Strawberry Cucumber Salad with Lime Dill Vinaigrette

Strawberry salad with cucumbers kohlrabi and lime dill vinaigrette

Last week at the farmer’s market next to my office building, I found my first local strawberries of the season.  Oh, how I’ve impatiently waited for this day.  I loooove strawberries.  I can eat a full litre basket of them in one day.  But the strawberries that are worthy of gluttony are local ones.

Local strawberries are so different from the berries available the rest of the year at the grocery store (imported from Florida and California) as to seem to be an almost entirely different fruit.

Grocery store berries are varieties that travel well.  They aren’t necessarily fully ripe when picked, but they hold their shape well and they have a relatively long shelf life (for berries).  Flavour isn’t the major factor when choosing varieties of strawberries that will face long distance travel.

The varieties of strawberries that are grown locally, and sold locally, are all about the flavour.  They are usually a smaller berry.  What these berries lack in size they make up for in flavour.  These berries are  sweet and juicy.  They can easily be damaged when packed into containers, and because they are fully ripe when picked, they will spoil relatively quickly.  I’m not usually too worried about spoiled berries, as I tend to eat them very quickly.

I was eager to go to the farmer’s market on my lunch break on Thursday, as I was certain there would be some strawberries.  I was not disappointed.  Two vendors had some.  Score!  I bought a basket from each.  I had big plans for the berries.

local strawberries

In addition to the strawberries, there were other great finds at the market.  Aren’t the baby beets and kohlrabi cute?

fresh local vegetables, cucumbers, kohlrabi, baby beets and spring mix

Equipped with the strawberries and fresh vegetables, once home I put together this strawberry cucumber salad.  This salad has no leafy greens in it.  It’s still a salad though.  I’ve been enjoying lots of leafy green salads this spring, but thought it was the time to branch out.

In order to give the salad a bit of crunch, I added some kohlrabi.  If you don’t have kohlrabi, you could use carrots, celery or sweet peppers.  Or you could add some seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower.

One of the great things about salad is that it doesn’t need to follow a set formula.  You can throw in what seems appealing or what you have on hand.  No two salads are ever exactly alike, which is great, as it keeps things exciting.

One thing I have learnt about creating a good salad.  The choice of vinaigrette has a big impact on the final result.  I was quite selective when choosing vinaigrette for this salad.  I used dill in the vinaigrette as dill goes very well with cucumbers, and with strawberries.  I like citrus in my vinaigrette, and the citrus of the moment is lime.  The tartness of the lime is a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the berries.

strawberry and cucumber salad with lime and dill vinaigrette

You may be familiar with the current trend of mason jar salads.  You may even love mason jar salads.  I don’t.  I don’t like the idea of packing my salad so tightly into such a small space.  I also don’t want my dressing in my salad hours, or even days, before I eat it.  And the final nail in the coffin for me is that mason jars are just too darn heavy!  I take the bus to work, and I don’t need the extra weight of the glass jar when the bus is full and I have to stand the whole way home.  Give me these lightweight containers that have lots of space and keep the dressing nicely segregated from the salad until I am ready to eat it any day.

vinaigrette lime dill

All that said mason jars do have a role to play in salads.  But for the vinaigrette.  A small mason jar is the perfect vessel for making the vinaigrette and storing it.  Place or pour all your ingredients directly into the jar, put on the lid and shake the jar.  Voilà, a jar of vinaigrette.  If you have more vinaigrette than you will use during that one meal, simply put the lid back on and put it in the fridge.  You now have vinaigrette to use over the course of the upcoming week.

 

Recipe:  Lime Dill Vinaigrette

Makes about 1/3 cup (85 mL)

recipe for lime dill vinaigrette

 

Ingredients:

  • Juice of one lime (about 1 ½ tablespoons, 22 mL)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • Salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. Place all the ingredients into small mason jar (250 mL), place lid on jar and shake until well mixed.
  2. Store leftover vinaigrette in fridge for up to about one week.

 

Recipe:  Strawberry Cucumber Salad

lime dill vinaigrette with strawberry cucumber salad

Ingredients:

  • Strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped into quarters
  • Cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • Kohlrabi, peeled and chopped into matchsticks

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in large bowl and pour lime dill vinaigrette over it.

