Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bagna Cauda

I've seen recipes for this hot vegetable dip before but this is the first time I've ever tried it. It's not the lightest of dips but for the amount that stuck to the vegetables it really doesn't matter that much. It was just perfect. It tasted beautiful, salty, and rich but not too rich.

The recipe I followed is from one of my cookbooks entitled Nibbled. The whole principal of the book is to make mini, canapé-esque food. Most of their food in the recipes is just cut in order to make it small (a frittata for example) and many of the recipes are either too simple they're obvious to anyone with even the slightest culinary skills or require such exotic ingredients that only someone living by the Green Market in New York could find all the stuff they require. Criticism aside, the principle of having a meal made up entirely of bite sized food is fun. It's something that would be fun in a restaurant to have one night where you can choose from a select number of mini food for a fixed amount. Variety would be the key.

So as far as bagna cauda goes (the words meaning hot sauce in the Piedmonte region of Italy), the recipe called for assorted crudités such as celery, babry carrots, baby beans and radishes, sping onions and quartered fennel. According to Wikipedia "The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables: especially cardoon, celery, cauliflower, peppers, and onions. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests." As you can see in the above photo, I went with cauliflower, carrots, scallions, green beens, broccoli, and mushrooms. That's what I had on hand so that's what went in. I figure you can always experiment with anything you might have on hand. Rolls of salami? Cubes of cheese? Go nuts.

Bagna Cauda

400 ml (14 fl oz) cream...I used 10%
2 tbs olive oil
6 tbs of anchovy paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed

1. Bring cream to boil in a saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the cream has thickened and reduced by about half. (Mine wasn't very thick which assured that there wouldn't be too much sauce sticking to every vegetable thus making the dip too heavy. So I suggest leaving it liquid enough.)
2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and cook anchovy paste and garlic for 1-2 minutes, stirring to mix ingredients.
3. Add anchovy mixture to cream and whisk for about 1 minute.
4. Pour sauce in a serving bowl and serve with crudités to dip in the hot sauce.

Strawberry-Balsamic Granita

I had a case of strawberries and was getting to the bottom of it where the fruit was bruised and generally unapealing. Solution: throw them into a food processor with sugar, water and balsamic vinegar, freeze for 3 hours or so and enjoy. Yet another recipe out of my Fine Cooking / Fresh magazine.

Contrary to sorbet, granita is slushier. When thoroughly frozen it gives a nice aerie and sweet slush that's nice after a summer meal. Sad thing with my experience is that the granita wasn't freezing fast enough and melted fast...though it would probably have helped to follow the recipe completely (I did not freeze it overnight...just the 3 hours). I also found this recipe to be a little too sweet. Also, the balsamic vinegar went unnoticed amongst the very ripe strawberries. Anyways, here's the recipe in the magazine. If you have any suggestions on how to improve the recipe, feel free to comment.

Strawberry-Balsamic Granita
Yields about 6 cups scraped granita

10 oz. ripe strawberries (about 1 pt. or 2 cups lightly packed) rinsed and cored
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tbs high-quality balsamic vinegar

1. Throw strawberries in a food processor with sugar and process until smooth.
2. Add water and balsamic vinegar and blend well.
3. Pour mixture into a 9-inch-square shallow baking pan.
4. Put the pan in the freezer and stir every 30 minutes with a fork, being sure to scrape the ice crystals off the sides and into the middle of the pan, until the mixture is too frozen to stir, about 3 hours, depending on the individual freezer.
5. Cover the pan with plastic and freeze overnight.
6. When ready to serve the granita, scrape the shaved ice and fill you glasses and bowls.

Grilled Chicken with Asian Dipping Sauce

I found this recipe in a special edition of Fine Cooking magazine entitled Fresh (spring/summer 2007). Along with 70 other recipes centred on the freshness of spring and summer ingredients, I found a very simple recipe for grilled chicken with an Asian dipping sauce. Though the dipping sauce and the recipe are nothing original, they make for a nice, easily prepared meal that doesn't require you to hunt down obscure ingredients in all of the specialized grocery stores in town.

I don't think it useful to give the recipe for grilling chicken on the barbecue. Trim fat off chicken breasts, season, and cook till ready. The one thing that is always necessary to stress is that anything on the grill should be given time to cook. That is to say that you shouldn't crank your barbecue up to high all the time. A nice medium heat and your chicken will come out tender and juicy instead of charred and dry...the latter is my father's kind of cooking. Not recommended.

