Thursday, October 24, 2013

Embrace the Fall

We had a request recently to provide lamb shanks as an entree for a large group of people. Being that this is a specialty item that requires a bit of finesse to get right we decided to order a case and start experimenting on our friends to get our lamb shank groove back. For this particular recipe we decided to go with braised, then slow cooked shanks with plum and rosemary.

 I started by trimming and seasoning the shanks then dredging in a flour and spice mix before searing off in a hot heavy bottom pan in small batches with a good squirt of olive oil. Turn the shanks until browned all over then deglaze the pan with red wine. Reserve the fond and wine mix and continue to brown the remaining shanks in olive oil. This can all be done very successfully in a cast iron dutch oven but I chose to do this version in a clay casserole dish. At this stage I arranged a combo of turnip, baby carrots and yellow onion layering maybe 1/3 on the bottom of the casserole dish then topping with shanks and finishing with the remaining veg mix. I combined the reserved fond with 2 cups of good beef broth, 2-3 tablespoons of homemade plum jam and 1 cup (or more) of red wine. I covered the whole mix so that the liquid came 2/3 up the sides of the dish and sprinkled fresh rosemary and thyme over the whole mess. Cover with foil and pop into a 375* oven for an hour. No need to check progress at this point but lower the temperature to 300* and allow your house to fill with the most phenomenal smells of a French country kitchen. I let mine go for another 3 hours, uncovering for the last hour and adjusting the shanks so the don't dry out on top. At this point they are ready to serve but I recommend doing a quick skim of fat from the top of the dish.

 As far as what to serve it with, the options abound. Mashed potatoes or soft polenta are a couple of great accompaniments but we opted for German spaetzle with fried onions, fresh herbs and Gruyere cheese. Good crusty bread and a hearty red wine are also a must but I encourage you to make this dish your own and experiment with the basic plan.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Crostini Ideas

We tried out a couple of new crostinis recently for my birthday cocktail party and they went a little something like this: Peach, blue cheese and thyme infused honey and goat cheese, roasted squash and arugula braised in cassis vinegar. Both toppings were served on grilled baguette slices since I'm currently obsessed with these tiny toasts. They are dead easy to make and have less of a "gum-cutting" affect that  toasted crostinis can often provide. I use a half and half mix of melted butter and olive oil and lightly brush both sides of each baguette slice. Preheat your BBQ to medium and grill the bread in small batches. The learning curve for this procedure was steep for me with a high loss of burnt toast but once I realized how fast they cooked I got my system down.

This first appy is simply thinly sliced peaches and crumbled blue cheese served on a grilled crostini. The honey was simmered for 15 minutes with fresh thyme then allowed to cool before drizzling over the whole works. Reserve a bit of fresh thyme for a nice garnish.

The second crostini was just crumbled goat cheese and roasted squash cubes with arugula. The squash was diced small and roasted with olive oil and spices. The arugula was seared in a hot pan and steamed very quickly with cassis vinegar to just wilt the leaves. This can all be assembled and served at room temperature and combines some really nice autumn flavors.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Some New Entree Ideas

A short while ago we were asked to cater a dinner for Ziggy Marley and his crew for the evening that they were playing at the Capitol theater here in Nelson. We jumped at the chance to try something new and experiment on Mr Marley and his compatriots since we were given artistic license with the menu.

The first dish was based on the discovery of some really bright, fresh snapper filets. We generally don't offer any white fish like snapper, cod, halibut or sea bass on our menus due to the lack of availability of these products. This of course comes with the territory of living in a small inland town.

We gave the snapper a short (maybe 20 minutes) bath of lemon, olive oil, garlic and coarse salt before grilling it on a high heat BBQ to maybe 70% doneness. The chutney was made with roasted tomatoes, ginger, tamarind, lemon and black sesame seeds. A balance of sweet, salty and tart can be achieved by adjusting the flavor with cider vinegar and brown sugar and sea salt.

The next dish reminds me a bit of a paella without the seafood. It's a slow roast chicken dish that's prepared ahead and almost brined in sweet and acidic ingredients before being roasted in the oven  as a one pot wonder. 

