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Posts from the ‘Spring’ Category

A February/March Lunch/Dinner

Hummus
Fish Soup with Rouille
Crêpes with Crème Fraîche, Citrus, and Rosemary Honey

Still in the middle of winter in Vancouver this year, what I feel like most these days is soup and citrus – the warming, comforting richness of a fish soup with the refreshing tang of citrus to finish. Here is a lunch menu (which could easily be used for a dinner) that I made recently. I was aiming for something a bit special yet casual, to welcome visiting family from Boston.

Hummus
We go through heaps of hummus in our household, and I have most often resorted to buying it to keep up with consumption. My working theory is that if something can be easily purchased and the product is as good as home-made, why bother making it at home?

Good hummus can be bought at any supermarket and until now I have not been satisfied with the homemade version. My hummus has not been as creamy as I like it and it has had an underlying bitter taste.  But I recently learned two techniques that have me preferring my own version. First, using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse as usual, then slip off and discard the skins. OK, if this seems too tedious, you can skip this step. But the second change is a huge improvement which I encourage you to try: make your own tahini. It’s surprisingly easy to do if you have a food processor. The end result is a richer and more flavourful tahini that is not bitter.

There are of course many options for serving hummus: with pita, crackers, vegetables for dipping, etc. But I happened to find some Italian taralli snacks at Zara’s Deli (photo below) at Granville Island Market. While the hole in the middle makes dipping a bit tricky, the flavour combination and the texture of the crackers is terrific with hummus.

1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1-2 cloves garlic, grated
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
cold water (about ½ cup)
sumac, parsley, drizzle of olive oil, as desired for garnish
bagel chips, crackers or taralli snacks (below)

If you have time, remove the skins from the drained and rinsed chickpeas. This is not absolutely necessary, but will result in a smoother texture. Place chickpeas in the bowl of the food processor and add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini, cumin and cayenne. Process, scraping the bowl periodically, until the mixture is very smooth. Pour in cold water slowly through the feed tube, until the hummus reaches the consistency that you like, and continue to process for about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish as desired, cover and refrigerate. Hummus is best served at room temperature so make sure to remove it from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.

Tahini
1 cup sesame seeds
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat a heavy saucepan over medium high heat and add the sesame seeds. Shake or stir frequently until they are evenly toasted. They should be a golden brown. Watch closely as they burn easily. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

Place seeds in a processor and process for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add 2 tablespoons olive oil through the feed tube. Process into a smooth paste, scraping down the sides. Add more oil if needed to reach the desired consistency. Pour into a container and add a bit of olive oil, just to cover the surface. Store in the refrigerator.

hummus

italian-crackers

Fish Soup with Rouille
Some of the elements of this dish can be prepared in advance. My recommendation would be to make or purchase the fish stock and make the rouille a couple of days in advance. That leaves the final cooking of the fish in the soup and making the croûtes for the same day. This recipe is adapted from Epicurious.

Soup Base
1 large leek, washed, green part coarsely chopped and white part thinly sliced (divided)
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
28oz. tin peeled Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 cups dry white wine
1½ quarts fish stock, purchased or recipe below

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot over moderate heat, then add leek greens, onion, celery and carrots and cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook, for another 3 minutes. Add saffron, bay leaves and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and purée and cook, stirring, another 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Strain into a bowl and discard solids. Store for up to 2 days, covered in the refrigerator.

Fish Stock
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 lbs. white fish bones and trimmings
1 large onion, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
¼ lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
7 cups cold water
1 cup white wine

Cook the fish bones and trimmings, onion, fennel, parsley, lemon juice and salt in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the water and wine and bring to a boil, skimming the froth that rises to the surface. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes and then strain, discarding the solids and reserve the stock. This can be done up to 2 days in advance. Makes 1½ quarts.

Rouille
2 red peppers
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon black pepper

Lay the red peppers on their sides directly on gas burners and turn the flame on high. Or, put them on the rack of a broiler pan about 2” from the heat. Roast, turning with tongs, until the skins are blackened. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let steam for about 20 minutes. Remove the skin and seeds from the peppers and tear flesh into large pieces. Place them in the bowl of a food processor, and add the minced garlic, salt, chopped jalepeno and bread crumbs. Purée, then with the motor running slowly add the oil, lemon juice and pepper, blending until very smooth. Remove and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Bread Croûtes
1 loaf unsliced sourdough or country bread
2 tablespoon butter
salt to taste

Remove crust from the loaf and tear inside into roughly 3” pieces. Brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and grill on all sides, or bake at 350ºF until lightly toasted. You want the outside toasted and the inside soft. Set aside until ready to serve the soup.

To Finish
1 lb. white fish, cut into 1” cubes (I used cod, but look for whatever is freshest, any white fish will be great)
rouille
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a 4 quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Cook the white part of the leek until it begins to soften. Add the soup base and bring it to just boiling. Season to taste with salt. Add cubed white fish and simmer until fish is just opaque, about 2 minutes. Stir in ½ cup of the rouille. Put bread croûtes in warm soup plates and ladle soup over top. Garnish with oregano and parsley and serve remaining rouille on the side.

fish-soup

rouille

Crêpes with Crème Fraîche, Citrus Compote and Rosemary Honey
I was in the mood for crêpes and since citrus fruit is so good right now, I searched online for an interesting combination. I found what I was looking for at What Katie Ate: Food and Photography. I used my own crêpe recipe and tweaked the compote. The original recipe suggests cooking the citrus for part of the time with the juices and sugar, but I found that the fruit fell apart that way, so my instructions keep the fruit separate. Just make sure you drain it well and collect all of the juices for the syrup.

Crêpe Batter
1 cup flour
2 tablespoon sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs
1½ cups milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
softened butter, for cooking

Citrus Compote
6 large navel oranges
2 red grapefruits
2 tablespoons fine sugar
½ cup mint leaves, julienned

Rosemary Honey
1 cup liquid honey
2 sprigs rosemary

1 cup crème fraîche and mint leaves, for serving

Crème Fraîche can be made ahead (or you can purchase it) by combining 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a jar. Shake well and leave at room temperature, covered, until it thickens, about 24 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the citrus compote: Cut the top and bottom from the fruit, then place on a chopping board and using a sharp knife, cut away all of the peel and pith. Take the fruit in your hand and over a bowl, cut each inner segment away from the membrane, letting them fall into the bowl. Squeeze out the remaining juice from the membrane into the same bowl.

Strain the juices into a large frying pan, reserving the citrus segments. Heat the juices with 2 tablespoons of sugar and simmer until the mixture reduces by ⅔ and is syrupy. Stir in the orange segments and the mint leaves and set aside. Can be made a few ours in advance and kept at room temperature.

For the rosemary honey: Place honey and rosemary in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook over medium, heat without boiling for about 5 minutes to infuse the flavour. Transfer to a jar and reserve. Warm a bit before serving.

For the crêpes: In a bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add eggs, ½ cup of milk, vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Gradually add remaining milk, stirring constantly. Whisk in melted butter.

Preheat a 6” crêpe pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, brush with butter.

For each crepe, pour about 2 tablespoons of batter in the centre of the skillet. Tilt pan to spread batter evenly until it covers the entire bottom of the pan. When the edge peels off easily and begins to brown, turn the crêpe with a spatula. Continue cooking for about 10 seconds and then remove from pan. Place cooked crêpes on a plate as you go. Cover with aluminum foil to keep them from drying. Crêpes can be made 1 day in advance, well-wrapped and covered, in the refrigerator. Warm in a 350ºF oven for about 20 minutes before assembling.

To Serve: Place a warm crêpe on a plate, place some citrus compote on one quarter and top it with a spoonful of crème fraîche. Fold the crêpe over the filling and then into quarters. Depending on appetites, you can offer 1-2 per person. Finish the presentation with a drizzle of rosemary honey and mint leaves.

Dinner Party Menu: May

Green Gazpacho with Grilled Spot Prawns
Halibut with Spring Vegetable Sauté and Salsa Verde
Walnut Cake

When Julie and I sat down to plan our May menu, we both immediately thought of spot prawns and halibut and wanted to be sure to highlight these seasonal specialties of our region. Spot prawn season is short (May-June) while halibut is a bit longer (May – September) and while we can still get prawns and halibut most of the year, they will have been frozen and not quite at their prime. This May Menu is also full of green vegetables because it’s Spring and there are so many choices available now in our markets.

With Julie’s travel schedule over the next couple of months, she invited me to cook the menu together in her kitchen before she took off for France. What fun it was to learn from each other while we cooked and to revise the recipes as we went along. The spot prawns were not yet available, so we made the main course and the dessert and sat down to eat them for lunch. The original plan was to create a spot prawn carpaccio for the first course of this menu. But when the prawns were in the market and I had the time to focus on this recipe, I felt more like cooked prawns and decided to feature them with a green gazpacho – a fresh tasting soup that can be made ahead of time and garnished simply with herbs or other seafood such as scallops or crab…a refreshing start to a Spring or Summer dinner, or a main course for lunch.

Green Gazpacho with Grilled Spot Prawns

Green Gazpacho w Prawns

This recipe is adapted from Neil Perry’s version on the Good Food website.

2 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
2 tablespoon lime juice
½ cup Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cubed sourdough bread, crusts removed
6 baby cucumbers, chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 small garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Prawns: 3 large prawns per person, olive oil, salt and pepper

Place vinegar, lime juice, yogurt, salt and olive oil in a large bowl and whisk together. Add remaining ingredients except the herbs. Toss together, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. This allows the flavours to develop.

