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Posts from the ‘Fish’ 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: January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salad
12 oz. ahi tuna
1½ tablespoons olive oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bourbon-caramel-sauce-2

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

 

Dinner Party Menu: November

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you enjoy this seasonal menu!

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

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

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

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

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

pickled-mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

persimmon-salad-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

seared-fish-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

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

Toast the almonds, chop coarsely and set aside.

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

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

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

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

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

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

pear-strudel-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

Dinner Party Menu: 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.