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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Curried Turkey Burgers

If you listen to the farmer's almanac and Izzy Sharp there are 4 seasons on our planet.  Their division of the year into quarters is founded in a certain celestial elegance with each season bookended by a solstice and equinox.  However, the starts and ends to the official seasons mean essentially nothing to me.  In fact, unless you're a Wiccan, chances are the last time an equinox meant anything to you was a 6th grade project on the motions of the planets.

When I look at the rhythms of my life I'm torn between seeing a year of many seasons or a year of very few.  The jackets in my closet indicate there are no fewer than 10 seasonal milestones: ski, pea, trench, leather, sports, life, sports, leather, trench, pea, ski (note the skis overlap).  My behaviour outside of work suggests there are only two seasons: ski season and patio season.

However you choose to carve up the calendar, it appears that patio/life jacket season has come early this year and that means it's burger time (I'm told you can cook burgers in ski season but I have yet to try).  These burgers are one of my favourite summer dishes.  They are quick to make, loaded with flavour, reasonably healthy and are just different enough that they can pass as fancier than a normal hamburger.  I top them with chutney, avocado, goat cheese, caramelized onions and arugula instead of "traditional" burger toppings.

There is a lot of debate flying around about what makes a perfect burger and it's only a matter of time before the Panko breadcrumb faction goes to war with the ground chuck purists.  When it comes to beef I'm not sure which, if either, of them is right but when making these burgers I strongly recommend adding the cheese and the egg.  The turkey is so lean that the extra fat (from the cheese) and protein (from the egg) are needed to keep them from getting too tough and crumbly.

Makes 6 dinner sized burgers:
2 lbs ground turkey
1 tbsp Patak's curry paste
1 tbsp goat cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp chopped onions

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl and form into patties.  Don't make them too large as they won't shrink much on the grill due to their low fat content.  Place on a hot grill or pan until juice starts to bleed through the top of the burger (~5 minutes).  Flip and cook for the same amount of time on the other side.

Serve with chutney, goat cheese, caramelized onions and avocado.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Fried Polenta...for Breakfast or Dinner!

I admit I have been a little busy lately, and by "a little busy" I mean I have been spinning as fast as a whirling dervish; travelling throughout Western Canada (as my new job takes me from Manitoba to Vancouver Island). I have eaten 90 of my last 100 meals on the road.  So, that said, cooking complex, elaborate meals, or even any meals at all has not been made easy over the last month.  Also, with much travelling comes a fridge that is unstocked or chock full of half expired dairy products.  However, what usually awaits me upon my return are a carton of eggs and a full pantry.  This recipe allows me to skillfully use these items to my advantage to make a relatively balanced, home cooked meal, which is just what I am craving after all that restaurant food.  The great thing is that whether I take the early AM flight or the last 727 home, this is something that can be enjoyed for breakfast or dinner!

3 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
1 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Boursin cheese, cream cheese or light cream (whichever option is furthest from expiry!)
salt and pepper

Grease a 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a medium pot heat broth, water and garlic until boiling.  Turn heat to medium and slowly whisk in cornmeal, ensuring there are no lumps.  Once cornmeal has been whisked in, turn heat to low and, with a wooden spoon, stir constantly for about 10 minutes until thick and creamy.  Remove from heat and stir in the Boursin, salt and pepper. 

Pour the soft polenta into the baking pan and spread to form an even layer.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the fridge and cut out slices of polenta.  Cover and return any unused polenta to the fridge, this will keep for 3-4 days and can be fried up as required.

Heat a non-stick frying pan on medium heat and coat with a drizzle of olive oil.  Place polenta slices into pan and fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with a sunny side up egg ... yum!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Leftover Chicken Wontons

According to science, eight substances (O, Mg, Si, Fe, Al, Ca, Ni, H) account for approximately 99% of the material on earth.  The remaining 1% is composed mostly of leftover chicken and a grab basket of trace elements like Cobalt and Scandium.  While the big eight substances all have obvious uses (O = scuba diving, Mg = old timey camera flashes, H = lighter than air transport disasters), leftover chicken has long perplexed science and industry alike in their inability to put this abundant substance to adequate use in service of mankind.  It was to this ambitious end that we set out last night in our latest creation: Chicken and bok choy wontons.