How to Make Tender Flavourful Ribs

Recipe for Tender Tasty Ribs

So you want to discover how to transform ribs like these ⇓ into tasty, tender ribs like these ⇑?

Back Ribs

Follow these four easy steps and you too will make tender ribs that have great flavour.  You can choose back ribs or side ribs, depending on what you prefer.

 

A: Flavour Part 1, The Rub

The first step in giving your ribs great flavour is to coat them in a great tasting rub.  I use a brown sugar rub (you can find the recipe here) which my family loves, but if you have a favorite rub for pork, you can use that.

When coating the ribs with rub, start with the underside, then do the ends, and finish with the top side.  You want a thick, even coating on the entire slab.

pork rub coating all sides of the slab of ribs

 

B: The Cooking Technique, in this case, Braising

Ribs have a lot of connective tissue, and to make them tender it is best to cook them at a low heat for a long time, often called low and slow cook.

Braising means cooking in a covered pot in a shallow layer of liquid.  To braise it, the meat isn’t completely covered with liquid, which would boil or stew it.  Instead, the meat is only partially submerged, and then simmered at low temperature until it becomes tender.

Braising ribs in the oven in a sealed foil packet makes them tender

One of the great things about braising is that it’s a hands-off cooking technique.  The oven does all the work for you.  It just requires patience to transform potentially tough cuts of meat into tender goodness.

 

C: Flavour Part 2, Enhance the Braising Liquid

While plain water, broth or even apple juice can be used as the braising liquid, I like to take the opportunity to add even more flavour to my ribs.  To make my braising liquid, I add garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard to the water.

After the ribs are cooked, you can use the braising liquid as the base for a sauce for the ribs if you want.  You cook the liquid on the stove-top until it thickens.

 

D: Finger Licking Good, The BBQ Sauce

We prefer saucy ribs, so once the ribs are cooked and tender, the final step is to add our favorite bbq sauce and place ribs in the oven on broil for 3 minutes.  What comes out of the oven are tender ribs with lots of flavour and dripping in sauce.  Just the way we like them.

Tasty tender ribs dripping in bbq sauce

 

So it’s as simple as that:

A + B + C + D = flavourful, tender ribs that will have your family asking for more.

 

I used back ribs for my recipe.  Side ribs (also called spare ribs) can also be cooked using the same technique.  You would simply increase the cooking time for side ribs.  For two pounds of side ribs, increase the cook time given in the recipe below (which is for back ribs) by about 30 minutes.

 

Recipe:  Tender Pork Ribs

Braising ribs makes them tender

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (1 kg) pork back ribs
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons dry rub (recipe here)
  • ¾ cup (185 mL) water
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) your favorite bbq sauce (we like Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar)

Directions:

  1. Place ribs on a plate. Coat all sides of pork ribs evenly with dry rub.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
  2. Take ribs out of fridge. Pre-heat oven to 250 F.
  3. Make your braising liquid. In medium bowl, add water, garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and Dijon mustard and whisk until well blended.
  4. Place a large piece of heavy duty aluminium foil (one large enough to make a sealed packet for the ribs) on a cookie sheet. Fold the large piece of foil in half.  Place the ribs in between the top and bottom layer of foil.  Tightly fold up one of the short sides of the foil as well as the long side.  Leave one of the short sides open.
  5. Pour braising liquid into the foil packet, and tightly fold up the last side, creating a sealed packet.
  6. Place ribs in oven and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours. When they are cooked, you will be able to use a fork to cut through the meat.
  7. Take ribs out of oven and turn oven to broil.
  8. Remove ribs from foil packet (be careful when opening, as the steam will be very hot) and transfer them to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  9. Brush bbq sauce generously over the ribs. Place ribs in oven and broil for 3 minutes, letting the bbq caramelize just a bit.
  10. Remove from oven and serve.

 

Recipe Notes:  I use pasture raised pork, which tends to have somewhat shorter cooking times than conventionally raised pork.  My pasture raised pork back ribs cook in 2 hours.  If using conventionally raised pork, your cook time will likely be closer to 2.5 hours.

