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
Linsey and I recently did a shoot for an interesting Korean style restaurant in Whistler BC. Celadon Whistler takes traditional Korean dishes and gives them a sleek, modern twist, and their own unique style.
The owners, Sonny and Maggie Huh, came to my studio with all the ingredients prepared and ready to go for a busy day of shooting. Sonny worked closely with my food stylist, Linsey Bell, to prepare each dish for the camera. He was quite amazed by the difference between cooking for restaurant customer and preparing dishes to be photographed. The detailing, fiddling, and fussing that go into styling a photograph are way beyond what you could ever do during a busy dinner service! Here are the results:
By the way, the food tastes as amazing as it looks! We all really enjoyed sampling and savoring these Korean delicacies. Maggie and Sonny recently hosted an event in Vancouver to launch their new menu, and they got a great review in the Foodists blog, which also features many of the shots. If you have plans for visiting Whistler this winter don’t miss this great restaurant, and say hi to Maggie and Sonny for me!
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!
I tasted this dish for the first time in Watusi, a cool cocktail lounge on Ossington Street. I was fascinated by the name, as I had no idea what umeboshi was. When I tasted the dish all I knew was that umeboshi was delicious!
When I got home that night a quick Google search revealed that umeboshi are a Japanese pickled plum, commonly used to flavor or accompany Rice. The next time I was in T. & T. Supermarket (my favorite place for shopping Asian foods) I had a look in the Japanese section and found that they in fact carried umeboshi. They are a small, bright red plum (actually closer to an apricot) and they are sold either whole, in a plastic container, or in a tube as paste. I chose the whole ones since they looked prettier. They have a sort of sour and salty taste. Chopped up and lightly sautéed in butter with the shrimps they create a unique flavor that really enhances the seafood. I’ve done this same preparation with scallops as well and it’s delicious.
Linsey suggested that we marry the shrimps with a delicately seasoned rice, since that’s the traditional Japanese way of using the umeboshi. This can be served as an appetizer, a tapas item or a main course. I personally like to serve these shrimp in the shell, since the peeling of them involves a lot of finger licking! However if you’re serving this to more decorous guests you may want to peel the shrimps first, as we’ve done here (or buy the “zipper back” ones that have been cut and veined before freezing). Just be sure not to overcook the shrimp; sauté them until they just turn pink and the flesh firms up. Any longer and they become chewy and lose their flavor.
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!
I concocted this recipe in a moment of desperation. I was putting together a dinner for a close friend who mentioned at the last minute that his guest for the evening was completely vegan and allergic to wheat and dairy! I’d come up with a delightful menu for the evening, but I was lacking a desert. While shopping I had picked up some berries, but I definitely wanted some chocolate in the desert (after all, what’s dessert without chocolate). Unfortunately everything I could think of that involved chocolate also included dairy or wheat. Looking through my cupboard I noticed some cans of coconut milk and my always-ready supply of dark cocoa. In a mood of pure experimentation I dumped the coconut milk into a big bowl and started mixing in the cocoa. Much to my surprise they blended together easily and started to thicken up into a rich chocolate sauce. I added in just enough sugar to sweeten it and a dash or two of pure vanilla extract.
Wow, incredible chocolaty goodness! Somehow the coconut milk lent a deep rich note to the chocolate, and the sauce had a smooth consistency that just exploded in the mouth. Simply drizzled over the fresh berries, this was a great dessert!
This has got to be the simplest chocolate recipe I’ve ever seen. It takes exactly 5 minutes to open a can of coconut, throw in the cocoa and a bit of sugar, blend it together with a whisk and add a dash of the flavoring of your choice. As I mentioned sometimes I use vanilla, sometimes some lemon or orange zest and a bit of juice, and if I’m feeling particularly decadent, a dash of dark rum. If you’re into a surprising and exotic taste sensation, try adding in some chili or poblano pepper to add some heat to your chocolate. For a detailed recipe, look at the Recipes Page.
