Friday, November 29, 2013

Warm Olives with Rosemary, Lemon & Peperoncino

Plump, glossy and gorgeous, these fragrant Lemon & Rosemary Marinated Olives with Peperoncino are a tangy and tasty hors d'oeuvre with a glass of wine, a lump of cheese and a warm crusty foot of baguette. Sauté the olives with some garlic, hot red pepper, lemon zest, rosemary and some infused olive oil catapults this appetizer to another gastronomic level — one that is 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.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with Béchamel Sauce

One of my favourite winter dishes is Baked Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi, which are delectable little dumplings 'naked' of their pasta wrapper. A kissing cousin to gnocchi, these fluffy pillows of loveliness are made with ricotta rather than potato, which makes them lighter and more delicate in ways gnocchi rarely are. The technique for making these ethereal clouds of 'ricotta heaven' begins with a simple mixture of spinach, ricotta, eggs and parmesan cheese that's shaped into oval egg-size dumplings, and coated with a light dusting of flour. Placed in a baking dish, the gnudi are arranged in neat rows, covered with a rich and creamy béchamel sauce, a splash of sweet tomato sauce and baked in the oven for 35-45 minutes. It couldn't be easier. Four or five gnudi make an impressive starter; eight to ten, a dreamy main course that's damn close to food heaven.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with Béchamel Sauce
Makes about 30 dumplings - serves 4 as an entrée or 8 as a starter

2 10oz/300g packages frozen spinach, thawed and chopped
1 10oz/300g tub fresh ricotta cheese
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil, chopped for garnish
1 tbsp butter, for greasing the baking dish
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups homemade or quality store-bought tomato sauce

Béchamel Sauce:
4 cups whole milk
7 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Thaw the frozen spinach, then drain and squeeze dry, getting rid of as much extra water as you can. It will make the dumplings hold their shape better.

In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan cheese and a generous grating of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, and stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the oven is preheating, prepare the béchamel sauce by heating the milk in a saucepan. In a separate pan, melt the butter, then add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon and cooking the roux until it becomes lightly golden, about 5-6 minutes. Add a ladleful of the warm milk at a time, stirring constantly so it doesn't form lumps. Continue until all the milk has been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and additional nutmeg to taste. Continue cooking and stirring on low heat for another 10 minutes. The sauce will thicken and become very smooth. Remove from the heat and cover.

Generously butter a large 9"x12" baking dish, and spoon enough béchamel sauce to cover the bottom. Pour the flour onto a flat plate. To make the dumplings, use your hands to form the spinach-ricotta mixture into the shape and size of a small egg, slightly elongated like a quenelle. Dust each dumpling very lightly in the flour and place them over the béchamel in neat rows. Continue until all the mixture is used up. Cover the dumplings with the remaining béchamel, dot the surface with tomato sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 40-50 minutes. Serve piping hot with a good sprinkling of fresh basil on each serving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spiced Pumpkin Bread with Nuts, Raisins & Seeds

Bursting with the intoxicating aromas of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, this moist and fragrant Spiced Pumpkin Bread, is infused with all the comforting scents and familiar flavours of Thanksgiving that instantly warms the soul and feeds the spirit. Sweet and spicy, this sensational recipe shines 
with the full bodied flavour and rich colour of vibrant pumpkin purée, the sweet notes of brown sugar, the warmth of exotic spices, and a flurry of plum raisins and chopped walnuts for added texture and sweetness. The scent, as it bakes in the oven, has a nostalgic quality — one that's pretty hard to resist.

A batter of butter, sugar, fragrant spices, pumpkin purée, eggs, flour, 
walnuts, raisins, oil and water is blended until smooth

The batter is poured into a greased non-stick loaf pan, 
sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and baked at 350°F

After an hour, the bread is puffed and golden on the outside and still moist in the middle

The bread is removed from the tin after about 5 minutes and then allowed to cool on a wire rack

A dusting of icing sugar and sprigs of decorative berries add a 
festive flair to the final presentation

Spiced Pumpkin Bread with Walnuts & Raisins
Makes 1 9-inch loaf

4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts 
1/2 cup raisins 
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, for garnish
1 tbsp icing sugar, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a non-stick 9-inch loaf pan. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves in a small bowl.

