Monday, September 26, 2011

Summertime Soup and Salad Showcase (with Sandwiches)! - How's that for alliteration?

Hi there!

OK, before I even get started, I confess that the main impetus for this post is to show off various pictures I've taken since May of some of the tastiness I've enjoyed in the past 4 months. So, while the ingredients might not be in season any more, it gives readers something to look forward to next year! Heck, my post about Fall meals still gets the most hits, even in Summer.

This post is mainly a celebration of some of this past Summer's little culinary joys (keep in mind that for me, Summer starts in mid-May and ends with snow), mainly some lovely soups and salads that were made over the course of the season.

We'll start with the soups. You'd think soup wouldn't be a very summery meal, but the right soup can certainly hit the spot if you're in the mood for it, and it's a good way to use vegetables that you might not be interested in eating whole (like beets or fiddleheads).

Fiddlehead Soup (serves 4)

Once again, that lovely fern known as the fiddlehead comes back into my kitchen. What can I say? They're tasty veggie goodness! I cooked more with fiddleheads this Summer than I ever had before. The season was shorter this year, but I got what I could as often as possible. This soup was adapted from a few online sources (especially the use of potato - VERY good as a thickener and this recipe could easily be vegan-ized and still turn out creamy).

- 1 lb. fiddleheads, scrubbed and trimmed (try to remove as much of the brown bits as possible, there have been stories of food poisoning linked to fiddleheads, but in this case you're cooking the heck out of them and they'll be safe, but the brown bits are still nasty)
- 2 tbsp butter (or olive oil for vegan)
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 potato, finely diced
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- pinch nutmeg
- pinch cayenne
- 1 cup light cream or 2% milk (use non-dairy substitute for vegan)
- salt and pepper to taste


- First, you want to blanch your fiddleheads (basically boil in about a centimetre deep of water) for about 10 minutes. Fiddleheads are quite tough and need thorough cooking. Strain and reserve fiddleheads.
- In a pot, melt butter and sauté garlic and onions for about 3 minutes on medium heat.
- Add celery and potatoes and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add fiddleheads and cook for another 5 minutes. Keep 2-3 fiddleheads per serving aside for garnish.
- Stir in vegetable stock, thyme, coriander, nutmeg and cayenne.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low (3-4).
- Simmer for about 35-45 minutes, then stir in milk or cream.
- Simmer for another 10 minutes and turn off heat. Season to taste.
- Using an immersion blender, puree soup until a thick consistency is reached. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a normal blender, but make sure you allow air to escape and cover the hole with a damp towel. Otherwise, the steam will get trapped in the blender and cause it to blow up all over your kitchen. Not good when dealing with hot soup.
- Serve soup hot with reserved fiddleheads as garnish. Serve with your favourite sandwich or on its own.

The high-end version of "Soup n' Sammich Combo"

Summer Borscht (serves 4)

I call this "Summer Borscht" because of it's bright golden colour, not what you'd expect when thinking of beets. Really, though, it works just the same with regular beets. While traditional borscht often calls for sour cream, I went with yogurt in this case and it was really tasty. If you don't know, borscht is basically a beet soup of Slavic origin. The thing that made this recipe sing was to roast the beets before cooking them in the soup. I also added some shredded zucchini, certainly not an element of traditional borscht, for body and a bit of extra veggie goodness. So, let's get to it!


- 1 lb. golden beets (or regular red beets), scrubbed clean and green tips removed.
- 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp for drizzling on beets (see below)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1-2 carrots, sliced very thin
- 1-2 celery stalks, sliced very thin
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp caraway seed
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp fresh sage, chopped
- plain, Balkan-style yogurt to serve
- salt and pepper to taste

The simple joy of making soup

- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Take a large sheet of foil, lay beets out flat and drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap foil tightly and roast beets in the oven until tender (about 20 minutes). Remove and allow to cool slightly. Once cooled, peels beets (the skins come off very easily once roasted) and set aside.
- Melt butter in a pot on medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Once butter and oil have heated, stir in carrots, celery, onion, garlic, caraway seed, celery seed and dried thyme. Cook vegetables until soft, stirring frequently (about 10-15 minutes).
- Stir in roasted beets and cook for another minute or so.
- Stir in shredded zucchini, vegetable stock and white wine vinegar. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low (3 or 4) and allow soup to simmer and reduce for about 30-40 minutes. In the last 10 minutes or so, make the Open-faced Cheese Toasts (see below).
- Once soup has finished simmering, puree using immersion blender (see instructions in previous recipe).
- Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and an Open-faced Cheese Toast.

