Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Maple, Ginger and Basil Stewed Peaches

It is not often that two days go by without me cooking at home so when three days went by I was starting to feel a little strange, almost like going through a withdrawal of some kind. To get my fix I went to my local grocery store, came home loaded with good eats and cooked several dishes in one morning.

One of them was the Apple Vichyssoise I wrote about yesterday. Another dish was a pan-seared pork chop with whole wheat couscous topped with peaches and ginger.

More often than not I top my pork chop with an apple compote, made with apples, brown sugar and Calvados (or whatever brandy I have on hand). Because Ontario peaches are now in season and I bought a few too many I decided to top my pork with peaches. It was delicious. You'll only need a few things and if you cut your peaches small it's all done in 10 minutes at most.

Your short ingredient list:
4 peaches,
1" knob of ginger, grated
2 Tbsp of Maple Syrup
1 Tbsp butter
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade).

That's it! In fact the plan was to cook the peaches just with ginger and maple syrup but my eyes landed on the bushy basil plant so I decided to throw in some basil. It was a fortunate afterthought.

1. Peel and dice peaches

2. Peel and grate your ginger. (Yes, I'm using a spoon for peeling. It's easier than using a knife in this case and you have less product waste)

3. In a small saucepan over medium heat melt the butter and add the peaches, grated ginger, maple syrup and basil. Cook for approximately 5-10 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your peaches. 

 Serves two as side. Tops three pork chops generously.

Apple Vichyssoise

"I've always loved that name, Vichyssoise" said a friend after seeing photos of the finished soup. She's right, it has such a nice sound to it. Although Vichyssoise might sound a little pretentious, it is a really easy soup to make. Really, it's potato and leek soup. Potato and Leek soup is Julia Child's first recipe in the "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Potage Parmentier, she called it. If you've never made it, you should try it.

Here's what you'll need, aside from a large pot and a blender:

4 potatoes (I used Yukon Golds, it's my go to potato, you can use other variety)
2 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 apple (Granny Smith in this case, other apple would work but try not to use overly sweet ones like Double Red)
1 stalk celery
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup cream
4 cups water
parsley for garnish

1. Wash and chop the leeks, peel the apple and small dice the celery stalk. If you haven't worked with leeks much and are not familiar with them, you should know leeks love dirt so give them a good wash. You can chop them and leave them in a large bowl full of water so the dirt can sink to the bottom or you can cut them in half lengthwise and wash them under lukewarm running water.

2. In a pot large enough to hold at least 8 cups of soup, over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the diced apple, celery and leek. Sweat them for 5 minutes or until leeks are soft.

3. While the vegetables are sweating, peel and dice your potatoes. If your knife skills need improvement still, dice your potatoes before you start. Don't worry about the size of them too much because you are pureeing the soup at the end. Just try your best to  have cuts that are somewhat uniform to ensure even cooking

4. Once the leeks are soft add the diced potatoes and the 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt and pepper. You should have enough water to cover the vegetables.

6. Simmer for 20-30 minutes;  remove from heat.

7. Puree and add the cream. Chill and serve garnished with parsley (or chives). You may have to adjust the seasoning after it is chilled.

If you're looking for other recipes for Vichyssoise, Lucy Waverman has a great recipe for Pear and Watercress Vichyssoise and there are currently eight Vichyssoise recipes on Food Network Canada. Laura Calder gets fancy and uses Vichy mineral water for her soup but most cooks seem to use water or chicken stock.

I hope you give it a go. It's 30 minutes you won't regret to have spent.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Asian-Inspired Shrimp Stir Fry

For a few days I've been craving some bold, Asian flavors. The restaurant I work at serves Continental food -- steak, lamb, fish and so on -- so I knew I wasn't going to get my Asian-fix at work. I also work a lot and when I finish my shift at night I like to come straight home so having a late dinner of Chinese food at a restaurant nearby was out. So I did what any cook with a craving would do: I made the food myself. And ate it for breakfast! It was so good that when I told Jen all about it, she asked that I make her the same thing for dinner. So I essentially cooked this meal twice in three hours. It's that simple, that quick and that delicious. At least I think so!

Here's what you will need for the stir-fry,in addition to a wok or a large sautee pan:

1/2 lbs shrimp. I used the 31-40 variety (meaning medium size shrimp, 31-40 pieces per lb)
1 large red bell-pepper, sliced thinly.
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, any variety except Portobello which is a little too meaty for this.
1 stalk of celery, sliced thinly on a bias (at an angle).
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1/4 cup Soya Sauce

Serves 2 generously.

