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We are knee deep in cocktail party season and I’m going to post a recipe that will keep you on budget! Do you love Boursin? Are you appalled at the price? In Toronto, a little 150 g (a touch more than 1/2 cup) pot could cost $6.00+++!!! So I improvised and created this herb-infused cream cheese spread, it’s equally as good and costs a lot less! Make this a couple of days in advance so the flavours have time to meld, you won’t be sorry.

Herbed Cream Cheese Spread

Makes about 250 mL or 1 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 30 mL olive oil
  • dry or fresh herbs, to taste
  • garlic, minced finely
  • 70 g butter, softened
  • 100 g cream cheese, softened
  • 100 g ricotta
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • Chives or green onions, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil over low heat with the fresh herbs and garlic, simmer for 10 minutes to infuse. Allow the infused oil to cool completely.
  2. Pour infused oil through a fine sieve and reserve, discard herbs and garlic.
  3. In a small processor, pulse the cheeses and butter together until light and fluffy. Slowly pour in the cooled olive oil and continue to pulse until it has been entirely incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve at room temperature and watch it disappear.

Notes:

  • The first time, I used a combo of fresh lemon thyme, rosemary, tarragon and Greek oregano. This time, I used finely grated Herbes de Provence.
  • I had homemade ricotta, but if you do not, just double the cream cheese, it’s still delicious!
  • Use whipped cream cheese for a similar texture to the actual Boursin.
  • I like to serve this spread in a small glass pot but any container will do. To serve similar to the actual Boursin, line a ramekin with plastic wrap and pack the spread into the plastic wrap and freeze. To serve, Remove from the freezer and invert on a platter and remove plastic wrap. Allow the dome to come to room temperature.
  • Serve with bread, crackers or crudité.

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Way back in later September, JT and I rented our neighbours’ cottage in Muskoka. Its vista reminds me of our beloved cabin that we no longer visit. But that’s a whole other story for some other time. Right now, I’d like to focus on the cottage we rented, and its beautiful views. Click on the images below to view the gallery.

We invited some dear vegetarian friends up for a couple of days and one of the days we had a grazing dinner of tapas and cheeses. One dish that was very successful was the mushroom and chestnut paté with cognac. You would be hardpressed to guess this does not have any meat. The texture is creamy and smooth with great depth of flavour.

Mushroom and Chestnut Paté with Cognac

Makes 125 mL Paté

Ingredients:

    • 100 g roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped (I used this one)
    • Handful of raw cremini mushrooms
    • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
    • 2-3 cloves roasted garlic
    • 80 g butter, room temperature
    • 15 mL EVOO
    • 30 mL cognac
    • pinch of nutmeg
    • pinch of allspice
    • pinch of salt and black pepper
    • ~20 g butter, to top off paté

Directions:

  1. Melt 20 g butter with the olive oil in a pan. Sauté the shallots until caramelized, add the mushrooms and cook until softened. Add the chestnuts and sauté lightly until softened. Deglaze the pan with the cognac.
  2. Set aside to cool.
  3. When cool, add the cooked ingredients to a food processor or jar of the immersion blender. Add remaining softened butter (not the melted butter at the end of the list), roasted garlic and spices and pulse until very smooth.
  4. Add the paté to a plastic-lined pan and press into the corners or into a shallow mason jar, as pictured, and smooth the top over. Pour melted butter over the top and allow to harden.
  5. Allow this paté to come to room temperature before serving.

Notes:

  • You may substitute the butter with vegan butter should you desire, however I am unsure of the impact it would have on the overall flavour.
  • You may use any type of mushroom, I love cremini’s earthy sweetness.

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Late in the summer, I got together with a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in quite some time. We had a long lunch chatting about what’s going on in each of our lives and ended up reminiscing about wonderful vacations we have each had in Spain. Of course, my head goes directly to food and I had couldn’t stop thinking about a spectacular dish we had during one of our first meals in Almaria: a scallop wrapped in Iberian bacon bathed in a corn emulsion! It was out of this world. The delicate flavours worked so well together. I thought this dish could make a lovely starter or a beautiful amuse bouche, appetizer or light main course for the holidays; of course, I put my own little spin on it and it is equally as compelling. In the Notes area, I have made suggestions on how to make this dish vegetarian or vegan.

This scallop wrapped in Iberian bacon bathed in a corn emulsion is the artistic creation of Joseba Anorga Taberna, a contemporary restaurant rated as one of the top ten in Almeria.

