orzo and roasted carrot salad

This is great barbecue food. I got the recipe from Martha several years ago and it's become one of my standards for potlucks and backyard parties. This salad stores well, transports well, and can sit outside for a while (unlike potato salad). And from first-hand experience, I can tell you it's a darn tasty complement to grilled seafood, fish, and to BBQ chicken.

orzo and roasted carrot salad
serves 4-5 (can be easily doubled for a large crowd)

1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and ends trimmed
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
olive oil (extra virgin)
coarse salt
1/2 lb orzo
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1/3 C loosely packed fresh dill, roughly chopped
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut carrots diagonally into largish pieces (1-2"). On a rimmed baking sheet, toss carrots and unpeeled garlic cloves with some olive oil and a couple pinches of salt. Roast until carrots are tender and browned (15-20 mins). Remove from oven and let cool baking sheet. Squeeze garlic cloves from skins and cut/mash to form a paste. Put paste into a small dish and set aside.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and cook orzo according to package directions (7-8 mins). Drain. While still warm, transfer orzo to a large bowl and toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Let cool slightly, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking together.

Meanwhile, in small bowl with garlic paste, mix together lemon zest, lemon juice, and scallions. Add dill to dressing. Add roasted carrots to bowl of orzo and stir together. Pour dressing over mixture. Stir to combine well. Season with salt and fresh pepper. Serve at room temp.

You can also make the salad the day before and store it in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap. Bring to room temp before serving.


ginger goodness

Mmmmmm, gingery molassesy cookies. How do you like them? I like 'em chewy and oversized and with lots of great sugar coating the toasted corners of the cookie. When I find a recipe that promises gingery chewy goodness, I try it out and enjoy the results with a glass of cold milk.

I tried Elise's ginger cookie recipe a while ago (which was fabulous!) and I recently noticed Chow posted a ginger cookie recipe that had people raving. Unable to resist, I made up a batch of Chow's "ginger chewies."

The verdict: they're good, but they aren't as spicy as I like. And aesthetically, Chow's version failed to flatten like I've come to expect of my ginger cookies. So, if you're hankering for a classic ginger cookie, but wish for a less-spicy and less-flat version, then this one's for you -- diff'rent strokes for different folks.

chow's super-sized ginger chewies
makes 14 cookies

2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas salt
1 teas cinnamon
1 teas ground ginger
1/2 teas cloves
10 Tbs unsalted butter at room temp
1 C packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 C molasses
1/4 C granulated sugar (for topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Sift flour, soda, salt, and spices together into medium bowl. Set aside. In large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses and mix until well blended. Slowly add flour mixture, mixing just enough to incorporate the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, place granulated sugar. Roll piece of dough into a ball in your hands, then roll in sugar to coat. Space about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake cookies until tops are firm, but they are still soft in the center for a real chewy experience (12-14 mins). Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for about 5 mins before transferring them to a wire rack. Enjoy!


beet and hazelnut salad

Honk if you love beets.

Even though I curse the fact that they'll dye anything and everything in my kitchen, I love beets (honk). If I grew a garden -- correction: when I grow a garden -- I will most definitely grow beets.

This recipe is loosely based on a similar combo of flavours we enjoyed at a little bistro a few months ago -- but since that was a few months ago, you'll have to bear with my reinterpretation.

salad with warm beets, toasted hazelnuts, and goat cheese
Serves 2

2 medium beets, greens removed and scrubbed
olive oil
mixed greens -- mix of lettuces, spinach, etc
handful of hazelnuts, toasted
a few ounces goat cheese -- enough for two
handful of fresh dill, roughly chopped
your favourite vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub some olive oil over the scrubbed beats. Wrap tightly in a couple layers of parchment paper, then a layer of aluminium foil. Place bundles in glass baking pan and bake until pierced easily with a fork, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit before handling.

