Tag Archives: Appetizers

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


Brie and Apple Crostini with Onion Jam

ready to assembleJust as I think I really don’t need another cookbook, poof, next thing you know, there I am buying just one more. I seem to have no willpower when it comes to cookbooks. That, and black jumpsuits. I need a black jumpsuit intervention! A bit more about the latest cookbook purchase in a minute. As for as my black jumpsuit obsession, well, no need for you to know any more about that!

We were in Washington D.C. for a wedding a few weeks ago. We only had time for one meal out, so I did a little research and and the restaurant Founding Farmers kept coming up. Everyone raved about it and it was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel.

Our server came over to our table and introduced herself as Myers. I asked, “like the lemon?” She laughed and nodded. I loved that our server had a food name. She brought us the menu and explained a little bit about the restaurant. It’s a very cool concept. It is owned by over 40,000 family farmers of the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, and is supplied daily by hundreds of family farms everywhere. Everything is cooked, baked and mixed, from scratch on site, with high-quality, responsibly-farmed food.

I wanted to order one of everything on the menu. Myers said that the home baked farm bread was one of her favourite things on the menu. She suggested we start with the Apple, Brie, and Onion Jam Crostini. Fantastic suggestion! If you go, it is not to be missed. When good bread is on the menu, I feel a responsibility to sample it.on green platesThe onion jam was sweet and tart all at the same time with a surprising depth of flavour that you can only get with low slow cooking. slicing onionsonions in pan 1onions in pan 2I asked Myers if the chef would share his recipe for the onion jam, and she said they had a cookbook with many of their recipes. Of course I bought it and came home to recreate this delicious dish. I served it as an appetizer with drinks, but it would also be perfect with a salad for a lunch or a light dinner. The onion preserve recipe makes more than you will need, but it keeps well in the fridge for a week, so use it up in grilled cheese sandwiches, on toast with goat cheese and as a pizza topping.

As always, start with good bread! Kudos to you if you plan to bake your own baguette. I have tried, and it’s not easy. But, there are so many great bakeries crafting excellent Artisan loaves now, it’s just so easy to buy great bread. use good bread

Click here to print recipe for Brie and Apple Crostini with Onion Jam.

take one 625 sq


Canned Cornbread

Yes I’m fully aware that baking cornbread in tiny tomato paste cans is a bit twee, but I just couldn’t help it. After being served “canned” cornbread at The Tasting Room, I just knew I had to  come home and recreate the experience. Just imagine the surprise on your friends and family’s faces when you lift up the can to reveal cornbread inside. It’s just so much fun. And really, who couldn’t use a little more fun in their day? output_WdoSLZThe most time consuming part of this project is preparing the cans. They need to be greased and floured very well.prepping cansThis cornbread recipe is an old favourite, created by my friend, Pam. I have tried many different recipes in the past 20 years, and I always come back to this one. With both cornmeal and cornflour in the batter, the texture of this cornbread is fantastic. The addition of corn and jalapeño add sweet and heat.ready to bakeThe batter mixes up quickly in one bowl. mixing batterA spring loaded ice cream scoop makes easy work of getting the batter into the cans. DO NOT FILL EACH CAN MORE THAN HALFWAY!filling cans

ready for ovenIf you greased and floured properly, the cornbreads will slide right out. If you missed a few spots like me, some “gentle” coaxing may be necessary.

They are delicious as is or mix up a batch of whipped browned butter to slather on them.

whipped brown butter 1whipped brown butter 2I served them on these adorable safari plates my daughter bought for me. with a glass of wineleopardelephant 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Canned Cornbread with Whipped Browned Butter.

on blue rectangular platter

Eggplant Carpaccio from the Land of Milk and Honey

eggplant carpaccio 625 sqI am writing this blog post the day after my return from an incredible and somewhat surprising visit to Israel. I want to get it all down while the memories are still fresh in my jet-lagged addled brain. This was my ninth visit to the country, and each time I go I discover and observe something new. Six of those visits have been to celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of my daughter and nieces and nephews on my husband’s side of the family. While we all live in North America, over the past 10 years we have made the journey to Israel to celebrate these milestones in our children’s lives.

