December 30, 2010

Easy New Year's Eve Appetiser: Roast Beef Tortilla Roll-Ups

Delicious roast beef roll-ups

I love dishes that do double duty. That's especially true of appetisers. My favorites are the ones that can handily sub in for a quick snack or meal once the party's over.

That's why these roast beef roll ups have been an app staple at our house for years. Super easy to prep, they can be made ahead or done at the very last minute if you need more - perfect for a casual New Year's Eve gathering.  Have the fixings or a full one left over? Cut it in half and you've got a tasty wrap. Just add a salad (or potato chips if you're feeling decadent), and some pickles and you have the perfect deli-style lunch.

Roast Beef Tortilla Roll-Ups
Serves 6 as an app or two generously for lunch

¾ c cream cheese, softened
1½ tbsp extra hot horseradish
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced or minced*
1 lb rare roast beef, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 10-in flour tortillas

*I usually make these with thinly sliced onions. For easier rolling, you can mince the onions and add them to the cream cheese mixture in step one.

1. In a large measuring cup, combine cream cheese and horseradish with a wooden spoon until well-blended. If using minced onions, add them and stir well to combine.

2. Spread a layer of the cream cheese mixture on a flour tortilla, right to the tortilla edge. Place roast beef slices on top of the cheese, covering slightly. Add the tomato slices and the thinly sliced onion; do not overlap the vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Be sure to use the best quality roast beef

3. Roll the tortilla tightly and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour. The prepared rolls can be made up to a day in advance.*

For appetisers:
When ready to serve, slice the roll on the diagonal in 1.5 inch slices and arrange decoratively on a plate.

Perfect party bites!

For lunch:
Cut the roll in half and secure each piece with a toothpick. Garnish with your lunch fixings of choice and enjoy!

*NOTE: Refrigerating rolls allows the cheese to firm up again but you can easily make these, slice and serve. Making these more than a day in advance will result in soggy rolls - unless you eliminate the tomato.

December 22, 2010

Opening the Doors Wide: Our Annual Open House Extravanganza

Fifteen years and counting.  With the exception of 2008, when we had just finished the kitchen reno and were still covered in plaster dust and debris, every year at this time we host our annual Open House. It started in our tiny apartment with a kitchen barely the size of a closet, and an idea that it would be nice to have a few friends over to celebrate the season.    
 Apartment sized fridge to the right, where the kitchen ended; to the left a window and no more counter space.  Truly a closet sized kitchen!

Since then, it’s mushroomed into a gathering of close to a 100 people, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to cook up a storm.  Yes, we cook all of the food, served buffet style – all savoury apps, no dessert, please and thank you – ranging from house-cured gravalax to mini tourtieres; the three-cheese fondue that caused an uproar the year it didn’t appear on the table, and the always new entrees, some successful, some not.

Mini toutieres, with the best pastry dough

Carmelized tomato tatins

Cutting the rosemary-garlic infused grilled leg of lamb
It’s the time of year we dip into my cache of cookbooks, the back issues of Donna Hay, Bon Appetit, Gourmet and the countless other food magazines that I’ve accumulated over the years.    Do-ahead is a big factor; “able to freeze” moves a recipe high up on the consideration list.

We think we have it down to a science, and yet every year there’s that moment when panic sets in – at least for me.  Will we have enough food? Will there be a snowstorm that day?   Did we order enough plates and glasses?  And – of course – what should I wear?

Reconnections are made with friends old and dear.  We see the kids growing older, and then stop coming altogether; we witness the friendships that have been formed at our house and get renewed at this once a year gathering.  And more than once throughout the day we’re told that this is the party of the season, the one they wouldn’t miss for the world.

Tools of the trade

And while there’s no doubt that every morsel is savoured – guests know to come hungry – the one thing that is the “icing” is the party favour everyone leaves with: homemade personalised gingerbread cookies.  It’s the one bit of baking I do, and I have to say I love the smell of those cookies baking and spending the better part of a Sunday slowly rolling out dough and decorating each cookie.

Letting your cookie dough rest for an hour in the fridge makes for easier rolling

Several of the dozens of cookies made 

Having an assortment of ribbons and dragees on hand makes for easy decorating

Rolled wax paper subs in for a proper icing bag - Santa, are you listening?

Nothing more magical than seeing your own name...

 Bagged and ready for giving

Everyone has a favourite holiday cookie recipe, and not all are fans of gingerbread.  So, instead of sharing that recipe (which is a bit of a closely guarded secret) instead I’ll share my foolproof recipe for Royal Icing, which can be use to decorate not just your Christmas baking but really any cookie or sweet treat you wish.

