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

Roasted Green Bean Salad

French Green Bean Salad

When in doubt with how to proceed with any vegetable that needs to be used up I always err on the side of roasting. Almost any kind of vegetable (or fruit!) will taste delicious if given some time to mellow out in a hot oven, but there are times where you just feel like you need to do something different with said roasted vegetables. I often will roast extra of whatever I’m in the mood for so that I can add them to lunch salads for the week, or blitz together with some chicken stock and a squeeze of lemon for a quick yet full-bodied soup. Roasted green beans are sweet and nutty tasting, all they need is about 20 minutes in the oven with a light drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. I’ve used very thin French green beans in this instance, but regular more hardy green beans work just as well (adjust cooking times as needed.) The contrast of the blushing red tomatoes and the green of everything else is beautiful and very low effort although it looks as if it would warrant more time to assemble. I like this Roasted Green Bean Salad by itself or with some good salty feta sprinkled on top. It keeps well for 3 days or so in the fridge, making it a lovely addition to a packed lunch.

roasted green bean salad:

1 lb. or 450 g of green beans, tipped and tailed

1 Tbsp. olive oil (for roasting)

Kosher salt and black pepper, for seasoning

1 cup of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cups of arugula

1 cup of chopped fresh herbs, I’ve used parsley, dill, cilantro, basil as a combination or alone with good results

Juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

! clove of garlic, finely minced

1/4 cup of olive oil

1. Arrange the green beans on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil before seasoning with salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, stirring a few times throughout to ensure even roasting. Let them come to a warmish room temperature before making the salad.

2. Whisk together the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, mustard, and garlic before slowly adding the rest of the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified.

3. Combine the green beans, arugula, tomatoes, herbs, and salad dressing in a large bowl checking for seasoning and adjusting the salt and pepper as needed. Serve this salad at room temperature and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

I like Aimee Mann the same way I like Elliott Smith, that is, they’re both musicians that I abandon for long periods of time and then come back to, rediscovering all of their music all over again. There’s been a lot of Lost in Space this past week, the perfect soundtrack for tinkering around in the kitchen on a rainy afternoon.

Aimee Mann – Guys Like Me

Eggplant Parmesan

eggplant parmesan

I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus this summer, it’s largely due to technological issues (but a new computer for me!) and a general feeling of malaise that I always experience in summer. It has never been a productive couple of months for me, I spent most of my summer vacation reading in bed when I was a little girl – specifically cookbooks from the library and John Bellairs novels. I also rode my bike and took swimming lessons but the memories of my lazy summers have determined my current behaviour when I become too warm to think rationally. Regardless, new computer + impending autumn is just the formula I need to get out of this summertime slump.

I’m dealing with a rather full on obsession with eggplants at the moment, I’m putting them in everything and taking pictures so there will inevitably be more eggplant related posts in the near future. This is an eggplant parmesan that’s lighter in flavour and texture than a more traditional recipe. The marinara sauce is light and uncomplicated and doesn’t mask the delicate flavour of the fresh mozzarella. Granted, there are several steps to this recipe so give yourself plenty of time to put it together. You could also make the eggplant up to the stage where it’s been cooked and freeze it on a baking sheet before placing it in freezer bags or containers. The same can be done for the marinara sauce, leaving a last minute dinner that needs only cheese and fresh basil and parsley (it wouldn’t be criminal to serve it without the garnish.) My favourite way to serve this is with a green salad dressed with lemon juice or sherry vinegar and a good fruity olive oil.

eggplant parmesan:

2-3 small(ish) eggplants, sliced into 2 cm rounds

Kosher salt

Panko crumbs

All purpose flour, mixed with geneous amounts of freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt

2 eggs, beaten

Canola or grapeseed oil, for shallow frying

 

1 small onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 cup of one or a combination of the following, finely minced: red pepper, carrot, celery, or leek

1 bottle of tomato passata or good quality canned, diced tomatoes with their juices

Pinch of dried chilies

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 cup of fresh basil, cut in a small chiffonade

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely chopped

 

Fresh cows’ milk mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, fior di latte, burrata, etc.

1. Place the eggplants, one layer at a time, in a shallow colander and generously salt between each layer. Allow the eggplants to drain over the sink for half an hour before rinsing thoroughly with cold water and drying carefully with a clean tea towel.

2. While the eggplants are draining, make your marinara sauce by sautéing the onion and garlic over medium heat until just beginning to soften. Stir in the vegetables and cook for about 5 more minutes before adding the tomatoes, dried chilies, salt, pepper, basil, and parsley (reserve a small amount for garnish.)  Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large shallow casserole dish or baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the marinara sauce in a thin layer on the bottom (you may find you need a couple of dishes, which gives you a perfect opportunity to wrap one of them tightly in foil and freeze for a future meal.)

