Category Archives: vegetarian

Hail to Watermelon and Its Rind


‘I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins”; I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front if the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.’- Mark Twain

What can I say? For such a poetic admiration and knowledge of citrullus lanatus, I’d like Mark Twain’s spirit to guide me through my next watermelon picking, ‘cause those knocking tips never work for me. Which is why I liked the idea to make some watermelon pickles. I didn’t have to make a lot of research – the Bon Appétitmagazine has already hooked me on it last summer.

There were some red flags about the recipe including only 3 stars reviews, copious amount of sugar, zero water added, etc. You can find the recipe here.

Despite the flags, my loyalty to Bon Appétit has won. I enthusiastically worked the watermelon rinds  into the wonderful pickles while taking these pictures.

They smelled wonderful and turned out to be exactly like the ones on the BA images. I was anxious to try them next day.

The day after I took the first bite. Hmm. How should I describe it? You know those exotic chutneys you sometimes buy on liquidation that inevitably end up in the garbage after sitting in the fridge for 6 months? It was worse. The watermelon rind juicy freshness was completely gone – buried in sugar, salt and spice like a mummy. I can almost guarantee this listless thing could last in a jar for a century. Well, I still gave it a chance with a few more days in the fridge and a small tapas party. People would take a bite, but it would be the last one. It followed the destiny of the exotic chutney. Fortunately, I cut the recipe in half, so I had only two jars to throw out. I did made a note though about adding the ginger and anise star, because both sounded refreshing in the pickle recipe.

I started looking for the real authentic recipe of a watermelon pickle: the one that would put a smile on those faces surviving the great depression a century ago. I found a great one (with good reviews this time) in the “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan (recipe follows).  I could finally get what was the fuss about the old-fashion treat (with much less sugar and prominent lemon flavor). Sorry, no pictures for obvious reason (I wasn’t sure it would work). People at the next tapas party had it with much more enthusiasm. I started adding it to salads and cold soups.

Still, as good as a classic watermelon rind pickle can be, as a great connoisseur of kosher pickles I insisted on finding some other trick that would keep that feeling of freshness of a watermelon and all its vital nutriments intact without boiling the rind.   

I came up with geniusly simple solution: chop the peeled watermelon rind (along with the chunks of watermelon) (2 cups); sprinkle it with quality salt (1/4 tablespoon); add a few slices of ginger and the anise star. Mix a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with the same amount of honey (preferably spiced) and add the liquid to the watermelon rind mix. Cool in the fridge for just 10-15 minutes and off you go (discard the anise star)! Incredibly fresh, youthful and invigorating! I use it now almost daily added to de-puffing shakes, soups, salads, salsas and relishes. I just love this simple healing mix.


Finally, my favorite, watermelon gazpacho with macerated rind: I call it ‘hangover shots’ (huge party pleaser (before or after). The watermelon and honey-cider macerated rind add delectable sweetness and balance to tomatoes. The apple cider vinegar works magic with the glycemic index making it very good for health (if you are into these things) while lifting the umami of the tomatoes and watermelon. This soup is hydrating, rejuvenating and healing. By virtue of having the watermelon and tomatoes together, it doubles the amount of lycopene thus hugely boosting the immune system. Did I say it tastes amazing? The mint gives that pick-me-up finish to help bring you back to life along with the soup itself whether it from the heat, exhaustion or hangover. Gosh, it’s incredible how easy it is at times to make yourself happy.
Enjoy!
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LEMONY WATERMELON RIND PICKLES
Yields: 2 to 3 pints
Ingredients:
Rind from 3 pounds seedless watermelon
7 cups water, divided
5 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Zest (in large strips) and juice from 1 large lemon
Instructions:
Cut the rind into 1-inch cubes to make around 4 cups.
Combine6 cups of the water and 3 tablespoons of the salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt, then add the watermelon rind and cook until fork tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the watermelon rind and divide among the pint jars.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup water with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and cloves. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Stir the lemon zest and juice into the pickle brine. Pour the brine over the watermelon rind, distributing the spices and lemon zest evenly among the jars. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. (The pickles will taste very salty at first, but the flavor mellows overnight.)
Note: You will need two to three pint jars and canning lids and rings, cleaned well in soapy water. Because this doesn’t make a huge amount, you can store the finished product in the refrigerator for one to two months rather than canning it. You may have some extra brine, so feel free to add more rind if you have it.
Adapted from: “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan, 13/08/2013
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND CONCENTRATE
3 cups water
1 tablespoon quality sea salt (Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)
1 cup honey (quickly made spice infused honey is the best for this recipe)
2 anise stars
1 knob of ginger, thinly sliced
Few lemon peels (optional)
6 cups peeled watermelon rind, half and half pink and white parts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
Instructions:
Bring the water and the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add anise star, ginger and lemon peel to the honey water and stir. Pour the honey-water over the watermelon rind in a large ceramic bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Add apple cider vinegar and mix. Steep the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight. When ready, use the macerated watermelon chunks and the liquid in salads/dressings, cold soups, smoothies, tonic drinks, etc. The mixture can be store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND SUMMER TONIC
Strain the amount of liquid required from the macerated watermelon rind mixture. Pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the cubes of watermelon, cucumber, and mint. 

