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Archive for the ‘Appetizer’ Category

The Nine Course Affair

Speaking of birthdays…….

From time to time, the Chef and I like to put on “special dinners”.  Usually consisting of  a several coarse tasting menu.  He does most of the cooking, while I do the arranging, the shopping, the decor and the clean up.  And if I’m lucky, sometimes I actually am allowed to make a dish or two myself!

 

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First Course:

Seared Tuna, Avocado and Red Pepper Sushi

I have to admit, the Chef does a nice sushi, which is good because I only ever eat sushi at home, what with the shell-fish allergy, eating it in restaurants is just too high risk.

 

Sushi

 

Second Course:

Belgian Endive and Mini Kale Pancakes topped with Smoked Gorgonzola and Candied Walnuts

This was a tasty one.

They don’t show up that well in this picture, but I made mini versions of my famous Kale Pancakes.  Then to add some freshness to it all, they were alternated with leaves of Belgium endive.  Then both were topped with a small slice of smoked Gorgonzola cheese and a chunk of candied walnut.

We often enjoy this as an anytime snack.

 

endive & kale pancake

 

 

Third Course:

Beet Carpaccio Salad with Arugula, Blood Orange and Shaved Boursin Cheese

I really like beets, so I always encourage the Chef to somehow incorporate them into our special dinners.

So on this occasion, he thinly sliced both red and golden cooked beets.  Then topped them with super thing slices of Boursin Cheese, ( I’ll tell you another time about how he does that, because if you have ever dealt with Boursin, you know that slicing it in any way isn’t easy!) slices of blood orange, arugula and then drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette.

Very refreshing.

Beet Salad

 

 

Course Number Four:

Halibut  “Fish and Chips”

This was a whimsical item.  The “fish and chips” refers to the halibut being roasted with grated yam on top and then drizzled in a balsamic dressing.   The yams form and nice crust (chips) and keep the halibut moist (fish) and then vinegar on top.

Halibut

 

 

Course Number Five:

Spinach and Pine Nut Stuffed Chicken Breast with roasted Celeriac Puree and marinated Red Cabbage

I hate to be judgemental, but I think this one was my favorite dish of the night.  The chicken was moist and flavourful, the celeriac both sweet and earthy at the same time and the crunch sourness of the cabbage just all really worked well together.  Oh and I didn’t even mention the delicious grainy mustard sauce in the title ( made it too long to look good on the page)!

 

Stuffed chicken

 

Course number six:

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad

I actually got to make this course myself.  It is a favorite of mine to make and to eat and it often shows up on our special dinner menus.  But I can’t take the credit for it.

It is blatantly stolen from the menu at celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello’s Napa Valley restaurant, Bottega.

We tasted it there awhile back and I was determined to recreate it.  But luckily for me, they were generous enough to just post the recipe on-line!

So please do try it out for yourself.  It is surprisingly wonderful.

Brussel sprout salad

 

Course number seven:

Mediterranean Lamb & Bell Pepper Kebobs with Cous Cous and Kaffir Lime Leaf Scented Demi-Glace

It is a little joke we have with the birthday guest.  Inevitably whenever we go to her place for dinner, she serves lamb!  So it only seemed fitting that there should be a little lamb on her birthday party menu. The startlingly delicious item in this dish was the Kaffir lime leaves.

They don’t really show in the picture but they were in the sauce.  At this point in the evening ( course seven) sticking one’s fingers in the food and pulling out the lime leaves and sucking on them was clearly NOT frowned upon.  What a delightful taste, the tart lime flavour mixed with the luscious demi glaze.

 

Lamb

 

Course number eight:

Cheese & Apple

It seems we were just too delirious by this point to actually remember to take a picture.

We had retired to the lounge for a little reprieve before moving on to desert but just wanted to add this extra little treat to the mix.

Norwegian Ski Queen cheese, is just a delightful thing to try.  Although it is a cheese, it would remind you more of a really rich version of those caramel square candies that we used to get a Halloween. Perhaps those crossed with butter or some other unbearably delicious creamy substance.  You really do need to try it.  We find it in the speciality cheese section of most major grocery stores.

