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This post was written entirely on my iPhone 8, in the air, flying from Granada to Gatwick in a EasyJet sardine can.

By the time you read this post, we will have returned from a whirl-wind vacation to the UK and Spain to escape the freezing temperatures and snow of Toronto. Let me back up a bit, shortly after we returned from our month-long holiday in Arizona, we had a week or so of nothing but bleak, grey winter days and I hit my limit! My wonderful cousin let us stay in her flat on the Mediterranean coast in a cozy little town, in the province of Almeria, all I had to do was get through January and most of February; no problem because I had this to look forward to:

We flew into Gatwick and stayed the night in London, where we dined and saw the musical “Come from Away” (very good, by the way)! The next morning we boarded a commuter train to a small city near Manchester, where my friend and Master Chef runner-up, Dave Crichton, picked us up. Dave and his lovely wife Zahra gave us the grand tour, but the real highlight was that Dave cooked dinner for us! What an incredible treat to have a fellow blogger AND contestant of Master Chef UK 2018 cook for us! It was a feast to be reckoned with: emulsions, sauces, exotic meat and even a wonderful carrot ketchup! I know you are dying to know if he made us his famous Careless Whisper dessert, indeed he did! We sampled several flavour combinations with tea when we arrived at his home. The experience was exceptional.

For our dinner, Dave made us the most velvety, creamy Truffled Parmesan Mousse with a goats cheese, mushroom duxelles, tarragon, truffle stuffed morel. It was indeed very moreish.

The main course was fennel crusted Iberico Presa, seared and prepared sous vide, served over carrot ketchup, pumpkin seed pesto, Madeira jus garnished with the best tasting parsnip crisps! The flavours and textures were outstanding.

The finale was a delightful Miso and walnut butterscotch tart with black sesame ice cream. Now I don’t usually eat dessert and JT was eyeing my serving but to his dismay, I polished it off and nearly licked the plate clean!

Dave, Zahra, John and I

The following day, Dave and Zahra gave us the grand tour of Manchester and in the evening we were treated to dinner at Hispi Bistro in Didsbury (South Man). The meal was delicious but Dave’s cooking really stood out for me.

I must say that I am intimidated by the thought of cooking for he and Zahra when they visit us in Toronto or Arizona. But there were a few inspirational dishes we had during our stay in Spain. Something from Restaurante Alameda, Granada might just make the cut.

We literally stumbled upon Restaurante Alameda during our first few hours in Granada quite by accident, we were hunting for a lunch place! Sadly, it didn’t open until later so we made reservations for that very evening. It is Michelin rated but doesn’t have a star, yet.

I must tell you that the food impressed us, it was nicely presented but even more importantly, it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we made reservations for the next (our last) night in Granada.

The restaurant is contemporary in design with some rustic elements (like the back-lit birch half-logs along the wall) and effective function (such as the sound absorbing ceiling). The lighting is moody but enough to read by but not enough to have to wear sunglasses (as many European restaurants are!). The plates are rustic but tables are mostly covered in linens.

The first night we dined at 7:45, still considered early for Spaniards but more in line with how we like to eat. Service was fine, nothing outstanding, but relatively efficient (even if our waiter seemed a little overwhelmed). We received a little amuse bouche of a deep-fried phyllo wrapped prawn that was delicious (no photo) and then we shared a starter of Burrata (no photo) and locally grown tomatoes. If you’ve ever been to Spain, you will know that the tomatoes are exceptional! The best I’ve ever tasted. There were a variety of tomato species and they were all perfectly ripe and flavourful. The burrata had just the right amount of bite and creaminess! The dish was finished with sweet pepper flakes and dotted with little balsamic pearls.

My second course was an octopus carpaccio, it was deliciously thin and moreish, although, it could have used a touch more acidity than the little lemon pearls that speckled the plate.

JT had a cannelloni with veal ragout, that was more like a lasagna, none-the-less, it was outstanding! It was the reason why we decided to return the next night! Although the second night, we decided on only the burrata and the cannelloni to be shared! The pasta tasted homemade, the ragout was rich and meaty with a creamy béchamel and Ricotta. It was comfort-food at its best!

Sadly, the second night was a bit disappointing. Service seemed an afterthought; we were seated behind a table planning a wedding with what seemed like the catering director or owner, and they were definitely priority. Ambiance faltered as well, as the music kept cutting in and out of the speakers near us.

The burrata was again flawless, but the cannelloni came out barely lukewarm. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to send a dish back in an unfamiliar place. So we grinned and beared it. Still delicious but… Afterward, I mentioned it to our waiter, in a nice way, of course. I wasn’t sure it was understood but when he brought the bill, he told us that they had removed the cost of the cannelloni entirely! Now I realize that we should have said something at the time and not afterward, live and learn.

Notwithstanding, I am still comfortable in recommending this restaurant, and if I ever go back to Granada, I would consider dining there again.

Overall rating of Restaurante Alameda, Granada (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

Restaurante Alameda, Granada

C/Rector Morata, 3 (Junto a Plaza del Carmen)
18009 Granada – España
Tel: +34 958 221 507
restaurante@alameda.com.es

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We were scheduled for a Progressive Dinner when we returned from Arizona. Our neighbours John and Nancy were the main-course hosts so they chose the theme: the Kentucky Derby. This group is a hoot and everyone chose something fun to wear that was indicative of the Derby. JT and Tom wore bow ties (JT made his bow-tie from a standard tie using this video, don’t you just love Google?!). Iona and I wore crazy hats and Nancy dressed up as a jockey, she is around 5 feet tall and really looked the part. Neighbour John dressed as a stable-hand, all in denim! It was a super fun night that ended somewhere around 2am!