Place mixture in a blender along with the herbs and process on a low setting to a chunky purée. Increase speed to high and gradually add ½ cup of ice water to create a smooth mixture. Blend on high speed adding more water as necessary until you have a thick and smooth soup consistency. Add more herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until very well chilled.

For the prawns: I asked to have the heads removed from the live prawns, as this is a task that I am not up to myself. My obliging fishmonger removed the heads and bagged them separately – these are now in the freezer to flavour a fish soup one day soon. Brush prawns with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill them in their shells until just pink. This will only take about 1 minute per side. Cool them and then remove the shells of the body, leaving the tails on. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To Serve: Ladle soup into bowls and top each with 3 prawns, garnish with herbs.

In Advance: The soup can be made up to 2 days ahead. The prawns should be purchased and grilled the day of the dinner.

Halibut with Spring Vegetable Sauté and Salsa Verde

Halibut with Spring Vegetables

Salsa Verde with Tarragon and Preserved Lemons

This recipe is from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 1 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton and is also on Julie’s KitchenCulinaire. You can use store-bought preserved lemons, make your own or use fresh lemon zest. This flavourful condiment is very versatile – you can use it with various fish or poultry dishes – and it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped
4 sprigs of tarragon, leaves stripped and finely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3 cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon preserved lemon rind, chopped (discard the pulpy flesh)
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice, to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the chopped parsley, tarragon, scallions, 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 (it may already be salty enough) 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.

For the halibut:
6-6oz. halibut fillets, skin on
2 tablespoons olive oil
pea shoots, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Rinse halibut fillets and dry well, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add the fillets, skin side down, taking care not to crowd them in the pan. Sear the fish on one side for about 2 minutes.  Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until cooked through, 3 to five minutes. You can tell when the fish is done when you insert a small knife into the middle of the fillet and it comes out warm when placed against the inside of your wrist. Take the pan out of the oven and carefully remove the skin from the fish.

Spring Vegetable Sauté
This recipe may be varied according to the vegetables available at the market. You can also play around with herbs depending on what you have on hand. Tarragon and parsley may be substituted for the basil and mint.

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 spring onion bulb, sliced
1 fresh red chile, halved lengthwise (I used a medium hot Thai chile)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb. asparagus, cut on a diagonal into 1” pieces
1 cup fresh fava beans (from about 1 lb. pods) or frozen fava beans, thawed
2 cups snow peas, trimmed
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn if large
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large
Kosher salt and pepper
pea shoots, for garnish

To prepare fresh fava beans: Pull off the top and “unzip” the seam of the bean pod. Open the pod and remove the beans. The beans have a waxy outer coating, which needs to be removed. Blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, and then transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The coating will slip right off. Drain and reserve until ready to cook the vegetables.

While the halibut is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, chile, garlic, asparagus, and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add fava beans, cover and cook until beans are just tender, about 2 minutes. Add snow peas, basil, and mint and cook, tossing, until vegetables are hot and just tender, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.


In Advance: The fava beans can be prepared and all the other vegetables can be washed, trimmed and sliced early in the day of the dinner. Keep them covered on separate plates grouped according to the order in which they will be cooked.

To Serve: Divide the warm vegetables among six plates and top with the roasted halibut. Drizzle with salsa and garnish with pea shoots if desired.

Walnut Cake
Walnut Cake
This cake recipe can be found in Rob Feenie Cooks at Lumière but we made a few changes which are incorporated here: we cut down significantly on the sugar and baked it in a 9″ springform pan, not the 2 loaf pans that he suggests.

1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup maple syrup
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
pulp of ½ vanilla bean
7 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup walnuts, toasted and ground, plus 3-5 for garnish

Put all of the walnuts in a large frying pan and over medium high heat toast them, stirring frequently, until they are nicely browned, 5-10 minutes. Allow the walnuts to cool, then grind 1 cup of them in a food processor and set aside separately the whole toasted walnuts that you will use for garnish.

Line a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper, grease with butter and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside. Zest the lemon and reserve for mascarpone cream. Combine maple syrup and lemon juice and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla pulp. Add one egg at a time to the butter mixture until well blended. Add half of the flour mixture and beat to incorporate. Beat in half of the maple syrup mixture. Repeat, adding the flour and maple syrup mixtures alternately. With a spatula, add ground walnuts and stir until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan, then remove and place on a large cake plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with the reserved toasted whole walnuts. Serve with Lemon Mascarpone Cream, whipped cream or ice cream.

Lemon Mascarpone Cream
½ cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
grated zest of one lemon

Whip the mascarpone, cream, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest together until soft peaks form and serve alongside each slice of cake.

Dinner Party Menu: April

Watercress Soup
Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Purée and Mint Pistachio Pesto
Vanilla Bean Semifreddo with Rhubarb Compote

This month’s menu is late due to a two week mid-April holiday and more tweaking of recipes than usual. But the Spring ingredients Julie and I chose to feature – watercress and rhubarb – will still be here for a while.