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WATERMELON GAZPACHO WITH MACERATED RIND
Yields: 2 to 4 portions
Ingredients:
1 pound tomatoes, diced
1 pound seeded and cubed watermelon
½ cup macerated watermelon rind with liquid (see the recipe in the post above), OR 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 small to medium size cucumber, diced (peeled and de-seeded if necessary)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher, Maldon, fleur de sel, or any other quality salt (add more according to your taste)
Feta cheese, crumbled
5 to 10 spearmint leaves for garnish
Instructions:
Combine tomatoes, watermelon, rind, cucumber and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Give it a few pulses until chunky-smooth, but not too smooth. Let cool in the fridge if necessary. Garnish with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Enjoy!

Beat the Heat with Avocado Pistachio Cold Soup


Oh, how badly I needed this freshness for the last few weeks! This was today.
Yesterday.
The heat is on, on the street / Inside your head, on every beat /And the beat’s so loud, deep inside
The pressure’s high, just to stay alive / ‘Cause the heat is on…
 
The heat paralyses me. It makes me feel sick. It makes me feel like jumping into a water spray, then bed crashing under the dozen of fans and watching National Geographic series about rainforests, thunderstorms and waterfalls till dawn. 
Then go back to the sprinkle again….
Why the water sprinkles are only for kids? Why does siesta have to be only a cultural phenomenon? Why can’t we all have power naps during summer heat? I guess these questions are rhetorical, huh? Or, may be, the heat just makes me delirious… I actually thought we were only at the beginning of July, but half of it is gone already. Just yesterday these wild geese ducklets were eggs, these cattails didn’t exist and these strawberries were flowers. I was feeling so much younger. I was actually ready to resume the horseback riding I abandoned back in my twenties… 
I missed jazz festival and dozen of other attractions I wanted to visit so much. I’ve become a reckless blogger. Half of my design projects have been put on hold. The mood board sketches are flying all over the house. My photo-bank is about to eat me alive if I don’t start cleaning it asap. See what the heat is doing to me?  This is not good. I need to slow down this shutter speed of life. I need a fresh start.
At least I’ve done plenty of gazpachos. Cold soups are the wonderful culinary creation. They feed and nourish in a wink and deliver freshness, speed and convenience to our time-poor, exhausting summer schedules.
This one is a keeper for me during excruciating hot summer days. Not only it’s super-delicious and easy to make; it’s hard to underestimate the avocado’s potent anti-inflammatory, hydrating and blood pressure-stabilizing powers, which in this recipe are also supported by cucumber, handful of pistachio nuts, grilled zucchini, buttermilk and organic miso (fermented soya paste) – I marked the last ingredient as optional, considering its rare occurrence in most people’s fridges. I used the leftover grilled zucchini to add a slight grill tone to the soup, recycle and give some extra substance, but leave them out if you want.
You can whip this uber-yummy soup for spur-of-the-moment summer guests in, literally, 10 minutes. Serve it in verrines garnished with extra pistachios and all you can imagine fresh herbs including parsley, dill, cilantro, mint, basil, chives, oregano, tarragon, etc. 
The fresh herbs give an incredible hit of flavor to this otherwise subtle and smooth cold soup. Drizzle it with a bit of olive or truffle oil and/or sprinkle with smoked paprika for an extra zang. Not a big herb lover? Add a dash of curry, cumin and ground coriander in the mix.
Tweak it to be more or less acidic playing with lime or lemon juice to your taste. PS: kosher pickle or kimchi liquids are not excluded as the idea ingredients for a kick and extra health benefit. Thin it with vegan broth, unsweetened almond milk, extra buttermilk, cold spring water or even cold green tea if necessary.
Great tip from experienced guacamole makers: add avocado seed to the soup to preserve the vivid green color if you wish to refrigerate it from few hours till next day.
