Now that the weather is finally starting to warm up you’ll soon be getting invites to backyard parties and barbecues! And with them, the inevitable command to “just bring something”. Here’s a quick and easy solution that will delight and mystify the other party guests.
The “recipe” couldn’t be simpler. Just mix Mascarpone Cheese with Dalmatia Dried Fig Spread and spread the mixture into Belgian Endive leaves (how’s that for a pan-european mix?). I like the Dalmatia spread because it has a concentrated fig flavour, not too sweet, and it’s available in my local Metro grocery. The intriguing thing about this recipe is the combination of the slightly bitter crunch of the endive and the smooth sweet of the fig and mascarpone somehow confuses the palate, and no one can quite figure out what they’re eating, although they’re certainly enjoying it! It’s entertaining to see what people guess as they try to identify the flavour.
Whenever I take food to a party I like to make a pleasing presentation (so disposable paper plates are definitely out!), but not have to worry about reclaiming bowls or platters at the end of the evening. One of my fav solutions, shown here, is the woven lids from Chinese bamboo steamers. They make a great serving platter, come in a variety of sizes, and only cost a couple of dollars in any chinese kitchen supply store (my local haunt is Tap Phong in Toronto’s Chinatown).
So next time you’re asked to show up with a party platter, or just need a tasty snack for watching the Food Network, give this quick combination a try.
This is a great way to transform whatever leftovers you might have in the fridge into a delicious and healthy meal in a bowl. I like to use chicken or beef stock (which I make in large vats and keep in the freezer). All I have to do is heat the stock, dissolve some miso paste into the hot stock, add a package or two of frozen Japanese noodles and then toss in whatever odds and ends I have laying about the fridge. For this particular dish we used the leftover pork tenderloin from this recipe. We added in some enoki and baby shiitake mushrooms, green onions, sliced peppers, bean sprouts and fresh parsley. We also added a few drops of sesame oil for a nice perk in flavor. About 20 minutes to make from scratch, and it sure beats Ramen Noodles!
A few ingredient notes:
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans, rice, barley or other ingredients. It comes in a variety of colors, from white through red and brown. It has a earthy, salty flavor and is used extensively in Japanese cooking. I like the darker red or brown variety for its rich flavor. You can purchase miso paste in any Asian grocery and it’s showing up more and more in regular grocery stores, partly due to its health benefits. It keeps very well in the fridge as long as it’s stored in a sealed container. Because it’s a paste, it’s hard to dissolve in a large pot of stock, so I scoop a small amount of the hot soup into a bowl and then mush in the miso paste until it’s dissolved, then I pour it back into the large pot. How much miso to add really depends on your taste and how salty like your soup. I usually put 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons in a pot of soup.
Udon noodles are the thick chewy Japanese noodles, and I love them in soups. I prefer to buy them frozen (they always have a large variety at T&T grocery), as they come packaged in meal size blocks. He just tossed them into a soup and warm them. I find the frozen ones retain the best texture and chewy tenderness when cooked. You could also use ramen or soba noodles which are widely available in dried packages.
I’m a big fan of making my own stock! For chicken stock I save the bones and carcasses whenever I cook chicken. I keep them frozen in bags until I have enough to make a stock. They usually pick up one or two “old chickens” to toss him as well. I prefer to keep my stock very simple, usually just adding an onion and maybe a few cloves of garlic. For beef stock I buy some beef bones very inexpensively at any grocery that has an actual butcher. I like to roast the bones in the oven until they’re browned as I find this makes a richer stock. I like to keep my stocks boiling at a very low boil for a long period of time, five or six hours at the least, so I tend to make stock when I have a quiet evening at home. After that I simply strain the stock into a large bowl and put it in the fridge to allow the fat to float to the surface and congeal so it’s easy to remove. Then I put the finished stock in plastic containers and freeze them. Few things give me such a sense of satisfaction as loading a big stack of stock into the freezer!
The other ingredients are totally up to you and your fridge!
I realized lately that I’ve been getting a lot of requests to shoot food on location for restaurant menus and websites. So I thought I would post a selection of some of the shots and talk a bit about what goes into them. Without all the tools, toys and tricks of the studio I find it’s best to keep the shots very simple and clean and resist the temptation to put too much stuff into them. I also find that restaurants tend to want very straightforward photographs of their menu items so that they can be used for a variety of applications.
I love to find a bit of natural light to work with, and since most restaurants have big windows, this makes my job easier. I also like to work closely with the chef, making sure that each dish is lovingly prepared for the camera. I always remind them not to apply any sauces until the last minute as I’m ready to take the shot.
Finally, it’s always important to work quickly and efficiently, so as not to tie up space and staff in a busy enterprise! Keeping these points in mind, it’s possible to create appealing food shots that really capture the essence of the restaurant’s menu. And the best part is you get to eat the results!
