Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sliders and Rosemary Mayonnaise

I’m not going to lie….a slider is just a burger only pint size.  That doesn’t change the fact that they are  hot, hot, hot right now!  You’ll see them on menus all over town and their tiny stature makes them perfect for those of us who struggle with commitment.  You see when you have a regular sized burger, well…you’re kind of stuck with only the one set of toppings.  With sliders you can top one with some caramelized onions and hot mustard and another with garlic aioli and balsamic soaked cherry tomatoes and just because my mother raised me right, a good old fashioned ketchup, mustard and relish one for good measure.  When sliders first became popular there was a bit of a glitch…sure restaurants and probably Bobby Flay had access to microscopic burger buns but for the rest of us???  Not so much.  Many of us found ourselves trying to construct small buns out of larger buns or using bread and cutting out smaller shapes.  It was a tragic time in the burgers evolution but the bun makers have righted this terrible wrong and now wee burger buns are available to the masses! 

My father was going to be eating these sliders which meant the burgers were to be ‘au natural’.  Translation….salt and pepper.  Pretty boring in my books but he’s a bit of a purist when it comes to beef and considering his role in the whole, you know…contributing to giving me life thing, I figure the least I can do is throw him a bone every once in a while.  Even if it is served on a wee bun.

In light of my culinary shortcomings with this meal, I figured the only redeeming thing to do was to at least make some homemade rosemary mayo. The possibilities really are endless with sliders and you can fully expect to see a post or two throughout the summer featuring these little darlings, only next time Dad's not invited. Kidding you!

Rosemary Mayonnaise

You can use an immersion blender, food processor or standard blender to make mayo but I find the results vary each time.  The only tried and true method for me is a bowl, whisk and good old fashioned arm action.  I like to use olive oil for the health benefits but you can certainly use another good quality oil like grapeseed.

1 egg yolk at room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 sprig of rosemary finely chopped

Using any of the methods mentioned above, add the egg yolk, very slowly drizzle in oil whisking vigorously until the egg yolk and oil emulsify (should take 2-3 minutes). Whisk in salt, pepper, lemon juice and rosemary. Remaining mayo can be refrigerated for 2-3 days.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thatcher Farm and Honey Bran Muffins

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re so lucky to live in the area we do. A short drive into the city but still nestled among some really incredible agriculture. During growing season we busy ourselves visiting the Farmers Market and getting to know local growers but we also like to frequent the actual farms themselves. Not all farms are open to the public but I think you’d be surprised at how many would be happy to show you around their farm and talk ‘shop’ with you if you called and inquired. Farmers are so proud of what they produce and I’ve heard time and time again how they get so much out of talking to the consumer about their products. Although we have our ‘regular’ farms we frequent, I’m always looking to expand our local food network and see what treasures we can find. Well this week we happened to find ourselves a new favorite! Thatcher Farms has shown up on my radar a few times and it’s been on my ‘to do’ list for over a year now. I’m happy to report that we now have an new absolute staple in our farm repertoire. Thatcher Farms is a family owned and operated business that produces beef, pork and lamb as well as Omega 3 eggs and gorgeous golden honey.  Needless to say, we went home with a little of everything that day.

When we pulled in the driveway we were instantly greeted with an ‘egg house’ which just so happens to be one of my favorite things about living in the country. They operate on the honor system and in this day and age it’s a real breath of fresh air. At the end of the driveway was a beautiful farm house and behind it we could see the barns. As we approached the barns we saw two small children playing, some men standing off by a new structure that was being built, a dog sleeping under a pick-up truck and a woman working in the garden. When she spotted our car she stood up, dusted herself off and headed into their ‘Country Market’. The market was rather small but was just full of so many different and amazing cuts of meats, both fresh and frozen. The Thatcher’s raise all their animals on their 140 acre farm and are proud to say that all their animals are raised naturally and hormone free. I also loved the idea that they have a butcher on site! We weren’t able to stay long this visit but we’re planning a trip back there in about a week and I’m really looking forward to using their amazing meat in some upcoming recipes. In the meantime, here’s a quickie recipe for Honey Raisin Bran Muffins.  I absolutely love bran muffins and adding the honey in place of molasses made a significant difference.  They were light and golden and the honey and raisins loved each other!  I'm always on the look-out for great bran muffin recipes so send them my way if you have a favourite!

Honey Raisin Bran Muffins

1½ cups wheat bran
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
⅓ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins (I prefer to reconstitute the raisins to get them really plump and juicy)

Preheat oven to 375°F

Grease muffin 12 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.  Cover raisins with boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.

