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Archive for February, 2014

Recently I had a couple of encounters, not the alien kind but the kind of encounters that you don’t expect after 30 plus years! We were meeting a friend up on Bloor at our local pub for dinner one night and this gentleman stops me on the street and calls me by name. He was so happy to see me but I had no idea who he was; it turns out that he was in my grade school way back before dinosaurs and he recognized me! I didn’t recognize him because he was a very skinny and short kid with a crazy ‘fro and he became quite a tall and portly adult with close cropped hair.

Later that same week we ventured to our local Home Show to walk around and day-dream about our next renovation when this woman approaches and asks if I had gone to U of T (University of Toronto) and as soon as I looked at her I recognized her from way back in the mid 80’s! Two totally unexpected encounters in one week. Has this ever happened to you? I’d love to hear about it.

I was trying to find a way to use the wasabi pearls without being too predictable and this salad was the perfect solution! The lightly dressed salad plays up the subtle sweet and sour Asian flavours in the cucumber pickle combined with the luxuriously creamy soft poached egg yolk. The cucumber pickle was so tasty, I would have it on its own too!

I’m still at odds about the use of the other two pearls, so if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear about them.

CucumberPicklePoachedEggSalad_2046

A refreshing Asian flavoured salad

Cucumber Ribbon Pickle and Poached Egg Salad with Wasabi Pearls

Serves 2 as a light meal or 4 as a starter

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 4 handfuls of mixed greens (I used spinach and arugula)
  • 20 grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp green onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 heaped tbsp wasabi pearls (click here for recipe)
  • 1 cup English cucumbers, sliced into very thin ribbons (see note)
  • 1 soft boiled egg per serving

Ingredients for the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce

Directions for the cucumber pickle:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing and heat either in the microwave or stove top until just about boiling. Pour over the cucumber ribbons in a non-reactive container and allow to sit for 15 to 30 minutes.

Directions for the salad:

  1. Put equal amounts of the mixed greens into each of two or four bowls, top with equal amounts of the cucumber pickle (reserve the dressing) and tomatoes.
  2. Add one poached egg per bowl and garnish with the chopped green onion and cilantro.
  3. Distribute even amounts of the wasabi pearls into each bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon or two of the dressing into each bowl.
  4. Serve immediately.
CucumberPicklePoachedEggSalad_2048

The pale green wasabi pearls are a burst of flavour

CucumberPicklePoachedEggSalad_2051

Breaking into the yolk to make a delicious, creamy dressing

CucumberPicklePoachedEggSalad_2049

No, they are not some weird green fish eggs, they are wasabi pearls!

CucumberPicklePoachedEggSalad_2052

I just needed a bit of colour on a dreary winter’s day

Tips:

  • Use your vegetable peeler to make paper thin cucumber ribbons.
  • Don’t peel the cucumber to give it some substance.

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Today is my dear Mother’s birthday; were she alive, she would have been 78 years young!

Happy Birthday Mom, I miss you.

Happy Birthday Mom (21 in this photo), I miss you.

Several years ago we dined at Diego, a lovely Mexican restaurant in the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas and I had a wonderful Ceviche that I have not been able to forget. It was an unusual combination of coconut milk and lime juice that just hit my taste buds perfectly. I adore ceviche and order it whenever I see it on a good restaurant’s menu and have not had the pleasure of these flavours together in one since. So, I thought I’d take a stab at it and create an opportunity to use one of my pearls in the process! Clever, don’t you think?

I’ve made ceviche before, the non-cheater kind but I wanted to put this together quickly for an hors d’œuvres recently and I didn’t feel like waiting for the acid to ‘cook’ the shrimp so I came up with this ‘cheater’ version. You can make the ceviche the old fashioned way, but this really worked out well!

I would have liked to add cubed avocado to this dish but sadly forgot to put it on my shopping list! I’ll remember next time, this is a very quick and tasty recipe.