As for the dipping sauce, it's mellow and the recipe makes enough sauce to serve 6 or so people. You could always use the leftovers for a stirfry. To give it an extra kick, you might want to add some red chili paste. But as it stands, this recipe is nice and simple.

Asian Dipping Sauce
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 to 2 serrano or jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced crosswise
2 tbs chopped green onion (scallion)
2 tbs. choppped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbs chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 to 3/4 cup water; as needed

1. Finely chop garlic on a cutting board. Sprinkly 1 tbs of the sugar over the garlic and mash garlic into sugar using the backside of knife while pressing down on it with your palm. Scrape the garlic sugar paste into a medium bowl.
2. Add remaining 3 tbs sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and lime juice. Whisk until sugar is dissolved.
3. Stir in chiles, scallions, cilantro, mint, peanuts, and enough water to creat a mellow but zesty sauce.
4. Serve in individual bowls along with grilled chicken.
5. Dip and enjoy.

Turkey Pesto Burger with Havarti

Not only is ground turkey alot leaner than beef, I would argue that it's juicier. As I was grilling them, the exterior of the patties were getting nice and golden. Inside was a little pocket of goodness and juice. I then folded the slices of havarti I had into a little stack and melted them onto the patties - this helped to keep most of the melted cheese on the patties and not in the bottom of the bbq.

Putting my homemade pesto in the patties was a great addition. It completely sprung out and made the usual bland pattie taste good. Think about this: if you wouldn't eat the pattie by itself then maybe you should work on that before working on any fancy toppings. I find that ground beef doesn't help much with tastiness of patties since it has little to no taste...meaning that it's not like a smack in the face, party on your tongue kind of taste. Granted I don't have the most sophisticated of pallets. Anyways, pesto in patties is simply a good idea.

As far as toppings go, I went with the usual: salsa, tomato, pickle and red onion slices. The result was one great burger lying between two slices of a toasted bun. Contrary to my experimentation with sausage burgers, turkey pesto burgers were very delicious.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Beer Butt Chicken Revisited

I know I've talked about my beer butt chicken before but I won't say that I'm sorry. If you haven't tried this yet you should. If you're making excuses that you don't have a big enough barbecue or that you don't have the proper equipment you should stop stressing over the little things. This is the best preparation for chicken ever and yields the best leftovers.

My photo isn't clear but if you look at the base under the chicken you'll see a black bowl sort of thing and won't you don't see are the two metal arches on which the chicken rests and the cavity these create where a half-full can of beer is placed. 45 minutes to an hour on a medium low bbq and you've got yourself one juicy, tender, awesomely tasting bird.

One thing I especially like about the beer butt chicken are the wings. They come out crispy and smoky and better for than most deep-fried versions you'll find in your neighbourhood pub. I think you could make some sort of hanging rack to cook the chicken wings over the barbecue. If anyone out there owns a bbq restaurant, this is how you should prepare wings. People will go nuts for this, especially when you tell them that it's better for them than the usual grease ladden crap they're served.

Very, Very Basic Salad

Something else I picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend was frisé lettuce. I don't know the English term for it but it's the kind of lettuce that curly and a bit bitter. Once again considering the freshness of ingredients at the present time, I didn't want to mess around with the crisp, beautiful lettuce. The result was the making of the simplest salad I know. A recipe from our grandmothers in Kap.

All you need is a fresh head of curly lettuce, 6 or so green onions, cream or sour cream, salt and pepper. I added colour with some locally grown yellow zuchinni but this is usually left out which results in a very minimalistic salad that highlights the unsung beauty of lettuce.

If it's fresh, don't mess with it. Leave that job to crappy restaurants.

Market Fresh Pesto

When it comes to figuring out what's in season, the grocery store is almost useless. The only place to go, in my opinion, is the local farmer's market. Everything is fresh, local and in season. Seeing as we're coming around to tomato and fruit season, it came as a beautiful surprise to find a generous bunch of fresh basil.

The only obvious thing for me to do with basil is good old fashioned Italian pesto. Though I have an excellent Italian cookbook in my library, I figured I'd just grab the ingredients and wing it. After all, how hard can it be to make pesto.

