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Melon and Cucumber Salad

melon & cucumber saladAccording to The Oxford Companion to Food, salad is a term derived from the Latin sal (salt), which yielded the form salata, ‘salted things’ such as the raw vegetables eaten in classical times with a dressing of oil, vinegar, or salt.   In the medieval period, salads composed of green leaves, sometimes with flowers.  Later, at least in England, fruits such as orange and lemon were added.  Melons and cucumbers go well together as they are part of the gourd family and are available now at farmers’ markets.   An easy dish to whip up and the flavors won’t disappoint.  This is melon and cucumber salad is a perfect recipe to help cool down when the mercury soars!

Serves 4

melon, trimmed and chopped into bite-size pieces
small English cucumber, washed and sliced
handful red grapes, cut in half
poppy seeds
olive oil
fresh lime juice
fresh mint, sliced

In a bowl, gently toss melon, cucumber, mint and grapes. Squeeze half a lime over the melon mixture and toss. Add a splash of olive oil and toss to combine. When ready to serve sprinkle over with poppy seeds.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Season the salad with salt and pepper and adjust lime juice accordingly.  Be careful not to add too much oil as there’s plenty of juice from the melon and grapes.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Granita

fresh strawberry granitaSummer brings a host of welcomed changes…longer days, warmer sunshine, fresh fruits and vegetables, being outdoors more, freshly cut lawns, pretty flowers, outdoor social gatherings, and birds singing.  When the temperature soars, it’s time to cool down and a favorite of mine is homemade granita.  Originating in Sicily, granita is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and flavorings.  It’s the perfect remedy for a hot summer’s day.

A Summer Day
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The dawn laughs out on orient hills
And dances with the diamond rills;
The ambrosial wind but faintly stirs
The silken, beaded gossamers;
In the wide valleys, lone and fair,
Lyrics are piped from limpid air,
And, far above, the pine trees free
Voice ancient lore of sky and sea.
Come, let us fill our hearts straightway
With hope and courage of the day.

Noon, hiving sweets of sun and flower,
Has fallen on dreams in wayside bower,
Where bees hold honeyed fellowship
With the ripe blossom of her lip;
All silent are her poppied vales
And all her long Arcadian dales,
Where idleness is gathered up
A magic draught in summer’s cup.
Come, let us give ourselves to dreams
By lisping margins of her streams.

Adown the golden sunset way
The evening comes in wimple gray;
By burnished shore and silver lake
Cool winds of ministration wake;
O’er occidental meadows far
There shines the light of moon and star,
And sweet, low-tinkling music rings
About the lips of haunted springs.
In quietude of earth and air
‘Tis meet we yield our souls to prayer.

Serves 4 to 6
4 cups ripe strawberries, washed and sliced
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

sliced strawberriesIn a bowl, combine strawberries and sugar. Let this sit for 30 minutes or longer to enhance the flavors. Add water and purée strawberries. Adjust according to taste; you may need to add more sugar or more lime juice if too sweet. Strain to remove seeds and pour strained mixture into a glass lasagna pan. Freeze until mixture is frozen (about 1 1/2 hours), stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes. Use a fork to scrape granita into flaky crystals.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: For an adult version, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka.  Enjoy!

Fresh Spring Rolls

fresh spring rollsThe house feels empty now that Aida and Laura aren’t here.  I enjoy cooking for both of them as they aren’t fussy eaters and are game to try new foods.  One morning Aida asked me if I thought my time spent in Asia made me a better cook. Hmm, a good question to which I have to say yes in that it introduced me to other cuisines.  I am what you would call a confident cook (the failed attempts fuels me more) and experimented with different styles of cooking but it wasn’t until we lived in Asia did I get a true understanding for what Chinese, Thai or Indian food ‘really’ was.   I grew up in the city of Saint John and the only thing I knew about Chinese food was from a restaurant called The House of Chan on Rothesay Avenue owned by most probably the only Chinese family (at that time) in city.  Chinese food back then was definitely designed for the Canadian palate…I shudder at the thought now (no disrespect intended).   Looking back, it was a delightful tasting experience for me that I shall always remember fondly.   Fast forward 30 years and the city has a delicious eclectic mix of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Once you get a taste of the real McCoy it’s difficult to go back.