Meanwhile, prep greens, (and toast hazelnuts). Peel beets when cool enough to handle and cut into slices. Toss greens in vinaigrette, mix in dill, and plate up on serving plates. Place half of the beet pieces on each salad plate, and top with half the hazelnuts and half the goat cheese. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.


another blanket from the stash

When I was first in Italy (back in 2000), I bought 10 skeins (ten skeins!) of this really soft angora/wool/acrylic yarn with no particular project in mind. I'm not sure what my inspiration was for buying 5 skeins each of two pastel colours, and needless to say the yarn has sat idle in my stash box ever since. I have also managed to amass quantities of silken turquoise and pink bouclé cotton. What to finally do with it all? Why, another baby blanket, of course!
The details: I am double-knitting the coloured strands with a white strand (it's knitting up much faster this way). The whites are a merino superwash and a wool/mohair blend -- using one or the other depends on the thickness of the coloured strand. I'm knitting it up in plain ol' stockinette stitched squares, each one measuring 15cm-square. I'll sew it up in a diagonal pattern -- as opposed to my last randomly arranged striped blanket (which, by the way, is all knit but has yet to be blocked and sewn -- new projects are more fun than finishing old ones).

One thing about this blanket is -- with all its fibres -- it will definitely be a cold wash/dry flat only kind of blankie. That seems like a lot to request of any new mom. I suppose a good gifter would include a coupon for "care for a year." We'll see if I'm good or if I'm lazy.


blurbing my wedding album

Have you heard of blurb yet? I first heard of them through Amanda (a.k.a. Soule Mama) -- she backed up her blog in book form for her kids. I decided it would be a great option for finally doing something with all the pictures from my wedding (circa 2005).
I swear I don't work for blurb, but I am a pleased customer and happy to do a little word-of-mouth advertising for their online publishing prowess.

The process is pretty simple: you download their software, then take as much time as you want to input pictures, change colours, fiddle with fonts and formats, etc. When you're ready, upload the finished book back to blurb and they'll print it and send it to you within a week or so. Ta-da! And since you have quite a bit of control over the layouts, it makes for a great fun project and a few late nights.


arugula and pecan pesto

I don't like gourmet cooking or this cooking or that cooking.

I like good cooking.
~ James Beard

Arugula has been recently epitomized as gourmet, a distinction that kind of confuses me. The Italians have been using it every day for eons. But I suppose that is how food trends work -- someone's everyday flavour becomes another's indulgence. In any case, arugula is such a yummy green -- bitter and peppery -- that it deserves all the good press. This pesto recipe is adapted from one in Gourmet (!!) magazine, circa 2001.

arugula and pecan pesto
serves 4

3/4 C pecans, toasted
1 garlic clove, minced
a couple pinches of course salt
10 oz arugula, course stems removed
1/2 C grated parmesan
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb linguine

Finely chop about 1/4 C of the pecans. Set aside.

In food processor, combine minced garlic, salt, remaining 1/2 C pecans, arugula, cheese, pepper, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Pulse together, adding more olive oil, until the pesto is the desired consistency.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Ladle out and reserve 1 1/2 C pasta water. Drain pasta. Return to pot and toss with pesto, chopped pecans, and 1/2 C pasta water. Add more cooking water if pasta seems dry. Serve immediately.


sun-dried tomato pasta

The weather is finally getting the news that it's spring. I met Jeff after work for a picnic under the much anticipated cherry blossoms of High Park. We arrived a few hours after the warm midday sun though -- it was chilly. And we were also a few days early on the cherry blossoms. Many of the trees just had the buds -- I bet this weekend the whole place will be in full bloom.

We enjoyed our picnic of pasta, fruit salad, and chocolate. The pasta turned out really tasty, so I thought I'd share. I was inspired by a recipe by Ina Garten, but I modified the flavours considerably. Whereas hers had more of a southern Italian flare -- calling for capers, olives, and fresh mozzarella-- I wanted something less salty and wanted a cheese that had more pizazz. So, I went with a Greek-Italian thing -- lots of sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and parmesan, but also great feta. A yummy combo.

sun-dried tomato pasta
serves 3

1/2 lb fusilli or rotini pasta
1/2 lb ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
1/2 C fresh feta, crumbled
5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and roughly chopped
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 garlic clove, minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan
1/2 C basil leaves, julienned
salt, if necessary (my feta was in brine, so I didn't need any extra salt)

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool.

In large bowl, place the cut tomatoes, 3 of the sun-dried tomatoes, and the feta. Add pepper to taste (~1/2 tsp). Add cooled pasta and stir to combine.

In a food processor, puree together remaining two sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil (it doesn't matter if it isn't totally smooth.) Pour dressing over pasta, add parmesan and basil, and toss well. Season with salt, if necessary. Best served at room temperature. Enjoy!