It’s also rather coincidental in this cyber world how we all post about similar things so I can’t go without mentioning my dear Australian Blogging friend Lorraine who just last week posted this gorgeous recipe about real ceviche. Great minds think alike…please don’t finish the last part of this saying, it kinda bursts my bubble!

CheaterCevicheSpoons_2007

It’s just as tasty and doesn’t take long to make.

Cheater Shrimp Ceviche

Makes ~200 mL Ceviche (slightly more than 3/4 cup), or 8 single serve Chinese Spoons

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut milk powder
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated finely
  • 1 tbsp rosa’s lime cordial
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 80 g cooked cocktail shrimp, chopped
  • 3-4  slices of English Cucumber (0.5 cm or 1/4″ thick) cubed
  • 1 celery rib, cubed
  • 1/4 cup avocado, cubed
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp green onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika pearls

Directions:

  1. Combine the coconut milk powder, finely grated ginger, lime cordial and lime juice in a measuring cup and blend until smooth with a stick blender.
  2. Combine the chopped shrimp, cubed English cucumber, avocado (if I had some) and celery with the cilantro and green onion, toss with the coconut milk dressing to coat evenly.
  3. Serve immediately garnished with the smoked paprika pearls.
CheaterCeviche_2004

A refreshing combination of flavours.

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BalsamicPearls_1867

Perfectly formed balsamic spheres

Are you an experimental cook? What I mean by that is, do you instinctively gravitate toward unusual recipes, perhaps ones that push you out of your comfort zone? Using ingredients and techniques that are new to you and perhaps don’t always work out the first, second or even third time you try it? You may have guessed that I am, to a fault. Like a dog with a bone. I won’t stop until I get it right and even then, I may likely never make that recipe ever again! You will wonder why and to that I say, why not? I simple check it off my list and move on. This might be such a recipe.

I cannot recall where or when was the first time I saw Balsamic Pearls or caviar but I do recall being instantly smitten, my only problem was that I was not able to find the jelling ingredient Agar Agar, until recently! And I found it in the most unlikely place, my local health food store! It was an arm and leg to purchase, but fortunately it’s a big enough bag that I can make several batches.

What reminded me of these little gems was one of my shopping trips for Food Styling Assisting at a very fancy (read expensive) organic food store in north Toronto called Harvest Wagon; they temptingly have the most gorgeous display of vinegars and oils directly beside the cash desk…no time to even give it a second thought, unless you look at the prices! I suspect people who shop there really don’t look at the prices anyway! It is there that I spotted the balsamic pearls and it was there and then I decided that I HAD to make them!

My dear friend and Inspiration of All Asian foods, Sissy from With a Glass has used Agar Agar for many desserts she allures us with over the years. It is a seaweed based jelling agent that does not liquify when heated up (unless it’s boiled); unlike gelatine which melts (like in my French Onion Soup Pillows).

Pre-directions for all flavours:

  1. At least 30 minutes (but not overnight) before you wish to start making your pearls, fill a tall, thin glass with vegetable oil and put into the freezer to cool. It’s best to have a tall glass so that when you drop the pearls into it, the pearls have a long way to fall through the super cooled oil before they hit the bottom. This is very important because if the pearls don’t have sufficient time to cool down, they will fall to a puddle at the bottom of the glass. Trust me. You can strain the oil and reuse it, so don’t worry about tossing it.
Slightly larger than caviar, these tiny pearls pack a to of flavour.

Slightly larger than caviar, these tiny Balsamic pearls pack a lot of flavour.

