Category Archives: appetizers

Cauliflower Duo – Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” and Aloo Gobi

I’ve mentioned my vegi-phobia over the years, so I never thought that I’d make a post about THIS.

I remember my mom dipping cauliflower florettes into seasoned flour and then beaten egg before shallow frying them. I don’t know what they tasted like, cause I never tried them. I HAVE had steamed cauliflower as part of the ‘mixed veg’ on my plate in restaurants, but they were soggy and flavourless. Not exactly something I ever wanted to replicate at home. But I recently ran across a spicy hot ‘vegetarian’ version of Buffalo chicken wings made with cauliflower florettes and couldn’t resist trying it out. It’s just a bit fiddly to prepare but crunchy enough to appeal texturally and with enough spice to satisfy anyone who likes things ‘hot’ hot.

The original recipe had a batter for the cauliflower made up of seasoned flour, milk and water, baked, turned and then basted with a hot sauce/melted butter. In the reviews, someone suggested adding the hot sauce to the batter itself as a substitute for some of the liquid. So that’s what I did. Because the hot sauce is absorbed by the cauliflower, a little hot sauce goes a lot farther without any wasted. The heat sneaks up on you so you may not be aware of it until later. Just a word to the wise.

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” – appetizer with a blue cheese and ranch dressing dip

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” – serves 2 as a side dish

1/2 medium sized head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florettes (~400 gm, 4 cups)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping

Pre-heat your oven to 425-450 deg F depending on whether or not it runs hot.

Generously oil a baking sheet. Or, if you prefer to cut back on the fat, line the sheet with parchment paper.

Add salt, pepper and spices to the flour. Whisk in the hot sauce and water until you get a smooth batter. You may want to add a bit more water to thin the batter enough to coat the florettes evenly.

Spread the florettes evenly over the baking sheet, one layer thick, and bake for 20-25 min. Turn over each florette and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Watch carefully as, at the higher temperature, that extra 5 minutes may result in burned bits.

Serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Indian cooking is quite complex. There are regional and religious variations. And, of course, familial preferences. So, when I went searching for a recipe for this dish which combines potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi), there were endless versions.

The first version I looked at used what many consider the Indian ‘trinity’ of onion, garlic and ginger paste … which is often the base for a wet preparation or masala along with peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes. The second version omitted all three and focussed on toasted whole spices as well as the ground form to give the dish flavour … in what was usually a dry preparation.

Prior preparation of the vegetables also varied. Potatoes and/or the cauliflower were sometimes parboiled or steamed separately until tender before adding them to the saute pan. Personal preference and convenience may dictate the method used.

The recipe below is my novice attempt at aloo gobi along with some variations. If you have leftover steamed cauliflower or baked potatoes, you can save yourself some work and use them instead of cooking everything from scratch.

Quick Aloo Gobi

Quick Aloo Gobi (Potato with Cauliflower) – serves 4 as a side dish

1 lb (400 gm) potatoes
1 lb (400 gm) cauliflower florettes
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 chopped green chile pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp chile powder**
1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves for garnish

** I used 1 tbsp mulato/chipotle pepper puree cause I had it around but you might want to just use ground red chile pepper.

NOTE: You can also use a paste made up of garlic (1-2 cloves), ginger (1 tbsp grated) and onion (1/2 medium size) as a base for this dish. For a wet dish, you might want to add a couple of peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes with their juices and a bit of water to make a sort of sauce that you can serve over basmati rice. For a heartier dish, peas and/or carrots may be added along with the cauliflower.

Par-boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the cumin and mustard seeds for several minutes, until they begin to burst. Add the green chile (plus garlic, ginger, onion paste and pepper puree, if using) and fry for a few more minutes until the oil starts seeping away from the paste. (You’re drying it out by doing this.)

Add the cauliflower florettes and fry, stirring, for 5 minutes. (I added about 1/4 cup of water and put the lid on at this point so the cauliflower would ‘steam’ cook and not burn.)

