Wednesday, 14 July 2010

WALNUT SKORDALIA



Make walnut butter and then incorporate it into a recipe. One can thicken sauces with it or mix it in with vegetables. It can become a secret ingredient in soup! However, my favourite way to use walnut butter is to make walnut skordalia with it! Walnut skordalia is a Greek walnut-garlic sauce. It's simple to put together and very, very tasty. 

Skordalia is a popular Greek side dish which can be made with potatoes or walnuts. Its name comes from one of its key ingredients, skordo, which means garlic. Skordalia usually accompanies fried fish or fried/boiled vegetables. 

Walnut skordalia is a regional variation. It's made in Northeastern Greece, in the provinces of Macedonia and Thrace. My maternal grandmother, who was a true and proper Northeastern Greek, always made her skordalia with walnuts, never with potatoes. Of course, it helped that grandfather had planted walnut trees near one of his vineyards. There was always an ample supply of walnuts at their home. Traditionally, a mortar and pestle were used to pound the walnuts and garlic. Today, the food processor makes this job much easier.

Make a walnut butter: Place two cups of shelled, roasted walnut pieces in a food processor, and pulse until the walnuts are finely ground. 

Ingredients:

In addition to the walnut butter you will need:
1 cup of stale bread pieces without the crust
2 garlic cloves. Can use fewer or more than two: how much depends on social engagements and digestive tolerance
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 tablespoons olive oil
water


Directions:
  1. Soak the bread in a bit of water. When it has softened, squeeze out the excess water. Discard the water and place the bread in a food processor.
  2. Add all the other ingredients, including the walnut butter. Process until well blended.
  3. Taste, and if the mixture feels thick, thin it out by adding a little water and then processing. In the end, the skordalia should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
  4. Remove to bowl, cover and chill. Serve as an accompaniment to fish or vegetables.
***Walnut skordalia also makes a delicious dip or appetizer. Serve it in a bowl surrounded by toasted bread rounds, or top toasted bread slices with walnut skordalia and shrimp: use sliced French bread sprinkled with olive oil and toasted, then topped with skordalia and with shrimp which has been seasoned with lemon juice, black pepper and parsley.

Friday, 9 July 2010

GREEK SALAD FOR A CROWD


Hello, everybody! Today's topic is Greek salad, a salad that's pretty popular these days. Here's a recipe a little different from the every day Greek salad but just as good. It has enough portions to feed a crowd, so it's something great to make if you are having company or a large family gathering. Of course, the portions can be cut in half if you're not feeding lots of people. I think the star of this salad is the feta vinaigrette (scroll down), which is delicious, delicious, delicious!


The recipe is based on one from the book "How to Roast Lamb," written by chef Michael Psilakis. The book has been part of my collection since this past Christmas when I bought it with a gift card I received. Don't bookstore gift cards make the best gifts? I made the salad for Easter when we had a large gathering, and now I am making it again for a summertime barbecue I am hosting. This salad can be assembled up to an hour ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette can also be made ahead of time. Dress the salad just before ready to serve. 



Ingredients: 
(Serves 10 to 15 as part of a buffet)
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 or 3 heads of romaine lettuce hearts, outer leaves removed. Use the crunchy younger leaves. For the salad you see in the picture I used two heads of romaine
  • 1 fennel bulb sliced very thin
  • roasted bell peppers, or 3 small store-bought roasted red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
  • about 24 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved.  I used some heirloom cherry tomatoes so as to vary tastes and colours.
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced.  If it has too many seeds, remove them
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
  • About 15 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 15 whole caper berries *** see note  (if you don't like caper berries, use large capers)
  • 3/4 cup Feta Vinaigrette
  • 2/3 cup feta cheese, cubed
  • 4 pepperoncini, sliced and add a few whole ones as well (pepperoncini are small, yellow, and mildly-hot peppers which are picked and sold in jars)

Directions:


Getting the salad ready, with my heirloom cherry tomatoes, and with the caper berries right on top.
  • In a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the vinaigrette, feta and pepperoncini.  Toss really well to combine.  
  • When ready to serve: with really clean hands ... drizzle the vinaigrette on the salad and toss the mixture (with clean hands and food gloves and I love this part! That's called getting to know your food).
  • Scatter feta and pepperoncini on top.
  • Ready to serve!
Feta Vinaigrette 
(makes 1 1/4 cups, and it's kind of thick, but it dresses the salad well, and it tastes absolutely delicious).

