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Dinner Party Menu: November

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you enjoy this seasonal menu!

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

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

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

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

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

pickled-mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo with thanks to Julie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Photo with thanks to Julie

Dinner Party Menu: July

Appetizers: Gazpacho Shots, Hard-Boiled Quail’s Eggs with Toasted Fennel Salt, Radishes, Olives
Watercress Salad with Grilled Peaches or Quince Paste, Manchego and Almonds
Paella
Summit Blueberry Tart

This July menu has been planned and recipes proposed but not yet tested and photographed. I am excited to try the recipes below and will be doing so next weekend. We are so quickly approaching the end of the month and I wanted to share this with you so that you might enjoy it when it suits your summer schedule. Once tested, I will add comments and photographs.

Julie has had a rigorous travel and work schedule this summer (this is where she is now) but I am grateful that she has made time to get together to plan menus and chat around the table when she is home. She has already made a paella and will be posting her version in the coming weeks.

The idea to feature paella came from friend and blog-follower, Daphne, who commented last month and made reference to making this for a party. It struck Julie and me as an ideal summer dish that can feed many people and that can be eaten at room temperature if you like. This version of paella can be started in advance up to the point of adding the liquid, started on the stove and finished in the oven shortly before serving.

While researching this menu, I found that there are many versions of paella, depending on region and local ingredients. Some cooks write that they make the entire dish on the barbecue, some in the oven and others half and half. Ingredients can be varied according to preference: omitting the chicken and sausage, adding more varieties of seafood, or substituting a different green vegetable such as peas for the beans.

Regarding menu design, I liked the idea of making mostly Spanish dishes. The exception is the dessert since I wanted to use blueberries that are so gorgeous in the market now. I have inserted a link for the blueberry tart recipe which was first posted here almost 5 years ago. If you have made this tart before, you will notice that I have adjusted the sweetness of both the pastry and the filling by halving the sugar amounts.

Note: This menu serves 6.

Gazpacho
This recipe is based on one in John Bishop’s Cooking at My Home, with these adjustments: I replaced green pepper with red pepper, reduced amount of olive oil from ⅔ cup to ⅓ cup, and used Sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar.

1½ pounds fresh tomatoes, cut into pieces
3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1 medium red pepper, seeded and cubed
6 small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seed, crushed
3 cups tomato juice
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend to a creamy soup consistency. Check seasoning. Pour into a glass container, cover and refrigerate until very well chilled. This soup improves in flavour so can be made a few days ahead. To serve, pour chilled soup into shot glasses or other small glasses.

Toasted Fennel Salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons Fleur de Sel or Kosher salt

In a small saucepan, toast the fennel seeds until they start to brown and smell fragrant. Cool and then grind in a spice grinder or in a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Add salt and mix well. If you want a finer consistency, grind the salt with the ground fennel for a second or two.

Quail’s Eggs
1 carton quail’s eggs (24)
Place quail’s eggs in boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold tap water and peel off shells. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. I cut the egg container in half lengthwise and used it as a serving dish for the eggs.

Watercress Salad with Grilled Peaches, Manchego and Almonds
Like the paella recipe below, I found this recipe on Chowhound.com as part of a Spanish menu. The recipe calls for Membrillo (quince paste) that is a typical Spanish pairing with Manchego cheese. Manchego is made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed. Quince paste and Manchego can be purchased at most cheese shops. I plan to test and compare this pairing with grilled peaches which are so delicious in our markets now.

1 large garlic clove, finely grated
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ salt, or to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 bunches watercress, stemmed and washed
⅔  cup slivered almonds, toasted
6 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved into thin slices
3 ripe peaches, halved and grilled OR 5 ounces quince paste, diced

Combine the garlic, vinegar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a steady stream until completely incorporated.

Combine the watercress, almonds, and half of the cheese shavings in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Go lightly and taste as you may not need all of the dressing. Divide the salad among 6 plates and garnish with the remaining cheese and the peaches or quince paste.

For the peaches: Halve and pit the peaches, then brush with a little olive oil. Grill them just enough to mark them on the cut side. Cut each half in half again and reserve until ready to serve the salad. This can be done several hours before serving. If you do not want to grill them, you don’t need to, but the grilling brings out the taste of the fruit.

Paella
Paella

I found the basis for this recipe at Chowhound.com. I have made some adjustments to it and below is my amended version.

2 large, ripe Roma tomatoes
18 large shrimp (about 12 ounces), peeled (leaving tails on) and deveined
1 large pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups short-grain rice (about 1 pound), Bomba, Valencia or Orborio
1 lb. beans, trimmed and cut into 2″ lengths
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning the shrimp and chicken
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
18 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 medium lemons, cut into wedges, for serving

Core and halve the tomatoes. Grate the flesh side of each half on the large holes of a box grater set over a medium bowl, stopping when you get to the skin. Discard the skins. Set aside the tomato pulp and juice.

In a small bowl, soak the saffron in hot water. Reserve.

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon of the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and refrigerate.

Place the chicken in a medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper; set aside.

Place a 15-inch paella pan, or a large sauté pan, across two burners and heat over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has started to brown and the fat has rendered, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a large bowl that is lined with paper towels. When fat is drained, remove paper towels and set aside.

There should be a thin layer of rendered fat in the pan. If there’s not enough, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the seasoned chicken to the pan in a single layer and sear, stirring occasionally, until both sides are golden brown, about 6 minutes total. You will need to rotate the pan occasionally over the burners to evenly distribute the heat. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon paprika, stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice and cook until the mixture has slightly darkened in color, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and measured salt ( 1 teaspoon) and stir to coat in the tomato mixture. Stir in the beans.

Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Increase the heat on the stove to medium high. Add the broth and the saffron and liquid and stir to combine. Arrange the rice mixture in an even layer. Distribute the reserved chorizo and chicken over the rice, adding any accumulated juices from the bowl. (Do not stir the rice from this point on.) Bring to a lively simmer and continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary and rotating the pan 90 degrees every few minutes, until the rice grains have swelled, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice starts to make a crackling sound, about 12 minutes. This produces the crust on the rice that is an important feature of paella. Remove the pan from the heat.

Arrange the reserved shrimp and the mussels (hinge-side down) in the rice, nestling them slightly. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the shellfish have opened, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the rice is tender but still al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes. Before serving the paella, discard any unopened shellfish and sprinkle the dish with the parsley. Serve with the lemon wedges.

A Lunch in June

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

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

Cherry Tomatoes Topped with Cambazola

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

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

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

Grilled Chicken Salad with Mangoes, Avocados & Cashews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini Frangipane & Raspberry Tarts

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

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

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

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

1/2 c. sliced almonds, for topping

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

May 2014 Dinner Party for 6

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

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

Barbecued Salmon on Crostini with Caper & Horseradish Sauce

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

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

Mixed Lettuce with Basil Vinaigrette, Avocado & Grilled Oyster Mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harissa

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

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

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

Fennel Potato Purée

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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