Mix together wheat bran and buttermilk and let sit while you beat together oil, egg, sugar, honey and vanilla, add to buttermilk/bran mixture. Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended. Fold in raisins and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Supper: Roasted 'Beer' Chicken, Smashed Potatoes, Green Beans with Almonds and Rhubarb Upside-Down Mini Cakes

For Sunday Supper this week, six of us gathered around the table and enjoyed some really great food and even better company. I was particularly happy to have my grandmother join us. She has recently been put on an oxygen tank full time and feels rather confined to her home as a result of “being tied to a leash”. Her words, not mine. It was lovely to have her at our table. My grandfather recently passed away and although I have always been very close to my grandparents and have always cherished my time with them, I find the visits with Nanny particularly sweet these days. For dinner this week we sat down to enjoy some Roasted ‘Beer’ Chicken, Smashed Fingerling Potatoes, Green Beans with Almonds and Upside-down Rhubarb Mini-Cakes. Deeelish!

We’ve made ‘Beer Can’ chicken several times and always loved it, but one day while I was admiring our little bird perched on that can sizzling away it occurred to me 'what kind of chemicals are in that beer can that I have shoved up our dinner??'  First of all I know that the paint on the can cannot be good for you and to make matters worse I was using a can of Guinness and for any of you that have ever opened a can of Guinness you’ll know that they have a widget inside which is essentially a plastic ball.  The light bulb had just gone off.  This was one of those moments in ones life when things get quiet…time stands still….you find yourself panic stricken and all you can think about is 'what the he** were you thinking!?!'  I had been using paint and plastic to cook our dinner!  I use glass food storage containers to limit the contact our food has with plastic, I use stainless steele or ceramic beverage containers so the plastic doesn’t leach into our drinks, but cooking with plastic and paint…yeah, that one slipped by me.  So that was the end of Beer Can Chicken for us.   Or so I thought.  I had seen several other ‘roaster’ type contraptions for doing a vertical chicken on the grill but none of them offered a container to hold liquid and really, without that what was the point?  The best part of Beer Can Chicken is how moist the meat ends up as a result of the liquid evaporating into the chicken.  Then one day during one of my regular visits to Williams-Sonoma I found this ingenious product!  A Single Vertical Chicken Roaster (with cup for liquid).  Happy day!  I am able to add the beer (minus the carcinogenic can) as well as herbs, garlic or whatever else your little heart desires into the cup in the center of the pan, slip the chicken over and viola!  A perfectly moist, chemical free bird!  I’m not big on having a million kitchen gadgets or 101 pots and pans but this roaster is a must have for me.

Roasted ‘Beer’ Chicken

1 Roasting Chicken (preferably free range)
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus 1 small bunch
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary, plus 1 sprig
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup of beer or wine
2 garlic cloves, gently crushed


Preheat your grill to medium-high.

Rub chicken lightly with oil then rub inside and out with salt, pepper and herbs. Set aside.

Pour the beer in the roaster cup along with the garlic, bunch of thyme and rosemary sprig. Transfer the bird to your grill and place in the center of the grate. Cook the chicken over medium-high, indirect heat (i.e. no coals or burners on directly under the bird), with the grill cover on, for approximately 1 1/4 hours or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F in the breast area and 180 degrees F in the thigh, or until the thigh juice runs clear when stabbed with a sharp knife. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The herbs in our garden are in full bloom!  Our chives are already adorned with their fuzzy purple tops and seem to be making their way into almost every meal!

Smashed Fingerling Potatoes

2 lbs fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped chives
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup warm milk
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 heaping tablespoon of garlic puree, * recipe below


Place potatoes in pot. Cover with cold water. Add pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain potatoes and transfer back to pot. Smash with potato masher. Add butter, sour cream and milk.  Stir in chives and season with salt and pepper.

* Garlic Oil & Garlic Puree

This is a great recipe two fold!  One you get some outstanding garlic oil which is incredible over just about anything and you get the softest, creamiest, juiciest garlic which you can whiz into a puree.   Below is a recipe for a really small batch, however if you’re like me and like to slather the garlic puree on everything then you can do a large batch like I did.  Simply take as much garlic as you like, place the garlic in a saucepan, cover  with grapeseed oil (olive oil with burn) and simmer it on low for 45 minutes.  Once done, remove the garlic from the oil and whiz it about in a food processor.  The puree will last several weeks in the fridge.  Reserve the oil.

