Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I am the Canadian Lentil! Hear me roar (from the canned beans aisle...)

Canadian Crisps with Red Lentils and Maple Syrup

If the lowly lentil was standing before me feeling dejected, for never being picked to play on the food dish team, I would tell this little powerhouse of nutrients to hold her head high and remind her that she is high in protein and fibre and low in fat, that her plant is environmentally friendly because it fixes nitrogen into the soil which reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and, that her culinary roots date back to prehistoric times in Ancient Greece.
“Sure, sure” she might sniffle, “but why is no one picking me to play a leading role in their party dishes?” “I’m snazzy in my red and green colours. I’m approachable and friendly: available dried or pre-cooked AND I don’t even need to be pre-soaked before cooking! But maybe folks can’t find me in the grocery store? That’s it, I’ll tell them I usually hang out in the same aisle as canned beans.”  

Actually, Ms. Lowly Lentil you should tell folks that you play really well with others! We both know, cooked and pureed red lentils make a great addition to vegetable dishes like mashed sweet potatoes, vegetarian loaves and burgers, or baked goods like cakes, muffins, and cookies. Whole green lentils keep their shape when cooked and add variety and colour to stews, soups, and salads. 

Best of all Ms. Lentil, I like your nutty, Canadian style. Gesh, that’s it! Drop the Lowly Lentil, I’m-sorry Routine and shout from the grocery store shelves, I AM A CANADIAN LENTIL and my country is the largest grower and exporter of lentils in the world!  Pick me! Pick me!”

In the meantime, I’ll try to boost your popularity with these recipes, eh?

Canadian Crisps with Red lentils and Maple Syrup
2 cups Buttermilk (I used the dry Bulk Barn buttermilk: 1/4 cup of the dry mix to 2 cups water and mix well)
½ cup cooked lentils (I used ½ split red lentils covered in water and cooked on simmer for 10 minutes, Just make sure the water is one inch about the lentils in the pot. Drain very well and cool for this recipe)
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
½ cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a food processor (or with a strong arm), mix together buttermilk, lentils, brown sugar, and maple syrup until smooth.
In a big bowl, stir together flour, soda and salt. Add the buttermilk mixture, then add the cranberries and remaining seeds. Stir just until blended. Store about 21 times and no more!
Grease two small (8 inch by 4 inch) loaf pans. Pour batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top of each feels springy. Test for doneness with a long sharp knife which inserted should come out clean. When done, place pans on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then flip the loaves onto the rack. Let the two loaves for another 24 hours.
The next day, when the loaves have cooled completely, using a VERY sharp bread knife, slice the loaves as thinly as possible. Lay the slices flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 20 minutes. They should be crispy and well-toasted and dried out when done (kind of like biscotti!) Bake them for a little longer if they are not crisp. Let them cool in a single layer on wire racks.
Voila. You will have fancy, schmancy whole grain crisps to delight your friends with your favourite cheeses!

Roasted Pears and Lentil Tart
1 pkg defrosted puff pastry
1 egg lightly beaten
2 tbsp bread crumbs
2 Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced
½ cup green lentils (if canned, rinse and drain well)
¼ cup currants, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, then drained well
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp melted butter

2 tbsp maple syrup to drizzle over top of tarts when serving

Set oven to 450F. Cut the puff pastry in half. On a very lightly floured surface, roll each piece of pastry to about 1/8 thickness. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and place rolled pastry on top.
Lightly brush to egg around the border of each pastry piece. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of breadcrumbs evenly on each piece within the one inch frame.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the pears, lentils, currants, walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and mix.
Divide the mixture evenly in half and spread onto the two tart pastry pieces. Distribute evenly. Bake the tarts for 25 minutes.
Drizzle with honey.

Note: As a variation, you may use phyllo pastry and layer the ingredients within sheets of phyllo. Be sure to keep the sheets covered as you work. For tips on baking with phyllo, search “phyllo” on my blog.

Nutty Red Lentil Loaf with Cranberries
2/3 cup red lentils
1 cup hazelnuts
1 cup walnuts
1 large carrot
2 celery sticks
1 large onion, sliced
1/3 mushrooms
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp mild curry powder
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2/3 cup water
Simmer the lentils in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain well. Chop the nuts in a food
processor, then set aside. Chop the carrot, celery, onion and mushrooms into small chunks.
Fry the vegetables in butter for 5 minutes then stir in the curry powder and cook for a minute. Cool. Mix the lentils with the nuts, vegetables and remaining ingredients.

