Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Savoury Rosemary Cheese Straws

Who doesn't love a quick and delicious appetizer to make at this time of the year. Especially one that can be made ahead of time and smells as good as these Savoury Rosemary Cheese Straws do as they come out of the oven. Buttery, cheesy and fragrant, these flavourful little biscuits have a lovely sharp bite, thanks to the aged cheddar, fresh rosemary and hit of cayenne. Don't worry about storing them, they won't last that long!

Rosemary Cheese Straws

1 1/2 cup aged cheddar cheese
4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tbsp whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt, cayenne and rosemary and blend briefly until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Try a little bit and season to taste. Then add the milk and process until the dough forms a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to an 8"x10" rectangle. With a large knife, cut the dough into 1/4" wide strips and as long as you like! Dust the dough with more flour if needed.

Transfer the strips to the baking sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.

Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes & Roasted Pecans

A great chicken salad can be one the most welcome meals on a warm summer day. But why wait? This recipe will blow away the cobwebs with a healthy dose of curry powder, red seedless grapes and warm roasted pecans. And instead of the usual mayonnaise — Greek youghurt! Thick and luscious, it is more like creme fraiche than most usual yoghurts, and without the extra calories. You won't be sacrificing flavour either. This salad is a fabulous combination of flavours, textures and visual appeal. Great on its own, or scooped onto a croissant with a few basil leaves, my Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes and Roasted Pecans is an integral component of my summer culinary repertoire, even when it's not summer anymore!

Curried Chicken with Grapes & Roasted Pecans

2-3 large chicken breasts

3/4 cups greek yoghurt + 2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 cups chopped celery
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
2 cups red seedless grapes, cut in halves
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Poach or grill chicken breasts ahead of time. Shred into bite size pieces, cover and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pecans on a baking sheet and bake 5-10 minute until they become uniformly golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool. 

Combine the Greek yoghurt, mayonnaise curry powder and cumin and mix together in a large bowl. Add the celery, water chestnuts, grapes, cilantro and chicken, cover and chill for at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, add the oven roasted pecans and toss to combine. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Seafood Cioppino

I'm a huge fan of bouillabaisse. The intoxicating combination of fresh shellfish in a flavourful broth with a hint of pernod, is a beautiful thing. I've been fortunate enough to have enjoyed bouillabaise in Marseille, the reputed home of the dish, but the best was at Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island in Florida. I spoke with one of the sous chefs a previous time I was there, and was told the secret to their recipe — homemade fish stock that takes 3 days to prepare! That's love. Oh yes, plus the freshest assortment of seafood you can imagine. I still order it every time I go there. Not all of us can pick up and head off to Anna Maria at the drop of a sunhat, but this recipe for Cioppino is a delicious and satisfying shellfish stew that is quick and simple to make. Don't be daunted by the list of ingredients, it all gets thrown into one pot and left to do its magic.

Enjoying a traditional Bouillabaise in Marseilles

Seafood Cioppino
Serves 6 as a main course

1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 Bay leaves
8 anchovies
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp tabasco
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 cup red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed (or 1 tsp. Pernod)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 28oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
2 6.5oz. cans of clams, with juices
6 crab claws
1 lb mussels
1 lb cod or halibut, cut into 1' chunks
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups whole fresh basil
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add anchovies, onions, garlic, bay leaves, oregano and tabasco; cook until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and cook a minute more. 

Whisk together wine and tomato paste in a small bowl and add to onion mixture. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, water, fennel seeds, worcestershire and vinegar and let simmer 30 minutes. 

Stir in the clams and their juices; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the mussels and crab claws, cover the pan and let simmer 5 minutes. Add the fish and shrimp and simmer until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes more. 

Discard any unopened mussels. Stir in the basil leaves just before serving.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Spicy Chicken Satays

This is my absolute favourite marinade for chicken. It can be used for satays, cornish hen or simple bone-in chicken breasts. It has a delicate sweet flavour but when the sauce caramelizes on the grill, the real depth and character of the marinade shines through, without overpowering the chicken. Basting the chicken while on the grill ensures that the chicken stays moist and flavourful, and enhances the grill marks. These satays make a delicious appetizer served with a spicy peanut sauce and taste even better with a Mai Tai or Pink Panther!

