Category Archives: Appetizers

Tapas Weekend, with Farmer’s Market Salad and Hazelnut Shortbread with Chocolate


Tapas. My new favourite style of dinner. Simple to prepare, lots of variety, and a great way to try a little bit of everything 🙂
A preferred way to have meals in Spain, as well as some parts of the US and the UK, tapas (from Spanish word tapar meaning ‘to cover’) are meant to encourage socializing and conversation, with no pressure to finish a big meal.

It all started on Friday when our little group got together for dinner and somewhere along the way it was decided that it would be tapas style: different cheeses, spreads, fresh bread, olives, and best of all, Stan’s famous mussles in cream sauce, Christina’s garlic shrimp, DVG’s crostini with goat cheese, prosciutto and cranberry sauce and my crostini with cheddar, pear and walnuts.

I would say one of the most important parts of having good tapas is fresh bread. For Friday, we visited the new German Bakery in Uptown – German Baked Specialities, and got some fresh baguette for the crostinis and rye with corn flour crust for dipping.  Another important ingredient for tapas is good olive oil. Sometimes, all one needs is good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with fresh bread!

There is something magical about old friends coming together after not seeing each other for a while, and picking up right where they left off. Conversation is flowing, the food is dissapearing and the wine bottles are getting empty.  Before you know it, you have been chatting and eating for hours! Is there anything better in the world than great friends, great food and great wine?

Aged and young gouda, double creme brie, aged cheddar, chevre, olives, pears, sausages, smoked trout…

Inspired by the success of Friday night tapa’s dinner, DVG and I decided to have a repeat of it on Sunday evening. Again, we went all out, put the whole spread on my new serving board from Argentina (horse shoes for handles?! So cool!), made different versions of crostinis and at 22h, dinner began!

We discovered we had some aged white cheddar in the fridge, and had initially intended to melt it with pear, but after tasting it, we realized it was too delicate and delicious to melt, so instead we cut up the remaining pear and had it fresh with the aged cheddar.  Such a great combination!

All that cheese and bread, we had to had some greens to balance out the ‘food equation’ 🙂  I found that the quickest way to make a delicious dressing is to mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and salt and pepper in a mason jar and cover some baby spinach or arugula with it.  The roasted red peppers add a splash of colour and a different texture to the salad.

DVG proved to be a great model for my photo whims, even having enough patience for my meticulous framing, and that’s saying a lot especially because we were both famished and tired from climbing!

The rest of Sunday afternoon was spent preparing a salad and cookies for a dinner party hosted by my mom.  My mom is an excellent cook – she whips up meals in what seems like seconds, and they are always delicious.  I consider her culinary skills far superior to my own.  And yet, sometimes when she is hosting dinner parties she asks me to prepare something ‘delicious’ and ‘decorative’, to impress her guests.  Even though, whatever she prepares is sure to be yummier :).  But, I take this as a compliment, and oblige whenever she makes such requests.

A few weeks ago, while searching for a different recipe, I came upon this one for Farmer’s Market Salad, and judging by the ingredients, it seemed like a very interesting combination of flavours.  There is roasted squash, walnuts and arugula, the most interesting was pomogranate seeds, and pomogranate molasses.  Tanginess of the pomogranate seeds was a great compliment to the caramelized squash, crunchiness of walnuts and lightness of the arugula.

Even though recipe didn’t call for this, I broiled the squash a bit after roasting it to get the charred tops, and also added fresh rosemary to the squash before roasting for extra flavour. 

The dressing for this salad is super simple – orange juice, lemon juice and walnut oil (or any other type of nut oil), seasoned with salt and pepper.  I liked the acidity of the juices combined with the smooth taste of the oil, it gave the salad a fresh and light taste.  The recipe also calls for the salad to be topped off by pomogranate molasses.  Apparently, this can be found in some supermarkets, but I failed to find it, so instead I improvised.  Half the pomogranate was seeded for the salad and half was seeded to make a sauce (a makeshift molasses if you will).  I really didn’t quite know what I was doing here, but I tried to reduce the juice from the seeds to a sauce and added some regular molases and butter.  The sauce turned out ok, but I don’t know how it compares to the real thing.

For dessert, I decided to make these simple hazelnut shorbreads that are especially decorative because they’re half dipped in chocolate.  I find them to be super easy to make, and always a hit.  They are soft and crumbly and the creamy chocolate taste is a nice contrast to the dryness of shortbread.

I would recommend shaping these on the smaller side before you bake them (about the size of half of your finger), because they grow, and they are much more decorative if they are smaller.

Another tip, which may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me when I first made these, is to transfer the melted chocolate into a deep container with a bigger opening ( a mug would work) as this makes it easier to dip the shortbread at the right angle.