Mmmmmm, melty...
 Open-faced Cheese Toasts

- 2 slices dense pumpernickel bread
- 2 tbsp basil pesto
- 1 tomato, cut into 6 slices (I used yellow tomato, but any will do!)
- 1 cup grated extra-old cheddar
- 2 sprigs cilantro (optional garnish)

Basically, just place on a cookie sheet and broil until cheese melts. Remove from oven and garnish with cilantro. Use parchment paper to avoid getting melted cheese stuck on your cookie sheet. It sucks, don't let it happen to you!

The finished product!

Next is a simple but unconventional salad featuring some of the best produce to be found in late Summer. 

Pepper, Celery and Zucchini Salad w. Feta

When we think of salads, we often think of iceberg lettuce and a few random veggies drowning in some creamy dressing. Personally, I can't stand a ton of dressing and iceberg lettuce has about ZERO nutritional value or taste. My salads are usually spinach-based, but sometimes I just want a whack of crunchy veggies. The following basically falls into that category.


- 1 red pepper, either coarsely diced or julienned
- 1 yellow, either coarsely diced or julienned
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow zucchini, sliced (about 1/2 inch thick)
- 1 green zucchini, sliced (about 1/2 inch thick)
- 3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese

- 1/4 cup olive oil
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp dry basil
- salt and pepper to taste

Basically just toss all ingredients with the dressing and serve!

BONUS: Subtly Spicy Burgers (I made these to go with the above salad).

There's a multicultural grocery store near my work that sells whole dried chilies like Arbol, Mulatto, Guajillo and Cascabel. All you have to do to make them usable is grind them into powder using a coffee grinder. I strongly suggest that anyone who's serious about making awesome food pick themselves up a cheap coffee grinder for use with whole spices. The difference between grinding your own spices right before use is surprising and well worth the effort.

Now, I was making burgers and just wanted to add a subtle spicy flavour. Basically I took a pound of lean ground beef, added about 1 teaspoon of powdered Guajillo chili (good old fashioned chili powder works well also) and mixed it all together.  Some finely chopped cilantro would also work well in a burger. Next I formed the burgers into 1/4 pound patties, threw them on the grill and there you! The cute flower-pattern bun came from a bakery in the Byward Market (the name escapes me) and I topped it with the ever-popular Sriracha Mayo.

So there you go! Some of the best of the past season. Now that it's Fall, expect some heartier fare to come out! 

And as a parting bonus, here's Kari!

Life is good when you eat gorgeousness on your deck at sunset. Especially with such lovely company! 



Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Your Average Sandwich! - 2nd Edition

Hi again!

Before I get started, I have to plug my sweetie's new blog: Love and Food in Ottawa. Basically it's Kari's take on the wide wonderful world of cookery and ingenious uses for vodka.

That being said, it's time for another edition of "Not Your Average Sandwich!", because, well, sandwiches rock! Seriously, if "The Next Food Network Star" is a sandwich guy, what does that tell you?

So, it's no surprise that at the Nick & Kari homestead, we eat a lot of sandwiches. Why? Well, they're easy, they usually encompass all basic food groups, and you can control your portions fairly easily. But who really needs to explain why sandwiches are awesome, I think we all know they are and have our own reasons for that opinion. So let's get to the food, dude!

1 - Reuben Sandwiches w. Oven Fries and Russian Dressing

Reuben Sandwiches with Homemade Russian Dressing and Oven Fries
This one was Kari's idea, my execution. Often, on the days I work early, our dinner planning consists of her emailing me a dinner idea and me going with it. So, when she proposed Reuben sandwiches (and bought all the necessary fixins'), I was glad to execute. But, we had nothing to put on the side (except gorgeously fat dill pickles). I figured some homemade oven fries would fit the bill!

So, first off, what's a Reuben? Well, its origins are somewhere in a US deli, but as with most recipes, the details are sketchy. Basically, it's a corned beef sandwich on rye (light or dark? Most recipes I've read don't specify) with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, then done up grilled cheese style.

Reuben Sandwich (for 1 sandwich, repeat as needed)


- 2 slices rye bread (I prefer dark rye for a Reuben, but light is fine also)
- 3-4 slices corned beef, pastrami or smoked meat (for folks from Eastern Ontario and Quebec, corned beef and pastrami are considered somewhat inferior cousins of smoked meat)
- 2 tbsp sauerkraut
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds (optional, for the sauerkraut)
- 1/4 cup beer (optional, for the sauerkraut)
- 1 tbsp Russian dressing (recipe to follow or use store bought)
- 1-2 slices Swiss cheese (Emmenthal also counts)

- First, you may want to fry up the sauerkraut, for two reasons. One, I find that the brine most sauerkraut is kept in is bit too sour. Two, it's very wet coming out of the jar so this helps dry it out a bit. Basically, toss the sauerkraut, caraway seeds and beer (because beer is always good) into a hot pan and stir fry until the sauerkraut starts to brown a little. Remove from heat and put aside in a small bowl.
- Spread a little Russian dressing on the inside of each slice of bread.

