Two Tomato Roma Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

This salad is inspired by a sandwich from one of my favorite cafes near my hometown on Long Island.

Tiger Lilly Cafe was and is something pretty foreign to suburban Long Island – it combines of a full vegetarian menu with non-vegetarian options to create a fresh produce-focused selection of sandwiches, salads and other lunch fare.

Tiger Lilly has a terrifically funky vibe, with mis-matched used furniture and local artists’ work adorning the brightly painted walls. The cafe has the feel of both California and the East Village – with good coffee and wheat grass shots readily available. Again, unusual to Long Island, but completely welcome.

I haven’t been there in a few years, but I have found myself thinking about it a lot lately. I seem to manifest my homesickness in the form of cravings for dishes, sauces and sugar-free pudding products. Luckily, I like a challenge in the kitchen.

One of my favorite sandwiches from Tiger Lilly is called the Roma, it’s made on a light french bread roll with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato, mixed greens, and basil pesto mayo. Very simple, but the pesto mayo really brings a zing that ties it all together.

I’ve never been a mayo person, but can often be persuaded when it’s mixed with something fancy like ‘herbs’! or ‘garlic’! And pesto, well, pesto gets me nearly every time.

I decided to give our pesto mayo a makeover. I used Greek yogurt in the place of mayo and thinned out the mixture with some olive oil and a little lemon juice to create a creamy pesto salad dressing. (If you want to use this as a sandwich spread, you can probably reduce or omit the amounts of olive oil and lemon juice, depending on the consistency you would like.)

The result is a salad reminiscent of a Roma, without the uncomfortable presence of mayo. Hooray!

Creamy Pesto Dressing:
– 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
– 2 tablespoons pre-made basil pesto
– 1 tablespoon of olive oil
– 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon water
– salt & pepper, to taste

Salad (Serves 2)
– 1 truss tomato, chopped
– 6 sun-dried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
– 2 big handfuls of arugula, or any desired green
– 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese

Assemble salad in a large bowl. Pour dressing on and toss vigorously to make sure all the arugula leaves are coated.

I would make this a meal with some white beans or some good-quality tinned tuna on top.

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Prawn Saganaki

That just-showered post-beach feeling.
Listening to your favorite album on repeat.
A frosty glass of beer on a hot day.
Watching Marie Antoinette in bed while eating squares of dark chocolate.
Finishing a good book.
Coffee, just the right amount of milk and sugar.
Fresh herbs picked off of your own balcony.

You with me here?

I’m painting a picture of contentment.

My picture, anyway.

Perfectly toasted, garlicky slabs of sour dough slathered with a simple combination of fresh summer tomatoes, salty feta, and pink prawns.

Oh yes. I would put that in my sálon.*

I’m so glad prawn saganaki came into my life. It’s the perfect balance of fresh and warming flavors and it demands to be eaten with good bread.

And good bread is the key contentment. Always.

*Andre Leon Talley, I’m stealing your catch phrase. Count it.

Prawn Saganaki (serves 2)
Recipe adapted from Chef Greg Everett’s recipe at Box Fresh

- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
– 1 medium yellow onion, diced
– 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
– about 350 grams (3/4 lb.) of prawns, peeled and deveined
– 1/4 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
– pinch of red chili flakes
– 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
– salt & pepper
– 2-3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
– 1/4 cup combined fresh basil and parsley, roughly chopped
– good bread, sliced, toasted or grilled, and rubbed with a garlic clove, to serve

Heat oil in a medium-sized pan over a medium heat. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add prawns, olives and chili flakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the prawns turn pink.

Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes until they just start to break down. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of fresh pepper, to taste.

Reduce heat to low. Sprinkle with feta and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 2 minutes until feta is melted.

Transfer to a serving dish and top with fresh herbs. Serve with garlic-rubbed toasts.

This is meant to be made in a skillet of sorts, but I just used a pan with a heat-resistant handle. If you’re using a skillet, you can pop the entire thing into a hot oven for 2 minutes to melt the feta instead of covering over a low heat. 