As you bake and decorate, be sure to add a sprinkle of love on top - I guarantee you it's the one ingredient your family and friends won't be able to identify but won't be able to do without.

Royal Icing
makes 2 cups
The icing hardens as it dries, so it’s perfect for decorating cookies or baked goods that will be stored. 

2 lg egg whites, at room temperature
1 lb icing sugar, sifted, and more as needed
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp water, or more as needed

1.      Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat at high speed with a hand-held mixer until the icing is fluffy, thick and shiny, about 3 minutes.

 2.      Test the consistency of the icing by holding up the beaters.  If the icing drips off the beaters in a slow steady stream, it's the right consistency for piping.  If too thick, beat in a little water; for a stiffer icing that holds its shape, add more confectioners’ sugar.  The icing can be coloured with food colouring, which can be beaten in at this point.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

The icing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

December 15, 2010

Baker's Dozen: The Best Cookbooks for Holiday Giving

'Tis the season for giving, and I've been reading a lot of "Top Ten" and "Best of" lists lately.  There’s lots of advice about what to give and get this holiday season.  One list that keeps popping up in various permutations is the "Best Cookbooks of 2010" list.  Seems it's been a bumper year for great cookbooks, and everyone wants to weigh in on their personal favourites.  

I love these lists. I read them to see which books I've missed, which ones I'll give and which I hope that Santa tucks under the tree for me.  But even with stellar lists like this year's, in my mind I go back to my favourites; the tried and true workhorses of my kitchen that never fail to instruct, to surprise and to entertain.

For this Christmas, or for whatever else you may celebrate throughout the year, I'm sharing my personal list of cookbooks you should own.  While you won't find a book on baking in this baker's dozen, I'm sure you'll find something to intrigue.  There's still time to buy one or two as gifts - and be sure to tuck a new old favourite on your shelf too. 

The Best Recipe: Grilling and Barbecue, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
This book has all the hallmarks of the Cook's Illustrated team: lots of explanation behind each technique and method; "master" recipes for dishes, with numerous variations; instructions for both gas and charcoal, plus loads of recipes for things other than meat and fish.  If you are the kind of cook that wants to know why, and you don't know Cook's Illustrated, pick up a magazine and immerse yourself in their unique blend of science and kitchen alchemy.  And then buy any one of their cookbooks.  I bought this one as a gift for Richard years ago, and the dog-eared pages are a testament to its success.

Friday Night Dinners, Bonnie Stern
The wonderful Jewish tradition of breaking bread with family is one that more of us should adopt; as Bonnie says, Friday night is a perfect time to share a meal with family and friends. I am lucky to count Bonnie as a dear friend and have been even more fortunate to eat with her and her family for many a Friday night dinner.  This is that rare instant classic: every recipe easy, relaxed and unfussy, arranged around menus that can be mixed and matched.  We make Anna's House Salad dressing by the quart, the Rack of Lamb with Harissa is divine and the Sticky Toffee Cake is just delicious.  I was thrilled that Bonnie included two of my recipes in this book too! The newest book on this list, FND was just released in paperback.

Olive Oil: From Tree to Table, Peggy Knickerbocker
A few years ago a colleague brought in a box of cookbooks that she had received from a publisher friend. Ours for the taking.  Anything to do with olive oil seemed like a good bet, and I wasn't wrong.  The front half of this book takes you on a journey of olive oil production, and everything from how to buy it to how to store it.  Many of the accompanying recipes feature different olive oil varietals, and it's fun to try and use what type's asked for (Tuscan, Greek, Spanish).  I've cooked my way through the appetisers and most of the mains, with a couple of breads thrown in too.  Simple, flavourful Mediterranean cooking, beautifully presented. 

Pork and Sons, Stéphane Reynaud
You had me at pork.  Everything to do with the glorious pig, and I mean everything. I grew up with a father who would buy a pig with a few other friends, so that they could butcher it together to make everything from sausages to head cheese (not to mention those lovely pork chops), so nose to tail eating is old hat for me.  This book is for the real pig lover.  Gorgeous photos, wonderful character pieces and - best of all - the most hilarious porcine cartoons in every chapter.  Bien sur, Stéphane Reynaud's restaurant in France is so on my list of places to visit before I die.

Soup - A Way of Life, Barbara Kafka
"Sadly, I cannot invite all of you to my house, but I think there is a full array of recipes here for happiness". So says Barbara Kafka in her lovely introduction to this book full of goodness.  Like a warm hug or toasty slippers on a cold winter's night, a beautiful bowl of soup is truly comfort food.  And, no matter what your skill level in the kitchen, soup is that most forgiving of dishes, accommodating equally scraps of leftover bits and purpose-bought ingredients.  Full of personal stories, this book is like being at Barbara's house - and what a welcoming home it is.