4. Heat the largest skillet you have (or better yet, 2 of the largest skillets you have and working very carefully) over medium-high heat with enough oil to generously coat the bottom while you get the eggplant ready to be shallow-fried. I find that this works best if you use a pie plate for the eggs and 2 large Ziploc bags for the panko crumbs and flour, it will inevitably be a little bit messy but the end result is very much worth it (and you can wash the Ziploc bags and reuse them again.)

5. Alternately coating the eggplant slices in the flour, eggs, and panko crumbs. Place the slices as you go in the hot oil, cooking for about 4 minutes per side, keep an eye on them as they may need more or less time. Lay the cooked eggplant slices on top of the sauce. Tear the fresh mozzarella of your choice into generous chunks and scatter over the eggplants.

6. Cover the baking dish or sheet with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes; remove foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes. Serve while still quite hot with generous amounts of the marinara sauce spooned over the eggplant parmesan and garnish with the fresh basil and parsley.

It’s also been Gary Numan time lately (eggplants and Gary Numan, I wonder if there’s a connection I’m not seeing?) and it’s been all about The Pleasure Principle.

Gary Numan – Metal

Greek Salad with Lemon Chicken

Greek Salad with Lemon Chicken

Great big salads full of contrasting textures, flavours, and colours will always be one of my favourite choices for dinner. After a long day spent chatting with customers and being generally very extroverted I find a half an hour spent carefully preparing a salad and all of its components both calming and re-energizing. I can preoccupy myself with something as tediously minute as slicing a cucumber at uniform lengths or quartering cherry tomatoes and eventually I begin to feel back in my own body again. I’m not suggesting everyone take this long to make a salad at the end of the day, but for me it’s therapeutic. I like to make this salad on a big platter rather than a bowl, as you can layer the ingredients and display them beautifully in an organic presentation. You could make this vegetarian and omit the chicken; you could also add Kalamata olives (with or without pits), large rustic croutons made of day old bread, sundried tomatoes packed in oil, capers, or thick curls of Parmesan cheese.

greek salad with lemon chicken:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbsp. olive or grapeseed oil

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

Pinch of freshly ground pepper

 

1/2 of a red onion, sliced into the thinnest half moons you can manage

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

 

4 cups of green lettuce (I like romaine or iceberg), torn into bite sized pieces

4 cups of spinach, sliced into thin ribbons

1 cup of sliced tomatoes, I often use cherry or grape tomatoes outside of season but any flavourful kind of tomato will be delicious

1 cup of sliced cucumbers, with the skin left unpeeled if possible

1 green pepper, sliced thinly

2/3 cup of crumbled feta

 

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/3 cup of olive oil

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

1. For the chicken: place chicken in a shallow baking dish and cover with remaining marinade ingredients. Allow to marinade for 10 minutes or up to several hours. Bake at 360 degrees for 40 minutes or until no longer pink inside. Set aside while you prepare the salad.

2. Combine the onion and the lemon juice in a separate bowl, allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.

3. Layer the lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onion, and feta on a large platter.

4. Slice each chicken breast into several pieces and arrange on top of the salad. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad and chicken. Allow people to help themselves.

These past 2 weeks have been so happy for me; my mom and my sister have finally moved here from London, Ontario and are starting a very brave and new beginning in Vancouver. The vast majority of their things were shipped across the country in boxes and this included all cooking and dining essentials, resulting in their presence for dinner almost every night. It feels so amazing to have dinner with my family, something I haven’t been able to do in almost 4 years. My sister has been picking the music some nights while I make dinner and this Koop song has been a favourite, it reminds me of a trip hop version of the “To Catch a Thief” score – beautiful and romantic, while slightly dark and creepy.

Koop – Jellyfishes

Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Rosemary and Lemony Parsley Pesto

Chickpea soup

I promise that I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one of the best soups I have ever made and also one of the easiest. In fact, its simplicity left me suspect after reading the original recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, my motivation for trying the recipe came from possessing the exact ingredients in my cupboards in addition to the knowledge that following day would be long and incondusive to hours of cooking time when I arrived home from work. I have further simplified the recipe by doing most of the work in a slowcooker, that way when you get home from work at the end of the day you walk into the most heavenly and woodsy aroma of  piney rosemary and buttery garlic – your postwork mood will shift immediately into one of comfort and warmth. When you get home all you need to do is take the rosemary cheesecloth sachet out along with any of the garlic cloves that have floated to the surface, puree 1 cup of the soup with the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and allow to simmer in the slowcooker for half an hour with the dried pasta, stir in the pesto (which you can make the night before) and you’re all set to eat. This soup has such aromatic depth of flavour that I suggest serving it with little more than a baguette with good salty butter or a green salad with some lemon juice, olive oil and kosher salt added haphazardly before eating – you don’t want anything that will compete with the richness of the chickpea and tomato soup, merely something that will provide a simple background of flavours and textures.

chickpea and tomato soup with rosemary:

3/4 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water and then rinsed

1.5 litres of chicken or deeply flavoured vegetable stock

3 sprigs of rosemary (I used fresh rosemary that I had placed in an ice cube tray covered in olive oil and frozen, in which case I used 3 of these cubes and omitted the oil called for below)

4 Tbsp. buttery olive oil

6 cloves of garlic, smashed with side of a knife with the skins removed

1 1/2 cups of diced tomatoes with their juices

1/2 cup of small pasta, I frequently use small shells

1. Put the soaked chickpeas, stock, olive oil, rosemary cheesecloth sachet and bruised garlic in the slowcooker and set it for 8.5 hours on low (you could probably set it for a shorter amount of time on high but since I only make this soup on days when I’m at work I have yet to experiment with varying cooking times.)

