Thursday, October 31, 2013

Smoked Salmon Blini with Caviar, Crème Fraîche & Dill

Elegant, sophisticated and completely indulgent, blini topped with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and caviar has to be one of the ultimate appetizers. A staple of traditional Russian cuisine, blini were essential to the celebration of Maslenitsa, a thousand year-old Slavic festival inherited from a pagan culture that worshipped the Sun god Yarylo, who banished the winter. Round, golden and warm, Blini symbolized the sun, making them the perfect dish to welcome springtime. This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox church and is carried on to the present day with the feast of Shrovetide, also known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or Mardi Gras, which is french for 'Fat Tuesday', referring to the practice of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting that marked the onset of Lent. What better way to celebrate any special occasion than with these decadent Smoked Salmon Blini with Caviar, Crème Fraîche & Dill, a sumptuous Halloween-hued treat from 'Russia with love'.

Smoked Salmon Blini with Caviar, Crème Fraîche & Dill
Makes about 40 canapés

For the blini: 
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp crème fraîche
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 to 2 tbsp whole milk
salt & white pepper

For the garnish:
3 oz of black caviar or salmon roe
1 lb of smoked salmon
1/2 cup crème fraîche
Fresh dill, for garnish

To make the blini, bring the potatoes to a boil in a pot of salted water and simmer until cooked. Drain the potatoes and while they're still hot, press through a potato ricer. Place the potatoes in a mixing bowl and using a fork, quickly work in the flour, then add the crème fraîche and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time while mixing. Season with salt and white pepper. The batter should resemble a thick pancake-like batter.

Preheat a nonstick pan over medium-high and allow it to heat up thoroughly. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the batter into the hot pan, about the size of a 'loonie one dollar coin', and cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook one more minute. Remove to a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining blini.

To serve, top each blini with a folded sliver of smoked salmon, a dollop of crème fraîche and a teaspoon of caviar. Garnish with a sprig of dill and serve immediately. Heaven!

COOK'S NOTE: Making blini can be speeded up by using leftover mashed potatoes!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portuguese Seafood Stew: Caldeirada de Peixe

Portuguese Fish Stew, also known as Caldeirada de Peixe, is a rustic medley of magnificent mixed seafood, fish and fresh vegetables bathed in a luscious aromatic herb-infused tomato broth. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I first tried this fabulous low-fat recipe from The South Beach Diet Cookbook, an indispensable dietary bible penned by cardiologist Arthur Agatston and dietician Marie Almon, when I first tried to shed some unwanted pound a number of years ago. The South Beach Diet is relatively simple in principle. It replaces 'bad carbs' and 'bad fats' with 'good carbs and 'good fats. This delicious Seafood stew is an absolutely delicious recipe, whether you want to shed pounds or not!

Low-Fat Portuguese Fish Stew
Serves 6 

1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 bay leaves
8 canned and filleted anchovies
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp tobasco
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 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
2 6.5 oz cans of clams, with juices
1 lb mussels
1/2 lb calamari, cleaned and cut into 1/8-inch rings
1 lb cod or halibut, cut into 1-inch 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, cover the pan and let simmer 5 minutes. Add the fish, calamari 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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pollo Guisado with Chorizo, Peppers & Potatoes

Every culture has it's favourite chicken recipes, and this Spanish-inspired Dominican Pollo Guisado, is festive, fabulous and absolutely delicious. Given the colonial history of the Dominican Republic, with its European, African, and Taíno Indian influences, this former Spanish colony has adopted many Castilian recipes and reinvented them as their own, but with a uniquely Dominican twist like this Pollo Guisado with Chorizo, Peppers and Potatoes.

Dominican cooking varies region to region, with most dishes in the country's Creole menu based on rice, meat, beans and vegetables, and to a smaller degree, fish and seafood. Meat dishes tend to be very well cooked or even stewed, a tradition stemming from the lack of refrigeration on the island. Dominican cuisine, compared to other parts of the West Indies, includes milder spicing and use of native ingredients such as onions, garlic, cilantro, cilantro ancho (culantro), ají cubanela (cubanelle pepper), and oregano, that when mixed together, take on their own unique personality, culminating in a uniquely rich, festive and flavourful cuisine.