The first time I had fresh spring rolls was in Singapore.  If Aida were to ask me what country did I learn the most cuisine-wise, it would have to be hands down, Singapore.  It’s a melting pot of cuisines all carved out from early Chinese settlers from South East China.  Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965 and the food is influenced by the native Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western traditions (the British arrived in the 19th century).  You can well imagine the swapping of recipes, if you will, from these ethnic groups back then into what it is today – eating is a national pastime or more to the point a national obsession where food is viewed as crucial to the national identity. Singapore is tiny: 49km East to West and 25km North to South. But what it lacks in space it makes up in food! I became a spice girl – yes that’s what they called us – and gave tours of the spice garden at a culinary institute called At-Sunrice. A 60 minute educational tour covering fresh herbs and spices where I explained to the group the medicinal advantages, history and usage of the herb or spice. Imagine being able to touch the actual plant when you’ve only ever seen it in the grocery store! I enjoyed showing people the banana trees, nutmeg tree, ginger, galangal, tamarind tree, turmeric and so forth. After the tour was finished, participants would then go inside and partake in a cooking class showcasing some of the herbs and spices spotted in the spice walk.

Serves 4
8 large (8-inch) spring roll wrappers
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup Thai basil or you can use regular basil
small head of Boston lettuce, roughly chopped
red bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 large cooked shrimp, slice in half lengthways

Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
small chili pepper, finely chopped

spring roll ingredientsHave all the ingredients ready for assmebly. In a large bowl filled with water, dip a wrapper in the water. The rice wrapper will begin to soften and this is your cue to remove it from the water and lay it flat. Place 2 shrimp halves in a row across the center and top with basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce. Leave about 1 to 2 inches uncovered on each side.

spring roll fillingFold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce.

rolling a spring rollRepeat with remaining wrappers and ingredients.

spring rollCut and serve at room temperature with dipping sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: The rice wrapper can be fussy to handle if you let it soak too long. I usually give it a couple of swishes in the water and then remove. It may feel slightly stiff but by the time you are ready to roll up, the wrapper will become very pliable.  A typical spring roll contains cooked rice vermicelli, slivers of cooked pork and julienned carrots but you can use whatever suits your fancy.  Enjoy!

Grilled Garlicky-Herbed Shrimp

Grilled Garlicky Herbed ShrimpGrilled, poached, fried, battered, roasted, sautéed, steamed – you name it I’ve tried it.  Shrimp are one of my favorite crustaceans, they take little time to cook and there are health benefits, too.  Shrimp is a nutritious alternative to meat proteins as it is low in calories and saturated fat.  It is an excellent source of selenium and unusually low-fat, low-calorie protein. Many people are confused about the fat and cholesterol content of shrimp. However, based on research involving shrimp and blood cholesterol levels, avoidance of shrimp for this reason does not seem justified.  Read more on this at the world’s healthiest foods.  Start the evening off right and serve these garlicky-herbed shrimp with your favorite cocktail.

Serves 4
inspired by Martha Stewart

3 tablespoons coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
20 jumbo shrimp, shells removed

garlicky herbed shrimp CollageCombine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss to combine making sure all parts of the shrimp is coated in the marinade. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Preheat grill on medium heat. Place shrimp on grill and cook, turning once, until pink – about 5 minutes.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Want a Mediterranean feel?  Serve the shrimp with a roasted red pepper salad. Enjoy!

Cedar Plank Grilled Mushroom Stacks

cedar plank grilled mushroom stacksJohn and I barbeque all year round and when Spring and Summer arrive, it’s full on.   Our barbeque gets used on a weekly basis so it’s not unusual to see me out on our back deck firing up the barbie.  I love it…less mess for me to clean up!  I’ve been noticing more and more these days that most food places I shop carry planks for grilling – some individual and some in packages carrying an assortment (cedar, birch, hickory or maple).  Plank grilling originates from the Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest who grilled salmon on open fires over cedar and alder.  The concept is by far not new but certainly merits consideration.

