if you’re fortunate enough to live near fresh produce stands, that is). I love walking into the New Apple Market on West Broadway to admire whatever it is that’s new on any given day, sometimes picking out a bouquet of inexpensive peonies for my bedroom. Pasta salad is the best thing to have floating around in the fridge in the summer, meals come together in minutes and packed lunches are ready to go for the week. Orzo is my go-to shape for pasta salad, it retains its bite and shape even after being coated in a creamy dressing for up to 4 days. I prefer the taste of jarred and marinated roasted red peppers for this recipe, they add a sweet and tangy kick and come packed in brine that serves as an ingredient for the dressing. If you can find good quality jarred and roasted zucchini or eggplant slices use them as well. I sometimes find that these pantry staples can have a greyish taste so make sure they’re a brand worth using in place of the freshly roasted version. The corn, prepared however you like, is a pleasing addition to the orzo and adds a whole other layer of bright sweetness to the finished result. Add crumbled chèvre or Macedonian feta for some extra creaminess or a can of drained chickpeas for  additional heft.

orzo pasta salad with roasted eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers:

1 package of orzo

1 eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 zucchini, cut into small cubes

1 jar of roasted red peppers + 1/4 cup of brine

About 3 ears worth of corn, roasted/grilled/or boiled and cooled

1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup of green olives, pitted and cut into very small pieces

1 bunch of fresh basil, cut in a chiffonade

1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the orzo in lightly salted water according to package instructions. Rinse with cold water until the orzo is room temperature. Transfer to a large salad bowl and drizzle with olive oil and stir to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
  2.  Arrange the cut up eggplant and zucchini on a large parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Coat with olive oil using your hands to ensure even coverage. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and set aside.
  3. Dice the marinated roasted red peppers and add to the orzo. Stir in the corn, eggplant, zucchini, scallions, green olives, fresh basil, and parsley. Toss the mixture with the dressing, stirring thoroughly so that the pasta and vegetables are completely coated. Add plenty of freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste before allowing to sit 15 minutes before serving.

for the creamy dressing:

1/4 cup of roasted red pepper brine

Juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1/4  cup olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake until completely emulsified (or whisk in a bowl until you get the same result).

This is music that best scores my solo endeavours, making dinner late at night on my own while I’m in my nightgown, walking around in the rain with headphones on, or reading library books on the couch. Endearing, sweetly nostalgic songs that buffer the slightly overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by too much empty space.

Plums – Parking Lots

Slow Roasted Red Pepper and Ricotta Pasta Sauce

White bowl full of penne and a roasted red pepper blush sauce on an orange tablecloth.

I’m coming down from one incredible weekend; it’s Tuesday and I still feel some residual buzzing going on. Last Friday afternoon 11 of our friends came up to Vancouver from Seattle and San Francisco for a gigantic friend reunion of sorts. On top of that, I saw Beach House twice (!!) – Saturday at The Vogue and then Sunday night at Performance Works on Granville Island. Saturday’s concert was of course, wonderful, and Sunday’s performance was so special and so beautiful. Beach House did a series of intimate concerts in very small spaces, just the 2 original band members, and my husband was lucky enough to have been able to get us both tickets. From the moment we stepped into the witchy magenta hued space I felt utterly enchanted, the light show itself was gorgeous and sitting on the floor with cushions while you get to experience the visuals and the music all at once was an unforgettable experience. It was wonderful being able to surround myself with a live performance in such an aesthetically pleasing cocoon, I felt as though I was floating on the way home afterwards.

Tray of cut up peppers, celery, cucumber, and grape tomatoes.

On Saturday afternoon we all came to the consensus that dinner should be easy and totally uncomplicated. Pizza was ordered and I made a vegetable platter with hummus that I doctored with Greek yogurt and cumin. At the end of the evening I came home by myself, in desperate need of some solitude after the concert and the swarms of people downtown. While everyone else went on a drinking adventure I got into my pajamas, had a beer, and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in bed (which is pretty much my definition of paradise). I also snacked on the leftover cut up vegetables but realized that I’d need to think of a good use for all of the peppers I’d cut into strips. Monday night, when Ian and I were both in battery charging mode AKA extreme states of introversion, I decided that the leftover pepper strips would be just perfect for a pasta sauce because let’s face it, pasta has and will always be the best form of comfort that food can possibly offer. I wasn’t in any hurry because I was having a great time just reading a PD James book on the couch so I slow roasted the vegetables, this also made them very sweet and full of flavour without the unsightly addition of sugar burned black flecks in the sauce. The ricotta helps to thicken the sauce without having to add flour, it also gives an incredibly rich taste and texture without adding a surplus of cream. In fact, the small amount of cream called for in the recipe could easily be substituted with milk, just be sure not to bring the sauce to a boil in order to avoid accidental separation.

