Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tuxedo Orzo Salad

This is a cautionary tale told to warn you about the dangers of shopping without your reading glasses. It is dark and scary! (Not really!) If you are blessed with 20/20 vision or are under the age of 40, you may just want to skip the first part of this post. Otherwise, you will be shaking your head and wondering what this crazy old lady is rambling on about.

Growing up, I had always had perfect vision. My dad was an optometrist and of course, I always wanted to wear glasses. I would go to his office and try on different frames, imagining the various personalities that went with each pair. When I turned 40, I noticed that I could no longer read the directions on the back of over-the-counter medicines. Just a word to the wise, do not assume that the package says Tylenol nighttime when your kids wake up sick in the middle of the night. Without my glasses on I was never quite sure if I was giving them nighttime or daytime. If I accidentally gave them the daytime, it became quite obvious within 20 minutes of swallowing the medicine, and I would pay the price for my deteriorating vision.

Eventually, I did go see an optometrist. The beginning of my failing eyesight coincided with my dad’s death. It felt so disloyal to visit another optometrist, that I put it off for as long as I could. When I finally went, I was prescribed mild reading glasses and he told me I could just get by with a drugstore pair. Not a chance! I spent the better part of the afternoon at his office, trying on almost every pair of frames in his office, driving the poor assistant there crazy, I’m sure. I chose a racy red pair of reading glasses that I was convinced portrayed me as intelligent, creative, slightly quirky and someone with who is comfortable in her own skin and does not worry about what others think. A lot to ask from one pair of glasses, to be sure! I really only needed them for very small print, but I pulled them on at every opportunity.

Fast forward several years and with each passing year, my vision has continued to spiral downward. My optometrist has assured me that it’s a normal part of aging. However, I now need my glasses to read everything. I have my Blackberry set at the biggest font size, and I still need my glasses to read e-mails and texts. Yes, I still have a Blackberry! I like to think that it was Blackberry that taught the world to type with their thumbs. Way to go Canadian innovators. I have tried the iPhone but I can not seem to get the hang of that touch screen. I am all thumbs when it comes to using it. Yet, I digress, sorry about that!

I now have about 12 pairs of reading glasses scattered throughout the house, in my car and in my purse. I find it such a pain to have to put them on to read a recipe, take them off to cook or take pictures of what I am cooking. I am forever lamenting that I can’t find my glasses. My daughter really wants me to buy one of those chains you put around your neck to hold the glasses, so you don’t lose them. I have managed to hold off so far, because, really, they just announce that you are a woman of a certain age, and I’m just not ready to be that woman yet. So until Marni or Miu Miu come up with a chain that conveys to everyone that I am intelligent, creative and slightly quirky, I will pass.

Last week I was at the supermarket, wandering up the grains and rice aisle, when I spotted a beautiful box. I picked it up and the bright yellow large font announced itself to be Tuxedo Orzo. Pretty little grains of black and white orzo. I had to buy a box and make something fantastic with it. I never read the fine print on the box because I couldn’t be bothered to take out my glasses.

When I got home I rummaged through the fridge and pantry and began creating a Tuxedo Orzo Salad.

The contrasting textures and tastes in this salad are fantastic. The grains of orzo are slightly chewy, the pine nuts are crunchy and the buffalo mozzarella is creamy. The sweetness of the corn and peas play off so well against the bitter arugula. Bathed in a fresh lemon-garlic olive oil dressing, this salad is addictive. I made it for my family and the huge bowl disappeared very quickly.

The following week, my girlfriends were visiting at the cottage and I made the salad a second time for them for lunch. As we were inhaling the salad and oohing and aahing over the pretty black and white grains of orzo, one friend asked how they made the orzo black. I pulled out the box and slipped on my reading glasses and was horrified to discover that it was dyed with cuttlefish ink. We keep a kosher home and cuttlefish is a member of the squid family and is definitely not kosher. Oops!

I will certainly be making this salad again, but with white orzo only! It is a great salad to use up all the little odds and ends you have in the fridge and pantry. I think it would be wonderful with almonds, asparagus and parmesan in the spring or cooked butternut squash, hazelnuts and diced apples in the fall.

Click here to print the recipe for Tuxedo Orzo Salad.

