Monday, August 26, 2013

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Usually when I tell people that I like to cook healthy food, the first thing they ask is for ways to cook quinoa (pronounced keen-wa).  Common complaints are that it is soggy or that their husbands won't eat it.  My first suggestion for non-lovers of quinoa is to eat it cold, in salads, instead of hot and as a substitute for rice.  If you want to make your rice dishes healthier, use brown rice or wheat berries.  When quinoa is cold, it has a better texture and is not soggy.  Also, it tends to be a feature of the salad instead of the focus.  The reason that so many people are interested in eating quinoa is because it is the new fad food of the health world, even though it has been eaten by people in South America for thousands of years.  It is called the "mother grain" (even though it is actually a seed) because it provides all the necessary amino acids to make a complete protein.

On another note, I received a request from my sister-in-law to make something that contains Japanese long eggplant.  She is lucky enough to live in Los Angeles and grow fresh produce in her garden year round.  Apparently at the moment, she has a glut of these in her garden and needs inspiration.  Many of us in the northern parts are dealing with a similar predicament with zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Luckily for everyone, this recipe includes both of those vegetables as well as a couple of other gems from your summer garden.

This salad will serve at least three as a main course or six as a side.  It also saves really well, so you will be able to eat it for lunch the next day, too.


1/2 cup of quinoa
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 medium zucchini
1 eggplant (Japanese or regular)
1 Tbsp Italian dried mixed herbs
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup feta cheese
Half an avocado
5 Kalamata olives, pitted
5 medium leaves of fresh basil


1. I do not cook quinoa the way most people do.  Most people cook it like rice, but I find that makes it soggy.  Instead, I cook it kind of like pasta.  Put 1/2 cup of quinoa in a medium-sized pot with a pinch of salt and a bunch of water.  Bring the water to a boil, and then immediately lower it to a gentle simmer.  Simmer the quinoa for about 10 - 15 minutes until the little "tails" start to uncurl.  You will know it when you see it.  Taste the quinoa to make sure that it is not hard.  When it has finished cooking, drain it and transfer it to a large salad bowl.  Mix in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread the quinoa up the sides of the bowl so that it has more surface area to cool down.  This way, the excess moisture will evaporate away.  If you run it under cold water to cool it, it will end up soggy.

2. Cut the zucchini and the eggplant lengthwise into quarters and then slice into crescents.  If you are using regular eggplant, I usually don't use the very seedy part as it can be bitter and it gets soggy (apparently the goal of the day is to avoid sogginess!).  If you are using a Japanese eggplant, you can use the whole thing.  Sauté both in 1 Tbsp of olive oil with the Italian herbs and salt and pepper until they lose their crispiness - about 8 minutes.

3. Remove the zucchini/eggplant from the heat and add 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar to the pan.  Let cool.

4. At this point, you can cut the tomatoes in half, crumble the feta cheese, cut the avocado, dice the olives, and chiffonade (cut) the basil.  To cut the avocado, run your knife around pit lengthwise and then twist both halves to separate them, just like you would a peach.  Save the half that has the pit in it in the fridge for another use (leave the pit in to prevent browning).  Cut the remaining half in half again and then peel the skin away.  If the skin does not peel easily, it is probably not ripe enough, although occassionally you will get one that just has thick brittle skin.

5. Add the cooled zucchini/eggplant to the bowl with the quinoa.

6. Top with the tomatoes and the feta.

7. Add the avocado cubes and the olive pieces.

8. Sprinkle the fresh basil on top.

9. Serve with additional balsamic vinegar, if necessary.  Enjoy!


1. The first time I made this salad, I did not include avocado.  Then, Scott decided that he wanted to cut dairy out of his diet, so he suggested adding avocado instead of the feta.  Quite honestly, I thought it wouldn't work, but it did.  Then, he decided that he wasn't cutting dairy out of his diet anymore, so we started to include both feta and avocado in the salad.  It's up to you.  Same with any other ingredient - if you don't like olives, leave them out!

2. You can add white beans or cubes of chicken to make this a more substantial meal.

3. You can serve this salad over lettuce greens for even more nutrition (I usually do).

4. You can serve this hot or cold.  If you serve it hot (maybe with chicken), just throw everything together before the quinoa and zucchini/eggplant cool.  You might not want to add the avocado if you are serving it hot.  You can always add the avocado the next day when you eat the leftovers cold.

5. You can make this in advance.  If you are making it in advance, put everything together except the tomatoes and the avocado - add them at the last minute.


1. With the leftover avocado, you can add it to another salad, or you can make avocado toast: whole wheat toast, mayo, avocado, salt, and pepper - yum.  If you don't eat mayo, leave it out.

