Category Archives: dressing

Fresh Start: Lobster Strawberry Waldorf Recipe

I chose this luscious salad to signify the fresh start for all the good reasons. We are way past New Year’s resolutions time, but my question remains: how do I feed myself better and healthier for the next twelve months without sliding to the four letter word (like diet or the opposite)? The answer for now: baby steps, right choices, practice…
This time I won’t attach any numbers. I will just make a short public pledge and we’ll see in 2016 if it was a good motivator. If successful, I might even add before and after images to demonstrate what worked best.
Here we go – I’m gonna make a change
Increasing Self-awareness:
I will steal more afternoons to experiment with food and meditate. 
I will eat more veggies/fruits and will lighten up on meat. 
I will continue living in a beautiful self-delusion that I’ve been almost a vegan for the last few years. Every time I notice my distending belly I will start dancing like no one is watching. 
I will still be at war with sugar, but I reserve the right to eat my desserts hopefully without breaking my creative xxx pounds. 
Most of the time, I will appear as a measured and reasonable eater keeping the occasional outbreaks of gluttony dark and confidential for my own secret therapy. I suspect this is what Chef David Chang is doing from time to time and agree and consider it all normal human experience (I’m sure, Deepak Chopra would agree on that).

Mastering Ramen
I will follow my passion for the gastronomic science and plunge into the poetic marvels of Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines for new discoveries and diversity.
Ingredient exceptions for this year: fugu, pig’s testicles, snake’s bile, armadillo and wildebeest eyeballs. 
I will re-visit good ol’ European and new American recipes with the new eyes for some psychedelic twists. 
I will not be threatened by the old or the new and I will keep doing what I like to do best: deconstructing, simplifying and demystifying haute cuisine whenever I feel inspired.
Ultimately, I intend to create and post interesting and healthier dishes more often.
I hope this will be a step forward towards something amazing. 
Home & Travel:
I will add my own personality to my residence’s decor.
I will forage my first morrel mushroom this year.
I will visit the lands I’ve dreamed of like the drifting Sable Island full of wild horses.
End of 2015 resolutions.

I start my 2015 inauguration with Waldorf salad, or, as any food network personality would call it: my twist on it. It might not be the new spicy thing all America wants these days, but it’s definitely light, festive and nutritious. It also allows to stretch one lobster tail to 4-6 portions without breaking the bank.

It WILL stop you feeling hungry for a while, temporary waiving the need for stretchy pants and lifting up your mood due to the auspicious combination of the lean proteins and low-carb dietetic ingredients and helping you to pass by the candy aisle at the supermarket faster than usual. In short, it’s a win-win dish for a weekly dinner or celebration. I guess Oscar Tschirky (maitre d’ of the famous Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria hotel) had a special feeling about it when creating it back in 1893 for the hotel’s opening ball. 

Tschirky invented number of other New York’s originals, but this one stood out as his most popular one and is still served at the hotel today in its prime. Something tells me people at the Astoria ball back in 1893 would also very much appreciate strawberry-lobster addition to this creation.

In 1896 Cook book by ‘Oscar’ Tschirky wrote: ”Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be careful and don’t let any seeds from the apple to be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with good mayonnaise.”
Many wondrous renditions have been created with this base, mostly varied with the dressings and garnish. The basic ingredients always stayed the same, just nuts were added (against Tschirky’s will) eventually. Don’t miss Waldorf Astoria culinary and many other legend’s haunt when visiting NYC to try this now all-American classic in its traditional or contemporary twist.
Otherwise, just give this salad a shot in your own kitchen. The essential ingredients of this salad (with suggested mix & match for vegetarians and carnivores) are:
Bed of fresh lettuce, radicchio or endive leaves for the crisp base;
Celery (green stalks or root; OR jicama root);
Apples (green, red or both);
Grapes (or raisins, or craisins (dried cranberry));

Slightly toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans or hazelnut);
Juice of lemon or lime (to prevent apples from darkening and add some tang to the salad).  
Dressing: mayonnaise or aioli (mixed with sour cream, or yogurt or buttermilk, or just water). In my case I used truffled aioli just because I had it in my fridge mixed with a bit of buttermilk for a contemporary touch. If craving spicy, add a dash of Tabasco or a pinch of cayenne or hot smoked paprika. 
Optional fruit garnish like fresh strawberry, kiwi, orange, or other. 
Optional extra (protein) garnish like: lobster, crab, crab stick, smoked or cooked chicken, smoked salmon or trout, smoked or roasted duck, even grilled octopus.
Want to have it vegetarian? Omit the lobster and try the buttermilk dressing (without garlic) from this recipe for an added flavor.

