Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roasted Tomato Orzo Salad

Make this NOW!  If you're buried under work and don't have time to cook, but still want to taste that sunshine outside in your kitchen, make this salad.  Make a big batch and let it sit in your fridge. It only gets better with time.  Eat it all week for lunch, or supper.  Add some chopped raw cucumber, blanched broccoli or a nice green salad on the side and you're totally set.

The first time I made this salad, I totally fell in love with it. The second time I made it, I added chopped red onion and it was even better.  You could totally play with it -- add chopped roasted or raw red peppers, zucchini, roasted garlic, whatever you like.  Or keep it simple and enjoy it just as much.

Don't sweat it.  It's easy.  Take 30 minutes out of your work-at-home time and make this salad.  You'll be so glad you did.  Make it even if you're not busy, and spend the rest of your time biking outside, having coffee or beer on sunny patios or planting the garden.  It's THAT good.  Go for it!  Happy eating!

Roasted Tomato Orzo Salad
serves lots!

1.5 cups of uncooked orzo
4-5 ripe tomatoes, or couple pints of cherry tomatoes, chopped or halved
a big splash each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
1 big pinch of salt
1 few good grinds of pepper
1/2 red onion, diced
3-4 basil leaves, chopped
a few sprigs of oregano (or use thyme, or parsley .. anything you've got on hand!)

1. In a large pot of water, cook the orzo for about 15 minutes, or until tender and/or al dente.  Drain and set aside.

2. While the pasta is cooking, toss the tomatoes in the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Spread it out on a baking sheet and roast on high (under the broiler) for about 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes break down and the juices get kind of sticky.

3. Put the pasta in a large bowl and add the onion.  Toss with the tomatoes and their juices.  Add in the chopped herbs and toss again.  Let it cool in the fridge, if you can wait, or just dig in.  It's ten times better when you pull it out a few days later.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blueberry Crisp for Grandma

I love making treats for my Grandma.  She's usually not a sweet dessert kind of person, but she enjoys treats and today was the perfect day to make something in her honour.  Every year on mother's day, my Mom is usually away on vacation, so we celebrate mother's day and father's day together when she gets back.  But on mother's day, we also take the time to chill out with our Grandma -- a very special person indeed.  She raised us when we were little and our Dad was working the night shift and our Mom had to go back to work. She picked us up from school, made us breakfast and lunch, and played silly games with us during our summer vacation.

My Grandma has been feeling sick lately, so she didn't feel like going to a restaurant for mother's day brunch.  We brought brunch to her this year, and this fresh blueberry crisp was the perfect way to end it. Truth be told, I really wanted to bake something with rhubarb, but our local markets didn't have any, so I settled for nice pints of sweet, floral blueberries.  I wanted to maintain the freshness of the fruit -- I've tried too many crisps and crumbles where the fruit is jammy and super sweet, not something my Grandma would appreciate.  So I kept everything simple -- no cornstarch or thickeners, just fresh fruit, lemon juice and zest and a sprinkling of sweetness.  The crisp topping baked up in nice lovely crumble chunks with an added nuttiness from the use of spelt flour.  It was a lemony, fresh, just sweet enough crisp, perfect to end mother's day brunch.  It we had a bit of fresh thyme, I'd throw some in for sure, and it were Ontario peach season, I'd definitely consider a peach and blueberry crisp.  But it's perfect as it is, and Grandma loved it, which was the most important part.

Happy Mother's Day!

Lemony Blueberry Crisp
serves 4-6

1 pint of fresh blueberries, washed
juice and zest of 1 lemon, divided
1 tablespoon of natural cane sugar
1/2 cup of spelt flour
3/4 cup of rolled oats
3 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of canola oil

1.  In a baking dish, combine the blueberries, sugar and half the lemon juice and zest.  Toss lightly.  Set aside.

2.  In a bowl, stir together the flour, oats and the other half of the lemon zest.  Add the lemon juice, oil and honey and mix well.

3.  Crumble the oat mixture over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit just starts to bubble and the topping gets nice and golden.

