Wheat Berry Salad with Tuscan Kale and Butternut Squash

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The weather outside is moody and thick with fog. Looking out over the city makes me think of old movies set in London, England or on the Scottish moors. Deep gray mist hangs over Toronto’s skyline as warm and cool fronts meet. Have you ever seen some of those old episodes of Sherlock Holmes where they chase the villains through the foggy streets of London? You can sense evil is lurking around every corner but you cannot see it. There you go. I have you feeling frightened already and it is not even Halloween.

Seriously, it is a little odd for us to be having such warm weather just one week before Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Usually, we would be wearing fall jackets and pulling out the winter clothes by the middle of October.

Nevertheless; I am already starting to crave some of my favourite fall foods. One of my very favourites is Butternut squash. I love it in soup and salads and roasted as a side dish.  The recipe of Wheat Berry Salad with Tuscan Kale and Butternut Squash is just great on its own but it would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving dinner or for a dinner with some roasted lamb. The wheat berries could be swapped for quinoa to make the dish gluten-free. Any way you decide to make it will make you a healthy and delicious fall salad.

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Wheat Berry Salad with Kale and Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

1 lb. peeled butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole wheat berries
10 oz. Tuscan kale, stemmed, leaves sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick (4 cups)
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the wheat berries with 5 cups of water and 1/4 tsp. of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until tender, 25 minutes.

Add the kale to the wheat berries, cover and remove from the heat; let stand until the kale is wilted, 5-10 minutes. Drain well and add the wheat and kale to the squash. Add the vinegar and 2 tbsp. of the oil to the salad, season with salt and pepper and toss.

In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately high heat until just starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, until evaporated. Scrape the shallot and garlic into the salad and toss.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe modified from Food and Wine Magazine-October 2013

Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches and Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese

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“Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” -Tony Robbins

For a little more than a year I have been changing my life by adopting a healthier diet and exercising more. For years I barely exercised because of time commitments, work, children and any other excuse I could come up with. Then I started to see the negative results of my sedentary life; I was diagnosed with hypertension. With a family history of cardiac disease I decided that was my wake up call.

I started exercising regularly, eating less carbs and bad foods and exercising portion control. I took up cycling, skating, running, power walking and Zumba. I feel 10 years younger and I have more energy than I have had in years. I have a whole new wardrobe that is 2 sizes smaller and more stylish. My doctor tells me to keep up the good work and to wear a helmet when skating.

It has been an amazing year!

My concern is that this past month I have been slowly losing my focus. I can give you lots of excuses why this has happened like work commitments, school, computer problems, bad weather and just plain laziness. They all sound quite logical but the truth is I need to give myself a shake and get back on track.

From now on I plan to get out running more and have started power walking home again. My wonderful bicycle, Victoria, is going to get a workout while I push her along the trails in the hope of beating my own distance record from last season.

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz 1937 – American football coach

As I get back on track I will be eating some healthy dinners like this Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches and Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese. I found the recipe on Eatingwell.com and changed it up by grilling the peaches and changing the dressing. The flavour of the peaches is enhanced by the grill and the honey adds a subtle sweetness to the dressing that works very well with the goat cheese.

My friends say it is the best tasting salad that I have ever made.

Arugula Salad with Grilled Peaches and Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 4-oz. log goat cheese
6 cups baby arugula
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
4 firm peaches, halved and pitted
3 tbsp. honey

Directions:

Place pecans in a frying pan and toast slowly over med-low heat. Chop finely.

Spread out chopped pecans on a cutting board. Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper. Roll goat cheese log in the pecans to coat. Refrigerate the log until firm, if necessary, then cut into ¼ inch slices.

Grill peach halves until slightly soft, about 1-2 minutes per side.

Place arugula in a medium bowl. Whisk oil, vinegar and 1 tbsp. honey in a small bowl. Add to the arugula and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper.

Serve arugula in individual salad plates. Top with grilled peaches and goat cheese rounds and drizzle each salad with 1 tsp. honey.

Recipe adapted from one on EatingWell.com

Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar for a Gluten-free Life

Do you know anyone in your life that has a gluten allergy or has been diagnosed as a celiac?

