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Italian Wedding Soup

I’ve always had a thing for Italy. The rolling hills, the winding lagoon, the architecture, the music – I could go on, but I’ll stop it at what’s most important – the food.

What I really love about Italian food is its simplicity – you’ll rarely find an Italian dish that requires more than five or six main ingredients. That’s because Italians cherish quality over quantity – it’s evident in everything from their sturdy, centuries-old homes to their penchant for fine leather. You won’t find any crummy subdivision houses or “skim milk” there, at least in my fantasy version.

Even the integral ingredients are basic and mild, yet rich in flavor. Take olive oil, for example, with its subtle hint of fragrant olives and smooth, buttery consistency. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than free pouring a few tablespoons of olive oil into a warmed saucepan and watching it shimmy its way around the bottom, greeting every corner of my pot.

And then there’s the cheese. I praise the day I discovered fresh, fragrant blocks of Parmesan cheese – until then I’d only ever had it in a can, all dried out and awful like you find in the pizza-in-a-box kits. To this day, I still can’t stand the sound of the flavorless little chunks of powdered cheese shaking around in those godawful green canisters that used to lurk in the back of my parents’ fridge.

My most recent Italian discovery is one I try to limit – only because I know if I allow myself to actually buy it at a market rather than enjoy it fleetingly at a restaurant, I will most definitely fall into a salty ham addiction and end up hospitalized for high blood pressure, all 400 lbs of me. Prosciutto, I’m looking at you.

I could go on and on about breads and pastas and meatballs, but I think this recipe pretty much sums it all up. Rich with flavor and texture, this Italian Wedding Soup is kind of addictive and a total reward for minimal effort.

I came up with the recipe after a year of eating as much of it as I could at restaurants – and once from a can, which I don’t recommend. As I was making it, and tasting as I went along, I noticed something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. It was lacking some kind of thickener, but also a bit of a bit of tanginess – that’s when I realized I’d forgotten to add the eggs. I suggest adding them gradually to get the perfect consistency – and don’t let the soup come to a boil after you add the eggs. And, for the love of God, don’t forget the cheese. It’s the best part.

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 4 – 6.

Tools
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoon
2 large pots
Whisk

Ingredients

Meatballs 

1 lb lean ground chicken
1/4 cup grated yellow onion
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced

*Note: This recipe yields a few more meatballs than needed for the recipe. Add them all for a heartier soup, or boil the amount you’d like to use in the soup, and freeze the rest while raw. Pull them out the next time you want to make Italian Wedding Soup, which if you’re anything like me, will be sometime next week.

Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
9 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup acini de pepe or orzo pasta
2 eggs
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Italian bread, optional

Instructions

In a large bowl, combine meatball ingredients. Mix well, then form into small 1-inch balls. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add meatballs and boil until they are cooked through and float to surface of water, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.

In a separate large pot, heat oil on medium-high. Add onion, garlic and Italian seasoning and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and garlic begins to brown. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Stir in Parmesan. Gradually stir mixture into soup until combined. Add meatballs and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with additional Parmesan. Serve with Italian bread.

Enjoy!

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Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls

Working for a food magazine that promotes healthy eating kind of means you have to, well, you know, eat well. Practice what you preach and all that.

It hasn’t really been a huge shake-up in my life, this conscious decision to embrace healthy foods. I’ve always been a pretty decent eater, more often inclined to eat fresh, whole foods than pre-packaged goodies.

Case in point: When I was eight or nine years old, my bedtime snack of choice was green beans – a big old can of boiled and buttered green beans. Healthy, right?

My sister likes to jokingly accuse my parents of having reserved the healthy food in the fridge for me, relegating her to the packages of chips and cookies that lurked in the cupboards of our childhood. I would deny it, but I can vividly remember my spoiled-little-sister grin when my dad would announce the Red Delicious apples were “only for Little Miss Bean” (I swear my nickname had nothing to do with my green bean snacking…).

So I’ve been eating especially well lately – it’s hard not to when you spend a good part of your day at work reading and writing about the dangers of eating poorly. I’ve even cut back on baking, that weekly ritual of creaming butter and sugar that my boyfriend swears caused him to lose his “hockey body” – whatever that means.

