Author Archives: Lets Heat it

Sweet Meets Heat: How to Make Chilies Infused Honey


Homemade chili-infused honey DIY © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Contrary to what I used to think about the process of making spice infused honey (special room, special temperature, special honey, number of days), it takes only a few minutes to infuse the honey of your choice with chilies, leaving you with a wonderful jar of gold you can drizzle on pizzas, cakes, cheeses or add to salads, soups and stews or your next mojito for a touch of character.  It is not overly spicy (with the amount of chilies used in the recipe below): the chilies infused honey will still keep all the flavor nuances of the terroir the honey came from (if it wasn’t pasteurized) with just a bit of warming lingering spice finish. It totally satisfies my latest indie-influenced take on all things organic.
Honey: from bumblebee to the toast © http://www.letsheatit.com/
While honey continues ‘hitting its sweet spot’ as a flavor of the year 2015 (according to the Swiss company Firmenich specialized in flavors and fragrances), the interest in it expands beyond the tea-time companionship worldwide. Honey is surely set to add some extra charm and wit to the menus helping chefs to bliss out the clientele with all kinds of innovative dressings, glaze, BBQ sauces and marinade combinations. Honey is being added to the ‘glass with class’ by mixologists (from Mead cocktails to Honey vodka and Honey Bee-jito (mojito drink where honey replaces sugar) to Honey Lemonade and Kombucha Smoothies, etc. The honey producers are coming up with numerous amazing products, such as these incredible creamy strawberry honey and raspberry honey jelly we found at Miel pur delice inc. during our last trip to Coaticook, QC.
Miel pur delice inc. creamy strawberry honey and raspberry honey jelly © http://www.letsheatit.com/
I might be a fickle friend with ice cream and milk chocolate, but when it comes to the real honey (raw, naturally,) I’m Ted 1, Ted 2 and whatever other Teds you can imagine. I eat honey every day, all my life and, practically, I can‘t imagine living without it… which is probably normal since I am of the Ukrainian origin. In short: we are planning to raise honeybees when retired and I hope nothing will change this agenda.
Ukrainian postal stamps © via Wikimedia
See the typical Ukrainian honey layered cake below made by one of my best friends recently (don’t ask for the recipe though – it takes a whole day to make it – no one can do that bravery anymore). 
Nata’s Honey Layered Cake © http://www.letsheatit.com/
In the meantime, here are the three places in Quebec we‘ve visited recently that are not to miss:
1. Miels d’Anicet  Api Culture Hautes-Laurentides inc.111, Rand 2 Gravel, Ferme-Neuve, Quebec
Canada, J0W 1C0 (one of the top-rated and the most popular honey used by Quebec chefs; read more about it here). Tel: (819) 587-4825

2. Miel des Ruisseaux 2 924, Route du Lac Ouest, Alma (Québec)
G8B 5V2 Tel: (418) 668-7734 (famous blueberry honey producer: read more about here and here).

Miel des Ruisseaux Blueberry Honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/

3. Miel pur delice inc. 815 route 141, Coaticook (Québec) J1A 2S5, Tel:(819) 849-9994 (see some of their products featured above)

Many others are on our bucket list and will show up in this space eventually.

For my own experiment, I used the honey coming from the land of blueberries: Saguenay – Lac Saint Jean wild blueberry blossom honey from Miel des ruisseaux (fyi: the blueberries are being harvested there as I write this post), which recently became the proud member of ÉCONOMUSÉE network.
Wild blueberries in Saguenay – Lac Saint Jean © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Infusing the honey with chilis in a hot water bath (bain marie) doesn’t alter the taste of the honey: it just warms up and accentuates the blueberry notes (or any other notes of the honey you choose to make spicy) and the heat is very subtle.
DIY steps to make chili infused honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
The chilies infused honey make an excellent alternative to some expensive commercial chilies infused honeys as well as the welcome condiment in the fridge to help you build some extraordinary flavors.
For some extremely haute cuisine take, lace it over fine brie or blue cheese finish on top of the raspberry almond tea cake – OUCH! Sooo decadent!
Spiced honey drizzled brie on top of the raspberry tea cake © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Or, have on a flaky breakfast pan-fried blistered breakfast bread – simply out of this world!
Flaky pan fried breakfast bread drizzled with spiced honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
I hope you will enjoy this simple alchemy trick.
Chilies infused blueberry honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
All the best dear readers.
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ADOBE CHILIES INFUSED HONEY*
Ingredients:
1 cup honey
Two medium-size dried adobe chili peppers, cut in pieces, OR 1 teaspoon dried crushed chili flakes
1 sterilized jar + lid
1 cheese cloth or fine mesh, to strain
Instructions:
Pour the honey into a ceramic heat proof bowl and stir the chili peppers in. Place the bowl into the hot water bath, bring the water to simmer and heat from 3-5 minutes (for less spicy honey) to 15 minutes (for the spicier version). Remove from heat and cool to the room temperature. Strain the honey through the cheese cloth or the fine mesh into the sterilized jar. Refrigerate overnight and store in the fridge for up to a month. Bring the spiced honey to the room temperature before serving or using in dessings, glaze or sauce.
*Feel free to experiment with any other dried or fresh spicy capsicums, including: jalapeno, scotch bonnet peppers, etc.

