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Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta with Smoked Salmon & Chives

7 Feb

Smoked salmon has become a bit of a staple in our house. Aside from being one of my favorite brunch foods (eaten on a toasted Montreal bagel with cream cheese, lemon & capers, of course) it’s a great ingredient to keep on hand in your freezer for a really quick weeknight meal.

We usually default to this quickly assembled dinner, but last week we thought we’d try something a little different but equally fast and simple.

We made this pasta up as we went along, grabbing a handful of ingredients that felt like obvious companions to the smoked salmon. The soft, salty/smoky salmon worked so nicely with the slight tang of the Dijon, the sweetness of the caramelized fennel and shallot, and the fresh hint of onion from the chives. The nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta really made a difference, too.

I usually squirm when Neil suggests adding cream to a dish we cook at home, since I’ve been conditioned to think that cream sauces are evil and will go directly to my thighs without being ‘worth it’. But as Neil pointed out, a little goes a long way in this pasta. You don’t need to create a full-on sauce, dousing the pasta in cream. Just use enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, and you won’t be riddled with the kind of guilt that the likes of fettuccini alfredo inevitably leave behind. 

Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta with Smoked Salmon & Chives 

Whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente and strained

1 pkg smoked salmon, chopped into small bite sized pieces

2 shallots, chopped

Half a bulb of fennel, chopped

Handful of fresh chives, chopped

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Approx ½ cup half-and-half cream

Splash of white wine

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Sauté fennel and shallot until they’re soft and caramelized. Season with salt and pepper. 

Add some white wine and cook for another few minutes. Mix in the Dijon mustard and half of your chopped chives, keeping the rest to garnish.

Reduce the heat to low, add in the cream and mix. To be honest, we eyeballed the cream (with me on the sidelines reminding Neil not to add too much!) but probably ended up with just about a half a cup. Enough to coat the pasta but the goal is not to create a full-blown sauce. Make sure you’re heat is down on low so the cream doesn’t curdle.

Add in your cooked pasta while it’s still warm. Toss in the pan to coat the pasta evenly with the sauce. Add in the smoked salmon at the last minute – you don’t want to cook it but you want to incorporate it. 

Serve sprinkled with the rest of the chives. We drizzled our plates with some lemon-infused olive oil, but a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice would be perfect too. 

Seared Tuna Wraps with Mango, Asian Slaw & Creamy Sriracha Sauce

15 Jan

A few weeks ago Neil and I stopped into a mid-range restaurant to grab a quick weeknight dinner. It wasn’t anywhere fancy (and it shall remain nameless) but it was nice enough to expect that the $15-$26 mains should come to the table well-cooked, well-seasoned and well, in restaurant-quality shape. When the $16 tuna wrap promising “seared ahi tuna, asian slaw & wasabi aioli” showed up, we squinted in an attempt to find the scarce pieces of cold tuna stuffed inside the oversized, overly-bready wrap, could barely detect any Asian flavors in the ‘slaw’, and couldn’t taste or see even a hint of wasabi aioli. We were peeved. Where was the flavor? The effort? The tuna?!

My tolerance for mediocre restaurant food is reaching new lows.

I looked at Neil and said “for WAY less than $16 bucks, we could make this ourselves at home and actually do it right”.

So we did.  With a few twists. And it was fabulous.

Here’s a surprisingly easy weeknight do-it-yourself meal that’s full of flavor and tastes even better the next day wrapped up for a satisfying lunch.

Seared Tuna Wraps with Mango, Asian Slaw & Creamy Sriracha Sauce 

For the Asian Slaw:

Cabbage & carrot, shredded (or for super ease use a packaged pre-chopped slaw)

Grated ginger

2 green onions, chopped

Juice of half a lime

A few splashes of Mirin or rice wine vinegar

A few splashes of soy sauce

A couple of small splashes of sesame oil

Pepper

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Creamy Sriracha Sauce:

2 Tbsp plain yogurt

1 Tbsp low fat mayo

Chives, chopped

Zest of half a lime

Juice of half a lime or lemon

A few squirts of Sriracha – start with small amount and keep adding to adjust the level of heat to your taste

Sea salt to taste

Mix the first 5 ingredients together in a small bowl. Add in a few small squirts of sriracha at a time, starting with a small amount and adjusting the level of heat to your taste. Season with sea salt. Set aside.

For the Seared Tuna:

1 tuna steak – big enough for two people to share

Canola oil

Ground pepper & sea salt

Rub the tuna with a bit of canola oil and a little bit of salt on both sides. Add a good amount of pepper to coat both sides.

Heat pan on medium-high heat until it’s really hot and then add the tuna to sear it. Cook for approx 2-2.5 min a side and remove from heat promptly so it doesn’t overcook or cook through. Let it rest for a few minutes and then slice into it. It should be rare on the inside. Slice into thin strips.

Slice one whole mango into thin strips, squeeze the juice of one lime overtop and set aside.

Warm a few whole-wheat tortillas.

