Category Archives: cheese

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.

Mother’s Day Best: Buttermilk Pancakes with Soft Cheese, Strawberries and Pistachios

What would I do without my mom? Where would I be? What would I become? How would I be? ‘Mothers are the vessels of life that build and grow societies all over the world. Moms are the thread that holds it all together and the tie that binds. They operate on passion and instinct and never let fear guide their way. Mothers are the strongest and most resilient people on this earth, and for that all reverence is justified…’ 

My mom left me some images and collages, took a break and asked me to take care about this post. She means the world to me and there can’t be any better time, no matter how busy I am. My grandma’s birthday falls on May 10th, so this day has double significance in my family being both, Mother’s day and my grandmother’s birthday.  Love is in the airon this day and celebration is big. A festive breakfast or brunch starring with these cakey and creamy pancakes which absorb maple syrup like a sponge makes a good start!  The strawberries add freshness and flavor, pistachios kick in a salty crunch and the delectable blanket of cheese completes the riff wondrously bringing the Glass Candy’s videoin my head to the Air France’s version. A very cool commercial indeed, if you haven’t seen it! 
The buttermilk pancakes family tradition takes years, although the recipe itself took many twists and turns to finally settle with this one, which we find to be our favorite.

The recipe is based on the formula from the master bread maker Peter Reinhart , who searched for the fool proof recipe himself for years to finally stumble upon Marion Cunningham’s buttermilk pancakes recipe, which he now calls the “best pancakes in the world.

Please follow these tips to achieve the best results:
a) This formula does not lend itself to multiplying, so the measures are given only as volume and not weight.
b) Most pancake batters are mixed ahead and then rested. This one is griddled immediately, so it must be handled tenderly to prevent the gluten from toughening.
c) The lumps disappear in the frying pan, so mix only till all the flour is wet and assimilated.
d) The larger the pancake the more unevenly it will cook, with the center being slow to finish. If you like your pancakes custardy, make the big ones, if you prefer them well-done, make two or three small ones in the same pan (or keep two pans going).
e) Unbleached flour is preferred but bleached flour will also do.
f) Feel free to alter the toppings with other fresh fruit or berry, nuts or soft cheese (i.e. My grandma loves it with cottage cheese, while my mom prefers fresh goat cheese and I always opt for whipped mascarpone with fruits like strawberries).
Enjoy!
Great for breakfast, lunch or a tea break:
P.s. Before I finish, there’s something else I wanted to share with you: the video about the video.  It’s about how much effort/cost it takes to make  45-seconds glam video ad.  You might find this comparison weird, but to me that is my mom and myself in a nutshell: an iceberg the tip of which is me. And so is my grandma to my mom. 
Happy Birthday dear granny Nelly! We love you!
Happy Mother’s Day to All the Great Moms!
Yours truly, T for Tat.
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BEST BUTTERMILK PANCAKES
Yields: 4 to 8 pancakes
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon butter or oil for the pan
Instructions:
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a mixing bowl.
Crack-open the egg and pour it whole into the center of the flour mixture. Pour the buttermilk over the egg.
Stir the ingredients together with fork or a large whisk just till a lumpy batter forms and all the flour is absorbed. Pour in the melted batter just till the butter is dispersed.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add a teaspoon of butter or oil and swirl it around to coat the pan.
Ladle or pour the batter into the pan to the desired size and tilt the pan to spread the batter (it is thick so it will not spread very much).
When bubbles begin to appear on the top of the pancakes, flip them and continue cooking for about 1 minute. They should be brown on both sides but tender in the middle.
Keep the pancakes warm in a 200F oven or on a plate under a clean towel, while making the rest.
Serve with maple syrup and/or your favorite fruits, nuts and cheese.
Adapted from: ‘Crust and Crumb’ by Peter Reinhart, Ten Speed Press, 2006.