Summertime Raspberry-Almond-Lime Tea Cake Recipe


Summertime Raspberry Almond Lime Tea Cake
Summertime… and the living would be as easy as in Heyward’s lyrics except Canadian summer is so short and demanding, it’s always a good idea to have a piece of a fragrant fresh berry cake next to you to stop running and start pondering.    
In the ideal life the summertime should be like this:
Summertime fun
In reality, it’s always full of surprises: good and bad. Our month of June has been full of projects, inspirations and disappointments, travels, and cooking experiments.  I’ll begin with the end to make it easier for me to catch up with the steady food-blogging pace, which is not always possible after a break. I needed something that was relatively easy, utterly beautiful and ultimately delicious to get myself inspired to translate the inspiration into a small bow of culinary art.
Raspberry Almond Lime Tea Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Our yesterday’s cheerful party and this cake baked on a whim gave me that kick. It has everything in it to celebrate summer: the freshness of berries (raspberries), the sugary crunch of nuts (almonds), the vigor of lime, the boldness of spiced honey (marked as optional)… and, naturally, the tender moist sponginess of the pound cake. Wait, shouldn’t I mention first that it’s one of the easiest, and the most luscious cakes we’ve ever made?
Raspberry Buttermilk Tea Cake
This cake is an example of a simple, no fuss dessert you would want to bake again and again. We had it with tea watching Paddington last night (to the dying sounds of the fireworks fury banging outside the window).  The raspberry cake felt as heartwarming and rewarding as the movie itself although there was no marmalade around (which actually would be a good idea to have along). I served it with humble vanilla ice cream, some fresh raspberries and/or fresh raspberry coulis: the honest and ever-delightful classics. 
For the high-end restaurant style serving, dare for a slice of a room-temperature brie or a goat cheese (i.e. Lavallois from Chevriere de Monnoir would be a good idea) and some drizzle of adobe chili – spiced honey (recipe to be posted soon).
We based the recipe on a winning formula (tested and approved previously) of the Raspberry Buttermilk Cake from Gourmet Magazine of June 2009 (recipe also follows at the very end of this post), tweaking it with the addition of:
NUTS – chopped slivered almonds were used, although pistachios (other nuts if you wish) would be my first choice if I had them in my pantry.
LIME – optional lemon zest was replaced with lime zest and lime juice to make the taste more present.
SPICED HONEY – a very small (and optional) amount of my most recently discovered fav ingredient to accent the fruit.
Adobe Chili Spiced Honey
EGGS – using extra ingredients called for one extra egg.
BAKING TIME – ten extra minutes were added to the baking time accordingly.
BERRIES – we increased the amount of raspberries to much more fruits following the summer feeling. I assume the recipe works with all kind of fresh berries (or frozen, for that matter) and intend to make the next one with gooseberries from our garden (HA!)
Raspberry Almond Lime Tea Cake
INVERTING OR NOT – the initial recipe is for the inverted cake, which I noticed from previous experiments not always works well, so this recipe doesn’t encourage the inverting step, although I would live it to you to experiment with. Please note the berries tend to sink to the bottom, which might make the bottom look messy if you decide to invert it.
Raspberry Buttermilk Tea Cake
We absolutely loved the result and encourage you to try it by all means. Please let us know how it went, if you liked it or not by writing your comments and suggestions.
Monarda ‘Garden View Scarlet’: wonderful addition to the garden which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Happy summertime to ALL!
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One year ago: French Toast Strawberry Rhubard Bake
Two years ago: Bread Crusted Salmon Broccoli Cheddar Quiche

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RASPBERRY ALMOND LIME BUTTERMILK TEA CAKE
Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

1 juice of small lime
1/2 cup slivered almonds, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili-spiced honey (optional)
1 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon powder sugar for dusting
Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and lime zest. Add egg/s and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.  Add lime juice, almonds and honey (if using) and mix again. Spoon the batter into the pan. Smooth the top roughly with spatula. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Dust with sugar powder. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Transfer carefully to a rack to cool completely. Transfer to the platter and slice. Serve with tea and optional additions of your favorite ice cream, raspberry coulis or brie.

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RASPBERRY BUTTERMILK TEA CAKE (original recipe from Gourmet Magazine)

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 oz)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

The latter recipe is adapted from:  Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, Gourmet Magazine, 06/2009.

Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs Recipe

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce Spare Ribs

¡Hola, amigos! Here’s something different for you to swirl with the set of ingredients from the lands of Aztecs and Maya: Tequila Boom-Boom Sauce Spare Ribs recipe. If you are looking for something new to try this Father’s day, this might be of an interest. These ribs will assure your papa’s (+ party) complete satisfaction.  We devoured them with gusto and had a good Mexican laughabout any rib sauce we’ve tried previously including the sickly-sweet and flat commercial sauces. For the secret ingredients, I basically added some tequila and a few new capsicum varieties to my staple Cajun BBQ sauce. The base sauce has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity as well as and a long record of successful meat and poultry basting for all kinds of events in case you will be looking for a kids-friendly version and would wish to omit tequila. However, the new version layered with tequila, arbol, ancho chiles and Cholula makes it better and bolder for my adult taste.

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce
Tequila shot added to the BBQ spare rib sauce

The upside of this recipe is that you can make the ribs and sauce way in advance of the event (fully cooked or par-cooked),  up to 48 hours ahead if you keep it in the fridge and/or up to a week sealed and kept in the freezer saving yourself time and headache of the party prep. It will also travel well and will make a centerpiece appetizer or main.

The downside is that you would have to allow at least 3.5 hours to make it.

The most popular tequila Jose Cuervo makes an excellent base for Tequila Boom-Boom drink
Tequila Boom-Boom is actually a Mexican drink made of equal parts of tequila and Sprite (or similar, like 7Up or ginger ale) served in a rock glass with a dash of Grenadine syrup.  Another name of this drink is a Tequila Slammer, because of the way the drink is taken:  the fifth of the glass is empty to allow the mix of tequila and carbonated drink to fizz. You then put your hand over the top of the glass and slam it onto the bar counter to mix it. This move causes the drink to foam fast, so you have to drink it immediately, or it will spill. This drink is strong; I didn’t want to get intoxicated early in the afternoon, so I decided to give a splash of it to my favorite my favorite BBQ pork rib sauce I was making the other day.  The result was amazing, definitely worth sharing.  I marked Seven Up  optional in the recipe to make the sauce stickier and to cut on evaporation and caramelization time for your convenience.
Several dried capsicums and ground coffee are used in the rub and added to the BBQ sauce

Capsicums and the spice rubs are all rage this summer with dozens of new varieties and combinations coming from all over the globe. I am more than willing to try them all.  This recipe obviously took Mexican direction, so in addition to tequila I used crushed arbol flakes, ancho chile powder and Cholula spicy sauce, all originating from the Bestico (aka Mexico).  Naturally, you can have tequila swapped with whiskey, bourbon, gin or vodka depending on your preference and give it some other cultural direction to Memphis, St. Louis, etc. (the recipe gives a choice of chilis if pure Mexican fare is hard to find in your area).

Perfectly cooked ribs should be tender, but still juicy and not falling off the bone.

The recipe below is the oven BBQ method, which I much prefer to the grilling method for both, time and quality results. Albeit, I often combine both by baking ribs in the oven until ready and almost falling off the bone; and finishing them on a low BBQ heat for the basting part of 15 minutes. FYI, the most appreciated ribs are not supposed to fall off the bone. According to the famous carnivore, Jay Rayner, the best tasting pork ribs should be tender, but still juicy and well attached to the bone. The falling off the bone is a sign of an overcooked, overfrozen or over-re-heated meat. Properly cooked ribs should still have some resilience and chew and would pull cleanely off the bone with your teeth.

