watermelon feta salad, a staple for the summer

watermelon feta salad

watermelon feta salad

For those super hot days, nothing beats a refreshing watermelon salad with feta. Interesting combination but unbeatable, as it is both savoury and refreshing.   It’s easy and quick to prepare and makes for a great salad to accompany a BBQ.

There are many different variations of this salad, as seen in restaurants and on the web, sometimes it’s served with mint instead of basil, and olives and onions are even added to the mix, but I like to keep it simple as I find the olives and onions can overpower the watermelon. However don’t scrimp on the ingredients, try to get the best feta you can find, not Canadian feta but Greek feta, and even better if you can get your hands on the goat feta, also use the best olive oil you have and choose the pinkest watermelon possible!

No need to prepare this in advance as it only takes 5 minutes to assemble!

Serves 2

ingredients:

  • watermelon, 1/2 inch slice then cubed
  • 1 inch thick slice of greek feta, cubed
  • bunch of thai basil or purple basil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • ground fresh black pepper
watermelon feta salad

watermelon feta salad

  1. Cut one slice of the watermelon and cube it and assemble on a plate by keeping same shape as slice.
  2. Sprinkle cubed Greek feta overtop watermelon.
  3. Sprinkle basil leaves and then drizzle olive oil overtop.  Squeeze lemon juice from 1/2 lemon and grind fresh black pepper over salad.
  4. Voila, that’s it.  Simple, easy and refreshing!

Enjoy!

BBQ “finger lickin’ good” spicy sweet sticky wings!

spicy sweet sticky wings

I know, I know, wings are probably not the healthiest part of the chicken but these are so finger licking good you won’t be able to resist.  Plus it’s summer time and they make a great appetizer to whatever you’re grilling on the BBQ.  The wings are super easy to prepare as you get them started in the oven under the broiler and when you are ready to serve them just finish them off on the BBQ to get a bit of charring and the required grill marks before you toss them with the spicy sweet sauce.  The whole process will take you under 30 minutes.

My only piece of advice with regards to these wings is that you should make more than you need, as it’s guaranteed that you and your guests will be begging for more!

Serves 6, about 5 wings per person

spicy sweet sticky wings

spicy sweet sticky wings

ingredients:

  • 30 chicken wing pieces, cut at the joints and wingtips discarded
  • 4 tablespoons of non-salted butter
  • ¼ cup of jalapeno jelly or pepper jelly (you can find it at the grocery store where you will find canned or bottled grilled peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey or agave syrup
  • 2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon chile powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • pinch each kosher salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat broiler on high.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
  3. Rinse the chicken wings under cold water and pat dry.  The wings you will get at the grocery store will mostly not be cut up.  They are however easy to cut, just lay the whole wing flat on the cutting board, feel for the joint where the wing tip (smaller pointy section) connects to the rest of the wing.  With the tip of the knife touching the cutting board, just cut straight through at the joint, which separates the wing tip from the wing.  Discard the wing tip.  Then locate the joint, which connects the wing and the small shaped drumstick, and by using the same technique simply cut through the joint to separate these two parts.
  4. Arrange wings in a single layer on the baking sheet and place under the broiler for about 6 to 8 minutes until one side turns brown then turn all the wings over and broil for another 6 to 8 minutes until brown and cooked through.
  5. In a small sauce pan melt butter over low heat then combine all of the remaining ingredients and heat through for about 5 minutes and keep warm on low until ready to serve the wings.
  6. Heat BBQ over medium high heat and brush the BBQ grate with oil.  When BBQ reaches a temperature between 375oF and 400oF, grill the wings over direct heat, turning frequently for about 4 to 5 minutes until they are nicely charred with grill marks.
  7. In a large bowl combine the chicken wings and the spicy sweet sticky sauce.  Let this all rest for about 5 minutes in the bowl.  This will give the sauce some time to caramelize and thicken over the wings.
  8. Then serve wings on a platter with a cold lager and make sure to get some extra napkins for your guests!
spicy sweet sticky wings

spicy sweet sticky wings

fried stuffed zucchini flowers

zucchini blossoms

zucchini blossoms

We served this summer-time indulgence to friends this weekend and they were gobbled up in a blink of an eye!  Obviously frying them takes away from the delicate flavour so distinctive of these flowers, but as we all know frying is just like bacon, it just makes everything even tastier.