The results have been encouraging. My skin’s cleared up quite a bit, I have enough energy to run regularly and my boyfriend’s lost more than 20 lbs. I’ve been proud of my new lifestyle, boasting to my friends and family how they ought to try it too.

That is, until tonight.

Somehow fate would have it that just as my healthy lifestyle started to really pick up, I would stumble upon a photo of these dastardly delicious cookie bowls, ingeniously made by flipping a muffin tin upside down and covering the convex moulds with dough. Something deep, deep inside of me insisted that I had to have them.

And then, of course, I had to find something to put in the bowls, and what better than creamy homemade vanilla ice cream? And it only made sense to stuff the leftover cookie dough into the ice cream maker too. Doing otherwise would have been a flat-out waste. Right?

I have to promise myself that this temporary relapse into gluttony is just that – temporary. That once I get my fix of these crumbly cookie bowls and smooth and creamy ice cream, I’ll get back on track.

Here’s to hoping…

Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls
Makes about 9 bowls and 1 litre ice cream

Tools

Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand mixer or stand mixer
Rubber spatula
Cutting board
Rolling pin
Kitchen knife
Muffin tin
Ice cream maker

Ingredients

Cookie Bowls
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp potato starch
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Olive oil cooking spray

Ice Cream
1 cup whipping cream
2 cups half and half
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chip cookie dough

Instructions

Prepare cookie bowls:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar. With an electric hand mixer, beat until fluffy. Alternatively, use a stand mixer on medium speed.

While mixer is running, add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips. Reserve 1/2 cup dough, and form remaining dough into a large ball.

Dust a cutting board and rolling pin with flour. Turn dough out onto board and roll into 1/4-inch thickness.

Turn a muffin tin upside-down and mist with cooking spray. Cut out circles of dough large enough to cover the inverted holes of your muffin tin (TIP: I use a pizza cutter, as it allows me to make smooth circles). With a spatula or the flat edge of a large knife, lift circles of cookie dough from board and place over top of inverted muffin tin holes, cupping dough around holes to form a cohesive cup. If needed, patch any holes or tears with additional batter. Remove excess dough from around the cups.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges begin to turn golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then carefully pry cookie bowls from tin. Turn right-side-up and transfer to cooling rack.

Prepare ice cream:

(NOTE: Most ice cream makers require you to freeze the ice cream maker bowl for up to 12 hours before use.)

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except cookie dough. Turn ice cream maker on and pour cream mixture into bowl of maker. Churn according to maker directions, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, form reserved cookie dough into pea-size balls. Ten minutes before ice cream is complete, add cookie dough while maker is running.

Spoon ice cream into cookie bowls and, if desired, garnish with additional chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

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Oatmeal Chocolate Cranberry Muffins

I learned a lot about myself today… and it wasn’t all good.

I was getting ingredients out of my cupboards to bake this afternoon when I realized how disorganized they were. Multiple bags of flour were strewn amongst three or four cupboards, the onion powder was hidden behind cupcake sprinkles and the balsamic vinegar was hanging out with the tea. Total kitchen carnage.

The tipping point was when I spotted my cat’s claw caps (these strange sheath-type things I glued over top of her claws when we lived in a carpeted apartment) and dried tuna treats next to my daily vitamins. That was it – something had to be done. So, after stuffing the muffin batter in the warmth of my preheated oven, I went about the task, hauling everything I could reach out of the cupboards, piling it all on my counter in one big heap.

It wasn’t until I started organizing the contents of my cupboards that I realized I might have a problem. Because when things are spread out, they don’t look too bad. But when you start lining up 12 cartons of chicken broth and a half dozen cans of diced tomatoes, it starts to look a little insane.

To truly understand how heavy this hit me, it’s important to know my grandmother. She was, in its most unadulterated form, a pack-rat. Her entire basement was filled – and I mean filled – with war-era pantries of non-perishable items: canned soup, tomatoes, broth, jam, shortening, anything she could possible stuff in there that wouldn’t start to smell after a couple of years.

My family always gave her a hard time about it, myself included. We accused her of prepping herself for World War 3 or some kind of apocalypse in which canned corn would become the new currency. In fact, at one point, we went through her pantry, determined to donate the goods to a food bank, only to find most of it expired in the late 80s.