I have more than a few relatives and friends who have had to change their diets due to one of these conditions. At first the idea of changing their eating habits was daunting but with a little research and the help of a few specialty stores they were able to get started. What I have noticed is the growing variety of Gluten-free and even Vegan Gluten-free products that have been showing up, even in the mainstream grocery stores.

A few weeks ago we went to a pop up market called Gluten-free Garage that was held at the Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. Dozens of food suppliers, bakeries and caterers were on hand allowing visitors to taste their products and ask about ingredients. We had attended the event in the hopes of finding a bakery that could offer gluten-free, dairy free and egg free cupcakes for my granddaughter’s first birthday party. Surprisingly, there were a few excellent choices that offered tasty solutions.

http://glutenfreegarage.ca/

While wandering the fair I spent some time chatting up a few of the vendors to get a sense of what each vendor had to offer this niche market. I came across two vendors who were offering classes in gluten-free cooking. Since I am so interested in new styles of cooking I immediately gravitated to their booths for tastings.

Arvinda’s offered us a lentil curry dish that was truly remarkable. They are suppliers of Indian spices through retail and online sales. Chefs Arvinda Chauhan and her daughter Preena teach classes in home-style, healthy and traditional Indian cooking at Nella Cucina in Toronto. I see an Indian cooking class in my future.

http://www.arvindas.com

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Pimenton offers cooking classes and catering for gluten-free events. Chef Jose Arato was serving up some Paella Vegetariana for those who like a little Spanish in their lives. Chef Jose was telling me that it was his birthday and he was having a great time meeting people at the market.

http://www.pimenton.ca/

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Other vendors who we spoke to were suppliers of ready-made gluten-free dinners for those who were looking for quick meal options. We particularly enjoyed the gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free Gnocchi from Antipastos Kitchens.

http://www.antipastoskitchen.com/

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I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the event even though I am not on a gluten-free diet. I found out more about these diet restrictions and what is available to accommodate those whose health is affected by them.

I have learned over the past few years to make a few gluten-free dinners that are not only tasty, but healthy options for everyone. This Berry, Cucumber and Quinoa Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar is one of my favourites from Quinoa Revolution. Like many of you, I have added Quinoa to my diet for its health benefits but also because I like how it tastes in salads and baking. This recipe has a great blend of fruit and cucumbers with the Quinoa that tastes fresh and light.

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Berry Cucumber Salad with White Balsamic Vinegar

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 ml) water

1 cup (250 ml) quinoa

¼ cup (60 ml) white balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. (15 ml) pure maple syrup

1 tbsp. (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (250 ml) fresh blueberries

1 cup (250 ml) fresh strawberries, quartered

1 cup (250 ml) diced English cucumber

½ cup (60 ml) thinly sliced red onion

¼ cup (60 ml) sliced blanched almonds

Directions:

Combine the water and the quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil;. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer to a salad bowl and cool completely.

Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup and olive oil; stir into the quinoa. Gently toss in the blueberries, strawberries, cucumber and red onion. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving.

Recipe from Quinoa Revolution by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming

 

Culinary Arts Class Week 2 -Tuscan Bean Salad

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Well I survived another week of my Culinary Arts classes.

This week we all showed up in class donning our crisp white chef’s uniforms and our steel toe safety shoes. We all looked professional compared to the first week.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and perhaps a little fear. Here we were in a professional kitchen waiting anxiously for the moment that we would start cooking.

The instructor demonstrated 3 different salads for us, Tuscan Bean, Cucumber and Onion, and Pacific Rim Beef. We watched this master chef as he breezed through the dishes showing us how to cut vegetables and herbs properly and the differences between the various types of cuts. He gave us tips on how to make each recipe and how to test the wellness of the steak as it pan-fried. Then we sampled each of the beautifully plated dishes so we would understand what the finished product should taste like.

Next it was time for us to step up to our stations and get to work. I loved the energy in the room as 24 cooks set about to make the same dish; each person adding a little of their own personality but still careful to practice the correct technique and knife skills. At the end of the evening we cleaned up and took our finished products home to share with our families.

