Pomegranate Tomato Salad

Diced salad 1 625 sqI believe I may have broken the unwritten food bloggers commandment that states, “Thou shalt not post about anything remotely fresh or healthy during the month of December.”  However, in my defence, I believe I am eligible for an exemption from this rule. I have just come off a major bake-a thon, crafting over 30 pounds of Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark, 32 dozen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, 24 dozen Salted Skor Bar Shortbread Cookies, 12 pounds of Almond Pecan Caramel Corn, 24 dozen Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread, 12 dozen Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzels,  8 dozen giant gingerbread snowflake cookies and 23 dozen Lemon Coconut Cookies.

So forgive me if I need something fresh and good-for-you to eat in December. And, I bet you do too! This salad checks all the boxes. Healthy, delicious, beautiful and very satisfying to eat. It makes a great lunch (ask my mom, I fed it to her today!) and would also not be out of place on the holiday table as one of your side dishes. Crunchy, sweet, salty, sour and just a tiny bit bitter, this salad is a feast for the taste buds as well as for the senses.

This salad is an adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Tomato and Pomegranate salad in his splendid new book, Plenty More. “The sharp almost bitter sweetness of the pomegranate and the savoury, sunny sweetness of the tomato complement each other so gloriously.”Pomegranates 2tomatoes 2Removing seeds from a pomegranate can be a messy affair. My preferred method is to place a deep bowl into the sink,  quarter the pomegranate and gently nudge the seeds out into the bowl. There are many other methods that folks swear by. Spanking (my mom’s personal favourite) and The Underwater Method are two of the most popular. deseeding pomegranateI love the sweet sharp addition of pickled shallots. So simple to prepare. Mix together equal parts red wine vinegar and water and add kosher salt and sugar. This magic blend tames the sharpness of onions and shallots in about 30 minutes!pickled shallotsYou can slice the tomatoes for a gorgeous composed salad.slicing tomaotesplated sliced 1Or just dice everything up and mix and serve. Thinly sliced basil and mint leaves add a lively freshness.Diced salad 2I love the addition of some grated ricotta salata for a salty, tangy addition, but feel free to leave the cheese off.grating ricotta salata

Click here to print recipe for Pomegranate and Tomato Salad.




Salted Skor Bar Shortbread

diagonal on black 3If a cookie could be my Spirit Animal, (and in the fertile playground that is my mind, why the hell not), Salted Skor Bar Shortbread would be mine. These cookies embody everything that I aspire to be. Well balanced, little bit sweet, a little bit salty, with a bittersweet surprise mixed in.

The recipe is based on Martha’s Holiday Shortbread. In December 2012, my blogger friend Bobbi, over at Bob Vivant, wrote about her sister’s adaptation of them, which included the addition of lots of coarse sea salt and chocolate chips. She called them “addictive little buggers.” I deleted the chocolate chips and added chopped up Skor Bars (Heath Bars if you live in America). I think thay are cookie perfection.

If my husband and kids are reading this, please make sure that these cookies are served at my funeral. I am thinking that they could be passed around just before the eulogy starts. If they can pass out candies to throw at Bar Mitzvahs, why not Salted Skor Bar Shortbread at a funeral? I think that a little nibble while listening to all those funny, touching stories about me, would be quite fitting.

My girlfriend Sandy was helping me make these cookies last week. She is a curious person and asks lots of questions, a very endearing quality! She asked me why her oatmeal raisin cookies spread so flat in the oven and mine, using the exact same recipe, spread only slightly. The problem, I suspect is with her butter. Most cookie recipes call for room temperature butter. That does not mean butter that has been sitting on the counter all day. Take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Let it sit for about 30 minutes and it will be at the perfect temperature. Cool butter creams perfectly with sugar, trapping and holding onto air, allowing you to create a better dough. mise en placeOnce the dough is made, form it into a log and chill. You can make a round log or a square log. Square logs are simple to form.

These square cookies look so neat and tidy after slicing.tidy squaresThen all hell breaks loose in the heat of the oven and rogue bits of toffee escape from the dough, forming delicious nooks, crannies and tails of very deeply flavoured toffee, just on the verge of being burnt, providing a wonderful bittersweet flavour and very crunchy texture. rogue melted skor bits have escaped

Click here to print recipe for Salted Skor Bar Shortbread.

with tea 1 625 sq


Oatmeal Lace Speculoos Sandwich Cookies

cookies and milk jug 1F 625 sqI was first introduced to Speculoos over 20 years ago by my Belgian neighbour Brigitte.  These were the cookies of her childhood. Imagine if you can, a gingersnap on steroids. Bolder and much more aggressive than typical gingersnaps,  Speculoos are brimming with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. A few packages of these crunchy thin biscuits always made it into her suitcase to bring back to Ottawa to share with us after a visit home with her mom. Brigitte speaks with a bit of an accent and the first time she served us the cookies I thought I heard her say “Speculum.” Kind of an odd name for a cookie I thought! Sometimes my mind wanders to strange places. Lotus speculoosThen in 2007, something wonderful happened. Els Scheppers, a very creative Belgian woman,  crushed up some Lotus brand Speculoos cookies and mixed them with sugar and oil to create a sweet, creamy cookie butter spread. Hearing about this delicious concoction, Lotus Bakeries got in touch with Els and collaborated to perfect her creation. When it was released for sale to the Belgian market, it promptly sold out. People went bonkers for this stuff. Reminiscent of Nutella or peanut butter, but way more delicious! There is no end to the creative uses for Speculoos Cookie Butter. I have also heard that some people just eat it straight from the jar. 