People at the Derby seem to wear brightly coloured clothes and the guys always seem to sport bow ties.

I was responsible for dessert and I went a little crazy and did Mint Julep three ways: Panna Cotta, Macarons and Trifle! You may notice a sablé horse on the plate too but I didn’t like the recipe so it will be ignored. The desserts went over well, the bourbon was noticeable but not overwhelming, as was the mint. I doubt I’ll make these flavours again but it was fun for the night. And yes, we were served Mint Julep’s at Tom and Iona’s as part of our starters.


My crazy hat!

Kentucky Derby, Mint Julep Three Ways

  • Panna Cotta
  • Macarons
  • Trifle

Mint Julep Panna Cotta with White Chocolate Almond Crumb

To print the Mint Julep Panna Cotta, please click here.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 g Powdered unflavored gelatin
  • 50 mL Cold water
  • 700 mL Whole milk
  • 75 g Sugar
  • 2 g Tonka bean, finely grated
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 g small bunch Fresh mint leaves, including stems
  • 1/4 tsp Real Mint extract
  • 65 mL Kentucky Bourbon (to taste and optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves

Directions:

  1. Dissolve gelatin in the cold water. Set aside. Lightly rub vessels with a non-flavoured oil, set aside.
  2. Warm milk with sugar, grated tonka bean and cinnamon to 150° F (DO NOT BOIL), add mint leaves and allow to steep for 10 minutes Stir in gelatin until dissolved.
  3. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve and discard mint. Into the strained mixture, stir in the mint extract and Kentucky Bourbon a little at a time, tasting each time until the desired flavour is achieved. Cool slightly.
  4. Pour into prepared vessels and chill for 2-4 hours or until set.

White Chocolate Almond Crumb

Ingredients:

  1. 50 g white chocolate chips
  2. 5 mL Bourbon
  3. 25 g ground almonds
  4. 15 g coconut flour

Directions:

  1. Melt the chocolate with the bourbon on low heat, stir in the ground almonds and coconut flour, it will be rather thick.
  2. Sprinkle/spread relatively thinly on a Silpat and bake for 3 minutes in a preheated 350° F oven, until golden.
  3. Cool completely and crumble with a fork until relatively fine. Reserve for assembly.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Serves 6

The Blueberries

Ingredients:

  • 300 g Blueberries
  • 125 mL Bourbon

Directions:

  1. Combine the blueberries and bourbon and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or one day.
  2. Strain, reserving the blueberry bourbon. Set aside until assembly.

The Sponge

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 120 g sugar
  • 120 g all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Line a 23 cm x 33 cm (9″ x 13″) cake pan or jelly roll pan with parchment paper, carefully folding the corners. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Separate the eggs into two medium bowls. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy and falls in a thick ribbon.
  4. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the pale egg yolk mixture.
  5. Sift about 1/3 of the flour into the egg yolk mixture, then alternate folding in with the egg whites being careful not to deflate the batter.
  6. Once all of the egg whites and flour have been folded in, the mixture will be thick. Pour carefully into your prepared baking pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment edges and allow to cool completely.
  8. Measure your Mason jar diameter and select a round cookie cutter of similar size. Cut 12 rounds for the trifle and set aside.

Stabilized Mint Julep Whipping Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3 g unflavoured gelatin
  • 15 mL Cold water
  • 15 mL Bourbon
  • 1 mL mint extract
  • 125 mL whipping cream,
  • 8 g icing sugar
  • 2 g freshly chopped mint, as garnish

Directions:

  1. Dissolve the gelatin in the cold water, mix in the bourbon and mint extract, set aside.
  2. Whip the cream with the icing sugar. Add a bit of the whipped cream to the gelatin mixture and whisk well to combine. Strain this mixture if it’s lumpy. As you are whipping the cream, add the gelatin mixture and whip until well-combined.
  1. Layer one sponge round into the bottom of each mason jar, sprinkle about 5 mL to 10 mL of the reserved blueberry bourbon onto each sponge in the mason jar. Add about 15 blueberries on top of the sponge in each jar. Using a pipping bag, trop the blueberry layer with the stabilized whipped cream. Sprinkle lightly with the chopped mint garnish.
  2. Layer the second sponge on top of the whipped cream, sprinkle about 5 mL to 10 mL of the remainder of the reserved blueberry bourbon onto each sponge in the mason jar. Top with the whipped cream and finish with about 12-15 blueberries in each jar. Sprinkle with the remaining mint garnish. Tightly close lid and refrigerate until serving.

Mint Julep Macarons

Makes about 10 macarons (four ;-)for the cook!).

To print this recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 35 g blanched, finely ground almond meal or flour
  • 58 g icing sugar
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • A pinch of gel food colouring (I used green)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Line your baking sheet with parchment with circle-round templates beneath it (this is a more detailed account of this recipe).
  2. Combine the almond meal with the icing sugar and sift a few times, discard or reserve the larger bits for something else.
  3. In the small bowl of your stand mixer, whisk the granulated sugar and egg white together by hand and then beat on #4 for 2 minutes, #6 for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the pinch of food colouring now and beat for a final two minutes on #8.
  5. Pipe onto the prepared parchment onto the circle-rounds. Tap the baking sheet on the counter to remove any air bubbles and bake for 13 minutes or until feet have developed but the cookie does NOT brown. Cool on parchment and remove carefully. Fill with Mint Julep Buttercream (recipe below).
  6. Unfilled cookies may be kept in the freezer for up to one month in an air-tight container.

Mint Julep Buttercream

Ingredients:

  • 57 g butter (softened)
  • 200 g icing sugar
  • 2.5 mL mint extract
  • 25 mL bourbon
  • 2.5 mL brandy
  • Gel food colouring of choice

Directions:

  1. Combine softened butter with the icing sugar, mint extract, bourbon and brandy and beat until extremely light and fluffy.
  2. I wanted this buttercream to resemble the colour of bourbon so I coloured it with a little brown, red and yellow gel colouring.
  3. Fill a piping bag with the buttercream and fill each half cookie carefully. Top with the second half of the cookie. Store on its side in an air-tight container in the fridge. Cookies remain fresh for up to one week. Allow to come to room temperature before serving, but make sure the room isn’t too warm otherwise the buttercream will melt.

Mint Julep Four Ways Plating

  1. Sprinkle the white chocolate crumb on one side of the plate. Top with the mint julep pannacotta and garnish with small mint leaves.
  2. Add the macaron on its side and finish with the uncovered trifle. Serve with a shot of bourbon, or pass like we did (I just thought it looked nice for the photo).

The horse cookie was a sablée that did not work out as well as I had hoped. Recipe will not be forthcoming. Yes, I bought a horse cookie cutter!

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It’s quite funny how the universe works, isn’t it? Case in point, we were down in Arizona in March-April and my dear friend Theresa decided to introduce me to a Moscow Mule, a refreshing alcoholic bevy served in a classic copper mug. I had never had one before. It is made with ginger beer and vodka and lime juice, and it is very tasty and refreshing. Fast forward a couple of months, I’m minding my own business and to my surprise, I receive an unsolicited email from a Canadian company out west who imports and sells their very own, wait for it…Moscow Mule mugs! What a coincidence indeed! We spoke on the telephone and I suggested that I could do a post for them, focussing on a recipe that would be served in said mug. Of course, they sent me a couple of their mugs so I can post pics of the recipe in them. The mugs are beautifully hand-hammered by an artisan group in India, but most importantly, they are lined with nickel lining. Apparently, using mugs without nickel can cause a series of serious health issues (so if you have such mugs, check to make sure they have a non-reactive lining and you are not drinking directly from a copper mug). This blog post talks about the importance of nickel lining.

The Moscow Muled mugs are reasonably priced at $16.60 Canadian ($12.50 US) each and would make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers during the holidays.

I added a couple of cute tea towels, but another great idea would be a gingerbeer kit, complete with vodka, gingerbeer and limes!

Moscow Mules were invented circa 1941 in LA in a British pub called Cock ‘n’ Bull by their head bartender, Wes Price. The story is quite interesting, so if you wish, you may read about it here.

Take the worry out of the mug, Moscow Muled mugs are made with “100% pure high-grade and food-safe copper with an inner layer of high-grade nickel.”* Plus they look awesome and will keep your bevy cool on hot summer nights! I knew I wanted to make the Authentic Ginger Beer recipe on their website, it’s relatively easy (just a bit of time) and you probably already have all of the ingredients at home. The only thing I did to this tasty recipe is half it (there are only two of us and it still made around 4 litres) and I converted it to weights instead of volumes.

Raise a Moscow Muled mug with this tasty and refreshing drink, Cheers guys.

I was gifted with two Moscow Muled Mugs for this post, the opinions listed are my own.

*moscowmuled.com

I made new zippered covers for the sectional in the background, so happy with the way they turned out.

Moscow Muled Ginger Beer

Makes about 4 L of ginger beer.

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients, Step 1 Ginger Bug:

  • 250 mL water
  • 15 g sugar
  • 13 g freshly grated ginger

Directions:

  1. Combine the freshly grated ginger with the sugar and water in a glass jar.
  2. Stir until sugar has entirely dissolved with a non-reactive spoon, like a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
  3. With a clean tea-towel, cover the glass jar and secure it with rubber bands and allow to sit at room temperature for a total of 5 to 7 days.
  4. During these 5-7 days, every day, add another 13 g of freshly grated ginger and 15 g of sugar and stir until dissolved. Cover the glass jar with a towel or cloth, and secure it with rubber bands.
  5. The mixture will form bubbles around 5-7 days and at 7 days, it should smell sharp with a strong yeast aroma.

