Monthly Archives: August 2010

Feta-Watermelon Salad

Fruit and cheese is a natural combination. I like a nice wedge of brie with pear, have enjoyed dried apricots and a little Gouda and, of course, apple and cheddar are a classic pairing for a reason.

Over the years I’ve seen the combination of feta and watermelon crop up in cookbooks, on blogs and in menus. For a long time I just could not wrap my head around the idea of matching the sharp, salty tang of feta with a sweet and luscious watermelon.

Feta-Watermelon Salad II

It seemed an incongruous match. A slightly chalky cheese with a juicy fruit? I could not be tempted. But I finally broke down and ordered a salad with feta and watermelon at a local restaurant a few months ago. Curiosity got the best of me, I guess. And then I mentally kicked myself for waiting so long.

Where I had expected incompatibility, I found harmony. A harmony that almost tempted me to lick my plate. Decorum reigned, but the salad has remained at the back of my mind for the last few months.

I was never a big watermelon eater. Sure, we’d eat wedges of it during summer as kids, coating our faces in the fruit’s juices as we sat on the back porch. It was a cool and refreshing treat and a nice way to pause between runs through the sprinkler on the lawn. I never did get the hang of spitting seeds, though.

Watermelon II

As I grew older, watermelon dropped off my radar. I never bought it for myself, ate it only when it was part of some fruit salad. Until this dinner out, when I realized this giant fruit could be just as sophisticated as the combination of brie and pear, while still holding that faint taste of childhood summers.

A baby watermelon I found at the farmer’s market sealed the deal. It was time to make this salad my own.

There are myriad variations of feta-watermelon salad on the Internet, and even one or two in my rather large cookbook collection. But each one had some ingredient that held no appeal for me or they appeared to be missing something I believed was crucial. In the end, I simply took from each what I thought was right: watermelon for the sweet; feta for the salt; cucumber for crunch; lime juice for tang; red onion for some sharpness; olive oil for that fruity, grassy flavour; and, of course, mint.

The mint certainly kicked it over the edge for me. That small addition transformed the simple salt-sweet combination into something spectacular.

I used a Nigella Lawson trick of marinating the sliced onions in acid — in this case lime juice — which she uses in several recipes, including her own version of feta-watermelon salad. The lime juice takes some of the bite away from the red onions while not robbing their flavour, and also creates a lovely pink colour for the dressing.

I don’t want to get too romantic about this salad, but it did taste a lot like I was eating a summer afternoon. Refreshing like a cold drink, but with the punch of feta and soothing mint. I probably could have eaten the entire bowl.

Which would have been for the best, because this salad really doesn’t keep. Only make as much as you’re going to need, because the watermelon does break down relatively quickly. Not that it didn’t still taste as good — it just lost some of its visual appeal.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you see fit. Want more feta? Go for it. Think the watermelon cubes should be bigger? Smaller? Not cubed at all? Be my guest. This is a salad, after all, so tailor it to your own tastes. As long as the core ingredients remain the same, it will be tasty.

Mint

Watermelon I

Onions

Feta-Watermelon Salad I

Feta-Watermelon Salad with Mint

  • ½ cup (125 mL) lime juice, from 3 to 4 limes
  • ½ red onion (or one small one), peeled and sliced thinly into half-moons
  • 8 cups (2L) watermelon, cut into ½ inch (2 cm) cubes, one tiny watermelon or ¼ of a large one
  • ½ English cucumber or 3 baby cucumbers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) feta, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (125 mL) mint, chiffonade

Juice the limes into a bowl. Slice the red onion and add to the lime juice to marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Cut watermelon into slices, remove rind and chop into chunks. Dump them in a large salad bowl and top with cucumber slices and feta cubes. Add olive oil to red onion-lime juice mixture, stir and then pour over salad.

Roll mint leaves into a cigar and slice thinly into strands. Sprinkle over salad, toss and serve.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Summer Travels

Kids, this has been a busy summer. And I mean that in the best possible way.

First there was Chicago in June, then NYC for a week in July, followed by two back-to-back wedding weekends in Panorama, B.C. and Ottawa.

