Archive | August 2012

Basil Apple Cheddar Tea Sandwiches

I love tea parties! When I think of tea parties, I think of: warm lazy summer afternoons, garden settings, white wrought-iron tables and chairs, exquisite linen, antique tea pots and cups, pink and white peony center pieces, crumbly vanilla scones accompanied by homemade strawberry jam and English cream, dainty tea sandwiches, lemon cake loaves and delicate pastries, chocolate covered strawberries, an assortment of hot and cold fine aromatic teas, champagne, flowery frilly dresses, elongated white gloves, eccentric hats, delicate summer umbrellas, and long “refined” conversation.      

I love them so much that I even started them at work; they are so much less committal than potlucks. Tea parties don’t have to be pretentious, nor frivolous. Many important issues have been discussed over tea. Our very own Parliament Hill commemorates a very historic event for Canadians, in which a famous tea party (and its significance) is prominently depicted.

I was sick like a dog that weekend, but did not cancel my tea party. Coordinating three busy schedules was not easy, so my husband got the house in presentable order and I slowly took care of the modest spread. Everything had to be perfect. These weren’t ordinary ladies coming over, but the vibrant, strong, independent women, forever friends, and former colleagues I worked with five years ago in my previous life. They were my mentors in an environment that was less than hospitable. I can’t tell you how much I learned from them. 

For me, every tea party needs something sweet, something savoury and something in between. I served vanilla scones (the in between) with my homemade strawberry jam. I used Trish Magwood’s apple and cheddar tea sandwiches  (the savoury) recipe, but of course, had to embellish it. In this case, the extra tartness from the green apple and the depth of the old, white cheddar easily surpass the classic apple and cheddar combination. Nonetheless, I felt this combo needed something a little green to liven it up. Between the apple and cheddar layers, I added generous sprigs of chives and whole basil leaves. That sweet burst of basil is like biting into a doughnut and discovering the jam filling smack-dab in the middle! The sweet basil balances the tartness of the green apple and together they mellow the sharpness of the old cheddar. You’ll notice that I don’t cut off the crusts; they contain too much flavour, nutrients and texture.

I reduced the amount of honey added to the Dijon preferring to build on the sweetness from the fig and walnut loaf instead (Trish used a raisin and walnut loaf). You should recognize the blueberry lemon loaf (the sweet); it is the muffin recipe I posted earlier. Instead of chocolate covered strawberries, I chose to serve green figs because they are second only to strawberries, they happen to be in season right now, and when ripe, ooze a fig-like goodness, which pairs beautifully with scones.  It was a hot day, so I opted for an iced tea, Greenbush Passion fruit, a caffeine-free, organic tea from South Africa, with fruity-floral overtones, which I purchased from Nectar: Fine Teas, one of my favourite tea shops in the city, and served in my most elegant wine glasses, completely unnecessary, but very pretty! The flowers on my table were big, bright sunflowers, which always remind me of my father. I love their smiley faces.

What a lovely way to spend an afternoon, at a tea party that, without notice, goes on longer than expected because you’re having too much fun. We laughed. We disagreed (of course). We remembered. We got caught up.

This sandwich combination works well for a fast lunch during the week!! I thoroughly enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Serves 3 (with accompaniments, makes 20 miniature tea sandwiches)

Ingredients:

Loaf, fig & walnut, thinly sliced 1 (10 slices)
Mustard, Dijon 2 tbsp
Honey 1/2 tsp
Cheddar, old, white, slices 5
Chives, sprigs 15 (3 per sandwich)
Basil, leaves 15 (3 per sandwich)
Apple, green, thinly sliced 1

Directions:

  1. Slice large loaf into 10 thin slices (to make 5 sandwiches).
  2. In a tiny bowl, mix mustard and honey; set aside.
  3. Thinly slice apple with a mandolin or a sharp knife. Remove core.
  4. Generously spread one of two slices per sandwich with honey mustard.
  5. Top with a single layer each of cheese, chives, basil leaves, and apple slices.
  6. Top with second slice of bread.
  7. Cut each sandwich length-wise and then cross-wise into four pieces to make a total of 20 miniature sandwiches.

Mexican Salad


We loooove this salad! It is a delight. I make it once a year when the corn is in season. The sweet corn and buttery pinto beans would do well on their own, but just look at the accompanying list of ingredients. The salt from the olives and their distinct flavour combine with the sweetness of the corn and tartness of the green apple. All are enveloped by the avocado chunks that seem to melt away and permeate the entire salad in a creaminess that gets rounded out, some might say zapped, by the apple cider vinegar. Talk about an explosion of flavour with so many friendly dimensions; each spoonful is familiar, but distinct depending on the combination. What a party!! The tongue tingles from the flavour sensations.

