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Supporting Summer’s Bounty, and Those Who Grow It

10 Jul

pork chops summer dinner

It’s certainly taken a while to settle in, but we can finally say for certain that summer is here to stay for a while. Sunny skies and hot temperatures are an almost daily fact of life, and summer hours have kicked in for both Jenny and I at work, which means we (sometimes) get to leave the office early on Fridays to enjoy the season.

But the main reason I know summer is in full bloom is that farmer’s markets are teeming with amazing, fresh produce. I’ve written several times about the fact that one of the things I love most about living in southern Ontario is that we’re only an hour or so away from countless farms that produce a mind-blowing selection of fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and dairy. And in Toronto, we take advantage of this by hosting farmer’s markets in all corners of the city. One of our favorites is the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer’s Market, an oasis of farm freshness set in a lush landscape right in the middle of the city. Walking around farmer’s markets like this on a Saturday morning, looking at and smelling produce often picked just that morning and interacting with the people that actually grew what you’re considering buying really makes you appreciate the fertile land we’re surrounded by and the people who work it.

(As a bit of an aside, some of that land is currently being threatened in southern Ontario. A U.S. company called Highland Companies is currently planning to develop a quarry on farmland in Melancthon, Ont., home of some of the best soil in Canada. If the project is allowed to proceed, a key source of both food and water for residents of Ontario and Canada will be lost. Read more about the project here, and then sign this petition to voice your opposition to the Melancthon quarry.)

On a recent visit, I picked up some garlic scapes, oyster mushrooms and a spicy salad mix, which factored into a simple, flavourful summer meal of grilled pork chops (picked up from The Friendly Butcher on the Danforth) and a salad of sautéed mushrooms and garlic scapes. Here’s how I did it:

Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Cherries and Oyster Mushroom Salad

For the pork chops:

I rubbed the pork chops with some rub that Chef Roger Mooking was handing out to patrons at the recent Toronto Taste event; I’m not sure what was in the rub, but it smelled amazing and tasted great on the chops.

pork chops rub

I like grilling pork chops similar to steak, so that they’re cooked just past medium and retain just a little pink in the middle and are juicy. To do this, cook the chops on a BBQ over high heat. Place the chops on the grill and cook with the lid closed for about two minutes. Then turn the chops 45 degrees and cook for another two or three minutes. Then, flip the chops over and cook with the lid closed again for two minutes. Rotate 45 degrees again and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove the chops from the grill and let rest for five to 10 minutes.

For the salad:

Chop oyster mushrooms and garlic scapes into smallish pieces. Throw into a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper over medium-high heat, sautéing for several minutes until everything starts to soften. Add a couple splashes of balsamic vinegar about half way through cooking. Plate mushrooms and scapes on salad mix and top with a generous splash of good olive oil.

oyster mushrooms and garlic scapes

For the balsamic cherries:

Jenny had picked up a jar of Composta di Amarene all’Aceto Balsamico (sour cherry compote with balsamic) from Eataly in New York City recently. It’s a jarred condiment imported from Italy that’s basically whole cherries preserved in balsamic vinegar. I threw a couple of spoonfuls in a heated pan with some more balsamic vinegar and chilli flakes, and let it simmer away for several minutes until it began to get jam-like and the vinegar reduced. Then I simply spooned this over the pork chops.

If you don’t have preserved cherries from Italy, I’m sure you could easily create a similar condiment with some pitted cherries cooked down in a pan with some balsamic and chilli flakes.

Enjoy summer!

pork chops plate

Panko and Wasabi-crusted Salmon with Ponzu Soy Reduction

5 Jul

Panko salmon ponzu reduction

Salmon has a pretty regular place on our dinner table. It’s good for us, the flavour of the fish pairs well with a lot of other ingredients, and it holds up well to a variety of cooking styles (not to mention that it’s pretty forgiving if you accidentally cook it too long!) 

Of course, as with anything else, the more we eat salmon, the more we look for new and different ways to prepare it. A few nights ago, the salmon filets in our fridge and my craving for sushi-like flavours conspired to lead me toward creating something new, while still being quick and easy.

By combining a layer of wasabi paste with a crunchy panko crust, and serving the salmon with a ponzu soy reduction, I managed to fairly successfully duplicate the taste of a maki roll, while cutting out most of the carbs of a sushi dinner. Jenny decided to make a simple salad of thinly sliced fennel and orange segments, tossed with the juice of half an orange, a little olive oil and some vinegar, which was light, summery and complemented the main dish nicely.

