Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos

Dinner | July 28, 2015 | By

Tacos are definitely making their comeback. What used to mean heaps of ground meat, sour cream and lots of cheese is now a popular, cool and tasty menu item. Smaller portions and more interesting ingredients are the new idea and are popping up at tons of restaurants. The best thing is that they’re so versatile; I’ve eaten amazing tacos in a restaurant that has picnic benches instead of tables as well as in trendy, expensive places. You can also fill them with anything so vegetarians and meat lovers alike can enjoy them. Tacos are the best communal meal in my opinion, just lay out a bunch of fresh toppings and you’re set for a delicious and healthy dinner, no Taco Bell required.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 medium sweet potato
Olive oil
Cumin
Paprika

1 19 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained 
1 white onion
2 tbsp oil
1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Tabasco

1 avocado
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Chili flakes
8 tortillas 
Salsa
Pickled onions (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees 

2. Cut the potato into small chunks. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil, cumin and paprika. Bake for about 15 minutes or until soft and brownedDSC_04283. Turn the oven off when potatoes are done, then wrap tortillas in tin foil and place them inside. This will help them warm them up slightly while you finish cooking

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Chop the onion into small pieces and add to the pan, letting them soften for a few minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for about 5 minutes moreDSC_04295. Meanwhile, mash avocado in a bowl and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.DSC_04316. Add sweet potato and spinach to the black bean mixture and allow spinach to wilt for a few minutes. Add juice of 1/2 a lemon, a few dashes of tabasco, salt and pepper to taste and more oil if needed. DSC_04347. Take tortillas out of the oven and assemble tacos by topping them with the bean mixture, guacamole and salsa and pickled onions if desired. Enjoy!DSC_0438

Dark Chocolate Bark with Cranberries, Pistachios and Sea Salt

Desert | July 26, 2015 | By

We always have a bar of good dark chocolate lying around the house. It’s something that’s cracked out with tea before bed, or as soon as you get in the door after a long day. A bar of dark chocolate was always included in my exam-studying-care-packages from home this year as well. Honestly, during exam season, my favourite part of the day was closing my books for the night and having a few squares of chocolate with a book or tv show. A reminder of home and a comforting treat, I consider it health food and will gladly eat some everyday! This recipe couldn’t be easier: 4 ingredients and no oven required, you’ll be eating your worries away in no time.

Ingredients:

9 inch square pan (or really any pan or flat dish for that matter)
Parchment paper
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate (in any form: chocolate chips, bar or block)
2 tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp shelled pistachios
Kosher salt

1. Line your pan with parchment paper to easily lift out the bark once it’s set.
DSC_04282. Measure out the chocolate and place into a microwavable bowl or double boiler. Melt, stirring often, until smoothDSC_04313. Spread in an even layer into the panDSC_04364. Immediately sprinkle with cranberries, nuts and salt so that they stick to the chocolate
DSC_0433
DSC_04376. Let set in the fridge for about an hour, then cut into small pieces. Store in the fridge and enjoy!DSC_0439

Grilled Potato and Eggplant with Lemon Tahini Dressing

Dinner, Salads | July 22, 2015 | By

No matter what form they come in, potatoes can never be a bad thing. The bland-ness makes them so comforting, but they can also be dressed up and seasoned in any number of ways. Mashed, they too closely resemble a winter meal and fried they seem too unhealthy for a weeknight dinner; but in a salad they’re perfect for a summer night. And while potato salad may evoke expectations of pounds of mayonnaise, this lighter version just uses some yogurt. And potatoes are vegetables, right?

Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb small white potatoes
1 medium eggplant
2 cloves garlic
Oil to coat vegetables, about 6 tbsp
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp salt

1. Turn on your BBQ to high heat

2. Wash and cut potatoes and eggplant into medium chunks. Place into a large bowl
DSC_0428 3. Mince garlic and add to the bowl, along with the oil, cumin, coriander and a sprinkle of salt. Mix wellDSC_04304. Place on the BBQ in a metal tray, pan or wrapped in foil. Cook, covered for about 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft and browned. 
DSC_04345. While vegetables are cooking, whisk together yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, water, salt and 3/4 of the basil.DSC_04316. Place vegetables in a large bowl and toss with the sauce. Top with the rest of the basil Enjoy!DSC_0438

Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho

Dinner, Soup | July 19, 2015 | By

Growing up, soup was my favourite thing to have for dinner. Not because of the soup itself but because of the flatbread that inevitably went along with it. My mum would always make a rosemary parmesan bread on soup nights, something that filled the house with the most amazing smell and made everyone excited about an otherwise not-so-exciting dinner. While that used to be the highlight of the meal for me, I’ve since realized that soup can be pretty great on it’s own. Especially gazpacho; it’s perfect for dinner on a hot day and is super easy to make. Refreshing and delicious, it makes it easy to get excited about soup!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic
1/2 white onion
3 large tomatoes (any colour)
1 cup chopped watermelon
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1 cup basil leaves
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Black pepper

1. Roughly chop garlic and onion and pulse in a food processor.
DSC_04282. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the processor, along with the watermelon. Pulse until the mixture is still chunky but well mixed. 
DSC_0430 DSC_04313. Mince jalapeno and add to the bowl, along with the basil leaves, salt, oil, lemon juice and some black pepper. Again, pulse until the mixture is still chunky but all ingredients are evenly distributed.
DSC_04344. Pour into bowls and enjoy! This can be served topped with fresh herbs, avocado or anything else you would like. 
DSC_0440

Grilled Avocado with Sesame Tuna Stir-Fry

Dinner, Seafood | July 15, 2015 | By

When we took a family holiday to Palm Springs in April, one of the things I was looking forward to the most were the avocados. I didn’t like them up until about a year ago when I tried guacamole and realized what I had been missing, so I have a lot of catching up to do. The avocados were so good that we ended up making guacamole every single day we were there, with drinks before dinner. One night – before going to a Mexican restaurant for dinner I might add – we thought we’d better switch up our snack, but after a quick look around the grocery store we gravitated back to the bins of ripe avocado. I think that must be the epitome of happiness – when your worries consist of planning cocktail snacks and the only organized event of the day is pre-dinner guacamole by the pool. 

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 avocado
1 tbsp oil
1/4 white onion
1 garlic scape (or 1 clove of garlic)
1/2 red pepper
1 carrot
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
Tabasco
1 can tuna
1 green onion
Sprouts (optional)
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1. Turn on your barbecue to high heat.

2. Halve an avocado and drizzle each side with olive oil and salt. Place face down on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes or until grill marks appear.
DSC_04293. In a small saucepan, heat the 1 tbsp oil.

4. Finely chop onion and garlic scape and add to the oil, stirring until softened and slightly browned
DSC_0428
5. Chop the carrot and pepper in a small dice and add to the pan along with sesame oil, soy sauce and a dash of tabasco, stirring often until vegetables have softened. (You may need to cover the pan part way with a lid to help steam the veggies)

6. Once the veggies are cooked, add the tuna, break it into flakes and mix well. 
DSC_0431DSC_04337. Place the filling inside the avocado and top with chopped green onion and sprouts if desired. Drizzle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Enjoy! (Not a lot will fit inside the avocado, so feel free to place the rest of the vegetable mixture around it on the plate)
DSC_0435 DSC_0436

Maple Cinnamon Granola

Breakfast | July 12, 2015 | By

It’s hard to believe that the time in the morning, before work or school, in any house is anything less than chaotic. Even if you’ve meticulously planned your outfit and packed your lunch the night before, mornings are inevitably a time for forgetting things, alarms not to go off and things to spill. So it’s nice to have something pre-made for breakfast: something that was done when you had a little more coffee in you. This granola is great on yogurt, smoothies or with milk, and can be changed easily: swap any of the nuts or dried fruit out for what you like or what’s in your cupboard! Even if you’re having a hectic morning, as they so often are, this granola will be there and waiting as a tasty and quick breakfast to make everything better. Just be sure to check for burning when you make it; I can’t use the craziness of the morning as an excuse – I burned mine at 3 in the afternoon. What can you do.