(I am having difficulty with a new version of WordPress on this site, so my apologies if this post is looking weird. The previewed version is coming up with wonky formatting, so now I am hesitating before pressing “publish”, but will do so to avoid further delaying this post. I will look into how to fix this before next month’s menu.)

When planning this menu Julie and I agreed that watercress is a fresh and welcome Springtime flavour and we decided to make a soup which can be served hot or cold and made in advance for a dinner party. In April in the Pacific Northwest we are still waiting for the first fresh halibut, prawns and salmon (coming soon) so we decided to feature scallops this month. They are seared and placed on top of a smooth cauliflower pureé and paired with a fresh tasting mint pistachio pesto. And for dessert: rhubarb, growing now in Julie’s garden and available in local markets, is made into a compote and paired with a vanilla semifreddo, both of which can be made well ahead of time.

When I tested this menu, the appetizers I served were: blanched asparagus and arugula dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and rolled in slices of prosciutto; and radishes with hummus.

Watercress Soup
Julie and I followed Suzanne Goin’s recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a book I have referred to many times on this site. We both found that this recipe needed considerable tweaking to thicken it and to round out the flavour. My changes resulted in the recipe below, and you will find Julie’s version here.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup onion, sliced
2 leeks, whites only, sliced
1 medium sized russet potato, peeled and diced
3 sprigs thyme
pinch cayenne pepper
5 cups chopped watercress, stems removed
3-4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced chives
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped chives, for garnish

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add sliced onion, leeks, thyme, parsley, cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the thyme and parsley stems and place vegetables in a blender. Add the watercress and enough vegetable or chicken broth to blend to a smooth soup, the pour soup into a large bowl. You may need to do this in two batches. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream and season with salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Make Ahead: Can be made one or two days ahead. Serve garnished with minced chives and croutons, if desired. Please see Julie’s recipe for croutons here.

Watercress Soup

Julie Marr Photo

Scallops with Cauliflower Purée
For the cauliflower puree:
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
about 1/4 cup of olive oil
Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the florets in a steamer basket over a pot of simmering water and steam for 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from the basket and place in a blender with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Purée, adding additional oil as needed to reach a silky smooth consistency. Set aside.
Make ahead: Can be made and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Mint Pistachio Pesto
This recipe is from a favourite cookbook of mine called Gjelina : Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. The highlight of this book for me is the collection of recipes for condiments that add layers of complementary flavour and colour to a whole range of dishes. They can be made in advance, added to plates quickly just before serving, passed separately if desired, and they are fine replacement for heavy sauces. This one can be used on vegetables as well as fish.

2 cups fresh mint, chopped
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
1 tablespoon Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
¼ cup pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the mint, olive oil, lemon zest, Pecorino and chopped pistachios in a small bowl. Using a microplane grater (or other fine grater), grate the garlic into the mixture. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
Make Ahead: The pesto can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Seared Scallops
18 large scallops or 24 small
salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
cherry tomatoes, quartered, for garnish

Preparing scallops: It is important to thoroughly dry scallops to ensure that they brown well. Pat them dry with paper towels, pressing down on the paper to remove as much moisture as possible. This can be done early in the day and kept covered and refrigerated until ready to cook.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil on high heat in a large frying pan that will hold all of the scallops without crowding. Use two pans if necessary. Add scallops and sear on one side until dark golden brown. Turn scallops over and cook for about 1-2 more minutes, or until the scallops give a little when pressed with a finger.

Plating: Spoon some hot cauliflower purée on to the centre of 6 warm dinner plates. Top with scallops, small spoonfuls of mint pistachio pesto and cherry tomatoes.
Serves 6

Scallops

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo with Rhubarb Compote
(Recipes thanks to Julie’s rhubarb compote adaptation and Suzanne Goin’s semifreddo recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

For the semifreddo:
1 teaspoon of flavourless oil for greasing the pan
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
3 extra-large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Lightly oil a 9 inch loaf pan and line it with plastic wrap, tucking the wrap into the corners, smoothing it out completely with your hands. Let the excess plastic drape over the sides of the pan.In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment whip the cream at medium speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and chill until needed. Wash and dry the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment.

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using a paring knife, scrape the seeds and pulp into the mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract and half of the sugar. Mix on high speed with the whisk attachment for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick and light coloured. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment.

Whip the egg whites on medium speed about 1 minute until frothy. Turn the speed put to high and slowly pour in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Whip on high speed about 4 minutes until stiff peaks have formed.

Fold the chilled whipped cream into the yolk mixture. Then gently fold in the egg white mixture, a third at a time. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and tap on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface, gently smoothing it with your hands. Fold the draping plastic wrap over the edges and freeze for at least 4 hours.
Make Ahead: The semifreddo can be made and kept frozen for 3-4 days in advance.

