Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mini Insalata Caprese Ramekins

Insalata Caprese is one of the simplest and tastiest summer salads, but especially so when there's no chopping to be done. A classic Caprese Salad involves slicing hot house tomatoes and layering them between slices of perfectly ripe Buffalo Mozzarella, and garnishing with fresh basil leaves. By using darling bite size bocconcini and small red and yellow cherry tomatoes tossed with some olive oil and sea salt, you can enjoy this classic taste of the mediterranean in moments.

Served in small ramekins with a sprig of basil, it's the perfect addition to any outdoor buffet, with guests being able to enjoy their own personalized Caprese salads in small ramekins, or served in a larger decorative bowl garnished with torn basil, olive oil and fresh ground black pepper, for a group. Mini bocconcini and cherry tomatoes can also be threaded on bamboo skewers for a lovely appetizer. Interestingly, Insalata Caprese is sometimes called Insalata Tricolore, referring to the three colors of the Italian flag. Viva Italia!

Mini Insalata Caprese

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups mini Bocconcini
1 1/2 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, red and orange, whole
Basil Leaves, julienned and whole, for garnish
Olive Oil
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Toss the bocconcini, tomatoes and some julienned basil in a large bowl and season with olive oil, sea salt and some black pepper. Serve immediately in four small individual ramekins for personalized servings, or serve in a large decorative bowl and let guests serve themselves. Garnish with basil tops.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Ultimate Cocoa Walnut Brownies

These are incredible little brownies — moist, dense and fudgy in the middle, and chewy on the outside with a wafer thin candy-like crust. Bon Appétit featured these decadent little wonders on their February 2011 cover. It piqued my interest even more with the huge text proclaiming "Best-Ever Brownies," heralding an entire feature section devoted to chocolate desserts penned by none other than Alice Medrich — an author, baker, and chocolatier that has been affectionately called 'The First Lady of Chocolate.'

I was obviously delig
hted when a brownie opportunity presented itself this past weekend. A troupe of young nieces were expected for a weekend barbecue, so the challenge was on. The recipe is quite simple and requires very few ingredients: butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, 2 eggs, flour and walnuts. The result after 35 minutes in the oven was gooey, fudgy and finger licking good. The only problem was that I ignored part of the recipe. Medrich calls for the brownie pan to be lined with foil which as it turns out, helps in getting the brownies out of the pan. Good point. Next time, I obey the recipe and line the pan. Didn't affect the taste though, judging from all the chocolatey smiles!

Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter & Walnuts
Makes 16
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit, by Alice Medrich

10 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325°F 
and line the inside of an 8" x 8" square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving 2-inch overhangs and pressing the foil tightly to the sides of the pan. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking until the butter stops foaming, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, and immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons of water, vanilla and salt. Stir to blend, then let cool 5 minutes. Add eggs t the mixture, one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until well blended. Mix in the chopped nuts, and transfer to the prepared pan, smoothing the top before baking.

Bake for about 30 minutes or more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. If there is still a tiny bit of m
oist batter at the very bottom that's okay. Remove the brownies from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, remove the brownies from the pan using the aluminum foil overhangs; then pull the aluminum foil away from the brownies and cut them into 16 square pieces. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container, for up to three days. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms & Peppers

Israeli couscous, often referred to as pearl pasta because of its small round shape and chewy texture, is not couscous at all, but a small round pasta made of hard-wheat flour. Originally developed at Israel’s Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s request to the Osem Food Company to create a rice-substitute, Israeli couscous is often referred to as 'Ben-Gurion’s rice,' or Ptitim.

Although Israeli couscous and the familiar yellow semolina-based African couscous are both miniature wheat pastas, the similarities end there. The original African couscous is made by rubbing durum semolina and water into small course granules about the size of bread crumbs. Because they're so small and tender, they require only a few minutes of steeping in hot water or broth, or if you're in Morocco, steamed in a special pot — a couscousiere.

Israeli couscous is extruded pasta made from bulgur, which is toasted rather than dried, which gives it a unique, chewy, nutty flavor. Each pearl is a few millimeters in size, and takes just a few minutes to cook, thanks to its small size. With its al-dente texture and buttery flavour, Israeli couscous is perfect as a base for savoury summer salads, much like Italian orzo. Fast and easy to prepare, Israeli couscous is a delicious alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes, and can be used in many different types of dishes, both hot and cold. They also retain their shape and texture even when reheated, and unlike traditional North African couscous, doesn't clump together once it's cooked. 