Cooking from an Italian Garden, Paolo Scaravelli and Jon Cohen
For a few brief years in my early 20's, I become a vegetarian, much to my parents' horror (see Pork + Sons above).  At that same time, I was slowly realising what amazing cooks my parents were, and that homemade ravioli, featherweight gnocchi and creamy lasagne were not the usual fare on most people's dinner table.  This book didn't cement my vegetarianism, but it did open my eyes to fresh, local, seasonal that is the mantra of Italian cooking, and that somehow hadn't been impressed upon me even though I lived it every day.  The dishes are rich and full of butter and oil (Ina Garten would love this book), and I still use it for great pesto, crespelle and pasta recipes, 25 years later. 

Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, Julia Child
How to choose just one Julia Child book?  I chose to put Kitchen Wisdom on the list because it's the perfect soupçon of Julia: tips. hints and the absolute best full proof recipes that showcase all of her tried and true favourites.  It's less overwhelming than Mastering but just as good at showcasing her unique voice and firm hand in the kitchen.  A wonderful stocking stuffer; or put it by your bed and dip in every now and again for inspiration.

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina Garten
How easy is that? is the Ina mantra, and the name of her new book.  Skip that one and get this instead.  Part recipe book, part entertaining primer, this book follows the Ina formula of easy to read format, great photos, and tons of tips and simple shortcuts along with the delicious recipes.  I love the feature at the beginning of each chapter that showcases 10 easy to do things: 10 no cook appetisers; how to arrange flowers like a pro; 10 things not to serve at a dinner party, etc.  If you have someone who loves to entertain on your list, this is a must-add for their cookbook shelf.

Instant Entertaining, Donna Hay
And this is another.  I could easily add every Donna Hay book and make this list strictly Aussie (and all of her books are on my shelf).  I love that there's a photo for every recipe; I love that there are beautiful and simple ideas for imaginative table settings; I love the menu suggestions and stunning photography. I'm an avid reader of the Donna Hay magazine, and her books follow the same format, making everyone believe that entertaining with style is not only possible, it's practical.   

Bills: Breakfast, Lunch + Dinner, Bill Granger
Another favourite Aussie chef.  You can almost smell the bright clean Sydney air emanating from the pages of this cookbook.  This is especially good for family cooking, and offers up simple recipes for any time of the day.  It's worth seeking out the more exotic ingredients that may not be readily available, like passionfruit, to make the yummy desserts.  Reflecting the proximity of the water, there's lots of seafood dishes as well, and dishes with a Asian twist that are full of flavour. Yum! 

The New Basics, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
Probably the most used book on my shelf.  If I were on a desert island, this would be the one I would take.  There are so many things that make it great: the comprehensive size, covering everything literally from soup to nuts; the copious sources referencing all the great cooks and their books, from Julia to James Beard and Elizabeth David; the engaging voice of the two authors.  It taught us the pleasure of making soup; how to clarify butter and has possibly the world's best apple pie recipe. A delight from cover to cover.

Madhur Jaffrey's Spice Kitchen:, Madjur Jaffrey
I got this little book 20 years ago as part of a gift set that included beautiful little tins of Indian spices, packaged in a wonderfully colourful box. Although I loved Indian food, I had never attempted to make it. Madjur Jaffrey is at once storyteller and teacher, and these recipes, meant to showcase the spices, are both simple and delicious. This book gave me the confidence to try the exotic and unknown, and taught me that spices are truly mysterious, complex and wonderful things.

Contemplation and the Art of Saladmaking, Jeanne Heiberg
This odd and wonderful book rounds out my baker's dozen.  Found in a used bookstore in Chicago, this book is part meditation guide, part story telling and ultimately about salads. Each chapter focuses on one salad recipe, sometimes with variations, with names like Vinegar of Vicussitudes Salad and Eros and Endeavor Salad. Quirky and interesting, this is another one great for bedside reading.

I hope you have a chance to buy and try some of these books. I'd love to know what some of your favourites are too!

December 05, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Jamie Kennedy and the World's Best Paella

Let me start by saying that my first guest blogger is not Jamie Kennedy, as much as I would like to say that he and I are chummy enough to be blogging buddies.  But it was Jamie that inspired me to ask my first guest blogger to post on these pages, none other than the wonderful and talented Mr. Duckandcake, aka my husband Richard.

It started with a dinner that I attended this past Monday night at Gilead Cafe, Jamie's cozy restaurant and staging arena for his catering business.  The restaurant is an intimate space, and the room was jammed, filled with 30+ women there for a private cooking demo and dinner.  On the menu: authentic paella, preceded by some yummy apps and followed by salad and luscious dessert.