Ingredients:
  • 2 small onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the onion
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (if you prefer red-wine vinegar, use it)
  • 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
That's the feta dressing poured on top. It has incredible flavour! It looks rather thick and greenish, but don't let the consistency or colour fool you. Once mixed in it turns the salad into something fabulous!


Directions:
  • Preheat a grill pan.
  • Brush onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place onions and garlic on grill pan and cook, turning, until tender. It should take 4 to 5 minutes for the onions and a much shorter time for the garlic. Make sure that the garlic isn't burned.
  • Transfer to a small bowl; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to combine.
  • Transfer the grilled onion and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and add the vinegar, basil, thyme, feta, mustard, shallots, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper; pulse to combine.
  • With the processor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup olive oil until dressing is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

I've made this vinaigrette again and again! The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but I substitute with white balsamic, which I sometimes combine with lemon juice.  I just don't like the taste of red vinegar. One final comment: the grilled onions and garlic? A brilliant idea, it makes for fantastic flavours!!!



***Note: What is a caper berry? 

There is a difference between the caper and the caper berry. Caper is a bush that grows wild in rocky coastal areas throughout the Mediterranean region. The capers that we eat are the pickled buds of this bush. If the buds are not harvested, they will flower and then turn into fruit. That fruit is the caper berry. Greeks pickle the caper berries and use them in cooking or serve them as a mezé. Both capers and caper berries have a piquant, mustard-like flavour. The caper berry has a stronger taste and is larger and fleshier than the caper. It's a lot easier to find capers at the store than caper berries, so go ahead and substitute if necessary.

Caperberries, this variety imported from Spain 

I had to include this photo (taken at a recent dinner) which shows caperberries accompanying a Mediterranean seafood feast. 

A jar of cappers.
flowering caper bush

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Best cheesecake in the world: Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake!!!


Raspberries, or strawberries... it's all good!


Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake, a New York style cheesecake, is the best cheesecake in the world!!! No exaggeration whatsoever. The recipe comes from the book "The Cake Bible," by Rose Levy Beranbaum, published in 1988. This is an outstanding dessert cookbook, still available for sale.



I love cheesecake, and I have tried many cheesecake recipes. This one is the best, the creamiest, and the most flavorful. It's firm enough to be unmolded and served without a base, but it can have a ladyfinger base, as shown by Ms Beranbaum here, or a cookie crumb base, as it has on my post. Truthfully, I prefer it without a base. I just don't want anything to interfere with the custardy, creamy goodness of this cheesecake.



Purchased in the early 1990s - I love this cookbook; its author is a baker extraordinaire. 


Ingredients: 

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups sour cream

about one cup of cookie crumbs, (made up from your favourite cookies), to serve as a crumb crust.
fresh raspberries or blueberries, rinsed and allowed to dry thoroughly
1/4 cup raspberry jelly or blueberry jelly
1 tablespoon Chambord or water
A 9-inch by 2 1/2-inch or higher springform pan, greased, outside of the pan wrapped with a double layer of heavy-duty foil to prevent seepage, the bottom of pan lined with greased parchment paper.

A 12-inch cake pan or roasting pan to serve as a water bath.


Here is a version I made without a base, and with a strawberry-blackberry topping


Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • In a food processor beat the cream cheese until soft. Add the sugar and beat until very smooth.
  • Add the cornstarch, and pulse to blend. Add the eggs one at a time with the motor running. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt and mix until incorporated.
  • Add the sour cream and mix just until blended.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the pan in the larger pan and surround it with 1-inch of very hot water.

WOW! A cheesecake that did not crack in the middle! Make sure your pan is well greased, so the cheesecake can separate from the sides of the pan as it settles. This will keep it from cracking.


  • Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour. (OK, I opened the oven door and took a peek, then decided to let the cake bake for an extra 10 minutes, then I let it cool in the oven for one hour).
  • After one hour take it out of the oven and remove the aluminum foil from around the pan. Place it on a rack and cool it to room temperature (about 1 hour).
  • Cover with greased plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.


To unmold:
  • Have ready one serving plate
  • Have ready a flat plate at least 8 inches in diameter, covered with a plastic wrap.
  • Place the springform pan on a heated burner and move it around for 15 seconds.
  • Wipe the sides of the pan with a hot, damp towel.
  • Run a thin metal spatula around the sides of the cake and release the sides of the springform pan.
  • Place the plastic-wrapped plate on top and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment.
  • If you want a cookie base, now is the time to sprinkle cookie crumbs on the cake.
  • Reinvert onto the serving plate and use a small metal spatula to smooth the sides. If you like, sprinkle some crumbs on the sides, too.
  • Refrigerate until shortly before serving.

For a simple topping:
  • Arrange raspberries or blueberries on top of the cheesecake. Remember that they should be thoroughly dry.
  • In a small saucepan or microwave oven, heat the jelly until melted and bubbling. Strain it into a small cup and stir in the Chambord or water. Brush it onto the fruit, or pour the jelly on the cheesecake and place the fruit on top.
    From The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum: "Chocolate cookies blend well with cherry topping. Ginger, graham, and lemon-nut cookies go well with fruit-flavoured fillings or toppings. As crumb crusts become soggy if placed in the pan before baking, I prefer to pat the crumbs onto the cake after baking and unmolding. You will need about 3/4 cup if you wish to do the bottom as well as the sides. If the cake is not too heavy, support it on the palm of your hand. Tilt the cake a bit toward the other hand, cupped to hold the crumbs, and press the crumbs gently into the sides. Alternately, if the cake is too heavy, place it on a large sheet of foil and use a wide, flat spatula to lift the crumbs onto the sides of the cake."



Friday, 2 July 2010

GRILLED RED SNAPPER

Once upon a time the poor little fellow in the picture above was happily swimming, minding its own business. The fish could not foretell the future. Otherwise, it would have swum faster, or slower, or in a different place. Sorry, my lad or lass. Sooner or later, in its various ways, the ignobility and maliciousness of life will lay waste upon us all.   

The red snapper came from the store cleaned and ready to cook. I rinsed it, seasoned it, placed it in aluminium foil and cooked it on the grill. 

Ingredients:

1 red snapper, large enough to feed four people.
1 large onion, sliced into rings
olive oil
lemon juice
lemon slices
fresh parsley
fresh thyme
fresh basil
fresh dill
salt and pepper
garlic powder

Directions:

How much seasoning and herbs to use? I did not really measure them - I just used what I felt was enough to flavour but not overpower the fish.

  • Rinse the fish inside and out and pat it dry with paper towels. 
  • Rub olive oil and lemon juice all over, including the cavities. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. 
  • Cut slits on each side of the fish and put a slice of lemon into each slit. 
  • Stuff the cavity with parsley, thyme, lemon slices and dill. 
  • Lay the onions, some dill, parsley, and thyme in the middle of a piece of parchment paper that is large enough to enclose the fish. 
  • Place the fish on top of the herbs.
  • Top the fish with basil and sprinkle a little more olive on it. Seal the parchment well.  
  • Place the parchment package on a piece of heavy-duty aluminium foil. Crimp the foil edges together to form a packet. 
  • Place the fish on the grill and cook with the cover closed. 
  • Cooking should take twenty minutes to half an hour maximum. The fish will be ready when the meat is soft and flakes off easily. 
  • Remove it from the foil and parchment and place on a serving platter. 
  • The herbs and onions the fish was cooked on can be discarded. 
  • This is important: sprinkle some olive oil and lemon juice on the cooked fish and let it rest for about five minutes before serving. The fish will absorb additional flavours.