In Praise of Simple Recipes

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that are so simple, they’re easy to overlook.

This recipe is a great example.  I’ve flipped through Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris many times, but I didn’t even remember seeing it.  For one thing, avocados and grapefruit aren’t an intuitive combination.  But I think it’s the simplicity of the salad that made my eyes glaze over it.  Avocados, grapefruit and a vinaigrette. A tiny photo at the side.  Most days I’ve just turned the page.

But this week I was having lunch by myself and felt like eating something that I could whip up in a few minutes.  Something that would let the natural ingredients of the flavours shine through.  Something that the rest of my family would never eat.

It’s true:  I wouldn't serve this salad to the rest of my family.  Andrew has shunned avocados since an unfortunate encounter with one in (appropriately) Paris, and the girls have taken their father’s side on this issue.

But for me?  I'll make this simple, and delicious, recipe again and again.

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
3 ripe avocados
3 large red grapefruits

Place the mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Before serving, cut the avocados in half, remove the seeds and carefully peel off the skin.  Dip each avocado half in the vinaigrette to prevent it from turning brown.  Use a large sharp knife to slice the peel off each grapefruit (be sure to remove all the white pith) then cut between the membranes to release the grapefruit segments.

Arrange the grapefruit segments on four small plates.  Cut the avocados in wedges and arrange them with the grapefruit.  Spoon a little vinaigrette on top and serve.

Thursday's Child: Destination Copenhagen

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark

When we visited: August 2011

Why to go:

A beautiful city in its own right, we stayed here a night before and after a cruise of the Baltic region of Europe.

What to see:

The Little Mermaid is internationally known as the symbol of Copenhagen.  This statue represents the famous story written by Hans Christian Anderson, on which the Disney movie by the same name was based. 

Tivoli Gardens is almost as well-known as the Little Mermaid.  Founded in the mid-19th century, this combination amusement park and garden is both photogenic and fun.  Helpful comments from the girls about the rides:  The Demon was the wildest, craziest ride.  The Star Flyer had a great city view.  And the Odin Express was “quaint” (their favourite adjective, used to describe slow roller coasters and their mother’s childhood).
The Star Flyer, from the ground up.

Nyhavn is a beautiful area with a canal running through it that’s lined with 18th century homes.  Originally the sailors’ section of town, now it’s full of trendy restaurants that overlook the canal and the boats. 

And our first night in Copenhagen, we went to the Ice Bar.  Everything in the bar (tables, shelves, glasses) is made of ice.  They gave us parkas and mitts in the entry area.  Then we entered the bar to order drinks.  I had the Delicious Pink, Andrew had the Rough Diamond, and the girls each had a non-alcoholic fruit cocktail.  Management had thoughtfully provided blankets on the ice benches, which made sitting a little more comfortable.  It was a lot of fun, but even with those blankets, not necessarily a place you’d want to linger. Oh, and in case you’re curious, I had to ask the bartender why we could drink from glasses made of ice without our tongues getting stuck.  Apparently, at a constant temperature of minus 5 degrees Celsius, it isn’t cold enough or dry enough for that to happen.
Ice chandelier
Where to stay:

Copenhagen, like many Scandinavian cities, is very expensive.  I spent a lot of time searching in vain for an inexpensive, centrally-located hotel.  What I did find was the Clarion Hotel Twenty seven.   Although the rooms were tiny (smaller than those on the cruise ship!), the hotel was less expensive than most and situated in a fantastic location, just a block from City Hall and five minutes’ walk from Tivoli.  And to seal the deal, breakfast and an early dinner buffet were both included in the price.

Where to eat:

On the recommendation of our hotel clerk, the day we went to Tivoli we had lunch at Grøften.  It was our only chance to try Danish food, and my potato soup with bacon was filling and terrific.  This restaurant was also where we saw Roger Moore, who was at a table about fifteen feet away from us.  The thrill of seeing him left me shaken, not stirred.

The Andersen Bakery can be reached from either inside or outside of Tivoli.  Their gorgeous baked goods make a wonderful breakfast or mid-day snack. 

