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halloumi fries – entertaining made easy

halloumi fries - easy to makeI’ve been cooking with halloumi cheese since 2006; we were living in Hong Kong at the time.  I love that city!  It’s one of the few places I could go back to live.  It’s a city that’s frenetic, safe to travel at night, people are generally friendly, amazing food, public transport is swift and timely, mountains surround the city and look down at a stunning harbour.  If you tire of the concrete jungle, beaches and lush greenery are only a 30-minute bus ride away .  The locals work long hours and as a result their form of relaxation includes eating out with family and friends on a weekly basis.  Hong Konger’s love their food and it has to be fresh.  Continue Reading →

holiday party food – part 2

At this point, the rush of the holiday season is in full swing.  On my previous post, I suggested three, easy-to-make party food treats and the three I have chosen today are just as easy.  Chocolate is a crowd-pleaser and lovely to have on hand when your friends and family pop over.  Making your own is easier than you may think.  Continue Reading →

holiday party food

holiday-party-food-collageTwelve days to Christmas! Yikes! Why is it with the best-laid plans things slip? I finally got around to making my first ever Christmas cracker snaps even though I had the materials 2-weeks ago.  They were a cinch to make and took half an hour to assemble.  I think the same goes with party food.  We create lists of what we plan to make and yet as the date draws closer, it’s as if we never had a plan and we’re scrambling to pull it off.  Continue Reading →

pizza smoked mozzarella and lemon slices

pizza with smoked mozzarella and lemon slicesIf I were to take a poll to find out what toppings people like to see on their pizza, I’ll bet tomato sauce, cheese, and some sort of meat would be at the top of the list.  Pizza is a centuries old snack although 2,000 years ago it looked more like a flatbread with olive oil and cheese.  Hard to believe, though, that tomatoes introduced to Europe from the Americas in the 1600’s were considered poisonous by the locals.  It wasn’t until the 1700’s when the Napolese added tomatoes to their flatbread; the birthplace of pizza. Continue Reading →

savory palmiers

savory palmiersThese delicate, but easy-to-make French pastries can be sweet or savory.  Palmiers, named so because they look like palm trees or the shape of an elephant’s ear, uses puff pastry for its base.  Traditionally, simple ingredients such as sugar and cinnamon are sprinkled over the pastry then folded, rolled, sliced and baked in the oven.  The festive season is just around the corner and these delicious morsels will take center stage when you present them at your next party. Continue Reading →

Onion Dip – made from scratch

Onion DipAs a youngster and young adult, one of my favorite junk foods was French Onion Dip and a bag of rippled potato chips.  It’s been years since I last snacked on a commercial onion dip but the other day while I was at the grocery store, I really wanted to buy one.  Instead, my inner healthy voice said no and that I could easily make my own (party pooper!)Continue Reading →

Aussie Meat Pies

Aussie meat pieMeat pies in Australia and New Zealand are what apple pie is to North America – iconic. Years ago John and I visited Australia and everyone kept telling us to try the Aussie meat pies.  Not one to turn down an opportunity to see what all the fuss was, we tried our very first meat pie from a roadside convenience store in Rosebud.  Wow!  I’ve had meat pies before but none could have prepared me for the down-to-earth flavor sensation of this national dish.  Must have been the gravy-like meat mixture that had us hooked as we tried at least six different locations offering meat pies and all were downright scrumptious!  They’re a favorite at sporting events (football and rugby) and construction sites.  It’s the perfect snack food for on the run.

Makes 10 to 12 pies
adapted from Tobie Puttock

500g medium ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 strips of bacon, chopped
ready rolled pie pastry

meat sauceCook bacon with garlic, rosemary, and onion over medium heat. Let this simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent (8 – 10 minutes). Turn heat up to medium-high and add ground beef. Stir to break up chunks. Lower heat to medium and once the meat is cooked, add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine. Then add about a cup of beef stock. Bring to a boil and turn heat down to low (gentle simmer). While this is simmering, take cornstarch and mix it with a bit of water and pour this over the beef. Simmer until the meat sauce has thickened and has a gravy-like consistency. Remove from heat and allow meat sauce to cool.

pastryPreheat oven to 400f. Lay the pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut out 3-inch circles. Grease a muffin pan and gently place the pastry dough inside the pan. Fill with meat sauce.  Top with a pastry circle and pinch edges or use a fork to press edges to seal. Place pies on a baking tray and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.  To remove from pan, run a knife around the edge and pop out the meat pie.  The Australians serve their meat pies with ketchup.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
Make sure the meat sauce is cool otherwise it will make the bottom of the pie crust soggy.  These are good the next day and can be reheated or served cold.  Enjoy!

