Monday, 31 August 2015

Baby Greens with Flank Steak, Papaya, Blue Cheese and Papaya Seed Dressing

While making fruit salad for breakfast I was inspired to use the papaya seeds in the remaining half papaya to make a salad dressing. Papaya seeds have a slightly peppery bite to them, which works well in a salad dressing. I had a very juicy lime, which I used as part of the acid in the dressing.

Of course I also used the papaya, and added the last piece of blue cheese as a contrast to the sweetness of the papaya. I had some smoked flank steak, courtesy of my husband, and cut that on the bias into thin slices to add to the salad, turning the salad into a light dinner.

For the papaya seed dressing, roughly chop:

2 green onions
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh parsley

Remove and set aside 2 tablespoons papaya seeds.

Place the green onion, garlic and parsley into the blender, along with:

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Blend until everything is finely chopped.

Add in:

2 tablespoons papaya seeds
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey

Blend until you have a creamy dressing.

Taste and adjust acidity and sweetness by adding more lime juice, honey or oil as needed.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Keep refrigerated until needed.

Thinly slice the half papaya.

Thinly slice the flank steak on the bias; I used just under half a pound.

Crumble the blue cheese.

Assemble the salad.  I used washed mixed baby greens, tossed with the papaya seed dressing.

Top with the sliced papaya and flank steak, and crumble the blue cheese around the plate.

Drizzle a bit of extra dressing over.

  • The papaya seeds get crushed by the blender, and look like ground black peppercorns. This also releases the peppery flavour.
  • The seeds can also be eaten whole, rinse them to remove any fruit that is attached to them.
  • Papaya seeds can be dried after rinsing them, and then used as a substitute for black pepper. Crush them using a mortar and pestle, or in a spice grinder, and use them when you would use pepper in a recipe.
  • The seeds can be added to smoothies, along with the papaya, and other fruits. Extra seeds can be stored in the freezer.
  • The papaya seed dressing can be made 2 to 3 days ahead, and kept in a well sealed container in the fridge. Leftover dressing can also be used as a marinade; papaya seeds contain papain, which is  a natural tenderizer, but they also add flavour to the meat.
  • Add the fruit of the papaya to chicken or shrimp salad; dice it and mix with minced cilantro, minced red onion, garlic and lime juice to make a quick salsa to serve with grilled fish; remove the seeds and fill the papaya with crab salad; top your favourite cheesecake with thinly sliced papaya.
  • I used smoked flank steak, at room temperature. Marinated and grilled flank steak can be temperature, cold or hot. Use some of the papaya seed dressing to marinade the steak if you like.
  • Other meats can be used instead of flank steak...chicken breast, shrimp or scallops, pork tenderloin, grilled sausage.
  • Add some warm crusty bread to round out the meal. This salad is great for a lunch or light dinner; it made enough for two people.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Baked Snapper with Roasted Red Pepper Tartar Sauce

With this meal I wasn't really using much up, other than half of a really juicy lemon, the last 2 slices of pickles and half of a roasted red pepper. I am sharing it because it was quick and easy to make, the fish was moist and tasty, and it is the kind of dish that lends itself to an endless amount of variations...helpful when you have bits and pieces to use up!

When I say quick and easy, I really do mean it. The fish can be prepared while the oven heats up, and the tartar sauce can be made while it bakes. Of course, you still have the option of preparing the fish and sauce ahead.

Prepare the herb rub for the snapper by combining:

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

 Lay 4 red snapper fillets on a board, skin side down, and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over each one.

Divide the herb rub between the fillets and spread it over one side.

Line 4 ramekins, or small ovenproof dishes, with a square of parchment paper. The size is not important, it is just to help with the removal of the fish after it has baked.

Place the ramekins onto a baking sheet.

Place each piece of fish into a ramekin, curling it around to fit into the dish.

Keep the herb side up, and squeeze a little more lemon juice over each piece of fish.

Bake in a 350F oven until the fish is fully cooked; this took about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes before taking it out of the ramekins and serving it, topped with the roasted red pepper tartar sauce.

To make the tartar sauce, combine:

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 green onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
2 slices garlic dill pickles, finely chopped

Mix everything well to combine, taste, and adjust seasoning by adding salt, pepper, lemon juice or hot sauce.

  • The red snapper I was using had had the skin removed. This is easier for eating, and less messy. If you have fish with the skin on, and want to leave it on, feel free to do so.
  • Your fish options really depend on your taste and what is available. Good choices are firmer fleshed fish, or thicker fillets of fish such as salmon, cod, halibut or seabass. 
  • Thinner fillets such as trout or sole can also be used by placing 2 or 3 in each ramekin to create a thicker piece of fish.
  • Consider combining 2 types of fish, such as salmon and cod, or sole and trout. The two different colours and tastes will complement each other.
  • Shellfish can be used. Consider scallops, crab or lobster. Place these in the centre of the ramekin with the fish fillet wrapped around the outside.
  • The rub can be changed by using different herbs, adding spices or zest. Some suggestions are: lemon zest, fresh dill, black pepper; fresh rosemary, minced fresh garlic and pepper; lime zest, finely chopped fresh lemongrass; chopped fresh basil, sundried tomato oil, minced fresh garlic.
  • Line the bottom of the ramekin with a tablespoon of tapenade, or diced sundried tomatoes, olives and capers before adding the fish. When removing the fish from the ramekin, flip it upside down, so that it is topped with whatever was cooked underneath it.
  • The fish can be prepared, wrapped well and kept in the fridge up to a day ahead of cooking.
  • To make plain tartar sauce, omit the roasted red peppers. You can add more capers or pickles according to your taste. Other options to change it up are adding crushed pink peppercorns; mashed avocado and lime juice; garlic, fresh or roasted; chipotle chilies in adobo sauce or fresh dill and lemon zest.
  • The tartar sauce can be made a day or two ahead. The flavours blend together over time, giving a brighter sauce.
  • Other sauces can be used instead...hollandaise, flavoured mayonnaise, fresh fruit salsa using mango or pineapple, a light cream sauce or a white wine butter sauce.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Pork Chops with Caramelized Fennel and Apple

Fennel is not something I buy often, but the bulb I had in the fridge was fairly large, and very intensely flavoured. I had already used half of it to make a salad...thinly sliced fennel with grapefruit segments and juice, as well as some ground black pepper. This was very refreshing, but I still had half of the fennel bulb to use.

An apple that was a bit on the soft side prompted this meal; apples and pork make a great combination; caramelizing the apple along with the fennel made a delicious compote to serve with the pork, adding sweetness and that hint of licorice that comes with fennel.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.
I was using boneless sirloin chops.

In a hot pan, with a drizzle of olive oil, quickly brown both sides of the meat. Remove the chops from the pan and place into an ovenproof dish.

Finish cooking the meat in the oven, at 350F while you make the compote.

Thinly slice:

1 apple
1/2 large fennel bulb

Using the pan that was used to brown the pork, heat a bit of olive oil and add the fennel.

Cook over a medium heat, stirring often to prevent burning.

When the fennel is starting to soften, add the sliced apple to the pan.

Season lightly with black pepper.

Continue to cook over medium heat until the apple and fennel start to colour, stirring often.

When the apple and fennel start to caramelize, add:

3/4 cup apple juice, 1/4 cup at a time.

Continue to cook until both the fennel and the apples are soft and have become a deep caramel colour.

Taste and adjust more seasoning. I added only black pepper.

When the pork is cooked allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving, accompanied by the fennel and apple compote. I also served some scalloped potatoes and green beans, asparagus and snap peas.

  • Thinly sliced onion can be used instead of fennel; add some crushed fennel seeds to achieve the licorice flavour that the fennel bulb would give.
  • Apple brandy or cider can be used for the first 1/4 cup of apple juice.
  • There is no need to add sugar as the natural sugars in both the apples and fennel are more than enough. If you do want to add more sweetness, use a bit of maple syrup, honey or brown sugar.
  • Vanilla can be added to the compote; cinnamon, ginger, cloves or star anise can also be added. Use only small amounts of these so that the flavour of the fennel is not hidden.
  • To turn the compote into a chutney, add some cider is a good choice. Some dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or cherries will add additional sweetness and texture; spices such as cinnamon or ginger, and chili flakes will add depth and heat; minced onion should also be added.
  • The compote can be cooked a day or two ahead.
  • Other meats that can be used with the fennel and apple include chicken breasts, pork sausage, fish such as halibut or tuna, veal or game such as duck or venison.
  • An alternative to cooking the meat and compote separately is to sear the meat and then place it on top of the thinly sliced apples and fennel and roast it. This will transfer the sweetness from the apples, and the licorice from the fennel into the meat as it cooks. This works best for larger cuts of meat that need to cook for a longer time.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Prosciutto Wrapped Sole with Capers, Roasted Red Peppers and Basil

There have been 6 sole fillets in the freezer for a while, just enough for 2 people, but the right time to use them hasn't presented itself until now. I bought some thinly sliced prosciutto to wrap the sole fillets with, before baking them. There was some roasted red pepper in the fridge, which I combined with the last of the capers, some fresh basil and butter to add another layer of flavour to the fish.

This was quick and easy to prepare, very tasty and full of contrasts, from the saltiness of the prosciutto to the sweetness of the roasted red pepper, the crispy prosciutto layer to the moist fish. I added some panfried potatoes and steamed green beans to complete the meal.