For the rhubarb compote:
1 lb rhubarb
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water or white wine
Zest of half an orange

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using a paring knife, scrape the seeds and pulp into a heavy saucepan. Place the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest and water (or wine) into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the rhubarb is soft and beginning to fall apart. Allow to cool, covered, before using.
In Advance: May be made and kept refrigerated for up to two days ahead.

When ready to serve, take the semifreddo out of the freezer 10 minutes ahead of time. Spoon a little of the rhubarb compote onto six plates. Cut six slices from the semifreddo and place them on the plates over the compote. Pass the remaining compote at the table. Serves 6.

Semifreddo with Rhubarb

Dinner Party Menu: March

Assorted Appetizers
Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad with a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette
Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco
Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse

On the west coast we are on the home stretch of winter, some days still holding on to the cold and damp, while occasionally being treated to inspiring sunny, clear blossomy days which happily signal the Spring season.

Planning our dinner party menu for this month, Julie and I began by talking about the main protein and the cooking methods suitable to this time of year. We chose lamb in a slow braise (a recipe just in time for your holiday dinner) inspired by Molly Stevens in All About Braising. The technique is perfect for dinner parties because much of the preparation can and should be done in advance – the sear, the addition of flavourings, vegetables and liquid, the slow cooking – then finished and plated just before serving. And this dish allows us to use this cooler weather braising method while we still can.

What is different about this recipe is the brining step which infuses the lamb with the often used pairing flavour of mint. But instead of using mint sauce when serving, a large quantity of mint is pureéd and added to the brining liquid to create a minty bath for the lamb to settle into for a few days before cooking. The resulting flavour is clearly mint, but not overwhelmingly so. We decided to serve this with the classic Risotto Bianco providing a fresh, Spring-y background to the lamb with peas and pea shoots adding a flavour-matching vegetable and garnish.

For the first course, Julie suggested a warm smoked black cod salad that she first prepared in the kitchen of Lumière, the now-closed but well known elegant Vancouver restaurant. Each bite of this salad is a fantastic combination of the smoky and salty taste of the fish and the crisp textures and spiciness of arugula and radishes. It would be a fine main course for lunch or even, in slightly larger portions, a light dinner.

How the dinner party menu was tested:
Julie and her business partner and dear friend, Sarolta, host dinner parties in Julie’s home. Groups can book a night, help to design the menu, and show up for an evening of great food and laughter. It was my good fortune to have booked such a night at Julie’s with friends and we decided to try out our March menu. It was with this event in mind that we added another aspect to the evening: an olive oil tasting. This matched nicely with our Italian inspired dinner with each course featuring olive oil.

We started off the evening in the kitchen tasting two Italian extra virgin olive oils and learned from Julie and Sarolta about the conditions under which the olives are grown, the process of tasting and the taste sensation that a good olive oil will trigger in your mouth and throat. The first oil we tasted was an inexpensive generic brand from SuperValu (Terra Delyssa). The second one was the Famiglia Creanza oil from Puglia ($28.99 at Marché St. Georges, $33.95 at Zara’s at Granville Island). The latter tasted more buttery in the mouth and more spicy in the throat.

Following the tasting, we enjoyed appetizers which featured the Famiglia Creanza olive oil: crostini with cooked and mashed dried Italian beans (cicerchia, purchased in Puglia, but dried fava beans can also be used) topped with cooked dandelion greens and shaved parmigiano; burratta cheese with bread (Altamuran) from Puglia; pickled mushrooms; and prosciutto…all washed down with Valdobbiadene Prosecco. Most of these ingredients were purchased at Cioffi’s at 4142 E Hastings in Vancouver.

We then sat down to the first course, accompanied by St. Hubertus Riesling:

Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad and a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Smoked Sablefish SaladJulie Marr Photo

12 whole baby potatoes
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup sherry vinegar
3⁄4 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

2 leeks, white and light green parts only

6 x 2 oz (56 g) portions of smoked black cod, skin removed
2 cups whole milk
1⁄2 cup water
3 sprigs of thyme
1  bay leaf
2  cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

3 cups of arugula
3 radishes, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan cover the potatoes in water, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

While the potatoes are boiling make the vinaigrette by whisking the grainy and Dijon mustard together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add in the sherry vinegar and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle cut the potatoes in half and place in a bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of the vinaigrette and set aside.

Bring another medium saucepan, filled with salted water, to a boil. Cut the leeks in 1⁄2 inch rounds and rinse well. Blanch in the boiling water for 3 minutes until the leeks are tender. Drain and add them to the bowl with the potatoes and add another tablespoon of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan bring the milk, water, thyme, bay leaf and the garlic to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and place the pieces of black cod in the liquid. Poach fish for 4 to 5 minutes until fish is warmed through.