Garnishes:

Lime Wedges

Chopped cilantro (*which we didn’t have, but wished we did. It would have been the perfect finishing touch)

Place a good amount of Asian slaw onto each tortilla, top with seared tuna slices, mango & creamy sriracha sauce. Fold & eat! 

Curried Cauliflower & Chickpea Stew with Kale

30 Oct

It’s crazy how quickly the seasons change. Every year at the start of fall it feels like the weather turns way too quickly and all of the sudden flip flops get replaced with boots, tank tops with cozy sweaters. I always spend a good few weeks in denial, not wanting to say goodbye to the warmth of summer.

And then somehow you reach a point when it finally feels good to welcome fall and the crispness in the air is familiar and maybe even comforting. I made this stew on one such night a few weeks back. It was the day I succumbed & fully welcomed the changing leaves, the need to grab a scarf in the morning and that feeing that there’s no turning back – winter is on its way.

It was the kind of fall evening where it felt really good to be at home, listening to good music, cooking something hot and satisfying in my kitchen.

I was craving something healthy but rich and this stew did the trick. It’s the kind of meal that warms you from the inside out.

I used a Malaysian curry powder blend that I recently bought at Jean’s Vegetarian Kitchen on Danforth (I’m obsessed with their Malaysian Curry Eggplant) and it had the perfect balance of flavors for this recipe. But you can of course make your own blend pretty easily. I would recommend using a mix of dried spices instead of just straight up curry powder because you need that depth of flavor.

The Malaysian curry blend that I used has a really nice kick to it without being overly spicy. It’s a mix of: coriander, cumin, fennel, pepper, cayenne, turmeric, anise, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, mustard seed, cloves, fenugreek & cardamom.

If you don’t have all of those ingredients, I suggest mixing the more common ones: yellow curry powder, garlic or onion powder, ground fennel and cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, powdered mustard.

This is the kind of dish that you can’t really screw up. Adjust to your tastes.

Curried Cauliflower & Chickpea Stew with Kale

1 Medium onion, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 head cauliflower, chopped into medium sized florets

1 bunch of black kale, chopped

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 can coconut milk (regular or light)

1 tin diced tomatoes (I only had whole ones, so I chopped them myself)

5 tsp curry blend (I used Malaysian curry powder and they were heaping tsp’s)

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil on high, add onions and shallot, sauté until brown (about 8 min).

Add the curry powder and sauté with onions for a minute. Add carrots, cauliflower and chickpeas and mix well. Season with a bit of salt.

Add in tomatoes with a bit of the juice and coconut milk. Add in the chopped kale.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes to a half hour or more. Season with salt and pepper and serve bubbling hot.

Makes great lunch leftovers. I even ate mine cold for lunch the next day and it was delicious.

Feasting with Friends: An Unforgettable Meal by Massimo Bruno

6 Sep

I’m a pretty sentimental person, with family and friends being at the top of my priority list. So when Neil planned a night where I could spend quality time with family & friends, feast on amazing food that held sentimental value and I didn’t have to clean up a single thing – it resulted in one memorable night. And major husband points for a creative birthday gift to celebrate my 32nd year.

Last summer Neil and I travelled to Italy for a friend’s wedding and our own belated honeymoon. We visited Rome, Florence, the Tuscan countryside, and our favorite place of all, Bologna. Needless to say, we feasted our way through each region, leaving no stone unturned when it came to trying the special food items that each place had to offer.

That’s where the sentimental part of our recent Italian feast came into play.

Massimo Bruno has been a well-known chef in Toronto for years and we’d wanted to try his ‘Italian Supper Club’ dinners that he holds monthly, but never seemed to get around to it. Little did I know, Neil had been planning a special Massimo night all our own. He emailed back and forth with Massimo, trying to create the perfect menu that would take me on a trip down memory lane, right back to our Italian getaway. And best of all, we would be able to share some of the things we fell in love with in Italy, with the people that we love back at home.

Massimo cooks authentic homestyle Italian food, and explores different regions of his native Italy through cooking the dishes that are unique to each area. He shares not just the foods and methods from each region, but also the stories that go along with them. He cooks out of his kitchen studio in a beautiful loft in the city, where guests lounge at one long candle-lit table as Massimo and his team cook the meal. The feeling is friendly, rustic, casual, and Massimo himself adds to the atmosphere; sharing stories with everyone, taking the time to explain what’s about to be served, where it came from and most importantly, why.

I was almost brought to tears when I got a glimpse of the menu that Neil and Massimo had put together for me. Massimo had even attempted a few new dishes for the first time ever, on Neil’s request. His passion really came through as he talked about each item on the menu, and his stories coupled with the amazing food transported everyone to Italy that night. Here’s a taste of my special meal…

The night started off with Massimo’s Focaccia Barese, which was probably one of the best focaccia’s I’ve ever had. Thankfully he warned us not to fill up on it, because I probably could have eaten an entire plate of the doughey, salty, tomatoe-ey goodness.

But we needed to save room for the copious amounts of food that came next.