I think this course is about as close to Top Chef as I will ever get. The most important thing is that I am having a good time and I am learning.

Tuscan Bean Salad
Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups (340 g) white navy beans, presoaked and cooked
1 cup (230 g) Prosciutto, Julienne
6 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and Julienne
1 cup (230 g) Asiago cheese, grated
1 green pepper, Julienne
1 yellow Pepper, Julienne
1 red pepper, Julienne
1/2 medium red onion, Julienne
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup (90 ml) red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
6 black sun-dried olives, sliced
4 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
6 sprigs fresh Basil, chopped
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Spice sachet
1 sprig fresh Flat-leaf Parsley stems
1 Bay leaf
3-4 black peppercorns
1 whole clove

Directions:
Soak the navy beans overnight in enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Drain and rinse.
Place the beans in a medium pot and cover with water to 1 inch above the beans. Add the sachet to the water.
Simmer over medium heat until the beans are tender, approximately 35 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, garlic and lemon juice. Marinate the peppers, onion, cheese and tomatoes in the dressing and fresh herbs for approximately 30 minutes.
Add the beans to the marinated vegetables and add the prosciutto.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe modified from the George Brown College Culinary Arts 1 syllabus.

Mango, Avocado and Chicken Salad

I have had the gift of mentorship in many areas of my life.

When I was young and just starting out in my career I had a boss who saw something in me that nobody else had seen. He saw that I was intelligent and that I could learn quickly and that I understood accounting, intuitively. He taught me everything about being a good accountant for the next 8 years and I attribute my career success to his teachings.

When I decided to become a photographer my brother, who is a great photographer, spent hours teaching me about lighting, cameras and composition. He took me on a workshop with Moose Petersen, Laurie Excell and Joe McNally to learn from the best. Any time I have a question about what to use or what might not be working as I want it to, I can call my brother and he will spend hours walking me through the hows and whys of photography. I attribute my success as a photographer to my brother.

When I decided to become healthier and more athletic I was blessed with another mentor. My dear friend is an experienced coach and accomplished athlete in his own right. Thankfully, he saw something in me that nobody else had ever seen. He spent this spring and summer coaching me to push myself beyond the limits that I only dreamed of. He taught me about cycling, about running, about training properly and about being a better person. He taught me that “if you can see it, you can get there”. I owe my ability to reach these milestones to his coaching, although I am still learning.

Each of these people had an impact on my life in a profound way and they all had something in common. They gave of themselves to teach and coach and they believed that I could learn. Their patience, time and selfless efforts have enabled me to learn about reaching higher, working harder and becoming a better person. For that I am eternally grateful and I continue to work on these areas of my life so I can grow.

My first impression of Gordon Ramsay was not as positive. I remember watching episodes of Hell’s Kitchen where he was screaming and swearing at the chefs in training. I thought that his manner was rough but his standards were high. Lately, I am seeing a different side to Gordon Ramsay and it is a more humane, caring side. He is a first class, Michelin starred chef and a world-class restauranteur but he also cares about teaching others.

This amazing salad is from his cookbook called Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite. The book is a compilation of healthy recipes that are as delicious as one would expect from such an amazing chef. I substituted roasted chicken breast for the smoked chicken as recommended in the book simply because I was unable to find smoked chicken in my neighbourhood.

Mango, Avocado and Chicken Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 medium, firm but ripe mangoes
2 ripe avocados
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
10 oz. cooked chicken breasts
1 cup mixed salad leaves
2 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

Dressing:

2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. whole grain mustard
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. avocado oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions:

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh away from the seed into thin slices. Arrange onto four serving plates.

Halve the avocados and remove the pit. Peel off the skin and slice the flesh into strips. Squeeze over a little lemon juice and then arrange over the mango slices.

Cut the chicken into thin slices and divide between the plates. Neatly pile the salad leaves in the middle.

For the dressing, whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the dressing over the salad, top with a handful of toasted pine nuts and serve.

Recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite.

Potato Salad with Peas, Radishes and Eggs- A new twist on a classic

It has been another week of glorious weather! We experienced our Northern solstice a few days ago marking the beginning of summer. As the days slowly grew longer we enjoyed the daylight late into the evening hours. Now the days will gradually get shorter so we will scramble out to enjoy every minute of sunshine before summer ends.

