Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Grilled Rack of Lamb in a Kiwifuit and Herb Marinade

I am not a fan of kiwifruit, but others in the family are, especially the golden kiwis. There were two of these left, and they were quite ripe, so I used them as a marinade for my rack of lamb. I combined the kiwifruit with lots of garlic and fresh herbs, which gave a lot of flavour. Kiwifruit contains a natural tenderizer, so they lamb was left to marinade for only a couple of hours, as the chops I was using were from the rack, and are not as tough as other cuts of lamb are.

Cutting the rack of lamb into individual chops had the advantages of less time on the grill, and more exposure to the flavours in the marinade. I served the lamb with soft polenta and grilled vegetables.

To make the marinade, remove and mash the flesh of:

2 golden kiwifruit


4 cloves of garlic, minced


1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, a combination of mint, chives, oregano and thyme.
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Remove any excess fat and silverskin from:

2 lamb racks

Cut into individual chops

Place the lamb chops and the marinade into a resealable plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible.

Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Cook the lamb chops on a hot, well oiled grill until they are done to your liking. I cooked mine to medium well.

Remove from the grill and rest for 5 minutes before serving.

I served the lamb chops on a bed of soft Parmesan polenta, with grilled red pepper and zucchini.

  • Kiwifruit, papaya, figs and pineapple are all natural tenderizers. Use them for tough cuts of meat such as leg of lamb, pork or lamb chops, veal or lamb shank or chicken thighs, and allow them to marinate for up to 8 hours. For tender cuts of meat such as this rack of lamb, chicken breast or pork tenderloin, marinate them for no more than 2 hours.
  • Try fresh figs, black pepper, fresh basil and olive oil; fresh pineapple pureed with ginger and garlic, soy sauce and a touch of sesame oil; mashed papaya with lime zest, fresh mint and olive oil.
  • I used a combination of herbs, with mint being the predominant one, as I have a lot growing right now, and mint and lamb are a perfect match. Other herbs that are good choices for lamb are rosemary, parsley, basil and sage.
  • If you want to leave the lamb rack whole, marinate it and then sear it in a lot pan and finish it in the oven. It can also be cooked on the grill.
  • The lamb chops can be served as a canape, paired with a lemon mint mayonnaise.
  • Leg of lamb that has been marinated and cooked can be shredded and used to fill wraps.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin with Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Hash

Believe it or not, this whole meal was based around the need to use up a small piece of blue cheese! It lead to using the cauliflower, because who doesn't love cauliflower and blue cheese. A need for a starch lead to the potatoes being added, and for meat I chose to use one of the pieces of beef tenderloin that were in the freezer. This was a good choice with the blue cheese as well, and then the bacon in the fridge became just another logical part of a delicious meal.

In lightly salted water, cook until barely cooked (a slight bit undercooked is good for this):

2 cups of diced red skinned potatoes
2 cups of cauliflower florets

Drain and allow to cool.

Prepare the herb rub for the beef, by mixing together:

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 cloves of minced fresh garlic

Cut the beef tenderloin into pieces that are at least as thick as the width of the bacon you will be using.

Cut 2 slices of bacon in half.

Divide the herb and pepper mixture between the four pieces of beef, and rub it around the outside of each one.

Gently stretch the bacon as you wrap a piece around each piece of beef. Secure with a toothpick.

Set aside while the grill heats.

Start the hash by heating a large frying pan, or wok, and adding olive oil and:

1 medium onion, sliced

Cook, stirring often, until the onion starts to caramelize.

Add the cooked and cooled potatoes and cauliflower and continue to cook on a medium high heat, stirring often.

Season with salt and pepper.

Continue to cook, allowing the potatoes and cauliflower to heat through and begin to crisp on the outside.

While the hash is cooking, the beef can be cooked on the hot, well oiled grill.

Cook until the meat is done to your liking, and then remove it from the grill and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

While the meat is resting, taste and adjust the seasoning in the hash, and then add:

1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese

To serve, place some of the hash onto the plate and top with the grilled beef. I reserved a small amount of crumbled blue cheese to sprinkle onto the beef.