Braised Spanish Chicken with Chorizo, Peppers & Potatoes
Serves 4

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 medium red onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 lb new potatoes, quartered
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
8 plum tomatoes, quartered
8 oz chorizo Spanish sausage
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp fresh or dried oregano
1 tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup sliced or halved pitted green olives
1 green pepper, seeded and julienned
1 red pepper, seeded and julienned
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish - optional

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the onions, new potatoes, garlic and tomatoes into a large roasting pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give the mixture a gentle toss and roast for 20 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, skin the chorizo and cut into thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick. Place the chicken thighs on a cutting service and lightly score the tops with a sharp knife 2 or 3 times. Season with black pepper. Mix the paprika, oregano and orange zest in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, sprinkle the chorizo over the vegetables and give the mixture a good stir. Place the chicken thighs on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with the olives and paprika mixture. Season with a little salt and return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and using an oven mitt, tilt the pan so all the juices run to one end, then spoon the juices over the chicken. Then arrange the sliced peppers around the chicken and vegetables, turn the oven up to 425°F and bung the pan back into the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the peppers are just softened and the chicken is crisp and golden brown.

To serve, arrange the chicken, peppers, chorizo and potatoes on a large platter, drizzle with the pan juices and garnish with a flurry of chopped cilantro if you wish. This dish is wonderful served with Saffron Rice or a warm baguette to sop up all of the juices.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rosemary & Mustard Pork Tenderloin with Rapini

There's nothing like a moist and delicious Pork Tenderloin. Low in fat, this economical cut of meat is about as lean as it comes. The same prime cut as a filet mignon, pork tenderloin can be just as juicy and full flavoured but at a quarter of the price. It's a chef's best friend. Fabulous grilled on the BBQ in the summer or roasted indoors during the chilly months, this easy recipe for Rosemary & Mustard Glazed Pork Tenderloin can be prepared ahead of time by marinating the tenderloins in a fragrant elixir of citrus juice, zest, garlic, olive oil, mustard, rosemary and thyme, then left for a few hours, or even overnight, to do its culinary magic. Quickly seared to lock in its flavour, the pork is then finished off in the oven until it's just done. The results are a light, healthy and delicious low carb feast, especially when served over a bed of iron-rich steamed rapini, for truly Tuscan touch.

Rosemary & Mustard Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4-6

1 lemon, zest grated
1 orange, zest grated
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 4 to 6 lemons
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic, about 6 cloves
1 1/2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
3 pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch rapini, washed and trimmed

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade. Squeeze out the air and seal the bag. Marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade but leave the herbs that cling to the meat. Sprinkle the tenderloins generously with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat. Sear the pork tenderloins on all sides until golden brown. Place the sauté pan in the oven and roast the tenderloins for 10 to 15 minutes or until the meat registers 137°F at the thickest part. In the meantime, steam the rapini until the leaves wilt, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve in 1/2-inch thick diagonal slices. The thickest part of the tenderloin will be quite pink and that's just fine! The thinnest part will be well done. 

Season with salt and pepper and serve warm, or at room temperature with the juices that collect in the platter. I served the Pork Tenderloin in thick slices over a bed of Steamed Rapini with a Beet, Avocado & Herbed Goat Cheese Salad on a bed of arugula, for a light and delicious low carb dinner. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Chase Fish & Oyster on Temperance

Chase and the Chase Fish & Oyster Bar — two restaurants, one building, and four floors apart, in their new digs in the recently renovated Dineen building, a circa 1897 heritage space on Temperance at Yonge in downtown Toronto. Both are projects from owner Steven Salm, who moved to Toronto more than three years ago to help Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment launch the acclaimed Real Sports Bar & Grill and e11even, a restaurant that’s a block from the Air Canada Centre. He made his mark in NYC with the BLT Prime New York chain. As president of the newly launched Chase Hospitality Group, Salm restyled the building, founded originally as a 19th-century retail clothing store. Together with executive chef Michael Steh, formerly of Reds Bistro, who oversees both restaurants, Steh and Salm transformed the property in roughly 6 months, adding a fifth floor to the Dineen building that previously had only four. A newly installed elevator takes guests from the ground-floor Chase Fish & Oyster restaurant to the more refined Chase, perched on Dineen's penthouse level.

