Tomato, Corn and Two Cheese Tart

tarts 625 sqWhen the farmers market stands begin to overflow with corn and tomatoes, I add them to everything I make. Lightly dressed arugula gets topped with sautéed corn and tomatoes and garnished with some buttery diced avocado. Peaches and Cream Corn and Blondkopfchen mini tomatoes weave their way into fritattas and onto tortilla chips gussied up as a salsa. Tiny tomatoes bursting with sweet acidity mingle with basil and plump sweet corn kernels. Tossed with some hot penne pasta and chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella, it makes for a very happy summertime dinner.

I know that for many folks, biting into a freshly boiled, buttered and salted ear is a summer ritual eagerly anticipated all winter long. When all those sweet little kernels explode in your mouth, it’s bliss for them. But I am among the, mostly silent, minority who do not like to eat corn straight off the cob. It gets stuck in my teeth and I just want to run for the floss. Yes, very un-Canadian/American of me, I know. But I am ok with that. I am perfectly comfortable being mocked when I cut my corn off the cob.market freshWith my abundance of corn, tomatoes and scallions, I decided to make a tart.  Chef Christine Cushing’s buttermilk pastry, studded with fresh thyme makes a perfect base.pastry mise en placeRolling out the dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper is a foolproof way of handling pastry.rolling between parchment paperLine the pastry with some parchment paper and fill with pie weights to blind bake the tarts. I buy dried chick peas that I reuse for this purpose only. This will give your pastry a head start so that your finished tarts do not have soggy bottoms.pie weights 2Delicious hot or at room temperature (they were even great reheated the next day) these little tarts are a very special way to celebrate the bounty of summer. Once everyone has a bite of these, you will be forgiven for cutting the corn off the cob.

Click here to print recipe for Tomato, Corn and Two Cheese Tart.

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Grilled Caesar Salad: The Classics Revisited

plated 1 625 sqCertain classics should not be tampered with. For example, The Wizard of Oz, as created by Frank L Baum and then interpreted by MGM in 1939, is perfect just the way it is. Why mess with brilliance? Clearly some people disagree with me as evidenced by the 2013 Disney release of Oz: The Great and Powerful, which topped box office records with a whopping 80 million dollars on its opening weekend.

And don’t get me started on the 1998 remake of Parent Trap. The original, released in 1961 was an integral part of my childhood. Suffice it to say, that Lindsay Lohan is no Haley Mills.

However, that being said, some classics need to be updated every once in a while, so they don’t get stale. I am referring to the culinary classics here; just a delicious little twist, an exciting take on the tried and true.

According to Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, Caesar salad has become the epitome of American mediocrity.  Appearing on virtually every restaurant menu across North America, it is often made with gloppy bottled dressing, packaged croutons, which, while salty and crunchy, still manage to taste like cardboard and canned “Parmesan” cheese, which resembles dust. Surely Caesar Cardini, the creator of the original, would be rolling over in his grave if he ever tasted one of these versions.

Geoffrey Zakarian’s revision of The Classic Caesar Salad is not revolutionary, just utterly delicious! He does not get ridiculous by suggesting that we forgo the croutons altogether and replace them with pan-fried tofu cubes. He just instructs us on how to make the very best crouton. Start with a good quality country Artisan bread. Then, tear the bread, using your hands, into craggy crouton shaped pieces.crouton ingredientsBy tearing the bread, rather than cutting it, you get much more surface area and more little nooks and crannies to get crunchy. Geoffrey recommends frying the croutons in about ½ cup of oil, but I cut the oil in half and recommend just baking the croutons in the oven. They are still quite delicious and very addictive.oil on croutons 2Two kinds of cheese are used in this version. The classic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is grated finely and mixed into the dressing, as in the original version. Then, Pecorino Romano cheese is shaved on top of the salad, using a vegetable peeler. Parmigiano Reggiano is a cow’s milk cheese, while Pecorino comes from sheep’s milk. Pecorino is tangier, and a bit more assertive than the milder, nutty flavoured Parmigiano.cheese shardsAnchovies were not used in Cardini’s Caesar salad. The original dressing contained Worcestershire sauce, which, I just discovered, does contain anchovies. The addition of anchovies came later, in the 70’s. If you think you don’t like anchovies, just give them a chance in this dressing. Anchovies are an extremely umami rich food. Umami is an almost indescribable fifth taste that takes your eating experience beyond salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Umami can best be characterized as a savory taste. Anchovies give a punch of flavor. They are that secret ingredient that you just can’t put your finger on, the one that really makes the flavour pop.

