Arugula + summer fruit salad

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The first days of summer always seem to smell the sweetest. The sun burns a little brighter and no one seems to notice. But even the best seasons have their off-days and summer is no exception. You know the ones – where the air is thick, thunderstorms are in the air, and so hot that you would hide away in the fridge if you could.

For those hard dog days of summer where lifting a finger threatens to bring on another shower, this salad is a quick chop and toss (thankfully mostly toss!) away to remind you of summer’s best. If you’re in a pinch, add 3 tablespoons of rhubarb compote to dress your salad and forget the oil. After all, it’s summer and you make the rules.

  • 3 cups baby arugula
  • 1 cup pea tendrils (optional)
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup strawberries, quartered
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • 1 cup Rainier cherries
  • 2 sprigs mint, julienned
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup walnuts

Gently toss together the ingredients and dress at the last minute. Serves 2-4.

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Liquid Sunshine

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With the first day of summer officially starting today, this Canadian heart skips a little. 17 hours of daylight paired with a bowl of rose-tinted liquid sunshine – what better way to celebrate?

Often passed over in favour of its flashier neighbours, rhubarb is the unsung hero of spring and early summer. Don’t let this humble-looking plant fool you. It’s tart with a lot of spunk and packs quite the punch especially when eaten raw. Dull or disappointing are not words that I would use to describe this hardy vegetable. Served warm or chilled, my favourite rhubarb fix comes in the form of a simple compote. Nothing says summer like a generous spoonful (or spoonfuls!) over yogourt, oatmeal, your morning smoothie or a little midnight ice cream. You can even sneak it in as a dressing in a mixed green salad (yes, it even tames the bitterest of greens!). So with this salute to one of my favourite plants, I give you my recipe for a summer solstice rhubarb compote:

  • 4 rhubarb stalks (leaves removed)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 sprigs lemon thyme
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • squeeze of lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Trim the ends of the rhubarb and cut into 1 1/4-inch rounds. Pour the water in a wide frying pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the rhubarb to the pan, sprinkle in the sugar, add the lemon thyme, lemon zest, and give the lemon a quick squeeze over the rhubarb. Stir to combine and heat the mixture for 10 minutes on medium-high heat or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb is tender. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before stirring in the vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract). Enjoy immediately or leave in the refrigerator to chill. Serves 4 or yields a healthy portion for one!

Spinach and mushroom risotto

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Making a nice, creamy risotto had evaded me for years. My downfall in the past was my split attention span (I like to call it multi-tasking) and the assumption that making risotto is similar to making rice or congee: add water and boil. The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth and to think all it took as a little investigation into “how to make risotto”. So, to save you from the same sad fate as my past attempted risotto creations, this is how you really make risotto and it’s surprisingly easy. As an aside, risotto is not something to make if you need to be multi-tasking, as timing is of the essence. It’s not hard, you just need to be able to pay attention to it and have a little patience. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 2 cups of risotto or arborio rice
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 4 to 5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 5 small brown mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 cups of spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese, grated

Ingredients if vegan: (serves 4)

  • 2 cups of risotto or arborio rice
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4-1/2 to 5 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 5 small brown mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 cups of spinach, chopped

Preparation:

  1. In a medium to large saucepan, heat up the butter, 1/4 cup of the cream, and olive oil (just olive oil if vegan) on medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the chopped onion (and garlic, if you’re using garlic). Simmer until the onions are translucent and nearly breaking down.
  2. In a large pot, pour your stock and wine. Simmer on low heat without a lid. It should not come to a boil.
  3. Back to your onion saucepan – add the rice and stir, still on medium heat. The edges of the rice should also turn translucent, while the centre will remain opaque. Stir the rice to keep it from burning. Lightly toasted is what we want but not burned.
  4. When the rice is translucent, ladle in a cup of broth and stir it into the rice. Keep slowly stirring. The rice will absorb the broth at which time you can ladle in another cup of broth. You will be ladling in a cup of broth at a time – only a cup at a time. This is where that patience and attention comes in. It’s important that you only do a cup at a time and wait until nearly all of the liquid is soaked into the rice before you add another. No need to rush. Too much liquid and your risotto could get really soupy rather than creamy and overcook.
  5. When your risotto is nearing completion – you’ll be able to tell as the kernels are nearly al dente and the consistency will be creamy (you’ll also only have about a cup or two left of your broth) – add the chopped mushrooms and spinach. Continue stirring.
  6. Finish adding enough broth to get your risotto to the perfect consistency and the rice just cooked. I encourage taste testing to make sure. Note that you may not need all the broth – or if you run out, use a little water or more stock. Add the grated parmesan cheese and the last 1/4 cup cream to the risotto, stir to have it melt in (ignore this last step if you’re vegan).