Add the potatoes, the ground spices and salt and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. You’ll probably need more salt than you think as the potatoes and cauliflower soak it up. (A splash of water will help dissolve the salt and help it get absorbed by the potatoes and cauliflower.) Taste both the vegetables.

Garnish the aloo gobi with coriander and serve with tomato and onion salad and pickle for an Indian menu.

Baked Kibbeh (Kibbeh bil sayneeye)

Kibbeh is a delicious Middle Eastern appetizer, mezze offering or main dish. Served with tzatziki or other yogurt based sauce, few people would pass this by.

I’ve made the individual stuffed version but it’s fiddly to make and then you have to shallow or preferably, deep fry, the football shaped kibbeh.  I chose to make this kibbeh in a pie plate, but you can also make it in a 9×13 inch baking dish and cut them into diamond shapes.

My first attempt used only beef but a combination of half beef and half lamb is even tastier. You can use the same recipes for this version except bake for 40-45 min in a preheated 350 deg F oven. I added 2 tsp of the Baharat made below to the filling and 1 tbsp to the shell mixture.

Baharat spices before and after being ground

Turkish Baharat

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp clove
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp green cardamom
1 pinch cinnamon

Toast dried, whole spices lightly. Let cool and grind in coffee grinder. Store in dark bottle in the fridge or freezer.

Dessert … Turkish delight (loukum)

Kale … Glorious Kale

I’ve been neglecting my ‘abc’ tagged posts. I had been debating between kale, kirsch and kefalotyri but I finally committed. I’ve used kirsch but I don’t think I made a big deal of its inclusion and, until I decide on a Greek menu, I won’t be buying kefalotyri for the ‘saganaki’ appetizer.

For someone who doesn’t care for most veggies … kale is a recent add that I love. It’s hearty enough to add to soups and stands up to freeze/thawing without turning into total mush. My latest bundle got turned into the dishes below.

Kale and White Miso Soup, which you’ve already seen posted.

For a heartier kale soup … a copycat Zuppa Toscana with Potato Gnocchi. I’ve made this soup, before with a package of tri-colour gnocchi (and called it something more generic) so when I spotted one pound packages of fresh potato gnocchi for 99 cents, I grabbed two and threw one in my freezer.

I threw shredded carrot and diced red pepper into the soup along with the kale. Hot Italian sausage give it a nice kick.

Kale Pesto … finally, I made the kale pesto I’d meant to post last time. I threw some Italian basil (and about 1/4 cup of Thai basil too) into the pesto for added flavour. It’s a great way to extend pricey basil, especially during the winter if you’re buying those little bundles of fresh herbs. I was going to use walnuts as my ‘nut’ but I had about a tablespoon of walnut pieces left in a bag in the freezer. So, I made the trek to the basement and measured out 1/2 cups of pecan halves. They’re a lot ‘meatier’ than pine nuts and match the bold flavour of the other ingredients. Instead of Reggiano Parmigiana, I used the last of the Grana Padano I found grated in a little tub in the freezer. I’m saving about a 1/2 inch thick wedge of rind for something special along with the rind from my current Reggiano. NEVER EVER throw away the rind from your pricey Italian cheeses.

I’ve got 4 ciabatta buns in the fridge and one that I’d sliced open to show the crumb in an earlier post was a bit ‘dry’ so I slathered both pieces with some of the kale pesto mixed with margarine, since I’m out of butter.

I spread some spaghetti sauce and a slice of Provolone cheese on one half and then I put both halves of the bun under the boiler for 2 1/2-3 minutes. It’s a great snack, appetizer or even a lunch if you’re too tired to make something more substantial.

I’m going to freeze the rest of the pesto in 2-3 tbsp portions to keep the fresh flavour. And there’s MORE kale in the fridge.

Pesto … What kind do YOU make?

Nothing new about this post. I had intended to make a different kind of pesto but my poor basil plants have gone to flower, cause I’m neglecting them. The big leaves at the bottom are turning yellow and dropping off. At least I’m watering every day which is a necessity in this hot weather and a hot weather alert is coming up again. I made a couple of tasty things while dealing with the visit from the handyman (and his wife and daughter who help out) who is here to weed the worst of the back.

