Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Dinner - Roasted Halibut with Tomato Curry Sauce and Cauliflower Rice Pilaf

Well the best plans to get lai....whoops....the best laid plans, I mean.  He he.  Well it is New Years Eve right?  We had reservations to hit my kid's favourite local haunt, The Big Ragu at St. Clair and Lansdown for dinner tonight but the poor Teen has been sick for a couple of days, so we had to cancel.  Enter Plan B......a fish dinner recommended by my brother-in-law Paul from the most recent Food & Drink magazine from the LCBO.  We'll give it a shot and let you know......

We also picked up the recommended wine pairings of:

2009 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95...pricey I know)
2008 20 Bees Unoaked Chardonnay ($10.45)

Roasted Halibut with Tomato Curry Sauce (Serves 4)


2 tbsp vegetable or other neutral oil
2 tbsp mild Indian curry paste
1 tsp grated ginger
4 pieces halibut, 5-6 ounces each

Combine oil, curry paste and ginger in a bowl.  Place halibut in a glass or metal dish and brush curry paste mix all over.  Leave to sit for 30 min.

Curry Sauce  (Time:  Approx 30 min)

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more if you like it HOT)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 to 2 tsp mango chutney (we went for the hot one)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until softened about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add ginger and garlic and continue to cook 1-2 more minutes.  Stir in coriander and cumin and cook for another minute.  Add cayenne, tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add coconut milk and chutney and simmer for 10 more minutes.  Taste and add more mango chutney if needed.   Let cool slightly and then puree sauce with immersion blender, then stir in chopped cilantro.  Set aside.

For Fish:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Roast halibut for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked through.  To serve, spoon sauce in the centre of a serving plate, top with halibut and add Cauliflower Rice Pilaf on the side.

Cauliflower Rice Pilaf


2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 cups small cauliflower florets
1 tbsp chopped seeded green chili
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 cups basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1.5 cups water
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
3 tbsp chopped mint

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.  Add onions and saute for 2 minutes or until softened.  Add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.  Stir in chili and garlic and saute for 1 minute then add rice and still well.  Add coconut milk, water, cloves, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover pot, turn heat to low and cook rice for 15 minutes until rice is cooked and liquid has been absorbed.  Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes to steam before serving.  Remove whole spices.  Sprinkle with almonds and mint before serving.

Happy New Year everyone!

Post-Xmas Dinner with the Family - Osso Bucco and Risotto Milanese

Hope everyone had a very happy Christmas and will have a very enjoyable New Year.  Tomorrow we begin another year and another decade....out with the old and in with the new and all that.  Anyone have New Year's resolutions?

I think mine will be to make more fish dishes in 2011.  I had amazing monkfish with fennel, tomato and black olives at Terroni on Wednesday night when we visited with Om's sister and family.  Makes me think that we have to get more creative about our fish cooking.  So many different varieties and so many interesting preparation methods.

However, in the meantime, meat is a must.  We had seafood on Christmas Eve, turkey for Christmas dinner, sandwiches of said turkey for a few days...then fish for me on the 29th, so when Om's sister and clan came over for dinner the day after Terroni, we decided we needed beef.  Well veal more accurately in the form of Osso Bucco.  Back to the St. Lawrence market again for antipasto and more veal shank.

Once again, I turn to Mario Batali for his recipe for Osso Bucco with Toasted Pinenut Gremolata served with Risotto Milanese.  What amazes me again and again with this dish is how incredibly simple ingredients meld and combine over the long slow cooking time to create an amazing dish that is tender, flavourful and beautiful.  What comes out of the oven after 3 hours of cooking tastes nothing like the base ingredients that go in.  Perfection.  There is no point in messing with it or adjusting this flavour or that.  And it is simple enough that after a few times, you can make it without the recipe.

Bravo Glen and Paul for a great dinner!  And Jane for the Brunello you brought over to pair with it.  Yum central.   Mario's recipe is easily doubled for a crowd, which we had.  Meal was enjoyed by all.


Osso Bucco with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata
  • 4-6 Veal Shanks, cut 3 inches thick (about 3 ½ to 4 pounds)
  • Salt and Pepper
    6 tablespoons extra-virgin Olive Oil
    1 medium Carrot, chopped into ¼-inch-thick coins
    1 small Spanish Onion, chopped into ½-inch dice
    1 Celery stalk, chopped into ¼-inch slices
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thyme leaves
    2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
    2 cups Chicken Stock
    2 cups dry White Wine (we used 2009 Gabbiano Pinot Grigio)
    1 recipe Risotto Milanese (recipe below)
    1 recipe Gremolata
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. In a heavy -bottomed 6 to 8 quart casserole, heat the olive oil until smoking. Place the shanks in the pan and brown all over, turning to get every surface, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the shanks and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, add the carrot, onion, celery, and thyme leaves and cook, stirring regularly, until golden brown and slightly softened , 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, chicken stock, and wine and bring to a boil. Place shanks back into pan, making sure they are submerged at least halfway. If shanks are not covered halfway, add more stock. Cover the pan with tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil. Place in oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours and cook until meat is nearly falling off the bone.

Remove the casserole from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving with risotto Milanese and gremolata.

Risotto Milanese

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
8 cups chicken stock, hot
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling

In a 12- to 14-inch non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile add the saffron to the stock, stirring to infuse. Once the onions are translucent add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then add a 4 to 6-ounce ladle of the saffron-infused stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed. Portion risotto into 4 warmed serving plates, serving with extra cheese.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Gremolata

Leaves from 1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted at 400°F. for 2 minutes
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the parsley leaves, pine nuts, lemon zest, and mix well by hand. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and set aside.



Sunday, December 26, 2010

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Lemon and Dill

I hope everyone had a most excellent Christmas.  And if you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a good weekend!  Despite my terrible knee injury resulting in lack of gym time, I made it through most of December relatively unscathed by all the trays of cookies, left overs from get-togethers, lunches, dinners and cocktails that are often associated with the holiday season.  That was until last week... more lunches, more dinners, beers, vodka shots and pickles at Pravda (ouch the next day!), fish feast on Christmas Eve, and turkey dinner with the family yesterday.

So I decided today I would officially end my holiday excess and try to get back on the healthy wagon.  That and the fact that the Boxing Day fairy brought us a brand- spanking new 8 piece set of 18/10 stainless steel pots from Curtis Stone's collection, so I was itching to make something in them.

Whatever happened to Curtis and his show "Take Home Chef?"  I kept hoping that one day he'd walk up to me in a grocery store and offer for me to take him home.  No woman in their right mind could turn down that kind of offer!  Sadly I don't think they ever filmed THC episodes in Toronto, so I have to make do with his beautiful pots, luscious 2-sided flippable bamboo cuttingboard (Hmmm technically aren't all cutting boards flippable? Damn - not only is he good looking he is smart and made me need something I already had) and my shining spoon rest that looks rather like a stainless-steel high heeled shoe.

