Asparagus and Brie Tartlets

Asparagus & Brie TartletsThis is lovely as an hors d’oeuvre, or two per person as an appetizer. You can par-bake the wonton wrappers ahead of time, just make sure to weigh them down with something so that you retain the cup shape. I suggest dried beans or pie weights. This recipe will make 12 tartlets, but can easily be doubled. You can even make this into one large tart by layering the wrappers on the bottom of a tart pan, and then just topping with all of the filling and brie. I would suggest slightly cooking the tart first though, before adding the filling, so that it can crisp up a bit.

Ingredients:

24 wonton wrappers, thawed
2 ½ tablespoons butter, divided
24 asparagus spears, cut into 1” lengths (about 2 bunches)*
1 shallot, diced*
¼ cup white wine or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
4 oz. (120g) brie, sliced into 12 pieces/wedges
salt and pepper, to taste

* Click here to learn how to check these vegetables.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt about 1 ½ tablespoons of butter in a microwave or small saucepan. Brush each wonton wrapper with the melted butter and press two wrappers into each mould of a muffin tin. When placing the wrappers I find it easier to align them first out of the tin, then press them in. You should have one wrapper square in front of you, with the flat edge facing you, and then another wrapper on top, but turned 90 degrees, so that the point is in front of you.

In a saucepan, melt remaining butter on medium heat and cook asparagus for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a fork or slotted spoon to keep the melted butter in the pan. In the same saucepan, cook the shallot for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine, and let it simmer until it has reduced by half. Add vinegar and reduce once again by half.

Pour the shallot/wine/vinegar mixture over the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Divide asparagus and Brie among the muffin moulds lined with wonton wrappers. Bake on the bottom oven rack for 15 minutes or until wonton wrappers are golden brown. Serve warm.

White Fish Étouffée

fish etouffeeSo here is another classic Cajun dish called Étouffée. Most commonly prepared with shellfish like crawfish or shrimp, it was back in the 1950s that crawfish etouffée was introduced to restaurant goers in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, however the date of invention of this dish has been shown as early as the late 1920s. Originally crawfish étouffée was a popular dish mainly just in the bayous and backwaters of Louisiana amongst Cajuns in the area, but in the early 80’s a popular Bourbon Street restaurant called Galatoire’s brought the crawfish étouffée dish into the limelight. Even amongst the French Creoles this Cajun dish was a hit. Our recipe uses firm white fish, rather than shellfish, but is just as good! This recipe will serve 6.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches green onion, sliced*
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 pound firm, white fish, cut into large chunks (like Cod, Halibut or Flounder)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 ⅔ cups vegetable or vegetarian chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
rice to serve

* Click here to find out how to clean green onions.

Directions:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, stir in the flour until dissolved, and keep stirring until it turns a rich reddish-brown colour. Add the garlic, onion, green onions, green pepper and celery. Sauté until the vegetables become transparent, about 5-10 minutes. Mix in the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, cumin and Cajun seasoning. Once combined, add the chunks of fish, being careful not to break up the fish too much. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add the broth into the vegetable-fish mixture, taste for salt and pepper, and then let simmer until thickened, about 35 minutes. Serve over rice.

Freekeh Chicken with Root Vegetables and Prunes

Freekeh ChickenHere’s an easy one-pot meal with freekeh, chicken, parsnips, carrots, prunes, rosemary, thyme, tons of garlic, and broth. Don’t worry about the amount of garlic cloves that this recipe calls for though. Because the cloves are left whole, you get a more mild garlic taste, plus the whole cloves become sweet when braised. The prunes made a rich marriage between sweet and savoury, plus the tender chicken and chewy grain give you all the great texture!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup freekeh*
3 ¾ cups broth, vegetarian or chicken
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 ½ medium onions, diced
6-8 carrots medium, chopped
4-6 parsnips depending on size, sliced
9 cloves garlic, whole
1 ½ cup pitted prunes*
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme to taste*
sea salt, fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 tablespoon (or so) olive oil

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 345 degrees F. In a Dutch oven, or any oven proof pot with lid, pour the freekeh and broth in. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven (careful, it will be hot!) and add all of the remaining ingredients in the pot making sure that some of the prunes and onions get into the liquid below the chicken. Drizzle a little olive oil on all ingredients. Place lid on and put in the oven on the middle rack.

