July 14, 2017

Smoked Duck & Artichoke Lasagna Bianca with King Oyster Mushrooms


This recipe was partly inspired by the fact that I had a can of artichoke bottoms to use up, and partly inspired by the fantastic smoked duck & artichoke étouffée that my husband makes. It's such a great combination, and I figured it would translate well to lasagna. And boy, did it ever! I decided against a tomato base for this lasagna because I thought bechamel would better offset the smokiness of the duck between the layers of pasta.

We served this with Prosecco (highly recommended), and chased it with a bright-tasting, lightly dressed, veggie-packed salad.

Smoked Duck & Artichoke Lasagna Bianca

Serves 6

one 20 x 30cm baking dish

Ragú Layers

1 smoked duck breast (about 300 grams), finely chopped
75 grams pancetta, finely chopped
1 400 gram can artichoke bottoms (220 grams drained weight), chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 large King Oyster Mushrooms, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons duck fat
1/2 cup duck broth/fond
2 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch coarse salt
2-3 tablespoons dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
water, as needed

Ricotta layer

250 grams ricotta
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Bechamel layers

3 cups whole milk
60 grams all-purpose or blending flour
65 grams butter
1 bayleaf
pinch white pepper
small pinch nutmeg

Noodles

Enough fresh or no-boil lasagna noodles to cover the bottom of your pan three times.

Extra

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons parsley, for finishing

Process is rather important here, so make sure you have a very clean space to work in - it's about to get messy.

Prepare the ragú layers first: Heat the duck fat in a large skillet, and sauté the onion and the pancetta. Add the mushrooms, and continue to sauté while you chop up the duck and the artichokes. Add the thyme, and the pinch of salt, and stir through. Deglaze the pan with a tablespoon or so of vermouth or dry white wine, as needed. Add the duck and artichokes to the pan, and stir well. Add the minced garlic, and stir through again. Sauté until the ingredients start to catch, and the mixture has become dry. Add a bit more vermouth, and stir again. If the mixture is still quite dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and stir it in. Allow the mixture to simmer very gently on the lowest heat, covered, while you prepare the other elements. Stir occasionally, and if it looks like it's drying out, add a little more water.

Grate the parmesan cheese and chop the parsley, including the amounts that you need for the ricotta layer.

Combine the ingredients for the ricotta layer in a bowl, and set aside.

For the bechamel layer: you can make this using the roux method, but given the long cook-time in the oven, it's not strictly necessary. Combine the cold milk and flour in a saucepan, and add the butter. Over medium heat, stir the mixture until the butter melts and the sauce begins to thicken. Stir carefully, scraping the bottom, to ensure nothing burns. Add the bayleaf, the white pepper, and the nutmeg. Be very discreet about the nutmeg, you just want a whisper. Continue to stir and cook until it is nicely thickened, and then stir in a pinch of salt, and remove from the heat. It is time to start layering.

First, preheat your oven to 350°F/ 180°C, with a rack in the lower-middle position.

Prepare your baking dish: either spritz it with a bit of canola oil, or a thin layer of butter, as you wish. Place a small amount of bechamel in the bottom of the dish, and spread it around thoroughly. This helps keep the first layer of noodles from adhering to the dish.

Add a layer of noodles, and then half of the duck mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated parmesan, and dollop the ricotta mixture (all of it) over the parmesan. Spread the ricotta so that it makes a more-or-less even layer. Drizzle with a third of the remaining bechamel. Add the second layer of noodles, and repeat the duck mixture and parmesan layers. Top those with half the remaining bechamel (you have already used all the ricotta in the layer below), and add the third layer of noodles. Pour the remaining bechamel over the third layer of noodles, and spread it around so that it perfectly covers everything. No noodle bits should be bare, no duck bits should be peeking out of the sides. Cover the Bechamel with the last of the parmesan, and sprinkle with parsley.


Place the dish, uncovered, in the oven, and bake for 30 minutes. If the top is not nicely spotted with golden flecks, crank up the broiler and give it another couple of minutes (watch closely!) until the surface is attractively browned, and then remove from the oven and place on a hot pad. Allow the lasagna to stand, uncovered, for 15 minutes once it comes out of the oven, to make for easy, mess-free slicing. Use a serrated knife to cut into six portions (and loosen the lasagna from the edges of the dish, and use a lifting spatula/flipper to ease each piece up and onto a plate.



Once again, Prosecco is the perfect drink with this.





July 08, 2017

Thai-inspired Peanut Chicken Salad Bowl



Every summer, I make some version of this salad. Sometimes it has rice noodles, sometimes it has rice instead of noodles, and sometimes it has dried ramen (not the instant ones) or mie noodles. But you can vary that bit to your heart's content. The important thing to remember, if you're using noodles of any kind, is to quick-chill them in an ice water bath as soon as they're cooked (otherwise they soak up all the sauce, leaving your chicken and veggies high and dry).

