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Dinner Party Menu: January

Thai Carrot and Yam Soup
Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Since January is a time when Julie and I feel like eating a bit more healthily, we devised this menu with that in mind, but also with some suggestions for possible add-ons. The soup is based on a recipe that we enjoyed at our friend Laura’s house and she generously shared it. I love the combination of ingredients which produce a rich tasting and deep, nourishing flavour.

For the main course, we have a refreshing citrus-y salad, featuring blood oranges which are available in markets now. I like the addition of seared tuna, which connects to the Asian theme of the soup, but the salad can be prepared with or without the tuna, served as a side to chicken, or as an appetizer with the addition of crumbled feta, as photographed here.

The dessert pulls out all the stops – with such a healthy start to the meal, why not splurge on a comforting bread pudding? The recipe for the pudding is very simple and quick to put together and smells amazing when it’s in the oven. Make it late in the day and greet your guests with the aroma!

Thai Carrot and Yam Soup
carrot-yam-soup
The only adjustments I made to the original recipe were to use yams instead of sweet potatoes and 1 tablespoon, not 2, of red curry paste. I have included a recipe for vegetable broth but you can of course use store-bought.

1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cups onion, peeled and diced
3 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon red curry paste, or to taste
4 cups vegetable broth, more if needed
¼ cup almond butter, room temperature
3 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cups yams, peeled and chopped
salt and black pepper to taste, cayenne pepper to taste
Garnish suggestions: cheese straws, limes, roasted and chopped tamari almonds

Melt coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and sauté until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry paste and cook and stir for one more minute.

In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup of the broth with the almond butter until smooth. Add to the pot along with the remaining broth, carrots, yams and seasoning.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Cool the mixture slightly, then purée in batches in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, adding more vegetable broth if necessary and check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper to taste.

Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish as desired.
Makes 8 servings.

Vegetable Broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1” piece of ginger, sliced
2 large onions, unpeeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of parsley and thyme

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, onions, celery, and carrots. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the water, bay leaves, parsley and thyme. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large heat-proof bowl or pot and discard solids. Once the broth has cooled, transfer to airtight plastic containers and refrigerate it or put into freezer bags and store in the freezer. Makes about 6 cups.

Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
blood-orange-salad-17

Salad
12 oz. ahi tuna
1½ tablespoons olive oil

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced, about 1½ cups
4 blood oranges, peeled and sliced, cut slices in half (remove zest for vinaigrette before peeling)
½ cup fresh mint, finely sliced, more for garnish
1 large or 2 small avocados, peeled and cubed
1 small head radicchio, thinly sliced, about 1½ cups
1 small head lettuce, chopped, about 2½ cups

Season tuna with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pan and sear tuna over medium high heat about 1½ minutes per side. Remove from heat and slice.

In a large bowl, mix fennel, oranges, ½ cup mint, avocado, radicchio and head lettuce. Toss with about ¾ of the dressing. Divide salad among 6 plates, top with sliced tuna and drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with mint. Serves 6-8

Vinaigrette
1 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons blood orange juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon blood orange zest
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix juices, vinegar, shallot and zest in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil and season to taste.

Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
bourbon-bread-pudding-plated

2 cups whole milk
4 eggs
⅓ cup bourbon
8 oz. 72% dark chocolate, chopped
4 cups day-old challah, cubed
¼ cup turbinado sugar, or brown sugar

Whisk milk, eggs and bourbon together in a large bowl. Add the chocolate, bread cubes and sugar. Toss to coat and set aside to soak for about 45 minutes. Stir once or twice while soaking. After soaking for about 40 minutes, preheat oven to 350ºF.

Pour mixture into a 1½ quart baking dish. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the custard has set and the top of the pudding is slightly crispy. Serve warm or at room temperature with   Bourbon Caramel Sauce or bourbon-flavoured whipped cream. Serves 8

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
pinch of salt

Simmer sugar and water over medium heat, swirling the pan but not stirring for about 15 minutes or until the mixture is a rich amber colour. Watch closely as the caramelization happens quickly at the end. The photos below show the mixture just before it starts to caramelize, what it looks like when it is ready to come off the heat, and the finished product.
bourbon-caramel-sauce-1

bourbon-caramel-sauce-2

Remove pan from heat and very slowly add the cream, stirring. Add the bourbon and a pinch of salt and place back on the still warm burner for another minute and stir. Transfer sauce to a heat-proof dish or bottle and let cool. Store covered in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. You can also microwave it for about 30 seconds to warm it.
bourbon-caramel-sauce-3

 

Dinner Party Menu: December

Blini with Crème Fraîche and Salmon Caviar
Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup
Beef Croustades with Boursin and Mushrooms
Chocolate Tart 

Our December menu may come just in time for a celebratory New Year’s dinner. Or, one  or two of the recipes may be just right for a more casual meal.

Warm Yukon Gold Blinis with Salmon “Caviar” and Crème Fraîche
This recipe is on Julie’s website where she has many more appetizing ideas.

blini

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

Just like making pancakes the first blini is a bit of a throwaway, so use it as your learning curve to determine the correct heat level for your pan.  No butter is needed to cook the blinis as long as you use a good quality non-stick pan. You can, of course, use sour cream in place of the crème fraîche, and top with smoked salmon or other fish.

For the blinis:
1 lb. Yukon Gold Potatoes, skins on
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 to 2 tablespoons of milk
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the garnish:
2 ounces of salmon roe (also called Ikura)
¼ cup crème fraîche
Parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

To make the blinis:
Place the un-peeled potatoes in a medium pot with enough salted water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked. Drain the potatoes and when they are still warm (but cool enough to handle) peel the potatoes and press them through a fine mesh sieve or a potato ricer. Place the potatoes into a medium bowl and quickly work in the flour with a fork and then add it the crème fraîche and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the egg yolk and mixing well after each egg is added. Season well with salt and white pepper

At this stage the batter should resemble a somewhat thick pancake batter. If is is really thick then add in 1  to 2 tablespoons of milk to achieve the right consistency.

Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat and allow it to heat up thoroughly. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the batter into the hot pan and allow to cook for approximately 2 minutes and the bottom is golden brown. Flip the blini and allow to cook on the other side for an additional minute.

Remove to a small sheet pan and keep warm is a 200 degree oven while you cook the remaining blinis.

To serve:
Place the blinis on a serving platter and place a dollop (or a small quenelle if you are feeling super fancy) of crème fraîche in the centre of the blini. Place another small dollop of the salmon roe on top and garnish with a sprig of parsley.
Makes 40 canapés.

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup
Roasting the vegetables for this soup gives it a deep and rich flavour that improves with time, making it an ideal make-ahead recipe. It can be made 2-3 days in advance. It is healthy but filling, so I recommend serving it in small bowls if you are following this entire menu.

4 lbs. fresh tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves
1 medium red onion, quartered, not peeled
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced into thick wedges
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1-14oz. tin diced tomatoes
3½ cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock (you may need more liquid: if so, add more stock or water)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Put tomatoes, garlic, onion and fennel on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast about 1 hour, or until vegetable are soft and slightly caramelized, then cool slightly. Peel the garlic cloves and the onion.

Sauté the shallot, sugar and fennel seeds in butter until the shallot is softened but not browned. Add the tin of diced tomatoes, the roasted vegetables and stock and simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Purée mixture in blender. If soup needs more liquid, add more stock or water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and and garnish with cheese straws, if desired.

tomato-fennel-soup

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

Beef Croustades with Boursin and Mushrooms
This is a decadent dish, perfect for a special meal. It can be assembled in stages and ready for final baking well in advance. Julie kindly offered her recipe and to demonstrate how it’s done, which I captured on my iPhone.

Mushroom filling:
1 lb. white button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned
2 medium shallots
1 clove garlic, cut in half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Croustades:
6 beef tenderloin steaks 5-6 oz. each, about 1¾” thick
salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package peppercorn or herb Boursin cheese, slightly softened
1 lb. phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
¼ lb. butter, melted, or more if needed
¼ cup thinly sliced chives

For the filling: Trim the mushroom stems close to the caps. Put the mushrooms, shallots and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not puréed, scraping the bowl as needed. Or, you can chop all of these ingredients by hand if you don’t have a processor. Transfer the chopped mushrooms to the centre of a clean dish towel. Gather up the sides of the towel and twist, keeping the mushrooms well contained in the cloth, bonbon style. With one hand, hold the ball of mushrooms over the sink, and with the other hand, twist the gathered cloth, squeezing out as much liquid as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a 10” skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, cover, and cook stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are soft and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. This mixture can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated.

For the croustades: Season the tenderloins generously on all sides with salt. Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Put three tenderloins in the pan and sear on one side until browned, 1-2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining filets. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To assemble: Mash the Boursin with a fork in a small bowl until spreadable. Remove phyllo from package and lay the stack on the counter. Take one sheet of phyllo from the stack and cut into 4 squares. Cover the remaining phyllo with a damp dish towel while you assemble each croustade. Brush squares with melted butter and sprinkle with ½  teaspoon of chives.

Make four layers, omitting chives from last layer, with the corners of the phyllo pointing in a different direction, star-like. Blot one tenderloin dry with a paper towel, set it in the centre of the star, and sprinkle it with salt. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the Boursin on the filet and top that with 2 tablespoons of the mushroom filling.

croustade-prep

Pick a starting point and work your way around the filet, gathering the edges of the phyllo star together. Lightly pinch together the gathered phyllo close to the surface of the meat to hold it in place. Pull the corners open slightly as if making a paper flower. Brush the whole exposed surface lightly with more butter being sure that the bottom is buttered as well. Transfer to a heavy baking sheet. Repeat this process for the remaining tenderloins. If you are working ahead, chill the tenderloin packages uncovered on the baking sheet until ready to bake, up to 2 days.

beef-croustade

To bake: Take the croustades out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake them. Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Bake the croustades for 17-22 minutes depending on how well done you prefer tenderloin, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes to ensure even browning. Serve immediately. Julie served hers on top of roasted carrots and garnished it with quickly sautéed brussel sprout leaves.

croustade-final
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

Chocolate Tart
This tart can be made 1-2 days ahead and can serve at least 12 people as it is rich and chocolatey. The recipe is slightly adapted from Gjelina, Cooking from Venice, California.

For the crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup ground almonds
½ cup ground pine nuts, pistachios or pecans
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar

For the chocolate filling
1 cup unsalted butter
2½ oz. bittersweet chocolate
1½ tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
4 eggs
pomegranate seeds and whipped cream, for garnish

For the crust: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, ground almonds, nuts and salt. Set aside.

In a mixmaster fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper. Place another sheet of parchment on top and roll out the dough to a ⅛” thick round, 12-13” in diametre. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. The dough will probably crack, but just press it back together. Bake for 10-15 minutes until firm to the touch. Don’t worry if the crust shrinks down the sides a bit as it bakes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to let cool. Lower the oven temperature to 325ºF.

For the filling: Set a large heatproof bowl over 1” water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and chocolate to the bowl and melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder, and then add the brown sugar and salt. Continue whisking until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is shiny. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next.

To bake: Pour the filling into the tart and bake until it puffs up slightly and the surface is shiny, like a brownie. The centre should be just set and does not jiggle when you shake the pan, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 40 minutes. Gently remove the sides of the pan.

Slice and serve with some whipped cream and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.

chocolate-tart
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

 

Dinner Party Menu: November

Crostini with Pickled Mushrooms
Butter Lettuce, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Garlic Chips
Seared and Roasted Lingcod with Roasted Potatoes, Aioli, Pickled Onion and Dill
Pear and Cranberry Strudel with Ginger Cream

November (or December in this case) is a good time to make use of mushrooms, persimmons, pomegranates and pears appearing now in our markets. Julie and I each tested this menu with some personal variations.