Brown Sugar Pork Rub Recipe

recipe for pork rub with brown sugar paprika and chili powder

Have you discovered rubs yet? Although I’ve been marinating meat for years, rubs are something I really discovered last year.  I started buying my pork and my beef directly from local farmers, and as a result I have been exposed to many new-to-me cuts of meat.  Some of those cuts require a slow cook at low temperatures and rubs are more effective than marinades for that.

A rub is a way to infuse a lot of flavour into your meat. By coating your meat in the rub and letting it sit in the refrigerator for several hours (anywhere from 2 to 24 hours), the flavour is able to penetrate beyond just the surface.

Ribs coated with brown sugar pork rub

One key ingredient in any rub is salt. The salt helps to draw the flavours into the meat.  I use coarse salt.  If you use table salt, reduce to about ¾ teaspoon.  The grains are smaller, so volume isn’t the same between different types of salt.

When using a rub, make sure that you coat every surface of your cut of meat, including any ends. I usually start with the bottom side of the meat, then any ends, and finally spread the rub on the top.  The moisture of the meat will help the rub stick to it and melt in a little as the meat sits in the fridge.

pork rub coating all sides of the slab of ribs

When I developed this pork rub recipe, I was looking for bold flavour, without too much heat, as my family doesn’t like very spicy food. This rub has some brown sugar to provide a bit of sweetness.  It also includes some chili powder, for just a bit of heat, but not very much.  It’s really a very family friendly pork rub recipe.

This brown sugar pork rub is very flavourful and is great on various cuts of pork, from ribs to chops to roasts. It’s been a big hit with my family.  They rave about it every time I make it.

I have ribs in the oven right now, coated in this rub to give them great flavour. Today I am sharing the recipe for the brown sugar pork rub.  Later this week I’ll share the technique for making these tender, oh so flavourful ribs.

Braised ribs brown sugar pork rub plus barbecue sauce

 

Recipe: Brown Sugar Pork Rub

This makes enough for about 2 pounds (1 kg) of ribs or chops, or a 3 pound (1.4 kg) roast.

recipe for brown sugar rub for pork

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoon paprika
  • ¾ tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients to small bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Place pork on a plate. Coat all sides of the pork with the rub, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
  3. Cook pork according to your recipe.

Mexican Inspired Black Bean and Corn Salad

Mexican Inspired Black Bean and Corn Salad with Cilantro and Lime Vinaigrette

Inspiration for meals can come from many different places. This black bean and corn salad was inspired by the bunch of beautiful cilantro that came in my first vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture) box this season.

Fresh cilantro, also known as coriander

Cilantro is often used in Mexican food. So is corn.  I have some sweet, incredibly tasty corn in my freezer from a local farm.  The corn was processed at the farm right after it was picked last summer and it tastes just like corn on the cob at the peak of the season.  I knew I had to use it for this dish.

I chose black beans and bell peppers to round out the salad. For the vinaigrette, I chose limes.  Limes, cilantro and corn.  You can’t go wrong with that combination.  And so this Mexican inspired black bean and corn salad was born.

During the summer, I love serving salads as a meal. On a hot day, I don’t want to slave over a hot stove or turn on the oven.  Salads are a great alternative.  There is no need to be limited to leafy green salads, as this black bean and corn salad shows. It’s packed with protein and fibre, so makes for a satisfying meal.  I served mine in tortilla bowls, making it really feel like a meal.  Alternately, you could forego the tortilla bowls and serve it as a side to accompany grilled meat or tacos.

I highly recommend squeezing your own fresh lime juice for this vinaigrette.  I always keep a few limes in the fridge, because fresh lime juice has such a nice flavour compared to bottled.

A quick tip to get the most juice out of your citrus fruit, in this case, the limes.  Take your limes out of fridge a few hours before you need them (you can even take them out in the morning before going to work) to let them get to room temperature.  Before cutting limes to juice them, roll them between your palm and the counter, gently pushing down.  This technique will produce much more juice than if you use cold limes.

 

Recipe: Mexican Inspired Black Bean and Corn Salad

Black Bean and Corn Salad inspired by the flavours of Mexico

Lime Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup (60 mL) lime juice (from 2 to 3 large limes)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Squeeze lime juice into medium size bowl, removing any seeds. Add cumin, paprika, chili powder and salt. Whisk.
  2. While still whisking, gradually pour in olive oil and whisk until well blended.