Trader Joes jumped on the bandwagon in 2011 and Speculoos Cookie Butter was born. In 2013 they launched Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl and pretty soon after that they had to start limiting customers to 1 jar each. It got a bit crazy there for a while. Luckily, it has become so mainstream that you can find several brands of speculoos cookie spread on most supermarket shelves, right beside the peanut butter and hazelnut spreads. trader joes and lotusThese oatmeal lace sandwich cookies are the creation of cookie wizzard Nick Malgieri. I may have mentioned him in a previous post! He sandwiched them with chocolate ganache. I decided to use speculoos cookie butter.mise en place 2

mixing batterThe batter for these gossamer thin lacy cookies gets mixed by hand in a bowl. Leave lots of room on the baking sheet as you form them. They really spread. dough spreadsOnce cooled, pipe a generous dollop of speculoos cookie spread on half the cookies and then sandwich them. filling cookiesin white tray

Click here to print recipe for Oatmeal Lace Speculoos Sandwich Cookies.

Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

cookies and milk 2This is a tale of cookie evolution. These sweet beauties started off their short life as Cheddar Pistachio Biscuits. I had envisioned them as a little nibble to have with a glass of Prosecco over the holidays. I thought they would be similar to the Cheddar Biscuits I made a few years ago, which were met with rave reviews by my wine swilling  sipping girls weekend friends. I baked up a batch of the Cheddar Pistachio biscuits and was kind of horrified by the results. The orange cheddar clashed horribly with the green pistachios and offended my highly tuned sense of aesthetics. I could deal with the ghastly appearance if the flavours were good, but they just tasted so odd, because they were neither sweet or savoury, but rather a muddled in-between. It just confused the palate. With blessings by my tasting panel (husband and child #2), they got tossed.

Being December, I decided to wholeheartedly enmbrace the sweet route and make a pistachio shortbread cookie. And because December is all about excess, (we have January to practice our moderation skills after all!) I dipped these in melted bittersweet chocolate and rolled them in some finely chopped pistachios. The inspiration for this recipe came from a 2004 Bon Appetit recipe for hazelnut shortbread sticks. They rolled the dough into little fingers, baked and then dipped them. I sped the whole process up by turning these into slice and bake cookies.mise en placerolling logs of doughslicing cookiesdippingEach cookie is heavily studded with coarsely chopped pistachios, so that each bite delivers crunch. The final dunk into the bittersweet chocolate provides a perfect balance for the richness of these sweet and buttery cookies. cookies 625 sq

Click here to print the recipe for Chocolate Dipped Pistachio Shortbread.

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Farro Soup and Sadness

serving soup 625 sqTurns out that contrary to what you might expect, listening to sad songs when you’re feeling blue can actually make you feel better. You would think that bopping along to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off would give you a lift, but actually, listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide turns out to be more beneficial. 

A recent German study has revealed that listening to sad songs can improve a person’s emotional well being as well as make you feel at peace and nostalgic. Liila Taruffi, one of the authors of the study was interviewed on todayhealth.com. She summarized the findings, explaining that essentially there are four benefits to be reaped through listening to sad songs.

1. Sad songs allow you to feel sadness without any of its “real-life implications.” In other words, you can safely explore what it’s like to be a little blue without experiencing the intense grief of mourning a loved one, for example.

2. “Emotion regulation” was another important reward. Many respondents said that when they were in a bad mood, experiencing sadness through music made them feel better afterwards and provided an emotional boost. That may be because the songs help them to express and release their emotions.

3. The reward of “imagination” allowed listeners to feel as though they could express themselves as richly as the mournful music.

4. The “empathy” reward made the listener feel good by allowing him to share the sadness of another human being through the song.

Reading the results of this study, I couldn’t help come to the conclusion that there may very well be a culinary equivalent to sad songs.  Sure, playing Pharrell William’s Happy at an ear splitting volume while downing a pint of Salted Caramel Ice Cream will make me feel better in the short run, but tomorrow I will regret my decision to finish the whole tub. Seems like a better choice would have been a bowl of soup. Soup has the ability to soothe and comfort. It warms your soul.

This hearty Farro Soup is based on a traditional soup (Minestra di Faro Lucchese), which hails from the walled town of Lucca, in Tuscany. My version of it is slightly adapted from Mario Batali’s interpretation.a squeeze of tomato psteadding farroI usually buy large wedges of Parmesan cheese for grating. When the cheese is done, and all that’s left is the rind, I toss it into a ziploc bag in the freezer. I toss the frozen rinds into a pot of soup. The umami properties of Parmesan cheese add a real depth of flavour to the broth.

Parmesan rind for flavour

A good cry while listening to Carly Simon’s “Haven’t Got Time For The Pain“, and a big bowl of this soup may just get you through your latest round of heartbreak or grief. Not quite the same as a hug from your mom, but close.bowl of soup with toasr

Click here to print recipe for Farro Soup.