 Remember, do all your slicing, chopping, mincing and shrimp-peeling (if you bought the peel-on kind) before you start cooking. (In a cook's world what you're doing is called setting up your mis-en-place). All these ingredients go into the pan almost all at the same time and they cook fast so you won't have time to slice pepper once your ginger and garlic are frying. We all know garlic burns VERY quickly.

2. On high heat in a large sautee pan or wok, heat the vegetable and sesame oils.

3. Add the garlic, ginger and sesame seeds, if using, and cook for a few seconds until the garlic has picked up a little color and you can smell its aroma.

4. Add the sliced vegetables and sautee till slightly soft, about 2 minutes.

 5. Now you can add your shrimp and cook for another 2 minutes. When the shrimp is cooked it will change color (translucent flesh becomes opaque) and it will also curl. (This is because proteins coagulate when cooking. As they cook, they lose moisture, shrink and become firm)

6. Add hoisin sauce and soy sauce and toss everything together. Cook until the liquid has evaporated.

*7 If you are using noodles, add the noodles along with the sauces and toss. Some of the liquid will be absorbed by the noodles. If you are using rice, put rice into a bowl and top with stir-fry mixture.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Pommes Nature"

Don't let the name intimidate you. "Pommes Nature" simply means potatoes cooked without much fuss, doing very little to alter their natural taste. That means you're not seasoning heavily, you're not adding sour cream, or milk, or 35% heavy cream. You're simply boiling them and sauteeing with some butter and parsley at the end.

I grew up with "nature" potatoes. I didn't think my mother was a very sophisticated cook. She's a good cook, my mother, but very much meat and potatoes. So imagine my surprise when once day in cooking school there was a recipe for these "pommes nature!" I was gushing with the pleasure of having the secret, inside scoop on these potatoes when none of my peers had heard of them.

It's child-play simple. It really is. Here's what you will need, aside from a pot in which to boil them and a sautee pan:

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, or 4 smallish red skinned potatoes
1 tablespoon of butter
flat-leaf parsley, 6-8 leaves, chopped

1. Dice your potatoes and put them in a pot with enough cold, salted water to cover them.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until soft. Do not overcook. If you do, they'll fall apart on you when you sautee. To test for doneness, prick a potato with the tip of a sharp knife. If it goes in easily, bob's your uncle.

3. Drain them and allow them to dry in the strainer/colander.

4. Over medium-high heat add the butter and heat it. When the foam subsides, add potatoes and the chopped parsley and give them a quick toss. Cook for another minute, season to taste and serve.

You can save the pan and sautee some sliced zucchini in it, maybe some chicken, and this is what you get. (Sorry to break it to you but chefs don't cook fancy all the time. They cook tasty!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cold Cucumber and Avocado Cream Soup

July and August are made for cold soups. Fresh fruits and veggies are available in large numbers from your local farmer and even at your grocery store you can find them usually at a lower price than you would in the winter. I find soups are not fussy, you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand provided you follow some basic rules. If you're not much of a rule follower, well, go for it anyway, you might discover an awesome recipe! If there is one rule you MUST follow is this one: "garbage in, garbage out". Meaning if you're going to throw any old ingredient in your soup, regardless of how shriveled, old or unappealing, well, your soup is going to be crap. So don't do that. However, if you have a good half pepper in your fridge, maybe a half cucumber that you won't be eating tonight, a couple of tomatoes and or even a scallion or two then you're well on your way to a good cold soup.

For this soup you will need, in addition to a blender, the following ingredients:

1 cucumber
1 avocado
2 green onions
1/4 cup cilantro
1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded (leave seeds in if you like a lot of heat)
1  lime (juice only)
1 cup of 35% cream
1 cup milk
pinch of salt

Here's how it's going to go down:

1. Peel and seed your cucumber
 2.  Chop it up so that you have less work to do with your blender, and put it in a bowl. A glass bowl is  preferable but if you just don't have one, use whatever you have. Try to avoid aluminum.

3. Chop your avocado, cilantro, jalapeno and scallions and add them to your bowl.

4. Add your lime juice, cream and milk and get out your immersion blender if you've got one.

5. When you're done it should look like this:

6. Or, for your guests, like this: