Monday, August 30, 2010

Grand Marnier Chocolate Tarts

Decadent little heavenly chocolate bites made with crème pâtissière, and my standby crust from Laura Calder's pie crust recipe.
 I made these little gems from crème patissière that I had leftover from making a larger fruit tart. By adding a splash of  Grand Marnier and 80% dark Belgian chocolate to the crème pâtissière, I was able to transform ordinary mini tarts into a sophisticated adult treat.  

Pie Crust
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup ice-cold water

In a food processor combine the flour,salt,sugar and cut in the butter until it resembles coarse meal.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and make a well in the dry ingredients.  Pour in the ice-water and quickly work in the flour to form a dough.  It is important to not over-work the dough.  Divide into two disks and wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for about 15 minutes before rolling out into a 10 inch tart pan or a pie plate. reserve the second disk for the top crust.

Chocolate Crème Pâtissière
2 cups 3% milk
1 vanilla bean
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
150 grams of dark Belgian chocolate (broken into pieces)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)

Bring the milk to just below the boiling point and add the vanilla.  Set aside to allow the vanilla to infuse in the milk.  After about 10-15 minutes strain the milk and reheat to boiling point. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale in colour. Whisk the flour into the egg mixture until a smooth consistency, and gradually add the hot milk. Return to the saucepan, and on moderate heat continue whisking while bringing to a boil. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes to allow the flour to cook and custard to thicken.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate pieces to to the hot custard and stir to incorporate. Stir in the orange liqueur. Finish by rubbing a knob of butter on the surface or place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface, to prevent a crust from forming while the custard cools.  Fill baked tart shells and garnish with fruit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Gnocchi, pronounced n'yo-kee, are dumplings which are served in place of pasta or risotto. Depending on the region in Italy, the ingredients for the recipe will vary. Semolina ricotta and egg are some of the ingredients that are added to flour to form these dumplings which have been around since Roman times. Mom, being quite the modernist, makes her gnocchi with potatoes and flour, which apparently are considered a  "recent innovation" dating back to the 16th century, when potatoes were brought back from the Americas and introduced in Europe.  On her quest to find a more robust version of gnocchi, for freezing purposes,  mom attempted to alter her recipe by adding egg and the result was a denser gnocchi.   Thank goodness, she succumbed to purist pressure, and much to our delight went back to her original recipe.  To this day restaurant or store-bought gnocchi can't hold a candle to mom's gnocchi.  So, I would love for you all to join mom and me on this gnocchi tutorial, and maybe be tempted to make a batch of your own. 
Most recipes call for Russet potatoes, but we prefer yellow flesh potatoes (Yukon Gold) for their buttery flavour. They hold up very well in the cooking process as they seem to absorb less water. While on the subject, it is also important that the potatoes not be overcooked as they will tend to absorb more flour when working the dough.  Note that the addition of too much flour will make the dumplings dissolve when boiled. If you want fluffy gnocchi, it is highly recommended that you use a potato ricer to mash the potatoes for best results. Above all else, never use a food processor! Potato ricers are relatively inexpensive and worth the small investment for any dish calling for mashed potatoes.

Zelinda's Gnocchi Recipe:
4-5 medium size yellow flesh potatoes (6 cups riced potatoes)
3 cups all purpose flour (or more if needed depending on the water content in the potatoes)
Serves 6

Peel, cut the potatoes into large sections and boil in just enough water to cover them. If time allows you can cook the potatoes whole and unpeeled. The potatoes should not be overcooked as they will absorb too much water.  A knife pierced through the flesh of the potato should have a slight resistance.
Allow  to cool too lukewarm, before passing through the potato ricer.

In a large mixing bowl, add 6 cups of the riced potatoes and 3 cups of flour and combine with your hands to form a dough.

Transfer to a floured work surface and knead the dough until a smooth and soft consistency

 Cut the dough into 5 inch strips

Roll the dough into 1/2 diameter cylinders

Cut  into i inch cylinder pieces

The shell like shape help capture the sauce and make for a more fluffy dumpling

With a little patience and some practice this is the end result, puffy potato gnocchi  heaven

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orange Chiffon Mini Cupcakes with Chantilly Cream Frosting

This wonderful fail proof recipe actually comes from the Canadian Living test kitchens.  This has become a real standby at my place, and guaranteed  not to disappoint. It can also be adapted to other citrus fruits, and of course your favorite frosting.  I've even provided you with the recipe to one of my favorites, Chantilly Frosting. The cake recipe makes 48 mini cupcakes or a 10 inch tube pan. I opted to divide it into 24 mini cupcakes, one 8 inch round cake, and had enough batter to test two new heart shaped cake molds. Not bad for one cake recipe.

2 1/4 cups sifted cake and pastry flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
8 egg whites
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cream of tartar

In a large bowl, sift the flour, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar,baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl whisk 6 egg yolks, the rind, 3/4 cup orange juice and the 1/2 cup of oil.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth.  You can also use an electric beater. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat the 8 egg whites until foamy and then add the cream of tartar.  Continue beating until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar ( 2 tablespoon at a time), until stiff glossy peaks form.  Gently sir in 1/4 of the egg whites into the cake batter and then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour into the prepared mini cupcake molds.  Bake in a pre-heated 350º F oven for 20-25  minutesThe cupcakes are done if a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  The larger 10"tube cake will take 50 minutes.

Chantilly Frosting:
2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup  35% whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Orange liqueur

In a large mixing bowl add the icing sugar, butter, vanilla and with an electric mixer, gradually beat in the 35% cream until the desired consistency.  Add more cream if necessary.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Avocado and Tomato Basil Spread


While dining out at L'Express in Montreal, I spotted this visually appealing tomato avocado appetizer being served with crostini.  There and then, I was determined to reproduce the appetizer at home, well at least the look, if not the actual recipe.  I also found the perfect use for my avocados which were at their peak, and local summer tomatoes, which were basking in the bright sunlight on my kitchen counter.  In order not to compete with the delicate flavour of the avocado, I kept with mild tasting ingredients.  To start, I mashed the avocado pulp then added the juice of half a lime to prevent oxidation.  For the tomato portion of the recipe, I simply added some good extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped basil, and a touch of fleur de sel to the chopped tomatoes.  I then spread half of the tomato mixture on the bottom of a glass, and for the second layer, added the avocado; finishing off with another layer of tomatoes.  Using the freshest and best ingredients was the real key to this simple, yet elegant spread prepared in just a few minutes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Five Spice Duck Breast on Orange Fennel Salad

I had long been intimidated by the idea of cooking duck breast, and enjoyed it only when dining out.  Well, no more after realizing that although it might sound sophisticated, duck is much like any other meat.  It simply requires proper cooking technique.  So leave your fears at the door, and serve your duck while it is still gloriously pink in the center and not overcooked.  Do however follow handling guidelines as for any meat, by keeping it refrigerated until ready to cook, keeping your work surface clean and making sure to wash up after handling, like you would with any meat or fish product. 
This super easy recipe is sure to impress.  All you need is a grill pan or frying pan, a duck breast and about a teaspoon or two of  Five Spice Powder for the meat rub.  You can purchase the five spice powder in most Asian or specialty grocery stores.  It's basically composed of five spices; fennel or star anise, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon. Pictured is the five spice duck breast appetizer served on a bed of fennel and orange salad, an earlier post.

Five Spice Duck Breast:
1 duck breast
1-2 teaspoons five spice powder
Salt and pepper 
2 tablespoons oil

Score the meat in a crosswise pattern, as indicated in the photo, making sure not to cut through the meat.

 Take a teaspoon or two of five-spice powder and rub both sides of the duck breasts.  Season the meat with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Heat a grill pan or frying pan with 2-3 tablespoons oil, on medium high heat.  Place the duck breast, skin side down on the hot pan and sear for 3-4 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium, turn and cook an additional  6-8 minutes.  Transfer to board and allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve medium rare.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grilled Tofu Teriyaki and Mushroom Medley

Meaty portobello mushrooms, white button mushrooms and king oyster mushrooms are the perfect combination with my grilled teriyaki tofu. They are simply sauteed for a few minutes in a small amount of light olive oil, with some sweet onions, garlic and minced fresh ginger.  The red bell peppers not only add a touch of vibrant colour to the dish but also compliment the sweet flavour of the mirin (Japanese cooking wine), used in the teryaki sauce. Once the mushrooms and peppers are sauteed, set them aside and using the same pan saute some baby bok choy. To complete the dish serve with bismati rice on the side.  This dish is also excellent the next day, reheated in the micro-wave.

king oyster mushroom
 baby bok choy


2 packages firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Teriyaki Sauce:
1/2 cup Kikkoman soy sauce
1 large garlic clove finely chopped
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons mirin sauce
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Using a blender or whisk by hand all the above ingredients, and set aside.

Place the tofu pieces in a casserole dish and pour the teriyaki  sauce to cover.  Let marinate for about an hour.  

Heat a grill pan with some oil.  Reserving the marinade, place the tofu on the hot pan and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Reheat for a the reserved teriyaki marinade until it is reduced and a syrupy consistency. Plate the tofu and drizzle the teriyake reduction over the tofu. Makes 20 grilled tofu slices.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fennel Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Fennel (finocchio), an aniseed  flavoured vegetable, popular in Italian cuisine is now readily available in most major grocery stores. So if you like the flavour of licorice, you are bound to enjoy this fresh and delicate salad recipe. 

1/2 fennel bulb cored and thinly sliced
1 large navel orange cut into pieces
                                         (removing fennel core)

1/2 shallots thinly chopped

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

Zest of 1 orange

Juice of 1/2 orange

2/3 cup light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl add the shallots. Stir in the sugar and enough vinegar to cover the shallots. Macerating the shallots will help remove some of the bitterness. Set aside
In another bowl add the remaining vinegar, orange zest, and whisk in the mustard, honey, and salt and pepper.  Add the shallots and gradually whisk in the olive oil.
shallots and gradually whisk in the oil. Makes about a cup  and keeps well in the refrigerator. Bring to room
temperature before serving as olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator.

In a bowl, toss the fennel slices and orange pieces with some of the orange vinaigrette.  Garnish with orange zest.  Serves 2-4

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chicken and Yellow Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Most beet salads call for cooked beets, but I opted to slice them super thin and  macerate them in mild white balsamic vinegar with a touch of sugar.  As I do with many of my recipes, I followed the same procedure for the thinly sliced red onions, to help remove their bitterness, and as not to overpower the delicate chicken flavour.  There was a nice balance with the acidity from the macerated beets and the mild sweetness of the curried chicken salad.  What else for the final touch but my favorite, orange vinaigrette which nicely complimented the other ingredients. 

Chicken Salad
2 chicken breast cooked and cut into bite size pieces
1 apple peeled and diced
2 celery stalks chopped
1/4 cup pecans toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, stir the curry powder into the mayonnaise until blended.  In a separate bowl add the chicken, apples, celery and pecans and toss together.  Add the curried mayonnaise and stir to combine. Set aside.

Beet Salad Layer
red leaf lettuce or mesclun salad
2 yellow beets, paper thin slices (using a sharp knife or mandolin)
1 small red onion thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
In two separate small bowls, add the beet slices 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, and follow the same procedure with the onions in the second bowl. Allow to macerate for 10-15 minutes.  Rinse the vegetables separately to avoid them from being too astringent. Set aside

Orange Vinaigrette:
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijonnais mustard (a mayo and Dijon blend sold in stores)1/2 teaspoon honey
zest of 1/2 orange
juice of  1 orange
salt and pepper 
2/3 cup grape seed oil or canola oil
In a bowl add the balsamic vinegar and whisk in the mustard, honey, and salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the oil. Makes about a cup and keeps well in the refrigerator.  

Arrange the lettuce, beets, and onions on a dinner plate and place a scoop of the chicken salad in the center.  Drizzle the salad with orange vinaigrette.



Summer Peaches in Phyllo Dough

 If you still haven't conquered your fear of pastry dough, phyllo might be the answer to your woes.This is the perfect recipe to highlight  fresh peaches from Ontario which are in abundance this week and dirt cheap!   Now that you've saved on the peaches; go directly to your liquor cabinet to bring your recipe up a notch, by adding liqueur to your cooked peaches.  To enhance the flavour of those sun kissed peaches, my preference would have been a generous amount of peach schnapps, and reminisce about all the fuzzy navels downed during the 1980's, when the drink was so popular and fashion so bad.  Anyway I used Triple Sec, an orange liqueur which I had on hand  and compliments the flavour of the peaches. 
2 cups peach slices
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (dissolved in 2-3 tablespoons orange juice)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Triple Sec (orange liqueur)
1/2 cup almonds slices toasted
8 sheets of phyllo dough
1/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons almond slices for garnish not toasted)
Turbinado sugar for garnish
butter for topping

Place the peeled peach slices, the sugar and the 1/4 cup of the orange juice in a saucepan and cook the  for 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch and continue cooking for an additional 1-2 minutes, to allow the juice to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the Triple Sec.  Set aside.
On a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper, place a sheet of phyllo dough and brush with some of the melted butter. Cover the remaining phyllo dough with a tea towel to prevent it from drying. Place a second sheet of phyllo dough on top of the buttered sheet and proceed to butter the sheet. Continue layering and buttering each sheet until you have eight buttered layers in all.
Spoon the peaches slices and top with the almonds, along the width edge of the phyllo dough (2" from the top) and leave a 2" border on each of the longer sides. Starting at the peach filling end of the dough, roll up gently into a jelly roll shape, and fold both ends under the dough.  Brush the top with melted butter.
Bake in a preheated 375º F oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and garnish the top with almonds and turbinado sugar.  Place several thin slices of butter on top of the almond/sugar garnish and return to the oven and bake an additional 5 minutes to toast the almonds. Slice with a serrated knife. Delicious served with ice cream.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jalapeño Cornbread Loaves

You're all probably wondering if I'm going for a " mellow yellow " ( no offense to Donovan) theme, what with the crispy curried cauliflower post and now the cornbread recipe.  In reality, the jalapeño cornbread recipe evolved out of necessity.  You see, my husband hasn't been able to resist those roadside vegetables stands on his jaunts to the countryside, and there is only so much corn on the cob one can eat.  For a more rustic texture I opted  for the coarse cornmeal, and of coarse fresh corn niblets. 

1 cup coarse cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 corn niblets (cooked)
1 jalapeño pepper (seeded and finely chopped)
3 eggs
1 cup milk

In a food processor, pulse to combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Add the butter pieces to the dry ingredients and process until the texture of coarse meal.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the corn niblets and jalapeno pepper, stir to combine.  In a separate bowl beat  the eggs slightly and then whisk in the milk.  Add to the dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon beat  until the ingredients are blended.  Transfer to individual small loaf pans, which have been greased and floured, (or a 9 inch prepared pan.)  Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20-25 minutes for the loaves, ( 25-35 minutes for the the 9" pan)
The cornbread is done when a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crispy Curried Cauliflower

Having on hand some cooked white cauliflower, and  being uninspired by the idea of  making soup, which of course would be a healthy alternative to cauliflower au gratin or deep fried florets, (mom's Italian recipe); I had a much needed epiphany.  Why not improvise and attempt baking them in the oven, as I do with my fish recipe?  I went a step further and opted for East Indian inspired flavours.  Much to my surprise this much healthier option turned out better than expected and the end result proved quite crispy and addictive.  Just like that old television commercial used to state, "I bet you can't just have one".  The cauliflower morsels  had all the crunchy texture of fried batter but were packed  with sensational flavours.  Once again panko breadcrumbs, (this time mixed with ordinary breadcrumbs), were the magic ingredient for the crispy coating.  So who needs fried food anyway, when you can have it all by adapting your favorite recipe?  Well mission accomplished, one more recipe in the fry-free zone.

1 cauliflower cooked and cooled (broken into florets)
1 1/2 cup panko and regular breadcrumbs (half and half)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 garlic clove finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
light olive oil

In a medium size bowl, add the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl add the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Set aside.  In a third bowl beat slightly  the three eggs.  Dip a couple of the cauliflower pieces in the egg, and then dredge the florets in the flour before coating them with the bread crumb mixture.  Place the prepared florets on a baking tray, lined with parchment paper.  Repeat the procedure until all the florets have been coated with the seasoned bread crumbs.  Drizzle the prepared cauliflower pieces with a generous amount of light olive oil (for crispy  golden result) and bake in a pre heated 375º F  oven for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Corn and Black Bean Rice Salad

At the drop of a hat and with the right ingredients in the fridge, left over rice and a can of black beans can be turned into instant comfort food . I added two of my favorite flavours, cilantro and  lime zest to give it that summery touch.  You can also add some Italian sausage as I did, or simply leave it out for a vegetarian version of the recipe.  

2 cups cold drained rice.
2 cobs of corn ( kernels)
1 19 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained)
2 Italian sausages cooked and cut into pieces (optional)
6 small (cocktail) tomatoes on the vine, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon Mexican chili powder
1/2 jalpeño pepper finely chopped
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 red onion chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup light olive oil
handful fresh cilantro chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Macerate the chopped onion in the vinegar and sugar.  In a large skillet heat 3 tablespoons of light olive oil  and add the chili powder.  Pour in the broth and the kernels of corn; allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the beans and chopped jalapeño pepper and stir in the rice and sausages.  Cook for a minute or two to allow the flavors to infuse.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the onions with the vinegar, oil, lime juice and zest.  Whisk the ingredients and toss in the rice corn mixture and cilantro. Serve warm or cold.  Serves 4

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Paigu (Chinese Spare Ribs) and Choy Sum (Cai Xnin )

 Choy sum (cai xin in mandarin), also known as Chinese flowering cabbage, is my new vegetable discovery.  While attempting to buy Chinese broccoli, which by the way reminds me of Italian rapini, I was told that it was unavailable and so inquired about the cai xin.  It looked somewhat similar to me.  It came highly recommended by the store owner, who informed me that she had just made some for her lunch.   All I recall of her recipe was garlic (which being Italian, I love) and  of course the use of a wok.  I  wasn't keen on buying a large bottle of Chinese wine as she suggested, and so decided to wing it by scouring my fridge for an alternative ingredient.   I  stir fried it in lots of chopped garlic, light soy sauce and some hoisin sauce.  It turned out to be quite tasty but slightly chewy, even though I slit the larger part of the vegetable's stalk.  Definitely worth adding to my repertoire of green veggies. 
I served the cai xin ( I'm practicing for my next shopping trip) with spicy  paigu, chinese pork ribs, adapted from recipe found in  Tom Kime's  "Asian Bites" (recipe follows). To accompany the greens and pork ribs, I stir fried some rice noodles in the same pan with the garlic hoisin sauce.

Paigu (Chinese barbecue ribs) 

3 1/2 lbs pork ribs ( about 2 inches in length)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon  honey
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 inch piece fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek(ground fresh chili paste)

Boil the pork ribs in water for 20 minutes and drain.  Let cool.
In a bowl mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, ginger and Sambal chili paste .
Transfer into a sealable freezer bag and add the ribs, making sure that the meat is well coated.
Allow the ribs to marinate for 3-5 hours or overnight.
Place the ribs in a roasting pan covered with aluminum and spread the remaining marinade on the ribs.  Bake in a 350º F oven for 45 minutes.

Spring Rolls

Practice makes perfect.  Boy, do I ever  have to continue practicing my spring rolls!!!  The only conciliation is that they were a first attempt.