On my first visit to Israel I was a fresh-faced 24 year old. I thought the country was quite beautiful, but to be honest, I was put off by the people. They seemed so abrupt and quite frankly, rude. Everyone pushed and shoved to get onto the busses. Hadn’t they learned how to say Slicha.
It wasn’t until, almost 20 years later when I returned for my second visit, that I truly came to love and understand the people of this tiny but mighty nation. This time I visited with with my husband. His oldest brother served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army and had made several lifelong friends. These friends basically adopted my husband’s entire extended family. Native born Israelis are called Sabras, named after this relative of the prickly pear cactus. Like the fruit they seem tough, but are really very sweet on the inside once you get to know them. 

While all our trips have been quite magical, this journey was extra special as it was the last B’nai Mitzvah we will celebrate for this generation on my husband’s side of the family. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing between my husband and his 5 siblings, regarding who among them has the most controlling personality. Most would agree that my husband’s sister, Auntie M, gets the award for bossiest sibling. With five brothers, she has had to take charge to get her way. Ask any of her four children and they will surely agree! In this instance, Auntie M’s quest for control and fine attention to detail was whole-heartedly welcomed. She, along with Tova Wald, planned an extraordinary adventure for our huge contingent of family and friends.

While in Jerusalem we had the opportunity to participate in a culinary workshop with Chef Ezra Kedem, of Arcadia Restaurant. He is considered to be at the forefront of New Israeli cuisine. His stellar restaurant showcases his unique culinary style.

Ezra was destined to become a chef. His childhood was spent at the knee of his mother and grandmother, visiting the food markets of Machne Yehuda, Bethlehem, Ramalla and Jerusalem’s old city markets. Ezra soaked up the traditions and cultures of both the Jerusalemite and Iraqi-Jewish kitchens of his childhood.

After his military service, he studied in New York at the French Culinary Institute, apprenticing for Chef Jacques Pepin for 18 months, and then went on to intern at Alison on Dominik for Sicilian born Chef Tom Valenti.

Several months ago, Chef Ezra opened a private studio kitchen in the charming Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ein Kerem. With a breathtaking view of the Judean hills, he has created a small kitchen workshop, organic garden and stunning glass dining room. He holds private events and cooking classes here, featuring seasonal produce.view 2

glass dining roomWe were blown away with the complex flavours he was able to create with such simple fresh ingredients. He taught us many new techniques. His generous and compassionate nature and made us feel instantly at ease. Making guests feel at home is what he excels at. There were 7 of us at the workshop, 3 mother and daughter teams and our intrepid leader Tova. Ever the consummate host, large glasses of Israeli Chardonnay appeared. When most of us murmured that it was only 10 a.m., steaming mugs of cappuccino were quickly summoned forth.

Chef Ezra is not only charming and a wonderful teacher, he also happens to be a very compassionate man. We discovered that, in his spare time, he conducts Food Therapy Workshops for physically and developmentally challenged individuals.

We began with Eggplant Carpaccio. Chef Ezra explained that while most people associate carpaccio with beef, it can really refer to any food that is sliced or pounded thinly . In this rendition, eggplants are stabbed with a fork and then set over the gas flame to char for a good 20-30 minutes. Then they are peeled and sliced, leaving the seeds in the center to be discarded. eggplant carpaccio mise en place

poking eggplant with forkroasting eggplant 1charred eggplantspeeling charred eggplant 2The soft flesh is gently flattened with a fork and the resulting Carpaccio is dressed with raw tahini, yogurt, tomato, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and chopped walnuts.making carpaccio 2making carpaccio 3making carpaccio 4making carpaccio 5

