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Posts from the ‘Soup’ Category

Dinner Party Menu: January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salad
12 oz. ahi tuna
1½ tablespoons olive oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bourbon-caramel-sauce-2

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

 

Dinner Party Menu: December

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

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

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

blini

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tomato-fennel-soup

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

croustade-prep

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

beef-croustade

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

croustade-final
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate-tart
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

 

Dinner Party Menu: 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: 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

Minestrone Soup Two Ways

Do you love a bowl of hot soup on a winter day? Do you get a kick out of creating something delicious while using some of the odds and ends that may be lingering in the fridge? Do you like to get more than one meal out of all your effort? Here’s a very flexible recipe that is warming, nourishing and satisfying all in one bowl…and it is followed by a way to use it as a base for another meal. Feel free to use other vegetables, herbs, beans or pasta in your creation. Read more

Turkey Meatball and Pasta Soup

Here’s a warm idea for dinner in a bowl on a winter night…hot broth, vegetables, juicy meatballs and pasta. Add a baguette, and there you have it. Read more

Curried Chickpea Soup with Tomatoes, Ginger and Cilantro

This soup is from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook, a book full of imaginative vegetarian recipes. Rebar restaurant, which first opened in 1988 and still going strong, was a frontrunner in the concept of healthy food and environmental conscience. The cozy and casual restaurant was a favourite haunt of mine when we lived in Victoria and I worked in Bastion Square where the small and always crowded establishment is located. This book is full of nourishing and tasty recipes and whenever I cook from it, I remember many meals shared at Rebar with friends. Read more