Shopping Tips:

1. When selecting an avocado, you want to pick one that is just a bit soft, like a peach.  If they are all hard as a rock, you will have to leave it on the counter for a few days to ripen.  The really hard ones can take 5 days.  Usually, they will ripen in two to three.

2. When picking an eggplant, make sure that it is firm and not soft.  If you are using a regular eggplant, the smaller ones have fewer seeds.  Also, the ones that are longer have fewer seeds.  The ones that are fat have more seeds.  If you get an older eggplant with more seeds, you can just cut them out, or you can get rid of the bitterness by cutting the eggplant in half, liberally salting each cut side, leaving the eggplant at room temperature for 30 minutes, and then rinsing the juice and seeds away.  You will then have to dry it with a paper towel.  Honestly, I have never needed to do this.  I just don't use the seedy part because I usually have more than enough eggplant for this recipe.

3. Quinoa can be white, red, or black.  It doesn't matter which one you use. However, some are pre-washed and some are not.  If you buy in bulk or the package does not say "pre-washed", make sure you rinse the quinoa thoroughly before using.  It is covered with natural saponin (which tastes like soap) so that the plant can protect itself from pests.

Whether you are getting your ingredients from your garden, the farmers market, or the grocery store, this salad is a great way to make the most of your seasonal produce!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Peachy Green Salad with Shrimp on the Barbie

 The end of summer is my favourite time for peaches because that's when the freestone peaches come out.  Peaches are either clingstone (stones are hard to remove) or freestone (stones are easy to remove).  Freestone peaches are generally used for canning because you are not eating them out of hand, but they are great for salads, too, because you will not end up with mushy peaches as you try to pry the flesh away from the stone.

The peach salad and shrimp go nicely together for a light summer supper, but they can also be served separately with whatever else you have going on.  This vinaigrette will likely be more than you need, but it will store nicely in the fridge.  If the olive oil hardens in the fridge, just let it come to room temperature for a bit and it will be as good as new.

You can either make the salad in one large bowl for everyone to share, or you can make individual salads.  I like to make individual ones because there are only two of us (fewer dishes to wash!), and it also ensures that everyone gets equal amounts of each ingredient.  Call me anal if you want . . .

This is a freestyle recipe - the amount of each ingredient you need depends on how many you are serving and how much of each ingredient you like. Use more or less depending on your own personal preference.  Mom, I know this idea scares you, but I promise, you can't screw it up!


2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp honey (or less to taste)
salt, pepper

lettuce greens or spinach (not iceberg)
ripe peaches (about 1/2 a large peach per person)
feta cheese (I use goat's feta and serve about 25 grams per person)
dried cranberries (about 1 Tbsp per person)
fresh basil, torn into small pieces
red onions, diced
toasted almonds, slivered or sliced

1 pound of raw shrimp
long skinny skewers
garlic powder
salt, pepper


1. Soak the skewers in cold water so that they do not burn on the barbecue.  Do this as soon as you think of it.  I try to soak them for a couple of hours, but if you forget, it's no big deal.

2. Preheat the barbeque to medium and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. If you don't like the bite of raw onion, put the diced onion in a bit of salted cold water for about 10-15 minutes. Drain before using.  If you do like raw onion, skip this step.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper.  If you have a jar with a lid, it is a great vessel to make vinaigrette because you can just shake it up immediately before you use it, and then store it in the same container.

4. Put the slivered almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes.  Watch them carefully so that they do not burn.  If you are using sliced almonds, it will probably only take about 3 - 4 minutes.  If you accidentally overcook them, but they are not burned, take them off the tray immediately so that they do not continue to cook - I'm speaking from experience on this one.  I always burn the nuts!

5. Put the shrimp on the soaked skewers, making sure to leave room between each one.  You want the air to circulate, and you also need to leave room for them to curl as they roast.   Sprinkle them with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  At this point, either put them aside until you have the salad put together or nicely call for your partner (who is probably in the living room watching TV) to come and throw the shrimp on the barbie.

6. Now, layer your salad with greens on the bottom, then peaches sliced into crescents (I cut the peach into 6 sections and then slice), torn basil, red onions, feta, cranberries, and toasted almonds.  Drizzle the vinaigrette overtop just before you are ready to serve it.

7. If you haven't put the shrimp on the barbeque yet, do it now.  If your shrimp do not have shells, you might want to oil the grates on the grill to prevent them from sticking.  You can also use a barbeque pan overtop of the grill, but that will prevent them from getting a bit charred.  If the shells are still on, they should be okay to put right on the grill.  After a minute or two, turn them over.  When they are pink, curled, and opaque, they are done.  It won't take long, so watch them carefully.  It is easier to overcook them than to undercook them, so if you think they are done, they are.  If you leave them on too long, they will be tough and rubbery.