So our eighth course was slices of Ski Queen matched with slices of Ambrosia Apples lightly dusted with fresh cracked black pepper.

Really nice.

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Course number nine:

Raw Chocolate Tart topped with Pomegranate accompanied with fresh chunks Pineapple and Chocolate dipped Candied Ginger.

I also got to make this one!

If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I like to startle people from time to time with my “raw” dishes.  So after a somewhat decadent night so far, I thought why not toss in something a little healthy to end the evening and leave us feeling good about ourselves!?

 

Cake

 

It was a very successful evening.  Good times all round.

Stay tuned for when the next one happens.  Who knows, YOU might even get invited!

 

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Can any ol body make Kimchi?

I’ll admit, the thought of it was very intimidating.

I was picturing something very exotic, or spending all day in the kitchen over large vats of something or other.  Requiring group of friends working feverishly to complete it in one day.

Or the need for hard to find equipment or ingredients.

Trouble was, I guess I didn’t really even know what Kimchi was.

What it comes down to is pretty much Korean style sauerkraut.

Something people have been making for years with little more than a bucket or crock, some salt and a big rock!

So why was I getting myself in a tizzy over it?  Why not just give it a try? Cabbage is pretty cheap, if it doesn’t work out…..oh well.

I’m almost embarrassed at just how easy it really is!

Then again, fermenting of food has been around a LONG time.  That’s how many cultures have survived by being able to preserve the bounty of the Summer for the long Winter ahead.

And then don’t even get me started with just how very good for you it is!  Talk about probiotic!!  This stuff is where it’s at!!

So not even knowing where to start, I did what any smart person would do, I looked up some recipes on the internet!   Admittedly, there were several and true, some did sound a little exotic and involved but I managed to find one that made sense.

Many of the recipes also called for “fish sauce” or “shrimp paste”, two things I actively avoid due to my shell-fish allergy but found no trouble working around that.

There were many many recipes, but I finally decided on this one:  Homemade Vegan Kimchi

I did not have, nor had the time to look for, the Kochukaru ( Korean chili powder) so I improvised on that.

I also didn’t make as huge of a batch as this recipe appears to make, in case it was disgusting and then I would have went to all the trouble and then would have to toss it!!

Here is what I used:

  • 1/2 large napa cabbage
  • 1/2 (maybe less) daikon radish
  • 1/2 red onion
  • Salt  ( Kosher or sea)

For paste:

  • 4 green onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 birdseye Thai chilis ( small red ones)
  • 1 tbsp smokie paprika
  • 1 tbsp miso paste
  • 1 tbsp sugar

I peeled the leaves off the cabbage one at a time until I had taken off about half of them.  Use your judgement depending on how big your cabbage is.   After washing them, chop them into about 2 inch chunks,

I used only 1/2 of the daikon because it was quite large.   Peel it and then cut it into strips.  Smaller than French fries but bigger than match sticks.

Slice the red onion into full circle rounds about 1/4 inch thick.

Place all of these ingredients in a large bowl and then sprinkle generously with salt and toss to make sure everything is getting some salt on it.

 

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Then let it sit for a few hours until it gets quite whilty and releases some liquid.

 

When the cabbage mixture is ready to go, it is time to make the paste.

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Add all of the other ingredients ( except the green part of the green onions, just chop and mix those in   with the cabbage, but do it now, not during the wilting part) to the food processor and combine till it makes a nice paste.  ( Add a bit of the cabbage water if it is too thick)

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Then add the paste to the wilted cabbage and toss well until everything is nicely coated.

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Then carefully shove it all into a super clean Mason jar ( or more).  The other recipe suggests poking it down with a chop stick.  Really pack it in there, making sure there aren’t any air pockets.  And then pour in any remaining liquid from the bowl that will fit.

Seal it up tight and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours, then into the fridge for at least a week before testing it!

 

ONE WEEK LATER:

Time to check out the magic!!

A huge word of caution here that no one seems to mention in any of the recipes I saw…….

Kimchi is ALIVE!!  Fermenting is done by live ( but very friendly) bacteria and so after they have done their work on your cabbage, they are eager to show you!!

