Fresh Summer Salad of Cucumber, Fennel and Ricotta

What an eventful summer this has been!

I have been busy working on projects for my business including contributing to an article that will be featured in Resource Magazine’s fall issue on food photography. I have also been adding some lifestyle photography to my portfolio. I seems like the work has been non-stop and I am loving it!

The thing about being so busy is that I need to take some time to smell the flowers and enjoy the moments. After all, if we don’t take the time to look around us we lose our creativity and our sense of place.

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My favourite flowers for this time of year are sunflowers. These shots were taken a while ago in Prince Edward County. I happened upon a field of sunflowers one day, I pulled over and just started shooting. There was a massive sea of yellow shining in the sun and the sight of it all was glorious!

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When I am busy I have trouble finding fresh ideas for my blog. When I need a shot of inspiration I read one of Nigel Slater’s books. Nigel is a talented British food writer and cook who has a way of making a simple dish come together like a symphony. I only discovered his work in the past year and I love it. The interesting thing about his style of cooking is that he says recipes are only guidelines and one should make them to their own liking, adding and subtracting ingredients as they wish.

I did not change this recipe as I wanted to taste the fresh, vibrant flavours of the avocado and fennel with the cucumber. I also love ricotta cheese when it is fresh and light. I enjoyed it as a main course for lunch but it would also be a fresh side dish at dinner.

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Cucumber, Fennel and Ricotta Salad

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 few drops balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh dill
1 English cucumber
1 avocado
1 small bulb fennel
¼ cup ricotta cheese
sprouted seeds

Directions:

For the Dressing:

Pour the lemon juice in a small bowl and add salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and sunflower oil. Add the balsamic vinegar and dill. Taste to check the balance. It should be fresh but not sharp. Add more vinegar if necessary.

The salad:

Peel half a cucumber and remove the seeds with a spoon and cut into thick slices. Halve and finely slice the fennel bulb.

Peel and thickly slice the avocado and fold all of the ingredients into the dressing. Refrigerate for half and hour.

Sprinkle with tufts of sprouted beans.

Transfer to a serving dish and top with a large spoonful of the ricotta cheese.

Recipe from Eat by Nigel Slater

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Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad Tofino Style

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As many of you will remember I spent some time on Vancouver Island in the summer of 2013. One of the places that we experienced, while on the island, was Tofino, British Columbia. This place is often referred to as the very west end of Canada.

Tofino had long been on my dream list of places to see. It is known for its rugged beaches, often filled with surfers catching waves. You can wander out on the sandy beaches feeling the energy of the ocean as it crashes against the shore. Travelers make their way to this rugged seaside town to watch the storms come in from the Pacific. There is a wild and remote feeling about Tofino, possibly because the road is long and winding and mountainous to get there, also because the coastline is relatively unspoiled.

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Once you are there you can see a few well placed luxury inns on the beach but that is not the heart of Tofino. The heart of Tofino, to me, is the local food culture which is anything but fine dining. It is all about the Pacific style of using fresh and local ingredients to create amazing flavours. Food trucks are found in unusual spots and a few have made a name for themselves as the best places to east in this part of Vancouver Island.

One restaurant called the SoBo started as a food truck and has now become a restaurant in downtown Tofino. It has earned some very high praise from critics and travelers alike. The best news is that the owners have published a cookbook with a sampling of some wonderful recipes from their menus. The book is full of mouth-watering dishes with chapters featuring ideas for you next meal of breakfast, salad, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, appetizers and snacks, mains, sides, and desserts.

The book is nothing short of beautiful. Not only does it include vibrant shots of the food, it also includes some fabulous landscape and seascape photographs by Jeremy Koreski, a local photographer. It also features a foreword written by Sarah McLachlan, the wonderfully talented Canadian recording artist who has spent a fair bit of time experiencing the mysteries of Tofino.

I chose to feature this recipe from the book because grilling watermelon intrigued me. I was not sure if it would like the taste of warm grilled watermelon with grilled shrimp but I am pleased to tell you that it was a taste experience that I hope to repeat again and again. It was a perfect flavour combination and the result was a light and sumptuous salad.

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Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 small watermelon cut into 1 inch thick wheels, skin removed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. olive oil for grilling
1 cucumber, sliced to 1/4 inch rounds and refrigerate to keep cold
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tsp. salt
12-20 large shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds toasted

Directions:

Preheat BBQ or grill pan to high.

Brush the watermelon lightly with olive oil to prevent sticking. Lay the slices directly on the grill racks and grill for 2 to 3 minutes. The slices should be easily lifted from the grill. Turn them over and grill on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly salt then remove them from the grill and cut into 1 inch sized chunks.