Seared Scallops in Creamy Grilled Corn Velouté

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main

Ingredients:

  • 300 g grilled corn (or frozen corn)
  • ~200 mL chicken stock
  • 20 g roasted almonds (with or without skins)
  • sea salt to taste
  • 20 g pancetta, cut into small bits
  • 15 mL grapeseed oil
  • 4-6 large scallops
  • butter
  • 45 mL white wine vinegar
  • Splash of water

Directions:

  1. Rince frozen corn, if using, to defrost. Purée the corn with almonds and the chicken stock until desired consistency is achieved (I used 200 mL for a thicker velouté). Press through a fine sieve to catch all of the corn skins, discard skins. Reserve the creamed corn at room temperature until required.
  2. In a small pan, fry the pancetta in the grapeseed oil until crisp; set on paper towel to remove excess oil. Reserve the pancetta fat (there isn’t much).
  3. Add the butter and reserved pancetta fat to a large cast iron frying pan. Dry the scallops well. When the oil is smoking hot, add the scallops and sear each side without turning or moving. The scallops will release from the pan when they are ready. Flip each scallop only once.
  4. Remove the scallops and cover to keep warm.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the white wine vinegar and splash of water, if using and reserve for drizzle (I did not need to add water).
  6. To serve, spoon the corn velouté into shallow bowls (I like a rimmed soup bowl for a main or a small shell dish as an appetizer. Add the hot scallops, sprinkle on the crispy pancetta and drizzle with the deglazing liquid. Serve immediately garnished with shallot curls.

The subtly sweet corn compliments the delicate sweetness of the scallop, and then there is the salty bacon and the acidity of the pan juices. Heaven!

Notes:

  • This dish can easily be made into a vegetarian or vegan by using King Mushrooms instead of scallops as I have done here (they have a similar texture to scallops and will sear just like scallops). Substitute a robust olive oil for the butter and vegetable stock for chicken stock. Obviously, omit the pancetta but sprinkle the finished dish generously with sea salt for balance.
  • Searing is possible only when the scallop or King Mushrooms are perfectly dry, so pat them dry before you cook them.
  • If you are using frozen corn, add a pinch of sweet smoked paprika to emulate the smokey flavour of grilled corn.

This was our actual dinner, it was very tasty indeed.

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As you know, my friend, David Chrighton (Fine Dining at Home) was on Master Chef UK last fall (I know, sooooo cool). He went all the way to the finals! Sadly, he didn’t win the title, but OMG, he went ALL THE WAY to the finals! David is a Captain for an airline and flies commercial jets. I can certainly see how nerve wracking Master Chef can be, and that’s where his pilot nerves of steel came into play! Not that he wasn’t a wee bit nervous (we did spot a few beads of sweat on his brow) but he never wavered, not even when he was cooking a Michelin Star Chef’s recipe! Ashley Palmer-Watt, head chef of Fat Duck, three-star-Michelin resto in Bray, was a guest on the show on Episode 24. Each participant had 5 hours (5 HOURS!) to complete one of Chef Ashley’s famous recipes. David lucked out and got one the most complicated recipes with 120 stages of preparation! Now THAT is stressful!

Now don’t get into a tizzy that I will post one of these complicated recipes, no sirree, I don’t have the the patience, but one of the positive windfalls of being a runner-up on Masterchef UK, is that Dave is now a celebrity chef! He is still a pilot but he also does pop-up restaurants and demonstrations at fairs and markets! During one such pop-up, he posted an awesome looking white gazpacho and since we were having a heat wave, I knew I had to recreate it for a dinner party. Dave didn’t post the recipe so I improvised; my version was a light green so I called it Spring Green Gazpacho!

The recipe is rich in flavour but not heavy. A variety of complex flavours coat the mouth and speaking of mouth, it has an incredibly smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Thank you, Dave, for the inspiration. By the way, Dave totally rocked that complicated recipe for Chef Ashley.

Spring Green Gazpacho

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 600 mL

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 175 g cucumber, roughly chopped
  • 150 g grilled corned, removed from cob
  • 100 g avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 125 mL milk (avocado gives the fat, so feel free to use a low fat milk)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 3 g fresh basil leaves
  • 100 g Greek yogurt
  • 20 g toasted almond flour
  • salt, to taste
  • Cubed cucumber, grilled corn, pomegranate arils, chiffonade of fresh basil as garnish

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Press through a fine sieve. Store in the refrigerator for maximum 4 days.
  3. Serve chilled with a garnish of chopped cucumbers, fresh basil and grilled corn and pomegranate arils.

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I have been thinking about hacking a spring roll recipe to avoid deep frying and I believe I have found the answer. If you like crispy spring rolls with a flavourful filling and a delicious peanut dipping sauce, then you will like this recipe. JT is all about the deep fried spring roll and I adore fresh rolls (rice paper rolls that are not cooked). It’s easy to accommodate when we go out because we order what we want (and usually have leftovers for another day!) but at home, I prefer not to make two separate dishes so poor JT has to endure the fresh rolls (I also don’t like deep frying). It was the middle of the night when I came up with this idea: to use phyllo pastry as the roll paper! The idea festered in my brain for some time, I even bought the phyllo pastry and had it in the fridge for a week before I carved out some time to make them. To be honest, the first attempt was a bit soggy, the phyllo absorbed all of the liquid from the filling and didn’t crisp up and that’s when I put my thinking cap on and came up with this winner! The first set was made with half a phyllo sheet, this time, I used an entire sheet for one roll. I also brushed each sheet with sesame oil and sprinkled coconut flour over each sheet (coconut flour absorbs liquid quite effectively without much taste). The result was outstanding, JT approved with gusto. I will definitely make these again.