Spicy Chicken Satay
Makes about 15 skewers as appetizers

1 lb chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp soy 
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp fish sauce

Slice the chicken into bite size pieces and place into a bowl with all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Thread 2 or 3 small pieces on each wooden skewer and grill on the BBQ about 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown and have nice grill marks. Baste with the leftover sauce while grilling. Serve skewers with peanut sauce.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Marvelous Madeleines

    A plate of fresh warm Madeleines straight from the oven is one of the loveliest ways of ending a meal. Even if you've had a few courses, there's always room for one tiny madeleine. I recall an evening I had recently with some friends at Biff's Bistro in Toronto. One of the items on the menu caught my eye — Basket of à la minute baked madeleines. I don't normally have dessert, but a fresh basket of madeleines! This I had to see. 

    The madeleines arrived piping hot, enshrouded in a white folded napkin atop a silver tray. Well, I was impressed. The madeleines were peaking through the white folds and the fragrance was, oh my — sweet, buttery and lemony — all in one. And the texture was so delicate, it just melted in your mouth. Needless to say, I have made Madeleines a great number of times, most notably after dinner parties. And they're so easy to make. I prepare the batter ahead of time and just pop them in the oven 10 minutes before I want to serve them — out they come, golden, puffy and perfect. I even fold a crisp white linen napkin, place the little lovelies inside, and serve them à table just like at Biff's.

    Makes about 20

    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    2/3 cup sugar
    1 1/4 cup plain flour, sifted
    1/2 tsp baking powder 

    pinch of salt
    9 tbsp salted butter, melted; plus 1 tbsp for buttering molds

    1 tsp vanilla extract
    zest of 1 lemon
    icing sugar for dusting

    Preheat oven to 400°F. 

    Melt the butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and pinch of salt. Mix flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, and gradually add it to the batter; beat just until blended. Gradually add the cooled melted butter in a steady stream, beating just until blended. 

    Cover and refrigerate until required. 

    Liberally brush the ridges of a Madeleine tin with melted butter. Dust with flour tapping of any excess. Fill the molds not quite to the top and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until they are puffed up and golden. Remove from the oven, take them out of the tin, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately. 

    They won’t last long!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Grilled Eggplant with Feta and Herb Vinaigrette

    I made this eggplant salad over the summer and was amazed at how the dish became transformed over a few hours as the dressing was absorbed. The combination of the feta, mint and cilantro adding a wonderful fresh note to the smokiness of the grilled eggplant. The added bonus was that I had made it earlier in the day, so I was able to go for a swim, read a chapter or two of my book and doze a little in the sun. All I needed to do for dinner was stick the salmon on the 'barbie' and trot out my lovely grilled eggplant.

    Grilled Eggplant with Feta and Herb Vinaigrette
    Serves 6-8 as a side dish

    1 small clove garlic, minced
    1 tsp Maldon salt
    1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 small shallot, very finely diced
    3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    1/2 tsp cumin seed, lightly toasted and ground in a spice grinder
    Pinch of cayenne

    1 large globe eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
    3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    1 tsp Maldon salt
    1/4 cup crumbled feta
    2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh mint
    2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

    Make the vinaigrette: with a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and a pinch of salt to a paste. Combine the garlic paste and 1 tbsp of the lemon juice in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Combine the shallot with the remaining 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt in another small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk the olive oil, cumin, and cayenne into the garlic mixture. Season to taste with salt or cayenne, if necessary.

    Grill the eggplant: Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt. Grill until golden-brown grill marks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the eggplant and grill until tender and well marked on the second sides, 3 to 4 minutes more.

    Top grilled eggplant slices with the shallots, feta, and herbs. Whisk the vinaigrette and drizzle it on top. Let sit covered 1-2 hours. Serve immediately.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Fabulous Fish Pie

    A well constructed Fish Pie is a lovely heartwarming dinner. Not the prettiest of dishes, but certainly one of the tastiest. A hearty mixture of white cod, smoked mackerel and tiny cocktail size shrimp are cooked in a tangy lemony cheese sauce and finished off with a handful of cooked spinach and a few boiled eggs. Top it all off with a healthy crown of mashed potatoes, and you have the seafood version of a Shepherd's Pie. It's got to be British fare, and you're right. Inspired by a recipe by Jamie Oliver, we've tweaked it enough to make it our own. We also serve it with hot sauce, tacky I know, but very yummy.