But I digress....as usual....today Om is watching what seems like an endless stream of football.  At least football mercifully ends in January (doesn't it?) unlike hockey in Canada with actually runs from September to June!  I just don't get that, but anyway....as I said Om is watching football so I am at the computer and in the fridge looking for something to make.  A full fridge gives me lots of options but I am also thinking detox!  So I go for asparagus and leeks.

Asparagus is very high in folate, which is essential to a healthy cardiovascular system.  It is also a good source of potassium and is a natural diuretic, so it is good to treat that bloated, post-holiday feeling.  And it makes your pee smell funny, a fact which my kids find endlessly entertaining.  Leeks also have diuretic properties along with a few other qualities to help food "move along" through your digestive system.

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Lemon and Dill

1 really big leek, white and pale green part only, washed very well
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable stock
1/4 piece preserved lemon, pulp and skin, finely chopped (you could throw in a tablespoon of zest instead)
2 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped (more if you like it)
1/2 cup low fat or fat free sour cream

Slice leek in half and run under cold water to ensure you remove all the dirt that might accumulate in the tops of the leeks, otherwise you might end up with a gritty soup.  Slice the leek thinly into strips (half rounds really).

In a beautiful new Curtis Stone saucepan add the butter and cook the leeks over medium heat, stirring, until softened.  Add the asparagus, the broth, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus is very tender.  Reserve some of the asparagus tips for serving.  Purée the mixture in a blender until it is very smooth, whisk in the sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Warm the soup over moderately low heat until it is heated through, but do not let it boil.


To serve, top with more dill, asparagus tips and maybe a large goat cheese topped crouton, and serve.





Mashed Potatoes with Pancetta and Leeks

For special occasions, such as Christmas, regular boring mashed potatoes will not do.  This recipe is one I have been making for years and years and is and excellent side dish with anything from turkey to rack of lamb.

Mashed Potatoes with Pancetta and Leeks

6-8 Yukon Gold potatoes (about1 per person), peeled and quartered
1/2 cup milk (or cream if you are so inclined)
2 tbsp butter
200 grams sliced pancetta* or 3 bacon slices, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 tsp fresh thyme

Cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 20- 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until crisp, 10 minutes. Transfer pancetta to small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil to same skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add leeks and thyme; sauté until leeks are tender and have some nice colour, about 10 minutes.

Drain potatoes. Mash until smooth or press through a ricer for super smooth tatties.  Stir in milk and butter.  Then add warm pancetta and leeks. Season with salt and pepper. 

(Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over low heat before serving.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Feast of 3 of Fishes

Yesterday morning we headed to the St. Lawrence Market and there we made the decisions regarding our pre and post Xmas dinners.  The Xmas dinner was already decided last weekend - turkey.  However we were yet to come to a decision regarding Xmas Eve and for our family dinner with Om's sister and family next week.  

The St. Lawrence Market is both a blessing and a curse for me.  It is a blessing in the sense that the beautiful products sold there always inspire me to make the best use of the fabulous fresh meat and produce I buy there.  But it is also a curse because I come out of there broke.  Today we picked up 18 month old proscuitto di Parma and pancetta from Gustavson's, a bunch of cheeses, veal shanks for Osso Bucco, giant scallops, calamari, fresh spaghetti, pasta clams, purple, yellow and orange carrots and brussel sprouts.  Cha-ching!

I did think about doing a Feast of the Seven Fishes type thing but with only 4 of us tonight, it seemed a bit excessive.  So we'll do a Half Feast of the Seven Fishes and round down - 3 kinds of fish LOL.  And then we need Xmas movies....probably The Christmas Carol...Scrooged....Elf maybe.  Its a Wonderful Life.  And it is.

The spaghetti recipe is, of course, from Mario Batali, the my most revered Italian chef.  I bow at his awesomeness, and pray to the cooking gods to visit his mecca for food enthusiasts in New York, Eataly.  I won't even bother to try to touch Mario's recipe. No point in messing with perfection. Ok...I will....cut back on the red pepper as he uses a LOT.  LOL.  And the tomatoes should be San Marzano - it really does make a difference.

Menu tonight is:
Scallops Wrapped in Bacon
Calamari Stuffed with Crab and Shrimp
Spaghetti con le Vongole (with Clams)

Mario's Batali's Spaghetti Con le Vongole

3 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
1 pound spaghetti
12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 lbs pasta clams, scrubbed
1/2 to 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, juice reserved and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

In large pot over moderately high heat, combine 8 quarts of water to boil and salt. Bring to boil, then add linguine and cook to 1 minute short of al dente according to package directions (pasta should still be quite firm).

Meanwhile, in large sauté pan over moderately high heat, heat 6 tablespoons extra- olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and sauté until just golden, about 30 seconds. Add clams and 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes and sauté 1 minute. Add wine, tomatoes and juice, and 1/2 cup parsley and simmer, uncovered, just until clams open, 7 to 8 minutes.


Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain linguine and add to pan. Simmer, tossing occasionally, until linguine is just tender, about 1 minute. If necessary, add some of reserved cooking water to keep moist. Remove from heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons parsley, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and extra-virgin olive oil, tossing to coat. Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.


Happy eating and Happy Christmas!

Ben-Inspired Electric Cranberry Sauce

Today's first recipe is a shout out to Ben - a fellow food blogger - at Kissing the Cook.  Ben does some fun things and seems like a fun guy.  I wanted to do something a bit different this year than my usual homemade cranberry sauce which usually has ginger and port as supporting ingredients.  Ben's recipe called for brandy, apricots and apples.

http://kissthecook-ben.blogspot.com/2010/12/electric-cranberry-sauce-with-apples.html

Apricots I have on hand, having just made a fantastic tagine last weekend, but brandy....no....uh...apples....no. So I swapped it out the brandy for rum.  For me, good rum doesn't necessarily mean aged for a certain time or in a certain way, it just means it tasted like what I had in Belize earlier this year.  I am not really a rum drinker, and don't really even like Jamaican rums, however, since I was in Belize in April I have been searching for a rum that comes as close as possible to the glorious nectar they produce there since we don't get much in the way of Belizian imports in Toronto.  In this case, 5 yr old El Dorado Demerara from Guyana.  Yes, I said Guyana.  The closest we have come to Belizian rum though is Ron Abuelo Anejo Reserva Especial from Panama.