eggplant carpaccio 625 2 sqIt is not an exaggeration to say that the plates were literally licked clean.clean plate
We all got a chance to practice our knife skills.
practicing knife skills 3practicing knife skills 2practicing knife skills 1pickled onions 1Goat Cheese Ravioli were made crispy by frying them in sage butter. Topped with a simple tomato concasse and more goat cheese left the group silent and mopping up every last drop with bread!goat cheese ravioli
mopping upA demonstration of how to take the harsh bite out of red onions was so simple we could not believe that massaging the onions with cider vinegar for just 3 minutes could make such a difference. He finished them off with some olive oil, dried mint and a pinch of salt. These would be great on a burger, a sandwich or even mixed into a salad with chickpeas, grilled corn and little cherry tomatoes.
onions 1onions 2onions 3onions 4We also make a risotto with spelt, freekeh and bulgar. Freekeh is destined to overtake quinoa in popularity. You heard it first here folks!!Grain risottoOur session ended in the glass dining room where we shared a chocolate tart, topped with a grape compote and coffee sauce, followed by a stellar shredded and caramelized phyllo tart, topped with a plum compote and mascarpone cheese.
chocolate dessertplum dessertWe all learned new techniques that we will be able to practice at home. Learning from Chef Ezra was a joy! He has a calm, zen-like manner that  instantly puts you at ease and his murmurs of encouragement had us all feeling like rock stars in the kitchen.  If you find yourself travelling to Jerusalem you will be immensely rewarded by a visit to Chef Ezra Kedem’s breathtaking studio!

Click here to print recipe for Eggplant Carpaccio.


Avocado Toasts

I’m about to confess something that may get me drummed out of the tribe. I’m sick of eating humus! Truthfully, I have only myself to blame for this unfortunate state of events. I have been eating humus with carrot and celery sticks  for lunch everyday for the past year. Seriously, everyday! I know, you must be wondering, how is that possible? She’s a food blogger, she must create all kinds of wonderful lunches, each day more imaginative and fantastic than the last. But the sad truth is that I get into a rut, it’s just easy, plus it’s healthy and fairly low cal and so then I feel justified later in the day to indulge in my daily aperitivo!

I confess my boring lunch habit not so you will feel sorry for me, but as a way of sharing with you the discovery of a fantastic and simple appetizer to serve with drinks when company comes to visit.

Every summer for the past 26 years we have been gathering at our cottage with my husband’s University housemates and their spouses. Over the years our numbers have swelled as everyone started having kids. We had our annual get together this past weekend. It was just a small group of 15 this year as several members had other commitments. Each family is responsible for one meal over the weekend. It’s fantastic because it means that I am not in the kitchen the entire weekend cooking for everyone and I can enjoy my company instead of resent them!

As I began to plan what to serve my guests with drinks before dinner, I ruled out the usual suspects: humus and pita (sick of humus, see above!), tortilla chips and salsa (too predictable), a big bowl of pistachios or peanuts (nut allergies). As I was reading my July issue of Bon Appetit magazine, the photo on the editor’s letter page stopped me cold. It was just simply grilled bread topped with ripe avocado, sea salt, olive oil and red pepper flakes. I have to say that since Editor-in-Chief  Adam Rapoport took over at the helm of Bon Appetit, I have really started to enjoy reading this magazine once again. He has injected it with a fresh modern vibe and it just inspires me to cook everything on the pages. I still miss Gourmet (a moment of silence please!), but Bon Appetit is really doing a great job to partially fill the void.

The beauty of these avocado toasts is in their simplicity. The key is to gather together the very best ingredients for this dish. There is no real cooking or recipe involved here. Think of yourself as an orchestra leader, bringing together some gifted musicians. Each on their own, sounds quite nice. Together, they create a beautiful harmony. Look for good Artisan bread that has an “open crumb structure” (that’s baker speak for bread with lots of holes – more holes means more crusty spots to give added crunch and crevices for the olive oil to drip into).

A big fat clove of fresh garlic gets rubbed onto just grilled bread.

The avocados should be perfectly ripe, so buy them a few days ahead so they have time to ripen to perfection.

Table salt need not apply for the job of topping these crostini. Pull out the Maldon Sea Salt or some Fleur de Sel. The large crystals of salt will give added crunch and provide a perfect counterpoint to the bland creamy avocado. Pull out that expensive bottle of fruity, slightly bitter olive oil that you have been saving for a special occasion. The nooks and crannies of the grilled Artisan bread will soak it up. Finally, a very light sprinkling of red pepper flakes to wake up the taste buds.

These Avocado Toasts will have your friends and family toasting you!!