Sour Cherry Babka with Quark Cheese & Maple Glaze Recipe


Keep the Metamucil close, because I’m coming at you with this totally irresistible, incredibly addictive Babka with sour cherries, quark/cream cheese and maple syrup glaze. This brioche-like Babka is an awesome culinary cross between Slavic and Jewish Easter recipes. It’s a great sweet bread to make few days in advance of Easter and keep it at the room temperature or in the fridge (while secretly cutting slices at night when no one can see you devouring it with melted chocolate drizzle and ice cream).

The maple syrup glaze made with one of those gorgeous maple products you procured the other day at the SS fair will have time to get absorbed and you can add a fresh layer of it just before serving.

The down side of this yeasted cake is that you have to find half a day to make it. Allow yourself exactly 4 hours and 40 minutes to have the Babka finally baked and cooling. We made it last night, finished at almost midnight, so there will be no detailed pictures of the steps of making the dough, but I don’t think you really need them. I know the leavening part is imputed to often baking flops. Many of home bakers lambaste themselves over it, but you’ll never know until you try, right? When armed with the proper ingredients, right proportions and yeast that IS actually ACTIVE, I see no reason anyone would fail this mission.

On the upside, this Babka is incredibly deliscious and versatile with some extra additions like honey, melted chocolate, butter, maple syrup, caramel, etc. It can be stored at the room temperature for up to three days or for few days longer in the fridge.

Sour cherries give a great fresh tang balanced delicately with the cheese mix (lightened with the quark cheese instead of pure cream cheese and maple syrup to replace sugar) and spongy, yeasty dough. Simple and attainable goodness and a stunning center piece (given you saved your night trips to the fridge for the better days).

Our midnight steps… followed by some blurry final shots…

The boring part is the waiting times for the dough to rise, which on the other hand, gives you time to do many other things in between. Otherwise it’s fun to whisk, rock and roll. But if you feel that you are not yet ready for the challenge and might find the experience still humiliating, just wait till I post something much simpler but equally adorable next week.

Happy Easter Baking!
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PS: Here are some other good ideas for the Easter breads we’ve posted previously:  
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MAPLE GLAZED SOUR CHERRY BABKA WITH CHEESE
Yields: 10 to 12 portions
Ingredients:
For the Babka Dough:
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup, plus 2 tbsp plus a pinch of granulated sugar
¾ cup warm milk
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour, extra for the surface
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for the bowl, pan and lining parchment paper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of cream for an egg wash
1 ½ cups pitted fresh, thawed or drained sour cherries
For the Filling:
6 ounces quark cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup maple syrup plus 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
For the Glaze:
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
Instructions:
Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over warm milk in a medium bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Whisk together remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the egg, and yolk. Whisk into the yeast mixture.
Combine flour and ½ teaspoon salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add egg mixture. Beat on low speed until almost fully combined, for about 30 seconds. Switch to the dough-hook attachment. Add butter. Beat until smooth, soft and slightly sticky, for about 10 minutes.
Butter a large bowl. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface; knead for a few minutes until smooth. Place in bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Make the filling: stir together quark cheese, cream cheese, egg yolk, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar.
Punch down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out to an 18-inch square (about 1/8 inch thick). Brush edges with egg wash. Spread the filling over the dough. Top with cherries. Tightly roll dough like a jelly roll. Pinch seam to seal. Coil into a snail shape on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with egg wash.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Drape plastic wrap over dough. Let stand in a warm place until risen by half, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap. Cut six ½-inch slits into top. Bake rotating halfway through, until golden, for about 55 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until deeply golden, 15 to 20 minutes more (cover with foil if the top gets too dark). Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cake cool.
Make the glaze: Mix together maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar and milk. Add more sugar or milk to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle over cake. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart’s Yeasted Cheese and Sour Cherry Coffee Cake