Ingredients, Step 2 Ginger Beer:

  • 85 g ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 3.5 L of filtered water
  • 2 g of sea salt
  • 300 g sugar (white or brown, I used white because I wanted a clear ginger beer)
  • 42 mL lemon juice
  • 250 mL of ginger bug

Directions:

  1. on the 5th or 7th day, combine 2 L of water, ginger, sugar and salt in a large non-reactive pot, bring to a boil then allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring periodically to steep the ginger.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the remaining water. Allow this liquid to cool completely. Once cool, use a very fine sieve to strain the ginger to make a clear liquid. Pour the ginger bug into the mixture (make sure that it is room temperature, about 23° C or 74° F, as you will kill the ginger bug if it is hot).
  3. Add the lemon juice and stir well.
  4. Pour into sterilized bottles, making sure they are only about 2/3 full because this ginger beer will actually ferment and produce carbon dioxide.
  5. Store bottles in a warm, dark place away from light and allow it to ferment for about 10 days. Carefully loosen caps from time to time to relieve the pressure from fermentation (I did this once per day).
  6. Refrigerate the ginger beer when it has reached your preferred level of sweetness. Refrigeration causes the fermentation to stall significantly. The longer the fermentation, the less sweet your ginger beer will be. We fermented our lot for 10 days and it produced a gingery, slightly carbonated beer that wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be.

I know there is no orange in the Moscow Mule recipe, I just wanted a hit of colour.

Notes:

  • I used recycled screw cap wine bottles, properly washed, rinsed and sanitized.
  • Make sure you tighten the screw caps well so the ginger beer can ferment. Also, make sure you release the CO2 every day, by opening the bottles and allowing them to exhale, so the bottles don’t explode.
  • Even after the ginger beer has fermented and is resting in the refrigerator, it contains a lot of effervescence, so be careful. Open bottles over the sink. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • I suspect there is some alcohol in the ginger beer I made, but I don’t know for certain.

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My blogger friend, David Crichton of Fine Dining at Home went all the way to the end of Master Chef UK, 2018! How COOL is THAT? I have to admit, I’m always a little envious of people who actually want to be in front of the camera, I always shy away from it. You may recall Dave and I met in 2016, in London and again in 2017, when he captained a Thomas Cook airplane to Toronto and JT and I were able to reciprocate his hospitality. Dave is so easy to get along with, that we fell right back into conversation as if no time had passed. When we got together, he mentioned that he was thinking of applying for Master Chef UK, Season 14. If anyone can do it, it would be Dave.Fine Dining at Home is a blog about upscale restaurant food you can serve in your own home. Dave makes the recipes easy to follow and uses unusual ingredients. JT and I were in Arizona when his episodes aired and they were addictive! We watched each show intently, fingers crossed that he would make the next round. Judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode never had a bad thing to say about Dave’s food. It was awesome. According to Wikipedia, more than 20,000 people applied to audition for the series in 2010 (45,000 THIS YEAR) and they whittle it down to 56! Can you imagine how stressful that would be? Dave kindly let me ask him a few questions about his experience and I thought you might enjoy it.

What is the process to become a contestant?
Dave: Quite straightforward. Fill in the online form. Then a telephone interview, if you’re successful with that you’re asked to take some food in and more questions. I guess after this it’s the luck of the gods that get you to the final 56.
Guinea fowl, Masterchef UK

Guinea fowl, French boned leg stuffed with brioche and rosemary and sweetcorn tempura

Were John and Gregg the judges in the interview process?
Dave: Invention tests are exactly that. No preparation, just cook. After this, you are given a little warning of a theme for the next round. This gets especially more difficult as the competition goes on and general life eats up your time. John and Gregg decide everything. They are the only two people you need to impress/influence.
How much time did you have before you had to appear on the show? How did you determine the dishes you would cook for the show? How many times did you practice each one?
Dave: I had about six weeks warning before my first heat. It was quite easy to determine what I’d cook. Just chose my favourite dishes that really say this is me on a plate. It then just became a matter of timings. Each dish would be only be tweaked to fit into the timescale. The hardest dish to practice for was actually my dessert in the final. It was a pistachio/Tonka bean panna cotta with citrus meringue, macerated berries and a basil gel. I had to invent my own way of making the gel. Trying to keep it green is very difficult. This probably took the best part of a day when I only had two to play with for the final three dishes.
Careless Whisper

Careless Wispa. We were given the topic of an idol. This was George Michael. It’s a 70% dark chocolate shell with salted butter caramel, dark chocolate mousse, balsamic vinegar and Greek Yoghurt ice cream

Did MC UK provide all of the ingredients for each dish? And were you able to put in an order for special ingredients? Were you limited by budget?
Dave: MC UK provide all the ingredients, which generally were amazing. There was no budget, but I chose to cook cheap food that everyone has access to and can relate to. I thought the judges can then appreciate the skill of the cook more. I blew the budget in the final though, one truffle for two portions of the starter!

This is the infamous Apple Crumble Mille Feuille that made a John cry!

