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Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Macaroni Salad

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I’m just going to start off by saying that I am so not the kind of person who tries out for reality television.. I don’t even watch it!

Yet somewhere out in the ether of the internet, there exists a photo (or possibly several) of me standing amongst a frenzied crowd in downtown Toronto before the crack of dawn, surrounded by people yelling and shoving self-promoting signs at a panning camera lens (I was not, for the record, one of those people).

It all started with a nudge (okay, more like a heavy push) from a friend. Me? Masterchef? I would never do that. That’s just crazy.

But that is exactly why I did it. Because over the past couple of months, I’ve come to realize that doing things just because they aren’t comfortable is not actually the way to be doing things at all. The quite opposite, in fact.

So I did it. I stayed up all night making a recipe that I thought completely encapsulated myself and my approach to food. I took my favourite summer dessert, strawberry shortcake, and made it tinier, healthier and infused with just the right amount of whimsy. Two-bite strawberry shortcake, I called it, before carefully stuffing them into containers, packing up my cooler and falling into bed just a few hours before I would be lining up outside for the auditions. (Don’t worry, that recipe will be popping up here soon!)

To cut to the chase, I didn’t make the cut. And to be completely, utterly honest, I’m not the least bit disappointed. The point of this crazy little adventure was not to get on television at all, but to prove to my reserved, humble little self that saying “no” to something simply by proxy of it being scary gets me absolutely nowhere, but wholeheartedly embracing the weird and wonderful opportunities that come my way will ultimately make me a happier person.

That’s what food is to me – a constant push and encouragement to be better, try harder and never doubt what I’m capable of. My relationship with food has taken me on an incredible journey – it’s shaped my career, my confidence and the way I see the day-to-day challenges. It’s made me lose my cool while [over]cooking 30 servings of basmati rice for a banquet class at George Brown, but it’s given me the gumption to stand in front of Masterchef judges and present them my dish without the slightest tingling of self-doubt.

Food is so much more than what you put on a plate three times a day. It’s a language, an expression of who you are and what you stand for, and it teaches you lessons about yourself you never thought possible from a simple bag of cornmeal or a bowl of icing.

Whether you’re crafting a simple grilled cheese sandwich or concocting a grand three-course meal, remember that every step you take in the kitchen is an expression of yourself. Make it count, take some risks and trust yourself. You never know where it will take you.

Macaroni Salad IngredientsCreamy Buttermilk Ranch Macaroni Salad
Serves 6 to 8.

This recipe is my own version of my mom’s classic summer go-to side dish. The creamy combination of Greek yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk give this simple ranch-style dressing just the right amount of tang.

INGREDIENTS:
3 cups elbow macaroni
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cheddar or mozzarella cheese
1 green or red apple, chopped
2 green onions, sliced

Buttermilk Ranch
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh chives, divided
1/2 tsp each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool.

2. Meanwhile, prepare buttermilk ranch: In a blender, combine Greek yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, garlic, 1 tbsp chives and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and well combined. Transfer to a bowl and fold in remaining 1/2 tbsp chives. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

3. In a large casserole dish, combine macaroni, carrots, bell peppers, cheddar and apple. Stir in buttermilk ranch until fully combined. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

4. To serve, garnish with green onions.

Enjoy!

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Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Toss with Crispy Garlic Chips

tomato saladI want you to reframe the way you think about cooking.

Ditch the recipe, hide your cookbooks and put away that smart phone. Hit up your local market and gravitate toward the brightest, freshest ingredients you can find. Then go home and own – really, truly own – your kitchen.

Too often we feel lost in our kitchens – like we need a guidebook or action plan to do what is at its core a very simple task. We dread the moment we enter our kitchens, and are easily tempted by the can of Campbell’s that’s been lurking in our cupboard since God-knows-when.

But what I love about cooking is the control. I really, truly crave control. And too often in our lives, we aren’t at the helm, but rather following someone else’s idea of what we should be doing and how.

So when you get in your kitchen tonight, don’t let someone else dictate how you chop your garlic or whether you sauté chicken or shrimp. Do it your way, have fun and don’t be afraid to fail.

This super simple toss happened one night when I had a plethora of tomatoes kicking around the fridge and was craving soft mozzarella in a really passionate kind of way. I added basil and deep-fried garlic because, well, they’re delicious, but you should try adding your own mix-ins depending on your tastes. Chopped watermelon would be divinely refreshing, feta or goat cheese are always delicious, and mint is a nice, light topper too.

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Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Toss with Crispy Garlic Chips
Serves 3 to 4.

Whip up this five-minute dish for a light lunch or summery side. The quickly caramelized garlic chips add sweetness, plus they infuse heart-healthy olive oil with irresistible flavour for a hassle-free dressing.

INGREDIENTS:

3 tbsp olive oil
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 180-g tub buffalo mozzarella, drained and cheese torn into chunks
1/2 bunch fresh basil, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. In a small skillet, heat oil on medium. Add garlic and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until garlic is golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. (TIP: Garlic should be completely submerged in oil, so you may need to use more oil depending on the size of your skillet to ensure garlic is covered.)

2. In a large bowl, toss tomatoes and mozzarella. Add garlic and oil from skillet and toss to coat. Garnish with basil.

Enjoy!