Both restaurants are accessed by an alleyway off Temperance

With tickets to the opera later in the evening, and having heard considerable buzz about the restaurant, we thought Chase Fish & Oyster would be a fine thematically appropriate culinary choice before heading to see 'Peter Grimes', the COC production which takes place in an isolated fishing village on the coast of England. The opera does not end well. We held out hopes that dinner would fare better. Aside from not being greeted at the door with a simple "Hello" or "Good Evening, welcome to Chase", we were received with silent indifference. Volunteering that we had made reservations, we were handed over to someone else who escorted us to a table beside the bright floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook Temperance Street and the small outdoor summer patio. Fortunately, our ebullient and friendly server Eden more than made up for the ennui we experienced at the front desk, however the lack of anywhere to hang coats was a curiosity. It was suggested that we could take them up to the top floor or roll them in a ball and lay them beside our chair — a solution that seemed to have been embraced by other patrons. So much for service and hospitality. 

The nautical themed Chase Fish & Oyster

Settled at our table, we needed a drink. Bless Eden, she was there with two flutes of Spanish Cava Brut and carefully explained the menu, which features fresh seafood flown in from both the east and west coast of Canada. Offerings which include Oyster Po’boy Sliders, a Lobster “Waldorf” Roll with candied walnuts, apple and dill yukon chips, Pan Roasted Scallops with toasted brioche, roasted foie gras and smoked duck, and decadent seafood platters, a little pricey at $50 with oysters, clams, tuna, shrimp or the effusive $110 platter with oysters, clams, tuna, crab, shrimp, scallops and lobster. The dish that caught my eye was the delicious grilled octopus with pork sausage, salsa verde, and piquillo peppers — a generous appetizer, but substantial enough to enjoy as an entrée — a bargain at $23.

Decorative sails are suspended from the ceiling

The interior draws inspiration from the fresh, laid-back vibe of the Hamptons, but adapted to fit into the fabric of the city, with a light and breezy palette of white, blues and brass, mixed with comfortable touches like suspended sails, reclaimed oak dining tables and atmospheric black and white photographs on reclaimed yellow brick walls. The bar, shaped to resemble an oyster shell, navigates the division of the heritage building to the new addition, with a broad open concept kitchen featuring the culinary offerings of Chef de Cuisine, Nigel Finley, former executive chef at Catch.

The one page menu features a selection of raw, cold and hot appetizers 
in addition to eight entrées

Guests are invited to customize orders of oysters, clams and lobster 
on the Chase 'Oysterology' card

We started with a glass of Cava Brut, a dry Spanish sparkling wine 
from Parés Baltà, a family owned vineyard in the Penedès region

However halfheartedly our evening began, the dishes were well executed, artfully presented and the at-table service prompt and courteous. The 'California' Roll with king crab, avocado, sweet corn salad and microgreens was as beautiful to behold as it was delicious. Not a speck of rice in sight, the avocado-swathed roll was chock full of sweet crabmeat and beautifully adorned with a fresh corn salad and garnished with a flurry of edible flower petals. The only soup on the menu, an Autumn Chowder with clams, mussels, smoked sturgeon, beets, butternut squash and whipped mascarpone was equally delicious. Another appetizer, the colourful Mediterranean-inspired Grilled Octopus with harissa, salsa verde, piquillo peppers, spiced pork sausage, olives and arugula over a bed of roast potatoes was my favourite dish of the evening. Full flavoured with delectably tender octopus, tender roast spuds, and a robust symphony of sweet, salty and sour — the dish was superb.