Balsamic Pearls

Makes a generous table spoon or more of tangy balsamic pearls.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar (not glaze)
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a tall glass

Directions for balsamic pearls:

  1. In a small saucepan mix the water with the balsamic vinegar then add the agar agar and place on medium to medium low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil.
  2. Cook this mixture on a very gentle boil for 4 minutes, stirring often.
  3. When the 4 minutes are up, remove the pan from heat and allow the liquid to cool to about  50° C (122° F), but try not to let it fall below 41° C (105°F), if it does, you can reheat, stirring constantly until it melts again.
  4. Remove the chilling oil from the freezer and place in a comfortable working area. Using the culinary syringe, draw up the balsamic liquid (try to get most of it), and drop by single droplets into the chilled oil. They will sit slightly suspended on the surface and then fall gently through the chilled oil to the bottom. If the pearls are cooled enough, they will have set and be beautiful little pearly jewels, if they did not set you will have a puddle at the bottom of the glass; strain the puddle out, put the oil back in the freezer and re-melt the puddle in the saucepan.
  5. When you have used up the liquid, strain the pearls out of the oil into a fine sieve and rinse with cold water. It’s best to store the pearls in the liquid that they were originally made from, so top off the storage jar with balsamic vinegar.

These Wasabi pearls are not as green as I had hoped.

Wasabi Pearls

Makes a generous table spoon or more of wasabi pearls.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • 1 tsp wasabi paste (the powder does not work well in this case)
  • 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a tall glass

Directions for wasabi pearls:

  1. In a small saucepan mix the water with the agar agar and place on medium to medium low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil.
  2. Add the wasabi paste and mix well (try not to breath too close, it’s a very strong and stinging smell).
  3. Cook this mixture on a very gentle boil for 4 minutes, stirring often.
  4. When the 4 minutes are up, remove the pan from heat and allow the liquid to cool to about  50° C (122° F), but try not to let it fall below 41° C (105°F), if it does, you can reheat, stirring constantly until it melts again.
  5. Remove the chilling oil from the freezer and place in a comfortable working area. Using the culinary syringe, draw up the wasabi liquid (try to get most of it), and drop by single droplets into the chilled oil. They will sit slightly suspended on the surface and then fall gently through the chilled oil to the bottom. If the pearls are cooled enough, they will have set and be beautiful little pearly jewels, if they did not set, you will have a puddle at the bottom of the glass; strain the puddle out, put the oil back in the freezer and re-melt the puddle in the saucepan.
  6. When you have used up the liquid, strain the pearls out of the oil into a fine sieve and rinse with cold water. It’s best to store the pearls in the liquid that they were originally made so mix a scant teaspoon of the wasabi paste with water and store the pearls in it.
A lovely sweet flavoured pearl.

A lovely sweet flavoured pearl.

Pomegranate Pearls

Makes a generous table spoon or more of pomegranate pearls.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup pure pomegranate juice (don’t use syrup here)
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a tall glass

Directions for pomegranate pearls:

  1. In a small saucepan mix the pomegranate juice with the agar agar and place on medium to medium low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil.
  2. Cook this mixture on a very gentle boil for 4 minutes, stirring often.
  3. When the 4 minutes are up, remove the pan from heat and allow the liquid to cool to about  50° C (122° F), but try not to let it fall below 41° C (105°F), if it does, you can reheat, stirring constantly until it melts again.
  4. Remove the chilling oil from the freezer and place in a comfortable working area. Using the culinary syringe, draw up the pomegranate liquid (try to get most of it), and drop by single droplets into the chilled oil. They will sit slightly suspended on the surface and then fall gently through the chilled oil to the bottom. If the pearls are cooled enough, they will have set and be beautiful little pearly jewels, if they did not set you will have a puddle at the bottom of the glass; strain the puddle out, put the oil back in the freezer and re-melt the puddle in the saucepan.
  5. When you have used up the liquid, strain the pearls out of the oil into a fine sieve and rinse with cold water. It’s best to store the pearls in the liquid that they were originally made from, so use pomegranate juice.
These are very smoky indeed. I wish I had given them a bit of heat with sriachi

These smoked paprika pearls are very smoky indeed.
I wish I had given them a bit of heat.