Grease and line the base and sides of a 2 lb loaf pan with parchment paper or a sheet of foil.
Press the mixture into the pan. Preheat the oven to 375F and bake the loaf for about 1 hour until just a little firm. Cover the top of the loaf with a piece of foil if it starts to burn. Allow the mixture to stand in the pan for about 15 minutes before you turn ii out of the pan. Peel off the paper or foil very carefully. The loaf will be soft and moist when you slice it. Serve with cranberries or your favourite chutney.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympics vs Valentine's Day? Team up with your freezer!

Freezer-Friendly Non-smoking Cinnamon Phyllo Cigars.

As the Olympics and Valentine’s Day move in with competing agendas you ask: how can I sport the least amount of apron-time in the kitchen and still defend my title as a Culinary Casanova? You want to show your patriotic love for your country’s athletes AND still impress your Twinkle Toes with your best triple-jump-gastronomic maneuvers on the BIG day. May I suggest…in between luging, the biathlon, cross country skiing and medal presentations… why not whip up a few freezable appetizers, entrees, and desserts? Fall in love with your freezer all over again and embrace the clever invention of Clarence Birdseye.

With the goal of  preserving fresh foods to serve to his family year round—and oodles of Olympian determinationMr. Birdseye not only invented a system for fast-freezing fresh food, he also designed a foolproof packaging system for containing the goods.  His $7 dollar investment in 1923 in an electric fan, buckets of brine and a few cakes of ice earned him a cool $22 million six years later when he sold his patents and trademarks to the Goldman-Sachs Trading Corporation and the Postum Company, which later became the General Foods Corporation. Quite the podium-worthy accomplishment for a simple Brooklyn taxidermist-by-day and family chef-by-night, wouldn’t you say? 

Food experts now agree that the processing and quality of frozen foods, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, have come a long way since the 1930s. Caterers and hoteliers, for instance, now quietly admit that store-bought frozen phyllo and puff pastries happily take the guesswork out of producing these time-consuming little pastry numbers. And let’s face it, whether you’re a pastry artist or Olympic champion, it’s all about executing a perfect performance, getting to the finish line in record time and looking like a pro.

Now it’s your turn to step up. Here are a few freezer friendly recipes to inspire your Olympic dreams and complement your already outstanding, medal-worthy culinary skills.  Ready, set, Sochi!

Goat Cheese Fig Puff Pastry Mini-Tarts
Equipment needed:
Two 12 cup mini-tart pans
One,  two-and-one half inch diameter cookie cutter or glass or cup

Note: this recipe makes about 18-20 tarts. Use dough-scraps and reroll to cut out more.

1 300 g pkg Goat Cheese
1 8 oz (227 g) pkg Calimyrna Figs- finely chopped (I used scissors for this)
2 tbsp port sherry

1 pre-rolled sheet of 450 g Presidents Choice puff pastry (Note: one pkg contains two plastic wrapped rolls)

Preheat oven to 375F.
In a large bowl, beat together goat cheese, chopped figs and port sherry.
Unroll one sheet of butter puff pastry on a clean work surface or on top of parchment roll package. Be sure to keep pastry covered as you go to prevent it from drying out. Using a two-and-one-half inch diameter round cookie cutter, cut out circles and gently fit each circle into the openings in the pan. Reroll pastry scrapes as you go, cut out and fit into cups. This recipe makes roughly 18-20 tarts). TIP: Fill empty tart openings with a little water to prevent scorching.
Using a teaspoon, spoon about 1 tsp to 1 ½ tsp of goat cheese mixture into each pastry cup.
Bake at 375 on the middle rack for 25 minutes until very lightly browned around the edges.
Serve immediately.  OR, freeze tarts in a flat cookie tin or box.  To reheat, place frozen tarts on rimmed, flat cookie sheets and reheat @ 350 for about 15 minutes.
Mix goat cheese with 1/3 cup drained, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds. Omit port sherry.

Mix goat cheese with 1/3 cup cooked, chopped bacon and ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese. Add port sherry if you wish.