The antipasti course could have been a perfect meal on its own: Burrata imported from Italy (flown in once a week and available at Maselli’s on Danforth!), Prosciutto di Parma & wild boar prosciutto with gorgeous roasted figs.

“Trota della nera” – Trout with seasoned breadcrumbs. Massimo kept telling us how incredibly simple this dish was, but everyone was raving about it. The flavors were bursting out of the lemony breadcrumbs and the tender fish fell apart with every forkful.

I didn’t get a good picture of the fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, but Massimo’s version was just as delicious as the ones we ate almost daily on our trip to Italy. He made a beautiful salad of breaded oyster mushrooms on arugula, which complemented the other antipasti so perfectly.

Next came homemade pasta – Pappardelle al Cinghiale, aka: wild boar ragout. Neil and I had had an unforgettable meal of simple stewed wild boar at the agritourismo where we stayed in the Tuscan countryside, and Massimo’s pasta brought me right back to that place.

If one pasta wasn’t enough, Massimo also made a dish inspired by our most memorable meal in Bologna, at a family-owned restaurant just off the beaten path called Pape Re. We had ordered a pasta with homemade pistachio pesto topped with crispy prosciutto and the flavor was so unique and special that I talked about it for months. Massimo’s Bucatini al pesto di pistacchi was prepared differently, but I so appreciated that he had researched the dish and created his own from scratch for the very first time. His was absolutely amazing, another favorite of the group.

Then came fried artichokes in tomato sauce, Spigola al sale – fish cooked in salt crust – and perfectly-cooked zucchini with cherry tomatoes.  You know you’re eating authentic Italian food made with love when something as simple as zucchini and tomatoes takes your breath away with every bite.

We were already full when the smell of hot butter came wafting through the air, followed by the sound of saltimbocca (veal with prosciutto & sage) frying in it. The dish was beautiful and so delicious that we all somehow found that last bit of room when it came to the table.

The grand finale and probably the most meaningful dish of all was dessert: Schiacciata all’Uva – sweet focaccia with grapes. At that same agriturismo in Tuscany, on a lovely evening overlooking the hills and olive groves, Neil and I had this delicious and interesting dessert. The family who own and operate the agritourismo make wine and olive oil, so their homemade version used small wine grapes folded into the sweet layers of dough. Massimo used regular grapes and his version was as amazing as I had hoped. I had been talking about this dessert since our trip and have always wanted to try making it. Massimo nailed it. Sweet, slightly crunchy, doughey and moist, it was the most amazing ending to a seriously unforgettable feast.

There really is nothing like great food & wine coupled with great friends, conversation and the warmth of the happy memories that go along with it all.

And I’m so lucky to have a husband who ‘gets’ it and knows how important those simple things are that mean so much. 

The Cuban Sandwich: Re-invented for Food Day

31 Jul

To celebrate Food Day Canada, Neil and I came up with an idea inspired by a fond food memory and fresh local produce, resulting in a new take on a classic sandwich; The Cubano.

There seems to be some debate about where the sandwich was born. Some say it was created in Cuban cafes, some say it evolved to what it is today in nearby Florida as Cubans eventually settled there. Either way, today you can find different variations depending on where you go, but the basic components seem to always be the same: bread, Swiss cheese, roasted pork, ham, mustard and pickles. Usually grilled or pressed, always delicious. The pickles really bring it home for me, but all of those basic ingredients oozing and hot between good bread really can’t be beat.

The first time Neil and I experienced a Cuban sandwich was in the back seat of a New York City cab. We found ourselves in a huge rush to get across the city, but we were also starved so we ran into the first takeout place we could find; The Original Sandwich Shoppe of NY on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village. We read the menu quickly and chose the Cuban mostly by default, agreeing that it sounded interesting but not really paying much attention.  There was little expectation or anticipation. We grabbed it to go and hopped in the cab not realizing we were missing a key ingredient – napkins, much needed when tackling a really good Cuban sandwich. How naïve we were before taking that first messy bite. We were completely unprepared for the sheer sandwich nirvana that followed. But we never forgot it. I usually seek one out now when I’m in New York and you can find them at just about every corner deli. Sometimes the pork is roasted and shredded, sometimes it’s in bigger chunks, but those main ingredients are always there and they pair so perfectly together.

We were bouncing around some ideas for dinner on Food Day, when I found myself thinking about those ingredients and how well the flavors work together. But we wanted to do something a little bit different and decided we’d take our cues from what we found on our travels that afternoon.

At Rowe Farms we found beautiful Ontario heirloom beets and green beans and thought it would be fun to play with the pickled part of the sandwich. We also picked up some of their boneless pork loin chops, which we thought would also be a nice update considering it’s BBQ season and chops grill so nicely and quickly on the BBQ. Across the street at the Leslieville Cheese Market we got two different kinds of mild and creamy Canadian cheese and a loaf of good fresh sourdough bread.

Back at home our vision evolved and we decided we’d create a bit of visual feast for ourselves, laying out all of our ingredients to make our own open-faced Cubans with a few twists. We ditched the ham altogether and figured heating the bread on the BBQ would give enough of that grilled flavor in place of dragging out the Panini press.