How much time were you given with each brief before the show taping? Did you get the briefs in advance, all at once? What was the taping schedule, was it all at once or once every couple of days?
Dave: The whole show runs on a rolling schedule. Everything is drip fed to you. Themes for the next rounds etc. It was all generally filmed Monday-Friday.
It’s always a challenge to cook in someone else’s kitchen, did you get a chance to review the layout and equipment before taping the show or was it baptism by fire?
Dave: The first round really is a baptism of fire. You go in there completely blind. No one has any idea where the equipment is or what there is. You all just have to think on your feet. A great leveler.
One thing we kept commenting on was your controlled composure throughout the series, do you feel that your experience in being a commercial pilot helped? What were some of the techniques that you used to help control stress?
Dave: I certainly think my job helped. Panicking doesn’t solve anything. Problems will always occur, the sooner you can think straight to solve them, the better your chances of success. I was nervous, but I thought if I’m nervous how is everyone feeling? I just took it as if I was fighter, show no weakness. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard was from Conor MacGregor(UFC fighter)
“Winners concentrate on winning, losers concentrate on winners” 
I believed in myself and didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing. Not in a cocky way, but why stress about something you have no control over.
Name two things that you learned from the Michelin Star chefs that you did not know before. Will we see them incorporated in dishes on the blog?
Dave: The Michelin star chefs were the highlight of the show for me. Just watching the way they work, learning their ethos quickly rubs off on you. From Tommy I finally learnt the secret to perfect ice cream and making the rocher shape. It’s all in the texture! From Ashley Palmer-Watts I learnt so many things, but mainly just to take the attitude of every ingredient and “what can I do to make it taste great?”
Do you know what you will do with your celebrity?
Dave: I wouldn’t say I have much celebrity, but I want to do a pop up once/twice a month so everyone can come and eat my food. I’d also like to explore the private dining and corporate dining world. It all fits in better with my flying. I’d also like to write a book based on my website. Just enough to keep me out of trouble.
Thank you so much for this lovely interview. JT and I are so happy for your success. I hope one day to sample your tasty dishes and not just drool over them on the computer! Hope to see you soon.
If you want to watch Dave in action, some kind soul posted the series on YouTube, Dave’s part starts at Episode 13 and goes all the way to Episode 25.

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Happy New Year!

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I wish you all the Merriest Christmas and the Happiest New Year! Thank you for your continued support, you have all made this blogging experience so much richer than I ever could have imagined, thank you.

Our neighbourhood progressive dinner party was scheduled for the Saturday after we returned home from Arizona; I didn’t think it would be a problem since we were responsible for hors d’œuvres and appetizers. Had I read more than the heading of the email from the organizers (the main course couple), I would have realized that things were to get a bit more complicated since one person decided to go vegetarian and dairy free (for health reasons). I love a challenge but I would have liked to experiment a bit more, notwithstanding, it turned out delicious so I documented the recipe for the future. Like most recipes, this tastes better the day after it is made!

South Western Bean Soup

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Serves 6-8 depending on serving size

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 40 g black beans, soaked overnight
  • 160 g navy beans, soaked overnight
  • 100 g kidney beans, soaked overnight
  • 200 g sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 15 mL olive oil
  • 5 g toasted cumin
  • 2 g toasted coriander
  • pinch of chili powder, or to taste
  • 5 g smoked paprika, or to taste
  • 7 g cocoa powder
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced
  • 40 g tomato paste
  • 2 g puréed chipotle peppers
  • 750 mL vegetable stock
  • 250 mL passata
  • 165 g grilled corn, removed from cob
  • cilantro to garnish
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt to garnish
  • grated cheese to garnish
  • 125 mL creamed lentils (see notes)
  • 1 large avocado, cubed to garnish

Directions:

  1. Caramelize chopped onions in the olive oil. In the meantime, add the vegetable stock, passata, beans to the warm crock pot and put on high for 5 hours.
  2. Add the onions, all of the spices, tomato paste, and enchilada sauce and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 hours.
  3. When the beans are soft, add the creamed lentils and stir into the soup so it is consistent and creamy. Add the grilled corn kernels, and cook for an additional 30 minutes on high, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve in warmed bowls and top with avocado, a spoonful of Greek yogurt, cilantro, and cheese. Serve immediately with Cornbread.

Notes:

  • I use lentils as a thickener particularly when I make gluten-free recipes. Simply cook lentils until soft and purée with a stick blender until smooth. Freeze the excess in an ice-cube tray and when frozen, pop into a zip lock bag.
  • I buy chipotle peppers in a can, purée and freeze the excess in an ice-cube tray and when frozen, pop into a zip lock bag, same goes for tomato paste.

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Our neighbourly South-Western- themed progressive dinner party was scheduled two days after we returned home from Arizona, I didn’t think it would be a problem because we were only responsible for hors d’œuvres and appetizers, easy-peasy! HA! Had I read more than the heading of the organizer’s email, I would have realized that things would get a bit more complicated since one person decided to go vegetarian, gluten and dairy free (for health reasons). But, you know me, I do love a challenge and as luck would have it, my experiments turned out even better than I expected! So much so, that JT has asked for it several times since, so I documented the recipe for the future use.

This recipe originated from Emeril Lagasse but I tweaked it a little bit. What attracted me to this recipe was, of course, that it was baked an not deep fried, and although deep fried would be awesome, it’s always nice to lower calories whenever possible particularly if you need not sacrifice flavour or texture! I think you will be very happy with the baked version (our group could not get enough of them)! I’ll speak to the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy- free version in my notes below (no pics, sorry).

You can see how crispy these turned out.