I prepared my couscous with some sautéed onions, sliced cremini mushrooms, mixed bell peppers and and pinch of saffron, which gave the dish a lovely golden hue. Served with Mediterranean-inspired marinated rack of lamb and creamy tzatziki, the Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms and Peppers offered a tasty addition to our al fresco evening on the terrace.

Israeli couscous with Mediterranean-inspired rack of lamb and tazatziki

Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Mushrooms & Peppers
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups of water
1/8 tsp of saffron threads
9 oz. Israeli couscous
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup onions, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup yellow and red bell peppers
salt and pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

Boil water in a medium saucepan. Add saffron and the couscous. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the couscous to absorb the water before fluffing. 

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions, peppers and mushrooms and sauté until tender. Fluff couscous and transfer to a larger bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables and the rest of the ingredients to the couscous, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese & Walnuts

Classic and colourful, beets, goat cheese, and walnuts are natural partners, and when combined together in this striking salad, score top marks in both looks and flavour. Traditionally known for their dark crimson hue, these nutrient-rich root vegetables also come in shades of gold and white. Naturally low in calories and fat, b
eets have such a distinct sweet earthiness, I don’t know why so many people don’t like them. When they're in abundance, I like to buy beets two or three times a month and serve them in a salad or pureed as a chilled cold beet soup, such as Chlodnik, my spectacular summer soup recipe that I featured in an earlier blog. 

Beets can be steamed, boiled, pickled, roasted, or eaten raw, and because they contain more natural sugar than starch, they are particularly delicious oven roasted, which brings out their natural sweetness. Bunches of both red and golden yellow beets can usually be found at local farmer's markets and the contrast in colors by using both, is like sunshine on a plate. This is a great salad for entertaining, as everything can be prepped ahead easily and put together at the last minute. Sweet candied walnuts, tangy goat cheese and fresh mixed salad greens, drizzled with a tangy orange vinaigrette and topped with some chopped chives and orange zest, is nothing less than sublime. 

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts 
& Citrus Vinaigrette
Makes 6 appetizer salads 

For the Citrus Vinaigrette:
1/2 shallot, minced

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tbsp finely orange zest, for garnish
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp chopped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
1/2 pound small to medium beets, stems trimmed and scrubbed

1 bag Baby Greens 

1 log (4 oz.) fresh goat cheese

1/2 cup candied walnuts

For the candied walnuts:
1/3 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp butter
Large pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups walnut halves

For the beets: Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake until the tip of a sharp knife easily slides through the beets, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, use plastic gloves to peel the beets. Cut into bite size pieces.

For candied walnuts: 
Combine the first four ingredients together in a large heavy skillet. Bring to a boil, whisking. Let boil 1 minute. Stir in walnuts, then toss until the syrup forms a glaze on the nuts, about 3 minutes. Transfer nuts to a foil covered cookie sheet and quickly separate nuts with forks. Let cool. Let stand at room temperature. Note: This can be made 2 hours ahead.

For the citrus vinaigrette: In small bowl whisk together the first eight ingredients until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover until ready to use.

For the salad: Divide the salad leaves equally among the plates. Top with the beets and then drizzle with the vinaigrette to taste. Crumble the goat cheese on top and garnish with candied walnuts and orange zest.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grilled Tandoori Chicken & Spicy Indian Potatoes

I adore Indian cuisine and embrace every opportunity to try an interesting new recipe or, like a old friend, welcome back a much loved favourite, like my delicious, hot and juicy Grilled Tandoori Chicken and fragrant Indian Spiced Potatoes. The luscious yogurt-based Tandoori Chicken marinade is extraordinarily full-flavoured, and with an aromatic mixture of ginger, garlic, lemon juice, cardamom, garam masala and turmeric, and is equally delicious with Indian paneer cheese, cornish hen and robust fish like swordfish or marlin. A perfect accompaniment to my Tandoori Chicken is Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Spiced Potatoes with Turmeric and Cumin, a wonderfully simple and satisfying dish that only takes about 15 minutes to make. 

Madhur Jaffrey, the alpha-chef for Indian recipes

My treasured copy Madhur Jaffrey's 'A Taste of India'

Sautéed with some oil and a vibrant blend of fragrant Indian spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, black mustard seeds and red chili powder, the diced potatoes become wonderfully crisp and golden brown as they roast, and exude an intoxicating aroma that will make you swoon. Served with some hot grilled Naan bread brushed with ghee and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, a dish of coriander mint chutney and a cold Kingfisher beer, you won't be able to resist this mouth-watering Indian feast.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp lemon juice & 4 lemon wedges
2 cups yoghurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp chickpea flour
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp melted ghee

Pat dry the chicken breasts and score the tops with a 3 or 4 deep cuts. In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, cardamom, chili powder, garam masala, oil, gram flour, lemon juice and salt and mix well to form a loose paste. Add the chicken breasts to the mixture, tossing thoroughly to ensure they're well coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 4-5 hours, to allow the chicken to marinate.

To grill, place the chicken breasts on a pre-heated BBQ and cook 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat. Turn them over and baste with melted ghee, and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 minutes until the chicken is evenly cooked and has nice grill marks. Serve with grilled lemon wedges.

Indian Spicy Potatoes with Turmeric and Cumin
Serves 4
Adapted from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey

1 1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1/8 tsp asafetida
1/2 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp salt

Cut the potatoes into a 1/2-inch dice. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the asafetida, and a second later, the mustard seeds and then the cumin seeds. Now add the potatoes and stir once or twice. Sprinkle in the turmeric, and continue to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are nicely browned and almost done. After 15 minutes, add the chili powder and salt. Stir and cook another 2 minutes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grilled Sea Scallops with Lemon Hummus & Olives

There are few main courses as elegant or as simple, as a dish of seared sea scallops. Sweet, tender, mild, and delectable, the less you fuss with scallops, the better they taste. The best way to cook these plump, meaty scallops is to sear them quickly in a hot pan so that the outsides get a lovely crisp, brown crust and the insides remain tender and moist. The crowning glory of this dish is nestling the little darlings on a creamy pillow of homemade Lemon Hummus, which compliments the subtle sweet richness of the seared scallops perfectly. 

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, have the ability to carry the simple, bold
flavours of the lemon, garlic and olive oil effortlessly. Whipped to a beautiful silky purée, Lemon Hummus is a wonderful and simple accompaniment to the luscious butteriness of the seared sea scallops
. A garnish of chopped olives add a rich fruity note to the dish, and although pitted olives are often easier to use, I recommend using unpitted olives in this recipe, as they have more flavour and texture. For such simple ingredients, the flavours of this dish mingle incredibly well, with a bright and assertive character that makes this recipe a true modern classic.

Grilled Sea Scallops with Lemon Hummus & Olives
Serves 4 as a light main course

For the Hummus: Makes about 2 cups
2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp salt

For the Vinaigrette:
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
6 tbsp light olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

For the Scallops:
12 fresh jumbo dry sea scallops
2 tsp unsalted butter2 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp green or black olives, with pits, sliced thin
mixed greens

For the hummus,plac
e all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until either chunky or silky smooth, depending on your preference. If you wish to use less oil but still want a smooth texture, replace some of the oil with the cooking liquid from the peas. I like to make the hummus shortly before grilling the scallops, so the hummus is still slightly warm from the food processor. However, the hummus should be refrigerated if it's made ahead of time, and returned to room temperature prior to serving. 

For the vinaigrette, whisk together all of the ingredients until lightly emulsified, then cover until ready to use.

Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the foam subsides, then sear the scallops, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through, while still being translucent in the centre, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and keep warm until all of the scallops have been cooked. Serve the scallops immediately, three per guest, nestled on a puddle of hummus. Garnish with sliced olives and mixed greens, tossed in a light vinaigrette.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aegean Flavours: Greek Salad & Chicken Souvlaki

A Mediterranean favourite, Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken Souvlaki combine the freshest flavours of summer with all the classic elements of a delicious Aegean-inspired lunch or dinner. Served with a heaping bowl of tzatziki and some grilled pita, the Greek salad and chicken souvlaki are lovely, light and refreshing and best of all, can be prepared well ahead of time. The chicken is marinated in a tangy dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and fresh thyme and oregano, and left to rest for up to four hours. 

All the flavours of an Aegean summer — farm fresh tomatoes, chilled cucumbers, 
tangy red onion, kalamata olives and fragrant feta cheese

In the meanwhile, the Greek Salad dressing can be prepared along with a pot of tangy homemade Tzatziki. For an absolutely decadent evening, start with a tasty selection of small appetizers, or mezze, such as spanokopita, grilled calimari or hummus, and finish with a tray of sweet and sticky Baklava for dessert. With little preparation, you'll be be able to settle back and savour this delicious Mediterranean feast with your lucky guests. Yassou! Cheers.

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken Souvlaki
Serves 6

For the chicken:
2 lemons, juiced
4 tsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh oregano
2 teaspoon dried or 2 tbsp fresh thyme
A couple good pinches salt
1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
24 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
Tzatzki and grilled pita (optional)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef's knife
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp fresh ground black pepper

For the salad:
2 iceberg or romaine lettuce
2 English cucumbers, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 cups Greek feta cheese, crumbled

For the Tzatziki:
12oz Greek yoghurt
1 english cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, grated finely
dash of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh mint or dill (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper and mix together. Cut the chicken thighs in half, and add to the marinade, tossing to combine thoroughly in the mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

To make the dressing, combine all the 'dressing' ingredients in a resealable container and shake vigorously. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and then bring to room temperature, before tossing the salad.

For the Tzatziki, grate the cucumber, then squeeze out all the excess liquid in a tea towel. In a small bowl, combine the yoghurt, cucumber, lemon juice and garlic and mix thoroughly, adding some chopped mint or dill if desired. Cover and chill about 4 hours.

To assemble the salad, tear the lettuce into bite size pieces and place in a bowl that is large enough to hold all the salad ingredients comfortably. Scatter the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, and feta over the top. Toss with dressing just before serving.

To cook the chicken, grill over a medium-high heat until well browned, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. The chicken pieces can also be threaded on skewers, and both grilled and served accordingly. Place some Greek pita brushed with a little olive oil, on the grill, once the chicken is cooked through, and serve with some tzatziki. Place the chicken on a presentation platter and garnish with some fresh thyme, oregano and sliced lemons.

Serve the Chicken Souvlaki and Greek Salad with a large bowl of tzatziki and a basket or warm grilled pita.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Bocconcini

Prosciutto and bocconcini cheese are classic Italian antipasto, but the combination of the salt-cured air-dried Italian prosciutto and succulent little bocconcini wrapped in tiny parcels and grilled quickly in a little olive oil, is a culinary marriage made in heaven. The first time I had this dish was at Mia Romagna, a delightful small Italian trattoria at Front and George in Toronto, run by owner-chef Gabrielle Paganelli. The restaurant has since changed it's name to Paganelli's, but fortunately they haven't taken off their menu. 

Bocconcini — 'small mouthfuls' in Italian — are bite-size balls of fresh mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk cheese) and come in different sizes: Perle Mozzarella balls which are the size of a very large pearl; Ciliegine Mozzarella balls, about the size of cherry tomatoes; Bocconcini Mozzarella balls, which are about the size of a small golf ball and often referred to as 'bite-size'; and the most delicious of all — Mozzarella di Bufala, which are about the size of your fist. I use the 1.5-ounce bite-size bocconcini for my little parcels of Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Bocconcini, for the mozzarella melts and the prosciutto crisps, in perfect harmony — creating savoury pillows of cheesy goodness. Nestled on a small bed of mixed greens with a drizzle of olive oil and top quality balsamic vinegar, and garnished with some black pepper a sprig of rosemary, you've got a molto gusto primi.

Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Bocconcini
Serves 4 as a first course

12 bocconcini mozzarella balls 
(1.5 oz each)
ground black pepper 
12 thin prosciutto slices 
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped

Season the bocconcini mozzarella balls with ground black pepper. Roll each mozzarella ball with two prosciutto slices.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Cook wrapped bocconcini, seam side down, for about 1 minute or until prosciutto becomes slightly crispy and the cheese begins to melt.

Place bocconcini on serving platter. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and garnish with chopped rosemary, and serve immediately. These little parcels can also be served over a bed of mixed greens with a drizzle of good quality Balsamic vinegar, for a greener first course. Allow 3 little parcels per person.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Luscious Spinach Gratin

Classic creamed spinach is transformed into a luscious, rich and decadent cheesy gratin, in this quick and easy recipe for Spinach Gratin. A sexy little side dish when served in individual ramekins, and perfect as a larger casserole for holiday meals or dinner parties, this Spinach Gratin is a crowd favourite whenever I make it, and devoured by even those who avoid green vegetables. 

This delicious Spinach Gratin can be prepared well ahead of time and simply 
covered with cling film and chilled until needed

The flavour of the dish starts with chopped yellow onions sautéed in butter, and combined with simple ingredients such as chopped frozen spinach — which has been defrosted and squeezed dry — a little light cream, a touch of flour, a hint of nutmeg, some grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Topped with a sprinkling of grated gruyere cheese, and baked until it's bubbling hot and the cheese has melted to a golden perfection, the spinach absorbs all of the wonderful flavours and melds into something fabulously creamy and utterly delicious. One of my all-time favourite dishes, I make this Spinach Gratin over and over again, and always look forward to the next time — as do my friends and family!

Spinach Gratin
Serves 6-8

3 tbsp butter
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg, grated
2/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/3 cups whole milk
2 lb frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup gruyere, grated

Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook onion until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add cream and milk and cook, stirring, until thickened. Squeeze spinach and add to sauce, mixing to combine. Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer spinach mixture to a large baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan and all of the gruyere on top. Make 20-25 minutes until bubbling hot, and serve hot.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Decadent Chocolate Mousse

Richly flavoured, yet light as air, there are few more perfect ways to end a meal than the perfect Chocolate Mousse. But, as with so many of its contemporaries, time has not been kind to this once proud dessert. People have added olive oil, basil, and even — dear God — avocado, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, all in the name of clever modern twists. When it comes to continental classics, I'm duty bound to consult Elizabeth David. Her simple Chocolate Mousse, in French Provincial Cooking, is just that — an egg and an ounce of chocolate per person, and it turns into something quite magical. 

Take an ounce of chocolate and an egg for each person. Melt the chocolate, adding a tablespoonful of strong coffee, liqueur or brandy per person if you like. Stir in the egg yolks, then some cream. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then fold them together with the chocolate. Pour the mottled, unpromising looking foam into oven-proof ramekins or decorative glasses and refrigerate until set. The result is absolutely divine. Deeply flavoured, yet wonderfully fluffy and light, it almost melts on the tongue.

Decadent Chocolate Mousse
Serves 4

4 medium eggs
120g chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
200ml cream
4 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Break the chocolate into pieces and put in a bowl over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. When the chocolate begins to melt, turn the heat off. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites into soft peaks, add the sugar, and whisk briefly. Mix the egg yolks quickly into the melted chocolate, followed by the cream. Then whisk in a third of the egg white. Fold the rest very gently into the mixture until just combined — be careful not to over-mix — and then pour carefully into bowls and refrigerate for at least four hours until set. Garnish with some shaved chocolate and a dollop of whipped cream, if you like.

COOK'S NOTE: I had a real tug-of-war pouring the mousse into the glasses without dripping chocolate along the sides. Finally I poured the mousse into a piping bag and filled the glasses that way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Warm Lemon-Rosemary Mixed Olives

Glossy, plump, and gorgeous, these Warm Lemon-Rosemary Mixed Olives are a wonderful hors d'oeuvre with a glass of wine, a lump of cheese and a warm crusty baguette. Heating your favourite combination of mixed olives with a tablespoon or two of olive oil enhances the flavour and the unexpected warmth is a mouth-watering surprise. Sauté the olives with some garlic, hot red pepper, lemon zest and rosemary, and the infused olive oil catapults this simple fare to another level — fast, easy and quite delicious.

Warm Lemon-Rosemary Mixed Olives
Makes 2 cups

3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups mixed olives with pits: nicoise, cerignola, kalamata, picholine
1 clove of garlic, minced
zest of one lemon
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 hot red pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
Garnishes: rosemary sprig, lemon rind strips

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sliced pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the mixed olives and lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently, until warmed though and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 10-15 minutes. Garnish with some lemon curls and fresh rosemary sprigs. Serve warm with some crusty bread and your favourite cheeses.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

Linguini alle vongole originated in the Campania region of Italy, and is generally prepared in two ways: with tomatoes (rosso) and without (bianco). The most popular type of pasta used is linguine, which means "little tongues" in Italian. The essentials are quite simple: fresh clams with the taste of the sea, complimented by the pale scent of wine, the hearty flavor of garlic, the fruity flavour of olive oil and the peppery taste of parsley. One of the ultimate Italian comfort foods, Linguine with Red Clam Sauce is simple to prepare and is molto gusto. I generally use a combination of fresh clams — littleneck clams, pasta clams and cockles — steaming them open in a little white wine then adding homemade tomato sauce and clam juice for extra flavour.

Littleneck clam (left), cockle (centre) and pasta clam (right)

Fresh basil, oregano, parsley and a dash of Pernod are added to the sauce at the end of the cooking, adding a bright and fresh note to this wonderfully fragrant and absolutely delicious sauce — a true seafood classic.

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
Serves 4

1 pound linguine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin 
3 anchovy fillets 
Pinch of crushed red pepper 
1 cup dry white or red wine 
2 cups diced tomatoes (or homemade sauce)
20 littleneck clams, scrubbed
16 pasta clams, scrubbed
16 cockles, scrubbed
1 15 oz. can whole clams and juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, and extra for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tsp Pernod, optional
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, optional
1 loaf crusty baguette, sliced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook until al dente, 8 to 9 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot and toss with the cooking liquid. Cover and set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over high heat. Add garlic and anchovies and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and cook for a few seconds. Add the wine and clam juice, and cook until it reduces by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the larger clams first, then the smaller one a moment or two later, cover the pot and cook until the clams open. Discard any that don't open.

Remove the clams with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Bring the liquid that the clams have cooked in to a boil over high heat and cook until reduced by half. Season with fresh ground black pepper and a dash of Pernod, if you wish.

Return the clams to this mixture along with the canned clams. Stir in the cooked pasta, parsley, oregano and basil until combined and warmed through. Serve in warm large shallow bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with a basket of hot sliced baguette.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yellow Plum Flaugnarde

Clafoutis are a classic French dessert from the Limousin region of France and while black cherries are the traditional accompaniment, you can also use other fruits such as red cherries, plums, prunes, figs, apples, cranberries or blackberries — however, when other kinds of fruit are used, the dish is called a Flaugnarde. Clafouti or flaugnarde, whatever you want to call it, this delicate, buttery, moist flan-like batter is delicious with just about any stone fruit. I like to add a dash of liqueur to the batter to enhance the flavour of the fruit — in this recipe, a little armagnac. Resembling a large pancake, the dessert is baked with the sliced fruit arranged decoratively in a buttered dish, and then covered with a thick flan-like batter. The flaugnarde bakes for about an hour, filling the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma of plums, lemon, sugar and vanilla. The flaugnarde is then dusted with some confectioner's sugar, and can be served either warm or cold. Finish with lashings of fresh cream if you're feeling decadent.

Plum Flaugnarde (Clafouti)
Serves 6-8

7 yellow plums, halved and pitted
3 tbsp butter melted
6 tbsp white caster sugar
3 eggs
1 1/3 cups whole milk or light cream
dash of Armagnac
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-10 inch pie pan, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over bottom. Arrange the plum halves with cut side down, in a decorative pattern, until they cover the entire bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top of the plums.

In a food processor, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, eggs, butter, milk, flour, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla, armagnac and salt. Process until smooth for about 2 minutes. Pour over the plums in the pan evenly.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until firm, puffed and nicely golden around the edges. Remove the flaugnarde from the oven, and allow it to cool for a half hour or so, during which time you’ll see it deflate and settle a bit. Serve it warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Spicy Tex-Mex Tabbouleh

Gourmet Magazine, while it was still being published, had a section at the beginning, that featured great recipes sent in by dedicated readers. One of the recipes that caught my eye was the Tex-Mex Tabbouleh, and I've made it so many times, it feels like my own. The tomato juice, cumin and Tabasco gives the bulgur a great spicy kick, and the robust combination of chopped vegetables and cilantro, makes the salad a more flavourful and colourful alternative to a traditional Lebanese tabbouleh. 'Tabbouleh' is an Arabic word meaning 'a little spicy' and is a traditional dish from Turkey and Greece through to the Middle East. This Tex-Mex Tabbouleh is absolutely delicious a with it's Moorish influences, would be great with grilled lamb, beef kebabs or barbecued quail, with maybe a small dish of sliced cucumber, dill and yogurt on the side.

Tex-Mex Tabbouleh
Serves 4-6 

1 cup water
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup bulgur
10 oz. frozen corn, thawed, drained
3 large fresh plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely diced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, finely diced
5 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp Tabasco

Combine the first seven ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then stir in bulgur. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand until bulgur is tender, liquid is absorbed and mixture is at room temperature, about 1 hour.

