Weekend Party Trick: 60-second appetizer

November 20, 2009

brie1

The challenge: make a great looking appetizer that tastes fantastic in less time than it takes to wiggle into your party clothes.

The solution: Fruit and Nut topped Camembert

1 wheel Camembert or Brie cheese
Liquid honey
1 handful Back to Nature Raisins, Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Pecans and Apricots blend

Place the cheese on a platter and drizzle with some honey. Mound some of the trail mix on top. Drizzle with a bit more honey and serve with grapes, apple slices and crackers.

Need a wine match? Try an off-dry Riesling for white drinkers or a light, fruity pinot noir for a red choice. Can’t decide between red or white? Prosecco is a great match, too!

Now that you’ve seen my favourite party trick, tell me about yours!

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French onion soup

November 19, 2009

Fr onion soup

Every where I turned last week I ran into French onion soup: commercials, blogs, cookbooks. It almost seemed surreal but certainly not bad.

For me, French onion soup has a retro appeal that’s hard to beat. When made well, it’s a rich, full-flavoured broth that begs tender, sweet onions to bask and linger. Instead of covering it with a heavy, greasy layer of cheese, I prefer to make a Gruyere-topped crostini that you can either float on top of the soup or stand up on one side of the bowl.

Regardless of how you position the cheese and bread, be sure to choose good quality Gruyere cheese. I think it’s much yummier than regular Swiss cheese. Given a choice, I buy Gruyere that has been aged for 10 to 12 months since it has a rich, nutty flavor. Gruyere also has a medium fat content so that complements the flavour of the onions without overwhelming their zesty taste.

French onion soup

3 tbsp (30 mL) butter
2 Spanish or 3 medium cooking onions, peeled
and sliced
2 clove garlic, minced
11/2 tsp (7 mL) dried thyme
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) sherry
1 tsp (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
6 cups (1.5 L) beef broth
6 slices, thick baguette
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Gruyere or other Swiss cheese*
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Melt butter in a Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until onions are translucent and very soft. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are just beginning to brown. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until very brown but not scorched.

Add sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to scrape up any brown bits. Add the broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler to high. Toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet until golden on each side. Sprinkle cheese and parsley (if using) even over the toasts. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden. Ladle an equal amount of soup into each bowl. Top with a cheese crouton and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

* This recipe appeared in Dana’s Top Ten Table.


Judgmental

November 18, 2009

Peanut ButterI’ve always thought of myself as an open minded person but obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way.  Somehow, I’ve become known as as judgemental. In the last month I’ve been asked to judge everything from cookies and cooking to beer pouring.

First I participated as a judge along with Elizabeth Baird and Stephanie Pick at the Gay Lea Shortbread Contest. The winning recipe was not only delicious but technically interesting as well. (The recipe is below if you’d like to try it.)

Then, I was off to New York to be a judge at the international Stella Artois Draught Master challenge where the world’s best draftmaster was crowned. And, lastly I joined the chefs from the Delta Grandview Hotel as a judge in an Iron Chef style competition between 8 teams of Kraft employees.

I’m both full and exhausted! Seriously, it’s much harder work to judge other people than I anticipated. It’s been a true test of my attention span.

Fortunately, the next contest that I’m involved with requires me to be a host and not a judge. On January 22nd, I’ll preside over the first ever Canadian Pillsbury Baking Challenge ! There’s still time to vote on your favourite recipes so make sure you visit the contest website to find out more details!

Have you ever entered a food or beverage competition? If so, was it fun or frightening?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars

Shortbread:
1 cup unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 250 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional) 2 mL
2 cups all purpose flour 500 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

Filling:
3/4 cup blueberry jam 175 mL
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 125 mL
1/2 cup icing sugar 125 mL
2 tbsp unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 30 mL

Instructions:

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolk, using an electric mixer, for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl blend together flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (3 L) baking dish with parchment paper; reserve. Remove dough from fridge. Shred dough using a coarse grater or food processor, fitted with a metal shredding blade; replace one portion of shredded dough to the fridge.

Arrange remaining dough in an even layer in the prepared baking dish; lightly pat the dough down. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges; cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the jam with the icing sugar and butter until smooth and well combined. Spread the peanut butter over the shortbread base in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the jam mixture over the peanut butter and gently spread in an even layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and scatter over the jam layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely; cut into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

Tip: Try grape jelly or strawberry jam in place of the blueberry jam for a fun twist.


Give thanks for Brussels sprouts

October 9, 2009

brussels sprouts

Raise your hand if you don’t like Brussels sprouts. Okay, now put your hand down so that you don’t reflexively hit me when I tell you that you can like this cruciferous veggie. In fact, you can make it this weekend for Thanksgiving dinner and get rave reviews. I speak the truth.

I know it’s hard to believe me when there are so many nasty Brussels sprout memories competing with my claim. But trust me: the reason you don’t like Brussels sprouts is because you’ve eaten them either 1. overcooked or 2. cooked when they were too old. Honest.