  • Blue cheese is a good pairing with potatoes, cauliflower and beef. It adds creaminess, saltiness and tanginess which helps to offset the richness of the beef. Other cheeses that would work in the same way are goat cheese, asiago or fontina.
  • I like to use red skinned potatoes for hash, as russet potatoes tend to become too soft and lose their shape during the cooking. Red potatoes have a firmer flesh, and hold together nicely. Purple potatoes, Yukon Golds or Kennebecs can also be used.
  • Cut the cauliflower florets into bite size. When cauliflower is sauteed it starts to become golden and crispy on the outside, which adds sweetness but also gives a nice contrast to the soft inside. I often pre-boil cauliflower and then cook it like this, sprinkling it with grated Parmesan just before serving. A much healthier version of cauliflower in cheese sauce!
  • I used quite a lot of pepper to crust the beef, as beef and pepper sauce is a classical combination. Use dried green or pink peppercorns, or a mixture if you like. Remember that pink peppercorns will add a slightly lemony flavour to your beef.
  • I chose thyme as the herb for this dish; other herbs that complement beef are rosemary, parsley and basil.
  • The meat can be thinly coated with mustard before adding the herbs.
  • As the bacon adds a lot of salt, I did not add salt to the herb crust, or salt the meat while cooking. By gently stretching the bacon as you wrap it around the beef, you create thinner slices, which will cook and crisp up nicely. Thicker cuts of bacon will take longer to cook than the beef , and no one likes to eat soggy bacon.
  • The beef tenderloin can be crusted and wrapped as one piece. Roll it in the herb mixture and then wrap the required number of bacon slices around the meat, overlapping them slightly. Tying the meat with string would work better in this instance than toothpicks. Allow the meat to rest for 5 - 10 minutes before cutting into thick slices and serving.
  • If you prefer, the beef can be cooked in a pan on the stove top and finished in the oven.
  • Other meats that can be cooked this way are pork tenderloin, lamb loin, chicken breast or firm fish such as halibut.
  • The meat can be prepared up to a day ahead, or it can be prepared and frozen for another time.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Mango - Coconut Halibut Skewers

I'm always extremely disappointed when I cut into a mango that seems perfectly ripe from the outside, only to find it is a bit overripe. This is what happened to me a couple of days ago. I immediately thought of using the mango as a marinade...

I knew that I had two limes to use, as well as some avocado, pistachios and the leftover couscous from the previous night's dinner. This was an easy one...the couscous became a salad, with the addition of diced red and yellow peppers, grape tomatoes and cucumber all dressed with olive oil and fresh lime juice.

The remaining half lime and the mango blended with coconut milk and sriracha, became a marinade. I bought some halibut, which I cut into large chunks and skewered.

Everything was garnished with the avocado and pistachios. A beautiful, colourful meal, with the mango marinade a contrast in sweetness and spiciness.

To make the marinade, blend together:

1 large mango
3/4 cup coconut milk
Juice of half a lime
2 teaspoons honey
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut the halibut into 1" chunks. I had:

1 lb halibut

Pour half the marinade over the fish and gently turn the pieces to make sure they are well coated.

Cover and leave to marinate for 30 minutes.

While the fish was marinating, I made the salad by halving grape tomatoes, and dicing red and yellow peppers and cucumber and adding them to the leftover couscous (see the post Chicken Breasts with Pomegranate Glaze, Feta Cheese and Vegetable Couscous for the recipe I had used). I seasoned it to taste with salt and pepper, and added the juice from the remaining one and a half limes, along with some olive oil to make a quick dressing.

Skewer the fish chunks; I made 4 skewers, two for each of us.

Grill the fish on a hot, well oiled grill, turning once.

The fish does not take long to cook, so keep an eye on it. My fish took about 5 minutes to cook.

Serve the halibut skewers on top of the couscous salad, and garnish with pistachios and diced avocado. Pass the remaining marinade around, to be used as a sauce.

  • The beauty of this meal wasn't just the fact that I used up leftover couscous, ripe mango and two limes...it was also nice and light, but still filling.
  • The fish can be left as a fillet, marinated and then grilled or baked. I liked the idea of skewers for visual appeal, and for the fact that more of the fish would be exposed to the coconut and mango.
  • Fish should not be left in a marinade for any longer than thirty minutes, as it will start to break down and become mushy. This is important when the amount of acid in the marinade is high, as that is what starts to break down the protein. The oil in the marinade stops the fish from drying out, and the rest of the ingredients are there to add flavour.
  • Fresh herbs can be added. Try parsley, cilantro or chives. Add other spices such as ground cumin, fresh garlic or ginger, chili flakes or increase the amount of sriracha.
  • Other firm fish can be used...haddock, cod, marlin, mahimahi, scallops, prawns.
  • If you are not a fish lover, the marinade will work with chicken breast or thighs, pork tenderloin or steak. These meats will need to marinate for longer than thirty minutes, anywhere from 4 - 8 hours, depending on the cut of meat.
  • I prefer to marinate the fish, or meat, before placing it onto the skewers as this increases the exposure to the flavours in the marinade. You can skewer the fish first and then place it into the marinade. This option is great for skewers that will be frozen in the marinade before being grilled...defrost in the refrigerator overnight and then grill them.
  • Other fruits that make good marinades are papaya, kiwifruit, passionfruit, pineapple or persimmon. Papaya and kiwifruit contain an acid that breaks the meat protein down very quickly, so if you choose these as your marinade, decrease the amount of time the fish spends in the marinade.
  • The amount of sriracha I used added a hint of heat in the background, but can quite easily be increased to suit your taste. I would probably use more next time.
  • The marinade that was not used for the fish can be saved and used as a sauce. It can also be frozen, which I did, to be used for another meal. I also froze the rest of the can of coconut milk that I opened for this dish.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps

For the last few days I have been wanting lettuce wraps; maybe it's the warm sunny weather we're having that's making me want lighter meals. I finally got around to making them, and it was well worth the wait!

I knew I would have complaints about the lack of carbs, so I added a noodle salad to the menu. The sweet, spicy chicken wrapped in the fresh crispy  butter lettuce and topped with carrots, red peppers, cucumber, scallions and cashews was more than enough for me.

Making this also gave me the chance to use the last two baby cucumbers, the half red pepper and the open jar of Hoisin sauce in the fridge. I also used up some of the edamame beans in the freezer; it seems like they have been forgotten in there.

Make a quick marinade for the chicken by combining:

1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger


6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Make sure the chicken is well coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

In a hot pan, using a bit of olive oil, sear the chicken on one side.

Reserve the marinade.

Turn the chicken to sear the second side.

Add 1/4 cup water to the marinade and add it to the pan.

Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender enough to shred.

Using two forks, shred the chicken and keep it warm in the sauce.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the lettuce leaves and toppings for the wraps.

Finely diced red pepper
Thinly sliced green onion
Grated carrot
Grated cucumber
Blanched edamame beans
Toasted, chopped cashews

Butter lettuce leaves, gently separated from the core, and kept whole.

Place everything on the table and allow people to assemble their own wraps...fill a lettuce leaf with some of the chicken and sauce, add your favourite toppings, and eat! Include sauces such as sriracha, sweet chili or soy for those who would like some extra on their wrap. Don't forget the napkins, these can be messy!

  • Lettuce wraps are a great alternative to tortilla wraps, or even rice paper wraps. They are gluten free, but are also fresh and light, full of vegetables that you often have in the fridge and have the added fun of being a meal that everyone can customize as they assemble their own wraps.
  • The best lettuce to use is one that has a strong, firm centre rib, is sturdy enough not to wilt when hot or warm fillings are put inside and if the leaves have a cup shape, even better. Try butter lettuce or iceberg lettuce. Romaine hearts or Belgian endive can be used like taco shells, folded in half with the filling in the middle as opposed to wrapped around the filling; if you don't mind the bitter taste of radicchio, the leaves are sturdy and have nice cup shapes. 
  • To help prevent the leaves from wilting serve the chicken warm, rather than hot.
  • I chose chicken thighs for this recipe as they could be cooked slowly and then shredded, while still remaining moist. As the chicken cooked, the marinade penetrated the meat, adding flavour and moisture. It also reduced down to make a tasty sauce.
  • Hoisin sauce is sweet, but the soy sauce and lime juice cut the sweetness a bit, leaving you with a slightly sweet and sour sauce. The sriracha adds the heat, and can be adjusted according to your tastes. If you want a sweeter sauce, use less lime juice, or add a bit of honey.
  • You can use leftover cooked chicken...shred it, and then bring the marinade ingredients to a boil, add the chicken and allow it to simmer until the chicken is heated through. 
  • Other meats can be used with this marinade...pork butt or beef outside round need to cook low and slow in order to obtain the tenderness needed. Quicker cooking meats such as pork or beef tenderloin, fish or prawns, chicken breast can be marinated and then quickly seared and cooked through, before being diced.
  • Lettuce wraps can also be filled with fillings such as taco mix, or cooked and crumbled sausage.
  • Keep it vegetarian and use grilled vegetables, marinated and grilled tofu or baked beans as a filling.
  • Toppings can include other things such as sesame or pumpkin seeds;  toasted and roughly chopped peanuts; toasted coconut; bean or alfalfa sprouts; enoki mushrooms; thinly sliced snow peas.
  • The chicken can be cooked and frozen, so why not make a large batch? It can also be used for tortilla wraps, pizza toppings, added to stir fry or salads.
  • The wraps cannot be assembled ahead of time, so leftovers being taken for lunch need to be assembled at work or school. Take a container of filling and toppings, and one with lettuce and you are set to go!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Crown Royal and Maple Syrup Chicken Drumsticks

For me, the best thing to do with chicken drumsticks is to throw them on the barbecue, after a few hours of marinating, and to brush them with a sauce just before serving, so that you end up with messy, sticky and tasty chicken. A definite finger food, with lots of napkins a must!