I quick-pickled the beets and beans in separate batches with slight variations in the pickling liquid. Neil made his own version of a mojo marinade for the pork after reading that the slow-roasted pork usually found on classic Cubanos is marinated in this unique and delicious blend of citrus and spices.

After leaving the pork to marinate and the veggies to pickle for a few hours, all we had to do was light the BBQ, grill the chops and bread and help ourselves to what turned out to be a really fun and delicious take on a sandwich that we both love. Of course we didn’t forget the real pickles (we used mini kosher dills) and grainy mustard. 

We couldn’t completely stray from tradition, though our modern additions made for one enjoyable backyard meal that we’ll definitely be making again. A slight step up from the back of a cab, but just as fun and memorable.


* Quick-Pickle Disclaimer: We barely followed a recipe for the pickled vegetables. We just threw a bunch of stuff into a pot and hoped for the best. Though we did decide to use more sugar for the beets to offset their slight bitterness and changed up a few of the ingredients for the beans. I tried to give measurements, but give or take for each… use your judgment! You can’t really screw them up by adding a little more or less of these ingredients.

Quick-Pickled Raw Beets

Small bunch of fresh beets

1 cup white vinegar

¼ cup sugar

Handful of black peppercorns

Small handful mustard seed

A few bay leaves

Clean and peel the beets. Slice them thinly into rounds and put them in a bowl or container.

Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the raw beets. Cover and leave them to sit in the pickling liquid for a few hours or in the fridge overnight. We let ours pickle for about two hours and they were delicious.

Quick-Pickled Green Beans

A bunch of fresh green beans, washed & trimmed

1 cup vinegar

A little less than ¼ cup sugar

6-7 grinds of sea salt

Handful of mustard seed

A pinch of ground ginger

A few bay leaves

Lightly steam the green beans so they’re heated and slightly cooked but still crunchy.

Bring all of the pickling ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiled, remove from heat and pour over the green beans. Cover and let them sit in the pickling liquid for about 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops

3-4 small boneless pork loin chops

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 2 fresh limes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp cumin

1/3 cup olive oil

A few pinches of sea salt and black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade and pour on top of the pork chops. Cover, refrigerate and let marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. We left ours for about 2 hours and they were very flavorful but next time we’d like to try leaving them overnight to let the flavors penetrate the pork even more.

Heat your BBQ to approximately 450 degrees. Cook the pork chops for about 4 minutes per side.

To Assemble Open-Faced Cuban Sandwiches:

While the BBQ is hot, grill slices of fresh bread brushed with a little bit of olive oil. Slice the pork into strips and lay them out on a platter. Slice pickles and arrange pickles, beets and beans on a tray or wooden board with any kind of semi-soft, creamy cheese and Dijon or grainy mustard.

Take a slice of grilled bread, spread with mustard and top with cheese, pork and your variety of pickles. Keep a stash of napkins closeby… 

Moroccan-Spiced Carrots

18 Jun

With Ontario having such a great selection of produce to offer this time of year, I really want to make a point of eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, finding ways to work with them that don’t complicate their flavor. And enjoying them raw always makes me feel like I’m getting the very best out of them, both in flavor and nutrients.

A few weeks ago, we spotted these beautiful Ontario-grown heirloom carrots at Rowe Farms in Leslieville, and I knew right away what I wanted to do with them.

I’ve been experimenting with Moroccan-spiced raw carrot salad over the last year and every time I make it, it comes out great no matter what balance of ingredients I use. I like adding a good amount of heat to it, but you can adjust any of the spices to taste.

I’ve tried cutting the carrots into rounds, grating them into fine shards, slicing them into thin long pieces – it’s really just a matter of what you prefer texture-wise.

The mix of Moroccan spices blends so nicely with the earthiness of the carrots. And with the gorgeous colors of the heirlooms, this salad is both bursting with deliciousness & vibrant color. It’s a really easy side dish to pair with just about any meal, especially during barbeque season… 

Moroccan-Spiced Carrots

Approx 8-10 heirloom carrots, varying sizes

1 ½ Tbsp good strong olive oil – I used a bold Portuguese olive oil

½ tsp cumin

¼ tsp paprika

¼ tsp chili flakes – I used a little more for good heat

Light sprinkling of turmeric

¼ tsp true cinnamon

¼ tsp garlic or onion powder

Sea salt

Wash and peel your carrots – but be careful with the purple ones! They stain just like red beets.

Cut your carrots to suit your mood – I like cutting them into chunky small rounds or half moons. 

Throw them into a bowl, add the spices and olive oil and sea salt to taste. Mix well. Let them marinate in the fridge for at least 20-minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

 

Fried Rice-Style Quinoa with Grilled Pineapple & Cashews

23 May

It probably seems like I’ve completely disappeared off the face of the online world, and to be honest, it kind of feels that way from my end too. But as Neil said in his last post, life has been busier than ever and it’s not only been hard to get back into the groove of blogging, but cooking as well.

