From the Root Cellar: Carrot Apple Slaw

carrot apple salad

Getting ready for summer means eating up the winter fruit and vegetables you have in storage. I seem to have gone through all my frozen blueberries, blackberries and all my preserves. However, there always seems to be a carrot or two and the odd apple hanging around in my pantry – it’s not really surprising since both are widely available throughout the year. There are those days that I find myself gawking at those simple carrots and apples wondering what the heck do I do with them. The spring sunshine demands a fresh departure from the hearty, savoury dishes of months past; I need that burst of summer flavour that will inspire the rain clouds of April to disappear into the sunny days of the coming summer.

Slaws are a very traditional side dish and we usually remember them as creamy and rich and laden with cabbage. However, any combination of fruit and veggies works in a slaw form and a light vinaigrette is the perfect match for the energizing freshness of spring.

This recipe can easily add colour and flavour to dinner or fit into your lunchbox. I also enjoy it for an afternoon snack when the rain is pouring down and I’m trying to convince myself to get out for a walk. It’s natural sweetness makes it a hit with the kiddies too.

carrot and apple salad - close up

Carrot Slaw
Makes 4 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 apple, unpeeled and grated (about 1 cup)
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint or parsley, chopped

Toss grated apple with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a bowl, toss grated carrot and apple together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent further browning if not serving right away.
In a small bowl, combine orange juice and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle over carrots and apple and toss until well mixed. Add parsley or mint and toss to combine.
This sweet slaw is perfect for lunches, an afternoon snack or with dinner. If life is extra busy, simple toss grated carrot and apple with freshly squeezed orange juice and some chopped fresh mint for a super quick slaw.


A Bite of Spring: Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

lemon curd 2
It’s finally starting to feel like spring. The sun does more than just peek through the clouds. You enjoy and curse the birds churping way too early in the morning. You dress in layers to stay warm in the chilly shade, yet take off the coat to soak up the warmth of the sunny afternoon. It’s time to come out of hibernation. Spring has this amazing ability to get our engines revving and inspire renewed fervor to tackle life.

Being food lovers, Desiree and I were chatting the other day about how spring also has this ability to tantalize our tastebuds to shift from the comforts of hearty winter to  colourful and lighter fare. We desire the fresh flavours of sunshine and start dreaming of home grown delights from the garden. While we’re still a ways away from enjoying the rich flavours of locally grown produce, we like to indulge in seasonal fare from afar, mainly citrus fruits. At this time of year, we love to whip up a batch of lemon curd to fill in the gap until we can enjoy local berries. It’s fresh, fruity and so delicious. We like it stirred into plain yogurt, drizzled on granola or just eaten by the spoonful. It’s also scrumptious with frozen berries, spread on freshly baked scones and paired with cheese and bread. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy lemon curd.

For a treat during an evening with my girlfriends, I decided to swirl lemon curd into mini cheesecakes. It received an A+ and many requests for the recipe. I’ve made a few batches since and they seem to disappear more quickly than I can make them. Mini cheesecakes are quicker and easier to make than a full cheesecake and make bite-size treats perfect for any party, holiday celebration or tea with friends. Even lemon curd is super easy to make. I like to use another Heather’s (if it’s made by a Heather, it’s gotta be good!) lemon curd recipe from Missing Goat Farm. You can even make it in the microwave in under 5 minutes. Yes, that’s right: the microwave! Here’s the recipe from My Baking Addiction.

lemons in green bowl (juiced) 2

lemon curd cheesecake - no muffin liner

Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes
Makes 12 mini cheesecakes

3/4 cup almonds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 Tbsp melted butter