Berry Brown Butter Tarts


These adorable mini raspberry tarts actually started their life as a cherry tart. It all began a few weeks ago when my brother-in-law sent me a link to this blog. The talented Rowena of Apron and Sneakers made a stunning cherry tart. As soon as cherries started rolling into the market, I bought a big box and got to work.

I had such high hopes for this tart. Fresh cherries in a tart with a brown butter filling. What could be bad? To be honest, the filling was just too sweet for me. I have discovered that I only really like cherries in their raw form. I think it’s that slight snap when you bite into a firm cherry, as it gives way to the sweet juicy fruit inside. For me, when cherries are cooked, they lose what makes them so special.

While the filling was just ok, the crust was fantastic. Buttery, slightly sweet and browned to perfection it was reminiscent of a cookie. I knew I had to make this again, but in mini form so I could maximize the crust to filling ratio. Admittedly, mini tarts are more work than one big tart, but I was convinced it would be worth it. The stands at the market this week were overflowing with raspberries and the little wild blueberries, that make me scream with joy, were just starting to arrive. The heady scent of the ripe berries filled my car and made me slightly dizzy as I drove back to the cottage.

The dough comes together really quickly. No mixer needed. Flour, sugar, vanilla, a pinch of salt and some melted butter are combined in a mixing bowl. The original recipe uses all-purpose flour but I snuck in a bit of whole wheat flour, not because I am delusional to believe that 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour will make this a healthy dessert, but because I thought it would really enhance the nuttiness of this crust. I unearthed my mini tart pans from my basement graveyard shelf of unloved and useless kitchen gadgets. The dough just pressed into the tart pans, no rolling required.

To ensure maximum crunch in the pastry, the shells are pre-baked before filling. While they are in the oven, prepare the  filling. The butter is cooked over low heat until it turns a light brown. Do not walk away when doing this. It goes from light brown to black in a flash! The smell of the brown butter is intoxicating. Brown butter gives a real depth of flavour to the filling.

Click here to print recipe for Berry Brown Butter Tarts.

The crisp tart shell shatters when you bite into it, giving way to tangy berries in a nutty brown butter filling. These are summer perfection!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Before the days when terms like  locavores and zero carbon footprint were part of our everyday lexicon, I belonged to a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm. Basically, what this involved was a cheque from me to the local farm, prepaying an entire season’s worth of produce. Each week from mid-May to mid-October, I would get a large box of local farm grown produce. Now, before you go ahead and congratulate me on being ahead of my time and a wonderfully environmentally conscious human being, I will admit my motives were less than pure.  I had 3 kids under the age of 4 and having produce dropped off at my doorstep, rather than dragging the kids to the grocery store sounded like a great timesaver. When I signed up for this, it seemed like a brilliant idea.

However, once I was knee-deep in swiss chard, rutabaga and turnips, I realized I was in way over my head. My kids would only eat carrots and frozen peas. I still had to go to the grocery store and I ended up throwing away half the produce. I know, I am ashamed to even admit this. But this was back in the day when we didn’t have a clue how to cook kale, kohlrabi or collard greens. We thought that beet greens were meant to be tossed out, not cooked down and eaten. This experiment lasted only one season and I never signed up again.

However, I do recall the June and July boxes, filled with fresh strawberries, then raspberries and finally blueberries. These we ate with abandon! When we had our fill of fresh berries, I baked with them and then froze the rest to use in the winter.

Now we have farmer’s markets to supply us with seasonal local produce. At my cottage, near the town of Smiths Falls, tucked in behind the numerous chip wagons, there are about 4 roadside produce stands that pop up every summer. When I was in town last week, the stands were overflowing with strawberries. I bought way too many of course, and ended up making this frozen strawberry yogurt. It was so good, I decided to blog about it. When I went back today to take pictures of the stands, they told me it has been so hot that the strawberries are all done and now they are onto raspberries, beans and corn!

I came across this recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt on Serious Eats ( It is the creation of Max Falkowwitz. It is made with fat-free Greek Yogurt. While it is low in sugar and fat, you do not feel one bit deprived when eating this. It is pure frozen strawberry sunshine.

Sliced berries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice are cooked down until thick. Puree and strain, whisk in the yogurt, chill and then freeze in an ice cream machine.

It will be like soft serve after about 20 minutes in the ice cream machine. You can eat it like this or put in an airtight container and freeze until later. Because of the low fat and sugar content and the high content of water in strawberries, it will freeze quite solid. Let it defrost on the counter for about 10 minutes before scooping.