“California” Roll with king crab, avocado and sweet corn salad garnished with 
microgreens and edible flowers 

Autumn Chowder with clams, mussels, smoked sturgeon, beets, 
butternut squash & whipped mascarpone

Grilled Octopus with harissa, salsa verde, piquillo peppers, 
spiced pork sausage, olives and arugula 

The only dish we ordered that was one of the listed eight entrées, was the Fried Chicken with a smoked cheddar potato bun, hot sauce butter and savoy & provolone slaw. Wonderfully crispy and sensationally succulent, the "finger-licken-good" Fried Chicken was only surpassed by the delicate Savoy and Provolone Slaw dressed with a subtle oil and lemon juice vinaigrette, that took this humble side accessory to a side salad I hope to reproduce at home. With no time for coffee or dessert, we paid our bill, unrolled our coats, passed the open kitchen, and headed out from the candle-lit alley towards our final destination — Peter Grimes at the COC. Was there a "Thank you for coming" as we left the restaurant? Are you kidding — that was as predictable as the outcome of the opera. "Townsfolk" go about their business, and although "bad stuff" happens, everyone goes back to work as if nothing has occurred. 

Fried Chicken with a smoked cheddar potato bun, hot sauce butter and savoy & provolone slaw

Our two main courses

The octopus was delicious to the last piquillo

The bill came to about $180 with tax

The open concept kitchen is visible as you enter the restaurant

Chef de Cuisine of Chase Fish & Oyster, Nigel Finley, former executive chef at Catch

The alley looks much more inviting at twilight with candles illuminating the way

Ben Hepner as Peter Grimes in the Canadian Opera Company 2013 production 
Photo Credit: Michael Cooper, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Prince George's Christening: A Private Affair

Three-month-old Prince George, heir to the British throne, was christened Wednesday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, during a private ceremony at the 16th-century Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in London, where Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 and Princess Diana laid before her funeral in 1997. It was a private and small affair with just 22 guests including the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Harry along with the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents and two siblings, James and Pippa Middleton. 

After the service, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, held a private tea at Clarence House, where guests were served slices of christening cake taken from a tier of William and Catherine's 2011 wedding cake, an eight-tiered fruitcake, decorated with hundreds of sugar flowers, made by luxury cake-maker Fiona Cairns and her team. Traditionally, the top tier of a wedding cake is saved for the christening of a couple’s first child, however Fiona Cairns has revealed that the royal couple actually kept three tiers of the rich fruit cake. Should we be reading anything into this? Could they be planning three children? "I really don’t know," she was quoted as saying, "I'm not even sure how they’ve stored the cakes. If they wanted to use one for Prince George’s christening, it would be fine, though. The icing would have to be redone but the cake itself is as good as it was on the day."

Fiona Cairns with the William and Kate's Royal Wedding Cake, 
the top three tiers of which became part of little George's Christening Cake

The extraordinary fondant details

One of the top three tiers which became little George's Christening Cake, 
with a series of motifs including a rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock to represent 
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The metre-high floral strewn confection, complete with luscious cream and frosted with regal white icing, reflected the lace detail of the Kate's bridal dress, an elegant floral pattern that drew inspiration from the Joseph Lambeth technique of cake decorating, a popular method that uses a lot of intricate piping to create 3-D leaves, scrolls, flowers and other motifs. The recipe for William and Kate's Wedding Cake — Fiona Cairns' Tamarind Fruit Cake — must be prepared up to three months in advance, or at least a week before it's required, in order to let it mature and absorb the brandy. Following is Fiona Cairns' original recipe for the multi-tiered extravaganza — if you have the time, patience and the stamina!

