Skip to content

Dinner Party Menu: March

Assorted Appetizers
Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad with a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette
Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco
Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse

On the west coast we are on the home stretch of winter, some days still holding on to the cold and damp, while occasionally being treated to inspiring sunny, clear blossomy days which happily signal the Spring season.

Planning our dinner party menu for this month, Julie and I began by talking about the main protein and the cooking methods suitable to this time of year. We chose lamb in a slow braise (a recipe just in time for your holiday dinner) inspired by Molly Stevens in All About Braising. The technique is perfect for dinner parties because much of the preparation can and should be done in advance – the sear, the addition of flavourings, vegetables and liquid, the slow cooking – then finished and plated just before serving. And this dish allows us to use this cooler weather braising method while we still can.

What is different about this recipe is the brining step which infuses the lamb with the often used pairing flavour of mint. But instead of using mint sauce when serving, a large quantity of mint is pureéd and added to the brining liquid to create a minty bath for the lamb to settle into for a few days before cooking. The resulting flavour is clearly mint, but not overwhelmingly so. We decided to serve this with the classic Risotto Bianco providing a fresh, Spring-y background to the lamb with peas and pea shoots adding a flavour-matching vegetable and garnish.

For the first course, Julie suggested a warm smoked black cod salad that she first prepared in the kitchen of Lumière, the now-closed but well known elegant Vancouver restaurant. Each bite of this salad is a fantastic combination of the smoky and salty taste of the fish and the crisp textures and spiciness of arugula and radishes. It would be a fine main course for lunch or even, in slightly larger portions, a light dinner.

How the dinner party menu was tested:
Julie and her business partner and dear friend, Sarolta, host dinner parties in Julie’s home. Groups can book a night, help to design the menu, and show up for an evening of great food and laughter. It was my good fortune to have booked such a night at Julie’s with friends and we decided to try out our March menu. It was with this event in mind that we added another aspect to the evening: an olive oil tasting. This matched nicely with our Italian inspired dinner with each course featuring olive oil.

We started off the evening in the kitchen tasting two Italian extra virgin olive oils and learned from Julie and Sarolta about the conditions under which the olives are grown, the process of tasting and the taste sensation that a good olive oil will trigger in your mouth and throat. The first oil we tasted was an inexpensive generic brand from SuperValu (Terra Delyssa). The second one was the Famiglia Creanza oil from Puglia ($28.99 at Marché St. Georges, $33.95 at Zara’s at Granville Island). The latter tasted more buttery in the mouth and more spicy in the throat.

Following the tasting, we enjoyed appetizers which featured the Famiglia Creanza olive oil: crostini with cooked and mashed dried Italian beans (cicerchia, purchased in Puglia, but dried fava beans can also be used) topped with cooked dandelion greens and shaved parmigiano; burratta cheese with bread (Altamuran) from Puglia; pickled mushrooms; and prosciutto…all washed down with Valdobbiadene Prosecco. Most of these ingredients were purchased at Cioffi’s at 4142 E Hastings in Vancouver.

We then sat down to the first course, accompanied by St. Hubertus Riesling:

Warm Smoked Black Cod Salad and a Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Smoked Sablefish SaladJulie Marr Photo

12 whole baby potatoes
1⁄2 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup sherry vinegar
3⁄4 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

2 leeks, white and light green parts only

6 x 2 oz (56 g) portions of smoked black cod, skin removed
2 cups whole milk
1⁄2 cup water
3 sprigs of thyme
1  bay leaf
2  cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

3 cups of arugula
3 radishes, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan cover the potatoes in water, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

While the potatoes are boiling make the vinaigrette by whisking the grainy and Dijon mustard together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add in the sherry vinegar and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle cut the potatoes in half and place in a bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of the vinaigrette and set aside.

Bring another medium saucepan, filled with salted water, to a boil. Cut the leeks in 1⁄2 inch rounds and rinse well. Blanch in the boiling water for 3 minutes until the leeks are tender. Drain and add them to the bowl with the potatoes and add another tablespoon of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan bring the milk, water, thyme, bay leaf and the garlic to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and place the pieces of black cod in the liquid. Poach fish for 4 to 5 minutes until fish is warmed through.

While the fish is poaching assemble the salad.

Check the leeks and potatoes for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and/or vinaigrette if necessary. Place on warmed serving plates. Dress the arugula and the sliced radishes with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat in a small bowl and then top the potatoes and leeks with the arugula. Place the black cod on top of the greens and garnish with additional slices of radish. Serve at once.