This soup is a true vegetarian summer dream dish on its own. But if you crave more substance on a side serve it with croutons or these decadent tiny cheese puffs (recipe will follow).
Cheers to All and Viva Summer Freshness!
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AVOCADO PISTACHIO CUCUMBER GAZPACHO
Yields: 4-8 portions (depending on the size of the verrines)
Ingredients:
4-6 ice cubes, made of quality spring water (plus few crushed ice cubes for serving)
1 tablespoon raw pistachio nuts, shelled (plus 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1 ripe avocado, peeled (keep the avocado seed to preserve the color if you plan to eat soup next day)*
1 cucumber (Lebanese, or ½ English cucumber; other kind to be peeled and de-seeded)
1 small zucchini, grilled, broiled, or pan-fried (optional)
1 cup vegetarian (or lean organic chicken) stock
1 cup buttermilk (or unsweetened almond milk)
1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1/2 cup quality spring water
1 teaspoon miso paste (optional)
¼ teaspoon quality salt
¼ teaspoon hot smoked paprika (or chili powder)
Fresh herbs for garnish: mint, dill, cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil, etc.
Olive oil for drizzle (optional)
Instructions:
Add ice cubes to blender. Top with nuts, avocado, cucumber, zucchini, stock, buttermilk, lime juice, water, miso, salt and paprika or chili. Puree on high speed until smooth Thin the soup with additional stock, buttermilk, or water if desired. Pour into bowls. Garnish with ice cube crush, pistachios and fresh herbs. Drizzle with oil or lemon juice. 
* Add avocado seed to the soup to preserve the vivid green color if you wish to refrigerate it from few hours till next day.

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.
***
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.

Green Tea Green Apple ‘Gimme That’ Mini Bundt Cake

I’ve been planning to join the Matcha tea craze in baking for a while and have finally come up with this mini cakes creation: worth every penny. Not only it’s a super-cute dessert with presence and pizazz, it is a moist and dense flavor bomb with a perfect match of green tea, green apple, maple syrup ingredients enhanced with the secret organic STASH tea powder to also include: hibiscus, orange peel, chamomile, pomegranate and raspberry flavors. The later ingredient is optional, although it works as a great taste booster and saves you lots of trips (and cash) to groceries for special ingredients if you happen to have it already. Pure Matcha tea powder alone is also good, packing the cakes with the one and only delicate taste of Japanese tea, along with its powerful health benefits.

If you feel hooked, dear reader, let’s buckle up for a quick food journey, play some Lilly Allen and agree the ‘Life for Me’ can totally include these treats.
Of all my previous mini cakes, muffin or cupcake experiments, I had the most fun with these ones. Whether you are a pro in your own kitchen or just an amateur of an easy, but special kind of dessert you never tried before, but were potentially curious about; the texture and aroma of which would be surprising; the taste of which would linger long after the first bite; and which can be re-heated a week later to reveal even more flavor – this is your thing.  These little sweet babies are the result of my light bulb moment re-purposing the Keurig-style STASH organic tea cups, which later became a pure Matcha tea cakes experiment. Four green apples are included and maple syrup is not forgotten. Believe me, if I’ve done them 3 times in the last 30 days that means they are obsessively addictive. The mini Bundt cake pans are procurable at many places today: from Walmart to Winners, but you can as well have these cakes in the cupcake or muffin shapes.
The spring has sprung, the Easter times go on and the beautiful city of Montreal is finally awakening from the never-ending cold slumber. What a Joy! You can gauge this excitement by the special things cooking on the stoves and special desserts baking in the ovens. The green tea + green apple cakes make a perfect ode to celebrate spring and nature’s renewal…
If you plan a trip to a potluck party this week-end, these will literally sell like hot cakes. No need to advertise, just wait to watch the face expressions while the cakes will be disappearing with cosmic speed.

