Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spice up dinner with a few off-the-wall veggies!

Pssst…I dare say? This Parsnip Cake with Ginger Cream Icing is even more delicious than carrot cake!
A few lonely, overlooked vegetables are vying for your attention at the vegetable stand. You know the wallflowers. Most are green, some are colourful, they grow in or close to the ground, and are usually quite frost hardy. Some look warty and, when boiled most smell earthy and rooty. Others grow hairy sprouts if left unattended on the counter for too long. Due to poor accessorizing tastes on the part of cooks, many suffer from low self-esteem issues. You’ve probably met a few of these veggies, glanced at them sorrowfully and promised to bring one home for a meal, next time. You remember them well from your childhood—Brussels sprouts, parsnips, rutabagas, cauliflower, etc. The ones you were told to eat but discreetly fed to Fido instead. (Hey, no one wonder his coat was so fluffy and he lived so long!) But the bland “boil, salt n’ serve” presentation just didn’t turn you on. I can’t imagine why?

Time for a veggie fashion accessory consult, no charge! Fasten your seatbelt for the spin, these once boring veggies are now vogue, sporting fall dress up twists that could be winning you rave dinner reviews. Cauliflower—wallflower no more—is prancing about in nothing but cheddar and thyme crumbs. The lowly parsnip is outdoing its poor cousin (the carrot) in cakes and spicing up world-renowned Irish wines and beers. Le petit choux, otherwise known as the Brussels sprout, is basking in lemon sauces and toasted almonds. Why not host a “haute and heavy” veggie fashion event like none other before!

Try these recipes at your next gathering:

Delicious Parsnip Cake with Ginger Cream Icing
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (packed) shredded peeled parsnips (about 3 large)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

1 pkg (250 g) light cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups icing sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan or two 8” or 9” cake pans to make a layered cake. Combine flour, sugar, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, 3/4 tsp salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves in large bowl; whisk to combine. Whisk eggs, oil, milk, and 1 tsp vanilla in medium bowl to combine. Pour egg mixture over dry ingredients; stir until just combined, don’t over mix. Stir in parsnips and walnuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan(s). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cake(s) completely in pan on rack. Remove from pans.
For icing:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in fresh ginger and 1/8 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Gradually add icing sugar and beat until icing is smooth. Spread over cake. If making a layered cake place one-third of icing on one cake and place the other cake on top and ice the entire cake. Tip: Place the first cake upside down on the cake plate, ice, then place the other cake right side up, on top. The two bottoms of the cakes will be stuck together. The cake will look more symmetrical and the top layer is less likely to slide or shift.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Cauliflower with sharp cheddar and thyme crumbs
1 large 3 lb cauliflower* head, cut into 2-inch florets
(*broccoli or Brussels sprouts may be substituted)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp dijon mustard
6 oz sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion greens
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (Use croutons crushed into breadcrumbs in food processor if necessary)
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450°F. Cook or steam cauliflower until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain cauliflower well in a colander and place in a buttered 2-quart baking dish. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat and whisk in flour. Cook over low heat, whisking for 3 minutes. Add milk in a slow stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add cheese, mustard, scallion greens, thyme, salt, and pepper, whisking until cheese is melted. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower and stir gently to combine.
Breadcrumbs: Melt remaining 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan, remove from heat. Pour over crumbs, add 1/2 tsp thyme and toss to coat. Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over cauliflower. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Makes 8 servings.

Lemon-glazed Brussels Sprouts with Slivered Almonds
About 3 cups medium Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed

1/4 cup butter

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp grated lemon peel

1/4 c slivered almonds
Steam or boil Brussels sprouts in a large pot until tender crisp (about 9 min). Drain in colander. Dispose of water. Using the same pot, over medium heat melt butter and whisk in lemon juice. Whisk to form a sauce. Stir in Brussels sprouts and coat with sauce. Cook, continuously stirring over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until sprouts brown slightly on the edges and glazed with sauce. Stir in slivered almonds. Place in serving bowl, sprinkle with lemon peel and serve
Makes 6 servings.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Completely Sweet Valentine's Day Supper

Feeling McLovin’ and looking for a unique way to impress your dude or dudette this Valentine’s Day? Why not flash a peace sign, zip down to Montréal and enjoy a one-night stay at the exact same suite John Lennon and Yoko Ono lounged in during their 1969 Give Peace a Chance bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Yep, for a mere $2,000 CDN, or one very large coffee tin full of toonies, you and your sugar pie could enjoy a leisurely stay in legendary suite 1742 complete with souvenir Jo-Ko PJs, a bouquet of white flowers, wine, breakfast and dinner as ordered by the famous nesting lovebirds 40 years ago. Just imagine!