Beat the butter, sugar, and oil on high speed in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times, until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the pumpkin purée and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. 

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, then the nuts, raisins and 2/3 cup water, and mix until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then invert the pan and remove the bread and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature, in thick slices with butter or spiced pumpkin cream cheese — but it tastes gorgeous on its own!

Spiced Pumpkin Cream Cheese
Makes about 1/2 cup

8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 cup canned pumpkin purée
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and beat until smooth. Serve immediately or store covered in the fridge.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter & Walnuts

These are incredible little brownies. Moist, dense and fudgy in the middle. Chewy on the outside with a wafer thin candy-like crust. Bon Appétit featured these decadent wee 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, dessert chef and chocolatier who has been affectionately called 'The First Lady of Chocolate.'

Alice Medrich -  'The First Lady of Chocolate' 

Alice Medrich's cookbook that features her Cocoa Brownie recipe 
and more 'sinfully easy and delicious desserts!'

I was delighted when a brownie opportunity presented itself recently. A troupe of young nieces were expected for a weekend dinner, so the challenge was on. The recipe is quite simple and requires very few ingredients: butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, eggs, flour and walnuts. The result after 35 minutes in the oven was sensationally squidgy and sinfully delicious. The only problem was that I ignored part of the recipe — a big no-no. Medrich calls for the brownie pan to be lined with foil, which as it turns out, helps in getting the blighters out of the pan. Good point. Next time, I'll follow the recipe and line the pan. It didn't affect the flavour though, judging from all the chocolatey smiles!

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter & Walnuts
Makes 16
Recipe by Alice Medrich 

Non-stick vegetable oil spray
10 tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line the inside of an 8" x 8" square metal baking pan with aluminum foil, pressing foil firmly against the pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat the foil with nonstick spray. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking until the butter stops foaming, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, and immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons of water, vanilla and 1/4 generous teaspoon of salt. Stir to blend, then let cool 5 minutes. Add the eggs to the hot 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 centre comes out almost clean. If there is still a tiny bit of moist batter at the very bottom that's okay. Remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire 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 at room temperature, for up to three days. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Host: Fine Indian Cuisine on Prince Arthur

The stars were aligned. An evening that promised to be rich in both Indian culture and cuisine: dinner at The Host followed by a concert at Koerner Hall with acclaimed classical sitarist and composer, Anoushka Shankar, one of the leading figures on the world's stage today. Deeply rooted in Indian classical music, Anoushka studied from the age of nine under her father and guru, the legendary Ravi Shankar, mastering the hauntingly beautiful, ethereal and transcendental sounds of the sitar. Just like Anoushka's classical Hindustani and progressive sitar repertoire, Indian cuisine has a rich and complicated history — a culmination of traditional recipes prepared with new techniques and given a fresh innovative presentation. 

'The Host' executive chef Sanjeev Sethi

The secret to creating memorable indian music and cuisine, according to Sanjeev Sahti, chef and co-owner of The Host, together with his brother Jay, is very simple. It's a secret they learned from their mother, the greatest chef they knew and the inspiration for everything Sanjeeev does today: in her kitchen, he learned that the best food is always created with love. And love demands that you make no compromises and take no shortcuts. His mother was fond of saying that "patience makes the food", and the menu at The Host is a poignant example of such a dedicated culinary culture — the common denominator of two creative artists, Anoushka and Sanjeev — led by parents with the greatest inspiration of all, love.