Baked Jalapeño Poppers

Makes about 24 jalapeño poppers

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, seeds and membranes removed
  • 170 g (6 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 140 g (1 1/2 cups) grated sharp or old cheddar
  • 3 g (1/2 tsp) ground cumin
  • pinch of cayenne, or less, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) milk
  • 8 tsp Essence, divided
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and grated cheddar and mix well.
  2. Toast the cumin until you can smell the aroma, allow to cool and add to the cream cheese mixture and stir well. Set aside.
  3. Prepare your breading station by whisking 2 large eggs with 2 tsp of the Essence and the milk in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl, mix 4 tsp of the Essence with the coconut flour. In the third shallow bowl, add 2 tsp of the Essence to the panko and mix well. Reserve remaining essence for the next time (and believe me, there will be a next time!)
  4. Fill each jalapeño densely with the cream cheese mixture, being careful not to mound it too high; continue filling until you have filled all of the jalapeño halves.
  5. Dredge each jalapeño half in the coconut flour, then dip into the egg mixture and repeat once more. Finally, dip each pepper into the panko and press panko into the jalapeño to coat well. Repeat until all are coated.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to  375° F. Place jalapeño cut side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Give each jalapeño a light coating with the non-stick spray. Bake for 30 minutes or until panko is golden and crisp.
  7. Serve warm with sour cream and salsa.

Notes:

  • For the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free version, I simply replaced the cheeses with creamed lentils (about 1/4 cup cooked in vegetable broth and puréed with a stick blender) and the panko with shredded unsweetened coconut. Even the non-vegetarians loved them! (Sorry, no pics).
  • I use coconut flour for baked “fried” foods because the coconut has an unbelievable absorption property which makes the batter so much crispier than all-purpose flour.
  • I used gloves to protect my hands from the jalapeños as I cleaned them, you might consider doing this too.
  • Leftovers? Freeze unbaked jalapeños on a parchment-lined baking sheet and when frozen, pop them into a ziplock bag.To bake frozen jalapeños, no need to defrost, just bake for a little longer to crisp up.

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In October I did some really cool TV jobs! I cooked for the lovely and talented Chef Anjum Anand from her I love India Cookbook for Your Morning (click here to see the segment (about 1 min of commercials)) and Mark Bittman, the original author of the infamous No-Knead Bread! recipe (click here to see the segment (only about 30 seconds of commercials)) and Ocean Wise Executive Chef, Ned Bell from his beautiful new cookbook, Lure!

Ned is awesome! It was indeed a pleasure to work with him. Yes, those are ‘sensible shoes’ as a fellow food stylist recently mentioned on instagram!

Mark was incredibly humble and amazing to work with (although, I wish the camera-man would have said something about the angle of the burgers!)

Mark released his Tenth Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook, simple meatless recipes for great food! The book is enormous, over 700 pages and it’s packed with great info, techniques, and wonderful recipes.  Although Mark is not vegetarian, he believes we should be enjoying a more plant-based diet. What I liked about his recipes is that they are truly vegetarian and not just cop-out vegetarian like spaghetti with tomato sauce that you see on some menus! I cooked tofu, tempeh, seitan and a really interesting beet burger. The recipes were easy to follow and came together quickly without special equipment. I will definitely make a few again and even others from the delicious cookbook.

Although this recipe isn’t from his cookbook, it is indeed vegetarian.

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Gougières

Makes about 50 gourgières. To print the recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 250 mL (1 cup) water
  • 128 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 128 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 40 g (~1/4 cup) sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
  • 15 g (~3 cloves) garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 7 g  (~10) basil leaves, chiffonade

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C). Line a baking sheet with wet parchment paper (crumple the parchment into a ball and saturate with cold water and wring out, flatten with your hand on the baking sheet).
  2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt and garlic and heat until melted. Remove from heat and add the flour all at once, stirring well. Return to heat and cook for a couple of minutes until it comes away from the sides of the pan.
  3. Remove from the heat and beat in one egg at a time until fully incorporated, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Fold in the herbs and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
  4. Using a small ice cream scoop dipped in water with a splash of oil, scoop out single balls onto the baking sheet about 5 cm (2 inches) apart. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden and the puffs have poofed about double in size.
  5. Cool on a wire rack. Continue to bake until you have exhausted your batter.

A light and delicious cocktail nibble.

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In early August, JT and I had the honour of giving Dave (Fine Dining at Home) a foodie tour of our fair city. You see, Dave is a Captain of a Jet and was flying to the Big Smoke, so obviously, we wanted to take him on a foodie tour. It’s been a tour, a long time in the making, as soon as Dave mentioned that his airline would be flying to Toronto several months ago, I started making a list of things to do…it was long and heavy so the day before Dave’s arrival, JT and I sat down and made a lean list with opportunity to be spontaneous. Dave was a great guest, being very flexible to what we were going to do; it was a super hot and humid day so I also altered the tour to be more air conditioned car oriented than walking, even though we did our share of walking too!

It was a hot, humid day.

We started our day with the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto’s oldest market; it is made up of two stories of food and food related independent stores. While there, we had to have Toronto’s world famous Peameal Bacon on a bun (also known as back bacon or Canadian bacon) at the infamous Carousel Bakery. We loaded up our sandwiches with condiments and sat outside on picnic tables to have our breakfast! It’s a serious sandwich and I could only finish half of it! Then we toured the market, taking in the smells and sounds of Toronto’s culinary marketplace. We ended our tour in Placewares, one of my favourite kitchen stores in the city. From there, we detoured and walked along Front Street to see the new dog fountain (I know it’s not food, but it was along the way). We walked to Brookfield Place where we showed Dave the worlds largest underground pedestrian walking path, called PATH! Path sure comes in handy in the middle of winter when temperatures could be as low as -20° C because of wind chill! It’s basically a system connecting one food court to another under almost every building in downtown Toronto!