Like many great recipe notions, this is infinitely customizable. The varieties of vegetables are completely up to you - what have you got in your kitchen today? I particularly like zucchini bâtonnets in this salad, although I didn't have any zucchini on hand when I made this particular one. And even the chicken - poach some freshly to shred for the salad, or use last night's roast chicken leftovers. Roasted peanuts give a satisfying toasty crunch that is entirely different from the fresh crunch of the cabbage.

So what's in this one bowl?

Thai-inspired Peanut Chicken Salad Bowl

1 nest of non-instant mie or dry ramen noodles, cooked
1 chicken breast, poached and shredded
1/3 cup purple cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 red bell pepper, finely sliced
1/2 green onion, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 medium carrot, shredded on a box grater (large holes)
3 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts
cilantro
lime wedge
1/2 recipe Peanut Dressing (see below)

If you are starting with raw chicken breast, place it in a shallow pan half-filled with cold water (or chicken stock), and bring to a simmer. If you have some fresh ginger, you might want to throw a couple of slices into the cooking liquid. As soon as it simmers, turn the chicken over, cover tightly with a lid, and turn off the heat (you can leave it on the same burner, though). Set the timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the chicken from the liquid, and shred using two forks or your fingers (it will be a bit hot). This can be done ahead, if you like, and stored tightly covered in the fridge.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water, and when they are done, drain them and plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. The noodles can stay in the cold water while you prepare the vegetables, but then you want to drain them really well in a colander before assembling the salad. It's okay if they're still damp, but you don't want them dripping liquid.

Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces (I shred the purple cabbage as though making coleslaw).

To assemble the salad, I like to put a small spoonful of dressing in the bottom of the bowl, and then add the drained noodles. Arrange the chopped vegetables and shredded chicken however you please, adding the peanuts last. Drizzle with remaining dressing, and serve - each person can mix up their own bowl as they see fit.

Here's my foundation recipe for the dressing - it too mutates from time to time, but this is my gold standard.

Peanut Dressing for Salads & Salad Rolls

Makes enough for 2 salad bowls or six summer rolls - a bit more than half a cup.

60 mL (1/4 cup) unsalted smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 medium lime, juice only, about a tablespoon
1 tablespoon brown or raw sugar
1/2 tablespoon Sriracha
60 mL (1/4 cup) water

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender cup and process until smooth (I use my stick blender for this, but a mini-prep or small-cup blender would be fine). Drizzle over composed salad for individual diners to mix as desired, or serve in small bowls for dipping summer rolls.

As you can probably imagine, this salad travels well for work lunches or picnics. It keeps well in the fridge overnight if you're a meal prepper, too - just hold off, ideally, on the dressing until ready to eat.

July 01, 2017

Tahini-Swirl Brownies


It seems like everyone's making tahini-swirl brownies these days, and there's a darn good reason for it - they're simply fantastic. The nutty note of the tahini plays beautifully in a slightly dense (fudgy) darkly chocolate square that delivers flavour beyond all expectations.

Better still, these are cocoa brownies - no melting of chocolate required, but all of the rich chocolate taste you could want in a brownie. You only need one egg. Seriously. No fancy mixer required.

And finally, the pièce de résistance: this is a small batch brownie that you can make in a loaf pan. Seriously. So even if you live alone and are scared to be in the same house as a whole pan of deliciousness, you can make these without fear - there's just enough for a bit of immediate indulgence, and a few treats for upcoming lunches (or desserts). I cut mine fairly small, so for me this makes 8 small brownies, or 4 big ones. Use your best brownie judgment.

It is correct that there is no leavening in these brownies - the small amount of lift is from a brief but vigorous attention with a wooden spoon.

Tahini-Swirl Brownies

Lightly adapted from Dessert for Two

1/4 cup (60 mL) butter (salted, or unsalted)
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
1/3 cup (6 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 mL) cake/pastry flour
2 tablespoons (30 mL) pure tahini (well stirred)

Preheat the oven to 165°C (325°F), with the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Line a 9"x5"x3" loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving enough overhang to hold so that you can lift the brownie-block right out of the pan after baking.

In a small bowl on the stovetop, melt the butter without browning it. Add the sugar and cocoa powder on top of the melted butter, and stir well. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla. Stir for a couple of minutes to cool the mixture, and then scrape it into a regular mixing bowl.

Crack the egg directly into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, then grab your wooden spoon and stir the heck out of it. Stir until the egg disappears completely into the batter, about 20 strokes. This is also aerating the batter, so don't be afraid to be thorough.

Next, add the flour to the batter, and then beat well again - 40 strokes or so. Again, this is adding air, so be vigorous about it.

Scrape the batter into the parchment-lined pan, and smooth the mixture out evenly. Dollop the tahini in two places o the battter (one on the left side, one on the right) and then use the back of your spoon to gently swirl it through the top layer of the batter.

Bake on the lower rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with only moist crumbs clinging to it. If your oven is a bit slow, it might need as much as 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, and then remove the brownies from the pan to cool completely. You can just pull up on the parchment paper to lift and transfer the brownies to a cooling rack.



Slice into however many pieces you like. Or, you know, break out the ice cream and get yourself a spoon.

If you don't have tahini, this works really well with natural peanut butter, too.