I was particularly interested in the paella, because, IMHO, Richard makes a kickass paella.  And I thought I could glean some tips to share back home.  The trappings were certainly impressive.  A HUGE paella pan. Proper Bomba rice.  An array of ingredients, mise en place, at the ready.  And a master chef to pull it all together.

Maybe it was the prevalent memory of Rich's delicious paella that was playing in my mind.  Maybe it was the fact that the rice was a wee bit under-salted.  Maybe it was the way the paella was plated, more restaurant style than rustic country.  All that combined to leave me with the distinct impression that, although the technique was beyond reproach, the end result paled in comparison.  Yup, it's true.

Richard makes the world's best paella.  And without further ado, over to Richard to tell you all about it. 

I think Elizabeth will agree with me that nothing brings us joy like hosting wonderful friends in our home while sharing copious amounts of food, stories and laughter.

I enjoy cooking although my culinary skills are limited. But, for some reason, I seem to have mastered a few dishes which never fail to impress. Having grown up in Montreal with the BBQ in use regardless of weather and season, I too barbecue year-round.  On a particularly mild fall evening earlier this year, this dish was la piecè de résistance.

Paella on the barbecue.

As a BBQ purist, I rely on my charcoal Weber to give me the authentic barbecue taste I look for. Of course this recipe can easily be replicated on a gas BBQ. Whether using gas or charcoal you must ensure that the heat source covers the entire bottom of the BBQ in order to give an evenly distributed temperature.

Other than cooking the paella on an open flame, the other key component of this recipe is the broth in which all the ingredients cook. A velvety homemade broth using as its base the discarded shells of shrimps. These can be from shrimps you’ll cook in the actual paella or, as we have started doing, shells that we keep and freeze from shrimp cooked for other dishes. After sweating the shells in a pot and investing time and a handful of aromatic ingredients, you have a perfect base for a perfect paella.

I'm sure there are numerous versions of this famous Spanish dish, some more authentic than others, but I like the version where, like a treasure hunt, everyone can find something to satisfy; chicken, chorizo, shrimp and mussels.

Richard's Paella on the Barbecue
generously serves 8

For the shrimp broth
(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

2 tbsp olive oil
Shells reserved from 2 lbs medium shrimp
1 lg onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
¼ c tomato paste
¼ c dry sherry
2 quarts of water
6 lg garlic cloves, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves
1 large chipotle chile in adobo
Large pinch of saffron

For the paella
(Richard's own!)

½ c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 c medium-grain rice (if you can't find authentic Bomba rice, arborio can be substituted)
8-10 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin
½ lb. cured spicy chorizo, sliced
2 lbs mussels, cleaned and debearded
Any combination of 1-2 c green beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, etc. 
1-2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, with tails on (save the shells for broth)

Make the broth:
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil.  Add the shells and cook over medium heat until they are lightly browned.  Add the onion and carrot and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to brown.   Stir in the tomato paste, cook briefly, then add the sherry and bring to a boil for one minute more.

2.  Add the water and bring to a boil.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes.

3.  Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing on solids to extract liquids.  You should have at least 6 cups.  Season with salt, and if proceeding with recipe, cover and keep warm over low heat.  If making ahead, refrigerate for up to one day or freeze for up to one month.

Make the paella:

1. Light the barbecue.  When coals are covered with light ash (or when heated to medium if using gas), place a 16-inch paella pan on the grate.  Pour in olive oil and when it's hot, saute the onion and garlic for a minute or two, being careful not to brown.  Add the rice, stirring for two minutes or so to coat the grains with the oil.

2.  Add the reserved shrimp broth and let simmer for a few minutes so that the rice begins to absorb the liquid.  Add the chicken thighs, tucking under the rice, cover the barbecue and let cook for 10 minutes.

3.  Stir in the chorizo and vegetables, cover again and let simmer for two minutes.  By this time, the rice will have absorbed much of the liquid as it cooks.  Dot the rice with the mussels, pushing them into the rice mixture with your tongs.  Cover and cook a further two minutes, or until the mussels have opened.  Finally, add the shrimp, again pushing the shrimp into the rice, cover a cook until the shrimp are just pink.

4.  Serve tableside from the paella pan, or spoon into a large serving platter, scraping up some of the crusty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Ed. note: It was a wee bit hard to pin Richard down to exact times and amounts.  Like any good cook, he watches his food, improvising as he goes.  That's particularly true of his cooking on the barbecue. Do the same - your paella will be the better for it.