Saturday, 1 October 2016

Ode to Shrimp Sambuca and the Never Ending Summer

Just when you thinks it's all over, when you're sure you'll never drop those sunglasses over your brow and feel the heat of those hot summer rays, along comes a fall day that makes you believe it will never end. Summer, that is, those long toasty days that slow to a crawl, cuz you can only crawl through the hot days of glory, when you secretly long for a cool breeze, a bit of relief and before you know it, they're gone. And then you want them back. Such is life, the crazy contradictions, the wanes and wants, the sun, the shadows, the bit of shade, the heat of the sun on your bare summer arms. In the falling light of autumn, when the days shorten and the cool winds blow, when the leaves litter the ground and the mornings are brisk, here's a recipe to make you believe that summer will never end.

Shrimp Sambuca, the easiest way to call summer back, a taste of these will send your senses reeling back to hot summer suns and happy days under the beach umbrella. Make them anytime you're craving a bit of sunshine in your life. Who says you can't light the grill even when the autumn winds blow or the winter snows fall?

Marinated and grilled, a taste of summer any day of the year. 
Sometimes the simplest antidotes are the most effective and simple defines this recipe. First, start with the biggest and best shrimp you can find. Shell and devein the shrimp, and marinate them in a bit of Sambuca along with the chopped garlic, but only marinate them for 15 minutes maximum, no more or they will be too strong.

Next, wrap each shrimp in one slice of prosciutto, and tuck a sprig of rosemary into each parcel.

Grilled Shrimp Sambuca

1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined 
1/4 cup Sambuca liquore
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto- the finest you can afford
15 small sprigs of rosemary

After shelling and deveining the shrimp, toss them in a bowl with the Sambuca and the garlic. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Remove the shrimp and wrap each in one slice of prosciutto, tucking a sprig of rosemary into each parcel. Grill over medium high heat for about two minutes per side. Serve with a bit of Sriracha mayo for a dipping sauce- 1/2 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 tablespoons of Sriracha. Enjoy a bit of summer any day of the year. 
PS Don't eat the rosemary!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Soup to Bridge the Seasons- Ginger Basil Chicken Meatball Soup

Ponder a bridge, a beautiful bridge, one that takes you from one lovely place to another. Picture your journey, leaving one side and entering someplace new, someplace wonderful, and the bridge, which can be easily forgotten (but shouldn't), is how you arrive. Bridges are important, they make transitions easier, they pace out life, allowing you to look behind, while guiding you forward. They propel you to a new future, giving you time to reflect on the past and gather your senses for a new adventure.

Okay, this is a rather spectacular bridge, but if we are to dream, why not dream big?
Summer to autumn, not always an easy transition, we drag our feet from flip-flops into shoes and socks, out of shorts and into jeans, the green leaves take on color and the nights become cool. Here is a soup that can make this change a little bit easier, it has the taste of summer with the warmth of fall, and just invites you to walk to the other side with open arms (and mouths).

Warm and filling with just a taste of summer.
This recipe, from the inspiring Dorie Greenspan, never fails to make me happy, it's easy, quick and so good. You really should give it a try, I don't think you'll be disappointed, it has the flavors of summer with the warmth of fall, a perfect soup to bridge the seasons.

Ginger Basil Chicken Meatball Soup

First to make the Meatballs-

2 1/2 quarts chicken broth- I prefer Swansons low sodium broth

2 large eggs (lightly beaten with a fork)

1/2 cup whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup chopped onion or shallot- rinse and pat dry

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil- maybe you still have some in your herb garden

1/4 cup bread crumbs

2 cloves of chopped garlic

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger- do not leave this out!

Grated zest of one lemon- again, do not leave this out!

1 teaspoon salt- preferably sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pound of ground chicken or turkey

Mix all of the above- except the broth, lightly in a bowl (use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients)- set aside. It's best to add the meat last. 

Next, bring the chicken broth to a light boil in a large pot, I use a dutch oven type pan, but you can use whatever you have on hand- just make sure it's rather large. Turn the broth down to a slow bubble and form the meatball mixture into balls about the size of golf balls. Drop them gently into the pot of broth (use a large spoon) and let them simmer for about 10 minutes.  You may need to do the meatballs in two batches. After 10 minutes, take the meatballs out and put them into a bowl. Set the meatballs aside, and save the broth. 

For the next step-In a separate pot, cook half a package of egg noodles- you can use any type of noodles, but I prefer egg noodles. This step is really important, as when you cook the noodles separately, they don't soak up all the broth when you finally combine the whole soup. Drain noodles and reserve for last step.

And for the last step-Bring the broth to a light simmer, and add about 4 cups of vegetables- I like to add celery, carrot, a bit of savoy cabbage and green peas, green beans are nice, too. You can add whatever you'd like- just make sure the vegetables are chopped finely enough to cook rather quickly. After a few minutes of cooking the vegetables, add the meatballs and the noodles, let it all heat through, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat off, serve and enjoy this culinary bridge from summer to autumn.  

Friday, 19 February 2016

Tourtiere or French Canadian Meat Pie

What food makes you most think of Christmas? Might it be mince pies, or maybe gingerbread men, could it be that jello salad that your grandmother always made? So many foods are associated with the Christmas holiday; candy canes, nuts, turkey, clementines, that dreaded fruit cake, but for me and mine it's definitely tourtiere, the traditional French Canadian meat pie.

From left to right, my Great Aunt Flo, my mom Claudette, and my Grandmaman, Natalie D'Aoust
Above you'll see my inspirations, my memories, the lovely women who toiled at Christmas to bring us wonderful traditions and fill the house with fabulous smells. And so now, to me and mine, this tradition is passed down, these fragrant and tasty pies are made again, each and every year. It's a labour of love, of preserving the past and hanging on to those we cherish and honoring their talents and love for family. I miss those lovely women, but when I work the crust and simmer the meat with all those spices, they come alive again. Christmas is here, the memories come alive, it's all about love and family, and passing down these wonderful culinary traditions.

To start, use good meat. If you can, grind it yourself or go to a reputable butcher and get them to grind the meat fresh for you. Try to get free-range organic, it's always worth the price and peace of mind to get humanely raised meat. You'll need both beef and pork, more pork than beef. One pie needs about 2 1/2 pounds of meat, so 1 1/2 pounds of pork and 1 pound of beef is a nice mix. I like to grind my own beef chuck, and for the pork, a tenderloin is perfect. 

Put your meat in a very large pot, and add a ton of onion (about 2 large onions, chopped) and 4 cloves of garlic, minced. 

Next, after you've put your raw meat in a large pot, along with the onions and garlic, it's time to add the water and spices. Add water to just cover the meat and onions, and now to flavor this fabulous mixture- you'll need 3 bay leaves (they make literally everything nice), 2 tsp of allspice, 1 tsp of ground cloves, 2 tsp of savory, 2 tsp of pepper and 2 tsp of salt. Break everything up with a large wooden spoon, turn the heat to a nice medium, watch it for 10 minutes or so, enjoy the smell as it all starts to come together. When you see a bit of action, some bubbling, turn it down to a nice simmer, grab a jelly jar and splash in a bit of brandy and sit back and enjoy the lovely smells that will soon permeate your kitchen. Close your eyes for a minute, remember all those Christmas's past, put on some great holiday music, and just revel in the moment. 

Add water to cover, mix in the spices and wait for nice smells to fill the kitchen.

By now you must be immersed in great music, great smells and a slight buzz from that little snifter of brandy. Okay, roll up your sleeves, because it's time to make some crust in which to put that savory meat. Ah, homemade crust, everyone gets a bit hesitant here, but let me tell you, your worst effort will be 100 times better than store bought crust, so buck up and get out the flour. For your crust recipe, look under Best Pie Crust under Coconut Cream Pie in June 2010 on this blog. You've got plenty of time, your meat should cook at a slow simmer for about 3 hours. 
Once your crust is made, and the bottom crust is pressed into the pie plate, fill with the meat, but drain off some of the water first if it seems too soupy, you want it moist but not sloppy. Pop on the top crust, and put your pie in at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 for about 45 minutes. Get ready for a slice of Christmas heaven. Tourtiere is a great dish to have on hand over the holidays, it heats well in the microwave, a slice at a time for whenever someone needs a bit of love and sustenance. Serve it with bread and butter pickles or chutney, and always with a kiss. 

The smell of Christmas, a French Canadian Toutiere meat pie.
From left to right, my daughter Natashka, myself, and lovely friend Donna Nowak, making tourtiere!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Yorkshire Pudding, Otherwise Affectionately Known as Yorkies.