In fact, I didn’t think I liked Brussels sprouts either until I started buying them on the stalk and learned that they don’t need to be boiled to death.

Ready to take the plunge? The first step is to find fresh, young Brussels sprouts. You can hit a farmers’ market or a good grocery store that brings in fresh, local vegetables. While on the stalk, the sprouts should be firm and the outer leaves shouldn’t be yellowed or wilted in any way. The stalk should be pale green and heavy. To use the sprouts, simply cut them off the stalk and peel away any loose outer leaves. Easier than shucking corn!

Maple Mustard Glazed Brussels Sprouts

2 tsp (30 mL) olive or other vegetable oil
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced leeks
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp (4 mL) dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper (approx.)
4 cups (1 L) halved small or quartered large Brussels sprouts
3/4 cup (175 mL) water
1 tbsp (15 mL) each maple syrup and whole grain Dijon mustard

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Increase the temperature to medium-high and add the sprouts.

Stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is evaporated and the sprouts are almost fork tender.

Stir in the maple syrup and mustard. Cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sprouts are browned and fork tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Makes 6 servings.


To a good new year

September 16, 2009

New Year's Honey Cake

September always feels like the real beginning of the year for me. Oliver heads back to school, work gets busier after the lull of the summer and Martin jumps into action at Pangaea with the Toronto International Film Festival. In fact, the kinetic pace that doesn’t really stop until the last New Year’s Eve revelers leave Martin’s restaurant, catch a cab and head home.

That’s why I love the idea of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish celebration of their calendar’s new year. Although I’m not Jewish, I have many very close friends who do practice that faith and who will be observing Rosh Hashanah at the end of the week. So in their honour, I’m featuring a recipe from Marcy Goldman’s wonderful new book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. In her header notes, Marcy notes that this cake can be made several days ahead and just gets moister and more delicious as it sits, so why not make it tonight for the weekend?

Marcy Goldman’s Majestic & Moist New Year’s Honey Cake
(excerpted with permission)

3 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
11⁄2 cups white sugar
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
1⁄2 cup fresh orange juice
1⁄4 cup rye or whisky (see note below)
1⁄2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

I like this cake best baked in a 9-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in a 10-inch tube or Bundt cake pan, a 9- by 13-inch sheet pan, or three 8-by 41⁄2-inch loaf pans.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper. For gift honey cakes, I use “cake collars” (available from Sweet Celebrations) designed to fit a specific loaf pan. These give the cakes an appealing, professional, look.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well in the center and add the oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice, and rye or whisky.

Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s) and sprinkle the top of the
cake(s) evenly with the almonds. Place the cake pan(s) on 2 baking sheets stacked together and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. For angel and tube cake pans, bake for 60 to 70 minutes; loaf cakes, 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. This is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed. Let the cake stand for 15 minutes
before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

NOTE: If you prefer not to use the whisky, replace it with orange juice or coffee.


Cardamom-ginger beets

September 11, 2009

cardamom ginger beets

A few weeks ago I was looking for a new way to enjoy all the fantastic beets at the market and I came up with this yummy warm salad:

1 tsp (5 mL) curry paste
1 tbsp (15 mL) each minced fresh ginger
 and cider vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each honey and minced fresh garlic
1/8 tsp (1 mL) ground cardamom
3 tbsp (45 mL) canola or extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
6 cups (1.5 L) warm or room temperature cooked beets
1 baby English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Blend the curry paste, honey, ginger and vinegar together until smooth. Stir in the garlic and while whisking, drizzle in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the beets, cucumber and green onions. Toss to combine.

How do you like to prepare beets? Are you big on borscht or pleased by pickles?


Sweet discovery

September 3, 2009

Sugar

I’ve been using Demerara sugar for quite a few years to sweeten my tea and to add sparkle to cookies, but until this week when I was fact checking a chef’s manuscript, I had never thought about this ingredient’s name. As it turns out, Demerara should always be capitalized since it is the name of a place. This coarse-textured, dry sugar is named after one of the three counties in Guyana, South America where it and rice are the main cash crops.

So, in honour of the good land of Demerara, I offer you this rice pudding recipe that combines its two main crops in a delicious dessert. Enjoy!

Ginger-Lime Rice Pudding

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup (75 mL) whipping cream
1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
3 cups (750 mL) cooked short grain rice
1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lime juice
3/4 cup (50 mL) brown sugar
3 tbsp (30 mL) cold butter, finely diced

Whisk milk with eggs, sugar and whipping cream in the top of a double boiler. Cook, stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes or until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in ginger and lime juice.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Stir rice into custard and transfer to 8-inch (22-cm) casserole dish. (Recipe can be prepared to this point, covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

Cover tightly and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top of pudding and dot with butter. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Makes 8 servings.

Tip: For optimum texture, undercook rice slightly before assembling pudding.