Fluff bulgur with fork. Transfer to large bowl. Add corn, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper and cucumber and toss gently. Whisk oil, cilantro, vinegar, garlic and hot pepper sauce in medium bowl to blend. Pour over vegetable mixture. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and more Tabasco if you wish. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour to allow flavors to blend. This dish can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Keep refrigerated. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mom's Peach Crisp

A luscious peach crisp is one of my favourite ways to celebrate sweet ripe peaches when they're at their best in mid to late summer. This recipe is an adaptation of my Mom's Peach Crisp, which like most family recipes, hold a special place in my heart. My Mom isn't a baker as such, but she has mastered some desserts really well, like her Nanaimo Squares and wonderful Fruit Crisps. My two favourite 'Crisps' are Mom's Peach Crisp and also her Strawberry Rhubarb. Just thinking about them makes my cheeks tingle. This Peach Crisp topping is a sweet nutty mx of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, flour and mixed nuts, and bakes into a buttery and nutty crisp crumble. Mom's Peach Crisp can be made any time of the year, but it tastes best when the peaches are at their peak.

Mom' Peach Crisp
Serves 8

8 peaches
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel and slice peaches, then place in an 8" buttered baking dish. For the topping, in a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. Pour melted butter over mixture and mix well. Sprinkle the topping over the peaches and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the fruit is cooked and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or cold with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Manita's Avocado Gelato

I adore my Lello Gelato Maker. This past June, I sent my good friend Manita a Lello, after visiting her and her husband Randy, in Miami for a few days. A fearless cook, Manita has inspired me with many recipes over the years, but I was speechless when she sent this recent photo of her newest creation — a bright green Avocado Gelato, made with her Lello! Living in Miami, Manita takes advantage of the Sate's fresh Florida avocados and many other fresh organic produce, which she spins into delicious meals each and every day. I love the colour of this Avocado gelato, and am thrilled to pass on Manita's secret recipe, so you can make it at home too. Don't forget the pistachios!

Avocado Gelato
Makes 1 quart

1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup icing sugar
zest of 1 orange
2 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
Pistachios, shelled for garnish

Whisk together milk, sugars and orange zest in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Whisk until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Set in ice-water bath to cool. 
Then purée avocados, lime juice, salt, and milk mixture in a food processor. Freeze the avocado mixture in an ice cream/gelato maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and freeze for at least 3 hours (or up to 2 weeks). Spoon 2 scoops of gelato into each bowl, and serve with a sprinkling of pistachios and lime wedges for squeezing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Annie Mac's Marvelous Margaritas

My friend Ann drives up from Tallahassee each summer and always stops by our place for an al fresco dinner on the terrace before continuing up to her family's cottage in Sturgeon Point. Ann always insists on bringing a pitcher of her signature cocktail — homemade Margaritas — which we always eagerly anticipate and quickly devour. Ann says the key is fresh squeezed lime juice and a shot of Agave nectar. Also called Agave syrup, Agave is a sweetener produced in Mexico, from the Blue Agave plant. 

The Mexican Blue Agave plant

Sweeter than sugar, Agave has a mild neutral flavour and is often substituted for honey or sugar in recipes. I had never used Agave before, until using it in this outstanding recipe for Ann's marvelous Margaritas. Served in either a Martini and Margarita glass, Ann simply runs a fresh cut lime along the rim of the glass and finishes by dipping it in a plate of Maldon salt. Garnished with a wedge of lime, Ann's Margaritas are the perfect balance of sweet and sour — but be sure to serve them over ice unless you want to start seeing double. Salud!

Annie-Macs Marvelous Margaritas
6-8 servings

10 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
10 oz. water
12 oz. Tequila
8 oz. Triple Sec
1 squeeze of Agave Nectar

Combine all of the above in a pitcher and chill 2-3 hours. Serve in lime-rubbed salt rimmed glasses over ice, and a bowl of homemade Guacamole and corn chips, if you have time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hardware Grill in Edmonton

"Where hammers and nails once ruled, now knives and forks await." Located on the site of an old hardware store, Edmonton’s Hardware Grill offers great modern food in a vintage location. Located on the corner of Jasper and 97th in the heart of the Arts District, Hardware Grill is currently one of Edmonton's top restaurants. The focus is on local, whether it's local artists, local trades or the freshest local ingredients. Casually elegant, this former hardware store has been handsomely refurbished, and has received numerous accolades including "Best Restaurant in the Prairies" from EnRoute Magazine, and with an impressive wine list with more than 500 selections, has garnered eight consecutive Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.