4.  The dessert begs for ice cream or whipped cream, but if you eat it on it's own, you could definitely call it breakfast!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cool Treats for Cinco de Mayo

I don't know much about Cinco de Mayo.  I never knew what it was all about.  I only knew that it meant the 5th of May, which was yesterday.  I learned that it commemorates the Mexican resistance against French occupation.  Inspiring indeed.  Although Cinco de Mayo isn't really recognized in Canada, I feel compelled to mention it because somehow, it's been on my mind all weekend.  There are hosts of Mexican-inspired recipes I've been waiting to try, like this roasted pineapple and black bean bowl, these sweet potato and black bean enchiladas and these Mexican hot chocolate cookies.  But they'll have to wait.  It was biking weather, which meant not too much time in the kitchen, but I did make these creamy and cool mango lime popsicles to commemorate the occasion. 

They are a perfect after-biking treat when you're not sure whether you're more hungry or thirsty. The yogurt gives it a creamy protein boost while the mango and lime still manage to quench your thirst.  It tastes tropical and inviting and it's impossible to eat just one.  But that's ok.  There's no added sugar -- just fruit and 100% juice are enough to sweeten it, provided that you have a nice juicy ripe mango.  If you use greek yogurt instead, you'll up your protein content for sure.  If you have it on hand, buttermilk is a handy replacement for the yogurt.  And if you want a super grown up treat, a shot of tequila might be good.

I'm not going to pretend to speak Spanish and type something that I got off a translator, so Happy Cino de Mayo!

Creamy Mango Lime Popsicles
makes about 16, depending on the size of your popsicle molds.

1 large mango, diced
1/4 cup of 100% juice -- mango would be ideal, orange would work in a pinch, I used Ceres pear juice
juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut water
1/2 cup of skim milk yogurt

1.  In a small pot, combine the mango and fruit juice and heat until boiling.  Reduce to simmer and then cook, covered for about 10 minutes, or until the mango softens and starts to break down.  Blend the mixture using an immersion blender, or transfer to a regular blender.

2.  Cool the mixture to room temperature.  Add the juice and zest, coconut water and yogurt.  Whisk until well-blended.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze overnight.

3.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lemon Picnic Loaf

It's May!  Almost time for rhubarb and strawberries, fiddle heads and asparagus, long bike rides and picnics.  Do you like picnics?  I confess that I've probably never planned a perfect picnic with little containers or mayo-free salads and glass jars filled with lemonade.  But we've had lovely coffee + scone breaks in the park, PBJs from plastic lunch containers pulled from our bike packs, and lots of ice cream (cones and cups) and icy drinkings while strolling or lounging on grassy, hilly areas of the park.

I love the idea of picnics and one day this summer, perhaps I'll plan the perfect picnic with a perfect picnic menu, one that includes the perfect picnic dessert -- a dessert that's fuss-free, not to sticky or melty and one that definitely won't get squished on the way to the park.  A dessert like this lovely lemon loaf.  It's refreshing and lemony and just sweet enough to be called dessert.  Add a little glaze on it, and it would definitely be a great contender next to those chocolatey treats that we sometimes need a break from.

This loaf is sturdy, but not stodgy.  It has a nice, tender crumb, and even though it's vegan (meaning no eggs to keep it together), it does not fall apart when you bite it.  The flavour is lemony and zingy with just a little bit of nutty from the spelt flour.  I know this is not sounding like dessert, but trust me, one bite -- maybe two-- and you'll be addicted.  It's the kind of dessert that packs well and is great at finishing off a meal on the road, but if you had it at home, it would beg for blueberry sauce, ice cream or a sweet sticky glaze. 

It's delicious straight up, but added fresh berries would be an awesome treat, as would some lemon curd (I found an awesome recipe for vegan lemon curd that I'm dying to try) layered in the middle, or even dried fruits.  I had it plain the first time, and then the next, I added dried blueberries.  Totally awesome. 

Vegan Lemon Spelt Loaf
makes one small loaf
adapted from Liz Lemon Nights

juice and zest of 2 medium-sized lemons
3/4 cup of almond milk
1/2 cup of natural cane sugar
splash of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of cornstarch
1.5 cups of spelt flour

1.  In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and zest, almond milk, sugar, vanilla and canola oil and whisk to combine.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, and cornstarch.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients slowly, mixing gently during the process.  The mixture will be quite runny.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes or so while the oven preheats.

3.  Pour the batter into a prepared loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the loaf gets a lovely golden brown colour, and a cake tester inserted comes out clean. 

4.  Enjoy!  Happy picnicing!