- Layer meat on a slice of bread, then sauerkraut, then cheese and top with last slice of bread.

- In a frying pan, melt butter on medium heat and coat pan.

- Carefully place the sandwich onto the hot pan. 

- Fry up sandwich until the first side is crispy and golden and cheese has melted slightly (about 5 mins).

- Using a spatula, and the Force, flip sandwich over, ensuring it stays together.

- Cook for another 5 minutes and serve with fries and a pickle!
Mmmmm... pickle...
Oh wait, you say, what about those fries? Well, they're pretty darned easy. Here's how!

Oven Fries


- 3-4 medium-sized potatoes, washed, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch thick fries or wedges
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- seasoning (get creative! Salt and pepper are just fine, but I usually like to throw in something interesting from the spice rack)


- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Once you've cut your potatoes, give them a thorough rinse in cold water. Do this 2-3 times. This gets of excess starch and helps make the potatoes more crispy out of the oven. At least that's what I think causes it... Dry potatoes as best as possible using a towel or paper towel. 

- In a large bowl, toss potatoes in oil and seasoning until well-coated.

- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminium foil and spread out potatoes evenly.

- Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

- Remove fries from the oven and serve with sandwiches and extra Russian dressing for dipping.

Speaking of Russian Dressing:

- Stir together 4 tbsp mayo, 2 tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp minced onion, 1 tsp red wine vinegar and 1/2 tsp black pepper.

And that's that! Serve it all with ice cold beer and enjoy!

Open-faced Arctic Char Gravlax w. Smoky Sour Cream

More Gravlax? Really? DAMN RIGHT!
 OK, OK, I admit it, I have a bit of an obsession with the art of curing and smoking meat and fish. Why? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that both are a form of "hands-off" cooking. There really isn't much work involved past the initial process of setting up a fire or coating a piece of meat in a salt-based cure. But the results when done right? Oooooh Baby! That's good eatin'!

So, as I've posted before, Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish where one salt-cures salmon. Well, when I got to the grocery store, I noticed that the Arctic Char was actually cheaper than the Pacific Sockeye (probably because the Char is farmed), so I decided to give it a try. Of course, that meant having to season it differently as well! Oh no, a chance to tweak a recipe, shucks darn!

Now, the original recipe calls for brown sugar, dill, black pepper and whiskey. Well, small problem, I couldn't find a crumb of dill in the whole kitchen. So, I decided to skip it. But that left a need to add something else to flavour the salmon. Well, since the colour and flavour of Arctic Char is a little lighter than salmon, I figured a lighter flavour would work as well, something yellow and bright. In this case, I squeezed about 1/4 of a lemon's worth of juice, grated about 1 tbsp of grapefruit zest and added about a tbsp of maple syrup. The grapefruit zest was the kicker, it added such flavour and zing. Wonderful stuff! I also, for fun, added a half-teaspoon of a smoky spice rub mixture I picked up at a local farmer's market. So, I mixed that all up with the kosher salt, created the appropriate salt crust to cure the meat, and left it in the fridge for 2 days.

Well, needless to say, the first bite was delightful, with bright flavours. Unfortunately, Gravlax is only for the true fish lover, it will have a 'fishy' flavour to it unless you're using it fresh out of the water. Me, I don't mind so much, but when Kari took a bite, her first reaction was "MMMMMMMM!", her reaction ten seconds later was "Eeeeeeew, low tide!" (be reminded that Kari has been only been eating fish and seafood since we've been dating and she's a hard sell).

Now, no matter how much you love fish and Gravlax, it can't be eaten on its own, it just doesn't work. You need some kind of bread to put it on and something creamy to balance the texture. So, it just so happened that we had this dense organic rye in the fridge (the kind you can find in the supermarket or speciality delis and it's so dense that 5 slices weigh about a kilo). So, I threw that in the toaster (it takes forever to even develop a toasty crust) and about ten minutes later took it out (I kid you not!).

Next, I needed that creaminess and there's nothing better with Gravlax than sour cream! Now, that being said, I find sour cream kind of boring. It needed some kick. So, smoked paprika to the rescue! A pinch of that stirred into a tbsp of sour cream and ka-BLAM!! That sour cream was kickin' like a mule! So I spread that onto the bread, topped it with the Gravlax, and then I needed some garnish. Still without dill, I instead used a little rosemary and more grapefruit zest.

What you had in the end was a flavour roller-coaster. I have become a convert to the Church of Grapefruit Zest with Fish. I think they have a PO Box somewhere in Florida...

So, voila! more sandwichian excellence. Hope you enjoy it!