 

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup corn kernels
  • 1 can (19 oz, 540 mL) black beans, no salt added
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced small
  • 4 green onions (scallions) white and green parts, finely chopped
  • 2 cups packed cilantro leaves and stems, finely chopped
  • Lime vinaigrette
  • Tortilla bowls, optional

Directions:

  1. If using frozen corn, add ½ cup water to small pot. Add corn and bring water to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and let corn cool to room temperature.
  2. In large bowl, add black beans, peppers, onions, cilantro and corn. Mix all ingredients together.
  3. Stir lime vinaigrette and pour into salad bowl. Toss until all ingredients evenly coated.
  4. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours before serving, so that ingredients absorb flavour of vinaigrette.
  5. If serving as a main dish, serve salad in tortilla bowls.

 

Quick & Easy Grilled Potatoes

Quick & Easy Grilled Potatoes - potatoes on the barbecue

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here, it is unseasonably hot! I am not complaining, as I love sunshine and heat.  But the extreme heat does mean I am doing lots of cooking outdoors.  Yep, I’m looking at you barbecue.  Grilling is my cooking method of choice right now.

Grilling is probably my favorite way to cook. Not only is it a great way to keep the house cool, there are no pots and pans to wash after the meal.  Add the fact that grilled food tastes great, and it’s a win-win-win (grin).

When grilling, you aren’t limited to just meat. Potatoes and vegetables prepared on the barbecue are also wonderful, and quick to prepare.

Quick? Potatoes on the barbecue are quick?  Yes, I hear your disbelief.  If you are wondering how potatoes done on the barbecue are quick, it’s probably because you are preparing them the way I did in the past.  Whole potatoes wrapped in foil.  It’s true; those types of potatoes don’t cook quickly.  Not even when you start them in the microwave first. But I promise you, yes, grilled potatoes can be done quickly.

The trick to quick and easy grilled potatoes is to slice them before putting them on the grill. This way, lots more surface area gets heated, and the cooking time is dramatically reduced.

I started grilling my potatoes this way last year, and I won’t go back. Not only do they cook quickly, but these potatoes have so much more flavour than the wrapped in foil style ones.  I wish I had figured this out years ago. No more need to start the potatoes super early.  This way, the potatoes grill in about the same amount of time as any meat you might also be grilling.

The microwave is still your friend here. I give my potatoes a head start in the microwave.  They get a few minutes on medium high, I let them cool for several minutes (to avoid burnt fingers) and then cut them into ½” thick slices.  Brush a little oil on both sides of the potato slices, add some salt, other seasoning like Italian seasoning, and then cook them on low heat directly on the grill for about 5 minutes per side.  The results are potatoes that are fully cooked, with nice grill marks, and flavour like a cross between a roasted, baked and twice baked potato.

Quick Easy Grilled Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives

You can top these anyway you like. We are partial to sour cream and chives, but grated cheese is very tasty too.  Or you can leave them naked.  They are great that way too.

What is your favorite thing to grill?

Recipe: Quick and Easy Grilled Potatoes

Easy Grilled Potatoes Quick to prepare on barbecue

 

Ingredients:

  • Medium size potatoes, 1 per person
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream per potato (optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh chives, finely chopped (optional)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat gas barbecue.
  2. Wash and scrub potatoes, keeping skin on, but removing any eyes or other blemishes.
  3. Use a fork to poke holes all around potato. The holes will allow moisture to escape potatoes while in microwave.
  4. Microwave potatoes on medium-high for about 3 minutes (could be longer if you have lots of potatoes.
  5. Let potatoes cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and then cut into ½” thick slices.
  6. In a medium size bowl, add canola oil, Italian seasoning and salt. Add potato slices and mix well to coat potatoes evenly.
  7. Reduce heat for burners you are using to low, and place potatoes in single layer directly on grill. Cook about five minutes per side.
  8. Remove from grill and serve. Top with sour cream and chives before serving if desired.

 

Carrot Spice Muffin Recipe

Carrot Spice Muffins - nut free, egg free recipe

I love carrot muffins, but for some reason had never made any of my own.  I think some of my hesitation may have been due to a reluctance to grate “a whole pile” of carrots, which is what I thought it took to make carrot muffins.  I was wrong about that. It only takes a few carrots.  I regularly grate carrots for salads, so I know grating carrots is really no big deal.

