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Posts from the ‘Vegetables’ Category

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.


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

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


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.

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

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.


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.


Photo with thanks to Julie

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

Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the edge of a large heavy pot. Over medium-high heat bring the temperature of the oil to 350ºF. Lay out a large cookie sheet covered with a few layers of paper towels. Using a spiral slicer, slice the potatoes. When the oil has reached the right temperature, put a handful of potatoes (about ¾ cup) into the pot. Wait about 30 seconds, and then use a pair of tongs to carefully form the potatoes into a round shape, turning the nest over as it browns. When it is brown, remove with a spider strainer to the paper towels. Sprinkle with salt while still hot. Make sure that the oil is back up to the right temperature before repeating with each batch of potatoes.

To Re-use the Oil: Cool it completely and then strain it into its original container and make sure it is airtight. Stored in the refrigerator, it can be re-used several times, until it starts to look cloudy and dark .

To Serve the Main Course: Place the vegetable mixture on each dinner plate, top with a piece of salmon and a good spoonful of salsa verde. Place a shoestring potato nest on top and serve.

June Shoestring Potatoes

Profiteroles with Raspberry Cream, Strawberries and Chocolate Sauce
1 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
For garnish: raspberries and strawberries

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Take the pan off the heat and add flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the pan and begins to form a ball. Return to a moderate heat and keep stirring to dry out the mixture slightly, for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool dough for about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time and stir until smooth and glossy. The mixing is made much easier if you have food processor. Put the dough into the bowl of the processor and add the eggs one at a time, processing until the dough is smooth.

Using two spoons, or a pastry bag, spoon about 1 tablespoon of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2″ between each one. (At this point, you can freeze the uncooked pastry, collect them into a freezer bag when frozen, seal well and store for several days until ready to cook).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden. Make a slit in the side of each puff to release the steam, and return to the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Note: If the dough has been frozen, the first cooking time will be 30-35 minutes.
Makes about 30 puffs

Profiteroles June Menu

For Filling:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups raspberries, broken slightly

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the yogurt, vanilla and sugar, then the raspberries. Keep covered and chilled until ready to fill the puffs.

For the chocolate sauce:
7½ oz. dark chocolate, broken into pieces
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Place chocolate, milk and vanilla in a small saucepan and warm gently, stirring until smooth. This can be done just before you fill the puffs.

Slit the puffs almost in half, fill the bottom half with the raspberry cream, press the tops back in place and arrange on plates.  Drizzle with chocolate sauce and garnish the plates with more berries.

June Menu Profiteroles

Dinner Party Menu: May

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

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

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

Green Gazpacho with Grilled Spot Prawns

Green Gazpacho w Prawns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halibut with Spring Vegetable Sauté and Salsa Verde

Halibut with Spring Vegetables

Salsa Verde with Tarragon and Preserved Lemons

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

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

Put the chopped parsley, tarragon, scallions, cornichons, capers, anchovies, garlic and preserved lemon rind in a bowl. Add the olive oil and some lemon juice. Taste and add salt if needed (it may already be salty enough) and some freshly ground pepper. Check and adjust the amounts of lemon juice and olive oil to make the sauce sharper or milder in flavour.  Makes 1 cup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner Party Menu: 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

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
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.

Pancakes & Ribs

Ribs and Pancakes

These pancakes make a terrific accompaniment to a meal, whether meat or fish, or vegetarian. They can be made well ahead of time and reheated, or not, to serve. I love the combination of flavours here, and plan to try them with different vegetables. My mother used to make zucchini pancakes and I have tried various versions of those over the years, but this recipe is now going to become the base for shredded zucchini too. Bonus: kids love them!

Both the pancake and rib recipes, with a few adaptations, are from Food52, a website rich with ideas and inspiration.

Cauliflower Pancakes
1 large cauliflower, washed and trimmed into bite-sized pieces
3-4 shallots, peeled and chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T. olive oil
3-4 large eggs, beaten
3 T. chopped Italian parsley
1/2 – 3/4 C. freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 C. grated mozzarella
1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. whole milk
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil for frying

Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil and add the cauliflower pieces. Cook until tender, but not mushy. Drain, rinse in cold water and set aside.

Sauté the shallots and garlic in 2 T. olive oil until soft but not brown. Remove and set aside. Using your hands, break cauliflower into very small pieces into large bowl. To this bowl now add the eggs, cooked shallots and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Mix this well, then add the flour and milk to create a batter-like consistency. If the batter looks too thin, add a bit more flour. If too thick, add more milk. Add the grated cheeses and the parsley.

Heat a large non-stick pan to medium-high and add a drizzle of olive oil. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto pan and cook in batches until golden brown, adding a little more oil as needed. Cool on a platter. These pancakes may be reheated, or served at room temperature. They keep well stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Makes about 12 pancakes.

Honey Hoisin Ribs
Here is a 2-stage recipe for pork ribs. You may do both stages the day of serving, or you can do the first step (the braising) one or two days ahead, then glaze and bake them just before serving.

Braising the Ribs:
1 rack of baby pork back ribs, cut in half
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into disks
1″ piece of ginger, sliced
1 head garlic, cut in half across the cloves
1 C. soy sauce

Place the ribs into the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot with a lid (I used a large Le Cruiset). Add the rest of the braising ingredients, then pour in water to cover the ribs by 1″. Place the pot over medium heat and bring slowly to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer ribs until they are tender, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Test for doneness: the meat should be just tender, but not falling off the bone.

Remove ribs from the pot and discard braising liquid. OR, if you plan to serve the ribs one or two days later, store them in the liquid in the refrigerator until ready to finish in the oven.

Glaze and finishing ribs:
2 T. hoisin sauce
2 T. oyster sauce
1 T. rice wine vinegar
2 t. soy sauce
1 t. sesame oil
1-2 t. sriracha sauce, or your favourite hot sauce, to taste
1/3 C. honey
1 green onion, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 T. toasted sesame seeds

Ribs Ingredients

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place ribs onto a baking sheet lined with foil. Whisk glaze ingredients together and brush over both sides of the ribs. Bake, brushing a few times with the glaze, until hot and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the ribs from the oven and cut them into pieces. To serve, sprinkle with sesame seeds and garnish with green onion.
Serves 2.

A Tribute to Spring

Spring Flowers

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

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

Moroccan Dinner for 6

Assorted homemade or purchased appetizers: hummus, baba ghanoush, olives, grilled flatbread or crackers, pistachios
Orange and Grated Radish Salad with Orange Blossom Water
Moroccan Chicken
Couscous with Tomato and Onion
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion with Tahini Sauce and Za’atar
Tarte Tatin with Apples, Raisins and Orange Blossom Water

While testing recipes using preserved lemons and preparing a dinner menu, I began with the main dish, Moroccan chicken, a recipe recently given to me by my cousin, Daphne. I then drew inspiration from two wonderful cookbooks: Paula Wolfert”s “The Food of Morocco” and Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem, a Cookbook”. I simplified the menu by purchasing the hummus and baba ghanoush, and serving them with olives and sesame crackers. Read more

A January Menu for 6

Baba Ghanoush & Crackers
Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Christmas Salad
Red Wine Braised Duck Legs
Fennel, Celery Root and Potato Purée
Arugula Salad
Grand Marnier Soufflée with Crème Anglaise

With busy schedules it is difficult to find the time to entertain friends at home, but with this menu plan you can spread the work out over several days. Following each recipe here you will find suggestions for advance preparation and at the end I have added shopping lists. I hope you enjoy this winter menu and time to relax with your guests. Read more