While the fish is poaching assemble the salad.

Check the leeks and potatoes for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and/or vinaigrette if necessary. Place on warmed serving plates. Dress the arugula and the sliced radishes with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat in a small bowl and then top the potatoes and leeks with the arugula. Place the black cod on top of the greens and garnish with additional slices of radish. Serve at once.

Serves 6. Recipe is adapted from “Rob Feenie Cooks at Lumière

In Advance: The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead. On the day of the party, cook the potatoes and the leeks and dress them with vinaigrette as instructed. Just before serving, poach the black cod, warm the potato/leek mixture in a microwave or on top of the stove, then layer the warm ingredients with the cod, arugula and radishes.

And the main course, accompanied by Bolla Valpolicella Ripasso:

Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco

Minted Lamb ShanksJulie Marr Photo

5-6 lamb shanks, cut into 2” rounds off the meaty end, as in Ossobucco (ask the butcher to cut the rounds as evenly as possible, to ensure one meaty piece per person. Make sure that the shanks are on the small side, since large rounds do not make for an elegant presentation)
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. Kosher salt
4 c. fresh mint, loosely packed
7 c. water, divided

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine

Gremolata for garnish, optional: 4 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley; 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest; and 2 cloves garlic, minced

Brine the Lamb (for 2 days)
Put the lamb shanks in a deep baking dish or bowl, large enough to hold the lamb with 7 cups of liquid. Remove woody stems from mint. Wash and drain. Combine mint, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of water and process to a coarse purée. Pour the mint purée over the lamb. Add the remaining 6 1/2 cups of water to cover shanks completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days, stirring occasionally so that they brine evenly.

Braise the lamb
Heat oven to 300°.
Remove the lamb shanks from the brine and pat dry on paper towels. Some mint leaves will stick to the meat, and that’s OK. Strain the brine, reserving the mint purée. Save 1 cup of the brine, discarding the rest.

Heat 2 T. oil in a Dutch oven, or large braising pot with lid, over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown them well on all sides. Do this in batches if the pan is not large enough to hold the lamb without crowding, allowing the meat to brown well. This is an important step, because the browning adds to the flavour of the dish. As they brown, remove to a plate. When the last batch is done, pour off excess fat, and return the shanks to the pot. Scatter the shallots over the meat and stir until they brown slightly.

Pour in the wine, let it boil to reduce by half over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved mint purée and 1 cup of brine and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing it down to tuck in the meat, extending the paper over the sides of the pot. Cover with lid or with foil and place on the lower oven rack. Braise, turning shanks after the first hour, for about 2 hours, or until tender. Transfer shanks with a slotted spoon to a baking sheet, large enough to hold them all in one layer.

If using, make the Gremolata: combine chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic in small bowl and set aside until ready to serve. This can be done a couple of hours in advance.

Finish the lamb
Strain the braising liquid into a medium saucepan, without pushing down on the solids, discarding the mint and shallots. You should have about 1 1/2 cups liquid. Skim off the surface fat and taste. If it is not too salty, you can reduce the sauce to half the volume to intensify the flavour. If it is already salty enough, keep it warm. The sauce should be minty and salty, but not too much so. It will be used in moderation when plating the meal.

To serve
Place a spoonful of risotto on the centre of each warmed plate, top with one lamb shank, gremolata, pea shoots and some sauce. Serves 6

In Advance: Brine lamb 2 days ahead. Braise and finish day of party.

Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
3 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive
2 shallots, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh peas, or frozen
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup pea shoots, for garnish

Heat the chicken stock in a medium pot and then keep warm throughout risotto preparation. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and the tablespoon of oil, then add the shallots and celery and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute but do not allow it to brown or this will impart a bitter taste.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. The rice will begin to lightly fry so ensure that you keep stirring it. Add the wine and stir until the liquid is absorbed.

Once the wine is absorbed add 1 cup of the warmed stock and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring gently and regularly until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the rice is tender but still al dente. This should take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water. Add the fresh or frozen peas and stir until heated through. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes before serving.

In Advance: Most recipes for risotto will recommend cooking and serving the dish just before serving. This, to my mind, makes it inaccessible to home cooks who want to enjoy their company and not be in the kitchen stirring the risotto before dinner is served. Julie let me in on the restaurant method for advance preparation. Cook the risotto as instructed in the recipe until almost all of the liquid has been added but the rice is still very much al dente, or still firm to the bite. Remove it from the heat and quickly spread it on a large baking sheet and let it cool completely in the refrigerator. This stops the cooking at this point. When you are about 10 minutes from serving dinner, put the risotto back into the cooking pot and heat, adding the peas and stirring the mixture for a minute or two. Then add the rest of the warm broth and 2 T. butter, stirring until just done.