Ben-Inspired Electric Cranberry Sauce


1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup rum
1 bag cranberries
Juice and zest of one orange
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt/1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Soak chopped apricots in rum while you prepare the other ingredients. Combine 2 cups of cranberries the juice and zest of one orange, 1/2 cup of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon of nutmeg in a saucepan. Heat it to boiling, then reduce it to a simmer until the cranberries are tender and start to burst, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water, and mix into the cranberry mixture, cooking until thickened. Add the apricots, including the brandy, and heat until cooked through and the smell of alcohol subsides, about 3 minutes. If necessary, add additional sugar to taste. (I've found adding another 3 tablespoons works for me, but you may like more or less.).



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moroccan Spiced Quinoa with Lentils and Raisins and Preserved Lemons

Not sure why I seem to have a thing about Moroccan inspired food the past few days, but I do.  I'll just accept it, try to satisfy it, and then move on to the next obsession.  Today is quinoa and preserved lemons for some reason.

One of my goals when I started this blog back in September (in an attempt to clear out my pantry and freezers) was to make recipes using all the interesting things I had bought over time but never made.  Things like quinoa, bulgar, barley, pearled couscous (yuck)...the list goes on.  So to get myself started back down the road of cooking and experimenting, I decided to work on a side-dish involving qunioa.

The below is my take on a prepared frozen entree made by the President's Choice.  In Canada, they definitely set the bar as far as I am concerned for creative grocery products, and excel in prepared frozen foods.  Just heat and serve basically.  And again, I apologize for my lack of skills in photography.  I've asked Santa to send me a food stylist for Xmas.  We'll see if I've been naughty or nice I guess this time next week.

Moroccan Spiced Quinoa with Lentils and Golden Raisins

1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3/4 cup lentils, cooked.

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

For quinoa:

Soak the quinoa for 15 min in a pot. Soaking helps quinoa to cook evenly, and loosens up the outer coating of saponin, which can give a bitter taste if not removed. Once soaked, rinse under cold running water using a fine mesh strainer. Drain well and return to pot. Add chicken or vegetable stock to pot, along with ginger, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, turmeric, cinnamon, and cumin. Bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid, and turn the heat down to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Half way through cooking scatter raisins, red pepper, and lentils over quinoa and continue to cook. Remove quinoa mix from heat and allow to sit five minutes with the lid on then fluff quinoa gently with a fork. Let cool slightly, then transfer to large bowl. Add lemon peel. Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and lemon juice in small bowl. Add to quinoa; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir 1/2 cup chopped cilantro into quinoa before serving.

Paula Wolfert's 7 Day Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are an integral part of Moroccan cuisine.  Preserved lemons are basically lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices.  The peel, pulp, and juice squeezed from the lemons can all be used in dishes such as tagines, soups and stews.  I even had them recently in a salad dressing at an upscale (and definitely not Moroccan) restaurant in Toronto called Bymark, and I 've seen them used in cocktail recipes also. Such versatility has me curious, so I figured why not try it out.

I've never made preserved lemons before but - again - it is one of those things that I've been meaning to make for years. So I am using a recipe from Epicurious created by Paula Wolfert.  No alterations - shocking, I know.

If you are going to make preserved lemons, you need to plan ahead as they require time to "mature" on your counter top for a period of time, and I've seen times that span from 5 to 7 days to a few months.  

Meyer lemons are apparently the best to use as they have thin skins and are extremely juicy.  Sadly my local grocer did not have Meyer lemons nor even organic ones, so I am using regular run of the mill lemons this time.  We shall see!

Thanks to Kevin at Closet Cooking for sharing his experience as a first time preserver of lemons.  The tip he gleaned from his research into the recipe was that you could tell the lemons were ready when the pith was no longer white.  I'll have to keep an eye for that.

Ingredients:

6 lemons
2/3 cup kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (from 5 to 6 additional lemons)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Dry lemons well and cut each into 8 wedges, cutting off any protruding stems or bumps. In a bowl toss wedges with salt and transfer to a glass jar (about 6-cup capacity).  Ideally, you want the lemons to be packed very tightly. Compress the lemons as you add them to the jar to release their juices.  Add lemon juice and cover jar with a tight-fitting glass lid or plastic-coated lid. Let lemons stand at room temperature 7 days, shaking jar each day to redistribute salt and juice. Add oil to cover lemons and store, covered and chilled, up to 6 months.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

'Tis the season to be busy!  After all the cooking and blogging that was happening for the past month in preparation for my Xmas party, I decided that I needed to take a bit of a break from the kitchen and computer.  That and the fact that I have been caught up the endless stream of Xmas parties and lunches and dinners that accompany that has resulted in a lack of creative cooking on my part and thus my negligence in posting anything recently...sorry about that.  But now I am back, and I have a list of recipes that I want to explore and cool ideas to share.

For some reason this weekend, I feel like a tagine.  Well not literally!  I feel like EATING tagine more accurately.  For those not familiar, tagine is the name for an earthenwear North African cooking vessel that has a conical lid, as well as, and the description for the type of dish cooked in a tagine.  Unfortunately, I don't have an actual tagine, so I will just substitute a my beautiful enamel Mario Batali pot until I get one....hint hint....Xmas is coming.....or I'll wait until my trip to Pennsylvania in the spring to hit the Le Creuset outlet for one.  Hey Glen...oops...Om says we may have enough Amex points for one....cool...!

As usual, I read a bunch of recipes, take what I like, simplify or eliminate what I don't and the end result is what I share with you.  Usually that involves reducing the amount of oil or butter in a recipe, probably upping the amount of fresh herbs nnd vegetables and then eliminating complicated cooking steps that just don't really add to the dish in my mind.  In today's case, I had a package of butternut squash in the fridge that was on the verge going to go off so I tossed the good pieces in for added oomph.  I`ll serve this over some basic couscous....very simple but very tasty.  

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons 
1 (3-lb) chicken, cut into 6 pieces, wings and backbone discarded (I used boneless chicken thighs)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 c fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons mild honey or agave nectar
1/2 cup dried apricots, separated into halves
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Stir together ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, in batches if necesary, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes. Remember not to overcrowd the chicken in the pan while browning or you will lose the heat necessary to get a good brown.

Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally.  Add apricots, agave or honey, cilantro and parsley to tagine along with 11/2 cups stock.  I tossed in the butternut squash at this point.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Serve atop some glorious couscous and garnish with more cilantro and sliced almonds.  If you desire a thicker tagine sauce, you could dissolve 1 to 2 tsp flour in some water and thickent it slightly.  Enjoy.  I did.

We enjoyed this with a fantastic find at the LCBO - a beautiful and fragrent 2008 Reserve Anne Boecklin Gewurztraminer from Alsace.  Those that know me well know my love of all wine Alsatian and in particular a Gewurtz from a good house.  Wines from Alsace are one of the best values out there - you can get a Grand Cru from an exceptional house for probably $30 Cdn.  A decent wine will run you between $15-$20, which for Grand Cru is an amazing deal.  Try finding a Grand Cru from any other part of France that doesn't cost you less than $80.  Hard to come by.