Sadly these beautiful golden blossoms do not stay fresh for too long after they are picked, and will wilt within a day.  If eaten the day of the purchase it will be easy for you to stuff them, but if you wait any longer the flower petals will wilt and it will be difficult to open them to stuff the flowers.  In this case you can just fry them without stuffing them, which is also very delicious.

However in this house, we prefer the fried stuffed version where mozzarella cheese oozes out of them!

The recipe below, which has been adapted from a William-Sonoma recipe, is based on the traditional Roman recipe, which recommends using mozzarella cheese to stuff the zucchini blossoms.  However since the typical mozzarella found at the grocery store can sometimes lack in taste, we chose to stuff them with mozzarella de bufala instead, which is a little more creamier.  The anchovies also add the characteristic saltiness to make it even more flavourful.

zucchini flowers

zucchini flowers

ingredients:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for taste
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup of cold sparkling mineral water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus oil for deep-frying
  • 4 ounce ball of fresh mozzarella de bufala
  • 5 anchovy fillets
  • 20 zucchini blossoms
fried stuffed zucchini flowers

fried stuffed zucchini flowers

  1. Before stuffing zucchini flowers you must remove the pistils or filaments which are found inside the flower   However it’s a little tricky to remove the pistils without damaging the flower petals and therefore I recommend that you do this as soon as you get home with the zucchini flowers before the petals begin to wilt.  If not the flower petals will stick together which will make it difficult to reach in the flower and pinch off the pistils.
  2. Once the pistils are removed you can then stuff the blossoms shortly before you are ready to fry them.
  3. To make the batter, mix the flour and the 1 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl.  Add the eggs, sparking water and 1 tablespoon of oil to the flour mix and whisk until well blended.
  4. Cut the mozzarella ball into sticks which are about 1 inch long and ½ wide.  Pat the anchovies dry with paper towels and cut each fillet into fours.
  5. You can fry the zucchini blossoms in a deep fat fryer if you have one or otherwise you can just as easily fry them in a heavy and high fry pan that is about 3 inches deep.  In either case heat the oil to 375oF.
  6. You will also need to heat oven to 175oF so you can keep the fried zucchini flowers warm as you fry the others.
  7. While the oil is heating, gently spread open the petals of each flower and insert a piece of the cheese and a piece of anchovy into each flower and press the petals closed.
  8. Once the flowers are stuffed, dip the flowers one at a time into the batter to coat the flower completely.  Lift out and let the excess drip back into the bowl.  As this can get quite messy it’s best to dip all the flowers and then fry them.  I usually just place a sheet of parchment paper on the counter and lay the battered blossoms on the paper before I put them in the deep fryer or the frying pan.
  9. Once the oil is heated through you can then slip the battered flowers into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides for about 4 minutes.  In the deep fat fryer turn them halfway through so they can brown on all sides.  Afterwards use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer them to a paper towel on top of a plate to drain.  Season with fleur de sel and then place in the oven while you fry the remainder of the flowers.
  10. Then serve immediately as is and enjoy!

refreshing chilled cucumber and dill soup

Image

cucumber and dill soup

cucumber and dill soup

A cold soup is the perfect appetizer for a summer BBQ and this one is particularly refreshing, as the crushed caraway seeds and the dill give it that special zing.  Since this is the beginning of the growing season, it’s a perfect time to use the locally grown garden cucumbers instead of the all-year-around English cucumbers which have little flavour in comparison to the garden cucumber.   If you can’t find the local garden cucumber you can of course use the English cucumbers.

This easy recipe is adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe.  The only special equipment you will need for this recipe is a blender to purée all of the ingredients.

This refreshing chilled soup can be prepared in advance up to 12 hours before you serve it, which makes for an easy appetizer to serve when entertaining a group of friends for a BBQ.

ingredients

  • 4 garden cucumbers peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (low-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 green onions, both light green and darker green tops, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped and a few sprigs for garnish
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3/4 cup vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin oil

Serves 6

cucumber and dill soup

cucumber and dill soup

  1. After peeling, halving lengthwise and taking it out the seeds of 3 cucumbers, chop the cucumber halves coarsely.
  2. Transfer the cucumber halves into a large bowl and combine with the yogurt, lemon juice, green onions, dill, garlic, caraway seeds, salt and white pepper.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside a room temperature for about an hour.
  3. In the meantime you can peel, half and seed the 4th cucumber and then dice this last remaining cucumber into small ½ inch cubes.  Set aside until ready to serve.
  4. Once the flavours of the cucumber and the other ingredients have combined you can pour into a blender and purée until smooth.  Then slowly add the vegetable stock and continue to purée until it is fully blended, for about 30 seconds.
  5. Transfer soup into a pitcher and cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for about 2 hours.  You can actually make this soup about 12 hours in advance as it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until your are ready to serve it.
  6. When ready to serve the soup, mix in the olive oil into the soup and serve in small bowls or as we did in verrines.  Then just add cubed cucumber to each bowl, top with a sprig of dill and serve immediately.