The interior vestibule of The Host, a welcome respite after a wintery trek from the great outdoors, on the first snowy day of the year

For years, this solitary wooden sculpture has sounded the horn on the culinary treats to come

Rolled spiced Pappadam flecked with cumin seeds and served with mint chutney

Kingfisher, India's favourite beer, and the perfect accompaniment to an Indian meal
— it's brand promise, 'The King of Good Times' and 'Most Thrilling Chilled!'

The Host menu

The menu features tandoori dishes from their clay oven, a 'host' of traditional curries, 
Indian street appetizers, naan bread and lost more

Bhalla Chaat Papri, an Indian 'street food' with crispy wafers garnished with a combination of potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind chutney, sprinkled with a zesty spice powder

Samosas - the all time favourite - crispy triangular pastries stuffed with spiced potatoes,
and accompanied with both mint and tomato chutneys

Paneer Tikka, one of my favourite dishes at The Host

Rajasthani Goat Curry on the bone, cooked in red curry of chili, cumin and roasted spices

Dal Makhni, slow cooked black lentils simmered overnight, 
finished with home churned butter and cream - a specialty of the Northwest frontier 

Nawabi Seekh Kebab smoked ground lamb meat with herbs and spices

Garlic Naan

After a frosty post-dinner dash from The Host to claim our fabulous forth-row-centre tickets to Anoushka Shankar's single night performance at The Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall, we found ourselves well fed and eagerly awaiting the main event — Anoushka live in full sitar splendour! Her most recent album, 'Traces of You', upon which the concert was based, was inspired by the idea that everything in the universe leaves an indelible mark or a subtle 'trace', on everything else it comes into contact with. 

Having lost her father Ravi during the process of recording her album, she was occupied with the eternal interplay of loss and hope, of transience and new beginnings; of joy, pain and sadness intermingled, which became her catharsis through a difficult period, leading ultimately to the greater emotion behind all the others: love. Three forms of love, love for her father, her husband Joe Wright, and her son Zubin.

Anoushka Shankar performed at Koerner Hall on Saturday, November 23, 2013

Like her father, Anoushka Shankar displays an enormous talent for effortlessly integrating even the most contrasting of musical components into her sound universe — a universe I had the great pleasure to be part of this past Saturday night. As another great bard once said, "If music be the food of love, play on — give me excess of it! Yes...most emphatically — yes!

Bharvan Palak Kebab - 'Stuffed spinach and cheese patties'
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Sethi, 'The Host'

1/2 bunch fresh spinach, boiled and finely chopped 
1/2 cup paneer cheese
2 large boiled potatoes, mashed
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 tsp roasted cumin seeds
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup cashew nuts
1 tbsp raisins
1/2 cup ricotta
Chili paste to taste
Salt to taste

In a bowl, mix spinach, paneer, mashed potatoes, garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, chili paste and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for binding. Knead the mixture so that all ingredients mix uniformly. Divide into 10 portions and shape them into balls.

Mix nuts, raisins and dry milk and divide into 10 small portions for stuffing. Stuff each spinach and cheese ball with dry milk stuffing and reshape into a ball. Press between your palms to flatten. Add water to remaining cornstarch to make a thin paste. Dip flattened patty in it and coat the kebab with a mix of chickpea flour and bread crumbs for a crispy crust.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil and place on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil. Serve with spicy mint chutney or ketchup.

Butter Chicken
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Sethi, 'The Host'

2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into cubes 
1 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup 35% cream
1/2 cup hot water
2 oz butter
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2 whole green chilies
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp dried fenugreek
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp paprika
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp dry coriander
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, mix the chicken with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of grated ginger, 1 tablespoon of grated garlic and paprika, and set aside for one hour. Then add the yogurt and leave standing for an additional 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a skillet, heat the remaining oil and add cumin, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon until the spices begin to sputter and crackle. Add the remaining ginger and garlic and sauté lightly. Add the chopped tomatoes and green chilies, bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Let the sauce cool slightly, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds then purée until smooth. To the purée, add tomato paste, dry coriander, honey and 1/2 cup of hot water, and boil.

