Thursday, 8 September 2011

SmartCooks Labour Day BBQ

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labour Day Menu Redux

So, I seem to be able to get into this blog on the Blogger website but searching for it on Google produces no results, so I'm not quite getting it yet.  In time... patience ... This is the second trial run, with photos from the Internet. After this posting I will start photographing as I cook.  

Today's posting is the 2011 Labour Day Menu -- a delicious BBQ dinner with 4 friends and complete with appetizers, main course of salmon, side dishes of beets, tomatoes and vegeys and, of course, book-ended by dessert.  A guest brought some rice but we all seemed to skip it in favour of vegetables and salmon. 

It can be a challenge cooking for this particular group as each one has particular likes and dislikes.  I cook more offerings than I would normally and let those eating pick what they want.... it creates a bit more work for me, a bit of overabundance for those who sampled everything :) but the wine, the dine and the time made it all worthwhile.

The Menu

First, the appetizers ......

We'll skip the bag of sour cream and onion potato chips.... it mysteriously appeared in the shopping basket and were consumed by a dinner guest who would argue that chips ARE the finest kind of appetizer ... moving on ...  

The MAIN appetizer was 'hummus mixed with mild guacamole on top of mini pieces of sweet bell peppers and artisan bread'.  You can make the hummus/guacamole a day ahead of time. I would suggest waiting until just a few hours before guests arrive, however, to  put it on the sweet peppers; otherwise, the peppers become a bit soggy. 

A few notes about the recipe... the garlic used in the hummus (and all recipes) was from the incredible selection I bought in mid-August at the 12th Annual Carp Farmer's Market Garlic Festival  Who knew so many types of garlic existed in the world (I digress here but a few of about a dozen types of garlic).  Trying another photo here....

(((That pix took a long time to figure out how to find and add.... more practice needed.)))  

Back to step 1 of the appetizer recipe. ... hummus.  The onion selected was a basic white one from the neighbourhood's Main Street Farmer's Market which runs every Saturday morning in the summer time.  Other notes ...  the salt I use is always kosher or coarse, never table salt. I've never tried making tahini (sesame paste) as it is easily available from Boushey's Fruit Market on Elgin Streeet or a Middle Eastern food store. 

Hummus ( South Beach version)  
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas
2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt (this is all I use now)

Drain the chickpeas, reserving 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the liquid. Combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, onion, garlic, oil, cumin, pepper, and salt in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth adding the chickpea liquid if needed to thin the puree. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving to blend the flavors.


Step 2 is the guacamole.  I vary how I make guacamole but this time I chose
Martha Stewart's Classic Mexican Guacamole .  


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning if desired
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato, seeded and finely chopped
With a large mortar and pestle (or a potato masher), mash onion, 1 T cilantro, jalapeno, and salt until smooth and juicy. Add avocado, and mash slightly (avocado should have chunks). Stir in tomato and remaining 2 teaspoons cilantro. Season with salt, if desired.

I combine the Hummus and Guacamole together.  It comes out as a smooth, creamy, green dip, with chunks of tomato and avocado.  It's completely wholesome and delicious and disappears fast. 

Once you have the combined dip ... move onto the small sweet bell peppers. I used a combination of small, sweep, red, yellow, and orange, and cut them into small sections, topped each one with a tablespoon or so of dip and arranged them on a platter, with extra dip in a bowl in the middle. Just had to take a picture of the wonderful selection available right now.  Love the colours .... 

Then small slices of artisan bread from Art-is-in-Bakery  were arranged around the peppers.  Photo to follow next time I make this appetizer, which I do often. 
Et voila, a photo of the finished product to follow next I make this appetizer.  In total it takes about 20 minutes to put it all together.  

Main Course

First, the Salmon.  It had to be from Saslov's Meat Market and organic and perfect. I'll leave aside all the debates over the challenges of organic farmed, wild, Altantic/Pacific/Ireland etc and just say that I bought the best organic that Saslov's had in stock that day.  They've never left me down. 

The Salmon marinated in a bottle of lemon juice and a bunch of dill for about 18 hours as I have done many times before. 

While it marinated, I found and cleaned the ultimate Fish Grilling Basket (see photos).  It makes turning the salmon, basting it with more lemon juice and checking the internal temperature simple indeed.  (((((Tip:  always oil the basket or spray some Pam on it for easier clean-up... trust me on this...))). 

I did not serve the salmon with a sauce this time but have in the past (Sidebar:  I tend to make mustard-dill sauce and make it one of two ways: a) with yogurt or sour cream or b) more likely, neither of either ... just the dill, mustard, etc... see Salmon Sauce  at goodcooking for a recipe).  