We opted to use skin-on bone-in chicken thighs for their durability and depth of flavor with their dark tender meat. The make ahead part of the recipe includes preserved lemons, caper berries, whole garlic cloves, figs and dates, olive oil, brown sugar and white wine. Combine all of the ingredients in a stainless bowl with the chicken and cover in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to cook the chicken you can display the thighs skin side up in a casserole dish and arrange all of the other ingredients around the little poultry islands. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken so that liquid comes to about the halfway mark on the thighs. I like to roast this dish on a convection setting @ 325*F. for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. The chicken skin should be well blistered and beginning to blacken and the sauce should be well reduced for serving along side. You may want to ladle some of the chicken fat out at this stage but it's not mandatory.

Both of these dishes would benefit from being served with plain aromatic steamed rice, grilled asparagus and a crisp green salad with radish, shredded cabbage and sprouts that you grew in your kitchen window.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Live Long and Prosper

Recently we catered the grand re-opening of the Civic theater and were asked to provide some sci-fi themed appetizers. Always up for the challenge at hand, we decided to go with the Star Trek logo on the key lime tarts as opposed to some kind of chocolate tribble. Although a tasty truffle tribble treat might have also been good. 
Everyone was very excited to finally have a theater back in our little town, complete with comfortable chairs, digital projector and surround sound. Trekkie's came out of the woodwork for the premier kick-off of the new Star Trek movie and start to the official movie going calender. A great event over-all put together by a slough of volunteers and lots of fundraising made this a spectacular evening of schmoozing and people watching.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Salad Days

With an influx of nice weather, it's nice to get back into the salad vibe and move away from the starch injected heavy meals that we love so much during the cold months. 
These two examples would work as a side salad as well but we like to opt for a meal size. 

This first one is destined to be on our menus but will need to be tested and tweaked a bit more before we commit. The punishment isn't too bad. So far it consists of spinach, grape tomatoes, red cabbage, sweet peas, mango and spicy cashews with a coconut avocado dressing. It's a real explosion of flavours, I doubt if we'll change it one bit.

This nice light salad screams Spring at the top of it's leafy lungs. It includes an assortment of organic spring greens, steamed edamame, orange segments and tamari almonds in a ginger grapefruit vinagrette. 
It is currently on our salad selection menu.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Got Sprouts?

Growing your own sprouts at home is rewarding in so many ways. It adds some extra foliage to your kitchen, tastes amazing, is so cheap that it's almost free and it's easy. I find the trick to successful sprouting is establishing a routine for rinsing. Work the rinse cycle into your daily schedule, first thing in the morning and later at night, it's an important part of keeping your sprouts fresh, clean and crisp. We used a combination of Mumm's seeds (available everywhere) and some organic lentils from our health food store. We generally don't grow four jars at once but I was interested to see the simultaneous grow rate.

Make a selection of clean jars to use for your sprouting. The jar size will dictate how many seeds you use. The smaller jars that we used will want 1- 1/2 tablespoons of seed whereas the big quart jars can handle 2-3T. I used a few too many alfalfa seeds and it was  bursting through the top by the time it was ready. Rinse and soak your seeds for a few hours to get them started then begin the rinse, drain procedure. Mumm's starter kit comes with seeds, screens and rubber bands so all you need is water and jars to get going. I find the rubber bands provided are a bit weak and allow seeds to get trapped in the screen top as well as opening up a chance for a sprout straining disaster. I like broccoli general...

Rinse and strain your sprouts every 12 hours and store the jars on a window sill, inverted in a dish to catch the water. I don't find that sunlight is a real necessity since the sill I use is quite shady but it might speed up the process. We opted to grow alfalfa, daikon and green and French lentils. The alfalfa and French lentils were the clear winners at the time of completion. The entire process takes less than a week and the fruits of your labor (really?) are well worth the micro-effort to grow them. If you haven't been saving your old sprout containers then you can line a small Tupperware with paper towel and refrigerate until you're ready to chow down. We tend to eat them straight out of the jar before they ever even make it to the fridge.

