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Strawberry Season

StrawberriesOne of the things easing my transition at the end of rhubarb season is the beginning of berry season, which is being ushered in by a rather delicious crop of strawberries and raspberries. Strawberries are my all-time favourite fruit, and are a great addition to many recipes, but their real beauty lies in their ability to stand on their own. One of my favourite summer desserts is a simple bowl of fresh, sliced strawberries. They are also a great addition to breakfast cereal or fruit salad. In fact, Zayden’s first taste of strawberries was in his fruit salad this morning (a mix of finely diced strawberries, banana, nectarine and kiwi). He must take after his mother because he loved them.

If you can’t be bothered to get up early on a weekend and head to the farmers’ market, make an exception for fresh local strawberries next weekend. You won’t regret it. And get there early. The berries are always the first to go.

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Rhubarb-Braised Chicken Thighs with Asparagus and Garlic Bread

Rhubarb Chicken with AsparagusTHE VERDICT:

First of all, thanks to Raheel for passing on this recipe.

The chicken is a fun, tasty dish that blends atypical flavours in a subtle way. The rhubarb adds tons of tangy flavour to the chicken. If you’re looking for a way to enjoy rhubarb that doesn’t involve dessert, I think this recipe is worth adding to your repertoire.  It is easy to cook, although it needs to bake for almost an hour, so it is definitely more of a weekend recipe.  We used local rhubarb and asparagus from the Farmer’s Market, and made the garlic bread the same as we always do.  Local asparagus is much tastier and softer than the ones we tend to find at the supermarket, so all we did was steam them and they were good to go right out of the pot.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Rhubarb-Braised Chicken Thighs (source: www.chow.com; original recipe)

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Rhubarb Season Coming to a Close

RhubarbAt the farmers’ market this morning, it quickly became apparent that my days of rhubarb splendour may be drawing to a close. Fewer stalls had rhubarb on offer and most of the ones that did were displaying some pretty unappealing stalks. Luckily, we found a good batch at one of the booths and I stuffed my produce bag as full as I possibly could. I plan to freeze what I don’t use this week for use over the summer. The vendor said he hoped to be back next week with more, so hopefully I still have a chance to stock up.

If you want to get in on the the glories of the rhubarb season before it’s too late, here are some of the many rhubarb creations we’ve made this spring: http://justinliew.com/tonightsdinner/?tag=rhubarb

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Blue Cheese Crusted Steaks, Sauteed Beet Greens and Thyme Braised Carrots

Steak, beet greens and carrotsTHE VERDICT:

Since having the baby, we try to plan a nice dinner at least once a week so that we can enjoy a quiet evening and linger at the table over good food catching up with each other. Flipping through my new copy of The Best of Chef at Home, I came across the recipe for Blue Cheese-Crusted Filet Mignon, and the menu for a special Tuesday night dinner began to take shape. We’d sampled some blue cheese from Qualicum Cheese Works at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market the weekend before and had planned to pick some up for this week, so it seemed like everything was coming together naturally. We also bought beets and carrots at the market and decided to incorporate them into the menu as well. Leftover beet greens from a salad earlier in the week were sauteed as a side dish and we prepared the carrots using a favourite recipe.

The results were a colourful plate of local flavours that made for a wonderful meal. The steak was indulgent. The recipe makes a lot of crust, so we have leftovers to play around with later in the week. It’s certainly not something we will eat on a regular basis due to fears of heart disease, but it will be a nice meaty, cheesy, buttery, artery-clogging treat to enjoy from time to time. The carrots were spectacular as usual thanks to their no-fail recipe. We were pleasantly surprised by the beet greens having never tried them before and being unsure of what to expect. For those of you who know your Asian vegetables, they taste a little bit like kai lan and have a texture similar to swiss chard.

Our mini prep worked hard on Tuesday night. First we used it to prepare the crust–it resulted in one of those situations where I saw the limitations of the choppers small size. The plentiful results of the crust recipe barely fit into the machine, and the thick consistency was hard on the small motor. But it worked great when we decided to turn a portion of our food that evening into baby food for Zayden. Before adding crust to the steak, we cut a piece off and cooked it until well-done. Then we pureed it in the mini prep with some rice cereal powder and water to get a smooth consistency. And once the carrots came out of the oven, we pureed them as well using just a little bit of water. Zayden’s official review: yummy.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Blue Cheese-Crusted Filet Mignon (source: The Best of Chef at Home by Chef Michael Smith)

4 filet mignon steaks (we actually used 2 New York strip steaks)

a sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

a splash or two of vegetable oil

6 oz. (175 g) of blue cheese

2 slices of whole grain bread, cubed

1/2 stick (1/4 cup/60 mL) of butter

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or tarragon (we used thyme)

more freshly ground pepper

  • Preheat your oven to 400F (200C). Preheat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Season the filets well and rub them with vegetable oil. Carefully position them in the hot pan and sear for a minute or so on each side, leaving the interiors raw and cool. Because the meat will be protected by a crust and will finish cooking in a relatively cool oven, this is your only chance to add caramelized flavour to the meat. Place steaks on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.
  • Puree the blue cheese, bread, butter, fresh herbs and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Pack the blue cheese crust mixture onto the tops of the filets, evenly cover each one with a thick layer of flavour. Bake the crusted filets in the oven until medium-rare, about 15 minutes. To be sure, insert a meat thermometer into the centre of each filet. When the temperature reads 135F to 140F (57C to 60 C), they’re done.

