Monthly Archives: March 2011

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Blood Orange Caramel Sauce


The inspiration for this dessert came about while I was cleaning my fridge. Underneath some slimy pears and moldy strawberries I unearthed six slightly wrinkled, but still perfectly serviceable, blood oranges. They were left over from my recent obsession two weeks ago.

Now before you go feeling sorry for me because I had to deal with mold and slime, I should reveal the view from where I am sitting right now, as I type this post:

So cleaning out the fridge before I left for Paradise was motivated primarily by the desire to avoid having my post holiday bliss balloon burst any sooner than necessary. Nothing like slime and mold to greet you upon return.

I was inspired by Bobby Flay (not for the first time, and I’m certain the last either!) to create a caramel sauce with the blood oranges. I watched him make a tangerine caramel sauce on the Cannoli episode of Throwdown.  Bobby put his twist on cannolis by tarting up the ricotta filling in the cannolis with some tangerine caramel. Instead of using water, he added tangerine juice to the sugar, caramelized it and added some cream. Such a brilliant idea, I decided to steal it! Of course, I would add my own twist and use blood oranges instead of tangerines.

I love how the Italians package things. They have such a wonderful sense of humour and don’t take anything too seriously. Last time I bought blood oranges they came all wrapped up in Ninja Turtle paper. This time the wrapping paper was decorated with Mardi Gras Masks. The colour variation inside the blood oranges was once again surprising! Some were pale orange and others deep blood-red.

As soon as I tasted the cooled Blood Orange Caramel Sauce, I instantly knew it was destined to be paired with vanilla ice cream.  I decided to kick it up a notch and use fresh vanilla beans in the ice cream.

After about 25 minutes the ice cream had a soft consistency, much like a Dairy Queen Blizzard. At this point, you have two options. You can transfer the soft ice cream into a wide rectangular plastic container and drizzle the caramel sauce right onto the ice cream, and then use a knife to swirl the caramel sauce into a beautiful marble pattern. Then cover the swirled ice cream and chill several hours until firm.

The second option would be to leave the ice cream plain, freeze and then scoop and drizzle sauce on top for a sundae.  Either way you make it, this ice cream will transport you right back to childhood. Remember Creamsicles from the Ice Cream Truck? That’s exactly what this sundae reminded me of. Topped with toasted chopped hazelnuts, this is a very grown-up dessert!

To print recipe for Blood Orange Caramel Sauce, click here

To print recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, click here.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese


The other day I told my husband I was planning to make my own ricotta cheese. He looked at me like I was from another planet and said, “why?” As in why bother making it when you can buy it? I would have asked the same question 2 weeks ago, but recently, on a trip to South Beach with my daughter and two of her friends, I had dinner at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. One of the appetizers we ordered was homemade fresh ricotta cheese, served on toasted baguette slices with a dollop of blueberry jam. The slightly salty, creamy ricotta contrasted so beautifully with the sweetness of the blueberry jam.  Since my first bite, I have become obsessed with learning how to make my own ricotta. Fresh ricotta has a rich and milky sweet taste and moist texture. Most ricotta from the supermarket is made with gums or stabilizers to prevent the ricotta from weeping. These additions often make for a gummy and grainy ricotta.

Unfortunately we gobbled it all up before I had a chance to take a picture of it. I did manage to take a picture of the tomato display and our wood fired oven pizza (caramelized onions and mushrooms). One of the chefs came over when he saw me shooting the tomatoes and told me very proudly that they were all local, from Homestead Florida. They are passionate about everything to do with food-from the growing and harvesting, to the preparation, serving, and eating. The menu changes daily because they start with what’s in season and arriving on their doorstep from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and artisans.

Once I got home, I looked up fresh ricotta on the Cook’s Illustrated web site and sure enough, there were detailed instructions showing me exactly what to do. All you need is whole milk, lemon juice and salt.

The milk is combined with the salt and then heated to 185ºF. Take it off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and let sit for 5 minutes. At that point you should see curds beginning to form. Let it sit for another 20 minutes and then spoon off the curds and discard the whey. Just like Little Miss Muffet. I am always so awed by chemical reactions like this. Basically the acid in the lemon juice and the heat cause the proteins in the milk to clump together forming curds that separate from liquid whey. I was quite blown away at how easy this was to make.


To print the recipe for Fresh Ricotta, click here.

There are a million different ways you can use up your ricotta. That night I sautéed some shallots and garlic and whisked in ricotta, milk and pecorino romano cheese. I mixed it with some whole wheat penne and green peas. It was quite yummy. It would be great on pizza, in lasagna, or even in cheesecake. Check out this chowhound link  for lots of other great ideas.

To print the recipe for Penne with Ricotta and Peas, click here.

I had more of my ricotta for breakfast today, spread on rye toast, with a sprinkling of coarse salt and some Triple Berry Jam.

Blood Orange and Green Bean Salad with Hazelnuts and Sherry Vinaigrette

For those of you who live in a place where the daffodils and crocuses are popping through the earth and spring is just around the corner, I say, how lovely for you. Well, I may add a few more descriptive words than that, but I prefer to keep this G-rated. If, like me,  you are suffering through a long and snowy winter and the end seems very distant, and the view outside your front door or bedroom window looks something like this, well, let’s all chant together… #@*&@!!

From my above rant, you can clearly tell I do not embrace winter. When I first moved to this winter wonderland we call Ottawa, many well intentioned people advised me that the best way to get through the long winter was to pick a winter sport and embrace it. After all, in the Nation’s Capital we have hundreds of miles of trails for snowshoeing or cross country skiing, not to mention the world’s longest (7.8 kilometers) skating rink, once the Rideau Canal freezes up. I have tried it all and to be honest, I just hate being cold. I prefer to spend my winters indoors. But I will admit to going a little stir crazy by mid-March. Just when you feel there is no end in sight and you can not look at another root vegetable or cabbage, these appear in the market.