Panko salmon

Wasabi and Panko-Crusted Salmon with Ponzu Soy Reduction

For the salmon:

Rub one side of skinless salmon filets with a thin layer of wasabi paste.

Coat the wasabi-rubbed side with a generous amount of panko bread crumbs, pressing the panko gently into the salmon to ensure it sticks well. 

Coat a pan with a thin layer of olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat for several minutes. When pan is hot, place salmon filets panko side down, and cook about four minutes, until panko starts to brown and develop a nice crust. Flip over and cook another three or four minutes.

For the reduction:

Add 1/3 cup of ponzu soy sauce, 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup of gin and the zest of half a lemon to a small sauce pot over medium-high heat. Allow liquid to come to a gentle boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until the amount of liquid has reduced by at least a third. (Resist the urge to walk away – keep watching and stirring regularly, in case the liquid starts to boil again and you’re left with a sticky, useless mess).

Plate the salmon and top with a drizzle of the ponzu soy reduction. Serve alongside the fennel-orange salad.

Moroccan-Spiced Carrots

18 Jun

With Ontario having such a great selection of produce to offer this time of year, I really want to make a point of eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, finding ways to work with them that don’t complicate their flavor. And enjoying them raw always makes me feel like I’m getting the very best out of them, both in flavor and nutrients.

A few weeks ago, we spotted these beautiful Ontario-grown heirloom carrots at Rowe Farms in Leslieville, and I knew right away what I wanted to do with them.

I’ve been experimenting with Moroccan-spiced raw carrot salad over the last year and every time I make it, it comes out great no matter what balance of ingredients I use. I like adding a good amount of heat to it, but you can adjust any of the spices to taste.

I’ve tried cutting the carrots into rounds, grating them into fine shards, slicing them into thin long pieces – it’s really just a matter of what you prefer texture-wise.

The mix of Moroccan spices blends so nicely with the earthiness of the carrots. And with the gorgeous colors of the heirlooms, this salad is both bursting with deliciousness & vibrant color. It’s a really easy side dish to pair with just about any meal, especially during barbeque season… 

Moroccan-Spiced Carrots

Approx 8-10 heirloom carrots, varying sizes

1 ½ Tbsp good strong olive oil – I used a bold Portuguese olive oil

½ tsp cumin

¼ tsp paprika

¼ tsp chili flakes – I used a little more for good heat

Light sprinkling of turmeric

¼ tsp true cinnamon

¼ tsp garlic or onion powder

Sea salt

Wash and peel your carrots – but be careful with the purple ones! They stain just like red beets.

Cut your carrots to suit your mood – I like cutting them into chunky small rounds or half moons. 

Throw them into a bowl, add the spices and olive oil and sea salt to taste. Mix well. Let them marinate in the fridge for at least 20-minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

 

Fried Rice-Style Quinoa with Grilled Pineapple & Cashews

23 May

It probably seems like I’ve completely disappeared off the face of the online world, and to be honest, it kind of feels that way from my end too. But as Neil said in his last post, life has been busier than ever and it’s not only been hard to get back into the groove of blogging, but cooking as well.

But a few nights ago I had a strange craving that sparked some much-needed inspiration and led me right back into the kitchen to turn an idea into a reality. It felt good. Oh, how I’ve missed feeling inspired and motivated in my poor little neglected kitchen.

The unusual craving was for fried rice with lots of veggies. I have absolutely no idea where that came from because I rarely eat fried rice in the first place. But there it was.

I wanted to turn my craving into a one-dish meal that was actually somewhat healthy, so I immediately defaulted to one of my favorite ingredients: quinoa. I wanted to keep it vegetarian so I planned to add a ton of vegetables and some scrambled egg, which is delicious in fried rice anyway. But then thoughts of perfectly grilled pineapple and crunchy cashews invaded my brain and I knew that I had a complete dish on my hands.

Once again Neil made an immediate judgmental face when I told him what I was going to make for dinner. It’s his shtick when it comes to quinoa. He tells himself that he hates it and assumes it’s going to be terrible no matter what I do to it. But seeing as how we’ve been too lazy to cook lately and there I was offering to take care of dinner on my own, he quieted down pretty fast. 

But just as I expected, after a few apprehensive bites, he was in. I could see him liking it more and more as he ate and by the time the plate was completely clean, he admitted that it was a pretty awesome meal that he would absolutely eat again.

I used organic quinoa and I have no idea if it actually made a difference or not, but I will say that once it was cooked, it was totally neutral and had no trace of that sometimes strange/bitter flavor that quinoa can have. I did still rinse it really well before cooking it, but either way, the quinoa took on the flavors of fried rice beautifully.

The pineapple and cashews were such a delicious addition and because I used so much garlic and ginger, there were a few layers of flavor that came through. It would be really great with tofu either instead of or in addition to the egg as well.

We took the leftovers for lunch the next day and ate it cold and it was still great. I may have even gotten a mid-day email from my lovely husband telling me again how much he liked it.

I’ve really missed enjoying the fruits of my labour in the kitchen. There’s nothing like coming up with a great idea, seeing it through and enjoying its success. Especially when your skeptical husband admits you were right… that’s always a bonus.

Fried Rice-Style Quinoa with Grilled Pineapple & Cashews

Sesame oil

½ large white onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large knob of ginger, chopped

Carrots, chopped

Oyster mushrooms, chopped

Broccoli florets

3 Eggs

Tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)

Fresh lime

Green onion, chopped

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

3-4 fresh pineapple rings

Handful of cashews, roughly chopped

Rinse the quinoa really well under fast-running cold water. Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the rinsed quinoa. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for approximately 12 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, cover and set aside. 

Heat a grill pan on high heat until it’s really hot. Place the pineapple rings in the pan and grill on each side until the outside has nice dark grill marks and is nicely caramelized. Take off the heat and set aside.


Heat a wok or large pan on medium high heat until really hot. Add some sesame oil and the onion. Cook until the onion is nice and brown. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add in the chopped carrot and broccoli florets and cook for a few more minutes.  Add the chopped mushroom and keep cooking until any moisture has evaporated. I raised the heat slightly to help cook off the liquid from the mushrooms.

Add some soy sauce (to taste) into the pan and stir-fry well.

Add the cooked quinoa to the stir-fried vegetables and mix. I added a touch more sesame oil to flavor the quinoa and to help it stir-fry in the pan as well. Drizzle in more soy sauce, if needed, and squeeze the juice of half a lime overtop. Mix well.

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Make a well in the centre of the hot pan and add in the eggs. Scramble in the pan and then mix to distribute through the quinoa.

Plate the stir-fried quinoa and add the grilled pineapple on top. I chopped the pineapple into bite size pieces, but you can leave the rings whole. Top with chopped cashews and green onion and serve with a lime wedge and some sriracha for a bit of heat.

Pan-seared Halibut with Salsa Verde

24 Apr

halibut with salsa verde

Since we moved to the Danforth East area of Toronto in 2009, I’ve lamented the lack of great places to buy meat and fresh fish. It’s not that there are no butchers or fishmongers in the east end, but they’re few and far between compared to the west end of the city. And you certainly can’t walk into a supermarket on this side of Toronto and buy all your groceries while also having access to an amazing selection of local, organic meats, like you can at Fiesta Farms (a place we love, but which is at the polar opposite end of Toronto from us).

Fortunately, the recent addition of a fishmonger called Hooked on Queen St. E in Leslieville has greatly improved our access to high quality fish and seafood. We’re definitely planning to make this our go-to place for great fish, and we’ll probably do a more in-depth post at some point on the place, its great staff and their focus on sustainable product. In the meantime, definitely check out some of the profiles that others have done.

But back to our first Hooked visit and purchase. I went in one day after work recently looking for a nice, firm-fleshed white fish to go with a salsa verde I was planning to make. A chat with knowledgeable owner Dan Donovan and a quick scan of their selection convinced me that a line-caught B.C. halibut filet was the way to go. The large fish was displayed whole at Hooked, and I liked the fact that they cut it as filets rather than the halibut steaks that seem to be more common, which I find are harder to cook evenly and contain too many pesky bones.

Hooked Toronto B.C. Halibut

Salsa verde, a.k.a. green sauce, is an herb-based sauce common to many countries. The version I made to go with our fish was closest to the Italian recipe, combining the herbs with anchovy, capers and vinegar (traditional Italian salsa verde recipes also contain garlic, which I left out because I didn’t want it overpowering the taste of the fish). I was initially a bit disappointed with the way the sauce tasted on its own, as it was a touch too tart and I’d probably leave out the Dijon mustard next time to cut down on the tartness and bring out the fresh herbs a bit more. But it ended up pairing perfectly with the moist and slightly sweet tasting halibut, which Jenny and I agreed was probably the best-tasting piece of fish we’ve ever cooked at home.