For the main course I used lingcod, while Julie chose salmon, whack is photographed below. Both are delicious. Julie also added quickly sautéed brussel sprout leaves for a gorgeous presentation. There are several elements to this dish, but the aioli and the pickled onions can be made a few days in advance and the potatoes can be started early in the day of the party and reheated before serving.

The salad and the potatoes are adapted slightly from Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. Julie and I both love this cookbook, especially for its ideas for condiments that jazz up otherwise simple dishes, for example the garlic chips in the salad and the aioli and pickled onions on the potatoes and fish. Any leftover condiments can be used in other ways –  the aioli and pickled onions are great on vegetables and sandwiches.

For the dessert, the ginger cream can be substituted with plain cream or ice cream. But I love the combination of pears and ginger and lately I have made the ginger cream with apple desserts too.

We hope you enjoy this seasonal menu!

Crostini with Pickled Mushrooms
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds mixed mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle and cultivated), cleaned
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ cup torn Italian parsley leaves
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, in ½” slices
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cream cheese or ricotta cheese
fresh herbs for garnish (thyme or parsley)

Put ¼ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook them for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice, garlic, thyme, parsley and bay leaves. Pour over the remaining olive oil and season the mixture with salt and pepper. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered glass jar where it will keep for at least one week. Serve at room temperature.

Crostini: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Arrange baguette slices on a large rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides very lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, turning bread and rotating sheets halfway through. Cool.

To assemble: Spread each crostini with cream or ricotta cheese (it is not absolutely necessary to use cheese, but it does help to “glue” the mushrooms in place), and top with a spoonful of pickled mushrooms. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve.

Note: crackers can be substituted for the crostini, with or without the cheese.

pickled-mushrooms

Butter Lettuce, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Garlic Chips
1 cup buttermilk
6 oz. soft blue cheese, such as St. Augur, room temperature, plus more for garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
garlic chips (recipe below)
1-2 heads butter butter lettuce, separated at the stem, inner smallest leaves to be used
1 Fuyu persimmon, peeled, sliced and quartered
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

Dressing
In a food processor or in a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, blue cheese, garlic, shallot, olive oil, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Mix until almost smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Add more buttermilk or cheese if necessary to   ensure the dressing is thick enough to coat the lettuce but not so thick that it drowns it. Pour into a jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Dressing will keep for several days.

Garlic Chips
2 heads garlic, separated and peeled (elephant garlic works well for this recipe)
2 cups extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil

Thinly and evenly slice garlic cloves, then rinse in a sieve under cold water for about 2 minutes. Dry on a kitchen towel, drawing out as much water as possible.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Carefully add the garlic slices and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is light golden brown, lowering the heat if necessary to keep the garlic from burning. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Let the oil cool to room temperature.

Store the garlic in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Pour the oil into a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Makes 1 cup garlic chips and 1½ cups garlic oil.

To serve salad: Put the lettuce leaves into a large bowl and toss with just enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter or on individual plates and garnish with the persimmon, pomegranate seeds, garlic chips and a little crumbled cheese. Serves 6

persimmon-salad-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

Seared Lingcod with Roasted Potatoes, Aioli, Pickled Onion and Dill
1½ lb. baby or fingerling potatoes (mixed colours, if you can find them)
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ a large lemon
½ cup aioli (recipe below)
¼ cup fresh dill sprigs
a few tablespoons of pickled onions (recipe below)

Combine potatoes with water to cover in a large pot, season with salt, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are just tender. Drain and cool on a baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, cover one potato at a time with plastic wrap and smash it gently with the palm of your hand. The potatoes will be irregular in shape but should be similarly flat.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat, add oil and then add as many potatoes as will fit in a single layer. Sear until browned and crisp, 4-5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and repeat with all of the potatoes and season them with salt and pepper.

Lingcod
6-5oz. pieces of lingcod (ask the fish monger to cut even pieces, 2” thick)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Season lingcod with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a heavy sauté or grill pan over high heat. Add the fish and brown well on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn fish, place in the oven and roast until just done, about 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Fish is done when just opaque. If using salmon, leave the skin on and sear and roast as described, starting with the skin side down. Plate with skin side up.

To plate: Place warm potatoes in the middle of each plate, squeeze lemon juice over them, and place seared fish on top. Top each portion with a spoonful of aioli and pickled onions. Garnish with dill. Serves 6

Aioli
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large egg
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup canola or grapeseed oil

Combine the garlic, egg, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and purée. Add the oils in a slow stream and continue to process until the mixture has formed a thick emulsion. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Pickled Red Onions
3 cups water
1¼ cups red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 pounds red onions, thinly sliced

Make the brine: Combine the water, vinegar, seeds, peppercorns, thyme, bay leaf, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower hear and simmer 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and steep for 20-30 minutes, then cool to room temperature.

Into a 2 quart glass jar pack the sliced onions. Pour the brine over them and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Onions can then be used or stored in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for up to one month.

seared-fish-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

Pear and Cranberry Strudel with Ginger Cream
3 large pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1” chunks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
4 tablespoons dry bread crumbs or panko, divided
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
6 sheets phyllo dough
½ cup finely chopped toasted almonds, plus more for garnish if desired
icing sugar, for dusting
ginger whipped cream, for serving

Toast the almonds, chop coarsely and set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss pears with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Clarify the butter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool, then skim the foam off the surface and discard. Pour melted butter into a bowl, leaving the solids behind in the saucepan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter in a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add pear mixture and cook until pears start to give off juices. Add the cranberries, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer just until pears are crisp-tender. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Cool mixture slightly.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with allspice and ginger in a small bowl and add the chopped almonds. Cut a piece of parchment paper slightly longer than the phyllo sheets and lay it with a long edge parallel to you. Set the stack of phyllo sheets beside it and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer one sheet of phyllo to the parchment with a long edge facing you. Brush with some reserved butter and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon each of the nuts and sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining 5 sheets of phyllo, adding butter, sugar and nuts to next 4 layers.  Sprinkle last layer with remaining 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs.