A little heat tempered by avocado – spicy shrimp and guacamole appetizer

spicy shrimp and guacamole

spicy shrimp and guacamole

Spring is a perfect time for freshness but also for a bit of heat.  Here’s a great shrimp appetizer to serve to your guests that has a little bit of kick but is gently tempered by some refreshing guacamole.   The secret to cooking this shrimp is the addition of a homemade sweet and spicy chill sauce.

There are three parts to preparing this appetizer, in addition to cooking the shrimp, you will have to make guacamole and prepare the sweet and spicy chili sauce.  It does take a little work, but thankfully the sweet and spicy chili sauce and the guacamole can both be prepared in advance.   You then just need to cook the shrimp before you’re ready to serve your guests.  This is not a complicated recipe, it just involves a lot of chopping and mincing.  However I guarantee that the efforts you put behind this will be worth it!

Serves 4

spicy shrimp and guacamole

spicy shrimp and guacamole

sweet and spicy chili sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • ½ cup ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons hot red pepper, seeded and minced
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 ½ teaspoon lemon rind, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon lime rind, finely grated
  • salt to taste
  1. Add sesame oil to a pan over medium heat.  Add ginger, garlic, shallots and hot red peppers and sauté until softened for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add sugar and water to the pan and stir gently until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Let sauce simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until sauce has slightly thickened and has slightly darkened in colour.  No need to stir as the sugar could crystallize.
  4. Transfer sauce to a bowl, and add lemon and lime rind.
  5. Let it cool and season with salt to taste.

You will have enough of the sauce for another meal, as this makes about 3/4 cup, and you can keep this sauce in the refrigerator for about 5 days.

guacamole

  • 2 avocadoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • ½ red pepper, seeded and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves and stems, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sweet and spicy chili sauce as per recipe above
  • salt to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients together in a medium bowl and roughly mash together.
  2. Season with salt and refrigerate until needed.    To keep in refrigerator cover the surface of guacamole very tightly with plastic wrap to ensure there is no air.  This will allow you to keep the guacamole for up to a day in the refrigerator.

shrimp

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 8 large uncooked shrimps with tail, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons sweet and spicy chili sauce as per recipe above
  • cilantro, finely chopped for garnish
  1. Heat a medium frying pan over high heat and add sesame oil to pan.
  2. Then add shrimp and sauté with a little kosher salt.  When shrimp is halfway cooked, after 1-2 minutes or so, add the 2 tablespoons of the sweet and spicy chili sauce and caramelize for about another minute.  Remove from heat.
  3. To serve place 2 tablespoons of guacamole on a small plate and top with two or three shrimps depending on the quantity of shrimp you have cooked.  Garnish with cilantro and serve.

It’s quite pleasant with a glass of chilled white wine, my preference being a sancerre blanc!

BB, no, not a new cream, it’s beets and burrata, an indulgent combination!

beets and burrata

beets and burrata

You can’t beat this combination, beets and burrata.  I must admit that I have only become a fan of beets, that is, roasted beets, just recently.  Pardon my ignorance, but the reason I never ventured into the beets territory is simply because for all these years I thought beets always came out of a jar in their vinegary form!  For some reason, I’ve never been a fan of food pickled in vinegar so I just avoided trying anything with beets.  And while I’m at it, why pickle anything?  Aren’t eggs just better fresh anyways and if you’re going to keep anything why not just put it in olive oil, instead of vinegar…

Anyhow enough about the pickling, let me tell you about one magical day in a restaurant in Montreal which changed my perception of beets.  A friend had mentioned that the best salad on the menu of this restaurant was the beet and goat cheese salad.   Well, this was the game changer for me, at that moment I discovered that beets come in wonderfully bright colours other than dark burgundy and that they are actually very flavourful especially when roasted.

So, yes roasted beets are quite good served in a salad with goat cheese, as it is often prepared, however you can bring it to another level by serving it with burrata instead of goat cheese.