As is not always the case with my impromptu cooking, my pesto turned out great. In contrast to the overly salty versions you find at the grocery store, my pesto was smooth and creamy. I filled my food processor with about 8 cups of loose basil leaves, topped with 3/4 of a bulb of garlic, a bag of pine nuts equal to about 3/4 cups, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and started the machine. All I did then was pour olive oil into the spinning mixture till it formed a nice sauce...not too oily and not too light.

Though I'm sure there are other ways to serve pesto (if you know any please comment on this post) I like my pesto with pasta and nothing more. My girlfriend added some shrimp one night and that gave it a nice added touch. Either way you serve it, pesto is just great. The perfect recipe to highlight the fruits of the market and the hard work of local farmers.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

More Seafood Chowder

All right. So I've been to parties where everyone brings their own meat and you just barbecue. But only in the Maritimes could you go to a party where everyone pitches in to buy over 10 pounds of mussels. But these weren't going to be just boring old steamed mussels if I had anything to say about it. It wasn't hard to convince our fellow party goers to let us make the sauce for the mussels.

The sauce we picked was from a recipe for Moules Mernier. All it consisted of was a whole bottle of white wine, the same amount of water, chopped parsley, and about 8 cups of finely shredded onions and shallots. Heated through and then cooked for about 20 minutes, we then strained the sauce and were left with a delicious broth ready for buckets of mussels and a quart full of cream.

After the party, once everyone had forgotten about the food and moved on to other things, I packed up a pot full of leftover mussels and some of the broth. Once we got home, we simply added a few packages of mixed seafood - once again an advantage only available to coastal residents - diced potatoes, carrots, celery and some chopped parsley. The ensuing soup was good but not great. We'd forgotten to take into account that the broth had reduced at the party and therefore it had become way too salty. Oh well, at least now I know that those Belgians really had the right idea. Beer and mussels...mmmm!

Peach Tart

The Ontario peaches were on special (and therefore in season) all over town this week. With a full box, I really had to find something to do with them. So, while going through Alain Rayé's cookbook La Régalade, I found a recipe for an apricot tart. Peaches...apricots...I figured they were interchangeable. Pluse the recipe looked so darn good.

I had to run around to find frozen puff pastry. But the end product was so easy to make and really showcased well the deliciousness of the peach.

For the recipe, you can either cut a sheet of puff pastry or make individual squares as I did above. Once the puff pastry has thawed - if you're using the frozen variety - prick the dough with a fork and place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sliced the peaches or apricots in half and remove stone. You then have the option of cutting them into fans as I did above or simply cook the halves as is.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Take out the dough fromt he refrigerator and push the cut fruit lightly into the dough. You then sprinkle with salted butter (about 2 tbsp per half fruit) and sugar (also about 2 tbsp per half fruit). Place in over and bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough is puffy and golden.

Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream. Simple and delicious.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Ultimate Salad

I don't know if I mentioned this before but the house I grew up in was not culinarily inclined in the least. The worst meal my father used to make was those little sausages with canned cream corn and dry mashed potatoes. This meal came from a line of economy cooking along with other such delicacies as hamburger patties in mushroom soup.

When I was in highschool my parents didn't mind a bit if I cooked. I liked cooking. I liked how it was calming, methodical, and how you needed to be organized to get it all together. It's in those days that I discovered that grilling sweet corn without he husk and spreading barbecue sauce between every kernel was simply a great idea.

Seeing as corn is coming into season, I grilled some corn in this fashion for my girlfriend. At first she thought it would just be like all my other quirky food preparations and prefered to stick to her boiled corn with butter, salt and pepper. But after she took one bight of my corn, which I'd slathered with Jamaican jerk bbq sauce, she was cooked.

The next day, I figured I'd use the rest of the corn to make a salad. The result was one of the best salads I've ever eaten although with the amount of ingredients in it, I'm not sure it still qualifies as a salad. We piled the leftover corn kernels all sticky with barbecue sauce along with chunks of cheddar, mangos, apple slices, tomatoes, cucumber, barbecued chicken, grilled red and green onions, grilled mushrooms, and California trail mix over romain lettuce and drizzled the whole with a honey balsamic vinaigrette. The result was really delicious and filling.

Like soups, stews and sandwiches, I find salads have a great potential for variety. You have the form and the basic elements and then you could just keep adding till you satisfied. For salads you know you have a vinaigrette with some vegetables. For a soup you know you have stock with whatever else you want. For sandwiches you have bread, a sauce and some fillings. The options are unlimited and the form is so easy to work with.

Anyways, that's that. Grill your corn with barbecue sauce.