So as I slid the dozenth carton of chicken broth into its place in my now-designated “broth cupboard,” I realized that I didn’t just inherit my grandmother’s innate love of cooking. I also inherited her instinctual need to hoard.

Perhaps the most ironic part is that after all those years of teasing my grandmother, I totally get why she did it. There’s something oddly comforting about opening that cupboard of broth and simply knowing it’s there.

It’s amazing how much we absorb from the people we love, without wanting to or even acknowledging it, until one day you realize you’ve got enough chicken broth and canned tomatoes to last you the next five months. And maybe it’s not so bad, because in a small way, it makes you feel like they’re still there.

This recipe is actually adapted from a cookie recipe a friend gave me. The cookies are now a staple in my repertoire, but all it took was a bit of tweaking, some additional key ingredients and a bit more baking powder to turn them into these amazing muffins.

Oatmeal Chocolate Cranberry Muffins
Makes about 14 muffins

Tools 

Small, medium and large mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Whisk
Rubber spatula
Muffin tins
Paper muffin liners
Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup large flake rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
4 oz baking chocolate, chopped (I prefer dark or white chocolate, or a combination of both)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin tins with paper muffin liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In a small bowl, cream butter with a rubber spatula until smooth. Transfer butter to a large bowl and mix in sugars, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir in oats, cranberries and chocolate. Drop batter by rounded tablespoons into muffin liners. Bake for 15 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let muffins cool in tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and cool directly on a wire cooling rack.

Enjoy!

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Cranberry Citrus Pie

Today, I am thankful for canned whipped cream.

I recently discovered the canned cream product, after what now seems like a lifetime of deprivation.

It was likely one of those things, like Stove-Top, that made my mom turn her nose up in the grocery aisle. I had no idea boxed stuffing – or whipped cream in an aerosol can – existed until recently.

I haven’t actually bought whipped cream (tub or aerosol variety) in a while. Not since I discovered how easy and less expensive it is make at home. But as tasty as my homemade whipped cream is, it’s hard to get that stiffness you need to really make it look good.

I’ve been sifting through my grandmother’s recipe tins again, looking for something special to make for Thanksgiving. I’ve had some real home runs with her creations, such as those Honey & Soya Sauce Chicken Wings that got such a positive response. But sometimes her instructions can be downright confusing. Because to her, a recipe card wasn’t definitive – it was a guideline, something to trigger her memory. For the most part, I think she made many dishes off the cuff, loosely based on some suggestion or skeleton of a recipe she saw in the newspaper.

This was intimidating to me at first, and for a long time I avoided any recipes that weren’t abundantly detailed. Which, unfortunately, was almost all of them.

But I’m getting more confident now. I’m learning more, I’m trying more and I’m willing to take a few risks. So when my finger came across this recipe when flipping through the multi-colored cards in her tin, I decided to take a chance.

This recipe was one of those more trying tasks. According to my grandmothers recipe, I was to combine all the ingredients in a 2-qt casserole dish and cook them until thickened. There was no temperature, no cook time, no further instructions that would guide me through this pie. I got confused: should I bake the cranberry sauce, since we’re using a casserole dish, or should I cook it on the stovetop, like sauce is normally made?

I tried baking the sauce in the oven, but after 20 minutes of no textural change and a desperate phone call to my mom, I abandoned that plan and went with my initial instinct, which was to cook the cranberries in a pot on the stovetop. Success.

This pie is absolutely gorgeous, with its deep red berries and thick, sticky sauce. But to photograph, it’s pretty one-dimensional, and to be honest, looked kind of like a big hunk of red goo on a plate when I took the initial shot. I got cranky, frustrated and defeated, thinking after all that work, I wouldn’t even be able to put it on my blog. A bit of a minor Thanksgiving meltdown.

Enter the canned cream. A few loops of perfectly swirled white clouds, topped with a sprinkling of sliced almonds and orange zest, and this pie was begging to be photographed.