    Fabulous Fish Pie
    Serves 6

    5 large potatoes, peeled and diced into 1" squares
    2 eggs
    1 bunch fresh spinach, washed
    olive oil
    1 onion, finely chopped
    1 carrot, halved and finely chopped
    1 1/3 cups heavy cream
    1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
    juice of 1 lemon
    1 tbsp English mustard or Dijon
    1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    1 lb fresh cod or haddock, skinned, boned and sliced into strips
    1 cup fresh salad shrimp
    1/2 cup smoked mackerel
    fresh nutmeg

    Preheat the oven to 425°. Boil the potatoes until soft, then mash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside. Boil the eggs in a saucepan, steaming the spinach in a colander above the eggs, removing the spinach once it's wilted and squeeze dry. Remove the eggs after 15 minutes, let cool slightly then peel and quarter. Set aside. In a large saucepan, fry the onion and carrot in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes then add the cream and bring just to the boil. Remove it from the heat, adding the cheese, lemon juice, mustard and parsley. Place the fish and the spinach in a large baking dish, or single serving baking dishes, and mix to combine. Top with the quartered eggs, then pour the creamy vegetable sauce over top. Finish with spreading the mash potato over the fish pie. Bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes until the potatoes are golden and the pie is bubbling hot. Serve with some hot sauce on the side if you want to kick it up a notch.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    An Evening with Gordon Ramsay

    I had the good fortune to see Gordon Ramsay in Toronto this week. He's in town for 'Chef's Challenge', a fundraiser in support of women's cancer research at Mount Sinai, but I caught up with him before hand at a private dinner with 500 of my closest friends! The evening started with a one-on-one interview with Chef Ramsay by Cookbook Store manager, and long time friend, Alison Fryer. Contrary to his wildly explosive and fiery TV persona, Gordon Ramsay was actually quite charming, good-natured and playful, bewitching us with amusing anecdotes and personal insights into his life, loves and cooking philosophy.

    He is committed to buying local and only features seasonal food in his restaurants, so absolutely no asparagus in January! He is also passionate about helping young chefs become better cooks by teaching them first, how to taste. Ramsay says that only by exposing the palate to excellent cuisine may we learn how a dish is meant to taste — after that, should someone learn to cook.

    Ramsay is also an avid traveller, he has to be with all of the restaurants he has around the world. Excited by many of the dishes he's enjoyed on his journeys, he admits to being inspired by others, and taking those ideas back to his restaurants, but not copying the dish verbatim. What's important is making the dish your own. Putting your signature on it. I heartily agree.

    Then there's the playful side. Recounting a lovely dinner party he had at home recently with David and Victoria, they all decided after many bottles of wine, to go into the garden for a midnight game of soccer. On went the bright lights illuminating the whole back garden and waking up all the neighbours, and what a sight they saw — David Beckham and Posh Spice falling over themselves trying to get a goal on Gordon Ramsay!

    Energetic, engaging and charismatic, Gordon Ramsay has also had his share of bad press. From being the foul-mouthed bully chef of Kitchen Nightmares and the F Word, to allegations about a long term extra-marital affair that tested his marriage to Tana Ramsay, to the rapid over-expansion of this restaurant empire (GBH/Gordon Ramsay Holdings), Ramsay was left with losses of over £15million, a badly tarnished reputation and waning television appeal. 

    Of course, none of these topics were brought up in the evenings friendly chit-chat or pre-screened Q&A. Quite the opposite. We all showed up to see the celebrated cookbook author, restaurant magnet and handsome father of three, discuss his fierce passion for cooking, enjoy a lovely 3-course meal made with recipes from his cookbooks and lovingly caress the signed cookbook that we all received as a cherished momento of our evening.

    Gordon's Fig and Frangipane Tart
    Dessert served at the Gordon Ramsay Dinner 11/15/2010
    Serves 4-6

    1lb ready-made puff pastry
    flour, to dust
    1 egg yolk, beaten, to glaze
    10-12 ripe figs,

    125g butter
    125g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
    2 whole eggs, beaten
    125g ground almonds

    To serve:
    Warmed honey to glaze
    Double cream to serve
    Mint sprigs

    Pre-heat oven to 400°F.

    To make the frangipane, cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Slowly add the eggs mixing until fully incorporated. Sift in the almonds and flour and fold through. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.

