Monday, May 25, 2015

Moules Marinières: A Traditional French Classic

Wine, cream, and butter — the holy trinity of any devout epicurean. Together they produce a mighty potion rich enough to enhance any dish. One of my favourites is Moules Marinières, a classic dish found in brasseries throughout the world. The essentials are simple: cook chopped leeks in an abundance of butter, add a dollop or two of white wine, lashings of parsley and a final flourish of light cream. Difficult? Hardly. Expensive? Not at all. Mussels are only $2.99/lb, but you'll need a reasonably good bottle of white wine, both for the broth and for quaffing afterwards. Moules is an easy dish that can be prepared in no time at all, and it's delicious, especially with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the addictively delicious sauce. If you're feel sufficiently motivated, you can also make your own french fries for a traditional "moules-frites." Mon Dieu.

Moules Marinières 
Serves 2

1 lb mussels, de-beard and kept chilled until using
2 leeks, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 handful of fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
kosher salt and white pepper
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Crusty French bread, for serving

In a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the leeks, season with salt and white pepper and sauté until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Then add the wine and fresh thyme, and stir to combine. Once the wine is bubbling, add the mussels and give them a stir to coat. Cover and turn the heat up to medium-high, and continue cooking 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened up. Those that haven't, you should discard. Add the cream and parsley, and give it all a good stir. Serve the moules in one large bowl or portion into two warmed dinner bowls. Ladle the sauce overtop and garnish with some additional chopped parsley. Be sure to mop up the sauce with a loaf of warm crusty bread — delicious!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Linguine with Clams in White Wine Sauce

Full of fresh simple flavours of the sea, nothing beats a seductive bowl of Linguine alle Vongole Bianco. The classic combination of clams and pasta is traditionally a Neapolitan dish but is also popular in the surrounding region of Campania, Rome, and throughout Italy, where this fragrant dish can be prepared two ways: rosso, with tomatoes and basil, or bianco, without. In this recipe, fresh Manila clams are steamed in a broth of olive oil, butter, onions, garlic and white wine until they just open and release their briny liquid into the sauce. The linguine is cooked until just al dente — in salty water, of course — then tossed with the clams, broth, and a handful of fresh herbs until it absorbs the sauce. Add a pad of butter or splash of olive oil and flurry of chopped parsley at the very end to make your pasta verdant and shiny, and serve with a cold glass of white wine for a traditional Neapolitan dish that is simple, delicious, and just about perfect. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best. 

Linguine with Clams in White Wine Sauce
Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
1/4 tsp red-pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
2 lb small Manila or littleneck clams, soaked and scrubbed
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 oz linguine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and drop the linguine into the boiling water.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onions become translucent and the garlic is golden, about 6-8 minutes. Then add the white wine and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until it's reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the clams and half of the chopped parsley, cover and simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the shells have opened, about 3-5 minutes.

Drain the linguine when it's one minute short of the cooking time on the package instructions and add to the sauté pan with the clams. Toss the pasta in the pan to allow it to absorb the broth. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, transfer the pasta and clams with sauce to warmed serving bowls and garnish with the remaining chopped parsley.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Stilton

Rich and creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup is a delicious and soul satisfying dish on a chilly night, and gets an extra boost of flavour from some crumbled stilton, the creamy blue-veined British favourite. Of course, if you really like blue cheese, crumble a bit more on top with a swirl of cream, for a luxurious starter, or serve with a knob of warm crusty bread for a simple and easy dinner.

Creamy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Stilton
Serves 4

4 tbsp butter
3 large leeks, rinsed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 cup fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped 
4 cups chicken stock 
Kosher salt and white pepper
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup stilton or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
parsley to garnish

Sauté the leeks and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Add the broccoli cauliflower and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. cook covered for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fork tender. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool sufficiently before puréeing. Using a hand-held immersion or standing blender, purée until smooth. Pour the soup back into the saucepan and stir in the cream and cheese, mixing well to combine. Rewarm the soup on medium-low. Ladle the soup into pre-warmed bowls, garnish with a sprig of parsley and serve with some warm crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grilled Asparagus with Duck Eggs & Shaved Pecorino

Each weekend at the St Lawrence Farmer's Market it's possible to buy fresh duck eggs. Slightly larger than a normal chicken egg with a brighter yolk and beautiful robin's egg blue shell, a poached or soft boiled duck egg makes a delicious brunch dish when served with grilled asparagus and a garnish of shaved pecorino. Fast and easy, Grilled Asparagus with Soft Boiled Duck Eggs are also a lower fat vegetarian alternative to traditional Eggs Benedict, and takes full advantage of locally grown Ontario asparagus, so plentiful at this time of year.

Grilled Asparagus & Soft Boiled Duck Egg with Shaved Pecorino
Serves 2

2 bunches fresh asparagus
2 duck eggs
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
salt & pepper
shaved pecorino or manchego cheese

Carefully place the duck eggs into boiling water and then turn the heat down to medium high. Boil for 6 or 7 minutes depending on the size of your duck egg. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and put into the boiling water with the egg for 2 or 3 minutes.

Preheat your grill to hot and place the blanched asparagus on a sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, roll to coat evenly then put under the grill for a few minutes to brown slightly. Rolling to cook the other side half way through. After 6 minutes drain the water out of the pan and run the cold tap over the egg in the pan until cool enough to handle. Roll the egg gently on your counter to break the shell and peel the egg.

