Category Archives: Dinner Party

Happy Mouth Facebook fans come to dinner!

Bourbon Tasting Party

This past weekend we noted the chill in the air and the naked trees. Time to experiment with the warming comfort of some amber liquid. Bourbons have become quite popular over the last little while. Rob has always liked them and I am learning to appreciate this drink. I got a bit of a taste for bourbon on our trips to New Orleans.

As with many alcoholic beverages, side by side comparison is a great way to find out what you like or don’t care for. We decided to host a bourbon tasting event with a small group of friends (8 is a nice number for this). Some of our guests were experienced, but everyone was learning.

Bourbon 1

On hand we had 9 bourbons for tasting. Elijah Craig, Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, Bulleit, Booker’s and Maker’s 46, and for research purposes, Buffalo Trace White Dog, an unoaked, young “fresh” bourbon (moonshine). We provided ice, small shot glasses for tiny tastes and comparison, and whiskey glasses for the committed.

A southern food theme seemed apropos. As well we included many smoked items and cheeses that pair well with bourbon. With that in mind, we decided on pork ribs basted in black currant sauce and cheese grits as main fare. The ribs were rubbed and slow-cooked and then glazed with a BBQ sauce that was made with bourbon and black current jam.

Bourbon 6

They were accompanied by smoked nuts, dark chocolate, smoked shrimps, scallops and salmon from Boucanerie Chelsea, pomegranate, persimmon, physallis and apple, a charcuterie platter with ham, peppered salami and summer sausage from The Piggy Market, and crackers paired with a strong Roquefort, Prima Donna, St. Angele, mimolette from Jacobson’s, and Gjetost cheese as well. The Gjetost is noteworthy because it is a caramel cheese that’s not sweet and really goes well with apple and bourbon.

Bourbon 5

Bourbon 8

Bourbon 13Small bottles of water on hand are also a good idea, to cut the bourbon if desired but also to help guests pace themselves. For dessert, Rob smoked some pecan and butter tarts with apple wood.  We had enjoyed the happy accidental marriage of pecan pie and wood smoke in Nachez, Mississippi and were trying to recreate it with limited success. The smoke was a little bitter. Pecan chips might be the way to go.

Bourbon 7Guests tried and experimented throughout the evening, the women settling in and committing sooner. Personally I already knew I enjoyed Elijah Craig but found that I also really liked Basil Hayden’s. Both are smooth and milder than the more spicy, peppery choices offered. Side by side tasting really allows you to discover. Near the end of the evening, one of the guys got brave enough to open the White Dog. We included this for learning purposes. This is where Bourbon starts. And ends, had it been the first thing I tried that evening.

Bourbon 4White Dog. What can I say. This should be partaken of, upon reflection, only if the occasion arises where you are in your car. You have already tossed the gun out of the window, are being pursued by police at a high rate of speed and are about to hit the the tire spikes at the road block erected in your honour and then die in a hail of gunfire. Vile. I consumed less than a half teaspoon and my throat was as raw as if I had vomited bile for 24 hours. Not recommended.

 

 

 

Goan Dinner Party

I have wanted to cook Goan food since our trip to Austin, Texas and a visit to G’raj Mahal in February. The layered, warmly-spiced, creamy sauces are intoxicating. Goa, being a northern coastal region of India, incorporates a lot of chilies, coconut milk and seafood into their dishes. The heat of our current summer also made me want some spice and beer, to share with good friends on a lazy weekend.

Indian food is the kind of cooking I love. It begins with perusing my cookbooks and the web for recipes, a trip to an ethnic grocery store, and an entire day cooking in the kitchen. Zen.

Naan bread was purchased from our local Indian takeout joint. Unless you have a tandoor oven, naan is never quite right.

Our Menu

  • Naan
  • Chicken Makhani
  • Saag Paneer
  • Aloo Gobi
  • Goan-style Coconut Shrimp Curry
  • Coconut Scented Basmati Rice
  • Coconut Sport Ice Cream with Grilled Pineapple and Candied Fennel Seeds


Chicken Makhani
(adapted from online recipes posted by Sayed Saquib)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, slit to absorb marinade.

Marinade:
1 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 cup yogurt (I used goat’s milk yogurt)
1 cup white vinegar
2 tsp ginger/garlic paste (available at Indian grocers)*

Sauce:
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp ginger/garlic paste
1/4 cup grated khoya
1/4 cup ground cashews**
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, plus 1/4 juice
1 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp all spice
2 1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 cup cream

Method:
1. Marinate chicken for at least 15 minutes or longer. Remove from marinade and discard marinade.
2. Grill chicken on bbq for 15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes and then cut into large chunks and put aside.
3. Heat butter in a large saucepan and saute ginger/garlic paste until it begins to brown.
4. Add khoya and ground cashews.
5. Stir in remaining ingredients except cream and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
6. Turn heat to low and stir in cream.
7. Add chicken back in and heat through for 10 minutes.

Serve with basmati rice or naan bread. This recipe is even better if made in the morning and left to sit all day in  the fridge so the flavours can develop.

* Ginger/garlic paste is sold in small and large bottles. It is a nice time saver in many Indian and Asian dishes that call for both ingredients, and provides a more mellow flavor than raw ginger and garlic. You will not find yourself burping up garlic after the fact.

**I use an electric coffee grinder to grind spices and nuts (I don’t grind coffee in it ever as that would flavour both the spices and the coffee).

For a printable version of this recipe, click HERE.

 

Ginger-Garlic Paste – a nice time-saver.
Ground cashew – a wonderful, rich thickener.

Saag Paneer (adapted from Canadian Living Magazine, September 2009)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
11 ounce pkg of spinach (baby spinach, washed and ready to use)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seed, toasted for about 10 seconds and then ground in a mortar and pestle
1 onion finely chopped
1 tbsp ghee or butter
3 tsp garlic /ginger paste or 3 cloves of garlic minced and 2 tsp finely grated ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp cayenne and a pinch of Kashmiri red chili powder if you have it. It adds a nice heat.
1/2 tsp salt
1/ tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch cinnamon
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped***
Just under 1/3 cup of cream
1/3 cup roasted cashews, ground
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp garam masala
8 ounce pkg paneer, cubed

Method:
1. In a large pot of water, blanch spinach until just wilted; drain, chill under cold water and drain again. Reserve a 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Puree the liquid, cashews and spinach in a food processor or blender until smooth.
2. In a large, deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and ghee, cook until onion is golden, about 8 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic/ginger paste. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in fresh cilantro, cayenne, kashmiri red chili powder, salt, ground coriander, turmeric and cinnamon. Cook, stirring until very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and continue to cook until tomatoes break down, about three minutes.
4. Stir in spinach mixture, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until steaming hot, about more three minutes.
5. Measure out the cream in a small bowl. Whisk a little of the hot spinach mixture into the cream to temper it so it won’t curdle. Add to hot saucepan. Stir in lemon juice and garam masala. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and add paneer. Cook covered until heated through, about two minutes.

*** To peel tomatoes easily for this recipe, put a large saucepan of water on to boil (you need it to blanch the spinach anyways). Cut deep crosses in the bottom of the tomatoes. When water boils, drop them in for about 15 seconds. Remove and run under cold water while slipping the skins off.

For a printable version of this recipe, click HERE.

Aloo Gobi (adapted from www.quickindiancooking.com)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
3 very large red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cauliflower cut into florets
1 tbsp ghee
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 tsp garlic/ginger paste or 1 clove garlic minced and 1/2 inch ginger, grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup frozen peas

1. Heat the ghee and fry the onion and garlic/ginger paste. Throw in the potatoes, turmeric, chili powder, coriander and cumin.Add about a 1/2 cup of water, cover and cook the potatoes.
2. When the potatoes are almost cooked but still a little resistant to a fork, add the cauliflower. Cover the pot until cauliflower becomes soft. Be sure to add the cauliflower before the potatoes are fully cooked otherwise they will overcook. Toss in the frozen peas and heat through
3. Add salt and garam masala. Dish should be dry.

For a printable version of this recipe, click HERE.

Goan-style Coconut Shrimp Curry (Adapted from Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
2 pounds wild-caught gulf shrimp
1/2 tsp kosher salt plus 1/2 tsp
1/4 tsp black pepper plus a 1/4 tsp
1/8 tsp cayenne and/or Kashmiri red chili powder for more heat (this dish is not hot)
Juice of two limes
1/4 cup canola oil
4 dried red chilies
2 tsp garlic/ginger paste or 2 cloves garlic minced and 1 inch ginger, minced
1 sweet, white onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
8-10 curry leaves (optional)
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tbsp tamarind paste concentrate (available at Asian Markets)
1/2 tsp medium curry powder
1 can coconut milk
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Method:
1. Peel and clean shrimp. Place in a resealable freezer bag. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, cayenne and lime juice. Mix well. Put in refrigerator and marinate for a half hour but not longer. If you need more time for prep or waiting on guests, take the shrimp out of the marinade at this time so the citrus does not “cook” the shrimp.
2. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, combine oil and chilies and cook for about two minutes. add 1/4 tsp black pepper and cook for another minute. Add garlic/ginger paste, onion, and 1/2 tsp salt. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ground coriander, turmeric, shredded coconut and curry leaves. Continue sauteing for another minute until fragrant.
3. Reduce heat to medium low and add tomatoes and their juices and the tamarind paste. Stir, scraping sides and bottom of pot, for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.
4. Stir in curry powder and cook for 1 minute. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil and add shrimp. Simmer until shrimp are opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro.
5. Serve with basmati rice.

For a printable version of this recipe, click HERE.

 

Coconut-Scented Basmati Rice
Using the traditional stove top method or in a rice cooker, make enough rice for your guests. Substitute coconut water, widely available now, for the water or cooking liquid.

Coconut Sport Ice Cream with Grilled Pineapple and candied Fennel Seed
Purchase cardamom, coconut (coconut “sport” or macapuno, being a mutant variety of coconut with softer, juicier meat), or mango ice cream, whatever your heart desires. Get a denuded, cored fresh pineapple at your grocers and cut it into 6 rings. Grill it to cook it and bring out its sweetness. Get some nice grill marks on there. Take it off the grill and cut it into chunks and toss with a little brown sugar and butter. Serve over ice cream and sprinkle with candied fennel seeds –  which Rob could not find at the Indian Food market but curiously found them at Loblaws.

The meal was a huge success. Here are our impressions of each dish:

  • Naan – We didn’t make this but it was great Naan – rich, slightly sweet and savoury and great for not wasting a drop of those amazing sauces.
  • Chicken Makhani – Rich and luscious.  The goat-yogurt marinated chicken was grilled before adding to the sauce, so the charred and caramelized smokiness was a great foil for the bright tomato and yogurt flavours.
  • Saag Paneer – This was surprisingly the spiciest item on the menu, no doubt, due to the Kashmiri red chili powder. This dish tasted like it had the most ingredients of the night. This saag was unlike others I have tried which tend to be simpler side dishes.
  • Aloo Gobi – Potatoes, cauliflower, chilies, spices, peas — yum. What’s not to like?
  • Goan-style Coconut Shrimp Curry – The star fo the show to be sure. Creamy, coconut-sweet, rich, spicy, but never overpowering the sweet delicate flavour of the shrimp. This is the style I yearned for the most since our visit to G’raj Mahal. The best of Goan-style cuisine.
  • Coconut Scented Basmati Rice – A great staple dish to carry the sauces.
  • Coconut Sport Ice Cream with Grilled Pineapple and Candied Fennel Seeds – A fitting tribute to the tropical, coastal flavours of Goa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authentic Irish Coffee

You used to see Irish Coffee on the dessert drink menus in the 80’s but now rarely. It has been replaced by Spanish or Brazilian coffee concoctions that are overly sweet, with a sugared rim and whipped edible oil product. Cherry on top. Worse, if you do spy Irish coffee, it is Spanish coffee dressed up with a  shot of Bailey’s. I vaguely remember my parents owning a set of Irish coffee glasses, but I think they just ended up as adornments for my dad’s rec room bar. Irish coffee seems to have had its moment in the sun and then faded away, allowing its gaudy cousins to take the stage. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that Irish Coffee was likely invented in the late 40’s in Shannon, Ireland by a chef at the port. He added a shot of whiskey to coffee, to warm chilly passengers. The owner of the Buena Vista in San Fransisco tried in earnest to recreate the recipe but could not. He traveled to Shannon to get it and he brought it back to the United States.

Pepper and Chibi, our welcoming committee at Meg and Pat's, for our reintroduction to Irish Coffee.

My friend Meg introduced me to authentic Irish coffee in her home one day. I was skeptical at first because there is very little sugar in the drink. I take a full teaspoon in my Timmies. She assured me this is how her Grandmother made them and the way it was made in Ireland. Irish coffee is a good strong brew with a shot of Irish whiskey, topped with barely sweetened thick cream that floats on the surface. The coffee is drunk through the cream. The “head” remains as you drain the glass as it would on a well-poured Guinness.

Meg came to know of this recipe in a round-about manner. While working in Halifax, an Irish client, originally from Belfast, was astonished that a good Irish girl did not know how to make an honest-to-goodness real Irish coffee. He took it upon himself to share the recipe and technique with Meg who had been too young to learn it from her Grandmother. Meg later made the drink for her own mother who exclaimed “that’s exactly how my mother made it!” So a recipe comes full circle and here it is:

Meg’s Grandmother’s Authentic Irish Coffee.

Whipping cream at room temperature, lightly whipped to just before the peaking stage. It should still run off the back of a spoon.
about a teaspoon of brown sugar sprinkled over the cream
1 ounce per glass of Irish Whiskey (Jameson’s)
Coffee (Happy Goat in a french press is nice)

Whip the cream and sugar to just before peaking. Put cream into a vessel you can pour from. Rinse your Irish coffee glasses in hot water to pre-warm if desired. Pour an ounce of whiskey into the glass. Fill the glass to within an inch of the top with hot coffee. Pour the cream into the coffee over the back of a spoon. This allows the cream to float on top of the coffee instead of sinking. No cherry. No sugared rim. The simplicity of this drink allows quality ingredients to shine. The naturally sweet cream is delicious without a ton of added sugar. The teaspoon of sugar is necessary to help the cream float (according to Wikipedia). Authentic Irish coffee is a real treat and a lost art that you need to discover and share with friends on a chilly night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easiest Potluck Dish That Wows

Easy Potluck RecipeIf you’re like me and don’t have any money/quiver in terror at the thought of having to prepare a dish for other people (except for your boyfriend who has to eat what you make before he goes to work in the evenings or he starves), this dish is perfect for you. So, you can relax and focus on what’s really important: Removing things in your medicine cabinet because you know your friends are snoopy.

I make this side dish every time we host a medium-to-large dinner party or holiday dinner in our apartment. It doesn’t take long, which is always nice when oven space is at a premium. It’s generally really cheap to make, tastes delicious and is subject to oohs and aahs when unveiled to a crowd.

I stole this recipe from my boyfriend’s mom. She makes it on similar occasions, but she puts carrots in it too. I skip the carrots because then there’s room for more cheese. It has no name, other than that “cheesy broccoli thing”, but my friends have tried to make “Pillsbury broccoli delight” catch on.

This is a perfect potluck side dish as well. I made this for my very first potluck and it turned out great, although while it was baking I made a frantic phone call to my parents asking what the general potluck etiquette was when it came to getting your dish back because my dishware was new at the time and I wanted it back. My mom assured me when I was leaving the host would wash it for me and give it back, which is exactly what happened. Phew. She also suggested adding pretty shapes.

Easy Potluck Recipe
"Does this mean you're going out tonight?"

You’ll need:

Baking dish (red Kitchen-aid dishware is the most impressive)
Cooking spray
3 tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (keep each of these in the fridge until the last second. This means when the recipe calls for one tube, you go get one tube out of the fridge and leave the rest in there or it will be a big sticky mess)
1 block (the big package!) of cheddar cheese, the older or sharper the better, grated
2-3 big heads of fresh broccoli, chopped into pieces
Parchment paper
Cookie cutters

And it goes like this:

1. Lube up the baking dish with a thin layer of cooking spray, paying extra special attention to the corners and the sides.

2. Spread one tube of crescent roll dough across the bottom of the dish, and squish together the little dotted lines on the dough with your fingers.

3. Bake this layer for 8-10 minutes or so at about 350, until reasonably cooked.

Easy Potluck Recipe
The first layer, baked in advance. If you're not pressed for time, you can skip this step, but it is difficult to discern whether or not the bottom layer is truly cooked once it is all constructed.

4. Cover the first layer of cooked dough with broccoli pieces.

Easy Potluck Recipe
The broccoli layer. This is the coverage you should be striving for.

5. Spread the cheese over the broccoli, filling up all of the nooks and crannies (especially the crannies).

Easy Potluck Recipe
The cheese layer. Crannies: filled.

6. Cover with another tube of crescent roll dough, stretching it out as much as possible to cover all of the broccoli and cheese. Pinch the seams in the dough together with your fingers.

Easy Potluck Recipe
Do your best, those Pillsbury crescent roll seams are tricky.

Here’s where we get fancy! I’ve served this plenty of times without the shapes on top, but I don’t think I’ll do it any other way after doing it with the shapes the last time.

7. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and lightly spray it with cooking spray.

8. Roll out the last tube of dough onto the parchment paper. Pinch together the seams yet again to make one smooth sheet of dough.

9. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place them on the dish.

Easy Potluck Recipe
I only have Christmas cookie cutters, and the only other shapes were snowmen and candy canes. I didn't think they would come off well.

 

 

 

You cannot ball up this dough and roll it out again, it just doesn’t work no matter what you do. Do you see the tiny, mangled, ugly star in the bottom right-hand corner up there? That’s what happens when you try to recycle the dough. Just never try. Maximize the amount of shapes you can make to the best of your ability.

Bake the entire thing as long as you can in the middle of the oven at about 350. You need to keep it in the oven a while to make sure the broccoli cooks and the cheese melts, but you don’t want to burn the top dough layer. I’ve found it usually takes between 15-20 minutes, but if your dough layer isn’t too brown yet – keep going. If you didn’t bake the bottom layer first, you need to keep it in the oven until the top layer just can’t take it anymore.

10. Impress your friends! Also, you can add shredded chicken and make it a meal.

Easy Potluck Recipe
BOOM. Tastes even better the next day as leftovers!

 

Other Springtime Traditions

It never fails to amaze me how much energy is expended every April, by my frozen patch of  planet, in a renewed quest to become lush with verdant life almost over night and certainly before my very eyes. Trees literally pop to life. Sap warms and begins begins to course through veins, buds swell, a bright green haze signals the advent of a new season and an electrical surge seems to pass through the earth to ignite us humans, causing us to smile, be a little giddy and drunk with sunshine, clean out closets and share large meals with loved ones.

Spring brings us Easter and Passover. Both traditions have deeply-rooted food experiences. Our families’ Christian traditions included glazed ham with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries, studded with cloves, potato scallop, or turkey and all the trimmings. And Family. And Chocolate. And Peeps. And those horrible, pure sugar pink and purple eggs, that peg the sugar index just below maple sugar candy, which we ate anyways. My teeth hurt just remembering.

Not sure what the other side ate. It did not include the “bunny” and that was enough for me to ignore it. Now as an adult, I don’t celebrate the religious end of things but instead, I love to appreciate the beginning of things, the rebirth of my garden, city and world, with friends, family and food. This year, since we can just go to the store and buy as many chocolate bunnies, eggs, and coloured cellophane grass  as we please, Rob and I thought it might be interesting to experience some of the goodies that Passover has to offer. We are not being attentive to any religious dietary restrictions, as we are interested purely in the food experience. Chocolate bunnies will be present as my kids are still my kids at any age.

12 pm Easter Sunday: Noodle kugel is warm from the oven, and the brisket is going in for a long braise. Tzimmes (which is almost like a chutney) is simmering on the stove top, smelling oddly enough of Christmas, I think because of the cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, vanilla and orange.

The brisket recipe is adapted from many found on the web, but mostly, I followed The Pioneer Woman’s excellent blog posting. It’s a 6-lb. brisket that’s been trimmed of excess fat and placed in a roasting pan. In a separate bowl, I mixed about 2 cups of ketchup, 1 cup of grape jelly (really!) and a packet of onion soup mix, which is then poured over both sides of the brisket. I cooked the brisket at 275 degrees F for 6 hours, turning it over  and spooning the sauce on top halfway through. When it was done, I removed the brisket to a cutting board and cut it into 1/4 inch-or-so slices and poured the sauce into a large enough serving dish to hold both the sauce and brisket slices. I then transferred the slices to the sauce.

The meal was warming and delicious. The brisket and sauce was accompanied by the tzimmes, steamed green beans and smashed potatoes. We had the Kugel for dessert although Jewish friends have since told us that the kugel, despite its custardy sweetness is a side. A real Passover meal  would likely have a choice of a couple flourless cakes for dessert. Of course, this certainly wasn’t meant to be authentic – we used butter where we shouldn’t have, for example – but it was wildly successful as a tasty exploration of another set of traditions.