My efforts to use the bottle of Crown Royal up have now ended, but these were so good I might just head out and buy another bottle! I used the whiskey in the marinade and in the barbecue sauce; maple syrup made an appearance in the marinade and barbecue sauce; mustard was used in the marinade and in the rub.

Add some salad and cornbread and dinner on the patio is in order...

To make the marinade, combine:

1/2 cup whisky
1/4 cup maple syrup
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced

Stir to dissolve the salt, and then add enough cold water to give you 1 litre of liquid.

Place 18 drumsticks into a large resealable plastic bag.

Pour the marinade over the chicken, and carefully seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible.

Place the sealed bag of chicken and marinade into a dish, just in case the bag leaks!

Place it into the fridge, and leave it for 6 - 8 hours.

When it is time to cook the chicken, remove the drumsticks from the marinade, and rinse them under cold water to remove any excess salt that might remain.

Dry them by patting them with paper towel.

Discard the marinade.

To make the rub, mix together:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sprinkle the rub over the chicken, making sure that all sides are coated.

Allow the chicken to sit with the rub while the grill heats.

Cook the chicken on the hot grill, with the heat turned down, and the lid closed. I like to prop the lid open with a small block of wood to keep the heat from becoming too intense.

Turn the chicken regularly, until the drumsticks are cooked completely.

To make the barbecue sauce, combine the following ingredients, and heat until just bubbling. I have given approximate measurements for you to use, but adjust the sweetness and acidity to suit your tastes. Add chipotle chili, ancho chili or cayenne pepper if you want a spicier barbecue sauce.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup whisky
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Brush some of the barbecue sauce onto the chicken, and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes, before removing it from the grill.

Serve the chicken, passing the remaining barbecue sauce at the table. Don't forget those napkins!!!

  • This type of marinade is more like a brine...lots of liquid and salt, with some sweetness and other flavours added. A basic brine is water and salt, but other liquids can be used instead, or as part of the water. Try cold tea, coffee, juice (adjust the sugar amount), alcohol such as wine, beer, rum or whisky. Always taste the brine before adding the raw meat; you want it to taste salty with a hint of sweetness.
  • Any type of sugar can be used in a brine...brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup and the natural sweetness in fruit juice.
  • The flavour profile you choose is all about what you have to use and what you like...herbs, spices, citrus juice or zest, soy sauce (adjust the amount of salt used), coconut milk.
  • The brine is optional, but I find it adds flavour, tenderness and moisture to the meat.
  • The reason I leave the meat to sit with the rub while the grill heats is that the moisture from the chicken starts to dissolve the brown sugar, and it turns the brine into a wet paste, which caramelizes a bit during cooking. 
  • You can turn the dry rub into a wet paste by simply adding a small amount of liquid to it before rubbing it onto the chicken. You can also intensify the mustard in the recipe by lightly brushing the chicken with your favourite mustard before pressing the dry rub onto the drumsticks.
  • The barbecue sauce is a quick 'cheat' recipe that I often use. The ketchup provides the base for the sauce, and adds the sweetness and texture that is needed. Adding apple cider vinegar gives the acidity that barbecue sauce has in the background, and the whisky and maple syrup give this sauce the flavour that I wanted. Cumin is a must; chili powder can also be added. From there, it's a simple matter of adjusting the sauce to your liking...we tend to prefer a sweeter sauce.
  • A storebought barbecue sauce can be used, and whisky can be added to it before brushing it onto the chicken.
  • Other meats can be used with this brine, rub and sauce...chicken wings, breasts or whole chicken; pork loin or chops.
  • The meat can be placed into the brine and frozen for another time. Defrost in the fridge overnight before continuing on with the recipe.
  • Cooking the chicken with the heat low and the barbecue closed turns it into an oven, but the heat will continue to increase and the chicken will burn on the outside before it is fully cooked. That is the reason I prop it open with a small block of wood. This allows some of the excess heat to escape, while still maintaining the effect of an oven. If you prefer to cook with the heat up high and the lid open, that also works. The closed lid method is my preference.
  • If you don't have real maple syrup, use brown sugar or honey instead.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Halibut on an Asparagus Raft with Crispy Shoestring Potatoes

I bought a beautiful piece of fresh halibut, as it is halibut season right now. Everything else that I served it with were 'use ups'...the last russet potato, the asparagus, some soft tomatoes and a ripe avocado.