Yes, the holiday season is upon us so you’re probably going to be doing some entertaining, and in all likelihood at least one of your guests is going to proclaim that they are a vegetarian, vegan, celiac, lactose intolerant or all of the above. Well here is a simple, elegant and delicious solution.
This “spaghetti and meatballs” is actually spiral sliced zucchini with mushroom balls in a cashew butter sauce. I know this sounds very strange but it’s actually totally delicious. I was first served this dish by Peter Gault, a health trainer and raw food enthusiast, and once I tasted it I just had to have the recipe. Since then I’ve served it to many dinner parties and everyone is always amazed by the depth and complexity of the flavor, and they can never guess what the heck it is!
By the way, a spiral slicer is one of the handiest devices to have around the kitchen, as you can use it to transform any firm vegetable into thin ribbons or spaghetti-like strips for a variety of recipes. It’s a great way to make vegetables into fun stuff to eat for kids.
Assistant: Adriana Garcia Cruz
Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been cooking pasta in the traditional way for years… Boil in plenty of water, make a sauce separately, then combine. Then I saw an article in the New York Times that completely changed my approach to pasta!
Basically you cook the pasta in the same manner that you would make a risotto, by slowly adding stock to the dry pasta and allowing it to absorb the liquid as it cooks. Wow, talk about flavor! The pasta absorbs a deep flavor of the stock, and the starch in the pasta creates a rich, creamy sauce all by itself. So simple and so flavorful… now it feels wrong to plunge pasta into mere water.
For this particular recipe we combined orecchiette with pancetta, porcini mushrooms, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes and Buffalo Parmesan. The cooking method is the essence of simplicity. In a large pot sauté the pancetta, mushrooms, shallots and tomatoes until they are nicely browned. At this point I like to set them aside in a bowl so that they don’t end up overcooking as I cook the pasta. Put a little olive oil into the pot. Toss in the pasta and quickly stir it around to lightly coat with the oil. Now add about ½ cup of chicken stock while stirring continuously. As the stock is absorbed keep adding more and stirring it together. Keep this up until the pasta is cooked to a nice texture and there’s beautiful rich sauce in the pot. Add back the pancetta, mushrooms et al, stir together, grate in some Parmesan and serve. Here’s the recipe.
You can pretty much make this recipe with any ingredients you have on hand. I recently used lamb sausages, portobello mushrooms and a beef stock…. a rich fall flavor!
A note about stock: I’ve always been in the habit of making my own stock (chicken and beef) and keeping it frozen so I always have some on hand. (I know… I’m a bit of a fanatic that way!) However, these days you can get very good stock in the grocery store, often packed in those shelf-storable boxes….Pacific Natural Foods are available in Metro groceries, and are quite good. The Healthy Butcher also makes excellent stocks and sells them frozen.
To see how this shot was created, Click Here!
This is my favorite recipe for emergency entertaining!
This elegant dish, with its oh-so French name (that simply means “in paper”) is deceptively simple to prepare and freeze in advance, ready for your next impromptu elegant dinner. I keep an assortment of these delicious packets frozen in Ziploc bags, so if a friend or two drops by unexpectedly I can glibly offer them a dinner, knowing that I can present a beautiful (and healthy) meal with no effort at all! If you feel intimidated by the idea of cooking fish, this is a simple, delicious and virtually foolproof technique.
The next time you’re shopping, pickup an assortment of fish fillets (any fish you like!), some of your favorite vegetables and fresh herbs, rice, Parchment Paper and some Ziploc freezer bags. Start by steaming the rice, and meanwhile slice the larger vegetables into a julienne (that’s another fancy French word for thin slices).
I like to use a random assortment of carrots, green onions, shallots, zucchini, snow peas, tomatoes or whatever else I might have around. Asparagus is a nice touch. I really like jasmine rice, though if you’re feeling particularly healthy brown rice is a good choice. This will also work with couscous or wild rice.
When the rice is ready let it cool a bit and place a nice portion on one side of a large square of parchment paper. Place the fish fillet on top of this and then arrange some of the vegetables on top of that. Add a few sprigs of fresh herbs or some of your favorite spices… Be playful! If you feel decadent, add a bit of butter or a sprinkle of olive oil.
Now fold the parchment paper over and tightly roll the edges together to form a tight package.
At this point they’re ready to be frozen, and I have a great tip for you. Slip one or two of the packets into a Ziploc bag and seal it. Then slightly break the seal and slip in a plastic straw. Hold the bag around the straw with your fingers and suck all the air out of the Ziploc bag, then pull back on the straw and seal the Ziploc. This works just as well as the fancy countertop bag sealers, and a plastic straw is a lot cheaper!
Toss your creations into the freezer and you’re ready for unexpected dinner guests. To prepare your dinner, pull out one package per person and put them in a 375° oven for about 40 minutes, or until the parchment paper starts to brown up. To serve, simply place the packets on a plate and tear them open. A delicious, elegant and extremely healthy meal!