Rubbing spare ribs with the mix of spices and herbs.
Makin BBQ sauce and ribs’ brushing stage
Cutting spare ribs into individual portions

Voila, our succulent out of this world ribs are done and ready to be served.
OK, one rib down already while I’m still taking pictures! That’s a good sign. Someone’s gonna be happy tonight…

For the summer side course, keep it simple: boiled/grilled seasoned corn and refreshing coleslaw salad (recipe will follow shortly).  For the corn seasoning, try the Lime Chili Butter, OR brush it with my new favorite: Honey-Cinnamon Butter -1 tablespoon of salted butter melted with a dash of honey (or maple syrup) and a pinch of cinnamon.
Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs with Russian Slaw and Honey Cinnamon Corn Sides
For the colder days, pasta with simple tomato sauce made from the garden tomatoes would make an amazing companion to these ribs. I suspect, Daddy won’t trade it for the world’s best cupcake as this would be so much better than mac n’ cheese.

Enjoy and don’t forget to serve the paper towels!

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TEQUILA BOOM-BOOM BBQ SPARE RIBS
Yields: 4 main to 8 appetizer portions
Ingredients:

1 rack of pork spare ribs (2 pounds, or 1 kg)

Spice Rub:
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile or cayenne powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coffee
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
Tequila BBQ Sauce 

1 small dried arbol pepper, crushed, OR , 1 teaspoon of regular chili flakes

1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup Seven Up (optional)
juice of one lime
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
1/2 cup molasses, OR honey, OR maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Cholula chili sauce, OR Tabasco
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Trim the ribs of any excess fat or sinew.  Remove the thin membrane from the back side of the ribs and discard (PS: I’m not always doing it, but this would prevent the ribs from coiling). Optionally, cut the rack in 4 individual portions for a better fit into the baking pan.

Combine the paprika, ancho chile powder, coarse salt, paprika, oregano, marjoram, cumin, garlic, onion powder, ground coffee and black pepper together in a mixing bowl to make a rub.  Rub the mixture into the ribs on both sides and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Place ribs into a baking pan (I prefer the glass one), cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil, turn the ribs over. Cover back with foil and bake ribs for another 45 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the basting tequila sauce (see the instructions below). When done, the ribs will be tender and the meat will have shrunk back from the bones.
Lower the oven temperature to 275F. Brush the ribs generously with the Tequila BBQ sauce and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the ribs over and brush with the sauce. Return to the oven for 7-10 minutes. Repeat coating the ribs on both sides for another 5 minutes each side. Remove from the oven. Brush with extra sauce if wish be. Let stand for a few minutes, cut in individual portions if necessary and serve.

Tequila BBQ Sauce:

Soak the dried chili flakes in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of hot water to rehydrate for 5 minutes.  Add the soaked flakes, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, tequila, Seven Up, lime juice, onion, garlic, molasses, hot sauce and salt and pepper to the blender or food processor.  Pulse few times until the mixture is smooth. Equally, you can grate the onion and garlic and just mix the ingredients in a bowl with the fork.

How to Grill a Perfect Asparagus


”Summer is for leisure. Slow down. Take a break. Tune in,” the real me has been whispering to the other me for a long-long time. Multitasking and distractions have been my pet peeve this season (if not this year).  I’ve been so busy and exhausted I stopped admiring food for a while: simple fresh garden food. Can you imagine? What can be worse for the food blogger in summer? I felt food numb, almost like that hilarious food critic played by the legendary Louis de Funès in The Wingor Thigh movie (L’Aile ou la Cuisse) when he was stroke by engurdie(food numbness in French)  Naturally, I used this state as an excuse to start grilling dinners from anything I could grab fast on my way back home, mostly meat: bangers, steaks, chops, chicken breasts… Boys were happy, but soon enough I couldn’t tell apart grilled steak, pork, or chicken. They all tasted like trash to me and just added to the constant headache and fatigue. I wanted to slow down the time and get present again with the food I eat. I needed a good energy fuel. I started grilling peppers, zucchinis, radishes, scallions, eggplants, cauliflower to assuage the animal’s protein guilt and damage. Everything still tasted boring, but was at least a step up from just meat & salad. I’ve experimented with dozen takes on salsa verde and chimichurri… Hmm, better, but still boring. I couldn’t find the ingredient that would bring me back to life. I suppose this is what chefs or writers, or critics call BLOCK.  

