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Verses from my Kitchen: November 2010

November 29, 2010

Creamy Tomato Soup with Pesto

I've been on a bisque and soup kick lately and it's not even winter yet. 'Tis the season, right? The frigid mornings have come en masse recently and a thick layer of frost covers my lawn as each day is proclaimed the coldest one yet. The sad thing is it's only going to get worse. The really sad thing is this is only the beginning.  Thank goodness for soup days like these.

The marriage of all the wonderful flavours is the secret to this Creamy Tomato Soup with Pesto. Each ingredient fittingly enhanced when paired with another. The intense plum tomatoes lend to the richness of the soup. Everything else comes together and is beautifully balanced and the pesto at the end adds a lovely tang to the finish. It really has a great depth of taste!

Making soup also gives you the flexibility to garnish and tailor it for a dinner party or you can go really simple and serve it as is for an afternoon dish. The best of both worlds switched up quite easily. As someone who loves hosting a dinner party but feels equally comfortable sharing a bowl of soup on a lazy Sunday with my wife, this is my kind of soup. It satisfies all my cravings.

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November 27, 2010

Sweet Carrot and Chardonnay Soup

The end of summer is a time to celebrate in my house. Although I tempt fate and wish away the end of summer, I'm not doing it because of my love of autumn or winter weather. It's my deep-down fondness for  soup that draws me in. The kind of soup that whisks me away to a different time, a different place. And this Sweet Carrot and Chardonnay Soup is just one of the ways to lose yourself in the moment.

The first spoonful was hypnotizing. I caught myself dreaming as the flavours vaulted off my tongue. The carrots came to life with the wine and perfect amount of seasoning. The honey rounds out and smooths the flavours. Sometimes ingredients battle for notoriety and you're left with a muddled concoction where not one ingredient stands out. This soup is the opposite of all my worst fears. It was smooth, aromatic and vibrantly colourful.

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November 25, 2010

Vanilla and Lemon Posset

I made this dessert once years ago and then completely forgot all about it. That says more about my memory than the quality of this dessert. This could very well be the easiest dessert you've ever attempted and yet the result is elegant enough to tell your guests you spent hours on it. It's soft and rich and refreshing. It's also absolutely fantastic.

Recently I tripped over the recipe and it awakened my memory. I recalled a sweet, tangy and refreshing dessert and flavours that bounced ar ound on my tongue. It was a citrus delight to my senses and I had to make it. That's just what I did.

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November 23, 2010

Grilled Cheese with Roasted Squash & Apple Soup

When I was growing up my mother would always find a way to keep me warm on a cool fall day with a hot bowl of soup and a fresh-pressed sandwich. Even after all these years I love having simple, comforting lunches. There is no parallel on a cold afternoon than making a pot of seasonal soup and my version of grilled cheese.

The combination is a classic example of comfort food. A piping hot cup of roasted vegetable soup and a sandwich with melting aged cheddar trapped inside thick slices of golden buttered toast. Gone are the slices of processed cheese and plain white bread instead replaced by aged crumbling cheddar and country-fresh bread. A dish straight out of my Canadian childhood made with a modern twist.

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November 21, 2010

Beef Tenderloin with Béarnaise Sauce and Scalloped Potatoes

There is something liberating and intoxicating about planning and executing a menu for a dinner party. Getting up early and jotting down notes over a fresh cup of coffee while going through the motion in my mind. I start mentally preparing and timing out each course so there is an ebb and flow to the night. I have it running effortlessly from stage to stage before I've even picked up a knife and chopping board. That's when the real fun begins.

I start by spending a few minutes sharpening my knife. There's a beautiful connection made with the blade of my knife gliding forward and across the whetstone. Once I've sharpened the knife I get to work in the kitchen.

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November 18, 2010

Beef Burger with Brie and Sweet Tomato Relish

Most people wait until the early sprinkle of warm sun in May before they fire up the grill. Then of course there are those of us who decide to brave the elements and pull on a hooded coat and tackle the flames all fall and winter long. It's simple really. I love the great taste that come from the barbecue and the way it transforms meat into a caramelized mass of flavour. 

Each and every person I know swears that their burger recipe is the best and they prepare it accordingly. Each method is unique and tried and tested. Some prefer egg and breadcrumbs, some use shredded cheese, others instead offer up something entirely different. The taste tells the story.

After much trial and error I've come close to making my idea of the perfect burger, a meaty burger with juice to spare. The toppings will differ depending on my mood and the season and the event but the basis for my burger really doesn't change.

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November 17, 2010

Baby Spinach with Pears, Spiced Pecans, Goat Cheese and Smoked Bacon

I have never been a big fan of the traditional green salad. Ask my wife. She's always telling me to "Eat your greens." I don't blame her for trying but maybe my refusal lies somewhere back in the day when salads were just uninspired and bland. Salads laden with unimaginative bottled dressing. Nobody is at fault but that's just the way things were back then.

Luckily, things have changed over time. As the seasons shifted from warm and sunny to cold and damp my salad preferences shift with them. The cool refreshing summer salads have been replaced by warm salads with texture. Hot bits of flavour with dressings that ooze great taste. Early winter salads that don't compromise. Now that's my type of salad.

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November 16, 2010

Parmesan Crusted Chicken stuffed with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese

After a long and exhausting weekend Monday strikes fast and hard. Almost out of nowhere it's upon you and never wants to let go. The last thing that I want to do is come home and make something complicated that's going to steal every last bit of energy I have left. Sometimes simple is better.

This is the one day of the week when I want to get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. Go in and pull out the goods I'm making that night and prep and cook and eat. Simple and painless. I do, however, have one sticking point. I refuse to lose out on flavour while saving time. Simple and quick is great, but great taste is still paramount in my mind.

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November 14, 2010

Maple Butternut Squash and Sage Soup

There is something beautiful about early mornings in the days that creep between fall and winter. The air snaps and the sun has to fight harder than ever to be noticed, especially between dawn and early morning rush hour. These are the days when I take solace in the warm and luxurious meals that we get lost in. Saturday morning outside running the errands that never seem to end while my mind is elsewhere thinking about a bowl of soup that I'll be able to sit down and enjoy with my wife in a few short hours. This is my ode to Autumn.

My love of food is deep and it stems from and was fostered by the different seasons and the different produce that's available for a few short months each year. Every couple of months a new vegetable hits the market and I instantly fall in love all over again. A few months to play with it, create with it and be awed by it and than it's gone. Vanished. All too soon.

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November 11, 2010

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Figs

I have a secret love for pork and it's various forms. The different cuts of meat which produce the intense aromas and taste that we know of as bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, chops, ham and ribs. These beautiful flavours that we know so well whether it be roasted, cured or smoked. It's conjures up memories of my youth and the moments that helped define my future with food. Here piggy, piggy.

Pork tenderloin is lean, inexpensive and packs a punch worth of flavour when paired and topped with the right dance partners. Pork and apples, right? Not this time. It's pork and pears, specifically the Bartlett variety. In this recipe I find the sweetness of the fig balsamic and roasted pears to be the perfect foil for the pork. It's so easy and yet so delicious and it fits the bill in my house when I'm looking for a quick, prep-easy dinner that let's me romance the plate. And my wife.

For a weekday dinner when you're short on both time and patience, try this one. The pears and onions are both tender and crispy and the texture is perfect with the pork. A few simple ingredients and the result is pork so juicy and tender and loaded with flavour that it'll look and feel like a weekend dinner meant to wow your guests.

On this night I served it with Mashed Potatoes with Bacon and Green Onions.

Roast Pork with Figs and Pears

Yields: 4

The Goods:
1 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed
2 Bartlett pears, cored and cut into equal-sized wedges
1 red onion, cut into 16 wedges
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. thyme, chopped (plus thyme for garnish)
4 tbsp. Fig Balsamic dressing

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Rub mustard all over pork and season. Place in a 13"x9" baking pan previously sprayed with cooking spray. Surround pork with pears, onions and garlic. Sprinkle thyme over top.
3. Bake for 30 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Drizzle with fig balsamic the last 10 minutes.
4. Transfer meat to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let stand 5-10 minutes for the juices to redistribute. Slice and serve with roasted pears and onions.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Fig

Mashed Potatoes with Green Onions and Bacon

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November 9, 2010

Memories of Chocolate Chip Cookies

I want my family to grow and age with great memories associated with food and eating together. An afternoon with a hot and freshly brewed cup of tea sipped with warm cookies fresh out of the oven. The scent of fresh baked goods going in and out of my oven like an assembly line will surely elicit happy feelings of loved ones spending time together. The delight is seen straight across my face whenever we sit down together and lose ourselves in the moments that define who we are as a family.

In a few short years we've started establishing our own stolen moments in time. The weekend mornings sitting around our breakfast table, shopping at the market for a great family meal and the Sunday night ritual at our dinner table with a glass of wine. I will always think of food as another opportunity to connect with the people who matter and nobody matters more to me than my own family.

I love sneaking into the kitchen on a weekend afternoon to make biscuits or cookies or tarts or cakes. My wife is often heard a short time later calling downstairs and enquiring about the aroma drifting through our house. She has a big smile on her face and starts naming the ingredients as they come to her. "I smell chocolate, cream and vanilla...what are you making?" Maybe instead it's, "The house smells like fresh berries, when are we eating?" We break up the day with a sweet snack and tea and talk about how great life really is when you take time to share it and enjoy it.

Sunday was another busy day in my household. We got home hungry and tired in the middle of the afternoon after a few hours in Toronto as my wife snapped some shots of a friend's puppy dog. My wife rushed home and got to work editing pictures and downloading images and I snuck away to my favourite place in the house. I pulled out my recipe journal and started making notes as I mixed and baked my way towards another recipe.

This classic, iconic cookie is versatile and comforting. The soft yet crunchy exterior combined with the gooey factor in the heart of the cookie and the deeply satisfying chew. The components that add up to a decadent treat that is so hard to pull yourself away from after that first bite. Try stopping after the dough dances on your tongue and the semi-sweet chocolate melts in your mouth. It's impossible. The smell of cookie dough baking in the oven and the aroma created by melting chocolate is completely hypnotizing.

After I make a batch of cookie dough I use an ice cream scoop and drop golf ball sized dough on my baking sheet. This ensures that each cookie is the same size and shape. I pat them down gently but not completely, leaving the original roundish shape the same. I find this creates a cookie with more fullness and shape and retains some of that great dough texture and flavour. After all, a great cookie is all about flavour at the end of the day.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields: 12-16

The Goods:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened (room temperature)
1 1/4 cups tightly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups plan all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Using a mixer, cream butter with sugar together until light and creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add egg, mixing well. Stir in vanilla and with mixer on low speed add the dry ingredients ( sifted flour, baking powder and salt) and mix until just combined, 10 seconds. Drop chocolate chips and fold through.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Place spoonful of cookie mixture (size of a golf ball) while allowing space for the cookie to expand.  Cook for 15-20 minutes.
4. Cool on the tray for about 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool further.

Chocolate chip cookies in 6 easy steps. 

November 6, 2010

You Say Potato, I Say Potato Cake

Last night was a late night. My wife had some girlfriends over and like any good get together it didn't finish up until the early hours. After the necessary clean up and settle down it was fast approaching a time we don't see very often anymore. As is almost always the case, a late night usually means morning recovery and a later start time. That was my morning today.

I was laying awake in bed after the sun connected with my face long enough to pry my eyes open. I adjusted to the light in my eyes and started thinking about what we had in the house that I could make for a late breakfast. My wife wasn't very hungry so I figured a quick and easy dish was in order and I knew I had plenty of potatoes to satisfy those requirements.

I never sacrifice weekend breakfast no matter how late or rushed I am so I started the coffee maker and got to work grating potatoes into a heavy tea towel before squeezing out all that excess water. It's amazing how a potato can transform once you shred it and lose all that liquid. It becomes soft and delicate, in a way. You can then make so many different varieties of potato cakes and they're all equally fantastic and tasty.

When a couple tablespoons of the potato mixture hits the hot pan with oil literally dancing the transformation is quick and nearly complete. It immediately sears and crisps the side that's pressed against the pan and the aroma jumps out of the pan and fills my senses. The finished product is crispy on the outside and yet so soft and luxurious inside. One bite after the other and always with the same result.

I make a mustard drizzle that's both sweet and tangy. A combination of Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, sugar, lemon juice and olive oil. I hold off the salt because the Serrano ham is salty enough and I find even saltier when fried until crispy. The mustard drizzle balances that saltiness and the consistency is just thick enough to hold on to the thick potato cake.

I've served these cakes with smoked salmon and beef, mixed with feta and goat cheese and this time tried it with the different texture the ham had to offer. I'll keep mixing it up because it keeps rewarding me with great flavour and great taste. Super fresh ingredients that stand out naturally.

I only started making variations of these cakes after discovering the genius of Bill Granger a few years ago and I can honestly say that it will always be a part of my weekend breakfast routines with my family across the ocean from where it all started.

Potato Cakes with Crisp Serrano Ham and Mustard Drizzle

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November 3, 2010

Pulled Pork with Bourbon Barbecue Sauce: Bring the South to the North

It happened just the other night. I couldn't concentrate and my mind couldn't think of anything else. It was a craving and it came fast and hard, like a left hook from a heavyweight fighter. I didn't see it coming but I definitely saw how it would play out and, ultimately, end. I'm talking about my craving and love for southern-style barbecue and pulled pork.

Pulled pork begins at the market with a succulent, tender cut of pork shoulder smoked or roasted for hours and then slathered with barbecue sauce. The result is sweet and tangy shredded meat with a smokey aroma. Low and slow wins the race in this case.

For me it starts with a dry rub consisting of smoked paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, dry mustard, coarse sea salt and a few other spices. I rub it all over and press it into the meat, ensuring there's a full coat of rub on the pork shoulder. I roast it for 6 hours at 300 degrees until the pork is falling apart with a nice crust on the outside. Tender meat inside with a few crusty bits that add a crunch.

I finish off the meat with a Bourbon Barbecue Sauce that's both sticky and sweet. My sauce is simmered for 20-30 minutes and is made up of ketchup, water, cider vinegar, honey, brown sugar, garlic and bourbon. It also has a few other ingredients that help give the sauce the sweetness and deep amber colour. I think this sauce is the perfect complement to the sweet and somewhat spicy flavour of the pork.

Once the pork has cooked until it's falling apart I remove it and tent it for 15 minutes. Using two forks, I shred the meat into a bowl and slather on the barbecue sauce. I mix it together until it's fully immersed with sauce and flavour and I plate it on a fresh roll with a side of Cilantro-Lime Slaw. You can also load up the slaw on top of the meat for a crunchy and savoury sandwich.

Happy eating my foodie friends!

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November 1, 2010

Sweet Bourbon '71

It wasn't that long ago that I earned a living as a mixologist. Taking your classic cocktails and putting my twist on them. I started incorporating fresh herbs in cocktails and spinning an old favourite into a new favourite. I wasn't doing my job if I wasn't trying out new ideas and using fresh, seasonal products widely available to me.

I used to study the bartender's book like it was the bible. It was my book to survival behind the wood.  I'd memorize drinks and cocktail combinations and, before long, I knew almost everything that gets ordered on a daily basis and then some. It wasn't long though until I became a bit complacent with the standard fare and usual cocktail classics. I started to mix things up.

I remember the first time I took the Classic Bloody Caesar and substituted Rye Whiskey for the old standard Vodka. I liked the smokey flavour of an aged whiskey and thought it blended with clamato juice without hiding behind it. It was like unlocking a secret that worked so well together that I now see it being ordered time and time again. I even mixed drinks with bacon, hot peppers, herbs and  hand-squeezed juices. Yes, bacon. Much like in the kitchen, I was limited only by my own imagination.

Now I'm not claiming I was the first person to ever make that variation of the drink but I can say nobody had ever told me about it. That's the great thing with cocktails. Just like behind the stove, you can experiment with different liquors and mixes and fresh herbs. It may take quite a while to hit the right tone, but when you do you'll instantly know it. Your cocktail will be smooth, fragrant and have an infusion of flavour not normally tasted before. Try it out and you may stumble upon the next big cocktail trend.

I hapen to love the taste of bourbon. It's been years in the making and it's definitely an acquired taste but it's the bouquet and flavour that draws me in. A good bourbon has a delicate but full bouquet with a caramel aroma and a hint of vanilla. It's rich in flavour and soft on your palette and should be refreshing and distinctive. Personally, I prefer Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve when picking out my bourbon for drinking and making cocktails.

Recently I made a signature cocktail called the Sweet Bourbon '71 and it has a great aroma and a sweet and savoury flavour. The recipe follows:

Sweet Bourbon '71

The Goods:
2 oz. Maker's Mark Bourbon
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
4 oz. Orange Juice
1 oz. Gingerale
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. maple syrup
2 thyme sprigs

1. Add fresh thyme to maple syrup and honey in a shaker and muddle vigorously. Add in the remainder of the ingredients to the shaker and fill with ice and stir until well combined.
2. Strain into a low ball glass with 3 ice cubes and float a sprig of fresh thyme over top.