Yorkshire pudding seems to be so ubiquitously British. No one seems to make them here in the United States and that is such a shame! After all, how can one go wrong with Yorkshire + pudding. So easy to make, so British, so delicious! I think my mom, little French Canadian girl that she was, was the one exception. When I was little, she often made a Yorkshire pudding when we had roast beef. Her sister Carmen married a Brit and lived there for a while, I can only guess that's how she came to make Yorkies. One great thing about Yorkies is that you most likely have everything you need to make them in your fridge right now. No need to run to the grocery store!

Beautiful scene taken in Northern Yorkshire

Well, as for the pudding component, we Americans think of Jello Instant Pudding, Brits think of any type of dessert, always known as the pudding course. But Yorkies are neither, they are a tasty little basket in which to pop savory, soupy things.

American style pudding
Pudding means dessert in England
When I think of Yorkshire, I only think of one thing, my Yorkshireman!

How British can you get? My Yorkshireman at Stonehenge.
But I digress, and now for the recipe to make fabulous Yorkshire puddings. They're so easy and so good. Make them anytime you want a tasty little receptacle to fill with anything yummy, like roast beef and gravy or roast chicken and veggies, or a vegetarian stew.
Perfectly fluffy and crispy Yorkies.
Fabulous and Perfect Yorkshire Puddings
1 cup of all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
oil for cooking- I prefer duck or goose fat, but vegetable or coconut oil will be fine

And now for the ease of it all, just pop the milk, eggs, flour and salt in a blender, and blend at medium speed for about 3 minutes. Let the mixture stand for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450, add one teaspoon of oil to each receptacle of a muffin tin. Pop the muffin tin with oil into the oven at 450. When the oil begins to smoke, about 10 minutes later, pull the pan out of the oven, pour in the batter, about halfway up each receptacle, and put back in the oven. Let bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, when they look like mine above, take out of oven and serve hot and crispy, filled with gravy, veggies, stew or whatever magical concoction you devise!

Yorkies, so delicious and so easy!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to Jonathan!

Jonathan celebrated his 50th birthday this summer, what a perfect occasion to pick up our Ten Plates summer tradition. It had been a couple of years since we had hosted our famous Ten Plates dinner party and we were missing this fabulously decadent and major labor of love, summer party occasion. Tash and I devised this feast several years ago to celebrate Jonathan's end of July birthday. He loves to eat, we love to cook. The end result, a culinary gift of love to our sweet guy. 

We decided to do a menu based on traditional British dishes, but with an American twist. It's the story of our lives, blending our two cultures together, so much fun, always so interesting, and sometimes a bit controversial!

The deck is always on oasis of serene, leafy green and big enough for several tables. Lucky for us, cousins Tasha and Jim came early to help us set up.

The party is just starting, and what a party it was! So much fun; wonderful guests, the food turned out great and we even had fabulous music thanks to Will, Beth, Susannah and Chris!

Our first course, Smoked Mackerel Butty, was a twist on the famous bacon buttys of England. We made our own butty, actually a parmesan basil muffin and instead of the traditional bacon, we sandwiched smoked Michigan whitefish in the middle. It was a stretch, but a tasty one. 

Here, Tash and I are putting together the "Oh, I Only Drink Bubbles," second course, devised to put everyone at very happy ease! Btw, isn't she something? I think so.

The third course was one of our very favorites, foie gras. As an added treat, we found Italian maraschino cherries to grace the top. So rich and delicious.

This lettuce dish was a really spectacular fourth course.
Finding the quail eggs in West Michigan was a bit of a challenge, but after scouring the Asian stores in Grand Rapids, I finally scored what I needed. 

Fifth course, summer soup with fresh Michigan corn, South Shore basil and silken summer tomatoes.

These next little guys packed some gustatory punch! Our sixth course is simple to make and full of flavor, yet light and tasty. Marinate your shrimp for 10 minutes in Sambuca liqueur (tastes like licorice), wrap in prosciutto and grill for one minute per side. Serve with a bit of sriracha mayo. The result, heaven on earth, but in your mouth! 

Our seventh course was a spin on all the sweet corn sandwich choices available in your local Marks and Sparks. So this is not a sandwich, but it does incorporate sweet summer corn and Michigan summer tomatoes, blended with fresh pesto to make you wish summer would never end. 

These are as good as they look. Our eighth course, luscious lobster fritters, with a kiss on top and served with capered remoulade. Kill me now. 

For our ninth course, we salute Jonathan's drunken late night English vice, lamb kebabs. Ours were a bit more refined, baby lamb lollies grilled with herbs and our very own preserved lemons. Jonathan loved them, just saying. 

For our final and tenth course, we presented our very own house-made vanilla ice-cream, Michigan peaches and rich pound cake. Suffice to say, all plates were cleared and a very happy night was had by all! 

Life is best celebrated by enjoying the moment, savoring every memory, and making it all count. Life is fleeting, tender and so very precious. Grab it by the tail! Cheers and best wishes to our dear Jonathan, on his 50th birthday. You are loved. 

And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!  Here is our birthday boy dancing on the table, cuz all great parties end this way! 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Clovelly, My Sweet Clovelly.

Hello, England! It's mid September and we've just landed in London. After a year living back in the USA, we are here once again in our lovely England, and the first place we head is here, to you. You can't imagine how happy I am to have made it back to this special place. My Clovelly. You are so beautiful.

And so we careen down the little road, so familiar, to Clovelly! Place of beauty, small and sweet, mysterious and quiet, holding secrets close to your coast-hugging soul. Yet, you always let us in. Still and away, you await our arrival.

GB and I are giddy with happiness, here we are again. Seems like we belong here. We can't wait to wander your sea-rock cobbled street, and struggle up your cliff-side winding lane. 
Here's hoping for clear skies. Your cobbles are treacherous in the rain.

Lovely tiny harbor, full of toy boats resting on the sea bed. Will the seas ever rise again?

GB and I wander along the centuries old sea wall and marvel at the boats resting on the sea bed.

Saugatuck T-shirt in Clovelly, yep, that's my guy! Gotta bring a little of Michigan here to the place we love.

And yes, the seas are true to their word, and they do rise again.

And off we wander; exploring, laughing, tripping along. This world is our oyster and we have so much fun, like we always do, because we always do.

I love this vista, at the top of the town, on the edge of the cliff. Down below is the sea, wild and unforgiving. 

These streets, paved with sea stones, lasting through the centuries, are remarkable to behold, and difficult to traverse. Happily, no rain as of yet.

Here we go, off on an adventure, following maps written on napkins and hoping we find our way, through gardens and coastal paths. Seems simple, so far.

Her directions seemed so clear- the nice woman in the pottery shop directed us on our way. Everything was going well, until we encountered these guys, their horns were a bit scary. How to traverse the field without getting impaled?

We went the long way around, and eventually ended up in the Clovelly Court  Gardens. England weather makes for gorgeous gardens, and this Victorian kitchen-style garden was very beautiful.

Pears, anyone?

And then we were in the Clovelly churchyard. I love to look at all the old gravestones and wander the paths, peaceful and beautiful. Something I never got tired of in England. My mom loved to do the same. Wandering and wondering, who went here before? Feeling the past and enjoying the moment. 

The inside was something, too. I love how the churches are open to anyone to just walk in and take a look around. There's no one there, and it's cold, but you can feel the history, the sanctuary, the peace and the tranquillity. Absolutely spellbinding. 

Can you imagine the hundreds of families that belonged to this Norman church, over all the centuries?  The lives, the loves, the travails, that were borne, lived and died here? So much history in one place.  

And now we're off again, on one of my adventures through the English countryside. I drag Gb along ( and some sort of map), and he's happy to go with me, because he likes to see me happy ( I am one lucky woman), and I am so giddy when we are off on an escapade. The possibilities are endless!

I trot, sing, and basically scamper through the fields, meadows, and Englishness of England- this can mean rain, mud and fearsome cattle with big horns, but on we go, forward. No one knows where we will end up! Well, I exaggerate, GB will make sure we end in a pub somewhere. 

The view from the coastal path is beautiful, quiet, and it goes on and on. 

Through the woodsy trail we wander, glimpsing the view, happy together, marveling at all the nature around us.

And here, a resting place... The English are so thoughtful.

The skies stayed clear...

And the fields clear of imminent danger...

It was a wonderful day, just a beautiful day. I am a happy girl!

GB is glad to be back in the pub, with his best girl. Cheers!

  After a drink and a rest, we negotiate the path back home.

Clovelly, Sweet Clovelly, I will be back, I promise.