Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

20 05 2010

Strawberries and cream is a classic combination.

I was very excited yesterday to find the first Ontario strawberries of the season at the market.  They were considerably more expensive than the anemic imported strawberries sitting next to them but their sweet flavour was worth the extra couple of dollars. They actually tasted the way strawberries should taste and not like half-ripe, flavourless berries that were shipped hundreds of miles!  Hopefully the great weather we’ve been having this spring means we’ll have a long season to enjoy them.

Bigger isn't always better: The imported strawberry (left) may be big, but it doesn't have the juicy, bold flavour of the small, locally grown berry (right).

A perfectly ripe, in-season strawberry is pretty much perfect as-is but you can have fun with them too.  They’re great in pies, shortcakes, jam or even cocktails but one of my favourite ways to enjoy them is sprinkled with a bit of sugar and topped with real whipped cream.  Strawberry and vanilla-flecked cupcakes topped with creamy frosting and fresh berries turn this idea into a fun dessert that is perfect for summer gatherings.  They’re sure to be a hit with kids of all ages (the last time I made them, they disappeared within minutes!).

Click here to get the recipe from Suite 101.com: Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

A Strawberries and Cream cupcake





Asparagus 101

16 05 2010

It’s no secret that I love, love, love asparagus.  Each spring, I anxiously await the arrival of local asparagus in the markets and then spend the next six weeks or so thinking up new ways to enjoy it.  Luckily, asparagus is low in calories and packed with vitamins so there’s no reason not to indulge!

Local asparagus in season has a sweetness and vibrant flavour that isn’t found in imported spears that have travelled hundreds of miles.  If you don’t believe me, do a blind taste test with imported asparagus vs. local – I guarantee you will be able to tell the difference.  The best way to enjoy asparagus at its peak is simply cooked and dressed with just a bit of butter or olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.  A squeeze of fresh lemon is also delicious.

How to Prepare Asparagus for Cooking

Asparagus doesn’t require much prep work to get it ready.  Wash the spears and dry them thoroughly.  The woody ends are tough so it’s best to remove them.  If you hold an asparagus spear and bend it, it will naturally break where the tough part ends. However, I usually just trim the ends – cut where the ends turn from woody and pale to green and vibrant, usually an inch or two from the bottom.  The spears can be peeled if the skin is tough and stringy, which sometimes happens with thicker spears. However, I usually don’t bother.

How to Cook Asparagus

Asparagus cooks quickly so it’s a great way to add a vegetable to the dinner menu. It’s also very versatile so it can be used in soups, lasagnas, pastas, tarts, quiches or stir fries.  There are a number of ways it can be cooked:

Roasted: Toss asparagus with a bit of oil and roast in an even layer on a baking sheet at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes.

Steamed: Steam spears in a steamer basket or small amount of water until just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Grilled: Prepare a hot grill and brush asparagus with a small amount of oil.  Grill for about 2 to 3 minutes per side (you might want to use a grill pan, to keep the spears from falling through the grate).

Stir-Fried: Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet on high heat.  Add asparagus and stir fry for about 2 minutes.  Add a tablespoon of water or broth and cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 more minutes.

Asparagus Recipes

For more great asparagus recipe ideas, check out some of my archived recipes (including a couple of new ones!):

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms





Rhubarb Refresher

15 05 2010

A Rhubarb Refresher is a delicious cocktail made with rhubarb, ginger and rum

Local rhubarb has just started appearing at markets in Southern Ontario and other areas won’t be far behind. The bracingly tart stalks are delicious in pies, tarts, drinks or even savoury dishes, provided you sweeten the fruit a bit.

This drink is a little sweet, a bit tart and has some heat from the ginger. It pairs well with rum to make a refreshing springtime cocktail that is perfect for entertaining.  For a non-alcoholic version, skip the rum and top the rhubarb-ginger syrup with club soda and a squeeze of lemon.

Rhubarb Refresher

Makes 2 drinks

  • Ice
  • 1-1/3 cups Rhubarb-Ginger Syrup (see recipe below)
  • 3 oz. amber rum
  • A generous squeeze of lemon
  • Club soda, to top drinks
  • Lemon wedges for garnish
  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, rhubarb-ginger syrup, rum and a squeeze of lemon. Shake well and strain into two low-ball glasses or martini glasses.  Top with club soda and garnish with lemon wedges.

Rhubarb-Ginger Syrup

Makes about 1-1/3 cup

  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb, cut into 1″ pieces (about 3 to 4 stalks)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 2″ piece of fresh ginger (about the diameter of a nickel), peeled and grated
  1. In a saucepan, add all ingredients and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Mash fruit well with a spoon.  Strain into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer, using a spoon to extract as much juice as possible (the leftover fruit solids are delicious to eat).
  3. Let syrup cool and use as desired.  It will keep covered in the fridge for a few days.

