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Posts from the ‘Hors d’oeuvres’ 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: December

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

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

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

blini

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tomato-fennel-soup

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

croustade-prep

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

beef-croustade

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

croustade-final
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate-tart
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

 

Dinner Party Menu: November

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you enjoy this seasonal menu!

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

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

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

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

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

pickled-mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

persimmon-salad-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

seared-fish-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

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

Toast the almonds, chop coarsely and set aside.

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

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

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

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

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

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

pear-strudel-nov

Photo with thanks to Julie

Dinner Party Menu: 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: 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.

May 2014 Dinner Party for 6

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

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

Barbecued Salmon on Crostini with Caper & Horseradish Sauce

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

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

Mixed Lettuce with Basil Vinaigrette, Avocado & Grilled Oyster Mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harissa

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

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

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

Fennel Potato Purée

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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