From the kitchen

A jar or two of pickles, jam, sauce and relish is always a welcome gift among our families and friends.
But, for the holidays, we like to take it up a notch. This year, we created two entirely different themed gifts, both containing preserves — one for David’s parents and one for David’s brother and sister-in-law.

Caesar kit.

Caesar kit
This gift started with my spicy pickled beans — a great Caesar garnish — and evolved almost serendipitously from there.
During a trip to New York State this summer, we discovered the Fee Brothers celery bitters (and fortuitously, a local kitchen store began stocking them this fall). A dash or two will add a distinct celery flavour to your drink without the saltiness of, well, celery salt.
David’s mom has developed a taste for expensive vodka. We thought it time to introduce her to Russian Standard, a premium wheat vodka sold at a very reasonable price.
Horseradish is must in a Caesar in my opinion. Holbros Extra Hot is our favourite brand.
David thought we needed a rimmer; I refused to go with celery salt. I searched the web and found a recipe for tomato basil dust on Cottage Life, which I adapted for this purpose.

Tomato Basil Dust
Adapted from Cottage Life.

115 g (4 oz) sun-dried tomatoes
15 mL (1 tbsp) dried basil
15 mL (1 tbsp) of Murray River pink flake salt
5 mL (1 tsp) fresh ground black pepper

Finely chop sun-dried tomatoes. Dry on parchment-lined baking sheet in 175 Fahrenheit oven for 1-1⁄2 to 2 hours. Turn off heat, open oven door, and allow to cool.
In electric grinder, grind small amounts of dried tomato to a fine powder.
Sift tomato powder into bowl, regrinding any large granules.
Mix in the remaining ingredients.
Store in tightly sealed jar away from light, heat and moisture.

Barbecue gift pack.

Barbecue gift pack
The idea for this gift came from the recipient. David’s brother enjoys barbecuing but expressed an interest in expanding his repertoire.
So, I printed out three of our favourite recipes, Maple Dijon Cedar-Planked Salmon, Spatchcock Mustard Herb Chicken and Bourbon Glazed Striploin Roast, and assembled the ingredients (minus the protein and a few basics like oil, salt and pepper) to make all three.
David cut a cedar plank from his stash for the salmon, we added a silicone glove for safety and tucked it all into a grilling basket (good for sides of potatoes or vegetables).
The basket also includes three on-theme preserves: corn relish, dill pickle relish and barbecue sauce.
Here are the recipes we included. The spatchcock chicken recipe comes from Canadian Living. The origins of the others are a mystery.

Maple Dijon Cedar-Planked Salmon

salmon fillet (or steelhead trout or rainbow trout)
maple syrup
Dijon mustard
cedar plank

Soak cedar plank it water for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Mix together equal parts maple syrup and Dijon.
Put fish on plank. Brush with half of glaze.
Place plank on hot grill. Cook for 15-20 minutes, brushing with remaining glaze halfway through.
Time will depend on size and thickness of fillet. Fish will be firm and opaque when ready.

Spatchcock Mustard Herb Chicken
Spatchcock, which means removing the backbone of a chicken and flattening it out, is an old Irish term, abbreviated from dispatch cock, an order barked at cooks to get the chicken off the spit and out to the customer. Flattening a whole chicken means that you can grill it over direct heat in less than an hour.

1-1/2-2 kg (3-4 lb) whole chicken
60 mL (1/4 cup) Dijon mustard
30 mL (2 tbsp) chopped fresh herbs or 15 mL (1 tbsp) dry (tarragon, rosemary or thyme)
30 mL (2 tbsp) wine vinegar
30 mL (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
2 mL (1/2 tsp) each salt and pepper

In small bowl, stir mustard, herbs, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Using kitchen shears, cut chicken down each side of backbone. (Remove backbone and save for stock.)
Turn chicken breast side up; press firmly on breastbone to flatten. Tuck wings behind back.
Place in shallow glass dish; brush with mustard mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours.
Place chicken, bone side down, on greased grill over medium heat. Close lid and grill, turning once, until juices run clear when thigh is pierced, 50 minutes.
Transfer to cutting board. Tent with foil; let stand for 10 minutes.

Bourbon Glazed Striploin Roast

1-1/2-2 kg (3-4 lb) well-marbled striploin
80 mL (1/3 cup) bourbon
80 ml (1/3 cup) soy sauce
30 mL (2 tbsp) brown sugar
30 mL (2 tbsp) wine vinegar
30 mL (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
2 mL (1/2 tsp) fresh ground pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients except striploin
Place marinade and roast in plastic container and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight, turning roast occasionally to ensure even marinating.
Place drip pan under grill. Heat barbecue to approximately 400 Fahrenheit.
Place roast on grill and cover. Cooking time will depend on size of roast and desired doneness. Check temperature after 25 minutes.
Transfer roast to cutting board. Rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.


