Author Archives: saltandserenity

Israeli Cous Cous Salad and A Generosity of Spirit

with cheese and slicer 625 sqI was visiting with my nephew and his girlfriend last month and she asked me a question that kind of shocked me and got me thinking. She has been following my blog for a while now and she wondered if I gave out the real recipes, or if I held back and left out an ingredient or a crucial step in the recipe. Huh??

I assured her that I always gave the legitimate recipe and included every step, plus probably a few extra (sometimes my recipes run long!), to ensure success. As we chatted a bit longer I understood where her question was coming from. She was born in Venezuela and the culture in her family was to guard their recipes very carefully. Perhaps the idea of secret family recipes stems from one generation wanting to pass something valuable down to the next. After all , many imigrant families came to North America with nothing of material value. All they had were these recipes from the “old country” to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

This secretive behaviour is the antithesis of how food bloggers operate. I have been blogging since 2009 and have come to discover that most of us approach food blogging with a generosity of spirit. We are a giving bunch, willing to share our knowledge and expertise. There is actually a code of ethics for food bloggers. Acknowledging sources and linking to others that provided inspiration is part of the modus operandi. We are a passionate bunch, but humble as well, fessing up to our flaws and our less than perfect results.

I have found my tribe and I feel blessed to be a part of this generous fraternity of food bloggers. 

This salad was inspired by a similar recipe in the July 2014 issue of Bon Appetit.

While ripe, warm-from-the-vine summer tomatoes are still a few months away, roasting or grilling tomatoes can bring out the sweetness in any tomato. Begin by coating some grape or cherry tomatoes and corn with a few glugs of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. A few fresh rosemary sprigs will perfume the whole lot. ready for roastingIsraeli couscous is 2-3 times larger than the traditional North African couscous. While both are made from semolina and wheat flour, Israeli couscous is toasted while the North African variety is simply dried. The toasting gives it a nutty taste and chewier texture. I like to give it an additional toasting in a bit of olive oil, before cooking it in water. toasting cous cousI decided to serve it on a bed of mixed lettuces (arugula, belgian endive, radicchio and pea shoots), but you could also serve it without. Some toasted sliced almonds add great crunch and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese add a wonderful salty accent. I added some pickled shallots because I love the bright acidity that pickling brings to the party.close up

Click here to print recipe for Israeli Couscous Salad.

In the spirit of generosity, here are some of my favourite food bloggers!
Caroline of The Patterned Plate.
Steph of Raspberri Cupcakes.
Bobbi of Bob Vivant.
Hannah of Honey and Jam. (she has a new cookbook coming out very soon!)
Tara and Maria’s cookin’ and shootin’.
Kellie of Le Zoe Musings.
Wendy of The Monday Box.
Joy of Joy the Baker.
Ashley of Not without Salt. (Her beautiful new cookbook just came out!)
Lindsey of Dolly and Oatmeal.
Rosie of Sweetapolita. (Check out her gorgeous new cookbook.)
Belinda of The Moonblush Baker.
Phyllis of dash and bella.
Jessie of CakeSpy.
Thalia of butter and brioche.
Molly of My Name is Yeh.
Tara of Seven Spoons. (See her lovely new cookbook)

 

 

 

Shaved Spring Salad

on green plate 625 sqIn my little corner of the world, there is still one stubborn patch of ice in the north-east corner of my yard that refuses to melt. The chives, god bless their hardy little souls, have managed to poke through the ice and it has given me hope that spring will arrive.

We are still weeks away from local asparagus here in Ottawa but that has not curbed my craving for something raw and crunchy! Imported rainbow carrots and asparagus will have to do for now.fresh beautiful sprng coloursShave the carrots and asparagus with a vegetable peeler. I love my Y shaped peeler! At the risk of being accused of “skinny shaming”, fat spears are what you want here. Thos skinny ass spears of asparagus are useless (and tasteless too, IMHO).carrotsasparagusToasted hazelnuts, chives and some shavings of gouda or gruyere cheese are mixed in to provide some crunch and funk. Tossed with a simple hazelnut oil vinaigrette, this shaved salad tastes like springtime in a bowl. Most supermarkets now carry hazelnut oil now. Just remember to store it in the fridge. Feel free to use olive oil instead if you can’t find hazelnut oil. It will still be delicious.