    Roll out the puff pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface, until about 1/8" thick. Using a small plate or saucer, cut out 4-6 circles from the pastry. Score a 1/2" border around the edge, making sure you don't cut right through the pastry. 
    Lift the circles onto a large baking tray and lightly glaze the border with the egg yolk. Smooth the a thin layer of the frangipane over the centre of the pastry.

    Slice the figs in quarters, then each quarter in half. Arrange them over the frangipane so that the slices slightly overlap. Dust with a little icing sugar and bake at 400°F until the pastry is crisp and golden, about 15-20 minutes.

    Once out of the oven, glaze the tops of the figs with a little warm honey to glaze the tops. Serve with thick double cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle of each tart, garnishing with a sprig of mint.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Oven Roasted Pecans

    You can't beat the warm buttery flavour, delicate crispy texture and fragrant aroma of home roasted pecans fresh from the oven. Oven roasting nuts intensifies the flavour, bringing out the natural oils and transforms them from merely ho-hum to mouth-wateringly memorable. It's a little thing, but it makes all the difference. And it's so easy. Simply bake the nuts 5-10 minutes, toss them with a knob of butter, a dash of Tamari soy sauce and Bob's your Uncle. Actually he is, but that's another story.

    Oven Roasted Pecans with Tamari

    4 cups pecans 
    1/2 tsp butter
    pinch of Maldon salt
    2 tsp Tamari soy sauce (I use Kikkoman)

    Pre-heat oven to 350°. Place nuts evenly on a baking sheet. Bake 5-10 minutes, shaking occasionally and watching carefully to make sure they don't burn. Taste them a few times during the cooking process, but when they are uniformly golden brown and fragrant, they are done. Pour them into a large bowl with 1/2 tsp butter and toss to coat. Return them to the oven for another 1-2 minutes, then pour back into the bowl. Sprinkle with 1-2 tsp of Tamari soy sauce and a pinch of maldon salt, toss to combine. This will also cool them off slightly to stop the cooking process. Season to taste, adding some sea salt or more Tamari if you like. The pecans can be stored in an airtight container 2-3 weeks, if they last that long! Enjoy.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Aloo Gobi: Cauliflower, Peas and Potatoes

    A staple in most Indian restaurants, Aloo Gobi is an aromatic combination of spiced aloo (potato) and gobi (cauliflower), made even more popular with Gurinder Chadha's 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, a wonderful heart-warming comedy about bending the rules to reach your goal. The film follows two 18 year old girls who have their heart set on a future in professional soccer, as opposed to finding a nice Indian boyfriend, settling down and cooking the perfect chapatti. There is a quirky cooking segment at the end of the film where the director of the film, Gurinder Chadha, makes her recipe for Aloo Gobi with the help of her outrageously interfering mother and auntie. Ever since I saw that segment, I have wanted to make Aloo Gobi, and so this week I did, and it was absolutely delicious. With its rich texture, complex flavours and intoxicating aroma, this recipe for Aloo Gobi tastes as fabulous as it looks.

    Aloo Gobi with Peas
    Modified from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey 
    Serves 4-6 

    ½ cauliflower head 
    5 medium Yukon potatoes 
    1/3 cup vegetable oil 
    1/8 tsp asafoetida 
    1 tbsp black mustard seeds 
    10 kari leaves 
    1 cup shelled peas (can use frozen) 
    ¼ tsp turmeric 
    ¼ tsp salt 
    ½ tsp sugar 
    2 tbsp cilantro, chopped 

    Cut the cauliflower into small florets, no larger than 1½”. Cut the potatoes in a ½” dice and soak in water, to stop them discolouring, if not using immediately. Warm the oil in a good size frying pan over medium. When hot, put in the asafoetida, then a second later the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, put in the kari leaves stirring once or twice. Now put in the potatoes, turmeric, salt and sugar and stir fry until the potatoes are lightly golden and brown but still quite firm, about 10 minutes. Then add the cauliflower and peas, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water and stir. As soon as the water starts to bubble, cover and turn the heat to med-low. Cook 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are just done. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and stir. Serve hot as a side dish with Grilled Chicken Tikka.