And for dessert…
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse

Olive Oil Chocolat Mousse Julie Marr Photo

10 oz (284 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1⁄2  cup, plus two tablespoons of granulated sugar, divided
1⁄2  cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons espresso coffee
1⁄4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

To garnish:
pistachios, shelled, toasted and chopped

Place the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water and melt, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Place the egg yolks and 1⁄2 cup sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until pale yellow. Whisk in the olive oil, coffee and salt until combined. Add the melted chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat just until stiff peaks form. Add a generous spoonful of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture. Stir firmly until completely incorporated. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of the egg whites. Gently fold with a spatula until completely combined.

Divide the mousse into six small glasses or ramekins, cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to several days before serving. Serve garnished with toasted and chopped pistachios.

Serves 6.

 

May 2014 Dinner Party for 6

Barbecued Salmon on Crostini with Caper & Horseradish Sauce
Mixed Lettuce with Basil Vinaigrette, Avocado & Grilled Oyster Mushrooms
Halibut with Fennel Potato Purée, Citrus Sauce and Green Harissa
Almond Cookie Baskets with Rhubarb Compote, Vanilla Gelato and Fresh Strawberries

This menu celebrates the fish, basil, rhubarb and strawberries that are all fresh and abundant in Vancouver markets right now. Many of the elements of this party menu can be made ahead of time and assembled just before serving. Instructions for this are in italics within each recipe.

Barbecued Salmon on Crostini with Caper & Horseradish Sauce

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8 oz. barbecued salmon (I purchase this at the Granville Island Market, Seafood City)
2 T. red onion, or shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 T. capers, drained and chopped
1 T. prepared horseradish
1/4 C. mayonaise
2 t. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
crostini or crackers

For Sauce: Combine onion, capers, horseradish, mayonnaise, and vinegar in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The sauce can be mixed together up to 3 days before serving.
For Crostini: Slice a baguette or ciabatta bread in 1/2″ slices and brush lightly with olive oil. Grill or broil until browned on both sides. Rub one side with a peeled clove of garlic.
Place the salmon on a platter with the bowl of sauce and crostini or crackers alongside.

Mixed Lettuce with Basil Vinaigrette, Avocado & Grilled Oyster Mushrooms

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1 C. basil leaves
1  1/2 T. balsamic vinegar (red or white)
1  1/2 T. sherry vinegar
2 t. honey
2 cloves garlic
1  1/2 t. Dijon mustard
6 T. oil (3 T. olive oil, 3 T. grape seed oil)
salt and pepper, to taste
5 C. mixed lettuce (combination of red leaf, radicchio, basil, endive, or your choice)
1 green onion, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and sliced
18 oyster mushrooms
olive oil, salt and pepper

In a blender, combine 1 C. basil, vinegars, honey, garlic, and mustard and whirl to blend. Pour in oil slowly to emulsify vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made several days ahead of time and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Toss mushrooms with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  Grill (or sauté) until cooked, and set aside until ready to plate the salad.

In a large bowl, combine lettuces and green onion. Add vinaigrette (you may not need it all), toss, and portion onto 6 salad plates. Top with oyster mushrooms and slices of avocado and drizzle with a little more vinaigrette.

Halibut with Fennel Potato Purée, Citrus Sauce and Green Harissa
This recipe is adapted from the A.O.C Cookbook, by Suzanne Goin. I am a huge fan of this talented chef and have referenced her recipes several times on this site. She and her Los Angeles based kitchen staff are masters of unusual combinations of flavours and textures. The recipes generally have several elements but I have suggested ways here to stage the process to make it more possible for the home cook. The original recipe calls for sea bass, but I have made it with halibut or lingcod.

3 lbs. citrus (grapefruit and oranges)
6 fillets halibut (4-5 oz. each)
1 T. thyme leaves
2 T. chopped Italian parsley
3/4 C. Castelvetrano olives, pitted (available at Granville Market and Whole Foods)
1/2 C. green Harissa (recipe below)
juice of 1/2 lime
2 T. olive oil
1 t. sugar
1/4 – 1/2 t. chile flakes
4 T. unsalted butter
1 recipe Fennel Potato Purée (recipe below)
salt and pepper

Season fish: finely grate 1 T. zest from grapefruit and oranges, mix with thyme and parsley and rub all over fish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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Citrus
: Cut top and bottom off fruit and place cut side down on a cutting board. Following the contour of the fruit with a sharp knife, remove the peel and pith. Holding each piece of fruit in one hand, carefully slice between the membranes to release the segments in between. Discard any seeds. Reserve the juice in a measuring cup, adding enough more juice to make 1 1/2 C. juice for the sauce. Can be made early in the day. Cover both fruit segments and juice with plastic wrap until ready to make the sauce.