This one exhibits all the signature tastes and smells of a classic Alsatian Gewurtz.   Hmmmm. this amazing full-bodied Gewurtz bursts on your palette with apple, pear, and a touch of lychee. Everything is in perfect balance and the wine culminates with a lingering, sweetly fruity finish. Give this a whirl with, or simply sip and enjoy.  Perfect with Thai or Moroccan inspired food.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Final Menu for Today's Party

Well it is almost 1 p.m. on party day and my guests will be starting to arrive around 5 p.m.  Everything that can be prepped ahead has been (more or less) or and definitely will be by the time everyone gets here.  Here's the spread:


Appetizers:

Trio of Hummous:  Edamame Wasabi, Carmelized Onion and Roasted Beet
Crostini: Butternut Squash with Sage and Indian Spiced Cauliflower
Cheese Tray:  Bleu Benedictine, Oka, La Belle Riviere, Lady Laurier, L'Eveanjules, Double Cream Brie
Avocado Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Ham and Cheddar Stuffed Mini-Baked Potatoes
Smoked Salmon with Capers, Dill and Mustard Sauce

Hot Dishes:

Jerk Shrimp and Jerk Chicken Skewers with Pineapple Mango Salsa
Thai Red Curry Chili
Pulled Pork Sliders with Blue Cheese Coleslaw

Kids Menu by Chef T-Rex:

Cranberry Coke Meatballs
Panko Crusted Chicken Fingers with Plumb Sauce
Flatbread Pizzas with Cheese and Pepperoni

Desserts:


???  I guess we'll see what everyone brings!  I am off the hook for this one.

Recipe Test: Thai Chili - Vegetarian Version and one for Carnies

Just to clarify...a carnie is a carnivore, not a "carnie" as in one who travels with carnivals.  I don't think I'd ever find myself cooking for THAT audience for some reason!?!   But you never know with me. :-)

When I first picked up my new copy of Clean Eating from the mailbox this recipe was on the cover, and it hooked me right away - looked beautiful and lush.   The original version in Clean Eating was vegetarian and called for bulgur but amazingly I couldn't find it in any of the supermarkets I went to yesterday or today, so I opted for ground turkey.  I think it would be good either way.

The only thing that surprised me about this recipe is that there is neither lime juice nor zest, and no call for fish sauce?  I don't think I've made a Thai recipe EVER that doesn't call for both of those ingredients, along with a few other staples like ginger?  Odd.  But in the end this tastes quite nice, looks pretty and will be a nice "main" type dish to round out my party dishes as it seems to double and triple very easily.  Once I find bulgur I'll have to try it that way too.

Thai Chili

1-2 tsp red curry paste (more if you want it - I wanted it)
1/2 cup uncooked bulgar or 500 grams lean ground turkey or chicken
1/2 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed (make the cubes small)
1 medium green pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked beans (I used half white kidney and half black beans)
1/2 can light coconut milk (ok...I ended up using the entire can)
2 jars tomato puree or passata
2 green onions, thinly sliced, white parts only
salt and pepper to taste

I will add:

2-4 kafir lime leaves
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Zest and juice of one lime
1-2 tsp fish sauce (I prefer 3 Crab Brand from Vietnam as per my Thai cooking teacher Don)

Vegetarian Version:

Also use 1 carton vegetable stock

In a large pot, add curry paste and a bit of oil and cook slightly, adding a bit of stock to thin out.  Add remaining broth, bulgur, kafir limes, weet potato and bell pepper over medium heat and bring to a slow boil.  Cover tightly, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes.  Add beans, coconut milk and tomato puree and cook for a further 10 minutes or so.  Stir in scallions, fish sauce and lime zest and juice.  Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately.

For meat based:

In a large pot, brown turkey or chicken breaking the meat up.  I find my trusty balloon whisk a great tool for doing this.  Once cooked add, curry paste, green pepper, sweet potato, kafir lime leaves,beans, tomato puree and coconut milk.  Cook on medium low for about half an hour or until the sauce turns a darker red.  Stir in scallions, fish sauce and lime zest and juice.  Sprinkle with cilantro, green onions and serve immediately.


Friday, December 3, 2010

'80s Nirvana and Indian Spiced Cauliflower Spread

Wow!!! 1st Wave on Sirius radio is killing it this morning!  Violent Femmes - Gone Daddy Gone, INXS - Suicide Blonde, David Bowie - Rebel Rebel, Simple Minds - All The Things She Said, Flock of Seagulls - Wishing, The Cure - In Between Days, Elvis Costello, XTC, Squeeze....it goes on. Definitely need some Talking Heads (oh...just got some), Clash (ok...London Calling now...excellent), maybe a little Rebel Yell from Bill-eh Idol. '80s nirvana! Hey...now some Nirvana would also be great but that is a different radio channel.  Wish I could stream for 'ya!  I like their handle of being "classic alternative".  It's just the music of my high school and university days to me.  So many great concerts, memories and friends.

Wow again - now its Ready, Steady, Go from Generation X! Well that is Billy Idol so I kind of got my wish. Apparently Bill-eh is currently working on his biography. That would be a pretty interesting tale. Speaking of which, I watched The Runaways yesterday afternoon. Holy cow! Kudos to Dakota Fanning! She is amazing as Cherie Currie. And Kirsten Stewart - who knew she could actually act and not just stand around looking wistful, longing for Edward. Not a film to watch with the kiddies, but such an intense portrait of the drug influenced rock culture of the 70s, and full of Bowie and Iggy tunes and great, gritty performances.

Anyway....1st Wave is perfect cooking music for me. Back to the business of cooking.....

This one is courtesy of my fellow food enthused friend Anth (I really don't like the term "food obsessed" so I've opted for the much less psychotic and stalkerish sounding "food enthused"). I've never gotten recipes from Oprah's website before, but I may have to change my mind after trying Diane Morgan's twists on traditionally fatty dips. I was looking for another vegetable based crostini recipe to accompany the Roasted Butternut Squash with Sage ones that I will make tomorrow.  And I bet this will be good also if I melted blue cheese on top.  Everything really is better with blue cheese.

Check these out! Smokey Black Bean Dip, Blood Orange and Avocado Salsa with Pomegranate Seeds, Amber Ale Cheddar Cheese Spread and this beauty.....

Just because I can't NOT alter a recipe, I am going to roast the cauliflower rather than steam it, and add in a teaspoon of cumin seeds for added oomph.  I've also decreased the amount of yogurt called for to 1/2 cup because I found that even with that amount, the yogurt taste was becoming a bit dominant over the subtle spice the recipe calls for.  I will serve this either on toasted mini-pitas or if I can find the papadum chips like we get in Little India.

Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Spread


1 head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), broken into small florets
1 3/4 tsp. coarse salt , divided
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. canola or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds 
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 medium yellow onion , finely diced
2  tsp. curry powder 
1/4 tsp. fresh ginger or ginger puree
1/2 tsp. fresh green chili chutney (added as much for flavour as for a bit of heat)
1 tsp. agave nectar (thanks again Gwenie and GOOP!)
1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss cauliflower and onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt and oil. Cook uncovered until cauliflower is soft and browing, about 40 minutes.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm oil and coat pan. Add mustard and cumin seeds, cover, and cook until seeds stop popping, about 30 seconds. Add curry powder, cumin, ginger, and agave nectar, and cook until fragrant.

In a food processor, combine about half the cauliflower with the yogurt and spice mix.  Puree until smooth. Mash remaining cauliflower (you want to retain some texture and not have it completely smooth) and add to food processor and pulse to combine until desired texture is reached.  Spoon in a bowl and fold in chopped cilantro.  

I will serve this warm a top toasted mini-pita breads or naan bread which I will cut up into squares.  Pictures to be added after tomorrow.



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pulled Pork Sliders - Part 2 and Blue Cheese Coleslaw


has been a busy, busy week and I had a great time with our friends last night.  Lots of food, lots of wine, lots of good times.  The Pulled Pork Sliders were a great hit, and I just realized I still needed to tell you all what to do with your pork after it marinated with the spice rub over night.

Well, it is pretty simple.  Put it a slowcooker, set on low, and go to bed.  Yep, that`s pretty much it.  Ok....I add in a small bottle of a porter beer to the slowcooker (the one we used came in a stubby and was called Black Irish Plain Porter), but anyone will do.  A chocolate porter works very nicely or even a Guinness.  It is best, but not essential, to flip the pork over once during cooking.

And when you wake up, this is what you will have waiting for you:

Drain the pork well - as you can see on the plate above, there will be a lot of fat in the liquid in the slow cooker and you do not want that.  I use two forks to shred or pull the pork, removing any skin or visible fat as I go.












Drain any liquid from the slow cooker - you definitely want to keep this to moisten the pork.  I usually pour it into a gravy separator to separate out the fat from the delicious brown liquid that is a marriage of pork and porter.













Add back in the de-fatted liquid from the cooker, and then the BBQ sauce (about half a cup at a time), seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.












What you will end up with looks something like this:












Serve the pork on large or small buns.  You can top with coleslaw or serve it on the side.

Here`s a great recipe for Blue Cheese Coleslaw, that started as a Bobby Flay recipe, and then went through the Sandra mill.  It also works very well as a potato salad dressing with a few small changes.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw

1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tbsp  Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 package coleslaw mix
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled - you can add more if you like

Directions 

Combine all ingredients in a very large bowl. Stir well to coat. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pulled Pork Sliders - Part 1 (Spice Rub and BBQ Sauce)

Every summer I seem to be taken over by a particular dish or a particular ingredient and it ends up becoming a central focus of whatever we are eating either at home, camping or at the cottage. Last year was the summer of blue cheese. It made its way into everything from coleslaw, to potato salad (I'll post that baby one day soon - it is awesome) to topping our steaks.


The summer of 2010 was the summer of pulled pork for us. I tried recipe after recipe trying to find the perfect combination for us. I found I prefer a good bbq sauce the vinegar sauce that many recipes called for, and that also rubbing the meat with spices and letting it sit over night added dimension to the tastes. Once we ate the Beer Bistro pulled pork sandwhich (It is one of the best in Toronto), we also started adding a chocolate porter beer to our slow cooker instead of a bit of water.

So the recipes that follow are a compendium of recipes pulled from here and there, adjusted for my tastes and ingredients removed in favour of friends with certain allergies (like garlic). 

Pork

3-4 lb. pork shoulder or other well marbled cut

Spice Rub 

1 tablespoon mild paprika 
2 teaspoons light brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika 
1/2 teaspoon celery salt 
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (optional) 
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon onion powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 

Combine the mild paprika, brown sugar, hot paprika, celery salt, garlic salt (if using), dry mustard, pepper, onion powder, and salt in a bowl and toss with your fingers to mix. Rub the spice mixture onto the pork shoulder on all sides, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, preferably 8, or even overnight if possible.

BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 medium-size onion, minced 
1 clove garlic, minced (ommitted for this recipe) 
1/2 cup ketchup 
1/2 cup tomato sauce 
3 tablespoons cider vinegar, or more to taste 
3 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce, or more to taste 
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, or 2 tablespoons meat drippings 
2 tablespoons molasses 
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, or more to taste 
2 tablespoons prepared mustard of your choice 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
Salt to taste 

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion (and garlic if using) and cook until softened but not brown, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the ketchup, tomato sauce, cider vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little water.

Remove the barbecue sauce from the heat and addi salt to taste and more cider vinegar, hot sauce, and/or brown sugar if needed; the sauce should be highly seasoned. I find this combination to be perfect for our tastes - it is tangy and has zing but T-Rex doesn't complain that it is too spicy (too spicy?!?! whose kid is he really...can't be mine....)

Transfer the barbecue sauce to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature. The sauce will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for several weeks.


To be continued tomorrow when the pork is ready to be cooked.  Pictures to follow.....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recipe Test: White-ish Hummous Perfected

After several attempts and tests, I have finally arrived at a recipe for a "white hummous" for my holiday party table.  As with the other hummous recipes I have posted, I am using the term hummous very loosely.  In fact, this one really has no relation to hummous at all.  And it really isn`t white either.  Actually it is kind of caramel coloured.  Oh well.  My first attempt made use of organic canned white kidney beans. I found the resulting texture way too mushy and smooth, and I was looking for something a bit more rustic. In my second and third attempts I used dried white kidney beans, which I soaked over night and then cooked in lots of water for what seemed like an eternity the next day.

Dry beans do tend to expand to about 3 times their original size once soaked, so you need to factor this in when measuring out your beans to soak and cook. Basically, this means planning that about 1 cup of dried beans will yield about 3 cups cooked beans, 2 cups of dried beans will yield approximately 6 cups of cooked beans and so on....

Before soaking the dried beans, I recommend placing them in a colander, so you can sort through them and remove any tiny pebbles or other miscellaneous debris, and then rinse under cold water. You then need to soak most beans in three times their volume of cold water for 6-7 hours before cooking.

Once the beans have soaked, drain and rinse them, and add 2-3 times the volume of the beans in cooking water to the pot. Bring the water to a slow boil and let cook for approximately 60-90 minutes or until the beans are tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the beans you are using.

One important thing to note is to NOT add salt to the beans while you are cooking them, as this will cause the beans to harden. Also don’t add any acidic acid ingredients (such as tomatoes, vinegar or wine) until the beans have cooked through and are soft. Once your beans are cooked, you can cook with them right away or freeze them for future use.

White Hummous with Caramelized Onions & Thyme

1.5 cups cooked white kidney beans
1/4 cup chicken stock
2-3 spigs of thyme, pulled and finely chopped (rosemary is nice here also)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large cooking onion
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a small to medium sized frying pan over medium-high heat. Peel, half and thinly slice onion. Add olive oil to the pan. When a drop of water sizzles when dropped onto the pan, add onions and stir to coat with the oil. Add a pinch of salt to the cooking onions, as salt can aid to draw the moisture out of the onions and cause it to evaporate, thus speeding the caramelization process.

Continue to cook onions, stirring frequently, watching the onions become softer and their colour become browner. This is a good thing. Brown stuff = flavour. Add in cloves of garlic and continue cooking. If onions and garlic start to stick to the pan, reduce heat slightly and add in a few drops of water. Continue cooking until onions are very reduced in size and quite brown and crispy but not burnt. Remove from pan, and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine kidney beans, thyme, chicken stock and caramelized onions. Process until all ingredients are combined and desired texture is reached, approximately 1-2 minutes.

Serve with pita chips, lavash or whatever other cracker you have on hand. Enjoy!

Recipe Test: Chicken Skewers with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

Well I am back!  My knee is feeling a bit better though it is a lovely colour of black, blue and purple and I have felt the pressure of being on my feet quit a bit this past weekend partaking my annual pre-Black Friday shopping trip to Grove City, PA.  Ice, Aleve and a glass of nice white wine will help ease my pain LOL.  I always knew that I would suffer for fashion, but I didn't realize until recently that I would suffer for the sake of cooking also!  The show must go on and I do have a party to prepare for and I do not like serving un-tried recipes to friends.  

This recipe is kind of a combination of two different chicken skewer recipes I found on http://www.epicurious.com/ which is one of my favourite sites to find new recipes ideas on.  As usual, I ended up taking what I like from one recipe, combining it with what I like from another and then throwing a bit of "Sandra" into the mix for interest sake.  I really like the flavours of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, figs and black olives together.  If you threw in blue cheese, I probably would be the happiest camper around to be honest.  

Chicken Skewers with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips for skewering
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3-4 sprigs of rosemary (2-3 tbsp)
  • 4 tbsp. fig preserves (I used President's Choice Fig & Black Olive Tapenade)


Cut each chicken breast half lengthwise or on an angle into 6 thin strips. Thread each strip completely onto 1 skewer, leaving at least 1/2 inch of skewer exposed at 1 end. Divide skewers between two 15x10x2-inch glass baking dishes, stacking skewers if necessary.  Pour oil into bowl. Whisk in next 5 ingredients. Pour marinade over chicken. Marinate 1 hour at room temperature, turning often, or cover and chill overnight if possible.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove skewers from marinade and arrange on 2 large rimmed baking sheets; reserve marinade. Bake chicken until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to platter.

While chicken is cooking transfer reserved marinade to medium saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced in half, about 15 minutes. Cool marinade slightly and strain if desired.  Brush reduced marinade over chicken right before serving.  Garnish with additional rosemary sprigs if desired.


Yummy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Recipe Test: Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa

This recipe is once again courtesy of BH&G Appetizer magazine, where I also found the beet hummous recipe.  Their recipes seem to be well tested and consistent, which is very good, so I find myself only changing a few things here or there for personal preference.

The only complaint I have with BH&G recipes is their reliance on canned ingredients. The beet hummous recipe called for canned or pickled beets.  Huh?  The roasted ones were soooo much better.  In this case, the orginal tropical fruit salsa recipe called for fresh or frozen papaya (you can get frozen?) and canned pineapple.  Blech.  Reminds me of my mother-in-laws ham with pineapple circles, maraschino cherries and cloves.  Shiiiiiiiver.

Anyway, the shrimp recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of Jamaican Jerk seasoning.  Jerk pork is one of my favourite things to eat, and living in multi-cultural Toronto, I live withing 10 minutes of probably 6 or 7 jerk places.  The ones people talk about in Toronto are The Real Jerk (Queen East), Albert's (St. Clair & Vaughan), Orlandos (Old Weston Road and St. Clair) and my favourite...Mr. Jerk.  But you HAVE to go to the Mr. Jerk in the strip mall at Lawrence and Keele Street not the one on Eglinton.  In my opinion it is the best in the city.

The only commercially produced Jerk I love is  Bakayawd Jerk Seasoning. To me, it is on par with what we get at Mr. Jerk.  It is made by Charlie Cheung, the husband of my friend Lauren, whom I worked with for years.  Small batches and kick-ass flavour!  Others like Grace or Walkers Wood but only Bakayawd really works for our house.  Anything else is inferior.

For those not familiar, "jerk" refers to both a spice rub and a particular cooking technique.  Everyone who makes jerk spice has their own recipe, but generally, jerk is based on a combination of allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, scallion, nutmeg, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper.  Jerk spice can be applied as a dry or wet rub for many different types of meats, including goat, chicken, pork, fish and shellfish.

The cooking technique of "jerking", has evolved over time from using pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container, which remain one of the most popular cooking methods for jerk in Jamaica. Most jerk in Jamaica is no longer cooked in the traditional method in pit fires and is grilled over hardwood charcoal in a steel drum jerk pan.

Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit

2 pounds large frozen peeled shrimp (up to you whether or not to remove the tails)
1 tablespoon Jamaican jerk seasoning of your choice
1 small fresh papaya, seeded and chopped (I substituted a mango as I HATE papaya) about 1 cup
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
1/4 cup roasted red pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onion (about 2 onions)
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic (optional)

Thaw shrimp.  Rinse and pat shrimp dry with paper towels.  Place shrimp in a resealable plastic bag.  Add jerk seasoning.  Seal bag and turn to coat.  Marinate for minimum 30 minutes or longer if you can.

For salsa, in a bowl, combine chopped mango, pineapple, roasted pepper, green onions, lime peel, lime juice and cilantro.  Cover and chill until ready to serve (can be made several hours ahead).

When ready to serve, sautee shrimp in a hot skillet with a small amount of oil until the shrimp turns pink and the tales start to curl, approximately 2 minutes.  Serve in a martini glass, with salsa as the base, topped with shrimp, and then a bit more salsa for colour.