8 oz/225 g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup lemon curd

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a regular muffin tin with muffin liners.
Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until almonds are mostly ground. If you prefer, you can substitute 1 cup of almond meal in place of grinding your own whole almonds. I like to grind the whole natural almonds for the coarser crumb and for the extra flavour from their skin. Transfer ground almonds to a bowl and stir in sugar and ground ginger. Stir in the melted butter until the ground almond mixture is moist.
Place a spoonful of the almond mixture into each of the muffin liners. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pack down the crust. Pop them in the oven for 5-6 minutes to bake the crust.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Divide cheesecake filling among the muffin cups. Add a dollop of lemon curd and use a knife to swirl the lemon curd into the cheesecake filling.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow cheesecakes to come to room temperature. (They taste even more delicious this way.) You can serve the cheesecakes with additional lemon curd if you like.

lemon curd cheesecake - lemons

Some Cold Weather Comfort…Homemade Mac and Cheese

I have a confession to make…I grew up on Kraft Dinner. There was plenty of vegetables and real food lovin’ at home but from time to time, I loved my KD. I loved the very orange-yness of it, which I would make extra creamy with lots of butter. Amazing how I never wondered why milk was white but cheese was orange!

So the first time I tasted homemade mac and cheese, it was pretty underwhelming. Nature can have a hard time pushing the manufactured flavour buttons that processed foods set off in your tastebuds. If you just put a bit of cheese in a white sauce and call it mac and cheese, it will taste more like mac and white sauce. Not exactly worth the calories!

In my university years, my tastes became more sophisticated and I started eating Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Somehow it never occurred to me to make my own until a few years ago. I have tried several recipes but never found one that exactly suited my tastes. Since I can’t leave well enough alone, this recipe of course has beans and extra veggies so I can think of it as a ‘real meal’. Let’s just say that this one falls into the ‘sometimes foods’ category. Enjoy it with something nice and green, after a long, rainy day at the park (or the pumpkin patch!).

Mac and Cheese and More
Adapted from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan

Serves 6-8

250g macaroni, I used Tinkyada Brown Rice macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup white wine or water
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups sharp white cheddar, I used L’Ancetre raw milk cheddar.
1/2 tsp salt
385ml can of white beans such as navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head of cauliflower, florets crumbled with a knife and stalks cut into 1/2 cm cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, undercooking by 1-2 minutes. Add cauliflower stems to pasta 1 minute before its done. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Whisk in milk, white wine and mustard. Add garlic and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, whisking the entire time, letting the sauce thicken. Turn off heat and stir in cheese until melted then add salt.

Place pasta, cauliflower and beans in a 9×13 baking dish and pour sauce over it and mix through. Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy.

The Fresh Sheet…Plums

This September couldn’t possibly get any better: the sun is shining, morning greets with an energizing crispness and the afternoons are still blazing hot. You almost forget that the rainy season is just around the corner as you laze around the park enjoying all that delicious late summer fruit. Of course, should the weather turn less than hospitable, you now have plenty of reason to bake. On one such day, I ventured over to my friend Melissa’s house to bake clafoutis.

There is an abundance of plums in early September and for most, this turn of events goes uncelebrated. Few wax lyrical about plums in the way you might about lush summer peaches or raspberries. They are not prescribed to keep the doctor away, as the apple. And because they arrive with so much bounty in our midst, it could be easy to give them a pass but I urge you to indulge when the time comes. Plums are subtle, their charms best coaxed out with a bit of attention. Even if it is just a bit of manchego and a drizzle of honey.

My friend Melissa has a beautiful food blog and so we thought it might be fun to spend a little time in the kitchen together (and then share the spoils with you!). I am not much of a baker, so I suggested we try our hand at clafoutis. It sounds quite fancy but clafoutis is actually a simple, rustic and cozy dessert (or breakfast. Who am I kidding?). With the texture of baked custard crossed with bread pudding, it is perfect for a rainy day, warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Plum Clafoutis

Melissa and I adapted the clafoutis recipe from the lovely Gluten Free Girl, who was in turn inspired by Julia Child’s original recipe. This is baking for the improvisateur: switch up the fruit, the flours…it will all work. Our first go-round was quinoa and almond flour but the quinoa is a bit earthy in flavour. For those well-accustomed to “earthy” flavours, it is a great gluten-free option. Oat flour was lovely and will definitely be a crowd pleaser if you are looking to avoid wheat. We also experimented with 3 large pears, poached in sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Perfect for when late summer turns to autumn.