Simple 15-minute steps anybody can master:

I hope you all had a great fresh start in 2015 be it a new suit, sparked new love/memoir, more veggies, great idea, or just a peace of mind. I also hope you will keep visiting and supporting my culinary endeavors in 2015.
Cheers! 
PS: The napkins are saying: ”I’m happy every hour” – something to think about…
Two years ago: Eggless Tiramisu
Three years ago: Walnut Sables

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WALDORF SALAD (WITH LOBSTER & STRAWBERRY GARNISH)

Yields 4-6 potions

Ingredients:
2 unpeeled Royal Gala apples, cored, cut in cubes or julienne strips
2 unpeeled Granny Smith apples, cored, cut in cubes or julienne strips
2 stalks celery, diced
1/3 cup raisins, OR craisins, OR ½ cup fresh grapes cut in half
1/3 cup mayonnaise, OR aioli
1/3 cup buttermilk, OR light sour cream
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice, plus more for sprinkling apples
Salt and white pepper to taste
8 lettuce, OR endive, OR radicchio cups
½ cup roasted walnuts, OR pecans, toasted
Sliced strawberries for garnish
Chopped lobster tail for garnish
Instructions:
Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and mix with celery and raisins. Whisk together mayonnaise, buttermilk, yogurt and lemon juice. Pour over salad. Add salt and pepper. Place lettuce cups on the plates. Fill with salad. Sprinkle walnuts on top. Garnish with sliced strawberries and chopped lobster tail.

PS: This version is the closest to the one of Chef John Doherty (I added grapes/raisins), who was an executive chef of the Waldorf Astoria restaurant for more than 20 years.

Healthy Break: Watercress Cucumber Lettuce Chopped Salad


I realized recently that I rarely showcase chopped salads, yet we eat them regularly in various combinations and dozens of interesting dressings. I used to think they were just plain boring side dish to help digest the main, lacking substance, and too common to talk about. Not surprisingly, they faded into the oblivion on this blog often just making a background dish in photos. I think it’s time now to rescue this dish category, given that I’m currently going through another course on nutrition, thus the importance of fresh veggies in our daily diet can no longer be ignored.  This salad tastes fab and features a super-potent watercress greens and healthy-delicious apple cider vinegar/honey/olive oil dressing.
The recipe was initially inspired by Cucumber Watercress Salad recipe by Rachel Ray’s from her 30 Minute Passport to England Food Network episode (dressing with white vinegar, honey and dill). Then there was Mark Bittman’s watercress salad with delicate rice vinegar dressing and sesame seeds. Then I tried Martha Stewart’s take with Dijon mustard adding the robust tang to the dressing. Finally, I came up with my version of this chopped salad adding lettuce to the ingredients and using home-made apple cider vinegar mixed with honey, lime juice and some olive oil for an extra health benefit. Sometimes I scatter a bit of roasted salted nuts, like cashews or pistachios for an extra crunch and substance. I already know that this version is my favorite, but feel free to experiment with the above additions and you will find yours.  
Peppery bittersweet watercress is one of the oldest greens consumed by humans through the centuries. It is an amazing digestive and powerful antioxidant loaded with vitamin C, A, chlorophyll, calcium and potassium. It maintains the body’s water balance, promotes clear skin and acts as natural antibiotic to boost immunity. Early Romans considered it a valuable brain food strengthening the nervous system. Today, due to the unique phytochemical it contains, it is known primarily for breast, liver, colon and prostate cancer-fighting benefits, which sounds like a rarely powerful food ingredient.   
Watercress goes perfectly well into variety of fresh salads with greens and most of the popular salad veg, including, of course, the radishes.  In fact, I find the trio of arugula, watercress and radishes, full of pungent slightly bitter tang nuances, to be one of the most interesting salad combinations with watercress. When dressed with equally strong home-made blue or feta cheese dressing, it makes a perfect juxtaposition to a heavier main dish.
Naturally, you can get the best from watercress eating it fresh (preferably organic) in salads or juices. I personally love to have a glass of blended watercress, celery, green apple, parsley and pineapple cocktail in the afternoon (whenever I can (which is on Sundays at best, but, I’d like it to be more often)) to boost my energy level. 
In this salad the watercress bitterness is tamed by cucumber, lettuce and cider-lime-honey dressing, which makes it an excellent companion for spicy grilled mains, such as this mystery BBQ dish, which will follow with the next post shortly. Stay tuned.
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WATERCRESS CUCUMBER LETTUCE CHOPPED SALAD
Ingredients:
2 cups watercress leaves, chopped
1 small head Romano lettuce, chopped
1 English seedless cucumber, chopped
3 tbsp honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 lime, juiced
3 tbsp orange juice or water
4-5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh dill for garnish, minced (optional) 
3 tbsp crashed roasted salted cashews or pistachios
Sea salt to taste
Instructions:
Combine lettuce, cucumbers and watercress in a large bowl. Whisk the honey with apple cider vinegar, lime juice and orange juice or water. Add olive oil. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Season with salt and dill (if using) and toss salad again. Garnish with dill and roasted nuts it you wish. Serve immediately.