PS: They got 1/2 the lemon curd rolls, all the cherry braid and the rest of the ciabatta bread that I’d baked earlier that day.

* * *

Of course, the classic Genovese pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese with extra virgin olive oil is familiar to most people but you can mix and match your herbs, the nut used and even the oil.

Basil picked from my plants … FINALLY

For a strong tasting meat, like a leg of lamb, make a pesto with fresh parsley, toasted walnuts and walnut oil if you have it handy  … or just a nice neutral vegetable oil like canola. Butterfly your leg of lamb, spread the pesto over the meat, then roll it up, tie it and roast. The pesto will flavour the meat and keep it moist. If you put your leg of lamb on top of some potato wedges, the juices will flavour the potatoes. (Sorry, I dont’ have any pics to share.)

That reminds me. I really need to pick up a leg of lamb.

If you don’t want to buy a whole leg of lamb and butterfly it, pan fried lamb shoulder chops with a mint-cilantro pesto pasta is amazing.

Pesto garlic bread – Combine equal parts softened butter and pesto. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the mixture as well, if desired. Spread over your favourite crusty bread and place the bread on a baking sheet under the broiler just until the bread is crunchy and the butter is melted

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta – serves 2

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes
1/4 cup whipping cream or chicken broth if you want to watch your calories
2-3 tbsp pesto
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
150-200 gm fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti cooked according to package directions

In a large saute pan, heat up the oil over medium high heat. Saute the chicken cubes until cooked through.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the pesto, whipping cream and cheese. Mix well and add the cooked pasta.

Add salt and pepper as desired.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

VEGGIE Add-ins: Steamed broccoli florettes or halved cherry tomatoes sauteed briefly in the same pan, after the chicken was browned. Sauteed pepper strips or sliced mushrooms would also be great.

Risotto Duo … Lemon Shrimp Risotto and Fresh Corn Risotto/Arancini

My brother did a grocery drop off … ok, it was beer, a grapefruit cooler and corn on the cob, but it still counts as groceries in my book. I am attempting to think of creative things to do with my goodies.

First, the fresh corn.

Risotto is usually a side dish like pasta but, like pasta, you can make it an entree by adding a protein.

Lemon Shrimp Risotto

I decided to make a basic risotto with a flavourful chicken stock (Better than Bouillon, in this case) with saffron threads and a half glass of Reisling Pinot Grigio. I removed one third of the risotto when it was almost done to a second saucepan and added diced sauteed shrimp to it and a bit more stock. I stirred in some lemon zest and juice just before serving.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cup arborio rice, 1/2 cup white wine, 5 cups chicken stock with a pinch of saffron threads, 1 onion, finely diced, 1 large clove garlic, finely minced, 1 cup fresh kernel corn, 6 tbsp unsalted butter, 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, 3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper as needed. If desired, fresh basil leaves, julienned, may be added to the risotto along with the lemon zest and juice.

To the rest of the risotto, I added fresh corn kernels, cut off the cob and sauteed in butter and olive oil, and after refrigerating the risotto overnight, I made cheese arancini. I was going to add fresh basil to the filling but I got too tired to bother going outside to pluck fresh basil off my plants.



Speaking of basil … here are a few pictures. Of course, the hot weather has got me down so I’m letting my plants go to seed rather than harvesting them and making pesto as I’d planned.

Home made Pita Breads … Sort of Fail

I decided to make another attempt at pita bread. For some reason, flour tortillas, naan and pita breads aren’t great successes for me, but I don’t give up. Especially as I’d bought a couple of packages of pork souvlaki on sale and a tub of tzatziki to eat them with.

This time, I used Chef John’s recipe and, as expected, they did NOT puff up. The frying temp (medium-high) in the cast iron pan charred areas of the pitas, in the time frame recommended. I reduced the temperature to medium and the remaining pitas looked better.


I tried baking one of the pitas at 425 deg F and ended up with crispy bread by the time the bread got the golden colour I was aiming for. It was tasty as a vehicle for eating hummus with in any case.

And then I decided to make some pita pizzas with the rest of the dough. Both pizzas were topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

After baking for about 8 minutes at 425 deg F, torn prosciutto was placed on both and julienned fresh basil on one before returning the baking sheet to the oven, for a few more minutes.

White pita pizza – extra virgin olive oil, caramelized onions, grated Grana Padano and mozzarella cheese. I topped this one with some prosciutto as well, though I forgot to take a picture.

Oh well, everything was still edible.

Hot and Cooking Boring Stuff

No recipes … just lots of pictures. If you want recipes for something, let me know.

It’s been really warm and humid, and the A/C is labouring to deal with it all,  so I have been doing minimal cooking.

In fact, I bought a giant (28 piece) cheese and pepperoni shreds pizza and have been eating 2-4 pieces for lunch or dinner over the last week, while playing with some aspect of tried and true recipes.

Like trying a substitute for chicken stock in the form of a jar of “Better than Bouillon low sodium organic chicken base” and then using it to make egg drop/flower soup. The pinch of turmeric didn’t make the soup appreciably more ‘yellow’ than my usual recipe even though it’s supposedly a Chinese restaurant trick.

And then there was the boneless chicken breast that I sliced in half horizontally, pounded thin, and panko-breaded. I ended up with a cutlet and some chicken fingers which I baked. The twist was combining the egg/flour breading steps into a batter flavoured with mayo and mustard. The end result was super crunchy.

Chicken Finger/Cutlet Batter

1 egg
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard (or any other mustard of choice)
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper

Place the Batter ingredients in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined.

I pounded a boneless pork chop thin and treated it in the same manner.

I also made a batch of crepes (must remember to re-season my cast iron frying pan cause there’s a sticky spot), a dozen cream puffs and a half recipe of pastry cream. Instead of baking the cream puffs at the usual temperature (350 deg F) I tried the high/low combo that the classic recipe calls for. They looked great but about half the tray fell and I can’t account for it.

NEON PASTA ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, finally, I attempted the classic Italian pasta dish egg-yolk ravioli (Uova da Raviolo). I used beet pasta from the freezer, cause I didn’t want to bother making a fresh batch of plain pasta dough. I rolled the dough a bit too thin and, while I was cooking the ravioli, the fragile pasta tore open. I managed to salvage the 2 ravioli (that’s all I made) and, after dressing them up with a browned butter-bacon-sage sauce, ate a delicious dish with a perfectly cooked egg yolk.

The effort is worth the fuss. I used the rest of the ricotta-Grana Padano cheese filling to make some regular ravioli which I froze away.

I kneaded a bit more flour into the pasta from the trimmings used above for these ravioli giving me a paler colour.

All in all, it’s been a fun week. 🙂

Re-imagining Basic Recipes pt 2

I like recipes that you can modify for different dishes or presentations like the basic pasta dough recipe below. It’s based on the proportions used in the spinach pasta I made a while back.

A 10 oz batch of pasta coloured with 1/8 and 1/3 cup of beet puree, respectively. The colour isn’t dramatically different but I’m hoping the cooked pasta on the more concentrated batch will end up being much darker than in my first posts. And then maybe I can do a tricolour pasta dish.

 

Some adaptations are better than others. I used the last of my sourdough starter to make a batch of chickpea flour (besan) crackers. I added some nanami togarashi (7 spice chili blend) to flavour it. The crackers were tasty enough but I didn’t really taste the chickpea flour. The flavour may have been overcome by the all-purpose flour sourdough starter. Next time, I’ll use all chickpea flour and some baking powder for leavening.

The chocolate cookie cups were filled with various items from vanilla ice cream (topped with sprinkles) to homemade caramel sauce poured over chopped nuts (I used walnuts but pecans would be lovely) and then topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. And finally, mixed citrus curd lightened with whipped cream and topped with some more ice cream. I think a chocolate chip cookie (minus the chocolate chips), or even a gingerbread cookie, dough would give me a more versatile/neutral base for filling, but this was a good first attempt of the technique.

