A Toast to Summer: Honey Roasted Tomatoes on Whipped Feta Toasts

3 toasts
If I’m being completely honest, I really only have myself to blame. It all started with a trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy in 2011. It was there I first discovered the joys of Prosecco and “Aperitivo.” The literal translation is an alcoholic beverage that is consumed prior to a meal with the intention of stimulating the appetite. It almost always involves a few nibbles to have along with your drink, and I’m not talking about a “happy hour” dish of peanuts.

Depending on your location in Italy, the snacks change. In the south it is typically freshly roasted warm salted almonds, a bowl of spicy marinated olives, home made potato chips, or little squares of pizza.

Several years later we visited Umbria in Northern Italy. Aperitivo here meant little crostini topped with pecorino cheese and drizzled with local wildflower honey, suppli (deep fried breaded rice balls stuffed with cheese) and all sorts of amazing charcuterie.

I decided to adopt Aperitivo hour at our cottage. It was recieved quite well by all our visiting friends and family. (What a shock, I know!) It’s gotten to the point that around 6 pm, my husband, children, siblings and friends will ask, “What are we having for aperitivo tonight?” I have conditioned them to expect a little snack along with pre-dinner drinks. Like I said, all my own fault! Truthfully, I love aperitivo hour. Everyone comes together on the back deck, cell phones are put away into pockets and we chat.

I am always looking for interesting snacks that can be put together without too much fuss or bother. A  few months ago, my sister Bo sent me a recipe for whipped feta. I filed it away, thinking it would be perfect, spread on some crusty bread for aperitivo hour.

I decided to top the whipped feta with roasted tomatoes. Little grape or cherry tomatoes get tossed with garlic, olive oil, honey and thyme.Drizzling tomatoes with honey30 minutes in a hot oven until they are slightly shrivelled and bubbly. You can roast the tomatoes early in the day and just leave them out on the counter until you need them. roasted tomatoesThe whipped feta dip was a recipe from Ina Garten. I adapted her recipe, cut back on the feta and added some whole milk ricotta to the mix. It love the lightness it added to the spread. This can also be made in the morning. Just wrap well and chill until serving time.Making whipped Feta-RicottaStart with some really good bread. A baguette or ciabatta loaf are perfect for this. Good quality bread will have big holes in it like this. I bought a ciabatta lunga from Ace Bakery. Ciabatta LungoIn bread freak lingo, these big holes are known as “an open crumb structure.” They are achieved by a long slow cold fermentation, gentle handling so you don’t deflate all the built up gas and  a high hydration dough.

I like to split the loaf horizontally, toast it gently on a grill or in the oven, and then cut it into serving size pieces before topping them.5 toasts2 toasts with prosecco

Click here to print recipe for Honey Roasted Tomato and Whipped Feta Toasts.

1 toast with a bite taken

 

Roasted Strawberry Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Tart 2I recently attended a food photography workshop at The Urban Element. The class was taught by two very gifted Montreal food photographers, Ariel Tarr and Valeria Bismar. Together they run The Illuminated Table.

I have been experiencing blogging fatigue, struggling with what to write about and feeling like I’m stuck in a rut with my photography and food styling. The opportunity to attend this workshop came at the perfect time. It was great to connect with other like-minded food obsessed women.

I came away feeling inspired to step away from my comfort zone and change my camera angle. (I rely too heavily on the top down shot) Watching Ariel and Valeria maximize the available natural light galvanized me to abandon my artificial lights and set up next to the window.Tart 1jpgPartially eatenI also left with some great new food blogs and Instagram accounts to follow. Food blogger Katie was there at the suggestion of her mom. Wish my kids listened to my suggestions!! Denine, a photographer and teacher of photography at Algonquin College was there to pick up a few tips about food photography. Food blogger and cooking show host Eva,  and cooking teacher and blogger Maria were both looking to hone their photography and food styling skills.