On board: Planked pork

Plank soaking in apple juice and spices.

Although underwhelmed by the prime rib, David is convinced planking can work well for more than just fish. Pork, he decided, would be our next experiment.
This recipe, which calls for soaking the cedar plank in apple juice and spices, sparked our interest. We modified it for the grill rather than the oven.
We liked the results: the flavours of mulled cider, maple and mustard plus a smoky finish; pretty enough to serve to guests.

Cedar plank apple pork
A quick sauté of sliced apples in butter and a little sugar would be an excellent accompaniment to this dish. I served it with some homemade honey apple butter.

2 L (8 cups) apple juice
5 cinnamon sticks
5 mL (1 tsp) ground nutmeg
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cloves
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cardamom pods
1 cedar plank
two pork tenderloins
125 mL (1/2 cup) maple syrup
30 mL (2 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) dried tarragon
2 large cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Combine apple juice and spices in a large shallow dish. Place cedar plank in dish, weight if necessary to keep submerged in liquid. Soak several hours or overnight.
Bring tenderloin to room temperature. Rub with minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Combine maple syrup, mustard and tarragon.
Place pork on cedar plank and transfer to hot grill.
Roast, basting the maple syrup and mustard glaze, about 25 minutes. (Pork should still be slightly pink inside.)

The final result.

You can’t have too much corn

When David’s brother, sister-in-law and young nephew agreed to a last-minute visit on Labour Day weekend, they promised to bring a peach pie and corn. I’d already purchased a dozen cobs for the weekend, so David pulled out the Weber Ranch and grilled the whole lot, alongside some pork tenderloin, for dinner. Potato salad and mixed greens rounded out the meal.
Naturally, we had leftovers. And, with my sister and her young son joining us all for brunch the next day, a great reason to try a new recipe.
We liked these fritters so much (and had so much fantastic grilled corn stashed in the freezer), we made them again Thanksgiving weekend.

Corn fritter frying in my favourite cast iron pan.

Corn fritters
This recipe a slight modification of one by PEI chef Michael Smith.
I found I needed just a little more flour to stick everything together and I used less oil to fry the cakes.
I served the fritters with a choice of maple syrup, chili sauce and piquante sauce. My preference is the piquante.
Makes four generous servings.

3 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed from cobs (about 1 L or 4 cups of kernels)
3 eggs
60 mL (1/4 cup) flour
45 mL (3 tbsp) corn meal
salt and pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
250 mL (1 cup) grated cheddar cheese
vegetable oil

Whisk corn and eggs in a large bowl.
Add flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper and mix well.
Stir in green onion and cheddar.
Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil and spread to evenly cover pan.
Add spoonfuls of batter and flatten to form cakes.
Cook until golden, flip and cook other side.
Continue cooking in batches, adding more oil as needed.

Experiments in planking

We may be a little behind the popular kids, but David and I took the plunge and tried planking the last couple of weekends.
It started with a trip to the local home improvement store. Why, David reasoned, buy a one-foot piece of cedar for $6 at the grocery store, when you could get 10 feet for $10 from the Depot?
He just cut appropriate lengths and soaked them in water overnight (to avoid the plank and our dinner going up in flames).
Our first planked meal was a salmon fillet. I made a simple glaze of equal parts Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Half was applied before cooking and half midway through. Grilling time was about 20 minutes.

Dijon-maple glazed cedar-planked salmon.

We ate it hot off the grill for dinner with a spinach salad with a maple-Dijon vinaigrette and cold the next day for lunch with new potato salad and raw vegetables.
Simple, but sublime. This will be regular on our grill from now on.

Rosemary Dijon cedar-planked prime rib ready for grilling.

We decided to up the ante for Round 2 with prime rib. I whipped up a glaze of Dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, half a grated onion, two cloves minced garlic, a pinch of cayenne, cracked black pepper and lots of dried rosemary.
The glazed roast was placed on a bed of fresh rosemary (from my garden, of course) and roasted on the barbecue for about 1-1/2 hours.
The results were mixed. The glaze was a winner, but the smoky flavour somehow negated the richness you expect from this cut of beef. Not worth a repeat visit in my books.

Rosemary Dijon cedar-planked prime rib ready for the plate.

Still, we happily ate it with barbecued potatoes tossed with olive oil and oregano and stir-fried green beans (from the garden) and red pepper. Leftovers went into a Japanese-inspired soup (recipe to follow at a later date).

Japanese-inspired prime rib soup.