But a few nights ago I had a strange craving that sparked some much-needed inspiration and led me right back into the kitchen to turn an idea into a reality. It felt good. Oh, how I’ve missed feeling inspired and motivated in my poor little neglected kitchen.

The unusual craving was for fried rice with lots of veggies. I have absolutely no idea where that came from because I rarely eat fried rice in the first place. But there it was.

I wanted to turn my craving into a one-dish meal that was actually somewhat healthy, so I immediately defaulted to one of my favorite ingredients: quinoa. I wanted to keep it vegetarian so I planned to add a ton of vegetables and some scrambled egg, which is delicious in fried rice anyway. But then thoughts of perfectly grilled pineapple and crunchy cashews invaded my brain and I knew that I had a complete dish on my hands.

Once again Neil made an immediate judgmental face when I told him what I was going to make for dinner. It’s his shtick when it comes to quinoa. He tells himself that he hates it and assumes it’s going to be terrible no matter what I do to it. But seeing as how we’ve been too lazy to cook lately and there I was offering to take care of dinner on my own, he quieted down pretty fast. 

But just as I expected, after a few apprehensive bites, he was in. I could see him liking it more and more as he ate and by the time the plate was completely clean, he admitted that it was a pretty awesome meal that he would absolutely eat again.

I used organic quinoa and I have no idea if it actually made a difference or not, but I will say that once it was cooked, it was totally neutral and had no trace of that sometimes strange/bitter flavor that quinoa can have. I did still rinse it really well before cooking it, but either way, the quinoa took on the flavors of fried rice beautifully.

The pineapple and cashews were such a delicious addition and because I used so much garlic and ginger, there were a few layers of flavor that came through. It would be really great with tofu either instead of or in addition to the egg as well.

We took the leftovers for lunch the next day and ate it cold and it was still great. I may have even gotten a mid-day email from my lovely husband telling me again how much he liked it.

I’ve really missed enjoying the fruits of my labour in the kitchen. There’s nothing like coming up with a great idea, seeing it through and enjoying its success. Especially when your skeptical husband admits you were right… that’s always a bonus.

Fried Rice-Style Quinoa with Grilled Pineapple & Cashews

Sesame oil

½ large white onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large knob of ginger, chopped

Carrots, chopped

Oyster mushrooms, chopped

Broccoli florets

3 Eggs

Tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)

Fresh lime

Green onion, chopped

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

3-4 fresh pineapple rings

Handful of cashews, roughly chopped

Rinse the quinoa really well under fast-running cold water. Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the rinsed quinoa. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for approximately 12 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, cover and set aside. 

Heat a grill pan on high heat until it’s really hot. Place the pineapple rings in the pan and grill on each side until the outside has nice dark grill marks and is nicely caramelized. Take off the heat and set aside.


Heat a wok or large pan on medium high heat until really hot. Add some sesame oil and the onion. Cook until the onion is nice and brown. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add in the chopped carrot and broccoli florets and cook for a few more minutes.  Add the chopped mushroom and keep cooking until any moisture has evaporated. I raised the heat slightly to help cook off the liquid from the mushrooms.

Add some soy sauce (to taste) into the pan and stir-fry well.

Add the cooked quinoa to the stir-fried vegetables and mix. I added a touch more sesame oil to flavor the quinoa and to help it stir-fry in the pan as well. Drizzle in more soy sauce, if needed, and squeeze the juice of half a lime overtop. Mix well.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Make a well in the centre of the hot pan and add in the eggs. Scramble in the pan and then mix to distribute through the quinoa.

Plate the stir-fried quinoa and add the grilled pineapple on top. I chopped the pineapple into bite size pieces, but you can leave the rings whole. Top with chopped cashews and green onion and serve with a lime wedge and some sriracha for a bit of heat.

Feed Your Creative Side: Zipper Jewelry

23 Apr

As we’ve mentioned before, Communal Table is a place where we want to share the things we love, the things that inspire us, and the wonderful things that we come across, be it food-related or beyond.

One of my very first posts on this blog was about my obsession with handmade things, jewelry in particular, where I mentioned the zipper necklaces that I had fallen in love with from a shop on Etsy. Since then, I see that almost every day we get traffic to the blog from people searching for ‘zipper jewelry’. It’s great to know that there are people out there who are as excited as I am about interesting, arty pieces.

And because my obsession with these particular zipper pieces and the lovely artist behind them has grown so strong, I thought I would take this opportunity to properly introduce you to the woman behind the art.

Marigold Pascual’s zipper jewelry speaks to me. Each piece flows so beautifully and is crafted so well. I now have a good personal collection of her statement pieces and every time I wear one, without fail, I get stopped on the street, in coffee shops, at work – everyone wants to know what it is, where it came from and if they can touch it.

Canals of Venice Zipper Necklace

Well, Marigold has generously offered a special 15% discount to our readers, so we can spread the love to others who want to ‘wear your art’. You can visit both of her Etsy shops and use the discount code COMMUNALTABLE by clicking on ‘apply shop coupon code’ on checkout. The discount is for 15% off the entire purchase (not including shipping) for both of her shops.