Spoon the pear mixture across the phyllo about 1” from the edge closest to you to make a mound, with a 2” border at each end. Using the parchment to help, roll the phyllo tightly over the filling to a make a log, seam-side down. Lift the parchment with the strudel onto a baking sheet. Brush with any remaining butter.

Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer on the baking sheet to a rack to cool. Trim ends with a serrated knife and dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with ginger cream and a sprinkling of chopped nuts if desired.

Ginger Cream
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons mince peeled ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chilled whipping cream

Combine water, ginger and sugar in a heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then simmer until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Beat cream until soft peaks form, then fold in the ginger mixture. Can be made 4 hours ahead, covered and chilled.

pear-strudel-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

Dinner Party Menu: October

Warm Camembert with Cranberry Compote
Shaved Fennel, Celery and Pear Salad
Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ricotta Gnocchi
Tarte Tatin

This October menu celebrates the Fall season, with locally grown ingredients: fresh cranberries, pears, wild mushrooms and apples. For me, this month marks the beginning of the cooler season, when we welcome warm and comforting dishes. Most recipes can be made ahead of time.

To begin, there is a very simple appetizer, served warm and using fresh cranberry compote left over from Thanksgiving. The salad features complementary flavours and textures, salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth. The main course is a celebration of mushroom season, with wild mushrooms providing an earthy and rich dish that needs no added protein. Dessert is a comforting warm apple tarte tatin.

Warm Camembert with Cranberry Compote

Cranberry Compote
½ cup sugar
½ cup orange juice (no sugar added or freshly squeezed)
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch Kosher salt
One 12-ounce bag cranberries

Combine the sugar, juice, water, cinnamon, salt and cranberries in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.  Mixture will thicken as it cools. Compote keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Remove the lid and wrapping of a 4-5” round of Camembert and place the cheese in the bottom part of the container on an oven-proof baking sheet. Place in oven and bake until the cheese starts to warm and soften. Remove it from the oven and spoon some cranberry sauce over the top. Put back in the oven and cook until hot. Transfer cheese to a serving tray and serve with bread or crackers.

camembert

Shaved Fennel, Celery and Pear Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
This recipe is from Franny’s Simple, Seasonal, Italian by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark. Franny’s is a pizza restaurant in Brooklyn.

¾ cup walnuts
2 small or 1 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
2-3 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias
1 large pear, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons celery leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. shaved Pecorino cheese

Toast the walnuts in a 350ºF oven for about 8 minutes. Cool and roughly chop. Toss fennel, celery, pear, walnuts and celery leaves together in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil and toss lightly together. Plate salad and top with shaved Pecorino. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and ground pepper.
Serves 6

In advance: Walnuts can be toasted early in the day or even the day before serving. The rest of the ingredients are best prepared and assembled just before plating.

Wild Mushroom Ragout with Ricotta Gnocchi

wild-mushroomsPhoto shows types of mushrooms I used: shitake, pine and chanterelle.

1 oz. dried wild mushrooms (chanterelle or porcini)
½ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¾ pound fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelle, pine, shitake, crimini mixture)
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
¼ cup white wine
liquid from soaking dried mushrooms, strained
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
salt and pepper
finely grated Parmesan, chives, parsley or thyme, to garnish

Cover dried wild mushrooms with the boiling water in a small bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain, strain and reserve the soaking liquid and chop the mushrooms.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add the fresh mushrooms in batches, cooking and stirring until the mushrooms are brown, removing to a plate as they cook.

Heat remaining butter and oil in the same pan over moderate heat and then add the shallot, garlic, thyme, parsley and reserved reconstituted dried mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the white wine and cook until it is almost all reduced. Add the reserved soaking liquid and return the mushrooms to the pan. Bring mixture to a light boil and add whipping cream, reducing slightly to thicken the sauce. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the gnocchi as instructed below. Spoon onto warm dinner plates, top with the mushroom ragout and garnish with Parmesan and fresh herbs.
Serves 6

In advance: Mushroom ragout can be made one day in advance, but add the cream when reheating.

gnocchi-with-mushrooms

Ricotta Gnocchi
1 lb. fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted

Mix ricotta, egg and olive oil in a large bowl. Add cheese and nutmeg and mix well. Gradually add sifted flour, stirring until the dough starts to come together. Place on a floured surface and knead gently just until the dough is no longer sticky. Cut slices of the dough with a sharp knife, then roll each slice into a long rope, about ¾″ thick. Cut into 1″ pieces, place on a lightly floured baking sheet and put them in the freezer until ready to cook.

If you are making them ahead of time, put them into a plastic freezer bag as soon as they have frozen. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the gnocchi. When they rise to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or strainer, shake off excess water, and place in a serving bowl or directly onto warmed dinner plates.
Serves 6

In advance: Gnocchi can be made a few days in advance and kept frozen until ready to cook.

Tarte Tatin
This dessert is an all time favourite of mine and I am inserting the link to a 2011 posting with the recipe here. I have found that it works well to cook the apples, cool them, top with the pastry and refrigerate up to one day in advance. Bake it later in the day that you plan to serve it, as it is best served warm.

apple-tarte-tatin

 

Dinner Party Menu: September

Okanagan Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese and Grilled Bread
Dried Cherry Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Bacon and Sherry Vinaigrette
Steamed Green Beans, Roasted Red Potatoes
Brown Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream

This menu ushers in the Fall season with market ingredients ranging from the short appearance of beautiful Okanagan beefsteak tomatoes, green beans still available at farmer’s markets, and the new-crop apples so fresh and flavourful. My thanks go to Julie who continues to inspire through her friendship, collaboration and a gorgeous website. While she has been traveling we have been keeping up, one way or another, with our monthly menus. The pork tenderloin recipe, including the photo below, is from her website with a few minor tweaks that I added while testing.

Note: This menu serves 4 people, except the apple galette that will serve 6-8…great for breakfast the next day.

