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Posts from the ‘Desserts’ Category

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

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

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.

 

Dinner Party Menu: February

After being away from this site for way too long, I am finally back to writing with a new plan for 2016. Actually it’s a project with a process that I intend to develop and explore together with my friend, the incredibly talented cook and entrepreneur Julie Marr. Sharing recipes and ideas is a huge part of my cooking life and I have found that it is in the conversations about food that the inspiration to cook and new ideas to test come about. Julie and I delight in these conversations and share similar approaches to cooking. We will be collaborating on this monthly menu project from its design and testing, to writing about our experiences on our blogs.

One of the things I love to do is to entertain at home. Planning the menu, shopping, staging the preparation and envisioning the presentation are all elements I enjoy. I hear from many friends and readers that while they too like to cook and to entertain, they seldom do so because they simply cannot find the time in their busy lives or feel that they do not have the expertise to pull it off.

As our project evolves, Julie and I will to try to demystify the hosting experience by providing step-by-step guides to hosting dinner parties for every month of the year, using ingredients that are at their best in Vancouver markets each month. Included here will be what might be considered when designing the menu, shopping lists, how to prepare elements in advance and photographs which illustrate the process and final presentation. Please stay tuned as each month rolls out and we add these elements to the menus.

A few weeks ago Julie and I met to plan this month’s menu. Ingredients were chosen according to what is available and at its best in Vancouver markets in February, and the kinds of food that people generally feel like eating in a winter month on the west coast. Another consideration when planning a dinner party menu is how much of it can be prepared in advance so that hosts can relax and enjoy themselves. The recipes will include instructions for this.

In what can be a rainy and dark month here in Vancouver in February, it helps to inject vibrant colours and flavours into our cooking. Tastebuds are enlivened by the taste of citrus and because these fruits are at their best this month, they make their way into the salad, the vegetable and the dessert in the following menu.

Appetizer Tray: Barbecued Salmon, cheese, rice crackers, olives
Avocado, Beet & Crab Salad with Lime and Crème Fraîche
Easy Duck Confit
Roasted Fennel with Orange and Pepper Flakes
Pears Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream and Pistachios
Florentines

When planning the main course for this menu, we discussed leaving out a carb as the duck and fennel stand alone very well. However, when we tried out the menu we ended up making our own additions. I made popovers seasoned with black pepper and roasted ground fennel seeds and Julie made the classic French dish, potatoes cooked in duck fat.

A note about appetizers: My preferred approach to appetizers is to consider ingredients that are already in the refrigerator, or ones that I know we will enjoy as leftovers, and arrange them on one large platter for guests to help themselves. This is such an easy way to cover this part of the menu as it does not require much preparation – just assembling a few ingredients. It also accommodates all types of eaters, ones who eat lightly and those with larger appetites.

Photographs: I am grateful that Julie is a much more able photographer than I am and I have included some of her photographs here with acknowledgement.

Avocado, Beet & Crab Salad with Lime and Crème Fraîche
Recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

3 bunches medium beets
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ lemon
¼ cup finely diced shallots
3 tablespoons seeded, diced jalapeños
⅓ cup lime juice
2 large avocados
6 small handfuls of arugula leaves
¾ lb (454 g) cooked Dungeness crab meat that has been carefully picked for stray bits of shell (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
½ cup crème fraîche
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Trim the beets of their roots and stems and wash them well. Toss the beets with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with some salt and then wrap them in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 40 to 50 minutes until they are easily pierced with a sharp knife.

When the beets are done remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle peel the beets by slipping off the skins with your fingers and then slice in 1/2 inch wedges. Place them in a medium bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, a generous squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.

While the beets are roasting, combine the shallots, jalapeños, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 a cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then taste for balance and seasoning.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, remove the pit and peel. Cut into 1/4 inch slices and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fan the avocado slices on one side of six individual plates. Place the beets on the other side and arrange the arugula in the middle.

Toss the crab gently with two-thirds of the jalapeño lime vinaigrette, the parsley and the cilantro in a medium bowl. Taste the crab and season with some salt and/or lime juice if you like. Pile the crab on the arugula and top with the crème fraîche and a few grinds of black pepper. Drizzle a bit more of the vinaigrette over the avocado.
Serves 6.

In advance: the beets can be roasted and the vinaigrette can be mixed several days ahead and kept covered and refrigerated until ready to assemble the salad. As noted, the crab is optional as the salad works well without it too.

Avocado & Beet Salad
Easy Duck Confit
Recipe adapted from Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Bruce Bromberg, Eric Bromberg and Melissa Clark.
Melissa Clark wrote about the development of this contemporary version of the classic French duck confit in 2010 in The New York Times. This recipe makes cooking your own confit at home easy and Julie and I have found that it works well when cooked in advance, so instructions are given for this. We have adjusted the roasting times given in the original recipe according to our experience with the average size of duck legs purchased here in Vancouver.