The workshop was mostly hands on, with lots of opportunity to practice the new skills we were taught. In the afternoon session we had the chance to style and shoot a gorgeous lemon meringue tart. With local strawberries just coming into season, I was inspired to create a  strawberry lemon meringue tart. The genius idea of roasting the strawberries, to intensify their natural sweetness and juiciness comes from this Bon Appetit recipe.Roasting StrawberriesYou could of course make one large tart, but I have mini tart pans and I love to use them any opportunity I get.dough fot tartsTart ShellsTime to build the tartlets. A tart lemon filling is topped with sweet and juicy roasted strawberries. I filled my tarts with a lemon cream, but I strongly suggest you fill yours with a lemon curd. The recipe that follows has detailed instructions on how to make a lemon curd. A curd is much more stable than a cream and as a result, the tarts will not get soggy within a few hours. putting strawberries on tartsI put the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and greatly amused myself making different designs. You could also just spoon it on, but then you won’t have as much fun. To brown the meringue I used a kitchen torch, because it’s so satisfying and just a bit dangerous to play with fire. (I know, I live on the edge!) If you don’t have one, a minute or two under the broiler will achieve the same result.tarts on wooden board 1Tart with black background 1

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Strawberry and Lemon Meringue Tarts.

3 tarts

Roasted Asparagus with Dukkah

asparagus on white platterWhen a chef takes a humble ingredient, like the carrot, and makes it sublime, I pay attention. My first carrot experience created by Chef Michelle Bernstein, was 5 years ago, at The Omphoy Hotel in Palm Beach. I was visiting my friend Marla and we went to a killer barre class at the hotel’s Exhale Spa. After class we hobbled over to the restaurant for breakfast.

Once we ordered our poached eggs, the waiter delivered a basket of hot biscuits and house made carrot marmalade to the table. He said we must try the marmalade, and because our mammas raised us right, just to be polite, we ate all the biscuits and asked for a second ramekin of the carrot marmalade. I still have no idea what was in it or how they got it to taste so good. but I think about it often.

My second Michelle Bernstein carrot experience was last month in Miami. I was in town for my nephew’s wedding. We had a spare night so we went to dinner at her Biscayne Blvd. restaurant Cena. I started with the roasted carrots topped with whipped sardinian ricotta and dukkah. Once again, her wizardry with carrots dazzled me. Sadly, I just heard the restaurant closed on May 31.

Dukkah is a Middle Eastern nut and spice mix. I have written about it before, a few years ago. One of my favourite ways to eat it is to dip pita in olive oil and then do a second dunk into the dukkah. A very satisfying and addictive little bite. It had never occurred to me to sprinkle dukkah on vegetables, but it totally works.

Fat spears of asparagus got my attention at the market so I abandoned all plans of roasted carrots. You gotta go with what looks good that day. I decided on a pistachio based dukkah, but feel free to use any nut you like. Sesame seeds, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds add fragrant deliciousness. ready to cookSeeds and nuts are toasted and then coarsely ground in the food processor. making dukkah 1making dukkah 2asparagus on preheated pan

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Pistachio Dukkah.asparagus on red plate

Sabich

Sabbich ready to eat 2Falafel? Forget about it. Shawarma? So over it. This year I’m all about Sabich, a pita sandwich bursting with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, shredded cabbage, hummus, Israeli salad and pickles. Drizzled with tahini sauce and pickled mango chutney (amba), this sandwich is a thing of beauty.

The origin of this sandwich is credited to Iraqi Jews who arrived in Israel in the 1950’s. Most of them settled in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. Since cooking is not allowed on the Sabbath a cold lunch of yesterday’s fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs was often served for lunch. Natural born entrepreneurs, the Iraqi Jews rolled these ingredients into a pita and started selling them as street food. Cheap and filling, these sandwiches quickly became the country’s version of fast food.