Pan-seared Halibut with Salsa Verde

2 halibut filet portions
12 capers
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp anchovy paste
2 TBS red wine vinegar
1/4 C high-quality olive oil
1 large handful of fresh parsley
1 large handful of fresh basil
1 large handful of fresh tarragon
A few mint leaves
Salt and pepper

For the salsa verde:
Chop all herbs and add to food processor along with half the olive oil and all other ingredients. Run the food processor to combine and blend everything, adding more of the olive oil gradually to get the sauce to reach the consistency you want – more oil for a thinner sauce, less for a thicker version. I added the entire 1/4 cup and still ended up with a relatively thick sauce that sat nicely on top of the fish.

For the fish:
Rub a small amount of olive oil on the bottom of a pan, and heat pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes to get it nice and hot. Season fish with salt and pepper and place in hot pan. Cook about four minutes, then flip and cook another three minutes (watch your timing here; it’s way better to slightly undercook good fish than overcook it).

Plate seared halibut filets and top each with a generous serving of salsa verde. Serve with a simple, fresh salad.

Food Find: Celery Root

20 Apr

This isn’t really a true ‘food find’ since I have seen celery root many times before, staring me in the face as I walked through the vegetable isle in the grocery store, looking like an alien life form.

I would always notice it, sitting there looking intimidating, strange and confusing. Which is why I was so intrigued when I spotted Ontario-grown celery root on the shelf at Rowe Farms in Leslieville a few weeks ago.

I picked up one of the round, furrowed bulbs and curiously asked someone behind the counter for his opinion on the best way to cook it. He advised me to scrub it carefully to remove dirt and then steam or boil it, keeping as much of the skin on as possible, because that’s where all the good nutrients are. Great tip. I appreciated that. He also told me to think about adding a bit of sweetness to the final product since it tends to be quite bitter.

Celery root, often called ‘celeriac’, is related to celery, though grown as a root vegetable. Unlike other root vegetables though, it’s lower in starch, which makes it a great choice for a side dish mash or puree.

When you cut into it, it immediately smells like traditional celery but with an earthier kick. The taste is actually milder than celery though but definitely has an earthiness. I didn’t find the ones we bought to be too bitter but I still took the advice I was given to heart.

I decided to make a simple chunky mash with clean flavors so we could really appreciate and taste the celery root. All I added to the mash was some honey, olive oil, a touch of onion powder and salt. It was delicious.

It had a really great texture and I was happy that I left some of the skin on and mashed it roughly. It was creamy yet chunky at the same time and nice and thick without being gluey like mashed potato or other starchy root vegetables. It had a really nice earthy flavor but it wasn’t bitter in an unpleasant way at all. The sweetness from the honey just helped season it up a little, along with the other simple ingredients.

We served it alongside lemon chicken and it was a perfect pairing.

I’m very intrigued to try cooking with it in different ways. I think it would be fantastic mashed with roasted apple or pear to add that sweetness instead of honey, or pureed with asparagus or something similar and served with fish. It also tasted really good raw, so I’d like to find some interesting ways to use it as is.

Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid of the alien-like fruits or vegetables calling out to you on your next visit to the grocery store of farmers market! There could be something really amazing lurking beneath the surface…

Chunky Celery Root Mash

2 bulbs of celery root

Good olive oil

Honey

Onion Powder

Sea Salt

Grab your celery root and a good vegetable scrubbing brush and scrub it well under warm water.

Cut off the top and bottom of each celery root bulb and any wiry, nubby parts, keeping as much skin as you can to keep all the nutrients.

Cut into cubes. Steam or boil the celery root chunks until tender. I used a microwavable steamer and steamed them for 10 minutes.

Mash with a potato masher, add in some olive oil, sea salt, honey, onion powder (or garlic powder) to taste.

Serve as you would mashed potato or any other mashed root vegetable. 

Win Tickets to the Green Living Show with Communal Table!

11 Apr

Green Living Show

The Green Living Show – Canada’s largest green consumer show dedicated to educating people about easy and workable solutions for leading a sustainable lifestyle – is taking place next weekend in Toronto, April 15 to 17, and we have two pairs of tickets to give away free to a couple lucky readers. Keep reading to find out how to win!