Baked Fish with Tomatoes, Peppers & Roasted Garlic

Sometimes after Mr. F and I cook a nice seafood dinner we’ll have one small piece of fish left over. It’s not enough for another main for two, but it will make a special lunch…for one.

I am usually the lucky one who gets to reap the rewards of this humble little fillet. I make it a fancy lunch just for me.

Ok, it’s not that fancy (at all), but it tastes like a lot of time and effort went into it (it didn’t). This is the kind of lunch that makes me feel like I am treating myself right  (which I totally am).

A sweet combination of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, roasted garlic and a slosh of red wine make a light summer vegetable stew for my mild baked white fish to nestle in to.

My addition of the roasted garlic is a bit superfluous, but I love it too much not to tell you about it. If you’ve got the time to make it, do. If only for the satisfaction you get out of squeezing the fragrant, soft cloves out of their rough, dry skins.

My method for cooking both the garlic and the fish are very similar. Pretty easy stuff: olive oil, aluminum foil, bake.

Roasted Garlic (optional, but not optional for me):
– An entire head of garlic
– Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 200 C/400 F

Cut off the base of the bulb of garlic (the woody end).

Oil a piece of aluminum foil (big enough to wrap the garlic in) and stand the bulb upright on it’s newly trimmed bottom. Loosely wrap the the bulb in foil and place on the oven rack.  Bake for 35-45 minutes until your garlic cloves take on a caramelized color.

Squeeze cloves out of skins to use.

This can be made as much as a day ahead.

Tomatoes & Peppers
– 1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
– 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
– 2 medium tomatoes, diced
– 1/2 large green pepper, sliced thin in long strips
– 1/4 cup red wine
– 1/2 teaspoon of smokey paprika
– salt & pepper
– Olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. (If at any point the pan becomes a little dry, add a tablespoon or two of water)

Add the peppers and cook another 3-4 minutes until beginning to soften.

Add tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper. And cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Pour in red wine, and let it boil off and thicken until the vegetables are thick but still saucy. About 5 minutes.

Add about 5 or 6 roasted garlic cloves (squeezed out of their husks). Reduce to a simmer and cook a further 10 minutes covered.

Serve with baked fish.

Simple Baked Fish for One
– White fish fillet (I had flake fish)
– Olive oil
– Salt & Pepper

Pre-heat oven to 200 C/400 F

Lightly oil a piece of aluminum foil. Place the fish in the center and season with salt and pepper. Seal the aluminum foil around the fish, making sure it is completely enclosed, but leaving space between the closure and the fish. (This creates an air pocket for the heat and steam from the fish to circulate – which cooks the fish while keeping it moist.)

Bake for 15 minutes. Unwrap and pour off excess liquid. Your fish should be completely white and opaque in the middle. Serve on top of tomato-pepper mixture.

Oh hello, 2012

2011 was a big year for me. Huge.

I travelled around Europe with my favorite guy – something we had been talking about since the beginning of our relationship. And we decided to make the move from New York to Australia. I also took the plunge and started a food blog to try to write about what I truly love.

If 2012 is half as lucky as 2011 was for me, I’ll be on the right track. I am looking forward to all the things I plan to learn, to see and to cook in this year.

Some people hate on New Years resolutions, but I’m a fan. What can I say? I like a good goal. And I’m not bad at sticking to something I truly want for myself. (With the exception of that year that I pledged to floss my teeth more.)
You can make a resolution whenever you need a kick in the butt, but I guess a new year seems like the most appropriate time.

I have a lot of goals for the kitchen in 2012.

I want to…

-Become a better photographer

-Perfect my paella

-Make my own yogurt

-Cook more of my Dad’s seafood recipes

-Make more frozen treats (ice pops! ice cream!)