Cheers and Enjoy!





Fiddlehead Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette

12 05 2010

Fiddleheads are only available for a short time each spring so enjoy them while you can!

When I was growing up in rural New Brunswick, we would pick fiddleheads every spring along the river near my parents’ house.  Because fiddleheads aren’t grown commercially, they are truly a seasonal treat and are only available for a short time each year.  However, many supermarkets and farmer’s markets sell them and sometimes frozen fiddleheads can be found out of season. They are delicious in soups, salads, quiches, pickled or just cooked simply and topped with a bit of butter. Be sure to cook them well – there have been some reports of food borne illness related to undercooked fiddleheads. Cooking them thoroughly will also remove any bitter flavour that may be present in the ferns.

This salad makes a great side dish for an Asian inspired dinner.  Why not serve it with some grilled salmon with a light teriyaki glaze and steamed rice?  Pair with a crisp white wine such as a dry riesling.

Fiddlehead Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette

(VEGETARIAN)

Makes 4 servings

  • 4 cups of fiddleheads, cleaned and trimmed of any brown parts
  • Large bowl of ice water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 large green onions (scallions) cut into thin slices, white parts only – reserve some chopped green ends for garnish

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral oil such as canola or safflower (avoid using peanut oil if there is a concern about peanut allergies)
  • ½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon dark sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely minced

Directions:

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside.
  2. Fill a saucepan with enough water to just cover 4 cups of fiddleheads and bring to a boil. Add fiddleheads and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain fiddleheads and plunge immediately into the ice water to stop cooking. Drain again and place on a dishtowel or paper towel to dry thoroughly.
  3. In a small bowl, prepare vinaigrette. Add rice vinegar, peanut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar and garlic and whisk until well combined.
  4. Place cooked fiddleheads and green onion slices in a bowl and toss with vinaigrette until dressing evenly coats the fiddleheads. Place salads on a plate and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and a sprinkling of green onion slices.

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Fiddlehead Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette





Roasted Asparagus Lasagna

10 05 2010

Roasted Asparagus Lasagna is a delicious way to enjoy the seasonal delicacy

Asparagus is finally in season and I couldn’t be happier.  I absolutely love asparagus and for the few short weeks it’s at its peak I go a bit nuts and eat it almost every day.  Perhaps it’s my imagination but this year’s crop seems to be especially delicious, possibly because of the unusually mild and dry spring we’ve had in Southern Ontario.  Last night I sautéed some in olive oil and added a splash of water to steam them until tender-crisp.  Sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, the fat spears were sweet and delicious.  I look forward to enjoying more over the next few weeks.

While a simple preparation is a great way to show off top notch ingredients, occasionally something fancier is in order.  A decadent roasted asparagus lasagna fits the bill perfectly: roasted asparagus bathed in a luxurious cheese sauce and baked until bubbling will tempt even die hard carnivores.  Serve with a lightly dressed green salad to cut the richness.

Roasted Asparagus Lasagna

Serves 6 to 8

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 1-1/2 lbs. fresh asparagus
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil or neutral oil such as canola or safflower
  • Salt and pepper

Sauce:

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk (do not use skim)
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • Salt, to taste

For Assembly:

  • 3 or 4 large fresh lasagna noodles or parboiled regular lasagna noodles
  • 1 packed cup grated mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz.)
  • ¾ cup grated asiago cheese (about 3 oz.)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Trim woody ends from asparagus and discard. Cut asparagus spears into 2” lengths. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread asparagus pieces on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast in the oven for 12 minutes, until spears are just beginning to soften. Remove from the oven and let them cool slightly.
  4. While asparagus is roasting, prepare sauce. In a large saucepan, heat butter on medium heat until fully melted and beginning to bubble slightly. Add flour and whisk briskly until incorporated into butter.
  5. Cook butter and flour mixture for about 2 minutes. Add one cup of the milk, whisking constantly. As the mixture begins to thicken slightly (about 2 minutes), add the second cup of milk and repeat the process for the third cup. Continue to stir sauce so it doesn’t burn or turn lumpy.
  6. Add nutmeg, parmesan cheese and garlic to the sauce. Stir thoroughly until cheese is melted. Season with salt to taste. Remove sauce from the heat.
  7. In a dish approximately 9” X 12” X 3”, spread 1/3 of the roasted asparagus spears evenly on the bottom. Drizzle 1/3 of the sauce over asparagus. Top with a layer of fresh lasagna noodles, cut to fit the pan.
  8. Repeat the layers: asparagus, sauce and noodles, asparagus, sauce. Make sure the final layer is sauce. Top with shredded mozzarella, asiago and parmesan cheeses.
  9. Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and golden.
  10. To serve: let the lasagna cool for about 20 minutes. Use a very sharp knife to slice through the asparagus. Accompany with a salad and crusty bread.