Meanwhile spread out the marinated chicken cubes onto a baking sheet and bake until they’re about 80% cooked, then transfer into the sauce and add the cream. Continue cooking until the chicken is fully cooked, adding some salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle with dried fenugreek leaves and garam masala, and cover. Let warm another 5-10 minutes then serve with naan.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Broccoli, Leek & Anchovy Linguine with Chives

Our favourite recipes tend to be those that are deceptively simple, absolutely delicious and take very little time to prepare. Inevitably, they're also the dishes that we prepare over and over again. This easy and inexpensive Broccoli, Leek & Anchovy pasta sauce is one of those recipes. The key is to sauté the broccoli, leeks and anchovies in olive oil until they virtually dissolve into a luscious paste that coats the pasta with surprising and enormously satisfying results. 

Broccoli, Leek & Anchovy Linguine with Chives
Serves 4

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp butter
1 leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
1 bunch fresh broccoli, broken into small florets
12 flat anchovy fillets, chopped very fine
1 lb dried pasta, such as linguine, spaghettini, orecchiette etc

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1/4 cup cream, optional
salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
4 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped plus some whole for garnish

Add the oil and butter to a sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil begins to warm up, add the chopped leeks and cook until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Then place the broccoli florets and chopped anchovies into the pan and cook, stirring and mashing the mixture with the back of a wooden spoon, to dissolve them as much as possible into a paste. You may need to add a little more oil if the mixture becomes too dry. Add some fresh cracked black pepper, then taste for seasoning, adding a wee bit of salt if you like, keeping in mind that anchovies are already quite salty. 

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over high heat and cook the pasta until it is 'al dente' - firm yet tender. Drain the pasta in a colander placed into your kitchen sink, shaking off excess water then toss into the sauce and toss to coat. Add half of the grated cheese, and toss thoroughly once again. I added a little cream at the end for some extra richness and finished with a garnish of fresh chopped chives. The pasta should be served immediately with the reserved parmigiano-reggiano on the side, for guests to serve themselves.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Butterscotch Pecan Cheesecake

One of the sweet advantages of living in Toronto is having easy access to Mary McLeod's Shortbread. Founded in 1981, it was the first business in Canada devoted exclusively to the creation and sale of hand-made, pure, quality shortbread. Starting in a small shop under the marquee of the Capital Theatre in Toronto, Mary's shortbread, or her 'wee babbies' as she calls them, were an instant hit and still are to this day. At the heart of Mary Macleod's Shortbread popularity and renown customer loyalty is her unwavering core belief that her shortbread must be handmade in small batches from only the best ingredients possible. From a short list of high quality ingredients: pure creamery butter, premium Canadian flours, Belgian chocolate, and the freshest nuts, Mary creates many unique flavours of shortbread, such as Chocolate Crunch, Dutch Chocolate, Hazelnut Crunch, Coconut, Coffee, Orange Chip, Butterscotch and of course her original recipe.

Mary McLeod

Every Christmas, I bake dozens of Mary McLeod shortbread for family and friends, using her secret recipe that I found online a number of years ago. One of the newest recipes I recently came across was her decadent Butterscotch Pecan Cheesecake, in which she uses leftover trimmings from her delicious Butterscotch Bars as part of the crust. Ground into crumbs, the tasty offcuts are now packaged in small batches by hand, just like her cookies, and sold to customers. The package is foil lined and includes a recipe for Butterscotch Berry Crumble on the back, but can also be used for this outrageously delicious Butterscotch Pecan Cheesecake.

Mary McLeod's Butterscotch Shortbread Crumbs

If you're not fortunate enough to live in Toronto, you can order her cookies or Butterscotch Shortbread Crumbs online and have it delivered anywhere in Canada or the U.S., or you can make your own Butterscotch Shortbread, with the added bonus of having leftover shortbread cookies to enjoy in addition to having the crust for this yummy Butterscotch Pecan Cheesecake.