Ingredients:
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup walnut pieces
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
2 tbsp maple syrup
Handful of goji berries (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees 

2. Place oats, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, sesame seeds, dried fruit and walnuts into a large bowl and stirDSC_0427

DSC_04303. In a small bowl, melt coconut oil in the microwave for about 45 seconds.DSC_04334. Stir honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into oil and pour over the oat mixture. Stir to combine.DSC_04375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the granola out on top in an even layer. 

6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes or so. DSC_04397. Remove from the oven and stir in the maple syrup and goji berries. Enjoy!DSC_0441

Orecchiette with Pesto, Swiss Chard and Peas

Dinner | July 8, 2015 | By

One summer when I was younger, my parents and I took a summer holiday in the south of Italy, in Puglia. We had a long plane ride over and the Italian airport was anything but efficient. It was overwhelmingly hot out and although we were happy for this weather, we were tired, grumpy and dreaming about going for a swim. We managed to make it to the house we had rented where the owner had left us a huge bowl of homemade pasta with fresh pesto. I remember that pasta tasting indescribably good, and eating it on the outdoor patio in the warm breeze is one of my favourite memories from that trip. It was the moment we could finally relax and let go of the stresses from the day and from home. And while I’m sure most of us don’t have the time to make pasta from scratch, this recipe is almost as good; an attempt to recreate that happy, carefree dinner. 

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 box orecchiette
1 bunch swiss chard, red or green
1 tbsp oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup pesto – my recipe can be found here: http://the-countertop.com/?p=38
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp water
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice

1. Cook pasta according to directions on box. Drain and pour into a large serving bowlDSC_0412 2. In a small frying pan, heat the oil then add the garlic.

3. While the garlic is cooking, cut the stems out of the chard and roughly chop it. Add to the pan and saute until wilted.DSC_0414DSC_04174. Place peas and water into a bowl and cover with paper towel. Microwave for about 2 minutes or until softened and cooked through.

5. Prepare or defrost your pesto (you can use store-bought as well) and pour over the pastaDSC_0421DSC_04246. Add the chard and peas. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. You can serve this dish right away or chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Enjoy!DSC_0426

Brown Rice Vegetarian Sushi

There are some foods that you just can’t eat alone. Pizza is definitely one, sushi another. It’s such a social food to me: something that is so easily shared and seems to be almost universally liked. While a dinner like spaghetti is hard to talk over and you end up with a trail of noodles hanging from your mouth at the exact moment you have something to say, sushi is a great conversation-having food.  It’s also one of those things that I always crave; even after I go out to eat it, I’m already looking forward to the next time. And though you can easily only pay $20 for an excessive, all-you-can-eat meal, good quality sushi is definitely more expensive. So, given that I’m using all my will-power to deposit my pay-checks straight into a savings account and not blow them on extravagant dinners, I decided to try and make some from home. If you have a free weekend afternoon, this is the perfect thing to do. It takes some getting used to but is so rewarding when you get the hang of it. And while I would have no problem eating all 30 pieces of sushi that it yields, it always tastes so much better when shared with someone else. 

Makes about 30 pieces of sushi

Ingredients:

1 cup brown sushi rice (can be found at asian super markets)
50 ml rice wine vinegar
40 ml sugar
5 ml salt
1 carrot
1/4 cucumber
1/2 red pepper
1/2 an avocado
1 package of sushi nori, you’ll need about 4 or 5 pieces
Rolling mat
Wasabi powder (optional)
Soy sauce for dipping
Sesame seeds