William and Kate's Wedding Cake
Serves about 120-150 people
Recipe courtesy Pastry Chef Fiona Cairns

Ingredients for the Cake: 
1 6-inch square, 3-inch deep square cake pan
1 8-inch square, 3-inch deep square cake pan
1 10-inch square, 3-inch deep square cake pan
1 double the recipe for Rich Tamarind Fruit Cake batter, featured below
6 tbsp brandy, plus more to feed the cake
1 cup apricot jam, gently warmed and pushed through a sieve
6 3/4 pounds marzipan
confectioners' sugar, for rolling

Sizes for Cake Boards and Drums: 
1 8-inch square thin board 
1 10-inch square thin board 
1 12-inch square thin board 
1 6-inch square (1/2-inch thick) cake drum 
1 8-inch square (1/2-inch thick) cake drum 
1 10-inch square (1/2-inch thick) cake drum

Tamarind Fruit Cake
Single cake makes 25-30 slices

1 1/2 cups candied cherries
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dark raisins, preferably Thompson
1 1/4 cups mixed candied citrus peel
2/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup dried currants
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons bitter orange marmalade
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
1 heaped tablespoon apple pie spice
6 tablespoons brandy, plus 3 tablespoons to feed the cake
1 cup walnuts
1/3 cup blanched almonds
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups almond flour
5 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preparing the Fruit Cake Batter:
The day before, rinse the cherries, then dry them well with paper towels and cut each in half. Place the golden and dark raisins, mixed peel, ginger, currants, cherries, molasses, marmalade, tamarind paste, zests and spice into a large bowl. Pour in 6 tablespoons of brandy, stir well, cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with brown paper and tie with string, to protect the cake from scorching in the oven. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in the oven, shaking once. Cool slightly, chop coarsely and set aside.

Combining the Fruit Cake Ingredients:
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. In an electric mixer on high speed, beat the butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes until it turns pale and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, then very gradually the eggs, mixing well between each addition. Fold in the flour with a large metal spoon and then the soaked fruits (and any liquid) and nuts.

Spread the batter into the pan. Bake on an oven rack in the lower third of the oven for about 2 1/2-3 hours. If a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, it is ready. If it browns too much before it is fully cooked, make a circle of foil a bit larger than the cake, pierce a hole in the center and open it up, then place it over the pan.

Let cool in the pan. Pierce all over with a wooden toothpick and evenly sprinkle over the remaining 3 tablespoons brandy. Remove from the pan and discard the paper. Wrap in fresh parchment paper, then aluminum foil, and let stand for a week or up to three months. Unwrap and sprinkle with with 1 tablespoon more brandy every other week, if you like, for extra succulence and booziness!

Preparing the Wedding Cake Boards and Pans:
Thin cake boards are used only while you are assembling the cakes, and really serve to save your work surfaces. You can use any board you have, even plywood. Thick cake drums are used to support each tier of the finished cake, so must be bought for this purpose.

Prepare the cake pans and batter (see above). Divide the batter between the pans, filling each to the same depth. The smallest cake will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes, the medium 2 1/2-3 hours and the largest about 3 hours: if a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, it is ready. Let cool in the pans. When cooled, pierce all over with a fine wooden skewer and sprinkle with the brandy. Wrap in fresh parchment paper, then aluminum foil, until ready to use. You can continue to feed the cakes with 1-2 tablespoons brandy every other week, for a month or two.

Using Marzipan for the Cakes:
Take the 8-inch thin board and place the 6-inch drum on it. Brush 1 tablespoon apricot jam into the center, then place the 6-inch cake on top, upside down so the flat bottom forms the surface. If it is slightly smaller than the drum, make a strip of marzipan as wide as the side of the cake and the same circumference, and stick it to the edge. Similarly, all cakes should be the same height. If not, apply an extra-thin marzipan layer to the top of the shallow cake (use the pan as a guide). Repeat for the other cakes, placing the 8-inch cake on the same-size drum and 10-inch board, and the 10-inch cake on the same-size drum and 12-inch board.

Brush the 6-inch cake with jam. Knead 1 3/4 pounds of marzipan until pliable. Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with confectioners' sugar, and roll out into a rough square slightly larger than the top and sides of the cake and drum and about 1/4-inch thick. Lift on to the cake and drum, smooth all over and cut away any excess. Cover the other two cakes, using 2 1/4 pounds marzipan each. Leave overnight to firm up.

