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Verses from my Kitchen: September 2010

September 29, 2010

Roasted Tomato Soup

After a long day battling the cold air, rain and traffic I love making it home to a warm house, my wife and the prospect a delicious dinner. Sometimes I make it more elaborate than others and other times I make it more elaborate than needed. When my energy is low and my time is limited I turn to a hot bowl of heaven.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup with Parmesan Crisps settles the last of every debate in my mind. It has everything  my body and soul and palette requests on days like these. Times like these. A flavour profile that competes with any soup I've ever made and a richness and subtlety that creeps up on you and fills your every sense. Tonight, it's my meal and retreat. Simple and yet it doesn't lack a single thing.

I've professed my love of soups for a while now, but the one that has my heart and the one I seek out during the longer, darker and cooler days of fall is tomato soup. It has that silky yet chunky texture that every great soup has. I've made countless varieites but this is the one that had me saying, "This is the keeper!" My own holy grail of roasted tomato soups. I hope you enjoy it half as much as I do.

Roased Tomato and Basil Soup:

Yields: 4

The Goods:
2 lbs. of fresh tomatoes, plum and heirlooms
1 can of whole plum tomaotes, with juice
2 small vidalia onions, sliced
6 garilc cloves, peeled
1/2 cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
kosher salt & fresh black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Parmesan crisps (optional, for garnish)

The Prep:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Core and cut the tomatoes in halves. Spread the tomatoes and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil on a baking sheet. Season. Roast for 25 minutes, until caramelized.
2. Using a large pot, caramelize the onion with oil until soft. Remove the roasted tomatoes and the garic and place in the pot. Add in any roasting liquid from the baking sheet and 3 cups of the chicken broth, the bay leaves and butter. Add the canned tomatoes and the juice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 25 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by a third and you have the desired consistency.
3. Remove and dispose of the bay leaves. Add the chopped basil and puree the soup with a handheld blender until smooth. Return to a low heat and add the cream and check consistency and add more broth, if necessary. Season to taste and ladle soup into the bowls. If you wish, garnish each bowl with a Parmesan crisp and basil leaves.
4. To make Parmesan crisps, grate Parmesan and place 1 tablespoon mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet and pat down into a round shape. Place in 325 degree oven until golden and bubbly. Garnish on soup.

September 26, 2010

Quick Bites: The Finger Food Variety

When you have people over for a mid-afternoon visit, whether that be stopping in to say hi or dropping by for a sporting event on television, the small stuff that can be transported, handled and eaten without much fuss is the perfect solution. The food isn't the highlight here, it's the perfect companion.

We had the good fortune of spending some time with friends at their house recently and they put out the perfect spread for four people talking and nibbling all at once. Glasses of wine and a platter with prosciutto, cheeses, artichokes, baguette slices, roasted red peppers and two kinds of oils: garlic infused and hot pepper  infused. We sat and talked and occasionally filled up our plate with the goodies to nosh on. The conversation was the focal point and the food was there to fuel us.

I love making food and by now most people are well aware of that. It can be fussed over and complicated or simple, fresh and quick. Each one works depending on your time and the situation at hand. One isn't better than the other and one isn't more rewarding than the other.

These are some of my favourite goodies to lay out on a platter when we have people coming for a visit. They are simple and fresh and the perfect response to a small gathering during the day.

I love Smooth Garlicky Hummus, Smoked Salmon Crostini, Chipotle Chicken Wings w/ Cool Yoghurt & Cilantro Dip, and too many other small bites to name. Here are two of those recipes:

Smooth Garlic Hummus

Yields: 3 cups

The Goods:
2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp. tahini paste (sesame seed puree)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp. sea salt and cracked pepper
3 cloves garlic, smashed (optional-roasted)
1/4 cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin

Creamy Garlic Hummus

Chipotle Chicken Wings with Creamy Yoghurt and Cilantro Dip

Yields: 4-6

The Goods:
2 pounds chicken wings (15-20)
Extra-Virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges
1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 chipotles, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Kosher salt and Cracked pepper

The Prep:
1. Preheat grill to med-high heat and, using paper towels with some oil, wipe down the grates to ensure a non-stick grilling surface.
2. Toss wings in oil and season with salt and cracked pepper. Lay out flat on grill and cook for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Meanwhile, combine chopped chipotles with butter and vinegar and baste the wings on the grill while they continue to cook. Continue cooking for 20 or so minutes.
3. Before the chicken is finished cooking, prepare the dressing. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly until they are fully mixed together. Season to taste.
4. Serve wings with yoghurt and cilantro dressing on the side.

Creamy Yoghurt Dressing
Chipotle Grilled Wings

And this is my Smoked Salmon Crostini:

Fresh Herbed Cream Cheese, Smoked Salmon and Chives

September 25, 2010

All Hail Caesar Salad

There is something especially tantalizing about a Caesar salad and the dressing that takes what would be an ordinary salad to an entirely new level. It's simple and quick and complicated all at once, especially if it's done right.

The beauty of this dish is the versatility it brings. And the flavour. You can make it and use it as a side or it can be the star of the show. Also, there are countless ways to make it. So many varieties, so many options but one fantastic taste. It captures you the dressing grabs hold of you. There's only one secret. You have to use Parmigiana Reggiano and the dressing has to be made from scratch. Have no fear, it isn't that hard.

My wife loves this dish. She loves Caesar for a snack or on the side of a plate or with roasted chicken and even with steak. It really is the salad that solves all. As much as my wife loves this dish, I love making it. It's rustic, creamy, zesty and full of flavour. One bite of the real thing and you'll be hooked for life. 

This is the way I make my Caesar Salad with Croutons. Sometimes I add bacon, sometimes pancetta and other times I leave it as is. There is no right or wrong answer. I mostly use anchovies but have used creme fraiche on rare occasion. I've added a small bit of tobasco at the end of my dressing and other times I've used capers. I love it that the variations are endless and yet it turns out brilliantly.

My Ultimate Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad with Rustic Crunchy Croutons

Yields: 4-6 (about 2 cups)

The Goods:
1 garlic clove, minced
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (or 1" anchovy paste)
2 egg yolks (room temperature holds the emulsion better)
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
Cracked pepper
2 tbsp. capers
3/4 cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan
12 slices of Pancetta or Bacon
1-2 heads Romaine (outside leaves removed, inside leaves washed and broken up by hand)
1/2 loaf of Italian bread

The Prep:
To make the dressing: Rub the garlic paste around the inside of the salad bowl. Add the anchovies, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and capers into a blender and process until smooth. With the blender still running, pour the olive oil in very slowly for the dressing to emulsify. Stir in the Parmesan and a pinch of salt and cracked pepper and set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Break the bread into cubes and toss with enough olive oil to coat. Spread the cubes in a layer on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, roughly 15 minutes. At the same time, add the pancetta slices and cook for same duration until golden and crispy.

To assemble the salad, add the dressing to the bottom of the bowl. Add enough to coat the salad. Tear the lettuce and add some extra grated Parmesan, the rustic croutons and chopped pancetta and toss the salad well. Serve immediately.

September 22, 2010

The Fall of Summer

It's official! Today is the first day of fall and that opens up and shifts the possibilities for meals and recipes and flavour finds. It also starts the first day of what is arguably my favourite season. The cooler temperatures promote so many wonderful memories, from the obvious colour transformations to the foods and ingredients that are now in abundance and in season.

Today is a new beginning. A chance to hide away and store your recipes created this summer and open up a new page and put the pen to paper. The beginning of new experiments, flavours and recipes that will hopefully be part of my book for years to come. One day in the future, I hope, i'll be able to open it up and start cooking and remember just when this recipe was created for the first time.

My food line-up will be filled with soups, stews, layered pastas and hot beverages. On any given day i'll be making meals that warm the bodies and the soul.  It's a new food prescription. As the nights get shorter and the darkness fills the canvas i'll be lost in the kitchen and then, with my wife, we'll be lost at the table as we dine together. Our favourite comfort foods come out after three seasons of hiding and with them come lifelong memories and fond favourites. With them arrives a new happiness. A new beginning.

To get us ready for fall i'm including my favourite chili recipe from The Ultimate chef himself, Tyler Florence. I've made this recipe countless times before and it never fails! Enjoy!

Beef Chili

Serves: 6-8

3 tbsp. olive oil
3 pounds beef shoulder, cut into large cubes
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 onions, diced
10 garlic cloves, halved
3 canned chipotle peppers, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
1/2 cup masa harina
3 cups shredded white Cheddar, garnish
2 bunches chopped chives, garnish
1 1/2 cups sour cream, garnish

The Prep:
1.In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Season the beef shoulder all over with salt and pepper, add it to the pot and brown it. As it's browning stir in the chili powder, coriander, cumin, paprika, oregano and cinnamon.
2. Lower the temperature under the meat to "toast" the spices. In a food processor puree the onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, jalapeno, tomato paste and sugar and add it to the pot. Increase the heat to medium to steam vegetables a little and sweeten the peppers. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch, about 1 quart, and add tomatoes with their liquid. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises to the surface.
3. Reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is fork-tender and comes apart with no resistance, about 2 hours. As it cooks down, add more water, if necessary. When done, stir in the masa harina. Take a potato masher and mash the chili so the meat comes apart in shreds. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Garnish each serving with the shredded Cheddar, chives, and sour cream.

September 20, 2010

Crispy Potato Cakes

Nothing fills my senses quicker than a delicious potato cake! Part onion pancake, part latke. All parts heaven. I make them both salty and crispy on the outside and warm and smooth on the inside. A combination of flavours both delicate and flavourful.

This particular potato cake is made with chives and shallots. When I make these I make a big batch because we love them and they play well with so many different foods. I've used this potato cake with both beef tenderloin and with eggs and smoke salmon.

I first came across potato cakes years ago when I was flipping through a book by Australian chef Bill Granger. He's famous down under for his eggs, potato cakes and countless other dishes that have done the rounds in Sydney. I play off of that recipe and make my own version here.

Tonight I served the cakes with smoked salmon and a mustard vinaigrette drizzle. Full of freshness with chives and a splash of lemon juice.

This is a recipe for Potato Cakes with Smoke Salmon and Mustard Drizzle.

Potato Cakes:

Serves: 4

The Goods:
3 large potatoes
2 tbsp. chopped chives
2 tbsp. chopped shallots
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 lg. egg white
1/4 cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
kosher salt & pepper

Mustard Vinaigrette Drizzle:
3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil

Smoked Salmon: to serve

The Prep:
1. Grate the potatoes and squeeze out any excess liquid. Put the potato in a mixing bowl and add the chives and shallots, melted butter, egg white and salt & pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan over med-high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp. of potato mixture and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel and keep warm in 300 degree oven until the batch is made.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the mustard, sugar, vinegar and salt together in a bowl until the sugar has dissolved and then whisk in the oil in a slow and steady stream.
4. Put two potato cakes in a plate and top with smoked salmon and a drizzle of mustard dressing.

Crispy Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Mustard Drizzle

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September 19, 2010

Grill Pizza, Grill

What a great Saturday. The Market is open for a few more weeks so I hopped over and talked to the farmer Dan from Simcoe who always has the best selection of potatoes, tomatoes, leeks and mushrooms. It just so happens that they were key ingredients for parts of our dinner that night. Extended family addition.

Where most people might say spending a few hours during the middle of a beautiful Saturday in the kitchen is a waste, I say it's a retreat for my senses. An escape, of sorts. When the pot hits the stove and the ingredients hit the pot, there is an immediate aroma that fills up not only the room but the entire house. If I wasn't already prepared to cook, which I am, I certainly would be now.  It doesn't take long before I have soup simmering away on one burner, a strawberry sauce resting comfortably on another and the tomato sauce base for a grilled pizza filling yet another.  I call this kitchen therapy!

Last night we had some of our favourite family members over so I had to make sure I was particularly on top of the food and the preparation. A keen eye for details and the cooking process. While the stove had it's company of heavy pots and saute pans the fridge was filled with my pizza dough, lemon cream and the appetizers.  Luckily it ended up going according to plan. Timing being everything, we were right on the clock last night. Once we finally sat down the courses ran smoothly one after the other.

We started the evening with a Spicy Hummus Dip while I was doing a last-minute sauté of the ingredients for one of the grilled pizzas. I had to quickly flour and roll out and stretch the dough and then slather all the ingredients that I was sautéing on top of the first pizza. The second pizza was already finished and ready for the oven so in they both went together. While the pizzas were grilling, we were sitting down.

We sat down for the soup and I quickly plated everything before we ate. Potato Leek Soup with Toasted Crouton and Smoked Salmon. Delicious and just hot enough to warm us from top to bottom. The palette and the soul. This soup begins with garlic and onions and potatoes and thyme, before adding the potatoes and stock and simmering until the potatoes are soft and tender. I then add my finely sliced leeks and allow to simmer until cooked through. I use my hand blender and purée everything until I have a smooth consistency and add my cream. After seasoning to taste, I'm all done and we're on the dinner table enjoying everything and everyone in front of us.

Potato Leek Soup with Toasted Crouton and Smoked Salmon

When we were finishing up the soup I went to check on the pizzas. Tonight we were having grilled pizzas-2 ways. Grilled Pizza with Sautéed Onions, Mushrooms, Red Peppers with Mozzarella and Arugula and Parmigiano was made with sautéed garlic, onions, mushrooms and red peppers, mozzarella and grilled before adding fresh arugula and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano showered over top. The Grilled Pizza with Buffalo Mozzarella, Italian Sausages, Crushed Tomatoes and Basil was rolled out into a oblong shape and layered with fresh tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, Italian sausage and fresh torn basil. Two completely different pizzas with two equally fantastic results!

Grilled Pizza with Crushed Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Sausages and Basil

Grilled Pizza with Mushrooms, Red Peppers, Onions, Arugula and Parmigano

We took a break after dinner for some Limoncello and talked about their impending vacations. That's the beauty of having people over for dinner. It's the perfect combination of good food and great conversation. You can't live without either one. You don't want to live without either one.

After we finished up and our stomachs were ready for the sweet finish I went back into the kitchen to quickly toast up some crumbled pound cake pieces before adding the finishing touches to my Strawberry Lemon Pudding. This is all about lemon curd whipped cream, strawberries in lemon syrup and buttery fresh pound cake all layered together and topped with the toasted crumbled pieces of cake. There's only one word for this dessert. Yum!

Strawberry Lemon Pudding 

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September 17, 2010

Warm Pasta for Cold Nights

It's been a long two days. I'm finally turning the corner on this cold, although it never seemed like it was going to end. Fitting that with the cold weather and temperature fluctuations comes illnesses that knock you down and let you know just how mortal you really are.

The colder temperatures outside aren't just a blip on the radar anymore. It's common to wake up to a colder feel in the house and a bite in the weather outside. It's also common for me to dig deep in the kitchen and make soups and comforting pasta dishes to warm up with. A slow cooking pasta sauce that gains a depth of flavour the longer it sits on the stove, and soothing cheese and spicy sausages that balance each other out perfectly.

Like everyone else, I tend to turn to a recipe from time to time. I collect cookbooks like people collect coins. One of my favourites is from Tyler Florence. This is based on his recipe for "Penne with Spicy Sausage, Cream, Tomatoes and Peas." One difference, I always put my own spin on a recipe I love and I don't like peas.

Penne with Spicy Sausages, Cream and Tomatoes

Serves: 4-6

4 links, spicy Italian sausage
Extra-Virgin Olive oil
1 lb. penne
4 cloves garlic
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup fresh torn basil leaves
1 can (28oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano, plus more for top of dish
fresh basil leaves for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the sausages on a sheet try and roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until slightly golden and just cooked. Cut on the angle and into bite-size pieces. Cook pasta in salted water until just tender but still has a bite to it--"al dente."
2. Set a large, heavy-based pot over medium heat and add a 2-count of oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, torn basil leaves and season with salt & pepper.
3. Simmer for 15 minutes and then fold in the cream and continue to simmer until creamy. 
4. Add the sausage and grated Parmesan. Fold together and cook 2-3 minutes to allow the flavours to come together.
5. Serve topped with a shower of grated Parmesan and fresh basil.

Penne w/ Sausage, Cream and Tomatoes

September 15, 2010

Dinner Soup & Sandwich

I know as well as anybody just how tough it is to put a fast, fresh meal on the table, and that particularly applies to weekday nights. Any meal is a great time to bring out a new recipe that gives you a new lease on the food you eat. Even with the rush of weekdays gripping us, we still need to be able to plate a great tasting meal that everybody is going to like. And we need to do it fast!

Tonight's dinner was simple and fast and super fresh. The only actual time required is the time it takes for a great soup to build on its flavour while it simmers in a pot on the stove. The true beauty of soup is the flexibility you have when you decide to make it.  You can make it as extravagant as you wish with stocks, purees and garnishes or you can go super simple. You can find a happy medium in there as well.  That's what I did with tonight's Potato and Leek Soup. On a busy weeknight I discard my cookbook and hit home with simple and fresh and fast. As you'll see below, that doesn't mean you discard the flavour.

With a good soup you have to have a good sandwich. I wanted to make a sandwich that would cooperate with weekday timing and balance the big flavours in the soup. Something that didn't need a lot of prep work and a sandwich that I could build the flavour from the marinate up. There's no point laying up with an easy sandwich that lacks all of the vital requirements.

A great sandwich must have a few things: 
  1. Great bread which is golden crusty on the outside and smooth and inviting on the inside.
  2. The Ingredients which can be as few or as many as you wish.
  3. The Preparation of the ingredients. The way you set it up speaks volumes.
With the abundance of yellow tomatoes sitting on the counter, I made a Pan-Toasted Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich. Wholemeal bread with tomatoes that were marinating in a garlic, olive oil base and cheese that was perfectly melted. There's something utterly fantastic about the combination of these flavours!

This isn't your everyday soup & sandwich but this dinner is definitely one worth writing about.

Pan-Toasted Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich:

Serves: 2

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 slices of wholemeal bread (any good quality bread will work)
Mozzarella, sliced
8 basil leaves, plus extra to serve

1. In a shallow bowl put olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper and mix well. Add the sliced tomatoes and marinate for 15 minutes.
2. Brush one side of the bread with some of the olive oil from the tomatoes. Place cheese evenly on top of oiled bread slice.
3. Melt butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Place the 2 sandwiches in the pan and cover with a plate or another pan to weight it down. Cook sandwiches until golden brown on each side and the cheese beginning to melt.
4. Serve with extra basil leaves.
Let the tomatoes marinate!

Sandwiches hit the pan with the butter and oil at the perfect temperature!

Golden Brown Crust and Delicious Melted Cheese inside!

Potato and Leek Soup

Serves: 4

3 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 leeks (white part and a little green) thinly sliced
3 Yukon Gold potatoes
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 lemon juice and zest
sea salt & cracked pepper
6 cups chicken broth or stock
1.Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. 
2. Add the potatoes and season. Stir to coat well with the melted butter. 
3. Add the stock, bay leaves and thyme sprigs and cook until the potatoes are very soft, about 15-20 minutes. 
4. Puree soup in a food processor or blender.
5. Return to the pot and add lemon juice, zest and salt & pepper.
6. Serve. 

The Main Ingredients

Simmering away!

Potato & Leek Soup w/ garlic croutons and parsley for garish!

September 14, 2010

Fresh Tomato Pasta

You can call it whatever you like. Comfort food, soul food or anything else you wish. The name doesn't matter as much as the food you're making does. I hit the kitchen and drum up something that suits my wife and I and then I put it on a plate. It doesn't need a label or tag or title. I just call it dinner.

Sometimes the best meals you make are the easiest. A few ingredients that play well off each other and invade each other and make an ordinary meal something special and something to remember. I know you can't hit the ball out of the park every single time you get to work in your kitchen, but you can go down swinging. That's what I try to do every single time I lay foot near my fridge and stove. I have my triangle to guide me. My prep station, my fridge and my stove. A few small steps and all within my reach. 

Tonight I wanted to use up the super fresh yellow tomatoes we picked up at the market on the weekend. I wanted a quick and easy meal that was sure to elicit a smile and a comment from my wife. I wanted pasta with a merely a few outstanding ingredients that I know marry well together in a bowl.  I'm talking about Market Fresh Tomato Pasta. You'll never think of pasta the same way again.

The flavours are classic and the result is the same every single time you make it. Tomatoes with garlic, oil and basil always deliver a fresh, great taste that has immediate impact on the food you're making and a greater impact on your palette. I turn to these simple ingredients whenever I want food packed with flavour and whenever I want a dinner that will never disappoint.

Make this recipe and you'll be telling the same story I am and you'll have your family smiling from ear to ear! 

Market Fresh Tomato Pasta

Serves: 2

8  vine-ripened tomatoes (I prefer yellow when I can get my hands on them)
1 good pinch of sea salt & cracked pepper
1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Handful of basil leaves, torn
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Parmigiano Reggiano (to serve)

1. Slit a cross in the base of each tomato and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over top and drain after 10 seconds. Peel away the skin and halve the tomatoes. Press each half by hand and squeeze out the excess juice and remaining seeds. Chop tomato roughly and place in a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with the sea salt. Leave to drain for 20 minutes. (if you don't have a sieve, place the chopped tomatoes in a strainer and season with salt and rest for 20 mins.)
2. Place the drained tomatoes in a bowl and add olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and zest, garlic, cayenne and pepper. Stir ingredients and leave to sit for 15 minutes while the pasta comes to a boil and cooks.
3. Cook the spaghetti to your liking in rapidly boiling salted water and drain well. Toss the tomatoes and sauce, minus the crushed garlic, and add basil and the pasta. Mix well.
4. Serve with freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Everything you need!

Tomatoes marinating and waiting for the pasta!

Fresh Tomato Pasta aka Dinner!

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September 13, 2010

Back to the Basics: French Vinaigrette

After talking to a few people recently I realize it's a great time to take it back to the basics. Sometimes we get caught up with making meals and preparing lunches that we forget the basics in the kitchen. I can't very well teach knife skills from a blog, but I can take it back to the beginning when it comes to sauces, dressings, and other tips that are useful when working your way around a kitchen.

I've always believed that there isn't a good enough reason to pick up store bought dressings. A homemade vinaigrette is super easy to make and the result is something far superior to anything coming out of the grocery store and mass-produced at a factory somewhere. The same goes for sauces, broths and mayos. The reward is the taste and the wow-factor every time you sit down to eat.

I'll take some time over the next little while breaking it down with: French Vinaigrette, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Chicken Stock, Pan Gravy and Tomato Sauce.  Each one of these are classics and when made at home elevates everything you're making, one easy recipe at a time.

The Classic Chicken Stock can be made with the leftovers from your roast and can be easily frozen for future use. It's takes any recipe that calls for broth to a completely different level. When you've made you're first stock, you'll be hard-pressed to pick up a basic carton of broth the next you're shopping when this is in your repertoire.

Pan Gravy is a simple 3-step process that begins with the pan drippings left behind by your meat roasting in the oven. It transports ordinary meals to great meals. One time through and you'll never throw away that flavour goodness at the bottom of the pan again.

Making Tomato Sauce at home is one of my life's great pleasures. Between prep time and cooking time you're talking about 35 minutes and the resulting sauce is so flavourful and so tasty that I guarantee canned sauces will never have a home in your pantry. It requires a few basic ingredients but the final sauce is anything but basic. The satisfaction you get when you make your first batch of sauce will be evident with the smiles on the faces of your dinner guests.

The basic principle for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. That's it. Making variations of this classic vinaigrette is not only easy but it's fun experimenting. There are so many variations from Balsamic Vinaigrette, Creamy Garlic Vinaigrette, Raspberry Vinaigrette, and on and on. You're limited by your imagination and you're willingness to experiment.

Today i'm going to teach your the Classic French Vinaigrette.

French Vinaigrette:

Makes: 3/4 Cup

1 small shallot, very finely diced
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & pepper
(optional) 1 tbsp. fresh chopped herb (my preference is parsley)

1. Combine shallot, vinegar and mustard in a mixing bowl.
2. While constantly whisking, add the oil in a slow and steady stream until the vinaigrette emulsifies.

3. Once the oil has fully blended, season with salt & pepper.
4. Add the chopped herb of your choice.

The Ingredients

After Prep Step 1.

Step 1 mixed together.

After Step 3. The Oil has been added and Vinaigrette has emulsified.

September 12, 2010

It Takes Two

I've long expounded on my love of Saturdays and the rituals I've come to love. Tea or coffee with my wife while scribbling down notes for dinner that night and figuring out exactly what I need to pick up to round the evening together. I'm one half of the component. Saturday night with friends or family or anybody for that matter relies on two people working together yet apart in absolute harmony.

While I'm at the market supporting our local farmers and picking up fresh herbs, potatoes, yellow tomatoes, pork and smoked bacon my wife is at home putting the house together. It's the perfect union.  Literally. I make the food, she sets the table with like colours and it creates and enhances the atmosphere. Market flowers adorn the table and market flavours sit alongside them. One doesn't work without the other. They say the atmosphere sets the mood for the meal and you always start the process with your eyes first. I'm lucky to have my eyes working for me.

Last night we had family over for dinner and it was important to say thank you for all the different memories of my childhood spent with them at their house. Staying up late one Saturday to watch hockey with my uncle, swimming with them and my cousins in the pool, enjoying childhood. Enjoying life.

Dinner is supposed to flow. One dish to the other should have a kind of unity that tells a story and creates a story. I try to follow that path and work from one dish to the next when creating a menu. If a main dish had pork you can work with flavours that complement or contrast with it. Apples, peaches and other varieties of pork like prosciutto and bacon or garlic, rosemary and mustards. The list is so long that you're never short of ideas and inspiration comes in all forms and from every direction.

Let's take it back to dinner for four last night.  We don't need an excuse to have a dinner party now that we have a house and a kitchen I can get lost in. With the changing of the season it was the perfect opportunity to catch up with family and make some hot, comforting food. That along with great wine and drinks, of course.

The menu for last night:

Prosciutto Bites with Pesto, Cracked Pepper and Bocconcini
Garlic Lemon Hummus

Two-Potato Bisque with Crème Fraiche and Chives

The Main
Rosemary Pork Tenderloin 
Ontario Fingerling Potatoes with Browned Butter and Parsley
Young Carrots with Candied Sauce

The Finish
Raspberry Lemon Pie with Vanilla Whipped Cream 

The starters were created with layers of flavour and were designed to wake up the palate for the rest of the meal. I make my Hummus with tahini, cumin, chickpeas, lemon juice, a good olive oil, garlic paste and a generous amount of salt and cracked pepper. The Bocconcini Bites are really simple to make and the prep time is minimal, but the end result is fantastic. Three flavours that work off and with each other and create a flavour symphony. The prosciutto has a natural salty flavour so I matched it with a garlic pesto without any salt and bocconcini cheese which balances out the other two flavours and when slightly pan-fried creates this warm-gooey binding agent.

Prosciutto, pesto, cracked pepper and bocconcini
Bocconcini Bites
The Two-Potato Bisque was the perfect recipe for the chill growing outside and was precisely what I was looking for to satisfy my need for a fall soup with layers of intense flavour.
Two-Potato Bisque with Chives and Lime Creme Fraiche

    This soup is intensely flavoured and made through a process of:
    1. Making a base with sweet potato, potato, onion, garlic, bay leaves and a great chicken stock
    2. Adding it to a food processor to create a purée and then straining it through a sieve.
    3. Adding another layer of flavour with heavy cream, skim milk, lime juice/zest and cayenne pepper.
    4. Simmering to let the flavours mingle intimately over a low heat. 

    The key to this soup is the balance of so many different elements. The most important step of all is never allowing the cream and milk addition to boil. A low and steady heat is exactly what is needed. The soup is finished off with a lime-infused creme fraiche and a sprinkle of chives chopped on the bias.

    Each and every unique step in this process is worth the time and effort and without it the finished product wouldn't have the same results. It helps transport a simple soup to something worthy of starting your dinner story.

    Our main course with the revolved around the Rosemary Pork Tenderloin. The bacon laid across the top after the tenderloin was rubbed with rosemary, grainy mustard and garlic created a crisp exterior while allowing the pork to stay particularly juicy. I added delectable Ontario Fingerling Potatoes I found at the market that day and boiled them off before browning butter and mixing it with the chopped parsley and potatoes. The young carrots were rubbed with oil and seasoned in a pan and cut down the middle to ensure the proper tenderness in the cooking time I had. I made a candy sauce to drizzle over top with browned butter, juice from two orange halves, cumin and brown sugar. It had the consistency of syrup and added the perfect sweetness to the baked carrots. Candied Carrots.
    Rosemary Pork Tenderloin, Fingerling Potatoes and Candied Carrots.
    The finish was around the corner, a Raspberry Lemon Pie with Vanilla Whipped Cream and Raspberries. The perfect sweet finish for the meal and just light enough that we all had enough room for it. 
    Raspberry Lemon Pie with Vanilla Whipped Cream and Raspberries.