Brewing Your Own Specialty Vinegars


There are million ways to capture the essence of season. Home making herb flower or berry vinegar at the end of summer is my favorite. Not only it’s dumb-easy and fast to make, it can be a child’s play. You can enjoy the results as soon as within 3 days. Use it in variety of stews, dressings, sauces and gravies in upcoming fall and winter and they will always remind of the beautiful and warm summer afternoon you were making them. Give it as a surprise hostess gift to your guests, decorated with tag and nice ribbon and they will always remember you.  Add it to your home spa and it will relax and sooth you beyond imaginable.  Rinse your hair with nettle infused vinegar/water solution and it will shine better than after any L’Oreal professional product. And the list of benefits goes on. Sounds convincing? Great!
First though, a brief digression for fun and to challenge some fellow Montrealers.
This Sunday, August 24th foodie enthusiasts will have a chance to attend the International Gourmet Fair at Cosmodôme in Laval, where they can sample all kind of gourmet foods from local producers  or from around the globe, from Australia to Brazil, Europe to Africa, Mexico to Alaska.  Note: you can save a few bucks on specialty vinegars after this post, because from now on you’ll be able to make them yourself – ta-dah!
Another event (which is quite unusual) designed for singles with dogs is ambiguously called ’Finally, Speed Dating with Your Dog! . For only $5.00 participation fee it can lend you with a perfect match provided you have a dog and are ready to speed-date. That’s if your dog is a well-trained ice-breaker who makes strangers say: ‘God, he’s so cute!’ and wears no muzzle. In this case, I assume you can easily approach a similarly-looking dog’s owner who appeals to you saying: ‘Hey, do I know your dog?’ If the person responds: ‘Yes, it’s the same breed’ it’s a sign he-she is interested. You can now proceed to the ice-breaking topic on how to remove the fleas or make the coat shiny with home-made nettle vinegar and fatty acids  and see where it goes with his/her/dog’s reaction and body language… But if you don’t find your ‘Gerard Butler’ at this event, don’t despair, keep in mind that sometimes ‘a coatrack with a leather jacket on it’ (Tina Fey’s excerpt quote) can be a safer speed-dating option.
All right, enough with entertainment, let’s take a closer look at the infused vinegars. The infused vinegars take the taste and blush of the herbs/flowers/berries along with the part of their nutritional value.  

They can be made with practically any edible herb, flower or berry. Use the herbs you grow in your garden, balcony or you just bough at the farmers market, they are all good as long as you know they are fresh and organic.