    COOK'S NOTE: Asafoetida and Kari leaves are available in any Indian grocery store, however you could use onion powder instead of Asafoetida and bay leaves in lieu of kari leaves.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Pear and Almond Cake

    There is something very warm and inviting about the sweet buttery aroma of a home made cakey confection as it comes out from the oven. It's a seductive smell that is pretty hard to resist, so why bother? As Oscar Wilde said, "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it!" And so I did, and made this delicious Pear and Almond Cake for guests this past weekend, inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe from his River Cottage Everyday Cookbook. The pears are gently sautéed in butter and sugar then added to a eggy batter of ground almonds and wholemeal flour, poured into a buttered springform tin, then baked for about 40 minutes. The combination of pears and almonds bring a luscious texture to this moist and sticky, but not too sweet, pear-fect pud! 

    Hugh's Pear and Almond Cake
    Serves 8 

    10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    1/2 cup caster sugar
    2 medium eggs
    5 tbsp wholemeal self raising flour (or all purpose with 1 tsp baking powder + pinch of salt)
    5 tbsp ground almonds
    1/4 tsp cinnamon

    For the caramelised pears: 

    3 bosc pears, reasonably firm, but not rock hard
    2 tbsp unsalted butter
    1 tbsp granulated sugar

    1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

    2. Peel, core and quarter the pears.

    3. Melt the butter in a frying pan big enough to take all the pear pieces, over a medium high heat. When it’s bubbling, add the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved into the butter. Add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they have softened and are starting to get a lovely golden colour, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

    4. Now for the cakey bit. In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each to stop the mix curdling.

    5. Combine the remaining flour, the ground almonds and the cinnamon, and fold into the mixture. Scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour on any buttery juices left in the pan.

    6. Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

    7. Stand the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then release the tin. Serve the cake warm with clotted or whipped cream – or cold. This recipe is cakewalk. Lovely sticky and exciting. Pear-fect.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Curried Apple Zucchini Soup

    This recipe for Curried Apple Zucchini Soup is an absolute winner, and judging by the number of times I've made it for others and they have insisted on having the recipe, I can safely assume it's among their favourites too. The ambrosial combination of sautéed onions, apples and zucchini with the bold aromatic backdrop of curry, makes this soup so wonderfully fragrant and enticing, it's hard to believe it's good for you too! No cream is used, just a little milk. And very cleverly, rice is used as a thickening agent which transforms the soup, once it's puréed, to a silky smooth and velvety consistency — you'll be convinced there are other caloric influences at play. The soup freezes beautifully so I often double the quantities so I have it on hand for those lazy nights when a bowl of soup and a sandwich sounds like the perfect meal.

    Curried Apple Zucchini Soup
    Serves 6-8

    2 tbsp butter
    1 large onion, peeled and chopped
    1 red apple, peeled, cored and chopped
    2 tsp curry powder
    4 cups chicken stock
    1/4 cup rice, uncooked
    2 cups zucchini, unpeeled and diced
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup milk

    In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the onion and apple until soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with curry powder and cook, stirring for a few seconds to meld the flavours. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then add the rice, chopped zucchini and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low then cover and cook until rice and zucchini are tender, about 30 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly, then using a hand blender or food processor, blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and add milk. Heat through again and serve hot. Garnish with a swirl of cream if you like an extra flourish. This is such a yummy soup!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Greek Zucchini Fritters with Feta and Dill

    Zucchini fritters, also known as Kolokithokeftedes, are a popular Greek meze, or appetizer, and topped with a dollop of tzatziki, are wonderfully delicious as an appetizer or side dish with any entrée. My Zucchini Fritters with Feta and Dill are incredibly easy to make and can be tweaked any number of ways depending on what you have on hand. The key is to get out as much water as possible out of the zucchini so they produce a good crisp crust. Just grate them, salt them and let the salt do the work pulling the moisture out. Give the grated zucchini one final squeeze, mix it with the rest of the ingredients, shape into small patties and pan fry. It's that easy. The zingy combination of feta, fresh dill and mint make these fritters amazingly addictive, so be warned! 