Then the asparagus season came and I decided to stop for 30 minutes and took time to explore just ONE very simple thing: how to make a perfect grilled asparagus. The result was outstanding: I finally was able to enjoy my dinner. I also learned a new skill and for a split second actually felt accomplished. It brought me back to the focus I craved so much.

Fast, affordable, simple, elegant, light, nutritious, this dish made me happy. As they say, happiness is not perfect until it’s shared with others, so I’m sharing it with you. Packed with UMAMI, the mysterious mouth filling fifth flavor plays very well with 4 other taste receptors in this quite minimalistic dish. Asparagus is a known umami intensifier, which in this recipe is powerfully enhanced by the Asian-style brushing sauce made of olive/sesame oil, dash of soya sauce, garlic and Dijon and sesame seeds sprinkle. Wow, as simple as it is, it makes FLAVORS GALORE!

Asparagus is liked by almost everyone I know. Yet generally it is not seen as a source of huge inspiration. Well, this recipe was an inspiration to me. I’ve learned some invaluable tips on how to grill asparagus to the perfection. No biggie? Yes, biggie, because, guess what, I can almost bet, YOU didn’t know these HOWs either.

Tip No 1. Previously, I used Mark Bittman’s recipe to drizzle the asparagus with olive oil (sometimes I would stretch to bacon drippings, or duck fat) throw it on a BBQ for a good 10-15 minutes along with other vegetables. Although acceptable, my grilled asparagus always left much to be desired.

I suspected that time and temperature had to do with it, but so all us do with boiled eggs, yet very few actually know or take time to check the exact timing to boil a perfect egg hard, coddled (soft boiled), or mollet (semi-liquid yolk). Last year I was reading My Canada Eats Foie Gras memoir by food critic Jacob Richler and in one particular story famous Torontonian, Chef Marc Thuet, was explaining in a very core way that the perfectly cooked asparagus has to be al dente. A-HA!

Timing of the grilling process vary from chef to chef, critic to critic, home cook to home cook. After coming down from Bittman’s 10-15 minutes to 2-5 minutes suggested by the most famous chefs; I figured the best timing to have a medium sized asparagus grilled to perfection would be exactly  90 seconds each side as advised in this video by Chef Rodney Bowers from Toronto. This timing is best to deliver crunchy and crispy, real al dente spears you can even warm up next day in a microwave and no one would ever say it wasn’t right form a grill.

Tip No 2. I’ve always been frustrated with having to use giant tongs to grab the asparagus losing many valuable spears through the grill. It took me only few minutes to figure out the technique to grill a perfect asparagus from a pro: Sesame Grilled Asparagus recipe from Chef Steve Raichlen which I actually use for this post, with the brushing sauce slightly modified. He uses pre-soaked wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers to make a raft boat from 4-5 spears at a time. What a genius idea!

Tip No 3. Finally, the dressing: before, during grilling, or after?  I tried all three and they all work well with me. Some don’t like the bitter touch of the burnt oil, so they prefer to season the grilled asparagus after. I personally love the taste of that char, so I brush the asparagus rafts before and during grilling.

Tip No 4. Is optional and relates to the gardening. Last fall, around mid-October I made an experiment and planted some cut offs of asparagus spears into our garden (1-2 inches deep). I completely forgot about it. Last week I was mulching and saw some tiny little asparagus sprouts popping up. WHOA! Definitely maybe I will be planting more this year (will try to use the leftovers all summer long too): it’s a beautiful perennial, great veg and makes one of the most beautiful foliage to please the eye of a picky gardener or a florist. Try it for yourself in preferably half-shadow, moist place (starting it close to compost would be the best idea) planting 3 to 4-inches long cut offs 1-2 inches deep.

That’s it for today. Please tell me if these tips worked with you.

Happy grilling!

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Two Years Ago: Fiddlehead Ferns Pasta
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SESAME GRILLED ASPARAGUS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
Ingredients:
Wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mixed sesame seeds
Salt and black pepper

Instructions:

Soak skewers in cold water for 1 hour in a shallow pan. Drain and set aside.