2. When you get home take out the rosemary sachet and any of the bruised garlic that is floating on the surface, don’t worry if you think there is still garlic in the soup as its intensity will have completely vanished after cooking for such a long time.

3. Remove 1 cup of the soup from the slowcooker and place in a blender or food processor along with the diced tomatoes and blitz until smooth. Add back into the slowcooker and allow to simmer for half an hour, adding the pasta after 15 minutes. When you’re ready to eat stir a generous tablespoon of parsley and lemon pesto into each bowl of soup and eat with pleasure and in comfort. Alternatively, sprinkle some finely chopped parsley and finely grated Reggiano over the soup in place of the pesto.

lemony parsley pesto:

This pesto provides just the right amount of astringency from the parsley and lemon as well as a garlicky intensity that makes the smooth cohesion of flavours in the soup really come into their own. If you have leftover pesto either freeze in ice cube trays or keep stored in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil layered on top to prevent discolouration and use on linguine with extra cheese.

1 small bunch of flat-leafed parsley

3 Tbsp. raw pepita seeds

1/4 cup of olive oil

1/4 cup (roughly, add more or less to taste) of Parmigianno Reggiano or Grana Padano (the Reggiano will lend a slightly sharper and more pronounced flavour)

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth, you may need to stop several times to scrape the sides down with a spatula as you blend.

Lately I have been listening to Zammuto’s self-titled album constantly, while cooking and while running and while getting ready for work in the morning. I’m hardly surprised that I’ve become such a fan considering the album is by Nick Zammuto, one half of The Books, another band that is heavily featured in any playlist I put together. This song is perfectly and aptly named; joyous, motivating and altogether yay.

Zammuto – Yay

Spicy Tomato and Arugula Pasta

This pasta is my without hesitation answer to the question “If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?” I am fully aware of my proclivity to throw the word “favourite” around when describing food but this spicy tomato and arugula pasta really is my ultimate desert island favourite. The first time I tried pasta like this was in Seattle about 6 years ago and I pined and yearned for an exact replica in Ontario, only to find that by constantly fiddling with the recipe I created something that is in my opinion better than the original.  If you’re fortunate enough to have amazing in-season tomatoes that are sun warm and sweet please use them for this recipe, I guarantee they will be happiest nestled amongst the arugula, lemon, chillies, pasta and cheese. I think that the bite of Reggiano really compliments all of these flavours but Pecorino Romano or Pecorino Pepato would also be delicious and slightly creamier options for cheese. It seems the hotter the weather is the more I crave spicy foods and I tend to go overboard with the dried chillies (when I’m cooking for myself I don’t seem to notice just how spicy I make things), the recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon but I usually will add in a full teaspoon if it’s just going to be me eating it. Ideally, consume outside in the golden evening light with a crisply cutting glass of Prosecco and a stack of new cookbooks from the library.

spicy tomato and arugula pasta:

(this serves anywhere from 3-5 people)

1 lb. of dry rotini pasta or other similar shape

1 Tbsp. of kosher salt

1 Tbsp. buttery olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced (add more to taste)

5 of the sweetest large tomatoes you can find, chopped roughly into medium-sized pieces

4 cups of washed and dried arugula

Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup of vegetable stock (or you can add a full 1/2 cup of pasta water and some bouillon concentrate)

1/4 cup of water reserved from the cooking pasta

1/4 tsp. dried chilli flakes (as a bare minimum, add as much as you’d like)

As much freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano/Pepato as you’d like

Lots of freshly cracked pepper

Kosher or sea salt to taste (although if you have any Maldon salt this would be the time to use it)

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta, adding the 1 Tbsp. of salt once the water has just begun boiling. Cook pasta according to package instructions.

2.While the pasta is cooking heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding in the tomato pieces and continue cooking for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Stir in the arugula, chilli flakes, lemon juice and zest. As soon as the arugula is wilted turn off the heat while waiting for the pasta to be done if it isn’t already. Add the hot pasta, stock and reserved cooking liquid, stirring to combine. Serve in shallow bowls with copious amounts of cheese, cracked pepper and a sprinkling of salt to taste.

I’ve been listening to Wild Nothing a lot lately and this song just shimmers, I think it’s absolutely beautiful. It sounds like the offspring of Deerhunter and Chapterhouse – the prettiest songs by either band, that is.

Wild Nothing – Vultures Like Lovers

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