slow roasted red pepper and ricotta sauce:

3 sweet peppers, cut into strips

10 grape or cherry tomatoes

1 large red onion, cut into fat wedges

4 cloves of garlic, left whole in their papery husks

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2/3 cup of ricotta

1/3 cup of cream

5 fresh basil leaves (plus more for garnishing), torn into pieces

Pasta of your choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread the pepper strips, tomatoes, onion wedges, and garlic in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, add the rosemary whole and with your hands toss the vegetable mixture to coat.
  3. Roast the vegetables for up to an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking. The vegetables are done when they’re very soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove the rosemary and garlic husks and transfer the remaining vegetables and their juices to a food processor and pulse until you have a not so smooth puree.
  4. Add the red wine vinegar, ricotta, cream, and 5 basil leaves to the food processor and give a final blitz – the sauce should still be slightly chunky in texture. Adjust the salt and pepper if neccessary.
  5. Cook the pasta until al dente, saving about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid for the sauce. Lower the heat and transfer the sauce into the pot used for cooking the pasta and stir in the cooking liquid and sauce. Allow the pasta and sauce to cook together for about 5 minutes, this will give the sauce a chance to thicken up before you serve it. Garnish with a generous amount of fresh basil that’s been cut into a very fine chiffonade.

This song is an ideal addition to my soundtrack for the last few days, kind of like a beautiful sunset after a sublimely sunny day – pure, melodic, and strangely intimate. After Sunday’s show I now have an accompanying vision of light installation flower walls from floor to ceiling and both of us on pillows, leaning into each other in the softest moment possible.

Beach House – Real Love

Best Ever Bread Salad

picture of a bowl of colourful bread salad

Vancouver is hot right now, almost as hot as Ontario but without the humidity. In fact, the humidity is missed (I never though I would say that) because Vancouver is currently blanketed by the smoke of over 150 forest fires; the sky and mountains look they’ve been swallowed by The Nothing from The Never-ending Story. I can’t fathom turning on the stove so my cooking is dependent on what’s in the fridge and what’s in the pantry, which turned out to a half loaf of super stale baguette, grape tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and an arsenal of jarred ingredients of various degrees of piquancy. This bread salad, or panzanella if we’re going to get serious, was for myself alone; it made a huge bowl to be eaten immediately and then a moderate amount to be enjoyed later on that evening with a glass of dry rosé and several episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It’s crucial for any bread salad to be made of very stale crusty baguette, this prevents the whole thing from collapsing into a soggy mess as soon as the dressing is applied. I know that big red tomatoes, bursting with ripeness and sweetness, would be ideal in this recipe but they’re not quite in season here and grape tomatoes have the most true tomato taste out of what’s available to me right now. Don’t be afraid to use your hands when combining all of the ingredients for the end result, bread salad making is a visceral experience and salad tongs will do little to get you there (besides helping to spread all of the bread cubes onto your floor while you attempt to saturate them in briny goodness). You could omit the chickpeas if you wanted to, I like to add them to really fill the salad out and make it a main course you won’t feel hungry from an hour later.

best ever bread salad:

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 cup diced cucumber

3 roasted red peppers, preferably the kind from the jar

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. pickled capers, roughly chopped

5 pepperoncini peppers, drained and roughly chopped (seeds included)

1/2 cup chickpeas

4 tablespoons of fruity olive oil

2 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1/2 cup crumbled feta

Generous handful of torn fresh basil leaves

About half a stale baguette’s worth of bread cubes

Lots of freshly cracked black pepper

1. In a large shallow bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumber, olives, capers, pepperoncini peppers, and chickpeas.

2. Evenly drizzle the olive oil and sherry or red wine vinegar over the salad before adding the feta and fresh basil.

3. Add the stale bread cubes and combine with the rest of the ingredients using your hands (it’s very frustrating trying to use tongs or salad spoons as per usual, hands are a must). Let sit for 15 minutes before serving, adding plenty of black pepper and tossing once more before serving.

This song is twitchy electronic back and forth layered with cool as water and smooth as silk vocals. The video is intimate yet claustrophobic, bringing you dizzily close to the warmth of the song but also making you aware of your own position as a spectator. I hate to compare FKA twigs aesthetics to Bjork but it’s entirely complimentary and it reminds me of Bjork’s earlier work but with a more lingering and soulful edge.