Assembling the Wedding Cake

Items Needed for Cake Construction:
12-inch square (1/2-inch thick) cake drum 
8 wooden dowels

Ingredients for Covering the Cake:
Confectioners sugar, for rolling
9 pounds ivory fondant
2 tablespoons brandy or boiled water
2/3 cup royal icing in a parchment paper cone

Preparing the Base Drum:
Dust the 12-inch drum with confectioners sugar and sprinkle with a small amount of water. Knead 2 1/4 pounds of the fondant until pliable, then sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with confectioners sugar and roll it into a rough square slightly larger than the top of the drum and about 1/8-inch thick. Wrap it loosely around the rolling pin and lift on to the drum. Smooth with your hands and trim away any excess. Replace the excess in a plastic bag and seal. Let dry overnight.

Preparing the Fondant for the Cake:
The 6-inch cake will need about 1 3/4 pounds of fondant, and the two larger cakes about 2 1/4 pounds each. Work on just one cake at a time.

For each cake, brush brandy all over the marzipan. This helps the fondant to stick and is an antiseptic. Lightly dust a clean surface with confectioners' sugar and roll out the fondant into a rough square about 1/4-inch thick and slightly larger than the diameter of the cakes, their sides, and the drums.

Lift the fondant with your hands, place it over the cake and gently smooth, covering the cake and drum. Do not stretch, and work as quickly as you can, before it dries. Cut away any excess, provided it is still clean, and seal in a plastic bag. Let the three cakes stand overnight.

Building the Cake:
Spread 1-2 tablespoons royal icing into the center of the base drum. Gently ease away the largest cake and drum from its board using an icing spatula and place it exactly in the middle of the base drum.

Now insert four dowels into the large cake, spacing them to form the corners of a square just within where the 8-inch cake will sit. Push down each stick until it hits the drum, and mark with a pen about 1/8-inch above the surface. Remove each stick, score with a knife at the mark, snap (or saw) and discard the excess. Replace each in its hole.

Spread a spoonful of royal icing into the center of the largest cake, remove the 8-inch cake and drum from its thin board and center on top of the larger cake, resting the drum on the hidden dowels. Repeat the dowel placing process with this middle tier to add the top cake, again using a spoonful of royal icing to keep it steady.

Preparing the Decorations for the Cake

Ingredients for the Adornments:
Confectioners sugar, for rolling
Set of 3 blossom plunger cutters (1/4-inch, 1/2-inch and 5/8-inch)
1 1/4-inch butterfly cutter
2 tbsp royal icing in a parchment paper cone
100 small gold dragees in 2 sizes
1 small paint brush
1 large egg white, lightly beaten 
Edible gold glitter
Two small artificial ivory or white doves

For the Top Tier: 
2 feet long, 1 1/2-inch wide vintage gold ribbon

For the Middle Tier: 
Cream organza about 1 yard long, 1 1/2-inch wide and gold ribbon 6 1/4 feet long and 1/4-inch wide.

For the Bottom Tier:
 Gold bejewelled ribbon about 4 feet long and 2 1/2-inch wide.

For the Base Drum: 
One roll double-sided sticky tape and ivory ribbon about 4 1/2 feet long, 1/2-inch wide.

Making Butterflies and Blossoms

You will need about 12-15 butterflies and about 100 blossoms in three sizes (I made 25 tiny 1/4-inch blossoms, 25 medium 1/2-inch blossoms and 50 large 5/8-inch blossoms).

The decorations are applied randomly, so this is just a guide. Knead some of the fondant left over from covering the cakes and drums until pliable, and roll out thinly (no more than 1/8-inch thick) on a board sprinkled with a little confectioners' sugar. Stamp out the blossoms and butterflies and allow to dry for a few hours, preferably overnight. I lay them out as I make them in boxes interleaved with parchment paper. Prop up the butterflies' wings between two sticks (you could use spare dowels), so the wings will dry as if in flight.

If you like, pipe the centers of the blossoms with a tiny dot of royal icing and then press on a gold dragee. If you prefer, just pipe a dot for the centers. Once the butterflies are dry, paint the edges of the wings with egg white and dip into the glitter.

