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Gnocchi mac n’ cheese

gnocchi mac n' cheeseMac n’ cheese (aka macaroni and cheese) has been around since the 1930’s and I grew up with it; both the boxed version and homemade.  The afternoon my daughter was born I ate a whole box for lunch…no wonder she likes it.  It’s been years since consuming the all-too-orangey-looking commercial stuff.  Continue Reading →

fiddleheads and baby gnocchi

fiddleheads & baby gnocchiFiddleheads are the unfurled fronds of a young fern and are collected in the wild before the frond has opened.   A spring-time vegetable, you’ll find them in food shops and outdoor markets.  They are called fiddleheads because they resemble the curled end of a stringed instrument such as a fiddle.  If you’re from the Maritimes you might think we’re the only ones who like ’em but that’s a misconception.  Continue Reading →

Picnic Bread

Picnic BreadI absolutely love the way the kitchen smells when bread is baking in the oven.  It transports me back to a time when I was a young girl.  My siblings and I would take turns delivering mail to our grandparents who lived down the road from us.  My paternal grandmother was always baking something, especially fresh bread…my grandfather disliked the grocery store version.  Making bread isn’t a priority for me so I make it very seldom, but, when I do, we devour it like a pack of hungry wolves.  Continue Reading →

Parmesan Crisps

Parmesan Crisps with ThymeEntertaining can seem like a daunting task whether it’s your first time or 100th!  The key to any successful party is in the planning.  When I plan a dinner party its roots are usually based on a country we have been to and have enjoyed the food.  From there I start thinking about what I’d like to serve, where some of the food will be consumed and what libations will accompany the food.  I make a list…it’s the crucial part of making an evening end well.   Continue Reading →

Asparagus Fennel Salad

Asparagus and Fennel Salad by The Culinary ChaseEven though asparagus is available year-round, Springtime is the best time to enjoy them.  Asparagus and fennel salad may seem like an unassuming dish but don’t be fooled by its looks.  The pine nut dressing deliciously coats the veggies and it’s love at first bite!  And, because this dish does not require a stove top or oven to make it, it’s perfect for a hot day.

Serves 4 as a starter

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove of garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
asparagus bunch, ends trimmed
1 fennel bulb, cut in half
125g fresh mozzarella, torn into chunks

To make the dressing, in a mortar add a pinch of sea salt and garlic and use the pestle to muddle until a paste develops. Add pine nuts and bash to a thick paste. Add lemon juice, oil and parmesan.  Muddle  until well combined.  Adjust according to taste by adding more oil, lemon juice or Parmesan.

For the salad, thinly slice asparagus using a vegetable peeler and for the fennel use a mandoline. Place in a bowl and add the dressing.  Toss to combine making sure the vegetables are well coated.  Arrange on serving plates or platter and add mozzarella chunks. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, garnish with fennel fronds and season with freshly ground black pepper.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Try avoid ‘snapping off’ the ends of the asparagus as I find this sometimes wastes too much of the vegetable.  Instead, cut the bottoms off about an inch – white ends definitely need a chop.  Choose firm asparagus that are bright green (dark could mean older stalks), and the tips are tightly closed. Asparagus, also known as the stinky vegetable, has strong cleansing effects on the kidneys and bladder. It flushes out acid wastes so quickly you can smell the ammonia in your urine shortly after eating it.

Parmesan Grilling Sauce

grilled veggies by The Culinary ChaseThe cool cold Spring has me pining away for warmer days. Warmer days sees us using the bbq more often and sees me experimenting with new, aromatic sauces that accompany a barbecue. This Parmesan grilling sauce is so versatile and scrumptious, you’ll want to smother it on everything you grill…I kid you not! It’ll work well with chicken, beef, pork, seafood, vegetables and would be perfect on kebabs. Spread it on a baguette slice and place on the grill. A super easy sauce to whip up leaving you more time with family and friends.

Makes a bit over 1 cup
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano

veggies to grill by The Culinary ChaseCombine all ingredients. Coat vegetables, chicken, pork, beef etc. and leave to marinate. Save some of the sauce and brush on when grilling.

Parmesan by The Culinary Chase

Parmesan Grilling Sauce by The Culinary ChaseThe Culinary Chase’s Note: If you want a thicker sauce, add more cheese. Red wine vinegar can dominate the lovely flavors of the cheese and herbs so begin with 2 tablespoons first and adjust accordingly. Enjoy!

Fennel-Parmesan Shortbread

fennel-parmesan shortbread byThe Culinary ChaseWhen we lived in New York, I would come into the city once or twice a week and began my outing by meeting Mr. S. for a cappuccino at Blue Bottle coffee in Rockefeller Center.  We always shared a cookie as part of our java ritual.  Fennel-Parmesan shortbread, a savory twist, quickly became a favorite of ours.  I know, everyone has their favorite shortbread recipe but you really should give this one a try.  Slightly sweet with a teensy bit of savory crunch from the fennel-salt topping.  For me, it was the pleasant discovery of Parmesan quietly hitting my taste buds with every chew and dare I say, perfect with a cappuccino.

