Thursday, July 29, 2010

White Wine Clams

Cooking with seafood really marks the summer months for me. Seafood dishes tend to be lighter, bursting with freshness and are usually ready pretty quickly. This dish was supposed to be made into a seafood medley served with buttered spaghetti, but, after a day spent at the beach - nibbling at freshly purchased red berries and soaking up the sun - a very light meal was calling my name. The clams were deliciously soothing served with a couple slices of crusty garlic bread to soak up the sauce.

There really is something about the sauce that emanates from cooked clams. When you cook clams this way, they release their wonderfully fragrant flavors into the wine and create the most flavorful stock. If you don't want to use up all cooking liquid, try using some of it in risotto or with any seafood pasta dish. You really can't recreate the depth of flavor that the clams create. They're nothing like it!

White Wine Clams

Serves 4

2 pounds of Manila clams, scrubbed well
1 cup of good quality dry white wine
5 sprigs of thyme
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 handful of coarsely chopped cilantro

Remove the leaves from the thyme stems and coarsely chop. Add the thyme stems, leaves, white wine, garlic and clams to saucepan on medium heat. Cover. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to a high simmer for about 3-4 minutes.Shack the pan being careful to secure the lid down to make sure the clams open. Place all the opened clams in your serving bowl and discard any closed ones. Discard the thyme stems and simmer the stock for another 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice to the sauce and pour the sauce over the clams. Add the cilantro and serve immediately with some crusty bread. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Antipasti Platter

Okay folks, this is clearly not a recipe! I just thought it could be useful to some of you readers to share my favourites for a perfect antipasti platter - basically a way-out for those days when you don't want to cook too much! Sometimes, you spend a lot of time preparing a main meal and a dessert for guests (on this particular day, I was having oven-baked lemon halibut with sauteed garlic rapini and chocolate and lemon tartlets) and you don't want to spend too much time on an appetizer. On those days, or the hot summer days where you're only having a light meal with a cool glass of wine, an antipasti platter is always a great option. It's easy, pretty to serve and incredibly flavourful. All guests can make their own little plate from your selection and pick and choose what they like.

Here are some of my suggestions for a perfect antipasti platter. Start with some cured ham - you can choose an array of different kinds (I would suggest bresaola, prosciutto, rosette de lyon and coppa), a selection of good quality olives (I love kalamata, greek olives as well as garlic and almond-stuffed green olives). Arrange the cured meat and olives on one platter. The only work here is to toast some fresh baguette for an extra touch. Cut the baguette into slices, drizzle a little olive oil and set in a warm oven. Once the bread is just crusty, remove from the oven and rub the inside of the bread with a peeled clove of garlic. This is a small and easy step but it really makes a big difference as far as flavour goes!

On another platter, choose about 5 or 6 items amongst oil-preserved sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, caper berries, sweet roasted garlic cloves, mini buffalo mozzarella balls and artichoke hearts. If you're serving this as a complete meal, I would suggest adding a simple lettuce salad with an array of chopped herbs (chives, parsley, coriander) dressed with a basic olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. This recipe is just a guideline to the platter I served here, but let your imagination run free!

Antipasti Platter

Serves 4

6 slices of prosciutto (finely sliced)
1 cup of mixed olives
1 baguette, cut into slices
1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup of caper berries
1/4 cup of roasted garlic
18 anchovies

Arrange nicely on 2 or 3 platters, serving the bread freshly toasted. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't do too well with spicy foods. Don't get me wrong, I want to be able to order those spicy Thai and Indian dishes - but the truth is that I just can't! I've gotten better over the years out of sheer determination but I'm not quite there yet. For that reason, I've had trouble truly experiencing good Mexican food. This next sentence might make true Mexican food connoisseurs cringe, but Chipotle really made me want to make Mexican food at home. Although a lot of their offerings are spicy, their carnitas with mild tomato salsa, a dollop of guacamole, cilantro-rice and crispy tacos are really quite amazing. I'm not a fast food lover, but in my opinion, Chipotle really delivers on flavourful food while keeping in mind the ethics surrounding meat products. The meat is naturally and sustainably raised and is absolutely delicious.

When I was completing my Culinary Arts degree at the French Culinary Institute, I lived pretty close to a Chipotle and I must admit that I was often too tired to cook for myself after a long day of intense kitchen training... so this was my initial inspiration! This recipe is different though, and features beautiful pieces of flaky halibut (Chipotle, unfortunately, does not make fish tacos!). These are a healthy and light meal for a summer night as well as a perfect party food. Lay out a plate of seasoned fish, a tangy sauce and some mango salsa and every guest can make their own taco. I use Greek yogurt to make the sauce (as a healthier option to sour cream) but feel free to use sour cream or creme fraiche.

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa

Serves 4

3 medium halibut fillet
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 lime
Olive oil

Mango Salsa:

1 mango, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
1/2 lime, juice and zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 hard tacos, reheated in a warm oven

Generously season the fish with salt and pepper. In a pan on medium heat add a drizzle of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the fish to the pan and cook untouched for 5 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook for another 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Cut the fish into cubes as soon as it's cool enough to handle and arrange on a platter with some lime slices.

For the salsa: Add the mango, avocado, tomato and cilantro to your serving bowl. Add the lime juice, zest, olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

For the sauce: In a small bowl, add the yogurt and fold in the cilantro and lime juice. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Serve the fish, tacos, salsa and yogurt sauce at the table and let everyone make their own taco. Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Panzanella Salad

As the summer is in full swing, we've been enjoying more and more light meals using fresh produce, olive oil and a lot of lemon. This salad is a great Italian classic, featuring a whole lot of veggies and some crusty bread. These crusty cubes of bread are tossed with tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions and then drizzled with a citrusy vinaigrette. The bread soaks up all the flavors of the salad and makes for a hearty dish that can be used as a main meal.

When I made my way to the farmer's market a few days ago, I was looking for those beautiful heirloom tomatoes that are so succulent during the summer months. The more uneven the shape, unstructured the edges and different variations in color make for the best tomatoes, in my book. Supermarkets make us think that fruit and vegetables should be shiny, symmetrical and perfectly round but that is definitely not the way nature intended it. Getting my hands on a batch of yellow, orange, red and crimson tomatoes always makes my heart swing. To tell you the truth, I often just end up having them thinly sliced with extra virgin olive, cracked black pepper and fleur de sel - but this salad really took these to the next level.

We have moved to Toronto for most of the summer, and found this incredible little bakery in our neighborhood. I got their signature sourdough walnut bread - which worked wonders in this salad. What meals have you been enjoying in this scorching heat?

Panzanella Salad
Serves 2

2 large slices of sourdough bread
1/2 garlic clove
4 heirloom tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1/2 cucumber, diced
1/4 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of greek olives
1/3 cup of cubed good quality feta
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Drizzle the bread slices with a little olive oil and set in a warm oven until crusty. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Rub the garlic on the warm bread. Cut the bread into cubes (the same size as the vegetables) and set aside.

In your serving bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives and feta. Toss in the bread cubes. In a small bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper and lightly whisk. Drizzle over the salad and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fresh Cherry and Dulce de Leche Brownies

It's a little difficult to post a brownie recipe thinking it's going to be the best out there. There are so many recipes and so many variations that I'm not going to pretend this is a novel dessert idea. However, once you've found your favourite base recipe (mine are the Baked brownies), the fun is to mix it up isn't it?

In the summertime, why not make the best of fresh cherries and add them to the mix? These cherries are the perfect surprise in the middle of a brownie square as is a little swirled dulce de leche. Creamy, sweet and smooth, dulce de leche is a great ingredient to spice up everyday brownies. Try a nice organic brand to use in these and some bittersweet chocolate and you're done! In the summertime, I cut these into small bite size pieces and serve them on a platter next to some fresh fruit.

Fresh Cherry and Dulce de Leche Brownies

Makes 16 small squares

3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of dark unsweetened cocoa powder
5.5 ounces of dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup of fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/3 cup of dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13 inch glass or light colored metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.
Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan and let the mixture come back to room temperature.
Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk) fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.
Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Add the dulce de leche in small batches ontop of different areas of the brownie batter. Using a knife, making swirling motions to lightly mix the dulce de leche and brownie batter and create a swirling effect. Dulce de leche strands should remain on the entire top of the brownie. Disperse the cherries ontop of the batter. Add the remaining batter and gently smooth out the top making sure it covers the cherries and dulce de leche.

Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.
Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cold Pea Soup with Creamy Ricotta

This post's aim is to give peas a good name again! Peas are not usually considered a sexy ingredient, an ingredient that you get excited to play around with. But let me tell you, peas really are the perfect vegetables to cook with in the summertime. This pea soup could definitely be enjoyed warm but who really wants a bowl of bubbly hot soup when the weather is this warm?

I enjoyed this as the perfect light birthday lunch yesterday. My birthday dinner was equally fresh and delightful last night- O. and I enjoy a wonderful Italian feast of tuna crudo with fleur de sel and shaved organic carrots, fennel and grapefruit, followed by grilled octopus with capers, farro risotto and mussels. For dessert? A wonderfully crisp meringue triffle filled with rum cream, raisins and toasted almonds. It really was the perfect birthday!

Now back to the soup..! When this pea soup is cold and serve dwith a dollop of creamy ricotta it make for the perfect refreshing summer soup. And the best part? It cooks in a matter of minutes. It's also perfect for entertaining - you can make it in the morning and keep it cold in fridge until you serve it at night so you don't have to be running back and forth in the kitchen once your guest have arrived.

Cold Pea Soup with Creamy Ricotta

Serves 4

Olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 1/2 cup of frozen peas
2 cups of low sodium chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of ricotta

In a stockpot on medium low heat, add a couple teaspoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic soften and become just golden. Add the frozen peas, stock and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a gently simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend until the soup if smooth. If the soup is too thick add a couple tablespoons of water until the right consistency is obtained. Add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until perfectly chilled. Serve with a dollop of ricotta and some cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Raspberry Semifreddo

If you've been somewhere on the East Coast for the past few days I think you'll agree that's its been a real scorcher out there! I have as pasty a skin as they make them so these kind of heavy summer days are pretty brutal. What to do to beat the heat? Shy of a proper beach or an outside pool, I give you a Raspberry Semifreddo!
Tomorrow is also my birthday, so what better treat than a couple spoonfuls of cold creamy fruity goodness to enjoy on my special day?

I have never owned an ice cream maker (blame the lack of space in my kitchen especially since I got my very first pink Kitchen Aid!) but I do love having frozen treats that I can pull out of the freezer for family and friends during the summertime. My solution is to make granitas or semifreddos, both easy options for warm days. They both require very little equipment - also perfect when a little lazy!

Last summer, I made basil and berry granita, which have quickly become a favorite to make in the summertime. This semifreddo tastes more like ice cream than sorbet, is wonderfully creamy and pretty easy to put together. Semifreddos are sort of the mid-way point between a mousse and ice cream, just the perfect amount of cold with the perfect amount of airy texture. You could use any berry you have on hand here but I've always loved raspberry desserts... so here goes!

For this recipe, I would suggest tasting the fruit your are going to use before adding any sugar. When fruit is perfectly ripe and sweet there really is no point in adding a lot of sugar to this dessert, especially seeing as the cream and egg batter is sweetened. This is really about tasting the fruit as you add sugar to get that right amount of sweetness.

But most importantly, don't you love any desserts that swirls? Sometime it's about the little pleasures and just making these swirls of pink curvy fruit makes me smile, every time.

Raspberry Semifreddo
Adapted from Donna Hay, serves 6-8

3 eggs
2 egg yolks, extra
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3/4 cup of caster sugar
2 cups (500 ml) of whipping cream
Raspberry Puree:
750g raspberries
0-2 tablespoons of icing sugar

To make the raspberry puree, place the raspberries in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness with icing sugar. Strain to remove raspberry seed. Discard seeds and set the puree aside.

Place the eggs, extra yolks, vanilla and sugar in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and, using a hand held mixer, beat for 6-8 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale.

Remove from the heat and beat for a further 6-8 minutes or until cool. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold cream through the egg mixture until well combined. Pour into a 2-litre capacity tin. Spoon of the raspberry puree and, using a spatula, gently fold it through the cream mixture for a swirled effect. Freeze for 6 hours or overnight. Top with extra raspberries if desired. Enjoy!
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