The dog fountain, they are all dog statues

Then we headed back to the car and did a little car tour of the city on our way to The Distillery District where we walked around the old distillery grounds and popped into Vom Fas, where I found a rather unique spice called Tasmanian pepper berry, that I had to have! While at The Distillery, we thought we would do a beer tour of Mill Street Brewery but sadly their tours only begin at 4pm and we didn’t want to wait around so I googled another brewery in the city and found that Steamwhistle did tours every 30 minutes. So off we went, unfortunately, the tour was very hot in some places which made it rather uncomfortable and made us sleepy, particularly with the free beer they offered. We decided that we needed lunch and we took Dave to our favourite French bistro, Le Select. By the time we finished lunch, we were all ready for a nap. We dropped Dave off at the hotel and beat the rush hour traffic home.

Dave generously gave me some gifts: Tonka Beans and a delicious bottle of Hungarian Tokay, dessert wine.

What are Tonka Beans? And, why can’t you buy them in the U.S.? They are the black seed of a South American tree that have a similar flavour to vanilla but more complex. Apparently they are poisonous if consumed in large quantities and are illegal in America! In 1995, Health Canada deemed them unacceptable as an additive in food and drugs but they are not illegal here! I guess Canadians are less likely to eat a tree full of them 😉!

A few months back, I had commented on a beautiful Tonka Bean panna cotta dessert that Dave had posted on his blog, hence the thoughtful gift, so I knew I had to make my interpretation. If you follow Dave’s blog, you will know that he makes rather fancy, labour intensive and multi-layered food and this lovely dessert was no exception; I, however, do not have the patience, so I cut it down to something I could do again, without being too labour intensive. Thank you Dave, for your generosity and inspiration. I thought the Tasmanian Pepper Berry that I picked up at Vom Fas would be a lovely accompaniment to the Tonka Bean Panna Cotta. The pepper berries have a distinct peppery flavour with hints of fruit and best of all, it lightly colours what you make a pink colour! I knew the panna cotta would be a winner.

Tonka Beans are mostly aromatic but there is unmistakable vanilla flavour with a subtle flowery, smoky cinnamon. It is rather complex and works well with both sweet and savoury applications. I can certainly see this as a flavouring in butternut squash soup or even a beautiful risotto.

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta on Chocolate Crumble with Almond Tuile

Makes 400 mL of panna cotta (I used 4 x 100 mL forms)

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta Ingredients:

  • 400 mL 1% milk
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tonka bean, finely grated
  • 5 Tasmanian pepper berries, chopped roughly
  • 8 g (1 packet) gelatine

Directions:

  1. Reserve about 25 mL milk and add the gelatin powder, stir, set aside.
  2. In a thick-bottom small pan, add the remaining 375 mL milk, sugar, Tonka Bean and Tasmanian pepper berries and heat until lightly boiling, stirring constantly.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve and pour the dairy mix into the gelatin dairy and stir until gelatin has entirely dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into vessels and refrigerate until set (4-6 hours or overnight).

Chocolate Crumble Ingredients:

  • 9 g butter
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 15 g coconut sugar
  • 16 g ground almonds
  • 8 g coconut flour
  • 6 g cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Melt butter with the salt and pour over the sifted remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread evenly on a Silpat covered baking sheet and bake at 350° F for about 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool, then crumble.

Almond Tuile Ingredients:

  • 50 g sugar
  • 25 g sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. Caramelize the sugar, add the almonds and cook a bit more until the almonds are toasted.
  2. Spread thinly onto a Silpat and cool until hardened.
  3. Break into smaller bits and pulse in a food processor until sugar and almonds have broken down (I left a few in slightly larger chunks).
  4. Spread out onto a Silpat sheet and bake again for about 6 minutes in a 350° F oven, remove and cool slightly, cut or score while warm or break into uneven bits after it has hardened.

Assembly:

  1. Sprinkle a bit of the crumble onto each plate.
  2. Place the panna cotta on top of the crumble. Decorate with the tuile.

Notes:

  • This dessert is a celebration of flavours and textures; the chocolate crumble brings intense chocolate flavour and wonderful texture, juxtaposed to the smooth and creamy, exotically flavoured panna cotta. And then there is the tuile, easier to eat than brittle because it won’t break your teeth. Crumble, creamy, crunch. This is definitely a keeper recipe but I’m going to toss the moulds, they were not impressive!
  • Dave’s version had a fruit jelly cube and a chocolate mousse which I’m sure made it out of this world, but I was too lazy to add the two additional layers, even so, it was restaurant worthy!

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We had our 15th or 16th (I’ve lost count) progressive dinner recently. It was our turn to host the main course, so we got to choose the theme and we chose Canada’s 150th birthday! This opens up the menu to several options and we all did very well! We began our feast with appetizers at John and Nancy’s, they had a lovely selection of Canadian cheeses with a variety of crackers. We were up next and we chose Tourtière as our main course. We finished the evening off at Tom and Iona’s where we enjoyed a Canadian Touque cake! I wish I had taken a picture of it, but it was dark and we were already into a few bottles of vino! 😉

Tourtière is a traditional Québequois meat pie with as many variations on the recipe as there are families! So, of course, I had to put my own spin on it. But before I get to the recipe, allow me to give you a bit of history that I found interesting (like to learn more? This is a good article).