No Bake Herbed Nut & Cheese Snowballs Recipe

It is official: the fall themes are over, the wreaths are being changed to Christmas and the Black Friday specials just zoomed themselves in. Christmas prep has just stepped into our house with these cute little coconut herb cheese balls appetizer to greet our friends in a jiffy and finally celebrate the end of the Black Friday expenses. I really needed some purifying after a long day of unnecessary shopping, so combining Boursin cheese 50/50 with minced parsley (great anti-inflammatory and tonic)) and adding some minced garlic sounded like a good idea. If you can’t find Boursin, a mix of cottage and cream cheese (in a traditional Georgian way, with addition of garlic, parsley and walnuts); or any other soft cheese of your choice (goat, sheep, etc.) make great alternatives. Tasty, light and totally unwinding, these little balls are easy, fast and delectable treat for any party (specifically, tapas party, yay!).

This appetizer was inspired by the flurry of birds swooping in unison we’ve spotted today while going shopping.  We were driving by the Richelieu river, doomed to freeze within hours, when suddenly flocks of white birds (I believe they were seagulls, although they looked like white ducks) were appearing ‘en masse’ simultaneously from East and West directions. Naturally, our aerial avian obsession pushed us to find the parking right away.

The birds landed on the rocks in the middle of the river in a peaceful and undetermined magic action and were loudly discussing what to do next. How come they were so late to leave South? Were they disrupted by the I-phones and other human electronics interfering with natural birds’ migration?

Few minutes after the clouds of ducks were arriving in queues peppering the sky over the same spot, all trying to scour some mini spots left in the water to take a break.  The scenery felt like both, a great blessing and a Hitchcock thriller at the same time – certainly powerful… Ready to go into the darkness of the sky an hour later all birds, were chatting loudly about their next survival step… How do they do that? I don’t know, but for sure it’s a very inspiring act of courage…

And here we are sharing more pictures of our great spotting…

Back home we fixed these little cheese balls within 5 minutes (plus 15 minutes in a freezer to cool), and shared the stories of birds and (mostly unnecessary shopping experiences).

All you need is to add a big bunch of minced parsley, a minced clove of garlic (optional), and then roll it in any chopped nuts or seeds of your choice.

Our choice was obviously coconut flakes, although we also tried black and white sesame as well as poppy seeds. All of them tasted heavenly. Definitely, this recipe is a keeper for the holidays…

Specifically wonderful with oatmeal crackers or bagel thins, but you can have them with anything else imaginable.  
Happy Holidays Countdown to You All!
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CHEESE COCONUT HERB BALLS APPETIZER
Ingredients:
1 5 oz package of Boursin cheese (or cream cheese, or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream)
1 bunch of parsley, minced
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
1 pinch of ground white pepper
1 handful of walnuts, chopped (optional)
pinch of sea or Hymalayan salt
1 cup flaked coconut (or any other crushed nut or seed of your choice), for rolling
Instructions:
Combine the cheese, parsley, garlic, white pepper and walnuts with fork in a bowl. Refrigerate for one+ hour. Roll the cheese mixture into small balls and then roll the balls into the shredded coconut or nuts or seeds of your choice (poppy, sesame, etc.). Serve on the tooth pics with the side of crackers or bagel thins.  

One Spooky Night and Deviled ‘Shroom Bites

It is a Halloween night and we’re going to have some hello-w/in time taking a break from home cooking and going out. Part of the plan is to drive by some areas where people have turned their front yards into some creepy insane asylums and have our share of spine chilling and laughs. I’ve already got a few good Halloween recipes listed in this blog including the yummy Dead Fly Pies, or Fly Cemeteries, or Fly Graveyards, which in fact are also more humanly called Eccles Cakes; and Pumpkin No Brainers . If I would be selecting a recipe that sounds crazy-scary-engaging for most of North American ears tonight, I would probably go for a traditional British fare with ominous name Spotted Dick But that would be some other time. For now I have something else and a great story to tell: about one of our recent nightmarish evening and a later flop-cooking experience.

Couple week-ends ago we were driving back home with the double brown bag of dozen live blue crabs in it. We were excited to make a fresh crab risotto later that night. We took a rural side road going through the forest to go back home to avoid traffic. We’ve never taken that road before and first were surprised about how empty and quiet it was.