There are two options to finish the cakes: drizzling with the maple syrup or dusting with confectionary sugar. I prefer to do both. There’s an indefinite number of garnish: from trendy pistachios, to other nuts, to spices like cinnamon or cardamom, to fruits, to whipped cream, jams, even fresh cheese or exquisite savory ingredients like foie gras or smoked fish if you’d like to stretch them to an upscale tapas party territory.

The cakes also make a perfect picnic or Easter basket companions.  These are easy and fun to make in advance and keep for a few days or up to a week in a fridge. If you decide to revive them into something especially impressive, just warm them up in  pre-heated oven (375F) for about 10-15 minutes to have that newly developed crisp crust, which you will re-drizzle later with maple syrup and re-powder with sugar.  Amazing!

It all began with giving a new purpose to the STASH tea cups with 100% natural green tea, hibiscus, orange peel, chamomile, pomegranate, raspberry flavors and Matcha. The idea of using Matcha in dessert has been rattling around my brain for a while. I was going to make the usual apple cinnamon cakes and then noticed the ingredients written on the STASH tea cups. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘intention brings attention’ and eventually ‘brings the process to fruition’: I broke the seal on the cup to see the inside and the tea mix looked like a perfect ingredient to me.  In the first batch I used only two cups of STASH tea powder. I was very impressed with the taste, but felt like it can take on much more tea ingredient.

The next batch I made was with the load of pure Matcha: 3 tablespoons of Japanese Green tea and Matcha mix, which I powdered in the mortar with pestle. In the third batch I used both, STASH tea powder and Matcha and the result was outstanding: cakes bursting with flavors you always look for when ordering desserts at coffee or tea house (and often fail to find).

Tip: squeeze some apple juice out (and drink it) from the pulp to make the texture of the cakes less dense…

Give the cakes a generous maple syrup drizzle on a patriotic whim; dust with powder sugar  and garnish with crushed pistachios. Voila, your green tea cakes are ready to impress the palate.
First time I tasted it I was just struck how incredible a mouthful of green tea the cake can be.
Everyone agreed. Try it with you favorite tea or coffee and you won’t be missing anything…


Enjoy your Easter baking and have a great week-end!

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Previously, around this time of the year:
BBQ Lamb Chops
Eggs Asparagus Ham Tart
Savory Easter Cypriot Bread
Lentil Avocado Spread

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MATCHA GREEN TEA & APPLE MINI BUNDT CAKES

Yields: 5-6 cakes depending on the bundt pans’ size
Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, OR gluten-free flour for gluten-intolerant
2 tablespoons Matcha green tea powder (plus 1 extra tablespoon to replace the STASH tea if necessary)
2 contents of tea bags or Keurig-style cups of STASH Pomegranate Raspberry Green tea with Matcha (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 stick butter, ½ cup, or 118 gm
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling
3 eggs, beaten
4 green apples, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice to spray the apple pulp with
Confectionary sugar for dusting
Slivered nuts for garnish
5-6 mini bundt cake pans
Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
Wash, peel and grate the apples. Squeeze the juice out (to drink or discard) and drizzle the pulp with lemon juice to prevent from browning.
Unless you already have Matcha powder, ground the green + Matcha tea mix in the mortar.
Sift the flour into a big bowl and add the green tea and STASH mix tea, if using.
Beat the softened butter and brown sugar in a separate bowl with mixer.
Whisk the maple syrup and beaten eggs well.
Grease and flour 5-6 mini bundt cake pans and spoon the cake batter into.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before inverting them onto the wire rack.
Glaze the cakes with maple syrup and/or dust them with confectionary sugar.
Sprinkle with pistachios, almonds or other slivered nuts.