Okanagan Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese and Grilled Bread
4 – 1/2″ thick slices crusty bread
1 large garlic clove, halved
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cherry or grape tomatoes in assorted colours, halved or quartered
¼ cup chopped green onions
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, cored, thinly sliced
½ small red onion, sliced paper-thin, soaked in cold water
2 celery stalks, sliced thin on diagonal
¾ cup coarsely crumbled blue cheese (I used St. Augur)

Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, cut cherry tomatoes, and green onions in medium bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve the salad.

Slice red onion, place in a small bowl and soak in cold water for ½ hour.

Heat grill pan or barbecue to medium-high heat. Rub bread with cut garlic halves and brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Grill bread until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Overlap tomato slices in concentric circles on plates. Drain the red onion slices and scatter them and the celery slices over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon tomato and green onion mixture over. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese. Cut each slice of grilled bread diagonally in half and serve with salad.
Serves 4.

tomato-salad

Dried Cherry Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Bacon and Sherry Vinaigrette
As noted above, this recipe is adapted from Julie’s version and hers credits Charlie Trotter’s The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter. And so it goes with all recipes, often inspired by others and adapted in one’s own kitchen.

Roasted Potatoes
2 pounds small red potatoes, halved if on the larger side
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dried Cherry Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
1 cup dried sour cherries
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, minced, divided
½ cup water
1 20-oz. pork tenderloin, trimmed and halved (before halving, trim off the thin end and reserve for another use so that you have a piece of meat of even thickness)
2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

Bacon and Sherry Vinaigrette
½ cup uncooked bacon, cut into ¼” slices
½ cup red onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

1 lb. green beans, steamed

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Toss the potatoes with the olive oil, sesame oil and the salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan or a sheet pan and roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until golden, crispy and cooked through.

Prepare the dried cherry stuffing. Put the cherries and 1 tablespoon of the minced thyme leaves in a medium saucepan. Add the ½ cup of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Let stand for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

To prepare the pork tenderloin: Starting from the end of each half tenderloin, cut a slit using a slender, sharp knife through the centre. You may need to do this from each end if your knife is not long enough. Turn the tenderloins on their sides and cut another slit to create an X in the centre of each loin. Insert your fingers on each end of the loin and using your fingers, stretch a hole through the centre. Stuff as much filling as possible into each loin. Season them with salt and pepper. Reserve any remaining cherries and juice to add later to the sauce.

Place a large, oven proof sauté pan over medium heat and heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the canola oil and then the stuffed pork loins. Brown the loins well on all sides. Place the pan in the oven and roast the tenderloins for about 25 minutes (the time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat) until the pork registers at least 150ºF. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. The pork will still be a bit pink inside. If you prefer it well done, cook for an additional 5 minutes or so.

While the pork is in the oven, prepare the bacon sherry vinaigrette. Render the bacon in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the red onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of minced thyme and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from the heat and add the sherry wine vinegar. Add any leftover cherries and juice. Slowly whisk in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, place ¼ of the potatoes and ¼ of the steamed beans on a dinner plate. Slice the pork tenderloin into ¼” thick slices and place 3 slices on top of the roasted potatoes. Spoon some of the bacon and sherry vinaigrette over the pork and around the plate and season with some freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves. Serves 4.

pork-tenderloin-with-cherriesPhoto with thanks to Julie at KitchenCulinaire

Brown Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream
This recipe is adapted from a Food 52 version here.

1 recipe pie dough
5 large apples or 6 medium, kept whole and peeled
3 tablespoons salted butter
½ vanilla bean, scraped of its seeds
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam, strained

Crust:
1 ½ cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon vanilla mixed with about 3 tablespoons very cold water

For the pastry: Combine flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse again until the butter is in small pieces. The mixture should be the texture of very coarse cornmeal. A few larger pieces of butter is fine. (Alternatively, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and cut the butter with a pastry cutter or 2 knives.)

If you’ve used a processor, pour the ingredients into a large bowl. This step enables you to slowly add the liquid and lightly combine it with the dry ingredients so that the dough does not get overworked as it sometimes does in a processor. Now slowly add the vanilla and water, stirring with a fork just until the mixture starts to come together as a dough. Add a little more water if necessary. The amount of liquid depends on the type of flour you are using. Using your hands, work the dough together until it forms a ball. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Take the pastry dough out of the fridge 10 minutes before rolling it out.

Heat oven to 400° F. Place a pizza stone or sheet pan in the oven to warm up. To make the brown butter, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Swirl it around a few times. After 2-3 minutes, it will start to smell nutty. Watch carefully as it will brown quickly. It’s ready when the sizzling quiets down and you see little brown bits drop to the bottom of the pan. Cool. Whisk in vanilla bean seeds and extract and set aside.

Cut a piece of parchment paper that’s about a 10″square. Roll out the dough into about a 12″ round. You can trim the edges slightly if you like, but this is meant to be a rustic tart. Roll dough onto your rolling pin. Unroll dough onto the piece of parchment.

Peel the apples. Using a very sharp knife or a mandoline, very thinly slice about 5 circles off of two opposing sides of the apple. Stop once you hit the core. Repeat with the remaining apples.

Starting about 2″ in from the border of the rolled out dough, make a circle with the apple slices, overlapping them. Continue with a second layer that overlaps the bigger circle. Do a third and smaller circle, then a fourth. Finish it off with a few discs in the middle in a flower pattern. Brush all exposed apple surface with the brown butter vanilla mixture. Fold in the outer border of the dough.

Whisk together egg and heavy cream. Brush exposed border of dough with a thin layer of egg wash. Generously sprinkle the turbinado sugar all over the apples and the dough.

Remove hot pizza stone or sheet pan from the oven. Quickly slide the tart (keeping it on the parchment) onto the hot surface. Bake until apples are tender and golden brown and the crust is crisp, about 40-50 minutes. If crust is browning too quickly, cover galette with tin foil.

Warm and strain the apricot jam. Brush surface of the cooked apples with warm jam. Serve with maple whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Maple Whipped Cream: 2 cups heavy cream, about 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup. Whip cream to soft peaks and add maple syrup to taste.
Serves 6

apple-tart

August Recipes

It’s now September and August flew by without a menu posting.  Instead, I offer some of my favourite August recipes that can still make use of the freshest produce available now: corn, tomatoes and raspberries.