Or, you could KISS (keep it simple sweetheart), save those under-the-bed toonies for junior’s tuition and host your very own love-in with a simple “I wanna hold your hand” dinner at home—sans les enfants. Just select your favourite lounge crooner “romantic hits”, set a peaceful table for two—complete with flowers and candles—and serve up a Lovin’ Spoonful Valentine’s meal all of your own. Start with a heart-friendly cranberry and feta salad and follow that number with a medley of sesame carrots, red peppers and sugar snap peas, rosemary-roasted red potatoes, maple-nut crust baked salmon and a dessert of frozen vanilla yogurt laced with crushed hot-cinnamon hearts. Best of all, this meal can be prepared in advance or quickly assembled at the last minute, giving you lots of “quality time” to spend with your sweetheart! But before the chopping and romantic fireworks begin, agree on who is Chef or Sous-Chef and Give Peace a Chance.

Cranberry Feta and Roasted Walnut Salad
4 cups mixed greens
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tart, sliced apple

½ cup toasted walnut pieces mixed with:
1 tsp each melted butter, sugar and cinnamon

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon or old-style mustard
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Toss nut pieces with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Bake for 5-6 min at on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet for 325F. Let cool. Layer salad greens in a large, shallow salad bowl or on a large serving platter. Whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard and pepper in small bowl. Slowly add oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly until well blended. Pour over salad greens. Toss gently to coat. Sprinkle cranberries, cheese, sliced apples and cooled walnuts over top. Serve immediately. Tip: Double or triple the dressing mixture and store in a glass jar, unrefrigerated. Keep large batches of the other salad ingredients in Ziploc bags in the refrigerator for quick salad prep. Imagine, you'll be getting your greens... every night!

Sesame Carrots, Peppers and Sugar Snap Peas
1 cup mini carrots
1 cup washed and trimmed sugar snap peas
1 red pepper thinly sliced
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds
Steam carrots for 5 min. Add peppers and snow peas to carrots and steam for another 3 min or just until tender crisp. Drain water from pot. Over low heat, in the same pot toss carrots, peppers and peas with 1 tbsp sesame oil. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sesame seeds over top and mix well. Serve immediately.

Roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes

6-8 small red potatoes
2 tbsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp coarse salt
Wash potatoes (leave skins on) and slice in half. Boil for 12-14 min. Drain. Place potatoes in a foil-lined 13x9” baking dish. Mix together olive oil and rosemary. Pour oil mixture over potatoes and toss gently with a pastry brush. Sprinkle pepper and coarse salt over top. Bake for 45 min at 425 F (stirring at halftime) until lightly browned

Salmon with Maple-Nut Crust
This recipe is for one large tail piece of salmon with the skin on. The tail of the salmon is always the sweetest and leanest.
1 large tail piece of salmon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup almonds, pecans or shelled pistachios

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil. Wash and dry salmon with paper towel and place skin side down (flesh side up) on the sheet. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Mix together syrup, curry and mustard. Chop up or crush nuts. Preheat oven to 425F. Spoon half of maple syrup mixture over fillets then sprinkle with nuts. Spoon remaining maple mixture over nuts. Cover the exposed areas of the sheet around the fish with tin foil pieces—this keeps the oil from splattering and burning. Bake in centre of oven at 425F for 35 min.

Crushed Hearts Vanilla Frozen Yogurt (pictured above)
3 cups very slightly melted and softened Vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream
3 tbsp crushed cinnamon hearts, reserve 1 tbsp
1/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate bits
2-4 rolled wafers or chocolate biscuits
Chocolate syrup (optional)
In medium sized plastic tub mix frozen yogurt, 2 tbsp crushed cinnamon hearts and chocolate bits together well. Place mixture in the freezer. To serve, use an ice cream scoop or tablespoon and spoon into glass bowls. Garnish with rolled wafers or chocolate biscuits. Drizzle with chocolate syrup (optional). Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp crushed cinnamon hearts. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Warning: This article contains scrumptious nut recipes. Enjoy.

If food groups had zodiac signs, nuts would most certainly be Aquarians. For centuries, in late January and most of February—when the stars shine for Aquarians—great Aquarians have graced civilizations with their visionary strengths and compassion for humanity. Abraham Lincoln, please rise! On the light-hearted side, and true to air-sign Aquarian form, nuts are eccentric, versatile, feisty, flavourful, wholesome, sexy and the life of any party; holding their own as a sultry cocktail nibble or playing an alluring adjunct to any appetizer, salad, entrée or dessert.