Smoked Paprika Pearls

Makes 2 table spoons or more of smoked paprika pearls.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp red pepper paste (I used sweet)
  • 3/4 tsp liquid mesquite smoke
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a tall glass

Directions for smoked paprika pearls:

  1. In a small saucepan mix the water with red pepper paste and smoke, then add the agar agar and place on medium to medium low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil.
  2. Cook this mixture on a very gentle boil for 4 minutes, stirring often.
  3. When the 4 minutes are up, remove the pan from heat and allow the liquid to cool to about  50° C (122° F), but try not to let it fall below 41° C (105°F), if it does, you can reheat, stirring constantly until it melts again.
  4. Remove the chilling oil from the freezer and place in a comfortable working area. Using the culinary syringe, draw up the red pepper liquid (try to get most of it), and drop by single droplets into the chilled oil. They will sit slightly suspended on the surface and then fall gently through the chilled oil to the bottom. If the pearls are cooled enough, they will have set and be beautiful little pearly jewels, if they did not set you will have a puddle at the bottom of the glass; strain the puddle out, put the oil back in the freezer and re-melt the puddle in the saucepan.
  5. When you have used up the liquid, strain the pearls out of the oil into a fine sieve and rinse with cold water. It’s best to store the pearls in the liquid that they were originally made from, so mix a small amount of water and smoke (2 tbsp water and splash of liquid smoke).

Tips:

  • I used Mitoku, Kanten Flakes (Agar); the package instructions indicate that 1 tablespoon will set 1 cup of liquid. As fyi, I also tried 2 tsp of Agar Agar into 1/4 cup liquid and found the pearls way too stiff, reducing the Agar Agar to 1 tsp worked out perfectly.
  • The Agar Agar binds with your liquid only when it is added to a boiling liquid and for the pearls to cool sufficiently you must wait until the temperature falls to  50° C (122° F) and then you must act quickly because it starts to set at 41° C (105°F) so there isn’t much time to drop the little droplets (it sets at room temperature, refrigeration is not required). Work in small batches so that your liquid doesn’t set before you have time to use it up to make the pearls.
  • I used a culinary syringe, but an icing bag fitted with a very small end could work too, although I did not try it.
  • Not every liquid can be turned into pearls because there are other things to consider which are far beyond my chemical knowledge so if you are interested in turning something not listed here into pearls, I would do some research.
  • It’s important to follow the directions closely otherwise your experiment will fail, I tested each one to make sure it works. This was my third attempt with Balsamic, second attempt with wasabi and on from there with the other flavours.
  • Don’t drop too large pearls because they won’t have time to set in the oil. My best pearls were about 2 mm (1/8 inch) in diametre, ones that ended up being about 5 mm (1/4 inch) became deformed because they didn’t have time to set as a pearl.
  • My glass was was 12 cm (4.5 inches) high with about 10 cm (4 inches) of oil, so if you have a taller glass with more oil, your pearls can be larger.
Aren't you curious about how I plan to use these little pearls?

Aren’t you curious about how I plan to use these little pearls?

our-growing-edge-badge

My friend and fellow bunny lover Genie from over at Bunny, Eats, Design suggested I post this in Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event to encourage us to try new food related things. Kindra from California Cavegirl Kindra is the host for this month’s event. If you have a blog and you are eating or cooking something new this month, click here to join.

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JT and I were sipping wine in the living room by a roaring fire, we were discussing the Christmas “Do-Over” dinner that we decided to host in January. I had just done all the shopping for the menu and then JT mentions that his family are not much stuffing lovers. THAT in itself is blasphemous, but what made it worse is that I had just done all the shopping. Did I mention that I had just done all the shopping? I had bought a lot of mushrooms. A LOT. And they weren’t cheap so they were not going to be omitted from the dinner!

So instead of making a stuffing of mushrooms and chestnuts I created a pilaff! And what a success it was; the earthy mushroom flavours with the slightly chewy texture of the wild rice and the sweet chestnuts and brown rice complimented each other so well, I decided to blog about it so I don’t forget to make it next time. This recipe is really just a combination of suggestions, so if you don’t like something, omit it and add a bit of something else. Even the volumes of everything are a suggestion, so put on your recipe developer hat and make this pilaff your own!

Another great thing is that you can make it the day before so you’re not in a panic the day that  6 people descend on you!

WildMushroomRicePilaf_1946

Even my Nephew who is not fond of mushrooms had a generous helping!

Wild Mushroom Rice Pilaff with Chestnuts and Cognac

Serves 8-10 as part of two other side dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g – 1 kg wild mushrooms (I used 1 Portobello, ~5 cremini, ~12 shitaki, ~1 large bunch oyster), chopped roughly
  • 300 g (3.5 oz) roasted chestnuts, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced rather small
  • 1/2 sweet onion (about 1 cup), chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup wild rice (cooked, as per directions)
  • 1/4 cup sweet brown rice (cooked, as per directions)
  • 1/4 cup cognac or brandy
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp thyme

Directions:

  1. In a very hot Dutch oven, cook pancetta until crispy, remove and drain on paper towel and set aside. You may use the pancetta grease to cook in, but it you’d rather be a touch healthier, wipe out the pan and spray with a little non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Cook onions until translucent. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the cognac. Add the butter to the hot pan and once melted add the chopped mushrooms. Cook with the top off until the mushrooms are no longer chewy.
  3. Stir in the pancetta, chestnuts and cooked rice until well blended. Spray non-stock cooking spray in a decorative casserole dish which can be put into the oven and pour the mushrooms and rice into it. Don’t pack it down.
  4. If you are making this the day before, allow to cool completely and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, remove the pilaff from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and reheat for 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.
WildMushroomRicePilaf_1945

The chestnuts are such a sweet and creamy surprise!

Tips:

  • You may ‘chop’ the mushrooms in a food processor to save time, but be careful not to chop too finely. I did not use this method because I wanted larger, identifiable mushroom pieces.
  • You may also use barley, wheat berries or any other sturdy grain instead of wild rice.
  • Cooking sherry may be substituted for the cognac or brandy, but I prefer cognac with mushrooms.
  • I like to buy already peeled and roasted chestnuts like these, but you can roast and peel your own.
  • To add another layer of texture and flavour, add 1/2 cup of chopped roasted pecans.
Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.55.51 AM

Based on 10 servings

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Are you tired of the same old vegetables served at holiday gatherings? I know I am. This recipe is a perfect new take on the traditional Brussels Sprouts and best of all, they are so easy to prepare! My lovely SIL Wendy makes a version of this tasty treat every year at Thanksgiving (it may be because I always ask her to), but I’ve never made it at home! So for our Christmas “Do-Over” last month I decided to give it a go. Make it vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and omit the pancetta, but you may need to add a bit extra salt.

We had a Christmas “Do-Over” because JT’s 90 year old father wasn’t well enough to travel to Peterborough where JT’s sister kindly hosted the dinner since we weren’t sure we would have power. This tasty side dish is easy to eat and fast to prepare, what more could you want? Oh, yes, it’s tasty too.

ShreadedBrusselsSprouts_1941

Aren’t Brussels Sprouts just very tiny cabbages?

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and White Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 8-10 as part of two other side dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g (about 14 cups) washed Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 50 g (about 1/2 cup) pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1/2 (about 1 cup) sweet onion, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely
  • 50 mL (about 1/4 cup) white balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • 100 mL (about 1/2 cup) chicken stock

Directions:

  1. In a large dutch oven, crisp the pancetta to golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel, set aside.
  2. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with the white balsamic and chicken stock. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts and sauté until slightly wilted. Stir in the pancetta. Serve hot.
ShreadedBrusselsSprouts_1942

You’ll never think the same way about Brussels sprouts.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.47.32 AM

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ChillyTemps_1842

-22°C is -7.6°F (wind chill: -38°C is -38.4°F)

We had some very cold weather in December and I know some of my dear readers are experiencing some very hot weather — I can’t say which I prefer more, but at least one can put a few more layers on in the cold, not much you can take off after you’ve taken it all off in the heat (or maybe that was a vision we didn’t need!). To help combat the chill over the holidays, I made a big batch of beef barley soup which we had for a lunch and then froze the remainder for quickie servings in the future; it’s always easier to eat healthful if you are armed with healthy food.