And our splurge meal was at Relae restaurant.  This is where we ate the pickled seaweed, which was served with baked celeriac and black olives.  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautifully presented starter than the leeks, served in mustard breadcrumbs.

Home again

Sunday, August 21, 2011
It's great to be blogging again!  After a two-week holiday with limited Internet acess, I'm back. Today's entry is a short one, as I'm jet-lagged beyond belief, but I promise to write about our trip at a later date.  To pique your interest, I'll tell you that we saw Roger Moore (yes! my favourite James Bond!), stumbled across the Copenhagen Pride parade, and ate pickled seaweed.  And that was all just yesterday!

Sunday is normally the day I share a recipe, so I'll pass along this one that I made earlier this summer.  I baked it once with frozen cherries and once with fresh blueberries.  They were both fantastic, although I might give a slight edge to the sour cherry version.  I freeze cherries in the summer so I can enjoy wonderful recipes like this all winter long.  Not that winter is coming any time soon, right?

Cherry Crumb Bars (or Blueberry Crumb Bars)
(adapted from smitten kitten)

1 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
zest of one orange (note: if using blueberries, substitute lemon rind)
1 cup (two sticks) butter, room temperature
1 egg
4 cups frozen cherries, thawed and drained (fresh or frozen blueberries can be used instead)
½ cup white sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp juice freshly squeezed from an orange (if using blueberries, substitute fresh lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, then add the egg and beat until well blended.  Stir in 1 cup sugar, both flours and baking powder.  Mix in salt and orange zest. Pat two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together 1/2 cup white sugar, cornstarch and orange juice.  Gently mix in the cherries.  Sprinkle the cherry mixture evenly over the base.  Crumble remaining dough over the cherry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown.  Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Everybody in my Family Likes this Salad

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Everybody in my family likes this salad.

In most houses, this wouldn’t be worthy of a title.  In my house, it’s practically cause for a ticker-tape parade.

Let’s just say that we have diverse tastes, and some of us like fewer things than others.  We all like spaghetti and meatballs and, well, I’m pretty sure there’s something else I’m forgetting.

But everybody in my family liked this salad!

It’s such a simple recipe that I’ve flipped past the page many times.  It’s the perfect time of year to make it, as the corn couldn’t be any better.  I bought all the ingredients at the local farmer’s market, and the freshness of the vegetables made it a real standout.  As an accompaniment to barbecued chicken, served in the backyard, it was unbeatable.

Give it a try, and I’ll bet everybody in your family will like it too.

Fresh Corn Salad

5 ears corn, shucked
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
3 Tbsp good olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone.  Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the colour.  When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

In a small bowl, combine the cider vinegar and olive oil.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper.  Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil.  Taste for seasonings and serve at room temperature or cold.

Thursday's Child: Destination Marrakech

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Destination: Marrakech, Morocco

When we visited: March, 2007

Why to go:

After visiting a number of European destinations both as a backpacker and with my family, I truly felt like we’d stepped into an exotic and breathtaking city when we entered Marrakech.  We were fortunate to have a guide, Youssef, to show us around and share its fascinating history with us.

What to see:

Marrakech is a cornucopia of sights, sounds and aromas. Among the moments I’ll never forget:  the scent of orange blossoms at the ruins of Palais el-Badi; the cacophony of merchants and onlookers at any of the city’s incredible souks, or markets; the hissing snakes (tended carefully by their owners) in the central square, Jemaa el Fna; and the fresh beauty of the pools, flowers and greenery at the gorgeous Jardin Majorelle.

Where to stay:

We stayed three nights at the lovely Dar Karma.  A “dar” is a house built around a courtyard.  Dar Karma was simply but beautifully appointed, from the painted ceilings to the orange trees and fountain in the lobby.  The final night we stayed in Marrakech, we enjoyed dinner at the dar.  Sitting in a candlelit room off the courtyard, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful final evening. 

Where to eat:

We had a lovely lunch at the Café des epices, overlooking the spice souk.  And we enjoyed refreshments in the Jemaa el Fna.  But our splurge meal was at the gorgeous Dar Moha.  Tables were arranged both inside and outside around a pool, and rose petals were scattered across our table. Small courtyards with trees, fountains and flowers enhanced some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten.