Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pesto, Salmon and Asparagus Penne

Soooooooooooooooo Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeelliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiciiiiiiiiiiiiiooooooooooooouuuuuuussssssss!

I absolutely love this pasta. It's a great way to have pasta if you really want it but don't want all the carbs as it's loaded with so many other delicious things such as blistered tomatoes, salmon and lovely asparagus. Also, it tastes fresh, fresh fresh! The tasty homemade pesto and earthy asparagus are just wonderful. I highly reccomend this dish, it's totally worth the effort of making your own pesto too!

1 lb salmon fillet
2 cups fresh basil leaves that have been washed well
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1/2 teaspoon
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
pasta (as much or as little as you like)
a handful of skinny asparagus, stemmed and cut into fourths
1 cup baby tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 420. In the meantime put  the basil, pinenuts, olive oil, lemon juice, parm cheese and garlic in a blender and blitz until it's a consistency that resembles pesto. Reserve.

Line a baking tray with tin foil and place the salmon on top. Season with salt and pepper and olive oil. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the fish is slightly undercooked. Let cool and flake with a fork.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to your liking. 1-2 minutes before your pasta is ready add the asparagus. Cook for a minute or two and strain (reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water).

In the meantime, heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan and add the tomatoes. Let them cook on med-high until they start to blister. Reduce heat to low, season with salt and pepper. Add the salmon, pesto, pasta and asparagus. Toss well and add some pasta water if you want to loosen it up a bit. Serve with cheese and a sprinkle of chili flakes!

Monday, January 30, 2012

BBQ Beef Ribs and Potato Salad

Very few things go together better than barbecue and potato salad! I love barbecue- the mixture of sweet, salty, spicy and sour are hard to beat! I also love the way potato salad enhances the bbq experience as the velvety mayonaisse laced potatoes provide the perfect backdrop to the ooey gooey tender ribs.

There are a lot of rib purists out there who believe that it's sacrilege to bake ribs before bbq'ing them. To those people I say "Ha!". BBQ beef ribs are quite lean and have a tendency to grow tough. To avoid this, I slowly bake them until they're to my desired tenderness and then I grill them for the lovely char that they're just pining for! You have to make these ribs and this salad. They're a match made in heaven!

Ribs Ingredients:
2lbs beef ribs (of course get more if there's more than two of you!)
your favourite bbq sauce (I love Diana's original)
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon franks red hot sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 375. Rub ribs with salt, pepper and chili powder. Mix a bottle of bbq sauce with ketchup and franks red hot sauce. Divide the mixture in half, placing 1/2 into a baking tray with orange juice. Coat the ribs so that there's enough fluid to cover it by more than half. If this isn't the case add more bbq sauce and orange juice.

Cover the ribs in tinfoil and place in the oven. Cook until tender (about 45 minutes-1 hr) but not too tender that it falls off the bone! Remove from the oven and place ribs on a hot grill until they char evenly on both sides. Remove and toss into the remaining bbq sauce mixture. Serve with potato salad.

Potato Salad Ingredients:
5 Idaho potatoes
1/4 cup mayonaisse
1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 scallion thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon franks red hot sauce
1/2 a celery stock thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, mix the mayo, mustard, celery, scallion and hot sauce. Reserve. Put potatoes into large bite sized pieces and bring to a boil in a large pot of salted water. When the potatoes are fork tender remove and drain. While they're still piping hot add the potatoes to the mayo mixture. Toss until well coated. If you like it really mayonaissey add a little more of everything. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flower Design

I know this has nothing to do with food but I think there is a correlation between flower arranging and food. There's a thoughtfulness, recipe and flare that both require. Also, when I have guests over I feel like ambience is just as important as the food... and flowers set the tone perfectly!

I took a wonderful flower arranging class with Lisa Fireman Dorhout (great name right?!), owner of Studio Sweet Pea in NYC. It was great! She shared some wonderful tips and "recipes" for flower arranging. The best part about it is that apart from some basic rules, the sky is the limit! You can do whatever you please, it just takes practice, patience and creativity...kind of like cooking! I cannot wait to have my next dinner party!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Perfect Steak

When it comes to steak I like a fresh cut of well marbled meat and I like to eat it medium rare but more on the rare side. The veiny fat from the meat renders upon contact with heat and works to baste your steak in the most luxurious bath of warm, rich, velvety goodness. My husband and I devoured this carving board... was trying to pack his lunch with whatever scraps we had left!

There is a holy trinity that must be respected when pan searing your steaks. You need high heat. You must flip the meat ONCE only. You must end the cooking process with a 3-5 minute rest (depending on its size) and butter. If you get these steps in order you are good to go! Your meat will be perfectly pink in the center and charred on the exterior! It's just divine!

Steak of your choice
Dry seasoning of your choice
Canola oil (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon of butter per steak

Remove steak from fridge 2 hours before serving as you want it to come down to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper and your favourite dry spice blend. Find a skillet large enough for your steak (not so it just fits, you need a bit of breathing space) and place it on the oven. Put the heat on high and let it get really hot (hot so that the oil lightly smokes when you place it in the pan...about 3 minutes or so depending on the size of your pan). Add the oil and place your steaks down gently. After about 3 minutes flip over. Note: The cooking time depends on the thickness of your steak. Mine were about a pound each and just shy of an inch thick. I cooked them for 3 minutes on each side. If your uncertain, insert a meat thermometer (medium rare is 130).

Remove from the pan and top with room temperature butter. Let it stand for 5 minutes before cutting or serving. I served mine with chimichurri...Agh! So darn good!

Chimichurri Ingredients:
2 cups fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh mint
2 cloves garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sambal (spicy chili sauce)
1-1.5 teaspoon salt

In a food processor blend all the ingredients together until it they're all evenly combined and make lightly chunky sauce.. If it's too thick add more extra virgin olive oil.

Salmon En Croute

Leeana is one of my dearest friends- she's fun, loving, kind and loves food as much as me. We went to culinary school together and partnered up to cook a meal for our graduation ceremony. In the kitchen we achieve a lovely balance- bringing different skills to the table. Leeana is very precise. She cares about rules and beauty and stays true to the recipe she's following. I on the other hand am a bit carefree...or careless (it really depends on who you speak to). I don't really follow rules that well and care more about the eating than presenting. Some of our best meals happen when we're jamming in her kitchen. We play tunes, snack, catch up and cook! It's the best!

We made salmon en croute, a pear goat cheese and pecan salad and some pan seared cauliflower. Everything was delicious but the most delicious star of the show was the salmon en croute. It's deceptively easy to make. You will giggle with villainous delight as your friends sing your praises and think you slaved away over dinner... but oh no no no! You totally didn't! Those are the best meals- the meals that have so much wow factor and give you enough time to pretty yourself up for the party;)
You'll also sink into your chair a little when you have your first bite- you get the perfectly steamed salmon that's infused with pesto tented under this golden delicious crust.. WOW! I love it!

1 12 ounce salmon fillet (for two people)
2 tablespoons pesto (see my chicken pesto pizza recipe)
1 package good quality puff pastry
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Debone the fillet- there shouldn't be any when you buy it but triple check! Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Reserve.

Sprinkle some flour on a clean, dry work surface and roll it out to exceed the perameter of the salmon by about 1 inch. Place the pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roll out another sheet to roughly the same size. Lay the salmon on top of the pastry on the baking sheet and spread the pesto over the salmon. Top with the other pastry sheet, tucking in the edges. Make three slits along the center of the pastry and brush all exposed pastry with eggwash (1 egg mixed beaten with 1 tsp of water). Bake in 1 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sujuk Soup

Sajouk is a Middle Eastern sausage that tastes like a hybrid of the Spanish Chorizo and the Moroccan Merguez. It's very firm and dry and must be cooked. It's all beef and releases the most amazing smoky fat that tastes great with eggs or as I came to discover- Soup!

For some reason I was craving black eyed pea soup, I love the thick rich broth, the beans, kale and the layer of smokiness that anchors everything together. I didn't have black eyed peas but had cannelini and thought the sajouk would impart the perfect smoky/spicy flavour that this hearty soup pines for.

Given that this was a total experiment, I am utterly amazed at how delicious this turned out. If I ever publish a cook book this would definitely be featured. It's that good! Be ware- if you can't handle heat or spice this is NOT the soup for you.

3 links of sajouk (mild or medium spice), casing removed and cut into 1/2 inch moons
1 large spanish onion
4 cloves garlic smashed
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 carrots peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 package kale, stems removed and leaves roughly ripped into large bite sized pieces
1/2 tablespoon smoked spanish paprika
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup wild rice
1 can cannellini or black eyed peas, drained
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup water

Fry the sajouk in a large soup pan. The sajouk will brown and release fat. You want it a dark brown/charred colour. Cook evenly on both sides then remove from pan and reserve. Add olive oil and onions. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Cook on medium low heat for 5-8 minutes until the onions are soft and transluscent. Add the garlic and cook 3 minutes more. Add carrots and celery. Cook for 4 minutes. Add the wild rice and let all the ingredients mix well. Add the stock, water, paprika and bayleaf. Cook on med-low for 45 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes. Add the kale, salt and return the sausage. cook for 20 minutes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Turkish Kebabs

I consider my husband the authority on kebabs. Coming from a Pakistani background, he LOVES meat and knows a good kebab better than any other. Upon taking his first bite he said "succulent". One simple word that made me blush... on his second bite he raved about how the meat was perfectly charred yet remained juicy and tender (apparently this is a hard act to master when it comes to kebabs). I watched in delight as he scooped up pieces of beef that he meticulously dipped into the tomato and yogurt sauce with toasted pita. There's nothing that gives me more pleasure than cooking for the people I love and if "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" holds true- he must love me very very very much;)

The sauces that accompany the kebabs balance each other perfectly. The fresh tomato sauce that's cooked simply in olive oil mixes effortlessly with the yogurt sauce that has lovely notes of garlic and lemon. Let me tell you boys and girls, this was a perfect dinner!

2 pounds ground beef or lamb
1.5 cups old (not moldy, just dry) baguette
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
5 cloves garlic, pounded or finely chopped
1 spanish onion, grated
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley (stems as well) plus 1 tablespoon for garnishing
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
a dash of pepper

Tomato Sauce:
2 pints baby tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup FULL FAT Greek Yogurt
1 small garlic clove grated on a microplane
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak bread in cold water for about 5-10 seconds. Remove the water and squeeze any excess out from the bread. It should crumble into bread crumbs. Mix all the Kebab ingredients well together with your hands. Let this refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Grab a fistful of the meat and work your way up from the bottom of your skewer to the top. Try to do this swiftly and evenly. Your skewers should be metal as this is troublesome with wooden ones. Heat your grill pan (make sure you brush with oil if it's not non stick). Place the kebabs down gently and turn 90 degrees every two minutes. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the meat is evenly charred. Top with tomato and yogurt sauce. Finish with fresh parsley.

Tomato Sauce:
Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add the tomatoes. Cover and cook on med-low heat for 5 minutes making sure to Gently shake the pan with the lid on every so often to avoid sticking. Remove the lid and press the tomatoes down a little to help their juices release. Add tomato paste, salt and pepper. Let it cook into a nice sauce that's not too thick or runny (should take about 10-15 minutes).

Yogurt Sauce:
Mix the yogurt, garlic, salt and lemon juice well. That's it!