I had my first sabich at Sarona Market, the stunning modern new food market in Tel Aviv. If you have not visited Sarona Market but are familiar with the Shuk (Machane Yehuda Market) in Jerusalem, suffice it to say that they are polar opposites! Not to say that the shuk does not have its charms, such as being elbowed by sabras in a hurry to get their marketing done before Shabbat. Each market is special and unique and both merit a spot as a must visit destination on trip to Israel. Even if food is not your passion, the people watching at both markets are a fascinating window into daily Israeli life.Sarona Market

olives juice bar ice cream breadI didn’t really know what I was ordering. My daughter and I just pointed to this beautiful stuffed pita sandwich in the display case. It looked fresh and promising. We were hooked from the first drippy, messy bite. Crispy, crunchy, soft, creamy, tangy, and spicy, this sandwich is an amazing fusion of textures and flavours. The addition of hard-boiled egg surprised me. My daughter explained that this is typical in some Israeli sandwiches.sabich at saronaI knew I had to try recreating this at home. I have made it twice now since coming home. The first time I tried not to stray too far from the original. I was unable to find amba, the pickled mango chutney where I live. I could have ordered it online, but I was too impatient. I substituted in some pickled jalapeños for heat. I added some creamy avocado, which seemed like a perfect compliment.ready to assembleYou may be tempted to bake or grill the eggplant slices, in order to keep the calorie count lower. I beg you not to do that. Yes, eggplant soaks up a ton of oil when you fry it. But it is precisely that oil rich flavour and squishy texture you want in this sandwich and only frying can achieve it. Since you’re just tucking just a few slices into the sandwich, so don’t stress about it.

Green cabbage is thinly sliced and simply dressed with salt and white wine vinegar. Sour dill pickles add additional crunch. Tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil are combined in a classic Israeli salad. I jacked up my store bought Tahini sauce with some garlic, and lemon juice and added some hot water to thin it out so that it had the perfect texture for drizzling.

The second time I made it, I mixed up a batch of spiced ground lamb (cumin, coriander, sautéed onions and cinnamon) and formed mini lamb burgers that we grilled along side the fresh pita bread. The addition of the lamb sliders was a big hit at our table.Sabbich ready to eat 1

Click here to print recipe for Sabich.

Click here to print recipe for Spiced Lamb Burger Patties, if you want to add lamb to your sabich.

open faced

 

 

 

Grain Bowls

in a black bowl 2Happy Victoria Day to all my Canadian friends! Hope this long holiday weekend has left you feeling more relaxed and a pound or two heavier than you were last week! Even though it’s technically still spring, I think of the Victoria Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer. Here in Ontario, the weather co-operated and we had glorious heat and sunshine. We deserve it!!

We came up to the cottage and all three of our kids descended upon us for a visit. Nothing makes me happier than having us all sleeping under the same roof again. My oldest son brought his girlfriend and my daughter brought three friends, so it was a full house.

I had lots of help in the kitchen. My daughter and her friends planned and cooked dinner on Saturday night. We had a Mexican Fiesta complete with frozen lime margaritas. On the menu were fish tacos with slaw, sweet potato and black bean salad, mango salsa, grilled pineapple salsa and guacamole. It was all very delicious and I just sat and sipped my cocktail while they cooked.

For lunch on Saturday, I served grain bowls. These are perfect to serve for lunch for a large group of people. Everything can be prepared in advance and set out on a buffet. Everyone helps themselves and takes only what they like. Vegans, vegetarians and carnivores are all satisfied. ready to assembleI have provided a recipe but really, just use whatever is fresh and looks good. Just make sure you have a variety of colours and textures. I roasted some chickpeas with cumin and hot smoked paprika for a bit of heat. Sautéed corn and cherry tomatoes provided a bit of sweetness. Raw broccoli and shaved Brussels sprouts added crunch, while radishes added a perfect bitter note. Creamy avocado is always welcome at this party. Toasted nuts or seeds would also be a great addition. The dressing is a fresh and light combo of mint, parsley, lemon juice, honey and olive oil.

For grains, I used brown rice and farro. I have never had much luck cooking brown rice before. It always came out gummy. I recently tried Uncle Ben’s brown rice and it cooked up perfectly. The grains stayed separate and had a beautiful chewy texture. After cooking your grains, spread them out on a baking sheet to allow them to cool. That way, they won’t clump up and get gummy. Feel free to use barley, wheat berries, kasha, and ok, you can use quinoa if you must!

Store any leftovers in little containers, to keep all the ingredients separate and make a breakfast bowl in the morning, topped with a fried egg!

Click here to print recipe for Grain Bowls.

in a white bowl