This recipe is for anyone who’s ever been tempted to eat a bowlful of cranberry sauce on its own. I promise you won’t feel weird cradling a slice of this sweet-tart treat in your post-turkey coma. I added the citrus twist for a punch of flavor, but feel free to omit if you’re only in it for the cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Pie
Makes about 8 slices

Tools

Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Zester

Ingredients

1 frozen prepared pie shell (or make your own pie crust)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups water
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange zest, plus additional for garnish
2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
Whipped cream, for garnish
Raw chopped almonds, for garnish

Instructions

Bake pie shell according to package directions.

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients, stirring well to dissolve cornstarch. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until cool.

Spoon cooled cranberry mixture into pie shell and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, or until needed. Top with whipped cream, almonds and orange zest.

Enjoy!

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Walnuts

Eight years is a long time.

In eight years, I’ve graduated high school, earned a university degree, chosen and pursued a career in journalism, thought about switching said career (twice), learned to cook, learned to write, raised a kitten, moved to another city and landed a job at a food magazine. And I’ve done all this with one person by my side.

My boyfriend and I are celebrating our eighth year anniversary. Well, “celebrating” may be too glamorous a word.  We try not to make a big deal of these things, mostly because we’re just not “big deal” kind of people, but also because we know it’s just a day. And one day, compared with the nearly 3,000 we’ve spent together so far, isn’t huge.

We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve held and supported each other through the death of loved ones, various family crises, depression, failure, moving away from our families and all of the accompanying arguments, yelling matches and occasional silent treatments.

This past year has been the most difficult. We’re dealing with new problems – grown-up problems – like money and jobs and car payments. It’s been a struggle, every day, to get ourselves back to the way we were before, which is, as I’m discovering, part of the problem.

We started dating when we were very young, and therefore endured a fairly sharp growth curve in our relationship. We were both growing in and out of adolescence, desperately trying to forge our own identities while still holding onto each other.  Then, somewhere in university, we’d figured out our routine – we hit a plateau. We got along, we shared the same values, and we made a life together.

Now our relationship is moving again and it’s rocking us to our very core, prying us away while forging us closer together at the same time. We’re experiencing growing pains, and we’re resisting it because all we want is to go back to the way we were.

So on this eight year anniversary, I am vowing to look forward. I’m going to look back at the memories we made and smile rather than cry. I’m going to look at him with promise rather than nostalgia. And I’m going to treat every day as a stepping stone to our future. Because at the end of the day, after eight years, we’re still crazy about each other. And that is something worth celebrating.

Tools

Cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Small metal spoon or melon baller
Large pot
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Wooden spoon
Blender of food processor
Frying pan

Ingredients

1 butternut squash
1 tbsp plus 3 tsp olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion
3/4 cup half and half
1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Chopped walnuts, as desired
Sour cream, crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt, as desired

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds. Drizzle the two halves with 1 tsp oil each and season with salt and pepper. Place, cut side down, on a large baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until soft. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil on medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, scoop out flesh from squash. Add half of squash to a blender or food processor. Add half and half and purée until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low and add mixture to pot; stir to combine. Place remaining squash in blender with 1/2 cup broth. Purée until smooth, then add to pot and stir to combine. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup broth, butter and maple syrup. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and additional salt and pepper to taste. Add additional broth or half and half if needed to reach desired consistency. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

In a small frying pan, heat remaining 1 tsp oil on medium-high. Add walnuts and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

To serve, divide soup among serving bowls and top with a dollop of cream or yogurt and toasted walnuts, if desired.

Enjoy!

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Honey & Soya Sauce Chicken Wings

You can’t fix somebody else’s problems.

This is probably the most difficult, frustrating and downright impossible life lesson I’ve yet to learn.

It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love stand powerless in front of you, not looking for – or wanting – your help. You feel helpless, useless.

And somehow, I always seem to make things worse. I poke and prod and give advice until eventually I drive them nuts, or I drive them away altogether.

I have found, in my limited experience of dealing with others, that sometimes the best course of action is to sit on the sidelines, cheering. My rational brain knows this, and begs me to follow my own advice. But, as any control freak (like me) knows, this is incredibly, excruciatingly hard.

But you’ve got to do it, even if it means tying your arse to the sidelines, sitting on your hands and taping your yappy mouth shut.

