Monday, May 26, 2008

Salmon Spinach Pastry

Salmon spinach pastry, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

S made this great-looking salmon spinach pastry last week. It's a recipe from his mom. I'm not joking—it really is only five ingredients! The secret is to use puff pastry that comes frozen in a package. The pastry is rolled up into two separately-wrapped tubes and this recipe uses one of those tubes.

This is the ultimate dinner-party food. It feeds six people, and looks so complicated that people will think you are a gourmet chef! But in fact, it's so easy that it has made me lose my fear of using pastry. There is some long-term prep, though. You have to salt the salmon the day before to get it to release some water.

Salmon Spinach Pastry

puff pastry (half a package)
one package frozen whole-leaf spinach (about 300 g)
250 g ricotta cheese
2 eggs
half of a whole fillet of salmon
Optional ingredients: half an onion, pan-fried and chopped fried bacon

Thaw the spinach in a bowl in the microwave (start with 6 to 8 minutes). When thawed, take out a handful at a time and squeeze out the juice. Chop up the spinach finely.

In a different bowl, add the egg and ricotta and mix with a fork. Stir in the spinach. Add salt. Add optional ingredients if using.

Presalt the salmon for a day and drain off the water. Take off the skin.

Thaw the pastry, about one-and-a-half minutes on low power. Roll it out with flour into a big rectangle about the size of a placemat.

Plunk the salmon on the pastry. If the fillet tapers to a point, you may have to cut off the pointy bit and put it over the bigger piece so that the salmon roughly becomes a square shape over the pastry. Cover the whole top with the ricotta mixture. Wet both ends of the pastry and fold up over the salmon. Leave a slit at the top to vent the salmon.

Bake at around 400 F (200 C) for 40-50 minutes or until pastry is browned.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Roasted Vegetable Tray Bake

On Wednesday, it was my turn to host girls' night. I made two tray bakes — my new favourite chicken recipe, roasted balsamic chicken, and my own recipe for assorted roasted vegetables that's also flavoured with balsamic vinegar.

Both are really easy dishes to make. I marinated the chicken the night before so it had 24 hours to soak up flavour. I just took it out of the fridge, put it in a tray and put the whole lot in the oven 45 minutes before we ate.

The key with the roasted vegetable tray bake is to keep the pieces nice and large, and wherever possible, the same size and shape. I also gave the veggies a 15-minute head start alone in the oven before I put in the chicken.

Roasted Vegetable Tray Bake

baby new potatoes
asparagus spears
roma tomatoes
red pepper
vidalia onion
one finger chilli pepper (long, slender, red cayenne pepper)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
fresh whole oregano sprigs

Wash all of the vegetables. Use as many of each as you want or have.

Make the veggie pieces approximately the same size. Keep the baby potatoes whole, or halve them if they are on the big side. Snap the woody stalks off the bottoms of the asparagus spears and keep them long and whole. Cut the roma tomatoes in half. Cut the red pepper into large pieces (about three inches or so). Cut the vidalia onion in half, and cut each half into eighths or largish chunks (there should be many layers of onion per chunk). Make a slit in the chilli pepper and scrape out the seeds while keeping it whole. Mince the garlic.

Cook the new potatoes and the asparagus spears for a couple of minutes in the microwave to give them a head start.

Put all of the veggies into a large roasting pan with high sides. Toss them together with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh oregano sprigs, and two or three splashes of balsamic vinegar. Make sure each veggie is coated.

Roast in a 400 F (200 C) oven for one hour. Halfway through, pull the tray out of the oven and toss the veggies around a bit. Before serving, remove the chilli pepper and the wilted oregano springs.

It was a dinner enjoyed by all, including Squeaky's chihuahua who always appreciates the efforts of his foodie friends :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

White Asparagus Soup

I made this soup for the Gastronati's German night. It has a very delicate, subtle flavour. Squeaky put me onto the idea, because she has lived in Germany and told me how much the people there are absolutely mad over this ivory-skinned vegetable. The asparagus season is really short, only a couple of weeks, but the Germans make the most of it. There are entire festivals and peeling competitions organized around its growing season. These asparaguses (asparagi?) grow underground. They have a pale complexion because, unlike their above-ground kin, they are never exposed to chlorophyll-producing sunlight.

White Asparagus Soup
serves six (click here to view Jennifer McGavin's recipe on

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Soft Pretzels

Here's the recipe for the soft pretzels made by Peanut Butter and Calimocho for the German Gastronati. These were deliciously crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They made two varieties — coarse salt, and garlic and parmesan.

Soft Pretzels
makes six large or 12 small pretzels

3 ½ cups flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 cup water, fairly warm but not hot
1 Tbsp yeast, dissolved in the water
1 Tbsp baking soda, mixed with 1 cup of boiling water in a small bowl
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl like for cereal

Mix the water, yeast, brown sugar and salt in a food processor or a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and mix until the dough is smooth. Add more flour if sticky. (If possible, let the dough sit overnight in a plastic container in the fridge.)