So crispy, you will never guess that they were not deep fried!

Crispy Baked Spring Rolls

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 6 x 20 cm rolls

To print this recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 60 g protein, your choice, finely minced
  • 5 mL each, soy sauce and hoisin sauce
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 30 mL sesame oil, divided
  • 45 mL grape seed oil
  • 20 g coconut flour
  • 6 sheets phyllo pastry
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 mini cucumber, finely sliced
  • 42 g glass noodles, cooked

Directions:

  1. Heat 15 mL sesame oil in a small frying pan, add the garlic and shallot and cook until softened. Add the protein and cook through. Season with soy sauce and hoisin sauce. Cool completely.
  2. Combine the remaining 15 mL sesame oil and grape seed oil in a small container.
  3. Take one phyllo sheet and brush with combined oils. Sprinkle a small amount of coconut flour on the oiled sheet (I find using a small sieve makes this very easy).
  4. In the centre of one short end, spread some grated carrot, sliced cucumber and glass noodles. Add about 1 tbsp meat mixture and spread. Fold the bottom and top sides into the roll (about 1/3:1/3:1/3) and brush with a little of the oil mixture, sprinkle with coconut flour and begin rolling tightly from the filled end. The first layer of the pastry will crack, but don’t worry, it will be covered with several layers. Repeat until you have 6 finished rolls.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  6. Brush the finished roll with the remaining oil mixture and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden, turning occasionally. Serve with peanut dipping sauce, recipe below.

Ingredients for the peanut dipping sauce:

  • 60 mL chunky peanut butter
  • 45 mL rice vinegar
  • 5 mL soy sauce
  • dash of honey
  • lime juice

Directions for the peanut dipping sauce:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until well combined. Taste, adding sweetness or salt as needed.

May I offer you a couple of these tasty spring rolls?

Notes:

  • Protein choices: ground beef, pork or chicken. For vegetarian, try crumbled tofu or even tempeh.
  • The pastry thickness is essential to make a crispy spring roll, otherwise, the filling moisture overwhelms the pastry and it becomes soggy.

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I must apologize, my post did not post as I had hoped (perhaps it was because it was scheduled for Wednesday!). Better late than never!

Our summer began with the most perfect temperatures (for me), low 20’s° C (low 70s° F) with low to no humidity. You have to understand, Toronto becomes a sauna in the summertime, high temperatures and humidity and which makes it seem so much hotter and muggier than it actually is. It’s usually so soupy that a shower seems less wet than going outside! As soon as July hit, so did summer temperatures 34° C (93° F) and in rolled the humidity (making 34 seem like 42° C or 107° F). I am a sweater, I sweat thinking about physical effort, it’s really awful, so these hot temps force me to stay inside with the A/C cranked low and a fan blowing on me. It really is a curse.

I came up with this recipe for a lunch during a long-weekend that I was locked inside my house. I wanted something fast, light and easy with ingredients I had at home. Usually, I wouldn’t blog about this type of recipe but JT loved it so much, he literally asked for it again the very next day! This is day two, I didn’t have enough home-grown tomatoes so I added a vine-ripened tomato I had at home. I’ve made this salad a few more times! The bulgur adds a lovely texture, not quite chewy but not soft either. The tuna is a nice addition but it’s even tasty without it for a vegan recipe.

Mediterranean Red Bulgur Salad with Tuna

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

This recipe makes 4-6 servings

To make this vegan, omit the tuna.

Ingredients:

  • 200 g red bulgar
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 can tuna (flaked white albacore in water)
  • 10 cm cucumber, finely diced
  • a handful of parsley, chopped finely
  • 3-4 mint leaves, chopped finely
  • 12 or so kalamata olives, chopped
  • a handful or so of grape tomatoes, finely diced
  • Handful of chopped artichokes

Ingredients for the dressing:

  • juice and zest of 1 lemon (about 60 mL)
  • same quantity olive oil, or less
  • 10 mL tomato paste
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, tomato paste and salt and mix well.
  2. Add the garlic cloves to the bulgur water with salt. Cook the bulgur according to directions (mine said 500 mL water with 200 g bulgar). If all of the water did not absorb, strain. Discard garlic.
  3. Pour dressing over the strained, hot bulgur. Cool slightly.
  4. Combine everything for the salad and mix well.
  5. Serve immediately in a bowl or spoon into iceberg lettuce leaves.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have any tomatoes, use about 125 mL sundried tomatoes in olive oil, strained and chopped.
  • I usually buy chunk albacore tuna because we like it better than flaked but this recipe is better with flaked because it distributes more evenly.
  • If you dress the bulgur when hot, it will absorb the dressing more and evenly.
  • I would have added a little Greek Sheep’s Milk crumbled feta if I had some at home. If you do, omit the salt in the dressing.

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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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