The show is in its 5th year, and it’s grown each year. That makes sense, of course, since the focus on sustainable living has continued as more people realize that with a few small actions and a few easy changes to our buying habits, we can all make a positive impact on our interaction with the environment. But green trends aside, the show itself continues to draw crowds because it really has something for everyone. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s event:

  • For  job seekers, the Green Jobs Forum on Friday will feature a panel of speakers discussing the new green economy, how to develop in-demand green skills and transform traditional skills to meet the needs of the green workforce, and tips on how to find a green-focused job.
  • Those focused on fashion will pick up some useful info on which cosmetics are safe, as well as get a look at some great green clothing.
  • Looking for a new car that’s easier on the environment? The show’s Green Living Test Drive section will offer opportunities to test drive leading green cars from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Lexus and Nissan!

Of course, we’re always most interested in the food and drink, and the Green Living Show offers plenty in this regard. The Farm Fresh Fare area will pair up some of Toronto’s best chefs with farmers from across the province to create dishes that will be sampled throughout the festival. More cooking will take place on the Cooking Stage, where some of the chefs participating in Farm Fresh Fare will tell you how to create great dishes using local and sustainable ingredients. There will also be sessions on pairing beer and cheese and the Slow Food movement. Local craft beers and biodynamic wines will be available to taste. And if that’s not enough, the show will have its very own farmers’ market, the Good Eats Market, where you can buy some amazing local produce, cheeses and other products to enjoy at home.

We’ll definitely be walking around the Green Living Show, eating, drinking and discovering new green products and information, and you can too. Admission to the show is $12 or free with the donation of electronic waste, which is a great deal if you have any products that need recycling. If you don’t have any e-waste, all you have to do to win one of two pairs of passes to the show is:

Option 1: Tweet this phrase: Win tickets to #GreenLivingShow from #CommunalTable http://wp.me/pJ0ov-nA

Option 2: Leave us a comment right here on the blog letting us know you’d like to win!

That’s it! Tweet or comment to enter by this Wednesday, April, 13. Winners will be announced here and on Communal Table’s Facebook page on Thursday. Good luck!

Middle Eastern “Caesar” Salad

8 Apr

A few weeks ago some friends and I threw a baby shower lunch for a wonderful mom-to-be. We put out a delicious spread, including some hummus that I quickly jazzed up with a sprinkling of za’atar. I couldn’t believe how many people actually made a point of asking me what it was or why the hummus tasted so good! Multiple people commented on how delicious it was and hardly any of them had heard of my incredibly handy ‘secret ingredient’.

If you haven’t tried za’atar, take a look for it next time you’re in a spice shop or specialty food store. It’s a blend of herbs including oregano & thyme mixed with sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It’s often used in Middle Eastern cooking and it’s a truly divine spice mix to add to your spice collection.

One of my favorite ways to eat it is just simply sprinkled onto lightly olive-oiled pita bread, warmed and toasted in a toaster oven. It makes a great accompaniment to salad.

But an idea came to me that builds on that idea and brings the za’atar and bread right into the salad itself. Enter homemade za’atar croutons.

I never think to make croutons myself and I don’t particularly like store-bought ones, but after proving to myself how easy and painless it is to make them at home, I have a feeling I’ll be adding them to my repertoire. It was so easy and they tasted so good without being too buttery or overloaded with oil and grease.

I didn’t really know how this salad was going to turn out, but the flavors of tahini and lemon were no-brainers when I was dreaming up what would blend well with my za’atar croutons.

Putting this whole salad together took very little time, effort and amount of ingredients. I made it as a side dish to accompany fish, but I think it would make a killer main dish salad with the addition of baked falafel balls or grilled chicken.

The dressing is so creamy and rich and the croutons are so decadent and flavorful, that upon taking the first bite, I immediately thought “Middle-Eastern Caesar!” In reality, it has nothing to do with a true Caesar salad, but it’s reminiscent of one in it’s own special, spiced-up way.

Middle Eastern “Caesar” Salad

Dressing:

1 big Tbsp tahini

Juice of half a lemon

Onion powder to taste

Cumin to taste

Olive oil

Hot water

Sea salt

Croutons:

Good quality bread (fresh or day-old), cubed

Olive oil

Za’atar

Sea salt

Salad:

Arugula

Cucumber, chopped

In a bowl, toss bread cubes with a few drizzles of olive oil and a little bit of sea salt. Add about a teaspoon of za’atar (or to taste) and toss to coat.

