[Giveaway Alert: Today is the last day to enter the cookbook giveaway! Post your comment by 12:00 midnight (Toronto time) to be eligible to win a free copy of Sweet Freedom!]
It seems impossible, but I returned to full-time work at the college this week after two months away. (Yes, just when most college students and profs are beginning their summer off, my vacation is over. I’m just wacky that way.)
Where did the time go? Somehow, it just doesn’t feel like a “real” vacation without either a flight somewhere, a ten-hour drive, flip-flops, suntan lotion, sand in your underwear, martinis with 3 olives, holding hands as you stroll along the beach, abnormally extroverted conversations with strangers–or all of the above. Instead, all I’ve done is stay at home attending to the usual quotidien activities that define one’s working days: cooking, writing, exercising, walking the Girls, getting together with friends, or wrapping up a cookbook.
It’s not as if I forgot about taking a proper vacation, no, no; it’s just that I never seemed to get around to it, sort of like that pile of 57 boxes that have been sitting in our basement since we moved in to this house in November, 2007. (It’s incredible, really, how you can get along perfectly well without stuff you once thought essential, isn’t it?)
Better late than never, I say. So with Mother’s Day upon us last weekend, the HH and I enjoyed a mini, virtual vacation (or “stay-cation,” as it’s being called in these tough economic times). We slept in late, listened to the stereo, watched funny movies, took The Girls for an extra-long walk in a woodsy park, cooked together (though without hand-holding). And we ate appetizers.
[The prize: in honor of the end of the semester.]
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Because before all that, the weekend kicked off with a trek downtown to visit Ruth of Plentiful Plants and deliver her prize from my last blog giveaway: a chocolate layer cake from a Sweet Freedom recipe (which she blogged about here). It was so great to meet Ruth in person–now I’ve got a friendly face to attach to a name.
[Don't those look yummy? Recipe at the bottom of this post]
And she had the sweetest surprise for me–some cinnamon roasted chickpeas that she’d made as a gift. And the best part? They are even ACD-friendly!! Whoo-hoo! Thanks so much, Ruth. I’ve been snacking on them since then and will be sorry to see them gone!
And so, on to dinner.
Years ago, when my friend Gemini I got married, she and her hubby honeymooned on a small Greek island, where their days were spent wandering from ruins to quaint local taverns to dusty roads bordered by wild flower gardens and back to their B and B. Mealtimes were spent gazing into each other’s eyes, hands clasped over a small, private table by the seaside, rocks so white you had to squint just to look at them. A cornucopia of fresh, rainbow colored produce and seafood graced their plates, the cerulean sea splashing up over their sandaled toes as they ate. I had an image of the HH and I doing something similar over a casual appetizer platter (well, without the island, hand clasping, white rocks, seafood or water part. No matter.)
We ended up with three appetizers: Almond “Feta” (in honor of that Greek island); lupini beans in garlic and olive oil (Italy’s representative here); and Raw Sunflower and Carrot Pâté (nothing to do with the Mediterranean–I just like it).
I’d been eyeing the recipe for Almond “Feta” from last month’s Vegetarian Times ever since it arrived in the mail. After thinking I’d lost the magazine, I finally found it again while clearing my desktop of stray papers and other debris (gee, imagine what I’d find if I ever did open those 57 boxes in our basement?).
I’ve loved feta cheese ever since I first tasted it as a twenty-something one summer when I worked as a secretary. One of my colleagues, a wacky, brash blonde named Dia Nicolopoulos (I mean, how could you forget a name like that?) invited me to her home for dinner. Remember the rock band Blondie? Well, Dia bore an uncanny resemblance to (young) Debbie Harry, complete with outrageous wardrobe, carmine lipstick, raspy voice, and teetering, stillettoed walk. She had a belly laugh that could drown out a fire alarm, and when she extended that dinner invitation, I didn’t hesitate to accept.
In a scene straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dia’s mother kept foisting plate after plate of food at me. When I was sure I was about to burst, out came the feta. It was Dia’s mother’s own recipe, homemade from goat’s milk and bathed in a pool of opaque salted water. It was rich, creamy, salty, smooth–like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and I was smitten. I ended up eating three servings.
And while this almond-based version does require some advance prep (you’ve got to start 48 hours before you want to eat it), it was a worthy reminder of that long-ago dinner. With a color, taste and texture remarkably feta-like, this cheese was fantastic on its own or spread on crackers. Firm enough to cut yet not quite solid inside, it would be perfect sprinkled in bits and blobs inside a tofu omelet along with some red onion and basil. As the HH remarked, “You know, this cheese is really good in its own right. I mean, even if someone wasn’t particularly into the “veggie” thing, you could serve them this and they’d still like it.” High praise, indeed!