Simple how-to: fill the glass container half-way with herbs/flowers/berries (wash them only if see necessary, otherwise use them as is). Pour the vinegar of your choice (from regular white to wine to rice to apple cider to champagne vinegar) to the top. Cover and store in a cool dark place for three days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discard the herbs/blossoms and pour vinegar back into the bottle. Cover tightly with non-reactive plastic or cork. Store the infused vinegar in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Tips for the stronger and better quality infusion: warm the vinegar up to the hot, but not boiling point before pouring over the packed herbs/blossoms. Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Equally, you can skip warming up the vinegar and store it for brewing in the sun on the window seal, however, expect the color of the vinegar to fade a little in this case. Final tip from the folk magic: collect your herbs, berries and flowers either in the morning or later in the afternoon to attain the best flavor results.
Below I am giving three recipes for herbal, flour and berry infused vinegars, respectively.
I selected the stinging nettle for herbs because of its versatility. Not only it makes a great, nutty tasting, refreshing component of the salad, stew or soup dressing, it is an amazing skin and hair product for the anti-bites of the insects, soothing baths or the hair rinse (50/50 mix with water). For centuries stinging nettle has been known to add life and vibrancy to weak, distressed and dull hair and help the skull dryness issues as well as the hair loss. Use organic or homemade apple cider vinegar for an extra goodness. And don,t forget the doggie’s coat if you really love your pet!
The rose petals vinegar of an amazing fragrance and lovely magenta color has properties similar to nettle vinegar, except of course you would not add it to the soup (well, a cold almond gazpacho maybe?)  It adds a wonderful floral touch to baking goods, pancakes (try blueberry pancakes with it), fruit salads. It has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites (anti-itch), sunburns, small cuts and even rosacea (mix of 3 parts witch hazel water and 1 part rose petal vinegar). It can be successfully used as a rub to bring down the fever. As for the home-made spa soaks and baths I would only compare it with the luscious lavender vinegar.
Finally, the mix of herbs and berries in vinegars is also an outstanding way to bring the best out of both. My current favorites are: currants & mint (recipe below); juniper berries and sage; blackberries, lemon balm mint and lemon peel.
Good luck brewing your own herbal vinegars!
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One Year Ago: Grilled Sardines 
 
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STINGING NETTLE INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the stinging nettle leaves wearing the gloves. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Use in salads, baths, or as a hair rinse (mixed 50/50 with water).
ROSE PETALS INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh organic rustic rose petals
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the rose petals. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors.
BERRY MINT VINEGAR
Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh and clean mint leaves
2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 ½ cups raspberries, blueberries, currants or blackberries
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Chop or slightly rub the mint leaves between your palms. Pack half of the leaves into the jar, add berries, then the rest of mint. Place vinegar in the ceramic or glass container and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour hot vinegar over the berries and mint, gently stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 weeks. The longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavors will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
The last recipe was adapted from: William Sonoma

Nordic Shrimp Deviled Avocado


Nordic shrimp stuffed avocado is almost a no-recipe party deal with guaranteed success. My family members have pretty different tastes, but we all agreed on the winning combination of the ingredients in it. Oddly enough, we first made it to fit the choice of the wine we would have selected. Weird, but true (it’s usually the opposite): we were inquiring about Bourgogne Aligoté when sommelier at the liquor store gave us a flyer with summer recipes developed by their chefs to match the new wine arrivals. The festive picture of the stuffed avocados quickly caught our eye. And there we were on a hot summer night, grilling avocados on a BBQ before stuffing them with chilled zesty shrimp salad few hours later.  
Boy-oh-boy, they were delicious: delicate sweet Nordic shrimps soaked in yogurt herbal lemony mix, drowning in the nutty-creamy-smoky avocado flesh with little accents of a bacon crisp, Tabasco and lemon zest. Pure Heaven!  And, guess what? This appetizer is just as good with a simple rosé as it is with Aligoté or Sémillon varieties (as we had a chance to experiment later in summer).
Now that we have to close our BBQ for winter (hopefully not this week, may be the sun will still give us some slack this week-end), I am using the sandwich grill to char the avocado halves. A no-grill version is also good, but in this case I suggest you remove the avocado flesh with a spoon, cut it into 1.5 cm (3/4 in.) dice, gently stir them with the shrimp mix and then fill in the avocado peels.  Garnish with bacon bits, lemon zest and herbs. Finally, the recipe works perfectly well with fresh cilantro or dill replacing tarragon leaves in winter.  
Summer or fall; rain or shine – you should really give it a try!
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NORDIC SHRIMP STUFFED AVOCADO
Yields: 4 servings
Ingredients:
225 g (1/2 lb) pre-cooked Nordic shrimp
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain yogurt
60 ml (1/4) cup chopped fresh tarragon (or cilantro, or dill)
Juice and zest of one lemon
Tabasco to taste
2 avocados
125 ml (1/2 cup) bacon, cooked and crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Instructions:
Pre-heat the BBQ or the sandwich grill to medium high. In a bowl, combine the shrimp, yogurt, half the tarragon (or cilantro, or dill) leaves, half the lemon zest, all of the lemon juice, the Tabasco and salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator.
Cut avocados in halves and remove the pits. Brush the avocado halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down on the BBQ or sandwich grill for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Divide the shrimp salad among the avocado halves. Garnish with bacon bits, the rest of herbs and lemon zest.
Adapted from SAQ (The Société des alcools du Québec) Summer 2013 Recipes Collection.