The recipe is adapted from American Food Network Robin Miller’s recipe, Mexican Chopped Salad with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette. I can’t say that I am a fan of hers. In fact, I’ve never even seen her show. I must have come across this recipe in one of my searches. I’ve upped the beans and cilantro, have reduced the amount of apple, and have not included the marinated jalapenos or the chicken, of course. I think I can safely say that the vinaigrette, though inspired by hers, is mine or at least has my touch. She uses a 2 : 4 ratio of olive oil to vinegar (which is way too vinegary for me). I use a 3 : 2 ratio, have kept the same amount of cumin, and have added paprika, mustard and cooked onions and garlic. The cumin and paprika come alive when heated and dissolve into the olive oil, so that the olive oil (and the vinaigrette, really) are integrally infused with their earthy tones. It is such an aromatic vinaigrette that is so fragrant it floods the house (in a good way).  

This salad is substantial enough for dinner. Corn and beans combine to make a complete vegetable protein, so the dish is a main salad meal. I go back and forth with the Monterrey Jack cheese. In this version, I omitted it. Both are very good. I have served heaping spoonfuls on to plates, but have also used it as a filler for sandwiches made with those extra thick whole grain pitas. This is a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Serves 3

Ingredients:

 Corn, cobs, grilled  2
 Beans, Pinto  19 oz
 Cheese, Monterrey Jack, shredded (optional)  1 cup
 Olives, green, chopped  ½ cup
 Tomatoes, chopped  2
 Apple, Granny Smith, chopped  1/2
 Avocado, chopped  1
 Cilantro, coarsely chopped  1/2 cup
Vinaigrette:  
 Olive oil  3 tbsp
 Cumin  1 tsp
 Paprika  ¼ tsp
 Garlic, minced  2
 Shallots, finely chopped  2
 Mustard  ½ tsp
 Vinegar, cider  2 tbsp
 Salt  ¼ tsp
 Black Pepper  

Directions:

  1. Grill corn until golden brown on all sides, turning frequently. Remove from heat and cool. When cool enough to handle, using a knife, separate kernels from cob.
  2. Transfer kernels to a large bowl and add  beans, cheese (if using), olives, tomatoes, apple, avocado and cilantro. Toss to combine.
  3. For the dressing, heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add cumin, paprika, garlic, shallots, and mustard and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from heat and whisk in vinegar.
  4. Add vinaigrette to salad and toss to coat. The vinaigrette may not seem like enough because the shallots will have absorbed some of the oil, but it is plenty.
  5. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Montreal and the Vegetarian

I love the city of Montreal. It has a definite pulse, not unlike Toronto and Vancouver, though different, of course. Montreal is extremely European, which is evident in everything from the row houses, to the resto-cafes on every corner, to the streets lined with fashion boutiques.

While my hubby attended Osheaga, probably the biggest music festival in Canada, I aimlessly roamed the streets of Montreal and feasted at every vegetarian/vegan restaurant I could find.

He joined me for lunch on Friday before heading to the festival. I dragged him to Aux Vivres, a restaurant, which features vegan cuisine and a juice bar. My experience was so pleasant, I dragged him back on Monday on the way out of the city. Apparently, others agree. The place was buzzing with people on both occasions. It’s a very casual place with what I would call vegan comfort food, not unlike Fresh, in Toronto. The menu includes: starters, rice bowls, burgers, soul food, salads, and sandwiches. I had checked out the menu in advance and had planned to order the Kosmos platter. As a long time vegetarian, I have never tried anything souvlaki related and was extremely excited to do so. The platter was stunning to look at and overflowed with: seitan souvlaki, tzatziki, salad, roasted potatoes, and brown rice. The plate did not disappoint. I can’t compare it to the real thing, but the seitan souvlaki had a nice lemony taste. The tzatziki was extremely creamy, but not overly garlicky and it paired beautifully with the roasted potatoes. To drink, I ordered the Popeye, made of: spinach, celery, cucumber, apple and lemon. It was so good, I regretted ordering the small. If you like green, this is your drink.