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To make citrus sauce
: Pour citrus juice, sugar and chile flakes into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce juice by 2/3, turn the heat down to low and whisk in the butter, 1/4 t. salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Swirl the pan to incorporate the butter as it melts, add the fruit segments and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning. The sauce can be prepared early in the day, up to the point of reducing the juice. When ready to cook the fish, reheat the juice concentrate, whisk in the butter and season.

To finish the harissa: Toss the pitted olives in 1/2 C. of the green harissa (recipe below) and season with the juice of 1/2 a lime. Set aside at room temperature until ready to plate the fish.

To cook fish: Heat a grill pan to high, brush fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook quickly until well-browned with grill marks on one side, then turn and remove fish from pan as soon as it’s just cooked, with the centre still slightly translucent. If you do not have a grill pan, use a heavy frying pan instead.

To serve: Heat fennel potato purée and place about 1/2 C. on each plate. Put the grilled fish on top, spoon citrus and sauce over and around, and top with green olive harissa.

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Harissa

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Harissa can be made several days ahead of time and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator. This sauce makes more than you need for the fish dish, but is also wonderful on other kinds of fish or chicken .

1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. caraway seeds
1 clove garlic
1 t. Kosher salt
2-3 jalapeños, depending on desired heat
1 1/2 C. cilantro leaves, washed and dried
1/2 C. Italian parsley, washed and dried
2/3 C. olive oil

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned. Repeat the same process with the caraway seeds. Pound seeds together coarsely in a mortar. Mash the garlic with the salt to a paste and add to seeds. Place the jalapeños, cilantro, and parsley in a food processor and purée until finely minced. Add the seeds and garlic mixture, and with the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Add the 3/4 C. pitted olives to 1/2 C. of the sauce, and reserve the rest of the sauce for another time.

Fennel Potato Purée

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1/2 C. Pernod
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 C. slice fennel
1/2 C. whole milk
3/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
salt and pepper to taste

Put Pernod in a saucepan over low heat and reduce to 1/4 C. Heat a sauté pan over high heat, add olive oil, and fennel, salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fennel softens, stirring often. Add the milk and simmer another few minutes until fennel is very soft and the milk thickens slightly. Transfer to a blender and purée.

Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and pass through a food mill, or ricer, or mash well. Fold the fennel purée into the potatoes, add the reduced Pernod, and season with salt and pepper. This can be made up to 2 days ahead of time, stored in microwave-safe dish, covered and refrigerated. Re-heat in the microwave while cooking fish.

Almond Cookie Baskets with Rhubarb Compote, Vanilla Gelato and Fresh Strawberries 
This is one of my favourite spring/summer desserts. You can make use of seasonal fruit when it’s at its best, vary the gelato or ice cream flavour, or use different kinds of nuts. In summer, I substitute the rhubarb compote with raspberry sauce, then finish the dish with fresh raspberries and blueberries. The baskets can be made up to one day ahead, then filled just before serving. Make sure to use parchment paper or Silipat sheets so the cookies are easily removed from the cookie sheet.

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1/4 C. unsalted butter
1/4 C. light corn syrup
1/4 C. sugar
4 oz. almonds, chopped
1/4 C. flour
rhubarb compote (recipe follows)
fresh strawberries, halved or sliced
Mario’s vanilla bean gelato (purchased)

Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or Silipat.  Combine butter, corn syrup and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until blended and warm. Stir in nuts and flour.
Put 1 – 1 1/2  T. batter onto cookie sheet (2 per sheet) and bake at 350° until golden. The batter will spread during baking and you will be able to tell after the first batch how large the baskets will be. In the photograph here I have used 1 T. batter and the baskets are about 4″ in diametre. Let set just until you are able to remove the cookies in one piece (about 1 minute) and quickly form them over a rounded dish or bowl. Let cool, then remove each basket to a tray to make room for forming the next batch.

To serve, place one cookie on each dessert plate, fill with a scoop of gelato and top with a spoonful of rhubarb compote and fresh strawberries.

Rhubarb Compote
2 C. rhubarb, cut into 1″ lengths
2 T. water
1 t. orange zest
2 T. orange juice
2 T. honey (or to taste)
1/2 t. vanilla

Combine rhubarb, water, zest and juice in a medium saucepan and cook gently, stirring, until rhubarb is just tender. Stir in honey to taste and vanilla. Remove to a bowl, cool and refrigerate until ready to assemble desserts.

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A Tribute to Spring

Spring Flowers

Guacamole with Tortilla Chips, Pistachios
Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Roasted Halibut with Gingered Tomato Mango Salsa
Mini Potatoes Anna
Mixed Berry Gratin
Chocolate Cookies

Gardens are bursting with colour and markets here in Vancouver are selling gorgeous fresh halibut, asparagus and berries. OK, the asparagus and berries are not exactly local yet, they are from California, but they do taste more like the real deal at this time of the year. This menu is a tribute to my favourite season, Spring: full of colour, new growth, and promise. I hope this menu lives up to your spring expectations! Read more