Chef-Owner Larry Stewart of Hardware Grill

From the glassed-in kitchen, chef-owner Larry Stewart prepares progressive Canadian cuisine with fabulous flavours and fresh, creative presentations. There are no shortcuts here — almost everything is prepared fresh including breads, smoked meats, and homemade sorbets. First courses include Kobe Beef Carpaccio which is served with parmesan shards, homemade sea salt potato chips and an absolutely delicious Truffle Aioli; Fresh Mozzarella and Vine Tomato Stack with a caper vinaigrette, bacon jam and grilled crostini; and daily 'Soups of Yesterday', which the night we visited was a creamy Mushroom Soup finished with a brie topped crostini, blueberry chutney and finished with a shot of sherry. 

Kobe Beef Carpaccio with parmesan shards, homemade sea salt potato chips 
and an absolutely delicious Truffle Aioli

Fresh Mozzarella and Vine Tomato Stack with a caper vinaigrette, bacon jam and grilled crostini

'Soup of Yesterday' — Hardware Grill's Mushroom Soup with sherry and finished 
with a Brie topped crostini and blueberry chutney

Main courses are decidedly geared towards carnivores, however there are always a handful of pescatorian selections including one of Hardware Grill's outstanding signature dishes — Porcini Crusted Fish (tonight was Swordfish) with Lobster-Truffled Potato Crepes, White Corn-Arugula & Gulf Prawns with a Warm Portobello Vinaigrette; Angus Beef Tenderloin with Cambazola Melt, Cheddar-Chorizo Gratin Potato and Pea Shoot-Grape Tomato Sauté. They even feature a vegetarian option which sounded particularly appetizing — Truffle-Creamed Spinach, Wild Rice Timbale, Butternut-Cherry-Mushroom Hash, Pea Ravioli and Pea Shoot-Grape Tomato Sauté. We enjoyed the meal with Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris, a delicious west coast wine from the Okanagan.  

Angus Beef Tenderloin with Cambazola Melt, Cheddar-Chorizo Gratin Potato 
and Pea Shoot-Grape Tomato Sauté

Porcini Crusted Swordfish with Lobster-Truffled Potato Crepes, White Corn-Arugula 
& Gulf Prawns with a Warm Portobello Vinaigrette

Chef Stewart in Hardware Grill's glass-enclosed kitchen 

The Hardware Grill 'Snickers' Dessert — Chocolate-Toffee Crunch Bar and 
Raspberry White-Chocolate Mousse

Desserts at Hardware Grill are both inspired and delicious. My father and brother both ordered the Snickers — a decadent Chocolate-Toffee Crunch Bar with a Raspberry White-Chocolate Mousse and finished with a brushing of creme Anglaise and chocolate tuile. The Classic Profiteroles also looked too good to be true, with an espresso ice cream and hot fudge sauce.

 Classic Profiteroles

With a strong culinary heritage that has both supported and propelled local culinary students, Hardware Grill even caught the eye of Gordon Ramsey, who stopped by the restaurant last year when he made his first visit to Edmonton. If you're looking for contemporary regional Alberta cuisine at its best, be sure to make reservations at Hardware Grill next time you're in Edmonton — you'll be in for a treat. It's no wonder that Hardware Grill is proclaimed to be one of the best restaurants in Canada. 

Charming and delightful, Kyle helped make our evening at Hardware Grill 
a memorable experience

Warm Baby Asparagus Salad
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Hardware Grill

This makes a refreshing start to a meal or it can stand on its own as a spring luncheon salad.

olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cooked until just tender
8 oyster or shitake mushrooms
1 large red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into strips
1 lb. Baby asparagus, trimmed (use pencil asparagus if available)
4 cups mixed baby lettuces, rinsed and dried

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped herbs, such as tarragon, basil or oregano

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. To make the salad, cut the potatoes in half, bush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill or broil until browned. Toss the mushrooms in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sauté in hot oil to brown. Place potatoes and mushrooms into a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Blanch asparagus in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain well and spread on a plate; drizzle with 2 tablespoons of dressing. Divide lettuces among 4 plates; arrange potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and asparagus on lettuce and drizzle each plate with 2 to 3 tablespoons of dressing. 

9698 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5H 3V5