Roasted vegetables with Halloumi

Are we all getting tired of the terms “hunkered down,” “social-distancing,” and “self-isolating” yet? Needless to say, that’s also what we’re doing, along with the rest of the world.

We are trying to maintain a positive attitude throughout the COVID19 pandemic, and for me that means dusting off my cookbook collection and bringing back proper meals to the table since I have (a bit) more time to cook. Of course looking after the little ones still takes up most of my day now that they’re both out of school, but if I can spend slightly more time on, for instance, a veggie side to accompany frozen pizza, so much the better.

Here is one of my favourite veggie sides, from my fave food blogger Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen) It’s in her second cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day and quickly became a go-to because it’s easy to chop everything up and get it in the oven, even on a weeknight. I’ve always been a fan of grilled halloumi, so I was sold, and love the heft it adds to a tray of roasted vegetables. I would be happy to have a bowl of this and call it dinner.

I haven’t changed much about the recipe, except for subbing in yellow and red peppers for the eggplant since I’ve never been an eggplant fan. The kids are still so-so on this dish, although I finally convinced Isabel to try a chunk of the Halloumi, and Nathan was interested in the peppers and zucchini. I’m sure they’ll come around to the deliciousness that is this dish in time, but for now that means more for me (yay!).

Sheet pan Halloumi with grilled vegetables
Adapted slightly from Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen Every Day

2 peppers (I prefer red, yellow and/or orange), chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp olive oil
1 block Halloumi, chopped
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spread 1 tbsp of olive oil evenly on sheet pan.

Mix together chopped vegetables, Halloumi, garlic, lemon zest, and remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roast for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until Halloumi is puffed and golden, and vegetables are soft and charred in places.

Once vegetables are out of the oven, squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon over top and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Baking with kids: Chewy M&M Cookies

I’m sure my love of baking came from watching and “helping” (I use the term loosely) my mom bake when I was a kid. I remember making brownies, chocolate cake, and batch upon batch of cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, you name it, we made it). Stirring the batter, adding the eggs and chocolate chips, licking extra frosting from the beaters — I loved every step of the process.

Isabel seems to have inherited this baking love — we’ve spent many a weekend afternoon baking together. Mostly cookies, and if we can decorate said cookies with icing and sprinkles, so much the better.

Our first experiences baking together happened a couple Christmases ago. Isabel was 2, and there wasn’t a lot of time for scratch baking back then, so we purchased a tray of Christmas-themed premixed cookies that we simply baked and decorated with icing and sprinkles (by far the most fun part for Isabel back then).

But last year, we made the effort to bake our own holiday cookies, with the key being kid-friendly recipes. Nothing too complicated, fiddly, or time-consuming. We started with ginger molasses cookies from a favourite cooking blog, Once Upon A Chef. Isabel loved shaping the dough into balls, and rolling them around in sugar.

This past year, we did roll-out sugar cookies shaped into candy canes, Santas, and Christmas trees.

The other day Isabel mentioned wanting to bake cookies (this happens often) and I thought about a favourite cookie I remember buying from the tuck shop at my elementary school back in the day. They were chewy M&Ms-studded sugar cookies, and I seem to recall them being the size of my head.

I mentioned this to Isabel and she immediately wanted to bake some. I looked around online and many recipes I found called for shortening rather than butter. But then I found a tempting-looking recipe with lots of notes (always helpful) on the site Celebrating Sweets.

We didn’t make them head-sized, but they turned out even better than expected. The butter and mix of brown and white sugars made them chewy, sweet but not crazy sweet, and with pleasing pockets of chocolate from the M&Ms.

I didn’t think I’d be tempted to eat these myself, as M&Ms aren’t my candy of choice these days (if they’d been studded with mini Reese cups it’d be a different story), but they really are tasty.

Chewy M&Ms Cookies
Source: Celebrating Sweets

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups M&Ms

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with silicone mats or parchment.
  • In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, beat butter and both sugars for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, mixing until combined. On low speed, add in flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  • Gently stir in M&Ms.
  • Scoop balls of dough, approximately 1 tbsp each. Place on prepared baking sheet leaving an inch or two between dough balls.
  • Bake for 9-11 minutes (I prefer golden-bottomed cookies, so I tend toward baking on the longer side, a full 11 minutes). 
  • Let cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.

Feeding the kids

Nathan two-fisting falafels.

I’ve had two kids since I last updated this blog and needless to say the way I cook (and bake) on a daily basis has changed dramatically. Gone are the days where I can spend hours lovingly preparing a boeuf bourguignon, stay up until midnight baking a cake, or make daily trips to the farmers market or grocery store because I feel like having “insert complicated recipe here” for dinner.

Now meals must be planned in advance, the little ones’ palates considered, and cooking/baking whims happen far less frequently. Cooking has become more of a chore than a pleasure, and I’m hoping that returning to this blog can change that. Both Isabel, 4, and Nathan, 2, are “selective” eaters (I’m trying to avoid the word “picky”), and like most parents we have our share of challenges in deciding what to prepare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

They both like a variety of foods, but there’s very little overlap in what they like. Vegetables are still mainly rejected — with the exception of typical toddler faves like peppers and cucumbers. Trying something new often doesn’t go over well — getting them to try one or two bites is considered a victory. When it comes to dinners, we’ve fallen into the all-too-familiar rotation of chicken nuggets / roasted sausages / pizza / pasta / grilled cheese sandwiches.