Heat a frying pan on medium heat and add in the bread cubes. Toast for approximately 10 minutes, constantly turning the pieces of bread until all sides are nice and golden.

Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the tahini with the lemon juice. It will firm up quite a bit. Add in small amounts of hot water, a little bit at a time, until you get a nice smooth consistency. Drizzle in a little bit of olive oil and mix. Add some onion powder, cumin and a little bit of sea salt. Whisk everything together and set aside.

In a large serving bowl, add the arugula and cucumber. Dress it with the tahini dressing and toss well. Add in the za’atar croutons and give it one final toss before serving.


Smoky Halibut, Two Ways: Cooking with Lapsang Souchong Tea

20 Mar

A few years ago we celebrated my mom’s birthday with high tea at The King Edward Hotel in Toronto. It was a memorable experience from the beautiful tea sandwiches and colorful treats right down to the lavish room, stunning china and of course the extensive selection of tea.

But what I remember most from that day was the lingering and intense smell of campfire pouring out of Neil’s teapot.

While the rest of us opted for the typical Darjeeling Oolong or Moroccan Mint, Neil of course had to choose whatever was strangest from the tea menu. One sniff of the intensely smoky leaves was enough to pique his curious palate.

Lapsang Souchong is a unique Chinese black tea. The leaves are smoke-dried over pinewood fires, infusing them with a really smoky flavor. It’s aroma is unmistakable, very much like standing in front of a huge fire pit.

When Neil and I spotted it in a store a few weeks ago we seemed to both have the same thought; what would happen if you tried cooking with it? I immediately envisioned turning the strong brewed tea into a poaching liquid for fish and Neil dreamed up a rub using the whole leaves. Then we figured, why choose? We’d just have to try both.

We were curious to see how much smoke flavor would be infused into the fish. Drinking a cup of the brewed tea, the flavor really hits you when you take the first sip. But what’s nice about it is that it doesn’t have that fake smoke flavor, like you get with liquid smoke, which I find I can really taste in a lot of dishes that use it.

We knew we wanted to use a white fish and we ended up with fresh wild halibut. Neil made his rub and I went to work on the poaching liquid. We used one big piece of fish and sliced it in half for the two cooking methods.

Both cooking methods resulted in a really delicious tasting piece of fish, but they were very different.

The rub had the more intense smoky flavor with a spicy kick. The fish was really good and the rub made a nice crust.

The poached fish had a much more subtle smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. The broth needed something sweet to balance out the salty, smoky flavors so the mirin and agave nectar worked well to balance it. We found the best way to serve the poached fish was in a bowl sitting in some of the liquid to deepen the flavor as you eat it.

We served the meal with a sides of mashed parsnips mixed with olive oil, sea salt and some grated ginger and sautéed broccolini with chili flakes.

It was a fun experiment that opened up so many possibilities for how to use the tea in future. Lots of people grind it up and use spoonfuls of it in all kinds of dishes to layer in a hit of smokiness.

We’ll definitely be cooking with it again, and I may even brew a pot or two the next time I’m craving a summer BBQ or campfire in the midst of winter. The aroma alone is enough to take you there.

You can find Lapsang Souchong tea at most specialty tea shops.

Smoky Halibut, Two Ways:

For both recipes you’ll need a good, fresh piece of white fish like halibut.

Poach:

3 cups strongly brewed Lapsang Souchong tea

¼ cup mirin

¼ cup soy sauce

1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey

1 big knob of ginger, peeled and chopped into small pieces

1 Tbsp reserved tea leaves (that you used to brew the tea itself)

Mix all of the ingredients in a deep pan and bring to a boil to let the flavors infuse. Boil for about 2-3 minutes then turn the heat down to bring the liquid to a simmer. Add in the fish, skin-side down. Spoon some liquid overtop of the fish every few minutes as it cooks. Cook for approximately 10 minutes but adjust depending on the thickness of your fish.

Once the fish is cooked, remove from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil for several minutes until the broth reduces by about half.

Serve the fish in a bowl with some poaching broth and eat with a spoon to get some broth with every bite.

Rub:

2 tsp Lapsang Souchong tea leaves

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 tsp brown sugar

Salt & pepper

Place everything in mortar and pestle and crush into a coarse rub.