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Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPES

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Farmer’s Market Salad

Ingredients:
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled seeded butternut squash (from about one 2-pound squash)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil or other nut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces arugula (about 8 cups lightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts,toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses*
Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss squash, olive oil, and crushed red pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
 
Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add arugula, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Spoon warm or roomtemperature squash over salad. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and serve.
 
* A thick pomegranate syrup; available at some supermarkets and at Middle Eastern markets
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Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Shortbread

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup husked hazelnuts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 
Place hazelnuts on baking sheet. Bake until they’re a shade darker and fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
 
Lower oven to 325 degrees F.
 
Place hazelnuts in blender or food processor and pulse to coarse bits; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend; set aside.
 
Beat butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Beat in egg. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add the chopped hazelnuts and mix until distributed evenly throughout.
 
 Form into finger sized logs, about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons dough each, and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on racks.
 
In a saucepan over lowest heat or in a double broiler, melt chocolate. Dip 1 end of cooled cookies into melted chocolate. Place back on cookie sheet to harden.
 
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Cheese Profiteroles with Roasted Tomato Pesto


It’s already February! Where did January go? I feel like it’s been forever since my last post. I know I’m not on a strict posting schedule, but I would like it to be twice a month. In the past month, however, things have been so crazy and hectic with the CMA courses, that I haven’t had time to even take down my Christmas tree yet, let alone cook and bake! Someone suggested to keep the tree up until Mar 20th, so I can celebrate a 4th new year this year – Persian New Year (along with Catholic, Orthodox and Berber). Hmmm…I think my guilty conscience won’t allow that, as it was supposed to be gone after January 14th. So, this past Sunday I thought I would make cheese puffs/profiteroles with tomato pesto. The stood out for me when I was flipping through the LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be a nice snack. I wish there were more days in the week or hours in a day…there are so many things to do and no time to do it.

I call these profiteroles because the procedure of making them is very similar to sweet profiteroles – a traditional French pastry. Water and butter are boiled, flour is cooked into it on the stove and eggs added one at a time to make sticky soft dough. When they bake, the dough rises and leaves a hole on the inside and gets crunchy on the outside. In the US and UK, these would be better known as cream puffs, and filled with all sorts of fillings. I thought it would be a nice twist on a traditional recipe.

Tomato pesto was a first for me. I like my pesto very simple – pine nuts, basil, olive oil, sometimes garlic. This one had roasted tomato crushed into the mix. The tangyness from the tomato give the pesto another dimension of taste. I also thought to substitute pine nuts with walnuts, just for fun :). I must say, these were best served warm, and especially great to munch on while say…reading a book for the new book club Tea’s organizing. The book this month is Name of The Rose, and it’s getting more interesting with every page. I’m excited to see how the first meeting will go. Tea’s idea to mix alcohol into the discussion of the book was brilliant, so I can only imagine what that will look like 🙂

As I sit here at a cafe, editing these photos and writing this post, I’m looking outside on the cold February evening and wondering how much longer it will be this freezing outside. The only nice thing about the cold is warming up with a hot latte or hot chocolate….to contemplate life and the purpose of it all. Maybe there is no purpose? Maybe the purpose is to make cheese profiteroles and take pictures of them? If that is what makes you happy. I’m excited about tonight because I am going to see Blue Valentine, which I’ve wanted to see since TIFF. It looks very raw and unforgiving, which would be a nice change from all the other Hollywood fluff.
Until next post – toodles!

Click on each photo to view the high resolution images.

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RECIPE

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Cheese Puffs with Roasted Tomato Pesto

 
Cheese Puffs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • ½ cup (125 mL) butter
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated fontina cheese
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) dried mustard
Roasted Tomato Pesto
  • 4 plum tomatoes, halved, seeded
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped basil
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped pine nuts
 1. Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
2. Bring water, butter and salt to a rolling boil over medium heat. Remove pot from heat and add flour immediately. Beat together with a wooden spoon until flour is incorporated. Return to heat and continue to beat until dough leaves sides of pot and a film has covered the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
 3. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated and mixture is very shiny and soft. Beat in cheese and mustard.
4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch (1-cm) tube, pipe balls 1-inch (2.5-cm) in size. If the balls have little points, wet your finger and press them down. If you do not have a piping bag use a wet tablespoon and drop mounds onto baking sheets.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Prick each puff with a skewer to let steam escape. Reduce heat to 350ºF (180ºC) and bake for 15 minutes onger or until golden. Switch the positions of the baking sheets in the oven halfway through to ensure even baking. Remove from oven, prick puffs
once more and let cool on sheets.
6. Increase oven temperature to 450ºF (230ºC).
7. To make filling, toss tomatoes with 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil, salt and pepper. Place tomatoes, cut-side up on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until shrunken and slightly browned but still juicy.
Remove from oven and let cool. Place tomatoes in a food processor. Add basil, Parmesan, remaining 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil and pine nuts. Process until just combined. Season with salt to taste.
8. Slice cheese puffs almost all the way through horizontally. Fill with ½ tsp (2 mL) tomato pesto.
Makes about 30 puffs

3rd Annual Holiday Pot Luck: Mushroom Gouda Crostini and Corn Bread w Spinach


A few years ago, after I bought my first home I thought it would be a great idea to start a cool winter holiday tradition. Since holidays are always hectic with many parties to go to and food to prepare, I wanted to do something that was easy and fun. I wanted to bring all my friends together before everyone went off to celebrate the holidays with their families. So every December, early in the month, I started organizing a holiday pot luck. Everyone would bring a little something to eat, we would make mulled wine, and then watch movies or play board games.

