nibbles tagged posts

Olive’s Keep Calm & Carry On Christmas Survival Guide: Christmas in Paris – Easy Chic Brunch

Christmas in Paris

My friends and I have gathered together for Christmas brunch every single year since record albums were the coolest Christmas gifts.  This year, I decided to treat them to Christmas in Paris – one of my friends opened up her lovely Georgetown home and I threw together an easy, chic brunch with a French twist. I gathered ready-made gourmet treats from local artisans, made a couple of recipes ahead of time (inspired by a famous Parisian pastry chef and a French cookbook writer), and prepared two showstopper, easy-assemble salads. Throw on a scratchy recording of Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose et voilà, it’s Christmas in Paris through rose-coloured glasses.

Champage with Wild Hibiscus

Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Rose Syrup served in Champagne:

Wild Hibiscus in Rose SyrupWhen you combine Christmas and cherished friends at the same table, it’s time to pull out all the stops. I served some extra special treats to nibble and sip on as hors d’oeuvres. Rose syrup is the flavour du jour in Paris and this jar of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Rose Syrup contains 15 handpicked wild hibiscus flowers packed in syrup made from the natural essence of two dozen Bulgarian roses. Place one flower in the bottom of a champagne flute, add some rose syrup, pour in the champagne and watch the bubbles unfurl the flower – it reminds me of the skirts flying at Le Moulin Rouge. Available as a limited edition production from Crafted Décor in Streetsville and Florence Meats in Oakville.

Pierre Hermé's Olive Sablés

Pierre Hermé’s Olive Sablés served with White Wine or Champagne:

These aren’t just any savoury cookie – they are an utterly surprising savoury French shortbread that will have your guests shocked by the initial sweetness (from the icing sugar), enamoured by the incredible tenderness (from the potato starch and grated egg yolk) and then, when the salty and fruity notes (from the oil-cured black olives and olive oil) hit the stage, you just may hear gasps followed by utterances of ooh la la…as if you were watching the latest Parisian haute couture creation walk down the runway in the city’s top fashion house. In fact, the recipe comes from famous French Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé, who is widely acclaimed as the “Couturier of Haute Pâtisserie”.

I made the dough well in advance and rolled it into logs, then froze them. When ready to bake, I took one log out at a time a few moments before baking, then sliced from frozen and baked. The recipe turned out beautifully – you simply must have it in your repertoire. How does a local gal comme moi get her hands on Pierre Hermé’s recipe? I found it in Dorie Greenspan’s charmingly chic cookbook, Around My French Table, which is available to borrow from the Mississauga Library or to buy from www.chapters.indigo.ca  It’s on my Christmas wish list – I hope my husband is reading my blog posts!

Spirit Tree Cidery's Pâté & Evelyn's Crackers

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery Pâté with Ice Cider & Shallots and Evelyn’s Currant in the Rye Crackers served with Sparkling Pear Cider:

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery Pâté with Ice Cider & Shallots is a superb pâté. Luxuriously smooth and creamy, it’s packed with the flavour of all natural ingredients: chicken livers, clarified butter, shallots, port, brandy, ice cider, Calvados, apple syrup, eggs, and spices. It’s frozen in adorable little 165g ceramic pots. I picked it up from Spirit Tree Estate Cidery a while back and stored it in my freezer, ready for Christmas entertaining. Just defrost overnight in your fridge.

Evelyn’s Currant in the Rye Crackers are the perfect match for this pâté: a hearty yet delicate cracker made with preservative-free, all natural ingredients including dried currants, fennel, anise, and caraway seeds and best of all, 100% heritage organic rye grown and milled by Ontario farmers. Evelyn’s Crackers are made by “cracker heroes” Dawn and Ed – find out what makes them heroes here: www.fiestafarms.ca/heroes.  Available at Whole Foods. For other locations throughout Ontario, click here: http://evelynscrackers.wordpress.com/wheretobuy/.

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery Sparkling Pear CiderSpirit Tree Estate Cidery Sparkling Pear Cider is a refreshing choice for those who are looking for something non-alcoholic: fresh pear, just a hint of sweetness, bubbly, and light.  It’s perfect for special celebrations.  Also available in Sparkling Sweet Apple Cider. Spirit Tree’s Mulled Apple Cider containing chopped fruit and spices would be another great choice and very festive. If you would like to learn a little bit more about Spirit Tree, read my full post here: Spirit Tree Estate Cidery: Savour the Quality.

For the main meal, I laid out an impressive line-up of store-bought gourmet goodies and two easily prepared dishes I made myself that just needed just some minor last minute preparations.

Proscuitto Wrapped Cheese Stuffed Warm Fig Salad with Arugula

Prosciutto Wrapped Fresh Figs Stuffed with Cheese on Arugula

Serves 6

This showstopper, palate-pleasing salad is a cinch to assemble à la minute. The sweetness of the figs and vinegar plays against the salty prosciutto, creamy tang of the blue cheese, and peppery punch of the arugula. If you don’t like blue cheese, feel free to use brie or chèvre instead. I used a beautiful combination of Date Crème Vinegar and Hazelnut Oil that I picked up at Crescendo World of Oils Vinegars and Spices in Toronto’s Distillery district – but extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze are also terrific.

Ingredients:

6 fresh figs, sliced in half from stem end to blossom end, keeping stem halves intact
1/3 cup your favourite creamy mild blue such as St. Agur or Devil’s Rock (or chèvre)
6 slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise
6 handfuls of baby arugula (or your favourite greens)
Hazelnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
Date Crème Vinegar or balsamic glaze
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Smear cheese on cut side of each fig half. Wrap each half with prosciutto. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator up to 4 hours before serving or bake immediately, according to the following instructions.
  2. Arrange cheese side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in 425°F oven until prosciutto is crisp and cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the greens with some salt, pepper, and oil; spread greens out on a pretty platter; place figs on top and drizzle figs and salad with vinegar. Serve warm.

Quiche Lorraine (with potato, gruyère, and bacon) from Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, butter croissants from Patisserie d'Or, Vodka Infused Smoked Salmon from Cousins Gourmet Market.

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery Quiche:

Make sure you search out the very best handcrafted quiche you can find. Spirit Tree Estate Cidery makes delicious quiche. The Quiche Lorraine is full of hearty flavour from bacon, potato, thyme, and swiss cheese. The Tomato & Spinach quiche has intensely flavoured wood-oven-dried tomatoes, sautéed spinach, thyme, and clumps of soft chèvre, all suspended in a lovely egg custard. I purchased both quiches frozen, stored them in my freezer, and baked them from frozen on the day of the brunch. I haven’t tried their Mushroom & Potato or Cauliflower quiche yet but they sound tempting.

If you can’t make it out to Spirit Tree, good quality quiche can also be found at The Hot Oven in Etobicoke, Cousin’s Gourmet Market in Port Credit, Black Forest Pastry Shop in Oakville, and Kate’s Town Talk Bakery in Streetsville (Kate also sells a really tasty Spinach & Cheese pie – another one of my favourites). Wherever you choose to purchase your quiche, be sure to call ahead to place an order in advance.

Vodka Infused Smoked Salmon:

Drape some luxurious smoked salmon on a pretty platter and garnish with lemon wedges and perhaps, capers, sliced onion, and a drizzle of olive oil. My absolute favourite is a locally produced Vodka Infused Smoked Salmon that I buy from Cousin’s Gourmet Market in Port Credit and have also found it at Domenic’s in the St. Lawrence Market. It is so tender, that it almost melts in your mouth.

Artisanal Croissants:

What would Christmas in Paris be like without really good croissants? I picked up frozen chocolate and butter croissants handcrafted at Patisserie D’Or in Oakville, stashed them in my freezer, took them out to rise overnight, then baked fresh the morning of the brunch –you can’t get easier or more delicious than that. Boy did my kitchen smell heavenly! These croissants have a buttery flavour and a nice mouthfeel.

And now for the grande finale…

Macarons from Whole Foods

French Macarons:

Buy a colourful assortment of the very best French macarons you can find. I picked up these little beauties from Whole Foods, made by La Fournette Bakery: mango, passion fruit, vanilla, raspberry, pumpkin, chocolate, pistachio, and my favourite – hazelnut.

