Tag: Cheese

some assembly required

some assempbly required

How is it possible that we are in the second week of September already? Here in Vancouver that doesn’t quite mean that summer is over in terms of warm weather but it does mean that the pace and timing of one’s life may begin to return to normal: back to school or back to work, vacation memories fading quickly. Whether these few weeks are about ‘normalizing’ for you or not, chances are you’re feeling some sort of pinch, some sort pressure, I know I am. When we’re under stress or duress, even if that stress is “normal” for us, it can be so easy to let slide the most important things for our overall well being: eating well, sleeping, exercising and taking time to actually enjoy your life, not just letting it rampage past, leaving you a dizzy spectator.

I won’t preach on sleep or exercise, two things I’m in no position to lecture on, but eating well and enjoying life can so often go hand in hand – but how do we do so when there just aren’t enough hours in the day?

At our house, when no one wants to cook and take out is leaving us non-plussed, we do an antipasto style dinner, some assembly required: plates of this and that which everyone assembles as the wish. Everyone gets something they want, there aren’t many dishes and with a well stocked pantry and fridge it’s not a nuisance to prepare. Make the selection as simple or as elaborate as you like, just make sure you hit the main categories: fruit, veggies, protein (meat or cheese or both, usually) and some sort of vehicle to get it all in, like bread, crackers, tortillas, even fresh lettuce leaves. Beyond that, add something sweet, something zingy (think chutney and/or pickles or olives) and if you’re really feeling luxurious some hummus or baba ganoush to dip and spread.

So take a deep breath, put on some good tunes, crack a bottle of wine and enjoy the satisfaction of putting out a simple dinner without ever turning on the stove.

Spinach and Radicchio Salad with Pear and Gorgonzola


It’s happened: winter has descended upon Vancouver. Tonight is our first snow. And not just a whisper of snow. No hard, minuscule bits of freezing rain here; this is the snow of storybooks: fat, gauzy flakes that fall slowly and steadily giving everything a delicate down of winter sparkle. Sadly, it’s unlikely to last the night. Winter in Vancouver is fickle, as the 2010 Olympics proved. So often it is mild and wet, dense and grey, with rain that comes at you from every angle. But then there are winters that make us feel like we’re part of the rest of the country, uniting us with ‘The Great White North’, with sunny, clear, cold days and enough snow to make almost anyone feel like a kid again. They never last the season, but even a week of brightness and glinting snow (even if it turns to blackened, grimy slush) is revitalizing. The local mountains are snow capped and outfitted for world class skiing all winter, but down in the city, the balmy coast keeps things decidedly lush and mostly frost-free. I shouldn’t complain: we get flowers in February, and you don’t have to shovel rain. It is always nice though, a couple times a decade, to have a white Christmas or walk through newly fallen snow and enjoy the insulating hush it gives the city. Snow falling through the glow of a streetlamp? Be still, my silly heart.

Whatever the weather where you are, I hope you enjoy this quick and simple winter salad. It’s easy to make, gives you a burst of freshness on a wintry day and goes beautifully with all things warm, roasted and slow cooked. Stay warm and enjoy!

 Spinach and Radicchio Salad with Pear and Gorgonzola

No one really measures salad, so use your common sense when assembling this salad. My general guesstimate is 2 large handfuls of greens per person. Consider this a recipe for 4 people (as a side, not as a main). 

enough carefully washed and dried greens for4 people – 3/4 baby spinach, 1/4 sliced radicchio

1 ripe but still firm pear, cored and quartered, each quarter thinly sliced

1/2 C crumbled Gorgonzola or other ripe, pungent cheese

1/4 toasted pumpkin seeds (or pecans, walnuts, etc. – whatever you have on hand to give it some crunch)

Toss the greens together and top with cheese, nuts/seeds and pear slices. Dress at the last moment, or at the table with Apple Sesame Dressing.

Apple Sesame Salad Dressing

Whisk together in a small bowl, or shake together in a glass:

6 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp apple juice

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sesame oil

pinch of salt and pepper


French Onion Soup

I have read and heard French onion soup referred to recently as a “French bistro classic”, which I presume it is. Having never been to France, I will have to take that description at face value, however, I can easily imagine tucking into a bowl of this steaming hot soup at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with crisp white linen napkins somewhere in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. But, I’m a romantic, so such imaginings are easy for me. If you are less of a dreamer, or possibly adverse to onions or the texture of soggy bread, you may not think this soup is for you, but I would urge you to try it. Not only is it a classic, it is so much more complex and interesting than you would expect. By the time the cheese has melted and the bread has absorbed some of the broth and it is placed in front of you, the onions will have sweetened and softened into the butter, the thyme and sherry will have co-mingled and contributed a gentle citrus flavour as well as a sweet low note that strikes a deep chord that hums “savoury”, “special” and “home”.

French Onion Soup

Loosely adapted from Paris in a Basket by Nicolle Aimee Meyer and Amanda Pilar Smith

This recipe, as I have made it here,  feeds 8 hungry people as “dinner” and could easily be enough for 12 as a starter.

8 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly (about 12 cups)

8 tablespoons of salted butter

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 shots (ounces) sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream because it’s the only sherry I had on hand and frankly the only one I’m very familiar with. It worked out deliciously.)

12 cups beef stock

1 lb Gruyere cheese, grated

1 baguette, cut into 16 -1 inch slices

Fresh ground pepper to taste

This recipe calls for individual French Onion Soup tureens so that the traditional bread and cheese can be broiled atop the soup. If you don’t have the specific tureens, use oven proof bowls, or simply serve it from the pot with the cheese sprinkled in and the bread on the side for dipping.

Begin by peeling the onions. Slice them very thinly. Set aside. Dry your eyes.

In a large heavy bottomed pot, over medium heat, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter.

Once it is melted, add a full sprig of fresh thyme.

Add in the onion. It will seem like an impossibly huge amount of onion, but will cook down beautifully.

Cook the onions in the butter with the thyme, stirring frequently for about 35-40 minutes, until they have reduced to about 25% their original volume and have lightly caramelized. If you find that the onions are browning, reduce the heat and stir more often. The onions should not become dark or dry. Aim for an all over golden colour and soft, sweet onion strings. Fish out the thyme stem, it will have lost all its leaves.

Once you have achieved the pale caramel colour and the onions are softened, add 2 shots of sherry and stir well to combine.


Add in the beef stock and increase the heat to medium high until the soup boils, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered for 30 minutes, allowing the soup to reduce and concentrate slightly.

While the soup finishes, grate the Gruyere and slice the baguette; set aside. Preheat your soup tureens (if using) in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes. When you take them out  to fill them, switch the oven to broil mode.

Sprinkle the bottom of each bowl with a pinch of the grated Gruyere cheese before you add the soup. Fill each preheated tureen with 1-1/2 cups of soup, ensuring that all 8 get equal onion and broth.

Set the baguette slices on the surface of the soup, cut side up. Depending on the size of your bowls and the circumference of your baguette you may need 1 or 2 slices. Whatever you don’t need in the bowl, you can dunk in the soup later.

Top the bread with cheese, ensuring that each bowl has a generous portion. Place on a baking sheet or in a shallow, wide casserole to transport the bowls to the oven.

Leave the soups under the broiler, watching them carefully, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. To serve, sprinkle with thyme leaves from the remaining sprig of time and garnish with fresh ground pepper.