3 teaspoons Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 fresh bay leaves torn
6 duck legs, rinsed and patted dry but not trimmed

Place the duck legs in a shallow dish and season with the salt and pepper. Strip the leaves of thyme from the sprigs and scatter on top of the seasoned legs and add in the torn pieces of bay leaf.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day, heat the oven to 325ºF. Allow duck legs to come to room temperature. Place the duck legs, fat side down, in a large ovenproof frying pan with the legs fitting snugly in a single layer. You may have to use two pans or cook them in batches. Heat the duck legs over medium heat until the fat starts to render. When there is about ¼ inch of rendered fat in the pan, about 20 minutes, flip the duck legs over and cover the pan with foil or a lid. If you have used two pans, transfer duck and fat to a roasting pan. Place in the preheated oven.

Roast the legs for about 1½ hours, or until the meat is very tender, falling away from the bone and the duck is golden brown. Remove duck from the pan and keep covered lightly with foil on the counter if serving within the next 2 hours, or cover and refrigerate until ready to finish. Reserve duck fat for reheating the duck later.

To Finish: Heat some of the duck fat over medium-high heat in a large frying pan (or two) and reheat the legs, skin side up and covered with the lid or foil, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the duck over, and sear until the skin is dark brown and crispy. Serve immediately with the roasted fennel.
Serves 6

Roasted Fennel with Orange and Pepper Flakes
Oranges
Julie Marr Photo 

Recipe adapted from Gjelina by Travis Lett
Photographs of Oranges and Plated Dish, courtesy of Julie Marr
3 fennel bulbs
3 cara cara, blood oranges or mandarins
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
¾ cup fresh orange juice
6 tablespoons dry white wine
6 tablespoons stock (vegetable or chicken)
pinch of red pepper flakes
freshly-ground black pepper
pinch fennel pollen (optional)

Cut the fennel bulb into wedges. Cut the stems into thin slices, reserving the fronds. Set aside. Remove the peel from the oranges: Cut off both ends, place the orange on one of the cut ends, and using a paring knife, slice away the skin and white pith. (See Julie’s photograph above.)

Carefully slice between the flesh and the membrane to cut out orange sections and set aside.

In a large frying pan over high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the fennel wedges, cut side down in the pan. Cook until the fennel is caramelized, about 3 minutes. Flip, lower heat to medium-high, and cook on the other side until caramelized, about 3 more minutes. Season with salt, add fennel stems and continue to cook until the stems are well-browned, another 2 minutes. Add the orange juice, wine and stock and reduce the until the sauce is thickened and the fennel is deeply seared and starting to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.

Place on warm dinner plates, garnish with fennel fronds, orange segments and fennel pollen, if using.
Serves 6

In Advance: This dish can be made a few hours ahead and served at room temperature. Julie served this menu family-style, a nice way to make the meal less formal and relaxed. Do whatever works best in your life and your kitchen.

FennelJulie Marr Photo 

Pears Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream and Pistachios
3 ripe but firm large pears (Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc)
3 cups red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot)
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
1 cinnamon stick
peel of 1 orange
peel of 1 lemon
4 whole cloves
2 star anise
1 bay leaf

½ cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons chopped toasted unsalted pistachio nuts, for garnish
mint, for garnish

Peel the pears, cut them in half, and scoop out the core with a melon baller and trim the stem end. Place in a saucepan that is large enough to hold the pears in one layer. Add the rest of the ingredients and just enough water to cover the pears.

Set the saucepan over high heat and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the point of a knife easily pierces the pears, about 15 minutes. (This may take longer, depending on how large and how ripe the pears are.) Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to cool in the liquid.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a plate and strain the cooking liquid over a bowl. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to a light syrup, about 30 minutes. Let cool and pour over the pears. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container until ready to serve. Can be made 2-3 days before serving.

Mix the Mascarpone Cream: this can be done one day ahead.
In a small bowl, whisk the cheese with the sugar and lemon zest.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Toast the pistachio nuts: To toast this small amount of nuts, it is easiest to do in a small frying pan over medium-high heat on the stove. Watch carefully and shake the pan often to allow the nuts to toast evenly. Remove from the heat, chop and cool completely before storing in a covered jar until ready to use.

To Serve: Remove pears from the refrigerator and place one on each of 8 shallow soup plates. Using a piping bag, or small spoon, pipe about 1 T. of mascarpone cream in the cored space of each pear. Spoon some of the reduced poaching liquid around each pear. Garnish with toasted pistachio nuts and mint. Serve with florentines, if desired.
Serves 6

Pears & Red Wine


Chocolate-Dipped Florentines
recipe courtesy of Julie Marr

1 large egg white, room temperature
⅓ cup icing sugar
1¾ cup blanched sliced almonds
pinch of flaky sea salt
grated zest of half an orange
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush the paper with vegetable oil. In a bowl, mix together the egg white, icing sugar, sliced almonds, salt and orange zest. Fill a small bowl with cold water and place it along with a fork next to your lined tray and the bowl with the almond mixture. Dip your hand in the cold water before lifting a tablespoon-sized portion of the almond mixture and place on prepared baking sheet. Continue placing tablespoon size portions of the almond mixture, evenly spacing them on the sheet.Dip the fork in the cold water and flatten the mounds of almond mixture as much as possible. Try to avoid having gaps between the almonds.Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the cookies are evenly golden brown. The time will depend on how large the cookies are.Let the cookies cool and then lift with a spatula and place them on a cooling rack. Continue baking all the cookies in batches.