Click here to print recipe for Shaved Spring Salad.

white plate 625 sq

Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars

with coffee 625 sqThe first time I had one of these breakfast bars was in Botswana. It was day 1 of our Safari adventure and we were out on our inaugural early morning game drive. The wakeup call came at 5:00 am and after I sipped my coffee and watched this breathtaking sunrise, we were ready to roll. (I must note that many of the spectacular pictures in this post come from my very talented friend Edward.)SunriseWe followed our Ranger, O.T. and his trusty sidekick, Tracker Bashee out to the jeep.O.T. and BasheeWhile most Safari goers are anxious to see the “Big 5″, our group was much more intent on observing  zebras and giraffes. There is something about the patterns on their bodies that I find mesmerizing.

The spot pattern on each giraffe is unique, much like a human’s fingerprints. Their unique patterns are how giraffes recognize each other. We learned that here are about 9 different subspecies of giraffes. Each subspecies have very distinct colouring and patterns. Here in Botswana we saw the South African Giraffe.  They are characterized by rounded or blotched spots, on a light tan background, running all the way down to the hooves. This sub species is also found in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Giraffe 1While most would consider the lion to be the “king of the jungle”, I respectfully disagree. Giraffes literally kick ass in the jungle and in the bush. An adult giraffe really has no predators because her long strong legs are used for kicking and the force of them can actually kill a lion. The only way an adult giraffe would make herself vulnerable to prey is if she lay down, because it would take too long for her to get back on her feet should a predator approach. And so giraffes sleep standing up. Luckily they only require less than 2 hours of sleep a day. The only other mammal I know of who can sleep standing up is my husband!

Amazingly, they remain standing even when giving birth! A newly born calf must endure falling, head first, almost 4 feet, to the ground. Sadly only 50% of baby giraffes make it to adulthood. While adult giraffes are too large for most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas.2 giraffes 1Although there was no Starbucks in the bush, O.T. came prepared and pulled out a French press and we had a morning coffee break under a shady Acacia tree.french press coffeeMy girlfriend Sandy always travels with empty ziploc bags, so I wasn’t too surprised when she whipped a bag of what looked like granola bars, out of her back pack. We have travelled together before and she never gets on a plane with less than several hardboiled eggs, a large handful of toasted almonds and a peanut butter sandwich. She likes to be prepared! She had taken the bars from the breakfast tray at the Lodge that morning. Although not a huge fan of granola bars, I was starving, so I took one.

These are not your mama’s granola bars. They were unlike any I have ever tried. Usually I find them too chewy and a little gummy in the center. These were outstanding! Crunchy around the edges but just a little bit chewy in the center, these bars were crammed full of oats, dried fruit, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and coconut. They were the perfect snack combo to munch on in the bush. They instantly became our favourite Safari treat.pretty little bowls with mise en placeAfter our coffee break we hit the trail again. Bashee, our tracker spotted a “dazzle” of zebras in the distance so we sped up to see them at a closer range. “Dazzle” is the collective noun for a group of zebra. No two zebra are exactly alike, stripe patterns are like zebra fingerprints. Each zebra has its own unique pattern of distinctive stripes. Their stripes act as ideal camouflage. The wavy lines of his pattern blend in perfectly with the wavy lines of the tall grass. You would think that black and white stripes would stick out like a sore thumb in green grass, but luckily lions, the zebra’s main main predator, are colour blind. Zebra foals are born with brown and white stripes which turn black and white within a few months.

O.T. explained that there are two basic types of zebras, white skinned ones with black stripes and black skinned ones with white stripes. He asked us if we could identify which were which. Can you tell the difference?Ed's B&W zebrasAs we all started peering closely at the zebras, he and Bashee started laughing at us. No such thing! That’s what passes for humour here in the bush.