You’re ready to serve! Risotto is best served right away – buon appetito!

Jicama mango salad

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I fell in love with jicama in Mexico and have since looked for every opportunity to integrate it into a meal. Last night, we had baby back ribs for dinner and the refreshing, clean flavour of jicama was the perfect complement to the saucy, smokey flavour of the ribs.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5 people)

  • 1/2 jicama, peeled and finely sliced into strips
  • 1 regular cucumber (not English cucumber), peeled and finely sliced into strips
  • 3 limes, juiced
  • 2 stalks of cilantro (coriander), chopped
  • 1 green mango (mango that isn’t quite ripe), peeled and finely sliced into strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons of cracked pepper, or to taste
  • 3/4 tablespoon of cracked salt, or to taste

Preparation:

  1. Combine the sliced jicama, cucumber, and mango in a bowl and hand toss until everything is evenly distributed
  2. Juice the limes over the salad and toss again
  3. Add the olive oil, cilantro, salt and pepper. Toss yet again. Note, you’ll need a lot of salt and pepper to flavour the salad

And that’s it, the salad is ready to serve!

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Queso: A great side dip or topping for your chips or main

cheeseWhile visiting friends in Austin, Texas last week, I was introduced to queso. If you’re not familiar with queso, it’s a delicious cheesy sauce that often comes with your chips or that you can top up your tacos or other dishes with. I have to admit, it was a new discovery for me, and the verdict: delicious! The good news – it’s very easy to make. This recipe is one that is based on what was described to me by my friend’s hubby who is Mexican and grew up on his momma’s made-from-scratch Mexican meals. The great thing about queso is there are many variations – you can put what you want in it.

I made a vegan variation.

Ingredients:

  • 250g of cheddar cheese, sliced or grated. Other kinds of cheese can be used. Cheddar is what was recommended to me. Many recipes call for “Velveeta cheese”, which is a processed cheese that’s softer in nature. I try to avoid processed foods, so didn’t use it. For the vegan variation, I used Okanagan’s Soya Co. cheddar.
  • 1/4 cup of cold water (for a non-vegan version, you can use 1/4 cup of half and half cream)
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you prefer mild heat)
  • 1/2 sprig of green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 of a medium sized white onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt

Start your queso by melting the cheese. You can do this directly in a saucepan or pot. I didn’t want to have to transfer the gooey cheese from pot to serving bowl, so I placed my sliced up cheese in the serving bowl directly and placed the bowl in a larger pot that had 2 inches of water in it. The heat from the pot and water melted the cheese directly in my serving bowl.

Once the cheese is melted, add the water (or cream for the non-vegan version of this recipe) and mix until smooth.

Add the peppers, onions, tomato, and salt.

If you prefer a runnier dip, you can add a little more water and mix until it’s at the consistency you like.

Tomato salad

This tomato salad is probably one of my favorite go-to salads to make. It’s quick, simple, easy, and lets the fresh ingredients speak for themselves.

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped or sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped (can also substitute with basil)
  • 1 buffalo mozzarella, sliced
  • 2.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste
  • ground pepper, to taste

Coarsely chop your tomatoes into eighths, or slice them. Whether your chop or slice your tomatoes is up to you. Either way, they should be relatively chunky with the seeds intact. Chop up your cilantro and slice the mozzarella.

If you substitute with basil, a trick I use is to arrange the leaves into a fan pattern, one on top of the next first, roll up the leaves and them chop across the roll. You will get the even strips of basil this way.

Throw your ingredients together in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add the salt and pepper to taste, and give it a good toss so everything is evenly mixed together.

You’re done! Ready to serve. In less than 15 minutes.

Guacamole

We love guacamole. Every chance we get, we’ll order it at a restaurant or make it ourselves. On one occasion, after eating at one of our favorite spots that has what we think is one of the best guacamole in town, we were on mission to reproduce a similarly tasty guac.

This is the result.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 1 vine tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 to 2 tablesoon lime or lemon juice
  • Ground pepper to taste

Peel and pit the avocadoes and mash them in a bowl with a fork. Mashing it with a fork keeps the texture a little uneven and chunky, which we prefer. If you want a more even, smooth texture, you can also use a hand blender to smooth it out.

Chop up the vine tomato, onion, and cilantro and add to the mixture. Add the salt, lime juice, and ground pepper. Stir so everything is mixed thoroughly.

Serve with chips.