Rub on both sides of fish.

Spray a pan (metal, so the fish crusts nicely) with canola oil spray or rub pan with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for several minutes to get it really hot. Add fish and cook 3-4 minutes, until rub begins to form a crust and fish starts to turn white. Flip and cook 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Romesco-inspired Shrimp Pasta and a Contest

19 Mar

I don’t usually get too excited about jarred or packaged food products. That’s not to say we don’t use them in our kitchen. As much as I’d always like to make my own pesto, or cook and puree my own tomatoes for sauce, the logistics of finding the time and the fresh ingredients needed for these things is not always possible. And so, we keep some jarred, tinned or otherwise packaged products on hand in our kitchen out of pure necessity. Once in a while, we’ve been so happy with the taste and versatility of these kinds of ingredients that we’ve written about them here.

When our friend Mary Luz Mejia of Sizzling Communications mentioned a couple weeks ago that Food Network celeb Christine Cushing was adding a new product to her line of food items and that she could get us a sample to try, I was initially reluctant. In this case, that reluctance came mostly from knowing what the product was – roasted peppers in a jar. I’ve had jarred roasted peppers many times before, and they’re fine in a pinch but generally all taste the same. Usually they’re marinated and packed in a ton of oil so they keep longer, which strips out a lot of the roasted flavour of the peppers.

Christine Cushing's Latest Discovery

But when I read that this version contained only fire-roasted and slow cooked red Shepherd peppers “a splash” of Greek extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and sea salt, I was intrigued enough to agree to try a jar. Frankly, I’m really happy I did. There’s really no way I can write this without sounding like I’m being paid to shill for Christine Cushing (trust me, I’m not), but I was a little bit blown away when I first tasted the product, straight off a spoon. The jar is full of roasted and cooked down peppers – almost the consistency of a puree or spread – and really only contains a splash of oil, so that it’s barely detectable. The flavour of fire-roasted peppers really comes through, and there’s no garlic or anything else in there to distract from that taste.

Right now, as the photo above suggests, Christine doesn’t have a name for this product, and she’s looking for one. You can suggest a name on ChristineCushing.com between now and March 31. The name Christine chooses from all entries will end up on the label, and the person who suggested the name will win a year’s supply of Christine Cushing’s Greek extra virgin olive oil, pasta sauces, her “latest discovery” red peppers, and her cookbooks signed personally for the winner.

When Jenny tasted these peppers, her first thought was, “I could probably just eat this entire jar on its own, with a spoon.” Her second thought was that they would be great in a pasta inspired by Spain’s famous romesco sauce, which traditionally includes small sweet red peppers called ñora, nuts, stale bread (or toast) to provide bulk, garlic, olive oil and sometimes tomato. It’s often served with seafood. We ran with this idea and created a pasta that combined the sweet and earthy flavour of the peppers with sweet shrimps, peppery arugula and the crunch of toasted almonds. It came together quickly and easily, and tasted fresh and amazing.

Shrimp and arugula cooking

Romesco-inspired Pasta with Shrimp and Arugula

1 jar of Christine Cushing’s red peppers
1 large handful of slivered almonds
A couple of handfuls of arugula
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 TBS red wine vinegar
A pinch of cayenne
12 medium-sized (21-30 count) shrimp

Toast almonds in a dry pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until brown and fragrant-smelling. Set aside in a bowl.

Cook pasta – short noodles work best with this sauce, but long would be fine too – and drain, but don’t shake off too much water (it’ll help the sauce come together later).

Peel shrimp, and add to a pan on medium heat with a splash of olive oil, pinch of cayenne and minced garlic. Cook a couple minutes per side until garlic begins to release its scent and shrimp start to change colour. Add red wine vinegar and stir for a few seconds.

Lower heat to medium-low. Stir in jarred red peppers; we ended up using about 2/3 of the jar we had (after eating the other 1/3 on a spoon). Add handfuls of arugula, stirring as you add it in. The arugula will wilt down like spinach, so continue adding handfuls until you end up with an amount of wilted greens that you’re happy with; we used about half of a medium-sized container of arugula.

Add drained pasta and toasted almonds, toss everything together and plate. To up the Spanish-inspired quotient a bit more, I finished each plate of pasta with some grated aged Manchego cheese and a drizzle of good Spanish olive oil.

Peppers jar

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