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Posts tagged ‘chocolate’

Dinner Party Menu: January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salad
12 oz. ahi tuna
1½ tablespoons olive oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bourbon-caramel-sauce-2

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

 

Dinner Party Menu: December

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

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

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

blini

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tomato-fennel-soup

Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

croustade-prep

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

beef-croustade

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

croustade-final
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate-tart
Photo with thanks to Julie Marr

 

Dinner Party Menu: June

Appetizer Tray: 2 cheeses, saucisson sec, olives, crackers, toasts
Grilled Asparagus on Prosciutto with Grainy Mustard Sauce
Slow Roasted Salmon with Salsa Verde
Seasonal Vegetable Stir Fry, Shoestring Potatoes
Profiteroles with Raspberry Cream, Strawberries and Chocolate Sauce

For Julie and me, a June menu on the west coast must include salmon. This is the month that we look forward to all year, when several kinds of locally caught salmon are glistening in our markets. We agreed in advance on a loose selection of ingredients – asparagus, salmon, morels and berries – and because Julie is currently enjoying the produce of her local markets in Paris (!), we decided that this month we would each create our own menu.

June Appetizer Tray

NOTE: All the recipes in this menu serve 8 people.

Grilled Asparagus on Prosciutto with Grainy Mustard Sauce
This recipe comes from the cookbook that I return to over and over again: Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. This is a simple, make-ahead first course which balances the earthy taste of asparagus with the salty, creamy and piquant flavours of the prosciutto, crème fraîche and mustard. Look for asparagus spears of similar thickness, with the tips tightly closed and stalks that are firm and moist (not woody) on the ends.

June Menu Asparagus

2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed to uniform lengths
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons whole grain mustard
¾ cup crème fraîche
16 thin slices prosciutto
1 lemon, for juicing
salt and pepper

Light the grill or heat a grill pan to high. Alternatively, you can roast the asparagus on a baking sheet at 400ºF for 5-7 minutes.

Stir the mustard and crème fraîche together and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Toss the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus 2-3 minutes or until slightly charred and tender.

When ready to serve, arrange the prosciutto on a platter or individual plates, arrange the asparagus on top and drizzle with the mustard sauce. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top and serve. Serves 8

Salsa Verde
This is a slight variation on the salsa verde that is on the May menu, but to my mind, this adjustment just emphasizes how versatile the sauce is and how it can enhance so many dishes. Here, fresh thyme is substituted for the tarragon to match the thyme added to the vegetable stir fry.

1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves, washed, dried and finely chopped
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
3 cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and chopped
3 anchovy fillets (this time I used anchovies packed in salt, rinsed well and deboned)
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of preserved lemon rind, chopped (discard the pulpy flesh)
3/4 of a cup of a good quality extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the chopped parsley, thyme, green onions, cornichons, capers, anchovies, garlic and preserved lemon rind in a bowl. Add the olive oil and some lemon juice. Taste and add salt if needed and some freshly ground pepper. Check and adjust the amounts of lemon juice and olive oil to make the sauce sharper or milder in flavour.  Makes 1 cup.

Seasonal Vegetable Stir Fry
A trip to the market this month yielded some vegetables that only make their appearances for a brief time and add seasonal surprises to a June menu. Fresher green beans, peas in pods, garlic scapes and morel mushrooms all cried out to me last week, but need not all be combined at once.

June Vegetables

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 pound snow peas, trimmed
2 pounds fresh peas in pods
4 garlic scapes, cut in 1” lengths
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large medium-hot Thai chile, thinly sliced
2 green onions, sliced on the diagonal in 1-inch lengths
2 dozen fresh morel mushrooms
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
salt and pepper
lemon juice

Prepare the vegetables in advance: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until just barely tender (about 3 mins.) remove with a slotted spoon and refresh in a bowl of ice water. When cool, remove the beans to another bowl while you use the same technique with the snow peas (about 1 min.) and fresh peas from the pods (about 2 mins.) Once all of these vegetables are parboiled and cooled, dry them well and reserve them each in its own bowl until ready to do the final stir-fry.

About 10 minutes before serving heat a large saucepan over high heat. Add the olive oil and when hot add the chile, green onions and mushrooms. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, then add the green beans, snow peas, peas and scapes. Season with the thyme, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir and toss until all of the vegetables are piping hot.

Slow Roasted Salmon
This method for cooking salmon is simple to prepare and produces a moist and flavourful result. When I purchase salmon, I look for the freshest as well as the most reasonably priced variety. This past week, sockeye fit that bill. While sockeye tends to be the driest type of salmon, this way of cooking it preserves its flavour and moistness. If you are cooking for company, order your fish in advance and ask your fish-monger to cut pieces of equal weight and thickness. At home, you can tuck the thinner end of the filet underneath the rest to aid in producing equal portions and therefore more evenly cooked pieces.

Salmon June Menu

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 filets salmon, 5 oz. each
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200ºF. Whisk together the oil, garlic, parsley, thyme and lemon juice. Line a baking sheet just large enough to fit the salmon pieces in one layer with parchment paper. Place the salmon in the dish and pour the marinade evenly over the top and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the salmon is slightly opaque.

In Advance: Early in the day of the dinner place the salmon on the parchment-lined baking dish, cover and refrigerate. One hour before roasting, pour the marinade over the top and season with salt and pepper. Keep at room temperature until ready to bake.

Shoestring Potato Nests
You may look at this recipe and immediately discard it because deep-frying is not in your repertoire. It was never in mine either, until I tasted this at Julie’s table. But please don’t disregard the whole menu if this recipe seems difficult – omitting the nests and perhaps adding some pre-cooked fingerling potatoes to the stir-fry would be a possible alternative.

You will need a thermometer to make sure the temperature of the oil is correct – this makes all the difference to the end result. If the oil is not hot enough, the potatoes will absorb more oil, with a much heavier, oily-tasting result. Conversely, the right temperature produces a crisp, reasonably healthy and spectacular addition to the main course.

You will also need a spiral slicer. This the the one I have but there are several models available at all kitchen shops.

Spiral Slicer

The great advantage to this recipe is that you can fry the nests early in the day, keep them at room temperature and then place them on top of the salmon just before serving.

3-4 large russet potatoes, peeled
3 cups of vegetable or canola oil
salt

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

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

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

June Shoestring Potatoes

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

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

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

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

Profiteroles June Menu

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

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

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

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

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

June Menu Profiteroles

Dinner Party Menu: 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.

 

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

Dark Chocolate, Pear and Pistachio Cake

Chocolate Pear Cake

With this cake, I followed my usual risky practice of making something for the first time and serving it to a group. I baked the cake the day before, added the ganache on the day it was served and carried it down the street to share with friends celebrating a birthday. I didn’t think to photograph it whole, but when it was unanimously judged to be blog-worthy, our host (thank you, David!) got out his iPhone to capture what remained: see the celebratory table and the candle holes left on the cake. Read more

Ruth Ladd’s Famous Almond Roca

I don’t know Ruth Ladd, but I do know that this Almond Roca has probably been enjoyed by thousands of people who know my friend, Lulu, who shared this recipe with me recently. She has made it every Christmas for many years with her sister-in-law. My version may not look like the original, but I do know how fast it is disappearing…thank you, Lulu! Read more