BeefBarleySoup_1846

A thick soup flavoured with lots of mushrooms and chunks of beef

Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup or 3 stalks celery, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 L Low Sodium beef stock
  • 5-7 dried  “fa goo” Chinese mushrooms, sliced (hydrated but save the liquid and strain it through a fine sieve)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 1″ sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
  • 400 g cubed beef (relatively small)
  • 1 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1-2 tsp canola oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • water, if necessary

Directions:

  1. Allow the beef cubes to come to room temperature. Preheat the slow cooker on high.
  2. Add 1-2 tsp canola oil to a hot cast iron dutch oven and brown the beef on all sides. Add to the slow cooker pot.
  3. In the same dutch oven, cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic until fragrant. Stir in the pearl barley and toast for a few moments. Pour into the slow cooker with the beef. Add the beef stock to the slow cooker and give it a good stir.
  4. Deglaze the dutch oven with the sherry and add it to the slow cooker and add the bay leaf, thyme and finely chopped rosemary. Cook for 4-6 hours on low temperature or 3-4 hours on high.
  5. For the final hour, add the sliced hydrated mushrooms and the strained mushroom stock and give it a good stir.
  6. After the final hour, test the barley for doneness and soup for thickness, should you want a slightly less thick soup, add more water.
  7. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a dollop of fat free Greek Yogurt and a sprig of rosemary.
  8. Cool leftovers completely and pour into plastic containers for freezing.
BeefBarleySoup_1843

A nice dollop of fat free Greek Yogurt is always a nice addition. Of course the crostini with brie never hurts either!

Although December and January were very cold, in late January and early February we were bombarded with snow. A lot of snow, all at once. I know other parts of the world get snow, but this is a lot for us, particularly those of us living in the city with smaller lots which means we have a really hard time finding the space to shovel the snow off the sidewalks and driveways! Enjoy the photos below and just be grateful you didn’t have to shovel it.

Feb5Snow_2041

This snow mound is just about 1 metre high (39″)

Feb5Snow_2040

You can see how high the snow is piled from our gorgeous little tree!

Feb5Snow_2042

These are our Rose of Sharon ‘trees’. They are about 3 metres (10 feet) tall, but they just look like shrubs with the snow piled up to their canopy!

 

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Flash back to November 2013, please recall our Indian extravaganza thank you dinner I made for our very generous neighbours. As you know, I’m not a huge fan of Indian desserts (remember this one?) so when I planned the dinner party I knew right away that I wanted to make a version of Chai Crème Brûlée. Sadly it’s winter in these parts which means it gets dark anywhere from 4:30, so I wasn’t able to take a decent photo until I was able to remake this tasty dessert and shoot it in daylight!

Chai flavours really come out in this creamy crème brûlée

I served with two spoons so you can have a taste too!

Chai Crème Brûlé

Serves 1 (slightly more than 1/2 cup serving); just multiply by the number of people you need to feed to get your amounts

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of whole milk or cream per person
  • 1.5-2 tsp sugar per person
  • 1 black tea bag
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 green cardamon pods, smashed gently.
  • 1 egg yolk per person
  • 1-2 tbsp per person of sugar to brûlée