Through getting to know her art and communicating with her through Etsy, I feel that I’ve gotten to know Marigold as well, and she’s one awesome and talented lady. Read on to find out for yourself…


Name: Marigold Pascual
Company Name: Love, Marigold
Location: New Orleans
Etsy Shops:
www.Dreamer76.etsy.com - zipper pieces & other accessories 
www.LoveMarigold.etsy.com - hair accessories & headdresses 

Has living in New Orleans influenced your work?
New Orleans has definitely influenced my work – in my shop I have hand-painted purses with images of the marshland, and palmetto bugs, and also have bracelets that I’ve made out of my photography of Mardi Gras Indians.  It’s my love for New Orleans, and the beauty of this city and its people that puts these particular images in my work.  Some of my zipper pieces remind me of specific memories, and of the various experiences I’ve been lucky to have.

There are many great things about being an artist in New Orleans; it has such a thriving artist community – be it music, theatre, performance, literary or traditional and non-traditional art. This is a community that nurtures its artists, and I think that is part of the reason that we have so much creativity here. The wonderful thing about living in New Orleans is that there are a lot of people who “get” it, and the work I do. It’s satisfying when someone buys a piece that I make, because that person is saying that they appreciate your work so much that they cannot be without it. What better compliment is there?

Why zippers? What attracted you to working with them?
Years ago I saw something made out of zippers – I think they were zipper flowers or something – that someone had made, and I thought it was really cool.  People have been doing innovative things with fabrics and ribbons for hundreds of years, and this was just another twist on the notion.  I remember thinking I might want to buy something like that, but then looked at the [expensive] price for this really small thing and thought, what?!  I can make that. And just like any form of free form sculpture, it becomes what you put into it.  I’ve never been able to make zipper rosettes, although I think I may have tried once, but I’m much more interested in the other shapes that zippers can take, and the winding roads it has taken me down.

Masquerade Zipper Necklace

How do you come up with all the fun, creative names for your pieces?
I used to be a writer.  And then when I started writing for a living, I no longer wanted to be a writer!  Which is why I still love to write when given the chance. As far as my zipper pieces, I just look at it and think about what it reminds me of, and what might be interesting to someone who looks at it to help them relate to the piece.

Evil Eye Protector Zipper Necklace
Splendors of the Sea Zipper Necklace

How do you get the zippers to flow so perfectly in each piece? 
I can’t say that my zipper pieces flow perfectly, nor do I try for perfection – if I did, I would probably be disappointed!  I just try to follow what I think the piece wants to do.  If I’m doing something that involves different sized circles and spirals, I start swirling and twirling several loops in different sizes, then lay them out in front of me.  Like a kid playing around with toys, I play around with the design to see how I want it all to play out.  When I get close to what I want, I assemble, then look at it to see if I think it needs something more.  If I’m doing swirls and ripples, I just start winding everything back and forth, and see where the piece takes me.

Where do you source your zippers from?
I get a good portion of them at a fabric and supply store here in New Orleans, because they always have interesting colors and close outs.  I sometimes buy lots on EBay and order from a zipper manufacturer in Philly.

English Rose Zipper Necklace

Is making zipper jewelry (and other accessories) your full-time gig?
Yes!  While I have been crafting and selling pieces for ten years now, in the last year or so, it has become my full time gig.  As much as I liked my day job, it had become really stressful.  And while there are many times that I miss the big paycheck, I am so much happier now.  I haven’t gotten to where I can really take my business to the next level, but I’m giving it a shot.  A good friend of mine got me a few resource books for Christmas on how to turn your craft into a business and the handmade marketplace.  I have a background in marketing and communications, so you would think it would be easier for me to take my own advice on what to do, but sometimes when you keep your own schedule, you can get lazy. I’m working on it though!

What keeps you going?
I have to make art, and I have to create things. It’s a Zen for me. I make art to relax, or when I’m feeling inspired, or when I simply want to feel productive.  I break out my supplies and create until the wee hours of the morning. I truly love what I do. I love taking raw materials and then turning it into something wonderful.

We love your catch phrase ‘Wear your art’ – is that how you see each piece, as a work of wearable art?
I do see each piece as a work of art.  We hang art on our walls, and place art on the shelves, put sculptures on pedestals, and that’s where many pieces stay. I don’t think that art should be limited to those constraints, and my goal is to create art for our bodies – so that each day we can partake in making ourselves artful, and each day we expose others to art.

Ripples in the Sand of Time Zipper Necklace

What do you say to people who love your pieces but don’t think they can pull them off?
I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they love my work, but it’s not really for them. Then they try on a necklace, or they try on a headdress, and they somehow transform. I see them take on a different light – like they could become someone or something else if they wanted. I guess that is what I’m trying to communicate with my art – it’s okay to be proud, it’s okay to stand out, it’s okay to embrace wanting to be different. It’s okay to be exactly who you are, and it’s okay to want to be someone else every once it a while. Just feel good about it!

Bling Bling Zipper Necklace – a gift I bought for my hip grandma! She loves it.

Who are your customers? Who is attracted to your statement pieces?
My demographic is actually quite far reaching, which is fantastic. A variety of ages and occupations and personal styles. There are artists and other creative types who have purchased my items, as well as professionals.  I recently got an email from the Dean of a NY university, who received a zipper necklace as a gift from her daughter and adores it.  A visual artist wears one of my necklaces regularly. One of the shops in New Orleans who carries my zipper pieces says that she gets the most comments and purchases from the wealthy “ladies who lunch”!  My pieces look different on the different people who wear it, quite simply because they make it their own.

Egyptian Princess Zipper Necklace – my latest gift to myself.

What do you love most about having a shop on Etsy?
I like being able to reach a worldwide audience who appreciates the value of handmade goods.

What other creative outlets do you have?
Fashion, because I like putting together different outfits and costumes.  Cooking, because you get to eat the end result and explore different cultures without leaving your house!  Decorating, because I like to surround myself with beautiful and bright things that make me smile, make me feel warm, and make others feel welcome.

We couldn’t resist asking a few food-related Q’s – What’s your fave food or dish to cook at home?
Whenever I cook food, it’s usually some sort of Asian dish.  Being Filipina, I make Filipino food often as that’s my comfort food.  My partner has no natural instinct for ethnic cooking, so he makes a lot of New Orleans seafood dishes, and other things he has grown up with.  It’s a nice balance of East meets West at my house.

Fave New Orleans restaurants?
New Orleans has so many amazing places to eat!  My tops are Boucherie, Brigtsen’s & Jacque Imo’s.

Fave indulgence?
Chocolate anything.  And shoes.

Anything else you want to share?
I started crafting a little over ten years ago, and started making fabric purses.  I started playing around with it – seeing what worked and what didn’t – and really liked the therapeutic and creative outlet that crafting gave to me.  Making things, making art, is a release for me. Even though right now I’m making zipper necklaces and cuffs, I may move on to something else at any time…that’s the beauty of creation.  The same with my hair accessories – I went from making a quick barrette, to headbands, to full blown headdresses.  Once I start creating something, it seems I just can’t stop.  People sometimes tell me that they can’t imagine making things because they aren’t creative, or crafty.  I think that you should just try doing something – you’ll be surprised at what comes out of you.  I often am!

Maroon Marauder Zipper Necklace
Domino Zipper Cuff
Sound Wave Zipper Necklace

Food Find: Celery Root

20 Apr

This isn’t really a true ‘food find’ since I have seen celery root many times before, staring me in the face as I walked through the vegetable isle in the grocery store, looking like an alien life form.

I would always notice it, sitting there looking intimidating, strange and confusing. Which is why I was so intrigued when I spotted Ontario-grown celery root on the shelf at Rowe Farms in Leslieville a few weeks ago.

I picked up one of the round, furrowed bulbs and curiously asked someone behind the counter for his opinion on the best way to cook it. He advised me to scrub it carefully to remove dirt and then steam or boil it, keeping as much of the skin on as possible, because that’s where all the good nutrients are. Great tip. I appreciated that. He also told me to think about adding a bit of sweetness to the final product since it tends to be quite bitter.

Celery root, often called ‘celeriac’, is related to celery, though grown as a root vegetable. Unlike other root vegetables though, it’s lower in starch, which makes it a great choice for a side dish mash or puree.

When you cut into it, it immediately smells like traditional celery but with an earthier kick. The taste is actually milder than celery though but definitely has an earthiness. I didn’t find the ones we bought to be too bitter but I still took the advice I was given to heart.

I decided to make a simple chunky mash with clean flavors so we could really appreciate and taste the celery root. All I added to the mash was some honey, olive oil, a touch of onion powder and salt. It was delicious.

It had a really great texture and I was happy that I left some of the skin on and mashed it roughly. It was creamy yet chunky at the same time and nice and thick without being gluey like mashed potato or other starchy root vegetables. It had a really nice earthy flavor but it wasn’t bitter in an unpleasant way at all. The sweetness from the honey just helped season it up a little, along with the other simple ingredients.

We served it alongside lemon chicken and it was a perfect pairing.

I’m very intrigued to try cooking with it in different ways. I think it would be fantastic mashed with roasted apple or pear to add that sweetness instead of honey, or pureed with asparagus or something similar and served with fish. It also tasted really good raw, so I’d like to find some interesting ways to use it as is.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid of the alien-like fruits or vegetables calling out to you on your next visit to the grocery store of farmers market! There could be something really amazing lurking beneath the surface…

Chunky Celery Root Mash

2 bulbs of celery root

Good olive oil

Honey

Onion Powder

Sea Salt

Grab your celery root and a good vegetable scrubbing brush and scrub it well under warm water.

Cut off the top and bottom of each celery root bulb and any wiry, nubby parts, keeping as much skin as you can to keep all the nutrients.

Cut into cubes. Steam or boil the celery root chunks until tender. I used a microwavable steamer and steamed them for 10 minutes.

Mash with a potato masher, add in some olive oil, sea salt, honey, onion powder (or garlic powder) to taste.