Makes about 21 cookies
adapted from The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more
1 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt or other coarse salt
extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

1. Beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together. Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a 7×10-inch rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
shortbread by The Culinary Chase2. Coarsely crush fennel seeds with mortar and pestle or grind in a clean spice grinder. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in sea salt.
3. Preheat oven to 350f and arrange rack in center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Remove plastic wrap from dough and cut into small rectangles.  Place cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt.

fennel shortbread5. Bake 18 minutes until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), rotating sheet halfway through. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. The cookies will keep for 3 days.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: The dough can be refrigerated, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days. These savory-sweet shortbread cookies are addictive! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Enjoy!

Polenta Sticks with Mozzarella and Salami

polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella wrapped in salami by The Culinary ChaseI love simple ingredients as they tend to work symbiotically to create great flavors. Less is more…I know this sounds cliché but it’s true and not just in the food world. The more ingredients you use the greater the risk of losing the essential flavor of your food. When the ingredients are good, they need minimal help to make them better.  This recipe is easy to make and with only five ingredients, it’s a winner.  These polenta sticks with smoked mozzarella peeking out of the salami will be a hit at your next dinner party.  Cornmeal, the golden-yellow polenta, is a culinary staple in Northern Italy. Polenta is a neutral flavored dish that can be used as a base to carry other flavors. Using a medium grind cornmeal will yield the best results. Look for ‘stone ground’ cornmeal on the label.

Serves 4 as an antipasto

1/2 cup cornmeal (packaging may also say polenta)
2 cups water or chicken stock
pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or aged cheddar cheese
smoked mozzarella
fennel salami (or favorite salami), thinly sliced

polentaTo make the polenta sticks, place water and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil then slowly add the cornmeal, stirring occasionally. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes (if using instant cornmeal, the time is shortened to about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Stir until butter is melted then add the cheese. On an 8-inch plate, grease with 1 tablespoon of olive oil then pour polenta on top. Smooth to edges of plate and allow polenta to cool to temperature. Once cool, cut into strips.

polenta sticks by The Culinary ChasePreheat oven to 400f (200c). To assemble, place a thick slice of mozzarella on top of the polenta and wrap a piece of salami around it. Place on a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese has softened. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly…you don’t want these piping hot when you serve them as the flavor intensifies when warm.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  You can make the polenta the night before.  When ready to assemble, remove from fridge and slice into sticks. To keep things looking more uniform, cut the polenta based on the length of the mozzarella slices. If the salami slices are larger than the polenta sticks, fold under (like I did) to make it fit before wrapping. Enjoy!

My Husband’s Bolognese Sauce

bolognese sauce with penneWhere to begin?  When John and I were dating, the first meal he ever cooked for me was his bolognese sauce tossed with penne.  I remember to this day how wonderful his condo smelled and how neat it was!  My husband was and still is a neat freak…not that I am at all complaining.  For a bachelor, his place was immaculate – even the cupboards were tidy!  He had the dining room table all laid out: candles lit, music playing and red wine decanted.

We’ve been together 17 years and on the eve of our marriage, he made his bolognese sauce for our family.  The kids love this sauce and he always makes enough for seconds.  Whatever is leftover gets placed in the freezer.  He has no recipe, just puts it in a pot, in sequence of course.  I think fundamentally this recipe captures the essence of how to recreate this yummy dish even though John cooks like his mom, a little bit of this or a pinch of that.  You may need to increase or decrease an ingredient to suit your palate.

Serves 6 to 8

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped or sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped or sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon Italian herb mix
large can Italian plum tomatoes
olive oil
ketchup
1 lb. penne or other favorite pasta
Parmesan, grated

jb prep workIn a large pot over medium heat add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add Italian herbs and cook until fragrant then add garlic slices.  Add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add ground beef, stir and cook until done (about 10 minutes or until no pink is showing). Spoon canned tomatoes into the meat sauce and add some of the juice. Stir until combined and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.  When the sauce begins to bubble, add a couple squirts of ketchup.  Stir occasionally to break up the tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes have broken up, add bell peppers.  Simmer 20 minutes or until peppers are al dente.  John usually lets this sit for an hour or so.

When ready to serve, cook pasta according to packet instructions, drain and add to bolognese sauce.  When thoroughly mixed, serve in bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
JB relaxing
The Culinary Chase’s Note:
  Many years ago John was told by an Italian friend to add ketchup to the sauce.   If you let the sauce sit, reheat before adding pasta.  Bolognese sauce in Italian is known as ragù alla bolognese (a meat-based sauce from Bologna, Italy).

Buon Appetito!