Mix goat cheese with 1/3 cup shelled and chopped pistachios, 3 tbsp maple syrup and ½ tsp curry.

Gorgonzola Pasta Sauce
I freeze this recipe in ½ cup plastic containers. Thaw in the refrigerator. In a small saucepan, reheat over the lowest possible heat setting. DO not let it boil or it will curdle. Serve over past and/or chicken.

¼ cup butter
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup white wine
1 ¼ cups half and half cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Gorgonzola, crumbled
Have all ingredients measured and prepared. Heat butter in large skillet then add the garlic and sauté until light brown. Add wine and simmer for two minutes. Add cream and cook on medium heat until cream begins to bubble, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheese.
Sugared-Cinnamon Pecans (A nice pre-dinner snack or salad addition)
I store these nuts in a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer to have ready as a salad-topper or a snack anytime. Allow nuts to warm to room temperature before adding to the salad.

2 tbsp Canola oil
2 cups pecans
1/8 tsp EACH: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
2 tbsp sugar

Heat oil over medium heat in large fry pan. Stir in nuts. Heat about 3-5 minutes on medium heat until heated and very light brown. Stir frequently and watch carefully to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Mix spices and sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over nuts and stir well. Line a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place nuts in a thin even layer and toast at 3250F for 8-10 min, stirring at 3 min intervals until fragrant and lightly browned. Again, stir often and watch carefully to prevent scorching.

Quick Red Pepper Coulis (Perfect with Chicken or drizzled over Cod)
I freeze this coulis in small ¼ cup plastic containers. Thaw each portion in the refrigerator and drizzle over meat or fish dishes or drizzle over soups.
1 cup bottle roasted peppers, drained
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt and pepper
Whirl all ingredients together in a mini food chopper OR chop and whisk ingredients together by hand.

Cilantro Pesto (Excellent with Cod, Trout or Halibut)
Again, I freeze this pesto in small ¼ cup plastic containers. Thaw each portion in the refrigerator as needed. Drizzle over fish entrees.
1 cup Cilantro leaves-finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves
3 tbsp white-wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
Finely chop cilantro and place in a bowl. Mince garlic and add to cilantro. Whisk in vinegar, then oil. Or place all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and purée.

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
(Excellent on crostini/with crackers or stuffed in a chicken breast with brie cheese)
This recipe can be frozen in small ¼ cup size plastic containers and thawed in the refrigerator as needed.
½ cup almonds, slivered
2 garlic gloves
1 cup drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes
Pinch salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

In food processor, chop nuts with garlic until coarsely ground. Add sundried tomatoes, salt and pepper, pulse until finely chopped. Keep the food processor motor running and add the oil in a thin steady stream until smooth.
Other optional alternatives/additions:
Use walnuts instead of almonds.
Add 3 tbsp currants, (pre-soaked in hot water, drained)
Vegetarian Strudel
NOTE: This recipe makes TWO Phyllo pastry strudel logs and serves 6-8 people. Each serving is about 4 inches long. It can be prepared ahead of time and baked a few hours later.
To freeze this recipe: bake it completely and freeze afterwards.  Thaw it in the refrigerator. Then, place strudel logs on a baking sheet and reheat at 350F for about 20 minutes. Cover with foil (loosely) if they are browning too quickly and lower heat to 325F.

2-3 heads of garlic (If you like a lot of garlic, use 3!)
1 medium onion cut into small cubes
2 carrots, cut into cubes
1 red or yellow pepper diced
1 250g celeriac, peeled and diced (This is a very ugly looking vegetable. It reminds me of Nanny McPhee. It looks like a rutabaga with warty veins. Despite its ugly appearance it adds wonderful flavour to soups and vegetarian dishes)
2 roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
(optional: add 1 parsnip cut into cubes or 1 cup cubed squash)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh rosemary or ½ tsp dried
1 tbsp fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried

2 cups pearl wheat*see Note below (look in the grains aisle of the grocery store for pearl wheat) or rice or quinoa - cooked
125 ml goat cheese
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

10 sheets Phyllo Pastry
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp water
½ cup dry breadcrumbs, seasoned with a pinch of thyme, oregano and basil

Preheat oven to 400F

Garlic- cut the top quarter off the head of each garlic. Wrap in foil and set aside. Place chopped carrots, parsnip, pepper, celeriac and tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme. Line a large roasting pan with a rimmed edge, with parchment paper. Spread vegetable mixture evenly over the sheet.

Place the garlic and vegetables in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. Toss at 10 – 15 minute intervals. They are ready when slightly brown and garlic is soft when squeezed.

Place vegetables in a bowl and allow to cool. Squeeze garlic cloves out of skins and over the vegetables. Toss gently to mix. Add cooked pearl wheat, or rice or quinoa, goat cheese and basil. Add more seasoning if you wish.
Note: The trick with phyllo pastry is to work fast. Keep pastry to be worked covered otherwise it will dry out and crumble. Cover the unworked pastry with a damp tea towel and a plastic layer over top.

Arrange two tea towels in a single layer on a work surface, like a counter or table top. Place a sheet of Phyllo on each tea towel. Brush each sheet, quickly, with olive oil and water mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs overtop. Repeat this process until you have 5 layers in each stack.
Place filling along the long edge of the each stack. Roll up jellyroll style. You can use the tea towel to help nudge the roll along.
Line a large flat baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully transfer the rolls to the baking sheet. Slash through the top layers of Phyllo on the diagonal in 4-inch intervals to guide you for serving pieces. Brush each log with remaining oil mixture.

Bake in 400F degree oven for about 35-40 minutes until well browned and crisp.

To cook Pearl Wheat:
In a large saucepan, place 1 cup pearl wheat and about 5 cups water in pan. The wheat should be covered by about 3-4 inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until wheat puffs up, is chewy and firm but not mushy. Drain in colander and allow to cool. You will have about 3 cups of cooked pear wheat when done. Freeze in one cup servings and use for soups or other vegetarian recipes.

Non-Smoking Easy Cinnamon Phyllo Cigars
These little treats freeze very well and take very little time to thaw. Store in an airtight container between layers of wax paper. 
Honest: They that taste just like Baklava!
Makes about 20 rolls or cigars
½ cup chopped pistachios walnuts, and/or pecans
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
pinch of nutmeg

¼ cup melted butter
2 tbsp honey

8 phyllo pastry sheets

Toast chopped nuts at 350F for 5-7 minutes or until fragrant. Let cool. Mix together sugar, cinnamon; cloves, nutmeg and cooled nuts. Set aside. Mix melted butter with honey and blend well. Lay one sheet of phyllo on work surface. Brush completely with butter/honey mixture. Lay another sheet on top and brush again. Cut these 2 buttered sheets width wise into 5 even strips, about 3 ½” wide. Place 1 ½ tsp filling on one end and ½” from sides. Roll up, tucking in sides on the first and second turns. Seal with melted butter and place seam side down 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. (Covered prepared and unbaked rolls with a sheet of plastic.) Brush very lightly with remaining melted butter. During the last 5 min of baking, sprinkle remaining nut mixture over the centre of each roll. Bake in a 350F oven for 15 minutes until golden. (Watch carefully.)

Note: Any sweet or savoury filling can be used with this easy-to-assemble recipe.

Rosemary Butter cookies (Old fashioned icebox cookies)
You’ll need a food processor or your own brute strength to whip these up. Get your motors running…
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups white all-purpose flour
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (chop finely with scissors)
1 tsp coarse salt

Roll logs in:
1 egg white, beaten
½ cup white sugar

In a food processor, mix together butter and sugar on low speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla then pulse on low speed until mixed in. Add Rosemary and salt and mix on low speed until combined and mixed.
Remove dough from machine and divide in half. Place one of the two  pieces on parchment paper or wax paper on counter or cutting board and roll into a 12 inch log, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Smooth out log and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper or saran and place in freezer. Repeat with second piece of dough. Freeze until quite firm. 1 hr or overnight.
Heat oven to 375F. Remove logs from freezer. They should be firm but fairly easy to slice with a sharp knife. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Brush with egg white and roll in white sugar. Cut into ¼ inch slices and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place about ½ inch apart. Oven racks should be in the middle of the oven. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 18 to 22 minutes. Cool on a rack. Store in the fridge or freeze. Excellent with sliced Cantaloupe and vanilla frozen yogurt!