Serve as you would mashed potato or any other mashed root vegetable. 

Brie & Strawberry Jam Omelet with Strawberry Panzanella Salad

13 Apr

It’s been a little quieter than usual around here lately. We’ve been dealing with some career changes and general life shifts, not to mention unavoidable winter colds and flu bugs over the last few months. All of that has been keeping us more occupied in ‘real life’, which has meant less time for us to devote to our blogging life and cooking in general.

We’re slowly getting back into a groove, but the last few weeks we’ve been leaning towards cooking meals that are simple and fast while still being interesting.

Last week I reached into my ‘archives’ when we wanted to make a meatless dinner that was in line with the changing weather and freshness of spring.

I discovered the unexpected pleasure of the brie and strawberry jam omelet many years ago on a visit to Montreal. It stood out for me on the brunch menu at Orange Café in the NDG area of my hometown. I rarely use this adjective when describing food, but I have to say that this is one ‘sexy’ omelet. It’s the perfect combination of textures, flavors and even colors on the plate. I even made it for Neil when we first started dating in an attempt to impress his advanced palate.

Once I started making it at home for brunch and dinner, the very idea of it inspired other omelet combinations like cheddar and spicy mango chutney, or havarti and pear & ginger preserves.

But this one’s the ultimate. L’original.

This time around I used goat brie for a little more earthiness and Greaves Rhubarb Strawberry Jam, which I absolutely love. There’s not much to this simple omelet, but the key for me is using just the egg whites. With the egg whites providing a neutral base, the cheese and jam really shine and stand out. I also like the texture of an all-egg white omelet better than what you get when you include the yolks.

But we needed a side dish. Something that could stand up to the fabulousness of the omelet and complement it at the same time.

Somehow the idea of a fresh strawberry panzanella came to me. Panzanella is a rustic Italian bread salad that’s usually made with stale bread, tomatoes, onions and a simple vinaigrette. I always order it when I spot it on restaurant menus because it’s usually delicious, however simple.

Neil was the one who actually executed our take on the classic salad after we talked about some ideas, and it turned out even better than I had hoped. The sweetness of the fresh strawberries worked so well with the tartness of the balsamic and the shreds of basil. And we actually used fresh bread instead of day-old and found that it gave a really nice spongy consistency on the inside, and a toasty crunch on the outside. It was a great texture combination and the flavors of each ingredient came through. It really was a great complement to the omelet. We ooh’ed and ahh’ed with every fresh, tasty and flavorful bite.

What better way to welcome spring to our table?!

Brie & Strawberry Jam Omelet with Strawberry Panzanella Salad (serves 2)

For Strawberry Panzanella Salad:

Approx 8 fresh strawberries (3-4 per person)

Good quality balsamic vinegar

Pepper

Approx 3/4 to half a loaf of crusty bread (we used Brick Street Bakery‘s wheat bread)

Olive oil

Sea Salt

1 clove garlic, sliced into thin slices

1 handful of basil leaves, chopped

Cucumber, chopped

Arugula

For Omelet:

Approx 6-7 thick slices of brie (we used goat brie)

Good quality strawberry jam (we used rhubarb strawberry)

Approx 6-8 egg whites (I actually used egg whites from a carton – so much easier!)

Cooking spray

To Assemble Salad:

Slice the strawberries and add them to a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar and a grind of pepper. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Cut the bread into cubes and toss with a few drizzles of olive oil and a few grinds of sea salt.

Slice the garlic into thin slices that will be easy to remove later from the pan.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan on medium heat and cook garlic for a few minutes. Lower the heat to medium low, add bread cubes into pan and cook for a good 7-10 minutes until nice and brown on the outside.

Remove the bread cubes from the pan, leaving the garlic behind, and set aside to cool.

When ready to assemble, add the cooled bread cubes to a bowl. Add in a little bit of arugula. You don’t want to add as much as you would in a regular salad, the bread and strawberries are the main ingredients here. Add the chopped cucumber and basil. Drizzle in some good quality olive oil and toss into the salad with a little bit of sea salt.

Spoon the balsamic strawberries into the salad, reserving some of the liquid. Mix the salad and taste. Add more of the balsamic to taste. Toss everything together well and serve.

To Assemble Omelet:

Spray an omelet pan with a little bit of cooking spray and heat the pan over medium low heat.

Add in the egg whites and leave them for a few minutes to firm up. Slide a thin spatula around the edges to lift and separate from the pan.

Layer the slices of brie down the middle of the omelet or just off to one side, depending on how you like to fold your omelet. I decided to fold the two sides in so I layered my ingredients into the middle but you can also attempt to flip one side onto the other. Spoon a generous amount of jam onto the brie.

Fold in the sides and slide the spatula underneath to loosen the omelet from the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes to let the cheese melt and jam warm through. If you’re feeling daring, you can flip the omelet over and let it cook on the other side for a few seconds so the brie melts on both ends and the jam gets sticky and cooks as it oozes out of the edges.

Cut the omelet in half to serve two and plate with some Strawberry Panzanella salad.

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