The night was rainy and foggy although the full moon still casted the eerie glow through the clouds and trees. The crabs managed to wet the bags through and were going out of whack, so we had to make an emergency pit stop to catch them and collect them into the plastic bag. While we were stepping out of the car a peaceful booty-song on the radio has awkwardly switched to vintage Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face. It was then that I started feeling uncomfortable. I became fear-stricken by darkness, emptiness, silence and sinister shadows appearing through the forest trees here and there. ‘Eyes without the face have got no human grace…’ the radio went on when suddenly the end of the road was lit by a light which, obviously, seemed like another car was approaching. Except the light stood there without moving for a minute or so and then disappeared…

The Good Shepherd by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1903 Zimmerli Art Museum

No big deal, right? But for some reason for me it was a heart pounding moment. I couldn’t wait to get out of that road. Imagine when I told this story to one of our neighbours the other day, he revealed to me that the empty road used to be the place where Hell’s Angels gangs were making their executions and/or police would sometimes find a burning car with the body in it (how’s that for hair raising?). And that came as real creepy news to me. Was it a sixth’s sense? You tell me. But if you are a mystic or clairvoyance, perhaps you can see some ghosts in these images.

Otherwise you can just apply your imagination and try to read these moon shadows – it’s actually quite interesting…

Once back home we were greeted by the local two-headed Boo dog. Making a crab boil was already not so easy task (crabs appeared to be much livelier than lobsters).

After we hankered down in our kitchen with cracking tools and bunch of newspapers to process them. Already upon the first five minutes (and to our greatest regret) of tackling the impossible and having the crab scraps flying all over the kitchen, we realized that the fresh crab risotto would be ready by next morning or would have to be put on hold. Hubby quit first, declaring he was an equal opportunist believing in fair trade and no exploitation. OCD driven, I went on crab-cracking to prove that home crab flesh extracting (like pierogi-making that D. believes should only be made by prisoners) is a doable chore. The problem was, I was hungry, so most of the result secretly went straight into my belly. After the crab juice went into my eyes though I abandoned. Well, may be somewhere in Japan people from Okinawa island consider crab-cracking a meditative and fun activity which they practice often while whistling Japanese version of La Marseillaise. But there are many other things I’d like to do around my week-end. Not to mention that exactly during times like that you realize more than ever that time IS the most precious commodity… Change of plan (which is not unusual for the flop cooking): I went to the pantry, got a can of the crab meat, and deviled a box of button mushrooms with savoured crab meat into these little guys within 20 minutes.

Sounds like a cell phone from 90ies? Hell yeah, but still as exquisite as ever. By the way, they didn’t use much of smoked paprika in those days Slice some black or green olives for the top to give that Halloweenish twist and, voila, you got your ‘Eyes Without A Face’ party snack. We managed to eat them before The Midnight Hour.

Happy Halloween and enjoy your cooking!

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Mini-Tarts

DEVILED CRAB ‘N SHROOM BITES 

Ingredients:

1 box button mushrooms (around 18-20)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup chives or scallions, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp white wine or brandy
¼ crumbs (gluten free if necessary)
1 (7 oz) can crab meat, drained
½ cup Parmesan, freshly shredded
1 tbsp mayonnaise or sour cream
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of smoked paprika
Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Remove the stems from mushrooms with grapefruit knife. Chop the stems finely. Set aside. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped mushroom stems and cook for 1 minute. Add chives (or scallions) and garlic. Cook for another minute. Add a splash of brandy or wine. Evaporate for a minute. Add crumbs, mix well. Add crab meat and mix well. Remove from the heat. Stir in Parmesan, mayonnaise (or sour cream), mustard and smoked paprika. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool down. Stuff the mushroom caps with the mixture. Preheat the oven to 375F. Place mushrooms on baking sheet. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan, Top with sliced olives if desired. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.