Serves 6. Recipe is adapted from “Rob Feenie Cooks at Lumière

In Advance: The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead. On the day of the party, cook the potatoes and the leeks and dress them with vinaigrette as instructed. Just before serving, poach the black cod, warm the potato/leek mixture in a microwave or on top of the stove, then layer the warm ingredients with the cod, arugula and radishes.

And the main course, accompanied by Bolla Valpolicella Ripasso:

Braised Minted Lamb Shanks Ossobucco

Minted Lamb ShanksJulie Marr Photo

5-6 lamb shanks, cut into 2” rounds off the meaty end, as in Ossobucco (ask the butcher to cut the rounds as evenly as possible, to ensure one meaty piece per person. Make sure that the shanks are on the small side, since large rounds do not make for an elegant presentation)
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. Kosher salt
4 c. fresh mint, loosely packed
7 c. water, divided

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine

Gremolata for garnish, optional: 4 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley; 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest; and 2 cloves garlic, minced

Brine the Lamb (for 2 days)
Put the lamb shanks in a deep baking dish or bowl, large enough to hold the lamb with 7 cups of liquid. Remove woody stems from mint. Wash and drain. Combine mint, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of water and process to a coarse purée. Pour the mint purée over the lamb. Add the remaining 6 1/2 cups of water to cover shanks completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days, stirring occasionally so that they brine evenly.

Braise the lamb
Heat oven to 300°.
Remove the lamb shanks from the brine and pat dry on paper towels. Some mint leaves will stick to the meat, and that’s OK. Strain the brine, reserving the mint purée. Save 1 cup of the brine, discarding the rest.

Heat 2 T. oil in a Dutch oven, or large braising pot with lid, over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown them well on all sides. Do this in batches if the pan is not large enough to hold the lamb without crowding, allowing the meat to brown well. This is an important step, because the browning adds to the flavour of the dish. As they brown, remove to a plate. When the last batch is done, pour off excess fat, and return the shanks to the pot. Scatter the shallots over the meat and stir until they brown slightly.

Pour in the wine, let it boil to reduce by half over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved mint purée and 1 cup of brine and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing it down to tuck in the meat, extending the paper over the sides of the pot. Cover with lid or with foil and place on the lower oven rack. Braise, turning shanks after the first hour, for about 2 hours, or until tender. Transfer shanks with a slotted spoon to a baking sheet, large enough to hold them all in one layer.

If using, make the Gremolata: combine chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic in small bowl and set aside until ready to serve. This can be done a couple of hours in advance.

Finish the lamb
Strain the braising liquid into a medium saucepan, without pushing down on the solids, discarding the mint and shallots. You should have about 1 1/2 cups liquid. Skim off the surface fat and taste. If it is not too salty, you can reduce the sauce to half the volume to intensify the flavour. If it is already salty enough, keep it warm. The sauce should be minty and salty, but not too much so. It will be used in moderation when plating the meal.

To serve
Place a spoonful of risotto on the centre of each warmed plate, top with one lamb shank, gremolata, pea shoots and some sauce. Serves 6

In Advance: Brine lamb 2 days ahead. Braise and finish day of party.

Risotto Bianco with Peas and Pea Shoots
3 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive
2 shallots, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh peas, or frozen
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup pea shoots, for garnish

Heat the chicken stock in a medium pot and then keep warm throughout risotto preparation. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and the tablespoon of oil, then add the shallots and celery and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute but do not allow it to brown or this will impart a bitter taste.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. The rice will begin to lightly fry so ensure that you keep stirring it. Add the wine and stir until the liquid is absorbed.

Once the wine is absorbed add 1 cup of the warmed stock and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring gently and regularly until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the rice is tender but still al dente. This should take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water. Add the fresh or frozen peas and stir until heated through. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes before serving.

In Advance: Most recipes for risotto will recommend cooking and serving the dish just before serving. This, to my mind, makes it inaccessible to home cooks who want to enjoy their company and not be in the kitchen stirring the risotto before dinner is served. Julie let me in on the restaurant method for advance preparation. Cook the risotto as instructed in the recipe until almost all of the liquid has been added but the rice is still very much al dente, or still firm to the bite. Remove it from the heat and quickly spread it on a large baking sheet and let it cool completely in the refrigerator. This stops the cooking at this point. When you are about 10 minutes from serving dinner, put the risotto back into the cooking pot and heat, adding the peas and stirring the mixture for a minute or two. Then add the rest of the warm broth and 2 T. butter, stirring until just done.