I know this is what I should do, need to do, but I just can’t seem to let go – not because I’m nosy or bossy or think I have all the answers. It’s because at the end of the day, if someone you love is lost, you feel the need to find them.

The problem is, they have to find themselves first.

In the meantime, while I’m trying to figure out how to navigate the fine line between supporting and controlling, I cook. Like, a lot. I don’t know what it is about cooking for someone else that makes me feel better, but there’s just something to the art of mixing a few favourite ingredients that shows, without talking, that you care.

At the end of the day, that’s all you can do. You can’t fix their problems, no matter how big or small.

But you can make them chicken wings.

This is another gem from my grandmother’s collection of prized recipes. The first time I made them, I left the casserole cover off for the entire cook time. The result was not nearly as tender as they should be, so I recommend covering them for the first hour and 15 minutes, then removing the lid for the final 15 minutes to build up a crust on the skin. This way you get tender, fall-off-the-bone meat with a bit of a crunchy skin to sink your teeth into.

Tools

Large round casserole dish with lid
Large cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken wings (Tip: If you’re squeamish, try to find wings that have already been broken in two, or ask your butcher to split them for you)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp low-sodium soya sauce

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove wings from packaging and place on a large cutting board. With a large kitchen knife, cut each wing in two at the joint to form the wingette and drumette. Place chicken in a large, round casserole dish and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, honey, salt, pepper, ginger and soy sauce. Mix well, until combined. Pour mixture over top of wings and stir to coat. Cover and bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Remove lid and cook for 15 more minutes.

Enjoy!

1

Watermelon & Goat Cheese Salad

I realize that I am a complete and utter minority when I say that summer is not my favourite season.

Now before you go ahead and judge me as some cold-blooded weirdo who likes to lurk in my basement away from the sun, I encourage you to hear me out.

If you’ve ever so much as caught a glimpse of me, you realize that physically, I’m just not built to take the sun: I’m practically translucent.

I’d given up on the concept of tanning long ago – in fact, the only semblance of a darkening in my pigmentation is the result of my innumerable orange freckles, which like to spring forward and form map-like designs over my arms and face as soon as the month of May hits.

So in order to even so much as step outside without burning to a crisp, I need to slather myself in a pint of sunscreen. Which, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing it, makes you feel like a slippery fish-like creature, attracting all sorts of bugs and dust balls that stick to your skin like gruesome little magnets. Not to mention the fact that you look like a sweaty, greasy mess to those around you, no matter how much deodorant you insist you’re wearing.

Then there’s the whole concept of doing stuff. I am, by nature, a bit of a hermit, and if I had my way, I’d spend most of summer curled up with a book in the shade. But for whatever reason, as soon as the warm weather hits, I’m overcome with this ridiculous guilt that dictates I should constantly be doing something – making the most of my precious summer days. It’s ridiculous, I know, because I end up spending my whole day fretting over what I should be doing, rather than enjoying the time I have. Winter and fall, on the other hand, provide the perfect excuse to squirrel away in a cozy chair and read my book, totally guilt-free.

But my biggest problem with summer is that it’s almost always too bloody hot to cook. There’s nothing more disheartening than trying to bake a cake when your kitchen’s already 30 degrees, and let’s face it, nobody really wants to dig into warm baked goods on a blistering hot day.

For now, however, summer and I have reached a compromise, and that compromise is watermelon salad.

There are likely a few dozen recipes for watermelon salad floating around, as it’s certainly not groundbreaking or fine dining by any stretch of the imagination. But there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more refreshing than a bowl full of watermelon and mint.

My uncle introduced me to this blessed combination a few weeks back, when I was over at his house for supper on one of these ridiculously hot days. It’s incredibly simple, fresh, and best of all, it honestly takes no more than 10 minutes to put together.

Tools

Cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Large mixing bowl
Measuring spoons
Salad tongs

Ingredients

1/2 ripe watermelon
2 – 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
1-1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Dash balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Instructions

Dice watermelon into 1-inch cubes, discarding outer peel. Place in a large bowl. Add chopped mint and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat. Top with goat cheese and toss to combine. Serve immediately, garnishing with additional mint or basil leaves if desired.

Enjoy!