I am continuing on my journey to improve my health through exercise and healthy eating. The other day I rode 31 km on my bike covering a span of Toronto from the east side of the Don River to the west side of the Humber River along the waterfront and Don Valley trails. Every few kilometres we looked up to see a different side of the CN tower allowing us to gage the distance travelled and to see the skyline from many different perspectives.

There is a fairly steep hill near my place that, until now, I have barely been able to scale on foot without breathing hard. At the end of this cycling trip I was able to ride up the hill without stopping. This major milestone has taught me that 2 months after my biking accident I am able to ride with confidence. I am able to face the challenges head on and knock them off the list one by one.

It has been an incredible journey, so far. I am learning to live in the moment and to savour each one. I have renewed my love affair with my city by cycling around her parks and paths. I have taken my life back under my control and I feel great!

Part of this wonderfiul journey is discovering ways to enjoy classic dishes with a lighter twist. Potato salad is a traditional addition to a grilled dinner or picnic. This version is light yet has subtle, balanced flavours. The addition of radishes and eggs add a level of complexity needed to make the dish memorable.

Potato Salad with Peas, Radishes and Eggs

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 tbsp. pine nuts
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Sea salt
4 eggs
1 cup frozen green peas
1 ½ pounds organic potatoes, washed and halved
2 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:

Sea salt and pepper
1 tsp. French Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan for 2 minutes, or until lightly coloured and fragrant. Set Aside.

Soak the onion in a bowl of cold salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Boil the 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop them from cooking. Shell the eggs and cut each in quarters.

Boil the green peas in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse them under cold water to stop them from cooking and let them cool.

Boil the potatoes for 20-25 minutes in salted water until tender to the fork but not overcooked.

To prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes, onions, peas, eggs and radishes. Dress with the vinaigrette, herbs and pine nuts and season with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and serve.

Recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmand- Recipes from an Inspired Life by Beatrice Peltre

Figs with Young Pecorino and Honey

My life seems to be going through a huge transition at the moment. I have been taking stock of what is important to me and have started a whole new routine of exercise and health eating. I am feeling wonderful and strong and content with the direction that my health is going.

A few months ago I was put on medication for high blood pressure. For the doctor to tell me this was a huge wake up call. I come from a family with a long history of heart disease. I have known all of my life that I needed to take care of my health but I always thought any symptoms would show up much later in life. Now I am faced with the reality that I needed to change my lifestyle.

Part of the new regime is a renewed interest in cycling. I have finally found my self the perfect bike at a used bike shop. I took her out on her inaugural ride on Victoria Day so my bike is now known as Victoria. She is a lovely blue Norco hybrid that came with only the basics, but rides like a dream.

I scoped out some important accessories for Victoria last weekend by picking up some lights for night riding and pannier bag and a lock. I also bought some sporty bike gloves for me to wear as I navigate the city trails in style. I rode 47km in total last weekend and plan to get in regular trips all summer.

I also own a blue car that I named after Grace Kelly because it is a classic, elegant sports car painted in a rich Monaco blue. I have not driven Grace much over the past few months but plan to find a bike rack for her so Grace and Victoria and I can go on adventures together. Perhaps a cycling day in Niagara wine country or exploring Prince Edward County is in order.

My healthy eating regime is often supplemented by a protein shake which I am advised will help rebuild muscles. I continue to try new recipes that are healthy and easy to make. I purchased two cookbooks by Yotam Ottelenghi called Plenty and Ottelenghi The Cookbook. Both of these gorgeous books feature recipes from this famous London-based restaurant that are both a delight to the eye as well as the palate. I plan to try out more of the recipes in the coming months.

Figs with Young Pecorino and Honey

Makes 4 servings as a starter

Ingredients

2 tbsp. good quality honey
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 ripe green or black figs
10 oz. young pecorino cheese or similar cheese
½ cup fresh arugula
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

Directions

Whisk together the honey and olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the figs into quarters. Use your hands to tear the cheese into large chunks.