Serves 6

3 cups plums, pitted and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (no artificial extracts, please!)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the prepared plums with the honey in a large bowl and let them marinate as you get the batter going.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Place the flours in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture into the flours until you have a smooth batter; it will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Grease a 7-8 cup (roughly 8 x 12 inch) baking dish or 9 inch pie plate with butter. The deeper and smaller the dish, the creamier the clafoutis. Scatter the honey-coated plums over the bottom of the dish. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden and crisped.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Fresh Sheet…Cauliflower

When the dietitian folk talk about eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies, cauliflower seems like it might get left out in the cold. Cauliflower certainly falls into the under-appreciated category in the vegetable world. Of course, the artsy among us might note that white is actually a pretty nuanced shade and when it comes to the nutrition benefits of cauliflower, the complexity far outshines its seemingly pale complexion. There are plenty of subtle flavours just waiting to be coaxed out of this humble veggie.

Cauliflower is a member of the super-nutritious cruciferous vegetable or brassica family. Glucosinolates, compounds also found in kale and broccoli, help support your liver’s ability to detoxify harmful substances in the blood. Anti-oxidant vitamin C, manganese and quercetin further strengthen your body’s defences against city living and stressful lives.

The name cauli-flower is a variation of cole flower or kale flower; all cruciferous veggies are descendant from colewort, an ancient loose-leafed wild cabbage. Colewort buds became brussel sprouts, its flowers became broccoli and cauliflower, its leaves became kale and collard greens. The stem was transformed into kohlrabi and its root turned into the turnip

Did you know: The compact head of a cauliflower is called a curd and is composed of undeveloped flower buds; cauliflower is white because the coarse green leaves around the curd protect it from sunlight, which inhibits the development of chlorophyll. 

When shopping for cauliflower, choose ones with a clean, creamy white compact curd and thick green leaves. Store in the original plastic bag with the stem side down to reduce moisture damage. When it comes to cooking, roasting beautifully develops a toasted, nutty flavour in cauliflower and be sure to keep those stems…add them to your soup stock bag in the freezer. To preserve phytonutrients, don’t overcook.

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Gremolata
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

1 head of cauliflower
oil, salt and pepper

Preheat barbecue to medium heat.
Prepare the cauliflower by trimming away the leaves and a small amount of the stem, but do not remove the stem completely. Stand the cauliflower upright on its stem and using a large sharp knife, cut down the centre of the cauliflower. Keeping the cauliflower upright, cut a 1 inch thick slice off both sides of the cauliflower. These are cauliflower steaks. The rest of the cauliflower can be reserved for another use.

Alternatively, you can create cauliflower kabobs to be grilled with the steaks if you have more guests for dinner. To do this, cut the remaining cauliflower portions into florets and thread onto metal skewers. Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with a little oil. If using, brush the cauliflower kabobs as well.

Place the cauliflower steaks on the grill, cover and cook for 8 minutes. Gently flip the cauliflower and grill for another 8 minutes or until both sides are lightly browned and tender. Grill cauliflower kabobs for 8 minutes or until tender, turning halfway through. Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata.

zest from 1 lemon, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients on the cutting board and use your knife in chopping and swishing motions to mix the ingredients and blend flavours. You can also mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Brush or sprinkle gremolata over grilled cauliflower steaks and kabobs.

Fresh Sheet…Strawberries Part II

Refreshing Mint Basil Infused Strawberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks. That’s a mouthful. A mouthful of richly flavoured layers that will delight your tastebuds.

Can I get a scream?

I scream,
You scream,
We all scream for ice cream: yahhh!

Besides jam, preserves and freezing, a great way to extend the season of fresh local strawberries is to combine them with cream to create a silky and sweet ice cream. Nothing beats churning your own homemade ice cream. You get to choose your favourite flavours; select quality, super fresh ingredients; and be creative in the kitchen. It’s a fun activity the whole family or a bunch of friends can make together. And if you have an old-fashioned ice cream maker, you can even get an arm workout churning simple ingredients into icy-smooth, creamy layers.

I remember ample summers, sitting on our front steps taking turns cranking the handle on our ice cream maker to make a chilly treat. Freshly picked strawberries from our garden were the star in our family-favourite homemade ice cream. Fresh strawberry ice cream remains one of my favourites to this day. I also love mint and dark chocolate ice cream and enjoy the delicious combination of basil and strawberry, so it just seems the next step to combine them into an ice cream. The refreshing mint, perfumed basil, dark chocolate chunks, the luscious strawberries…what’s not to like? 

Refreshing Mint Basil Infused Strawberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks
aka Scrumptious Summer Treat
Makes about 1 litre.

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
about 30 large mint leaves
about 10 large basil leaves
1-1/2 cups fresh local strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
100 grams good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I like to include a combination of finely chopped and larger chunks) 

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, 2/3 cup of sugar, and the mint and basil leaves. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, cover and allow fresh herbs to steep for 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to chill completely. I leave the fresh herbs in the cream/milk mixture to allow them to steep overnight. Before churning, pour mixture through a strainer and press the leaves to extract as much liquid and flavour as possible.

Quarter the strawberries. In a saucepan, heat strawberries with 1/4 cup of sugar over medium heat. Cook about 3 to 5 minutes or until it becomes a strawberry syrup mixture. Let cool. Puree a portion of the strawberry mixture and add back to the strawberry syrup; stir gently.

Pour the mint/basil cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually takes about 25 to 35 minutes depending on your ice cream maker. In the last few minutes, add the strawberry syrup and chocolate chunks. This softer ice cream is delicious to enjoy right away. If desired, you can also gently fold in the strawberry syrup and chocolate chunk mixtures and freeze in the freezer for a few hours for a firmer ice cream.

Fresh Sheet…Strawberries

How long have Heather and I been waiting for plump, blushing berries! Their siren call begins in early spring, as the armies of southern farmed “straw”berries (because they taste more like straw than actual berries!) start invading our stores.

There is very little to compare to the delicate perfume of a freshly picked local berry. These little gems explode with flavour and are an incredibly precious gift of summer. Last summer, we waited and waited for strawberry season because the cold spring did little to welcome summer’s shy beauty to the table. Miraculously, despite the less than summery weather, local strawberries are popping up at the farmer’s markets and local stores this week.

And while blueberries seem to get all of the superfood hype, strawberries are no shrinking violet in the nutrition department. Thanks to their generous helping of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, strawberries help to protect your heart by protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage; they help moderate blood sugars and even support your own natural blush with all of that skin-loving vitamin C.

When selecting strawberries, give them a sniff – they should smell sweetly of strawberries (of course!). Look for shiny, plump berries without any traces of mould. Strawberries are incredibly delicate and perishable so carry home carefully and refrigerate immediately. Never wash strawberries until just prior to use; otherwise, they will become mushy.

So to begin, a little amuse bouche…

I love the taste of strawberries and balsamic but because not everyone embraces the richly sweet and acidic flavour of balsamic vinegar at dessert, I thought we could spin the winning combination for a luscious appetizer with local chèvre.

Balsamic Strawberry Treats
1 cup washed and quartered local strawberries
1 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar (for a spicy treat, try Nonna Pia’s Chili Lime Balsamic Reduction)
1/2 cup local chèvre, I like Happy Days
12 whole grain crisps, such as Raincoast Crisps or Martin’s Marvelous for a gluten free version

Combine strawberries and balsamic in a small bowl and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, spread the crisps evenly with chèvre and then top with strawberries. So simple! Summer is no time to be stressing out in the kitchen. Enjoy these on the patio with a glass of a summery white or rose (Joie Farm is one of my favourites!).