Click here to print recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt.

Aperitivo for One

I learned about the concept of “Aperitivo” when I was in Italy last fall. Aperitivo are pre-dinner drinks accompanied by appetizers. Derived from the Latin aperitivus, to open, aperitivo is meant to stimulate the appetite and tease the taste buds, previewing the delights of dinner. In my mind, I picture stylish Italian men in their Armani or DSquared2 clothing, and Italian women in their classic navy or black sheath dresses with a scarf knotted effortlessly around their necks, stopping whatever they are doing at precisely 5:00 pm, donning their helmets, hopping onto their Vespas and heading out to the nearest bar for Aperitivo.

In Italy there is an “Aperitivo Culture”. It is a very social custom where people meet in bars to catch up on the happenings of the day, to drink and to eat. Typical aperitivo snacks can be as simple as olives and chips, or more elaborate fare, like frito misto, arancini, potato croquettes and assorted crostini.

This is such a civilized custom. Sadly, during, most of the year I am just too busy to stop whatever I am doing at 5 pm for Aperitivo, but come the summer, when I am up at my cottage, I indulge. Almost every day at 5:30 pm I pour myself a glass of Prosecco or white wine and have a little snack. Some days it’s just carrot sticks and humus but some days, I will treat myself to something more elaborate. Now, full disclosure here, most weekdays it is Aperitivo for one. Which sort of goes against the whole social aspect of the custom, but don’t feel too sorry for me. I thoroughly enjoy my own company and find myself quite amusing! I have been voted the 5th funniest of our family (we are a family of 5, but they just don’t appreciate my sense of humour!)

My new favourite white wine this summer is Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc. From the Marlborough region of new Zealand, it is a fantastic white wine for summer quaffing. It is refreshingly acidic with an intense concentration of citrus flavours, notably grapefruit. It has a crisp lingering finish and is the perfect choice for summer aperitivo.

This week I found that I had a surplus of tomatoes on the counter. My local supermarket has been carrying some beautiful heirloom tomatoes as well as Kumato tomatoes, which are sweeter than regular tomatoes and are a godsend in the winter months. I also discovered the first early corn of the season, being sold roadside near my cottage, so I picked up a few ears and decided to make a corn-tomato salsa.

The July-August issue of Cook’s Illustrated featured a corn salsa recipe that I decided to try. Most corn salsa recipes call for grilling the corn, but sometimes you just can’t be bothered to fire up the grill if all you are making is some corn for salsa. Using the corn raw was considered, but raw corn kernels always seem too starchy. Boiling the kernels destroyed the “freshness” you want from a corn salsa.  Keith Dresser  of Cook’s Illustrated solved this problem by coming up with quite a genius solution. He explains,

“Softening the hull without overcooking the center seemed impossible until I considered salsa’s natural partner: the tortilla chip. Corn tortillas are formed out of masa, a dough made with ground hominy, which is dried corn that has been soaked in alkaline limewater. This ancient process, called nixtamalization, was first used by Mesoamerican cultures thousands of years ago to soften corn and loosen the hulls.

Could I get a similar effect by introducing alkali to the cooking water for my corn? A quarter teaspoon of baking soda added to the boiling water worked like magic: As the corn steeped, its hulls softened just enough that they weren’t leathery, but the kernels still burst with crisp sweetness.”

I have much love and admiration for the food science geeks at Cook’s Illustrated.

Here’s my tip for getting the corn off the cob without having the kernels flying all over the kitchen: invert a small bowl into a bigger bowl. Stand the corn cob on the smaller bowl and use a sharp knife to cut off the corn. The kernels will land in the bigger bowl, not the floor. You will thank me later!

Tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, shallots, lime juice, salt and a drop of honey finish off the salsa.

If you have corn or flour tortillas in the freezer, take the time to make your own tortilla chips. I used whole wheat flour tortillas, brushed them with vegetable oil and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. Then I cut them into strips, instead of triangles. Bake them at 350 °F  for about 10 minutes, until crispy. They look so pretty when you stand them in a mug or vase. Sometimes I buy the flax or spinach tortillas and delude myself into thinking that these are really healthy!

Click here to print recipe for Tomato Corn Salsa .

Pour a glass of something cold, gather all the amusing people you can find and enjoy Aperitivo. And if you drink alone, I won’t judge.