Serves 4

4 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
2 medium-sized zucchini, sliced
2 medium-sized yellow summer squash, sliced
tomatoes, sliced
cedar planks
olive oil

Allow cedar plank to soak in water for at least an hour (longer if possible). If using a stainless steel plank saver then soak the plank for 30 minutes. On medium heat, grill portobello mushrooms gill side down, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove and set aside. Lightly brush olive oil onto zucchini and summer squash slices. Season with salt and pepper. Place on grill for up to 5 minutes and turn. You want the slices to show some grill marks and the flesh to be slightly softened.

portobello mushroomsRemove cedar plank from water and pat dry. Place portobello mushroom (gill side up) on the cedar plank. Followed by zucchini slices, yellow summer squash slices, tomato slices, and pesto. Make sure bbq is at 350f and add plank. Cover with bbq lid and cook 10 minutes. Don’t worry if smoke is billowing out of the bbq – this is normal. The cedar smoke will infuse the veggies. Remove from bbq and serve on a plate and drizzle with olive oil.

Note:  After using, rinse the plank off with soap and water and let dry. Reuse the planks two or three times – if there’s wood left, you can use it. Crumble up charred planks over coals to use as smoking chips and choose planks that aren’t chemically treated.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: This was my first attempt at plank grilling and I liked it. I think I’ll experiment with salmon the next time.   Add freshly grated Parmesan to the portobello mushrooms before adding the vegetables.  Enjoy!

Daylily Petal Salad

Daylily Petal SaladHow decadent! Daylilies in a salad!  Using flowers in a dish isn’t a new thing for me but it has been a long time since I last did so.  My grandmother always had a bed of nasturtiums in her flower garden which she used in bouquets around the house and if memory serves me correctly, she ate them in a sandwich.  In the 80’s it was all the rage to make candied (sugar coated) violets, rose petals, pansy flowers etc. as beautiful decorations for desserts.

I was asked to review Cooking with Flowers and was quite excited when the book arrived.  It’s full of sweet and savoury recipes…I have already bookmarked the ones I want to try.  This salad was easy to make, fantastic flavors and made for an interesting discussion around the dinner table.  Daylilies are native to Japan, China and Korea and were mentioned in the writings of Confucius (551-479 BC).  The Chinese grew these plants for their beauty and medicinal value.

Serves 4
adapted from Cooking with Flowers

4 cups arugula (rocket)
1 avocado, pitted and sliced
petals from 6 daylilies (washed lightly and dried on paper towel)
aged Gouda, shaved (use a vegetable peeler)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Maldon flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

dayliliesPlace arugula leaves in a bowl. Add avocado, lemon juice, splash of olive oil and daylilies. Gently toss. Arrange on a platter or individual plates and top with shaved cheese, sea salt flakes and pepper. Serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Gorgeous! Daylily buds will keep in the fridge for several days. However, the flowers should be consumed the day they are picked for optimum freshness and taste.  The flavor of the daylily will vary but the ones we ate reminded me of slight hints of melon.  You can sauté the unopened flower buds in butter or olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over them.  Enjoy!

Coleslaw with Granny Smith Apple and Chili

easy to make coleslawWarmer weather brings out all our favorite recipes for barbecues, family picnics and when it gets too darn hot to cook in the kitchen!  Everyone has their favorite coleslaw recipe that perhaps their mom or grandmother used but this one, for me, takes the blue ribbon at a state fair hands down!  Coleslaw gets its origins from the Dutch – koosla (from kool cabbage and sla salad).  Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A.  For more information on the health benefits of cabbage, click here.

Serves 6
inspired by Charred & Scruffed

green cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 handfuls)
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar

dressing –
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, toasted in a small skillet and finely ground
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, halved, cored, and cut into julienne (skin left on)
1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove seeds and membrane)
1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

cabbage apple chiliCombine cabbage and bell pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Toss with the sugar and allow to macerate for 15 minutes. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients until smooth. Don’t worry if there are a few lumps as this will break up later on. Add the apples, chili pepper, dill, and parsley to the cabbage and peppers and mix well. Toss with the dressing to coat and serve.

pretty veggies before dressingThe Culinary Chase’s Note: For increased flavor, place slaw in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Grilled Romaine Salad with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon Dressing

grilled romaine

‘We both love to garden. We love the look of our gardens (most of the time). We talk about what we will do next season differently and what new crop we want to try. But we both garden differently. Karen’s garden mimics the French “potager” (raised-bed in a pattern) style with an emphasis -a BIG EMPHASIS- on tomatoes of every type. She also grows herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Judith’s garden is more edible landscaping and container gardening with baby turnips, rhubarb, melons, Italian plum tomatoes, and baby lettuces amongst the pear trees, raspberries, roses, and lavender. Even though our garden types and plantings differ, we’re both on the same page – grilling makes garden-fresh foods taste great.’

After flipping through the pages of this cookbook and getting excited at what I saw, I read the introduction (part of it is shown above) and was immediately drawn in. John and I are avid grillers no matter what time of year it is. When it’s winter there are three paths cleared: driveway, front steps and a path from kitchen door to the barbeque!  I am in total agreement with Karen and Judith’s statement – ‘when you want fresh and healthy foods with more depth of flavor, grilling from the garden makes perfect sense.’  While I don’t have a garden in my back yard, there are local markets nearby.  Their book has me salivating and this recipe for today’s posting is the first of many from The Gardener & The Grill.

Serves 4
adapted from The Gardener & The Grill

2 heads romaine lettuce, trimmed
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
rosemary, garlic & lemon dressing (recipe follows)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings (use a vegetable peeler)
4 slices cooked bacon (optional)

Preheat a grill to medium-high.

Rinse and pat dry the lettuce. Cut the 2 heads into quarters. Brush surface with olive oil and grill about 4 to 5 minutes total, turning occasionally. Place two wedges on a salad plate and drizzle with rosemary, garlic and lemon dressing.  Add bacon slices and cheese shavings.  Drizzle with more dressing, season with salt and peper and serve.

Rosemary Garlic & Lemon Dressing –
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the dressing –  if using a mortar and pestle, combine rosemary, salt, and garlic in the mortar and grind into a fine paste. Drizzle in the olive oil and grind again. Add lemon zest, juice, grind and taste. Alternatively, combine the rosemary, salt, and garlic in a food processor and pulse into a paste. Add the oil and pulse again. Add lemon zest and juice and pulse. Season as needed. The dressing will keep in the fridge for up to one week.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Wow! This salad is so unbelievably good! Use any leftover dressing on veggies, chicken, beef, pork or lamb. The authors also say to try it brushed on bread or pizza dough. Enjoy!

Bulgur Salad with Cannellini Beans, Feta & Mint

Whenever I feel as though we’ve eaten too much red meat, we take a break and consume loads of veggies and ancient grains such as bulgur.  It’s this sort of balance that keeps us healthy…I can’t recall the last time I had a cold or the flu.  Bulgur is made from precooked wheat berries.  It’s a perfect substitute for rice as it has more fiber and is low on the glycemic food index.  We enjoy this ancient grain and especially like its chewy, mild nutty flavor.  I’m sure you’ve eaten it before in dishes such as tabbouleh and pilafs.  Because it’s low in fat and calories, it’s a perfect way to feel satiated without adding pounds.  Bulgur is already partially cooked and therefore needs little time for preparation –  perfect for a quick meal without jeopardizing nutrition.

Serves 4 to 6
adapted from BHG

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup bulgur
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 cups shredded purchased roasted chicken
1-15 ounce can cannellini beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped yellow and red sweet pepper
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan bring water to boiling. Add bulgur and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Return to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes or until water is absorbed and bulgur is tender. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a small saucepan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Add garlic and reduce heat to medium high. Cook and stir until garlic starts to turn golden around the edges. Remove from heat. Stir garlic and oil into bulgur mixture.

For the dressing, in a screw-top jar combine red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, lime zest, and lime juice. Cover and shake well. Stir dressing into bulgur mixture. Add chicken, cannellini beans, sweet pepper, feta cheese, cumin, 3/4 cup of the parsley, and 3/4 cup of the mint to bulgur mixture; toss to mix well.  Season and top with remaining parsley and mint.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  This is such a hearty salad and loaded with nutritional goodness! You can substitute the bulgur for cooked brown rice or quinoa.  Enjoy!