Alternavitely, thread shrimp on skewers to cook (wear gloves so that the habanero pepper does not get absorbed into your skin....trust me on this one).   Grill shrimp for 1-2 minutes per side until they turn pink and tails curl.  Serve on a platter on skewers with salsa sprinkled over top.

Enjoy!

Recipe Test: Cousin Ann's Cheesy Artichoke Squares

I am always in search of vegetarian options for appetizers and this is a great one that my friend James's cousin Ann has made for us a few times.  Just for the sake of something different, I decided to swap out the 2 cups grated cheddar cheese the recipe called for, for an equal amount of swiss cheese.  Gruyere would be good too.  Or Gouda.  I know Parmesan is great with artichokes, but I have a friend who is highly allergic so it is not an option.  Otherwise the ingredients are as we've had previously, though I did modify the directions slightly.

I admit I have a hard time working through anyone's recipe without changing things slightly.  I am like the lawyers I work with who immediately pick up a red pen before they can start even reading a document and they just HAVE to change something.  Ok....I admit....I do the exact same thing.  Except it is a pencil - red pens are too grade school.  I can't review a marketing ad or memo without a pencil in my hand.  Guess the same thing applies to recipes.  In fact, now I am wondering how the addition of crisped proscuitto or pancetta might add to the recipe...hmmmm.....next time.  For now, vegetarian, garlic free and no parmesan or goat!!

What I also like about this recipe is that it is the kind of recipe it is easy to always have all the ingredients on had for, so you can just throw it together to take to someone's house following an impromptu invite or for make it quickly for unexpected guests, as it can be served hot or at room temperature.  To date, this dish  is extremely easy and is always popular at parties.  Cousin Ann is constantly asked for the recipe.


Artichoke Squares:

2 small jars marinated artichoke hearts (or 1 large jar),
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped (unless Ann Marie is coming over)
4 eggs well beaten
1/4 c dry bread crumbs (I used panko which I prefer to regular bread crumbs)
1/2 tsp salt
a couple of grinds of black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried basil
2-3 drops hot sauce to taste (I used my beloved Marie Sharpe's from Belize)
2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, swiss...all work well)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray the inside of a small lasagne sized pan (8x 11) with with non-stick spray.  Drain marinated artichokes, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Chop artichokes into small pieces.  Add reserved artichoke liquid to a heated skillet.  Add onions (and garlic if using) and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  In a mixing bowl, beat eggs well, stir in onion/garlic mix, breadcrumbs, salt, oregano, hot sauce and pepper.  Add in half of cheese and all the chopped artichokes.  Pour mix into pan and spread out evenly.  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes.  Cool slightly and cut into squares.  Serve either hot or at room temperature.  Makes 24 squares.



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recipe Test: On haitus for a few days

I had hoped to be blogging today about my wonderful meat-based appetizers that I planned to test, but instead I am sitting on my butt with a very badly injured knee.  I can barely stand or walk, let alone cook so I have to stay off it for a few days to let the swelling go down.  I am a bit concerned as I can barely put pressure on my knee and the swelling is over the knee-cap even though the bad scrape I got when I fell is below my knee.  Ice and advil is the recipe of today LOL.

Hopefully I'll be back with good stuff in a few days.  Please, please, please.....

S.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Edamame Hummous - Success is mine!

So after a bit of re-jigging I have a successful recipe for Edamame Hummous.  It has a bit of heat to it, thanks to the wasabi but I like it.  This dip has the flavours and balance I was searching for.

Edamame Hummous

2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
1 clove garlic puree
2 green onions, chopped - white parts only
1/2 tsp. grated lime zest
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger or ginger puree
1 tsp wasabi
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cook edamame according to package directions.  Drain well.  Reserving some edamame for garnish, put remaining beans in a food processor with garlic, green onions, lime zest, mayonnaise, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and wasabi.  Puree until smooth, scraping down sides of food processor bowl several times.

Scrape dip into serving bowl and garnish with reserved edamame, sesame seeds.  Serve with rice crackers, baked wonton wrappers or vegetables.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe Test: White Hummous and Edamame Hummous

So, as is the case in every test kitchen, some recipes sing and some just tank.  Neither of the ones I tested tonight sang to me exactly the way I hoped they would.  The White Hummous was a bit cloying and kind of bland.  I think that qualifies as "tank". I am thinking that white beans from a can do not work well in this preparation, so I am going to go back to the drawing board on this one and cook them from dried next time and see how that works.  Also, believe it or not a grocery store in downtown Toronto did not have fresh rosemary today, so I had to settle for dried from my pantry to test with.  The results were "meh" at best.  But I will try it again, with better ingredients and hope it flies.

The Edamame Hummous recipe, however, has potential.  But I made so many modifications to the base recipe I started with to tweak the flavours to what I wanted to taste that I am not sure that I managed to catch all the changes in the right proportions.  So, I will go back to the drawing board on this one and try it again.  I think I will trust my instincts on this one and substitute sesame oil for the tahini (sesame paste), substitute wasabi for the crushed red pepper the recipe calls for (explain that one please!), add less lemon (or maybe substitute lime? lemongrass?), and add more ginger.  I am thinking a small amount of Thai fish sauce might be interesting also, as it adds depth to an Asian dish in much the same manner as anchovies to for Italian, but you have to be careful because it is strong and can be overpowering.

We shall see what the hungry Compliance Officers at my work have to say about tonight's experiments.  Worst case, I end up with a "duo" of dips in the Xmas colours of red and green.  The beet hummous got a resounding "yes" from across the board today.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recipe Test: Roasted Beet Hummous

One of the first things I’ve decided I must research for the Xmas Open House is some new takes on dips, mostly because dips and spreads that are not mayonnaise-based do tend to hold well on the table of an open house and lend themselves to being served on an assortment of vessels. Given the variety of dietary issues I have to consider among my guests, I will have to give some thought to said vessels, but chances are the selection will include items such as traditional crackers, gluten-free crackers, cucumber slices and maybe some kind of baked vegetable chip? Suggstions? Also, you can generally make them about a week ahead and store well sealed in your fridge until a few hours before party time.

So as a starting point for the recipe test, I have decided to do a trio of hummous. There is just something I like about saying a “trio” of this or a “trio” of that. Sounds chic before I even lift a finger, LOL. Given that we are in the midst of the holiday season, and it IS a holiday party, I decided to see if I could stretch my culinary concept of hummous a bit and come up something in seasonal colours (white, red and green) to keep things festive.



I have also enlisted some help in my test kitchen. He is an up and coming chef with the most serious knife skills any soon to be 10 year old could possess. He has a palate that I find quite intriguing and discerning for someone so young...his favourite things to eat include unagi, roasted beets, salmon and apparently my ribs. Sadly he hasn`t completely given McDonalds the heave-ho but I have faith. And he certainly has embraced the one food rule I have in my house - try it before you say you don`t like it. 

