Category Archives: snack

Garden Fresh: Blackcurrant Chocolate Zucchini Cake


This luscious, spicy, fragrant cake with heavenly-decadent chocolate and winey-rich blackcurrant tones is anything but usual. Kids love it, adults rave about it and guests will be mooching you for the recipe every time you would make this cake for birthday party (speaking of, with its consistency, this cake is born to have some candles in it) or any other celebration… 
Let’s put it this way: with 2 ½ cup of fresh zucchini and 1 ½ cup of fresh blackcurrant berries (still retaining its antioxidants upon baking) inside you will forget frozen Sara Lee cakes or those hasty chocolate things made from the box for a while. Just a bit of an effort and the sweetly rich reward will be a highlight of your next celebration.
Although most of our currants have been eaten by the birds this year (not only humans are trying to benefit from the summer bounty – farmers know it big time), I still managed to salvage some and was excited to make something really good out of little glossy black spheres known for their alluring tart flavor and sublime aroma. I also managed to pick a few baby zucchinis at their prime before they would turn into some giant monsters after all this rain. Naturally, I got a nail in my head to use both in some amazing combination: chocolate cake idea came first and last.
The blackcurrant berries add delicious tang to the food of the Gods (aka chocolate) and neutral zucchini in the cake. When cooked in desserts (see the British Eccles cakes recipe, for example), syrups (think famous French crème de cassis and a delectable ‘Kir’ drink with champagne), jams or coulis (for savory dishes, including steaks and stews), the currants’ aggressive tartness becomes well muted releasing the berries unique aroma and their astringency creates an added woodsy and piquant flavor.
I’ve been baking chocolate zucchini cakes before, but, somehow, always wanted to have a better formula for the cake to be: more dense or moist; with more balanced spices or sugar; have a foolproof baking time, etc. Many recipes I’ve tried had ridiculously short baking time for the temperatures of 325F to 350F and the amount of zucchini in them: I found it quite annoying having had to check the readiness again and again. 
The last one I’ve tried from otherwise quite good recipe book, didn’t have any salt in it and had the amount of ground cloves enough to stop the toothache of four people. The smell of baking ground cloves made a long-lasting potpourri effect in the house though, which was OK with me.  Naturally, I dialed the cloves back in the subsequent recipe along with other adjustments, including:
– adding blackcurrants;
– squeezing dry shredded zucchini;
– replacing just white sugar with half and half  brown and white;
– adding 1/2 teaspoon sea salt;
– adding 1 teaspoon finely ground Blue Mountain coffee (to enhance the chocolate flavor);
– cutting the 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves to 1/4 teaspoon of cloves;
– adding 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
– adding 30 minutes of baking time 

Oh that HAPPY KAYKEY! Moist, slightly fudgy, dense with chocolate chips and currents still intact on top for an extra punch… I could taste a hint of the coffee which I found boosted the chocolate flavor in a right direction. As usually, buttermilk plays a big role to have the best results with any soda cake – make sure you have it among your ingredients when ready.
Voila, the simple visual steps:

SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t get currants, feel free to sub with gooseberries, sour cherries or cranberries (frozen are OK too) – each would add a different tone and character, but approximately same level of tang and freshness. Equally, you can swap zucchini for the same amount of shredded tart apples and tart berries for neutral blueberries to have a Chocolate Apple Berry Cake. Well, if you won’t, I will for sure in one of those next posts, this recipe is worth to play with.
Currants of all kinds are now available at all farmers markets – don’t miss this short season to try the wonderful, unique taste of these berries. I’m sure you won’t have problem to find a way to use some of those extra zucchini, but if you are short of ideas for the currants, here are some other interesting recipes from fellow bloggers, Food Network and New York Times in which you can use them successfully: 
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Black Current Jam, recipe from David Leibovitz

Black Current Sorbet, recipe from New York Times

Grape Black Current Granita, recipe from Food Network

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BLACKCURRANT CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
Yields: 15 to 20 pieces

Ingredients:

Unsalted butter, for the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground coffee (optional)
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups grated zucchini, squeezed dry
1/2 cup fresh blackcurrants
10 inch diameter spring form for baking

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round spring pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

Toss 1/3 cup chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon flour in a small bowl. Whisk the remaining flour, the cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and coffee in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the butter, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until smooth and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the flour-cocoa mixture; beat on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes (the batter will be thick). Fold in zucchini and beat until combined, about 2 more minutes. Fold in the flour-coated chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Distribute blackcurrants and 1/4 cup chocolate chips on top of the cake carefully.  Place in the oven. After 10 minutes of baking, reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 1 hour and 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Adapted from: The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook by Tracey Medeiros, The Countryman Press, 2013