The raw pâté is my adaptation of a sunflower pâté in Nomi Shannon’s seminal Raw Gourmet. I added a hefty serving of beta carotene via carrots, both for color and flavor. The result was a fresh, light, with a slightly grainy texture and understated, natural sweeteness, it provided a perfect foil for the briny cheese.
The final appetizer, lupini beans in garlic and olive oil, were an experiment I tried following a chance remark while shopping at the bulk store. But I think these warrant an entire post of their own. . . suffice it to say that they require even more advance prep than the feta.
We completed the dinner with baby carrots, raw kale salad, and some crackers. With nothing else to do but enjoy each other’s company as we nibbled, it was a great way to end the evening. And while I still wasn’t quite ready to dive back into work, at least I ended my holidays in a relaxed frame of mind. I’m already planning the next appetizer dinner. . . now, if only I could secure that Greek island setting.
“Mum, you don’t really want to go away from us for two weeks, do you? Because, well, eating appetizers by the sea is all fine and dandy, but if you left, who would feed us??”
I thought these dishess would be the perfect contribution to Cheryl’s virtual baby shower for Sea of Book of Yum. Cheryl asked bloggers to post foods that would be appropriate for a baby shower. Congratulations, Sea!
Almond Feta Cheese
adapted from Vegetarian Times, April 2009
and already posted here.
Perfect for a party table or when dining al fresco, this cheese will transport you to a Greek island. (Okay, not really. But it is very good.)
1 cup (240 ml) whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup (60 ml.) fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1-1/4 tsp (6 ml) fine sea salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) cold water
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh rosemary leaves
Place the almonds in a bowl of room-temperature water; allow to soak for 24 hours, then drain and rinse.
In a powerful blender, purée the almonds, lemon juice, 3 T olive oil, garlic, salt and water until very creamy, 5-7 minutes. (The original recipe calls for a food processor, but I found it didn’t get creamy enough that way).
Place a triple layer of cheesecloth over a strainer and spoon the cheese mixture into it. Bring up the ends of the cheesecloth, twist the top and squeeze slightly to remove some of the excess liquid; tie the top with a twist tie or elastic. Allow to drain in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 8 hours.
Preheat oven to 200F ( C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Turn the cheese out onto the parchment and shape it into a disk about 3/4-inch ( cm) thick. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the top is firm and dry. Cool, then chill.
When ready to serve, place the cheese on a plate. Top with additional olive oil (I only used about 2 Tbsp/30 ml instead of the 1/4 cup/60 ml), sprinkle with herbs, and enjoy. (I used basil rather than the herbs called for, since that’s what I had on hand; I think pretty much any fresh herbs would be fantastic with this). Makes 4 appetizer servings.
Raw Carrot and Sunflower Seed Pâté
adapted from The Raw Gourmet
Perfect for light, casual summer dining, this fresh and healthy dip is a perfect accompaniment to crackers or crudités, or even as a sandwich filling.
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
1 cup (240 ml) raw sunflower seeds, soaked in room temperature water for 8-10 hours and drained
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping Tbsp (20 ml) raw tahini (use regular if you’re not concerned about the pate remaining raw)
1/4 red onion, cut in chunks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup (60 ml) coarsely chopped parsley or cilantro, or a mixture
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) cayenne pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) freshly grated ginger root
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground cumin, optional
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) mild curry powder
Place carrots and seeds in a food processor and process until crumbly. Add remaining ingredients and process until desired texture is reached. Taste and adjust spices; process again and serve. Makes 4-6 appetizer servings. Will keep, refrigerated, up to 3 days.
Cinnamon Roasted Chickpeas (courtesy of Plentiful Plants)
Thanks to Ruth for this simple recipe that’s delicious (and just a bit addictive!). I had mine without sweetener, but add yours to taste.
1 can (19 oz or 540 ml) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
1-5 drops stevia or 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) agave nectar, to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Grease a large roasting pan with coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.
In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the tahini, cinnamon, salt and optional sweetener. Add the chickpeas and toss to coat evenly. Spread the chickpeas in the pan, trying to keep them in a single layer if possible. Drizzle any excess coating over the top of the chickpeas in the pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired level of doneness is reached (I like them a little crunchy on the outside; some people prefer them softer, which would take less time). Allow to cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml).
Last Year at this Time: Swiss “Cheese” in a Mosaic Salad
© 2009 RickiHeller.com
Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll get recipes as soon as they’re posted, plus cookbook updates and news about upcoming events! (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”