If you haven’t experienced burrata yet, let me introduce you to a whole new world of fresh italian cheese which is just heavenly creamy.   In my book, once you go burrata you can’t go back to mozzarella or even mozzarella di bufala.  It’s just a better version of mozzarella as the mozzarella is combined with cream in a pouch made of mozzarella.  It’s quite indulgent and can be served with fresh tomatoes just as is done with mozzarella di bufala or served with roasted beets as done here.

The beets and the vinaigrette for this recipe can both be prepared in advance, up to a day prior to you serving the salad, which makes for a great first course when hosting guests.  It is not only bright and colourful but it’s spectacular because of the addition of the oh-so decadent burrata.  The roasted hazelnuts are also a must in this salad as they add the necessary crunchy texture to the mix.

Serves 4

beets and burrata

beets and burrata

ingredients

vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

salad

  • 8-10 medium sized beets, golden, candy-stripped or red beets, tops trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 200g packs of burrata or fresh mozzarella di bufala if you can’t find burrata
  • bunch of basil leaves, cut lengthwise into ribbons
  • ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, peeled and coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat oven at 375oF
  2. To make vinaigrette combine vinegar, lemon juice and shallot in a small bowl and stir in mustard.  Gradually whisk in oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can cover and chill vinaigrette while the beets are roasting.
  3. Toss beets in oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer beets to a baking dish large enough to fit all beets.  I prefer to line the baking dish with aluminum foil as it prevents me from having to clean and scrub the baking dish as the beets will bleed in the baking dish.  Then cover baking dish with foil really tightly so steam cannot escape.  Cook for about 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothbpick can slide easily through the beets.
  5. Carefully uncover the baking dish as the steam is very hot.  Let beets cool for about 10 minutes, until you can handle them, then peel beets by using a paper towel to help rub off the peel.  This will also help in ensuring you don’t stain your hands.
  6. Quarter the beets.  In a medium bowl toss beets with ½ of quantity of vinaigrette.
  7. Spread burrata on a serving plate and season with salt and pepper.  Top burrata with beets and drizzle remaining vinaigrette over the beets and burrata.  Garnish with toasted hazelnuts and basil.

Voila, beets served with heavenly creamy burrata!

spring time appetizer – crab, shrimp and avocado salad with finger lime caviar

shrimp, crab and avocado appetizer

shrimp, crab and avocado appetizer

The first signs of spring signal the arrival of fresh snow crab here in Montreal, which means it’s a great time for crab cakes or one of my favourite combination of ingredients, a salad of crab, shrimp and avocado.   Now there are many different interpretations of these three ingredients but here’s a fresh take which will be a lot more exciting for your tastebuds.

You can also add another level of texture to this recipe by topping the salad with finger lime caviar beads.  The finger lime is a cylindrical citrus fruit originating from Australia.  The fruit is filled with caviar beads of pink or green color, which has a juice that is acidic and similar to that of a lime.  They are not easy to find because of its Australian origin, however the availability of the finger lime is expanding as they are now being grown and harvested in California.  Adding finger limes to this recipe is a lot more fun than a lime wedge as the little beads pop and burst and ouze lime juice as you eat them.

finger lime caviar

finger lime caviar

This recipe is easy as 1, 2, 3, as it only requires cutting and mixing the ingredients.  The only time-consuming effort in this recipe is picking the crab meat from fresh cooked crab shells.  However you can skip this step and save yourself some time by buying fresh lump crabmeat from the grocery store that is pre-packaged and pasteurized.  Obviously you wouldn’t use this stuff for a seafood platter however it’s perfect for this type of salad or a crab cake.  When refrigerated and unopened this pasteurized crab meat can last up to a year or so, however when opened it has to be eaten within 3 to 5 days.

Recipe serves 2

ingredients:

  • 1 mango, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, minced and few sprigs for garnish
  • ½ jalapeno chile, minced
  • ½ shallot, finely minced
  • salt and ground pepper
  • 4 – 6 cooked medium sized shrimps, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup fresh crabmeat, picked and shredded (or pasteurized lump crabmeat)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • finger lime caviar from 2 finger limes (optional)
  • lime wedges for serving
crab, shrimp and avocado appetizer

crab, shrimp and avocado appetizer

  1. In a medium sized bowl mix diced mango, olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno and shallot.  Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add shrimp and crabmeat to bowl and combine.
  3. In small serving vessels or bowls first layer crab mixture, then spoon avocado on top and garnish with finger lime caviar or lime wedge if finger limes are not available.  Then top with a cilantro sprigs and serve immediately.

Voila!  Makes for an easy appetizer anytime of the week.