So when you open your new Kimchi for the first time, DO IT OVER THE SINK!  It is almost like a bottle of soda that has been shook! And it WILL spew everywhere!!

I had NO idea!!

Once that nonsense was over and I safely got the lid off…….I gave it a sniff.  It had a strong odor and it wasn’t particularly appealing, but the time of truth had come.  Time to taste it.

 

I was fully ready to dislike it, but instead I was surprised, amazed and delighted by the taste of something that I quite honestly can’t say as I have tasted before!   I was expecting something tangy, vinegary or pickley.   But it was none of these.

Instead, it was the most delightful mixture of salty, sour and a little bit spicy.

I was absolutely delighted with my experiment!

Since then, I have become obsessed with my Kimchi!!  As the lady in the commercial says “I put that @#%$@* on EVERYTHING!”

It is particularly wonderful for livening up any old boring sandwich!!  Fabulous as a burger topping, adds zing to any rice bowl type dish.  Add it to salads or as a condiment with eggs or omelets.  I could go on and on and keep trying it with everything!

Just DON’T heat it!  It is a live food, heating it will destroy all of its goodness!!

So don’t be afraid, give it a try yourself.

I would be very interested to hear just you make out!

 

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What the Fig?

Our friends have a spectacular fig tree in their back yard.

So when they asked if we’d like some fresh figs to play with, the answer was “of course!”

But then what?

Now don’t get me wrong, Figs are GREAT for you!!  Click here to read all the cool things!

But what to do with fresh figs?  I notice they don’t have a very long shelf life once plucked from the tree, which makes me wonder how the ones we get in the supermarket from California manage to make it this far looking that good??

So here is what I came up with over the course of three days:

 

Note "fig leaf" in background.

Note “fig leaf” in background.

 

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Figs in Smoothies!

No brainer.

Chalk full of fibre and goodness without being overly sweet!

 

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Little fig pizzas:

Super simple.

Take your favorite pita ( or in this case naan bread), or if you are feeling particularly ambitious your own homemade pizza crust……

Add:

  • carmelized onions
  • slices of fresh fig
  • crumbled blue cheese ( or goat cheese but blue is nice with the fig)
  • pine nuts

Put it in the oven till the cheese melts and the figs wilt.

Top with a bit of fresh arugula if you have it.   ( I didn’t but would have like it!)

 

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Next item up is a little more hearty.

Fall is just around the corner so I thought I’d practice a dish that would go well on a cooler day.

“Lamb, Lentil and Fig Stew”!

Again, so easy, but SO satisfying.

In a large pan or Dutch oven :

  • Saute one large onion

Then add cubed lamb meat and cook till browned on all sides.

Then add:

  • 1 cup of rinsed green lentils
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/2 inch minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • OR  1 tsp curry powder
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Mix all until everything is well coated.  Then add enough water to just cover everything.

Let simmer till lentils are almost done add more water if needed.

Then add 3 – 4 chopped fresh figs!

Let simmer a while longer till lentils are done and figs have melted down into the stew.

Serve in your favorite way!

Shown here over a bit of mash potato and a little steamed broccoli on the side!

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Did the trick and wasn’t at all sweet, but had the little “Je ne sais quoi”!!

 

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Along with the fresh figs we also received a jar of home made Fig Chutney from our friends.  We only had a twelve pack of figs to deal with, they had the whole TREE so preserves are a great way to go!!

 

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And what better would Fig Chutney go with than Grilled Pork Chops with Roasted Veg??

This was really tasty!!

 

 

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And last but not least, you need to have at least ONE dessert item on the list!!  I mean it IS fruit after all!!

So I whipped up a little fig cake.

I pretty much made the same recipe as my once famous “Pluot Skillet Cake” and just substituted the pluots with figs!

Totally did the trick!

 

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So there you have it, Fig-o-lisious!!

What do you do with YOUR figs??

Rice Crackers

How does that saying go?  “Something or other is the mother of invention”?

Well with me, it is “expensive”.  I often come up with some of my best creations after trips to the health food store.  I walk the isles offended that they want to charge WHAT for THAT??

So then I get mad and come home and make my own version.

Today it is rice crackers.  Now with everyone on the gluten-free band wagon, rice crackers are abundant and varied and increasingly expensive.