When we got back to the Lodge, I headed straight to the kitchen to see Chef Elizabeth. She   joked that she is the secret ingredient in these bars, but I finally wrangled the recipe out of her.chefI am the magic ingredient
I will warn you that these granola bars are not remotely healthy, so if that’s your thing, check out these from Bobbi over at “Bob Vivant”, or these from “Minimalist Baker” or perhaps  these from “Oh She Glows”. Chef Elizabeth’s are more like a special cookie treat, but they were so very delicious. Sweet, salty and crunchy, the perfect combo!

I needed to see if I could recreate them at home.sifting flour
adding liquid ingredients
press into pan
in glass cloche 2With my morning latte and breakfast bar, I can close my eyes and pretend I am back in magical Africa

Click here to print recipe for Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars.

stacked up

The Big 5 Before 10!

I am very blessed to have just returned from an amazing trip to Africa with a group of 18 friends. (Several of the photos in this post were taken by my very talented friends) We spent a few days in Capetown and then visited the wine region of Franschhoek. Then it was time for Safari! We visited 2 different game reserves. The first was in Botswana, in the Okavango Delta region. The second was in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa. Safari life has a rhythm all its own, unlike any other type of holiday.

Many African animals are most active during the crepuscular hours (from the Latin meaning Twilight, it refers to dusk and dawn). What this means is that your day begins with a 5:00 am wakeup call! We quickly jumped into our clothes and downed a cup of coffee before setting off on our first game drive of the day.

Our Land Rover was captained by Ranger Ross and his able sidekick, Tracker Johnson. The tracker sits high up in the jeep and is constantly scanning the landscape looking for animals. He also scans the ground, looking for footprints and other clues in the sand. It blew my mind that he could accurately identify the species as well as determine exactly how long ago the animal was there by identifying the freshness of the animal droppings. The animal’s footprint also tells you which direction he was headed in.Ross and Johnson examining tracks Land Rover 1The goal of most neophyte Safari goers is to check the “Big 5″ (elephant, lion, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard) off their must-see list. The term “Big 5″ originally referred to the difficulty in hunting and bagging these large animals, mostly due to their ferocity when cornered and shot at. More recently it has become a marketing term used by safari tour operators.

The rhythm of the Land Rover, bouncing up and down on the uneven terrain is a bit hypnotic and I must admit, during the early morning hours, I nodded off a few times. But I was jolted awake on our second morning when we almost ran over a herd of elephants crossing the road! There were over 40 elephants, all lined up, crossing the road. They stopped in the middle of the road and started putting on a show for us. They were really quite playful and it almost seemed as if they were performing for us.After about 20 minutes the alpha female shook her ears and trumpeted quite loudly, and the whole herd gently ambled off. 

 

Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups. When a calf is born it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. The babies are mothered by all the females of the herd.

 

Some masterful tracking by Johnson revealed two female lions, up on a ledge. Ross explained that lions are very social animals and travel in a group known as a pride. These lionesses were part of a pride of 17 lions, known around here as the “Mhangene” tribe. 2 female lionsWe soon spotted one of the male members of this tribe. Male Lion 3And not too far away, we discovered the rest of the pride, lazing around.sleepy lions After we left the lions, we came upon a “crash” of white rhinos, just leaving the watering hole. Ross explained to us the sad plight of rhinos in South Africa. Rhinos are being poached for their horns. The demand for rhino horn stems from the age-old myth that they can be used to cure cancer. One horn goes for over $25,000 on the black market. Rhino 1We checked # 4 , The Cape Buffalo, off our list just before 9:00 am. Johnson spotted a large herd of them off in the distance and our Land Rover became the Safari Ferrari as we flew up to catch up with them. They kind of reminded me of my Marlo Thomas Barbie doll I had when I was a little girl!Ed Cape Buffalo 1The final member of the Big 5, the leopard, is one of the most elusive animals to spot. One of the other Rangers from our group radioed Ross to let him know where the leopard had just been spotted. (bad pun, I know!!). We quickly drove to the location just in time to see the leopard. She was just chilling in the lower branch of the Ebony tree, her happy place.  Pat's leoplard in tree 1 Pat's Leopard in tree 3 Pat's leopard in tree 2 She climbed down, proceeded to walk towards our jeep and then crawled under the vehicle and came out the other side. We all stopped breathing for a minute! Then she just ambled off, with a quick glance back at us, as if to say, “You guys coming, or what?” Ed Leopard 1Ross explained that this female (her name was “Hlaba’ Nkunzi) had recently given birth and she was probably on her way to check on her cubs. Once female leopards give birth, they must protect their babies by hiding them away to provide safe shelter from predators for the first several months of their young lives. This female had actually hidden her cubs underneath the Lodge’s General Manager’s house.

Later that day, mom was spotted wandering through our camp, on her way to visit her babies. Two of my friends got pictures of her outside their rooms. Leopard at mar's poolLynnie's leopardIt was only later in the day that we realized what an incredible morning drive we had just experienced. We thought that spotting all those animals in one short drive was the norm. Our Ranger explained that many Safari goers never get to see the Rhino or the Leopard so we were extremely fortunate.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Adventure when I share with you one of our favourite Safari snacks!

 

 

 

 

Cookie Butter Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk Biscotti

stacked up 625 D sqBefore we get down to biscotti business, can we just chat for a few minutes about the PBS series “The Great British Baking Show“. Is anybody else as obsessed with with it as I am? I can’t seem to get enough of it. These are supposed amateur bakers who are blowing my mind with their sweet skills. Plus, the drama and controversy is really quite riveting to watch. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills have nothing on these Brits!

I was totally “Team Martha” until sadly, she was eliminated last week, Only 17 years old and already so accomplished. Creative, artistic and cute as a button, I predict big things ahead for her.

OK, now onto more important matters, Cookie Butter Biscotti! When I mentioned to my husband that I was planning to blog about biscotti this week he got very excited. Then I had to gently break it to him that I wasn’t planning to make those biscotti, but a new recipe instead, since I already posted about those biscotti already a few years ago. “Why bother making a different kind of biscotti, when your white chocolate, dried cherry, coconut biscotti are the ultimate?” he asked me. Not sure he really gets the concept of a food blog. You can’t post the same recipe over and over again. Oh well, I was convinced that once he crunched into one of these sweet and spicy babies, he’d come around.

tied up 2The inspiration for this recipe came from my sister Bonnie. She is always sending me recipe ideas and photos. The original recipe was for peanut butter chocolate biscotti. But since I had lots of cookie butter in the cupboard, left over from making these, I decided to substitute cookie butter (speculoos spread) for the peanut butter.

Cookie Butter is just ground up Speculoos or Biscoff cookies (a gingersnap type Belgian cookie), sugar and oil. If you live in the U.S., Trader Joe’s carries their own brand. In Canada, the Lotus brand is available at Loblaws.trader-joes-and-lotus

 

I thought that the buttery rich flavour of toasted hazelnuts would really complement the spicy ginger in these biscotti. And of course, bittersweet chocolate is always invited to any cookie party.hazelnutsHazelnuts come with a thin skin on them, which can taste bitter. Removing the skin is simple. Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet in the oven 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly coloured and skins are blistered. Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let steam 1 minute. Rub nuts in towel to remove loose skins. Don’t worry about any stubborn skins that don’t come off. Let cool completely.

The dough gets divided into thirds and using your hands, form 3 flat logs. forming logs 2The logs spread quite a bit, so give each log its own baking sheet. Here’s a before and after shot of the first bake.
before first bakingafter first bakingCool the logs for at least 30 minutes and then slice on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick biscotti.slicing biscottiBack into the oven for a second bake (Hence the name biscotti – or twice baked!) ready for second bakingWhile the cookies are baking, melt some bittersweet chocolate and grind up some Speculoos or gingersnap cookies. crushing speculoos cookies

dipping
Click here to print recipe for Cookie Butter Hazelnut and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti.tied up 1