To finish the cake, apply the ribbons by sticking them at the back of each cake using a little royal icing. On the middle tier, overlay the wide organza ribbon with two bands of narrow gold ribbon. Wrap the base drum with the double-sided sticky tape, then stick on its ribbon.

Casual, informal designs do have one huge advantage: any blemishes or marks in the icing can be covered by a decoration! Randomly apply the butterflies and little blossoms all over the three-tiered cake, sticking on with the royal icing. As a final touch, place the two doves in the center of the top tier.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Yellow & Purple Plum Clafouti with Armagnac

Clafoutis are a classic French dessert from the Limousin region of France and while black cherries are typically used, other fruits such as prunes, plums, peaches or apricots are also equally delicious. However, when other kinds of fruit other than cherries are used, the dish is called a Flaugnarde. Clafouti or flaugnarde, whatever you wish to call it, this delicate, buttery, moist soufflé-like dessert is sensational with just about any stonefruit that happens to be in season. I also like to add a dash of liqueur to the batter to bring out the flavour of the fruit, and in this recipe, a little armagnac. Resembling a large fluffy pancake, the clafouti is simply prepared with sliced fruit arranged in a buttered baking dish covered with a thick flavoured custard-like batter. Baked for about an hour, the smells permeate the kitchen with a intoxicating aroma of sweet plums, lemon, sugar and vanilla. Dusted with a final flourish of confectioner's sugar, this gorgeous rustic French dessert is best served while it's still warm.

Plum Clafouti
Serves 6-8

7 firm ripe yellow and purple plums, halved and pitted
3 tbsp melted butter
6 tbsp granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups light cream
1 tsp 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 the bottom. Arrange the plum halves cut side down until they cover the entire bottom of the pan, then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over top.

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

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the clafouti is firm, puffed and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven, and allow the clafouti to cool for 15 minutes or so, during which time it will deflate somewhat. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sukuma Wiki: Kenyan Braised Kale with Tomatoes

Sukuma Wiki is a Swahili phrase meaning, depending on how you translate it, "week-pusher," "push the week," or "stretch the week." Hearty leafy greens such as collards or kale are a staple of even the most frugal diet in the rural communities of Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, and other African nations. They're readily available, and can be found in the most basic garden, so they're often used when other supplies have run out or meat is scarce. Sukuma Wiki can be found in many forms. Sometimes it's highly spiced, in the Indian-influenced cuisine of East Africa, or sometimes it's a very plain and basic dish of greens, with nothing but oil and a little onion to round out the flavours. This light and healthy Kenyan version features kale, onion, tomatoes and a smattering of fragrant spices, and provides the perfect accompaniment to rich and delicious West African Mafé with Peanut Sauce.

A robust head of kale

The head is chopped into 1-inch pieces

One onion and two tomatoes diced

The diced onion is sautéed in a tablespoon of oil for 8 minutes over medium-high

Turmeric, ground cumin and coriander are added

Then diced tomato is added to the mixture...

....and sautéed for 2 minutes

The chopped hale is added a handful at a time...

...and one all the kale is added it's stir-fried for 10 minutes then served!

Sukuma Wiki (African Braised Kale with Tomatoes)
Serves 4

1 pound kale or collard greens
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced
1 large white onion 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper 
1 lemon, juiced - about 3 tbsp

Chop the kale into rough 1-inch pieces, including the ribs. Roughly chop the tomatoes. If desired, reserve about 1/4 cup fresh tomato pieces for garnish. Peel and dice the onion.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot, or a large wok. When it is hot, add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. When the onion is getting soft, stir in the cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the greens one handful at a time, stirring constantly to coat them with the onions, oil, and spices. When they have all been added, sprinkle the salt and a generous amount of fresh pepper over them and stir.

Pour in 1/4 cup water, cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the greens are tender to your taste. For a more toothsome texture, cook them for about 10 minutes. Once done, remove the lid, turn off the heat, and toss the greens with the lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra tomato, if desired.