Shop, cook, eat: St. Lawrence Market

This post is a few months overdue. The seed of this blog was germinating when we planned and executed this field trip and meal with David’s parents. I had the foresight to enlist David as official blog photographer that day.
It began with a Saturday morning trip to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and ended with a fabulous four-course dinner at our house. We had no set menu — with the exception of the first course, which was to be our own version of one David had enjoyed at a restaurant nearly a year before. Instead, we decided, we would be inspired by what we saw and plan our meal accordingly.
We spent a couple hours wandering through the market’s stalls, salivating over the fresh meats, fish and produce and sampling mustards and cheeses.
Here, in no specific order, is what we bought:
large loaf of French bread
.7 kg piece of black cod
.5 kg thick cut organic beef striploin
crimini mushrooms
small eggplants
mini red potatoes
A well-stocked pantry, fridge, bar and herb garden, plus a quick stop at the grocery store for some cream cheese, offered everything else we needed for our four-course feast.
With the exception of dessert, all dishes were prepared without a recipe. So instructions are minimal, but offer enough detail, I hope, to provide inspiration to any home chef.
We served the first and second courses with an unoaked chardonnay — a nice match for the hollandaise and buttery black cod. The beef course demanded something big and red. We went with malbec.

First course: Asparagus crostini
1. Make hollandaise sauce.
After much patient instruction from my sister chef, David now makes a killer hollandaise. We like ours with a little hot sauce and lots of fresh squeezed lemon juice. He made the hollandaise, while I prepped the crostini and vegetables.
2. Add some butter and a little oil to a hot pan. Saute sliced crimini mushrooms until brown. Add asparagus (four spears per person) and cook until tendercrisp.
3. Cut thick slices of French bread (not baguette, bread) on the diagonal. Lightly toast in 350 Fahrenheit oven.
4. To assemble, place one slice of bread on plate, arrange mushrooms and asparagus spears on bread. Top with hollandaise. Serve immediately.

Asparaugus crostini

Second course: Grilled black cod and eggplant
1. Marinate cod for about an hour in a citrus marinade. I used lemon juice and lemon and orange zest, as well as minced chives, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cook on oiled grill. Black cod looks lovely when it is grilled; the layers of flesh separate in a very attractive way.
2. Cut eggplant in half. Sprinkle cut side with salt and let rest for an hour. This will draw out moisture and bitterness. Rinse.
Rub cut side with olive oil, finely minced garlic, salt and pepper. Grill, cut side down, until soft.
Sprinkle eggplant with freshly grated Parmesan. Broil until cheese is slightly browned.

Grilled black cod and eggplant.

Third course: Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes
1. Combine 80 mL (1/3 cup) each bourbon and soy sauce, 30 mL (2 tbsp) each brown sugar, red wine vinegar and olive oil, 2 mL (1/2 tsp) or more freshly cracked black pepper and 1 garlic clove, minced. (Add a small chopped onion if you like.)
Marinate beef for at least a few hours and as long as overnight for larger roasts.
Grill on hot barbecue to medium rare.
2. Meanwhile, boil remaining marinade on the stove until reduced to a thick sauce.
Allow meat to rest for several minutes before slicing against the grain. Serve slices topped with a bit of the sauce.
3. Microwave potatoes until just cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with olive oil and chopped rosemary (dried or fresh). Grill until skins are slightly crisp.

Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes.