Now divide the dough into four, six or 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a very thin rope, a little bigger than a pencil. If you are only making four pretzels you can roll it to the thickness of a cigar and 36 inches long.

Shape into an upside down U shape on your table. Bring the ends together and twist them.

Flatten the ends with your fingers and bring to the top of the pretzel and press in the dough to secure, making it look like a

pretzel. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Now let the pretzels rise for 30 minutes or until about double in size.

Brush with the water-soda solution. For a chewier crust, mix two Tbsp of baking soda with 4 cups boiling water. Drop the pretzels in there for about 10 seconds and then lift out with a strainer or pancake turner.

Brush the pretzels with the egg and water whipped together in a small bowl. This gives the pretzel a nice, shiny glaze.

Sprinkle with toppings like coarse salt, garlic and parmesan cheese, cinnamon sugar and sesame seeds.

Bake in a hot oven, about 400 to 450 F (225 C) for 12 to 15 minutes or until well browned.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

White bean dip with pita chips

White bean dip with pita chips, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

This is a fantastic little appetizer from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian cookbook. It's made from cannellini beans, which have a very mild flavour on their own, but the addition of lemon and parsley wakes them up and brightens the flavour of the dip. As Giada says, it's the Italian answer to hummus.

This recipe makes six servings, but S and I (well, mostly me since S is not a big fan of beans) polished off nearly the whole thing for dinner one night.

White Bean Dip with Pita Chips

4 pita breads
2 Tbsp plus 1/3 olive oil
dried oregano
1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
the juice of half a lemon
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut each pita in half and then cut each half into eight wedges. Arrange on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle over the dried oregano and some salt and pepper. Back for eight minutes, then turn over and back until crisp and golden, about another eight minutes.

To make the dip, combine the beans, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse on and off until coarsely chopped. Run the processor again, this time adding 1/3 cup of olive oil in a steady stream until the dip is creamy. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with the pita wedges.

You can make this a day ahead. It's deliciouso!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Night of a Thousand Wontons

It was the night of a thousand wontons a couple Wednesdays ago when Squeaky, MV and I went to Em's house to make wontons after work. Em had prepared the filling beforehand. It was about one-and-a-half kilos of ground pork, frozen spinach and some other ingredients.

We rolled and pinched and squeezed until darkness fell and must have gone through seven or eight packets of wonton wrappers. You have to place a bit of filling in the centre, wet half of the wrapper with water, and then fold it up a certain way. When the last little wonton was safely rolled up we were all floured up to the elbows.

It was funny, because all of MVs wontons looked like tortellinis. Then after I found my folding groove, mine started looking, well, a little uncircumsized, if you know what I mean. Then, when we cooked them, they just looked like brains. So it was quite the anatomical evening. You know how these girls nights end up!

Em served the wontons in chicken broth with soy sauce and steamed broccoli and bok choy. We also all got a pie plate of frozen wontons to take home. It's two weeks later, and I am still eating them!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Gastronati in Germany

Last Friday night, the Gastronati gathered again for more great adventures in food. This time we taste-travelled to Germany, where Squeaky and Calimocho lived for four years. This was a really tough Gastronati for S and I to cook for. For a long time, we didn't know what to make. But in the end everyone came through with something unique. Peanut Butter and Calimocho had a male-bonding experience making giant pretzels together in the afternoon. (Jelly wisely ignored the cries of "pull, no wind it, wind it!" emanating from the kitchen during the pretzel-making session.) I brought a soup made of white asparagus, which seems to be the only vegetable the Germans eat besides potatoes, and S made a tasty potato herring salad (bottom right). Peanut Butter and Jelly made the schnitzel on the bottom left, and Squeaky brought the spaetzle (the German answer to pasta) pictured beside it on the plate. Recipes to come soon!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

In Season for May

It's May, and slowly but surely, the local harvest lists are growing longer and longer. And all you lucky beFOODies who live in Alberta can now enjoy asparagus every day this month — whoo hoo!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pasta Primavera

Pasta primaveraPasta primavera, originally uploaded by beFOODled.

Spring has literally just sprung in O-town, so there's not a whole lot in season quite yet. But I can't wait until the outdoor markets bring forth the fresh, local produce. In my haste to cook with the seasons this year, I've already made this delicious pasta primavera, adapted from the Shrimp and Artichoke Pasta recipe on Simply Recipes, with nice frozen peas and beans about three times in the past six weeks! Yes, I'm jumping the gun a bit, but I see it as practice until peas and beans are finally in season, and I can make it all over again with the fresh stuff! It's all about building a repertoire, you know ;)

Pasta Primavera
adapted from Simply Recipes

I adapted the recipe in the following way: I added a cup of lima beans and used artichoke pieces from a jar. I also tossed in a couple of handfuls of baby salad leaves (mesclun, spinach and arugula).

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