Almond Joysicles…If this is vegan, sign me up!

hands 1 I intended to blog about peach raspberry sorbet this week but somehow, here I am telling you all about Almond Joysicles. It all started with a little culinary challenge. We were having 12 friends up to the cottage for the weekend and I was in charge of Friday night dinner and dessert. (Everyone is assigned a different meal). Most of these friends keep strictly kosher and since I was making Miami Ribs, dessert had to be dairy free.

I must confess that I am always thrown off balance when challenged to bake dairy free desserts.  I don’t like to use butter or milk substitutes so I took the fresh fruit sorbet route. I settled on a tangy lemon sorbet and a peach-raspberry combo. While surfing for inspiration, I came across an article on seriouseats.com titled, “How to make Great Vegan Ice Cream”. Vegan Ice cream?? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Ordinarily, my visceral reaction to the word vegan causes me to recoil.

But, as I read through the article and recipe, I discovered that it did not contain any ersatz dairy products, but utilized instead, the dynamic duo of coconut milk and coconut cream.  With this double coconut whammy, this ice cream would be high in fat, which means lots of flavour.

I whipped up a batch of this along with the peach raspberry and the lemon. Most requested flavour and winner by a long shot was the coconut sorbet.  If this is vegan, sign me up!in cone 2I was telling my daughter about these and she suggested I freeze them in Popsicle molds. As I whipped up second batch, I upped the fun factor, and mixed in some chopped salted almonds, toasted coconut and bittersweet chocolate chunks. Outstanding! Then, my girlfriend Marla, who is one of the most intelligent people I know, suggested, dipping them in melted bittersweet chocolate. I know… brilliant, right?3 blue 625b sq

Click here to print recipe for Almond Joysicles.

 

Peach, Green Bean and Pickled Onion Salad

Oval Blue Platter 2 625 sqWhen Mother Nature shows up at the farmers market flaunting her peaches (and beans), you don’t mess around too much with perfection like this. Keep it simple!peaches in collander 2beans in basket 1I have made this salad four times already this summer. The first time I made it, it was part of a celebratory dinner* for 12. (Big football game victory – Go RedBlacks!!) Luckily I had a wonderful sous chef with me in the kitchen that day; my niece Samantha was visiting. We have collaborated in the kitchen before, on a 6 braid challah, so I knew I had some exceptional assistance.

As the afternoon wore on and we continued our prep, I noticed the level of blanched beans in  the colander was diminishing. My niece could not stop eating them. She told me that her beans never tasted like this, and asked what I had done?  I explained that they were fresh from the farmer’s field and I that I had heavily salted the cooking water. (almost 1/4 cup Kosher salt for a big pot of water). This seasons the beans perfectly and they do not taste “salty”.

Sautéing the peaches in a bit of vegetable oil for just a few minutes really enhances their natural sweetness. The pickled onions add a welcome piquant note. This is a beautiful fresh summer salad. two plates with prosecco 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Peach Green Bean Pickled Onion Salad.

close up* If inquiring minds are curious, we rounded out the feast with Flatbread and Dukkah, Rib Steaks, Smashed Roasted Potatoes with Smoked Paprika and Rosemary, Arugula, Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad, Blueberry Coffee Cake and Hazelnut Almond Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Hazelnut Almond “Waffle” Ice Cream Sandwiches

stacked 625 sqThis started out as a post about some simple “Nutty Crunch Cookies” that were featured in the March 2014 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine, in their “Fast, Easy, Fresh Weeknight Favourites” column. I think that there is no better way to end a meal than with a cookie, so I am always on the hunt for new cookie ideas. I filed it away and got on with more important stuff like the actual eating of cookies.

Somehow, a simple cookie seems to have snowballed into” waffle” ice cream sandwiches. If you have ever read the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” (or the ever popular sequel, and my personal fave, “If You Give a Pig a Pancake”) , you will understand how these things happen.

It all started with my taking some photography classes with a talented food photographer. He encouraged me to start thinking less like a cook and more like a food stylist. I interpreted that to mean I needed to go shopping. A few trips to Target, HomeSense and Zone, and I had filled a baker’s rack with some lovely new props.baker's rack
One of my favourite finds was this adorable cookie press set.cookie stampsI knew I had to use them to make those Nutty Crunch Cookies. stamping 1As I was styling a “Milk and Cookies” shot, I kept staring at the “waffle” design on these cookies, thinking that they would be quite fantastic with a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between  them.   milk and cookies 1The Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche Ice Cream sitting in my freezer called out to me.ice cream sandwich 1One of my favourite childhood memories is going to the CNE (The “Ex”) with my older sister and our Auntie Susie. After going on all the rides and playing all the games with us, we would head to the Food Building for Tiny Tom Doughnuts, Candy Apples and Ice cream Waffles. We used to beg for the treats before the rides, but Auntie Susie, wise beyond her years, knew that ice cream waffles prior to a wild and crazy ride on The Scrambler would not end well.

When my kids were little I would sometimes make them waffles and ice cream for dinner. Dinner and dessert all in one! I was a very efficient mother. Steaming hot crunchy waffles, wrapped around a cold scoop of ice cream is one of life’s perfect food combinations.  While these cookies are not real “waffles”, the combo of the nutty crunch from hazelnut and almond cookies and the swirled caramel ribbons of dulce de leche ice cream is quite an unbeatable duo.

Click here to print recipe for Hazelnut Almond _Waffle_ Ice Cream Sandwiches.

 

 

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.

close up tart

 

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.