Corn and Tomato Salad
Chicken Gyros
Pita Bread
Raspberry Cake

Corn and Tomato SaladCorn and Tomato Salad

Recipe from Entertaining: Inspired Menus for Cooking with Family and Friends by Williams-Sonoma and adapted by Julie and Diane.

Juice of 3 limes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing on the corn when grilling
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 ears of corn, shucked
3 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 green onions, thinly sliced
½ cup basil, leaves thinly sliced
¼ lb (125 g) feta cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed using a mortar and pestle

In a bowl whisk together the lime juice, Dijon, cumin, chilli powder and salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil whisking constantly to make the vinaigrette. Check and adjust seasonings.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium high heat. You can use a stovetop grill pan or even just boil the corn if no BBQ is available. Brush the corn with a bit of the olive oil and grill, turning the ears frequently, until they are lightly charred on all sides. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Cut each ear of corn in half. Place cut side down on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, cut down along the cob to slice off the kernels. Place all of the kernels in a large bowl and add the tomatoes, green onions, basil and feta. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat evenly. Taste for salt and pepper.

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle on the cumin seeds. Serve.
Serves 8.

Chicken Gyros
Chicken Gyros

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with the addition of my recipe for homemade pita bread. Of course, you can buy the pita, but you will be surprised how easy they are to make and how much softer and flavourful they are.

Chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon hot smoked paprika, plus more to taste
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper
10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)

Tzatziki Dressing
1 English cucumber, unpeeled (about 1 pound) or 4 Persian cucumbers
2 cups plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salad Ingredients
1 head romaine or butter lettuce, shredded
1 lb. tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, cut into long wedges
4-6 large pitas (½ per person) or more as needed

For the chicken: Combine all ingredients in a large freezer bag, massaging the bag to make sure the chicken is coated in the marinade. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or up to 24 hours.

For the tzatziki: Coarsely grate the cucumber directly into a sieve, sprinkle with one teaspoon salt and let drain for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and then add it to the yogurt in a medium sized bowl. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill until ready to serve.

Prepare salad: Arrange lettuce, onion, tomatoes and cucumbers on a platter. To tame the pungency of the onion, you can slice it and soak it in cold water for about 30 minutes, then drain it.

Cook chicken: Heat the barbecue or a grill pan to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade and grill on first side until dark lines appear, about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 3 minutes more on the other side. Cooking times will depend on how thick the chicken pieces are. Transfer cooked chicken to a cutting board, let rest for a couple of minutes, then slice into strips.

Cut pitas in half or into wedges. Serve with the platter of gyro ingredients and everyone helps themselves. You can also add dishes of hummus and olives.
Serves 6


Pita Bread

PitaPhoto of pita formed on baking sheets before rising

1 ¼ cups warm water
1  tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour

Mix water, oil, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl (food processor works, or mixer with dough hook). Add flour one cup at a time, kneading or mixing until you have a smooth dough. Divide into 12 pieces, roll into 5″ rounds, and let rise on floured baking sheets for ½ an hour per side. While dough is on second rise, heat oven to 500ºF. Bake pitas for 3 minutes, then turn and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with a clean cloth so that they stay soft until ready to serve. You can serve them like this or brush them lightly with olive oil and grill them quickly, just until they have grill marks. They freeze well.
Makes 1 dozen, or 16 smaller pitas.

Raspberry Cake
Raspberry Cake
Recipe is on this site here. It is a quick cake to put together and you can substitute the raspberries with other fruit: plums, apricots or strawberries.

 

 

Dinner Party Menu: July

Appetizers: Gazpacho Shots, Hard-Boiled Quail’s Eggs with Toasted Fennel Salt, Radishes, Olives
Watercress Salad with Grilled Peaches or Quince Paste, Manchego and Almonds
Paella
Summit Blueberry Tart

This July menu has been planned and recipes proposed but not yet tested and photographed. I am excited to try the recipes below and will be doing so next weekend. We are so quickly approaching the end of the month and I wanted to share this with you so that you might enjoy it when it suits your summer schedule. Once tested, I will add comments and photographs.

Julie has had a rigorous travel and work schedule this summer (this is where she is now) but I am grateful that she has made time to get together to plan menus and chat around the table when she is home. She has already made a paella and will be posting her version in the coming weeks.

The idea to feature paella came from friend and blog-follower, Daphne, who commented last month and made reference to making this for a party. It struck Julie and me as an ideal summer dish that can feed many people and that can be eaten at room temperature if you like. This version of paella can be started in advance up to the point of adding the liquid, started on the stove and finished in the oven shortly before serving.

While researching this menu, I found that there are many versions of paella, depending on region and local ingredients. Some cooks write that they make the entire dish on the barbecue, some in the oven and others half and half. Ingredients can be varied according to preference: omitting the chicken and sausage, adding more varieties of seafood, or substituting a different green vegetable such as peas for the beans.

Regarding menu design, I liked the idea of making mostly Spanish dishes. The exception is the dessert since I wanted to use blueberries that are so gorgeous in the market now. I have inserted a link for the blueberry tart recipe which was first posted here almost 5 years ago. If you have made this tart before, you will notice that I have adjusted the sweetness of both the pastry and the filling by halving the sugar amounts.

Note: This menu serves 6.

Gazpacho
This recipe is based on one in John Bishop’s Cooking at My Home, with these adjustments: I replaced green pepper with red pepper, reduced amount of olive oil from ⅔ cup to ⅓ cup, and used Sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar.

1½ pounds fresh tomatoes, cut into pieces
3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1 medium red pepper, seeded and cubed
6 small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seed, crushed
3 cups tomato juice
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend to a creamy soup consistency. Check seasoning. Pour into a glass container, cover and refrigerate until very well chilled. This soup improves in flavour so can be made a few days ahead. To serve, pour chilled soup into shot glasses or other small glasses.

