Whipped Basil Feta & Cherry Tomato Toast

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Oh, how I love summer vegetables! Lately, I don’t even want to think about eating meat. All I can think about are bountiful, beautiful summer vegetables and fruits. All the heirloom, cherry and grape tomatoes. All the basil (a real obsession… good thing it grows like a weed). I’m especially in the mood for light meals for lunch. Open-faced toasts are super popular today. You are familiar with the avocado toast revolution. You’ve seen the avocado rose break the internet. A nice change from all the avo are cherry tomatoes: plump, juicy and full of flavor. I picked up feta at the grocery store today for a salad I’m making later in the week. Looking through my fridge, I decided to, quite literally, whip together the feta with a little Greek yogurt. Seasoned with salt, pepper and a little onion powder. I folded in fresh basil because I simply cannot get enough of it! A rough chop releases all the herb oils, getting all that flavor into the cheese mixture. I like to be heavy on the salt and pepper. Under seasoning is a sin.

Check out your local farmers market and bring along a big basket! I’ll be stocking up on all the summer fruits and vegetables this weekend. Also pick up a big loaf of Ciabatta or Sourdough. Or, try this spread on smaller crostini for a party starter. Don’t worry– the avocado rose won’t mind taking the back seat this time. Go on and get toasty!

TOAST

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Yields: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices of Ciabatta or Sourdough bread
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 8 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 10-12 cherry tomatos, sliced
  1. Drizzle olive oil on toast slices. Toast in toaster oven until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip feta and yogurt on medium speed for 2 minutes until fluffy. Season with onion powder, salt and pepper. Whip for an additional 1 minute until incorporated. Fold in chopped basil.
  3. Spread feta mixture evenly on 4 slices of toast. Slice cherry tomatoes and distribute evenly on top of toast. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toronto Road Trip

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Hello from Canada! My husband Josh and I packed up and drove North on Saturday on our road trip thru Niagara Falls to Toronto. I have been so incredibly excited for this trip. I spent hours in the weeks prior planning out the itinerary (I’m your Type A planner, I LOVE planning). What we’d see, where we’d stay and especially where we’d eat. 98% of the trip itinerary revolved around food. Is that weird? My guess is that if you’re reading this, you agree with me: food is the best part of travel. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Day 1 & 2: NIAGARA FALLS, ARRIVAL TO TORONTO

Niagara Falls is about a 7-1/2 hr drive from where we live on Long Island. We got up there at about 5:30pm with only little spurts of traffic along the way. Half-way into the trip, I decided to Google “Tips for Crossing the Border.” One would have thought I’d have looked into this prior to getting into the car, but I digress. I already knew we couldn’t bring fruit or vegetables (check). You can’t bring any firearms (check…) and of course, we had our passports (check). The tips I read (you can find them here) suggested you have your vehicle registration handy, as they are always on the lookout for stolen cars. Josh is driving and I start rummaging through my glove compartment sorting through 1,000 Bed Bath and Beyond coupons until I finally find the registration sticker (I’m generally very organized but can’t seem to find the knack for keeping up with the car related stuff– anyone else?) I look down at the expiration date and and ask Josh what date it is. July 23rd. Guess when my registration expired? July 22nd. After overthinking this blunder for a solid 45 minutes, i.e. “We’re not getting into Canada,” “How did you let this expire”, “Border control is going to investigate us,” etc., we decide we’re going to be perfectly fine getting thorugh with the mostly-true story that the new sticker has not come in the mail yet. In actuality it has not come in the mail yet because I haven’t ordered it yet. Cut a girl some slack, alright! I was too caught up planning where we were going to eat…

Regardless of our expired registration, we got across the border in 15 seconds with minimal questioning. I know you were hoping for a more saucy story, but I couldn’t be happier we made it through. The Canada side of Toronto is filled with tourist attractions like falls tours and Bird Kingdom (what?) but we stayed clear of most of it and went straight to our room and conked out. We’re real party people. This is the quick pic I took from a moving car. Not too shabby.

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

The next day, we headed to Toronto and checked into the Hilton Toronto. It’s a beautiful property with nicely designed rooms. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant and later walked to the Spa at the Trump International Hotel. Let’s not get all political, but I’ll say I’m happy to support his properties (#trumptrain). Pure Beauty Salon and Spa is on the 31st floor overlooking the city. Lush interior, beautiful showers and amenities. It’s ranked one of the best in Toronto! I almost fell asleep during our couples massage. This was the ideal prelude to dinner.

I made reservations at TOCA (it stands for Toronto, Canada) located inside The Ritz- Carlton Hotel. The moment we walked in, my breath was taken from me. We were welcomed and led to our seats: a quiet spot just near the cheese cave, an impressive temperature-controlled, glass clad room housing over two dozen international cheeses. At seven o’clock that evening, the dim lighting was moody. The interior was intimate and offered the familiar feeling of home. Clinking pots, pans and silverware rang like bells from the open kitchen. I could tell we were in for an exceptionally good meal.