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 135°C or 275°F.
  2. Infuse the milk with the Chai spices: combine milk or cream, sugar, black tea bag, cinnamon stick, star anise and cardamon in a small pot and heat until just under boiling, simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool with a lid on the pot (or refrigerate overnight, which is what I did). Strain to remove all the bits, discard strained pieces.
  3. Once cooled, whisk the infused milk, egg yolks in a vessel with a pouring spout.
  4. Pour this mixture into ramekins. My ramekins were about 2/3 of a cup each. Place ramekins into a roasting pan with 5cm sides, put the pan into the pre-heated oven. Pour enough water around the ramekins to reach up just over half way on the side of the ramekins (it’s much easier to do this once the pan is in the oven so you’re not balancing the custard and the water on your way to the oven).
  5. Bake for 30-45 minutes to an hour or so. You’ll know they’re done when you can stick a knife in one and it comes out clean. Remove the ramekins from the baking pan, set them on the counter allow them cool. (The deeper your custard is the longer it will need to bake).
  6. Sprinkle a thin layer of  sugar on the top of each. Make sure it’s a THIN layer, but also make sure it completely covers the custard. Now torch it! Garnish with Whipped cream if you’d like (for the dinner party, I infused the whipping cream with a hot cinnamon stick which I heated for 1 minute on high in the microwave. I refrigerated the whipping cream and hot cinnamon stick until serving and then I removed the stick and whipped the cream).

Tips:

  • To save some time, just use a prepared Chai teabag.
  • Don’t squeeze the tea bag, it will be bitter.
ChaiCremeBrulee_1923

I know you want to dig in!

ChaiCremeBrulee_1925

The chai flavours really go well with the creamy crème brûlée

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 12.29.17 PM

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My nephew Brian came for dinner in late January and it was a bitterly cold day so I thought starting out with a soup would be welcome. I’ve always enjoyed Italian Wedding Soup but recently had a very bad version while shopping in Buffalo which has jaundiced me from ordering it again at a restaurant, surprisingly it was in an Italian restaurant, but it was a chain, so I should have known better.

I have updated the traditional recipe using some unusual ingredients, I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think. I ground my own beef and pork but you can easily buy already ground meat (extra lean of course). You’ll be surprised that I used puffed quinoa in the meatballs because I didn’t want to use bread crumbs or panko! Pretty clever don’t you think? I also used kale instead of the traditional spinach because I like the way kale holds up in a soup. Israeli couscous was my clever substitution for the pasta, it’s still pasta but I really liked the look of the balls in the soup.

ItalianWeddingSoup_1882

A flavourful broth with a variety of textures make this soup a welcome addition to my soup repertoire.

Italian Wedding Soup, my way

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 1.5 g each of lean beef and pork
  • 1/3 cup puffed quinoa
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp freshly chopped oregano
  • 1/4 tsp each nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper (I use a mix of mainly white, s little black and a little red)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 1/2 L (about 1 1/2 qt) Home-made or Low Sodium Chicken stock
  • 1/2  (about 1 1/2 cups) large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 bunch kale (about 4 cups) finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots (about 2-2 1/2 cups), cubed
  • 2 celery ribs (about 1 cup), cubed
  • 3 tsp canola oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • water, if necessary
  • 1 good size Parmesan rind

Directions:

  1. In a large, chilled metal bowl, combine the onion, beef and pork, puffed quinoa, parmesan cheese, oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and the lightly beaten egg. Shape into smallish meatballs and set on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 177° C 350°F. Heat a skillet with 1 tsp canola oil and fry each meatball to brown all sides in two batches. Use the second tsp of canola oil for the second batch. Replace on cookie sheet lined with clean parchment and bake the meatballs until done (about 30 minutes).
  3. Cook the Israeli Couscous as per package directions to al dente. Set aside.
  4. Pre heat a large soup pot with 1 tsp canola oil, sauté the sweet onion until translucent, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped kale, carrots and celery and stir for about 4 minutes.
  5. Cover with chicken stock and top off with additional water if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the Parmesan rind.
  6. Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables have reached their desired consistency, I like a very slight crunch so that they are not mushy in the soup. Add the couscous and baked meatballs just before serving to heat through.
  7. Remove theParmesan rind and eat.
  8. Serve garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese.
ItalianWeddingSoup_1887

The shaved Parmesan adds a delicate saltiness to this delicious soup.

Tips:

  • If you are making this soup to freeze, I would recommend freezing the meatballs and the Israeli couscous in separate bags to the soup and adding to heat just at serving. I kept a batch in the fridge with the couscous and meatballs and they got mushy in two days.

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