Last month I was out and had a spice cake for dessert.  Well, that was it.  That cake lit a fire under me.  I had to figure out how to make carrot muffins that would create the comforting sensation I had while eating that cake.

It’s taken a number of tries to get these carrot spice muffins just right.  We’ve eaten a lot of carrot muffins around here the past six weeks or so. They were all good.  But I kept adjusting, because they weren’t quite right.

But this recipe?  It’s the one.  It’s just what I wanted my carrot spice muffins to be.  These muffins are light, yet satisfying, moist and full of rich, warm spice flavour.  These muffins are worth the effort I’ve put in to getting the recipe right.

Recipe Carrot Spice Muffins

As you read through the recipe, you will see that it requires both ground and fresh ginger.  No, it’s not a typo.  In the many trials for this recipe, I went back and forth between fresh and ground ginger, and the muffins were always missing something.  That is, until I decided to use both forms of ginger in the same batch.  That was the missing piece of the puzzle.  Using both forms of ginger hits just the note of spice I wanted.

This carrot spice muffin recipe is both egg free and nut free.

 

Recipe: Carrot Spice Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Carrot Spice Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2/3 cup (165 mL) milk
  • ½ cup (125 mL) pure maple syrup (see recipe notes)
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) plain yogurt
  • Zest of one large orange
  • Juice from one large orange (about ¼ cup, 60 mL)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 cups grated carrots (about 3 or 4 large carrots)

 

Directions:  

  1. Preheat over to 375 F (190 C).  Grease muffin pan or line with paper liners.
  2. In large bowl, mix together whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, maple syrup, canola oil, vanilla, yogurt, orange zest, orange juice and ginger until well blended.
  4. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and add grated carrots.  Stir just until moistened. Over stirring the batter will make the muffins tough.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin tins.  Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until tops of muffins spring back when lightly pressed with finger.
  6. Let cool in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

 

Recipe Notes:

Use pure maple syrup, not maple flavoured table (pancake) syrup.  If you don’t have maple syrup, you can substitute with honey.

Leek Potato Soup Recipe

Leek Potato Soup Recipe

On a rainy day like today, I crave a bowl of soup.  Soup is so warm and comforting; it’s just what I need on a cool, gray, rainy Monday.  Leek potato soup is Greg’s favorite. A batch of it goes quickly in our house.

Leek potato soup is a classic for a reason.  The mild onion flavour of leeks boosts the taste of potatoes, and the potato brings a smooth, velvety texture to the soup.  Add some garlic and thyme to enhance the flavours and a great bowl of soup can be savoured.

I like to use bacon when making leek potato soup.  It adds a depth to the flavour and some texture to an otherwise smooth soup.

leeks, onions, red potatoes

Any type of potato can be used in the soup, but I prefer red potatoes.  They are a bit less starchy than white or yellow potatoes and give a smoother texture to the soup, without it being too thick.  I use whatever type of onion I have on hand, but my favorite kind to use is a sweet white onion.

Recipe:  Leek Potato Soup

Makes 5 servings

 

Recipe Leek Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices bacon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and finely chopped into half-moons (about 2 ½ to 3 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 ½ cups (900 mL) no salt added chicken broth
  • 2 medium red potatoes (about 2 cups chopped)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. In a large pot on medium heat, cook bacon until crispy. When bacon cooked, remove from pot and set aside.  Keep bacon drippings in pot.
  2. Add onion and a bit of salt to pot and sauté. If there are not enough bacon drippings in pot to keep onion from burning, add 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Cook onion for about 10 minutes, until translucent and starting to brown.  Add thyme and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add leek and one tablespoon olive oil to pot. Sauté leek about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft.  Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or two.
  4. Add first ½ cup of broth to pot to deglaze it. Scrape up browned bits, as they will add flavour to the soup.  Add remainder of broth, salt and potatoes to the pot, cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, decrease heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Remove pot from heat, uncover and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Use immersion blender directly in the soup pot to blend soup and create a smooth texture.
  6. Break bacon reserved from step 1 into medium size pieces and sprinkle into each bowl of soup.