FKA twigs- Water Me

 

Roasted Red Pepper and Burrata Open Faced Sandwich

Burrata Sandwich, Roasted Red Peppers, Baguettes, Seapony

Burrata is often thought of as a warm weather cheese, something to be enjoyed alongside summer kissed tomatoes, fruity olive oil, and ribbons of deep green basil. In the colder months my favourite way to serve burrata, an Italian cheese so fresh it literally oozes cream, is alongside roasted sweet red peppers and garlic cloves. You could roughly chop the red peppers with some pitted Kalamata olives once they are roasted and pile them on top of burrata capped crostini if serving as an appetizer, serve piled high on a platter with cornicons and pickled onions. Appearing as they are in the recipe I like to pick the whole thing up to eat it, after all this is an open-faced sandwich of sorts. Experiment with other roasted vegetables and herbs; zucchini is wonderful with chopped mint added at the end as well as a small spritz of lemon juice.

roasted red pepper and burrata open faced sandwich:

(makes 4 open faced sandwiches, enough for 2 people as an entree)

roasted red peppers:

4 sweet red peppers, cut into 1 inch strips

1 head of garlic, the base cut off and separated into individual cloves (the paper should still be on the garlic)

6 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Toss all of the ingredients together and roast at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring the peppers around once or twice throughout to ensure even roasting.

sandwich:

Half of a baguette, sliced through the middle and then vertically to create 4 flat pieces of bread

Olive oil, for toasting the bread

1 250 g ball of burrata, taken out of its little plastic pouch

1 recipe for roasted red peppers

Extra kosher salt and cracked pepper

1. Drizzle the baguette slices with olive oil and broil until the bread becomes golden brown and crusty.

2. Spread the burrata evenly amongst the sandwiches and pile the roasted red peppers on top adding kosher salt and roughly cracked pepper as needed.

This shoegazey dancey dark little song is highly recommended as listening material when roasting red peppers, walking around autumn neighbourhoods and kicking leaves, and when getting ready to go out to a fancy restaurant in your new black velvet dress. In short, it’s the perfect weird pop obsession for a sea dense foggy week in October.

Seapony – Nobody Knows

Roasted Red Pepper Cornmeal Focaccia

If bread baking is an activity you feel uncomfortable tackling, or if you have had failed attempts in your past, I strongly encourage you to reconsider your position by baking focaccia. It is so easy and it tastes so much better than anything you can buy at the store, even focaccia from specialized bakeries doesn’t compare. Once you master a basic recipe the possibilities are seemingly endless, you can add to the dough and experiment with the toppings until you have found your own perfect combination. This particular combination is my idea of perfection in bread form. I love cornmeal in anything but especially in focaccia, it gives a certain heft to the bread that I find lacking sometimes in other recipes. I used marinated roasted red peppers from a jar because I didn’t have any fresh peppers to char in the oven by hand. I have also used fresh basil instead of rosemary, in fact I actually prefer it, but I didn’t have any in stock (see? this is why focaccia is so great – you can improvise!) Today was a typical rainy January day in Vancouver and rainy days are the absolute best times to tinker around the kitchen and listen to something quiet and pretty. I served this focaccia with a French-style lentil soup (I will post the recipe tomorrow.)

roasted red pepper cornmeal focaccia:

2 tsp. quick rise yeast

1 cup of warm water

2 Tbsp. sugar

3 1/4 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of cornmeal

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup of olive oil

Roasted red peppers, cut into slivers (either homemade or marinated from a jar)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped roughly

Kosher salt (to taste)

1/4 tsp. of red chili flakes

1. Proof the yeast with the warm water and sugar for 10 minutes, when doing this step I avoid stirring and just let the yeast do its thing. Another useful tip is to pre-warm the bowl you are proofing the yeast in by filling it up with hot water and letting it sit for a minute before emptying it and refilling with the warm water. The mixture should be foamy by the time it’s ready to use.

2. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and sugar mixture and the olive oil to the bowl and mix until a dough starts to form. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, this will take about ten full kneads.

3. Put the kneaded dough in a clean bowl and coat lightly with olive oil so that it won’t stick once it has expanded. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free area for an hour or until it has doubled in size. I like to allow my oven to reach 200 degrees and then turn it off and put the dough inside to rise; you can also put it on top of your fridge with a dish towel to cover.

4. Take the dough out of the oven if that’s where it has been rising and set the oven to 400 degrees. Punch the dough down and give it a few quick kneads. Working directly on a baking tray roll or stretch out the dough until it is about 1/2 an inch thick. Allow to rest for twenty minutes.

5. Arrange the roasted red peppers and rosemary on top of the focaccia and distribute the salt and chili flakes. Bake for 2o minutes and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into triangular pieces.

If you live in a rainy climate then Low is your friend. They are known for their sparse musical composition and almost eerily perfect harmonizations and lyrics. Secret Name is my favourite album and demonstrates the subtlety of their song-writing beautifully. If you are having a dark day, maybe just outside or maybe as a mood, then listen to this album and slowly warm up from the inside.

Low – Immune