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto

19 04 2010


Every food magazine and many websites I’ve looked at over the past few weeks have been excited about spring and all the great produce we can now cook with. Asparagus, artichokes, strawberries and green peas are all featured in spring recipes and I’m as excited as anyone about cooking again with fresh local produce.  The only problem?  For most people living in Canada and the northern United States, these items won’t be available for a while.  

So why not make the most of what little we do have?  Wild leeks (a.k.a. ramps) are in season now and they are a flavourful and versatile spring treat.  They look like leafy green onions and taste like a mix between garlic and onion.  The entire plant is edible and can be used in everything from salad dressings to pasta sauces. Unfortunately, ramps aren’t available everywhere and they can be hard to find even in areas where they do grow. Farmer’s markets are the best place to find them – they likely won’t be carried by major grocery store chains.  I typically purchase them at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Wild leeks, which are also known as ramps.

 

This recipe is very rich so it’s best served in smaller portions.  However, the recipe can easily be doubled if you’re feeding a crowd.

Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto

Makes 4 servings

  • 3 oz. (85 grams) slab bacon or regular bacon, cut into small dice
  • 2 oz. (60 grams) wild leeks = about 10 to 12 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil such as safflower or canola
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. (250 grams) dried spaghetti
  1. Heat a skillet or large saucepan on medium-high heat and add bacon.  Cook until cubes are crisp and browned, about 7 minutes.
  2. While the bacon is crisping, prepare the pesto.  Trim the root tip but preserve as much of the white bulb as possible. Wash and dry the leeks carefully, making sure to get all of the dirt out of the leaves. 
  3. Chop the leeks into three or four pieces and place in a food processor or the chopping cup of a hand blender.  Add oil and a pinch of salt.  Pulse until the wild leeks are fully chopped and relatively smooth.  It should look like coarse pesto.
  4. Drain any excess fat from the crisped bacon.  On medium heat, add the wild leek pesto and stir fry for about 2 minutes to get rid of the sharp ‘raw’ flavour of the leeks.  Add cream and stir until the sauce is thoroughly combined.  Heat until the cream is just warmed through, about 1 minute.  Stir in parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  5. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions (see How to Cook Perfect Pasta for tips).  Drain and toss with creamy pesto sauce. Garnish with a wild leek leaf and serve with extra parmesan if desired.

OPTIONAL:  To make a vegetarian version, omit the bacon.  Add two teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet and sauté the pesto before adding cream and cheese.

For another delicious recipe using wild leeks, see my recipe for Potato and Wild Leek Gratin on Suite 101.com

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto is a decadent and delicious spring dish.





Cheese Toasts

31 03 2010

The first edible item of spring: chives!

A couple of days ago, I was taking some recycling out to the bin beside my house and to my astonishment, peeking out from amongst some dead leaves and sticks in my herb pot was the first edible item of spring!  I’m talking about chives, an oniony herb that is a perennial, meaning it will grow year after year. Chives are very mild so they’re usually used as an accent.  They also add a bit of colour to the plate so they make a great garnish.

This appetizer was inspired by a starter I had at Freemans restaurant in New York City when visiting with a group of friends back in February.  Be sure to use a good quality aged cheddar.  I use Balderson’s 3-Year Old White Cheddar but any decent extra old cheddar will work.

Cheese Toasts

Makes about 10 toasts

  • 1 cup (3 oz.) lightly packed grated aged white cheddar cheese – use extra old cheddar, aged at least 2 to 3 years
  • 1/4 cup dijon-style mustard*
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives, plus extra for garnish if desired
  • 10 baguette slices, cut about 3/4″ thick

*Using a mustard with horseradish such as Grey Poupon Deli Mustard or Kozlik’s Horseradish Mustard makes these toasts even more delicious.

  1. In a small bowl, combine cheese, mustard and chopped chives.  Use a spoon to stir all ingredients together until the mixture is combined and relatively smooth.
  2. Spoon about 1-1/2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture onto each baguette round and spread in an even layer.  Place rounds on a baking sheet.
  3. Heat the broiler of your oven and move an oven rack into the top slot.  Toast the cheese topped rounds under the broiler until bubbling and brown, about 2 minutes.  Watch very carefully – they can burn in seconds.
  4. Remove from the oven, place on a serving plate and sprinkle with a garnish of chopped chives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Sharp cheddar, dijon and chives make a simple but delicious appetizer