I spent the afternoon shopping along St. Denis and can say that I have now become intimately acquainted with this shopping strip. I have visited St. Denis before, but never like this. By late to mid-afternoon, I was growing weary from all the shopping (I’m convinced that all of Montreal was on sale), so I stopped in at Fresh Healthy Cafe, opting for an iced tea sweetened with unsweetened juice, instead of coffee. This provided me what I needed to finish my shopping expedition.

For dinner, I went to Chu Chai, a fine Thai vegan dining restaurant very well known to locals in Montreal. A friend of mine recommended it to me years ago and no trip to Montreal is complete without a stop at Chu Chai. They are known for their vegan faux meat (which is not something I like), so I always opt for their tofu dishes instead. We have sampled a few things on the menu; one of my favourites is its tofu in peanut sauce, which is served with crispy fried spinach sprinkled with sugar and salt. I had never thought about frying spinach, but oh what a treat!

In the evening, I continued my shopping and spent the latter part at the Ceramic Cafe Studio, which is the perfect thing to do in the evening if you are travelling alone (or just abandoned by your husband). I love the concept. It is a cafe in which you may paint various ceramic pieces for home use.

On Saturday, I walked along Sherbrooke Street to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. No trip to Montreal is complete without at least a peak at this gallery. This time around I revisited the impressionists, of course, and then spent the afternoon viewing the Canadian collection. I’m a huge Group of Seven fan and though their Group of Seven collection is modest, these paintings were all new to me.

For dinner, I tried the The Green Panther: Good Food for the Urban Jungle. If Aux Vivres is casual then I’m not sure what to call this place. It’s a down-to-earth, delicious, vegan sandwich stop. I had the veggie burger, which they describe as a “yummi veggie burger served with fresh garden salad topped with sprouted goodness and sprinkled with love”. It was delicious, over-stuffed and wholesome. I would definitely go back for a quick meal or snack. However, I must admit that I wasn’t a fan of their green drink. They give you the greens straight up – makes your hair stand on end.

On Sunday, I was joining my husband at Osheaga, but we made our way to Montreal’s Little Italy for pizza first at Pizzeria Napoletana. There was something charming about the outdated decor. Its signature is the cheese on the bottom and tomato sauce on top. That’s why the pizza looks saucy. If you like thin-crust, wood oven pizza, this is the place for you. Though not as good as my mom’s, it is definitely worth trying.

I was supposed to see a French play in the evening, but that didn’t pan out. My mistake was going back to the hotel room to rest. I fell asleep…

On Monday morning, we walked through the McGill University campus, which is an architectural delight given the campus is more than 190 years old. From there we made our way to the McCord Museum to check out the Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star exhibit, which runs through to October. I’m a huge fan of the silver screen and could not leave Montreal before checking it out. I can’t believe that no one has made a movie of her life yet given her contribution to the film industry and the fact that Mary Pickford was such a cultural icon.

After that we returned to Aux Vivres for lunch. I enjoyed my first dish so much that I ordered what was essentially a variation on it, the Gyro pita sandwich consisting of souvlaki-style seitan, tzatziki, tomato, and lettuce. I liked the sandwich even better than the platter, but was sure to re-order a side of roasted potatoes (delicious) to share with John.

From there we made a stop at Fairmont Bagel, for no visit to Montreal is complete without picking up bagels for home. Montreal is known for its bagels. In my opinion, Montreal makes the best bagels, even better than New York City. The bagels are thin and dense with just the right amount of chewiness and hint of sweetness (that comes from the honey added to the water in which they are boiled prior to baking). We picked up two dozen bagels (they freeze well) and then headed back to Little Italy. I must mention that we were rebuked for not bringing bagels back for friends. That’s how well known (and good) they are.

In Little Italy, we headed straight for our pastry place (whose name escapes me, but it is located on Dante, a little further down from Pizzeria Napoletana). The bakery is modest looking to say the least, but their pastries are pretty incredible. We of course ordered a ricotta cannolo each, which is made to order. On the way back to the car, we stopped in a little cafe and ordered cappuccinos to go. The place was nothing fancy, but it was one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had and it was made with a huge smile by a local, warm hearted Italian who said he did something a little special for me, having learned I’m not a big coffee drinker. Italians definitely know their coffee.

Over the years, we have had issues finding good vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Montreal. I remember calling one highly recommended restaurant after checking its menu on-line to see if it had anything at all that I could eat. He listed a few starters to which I replied, “…but that’s not a main meal”. He responded, “Madame, it’s French cuisine. What do you expect?” There’s definitely a vegan/vegetarian scene emerging in Montreal and it’s definitely worth checking out.

This was one of the best trips ever to Montreal.