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We are knee-deep in entertaining season so I thought I’d share some easy recipes for entertaining. Homemade dips are simple to make and are a million-times better than store-bought dips. I’ve suggested grilling the eggplant for a smoky flavour in my recipe but if your grill is tucked away for the long winter, you can broil them for a similar effect.

Speaking of entertaining, do you own a wood-burning fireplace or know someone who does? Do you struggle to bring wood in from your wood pile when you have friends over? The sawdust and bits of wood alway stick to your clothes and the number of trips in and out is tiring! I have a solution! I’ve created a handy log carrier, hand made by yours truly in Canada! This is the perfect gift for the wood burning fireplace owner! Made of heavy duty denim, with a copper handles, these carriers can hold 12-14 kg (25-30 lbs) of wood, the perfect amount for a roaring fire without breaking your back! They are $60 (Canadian) each or two for $100 (Canadian). Shipping within Canada and to the US is available but you’ll need to contact me before November 23 to make sure you get it by Christmas. Now let’s get busy and make some baba!

Baba Ganoush

For the original recipe, please click here.

Makes about 400 mL dip

Ingredients:

  • 8 small Thai aubergines, halved and seeded
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves of roasted garlic
  • 15 mL tahini
  • 6 g cumin
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • sea salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Grill aubergines on very hot BBQ, until skin is charred and the flesh is soft (we did ours mostly on the skin side on the BGE).
  1. Roast the garlic in a parchment pouch wrapped in foil. Cool.
  2. Peel the charred skin and away from the aubergine and discard, peel roasted garlic and discard skins.
  3. In the bowl of your food processor, add all of the ingredients and purée until smooth, season to taste.

Notes:

  • I like to toast my cumin for big flavour.
  • Use raw garlic if you wish, we have developed a bit of an aversion to raw garlic so I roast it whenever possible.
  • Use as much olive oil to give you a smooth dip.
  • I would not substitute peanut butter for the tahini in this case.
  • If you like a tarter dip, add more lemon juice.
  • Seeds of the eggplant tend to be bitter, so I’d remove them.

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This past July, we traveled to Wisconsin to visit friends at their gorgeous lake house; it was bittersweet because they were selling it to move down to Arizona for good. The weather wasn’t great so we only got in one very short boat ride but we enjoyed every last minute. We shall miss visiting this little gem in Wisconsin. But that just means we’ll be visiting Arizona even more!

While we were in Wisconsin, our dear friends introduced us to an incredible product: Rick Bayless’ Fonterra Grill salsa! It was to die for! The layered flavours of grilled vegetables and fresh cilantro created a complex salsa that was totally unexpected, so of course, I had to try to recreate it upon our return. I used our Big Green Egg which is the ultimate charcoal barbecue! It imparts the most incredible smoky flavours but if you have gas or propane, just fire up some wood chips on the side for a similar experience.

Grilled Vegetable and Cilantro Salsa

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Yields about 1 Litre of salsa (about 4 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 kg tomatoes, seeded (reserve seeds and pulp for tomato jam)
  • 2 sweet red peppers
  • 4 jalopeño peppers, seeded and veins removed or to taste
  • 2 nora peppers, rehydrated in warm water, skins and seeds removed (yields about 15 mL flesh), optional
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1/2 garlic bulb, skin on
  • 2.5 mL smoked sweet paprika
  • Salt
  • Cilantro leaves, good handful or to taste
  • juice of 2 limes

Directions:

  1. Remove seeds and pulp from the tomatoes and set cut-side down on a cooling rack lined with parchment paper. Overnight is best, you want to dry out the tomatoes as much as possible.
  2. Roast the tomatoes, peppers, jalapeños and onion on an open flame (I used our Big Green Egg) until softened and slightly charred. Wrap the garlic in parchment and then foil and roast over the open flame until soft.
  3. Remove the skins from the tomatoes, peppers and garlic, discard skins. Add roasted veggies and cilantro leaves to a food processor and chop to desired consistency. Add salt and lime juice and pulse to combine.
  4. Add the scraped flesh from the Nora peppers to the processor and pulse a few more times.
  5. Fill sterilized jars with the salsa. If you are not using right away, you will want to process the jars in the typical canning methods. I processed my salsa for 15 minutes.

Tomato Jam

Yields a scant 250 mL (1 cup) tomato jam

Ingredients:

  • 370 g tomato pulp (all the seeds and pulp from the tomatoes that you plan to roast for the above recipe)
  • 100 g shallots, minced finely
  • 10 g garlic, minced finely
  • 15 mL EVOO
  • 50 mL cooking sherry
  • 15 mL white balsamic vinegar
  • 1.25 mL baking soda
  • basil, chiffonade
  • salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook the onions and garlic until caramelized, deglaze the pan with cooking sherry. Add the tomato pulp, basil, season with salt and then add the baking soda, being careful because the baking soda will foam up.
  2. Cook for about an hour until most of the water has cooked off. About half-way through the cooking, add the white balsamic vinegar and stir well.