Being world travelers, intellects and diplomats on the food front for hundreds of years, nuts pride themselves on their lively, ancient roots and colorful health-promoting virtues. Some even fire up amorous thoughts and spark romantic relations! Egyptian pharaohs hankered for almonds in their special breads and the Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm. The Greeks thought walnuts resembled the human skull and brain and believed the its healing properties could cure any kind of headache. Hmmm…something to keep in mind the next time your head is throbbing and the kids are driving you nuts? Today, we know walnuts contain a significant amount of omega-3s and that a handful (1/3 cup) a day will keep the cardiologist and neurologist away. Looking to improve your love life twinkle-toes? Skip the oysters and wolf down a handful of zinc-rich pecans—daily. Zinc helps the body produce testosterone, a key hormone for igniting “the mood” in both men and women. Most of all, nuts are healthy lifesavers thanks to their high caloric, protein, vitamin and mineral counts. Brazil nuts are rumoured to have saved the lives of starving Spanish troops in the 1500’s when a smart Spanish colonial collected thousands of Brazil nuts and fed them to his tired and hungry army.

Need a little incentive to get yourself in a nutty mood? Try these carefree nut-laden recipes and you’ll be feeling like a quirky, fun-loving Aquarian in no time:

Chic and Simple Walnut Tart

This recipe is so tasty and elegant; folks might think a patisserie made it!


1 ½ cups white flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup cool butter cut into cubes

Combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Turn into a 10 or 11” flan pan with a fluted edge. {It’s worth buying such a pan if you don’t have one. This recipe is that good!} Spread the loose mixture evenly over the dish, then press it up against the sides and firmly pat it into an even layer on the bottom. The crust will be fairly thick. Cover the edges loosely with a strip of tin foil. Set oven rack to the middle position. Bake the crust at 350F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool a little while you prepare the filling.


3 large eggs

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped walnuts

With a wire whisk or electric mixer, beat the eggs until thick and foamy. Then beat in the sugar a little bit at a time, whisking well until sugar is dissolved. Stir in walnuts. Pour filling into partly baked crust and spread evenly. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes (turn halfway through) or until set and nicely browned. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool completely before serving. Slice into thin wedges and top each slice with a walnut half. Sift icing sugar over top, if desired. [You may also freeze the wedges. Just let them thaw on a rack at room temperature for an hour or so before serving. Don’t reheat.]

Christmas Nuts

[Any time of the year, these are nuts are a great addition to a goat cheese salad with apple or pear wedges]

2 tbsp butter

2 cups pecans

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

1/8 tsp nutmeg

2 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 300 F. In heavy skillet, warm the butter and sauté the nuts over medium-high heat 2-3 minutes until light brown.

In a medium bowl, put the spices and sugar and stir until well combined. Toss the nuts with the spice mixture. Pour the nuts into a foil-lined, lightly spray-greased, rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven, for about 10-15 minutes (stirring often) or until nuts are drier and spices adhere. Store in small glass jars or in plastic bags in the freezer.

Curried Cashews

[For a tasty side dish, add these nuts to steamed green beans, Brussels sprouts, rice or couscous]

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups raw cashews

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp garam marsala (optional)

pinch cayenne

1 tsp salt

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (if a drop of water sizzles in the oil, it’s ready) add the cashews.

Stir fry the cashews for 3-5 minutes until just golden brown. Watch carefully and stir frequently to prevent them from burning. Note: they continue to fry after being removed from the pan. Remove to a large, flat, rimmed cookie sheet lined with paper towels to soak up the oil. In small bowl, combine the curry powder, cumin, cayenne and salt and garam marsala. Pour the drained nuts into a large bowl, sprinkle spice mixture over the warm cashews and toss well to coat. Makes 2 cups. Store in small glass jars or in plastic bags in the freezer.

Almond-crusted Brie

1 (8-ounce wheel) Brie cheese

1/2 cup sliced almonds

3 tablespoons apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice the top rind off of cheese. Place cheese on a pie plate or round glass baking dish with a rim. Spread apricot jam across top of exposed cheese. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of jam. Place in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the almonds begin to brown. Serve warm, with slices of granny smith apples, crackers or crusty bread. Makes approximately 8 servings.

Take stock: Boost your savings with your own delicious home-made soups.

Yikes! The yo-yo stock market is hammering your portfolio and you’re looking for belt-tightening measures to increase your liquidity? Time to diversify. Skip the soup lines at your usual lunch joint, buy chicken, beef or vegetable stock and make your own hearty soups for your workday lunches. Guaranteed your piggy bank will fatten up in a hurry while you slim down—skipping the standstill line-dance ritual in favour of a vigorous run in the park. Vigorous, because you’ll be so darned giddy and energized with all the money you’re saving. No need for the Tummy Fat Savings Account (TSFA) now!