    I start by making the honey graham cracker crust with ground graham cracker crumbs, white sugar, melted butter and ground cinnamon and baking it off for a short time to form the shell. I beat the eggs with condensed milk until a creamy blended result. I stir in natural lemon juice and a pinch of lemon zest and pour it into the pie shell and baked for 30 minutes to let it set. In a separate saucepan I mix frozen and fresh raspberries with cornstarch until it thickens and becomes clear. I add it to the pie and chill for a few hours to let everything relax. I make a simple whipped cream with whipping cream, vanilla and sugar and pinch of vanilla bean to infuse extra vanilla flavour. I add raspberries at the end for my finish on the sweet finish. 

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    September 10, 2010

    Small Bites

    My wife and I were sitting around talking tonight about future events that we may possibly host. It doesn't matter the occasion and the venue is just a space to hold people. Let's be honest, besides the reason for having the event the food and drinks are the most important thing. They help bring everything and everyone together. They start conversations, which is important when you have a group of people who do and do not know each other.

    The best solution to a party or cocktail event is simple finger foods and the less you have to deal with an oven the better. It's easy to grab something and walk around and talk.  It's easier still for the cook. You can plan ahead and prep ahead, sometimes a day prior. There isn't a lack of options either. You can run with a menu featuring crostinis, dips, tarts, kebabs and salads. Drinks can consist of punch, sangrias, cocktails and martinis. You're only limited by your imagination.

    These are some of my favourite finger foods and appetizers. They always leave me filled with flavours dancing in my mouth and they definitely leave me wanting more. A little bit more. I've made and enjoyed: summer chickpea salad, prosciutto-wrapped bocconcini w/ pesto, grilled brie & tomato with arugula pesto on crusty bread, calamari w/ chile-lime salt, citrus salad, cantaloupe w/ serrano ham & basil, grilled corn, red onion & cilantro salsa, stuffed cherry tomatoes and the list really is endless.

    Today I thought I'd share recipes for two of these great appetizers, Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes and Prosciutto-Wrapped Bocconcini which I've made in the past.

    Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

    Serves: 8

    Cherry tomatoes, 2 pints
    Avocado, peeled and diced
    1 tsp. lemon juice
    1/4 c. mayo (homemade or store bought)
    8 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
    3 green onions, finely chopped
    Season to taste

    1. Cut a small slice across the top of each tomato and scoop out the pulp with a melon baller and discard pulp. Place tomatoes, cut sides down, on paper towels and let drain for 10-15 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, combine avocado and lemon juice in a small bowl to prevent discolouring. Stir gently and drain. Stir together mayo, bacon and green onions. Add the avocado mixture and stir gently until combined.
    3. Spoon avocado mixture evenly into the tomato shells. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Season with salt & pepper to taste just before serving.

    Prosciutto-Wrapped Bocconcini

    Serves: 6-10

    8 prosciutto slices
    24 mini-bocconcini balls
    1/2 cup pesto
    2 tbsp. salt & pepper

    1. Cut prosciutto into 4"x4" slices or one-thirds.
    2. Take half of a teaspoon of pesto and spread on the prosciutto. Top with a bocconcini ball and season.
    3. Fold or roll the prosciutto-wrapped bocconcini.
    4. In medium-high skillet, place prosciutto seam-side down and cook 2-3 minutes. Wait until crispy and cheese begins to melt.
    5. Serve.

    Here's a great cocktail to end the evening. The Happy Ending.

    Happy Ending

    Serves: 2

    2 shots brewed espresso, cooled
    1/4 cup half & half
    1/4 cup Frangelico
    1/4 cup Grand Marnier
    Cocoa powder, for dusting
    Whipped cream
    Shaved chocolate, garnish

    1. Combine espresso, Frangelico, Grand Marnier in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into two glasses filled with ice.
    2. Dust with cocoa powder and shaved chocolate over whipped cream and serve.

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