Notes:

  • I used a combination of vine-ripened tomatoes and Roma because that is what looked the best to me.
  • I have mentioned this before, baking soda neutralizes the acidity of the tomato and therefore there is NO NEED TO ADD SUGAR (yes, I yelled that!).
  • You could do whatever you wish with the pulp, I just don’t like throwing away food!
  • Since this post was written, I’ve made two additional batches of this salsa and the last batch was rush so I used the entire tomato instead of seeding it, it made for a wetter salsa so I strained it before canning. The seeds added a bit more texture that wasn’t unpleasant. But, I’d still go the extra mile and seed the tomatoes if I have the time.

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This is not your ordinary pancake. The mung beans add a certain richness and denseness to the pancake. It’s almost like an overmixed North American pancake! Having said that, it still has nice fresh flavour and can be quite addictive. Some recipes have you remove the skins and split the mung beans, I had neither the patience nor the time, so this recipe is a little green/greyer than most. I figured the skins had vitamins or at the very least, fibre. Use whatever veggies make you happy. Next time, I’ll add green onions because the chives had very little flavour.

Korean-Style Mung Bean Pancakes

This recipe makes about 20 appetizer portion pancakes.

To see the original recipe, please click here.

To print this recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 95 g mung beans, soaked in warm water for at least 2 hours
  • 250 mL water
  • 15 mL miso paste
  • 10 g coconut sugar
  • 65 g rice flour
  • 5 g ginger, grated
  • 45 g coconut, soaked in water then drained
  • 60 g each, frozen peas and corn
  • a handful of pea shoots
  • Chives
  • Cilantro

Directions:

  1. Combine everything but the peas, corn, pea shoots and herbs in the jar of a blender and blend until very smooth.
  2. Heat a non-stick pan and spray lightly with oil. Drop 15 to 30 mL batter onto the pan a good distance apart from each other (so you can easily flip them) and top with a sprinkling of the peas and corn, pea shoots and herbs. Cook until golden on one side, then flip and finish cooking for a very short time so that the herbs don’t burn.
  3. Serve warm with dipping sauce (recipe below).

Ingredients for the dipping sauce:

  • 30 mL rice vinegar
  • 5 mL soy sauce
  • 2.5 mL sesame oil
  • pinch of coconut sugar
  • pinch of toasted sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Serve with mung bean pancakes.

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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 have been really enjoying Korean cuisine for a while now, and my dear friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails, in hiatus) gave us a wonderful jar of gourmet Kimchi for Christmas. The first time I ever tried Kimchi was in Paris with my friend Charles (Five Euro Foods, also in hiatus) when he took us to a Korean BBQ place. It was a delicious lunch filled with bright and heady flavours but I have to tell you that I did not love my first experience with Kimchi. Fortunately, since then, I have tried many different versions and I am very happy to report, I LOVE IT! My friend Sissi over at With a Glass is the Kimchi expert, she has made several versions and recipes using Kimchi, check out her lovely blog. In fact, it was the persistence of Sissi’s recipes on her blog that made me want to make my own, plus that jar that Barb so generously gave us was awesome and I wanted more! Thank you, Sissi and Barb.

The recipes are as easy as they sound, the most difficult part will be the waiting until it ferments and then dig in. It works well with Korean but we’ve also had it with Indian and it is wonderful. This makes a smallish batch but it is enough for a few meals.

Kimchi

Please click here for original recipe.

To print recipe, click here.

Makes 1 650 mL jar

Ingredients:

  • 450 g chopped and grated vegetables (see notes)
  • 75 g table salt
  • water to cover
  • 20 g ginger, grated
  • 16 g garlic, grated
  • 6 g Korean red pepper
  • 13 g sugar
  • 30 mL fish sauce (or 45 mL, to taste)

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, add the coleslaw mix (minus the celeriac). Pour the salt over the entire mix and rub in with your hands. Cover with water. Allow to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Rince the salted coleslaw mix 4-5 times with fresh water. Add the green onions and celeriac and mix thoroughly.
  3. In a small glass bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, red pepper sugar and fish sauce and mix well to create a smooth paste. Pour over the coleslaw mix.
  4. Using a gloved hand, rub the paste into the slaw until it is fully incorporated and evenly mixed. Pack the entire slaw mix into a sterilized jar, pressing down to remove large air bubbles, leaving about 2.5 cm space at the top, then cap with the lid. Allow to ferment for 2-3 days in a cool spot but not the refrigerator. It’s probably a good idea to open the jar every-so-often to release the gases that build up during fermentation. Once it has reached your desired flavour, refrigerate. Some recipes need to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks but this one you may use right away, knowing that the flavours will only get better as it ages.