Drop the heat down to 200 degrees F and cook for 1 hour. Check on it, give it a stir, and cook until the chicken is fully opaque, and vegetables are tender. This is usually only about another 15-20 minutes. Note: Cooking times vary. For added browning, remove the lid for a few minutes during the final cooking stage. If you notice the freekeh becoming too dry, you can add more broth or oil at your discretion.

* To learn how to properly clean and check grains, prunes, rosemary and thyme, click here.

Tre Formaggio Arancini (Three Cheese Rice Balls)

Arancini

This recipe may seem a little labour intensive, but trust me, the end result is worth it!! Of course, it’s always easier if you just happen to have left over risotto sitting around your kitchen :). For those of us that don’t though, you’ll find this a very easy recipe as it does not involve the time consuming process that a regular risotto does. Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
½ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 ounces)
½ cup shredded fontina cheese (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs, divided
vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:

Bring the broth and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice, garlic and onion, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool completely (if you’re in a hurry, try sticking the sheet in the fridge or freezer!). Combine the pine nuts, mozzarella, fontina and parsley in a bowl and set aside. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then stir in the cooled rice mixture, the parmesan and ⅔ cup of the breadcrumbs. Shape the mixture into sixteen 1 ½ -inch balls. Put the remaining breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Press your finger into the centre of each rice ball, and insert 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture, then pinch the rice around the filling to seal. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Loosely cover and refrigerate, at least 1 hour or overnight. (If refrigerating overnight, roll in more breadcrumbs before frying). Heat ½ inch vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; season with salt. Enjoy hot with marinara sauce or plain!

Moroccan Spicy Lentil Soup

Spicy Lentil Soup

The recipe for this soup was passed around the office with rave reviews! It was originally published in the Toronto Star many moons ago, but has since become a staple in many of the houses of my co-workers. When they heard I was doing a Moroccan Week, it became a no brainer that I include this recipe! I hope you all enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions minced
1 clove garlic minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 cinnamon stick, about 2-3 inches in length
1 cup dried red lentils
5-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
796ml can diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
540ml can chick peas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

In a large pot, heat oil over a medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring every 3-5 minutes, until the onion has softened, but has not browned. Stir in the paprika, turmeric, cayenne and cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils, and mix until they are well coated. Stir in 5 cups of stock, tomatoes, salt, pepper and the bay leaf. Raise the heat to high, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Add the remaining cup of stock and stir in the chickpeas, parsley and lemon juice. Simmer uncovered for a minute or so. Discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Adjust the flavour as desired, adding more salt, pepper or lemon, then serve hot. Enjoy!

Best Minestrone Soup

Minestrone

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, diced
2 cups chopped celery
5 carrots, sliced in ¼” rounds
6 cups vegetable broth
1 796ml can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 769ml can crushed tomatoes
1 540ml canned kidney beans, drained
1 540ml can green beans, drained
2 cups baby spinach, rinsed and checked*
2 zucchinis, quartered and sliced
2 yellow squash, quartered and sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoons dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup pasta, seashell or ditalini, or your favourite shape
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Directions:

In a large stock pot, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil and sauté garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes. Add celery and carrots, sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth, diced and crushed tomatoes and bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and add kidney beans, green beans, spinach leaves, zucchini, squash, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, the longer the better. If the soup is too thick, or you would like more broth, you can add additional vegetable broth or water.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and add a heaping teaspoon of salt. You can omit the salt if you’re watching your sodium, but this is really your only chance to flavour the pasta itself. You could also add a teaspoon of bouillon to the water instead of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender. Drain water and set aside. Once pasta is cooked and soup is heated through place 2 tablespoons cooked pasta into individual serving bowls. Ladle soup on top of pasta and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

* To learn how to check spinach, click here.