 

 

 

Re-imagining Basic Recipes

So much for my ‘break’. But I’ve been having a lot of fun and couldn’t resist sharing some pictures.

Taking a recipe and re-thinking some elements to come up with something new and exciting is important for the daily cook. And those of us on a budget who can’t run out and buy exotic or expensive ingredients.

So, adding beet puree (only 2 tbsp to a 2 egg pasta recipe) to a basic pasta recipe and coming up with a very pretty pink pasta doesn’t take a lot of money, just some imagination, or google-fu in case your imagination is as limited as mine.

Making the Beet Pasta

Dressing the resulting pasta is another fun pastime.

Shrimp Scampi … a very romantic shrimp supper for two

Browned Butter and Sage … a more modest meatless pasta dish with a generous grating of Grana Padano cheese

No changes in this dish from the basic recipe I posted before, but the pictures are MUCH nicer.

I haven’t made these onigiri (Japanese rice patties) in ages. You can leave them plain or fill them with anything from the classic umeboshi which are a type of pickled ‘plums’, dried bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce or a very Western tuna salad. The onigiri may also be eaten as is or grilled, basted with soy sauce and then grilled again briefly. Wrapping a strip of nori around the rice patty keeps your fingers clean, but you’ll want to wait til the last minute so the seaweed stays nice and crispy.

I learned a fun way to shape/pack sushi rice into a round ball. Simply take 2 small round bottomed bowls, rinse them with water so the rice doesn’t stick, add your rice to the bottom bowl, put the other bowl on top and SHAKE back and forth for a minute or so.

Crack open the ball of rice on a moistened sheet of food wrap over which you’ve sprinkled some salt, and add your filling. Tighten the plastic wrap around the ball and filling and squeeze it tightly, then form into a triangle shape.

Plain Onigiri – wrap a strip of nori around the patty before eating

Yaki Onigiri – I like to add a bit of wasabi to the onigiri before wrapping the nori around it and eating.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies become cookie cups … I used 3-4 tbsp to make balls which were placed into muffin tins sprayed with cooking spray. The cookies and cups were baked together for 15-16 min at 350 deg F and then I used the bottom of a shot glass to press down the cookie in the muffin tins to make a ‘cup’. The cups were allowed to cool for 5 minutes before being removed from the muffin tins and transferred to the cooling rack to cool completely.

I’ll fill the cups and share pictures soon.

Mixed Citrus Curd Redux and Sourdough Starter Crackers

In the last week, I’ve had some unexpected free time (no work calls) so I whipped up a batch of mixed citrus curd using my basic lemon curd recipe. You can use any kind of citrus juice to make a curd, or even something like a tart raspberry juice. I was very excited about using blood orange juice to make curd, about a year ago, cause I imagined the colour would be a vibrant reddish-brown but it ended up being more of an orange-brown. It still tasted delicious however.

For this mixed citrus curd, I used 2 tsp each of lemon, lime and orange zest and equal parts of the various citrus juices to make 1/2 cup. The result is an amazing and versatile treat. I decided to leave the zest in the curd.

I also made a batch of crackers with some leftover sourdough starter and for fun, experimented with various shapes and flavours. Clockwise from the top – round fennel seed topped, plain bars, square cayenne pepper and sesame seeds and diamond shaped cracked pepper and Grana Padano cheese crackers. I wanted to use whole wheat flour but all I had was about half a cup of fine semolina (#1) so I used that and enough all purpose flour to get a firm dough.

I used a recipe I found on line for the proportions of starter/flour and the baking times but only let my dough sit on the counter for 2 hrs (for the first 2 trays) and 3 hrs (for the last tray) as I didn’t really want it to get more sour.

After baking

CONCLUSION: I enjoyed the crackers but they’re not something I’d make regularly. Too much time and effort for something I can buy fairly cheaply … even though my crackers had no artificial ingredients or preservatives. Use whole wheat flour for more texture and a deeper colour if you have it handy.