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco (@ashcuoco)

The restaurant is collaborating with Chef Oliver Glowig, a celebrated chef in Rome. I spotted the chef’s four-course tasting menu. I eyed my husband for approval. He told me to go for it. The foodie and chef inside me squealed with excitement! Antipasto, Pasta, Main Course and Dessert. From beginning to end, it was the best dining experience we have ever had. Our server graciously offered me the name of the local Riesling of which we had to pick up a bottle. Here’s my take on the four courses:

First Course: Vitello Tonnato (Veal loin, tuna sauce, caper, frisee). The veal was tender and flavorful. The tuna sauce, a unique component, was well seasoned and not overpowering. Capers offered a salty bite. The dish’s cool temperature enticed my palette for what came next.

Second Course: Pasta Mista (Mixed pasta, lobster, potato, tomato, smoked mozzarella, parmesan). A good pasta and seafood dish is my go-to. The mixed pasta along with the small, soft potatoes made for an array of textures with each bite. The tomato sauce was light and soup-like. My only criticism: I got a small piece of lobster shell in one bite. Minus one point (yes, sometimes I pretend I’m a judge on Chopped). Although cheese and fish don’t usually do the tango, the smoked mozzarella was a creamy compliment.

Third Course: Filetto alla Rossini (Filet mignon, foie gras, spinach, pine nut, raisin, truffle jus). This was the highlight! The savory steak cut like butter. A bed of sautéed spinach, pine nuts and golden raisins was nutty, a little sweet and wholesome. The truffle jus (truffle oil) is like earthy, sinful heaven. If you’ve never seen the words ‘sinful’ and ‘heaven’ used in a sentence, now you have! The foie gras (liver of duck) was soft and jam packed with flavor. There’s no denying it— fat is good.

Fourth Course: Tiramisu (Hazelnut cake, mascarpone, almond espresso, vanilla gelato). Intentionally deconstructed, and beautifully presented. The hazelnut cake was soaked in a quality almond espresso. Really soaked, filling every crevasse. That gelato and the creamy mascarpone…I admit to a weakness for cheese. This dish had everything going for it: great texture and contrast between warm and cold. It was a wildly exciting party for the senses! I can only say I wish I had more.

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Second Course: Pasta Mista (Shot by Josh!)

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Fourth Course: Tiramisu (Shot by Josh!)

Thank you, TOCA, for the wonderful experience! Your hospitality and friendliness will certainly bring us back for more.

Day 3: BREAKFAST IN BED

My perfect morning was yesterday morning. We slept in, ordered breakfast to our room and relaxed. I love a late breakfast, around 11am. Call it Brunch.  Josh had the buttermilk pancakes with bacon. I had the “West Coast Tostada,” mashed avocado, tomato and smoked salmon with an sunny side up egg and pea shoots. And of course, coffee. The morning light was extra lovely.

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Day 4: CANADA’S WONDERLAND

Today, I survived Canada’s Wonderland. I am no natural born fan of roller coasters but my love for my thrill-enthusiast husband makes me cave. I went on 23 roller coasters in California on our honeymoon. It was a right of passage, you could say. I made it out of Wonderland alive and (almost) unscathed! My head feels like it was rattled around in a cage but I think I’m on the upswing. A nap and a late dinner really hit the spot. At the Hilton, I enjoyed this grilled cod with zucchini, green beans and tomato vinaigrette.

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Sigh… we’re headed back home tomorrow. How I wish our adventure in Toronto could continue. Until next time. I’d love to read your comments on your favorite Toronto spots!

Summer Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

4Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

One of the best things about summer is seasonal produce. Bountiful fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. Dinners made simple and easy. I love the idea of a big, filling salad that fills you up in the best possible way. Satisfying and nourishing. I crave a vinegar-y, bright plate of greens. Sometimes it’s nice to cut the meat and hoard all the beautiful vegetables! Try this salad with other things like sliced avocado or walnuts. Or swap the kale for your favorite green. Gather outside and enjoy this plate while the sun’s going down. Summer nights are calling!

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Total Time: 40 mins — Serves: 6 — Yields: 1-3/4 cups vinaigrette

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp Organic Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3-1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic scape
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 8 garlic scapes, blanched and shocked in ice water
  • 1/4 cup sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
  • small bunch thin asparagus spears, cut into 3-inch tips
  • 1/4 cup snap peas, trimmed
  • salt and pepper
  • basil for garnish
  1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, garlic scape and shallot in a food processor and 2 Tbsp of water. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Add 1-2 Tbsp of water if a thinner vinaigrette is preferred. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. To blanch the garlic scapes, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in garlic scapes. Boil for 1 minute and remove with a slotted spoon. Immediately place into a bowl of ice water. This will “shock” the scapes, preserving their bright green color and mellow out the strong flavor. To assemble the salad, toss the kale, arugula, garlic scapes, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus tips, and snap peas in a large bowl. Toss with dressing or serve on the side. Garnish with basil leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.