In a large bowl gently toss the warm watermelon with the cold cucumber, mint, lime juice and salt and the 1/4 cup olive oil.
Lightly brush the shrimp with olive oil and grill for 30 seconds per side or until they turn pink or red. Divide the salad between 4 serving plates, top with the shrimp and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

Recipe from the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison

I bought mine here:

http://www.amazon.ca/Lisa-Ahier-Cookbook-Restaurant-Canadian/dp/B00IBP7PCM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1407805714&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sobo+cookbook

A Walk to Remember

A Walk to Remember.

For those of you who have been following my blog this summer, you will know that this past Saturday was the day I walked in a 32km charity walk to raise money for cancer research.

After many months of training and pushing beyond my limits, the big day arrived. I rose out of bed at 5:30 AM to get to the starting point on time for our team’s 7:15 AM photos. I looked out the window to check the weather and it was pitch black and pouring rain.

I madly rushed around getting my gear ready and thinking about how I would stay dry throughout the long walk. I had been given a rain poncho in my walk kit so I decided that it would go over my walking gear to keep the rain away. I packed my gear, called a taxi and off I went.

After the opening ceremonies, team pictures and a few stretching exercises 4,590 walkers made their way to the streets of Toronto.  A river of bodies moved like a colourful snake along Lakeshore Boulevard wearing their multi-coloured rain ponchos. Each person moved as quickly as possible toward each rest stop, carefully avoiding puddles and running water along the streets and sidewalks.

We walked for four hours before the rain let up. Once it had stopped I ripped my rain poncho off in one fast motion. I wanted to get rid of the wet, nasty feeling as quickly as I could. Unfortunately; it was no longer usable and the rain started again an hour later. We reached the lunch stop at the 16km mark where I purchased another rain poncho, enjoyed a 30 minute rest stop with a healthy bagged lunch and started off to conquer the next 16km.

The rain finally stopped for the last 11km and we enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon after all. The walkers raised over $10 million for cancer research that day and they never gave up in spite of the weather. People came from all over Ontario to walk. Some walkers were cancer survivors; many had lost friends and family members to this terrible disease. All were there with a purpose. This year I walked to support my colleague who is a brave young single mother who has been fighting breast cancer for the past year.

It was a day filled with laughter, with  tears, with plenty of hugs, a day of stories, and most of all it was a day of hope.

After a walk that long I prefer to eat a light dinner and relax. This Chilled Cucumber, Basil and Mint Soup is fast and easy to make. It is light and fluffy but packs enough flavour to make it delicious. The recipe would be perfect for a summer lunch or as a first course on a summer meal.

Chilled Cucumber, Basil and Mint Soup

Ingredients:

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup sliced scallion
1 cup water
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
salt

Directions:

Puree sour cream, basil, mint, scallion and water in a blender. Add cucumber. Pulse until combined but still slightly chunky.

Stir in lemon juice and hot sauce, season with salt to taste.

Chill soup at least 3 hours but not more than 12 hours. Top each serving with slices of cucumber and a sprig of mint before serving.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living

Wheat Berry Salad with Mangos, Blueberries and Cucumber

It is amazing how quickly this year is passing. It is May already and I feel as though I am just gearing up. Maybe that is because life picks up pace so quickly in the spring.

I am participating in a 32km walk to raise money for Cancer Research this fall. I have started training by walking 5km home from work a few times a week and will push myself to improve my times and my distance as I go. I am feeling very smug that I have started to train so early this year. I want to breeze through the finish line on walk day without being in pain.

I am starting to realize that eating healthy and exercising really is the key to a better life. I always knew this to be true, but now I want to stop thinking about it and do something about it. I am committing to improving my lifestyle by making it part of my day. They say if you publicly commit to doing something you are more likely to succeed. So here it goes:

I am publicly committing to exercise at least 4 times per week and to eat healthier.

Whew, I feel better already.

A few months ago I bought a wheat berry salad at my local deli and took it home to try. I fell in love with the texture and chewy grains complimented by fruit. I immediately went searching for wheat berries at my local health food store. I created my own combination of flavours by adding the mango and blueberries and then building from there. This salad makes a wonderful side dish at dinner or a main course salad at lunch.

Wheat Berry Salad with Mangos, Blueberries and Cucumber

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 cups soft wheat berries
1 large mango
½ cup blueberries
1 large English cucumber
4 green onions (scallions)

Dressing:

1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. orange juice
Juice from ½ lemon
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. raspberry balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

To prepare the wheat berries, it is best to soak them overnight in a large pot covered with water to 2 inches above the berries. Once wheat berries have soaked, rinse them and return them to the pot. Cover with water, making sure there is at least 2-3 inches of water above the wheat berries. Add a pinch of salt and boil for 50-60 minutes. The wheat berries will be plump and tender. Drain well and set aside.

While the wheat berries are boiling peel and chop the mango and cucumber to ¼ inch chunks. Finely chop the green onion.  Rinse the blueberries. Add all of these ingredients to a large bowl and set aside.

When the wheat berries have cooled, mix them in with the fresh ingredients until blended. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together until well blended. Add the dressing to the salad and serve.

This recipe can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.