Makes ~ 30 wontons
1 package wonton wrappers
2 cups leftover chicken shredded
2 cups baby bok choy, diced
1/2 onion, diced
4 scalions, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tsp 5 spice blend
1 cap full of Miren
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup sunflower or canola oil if pan frying, 2 cups if deep frying

Saute the onions and bok choy in a bit of sesame oil until wilted.  transfer to a mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Portion out ~1/2 a tablespoon of filling onto the middle of a wrapper, wet the edges and pinch together to seal.  If you make too many to eat at once, refrigerate or freeze the extras.

Heat the oil over medium high heat and drop in the wantons a few at a time.  Flip them with a fork and remove to dry on paper towels when golden and crispy on all sides. 

KITCHEN TIP: If you have an induction cook top, you can lay out paper towels between the element and the pan to avoid cleaning up the inevitable oil splatter.  WARNING: If you have a gas or regular electric cook top, this is a great way to meet the folks at your local fire department.

You can serve them with dipping sauce as appetizers or an excellent side dish for a stir fry.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Brussels Sprouts Salad in Prosciutto Cups

I have a dear friend, who shall remain nameless but who no doubt knows who he is, who despises most vegetables including brussels sprouts. This isn't surprising, given their status as one of the world's most hated foods, and yet I find it mildly appalling. As his friend I am of course concerned about his health and would hate for him to suffer the consequences of some kind of vitamin or nutritional deficiency (scurvy? night blindness!?). Worse yet, I'd hate for him to meet the woman of his dreams, fall in love, and then discover that "eats vegetables" is one of her relationship deal breakers. My concern for my friend (and not my maniacal need to prove that kale is delicious...) has prompted me to launch a campaign whereby I encourage him to try new recipes and ways of preparing the vegetables he swears he despises. For every new recipe he tries, I will treat him to a delicious bag of buttery popcorn (because let's face it, bribery works). Photographic evidence of vegetable consumption is required. Also, for every vegetable I convince him to love, I will reward myself with a scoop of impossibly creamy gelato from G is for Gelato (because let's face it, self congratulation works?). I know, I know, the vegetables are delicious and should be reward enough. You obviously haven't tried this gelato.

This is my go-to conversion recipe for brussels sprouts haters.  Here's what will happen: first, you'll be drawn in by the promise of a crispy, salty, prosciutto cup. Then you'll taste the dressing and your mind will be tricked into thinking you're enjoying a caesar salad. Finally, you'll enjoy the crunch of the salad and complete lack of the brussels sprouts bitterness you've expected. And then I will have won...

It's best if you let it sit for a little while before serving to let the flavours combine and it's even better the next day. Feel free to omit the prosciutto if you're a vegetarian or you could try serving it in baked parmesan cheese cups instead.

Makes 4-6 servings

2 lbs brussels sprouts
12 slices Prosciutto
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 ounce blue cheese (about the size of your thumb)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
small pinch of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400F.  I use a mini muffin tin to make prosciutto cups but you could also make regular size versions. Slice each piece of prosciutto in half and arrange in each cup, making sure to cover the bottom. Bake for about 5-7 minutes until crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a the bottom of a shallow bowl, combine the garlic, blue cheese, mustard and a small pinch of salt and pepper. Using a fork, mash the ingredients together until they make a paste. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and whisk together. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking until the dressing is combined and emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasonings as required (I like it quite tart with lots of bite).

Wash the brussels sprouts and remove any leaves that are damaged. Using a knife, trim the stem ends off of each sprout. You want to remove all of the stem because this portion is very tough and doesn't make for a delicious salad. Thinly slice the sprouts using a food processor with a slicing blade. If you don't have you one you could also try a mandoline or finely slicing the sprouts with a sharp knife (just watch your fingers!). The result should look sort of like coleslaw.

Combine the dressing and sprouts in a bowl and let sit for a few minutes. When you're ready to serve, spoon a little of the salad mixture into each of the prosciutto cups and arrange 2 or 3 together on a plate.