Toasted Fennel Salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons Fleur de Sel or Kosher salt

In a small saucepan, toast the fennel seeds until they start to brown and smell fragrant. Cool and then grind in a spice grinder or in a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Add salt and mix well. If you want a finer consistency, grind the salt with the ground fennel for a second or two.

Quail’s Eggs
1 carton quail’s eggs (24)
Place quail’s eggs in boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold tap water and peel off shells. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. I cut the egg container in half lengthwise and used it as a serving dish for the eggs.

Watercress Salad with Grilled Peaches, Manchego and Almonds
Like the paella recipe below, I found this recipe on Chowhound.com as part of a Spanish menu. The recipe calls for Membrillo (quince paste) that is a typical Spanish pairing with Manchego cheese. Manchego is made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed. Quince paste and Manchego can be purchased at most cheese shops. I plan to test and compare this pairing with grilled peaches which are so delicious in our markets now.

1 large garlic clove, finely grated
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ salt, or to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 bunches watercress, stemmed and washed
⅔  cup slivered almonds, toasted
6 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved into thin slices
3 ripe peaches, halved and grilled OR 5 ounces quince paste, diced

Combine the garlic, vinegar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a steady stream until completely incorporated.

Combine the watercress, almonds, and half of the cheese shavings in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Go lightly and taste as you may not need all of the dressing. Divide the salad among 6 plates and garnish with the remaining cheese and the peaches or quince paste.

For the peaches: Halve and pit the peaches, then brush with a little olive oil. Grill them just enough to mark them on the cut side. Cut each half in half again and reserve until ready to serve the salad. This can be done several hours before serving. If you do not want to grill them, you don’t need to, but the grilling brings out the taste of the fruit.

Paella
Paella

I found the basis for this recipe at Chowhound.com. I have made some adjustments to it and below is my amended version.

2 large, ripe Roma tomatoes
18 large shrimp (about 12 ounces), peeled (leaving tails on) and deveined
1 large pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups short-grain rice (about 1 pound), Bomba, Valencia or Orborio
1 lb. beans, trimmed and cut into 2″ lengths
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning the shrimp and chicken
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
18 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 medium lemons, cut into wedges, for serving

Core and halve the tomatoes. Grate the flesh side of each half on the large holes of a box grater set over a medium bowl, stopping when you get to the skin. Discard the skins. Set aside the tomato pulp and juice.

In a small bowl, soak the saffron in hot water. Reserve.

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon of the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and refrigerate.

Place the chicken in a medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper; set aside.

Place a 15-inch paella pan, or a large sauté pan, across two burners and heat over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has started to brown and the fat has rendered, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a large bowl that is lined with paper towels. When fat is drained, remove paper towels and set aside.

There should be a thin layer of rendered fat in the pan. If there’s not enough, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the seasoned chicken to the pan in a single layer and sear, stirring occasionally, until both sides are golden brown, about 6 minutes total. You will need to rotate the pan occasionally over the burners to evenly distribute the heat. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon paprika, stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice and cook until the mixture has slightly darkened in color, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and measured salt ( 1 teaspoon) and stir to coat in the tomato mixture. Stir in the beans.

Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Increase the heat on the stove to medium high. Add the broth and the saffron and liquid and stir to combine. Arrange the rice mixture in an even layer. Distribute the reserved chorizo and chicken over the rice, adding any accumulated juices from the bowl. (Do not stir the rice from this point on.) Bring to a lively simmer and continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary and rotating the pan 90 degrees every few minutes, until the rice grains have swelled, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice starts to make a crackling sound, about 12 minutes. This produces the crust on the rice that is an important feature of paella. Remove the pan from the heat.

Arrange the reserved shrimp and the mussels (hinge-side down) in the rice, nestling them slightly. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the shellfish have opened, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the rice is tender but still al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes. Before serving the paella, discard any unopened shellfish and sprinkle the dish with the parsley. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Dinner Party Menu: June

Appetizer Tray: 2 cheeses, saucisson sec, olives, crackers, toasts
Grilled Asparagus on Prosciutto with Grainy Mustard Sauce
Slow Roasted Salmon with Salsa Verde
Seasonal Vegetable Stir Fry, Shoestring Potatoes
Profiteroles with Raspberry Cream, Strawberries and Chocolate Sauce

For Julie and me, a June menu on the west coast must include salmon. This is the month that we look forward to all year, when several kinds of locally caught salmon are glistening in our markets. We agreed in advance on a loose selection of ingredients – asparagus, salmon, morels and berries – and because Julie is currently enjoying the produce of her local markets in Paris (!), we decided that this month we would each create our own menu.

June Appetizer Tray

NOTE: All the recipes in this menu serve 8 people.

Grilled Asparagus on Prosciutto with Grainy Mustard Sauce
This recipe comes from the cookbook that I return to over and over again: Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. This is a simple, make-ahead first course which balances the earthy taste of asparagus with the salty, creamy and piquant flavours of the prosciutto, crème fraîche and mustard. Look for asparagus spears of similar thickness, with the tips tightly closed and stalks that are firm and moist (not woody) on the ends.

June Menu Asparagus

2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed to uniform lengths
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons whole grain mustard
¾ cup crème fraîche
16 thin slices prosciutto
1 lemon, for juicing
salt and pepper

Light the grill or heat a grill pan to high. Alternatively, you can roast the asparagus on a baking sheet at 400ºF for 5-7 minutes.

Stir the mustard and crème fraîche together and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Toss the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus 2-3 minutes or until slightly charred and tender.

When ready to serve, arrange the prosciutto on a platter or individual plates, arrange the asparagus on top and drizzle with the mustard sauce. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top and serve. Serves 8

Salsa Verde
This is a slight variation on the salsa verde that is on the May menu, but to my mind, this adjustment just emphasizes how versatile the sauce is and how it can enhance so many dishes. Here, fresh thyme is substituted for the tarragon to match the thyme added to the vegetable stir fry.