Sauteed Beet Greens (source: www.ehow.com; original recipe)

Thyme Braised Carrots (source: previously reviewed on Tonight’s Dinner; recipe available here)

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Beet & Goat Cheese Salad with Black Bean & Zucchini Quesdillas

Beet SaladTHE VERDICT:

One of my favourite summer memories from childhood is eating my Grandma June’s pickled beets. I’ve been a beet lover ever since, but this was my first attempt to prepare a beet dish from scratch. I must admit I was a little intimidated by the idea. I had no idea how to prepare beets, and I had visions of a horror show: every surface in our kitchen dyed bright red with beet juice. Luckily, the recipe I chose to use had really easy to follow instructions on how to cook beets, and I discovered that beet juice washes off hand, knives, cutting boards, etc. pretty easily if you clean up right away.

The results were quite tasty–certainly better than they would have been had I used canned beets to prepare the salad. The salad was also very hearty and would be suitable for a light meal on its own. We chose to serve it on a bed of mesclun greens and opted for pumpkin seeds instead of pecans (my allergies rear their ugly head again). Together with the quesadillas, it was a nice, casual meal.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Beet Salad with Oregano, Pecans and Goat Cheese (source: Fine Cooking: Fresh & Quick magazine; original recipe)

Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas (source: previously reviewed on Tonight’s Dinner; recipe available here)

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb PieTHE VERDICT:

It is hard to go wrong with strawberry rhubarb pie. ‘Nuf said.

A couple of  tips if you decide to make your own pastry: It’s really easy to incorporate the butter into the flour if you freeze it first and then grate it into the bowl (you can thank my boyfriend, Chef Michael Smith, for that tip) and it’s much easier to roll out cold dough, so stick it in the fridge for a few minutes before rolling it out.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Basic Pastry (source: Jessica’s great grandmother’s recipe book)

3 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 cup shortening or butter

3/4 cup ice water

1 tsp. baking powder

  • Sift the flour and salt into mixing bowl.
  • Work in shortening.
  • Add baking powder to cold water, stir and add to the flour mixture.
  • Mix, handling as little as possible.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (source: Closet Cooking; original recipe)


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Steak Tacos with Avocado Cream Sauce and Tomato & Baby Cucumber Salad

Heirloom cherry tomatoesTHE VERDICT:

We had friends over on Sunday night and prepared this meal. We apologize for the lack of proper photo and must blame it on being distracted by the witty banter of our guests (Thanks Joy, Paul, Jen and Sam for a great evening).

The steak tacos are a meal we’ve prepared twice since purchasing our first copy of Clean Eating magazine. The instructions in the recipe are very clear, and the meal is really quick and easy to prepare. They are also really filling and tasty, and I really like the spice rub. Our only complaint is that there is often a ton of leftover Avocado Cream Sauce, and it really does not make good salad dressing despite what the recipe claims. We think it does have potential as a dip or a condiment for burgers or sandwiches, however.

The salad is one of our favourites because it is so simple to throw together and goes great with other casual fare like these tacos. It was also a wonderful way to showcase the flavours of the variety of heirloom cherry tomatoes (pictured) that we picked up at the farmers’ market. They added a lot of vibrant colour to the dish.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Steak Tacos with Avocado Cream Sauce (source: Clean Eating magazine)

For the tacos:

3/4 lb. lean round steak, thinly sliced into 1/4-inch-thick strips

1 tsp. Mexican seasoning (we made our own with oregano, chili powder and garlic powder)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 clove garlic, minced

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

olive oil cooking spray

8 corn tortillas (we used whole wheat)

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

1 cup torn green leaf or romaine lettuce (we actually used shredded cabbage because we had some leftover)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced (optional)

For the cream sauce:

1 avocado, peeled and pitted

6 oz. nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 jalapaeno pepper, cored and seeded

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, whole (optional, if you live in our house, at least)

  • Prepare Avocado Cream Sauce: add avocado, yogurt, jalapaeno and whole cilantro to a food processor fitted with a standard blade. Pulse until well-blended. Set aside.
  • In a large resealable plastic bag, place steak, Mexican seasoning, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, salt and pepper. Seal bag and shake to evenly coat steak with seasoning.
  • Heat a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-high, mist skillet with cooking spray and saute steak, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes for medium doneness (steak will be slightly pink, but not red in center). If you prefer medium-well doneness, cook steak for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  • To serve, lay out tortillas. Add steak, tomatoes, red pepper and lettuce, dividing evenly among tortillas. Sprinkle with minced cilantro, if desired and top each with 2-3 tsp. of Avocado Cream Sauce. If you have any leftover sauce, store it in a resealable container in the fridge for up to 4 days. It can be used as salad dressing.