These beauties are blood oranges. They typically appear in my market late February-March. Once I see them, hope blooms in my heart and I know that asparagus and strawberries will surely follow soon. Sometimes the blood oranges come wrapped up, like a present in colourful Ninja Turtle wrapping paper and sometimes they come unwrapped, naked for all the world to see. Mine came from Italy. They also grow them in Texas and California.

I am reminded of a line from the movie Forest Gump when I slice into a blood orange. You never know what you’re gonna get when you slice into a blood orange. The flesh can range anywhere from a blush coloured pink all the way to a profoundly deep crimson. Sometimes the flesh can will appear mottled, partly orange and partly red. I find those scariest of all, they sort of look diseased. The flavour is slightly less acidic than regular oranges. The colour variance inside the 3 oranges I sliced up was very surprising. I got orange, pale red and deep red flesh. Blood oranges have this unique color because they carry anthocyanins, which are powerful flavonoid pigments that exist in red and purple fruits and vegetables. These pigments are very effective in protecting the body from many diseases.

Blood oranges look especially pretty when you take the time to segment them into little wedges. I made a video demonstrating how to do that.

I paired the blood oranges with green beans, frisée, radicchio and belgian endive for a gorgeous salad. I tossed everything with a sherry vinaigrette and sprinkled on some toasted chopped hazelnuts. A few pomegranate seeds on top would really gild the lily!

I defy anyone to feel sad after feasting your eyes on this salad.

To print recipe, click here.


Peruvian Garlic-Lime Chicken

If you are a vegetarian, or at all squeamish about handling chicken, this post is not for you. I went to cooking school with this woman who was terrified about shoving her hand inside a chicken or turkey. She used to have nightmares about it. If that sounds like you, avert your eyes now and perhaps check our some of my gentler, kinder cookie posts.

I went through a phase where I bought just about any cooking/baking gadget available. My sister-in-law and I would spend many happy hours wandering up and down the aisles of Williams Sonoma, fondling all the new gadgets.  Sort of the way I scrutinize the anti-aging aisle at the drugstore these days. During one of those shopping trips, I bought a vertical roaster for chicken. The advantage of this gadget is that the chicken roasts standing up so you do not have to turn it while it is roasting, and it gets evenly browned all over.

It gathered dust in my kitchen cabinet and then I relegated it to the storage room in the basement and forgot all about it. That is, until I read the March/April 20111 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. They featured a recipe for Peruvian Roast Chicken, cooked on one of those vertical roasters.  Apparently, Peruvian Chicken joints are popping up all over the States.   They have yet to make it up here to Ottawa!   Reading the Cook’s Illustrated description of this chicken sent me scurrying down to my storage room to find my vertical roaster.

“The rotisserie bird that they serve, known as pollo a labrasa, in the mother country, is deeply bronzed from its slow rotation in a wood fired oven and impressively seasoned with garlic, spices, lime juice, chiles and a black paste made with huccacatay, or black mint. Off the spit, the chicken is carved and served with a garlicky, faintly spicy, mayonnaise like sauce.”

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated to come up with a way to recreate this in your own kitchen. And that’s where the genius of the vertical roaster comes into play. Since we don’t have a rotisserie in our kitchens to turn the chicken, so that it roasts evenly, they suggest placing it upright on a vertical roaster. But, don’t despair if you don’t have one. Apparently, excellent results can be had using a half filled can of beer to stand the chicken on. Just don’t use a beer bottle. The smokiness that they achieve in Peru, from using a wood fired oven is replicated using smoked paprika to give you that smoky taste.

Most of the ingredients needed to make the marinade are fairly simple to find. Most specialty food shops carry smoked paprika these days. I substituted a serrano chile for the habanero pepper called for in the original recipe. Everything gets thrown into the blender and whizzed into a smooth paste.

If I may just say a few words about my new blender. If loving an appliance is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I just bought myself a new blender, “The Blendtec HP3-A” to be specific. The jar on my old container cracked and they stopped making that model, so no replacement parts were available. Everytime I blended soup, it leaked all over the counter. I ordered the Blendtec on the advice of my little sister. Her husband is the king of blended drinks, so he had researched blenders very thoroughly and this was what he chose. It really is an incredible machine.

They call it the The Blender with Brawn and Brains!” The blender’s microprocessor will do the work. The microprocessor automatically changes the blade speed drawing ingredients into the blade, giving it a smooth, consistent blend. One touch operation and automatic shut off will allow you to multitask in the kitchen.”  Peruvian chicken marinade was its maiden voyage and the marinade was smooth in about 1 minute and 28 seconds. No scraping down or shaking the blender was necessary. Okay, blender bragging over.

Then comes the fun part, getting the marinade under the chicken’s skin. I found myself humming this song as I worked! They suggested using the handle of a wooden spoon to loosen the skin from the meat. I abandoned this method in about 30 seconds and went straight to using my hands. After getting the marinade under the skin, massage the remaining marinade all over the chicken. Then it rests in a zip loc bag in the fridge for 6-24 hours.

To print the recipe for Peruvian Garlic-Lime Chicken, click here.

In Peru, this chicken is accompanied by a spicy garlic mayonnaise. I never ended up making it, as I found the chicken wonderful without it, but if you want to try it the authentic way, here is a recipe to make the mayo..

I was so enthralled with this chicken that I made it a second time about a week later. I could not stop giggling when my second attempt came out of the oven. It looked like she needed an accessory to complete her outfit. A purse to hang on her wing would have been just the thing!