Spontaneity and Joy in the Kitchen: 4 Easy Recipes From Celeb Chef Devin Connell
From a nibble of labhneh with bursted tomatoes and dill (pictured above) to a rejuvenating 'recovery' soup, Chef Devin Connell shares some easy and delicious recipes. Photo: Louisa Nicolaou
“Only in spontaneity can we be who we truly are” —John McLaughlin
“I never meal plan and often find myself thinking about what to eat at 5 o’clock that night,” says Food Network Canada personality, Devin Connell. Indeed, her cookbook Conveniently Delicious reflects that mindset perfectly. Brimming with fresh, easy-to-prepare meals — many requiring only a handful of ingredients — the book brings creativity and spontaneity back to the kitchen. All it takes is inspiration and a stock of well-chosen basics that can be mixed and matched.
“… I eat what I want to eat, and when I want to eat it,” she says on the book cover. “Spontaneity is possible, and you can do this. I’ll show you how.”
All the better for those of us, who try to plan meals ahead only to cave to those last minute cravings — which all too often, means ordering in.
Connell, the brain behind the popular food website, This Is Crumb, says one of her personal go-to recipes in the book is the sheet pan salmon (recipe below), which incorporates a pantry staple, chickpeas. It’s a yum dish that takes less than 20 minutes, from start to finish.
Other palate-pleasers you’ll want to try include an easy nibble of labhneh with bursted tomatoes and dill, a rejuvenating, cure-all ‘Recovery’ soup and for dessert, a fresh clementine yogurt pistachio cake. All the recipes are below, but first, some insider culinary tips and tricks from chef Connell.
Q&A With Devin Connell
Can you share your favourite flavour boosters — and any other secret weapons?
I use lemon on almost everything and I have a heavy hand when it comes to salt and pepper. Quick flavour boosters like soy sauce, miso, fresh herbs or spices like smoked paprika or chili flakes can add a lot of depth and profile without having to add any cooking time.
What is your go-to dish for cooking/entertaining without the stress?
Always something I can prepare 90 per cent of the way before guests arrive — like a stew, roast chicken and veggies on the same pan, or a big room-temperature salad that can sit out for a bit.
What items/ingredients do you keep stocked in your pantry/fridge?
Lemons, anchovies, parm, arugula, jarred tomato sauce, chicken stock, garlic and onions.
What is your favourite snack, healthy and otherwise?
Sliced fennel or apple, with lime juice and Tajin (a blend of a combination of chili powders, lime and sea salt.)
Favourite dishes to cook with the kids (or grandkids)?
Desserts are always a favourite to make with kids as there isn’t much margin for error if you follow the recipe. My kids also love to make the flat breads because they love rolling and stretching the pizza dough
This Q&A has been edited and condensed
Labneh With Bursted Tomatoes & Dill
I like to think that all the recipes in this book, and in this chapter especially, are super easy to pull off, but this one is next-level easy. A handful of ingredients, served simply. Roasting tomatoes, especially in the winter when they’re not at their peak, intensifies their flavor and boosts their sweetness. Serve them warm atop the cool labneh with some pita or toast and you’re in for a real treat. If you can’t find labneh, use Greek yogurt with the highest fat content available (the closest comparison is 10 per cent).
2 cups cherry tomatoes (about 10–12)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil + more for drizzling
½ tsp kosher salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup labneh
1 tbsp finely chopped dill
1 tbsp finely chopped chives or green onions
Toasted flatbread or naan, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
2. Place the tomatoes in a small ovenproof baking dish and toss with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst and wilted slightly.
3. Spread the labneh in a shallow bowl, making large swoops with the back of a spoon.
4. Spoon the tomatoes and pan juices over the labneh.
5. Sprinkle with the herbs and drizzle with olive oil.
6. Serve with toasted flatbread or naan.
I have to say that I get very possessive about this soup. I make a big batch and keep it in an unmarked container in the fridge for impromptu lunches or even when a 4 p.m. hunger pang kicks in. It’s an excellent soup for when you’re fighting a cold or have had a rough week or a late night. It’s filling and satisfying and deeply nutritious.