After a lot of thought (all day while I was weeding the garden) I came up with this recipe...I turned the one potato into crispy shoestring fries, made a quick salad with the avocado and tomato and blanched the asparagus to make a 'raft' to hold everything.

The plate looked great, and the food tasted amazing. It was an easy meal to put together, and perfect for a warm Spring evening... crispy asparagus, creamy avocado and crunchy potatoes and the fresh, flaky fish.

Start by heating the oven to 400F, for the fish. Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan...I used a wok as it stays hot because of the design. You will need about 3" of oil, enough to shallow fry the potatoes.

Using a food processor fitted with the smallest grating blade, cut:

1 peeled russet potato.

Soak the cut potatoes in cold water for about 10 minutes to remove the excess starch.

When the oil is hot enough to cook the potatoes, about 350F, drain them well, and pat them dry.

Add no more than a third of the potatoes to the hot oil. It will bubble up because of the moisture on the potatoes, so be careful!

Gently stir the potatoes a couple of times during cooking to ensure that they are not sticking together.

When the potatoes are golden brown and crispy, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, allowing excess oil to drain back into the pot.

Place the cooked potatoes onto a tray lined with paper towel while you cook the remaining potatoes.

Continue to cook the potatoes, placing each portion onto the paper towel as they are done. While they are cooking, you can start the fish.

Gently pat the halibut dry with paper towel to remove any excess moisture. I had enough halibut for three people, and I left the skin on.

Rub the flesh side of the fish with:

2 cloves garlic, minced
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper

In a heavy bottomed pan, that can be put directly into the oven, heat some olive oil until smoking hot.

Add the halibut, skin side down, and leave to cook for about 5 minutes, before placing the pan into the pre-heated oven to finish cooking the fish.

While the fish is in the oven, and the shoestring potatoes are being cooked,  make the avocado and tomato salad.

For the avocado and tomatoes, dice:

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 avocado
1 green onion

Mix gently, with:

Juice of 1 lime
drizzle of avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the cooked and drained shoestring potatoes into a large bowl, and season to taste with:

black pepper
garlic powder

When the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, while you blanch the asparagus.

Cut the fish into 3 portions.

Assemble the dish:

Place the asparagus in the centre of each plate, forming a 'raft'. Put three scoops of tomato and avocado salad around the plate. Gently position the fish on top of the asparagus and then add a handful of crispy shoestring potatoes to the top of the fish.

  • I left the skin on the fish as it crisps up when it first goes into the hot pan, and this makes it nice and easy to remove the piece of fish from the pan, cut it into portions and then place them on top of the asparagus. Some people also like to eat the crispy skin.
  • The fish can be pre-portioned if this is easier for you. Cook it the same way.
  • Chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary or dill can be added to the lemon zest and minced garlic for the fish. Lime zest can be used instead of lemon if you prefer.
  • To trim the asparagus, gently bend each stem and it will snap off at the junction of the tender tip and the tougher bottom end. The tough end can be saved and added to pasta or soup. Thinly slice it and it will cook quickly and you will have tender bits of asparagus.
  • Bring lightly salted water to a boil, and add the asparagus, making sure to keep the tips all facing in the same direction...this makes it easier to portion the stems out into the 'rafts'. When the water boils again, leave the asparagus for no more than thirty seconds, before draining and serving. You will have bright green, crispy asparagus spears.
  • Grilled asparagus can be used if you choose; the fish can also be grilled on a well oiled grill. Turn it once, half way through the cooking time. 
  • Other fish that work well for this kind of presentation include salmon, marlin, cod or sablefish.
  • This can also be made with meat such as chicken breast, pork or beef tenderloin (thinly sliced and cooked).
  • You may have noticed that there is no sauce, but the richness of the fish, and the creaminess of the avocado served as a sauce. If you wish to make a sauce, a simple lemon or white wine butter sauce can be used.
  • Other vegetables can be used as the base for the fish...baby carrots; thinly sliced and quickly seared or grilled zucchini rounds; baby potatoes cut in half and placed flat side down, boil them and toss them in herb butter; thinly sliced roasted beets.
  • I only had one russet potato, but it made enough shoestring potatoes for four of us. Russet or Kennebec potatoes both work well; sweet potatoes can also be used.
  • The seasoning for the potatoes is endless, and depends on your imagination. Some ideas are smoked paprika, salt and pepper; chopped fresh rosemary and black pepper; a drizzle of truffle or flavoured oil; ground hot peppers such as ancho or chipotle; tandoori spice.