Preheat grill to high. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and discard. Skewer 4 or 5 asparagus spears together, using the toothpicks or 2 bamboo skewers, forming a raft shape.

Combine the olive, sesame oil, soy sauce, mustard and garlic in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix. Brush this mixture on the asparagus rafts on both sides. Season the asparagus with a little salt and lots of pepper.

When ready to cook, place the asparagus rafts on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned on both sides, 90 seconds per side. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds as they grill. You can serve the asparagus as rafts or un-skewered.

Note: This recipe makes a large quantity. If necessary, cut the amounts of ingredients accordingly.

Adapted from: Sesame Grilled Asparagus, by Steve Raichlen

Four Seasons Cream of Roasted Cauliflower and Four Fabulous Takes on It

This post might look like an epic tale about what you can do with roasted cauliflower, but it is basically one undeniably mighty fine and elemental soup formula, which on the merits of simplicity, economy and taste is hard to beat. Depending on the take you decide to choose, the cream of roasted cauliflower can stretch from a bowl of a humble cold weather comfort to the utterly festive haute cuisine dish you’d find in Michelin-star gastro-pub, or at a festive banquette.

In this post I will feature the following five splendid recipes:

  • BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS.

As you might have noticed already, some images from our latest travel through Quebec countryside and NYC full of spring blossom made a splendid back drop to showcase these recipes.

First thing first: why roasting cauliflower? Why not just boil it? Good point. Roasting cauliflower (see the tips below) to slightly browned and caramelized taste gives an added value, as does any extra ingredient from spice to vegetable, to nut, or bacon, or crustacean bits. This soup tastes wonderful when served piping hot, but on a hot sunny day you can cool it down and serve with the splash of cream or almond milk.  The basic roasted cauliflower soup formula is gluten free and totally vegan. Most importantly, for a simple few ingredients dish, it’s a low-caloric highly nutritional flavor bomb that you can easily overdose on few times a day feeling deeply satisfied and guilt-free. Which I guess is especially crucial now that many of us are poppin bikini/speedo tags, n’estce pas?

Depending on the spice or an additional ingredient, you can make this soup savory, sweet, salty, spicy, pungent, sour, or any combination of those. 

TIPS on ROASTING CAULIFLOWER: The method of oven roasting cauliflower in most recipes suggests that you separate the cauliflower into the florets, season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast it at 350F to 400F for up to 30 minutes. Well, my experience suggests that cutting the cauliflower into the 1-inch thick steaks works better and using the oven preheated to 425F for 20-30 minutes, provides better, more evenly roasted results. Note, if your oven is very powerful, keep the temperature at 400F.

PS:Naturally, you can always sauté the cauliflower in the skillet, however, roasting it is healthier option.

SPRING TO WINTER: My favorite all-year version is with hazelnut brown butter and a pinch of smoked chili/paprika or curry (the choice is yours) garnish. It is easy, sophisticated and cosmopolitan, adding a smoky nut crunch contrast to the creamy cauliflower goodness. It is exceptionally balanced and the combination is thought out and trendy. How about turning it up more by doubling on the smoke and crunch with some bits of bacon? HEAVENLY…

TIP on SHELLING HAZELNUTS: Contrary to the popular advice to shell hot roasted hazelnuts in a slightly wet towel (which doesnt do a good job from my experience), this good ol tip coming from the SNL sketch look-alike video from 70s with glorious Julia Childprovides the fool-proof result on shelling hazelnuts (ps: this video will also arm you with a biscotti recipe).

Needless to say, you can play with other nuts too in this recipe, including almonds, pecans, walnuts, even chestnuts (see the recipe below).

Adding one or more vegetables (i.e. leeks, sweet potato, squash, etc.) to the roasting process and/or some sautéed greens to garnish can make an interesting twist in flavor and nutritional value. Try adding any root vegetable of your choice in fall or winter, and/or some garden/foraged greens in spring or summer. I like to apply almost any fresh farmers market finds to it, like in this version with chives and foraged fiddlehead ferns (pre-steamed or sautéed for 3-5 minutes in butter).

I use whatever is in season, from chives and green peas in summer; to corn, squash and pumpkin in fall; to cubed sweet potatoes or carrots in winter – the basic formula is a wonderful host for all of them. The only non-variable remains cauliflower.