1. Cook your rice according to the directions on the package. For mine, I brought 2 cups of water to a boil then added the rice and turned down the heat to low, put the lid on and let simmer for about 20 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Pour over the cooked rice and toss to combine. The rice should become slightly sticky.DSC_04323. Prepare your vegetables: shred the carrot and cut the cucumber, pepper and avocado into long, thin strips. The thinner you cut them, the easier it will be to roll the sushi.DSC_04224. If using wasabi, mix your desired amount of powder with a little bit of water to form a paste.
DSC_04295. To assemble your work station, lay your rolling matt on a cutting board and place a sheet of nori on top.
DSC_04346. Spread an even layer of rice on the bottom third of the nori, right up against the edge closest to you (in the picture below I was using a small piece of nori but it will usually be as long as your rolling matt) Sprinkle on some sesame seeds if you want, then place veggies along the centre of the rice.DSC_04387. Roll the matt up to close the sushi into a long cylinder. You will probably need to wet the edges of the seaweed to help hold it together. Squeeze the matt as you roll to make sure the sushi is tight and secureDSC_04378. Wet a sharp knife (to prevent sticking) and slice through your roll. This may take some practise and can be frustrating at first. Just make sure to keep wetting the knife as you go! Your first roll won’t look too great but you’ll learn as you go.
DSC_0440 9. Serve with soy sauce for dipping. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to follow me on instagram: @thecountertopDSC_0441

Grilled Watermelon Salad

Salads | July 1, 2015 | By

As Canadians, we’re known for taking full advantage of the fleeting summer we have; I’ll put on sweatpants and hoodie just to sit outside and enjoy the sun for a while. This goes for food too. On multiple occasions I’ve had to put on a winter jacket or rain suit just to venture out to the barbecue. Watermelon is definitely best enjoyed on a hot sunny day; weather that Canada never seems to dependably provide. But in honour of our country’s 148th birthday, I’ll suck it up in order to make a patriotic looking salad. I had never grilled watermelon before this, just seen the idea in magazines and assumed it was one of those things that only works with a professional team and good lighting. It’s actually quite easy though and looks like you put in a lot more effort than you did. I hope this salad makes your Canada Day and your summer a little brighter! 

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients:
1 mini watermelon
Kosher salt for sprinkling
1 19 0z can white kidney beans
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/3 cup feta
Balsamic vinega
1/2 tsp salt
Lemon juice

1. Preheat barbecue to about 400 degrees or medium high.
2. Slice watermelon into thick wedges and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill for about 5 minutes per side or until slightly softened and grill marks appear.DSC_04143. In a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, 1/2 tsp salt and chili flakes. 
4. Rinse and drain kidney beans. Add to the oil mixture and stir to coat.DSC_0416DSC_04115. To assemble the salad, cut watermelon into bite-sized chunks and place into a serving bowl. Roughly chop the feta and mint and add on top, along with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.DSC_04196. Add the beans, 1/2 tsp salt and a splash of lemon juice and toss together. Enjoy!DSC_0423DSC_0426

Blackberry Mojitos

Perks of making cocktails from home: drinking in your pyjamas, no designated drivers, unlimited refills. Last summer was the summer of the mojito for us, we perfected making them from home and did so at any opportunity for all of those reasons. Mojitos are the epitome of Friday evenings in the summer for me; a refreshing treat to celebrate the end of a long hot week. It’s a fun drink that signals the start of two days of relaxation ahead of you and a pretty great thing to share with friends on a warm back patio. No matter what kind of week you had, this blackberry mojito is a no-fail way to kick off the weekend well.

Makes 4 mojitos

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 carton of blackberries (6 oz)
4 sprigs mint (about 8 leaves per glass)
White rum (1.5 oz per glass)
2 limes
2 cans soda water
Ice

1. Add sugar, water and half the blackberries to a small pot. Turn up the heat to medium and stir often, dissolving the sugar into the water. Don’t worry if the blackberries break down a little. DSC_0410 2. Divide the remaining blackberries and the mint between 4 tall glasses. Squeeze half a lime into each glass and then drop it in as well. DSC_0415 DSC_0417 3. Add the rum to each glass then muddle together using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon.DSC_0423 4. Divide the sugar water mixture between the glasses, add in a few pieces of ice, fill with soda water and stir. Enjoy!DSC_0427 DSC_0431