Notes:

  • Buying an entire cabbage is far too much for just the two of us, it would take us a year to go through it all, so I buy the pre-shredded coleslaw mix in the bag salad section and augment it with what I have at home, this time it was celeriac and green onions.
  • I would use gloves to massage the paste into the vegetables, the red pepper may stain your hands and nails.

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Soup has been on our menu quite often this winter. Personally, I adore soup, so much so, we’ve coined the expression “I love soup so much, it could be my middle name”! My favourite are brothie soups like chicken noodle, Phõ, lemongrass, and miso to name a few, but JT prefers creamy soups so I throw him a bone every so often and blitz the soup with my immersion blender. This one turned out exceptionally well so, I decided to repost. Plus the light is getting much better and I couldn’t resist.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 500 mL

Ingredients:

  • 25 g variety of dried wild mushrooms
  • 35 g red lentils, dried
  • 140 g shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 90 g sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • 60 g celery, roughly chopped (about 1 rib)
  • 25 g butter
  • 40 g roasted garlic (about 5 large cloves)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ~300 mL vegetable stock
  • 2-4 tbsp finishing olive oil

Directions:

  1. Soak the dried, wild mushrooms in about 500 mL water for a minimum of 30 minutes. Strain through a gold coffee filter and reserve liquid. Rinse the mushrooms.
  2. Caramelize the onions in the butter. Add the celery, roasted garlic and rehydrated mushrooms and cook until soft, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the reserved mushroom liquid and lentils and simmer loosely covered for an additional 30 minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile, toss the sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms in some olive oil and roast in a hot oven (375° F) until caramelized (roughly 20-25 minutes), turning once.
  4. Remove soup from heat and purée with an immersion blender until smooth, adding vegetable stock to desired consistency (I added about 300 mL). Press through a fine sieve for a velvety, smooth texture. Add salt and pepper to taste and purée once more. Garnish with the caramelized mushrooms and drizzle with the finishing olive oil. Serve piping hot with Cheddar Orange Scones.

Notes:

  • No matter how well your blender purées creamed soups, push it through a fine sieve for a creamy and velvety texture. Then blitz it again just before serving. This is a tip from the 1-star Michelin chef we had a cooking lesson with in Lyon.
  • Thick creamy soups that are not made with cream, like this one, deserve a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Serve with a scone to make a hearty lunch.

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We had a Super Bowl party in early February and I made the usual suspects but I also wanted a slightly healthier and vegetarian version of the traditional Buffalo wings. I have made Buffalo cauliflower in the past but it never really met my expectations achieving the crunchy coating I had hoped for, so I put it on the back burner. Then in January, I started thinking about adding texture to the florets in the form of breading. I tested this recipe with panko with regular flour and the crispy rice cereal with coconut flour and to be honest, in a blind taste-test, JT voted for the crispy rice cereal and coconut flour version. The coating has a great crunch and being made of crispy rice cereal and coconut flour, it is also gluten-free. Vegans may use chia seeds instead of the eggs for the binder.

Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower “wings”

Ingredients:

  • 60 g coconut flour
  • 2 eggs, whisked well
  • 120 mL water, plus
  • 120 g crispy rice cereal, hand crushed
  • 15 g Buffalo chicken spice mix
  • 15 g dehydrated onion flakes
  • 15 g granulated garlic
  • 5 g sea salt
  • ~750 g Cauliflower, cut into 2-bite pieces
  • Non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Place coconut flour, eggs whisked with water, and crispy rice cereal into three separate medium-sized, deep bowls.
  3. Add 15 g of Buffalo spice mix into the crushed crispy rice cereal and mix well.
  4. Take one cauliflower floret at a time and dip into the coconut flour first, then the egg and lastly the crispy rice cereal and coat well. Lay each cauliflower floret (flat-side down) onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue until all of the cauliflower is coated with the rice-breading. You may need to add a bit more water to the egg mixture as the coconut flour tends to thicken it up.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cauliflower is cooked but not too soft (test with a cake tester, there should be resistance when poked through).
  6. Drizzle with Buffalo-style sauce, if using.
  7. Serve hot with blue cheese dipping sauce.

Ingredients for Buffalo-style sauce:

  • 65 mL melted butter
  • 15-30 mL honey (to taste)
  • 50 mL hot sauce

Directions:

  1. Combine all three ingredients in a small pan and heat slowly to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Drizzle lightly over the baked cauliflower.

Notes:

  • I find the best results are achieved using dry cauliflower (wash and spin-dry then lay out on a clean dishcloth for 20-30 minutes).
  • You will need to coax the coconut flour into the cauliflower crevices.
  • If you are trying to be healthier, omit the Buffalo sauce.
  • This dish is best served right out of the oven, as the crispy rice cereal eventually gets a bit soggy, particularly with the Buffalo sauce on it.
  • I puréed leftovers with vegetable stock into a smooth soup and JT could not stop raving about it.

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