2 leeks, white and light green parts only
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
6 cups good-quality chicken or beef bone stock
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 cups cooked quinoa
One 19 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp lemon zest
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Slice the leeks into ¼-inch thick rounds and put them in a large bowl with cold water.
2. Agitate the water and leeks with your hands to remove any sand or dirt, which will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Remove the leeks and pat them dry on paper towels.
3. In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the leeks, garlic and ginger and sauté for 3–4 minutes, until the leeks are soft and translucent.
4. Add the stock and bring to a low boil.
5. Clean and trim the Swiss chard into 2-inch pieces. Add to the stock along with the cooked quinoa, chickpeas and lemon zest.
6. Taste for seasoning — certain stocks are saltier than others, so I’ll leave this up to you.
7. Let the chard wilt for a few minutes, then serve.
Sheet-Pan Salmon With Chickpeas & Basil-Olive Salsa
I developed this dish for my Crumb cooking classes with the intention of building one-pan meals for my personal repertoire as well as for all the hungry, tired and working parents that I was teaching. It has proven to be a hit. (Am I allowed to toot my own horn here? Toot toot!) With only 5–10 minutes of prep, this dinner is on the table in 20 minutes from start to finish. It’s one of my weekly go-tos that I make time and time again. The salsa is the secret that makes this dish special. If your children have sophisticated palates, they might really enjoy it. If not (like mine), just serve it on the side. It also goes well with grilled steak or chicken, so keep this salsa on hand as a fresh, easy topper for a protein any night of the week.
¼ cup + 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp grated garlic
One 19 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups grape tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt, divided Black pepper, to taste
Four 6–8 oz salmon filets
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
1 cup pitted green olives
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp grated garlic Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ tsp kosher salt
Black pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. On the baking sheet, toss together ¼ cup olive oil, garlic, chickpeas, tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper.
3. Place the salmon filets on top, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and more pepper.
4. Bake for 14–16 minutes depending on how pink you like your salmon.
5. To make the salsa, on a large cutting board, roughly chop the basil and olives together until they reach a salsa-like texture. Place in a mixing bowl and add the chili flakes, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix well to combine.
6. Remove the fish from the oven and top generously with the salsa. Serve straight from the baking sheet or transfer to a platter, with some lemon wedges for serving.
Assemble the fish up to the point of baking. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. But make the salsa just before serving as the basil can turn colour over time.
Clementine Yogurt Cake
I call this my Chameleon Cake, because it can take on so many different flavours: lemon and almond, blood orange and pine nut, coconut and lime — just sub the flavours with the same measurements and you’re good to go. Keep it rustic as a loaf cake or dress up your own chameleon with edible flowers in cupcake form. You won’t even recognize it. I use sweetened vanilla Greek yogurt here, which, to be honest, I bought by accident. It turned out to be a happy one, as it allowed me to cut back on the granulated sugar.
Makes one 5 × 9-inch loaf or 12 cupcakes
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup fine almond flour
2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup chopped unsalted pistachios
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
½ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 Tbsp packed clementine or orange zest
½ cup olive oil + more for greasing
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp clementine juice
3 tbsp chopped unsalted pistachios
¼ tsp flaky sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a 5 × 9-inch loaf pan with olive oil.
2. To make the cake, in a bowl, stir together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt and pistachios.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, both sugars, eggs, zest and ½ cup olive oil.
4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together using a wooden spoon or spatula until just combined. Don’t over-mix.
5. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40–50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.
6. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes before using a knife to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Remove to a wire rack.
7. To make the glaze, in a bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and clementine juice until smooth and glossy. It will be thicker than you think it should be, but it will spread once poured. Pour over the slightly cooled cake, letting it drip over the sides, and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and flaky sea salt.
The cake will keep very well in an airtight container for 4–5 days.