So I googled “how to make rice crackers” and there were a few variations, but this is what I ended up doing and it was so simple.

You will need:

  • 1 cup cooked rice ( I used brown basmati)
  • 1 cooked potato or yam ( see note)

If you like you could just chop and boil the potato or yam, but I decided to roast the yam with a small diced onion like I do in my side dish ROASTED YAM to add a whole new depth of flavour to the cracker.

Then add rice and yams to the food processor.   Whiz them up until coarsely blended.

Then it is up to you what you might want to jazz them up with.  I added:

  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • splash of olive oil

Whiz that up in the food processor till well blended.

Then dump the mixture out onto a piece of parchment paper that is directly on the counter or other flat surface.  Cover with another piece of parchment paper and with a rolling pin, roll the dough out nice and thin.

You may need to do this in two half batches.  With my first attempt it kept squishing out of the sides of the paper because there was too much in there.  You don’t want that.

Then when you have your dough rolled out to a nice size, remove top parchment and then carefully slip the bottom parchment with dough on top on to an awaiting baking sheet.

Use a knife to gently score shapes into the dough so that the crackers come apart easily when baked.

Then put into a 300 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are crisp but not browned.

Can it get easier than that??  And for a FRACTION of the price AND they are gluten-free!

BAM!

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And they turned out delicious, probably my best attempt at home-made crackers yet!

Kinda Calzone

I guess to answer my own question of where do people even FIND my blog, I have recently signed up on some site that sends me all kinds of other blogs to read.

I found this one (click here) particularly intriguing, mostly because it was in Swedish!!

It is so interesting how it doesn’t really mater where you are from, people who like food, like food and like to talk about it!

While checking out this particular blog I found a recipe for something called Piroger and thought maybe it might be some sort of Swedish perogi.

Well it wasn’t, but it was a pastry type item filled with a delectable filling……so close enough

I was thrilled to find out that there  is a “translate” button.  I’m not sure if that is something built-in to that particular blogging software or just an internet thing…….but how great!!   So I clicked “translate” and I was in business!

I have to admit that some of the word choices or the sequence in which they are used are a little wonky but at least it gives you a good idea.  So please, I encourage you to not be afraid when you see foreign language food blogs!  You just might find some treasures!!

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So I thought I’d give the Piroger a go.    In English they seem to be “Patties with turkey, thyme and paprika” which I admit isn’t quite as exotic but still a nice idea.

I didn’t happen to have any of the ingredients for the filling, but I really liked the idea of baking something tasty inside a bread like bun.

So I started by making up a batch of her dough and letting it sit for 30 minutes, as directed.

Then instead of the turkey filling, I made up a batch of my old favorite Nelson’s Beans and then let them cool right down to room temperature and then added about 3/4 of a cup of parmesan cheese just to thicken them up.

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What ever you decide to use as a filling and that’s what really excited me about this because I can see using all kinds of different things!  But whatever it is, make sure you make it with a think consistency.   You really don’t want to be putting anything too runny or oozy because it will just be too hard to keep inside the dough!

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So with my Piroger dough and my Nelson’s beans, I started to assemble my nice little patties.   I did add some salami into some of them because the Chef still likes his meat.

Then, as directed, let them rise for about another 30 minutes, then into a 450 degree oven until they get nice and toasty looking.

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Serve as you wish.

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What excites me about these it that they seem a perfect solution to my on going “work lunch” dilemma.   A nice little pocket of goodness that will taste great hot or at room temperature.

Thank you Praline in Sweden!

Going to a party?

Here’s a little something for you!

These are great to make for your own parties but even better to bring to other parties!

Let’s call them “Bacon, leek pinwheels”.

Start with a nice big sheet of store bought ( or make your own,but then kind of defeats the easy factor) laid out and thawed.

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Meanwhile in your favorite vessel, cook up about 6 -8 strips of bacon, but cut them into tiny “lardon” strips before cooking.

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Once those are well on their way add 2-3 finely sliced ( I used the mandolin) leeks, white part and a bit of the green.  But what ever you do make SURE to wash them before putting them in the pan!!  Nobody needs leak sand in their snacks!!