Heat the oven to 400F.

 In a small bowl combine:

2 tablespoons diced roasted red pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Using a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the ingredients.


1 tablespoon soft butter

Mix to combine.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that the prosciutto is salty, and so are the capers.

Lay 6 thin slices of prosciutto on a cutting board, and then place a sole fillet on top of each one, skin side down.

Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper.

Divide the flavoured butter evenly between the fish, roughly dotting it across the centre of the fillets.

Starting at the tail (thin end) roll the fish and prosciutto up, jelly roll style, securing with a toothpick.

Place the fish into an ovenproof dish.

Bake until the fish is fully cooked, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow the fish to rest for 5 minutes before serving. The butter will have melted, basting the fish while it baked. The prosciutto is crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside and the roasted red pepper and capers provide both moisture and flavour at the centre of the fish.

  • It is important that when you are seasoning the fish and the flavoured butter you keep in mind how much salt is being added with the other ingredients and adjust it accordingly. How salty is the prosciutto you have? Are you using salted or unsalted butter?
  • Any flavoured butter can be used. Some suggestions that work well with fish are fresh dill, parsley or chives; finely chopped green onion; minced black olives and sundried tomatoes; lemon zest and juice; thinly sliced fennel bulb or crushed fennel seeds.
  • Make extra butter and freeze it for another use.
  • Instead of prosciutto use ham. The fish can also be wrapped with zucchini that has been thinly sliced lengthwise (grill it before wrapping the fish if you like).
  • Another option for wrapping the fish is nori, the sheets of toasted seaweed that are often used to make sushi.
  • The fish can be replaced with thinly sliced turkey or chicken breast, thinly sliced beef, pork or veal. The cooking time will need to be adjusted, as these all take longer to bake than sole does.
  • If you wish to use other fish, such as salmon or cod, wrap the portion with the prosciutto. The thickness of these fillets will prevent you from rolling the fish as I did, but you can still place the butter on top of the fish before wrapping it (see the post Zucchini Wrapped Chicken Breasts).
  • Thicker fish fillets can be grilled after they have been wrapped with the prosciutto, as these types of fish are often firmer fleshed than sole is. This increases the cooking time, and allows for grilling as well as baking.
  • I found that the fish did not need a sauce, as it was moist and juicy in the middle because of the butter, red peppers and capers. Feel free to serve it with a butter sauce, or a mayonnaise based sauce such as tartar sauce. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is another option.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Chicken, Asparagus and Boursin Cheese Stuffed Crepes

A few days ago I roasted a couple of chickens, with the intention of freezing the cooked meat in small portions for sandwhiches and wraps. This is what I usually do, but for some reason I forgot to freeze the chicken right away. I knew I had to use it up; combining it with the last of the fresh asparagus and some herb Boursin cheese, stuffing it into crepes and then baking everything smothered in a rich, creamy cheese sauce was my plan.

This also allowed me to use up the small piece of Swiss cheese that was in the fridge, as well as some open chicken stock. For the person who doesn't like asparagus, I made some crepes filled with chicken, artichoke hearts and Boursin cheese. This was a win win, as those of us who like both asparagus and artichokes had the choice of both!

This was a project that stretched out over the whole day, but as I had no big plans and it was raining outside, this was OK with me. To avoid spending all day making dinner, the filling and crepes can be made ahead over a couple of days, and then the whole dish just needs to be assembled, baked and enjoyed!

For the filling, cook until soft and slightly coloured:

1/3 medium zucchini, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 medium onion diced

Use a bit of olive oil to cook them, and season with salt and pepper.

When the vegetables are soft, add:

Enough flour to coat the vegetables well when stirred; I used about 1 - 2 tablespoons.

Cook, stirring, for 2 - 3 minutes.

Add chicken stock, a little at a time, stirring constantly. You are looking for a smooth sauce, with chunks of vegetables, that is the consistency of a thick gravy.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove the sauce from the heat.

In a bowl combine:

2 cups diced cooked chicken
12 asparagus spears, cut into 1" pieces and quickly blanched and cooled.

Now add half of the sauce to the bowl and mix well to combine.

The other half of the sauce will be added to the artichoke filling.

Crumble half a package of garlic and herb Boursin cheese into the bowl, mix well to combine, taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside until needed.

The other half of the Boursin cheese will be added to the artichoke filling.

To make the crepes, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl:

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together the wet ingredients:

2 cups milk
4 eggs

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until well combined, and no lumps remain.

Set the batter aside to rest for 30 minutes.

While the batter is resting, get a flat non stick pan ready, along with a spatula for flipping the crepes. I used a 2 ounce ladle to measure the batter into the pan. Have a baking sheet ready beside the stove for the cooked crepes to cool on.