8. To serve, I just put all the skewers on one plate for people to take what they want and eat with their hands, especially if the shrimp still have the shells on them.  Enjoy!


1. You could easily add raspberries or blueberries to this salad.


1. If you have leftover salad, don't put vinaigrette on it, and it will probably save for one day in the fridge.

2. If you have leftover shrimp, they would be great to add at the last minute to a pasta dish.  You can also eat them cold from the fridge.  Don't try reheat them, though, or they will be seriously overcooked.

Shopping Tips:

When you buy shrimp, you will have several options.  First of all, some are grey and some are pink.  The ones that are pink are cooked already, so don't buy those.  There are also different sizes, and they are marked by the count number on the front.  This is marked as # of shrimp / pound.  The smaller the number, the bigger the shrimp.  For barbequing, I like larger shrimp and buy the 16-20 count ones, but they are more expensive, too.  If you buy smaller ones, that's fine, you just need to be more careful when you are barbequing so that they do not overcook.

Also, you will have a choice of shell on or off.  I like shell-on for this dish because it helps keep the shrimp juicier (you can also use the shells afterwards to make a stock, if you are so inclined).  However, when you have the shell on, the seasoning sits on top of the shell and does not really penetrate the shrimp.  I find, though, that the seasoning gets on your fingers when you are de-shelling them and then gets on the shrimp from your fingers - is that gross?  I don't think so...  Anyway, you also want to make sure that they are deveined, which means that the poop line has been taken out of their backs - that IS gross.  If they are not deveined, you will have to do it yourself, and it is a very tedious process.

Good luck, and have fun.  Summer is almost over, so make the most of it with this summer celebration. Hmm... celebration, that makes me think, this would be great with a peach bellini, or even a crisp glass of white wine...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Fresh Pasta

This is my go-to meal for numerous reasons: it is quick, it is vegetarian, and it is chock full of fresh summer produce.  When your garden (or farmers market or grocery store) is brimming with juicy tomatoes, shiny zucchini, and fragrant basil, this dish will definitely make a regular appearance on your table.

One serving of pasta is only half a cup, but just like eating a sandwich with two pieces of bread, we often eat two servings of grains at one time.  One way to make pasta a more healthful dish is to make it a side instead of a main.  You can also pump it up with vegetables so that it is filling, nutritious, and has more volume - that's what this recipe does.  This will generously serve two as a main course or four as a side.


2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash
10 spears of asparagus
2 cloves garlic
6-7 cocktail tomatoes (I like Campari)
4 balls of bocconcini cheese
2 Tbsp fresh basil
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cups of short pasta (like penne)
salt and pepper


1. Put a pot of water with salt on to boil.  Chefs say that there should be enough salt in the pot so that it tastes like the sea.  If you are restricting your salt intake, use less.  Pot manufacturers say not to put the salt in the pot until it comes to a boil so that it does not pit the bottom of the pot, but I always forget if I don't put it in right away.  If you can remember to put the salt in after the water boils, power to you!

2. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters and then slice each quarter into crescents.  Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and then cut the spears into half-inch pieces.

3. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, zucchini, salt, and pepper to a large skillet and sauté over medium heat.

4. When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot and stir once.  At this point, add the asparagus to the skillet and continue to sauté.

5. Cut the tomatoes into eighths, mince the garlic, cut the bocconcini balls into eighths and chop the basil into thin strips (called chiffonade).  To chiffonade the basil, roll it up lengthwise like you are rolling a cigar (because everyone knows how to do that!) and then slice with your knife while you hold it tight with your other hand.

6. When there are two minutes left in the pasta cooking time, add the garlic and tomatoes to the skillet.  The tomatoes will lose their juices to create a sauce, but you don't want them to cook too much.  They should still hold their shape.

7. When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it in a colander. Take the skillet off the heat and sprinkle the bocconcini over top.  Be sure to spread it out so that it doesn't clump too much when it melts.

8. Add the cooked pasta on top and stir. You will probably have to add a bit more salt and pepper at this point.

9. Spoon each serving onto a plate.  Top with some of the fresh basil and shave some fresh parmesan over top.  Enjoy!



1. Instead of asparagus, green beans would also work well.  Although not as healthy, this dish is also good without asparagus or green beans.

2. Whole wheat pasta is obviously more healthy, but many people cannot stand the cardboard taste it has at first.  If that is the case, you can use half whole wheat and half white pasta.  If one has a longer cooking time, put it in the pot first, and then add the one with the shorter cooking time after.  Over time, you can increase the amount of whole wheat and decrease the amount of white pasta.  Also, whole wheat pasta made with brown rice is usually more palatable than the pasta made with wheat.