As for applying and varying spices in this soup, sky is the limit: nutmeg, chili flakes, cumin, smoked paprika/chili, caraway or fennel seeds, curry, in fall-winter time; sage, thyme, lemon zest, mint, basil tarragon for spring-summer, etc.  A splash of white wine or a table spoon of apple cider vinegar would add some complexity to the soup as well.

SPECIAL OCCASIONS.  The Cream of Roasted Cauliflower with Lobster Dumplings comes to my memory first. I remember having this exquisite soup at the wedding reception years ago. Fixed wedding menus/dishes can be hit or miss, with most of the time being and unfortunate miss of which young Winston Churchill would say: “It would have been splendid… if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the duchess.” But that time the food was exceptionally good. I consumed that bowl of soup with reverent awe. Later, I found the approaching recipe on Food Network by Chef Michael Symon, whose taste buds I trust almost blind-foldedly. I used a roasted cauliflower instead of the sautéed one and the result was fantastic.

Today Im sharing this recipe with you. This riff on roasted cauliflower is highly festive, helps to stretch the lobster to many plates and evokes the felling of comfort and elegance. If lobster is difficult to find, feel free to use shrimp (peeled, cooked and deveined) instead. 

For the top notch finish, season with coarsely ground black pepper and drizzle with a bit of truffle oil. 

Voila, the simple step by step:

And for the lobster dumplings:

Finally, the recipe search for the cream of roasted cauliflower from the wedding also once brought me to Jackie Kennedy–style recipe of the Cauliflower Goat Cheese Soup (arguably served at the Kennedy wedding party among other thing at Hammersmith Farm), smooth and polished enough to be showcased in a stylish setting for those who admire the goat cheese (or many other kinds of cheese for that matter). 

I made it with the mix of crumbled goat cheese and feta bought from Chevriere de Monnoir farm I wrote about previously here and here. I also modified it by adding some roasted chestnuts (which you can buy now small-packaged in Adonis and even Walmart) into the soup and garnish and added a few drops of maple syrup. It came up sweet and umami and lick-the-plate-clean good. If goat cheese is not your thing, try it with grated cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Emmental, Swiss, etc.  or any cheese that you put in your favorite cheese fondue – all would work wonders in this forgiving cream of soup formula.

I hope you will try one/all of the below recipes and will enjoy it/them as much as I did.  I also hope you will give me some feedback upon trying. I am sure you will love at least one of them!
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BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, its OK, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and serve with your favorite garnish, or just with freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried sage
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For Browned Butter Hazelnuts:
½ cup hazelnuts, shelled (see above instructions) and coarsely crushed
4 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
Pinch of coarse salt
Pinch of smoked chilly or paprika
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and sage. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring ghee or butter in a skillet to medium-low heat. Add hazelnuts and cook until butter turns brownish, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle with coarse salt and smoked paprika or chili, mix and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and sprinkle with browned butter hazelnuts and freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For garnish:
1 cup fiddlehead ferns, washed
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
Pinch of sea salt
Small bunch of chives, minced
Olive or truffle oil (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion, leeks and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, add 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter to the skillet and bring to medium-high. Add fiddlehead ferns and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and garnish with sautéed fiddlehead ferns, chives and cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken or lobster stock
1 tablespoon white wine (optional)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Cooked Lobster meat for garnish, chopped
1 tablespoon truffle oil
For Lobster Dumplings:
1 ½ cups white bread crumbs
½ tablespoon softened butter
1 egg beaten
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
½ cup lobster meat, cooked and chopped
Milk to bind
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine if using, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Mix the dumplings ingredients and roll into small firm balls about ½-inch in diameter.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée the soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in heavy cream. Bring the soup to simmer. Poach the dumplings in soup for 3-4 minutes. Check the seasoning and remove from heat. Place the lobster meat in individual soup bowls.  Ladle 8 ounces of soup with dumplings on top in each bowl. Garnish with lobster claw and drizzle with truffle oil.
*This recipe was adapted from Food Network: Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Dumplings by Chef Michael Symon
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup roasted chestnuts, plus a few for garnish
1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
1+ cup half and half (10% cream)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, nutmeg and cinnamon if using. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Add crumbled goat cheese, roasted chestnuts and maple syrup to the mix in the blender. Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in cream. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls. Garnish with some crushed roasted chestnuts. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil and sprinkle with freshly minced parsley. Serve with croutons on the side.