But this isn’t a place for me to vent about what they don’t like. This is going to be, I hope, a place where I rediscover my love of cooking interesting and tasty food, regardless of whether I think my kids are going to like it. Rather than not try anything new at all, because ‘why bother if they’re not going to try/like it?’, I’m going to forge ahead. I have 100+ cookbooks that have been gathering dust for too long now. And maybe — hopefully! — my little ones will learn to like a few new things while we’re at it!

So here’s to cooking, and enjoying cooking, again!

Preserves 2014: Strawberry jam and Garlic scape pesto

preserves2014-strawbjamI dream of one day having one of those walls of preserves that you see at some farm-to-table restaurants — jars upon jars of picked vegetables for salads and cocktail-accessorizing, tomatoes for sauce, and of course jams and pestos in every flavour imaginable.

Every year I say, ‘This is going to be the year I pickle and/or jar everything that comes into season at the market!’ But inevitably, summer socializing wins out (because who wants to stay indoors over a hot stove when you can be out on a patio with friends and beer?) and I fail miserably at my goal. So, this year, I’m starting small, and we’ll just see how many jars get filled by this time in October.

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Chocolate chunk bar cookies

choccookiebarsLately I’ve been craving simple comforts. A great burger. A spicy Thai curry. And chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies have always been my favourites but for some reason I never make them. Possibly because no one can make them as good as my mom can. Well, there was a request at home the other night for cookies, and I couldn’t ignore the call.

Surprisingly, I don’t have a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe in my repertoire, so I called on Ina Garten for assistance. Her latest book, Foolproof, has a decadent-looking chocolate chunk blondie (essentially a chocolate chunk bar cookie) that looked as though it would do in a pinch.

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Plum and sour cherry crumble

crisp-600x400I moved to a new neighbourhood this summer — and one of my favourite things about it is its fantastic Sunday farmers’ market.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to farmers’ markets.

I can’t seem to leave one until my wallet’s significantly lighter, and my bags significantly heavier — loaded down with all the fresh produce I can carry. The fact that I don’t have nearly enough time to cook/bake/preserve it all is beside the point. I see a basket of peaches, I buy it. I see perfect bunches of kale, into the bag they go. Cherries, blueberries, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers … ditto.

I have visions of spending my Sundays jarring jams and pickles, before whipping up a dinner loaded with market-fresh veggies, and then getting to work on a fruit-laden pie before heading to bed exhausted but satisfied. In reality, I work at a snail’s pace, and one recipe is often all I can muster before tossing pots and spoons into the sink and calling it a day.

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Roasted beet salad

When I was in California back in June I had the pleasure to eat at Chef Tyler Florence’s San Francisco restaurant Wayfare Tavern. It was a fantastic meal — the starters, avocado salad and bacon-wrapped dates, were particularly memorable as were the popovers — and one that has inspired me to try a few new things in the kitchen since getting back.

Up until a few years ago I was a beet hater. Probably because of the fuschia-tinted pickled variety I was used to growing up, a mainstay at family dinners (I think my grandpa was the only one who liked them). But I recall having a roasted beet salad at a downtown restaurant and realizing just how delicious a beet could be — earthy and sweet, slightly warm, and dressed with a simple citrus vinaigrette. I think there must have been some goat cheese in there as well, because beets and goat cheese are genius together.

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Deep dark chocolate brownies

I knew I was in trouble when Annie Rigg used the word “squidgy” to describe her brownies.

Squidgy. YES.

I also belong to the “brownies should be fudgy, not cakey” camp, so I couldn’t wait to give Ms. Rigg’s recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Brownies a try. My absolute favourite dessert, for those who don’t know, is a warm-from-the-oven brownie, fudgy and almost pudding-y, with some softly melting vanilla ice cream over top. So rich and squishy and chocolatey it borders on the pornographic — my friend O and I bonded over one very much like this at Garde Manger in Montreal, read all about it here.

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Jeni’s salty caramel ice cream

I’m trying to remember when my love affair with salted caramel started — I think it was at Splendido in the spring of 2010. I ordered their chocolate caramel tart for dessert, and it was sprinkled with what appeared to be Maldon salt. I was already full from a very decadent dinner but once I tasted that tart and its divine mingling of dark chocolate, rich buttery caramel, shortbread crust, and crunchy salt flakes, I was done for. Days later, I was still thinking about it. With all due respect to David Chang, THIS was crack pie.

And while I’ve had a ton of salted caramel goodies since then (my friend B’s Salted Caramel Brownies with Bacon stand out), I’d never actually made anything myself. Well when I saw the recipe for Salty Caramel Ice Cream in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer of the famed Ohio artisan ice cream chain, I knew I had to try it. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? I was also curious to try making caramel without added water. I don’t have the best pots in the world, and the idea of cooking dry sugar until it melted and caramelized seemed a dubious proposition, but why the hell not? Besides, if I burned the pot I’d just have to buy a new…..set.

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Bucatini with ramps and asparagus

Ramps, or wild leeks, are available for a very short time in early spring, so when I saw them at the farmer’s market this weekend I had to pick some up. They have an earthy taste not unlike green onions, and are perfect when paired with other fresh spring flavours like lemon and asparagus.

But because they’re not around for very long, or maybe because they’re not commonly used, finding recipes that employ them is a bit tricky. I think the last time I cooked with them, I chopped them up and tossed them in with some scrambled eggs. Easy, but very fresh-tasting and delicious.

I think that’s the key with ramps — don’t pile too many flavours on top. If you do, you miss the point. Keep it simple, and let them shine through in the finished product.

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