Restaurant Style Flaky Bread Recipe


This recipe has bewitched Bon Appétit (BA) magazine to the point it was called their favorite bread of 2014. According to BA’s recipe developer and writer, Alison Roman, ‘It’s not often you dream about something you ate at a restaurant. But the warm, buttery, pull-apart, roti-esque ‘’flaky bread’’at Brooklyn’s Glasserie is powerful stuff. Once I made my own version, I found even more to love: It’s easy to throw together (just five ingredients) and crazy versatile (eat it with eggs in the morning, with dip for a snack, or wrapped around grilled meat at dinner). Best of all, you can make the dough ahead of time, freeze, and when a craving strikes or a friend stops by unannounced—boom! Just griddle and you’re good to go.’ Sounds intriguing, no? FYI, the bread from the Glasserie’s menu with focus on Middle Eastern food is called Griddle Bread.  Guess what, we’ve been having a recurring stash of the flaky/griddle bread dough in our freezer for the last 10 months and have no plans to abandon this habit. There is only one way for you to find out why, n’est-ce pas?  

The enchanting flaky bread is painfully similar to Paratha bread originating from South India, but who cares, right? As long as it can enthrall so many readers and bread-making enthusiasts, I’m in for the journey, and hopefully so will be you. I actually bothered to compare the traditional Paratha bread and the BA’s Flaky Bread recipes and discovered only one difference: ghee vs butter. The name Paratha means the ‘layers of cooked dough’ (with ghee or butter + salt successfully breaking it into the warm salty flakes when cooked). Whichever was the source the flaky bread inspiration morphed from, I have to admit: this bread is a total winner as no-leavening part of making it, flaky-salty crisp and ability to match almost anything edible you can think of with it, make it absolutely superior to many other bread creations. 

If you happen to be moving on July 1st (the weirdest thing to do on Canada Day and oddly enough, the most popular one in Quebec), this snack might save your day.

Bring it to your next potluck gathering or picnic, dress it with the blanket of homemade hummus or lentil avocado spread and it will jazz up the party in an instant – a highly rewarding experience I lived through already.

Equally, just a dollop or melting butter or ghee with some spiced honey drizzle over the hot flaky bread make complex and powerful flavor-texture dynamic with the subtle punch of sweet fire from chili honey which is hard to forget. And, hey, don’t you think about the calories when eating it or you will ruin the feast! PS: the quote above is for the re-assurance.

Two most important conditions to make the flaky bread a success: SALT for sprinkling and the right SKILLET. Salt has to be flaky: Maldon salt is suggested in the recipe, but I got away for less with fleur de sel or grey unrefined fine sea salt of French or Greek origin.  The cast iron skillet or griddle is highly advised, although I found it also very satisfactory to use ROCK-style pan, like the one in the image above and the one you can see on the images: it has white spots on the surface
Im skipping the visual step of making dough as this post is written on a short notice, but it’s no brainer as the recipe below explains. I suggest while making dough coils though, try to add some bits of bacon or cheese in them for an extra decadence.

Lets put it this way: I hope it will warm up your morning tomorrow (the forecast says we will have ‘cats and dogs’) and may be with the number of great dips or stuffing and some help of Sugar Sammy’s episodes  will help to bring the ‘two solitudes’ closer.

Happy Canada Day and Cheers to All!

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RESTAURANT STYLE FLAKY BREAD
Yields: 10 flaky breads
Ingredients:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for brushing (about 10)
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), or fleur de sel, or Mediterranean natural unrefined fine sea salt  
Olive oil (for parchment)
Instructions:
Whisk kosher salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Drizzle in melted butter; mix well. Gradually mix in ¾ cup water. Knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is shiny and very soft, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic; let rest in a warm spot at least 4 hours.
Divide dough into 10 pieces and, using your palm, roll into balls. Place balls on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes.
Working with 1 piece at a time, roll out balls on an un-floured surface with a rolling pin into very thin rounds or ovals about 9” across. (If dough bounces back, cover with plastic and let rest a few minutes.)
Brush tops of rounds with room-temperature butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Roll up each round onto itself to create a long thin rope. Wind each rope around itself to create a tight coil.
Working with 1 coil at a time, roll out on an un-floured surface to 10” rounds no more than ⅛” thick. Stack as you go, separating with sheets of parchment brushed with oil.
Heat a large cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Working 1 at a time, brush both sides of a dough round with room-temperature butter (omitting the butter-brushing step made a better job in my case) and cook until lightly blistered and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer bread to a wire rack and sprinkle with sea salt.
Ahead: Coils can be rolled out 1 month ahead; wrap tightly and freeze. Cook from frozen (add 1–2 minutes to cooking time).

Adapted from: Flaky Bread Recipe by Alison Roman, Bon Appétit magazine, 02/2014

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