1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3 cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and chopped
3 anchovy fillets (this time I used anchovies packed in salt, rinsed well and deboned)
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of preserved lemon rind, chopped (discard the pulpy flesh)
3/4 of a cup of a good quality extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the chopped parsley, thyme, green onions, cornichons, capers, anchovies, garlic and preserved lemon rind in a bowl. Add the olive oil and some lemon juice. Taste and add salt if needed and some freshly ground pepper. Check and adjust the amounts of lemon juice and olive oil to make the sauce sharper or milder in flavour.  Makes 1 cup.

Seasonal Vegetable Stir Fry
A trip to the market this month yielded some vegetables that only make their appearances for a brief time and add seasonal surprises to a June menu. Fresher green beans, peas in pods, garlic scapes and morel mushrooms all cried out to me last week, but need not all be combined at once.

June Vegetables

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 pound snow peas, trimmed
2 pounds fresh peas in pods
4 garlic scapes, cut in 1” lengths
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large medium-hot Thai chile, thinly sliced
2 green onions, sliced on the diagonal in 1-inch lengths
2 dozen fresh morel mushrooms
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
salt and pepper
lemon juice

Prepare the vegetables in advance: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until just barely tender (about 3 mins.) remove with a slotted spoon and refresh in a bowl of ice water. When cool, remove the beans to another bowl while you use the same technique with the snow peas (about 1 min.) and fresh peas from the pods (about 2 mins.) Once all of these vegetables are parboiled and cooled, dry them well and reserve them each in its own bowl until ready to do the final stir-fry.

About 10 minutes before serving heat a large saucepan over high heat. Add the olive oil and when hot add the chile, green onions and mushrooms. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, then add the green beans, snow peas, peas and scapes. Season with the thyme, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir and toss until all of the vegetables are piping hot.

Slow Roasted Salmon
This method for cooking salmon is simple to prepare and produces a moist and flavourful result. When I purchase salmon, I look for the freshest as well as the most reasonably priced variety. This past week, sockeye fit that bill. While sockeye tends to be the driest type of salmon, this way of cooking it preserves its flavour and moistness. If you are cooking for company, order your fish in advance and ask your fish-monger to cut pieces of equal weight and thickness. At home, you can tuck the thinner end of the filet underneath the rest to aid in producing equal portions and therefore more evenly cooked pieces.

Salmon June Menu

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 filets salmon, 5 oz. each
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200ºF. Whisk together the oil, garlic, parsley, thyme and lemon juice. Line a baking sheet just large enough to fit the salmon pieces in one layer with parchment paper. Place the salmon in the dish and pour the marinade evenly over the top and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the salmon is slightly opaque.

In Advance: Early in the day of the dinner place the salmon on the parchment-lined baking dish, cover and refrigerate. One hour before roasting, pour the marinade over the top and season with salt and pepper. Keep at room temperature until ready to bake.

Shoestring Potato Nests
You may look at this recipe and immediately discard it because deep-frying is not in your repertoire. It was never in mine either, until I tasted this at Julie’s table. But please don’t disregard the whole menu if this recipe seems difficult – omitting the nests and perhaps adding some pre-cooked fingerling potatoes to the stir-fry would be a possible alternative.

You will need a thermometer to make sure the temperature of the oil is correct – this makes all the difference to the end result. If the oil is not hot enough, the potatoes will absorb more oil, with a much heavier, oily-tasting result. Conversely, the right temperature produces a crisp, reasonably healthy and spectacular addition to the main course.

You will also need a spiral slicer. This the the one I have but there are several models available at all kitchen shops.

Spiral Slicer

The great advantage to this recipe is that you can fry the nests early in the day, keep them at room temperature and then place them on top of the salmon just before serving.

3-4 large russet potatoes, peeled
3 cups of vegetable or canola oil
salt

Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the edge of a large heavy pot. Over medium-high heat bring the temperature of the oil to 350ºF. Lay out a large cookie sheet covered with a few layers of paper towels. Using a spiral slicer, slice the potatoes. When the oil has reached the right temperature, put a handful of potatoes (about ¾ cup) into the pot. Wait about 30 seconds, and then use a pair of tongs to carefully form the potatoes into a round shape, turning the nest over as it browns. When it is brown, remove with a spider strainer to the paper towels. Sprinkle with salt while still hot. Make sure that the oil is back up to the right temperature before repeating with each batch of potatoes.

To Re-use the Oil: Cool it completely and then strain it into its original container and make sure it is airtight. Stored in the refrigerator, it can be re-used several times, until it starts to look cloudy and dark .

To Serve the Main Course: Place the vegetable mixture on each dinner plate, top with a piece of salmon and a good spoonful of salsa verde. Place a shoestring potato nest on top and serve.

June Shoestring Potatoes

Profiteroles with Raspberry Cream, Strawberries and Chocolate Sauce
1 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
For garnish: raspberries and strawberries

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Take the pan off the heat and add flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the pan and begins to form a ball. Return to a moderate heat and keep stirring to dry out the mixture slightly, for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool dough for about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time and stir until smooth and glossy. The mixing is made much easier if you have food processor. Put the dough into the bowl of the processor and add the eggs one at a time, processing until the dough is smooth.

Using two spoons, or a pastry bag, spoon about 1 tablespoon of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2″ between each one. (At this point, you can freeze the uncooked pastry, collect them into a freezer bag when frozen, seal well and store for several days until ready to cook).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden. Make a slit in the side of each puff to release the steam, and return to the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Note: If the dough has been frozen, the first cooking time will be 30-35 minutes.
Makes about 30 puffs

Profiteroles June Menu

For Filling:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups raspberries, broken slightly

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the yogurt, vanilla and sugar, then the raspberries. Keep covered and chilled until ready to fill the puffs.

For the chocolate sauce:
7½ oz. dark chocolate, broken into pieces
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Place chocolate, milk and vanilla in a small saucepan and warm gently, stirring until smooth. This can be done just before you fill the puffs.

Slit the puffs almost in half, fill the bottom half with the raspberry cream, press the tops back in place and arrange on plates.  Drizzle with chocolate sauce and garnish the plates with more berries.

June Menu Profiteroles