And for dessert…
Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse

Olive Oil Chocolat Mousse Julie Marr Photo

10 oz (284 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1⁄2  cup, plus two tablespoons of granulated sugar, divided
1⁄2  cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons espresso coffee
1⁄4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

To garnish:
pistachios, shelled, toasted and chopped

Place the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water and melt, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Place the egg yolks and 1⁄2 cup sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until pale yellow. Whisk in the olive oil, coffee and salt until combined. Add the melted chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat just until stiff peaks form. Add a generous spoonful of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture. Stir firmly until completely incorporated. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of the egg whites. Gently fold with a spatula until completely combined.

Divide the mousse into six small glasses or ramekins, cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to several days before serving. Serve garnished with toasted and chopped pistachios.

Serves 6.

 

Dinner Party Menu: February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

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

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

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

Roasted Fennel with Orange and Pepper Flakes
Oranges
Julie Marr Photo 

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

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

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

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

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

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

FennelJulie Marr Photo 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pears & Red Wine


Chocolate-Dipped Florentines
recipe courtesy of Julie Marr

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

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

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

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

A Lunch in June

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

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

Cherry Tomatoes Topped with Cambazola

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

DSC_0225

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

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

Grilled Chicken Salad with Mangoes, Avocados & Cashews

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

DSC_0238

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

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

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

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

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

Mini Frangipane & Raspberry Tarts

DSC_0230

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

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

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

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

1/2 c. sliced almonds, for topping

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

May 2014 Dinner Party for 6

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

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

Barbecued Salmon on Crostini with Caper & Horseradish Sauce

Image

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

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

Mixed Lettuce with Basil Vinaigrette, Avocado & Grilled Oyster Mushrooms

Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_0232
Citrus
: Cut top and bottom off fruit and place cut side down on a cutting board. Following the contour of the fruit with a sharp knife, remove the peel and pith. Holding each piece of fruit in one hand, carefully slice between the membranes to release the segments in between. Discard any seeds. Reserve the juice in a measuring cup, adding enough more juice to make 1 1/2 C. juice for the sauce. Can be made early in the day. Cover both fruit segments and juice with plastic wrap until ready to make the sauce.

DSC_0236
To make citrus sauce
: Pour citrus juice, sugar and chile flakes into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce juice by 2/3, turn the heat down to low and whisk in the butter, 1/4 t. salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Swirl the pan to incorporate the butter as it melts, add the fruit segments and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning. The sauce can be prepared early in the day, up to the point of reducing the juice. When ready to cook the fish, reheat the juice concentrate, whisk in the butter and season.

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

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

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

Image

Harissa

DSC_0226
Harissa can be made several days ahead of time and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator. This sauce makes more than you need for the fish dish, but is also wonderful on other kinds of fish or chicken .

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

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

Fennel Potato Purée

DSC_0229
1/2 C. Pernod
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 C. slice fennel
1/2 C. whole milk
3/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
salt and pepper to taste

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

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

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

DSC_0180
1/4 C. unsalted butter
1/4 C. light corn syrup
1/4 C. sugar
4 oz. almonds, chopped
1/4 C. flour
rhubarb compote (recipe follows)
fresh strawberries, halved or sliced
Mario’s vanilla bean gelato (purchased)

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

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

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

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

photo

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
water

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.

Sunday Brunch

Twice-Baked Cheddar Soufflés
Bacon and Turkey Sausages
Cinnamon Bun Muffins
Oatmeal Soda Bread
Grapefruit, Orange and Mint Salad

Brunch has increasingly become a favoured family/friends meal in our household. It seems to suit the schedules of all generations who gather around our table these days. Planned ahead, much of the preparation for this menu can be started in advance: fruit salad the night before; bread and muffin ingredients measured in advance, then finished and baked quickly in the morning;  and yes, even the soufflés can be baked for the first time the day before, then refrigerated and finished just before serving. Read more

Peaches & Cream

Peaches and Cream

This is hands-down the best easy peach dessert ~ peach crumble with a twist and with a more elegant presentation. It comes straight from Smitten Kitchen, and in case you don’t follow it, I am broadcasting the magic of this recipe here. I plan on trying the same technique with apples and pears too. Read more

Copper River Salmon and Bread Salad

This main course salad can, of course, be made with any kind of fresh salmon, but during the very short season of Copper River salmon (approximately mid-May to mid-June), this is a perfect time to use it and Seafood City at Granville Island Market is where this came from. The Copper River flows in Alaska and is almost 300 miles in length, challenging the salmon by its length and its strong, cold rapids. Therefore, Copper River salmon are strong and contain healthy stores of natural oils (Omega-3’s) and body fat, making the salmon extremely rich, flavourful and nutritious.  Read more