Stir in:

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Add more milk if the batter is too thick. It needs to be thin enough to pour into the pan and swirl around to coat the surface thinly.

Heat the non stick pan over a medium high heat until it is very hot.

Remove the pan from the heat, and holding it over the crepe batter, pour a ladle of batter into the pan, swirling and tilting the pan so that the batter covers the surface as evenly and thinly as possible.

Place the pan back on the heat and allow the first side of the crepe to cook.

When the surface of the crepe better is no longer wet, and the sides can be easily lifted, carefully slide the spatula under the crepe and flip it over.

The second side only needs a few seconds in the pan.

Slide the cooked crepe out onto the waiting baking sheet, overlapping the crepes slightly.

This recipe made 17 crepes.

Lightly grease a 9" X 13" ovenproof dish. Lay 8 crepes out onto the clean counter, with the side that was cooked second facing up.

 Divide the filling evenly between the 8 crepes.

Fold the side closest to you over the filling.

Fold the two sides over towards the centre.

Roll the crepe and filling away from you, forming a package.

Place the crepe packages into the prepared dish.

Make a Basic White Sauce (Bechamel)  , using 3 cups of milk.

Whisk in:

a handful of grated Parmesan
a handful of grated Swiss cheese.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Pour the cheese sauce over the top of the crepe packages and sprinkle any remaining cheese over the top.

Bake at 350F until heated through and the sauce is bubbling, with a crispy golden top. Allow the crepes to rest for 5 minutes before serving. This will allow the sauce to set a bit, making it easier to serve.

  • To make the chicken, artichoke and Boursin filling, follow the same steps as for the asparagus filling, but use 6 artichoke hearts, diced, instead of the blanched asparagus spears.
  • The whole dish can be made and assembled a day ahead...simply bake and serve. Alternatively, the crepes and filling can be made a day or two ahead, leaving the sauce, assembly and baking for the day of serving.
  • This is a very rich dish, so a little will go a long way.
  • Milk or whipping cream can be used if you have no chicken stock when making the filling.
  • I used part onion and part shallot as I had one shallot that had been overlooked and needed to be used. Leeks or green onions can be used as well.
  • The filling is very versatile. Vegetables can be used according to what you have, what you like and/or what is available that season. Remember if you are using greens such as spinach, kale or chard to wilt them and squeeze out as much excess liquid as you can so that the filling does not become watery during baking.
  • Other vegetables to try include: sliced and cooked mushrooms; red pepper, fresh or roasted; grilled eggplant or zucchini; frozen corn or sweet green peas; edamame beans; roasted garlic or sundried tomatoes.
  • Meats choices are not limited to chicken. Use any leftover cooked meat, diced or shredded. Pork tenderloin or leftover roast; pulled pork, beef or chicken; smoked chicken; diced ham; cooked shrimp and/or scallops; flaked cooked fish; smoked salmon chunks; ground beef, chicken, turkey pork or lamb; cooked, sliced sausage such as chorizo.
  • Meat can be eliminated and the crepes can be vegetarian if you like. Ricotta or cottage cheese can be added to the filling, as well as extra vegetables and/or beans.
  • Cheese is your choice. I used the Boursin because we all love it and I had bought some as a treat. Cream cheese, especially flavoured types can be used instead. Grated cheese such as cheddar, Asiago or havarti can be used; baby bocconcini, crumbled goat or blue cheese or sliced Brie can also be used.
  • If you don't want to attempt the crepes, or don't have the time, some grocery and specialty food stores sell them ready made, often in the freezer section. If you are making them, make extra, layer them with parchment paper in between, and freeze them for another meal.
  • The herbs I used were chives and thyme, as I have a lot of these in the garden right now. Any herbs will work; choose the type you use according to the meat, cheese and vegetables in your filling. Spices such as ground black pepper, cumin, paprika or chili flakes can also be used. The  crepes can also be made plain, without any flavouring other than the salt.
  • Plain crepes, or those flavoured with sweeter spices such as cinnamon, vanilla or lemon zest are perfect to use for dessert. Use a sweet pie filling, chocolate spread or nut butter, fresh fruit and whipped cream or simply sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar and squeeze some lemon juice over the crepe. If you are making dessert crepes that will be baked, consider adding cream cheese or mascarpone cheese to the will melt and add a lot of richness and creaminess.
  • The cheese sauce is a Basic White Sauce (Bechamel). Adding the Swiss cheese and Parmesan turns it into a Mornay sauce. The two cheeses are sharp in flavour, and the Swiss adds a gooey element to the sauce. I added extra milk to the sauce as I wanted it to be thinner; it is easier to pour over the crepes, and it also thickens a bit in the oven.
  • Other sauces can be used if you prefer...Basic Tomato Sauce, Basil Pesto or even a combination of sauces.