Consequently, there has been very little cooking or baking in the Patent and the Pantry kitchen. Luckily, there has been some amazing eating in all these great cities. And I thought I would share some of the highlights.

I’m going to be honest here, there aren’t photos of every meal because I kind of just enjoyed having a few meals with no camera in tow, savouring bites without worrying about natural light and flash and angles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that I do love to photograph food, but, occasionally, I just want to be in the moment of a fine meal.

Chicago

This was never a city high on my list of places to go, but when a friend moved there I was happy to have a chance to travel to a new town. And then I fell in love with the Windy City, owing, I’m sure, in no small part to the oh-so-good eating I had there during my first trip in February. When the chance came to head there again in June, I jumped at it.

I was eager to have another dinner at Avec. And I was equally eager to try out a few new places. Luckily, my friend Suzi always has good suggestions, including a trip to Franks n’ Dawgs, a neat little joint that takes the humble hot dog to a brand new level. Think bratwurst with sauteed morels, a beef and curry sausage with orange marmalade and raisin slaw, and andouille with gumbo sauce. And, people, they do truffle waffle fries. Seriously. *Drool*

We had the Lamb Keema, a “Middle Eastern lamb sausage with English peas, cucumber salad, caramelized pearl onions and Socca strips.”

Lamb Keema hot dog

It was fantastic; my favourite of the hot dog trio we sampled.

Still, the others were pretty good too.

This was the Turdoggen: a turkey and date sausage with crispy duck confit, herb garlic aioli, house pickled onion relish and pickled carrots.

Frank n' Dawgs hot dog

and this was a Kobe beef Italian sausage topped with the restaurant’s marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, caramelized portabella mushrooms and basil.

Pizza dog

But, did I mention the truffle waffle fries? Yeah. Seriously.

On another sunny afternoon, we headed to The Purple Pig, another small plates establishment, this one on the Magnificent Mile. They basically had me when I saw we could have pork fried almonds with rosemary and garlic. With a glass of rose (which I drank pretty much exclusively while in Chicago; such a perfect wine for hot summer afternoons!), I also chowed down on salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and a pistachio vinaigrette, a dish of asparagus and snap peas, as well as a cheese plate.

For dinner one night we had pizza from Great Lake, a very odd little restaurant with almost no seating and a somewhat perplexing service system. When we went to order from the limited list of ingredients (owing to them using only local and fresh ingredients, which I can’t really criticize), each ingredient we asked for was “sold out.” That said, the pizza was fantastic. We ate it sitting at a park bench outside in the dark with some cans of pop purchased from the corner store. I don’t think we spoke for a full 10 minutes except to exchange “mmmmmms.”

Ok, it wasn’t all eating. We did take an architectural boat tour one hot afternoon, taking in the stunning buildings along Chicago’s river. The architecture in this city is stunning and well worth a boat tour if anyone is heading there in the summer months.

Chicago skyline

Chicago architecture

On the last day, just a few hours before flying out, we went to the Art Insititute of Chicago to wander around in the modern art wing. But first, a little more eating. This time at the Terzo Piano, the institute’s restaurant also in the modern wing. It’s a lovely, bright, airy room with a fairly impressive menu. But, well, I just couldn’t stay away from the idea of the burger trio: one shrimp, one beef, one lamb. They weren’t fabulous, but they weren’t terrible.

On the other hand, the bread that came before lunch was fantastic. And I loved the presentation of serving it with unsalted butter, flaked salt and parmesan crisps. That, with another glass of rose, was my favourite part.

Bread, butter, salt

Rose in the afternoon

New York City

Owing to some very good luck, I was able to head to NYC for a week to stay with my friend Julie in a Soho apartment. It was hotter than all get-out and the humidity meant I had to finally give up on wearing my bangs down, but it was an excellent trip. Due, in no small part, to the fact that Julie was willing to try out a lot of the restaurants I had on my list.

Like Shake Shack.

What? Please, everyone who reads this blog by now knows I have an undying love of burgers. As if I was going to go to New York and not go to this famous burger joint. Pshaw.