1 head garlic, peeled
½ cup grapeseed oil

Place garlic and olive oil in pot on the stove and bring to a simmer.  Once done, remove the garlic from the oil and puree.  Pour the oil into a container for storage.

There was good news and bad news when shopping for this meal.  The good news was that we were able to get our hands on some of the areas first green beans!  Bridget absolutely loves green beans prepared this way so she was thrilled to see her old friends back again.  The bad news however is that although we are welcoming the first green beans of the season we are now saying goodbye to rhubarb for the year.  I had my heart set on a rhubarb dessert and I actually had to go to three different markets to find the last bit of rhubarb to be found.  Bitter sweet I suppose.

Green Beans with Almonds

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
½ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Fill a large pot three-fourths full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process (The beans can be prepared up to this point 1 day in advance, covered tightly and refrigerated until ready to use.)

In a large fry pan over medium heat, toast the almonds, stirring continuously, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. You really can’t take your eyes off them, they’ll start to burn before you know it.  Once slightly toasted set aside.

In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the beans, stirring continuously, until heated through about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the almonds. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.

This is a wonderful recipe that really allows the rhubarb to be the star of the show.  It’s super simple and was such a lovely way to end the rhubarb season.

Rhubarb Mini-Cakes
By: Dee Gibson, Gibson & Lyle, Caterer, LCBO

These cute cakes are baked in a muffin tin to create individual desserts for your guests. You may substitute the rhubarb for peach or apple with the same great results.

½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
¾ cup (175 mL) white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups (500 mL) chopped rhubarb
1¼ cups (300 mL) brown sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F

Beat butter and sugar until creamed (pale white color), about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time until well blended, add vanilla. Beat in flour, baking powder and salt and beat until combined.

Butter a 12-cup muffin tin.

In each muffin tin distribute evenly the chopped rhubarb and 1½ tbsp (22 mL) brown sugar. Place 1 heaping tbsp (15 mL) of the batter in each tin. Place in oven and bake about 40 minutes, or until light golden on top. Cool and turn out.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Asparagus Soup and Chive Biscuits

Although it’s been hotter than Vegas in July here lately (hottest May on record actually), it cooled down a bit and the skies opened up today.  As I type this, the rain is pelting the window panes and the trees look like they're all competing on So You Think You Can Dance.  Cooler weather instantly gets me thinking about soup and what better way to spend a rainy night than curled up with something warm?  So, what to make when it’s spring and you’re craving something cozy?  Asparagus soup of course.

This soup is a little lighter in flavour than many of the creamier versions which I actually really like but today I was looking for something a little lighter.  I had to save room for the biscuits of course. 

Asparagus Soup

1 ½ lb. asparagus, tough ends discarded, roughly chopped (reserve the tips)
1 cup finely chopped white and pale green part of leek, washed well
2 tablespoons (or a good glug) of good quality olive oil
2 good sized shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
⅓ cup sour cream


Snap off the tough stem ends from the asparagus spears. Roughly chop stems, set the tips aside.

In a heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the olive oil.  Add the shallots, garlic and leeks, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chopped asparagus and the stock.  Cover and cook until the asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream.  Blitz the soup with either a hand-held or standard blender until smooth.  If using a standard blender, blend soup in two batches to avoid any spill over.  Return soup to pot, add more stock if needed to reach the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Add the reserved tips and set pot over medium heat until the tips are tender, about 10 minutes.

For the biscuits I used Ina Gartens Chive Biscuit recipe.  When I’m feelig a little cheeky, I like to add some aged chedder and a whole whack of freshly ground pepper to kick it up a bit.

Chive Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
¾ cup half-and-half
½ cup chopped fresh chives or fresh parsley leaves
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash


Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. With the mixer on low, add the half-and-half and beat until just mixed. Add the chives and mix until just combined.

Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and knead lightly into a rectangle 3/4-inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2 1/2-inch round cutter and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with the egg wash.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are firm. Serve warm.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

Ok guys, it doesn’t get any easier than this.  This past Sunday I made Roasted Fingerling, Carrot and Green Beans as part of our Sunday supper and I deliberately made extra so I would have leftovers to make this killer salad for lunch this week.  All you need to do is take these leftovers……

Cut them into bite size pieces, half some cherry tomatoes and mix together 2 tablespoons of whatever vinegar you like (I used red wine vinegar) with 7 tablespoons of good quality olive oil, 1 teaspoon good French mustard and combine everything.  The roasted veg are already incredibly seasoned so you literally just add the tomatoes and vinaigrette and you turn those leftovers into this….