Then I discovered that this stuff is versatile. I put the leftover sauce in the fridge and the next day found that it had thickened up into an unbelievable mousse, just waiting for a spoon or even a stray finger! If you happen to have some popsicle molds, pour in this mixture and then freeze it to make the most delectable fudge sickles you’ve ever tasted. If you warm it ever so slightly in the microwave its the perfect chocolate drizzle or dipping sauce for anything you can think to put in it. When I feel like making a particularly pretty presentation I pick up those cute little angel cakes that they sell in the grocery store. I sort of paint the chocolate over the top of the cake, pile on whatever fruits I have on hand and then drizzle on a bit more chocolate, secure in the knowledge that one can never have too much Chocolate Delight!
Further experimentation has led to the finding that the best possible way to consume this stuff is with a bowl of fresh strawberries, naked in bed with a good friend!
Our local Ontario corn is now fully in season, so this seemed like a very appropriate recipe. This is a great way to utilize some leftover corn on the cob from last nights BBQ or dinner party.
I first tasted this delightful and unexpected salad at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, a very cool restaurant right here in Liberty Village. I was intrigued by the name, Popcorn Salad, and then delighted by this surprising combination of three types of corn which give a unique crunch and texture. Also, the use of a brown butter dressing lends a rich, nutty flavor to this salad. So the next night I set about learning how to brown butter to make the dressing, and re-creating the salad for my dinner guests. It was a hit, so I thought I’d share it here with you.
Basically it’s a simple green salad, using mixed greens or whatever you have on hand, liberally adorned with BBQ corn kernels, popcorn and Corn Pops. Yes, Kellog’s Corn Pops, the breakfast cereal! You can also get crunchy roasted corn kernels as well to toss in for some extra texture and flavor.
Brown butter is a classic French sauce simply created by cooking butter until it lightly browns. This has the dual effect of eliminating the water from the butter, thus concentrating the flavor, as well as imparting a rich, nutty flavor. It’s traditionally used on its own as a sauce for fish, chicken, or vegetables. In this case I decided to use the browned butter as a base for a vinaigrette to dress our salad. The brown butter blended with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, a bit of olive oil and a hint of garlic makes a fabulous salad dressing!
Since we’re in the middle of the BBQ season, I thought I could start off with a delicious and different barbecue marinade that I came up with recently. It’s sort of a spin on the Mexican Molé Poblano, which combines chilies, chocolate and a whole whack of other ingredients in a dark brown sauce. I had recently eaten a truly horrible Molé at a Queen St., Mexican restaurant that shall go unnamed, so I guess I had the flavor on my mind.
In a big bowl I combined dark cocoa, lime juice, a pinch or two of Chile Pepper and a few dashes of Waha Wera Kiwifruit & Habanero Chili Sauce . This sweet but hot sauce is available from The Spice Trader on Queen St., West near Trinity Bellwood Park. Somehow the flavor of the cocoa, combined with a little sweetness from the kiwi and the heat of the spices, all blended with the lime juice just sets off flavor explosions! I threw in some chicken legs and let them marinate for a few hours (or overnight if you have the time), then tossed them on the barbecue.
Here’s a little tip for marinades, especially with chicken. Once you’ve made the marinade, set some of it aside and use that to brush on the chicken as it cooks. You shouldn’t use the marinade that the chicken has sat in since it contains raw chicken. I cooked the chicken relatively slowly over slightly cooled charcoal so it wouldn’t burn too much on the outside, brushing a bit of the marinade on towards the end for a bit of an extra flavor punch.
Roasted corn goes great with this recipe. My friend Nadia, whose family comes from Pakistan, recently showed me a tasty way of treating roasted corn. Combine paprika (or smoked paprika) with cayenne and a bit of sea salt. Cut lime or lemon wedges, dip them in the spice mix and rub them on the corn. A lively (and healthy) change from the old salt and butter! The kiwi and strawberry salad, sprinkled with finely chopped mint and just a drizzle of honey, adds a nice balance to the meal (and helps cool the palate).