Give it a try.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Earl Grey Infused Nutella Squares

These little devil's are outstandingly rich and delicious. The hot cream is steeped with the tea before adding the remaining ingredients and topping a pre-baked cocoa graham crumb base. The actual square is not baked and sets up best in the fridge. The chopped unsalted pistachio topper really sets the whole thing off.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roasted Yam and Black Beans in a Tortilla Cup with Tomatillo, Roasted Onion and Cashew Salsa

Here is the newest addition to our hors d'oeuvre menu:

This is the Roasted Yam and Black Beans in a Tortilla Cup with Tomatillo, Roasted Onion and Cashew Salsa. We have been experimenting a bit more with cashews, in sweets and savouries, and this salsa really complimented the black bean and yam mixture nicely. Besides being a yummy new addition, this hors d'oeuvre is vegan and can easily accommodate a gluten free diet with an easy switch up to a corn tortilla.

We can always accommodate any dietary restrictions and try to have several options on our menus.Besides what is already on our menu we can also substitute corn tortillas for flour tortillas or gluten free bread in certain menu options as well. We make a mean gluten free bread and besides the sandwich option this also opens up the possibility of croutons for salads.  

We have really noticed the rise in gluten free clientèle and have done our best to come up with some tasty alternatives that we also enjoy. Because no one should have to suffer through store bought gluten free bread.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Popular Entrees

Here are a couple of entrees on our menu that get ordered frequently and receive a lot of positive feedback.

This first one is baked chicken with a roast garlic and pesto crust. I like to use fresh skinless boneless 6oz. breasts for this dish and tend to give the fat end of the breast a bit of a beating with my meat mallet to achieve a uniform thickness, this ensures that the breast will cook at relatively the same time. After a mild beating we introduce the chicken to a light pesto with Dijon and coarsely chopped roast garlic with it's roasting oil. The breasts can then be rolled into a little sleeping bag and topped with sun dried tomato powder before baking. These also work well when stuffed with asparagus or spinach and ricotta.

This grilled orange and maple glazed salmon is easy to make and makes for some good Summer BBQing. Wild Sockeye is naturally sweet and full of flavor so this is just more of a finishing glaze than anything else. Sometimes I'll let the fish relax in the sauce for half an hour before grilling but that's about it. The sauce is basically butter, fresh orange zest and juice, tamari and maple syrup. Fresh herb or chili paste are optional. Grill on high over charcoal or on a propane grill, watch for flareups on the grill from the butter. Try to cook salmon to a maximum of 70%, there should be a fat half inch ribbon in the center of the fillets to indicate a medium rare doneness.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Watermelon Radish Salad

This salad was served as more of a garnish on our previous toasted barley risotto dish. We felt that it deserved more credit than that so it was transformed into a salad course. I don't have proper quantities for this dish at this stage but this is the gist on how to make it. I used a mandoline with a medium blade to julienne half of one watermelon radish and two small, crisp organic carrots. Try to keep the length similar for uniform stacking. The dressing is a simple combination of vinegars including Umeboshi, black currant and rice, sweetened with some birch syrup and a bit of balsamic reduction, no oil. The golden beet chips were made by first peeling the beets and since the mandoline was already out, thinly slicing them. Watch your fingers! I then dredged the slices in a bowl with tapioca starch, taking care that they didn't stick together. Shake as much starch from slices in a fine sieve over the bowl and shallow fry sunflower or canola oil in small batches for about a minute or until they are crisp but not brown. Drain on paper towel and lightly season with sea salt. Continue to shake and fry until all of your chips are done. To assemble the salad, toss the carrots and radish in the vinegar mix just seconds before serving, drain off excess and arrange on a bed of organic greens. Top with some home grown sprouts and black sesame seeds and arrange the beet chips around the salad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The First Post

Being that is the first food post for the Alligator Pie Catering blog, I thought I would start with a doozy. This dish was developed as one of our unique and delicious "vegan challenges" that Erin and I often do to try and out-do one another in the kitchen. It's a fun game with a win/win scenario. I've been wanting to use many of these unchartered flavors for a long time now and though I could have broken this down into three separate dishes, I instead chose to make one ridiculously complex and time consuming meal. The outcome was up to my expectations and it was a fun meal to eat. Being that it is somewhat over-sauced you could pull a bit of risotto and mushroom mix out and sample different sections of sauce to determine your favorite combinations. The radish salad served as a bit of a palette cleanser between bites.

Toasted barley risotto with oyster mushrooms and broccoli rapini, fresh horseradish cashew cream, ancho chili rouille, cilantro oil and watermelon radish salad.