The punch of garlic in this recipe comes from roasted garlic, which is much sweeter and way less assertive than raw garlic. It adds a lovely mellow flavour.

In Geoffrey’s version of the salad, the lettuce is not torn, but rather whole leaves are arranged on a platter. It is quite lovely this way, but I took it up a notch and grilled my romaine hearts on the BBQ.

Each romaine heart is cut in half lengthwise, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. The cut side is placed on the hot grill for a minute or two to get just a hint of smoke and char. Arrange each heart half on a small plate, drizzle with creamy dressing, scatter crunchy croutons on top and finish with some shards of Pecorino Romano of Parmesan.

This knife and fork salad will delight (almost) everyone who tries it. We have had lots of company at our cottage over the past several weeks and I have made this 6 times. My husband happened to be present for all six times. After being married for almost 30 years he knows my habit of finding a dish I love and making it repeatedly until I grow tired of it. After the 5th appearance of Grilled Caesar he very sweetly told me that he really loved it, but could we please have something else tomorrow. Luckily he will not be here this week, so I can make it again for my girlfriend who is coming to visit!

Click here to print recipe for Grilled Caesar Salad.

Grilled Flatbread with Dukkah

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Aside from baking challah every week, it’s been way too long since I’ve had any fun with yeast. I have really missed that culinary alchemy that happens when you combine flour, water, salt and yeast. I decided to take it outside and grill some flatbread.

This is a gorgeous dough that comes together in the food processor in about 2 minutes flat.  Made with bread flour and just a touch of nutty whole wheat flour, this dough is super hydrated with water and olive oil. A wet dough is how you achieve, what bread freaks call, an “open crumb structure”. That just means that the inside of the grilled flatbread has those airy bubbles, that make it so chewy and delicious to eat.
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I will admit it takes a leap of faith to put this thin super stretchy dough onto the BBQ and not be riddled with anxiety that it will fall right through the grill. But, miraculously, it doesn’t. In about 4 minutes the flatbread is charred to perfection. I like to brush it with a really fruity olive oil as soon as it comes off the grill and then sprinkle it with Dukkah.
brushing on olive oil

sprinkling dukkah
Dukkah is a Middle Eastern nut and spice mix. The first time I had it was at Mahane Yehuda Market  (The Shuk) in Jerusalem. Vendors there sell small paper cones filled with dukkah, along with strips of grilled pita bread.  You dip the bread into the vendor’s bowl of olive oil, dunk it into the cone of dukkah and then joyfully crunch and munch your way to a very happy place.

The name dukkah originates from the Egyptian word “dakka,” which means “to crush,” which is what you do to many of the ingredients that go into the mix. There really is no classic recipe for dukkah. Just follow the basic ratio of 1 cup nuts: 1/2 cup sesame seeds: 4 tablespoons spices: 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

I settled on a combo of hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, cumin and coriander seeds and salt. Go wild and create your own custom Dukkah mix. Peanuts or macadamia nuts would be fantastic. Fennel or caraway seeds would add a really unique flavour. dukkah ingredientsWhen I am having family or good friends over, it is great fun to watch them greedily dip the warm chewy charred bread into fruity olive oil and then into the bowl of dukkah. Double dipping almost always ensues as this mix has all the hallmarks of an outstanding snack; crunchy, spicy and just a little bit salty.

And hey, if you decide not to make your own flatbread and just buy some pita bread to serve with the dukkah, I won’t judge. One of my very best friends called me after reading my post about Lemon Poppy Seed Baby Bundts to tell me that she was going to buy a few of of those adorable mini bunt pans and fill them with Duncan Hines Lemon Poppy Seed Cake mix!

Click here to print recipe for Grilled Flatbread with Dukkah.

 

Watermelon Lime Gin Fizz and Family Togetherness

pouring 625 sqDepending on where you are in your particular family life cycle, hearing the phrase “Family Togetherness” may wrap your heart like a warm hug or may cause you to run screaming from the room.