This was the first test recipe.

Tourtière can be traced back to the 1600’s, served on Christmas Eve as part of a massive réveillon after Christmas Mass, it is time-consuming and expensive to make. Original recipes were made of cubed meat instead of ground meat and usually contained a variety of pork, beef, veal and in some cases, wild game. The uniqueness of Tourtière comes from the spices used to flavour the meat blend, most commonly would be cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, summer savoury, and thyme. Some even added grated potato, bread crumbs or oatmeal to help soak up the liquid. The pastry is always a rich, savoury, buttery pastry in a pie form, or are baked in layers like a lasagna; I chose to make mine a log similar to Beef Wellington. I will say, it was tasty but I doubt I would make it again (unless it was a special request).

The first one looked a little rough.

The first recipe I tried included grated raw potato which was added to the browned meat at the end and stock poured over to help cook it. Both JT and I agreed that it lead to a starchy filling and I decided right then and there that I would not go that route. You do need a little something to absorb some of the flavouring liquid so I chose bread crumbs. For this quantity of meat, some recipes added an entire cup, but I really wanted to avoid that starchy, gummy texture so I reduced both the stock and breadcrumbs significantly and was much happier with the outcome. The other thing I did slightly differently, is I added cooked bacon! It really brought a nice, layer of flavour to the pie without being overly bacon-ie.

The pastry is rather rich and employs a completely different method than regular pastry, the butter is room temperature and is basically rubbed into the flour and then the lightly beaten eggs and water are added at once, using the paddle attachment until just combined. Then it is set into the refrigerator to allow for the butter to set. It is rather odd, but it does work and it does make a very rich pastry that is both delicate but firm enough to hold the heavy meat filling. I decorated the log with maple leafs and then I scored the leaves for effect.

Just about ready to be popped into the oven.

Tourtière

Please click here to print recipe
Serves 6, plus

Ingredients:

  • 100 g bacon
  • 275 g each beef, veal, and pork
  • 130 g onion, finely diced
  • 125 g celery, finely diced (roughly 2 ribs)
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced (roughly 2 cloves)
  • 125 mL beef stock
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20-30 g bread crumbs (unseasoned and finely ground)
  • 1 tsp each, salt and pepper (less salt if your bacon was really salty or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:

  1. Crisp the bacon. Reserve 30 mL (2 tbsp) of the rendered fat (set remainder aside if desired).
  2. Caramelize the onions in the 15 mL (1 tbsp) bacon fat. Near the end, add the garlic and stir until you can smell the aroma (this will cook further, later in the process). Reserve the onions and garlic mixture.
  3. Brown meat in batches using a little bit of the remaining 15 mL of bacon rendering. On the last batch of meat, deglaze the pan with a mixture of the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Turn the heat right down and return all of the meat to the pan, and add the celery and stir well.
  5. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs a little at a time while stirring to achieve a slightly drier texture but be careful, because it can make it mushy and starchy (I used about 20 g of the bread crumbs).
  6. Lightly toast the aromatic spices (nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon). Mix with salt, pepper and dried thyme and sprinkle evenly onto the meat mixture and stir well. Allow the meat to cool completely and then assemble into the pie crust.

 

This one turned out very well.

The Savoury Pastry Recipe

Please click here for original recipe. The recipe makes enough for 1 log.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 470 g cake and pastry flour
  • 12 g salt
  • 254 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 125 mL cool water
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, salt and smallish chunks of butter in the large bowl of your stand mixer, equipped with the paddle attachment. Mix until the butter is fully incorporated into the flour (should be mealy).
  2. Combine the water and eggs and mix well. Add the water egg mixture to the dough all at once and mix until just incorporated, the dough will be very shaggy.
  3. Transfer the dough without a lot of handling to a smaller bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours so the butter can set.
  4. Turn the shaggy dough out and bring it together with your hands, flattening and folding the crumbs until it comes together.
  5. Roll as required or wrap and chill or freeze for future use.

 

May I offer you a slice? Please have some smoked ketchup with it.

Assembly:

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Bring the pastry out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes (or less if it is hot in your kitchen) before you wish to begin rolling. Roll pastry with a little flour on parchment paper.
  3. Roll a rectangle about 30 cm x 40 cm (12″ x 16″) and place the meat mixture into the centre in a long log, leaving space at each end. Fold up the ends and pinch closed and fold up the sides and pinch closed. Cut off excess pastry at the ends, reserve for decoration.
  4. Flip the entire log so that the seam is underneath. Roll the remaining pastry a little thinner than the rectangle and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter (I used a maple leaf).
  5. Lightly brush the pastry with the lightly beaten egg. Decorate with cut outs and then brush the cutouts with the remaining egg.
  6. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until pastry is golden and shiny. Slice into a variety of thicknesses to please all your guests.

Notes:

  • I served the Tourtière with Bacon Jam recipe and home made ketchup (recipe to come) and this Chutney.
  • Sides to consider: creamed corn, peas, green beans with garlic and almonds, and or mashed potatoes. It is a heavy meal so you may wish to include a salad.
  • JT made a wonderful no knead bread and I cut little patts of butter with my small maple leaf cookie cutter.

Night photos always suck.

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