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Cook those down into the bacon.

Then add:

  • a couple of cloves of minced garlic
  • a generous splash of balsamic vinegar
  • sprinkle of chopped rosemary ( dry or fresh)

Keep cooking that all down till it becomes leeky bacon goo.

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Let it cool.

Once it is at room temperature, smear it evenly on to your puff pastry, leaving about an 1 inch band on one side.

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Then top the bacon leak mixture with your favorite grated cheese.  I used my good ol Horseradish cheese for an extra zing.

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Then cut the whole thing into about three strips along the short side of the pastry.

Then start at the top where the filling is and roll the pastry down till you get to the blank spot, moisten the edge with a bit of water, then press it into the roll and tighten it up.

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Now here’s the big “Chef trick” that will make things so much easier!!  Pop the rolls into the freezer for about half hour.  This will firm them up really nice and make them SO much easier to slice!!  Guess who taught me THAT trick??

So once they have firmed up in the freezer, take them out and slice them into about 1/4 inch thick rounds and place them on a parchment paper covered tray.

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At this point you can proceed, or pop them into the regular fridge till you are ready to bake them.

When you are ready to go, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Then give them a little brush with a beaten egg and then if you like, sprinkle on some chunky finishing salt and into the oven they go!!

Depending on the speed of your oven, they take about 15 -20 minutes to bake.  But keep an eye on them, you don’t want your party masterpieces to burn!

When they puff up and are golden brown…..they are good to go!

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Take out and let cool down to room temperature if you are transporting them.

Or eat immediately…….if you are……eating them immediately!

But this batch was going to a party.

A great thing I love to use to take stuff to parties is discarded baby greens boxes.   They are sturdy enough, have a nice fitting lid and the best part?  You don’t CARE if you don’t bring it home again!!

Off you go to your party……

But a word of caution.  You might want to tell people that they are a savory snack, for some reason at the party I took them to, everyone thought they were cinnamon buns!  But they all got gobbled up none the less!!

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Salmon on a stick

It’s been award show season and on this particular occasion, I wanted to make something interesting to eat while we watched but wasn’t really feeling like the usual “party snack” fare, so this is what I came up with.

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First and foremost important thing?  Soak your sticks in water!!  I was using bamboo skewers, but these or any wooden ones must be soaked for at least 1/2 hour in water so they don’t catch fire in the oven or one the grill!

Then I placed a few strips of bacon on a parchment covered tray and put them in the oven at about 300 degrees because you want them to cook slowly and not crisp up at all.  When they are almost done, but still very bendy, take them out and let them cool down till they are cool enough to touch.

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Meanwhile, chop your salmon into nice 1 inch by 1 inch chunks, or there abouts.

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Then add the dry rub which today, I was going for a bit of a “Cajun” type taste, but whatever you want is fine.  Maybe you even have an actual prepared dry rub that you already like.   But I mixed up:

  • cumin
  • coriander
  • smokie paprika
  • thyme
  • chili powder
  • clove ( small bit)
  • oregano

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Mix it into the salmon chunks and let sit a bit to get acquainted.

Then as side dishes I made my old stand by “roasted yams” with toasted walnuts.

And a nice little pineapple black bean salsa.

For the salsa combine:

  • bite size chunks of fresh pineapple
  • 1/4 of a small red onion VERY finely minced
  • a large handful of freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup or 1/2 a tin of well rinsed black beans
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • a generous squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Then set that aside to exchange flavours too.

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So when the roasted yams are done, take them out and turn the oven up to at least 400 degrees.

While it is pre-heating, it is time to assemble your salmon on a stick.

Start with a piece of bacon at one end and push it on to the stick, then add a piece of salmon, then bend over the bacon and poke that on, then another piece of salmon and so on.  As though you are weaving a ribbon of bacon between your salmon chunks.

Replace back on to the same tray that the bacon was cooked on.  Both for easier clean up but also to get any added flavour from bacon drippings.

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Bake in the hot oven for probably no more than 10 minutes.  If even that.

Keep a close eye to make sure the bacon doesn’t start to burn.

Remove and add to your favorite side dishes and you will have a great meal for any occasion!

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