In my case, the chicks are all grown and have flown the coop. When my progeny all come together under the same roof, I sleep sounder at night. It fills me with joy. However, there was a time when I wanted to run kicking and screaming from their loving and sometimes all encompassing embrace, but that’s a tale most moms can relate to, and there is certainly  no need to go into the gory details here.

This past weekend, the stars and planets were aligned just right and we were together as an entire family at the cottage.  As we were having dinner on Saturday night, the youngest, wanting to relive the defining moments of his childhood, asked his siblings what were some of their worst memories of growing up. He is a bit of a “glass half-empty” kind of kid. We all laughed and then they were off down memory lane, telling stories about the time(s) mom yelled, or the time blood spurt everywhere when dad cut the youngest with an electric razor during his inaugural shave.

As I listened to my kids tell these tales it struck me that even with all the digital advances we have made with memory keeping, a family’s folklore and history really lives best through good old fashioned story telling. It is the telling and retelling of these anecdotes that connect us as a family. In our family, some of the stories have been told so many times that my kids and their cousins use a shorthand system to refer to them. As in, “Oh come on Uncle Roger, tell us Chapter 18 again.” (Chapter 18 is the tale of how my husband came to shave off his moustache of 31 years, after losing a hockey bet.)

My daughter and I collaborated on Saturday to create this cocktail. One to two of these will be all you’ll need to get the stories flowing. Somehow, the kids and I polished off the entire pitcher while my husband was napping on the hammock, so I am certain that by next summer he will be telling the saga of his hurt feelings when his family neglected him during aperitivo hour.

Click here to print recipe for Watermelon Lime Gin Fizz.

Icy cold watermelon spiked with lime and gin refreshes like nothing else on a sweltering afternoon.bowl of limes and white bowl of frozen melon cubes 3jpg

 

 

Grilled Chicken Skewers with Ginger Coconut Sauce and Mild Annoyances

on white 625 sq I am the grill master of our house. However, if the weather is particularly nasty, I will try to send my husband out to cook, but inevitably I will be beckoned to see if the food is done. It seems that I have the magic touch. Well, total disclosure here; I spent the summer between my first and second year of cooking school working in a restaurant as the grill chef. 

The restaurant had a huge stone barbecue on their patio. They stored the charcoal for the barbecue in 50-pound bags on the roof of a shed at the back of the patio.  I had to climb a ladder at the side of the shed and toss down the sacs of charcoal. My nickname that summer was Cinderella as my face was always covered with charcoal streaks. In addition to cooking the proteins, I also had to prepare pan sauces on the grill. That required a deft hand in moving the charcoal around to create hot and cool spots on the grill. I burned more than my fair share of pans the first few weeks, but eventually I got the hang of it. By the end of that summer I was fairly proficient in determining when a burger was done, when a strip steak was cooked to medium rare and when halibut was just cooked through to perfection.

These days I cook on a gas grill, and rely more often than not, on an instant read thermometer. They are basically idiot proof and they guarantee perfect results almost every time. This one is expensive but works very well.

This recipe for Grilled Chicken Skewers with Ginger Coconut, sauce hails from Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s brilliant book, “License to Grill.” Although this book was written over 17 years ago, it still feels fresh and relevant. I have been making this recipe for many years and never tire of it. The original recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken breasts, but I recommend using boneless skinless thighs.

I must admit that I get mildly annoyed when people tell me they only use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Not quite as annoyed as when people tell me they never use salt in their cooking, but I won’t get started on that one right now. I always use boneless skinless thighs and serve it to guests who say they don’t like dark meat. They don’t even realize they are eating thighs and they always ask me how I keep my chicken so moist. Thighs are a no-brainer. They are next to impossible to overcook because of their higher fat (and therefore flavour) content.

The velvety coconut-ginger sauce enrobes the chicken and the ginger, jalapeño and lime add a seductive little flavour zing. The “shake” topping, crafted from peanuts, sesame seeds, cumin and red pepper flakes adds crunch and packs a welcome buzz of heat.mise en place 2If you are using wooden bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them for about an hour before skewering the meat, so that they do not burn. This recipe is also quite delicious when you substitute tofu for the chicken (or so I have been told by my vegetarian daughter!)

Click here to print recipe for Grilled Chicken Skewers with Coconut-Ginger Sauce.

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