Tonight, the first recipe to be tested will be the “red” in the traditional Christmas trinity - represented by a beet hummous. When I went to get beets this weekend, the red ones looked old, so I opted for some beautiful golden ones just for practice. I`ll find some nice red ones for the holidays.

One of my favourite tricks for hummous and bean spreads if I am using canned beans is to reserve the canning liquid, and use it as a substitute for oil in the recipe. It can basically eliminate the need to add oil and unnecessary fat in an otherwise healthy dip. Generally, once I’ve drained the canned beans I do rinse them, as I often find that adding back in some of the canning liquid can completely eliminate the need for further salting.

The below recipe started with the inspiration from this season`s BH&G Appetizers Magazine. It called for cannellini beans and a can of cooked beets. Talk about blech and boring. I made a modification to the recipe to use lentils, and I roasted 3 very large yellow beets in the oven yesterday to make the most of their natural sugars. Otherwise, the recipe is very good and the outcome was earthy but the taste of the beets shone through. T-Rex was quite surprised to learn he ate `horseradish` but was relieved to hear that no actual horses were hurt in the making of the radish.... :-)

Roasted Beet Hummous:

1 can green lentils, drained and liquid reserved
1 bunch beets, peeled and quartered, then roasted and cooled
1/4 cup tahini
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup reserved lentil canning liquid
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)

In a food processor, combine lentils, beets, tahini, lemon juice, horseradish, garlic and puree until smooth. Add in reserved lentil canning liquid to aid in processing until hummous reaches the smoothness and thickness you like. I used the whole 1/4 cup. Scraping down sides of the processor bowl, add in parsley if desired and process to combine. Recipe will keep for about a week at this point, or maybe longer.

I`ll take this into work tomorrow for my second group of food tasters to comment on (Compliance Officers are really well behaved and very nice, especially when you feed them).

The second colour to be tested will be “white” (porobably tomorrow) so I have decided to use white kidney beans as my base. I know that rosemary, sage, thyme and basil work well with white beans, but in an effort to avoid duplication of flavours with my Butternut Squash Crostini, I am going to focus on just rosemary, mostly because I love the smell but also because it looks a bit like pine branches, and will hopefully liven up the otherwise dull white beans.

The Holiday Season Approaches

It suddenly dawned on me yesterday that is it less than a month to my now annual Holiday Open House.  The first year, we had quite a few friends over and kept the menu fairly simple and friends brought much of what was served.  Last year, I decided I need to make a full turkey dinner for 20.  This year, I want to take it to the next level but in a completely different direction.  With that in mind, I've decided to have a cocktail and appetizer event (I like the name `Dinnoire`) and have invited a number of friends from diverse groups.

As such, the month of November will be dedicated mostly to posts regarding me testing out new recipes for menu items leading up to my party on Dec. 4.  Hopefully that will give any friends and readers ample opportunity to learn from my mistakes and come away with some new and interesting ideas for this holiday season.

I also have a number of dietary issues that I have to build solutions for when constructing my menus.  Serious allergies I need to consider are: peanut, parmesan, asiago and feta cheese, garlic and gluten (luckily both individuals have sensitivity and not an allergy).  I also have a vegetarian and a border-line vegetarian to consider.   Dislikes of some are onions and green peppers.

Yesterday afternoon I flipped through my recipes, a couple of new magazines that I purchased at Costco (food hoarder's mecca), some recipe books that are all old favourites, and I consulted a few blogs that I have been following lately.

So here is the list of what I plan to test over the next month (some of these I have recipes for some I still have to hunt down and modify or come up with myself):

Smoked Salmon with Capers, Red Onion, Dill and Mustard Vinaigrette (many have had this already)
Tandoori Chicken Skewers (recipe required)
Mini Lamb Shawarma (from one of the mags)
Pulled Pork Sliders (our recipe)
Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa (made with my friend Lauren`s husband`s awesome jerk)
Trio of Hummous - Edamame, Beet and White Bean and Rosemary (making these up)
Stuffed Baby Potatoes (need ideas here)
Stuffed Wanton Crips (thanks Big Girls Small Kitchens for this idea)
Avocado Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes
Stuffed Mushrooms of Some Variety (ideas again)
Endive Spears with.....who knows what (ideas accepted once again)
Flatbread Pizzas (I make a huge variety of these already)
Crostini - Butternut Squash & Sage, Onion and Gruyere and Roasted Cherry Tomato with Basil

I also plan on doing a cheese tray with probably 5 cheeses.  Need a few more substantial vegetarian ideas still.

So wish me luck!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guest Blog: Om's Lasagna

There are less than a handful of dishes that I make, that I can say are better than the owner of this blog. Probably 3 at the most. One of those is lasagna. It is also one of my favourite foods. I would think that I would include a small piece with my death row dinner. Again, my sister Jane was my mentor for this.

Sauce:
4 Cloves garlic
2 jars pasata
Oregano
Basil (fresh is best)
Sprinkle of nutmeg
3-4 Cloves
Meatballs (see below)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Add olive oil to pot, with chopped garlic, sautee until brown.  Add all other ingredients, and bring to a slow boil.  Reduce heat to low, and add salt to taste.  Simmer for 2-3 hours.

Meatballs:
1/2 lb of lean ground beef
1/4 lb of ground pork, as lean or not as you like it
1/4 lb of ground veal
Oregano
Salt
1 egg and/or or panko bread crumbs

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix together. You really should use your hands. You just can't get a good mix using a spoon or fork. Some people prefer to use an egg to keep the meatballs from crumbling, but the panko bread crumbs add a nice flavour and texture. Once mixed well, roll into small balls. The diameter should be no more than 1/2". It goes much faster when the T-Rex volunteers to help. He is very good at it. Must having something to do with his tiny hands.

Now, you are ready to assemble the lasagna:

You can have as many layers as you have ingredients, but 4 layers of pasta is about right, especially when you use think noodles:

Layer 1 - Sauce
Layer 2 - Pasta (cover the sauce completely, with only a little bit of overlap)
Layer 3 - Sauce
Layer 4 - Pasta
Layer 5 - Meatballs
Layer 6 - Pasta
Layer 7 - Ricotta cheese
Layer 8 - Pasta
Layer 9 - Sauce

Cover with foil, and place in a preheated over (350). Cook for 1 hour.
Remove tinfoil, and add sliced buffalo mozzerella (thank you Sandra for that change), and put back in oven, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes. Watch carefully, when it has melted, turn on the broiler for 2-4 minutes. When mozzerella starts to brown, remove, and let rest for 10 minutes.