3. It would also be very easy to make this dish vegan by leaving out the cheese.


1. Served cold the next day, this makes a great pasta salad.  One of my friends actually prefers his as a salad and waits until the next day to eat it at all.

2. What do you do with the leftover bocconcini cheese?  Make a lettuce salad.  For the salad use mixed greens (not iceberg), tomatoes, bocconcini, avocado and basil.  Sprinkle extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top.  Finish with a bit of salt and pepper to bring out the flavours of the produce. You can also add toasted pumpkin seeds, if you want.

Shopping Tips:

1. When buying bocconcini, do not buy the mini or pearl size - they are very rubbery.  Even better, fresh mozzarella is a superior product to bocconcini balls.

Even though there are a few steps to this recipe, it really is as simple as throwing a bunch of fresh seasonal produce into a pan and adding some pasta.  This is a great basic recipe to freestyle with, and after you become comfortable with the procedure, your imagination is the limit.  Just be sure to always include the tomatoes, or you will be left with a sauceless sauce!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cod with Fennel and Tomato

Ooohh!  I'm so excited, the first post!  This recipe tastes summer fresh and is great for any warm night.  I really hope you give it a go...

For years, my mom has said that she doesn't like cod and insists on spending four times the amount to buy halibut.  The problem is that the cod she remembers came from a frozen blue rectangular package.  Please buy your cod fresh from the deli section of the grocery store, and you will also be surprised by how fresh and delicate it can taste.

Some people think that they do not like fennel because it has a strong black liquorice flavour when it is raw. I personally hate black liquorice, but when fennel is cooked, it has a very mild flavour that is nothing at all like anise.

This recipe serves two generously, but you might want to make more of the fennel and tomato accompaniment so that you can use it in one or two of the leftover recipes at the bottom.  It also freezes well.


2 pieces of cod (or other fish - even salmon would work)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large bulb of fennel
1 large leek with as much white as possible on the stalk
1 clove garlic, minced
6 - 8 cocktail tomatoes (I like Campari)
3-4 Tbsp fresh dill (it is important it is fresh)
1 Tbsp fennel fronds (optional)
salt and pepper to taste


 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place the two pieces of cod in a casserole dish.  Top with slivers of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Place in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

 3. Cut the stalks off the fennel fronds, but do not throw them away.  If the outside of the fennel bulb is beat up, peel it with a vegetable peeler.  Cut the bulb in half crossways, and then use the tip of your knife to cut out the core.  Chop the bulb into pieces a little bigger than you would an onion.

4. Cut the green top off of the leek, and then cut it in half lengthwise.  Run each half under cold water and spread the leaves apart to get off any dirt or grime - some are dirtier than others.  Cut each portion in half again lengthwise, and then cut each quarter into 1/4" crescents.


5. In a skillet, add the olive oil, fennel, leeks, salt and pepper.  Sauté on medium heat being careful not to brown.  If it starts to brown, turn down the heat and/or add a small amount of water to the pan.

6. Mince the garlic, chop the tomatoes into eights, chop the dill and chop the fennel fronds.

7. When there are two minutes left in the cooking time for the fish, add the garlic and tomatoes to the pan with the fennel and leeks.  Stir to combine, and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

8. When the fish is done, take it out of the oven.  Sprinkle half the dill and fennel fronds over the fennel-tomato mixture.  Sprinkle the other half of the dill and fronds over the fish.  Enjoy!


With the leftover fennel-tomato mixture, you could:
1. Add chicken stock to make a soup.  You might want to also add chicken or shrimp and pasta or diced potatoes.

2. Reheat in a skillet with a bit more olive oil and tomatoes to make a pasta.  Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  This would also be good with some added shrimp.  You could even add in some lemon zest for an extra zing.

There are two keys to serving leftovers: never serve them the next night (wait at least two days), and try to repurpose them into something a bit different.

Shopping Tips:
1. Fennel is sold in all major grocery stores, but it is kind of an annoying vegetable because it isn't always there and there doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to it.  At this time of year, though, you should be okay.  If you can only find the bulb without the fronds (feathery bits at the top), just use more dill instead.

2. When you are buying leeks, try to get ones with as much white as possible.  You don't use the green part at all, so look for ones that are at least half white.

3.  Fish should not smell like fish, it should smell like the sea.  There is no lemon in this recipe because you shouldn't need it (although it would be good with a bit of a squeeze, if you want).  If you NEED lemon on your fish, then your fish is not fresh!

That's it.  I hope you are as excited about this journey towards healthy eating as I am.  Yay, fresh food!