Transfer the asparagus to a plate with a slotted spoon, drizzle with little more olive oil, squeeze over some lemon juice and place the egg on top. With a knife cut into your egg to reveal the soft centre, season the egg with salt and pepper and then finish off the dish by shaving over some manchego or parmesan. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lobster Salad with Avocado, Mango & Chives

A luscious combination of diced avocado, ripe mango, chopped yellow and red peppers and slivered scallions tossed in a light and flavourful lemony mayonnaise mixed with crunchy celery, minced shallots and chopped chives come together so deliciously, the succulent flavour of the fresh lobster positively shines. A local Toronto chef generously gave me this fabulous Lobster Salad with Avocado & Mango recipe, after imploring him to divulge the secret ingredients. His original recipe made enough to serve about 200 people, so he kindly adjusted the quantities for a more intimate gathering, so now it's possible to create this sensational summertime Lobster Salad at home. 

Lobster Salad with Avocado, Mango & Chives
Serves 4-6 

2/3 cup mayonnaise 
1 tsp lemon zest 
1 lemon, juiced 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
1/4 cup each of yellow and red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup of scallion, finely chopped
2 live lobsters 
1/2 cup ripe mangoes, diced
1/2 cup avocados, diced drizzled with lemon juice
Lemon slices, for garnish 

Plunge 2 live lobsters headfirst into an 8-quart pot of boiling salted water. Loosely cover the pot and cook lobsters over moderately high heat for 9 minutes, then transfer with tongs to the sink to cool. While the lobsters are cooking, combine the mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper, shallot, celery, and chives in a bowl. When the lobsters are cool, remove the meat from the claws, tails and joints. Discard the tomalley, roe and shells, or save for another use. Cut the tail meat into 1/2-inch pieces and leave the claws whole. Add the lobster meat to the mayonnaise mixture and combine the rest of the ingredients, cutting the avocados at the very last, to avoid it from discolouration. Check the seasoning and serve chilled over a bed of lettuce, or in individual Martini glasses.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chu Chi Goong: Thai Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Milk

King prawns in a rich red curry sauce with coconut milk, Chu Chi Goong is one of the most well loved curries in northern Thailand. Although large tiger prawns are typically used, a combination of jumbo shrimp and scallops are also excellent. Inspired by a recipe from The Young Thailand Cookbook by Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu, I also added sliced bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bright green peas for added colour and texture. Garnished with finely sliced Kaffir lime leaves, sweet red pepper, fresh basil and served with fragrant Jasmin rice, this luscious curry is full flavoured with just enough heat to make it interesting. 

Thai Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Milk
Serves 2-4
Adapted from The Young Thailand Cookbook

3 lime leaves
4 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
15 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup bamboo shoot strips, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water chestnuts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup green peas, frozen
2 1/2 cups steamed Jasmin rice

15 whole fresh basil leaves
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced

Slice the lime leaves as thinly as possible — thread-like is best — and reserve. Heat 2 cups of the coconut milk in a large saucepan on high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium, add the red curry paste and stir to dissolve, cooking for 1-2 minutes until the oil of the coconut milk rises to the surface. Add the sugar, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and half of the reserved lime leaf. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the fish sauce and final 2 cups of coconut milk. Turn the heat up to maximum and stir-cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and green peas, and stir into the sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp have just turned opaque and the oil of the coconut milk has once again risen to the surface. Remove from the heat, and transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with the remaining lime leaves, basil and strips of red pepper. Serve immediately with steamed Jasmin rice.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Grilled Seafood Salad with Shrimp, Scallops & Squid

One of my favourite salads to make summer rolls around, is my delicious Grilled Seafood Salad with tiger shrimp, jumbo scallops and calamari combined with grilled asparagus, fresh sliced avocado and chilled new potatoes. Tossed with a tangy marinade, the seafood can be cleaned and prepped well in advance and pulled together at the last minute. As with any summer salad, spontaneity is key, adding whatever ingredients are readily available. The idea is to compose a fresh and flavourful hastle-free salad with a treasure trove of grilled seafood and a riot of your favourite veggies nestled on top, for an easy evening meal ideal for when the warm weather finally arrives for good.

Grilled Seafood Salad
Serves 4

10 large tiger shrimp
4 large scallops
4 whole squid with heads, cleaned
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
8 baby potatoes, boiled until just done, and halved
1 lb asparagus, with ends trimmed
1 head red oak leaf lettuce, cleaned, washed and torn into bite size pieces
1/4 english cucumber, thinly sliced
2 marinated roasted red peppers, julienned
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp pure sesame oil
1 tsp hot chili oil
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh basil pesto 
Parmesan-Reggiano, shaved as garnish, optional

Salad dressing:
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail intact. Gently run a small knife down the centre of the backs to butterfly the shrimp. Coat with 2 tablespoons of basil pesto and allow to marinate, covered in a small bowl or plastic bag, for at least an hour.

Place the squid on a cutting board and slice each tube in half lengthwise. Lay each of the pieces of squid flat. Score the squid with diagonal slices, cutting through half the thickness, scoring first one way, then the other to create diamond-shaped cuts. Then trim the heads, removing and discarding the beak of the squid. Coat with 1 tsp of hot chili oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the salad dressing, place the garlic in a food processor and pulse a few times until minced. Add the other ingredients and pulse until emulsified. Cover and set aside. 

Place the scallops and asparagus in two separate bowls, brush the scallops with sesame oil and the asparagus with the olive oil, cover and set aside.

To grill the seafood, place the shrimp, squid, scallops and asparagus on a preheated BBQ and cook until the seafood is opaque and nicely grill marked, and the asparagus is cooked through. The squid and heads should curl up nicely.

To prepare the salad, place the lettuce, cucumber and salad dressing in a large bowl and toss to combine. To serve, place the dressed salad on a large platter, then on top, decoratively arrange the boiled new potatoes, marinated red peppers and tomatoes, then top with the grilled asparagus and seafood. Using a vegetable peeler, garnish with some shaved Parmesan-Reggiano if desired.