Your blue chip scheme will involve a weekly upfront investment; spending time with a large stock pot, employing a big, sharp knife and diversifying mutual veggies. Other one-time investments may include: outlay for glass containers to store and reheat your lunch shares, a hand-held immersion blender—the kitchen weapon of choice for quick and convenient soup making—and maybe a slow-cooker. Don’t bother blending your soups with a food processor or counter-top blender. They often overflow (spewing soup all over you and your kitchen walls) and compel you to transfer hot liquid back and forth between several pots—a messy, risky, inefficient venture in my books!

By Day Four of your new investment plan, you’ll begin to hear and feel a healthy Return on Investment; extra toonies jingling in your pocket and the need for suspenders to hold up your ever-loosening pants loaded down by a heavy wallet. By Day Five, you’ll go public and share your “secret” with like-minded stockholders. On Day Six you’ll be issuing soup dividends on the Toronto Stock Exchange. On Day Seven issue credit to yourself for launching a healthy, grassroots investment scheme and take your savings to the bank! Back to Day One again and you’ll hear about serious corrections in the markets; do not pass go, stick to your strategy, and try these delicious soup recipes.

Carrot Soup
3 tbsp butter
6-8 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin circles
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 med onion, chopped
2 med potatoes, peeled and diced
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp chopped ginger
2 tsp smooth peanut butter
1 tsp curry
¼ cup sour cream or yogurt

Melt butter in a large pot, add carrot, garlic and onion and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in potato, reduce heat to low, cover and sweat vegetables about 4-5 minutes. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Season to taste. Reduce heat and allow soup to simmer, covered for 25 minutes. Puree soup with hand held blender. Serve in soup bowls, garnished with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt. Garnish with herbs.

Tomatoe Soup

1 med onion, chopped finely
1 small carrot, finely chopped
3 tbsp butter
2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes. Whole tomatoes are fine, but chop them up.
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup heavy cream or half&half, room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil to taste
Heat butter in soup pot on med-low heat. Add onion and carrot, and sprinkle with salt. Sautee until onion and carrot are soft. Add canned tomatoes, including liquid. Turn up heat to med-high. Cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Reduce heat and add flour. Mix well to get rid of lumps. Cook for two minutes. Add chicken broth, cook until soup is hot, not boiling. Using a hand held blender, blend soup until it is smooth in texture. Add some of the hot broth to the cream. Mix well, then pour cream into soup. Add basil. Cook until soup is desired thickness.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
½ cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
1 pound mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 cups chicken stock or broth
4 cups half and half
1/4 cup sherry, port or Madeira or Riesling wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped or dried parsley and basil to taste.
Melt butter in soup pot on med-low heat. Add onions and salt. Sautee onions until they are soft. Add mushrooms, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add flour in a bit at a time, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Add broth a bit at a time, stirring constantly. After enough broth has been added to make everything liquid, add the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. The flour will thicken the soup a bit. Add cream, pepper, basil and parsley. Gently simmer the soup, without boiling for about ten minutes, to allow the flavors to mix. Add the sherry, port or wine; stir and serve.

Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoe Soup

*May also be slow-cooked for 2-3 hrs in a soup pot on the stove, stir every 15 min.
2 dried New Mexico Chili (mild) peppers
2 cups boiling water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (optional) diced jalapeno pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
4 cups peeled, ½” cubed sweet potatoes
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups corn kernels, thawed if frozen
1 tsp grated lime zest (peel)
2 tbsp lime juice
2 roasted red peppers cut into thin strips (bottled are fine)
finely chopped cilantro
Soak chilies in boiling water for 30 min. Drain, discard liquid and stems. Pat dry, chop and set aside. In a skillet, heat oil over med heat. Add onions and cook, Stir until soft. Add garlic, jalapeno pepper, salt oregano, and reserved chilies. Cook for 1 min. Transfer to slow cooker pot, add sweet potatoes and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook in slow cooker on low for 8-10 hrs OR on high for 4-6 hrs. Purée with a hand-held blender in the slow-cooker pot. Add corn, lime, zest and juice. Cover and cook another 20 minutes until corn is tender. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with red peppers strips and cilantro.

Red Lentil and Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk

2 cups red lentils
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black peppercorns
a few drops hot pepper sauce (to taste)
1 28 oz can tomatoes, including juice
2 large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 14 oz can coconut milk
optional: finely chopped cilantro

In a colander, rinse lentils thoroughly under cold water. Set aside. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft. Add garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds, salt, peppercorns and a few drops hot pepper sauce. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil, breaking up with back of spoon. Stir in carrots, lentils, lemon juice and broth. Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours until carrots are tender and mixture is bubbling. Stir in coconut milk and cook on HIGH for 20-30 minutes, until heated through. When serving, garnish each serving with cilantro, if using.