Buttermilk Baby Eggplant Amuse Gueule

This colorful amuse-gueule will convert even the most die-hard adversaries of a yucky –mushy (by nature) eggplant.  The creator of the recipe has found a way to balance the ingredients in an unexpected but a most harmonious way giving the dish not only the visual appeal, but also incredibly addictive kick of the Middle Eastern taste. It includes: olive-oil-induced creamy roasted eggplant, za’atar spice, tangy garlicky cool buttermilk-yogurt sauce and tart-sweet fresh pomegranate seeds. The original recipe used large eggplant; I used baby eggplants instead to turn the dish into individually portioned appetizers.  It is also very easy and fast to prepare. 

If you are a vegetarian and you haven’t heard of chef YO (Yotam Ottolenghi) yet, you will soon. For a few years now he’s been hogging the chef limelight in the UK with his creative Western twist on the Middle-Eastern flavors. And with his third bestselling cookbook just released, his recipes go really world-viral – especially vegetarian recipes (although the chef himself isn’t a vegetarian). Not so long time ago, I was staring at this aubergine dish on the cover page of his previous cookbook ’’Plenty’’,  mesmerized by its assertively artistic sense of composition and color, thinking: ‘’Oh, please, not again! You not gonna buy yet another cookbook with a fancy cover page recipe! Just take some time to think about it and at least read some reviews like normal people… You don’t even know this guy…’’ And then I forgot…
Until today… when the recipe dropped in my lap as one of the home assignments from the free Harvard course on molecular cuisine, and an example of a simple low caloric, nutritionally balanced and utterly tasty meal, which  Buttermilk Eggplant (YO’s signature dish) is. Not only I fell in love with it, it brought back the taste of Za’atar spice mix, which is so easy to make and so refreshing to use with numerous other dishes (see recipe below). With this one, in particular, I made some quick za’atar baguette crostini with cheddar and mozzarella to spoon the extra buttermilk sauce with. They appeared to be welcome addition to the eggplant appetizers…
Quick disclosure: Montreal is a culinary mecca for Middle Eastern cuisine compared to other Canadian cities (my visit to the newly opened Turkish resto is already scheduled). And I am set to explore many more places and recipes. Finally, I really wanted to know more about Ottolenghi’s cuisine so I discovered his website with recipes as well as the exciting series of his food travel to Turkey, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia called ”Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast’”.  Thumbs up, YO, for sure they will keep me busy this week-end… Now, let’s Ottoleng it.

The video of YO himself making his own dish would probably be the best reference. As for my own notes: making incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half is essential to absorb the olive oil – I did not do the diamond pattern though – just parallel incisions worked well with me (to grab a bit less oil).  I also reduced the amount of buttermilk from the original recipe to 5 tablespoons instead of 9 to make it less liquid. Finally, I did not use fresh thyme, but a dried one and I guess it worked fine to me. Without a doubt, I will be making the dish again. Cheers!

Full disclosure: I ate a double portion:

BUTTERMILK EGGPLANT APPETIZER
Yields: 4 portions
Ingredients:
Eggplant Dish:
2 large eggplants or 6 baby eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and scored
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pomegranate de-seeded (see Note*)
1 ½ ttsp fresh lemon thyme leaves or dried thyme
1 tsp za’atar spice mix (see next)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Za’atar Spice Mix:
¼ cup sumac
2 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Grind the sesame seeds with mortar and pestle or in food processor. Mix with remaining ingredients. Store za’atar mix in a cool, dark place in a jar, plastic bag or airtight container (for 3 to 5 months).
Buttermilk Sauce:
1/3 cup (5 tbs) buttermilk (see Note**)
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil, plus drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look – don’t eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern. Place eggplant halves flat side-up on a baking sheet. Brush thoroughly every half with olive oil and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Mix buttermilk into yogurt, remaining olive oil, garlic and salt to season. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Remove seeds from pomegranate. Serve by spooning sauce over eggplant halves and sprinkling za’atar and pomegranate seeds on top. Finish with the drizzle of olive oil.
Note*: Useful video on how to de-seed pomegranate with water; and another technique on de-seeding pomegranate without water.
               
Note**: If buttermilk is not available, add vinegar to milk (1/3 cup milk + 1 tsp distilled/white vinegar), stir, and let sit for 5-10 minutes to develop into acidified buttermilk. 
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Adapted from: notes from EDX course and ”Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi ” by Yotam Ottelenghi, Chronicle Books, March 2011.