I spent the morning in Central Park, checking out Bethesda Fountain, the Ramble and then lying in the grass at the edge of the great lawn to read under a blue sky. And then it was off to meet up at Shake Shack for a cheeseburger, krinkle-cut fries and a lemonade, all eaten sitting on a bench across the street.
Shake Shack burger

We went to Momofuku twice, though only the Noodle Bar owing to the fact that I really wanted to try a few dishes and, hey, when is the next time I’m going to have a chance to go there? The first night we had the scallion-ginger noodles, sauteed corn with potatoes and the dreamiest, mouth watering-est pork buns. Slabs of rich pork belly stuffed into a pillowy soft steamed bun with scallions and hoisin sauce. If I wasn’t so full at the end of that meal, I would have ordered more of those. They were definitely the best part of that dinner, though the noodles were a close second.

The next time I had the ramen, which was also delicious. Though I have to say that I had some fantastic ramen when I lived in Japan. This time we tried the chicken buns and they weren’t bad but the pork buns remain my favourite. In fact, my mouth is watering a little bit right now just remember them.

New York was a lot about the desserts too.

We had Magnolia cupcakes.

My cupcake

And made a trip to the Momofuku milk bar where Julie agreed that we needed to buy the Franken Pie. That’s two pieces of each of their four types of pie, clockwise from the top: cinnamon bun pie with a cheesecake filling; grasshopper pie with mint cheesecake and brownie filling; Momofuku’s signature Crack Pie ®, kind of like butter tart but none of those pesky raisins; and the candy bar pie that has a chocolate crust, caramel, peanut butter nougat and a pretzel.
Momofuku Franken Pie

Crack Pie

I know Crack Pie is what Momofuku is known for, but I was completely won over by the candy bar pie, which was the perfect combination of salty and sweet and oh-so rich.

To cap off the week, we had a decadent afternoon tea at the Plaza. This was absolutely luxurious. The setting was stunning, the service lovely and the food delicious.

Menu

Ceiling in Knife I

Cucumber Sandwich I

Pastries

Of course, it wasn’t all eating… there were shoes that needed to be bought!

So, I’ll share two pairs that are my faves from the trip.

Some Betsey Johnson satin, leopard-print platform peeps:

IMGP3757

And these beauties from Kate Spade that were
a) red platform peeps
b) 50 per cent off
and, perhaps most importantly, c) their style name was Gwen.
That, my friends, is what I call shoe fate.

Kate Spade shoes

Anyone interested in checking out more photos from either of the trips can feel free to check out my flickr.

Basil Vinaigrette

If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you may remember when I mentioned that I once bought a cookbook simply for a salad dressing recipe. Subsequently, I’ve learned to love Rebar’s lime sugar cookies and have tried numerous other recipes in the book. But it’s the basil vinaigrette that keeps me coming back to this book every single time.

Salad close-up

I first tried the basil dressing when I had a salad at Rebar one afternoon. It was a fantastic meal. (I have this theory about salads, that they are always best when someone else makes them. In this case, it’s not all that surprising when you look at what they include in their giant salads: grated beets, grated carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheese . . . . The list goes on.) And I’ve barely tried anything else when I’ve gone there again because the salad is so good.

And they don’t blink when I ask for a little extra dressing on the side.

People, this is good stuff.

And no doubt, there is A LOT of basil in here. Once blended with vinegars, dijon and a few other ingredients, then emulsified with olive oil, this comes out very thick, very green and very fantastic.

Basil

As soon as basil starts to show up at the farmer’s market each summer, I buy a couple of huge bunches, make a batch or two of pesto and then this dressing, which I devour on salads all week.

(Um, may I suggest checking your basil before blending?)
Extra passenger

The measurement for basil (1 1/2 ounces) doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a few cups, so make sure to buy enough. Otherwise, cut the recipe in half if you don’t have enough.

All in the blender

Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette II

Dressing on lettuce

Simple salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette

from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor (I use a blender and that works just as well, I’ve found.) and blend. Slowly add olive oil in a slow, thin stream until thick and creamy.

Season to taste and serve. Can be refrigerated up to three days.