-Learn more Asian cooking techniques…which this beautiful book should help with:
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Tomato and White Bean Salad with Roasted Greenbeans

Gingerbread! Champagne! Honey glazed ham! Chocolate chip cookies! Sugar cookies! PeppermintChocolateAmazingness!

Let’s face it, holiday treats trump vegetables. Even for salad groupies like me, the lunchtime standard looks a little lackluster next to something as glamorous as baked brie.

No matter what advice Women’s Health gives me about eating off of small plates for portion control, filling up on carrots and celery or drinking lots of water – I am still probably going to have an extra cookie. Or five. And that’s totally ok – because heck, it’s Christmas and everyone’s brought their sugary best!

For me it’s not about skimping on the festive morsels, it’s about feeling like I’ve eaten enough good stuff in my day to warrant some of the naughty stuff.

These past few weeks I have consciously been trying to create salads that I can get excited about so I can fully enjoy some healthy food before I hit up the dessert buffet.

Last week I shared another salad that I deemed “festive” and I think this one is worthy of the same label – just look at that color combo!

Tomato and White Bean Salad with Roasted Green Beans and a Balsamic Reduction
(serves 4)
– 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 cup of white beans, cooked and rinsed
– 1 cup of green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces
– A handful of basil, roughly chopped
– Olive Oil
– Salt & Pepper
- Balsamic Reduction
– 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
– salt
Pour balsamic in a pan and sprinkle with salt. Bring the vinegar to a high heat and let it boil, stirring occasionally until it is reduced by half. It should have a syrupy consistency and a sweeter flavor. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F. Toss green beans with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake on a lined oven tray for 10 minutes until tender. Let cool.

Combine tomatoes, white beans, green beans, 3/4 of the basil and salt&pepper together. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with the last of the basil leaves. Serve pre-cookie binge.

This salad also stores well in the fridge for a day or two.

mexican night, fresh and healthy-style


I love Mexican food and I love cooking it at home for a fun, easy-to-share meal. I think in some circles Mexican food has a bad  reputation and I can see why, as it can easily stray into greasy, gooey, cheese-filled territory. I won’t linger on my disdain for the bleak Old El Paso section of the “international foods” aisle, I want to talk about easy, fresh and healthy Mexican at home.
One of my favorite aspects of cooking your own Mexican is that you can improvise and make it your own. Tacos can have anything in them from beef, to fish, to vegetables to eggs. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.

Some tips for keeping your Mexican fresh:

  • Use fresh cilantro/coriander. It really cuts the heat in any spicy Mexican dish and adds a cool, crisp aspect.
  • Make your own salsa and incorporate good quality ingredients. A simple salsa doesn’t need much else besides fresh tomato, chopped onion, cilantro and salt and pepper. You can also add ingredients like roasted corn or for a perfect partner to fish add some mango, papaya or pineapple to your salsa.
  • Use ripe avocados to make your own guacamole.
  • Cook your favorite vegetables with Mexican seasoning (recipe below). You can roast or pan grill them with a little olive oil and a generous sprinkling of this seasoning mixture.
  • Use cheese as a garnish to your tacos, fajitas and burritos. A good mature cheddar will stand out and add flavour without creating a cheese-centric main course

Mexican Seasoning
I decided to create my own Mexican spice blend which serves as a vegetable seasoning as well as the spices for a beef marinade.
Adjust the volume as needed, maintaining a similar ratio. I made extra to have on hand for our next Mex night.

1 tbsp Cumin
1 tbsp Paprika (I used smokey but sweet would be nice too)
1 tbsp Chili powder (non-spicy)
1 tsp Cayanne pepper (if you don’t like it on the spicy side, leave it out)
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tbsp Garlic Powder (crushed up dried garlic flakes work too)

To make a marinade, combine 3 tablespoons of the above spice mixture with 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup lime juice and two minced garlic cloves. Pour over meat and refrigerate for 1-8 hours.

Our Mexican menu this week:
Carne asada (grilled marinated lean rump steak) and vegetable tacos with broccoli and carrot slaw and spicy guacamole.