Fourth course: Bourbon pecan carrot cake
Carrot cake is my favourite dessert and I was waiting for an excuse to try out one of the recipes from the spring issue of the LCBO’s Food & Drink.
For the cake, I halved all the ingredients except the spices and made only two layers. For the icing, I omitted the vanilla and added some orange zest (which I grate when I eat oranges and keep in the freezer). The result was heavenly. But, for some reason, didn’t rate a photo. Blame all the wine perhaps.
Anyway, here is the original recipe, created by Monda Rosenberg.
1L (4 cups) grated carrot
175 mL (3/4 cup) golden raisins
75 mL  (1/3) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used bourbon)
500 mL (2 cups) coarsely chopped pecans or almonds (I used pecans)
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
15 mL (1 tbsp) baking powder
5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda
5 mL (1 tsp) salt
7 mL (1-1/2) tsp cinnamon
5 mL (1 tsp) nutmeg
2 mL (1/2 tsp) allspice
250 mL (1 cup) vegetable oil
375 mL (1-1/2 cup) brown sugar
4 eggs
10 mL (2 tsp) vanilla
2 pkgs (250 g each) regular cream cheese, at room temperature
175 mL (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
30 mL (2 tbsp) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used boubon)
5 mL  (1 tsp) vanilla
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) sifted icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray or oil three 1.5-L (9-inch) round cake pans.
2. Grate carrots using a food processor. Measure out 1 L  (4 cups) and set aside. Plump up raisins by placing in a small microwave bowl and adding bourbon. Microwave on high 1½ minutes, stirring partway through. Bourbon should just start to boil. Set aside and stir occasionally. Chop nuts and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes, stirring partway through. Place flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle with baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Stir to blend, then make a well in the centre.
3. Combine oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape into well in flour mixture and stir with a spoon or spatula just until even in colour. Stir in carrots, followed by raisins and bourbon that hasn’t been absorbed. Sprinkle with nuts and just mix in. It will be very thick.
4. Divide batter between pans, adding about 550 mL (2-1/4 cups) to each. Spread evenly to pan sides. To remove air pockets, bang pans on counter 5 to 6 times. Bake until centres seem set when lightly tapped, from 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a baking rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and cool completely on racks. It’s best to bake cakes a day ahead of icing and leave at room temperature overnight.
5. Cut cream cheese into chunks. Place butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until very creamy. Add bourbon and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in cream cheese, piece by piece. Beating too much will cause thinning. Add about a third of the icing sugar and beat on low until just mixed in. Scrape sides of bowl and beaters occasionally. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating just until smooth. If too thin, work in a little more sugar. Can be refrigerated for about an hour before using.
6. To assemble, place a cake, top-side down, on a platter. Lay the other 2, top-side up, on waxed paper. Brush with bourbon if you like. Spoon an equal amount of frosting on each. Spread over cakes, leaving a narrow border of cake around edge of cake on platter and on 1 other cake. Spread frosting right to the edge of the third cake. Stack cakes, placing the fully covered layer on top. Garnish with whole pecan halves. It’s best to refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.
Make 12 wedges.

Corn season

We’re in the throes of corn season here in Southern Ontario.
For the past five weekends, one or both of us has stopped either at the corn stand at the corner or the market down the road for a dozen local ears.
The best corn, as any farmer would tell you, is picked, cooked and eaten within hours (or minutes if you’re within running distance of the field).
We usually consume ours within a day of picking and hours of buying. We bring it home, remove the silk (a rather finicky process) and soak the cobs, husks and all, in a big pot of cold water.
We grill the whole lot (plus whatever else might be on the dinner menu) on our Weber Ranch Grill. The resulting flavour is smoky sweet. We (and any guests) can easily eat two or three cobs apiece for dinner.

The Weber Ranch Grill offers .71 square metres (1,104 square inches) of grilling space. Plenty of room for a dozen corn, marinated chicken thighs and zucchini fresh from the garden.

I cut the leftovers off the cobs, freeze in single layer on a baking sheet and pack into freezer bags. It’s perfect for my charred corn and sausage chowder, a favourite quick weekday supper during the winter.

The weekend before last, I decided to branch out and use half of our regular dozen to make some corn relish. My brother-in-law was raving about the store-bought variety at a recent barbecue and my first goal of preserving is to make a better, healthier version of the products my family loves and uses all the time.

I adapted the recipe only slightly from the original from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.
The original recipe calls for fresh cilantro to be added last minute. But since all mine has gone to seed and I prefer coriander (seeds of the cilantro plant) anyway, I substituted the dried for the fresh as indicated below. I also used shepherd rather than red bell pepper because I find the flavour more intense.
I ended up with six 250 mL (1 cup) jars, although the recipe says it makes 1,125 mL (4-1/2 cups). I may have been a little generous is my measurement of the corn.
First taste deems this a winner — although it is a little drier than I anticipated, more like a corn salsa than a corn relish. I expect, like most pickles, the flavour will improve over time.

Fresh ingredients. I love Joe’s Market in Bradford for fresh, local (and reasonably priced!) produce.

Fiesta Corn Relish
5-6 large ears fresh corn
1 hot yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
375 mL (1-1/2) cups cider vinegar
80 mL (3/4) cup sugar
125 mL (1/2 cup) chopped red onion
125 mL (1/2 cup) chopped red shepherd pepper
80 mL (1/3 cup) chopped green onions
5 mL (1 tsp) ground cumin
5 mL (1 tsp) coriander
5 ml (1 tsp) pickling salt
2 mL (1/2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

The final product.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add corn, cover and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and cool until easy to handle. With a sharp knife cut kernels from cob and measure 1 L (4 cups) into a large stainless steel or enamel pan.
2. Add hot pepper, garlic, vinegar, sugar, onion, red pepper, green onions, cumin, coriander, salt and black pepper to saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
3. Remove hot jars from canner and ladle relish into jars to within 1 cm (1/2 inch) of rim (head space). Process 15 minutes for 250 mL and 500 mL jars.