Makes 4 servings.

Tomato and Baby Cucumber Salad (source: Tonight’s Dinner; original recipe)

We made 2 modifications this time around:

  1. We used an assortment of heirloom cherry tomatoes.
  2. We used a fruit vinegar instead of balsamic.

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Ratatouille with Garlic Toast

Ratatouille with Garlic BreadTHE VERDICT:

This recipe requires a lot of prep, but is very easy to cook once the chopping is done.   The ingredients are very simple: apart from the vegetables, all that is required is tomato paste, chicken stock, salt and some fresh herbs.  It is not as quick as many of the recipes on our blog, so save it for a more leisurely night or a weekend.  We combined it with some flavourful garlic toast, which was tasty in itself and provided a way to sop up the remains of the sauce from the main dish.

For a freestyling dish this is perfect, as the cook can change up some of the vegetables if desired, especially if you want to stick to local seasonal ones as we did.  We stuck to onion, eggplant and zucchini but used an orange instead of a green pepper and various heirloom tomatoes instead of regular red tomatoes.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Ratatouille (source: The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America)

3 fl. oz./90 mL olive oil, or as needed

12 oz./340 g medium-dice onions (about 1 1/2 medium-sized onions)

3/4 oz./21 g minced garlic

1 0z./ 28 g tomato paste

4 oz./113 g medium-dice green peppers (about 1 pepper)

1 lb./454 g medium-dice eggplant (about 1 eggplant)

12 oz./340 g medium-dice zucchini (about 1 zucchini)

6 oz./170 g quartered or sliced white mushrooms

8 0z. /227 g peeled, seeded and medium-dice tomatoes

4 fl. oz./120 mL Chicken or Vegetable Stock, or as needed

salt, as needed

ground black pepper, as needed

1 oz./28 g chopped herbs, such as basil, parsley and oregano

  • In a large pot or rondeau, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until soft, about 1 minute.
  • Turn the heat to medium-low. Add the tomato paste and cook until it completely coats the onions and develops a deeper colour, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the vegetables in the following sequence: peppers, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes. Cook each vegetable until it softens (2 to 3 minutes each) before adding the next.
  • Add the stock and turn the heat to low, allowing the vegetables to stew. The vegetables should be moist, but not soupy.
  • Stew until the vegetables are tender and flavourful. Season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

Garlic Toast (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1/3 of a baguette, sliced length-wise

2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

  • Combine garlic and melted butter. Spread evenly over the two baguette pieces.
  • Wrap in tinfoil and bake in a 350F oven for 10 minutes until heated through.
  • Unwrap the foil and lay it out flat. Place the baguettes on top. Place under the broiler until toasted and golden brown.

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Breakfast Hash

Breakfast HashTHE VERDICT:

While wandering the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, the idea for this breakfast hash began to take shape in my mind. Every ingredient in this dish is available locally and is currently in season, so maybe I should rename it 100 Mile Breakfast Hash.

For a freestyle meal, this turned out very well. I especially loved the gooey cheese curds and juicy ham, and the spinach added something a little different to an otherwise very traditional breakfast fry up. The only thing I would do differently next time is cook the potatoes a little longer before adding the other ingredients (I neglected to check for doneness with a fork). With all the ingredients we threw in, I thought there would be more leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast, but it really only made three servings. Wonder what Justin is going to eat for breakfast tomorrow? ;P

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Breakfast Hash (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

2 Tbsp. oil

12 new potatoes, washed and quartered

3 green onions, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

6 slices deli shaved ham, cut into strips or about 2 cups of diced ham

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups cheese curds, crumbled or about 1 cup grated cheese

3 cups baby spinach

  • Heat oil in a large wok or saute pan
  • Saute potatoes and green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Use a fork to check potatoes for doneness before continuing.
  • Toss in ham, cooking until heated through.
  • Pour eggs over all, stirring constantly. Cook thoroughly.
  • Stir in cheese curds. Stir occasionally until curds begin to melt.
  • Stir in spinach just before serving.

Makes 3 servings

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Turkey Breasts in Apple & Maple Sauce with Fresh Local Asparagus

Turkey Breasts with Maple & AppleTHE VERDICT:

Here is a good example of the kind of recipe I love: something that is incredibly quick and easy to prepare, but still feels like a special meal. This meal required very basic ingredients, was ready in less than 30 minutes, and tasted incredible.  I love turkey, but usually reserve it for major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I am glad we discovered this recipe that inspired us to bring turkey to the table as part of a weeknight meal. This simple way to dress up the meat would also be a great idea for those holiday leftovers that seem to linger in the fridge forever.

All we did to prepare the asparagus was steam it in our asparagus pot. We picked it up at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market on Saturday, and I must say there is a pronounced difference in the flavour and texture of fresh, local asparagus over the supermarket variety. The stalks are much less woody and the taste is far more vibrant. It was a little pricier, but definitely worth it.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Pan Seared Turkey Breast with Apple and Maple Sauce (source: Closet Cooking; original recipe)

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