Grilled Pineapple

grilled pineappleThis is such an easy, no fuss, and delicious dessert to make. Grilled pineapple can be served on its own, with ice cream or a dollop of yogurt.  I’ve been grilling pineapple for years and it’s always a crowd pleaser.  I have been asked before how to pick a ripe pineapple.  When we lived in Asia fresh pineapple was never an issue but if you don’t live near a plantation, it can be a hit and miss.  Because ripening stops once it has been harvested, the best way to choose is buy fresh-looking pineapples with green leaves and a firm shell.  If you’re planning to eat the pineapple within a few days, store at room temperature otherwise place in the refrigerator and it will keep a bit longer.  Grilling makes the pineapple sweeter and with it covered in sugar you end up with a caramelized flavor coming through.  Yum!

Serves 4 to 6
1 pineapple – peeled, cored and cut into wedges
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
pinch of ground cardamom (optional)
vanilla ice cream
handful of mint leaves, chopped (chiffonade)

pineapple wedgesIn a bowl toss pineapple wedges with cinnamon, brown sugar and cardamom.  Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Preheat a barbeque over medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate.  Make sure the grates are clean otherwise the pineapple will pick up the flavors of the last time it was used.  Grill pineapple wedges until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, spoon over some of the pineapple juice and sprinkle with mint.

pineapple wedges on the bbqThe Culinary Chase’s Note:  The longer the pineapple sits, the more juice it makes.  For sheer decadence, melt dark chocolate and pour over using a spoon.  Enjoy!

Eton Mess

Eton Mess by The Culinary ChaseIf you haven’t heard of Eton Mess, you’re in for a real treat!  It’s an English dessert, served in the food hall at Eton College, and is a mixture of strawberries, broken meringue and whipped cream.  It’s so easy to make and a perfect dish for those novices wanting to try baked meringue…and don’t worry if the meringue collapses or weeps – no one will notice once they take a bite.  This dessert is perfect for entertaining as it only needs to be assembled at the last minute.  I made the Eton mess on Saturday as we had friends over for a barbecue.  Our back deck overlooks a small field that has a dozen or so apple trees.  The blossoms inspired me to create a simple, easy-going meal followed by a casual yet simply delicious dessert.

strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
store-bought or homemade meringue (recipe below)
softly whipped cream

Homemade Meringue –
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cups superfine white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

apple treesPreheat oven to 300f (150c). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and using a dinner plate draw a 9-inch circle on the parchment paper.

In a large bowl beat the egg whites (using a whisk attachment) on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add sugar, a bit at a time, and continue to beat until thick and glossy. Fold in the vanilla extract. The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks. Pinch some of the meringue between your thumb and finger and rub it.  It should feel silky not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers.

Spoon mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Working from the center, spread mixture toward the outside edge.  Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, open the door ajar, and allow meringue to cool in the oven.

apple blossoms by The Culinary Chase

nature’s own centerpiece

While meringue is in the oven, toss strawberries with sugar and allow to sit at room temperature.  You may need to adjust the amount of sugar depending upon how sweet the strawberries are.

To assemble, crumble meringue in a dish followed by whipped cream and strawberries.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
This dish is so light and airy.  Its presentation doesn’t need to be fussed with whether you fold in the ingredients or layer it.  If you have any leftover meringue, it will keep in an air-tight container for several days.  Enjoy!

Grilled Oysters with Tarragon Butter

Grilled Oysters with Tarragon ButterI’m not a fan of raw oysters (lord knows I’ve tried many times).  I prefer mine cooked or smoked and these grilled oysters with tarragon butter are absolutely de-lish!  They’re about as close to raw as I’ll ever get!  And, if you’re like me, shucking oysters take a bit of practice before getting the hang of it.  Mr. S. loves raw oysters so I will shuck for him…ain’t love grand! When oysters are cooked in their shells on the barbecue, the heat from the grill steams the oysters and pops the shells open, while poaching the oysters inside.  This recipe is where I happily announce I have slurped down an oyster!

Serves 2
12 oysters
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (more if you like it hot!)
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the tarragon butter, combine all ingredients (except the oysters) in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.

raw oystersFire up the barbeque. Wash the shells and place oysters (cup side on bottom as shown in above photo) on the barbeque. Lower barbeque lid and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or longer depending on oyster size. Carefully remove the oysters – you don’t want to spill the natural poaching liquid. The shells should have opened a bit so pry the rest of the way open with an oyster knife or screwdriver.

Cut the muscle that connect the shells, leaving the oyster on the half shell. Take a teaspoon of the tarragon butter and place on each oyster. Return the oysters to the grill, lower the lid and cook until the butter is melted and the oysters are hot, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:
  Use the grooves of the grill to help keep the oysters level.  Oven mitts or a potholder works well when opening the oysters.  Serve with a lovely glass of chardonnay. Enjoy!