Ispahan Parfait

Ispahan Parfait

Serves 6

This showstopper fruit salad was inspired by the beautiful flavour combination of raspberries, lychee and rose, created by famous French Pastry Chef, Pierre Hermé, as a macaron flavour, and now all the rage in Paris. You won’t really notice the rose syrup in this gorgeous and healthy parfait – just a hint of je ne sais quois. Make both the rose syrup and the pistachio dust in advance (you can even freeze them if you need to). Combine the raspberries and lychees with the syrup at the last minute, or earlier on the day of serving, if necessary. Spoon into pretty glasses and top with yogurt, almonds, and pistachio dust just before serving. Feminine, festive, and fusion-French, it’s perfect for my girlfriends’ Christmas brunch.

If you don’t want to make your own rose syrup, you can order an exquisite Wild Rose Petal Syrup from Forbes Wild Foods, a Canadian company that supplies sustainably-harvested wild foods from the Canadian wilderness to restaurants, hotels, stores, and on-line customers. To order on-line click here:  http://store.wildfoods.ca/syrups/.

Oh to be in Pierre Hermé Paris at Christmas time.

Ingredients:

1 can (560mL) whole lychees in light syrup
1 package (6 oz/170g) fresh raspberries
¼ cup reserved lychee syrup from above can
5 teaspoons Rose Syrup (see recipe below)
½ cup vanilla yogurt – such as Sheldon Creek Dairy’s Greek-style Yogurt (see note below)
6 teaspoons raw slivered almonds
3 tablespoons Pistachio Dust (see recipe below)

Directions:

  1. Drain lychees into strainer set over a medium bowl to reserve lychees and lychee syrup; slice lychees in half. Place lychees in a second medium size bowl. Add raspberries to lychee fruit.
  2. In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup lychee syrup and 5 teaspoons rose syrup; add to lychees and raspberries and toss gently. Divide fruit evenly amongst 6 small pretty cups; spoon in a little syrup.
  3. Place 1 spoonful of yogurt on top of each cup. Top each with 1 teaspoon of slivered almonds and then 1/2 tablespoon pistachio dust. Serve immediately.

Rose Syrup:

Makes just over 1/3 cup.

You’ll need rosewater, which you can find in Middle Eastern grocery stores such as Adonis. Store your rosewater and rose syrup in the fridge.

Ingredients:

1 cup water
½ cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosewater

Directions:

  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, simmer rapidly, stirring occasionally, until mixture has reduced and become syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and rosewater. Let cool completely.
  2. Store in a covered container in refrigerator for a few days or freeze in an airtight container for longer storage. Defrost in fridge before using.

Pistachio Dust:

So pretty sprinkled on fruit salad, especially on raspberries or strawberries at Christmas time.

Ingredients:

1 cup shelled raw pistachios

Directions:

  1. Using a mini processor, grind pistachios into a fine dust. Store in an airtight container in freezer until ready to use.

Sheldon Creek Dairy Fresh Milk & Greek Style YogurtA little decadence is called for here, so look for the richest yogurt you can find. Spirit Tree Estate Cidery sells a luxuriously creamy Greek Style Vanilla Yogurt from Sheldon Creek Dairy, made with pasteurized whole milk, light brown cane sugar, vanilla extract, and bacterial culture – and nothing else! Sheldon Creek Dairy’s pasteurized Cream Top Whole Non-Homogenized Milk is nutrient-rich, all natural, and has cream that rises to the top of the bottle and separates (how milk was made before we homogenized it): shake it in the bottle for creamier milk or spoon out to add to your coffee.  Sheldon Creek Dairy is owned and operated by the den Haan family whose herd of cows graze the pastures of the Sheldon Valley, in Loretto, Ontario. Click here for other retail locations: http://sheldoncreekdairy.ca/about.php.

For further details and locations of suppliers featured in this post, check my Grocery Store Directory or Farmers’ Market Directory.

To further enhance the mood, you may wish to play the following music suggestions:

White Christmas Michael Buble & Shy’m https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/white-christmas-duet-shym/id472520445

Noel Blanc Coeur de Pirate https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/c-ur-de-pirate/id290621195

Read More

Olive’s Keep Calm & Carry On Christmas Survival Guide: Make-Ahead Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres

Here is my holiday line-up of make-ahead, easy-assemble, or store-bought hors d’oeuvres, ranging from comforting to exotic, that are so delicious they will make you the talk of the town.

Paneer_Tikka_Stuffed_Mini_Potatoes

Paneer Tikka Stuffed Mini Potatoes

Makes 32 halves

My Paneer Tikka Mini Potatoes are stuffed with an exotic combination of Indian spices tamed by rich coconut milk, tomato paste, and soft paneer cheese. Mmm…cheese, potatoes, and a touch of the exotic in a make-ahead, freezer-friendly recipe – everything I am looking for in a special occasion hors d’oeuvres.

It’s well worth seeking out Arvinda’s Tikka Masala spice blend for this recipe. Based in Oakville, Ontario, Arvinda’s makes artisanal, premium Indian spice blends, using Canadian grown spices whenever possible, like mustard seed and coriander. Their Tikka Masala is a lively blend of all natural ingredients, including fresh organic garlic from Stratford, Ontario and fresh ginger.   It’s hot but the tiny amount in this recipe will blanket you in a pleasant (not painful) warmth with layers of flavour. You can find Arvinda’s finely crafted range of Indian spice blends in fine food stores throughout Ontario. Check their website for a store near you.

Paneer cheese is a mild, fresh, farmer white cheese. It is now widely available in many supermarkets or Indian grocery stores.

Ingredients:

Potatoes:
16 mini Yukon Gold potatoes, uniformly medium-sized
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarse salt

Stuffing:
1 cup (scant) finely diced paneer cheese
½ teaspoon Arvinda’s Tikka Masala spice mix
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons tomato paste
½ cup canned coconut milk, well-shaken

Garnish:
Finely chopped chives, green onion, or cilantro

Directions:

Potatoes:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut potatoes in half so that each half will sit upright. Dump on parchment-lined baking sheet. Add oil and salt; toss to coat potatoes evenly. Arrange on baking sheet cut side up and evenly spaced so potatoes aren’t touching each other. Roast in a 375°F oven until just tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.

Stuffing:

  1. Using the pointed end of a vegetable peeler or a small spoon, carefully scoop flesh out of potato into a medium bowl, leaving a thin wall of flesh lining the potato skin. Roughly mash the flesh with a potato masher or fork.
  2. Add stuffing ingredients to mashed potato; mix well. Mound stuffing in potatoes halves.
  3. If serving immediately, arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet; bake at 375°F until hot throughout and cheese is soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle garnish of your choice over top of each potato. Serve warm.
  4. Or place in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment paper, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature while preheating oven to 375°F degrees. Arrange on parchment lined-baking sheet and bake until hot throughout and cheese is soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle garnish of your choice over top of each potato. Serve warm.
  5. Or place in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment paper, cover and freeze up to 2 weeks. Bake from frozen in a 375°F oven, arranged on a parchment-lined baking sheet, until hot throughout and cheese is soft, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle garnish of your choice over top of each potato. Serve warm.

 

Muhammara

Muhammara: A Seductive Syrian Dip

You’ll find my recipe for a seductively delicious dip, that is festively colourful and healthy. in my post Mississauga Meet Muhammara: A Seductive Syrian Dip. This intriguing little number has layers of flavour and texture: roasted sweet red peppers, crunchy walnuts, acidic tomato paste and lemon juice balanced by sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses, and a warm spicy heat that slowly unveils itself. It’s a breeze to make at the last minute with most items stocked in the pantry, or it can be made ahead and refrigerated for a couple of days. or even frozen for up to 2 weeks. If you would rather purchase ready-made Muhammara, my post tells you where to buy a good one.

Cheddar_Cayenne_Cookies

Cheddar Cayenne Cookies

Makes 4 logs (about 24 cookies in each log)

Adapted from www.chatelaine.com Cheddar Crisp Appetizers

These savory cookies have a rich, cheddar flavour with a bit of a spicy kick. They are delicious on their own but spoon on Rootham’s Tangy Red Pepper Jelly or Yummies in a Jar Apple Sage Jelly and they become extra special. Make the dough ahead, roll it into logs, and freeze for up to 1 month; then simply take the dough out a few minutes before slicing and baking to serve your guests freshly baked cheddar cookies with pizzazz.

I’ve adapted a Chatelaine recipe by adding a touch of cream for moistness and a cup of grated old cheddar cheese for even more cheddar flavour. I use Stirling Creamery European-Style Churn 84 Salted Butter which has a rich butter flavour from 84% butterfat. Stirling also makes an unsalted version of Churn 84 but it’s hard to find in our region – you might find it in Sobey’s. If you would prefer to use unsalted butter, increase the salt in the recipe to 1 teaspoon.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp table salt
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 (250 g) container MacLaren’s Imperial Cold Pack Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Stirling Creamery European-Style Churn 84 salted butter, cut into small cubes
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons 35% cream
1 cup grated old cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and cayenne; stir with a wire whisk until evenly distributed.
  2. Break up MacLaren’s Imperial Sharp Cold Pack Cheddar Cheese with a fork before dumping it into the large bowl of a food processer; pulse a few times to break down to large crumbs. Add butter, mustard, and cream; process until smooth, stopping machine to scrape down sides with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add grated cheese and flour mixture; pulse, occasionally stopping machine to scrape down sides with a rubber spatula, just until mixture comes together.
  3. Scrape dough on to a large piece of parchment paper. Gently form into a ball by kneading gently once or twice. Divide dough into 4 equal sections. Place 1 section on another large piece of parchment paper. Roll dough section gently to form an evenly shaped log, about 1-1/2 inches wide by 6 inches long. Wrap in parchment paper then twist ends to seal. Repeat with remaining dough. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Or wrap logs in aluminum foil and seal in a resealable freezer bag, label with baking instructions, and freeze up to 1 month; remove from freezer for a few moments before slicing and baking.
  4. When ready to bake, place oven rack on bottom shelf; preheat oven to 400°F. Slice one well-chilled log into 1/4-inch thick rounds; arrange (evenly spaced) on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake one sheet at a time, on the bottom rack, just until edges are slightly golden brown, about 8 minutes; immediately remove cookies from cookie sheet and place on rack to cool. Repeat with remaining logs, removing 1 log at a time from the fridge.
  5. Best eaten the day you bake them but still good within a few days after baking, if placed in a sealed container and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature with apple sage or red pepper jelly. Look for Rootham’s Tangy Red Pepper Jelly or Yummies in a Jar Apple Sage Jelly at gourmet food shops such as The Shop For All Reasons in Streetsville, gourmet grocery stores such as Cousin’s Market in Port Credit, or fine cheese shops such as Mill Street Cheese Market in Georgetown (see my Grocery Store Directory). Or click on the product link to go directly to the product website for store locations.

 

Cheddar_Dip

Sorry about the cheesy photo. I got a little carried away with the deer.

Hot Cheddar Dip

Enough to feed a crowd.

Adapted from Hot Cheese Spread from Best of Bridge

I’ve amped up the Hot Cheese Spread recipe from Best of Bridge to replicate the flavours of a dip I served in the ‘80s and loved, but lost the recipe. Artery-clogging but so delicious, I only serve this decadent dip at Christmas.

Make it ahead and store in the fridge for a few days. It makes enough to feed a crowd, so sometimes I split one batch into two if I have two smaller gatherings to attend. I have even frozen it, which isn’t ideal because the oil separates while baking, but once you have drained off the oil, you are still left with a ton of flavour, a lot less fat, and a bit of a stringier dip.

Ingredients:

1 cup slivered almonds
3 cups grated old cheddar cheese
2/3 cup finely chopped green onions (5 or 6 green onions)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ teaspoon curry powder
Dash cayenne powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup mayonnaise

Accompaniment:

Baguette crisps such as Ace Bakery Olive Oil & Sea Salt Mini Crisps

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread almonds out in a single layer on baking sheet and toast lightly, just until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix cheese, onion and garlic together. In a separate bowl, combine curry powder, cayenne powder, and salt. Add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and mayonnaise; blend thoroughly with a whisk. Fold into cheese. Add almonds. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Pack into an oven-proof serving dish. Bake immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for a few days. Bring to room temperature before placing in a 350°F preheated oven. Bake just until hot throughout, about 15 minutes. Wonderful served with Ace Bakery Olive Oil & Sea Salt Mini Crisps.

 

Tomato_Bocconcini_Skewers

Tomato Bocconcini Basil Skewers

If you can get your hands on some really good cherry tomatoes and real buffalo mozzarella mini cheese balls, this festively-coloured hors d’oeuvres is easy-assemble and healthy. Click on my post Easy Breezy Summer Apps and scroll down for the recipe and details.

Keep calm and carry on. Love, Olive.

Read More

Mississauga Meet Muhammara: A Seductive Syrian Dip

Mississauga meet Muhammara, a seductively delicious dip originating from Aleppo, Syria but common in Lebanese cuisine. This intriguing little number has layers of flavour and texture: roasted sweet red peppers, crunchy walnuts, acidic tomato paste and lemon juice balanced by sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses, and a warm spicy heat that slowly unveils itself. A breeze to make with most items stocked in my pantry, it’s my favourite appetizer of the moment.

Muhammara

The type of dried, crushed chili peppers you use is important here. The classic recipe uses dried Aleppo chili peppers, originating from Syria. Regular grocery store dried red chili peppers are fiery hot and lack the fruity flavour of Aleppo pepper but Aleppo pepper can be hard to come by. The Spice Trader in Toronto carries Aleppo pepper, available in their store on Queen Street West (in Trinity Bellwoods) or from their website (they just received a new shipment on Friday November 1, 2013 and are in the process of updating their website). I use Armenian pepper, sold at Adonis (under the Cedar brand in plastic packets in the spice aisle). Cedar brand Armenian pepper flakes have a fruity flavour, like raisins, and a gentle heat.

Muhammara_ingredients

You’ll find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern grocery stores or in the international section of some supermarkets. If you live in or close to Mississauga, a drive to Adonis will be worth the trip. You can stock your pantry with Armenian pepper, pomegranate molasses, and small jars of roasted sweet red peppers. Don’t forget to pick up a package of freshly baked Adonis pita bread from the racks under the window of their in-store bakery.

There are many versions (and spellings) of muhammara. Adonis sells a good store-made version, available ready-made in mild or spicy hot (they spell it Mouhamara). My recipe is somewhere in between the Adonis version and Claudia Roden’s version (from her book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, which is an extensive collection of good, authentic Middle Eastern recipes).

Please visit my Grocery Store Directory for information on The Spice Trader and Adonis.

Olive’s Muhammara

Makes about 2 cups.

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Perfect for holiday entertaining, this dip is colourful, healthy, and exotic. Make sure you don’t over-process; you want the slight crunch of the walnuts and tiny hits of different flavours coming at your taste buds. Alternatively, if you add a garlic clove and puree to a smooth paste, you’ll have an outstanding and healthy sandwich spread that I like to call Muhammara Mock Mayo.

Ingredients:

1 cup shelled walnuts
4 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
1 jar (250ml) grilled/roasted sweet red peppers, drained
1 slice whole wheat bread, lightly toasted, crusts removed, torn into small pieces
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (also called “syrup”,“glaze” or “concentrated juice”)
3 teaspoons Armenian pepper or Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt or coarse salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor; pulse several times, stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor with a rubber spatula when necessary, until mixture is processed into a rough paste; avoid over-processing.
  2. Serve immediately with toasted pita points, pita chips, or endive spears. For longer storage, seal in a plastic container and store in fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks; defrost before serving.
Read More

Fall Colours: Provencal Stuffed Baby Peppers

One fall, after taking his daughters on a lovely trip to Provence in the south of France, my father requested a Provençal-style Thanksgiving dinner. After such a memorable trip, we were more than happy to oblige. We spread out the sunny Provençal tablecloths that we bought at the market in Uzès. Then we laid out a delicious feast of roast turkey (and called it Dinde Rôtie), Potatoes Savoyard (Jane Rodmell’s Cottage Life’s Summer Weekends Cookbook), Cauliflower Gratin (Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris), Sweet Potato & Sage Brûlée (Lucy Waverman, Food & Drink Holiday 2007), and these pretty stuffed peppers, inspired by Laura Calder’s Tomato-stuffed Peppers (French Food at Home).  Colourful, flavourful, and oh so darling, they pair nicely with a glass of wine and a Provençal state of mind.

provencal_stuffed_baby_peppers

Provençal Stuffed Baby Peppers

Makes about 36 halves

The brainchild behind this recipe is Laura Calder. I changed her recipe slightly, using baby peppers and cherry tomatoes instead of big ones, my olive purée instead of the stronger tasting tapenade, and added goat cheese for creaminess and a touch of panko bread crumbs for a slight crunch. Make the olive purée ahead of time, so there is less to do at assembly time.

provencal_stuffed_baby_peppers

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs. mini sweet bell peppers, in a colourful medley of orange, yellow, red

1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes in a colourful medley of orange, yellow, red

1 bunch of fresh basil, stems removed

¼ cup Black Olive Purée (see recipe below)

1 small package (130 g) soft, unripened chèvre (goat’s milk cheese)

¼ cup panko bread crumbs

⅛ cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut each pepper in half, lengthwise from stem to tip, leaving the stems intact on both halves; remove and discard the seeds. Place pepper halves, cut side up, on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet; roast until the peppers are slightly tender but still hold their shape, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven; let peppers cool slightly but leave them on the tray and leave the oven on at 375°F.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise; remove and discard seeds and pulp. Turn halves upside down to drain while peppers are roasting.
  4. When step two is completed, place 1 large basil leaf or two smaller basil leaves in each pepper half.
  5. Place 1/8 teaspoon of olive purée on top of basil; carefully spread out the purée a little.
  6. Place a tomato half, cut side up, on top of the olive purée, choosing a contrasting-coloured tomato for each pepper. If tomato halves are too big, cut them in half lengthwise again.
  7. Place ½ teaspoon of goat cheese in each tomato half.
  8. Repeat with remaining peppers.
  9. Sprinkle the panko bread crumbs evenly over the top of the peppers.
  10. Drizzle the peppers evenly with olive oil.
  11. Return pan to the oven and bake until cheese is soft and bread crumbs are lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, to taste. Serve warm.

 

sundried_moroccan_black_olivesBlack Olive Purée

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Inspired by a Patricia Wells recipe (Olive Purée from Nyons, The Provence Cookbook), this spread is similar to tapenade but doesn’t include the strong flavours of capers, anchovies, and mustard which I find overpowering. Here, the olives are the star. I use thyme and rosemary (instead of herbes de Provence) and I throw in a garlic clove just for good measure. Oh, wouldn’t I love to get my hands on the Nyons olives that inspired Ms. Wells to create her recipe! Instead, I use the wrinkly but meaty, sun-dried black olives (such as the flavourful, sun-dried Moroccan olives that Longo’s currently carries in their olive bar). Whatever you do, don’t use totally flavorless canned black olives. Use this spread sparingly because it is quite salty.

Ingredients:

2 cups best-quality sun-dried black olives, pitted

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 clove of garlic

2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, if required

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a food processor or blender. Blend to a thick paste; if too thick, add oil and blend again.
  2. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and cover; store in refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for longer storage. Defrost before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Read More

Easy Breezy Summer Apps: Fresh Nibbles to Download to Your Dock or Deck

Here are some quick ideas for easy breezy assembly-only appetizers to download to your dock or deck this summer.  Gather some fresh and seasonal ingredients, make a few simple slices, and then assemble into beautiful and delicious appetizers that will leave you with more time to spend with your happy guests. Who wants to be in the kitchen when you can be down on the dock?

Spanish Twist: Peaches with Serrano Ham, Creamy Blue, & Honey

Wow your guests with a little Spanish flare: Spanish-style serrano ham, creamy blue cheese, and honey compliment juicy peaches, beautifully. Spanish food is hot in Toronto right now. Bring a little Barcelona to your own backyard.

Peaches with Serrano Ham, Creamy Blue, & Honey

Ingredients:

Peaches – pick out some fragrant, ripe Ontario-grown beauties.

Mild, creamy blue cheesemy favourite is Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue Cheese. The sharpness of this milder blue is softened by the creamy, rich texture of the cheese.

Serrano ham – Spanish-style dry-cured ham (similar to prosciutto). I use the Campesino brand.

Honey – use your best honey. Try some wonderful, locally produced wildflower honey such as Gibbs. Gibbs bees live the good life, on a former Christmas tree farm (in Canfield, Ontario), surrounded by mixed pines, wildflowers, clover, pastures, and hay fields.

Directions:

  1. Let the blue cheese come to room temperature to be easier to spread. The serrano ham should also be served at room temperature. Cut the ham into strips narrower than the width of the peach (so both ends of the peach will show through when you wrap it around) and long enough to wrap around the slice at least 1 ½ times.
  2. Just before serving, slice the peaches into wedges. Smear a touch of blue cheese on each slice. Wrap with serrano ham. Drizzle with plenty of good honey. Serve immediately.

 

Balsamic-Drizzled Strawberries Stuffed with Prosciutto & Arugula

My friend attended an evening at a friend’s cottage on Prince Edward Island and came back with this delicious and different approach to the old standby of melon and prosciutto. The arugula adds a slight peppery punch that pairs well with the sweet tartness of the strawberries and balsamic glaze. The prosciutto brings in a touch of salt, leaving a wonderfully balanced combination of flavours in your mouth.

 Balsamic Drizzled Strawberries Stuffed with Prosciutto & Arugula

Ingredients:

Strawberries – locally grown and sweet. Strawberries in August? Well yes, if you buy local berries grown on ever-bearing plants that produce wonderful fruit right up until frost.

Prosciutto – buy the best you can find. I use Longo’s Prosciutto di Parma (ask for it at their deli counter).

Arugula – try to find baby arugula. Longo’s Organic Baby Arugula is tiny and perfect.

Balsamic glazeI use De Nigris Balsamic Glaze. Don’t bother making your own. This glaze is priced right, keeps well, and best of all, comes in a squeezable bottle so you can add some drama to your drizzle.

Toothpicks

Directions:

  1. Slice the top off the strawberries to remove the hull and leave a clean cut.
  2. Cut a small piece of prosciutto (big enough that you can fold it over once or twice and fit it nicely inside the strawberry); place the prosciutto on the cut side of one strawberry half.
  3. Place a small leaf of arugula (folded if necessary but you want a little green sticking out) on top of the prosciutto.
  4. Place the other strawberry half on top; secure both halves with a toothpick. Place on a serving platter and drizzle a generous amount of balsamic glaze over top in an artful but haphazard pattern. Serve immediately.

 

Tomato Bocconcini Basil Skewers

When local tomatoes are in season, you can’t beat this colourful summer classic of juicy tomatoes, soft mini buffalo mozzarella cheese balls, the lovely licorice note of fragrant basil, a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze, and a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt.

Tomato Bocconcini Basil Skewers

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes – choose the ripest, most colourful, locally grown cherry tomatoes you can find. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t store them in your fridge.

Fresh basil leaves – hope you are lucky enough to have some growing in your garden!

Mini buffalo mozzarella cheese ballstop quality is crucial here. Bella Casara Mini Buffalo Mozzarella Soft Cheese is made from 100% buffalo milk. It’s locally produced in Vaughan, Ontario by family-run Quality Cheese Inc.

Balsamic glazeI use De Nigris Balsamic Glaze. Don’t bother making your own. This glaze is priced right, keeps well, and best of all, comes in a squeezable bottle so you can add some drama to your drizzle.

Good quality sea salt

Mini skewers

Directions:

  1. Cut the fresh basil leaves in long, wide strips (along the length of the leaf); wrap one strip around each cheese ball and skewer.
  2. Anchor a cherry tomato at the bottom of the skewer.
  3. Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with plenty of balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.

 

The Details:

Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue Cheese:
Available for order online from the producer, Thornloe Cheese.
Or locally from: Longo’s, Loblaws, Starsky Fine Foods, Sobeys, and Cheese Boutique. Call fist to ensure availability.
 
Devil's Rock Creamy Blue Cheese
 
Campesino Serrano Ham: available at Longo’s.
 
Serrano Ham
 
Gibbs Honey: Operated by 4th generation beekeeper Russell Gibbs. Hives in Canfield, Ontario.
Available at Centro Farmers’ Market every Sunday (between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) from July until it sells out.
Or order directly from Gibbs’ website by filling out the contact form (but hurry before it sells out): www.gibbshoney.com.
 Gibbs Honey
 
De Nigris Balsamic Glaze: Sweeter and thicker balsamic reduction in handy squirt bottle. Available at Longo’s.
 
Bella Casara Mini Buffalo Mozzarella Soft Cheese: produced in Vaughan, Ontario by family-run Quality Cheese Inc.
Available at: Longo’s, Whole Foods, Loblaws. Call ahead to ensure availability.
 
Bella Casara & De Nigris
 
Reusable bamboo skewers: (in photo of Tomato Bocconcini Basil Skewers) courtesy of cobistyle.com.
Read More