Butterscotch Pecan Cheesecake
Serves 8-10
Adapted recipe from Mary McLeod

1 1/2 cups Mary Macleod’s Butterscotch Crumbs (or use the recipe below)
2 8 oz pkg cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tbsp unbleached flour 

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup chopped pecans 

Salted Caramel & Pecan Sauce:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Begin by making the caramel pecan sauce by combining the butter and brown sugar in a large saucepan, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the pecans to a work surface and let them cool. Coarsely chop the nuts, stir them into the cooled caramel, and set aside.

Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. Press Mary Macleod’s Butterscotch Shortbread Crumbs (or crumbled shortbread from the recipe below) into the bottom of the baking pan.
 Beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth. Add the sugar, beating until well blended and smooth.
 Then add the eggs and vanilla, mixing well. Add flour and pecans, and mix until combined.
 Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 350°F for one hour, or until centre is almost set.
 Once the cheesecake has cooled, pour the caramel pecan sauce over the top and serve.

Recipe photo: Taste of Home

Butterscotch Shortbread Cookies
Makes 50-60 cookies
Adapted recipe from Taste of Home

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butterscotch chips, finely chopped

In a large bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, cornstarch and salt, then combine with the butter sugar mixture and blend to combine. Fold in the chopped butterscotch chips and mix well. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, as it will be easier to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch fluted or round cookie cutter, cut the dough into decorative shapes. Place the cookies 1-inch apart on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-11 minutes, or until they're lightly browned. They may look undone, but allow them rest on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. The shortbread can be stored in airtight containers, or a portion can be ground and used as part of the butterscotch crumble crust in the above recipe.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Smoked Mackerel, Salmon, Dill & Potato Chowder

Dill is the perfect partner in this light and delicious Smoked Mackerel, Salmon & Potato Chowder. Chunky and full of flavour, surprisingly this recipe doesn't use cream or butter, so it's lighter in calories than a traditional chowder, yet hearty and robust enough to be a completely satisfying meal in itself. Celery and onion are first sautéed with a little olive oil, then a dash of flour is added to thicken the sauce. Chicken stock and milk provide the light base for the broth, diced potato anchors the chowder, the fresh salmon and smokey mackerel provide the punch, and a handful of dill towards the end 'seals the deal'. Refreshingly light and enormously flavourful, this Smoked Mackerel, Salmon, Dill & Potato Chowder satisfies the tummy while being flattering to the waistline.

Smoked Mackerel, Salmon Dill & Potato Chowder
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
5 oz yellow onion, finely chopped
8 oz potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/4" dice
1 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup whole milk or light cream
4 oz salmon filet, skin and bones removed
4 oz smoked mackerel
1 cup fresh dill, chopped
salt and white pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the celery and onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Shred the salmon and smoked mackerel quite roughly and add to the soup. Simmer 3-5 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Stir in the milk and dill and cook on low until warmed through. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spicy Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin & Harissa

Red lentils or “masoor dal” in India, are one of my favourite types of legume, full of fiber, protein, and iron, they're a near perfect food. Wonderfully versatile, they cook faster than other varieties and can be paired with a multitude of ingredients. This savoury Moroccan-spiced recipe for Spicy Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin and Harissa is both comforting and delicious, and gets an extra kick from the harissa, a hot chili paste typically associated with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Most lentil soups fall into one of two categories: highly spiced, or not spiced —sometimes called bland. This one sits very happily at the spicy end with the harissa adding a tolerable amount of heat and a wonderful complexity of flavour. A hearty, thick and satisfying soup, the bacon, cumin and yogurt add a robust note to this delicious low fat soup, perfect for a cold November evening. Even the vibrant golden hue shouts Autumn.