This year I decided to make appetizers. I like making crostini because they are very versatile and there are so many different variations of toppings – it’s like a new dish every time! :). I found this recipe in the All You Need is Cheese magazine that comes to my mailbox uninvited. This time I didn’t mind because on the front page I saw the inspiration for my appetizer – Mushroom Gouda Crostini.

The recipe called for bacon to be added to the mushroom mix, however, I ommited that since one of my friends doesn’t eat pork. I also used my leftover cheddar cheese instead of gouda, which changed the colours of the crostini a little (cheddar is a darker yellow). I made the topping a while before my guests arrived and grated the cheese. Once we were ready to eat I assembled the crostini with some topping and cheese on each, and put under the broiler for 5 minutes. The result? Hot and crispi crostini! They were gone in seconds 🙂

Since I knew I had some very hungry guests coming over, I knew the crostini wouldn’t be enough, so I asked my mom to make her famous corn bread with spinach also. Corn bread is a loosely used term in this case because it’s the closest translation I can come up with to this traditional Serbian dish. “Proja” or corn bread, or, if you want to describe the dish itself – a cross between corn bread and ricotta-cottage-cheese-egg-spinach caserolle. When I was little my mom used to make this for breakfast for us, and she still makes it to this day because it’s super quick and easy. It can be considered a ‘peasant’s’ breakfast because you can put any leftovers in the ‘caserole’ that you like. This version only has spinach, but you can add sausage bits if you want a meaty corn bread, red peppers, or anything else.

To achieve the browning at the top, I left the corn bread under the broiler for 5-6 minutes after it was done baking. This corn bread has sort of become a tradition at the holiday pot luck, so I have my mom make it every year and it usually goes quickly 🙂 Speaking of traditions, it seems that over the years another tradition has developed on its own – it seems that every year on the day of the potluck (which usually is Sunday) – we get the first major snow storm of the season. The first year, several people got stuck right in my driveway…

You may be asking yourself why I have my mom make it when I say it’s so easy to make. Mainly it’s the time, because I like to have another dish along with it, and also because everything my mom makes is always better 🙂

After we had devoured all the goodies, we made some mulled wine, which was a nice finish to a great meal. We played pictionary for the rest of the evening, laughed and had a great time. That was probably one of the most eventful and heated pictionary games I have played in a long time :).

For high resolution images, click on each photo.

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RECIPES

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Mushroom Gouda Crostini

Ingredients:
  • 4 slices crusty Italian bread ½” (1 cm) thick
  • 2 slices bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 8 oz (227 g) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 cup (250 ml) grated Canadian Gouda
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) thyme (optional)
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
Instructions
With the rack in middle position, preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a large wire rack. Place rack on a baking sheet and set aside.
In a skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp along with shallots. Add butter and mushrooms and sauté over high heat until golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Season.
Deglaze with lemon juice. Adjust seasoning. Spread mushroom mixture on the bread slices. Sprinkle with cheese and bake 10 minutes. If needed, finish browning under the broiler.

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Corn Bread with Spinach

Ingredients:
  • Spinach – ¾ of big bunch – chopped
  • 1 cup white (or whole wheat) flour
  • 2 cups corn flour
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 package 2% or 4% cottage cheese (500 ml)
  • ½ package feta cheese (250 ml)
  • ½ package 14% sour cream (250 ml)
  • 5 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 package baking powder (14g Dr. Oetker brand or 5 tsp equivalent)  OR 1 cup mineral water (if you use mineral water use less milk)
  • Milk as needed to get right consistency
Mix all dry ingredients together. Beat eggs. Mix all wet ingredients together (except milk), add eggs. Mix in dry ingredients gradually until well combined. Add milk as needed until desired consistency achieved. The consistency should be runny but not too runny – and not too hard (not like dough for bread). Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Broil for 5 minutes for browning effect.

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Mulled Wine

Ingredients:
  • 1 lt red wine
  • 8 spoons honey
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 orange slices
Mix all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a soft boil. Flambe the mixture (i.e. set the wine mixture on fire with a long lighter or a matchstick) – wine will burn longer the more alcohol content it has. When the flames are gone, pour into mugs (wouldn’t recommend a wine glass in this case, because the wine will be hot). Enjoy!