Arrange the arugula, basil, figs and pecorino in layers on serving plates or a large platter. Drizzle over the honey dressing as you go along, and finish with some freshly ground black pepper.

Recipe modified from Ottolenghi The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Prosciutto and Melon Pasta Salad

I have spent the last week continuing on this journey of developing a healthier lifestyle. On Friday I did my longest bike ride ever and lived to tell the tale. We traveled down to the beach bike trail and along the trail to Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. After enjoying a hot chocolate at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters and a chocolate truffle at Soma Chocolatemaker we headed back. I know what you are thinking; how does chocolate fit into this healthy lifestyle? I am a firm believer that dark chocolate can be a healthy treat if enjoyed in moderation. Believe me having only one chocolate truffle from this artisanal chocolatemaker is extreme moderation. They have the most amazing chocolate in town.

http://www.somachocolate.com

In addition to this 22km ride, I have kept up my walking and my Zumba workouts. I am so pleased with how good I am feeling and how much energy I have. I am also thrilled that I can get into clothes that have not fit for the past few years.

It is amazing what a positive impact this change has had on me. In spite of a bumpy start with a bike accident a few weeks ago,  I am feeling great. I feel more alert and less stressed. I spend less time watching life on TV and more time living it. I am just happy to be alive.

I have kept to a healthy diet filled with salads, vegetables, protein and light dinners. This has inspired me to find new and interesting salad recipes like this Prosciutto and Melon Pasta Salad. You can substitute the farfalle with gluten-free pasta if you prefer.

Ingredients

8 oz. uncooked farfalle pasta
1 ½ tbsp. lime juice
1 ½ tbsp. white wine vinegar
¼ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 glove garlic, finely chopped
2 ½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup baby arugula
¼ cup diced cantaloupe
¼ cup shallots, thinly sliced
2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 2 inch strips
1 oz. shaved Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain; cool to room temperature.

Combine juice, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic in a bowl, mix until well blended.

Combine cooked pasta, arugula, cantaloupe, shallots and prosciutto in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad, toss, top with cheese shavings and serve.

Recipe modified from Cooking Light 12

Roasted Potato Salad with Feta and Mint

As I mentioned earlier, I have taken up cycling again. I used to cycle quite often until my last bike rusted out and died. I had such a glorious ride on Saturday so I rushed out Sunday afternoon to hunt for a new bike. I decided to test drive a hybrid bike from my local cycle shop. While riding down a side road the tire got caught in a rut in the road. I went down face first onto the pavement and I ended up with a badly scratched face and 2 black eyes. Thankfully no cars were coming and I did not break any bones.

Thankfully, the bike was not even scratched. I promptly returned it to the store and came home to find an ice pack.

I have spent the last few days explaining my new look to my colleagues at work. It is interesting to see people’s reactions to this. Some immediately thought the worst and assumed that someone had hurt me. Some hardly noticed. I must say that I am more amused by their reactions than by my own.

Now I know you must be thinking that this will make me give up on cycling, but my stubborn Scottish blood won’t let me. Now it has become a challenge that I must take on. I cannot let this get the better of me. I was back out last night hunting for a new bike.  I plan to keep at it although next time I will definitely wear a helmet.

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
– Author Unknown

In addition to cycling I am walking, doing a Zumba work out and eating well. I still feel good about my journey in spite of this setback. I plan to report back in a month or two to say that I have reached my personal goal.

During the summer, I like to eat salads and light meals for dinner. This is a quick and easy take on a traditional potato salad. It makes a great week night dinner when you are in a hurry but still want to eat healthy.

Roasted Potato Salad with Feta and Mint

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients
6 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
sea salt flakes
1 cup frozen peas blanched
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas, blanched
2 oz. feta cut into large slices
6 slices prosciutto
½ cup mint leaves

Dressing
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the potato on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and tender. Set aside to cool slightly. To make the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar and mustard.

To serve, toss the potato, peas and sugar snaps with half of the dressing. Divide the feta, prosciutto, potatoes, peas, sugar snaps and mint leaves between serving plates. Spoon over remaining dressing and serve.

Recipe adapted from Fresh, Fast, Simple by Donna Hay