Spicy Red Lentil Soup with Bacon, Cumin & Harissa
Serves 4-6

5 slices (4-ounces) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp harissa paste
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cup water
6 tbsp low fat yogurt
6 fresh sprigs of basil, for garnish

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a piece of paper towel, and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings from pan. Add the garlic, onion, and carrots to saucepan. Cook vegetables over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the the lentils, cumin, harissa (or tomato paste), chicken stock, wine and water; stir to combine. Simmer until the lentils are cooked and falling apart, about 25-30 minutes. The soup is fairly thick, so if you prefer it thinner just add more stock or water. 

Using an immersion or regular blender, purée the soup, leaving it somewhat chunky or smooth. Reheat if necessary, stirring in the lemon juice. To serve, divide the hot soup among four warmed soup plates and garnish with the reserved crumbled bacon, a dollop of yogurt and fresh sprig of basil.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oven Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of the great Mediterranean dishes, perfuming the kitchen with the essence of Provençal cuisine and all the glorious colours of autumn. Made with diced eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes, this delicious Ratatouille is prepared by oven roasting the vegetables on a parchment lined baking sheet, which allows them to retain their own shape, texture and character. Once the vegetables have been roasted in the oven for about an hour with some lovely fresh herbs, garlic and a little olive oil, they're combined in a large bowl or serving platter, allowing the flavours to finally come together in one big happy marriage. As with any ratatouille, it tastes even better the next day, so it's an ideal make-ahead dish.

Oven Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille
Serves 8

1 medium eggplant, cut into cubes - about 4 cups
2 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 bell peppers, red and yellow, de-seeded and diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables evenly over both sheets.

Roast, stirring the vegetables a few times, until the vegetables are slightly collapsed or shriveled, starting to brown, and very tender, about 60-80 minutes. If the vegetables look like they may burn, turn down the heat or pile them closer together. If they look dry, drizzle on a little more olive oil. Using a slotted spatula, spoon all of the vegetables and any juices into a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Poached Seafood Salad with Lemon Dill Sauce

A lovely light salad to make anytime of the year, is a plump and juicy Poached Seafood Salad made with large shrimp, scallops, squid and a few tiny salad shrimp for good luck. The large shrimp are shelled and deveined; the squid are cut into rings; and the scallops are cut in half. They are all then poached for a few minutes in a shallow pan of simmering water until just done, then left to cool about 10 minutes. The mixed seafood is then tossed in a light lemon dill sauce and served with a wedge of fresh lemon. I served this seafood salad over a small bed of homemade celeriac remoulade for a light crunchy surprise at the bottom. Wonderfully light and delicate, this beautiful seafood salad makes an elegant appetizer or delicious entrée, with some extra lemon dill sauce on the side for good measure.

Poached Seafood Salad with Lemon Dill Sauce
Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as an appetizer

10 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
4 large scallops
2 cleaned squid with tentacles
1 cup small salad shrimp
2 tbsp capers
1 lemon, for garnish

Lemon Dill Sauce:
1 cup sour cream
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp salt

Celeriac Remoulade:
1 celeriac root
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp caraway seeds
Maldon salt and white pepper to taste

For the lemon dill sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

Slice the squid into 1/4-inch thick rings and cut the tentacles in half. Slice the scallops in half. Set a medium pan of water over med-high heat and once a few bubbles start to appear, lightly poach the shrimp, scallops and squid, one type at a time then set in a colander once done. Let cool for a few minutes then toss with 1/2 cup of lemon dill sauce and some capers.

For the celeriac remoulade, start by paring away the outer skin of the celeriac root using a vegetable peeler, then slice it into thin matchsticks using a mandolin or a sharp knife. Toss the 'matchsticks' in a small bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice to preserve the colour and to prevent it from going brown. Then add some mayonnaise and toss to combine. Season with caraway seeds and some Maldon salt and white pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon some of the celeriac remoulade in the bottom of each serving bowl and top with some of the mixed seafood salad with a wedge of lemon for garnish.