    Greek Zucchini Fritters with Feta and Dill

    Makes 8-10 fritters

    2 medium zucchini

    1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

    4 green onions, green and white parts, chopped

    3 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

    2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

    Grated zest of 1 lemon
    1 large egg
, beaten
    1/2 cup flour

    4 tbsp Panko bread crumbs

    1 tsp salt

    vegetable oil 
    tzatziki sauce

    Wash the zucchini. With the skins on, grate them with the coarse side of a grater. Sprinkle them with sea salt, to help get the moisture out, and let it rest for an hour. Remove the zucchini by the handful, squeezing to remove as much liquid as you can. You can also use a tea towel or ricer, which removes a lot of water! Put the zucchini in a bowl with herbs, feta and green onions. Mix with a fork. Add the lightly beaten egg and stir. Add flour and panko. The mixture should be wet but not watery. The mixture needs to bind, so you might need a little more flour depending on how much liquid was squeezed out of the zucchini. Add a healthy dose of salt; I prefer Maldon sea salt.

    Heat olive oil in a pan about 1/8 inch deep covering the entire pan. When hot, spoon the zucchini mixture into small patties and put them in the pan. Let them cook about 3-4 minutes or until nicely brown and golden, and then flip them over cooking another 3-4 minutes. Remove the fritters and place them on paper towel to remove some of the excess oil. Transfer the fritters to plates and garnish with a dollop of tzatziki, a sprinkle of dill and a curl or two of lemon zest. Serve warm with some more tzatziki sauce at the side. Yum-yum.

    COOK'S NOTE: I used my new Microplane box grater that my parent's gave me as a gift this year, to grate the zucchini, and it works better than any grater I have ever owned. It's really sharp, sturdy and is larger than standard box graters, so it gets the work done in half the time. My parents bought it from Williams-Sonoma but you can also buy it online through Amazon.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Grilled Zucchini Ribbons with Feta and Mint

    Zucchini is one of my favourite vegetables. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it's not really a vegetable. Botanically speaking it's actually a fruit, the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower. No kidding. This remarkable 'fruit' can be steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed, baked, barbequed, fried, baked into a bread, incorporated in a soufflé, shredded for fritters or battered as tempura. In short, the zucchini (or courgette) is an amazingly versatile little thing, plus it's low in calories. Let's not forget the zucchini's delectable golden blossoms, prized by many as a culinary delicacy. 

    The word zucchini comes from the italian zucchino which means small squash. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the small green zucchini is probably the best known and most popular of the summer squashes. Zucchini has a natural sweetness when its cooked, making it an obliging ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. Grilled Zucchini Ribbons with Feta and Mint is one of my favourite summer recipes, and is delicious and easy to make. It's also tasty with crumbled goat cheese, fresh basil and kalamata olives, which can also be used as a stuffing for Grilled Zucchini Rolls.

    Grilled Zucchini Ribbons with Feta and Mint
    Serves 4-6

    2 medium green zucchini
    Olive oil
    Salt and pepper
    1/2 cup feta, crumbled
    1/2 cup fresh mint

    Using a mandoline, or sharp knife, slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/8" thick, discarding ends. Brush the slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on a pre-heated BBQ or ridged cast iron skillet, about 2-3 minutes per side, until each of the slices are tender and lightly grill marked. Remove zucchini from the grill and onto a decorative serving platter and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature, and garnish with crumbled feta and mint leaves.

    Grilled Zucchini Rolls with Goat Cheese, Basil and Olives
    Serves 4-6

    2 medium green zucchini
    olive oil
    salt and pepper
    1/2 cup goat cheese
    1/2 cup fresh basil, washed and chopped
    1/4 cup Kalamata olives, finely chopped

    Using a mandoline, or sharp knife, slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/8" thick, discarding ends. Brush the slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on a pre-heated BBQ or ridged cast iron skillet, about 2-3 minutes per side, until each of the slices are tender and lightly grill marked. Remove zucchini from the grill and place on a cooling rack. In a medium bowl, combine goat cheese, olives and basil and mix until blended. Spread a layer of the goat cheese mixture onto one side of each zucchini slice, and gently roll each piece, placing it seam side down. These make a tasty appetizer, a light lunch with a red pepper coulis and salad, or a lovely side dish for a grilled entrée.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Braised Beef Short Ribs

    Braising is the frugal gourmet's trick — it turns tough meat tender. Last week I made Braised Beef Short Ribs for the first time. I bought them butchered as long slender flanken-style ribs (cut across the bone) with generous layers of meat and fat. For the recipe, the ribs are cut into shorter lengths, braised in an aromatic liquid of simmering wine, vegetables and stock. Once cooked, they become superbly succulent fork tender morsels of flavourful beef!

    More tender and meatier than their pork counterpart — pork spare ribs — beef short ribs are still a tough cut of meat with lots of connective tissue. Braising breaks down the connective tissue in meat to collagen, which when cooked at low temperatures for a long period, converts to gelatin. In turn, gelatin tenderizes the meat and with the help of beef marrow, creates a lovely thick sauce. So don't think you have to buy tender expensive cuts of meat to make a delicious dish, tougher cuts of meat are actually better for creating rich complex flavours and thick tasty sauces. The secret is slow gentle cooking. Braised meats often taste better the next day, allowing all the flavours to intermingle, so you can always make it a day or two ahead and simply warm it up when you want. 

    Braised Beef Short Ribs
    6 portions

    4 lb beef short ribs, cut into 2" lengths
    fresh ground pepper
    5 tbsp olive oil
    8 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
    1 1/2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
    2 cup sliced carrots, cut into 1/8" rounds
    3 cups onions or leeks, chopped
    8 whole cloves
    1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    3/4 cup red wine vinegar
    3 tbsp tomato paste
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    3 cups beef stock

    1. Sprinkle pepper over short ribs. Heat olive oil in a large flame proof casserole, and sear ribs 4 or 5 at a time, browning well on all sides. As they are browned, drain them on paper towels.
    2. Preheat oven to 375°
    3. Return half of the ribs to the casserole and sprinkle with half of the garlic. Then layer half of the tomatoes, carrots and onions over the meat. Add 4 cloves and sprinkle with parsley. Repeat again for the 2nd layer.
    4. In a bowl, mix together the vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Pour over the meat and vegetables, then add the beef stock, just to cover.
    5. Cover the casserole and bring to a boil on the stove top. Once it has come to a boil, place it in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Then uncover the casserole and bake a further 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender. Taste, correct the seasoning, and serve immediately with mashed potato or polenta and a garnish of chopped parsley or leeks. Don't forget a bowl of thick tasty sauce on the side!

    COOK'S NOTE: I find short ribs less gelatinous and easier to serve than oxtail, although both are equally delicious. The meat from the short ribs comes off the bone so easily, that if you have leftovers, the meat makes excellent stuffing for ravioli or agnolotti.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Two Classic Meatloaf Recipes

    Meatloaf is one of the classic comfort foods. An inextricable part of childhood, we all grew up with a family version of 'the perfect meatloaf' — each with it's own unique flavour, texture and aroma — bringing back memories from the halcyon days of our youth. There are as many interpretations of this humble dish as there are Moms and Grandmas, each guardians of their own special recipe. Naturally, some get passed down, generation to generation, and acquire the special moniker of authorship, like Nana's Banana Cream Pie or Mom's Classic Meatloaf. My Mom's Classic Meatloaf is the best, but sometimes it's healthy to shake the tree a little and try new things, like my Turkey & Mushroom Meatloaf. A light and tasty low fat version of the family classic, my recipe with ground turkey and sautéed mushrooms, onions and garlic is a healthy non-beef option for those meatloaf lovers looking for another string in their culinary bow!

    Mom's Classic Meatloaf
    Serves 4-6

    1 lb lean ground beef
    1 tin Tomato Rice Soup
    1 cup oatmeal
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
    1 tsp dried sage
    1 tsp dried basil
    1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

    Combine all the ingredients except the cheese, in a bowl and mix to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Press the mixture into a loaf pan and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes until lightly browned on top and cooked through.

    Turkey & Mushroom Meatloaf
    Serves 4-6

    2 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 onions, peeled and finely diced
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    8 oz. cremini or white button mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
    2 lb ground turkey
    1/2 cup milk
    1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 156 ml can tomato paste
    1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    1 tbsp dried thyme and oregano
    salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 cup ketchup

    1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, add oil and onions, and sauté until they are golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to sauté until all the liquid has evaporate and the mushrooms have browned slightly.
    2. In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, milk, breadcrumbs, beaten eggs, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, thyme, oregano and mushroom mixture. Season well with salt and pepper, and combine thoroughly. 
    3. Press the mixture into a loaf pan and spread the ketchup over the top. Bake until lightly browned on top and firm to the touch, about 60-75 minutes, or when a thermometer reads 165° in the thickest part. I would serve this with another comfort food, mashed potatoes, a small mixed green salad, and an old film on the TV.