Once the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate in a clean dry bowl either in the microwave or over a pot of simmering water. Spread the underside of the florentines with the chocolate and place upside down on a parchment-lined tray. Let cool until the chocolate firms up. Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to eat.
Makes 20 – 25 cookies.

A Lunch in June

Cherry Tomatoes Topped with Cambazola 
Grilled Chicken Salad with Mangoes, Avocados & Cashews
Mixed Buns from Terra Breads
Mini Frangipane & Raspberry Tarts

Here is a lunch menu that I served to friends who came over from Victoria for the day. We were meeting at “Fly Over Canada” at Canada Place and returning to our home for lunch, so I wanted to have everything prepared in advance, with minimal final assembly required, so that we could sit down, relax, and enjoy the brief time together. The salad alone makes a quick dinner any night.

Cherry Tomatoes Topped with Cambazola

This is a very simple, but delicious and pretty-looking appetizer. You can prepare the cheese mixture a few days ahead of time, then bring it to room temperature to make it possible to spread onto the tomatoes. Assemble a few hours ahead, if desired, and keep covered until ready to serve. This dish came from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.

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12 cherry tomatoes, halved
4-6 oz. cambazola cheese, room temperature (the quantity of cheese will depend on the size of the tomatoes)
2 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
freshly ground black pepper
Italian parsley, for garnish

Mash together the cheese and butter and season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread on halved tomatoes and garnish with parsley and more pepper.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Mangoes, Avocados & Cashews

I love all of the ingredients in this salad. They combine to provide a wonderful blend of colours, flavours and textures. This too can be prepared in advance: the dressing can be mixed several days ahead, and the chicken grilled and the rest of the salad ingredients combined in a bowl a few hours before slicing, tossing and plating. It is only slightly adapted from a recipe in Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking. The original recipe calls for grilled Calamari, but Bonnie suggests that chicken, shrimp or steak can also be used.

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Honey Sesame Dressing
1/4 C. orange juice
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. honey
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 t. salt
1/3 C. vegetable oil
1 t. sesame oil

Salad
6 C. coarsely chopped radicchio
6 C. coarsely chopped curly endive
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 can (14 oz.) hearts of palm, drained and sliced
2 whole boneless chicken breasts
2 T. olive oil, 2 T. soy sauce, for chicken
salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
1/2 C. toasted cashews

For Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, vinegar, honey, garlic and salt. Whisk in oils and season to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For Chicken: Drizzle chicken with olive oil and soy sauce. Season, then grill until just opaque. The most common complaint I hear about chicken breasts is that they tend to be dry. If you watch them and take them off the heat just before they turn completely opaque, they will continue cooking as they sit, and will stay moist. Set chicken aside until ready to slice and serve. Cover and chill if the salad is not being served within 1/2 hour.

For Salad: In a large bowl, combine salad greens, mango and hearts of palm. Toss with some of the dressing and season to taste. Arrange on plates and add sliced chicken, avocado and toasted cashews. Makes 6 luncheon sized salads.

Mini Frangipane & Raspberry Tarts

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This recipe is from China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp which makes one 9″ tart. I have adjusted the ingredients so that it makes 2 dozen mini tarts.

Frangipane
3/4 C. sliced almonds
1 T. + 2 t.flour
6 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 t. lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
1 t. lemon zest, grated
1/4 t. almond extract

Combine the almonds and flour in a food processor and process until finely ground but not oily. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, then add the lemon zest and the beaten egg. Stir in the almond/flour mixture and the almond extract and beat until smooth. Use immediately, or cover and chill for up to a week, then bring to room temperature before using.

Pastry
3/4 c. + 2 T. flour
3 T. icing sugar
1/2 c. cold, unsalted butter

1/2 c. sliced almonds, for topping

Combine flour and icing sugar in bowl of food processor. Cut butter into cubes and add to dry ingredients. Process, on and off, until a soft cohesive dough forms. Taking about 1″ balls of dough at a time, press evenly into miniature muffin tins. Bake at 375ºF until starting to become golden brown, about 10 – 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly in pan, then tap out onto a rack. When cool, carefully place
tart shells back into the tins. Place 1 raspberry in the centre of each tart, then fill the frangipane over and around it. Top with a few sliced almonds and bake at 375ºF until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Makes 2 dozen tarts.