The science of grilling salmon is left to a friend who has coached me through a few beauties.  The BBQ is cleaned and oiled à la Martha Stewart ie place some low-smoking oil like grapeseed on a piece of paper towel and use tongs to rub the oil on the grill... how clever.  

Our method of grilling is to use direct heat (and there's debates on direct/indirect) and start skin side down.  When we flip the fish to the other side, we remove the skin as it keep the fishy smell under control and, besides, the fish is safely tucked into the Ultimate Grill Basket.  We baste with lemon juice and dill once on each side.  When the meat flakes slightly (or the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees F for medium), the fish is done.  Total time is no more than 15-20 minutes start to finish, including flipping. 

Side Dishes

Three small side dishes accompanied the salmon... knowing my guests' tastes, I knew each one would select two out of three.  I, however, sampled all three. 

Side dish number 1:  Beets with Vidalia Onions 

Why Vidalia onions you might ask? Well, easy answer.  I found Vidalia onions and beets at a local farmer's market and went looking for a recipe that incorporated both.

Lo and behold, in my research, I came across a website devoted to Vidalia Onions  -- America's sweet onions. Apparently they originate in Vidalia, Georgia and are called the 'pioneer' of sweet onions. The website even features country music jingles of people singing Valalia praises:  (Mournful guitar:  "Say Vidalia Onions and I get hungry..."). Well, who'd a-guessed... Only in the US .....

I guess us Canadians can grow them as well although when I googled it says the name is trademarked to Vidalia, George and is more to do with the type of soil.  Bottom line, any sweet onion works fine and if you can get Vidalia onions, bonus...

So I digressed yet again.  Back to the recipe. I used a recipe from ''Cooking with Emeril'' a Food Network star and has his own restaurants, a spiffy website, recipes galore, and a food blog.  Check out   I 've made his recipe a few times and it has all the right stuff -- slightly crunchy from the almonds, sweet from the beets and vidalia onions, with an interesting blend of herbs and juices. I went looking for heirloom beets as I wanted the combination of red and golden but couldn't find any so stuck with familiar reds.  

The recipe is a little fussy so preparation is key.  I lay everything I need on the kitchen island while the beets are roasting and then make it.  The recipe below is modified slightly to make just enough for 3 or 4 people.     

  • 1 pound beets, washed and patted dry
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 cup sliced, toasted almonds (or more depending on preference)
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper


Preheat oven to 400ºF.

In a mixing bowl toss the beets with the olive oil and season with the salt and black pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the beets comes out easily.

Once the beets have been removed from the oven and cooled, peel them and cut them into 1/4-inch half moons. Place the beet slices in a bowl and add the Vidalia onions, garlic, almonds, parsley and tarragon. Toss the beets and the other ingredients with the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, rice wine vinegar and salt and black pepper. Toss well to coat all the ingredients evenly.

Side dish Number 2:  Vegeys medley  

This one is as simple as can be. I selected four items for the medley:
  • 4 Heirloom carrots (my latest craze ... the colours and taste are amazing.  Just scrub slightly.  the recommendation is not to peel.  For a great recipe for roasted and glazed Heirloom carrots  try this link.  I've made it 3x and it is fabuloso.)
  • 2 Garlic scapes (from the Carp garlic festival.)  I only discovered the tops of garlic or scapes as the latest gourmet delight a few months ago (((when I went looking for wild garlic but that's a story for another day)))).  Turns out garlic scapes are not available at any supermarket I use. ;) That's a sad thing but the farmer's market has them. Scapes are totally divine steamed with asparagus, or in pesto, and on pork or chicken. they offer a delicate flavour of garlic. 
  • 1 Yellow Zucchini (local farmer's market)
  • 1 Green Zucchini (ditto from the market)
I pre-cooked the Heirloom carrots slightly in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, so they would be done at the same time as the other vegetables in the BBQ wok.  I improvise on the recipe for vegetables all the time and this time used a bit of olive oil, thyme, coarse salt and fresh pepper.  I flip the vegetables and stir them to ensure a few grill marks and that they are remain al dente.  I garnished the final dish with a few sprigs of thyme.  

The vegetables went into the BBQ wok at the same time as the salmon and was ready a few minutes before the salmon.  If I had made a sauce, it would have worked for this as well.  This side disk is a snap to make -- 10-15 minutes maximum.

Side dish number 3:  Simple Tomato Salad 

The saddest thing about living in Ottawa in the summer is the state of Ottawa and area tomatoes.  Sigh-able.  Bland, tasteless, not worthy. 

Even time I bite into one of these bland thingies, I remember my childhood.  I grew up in southern Ontario and had relatives who farmed in Chatham, Blenham, Leamington ... On a hot summer's day, my parents would bundle us (and a case of beer .... shhhhh) in the car and off we'd go from farm to farm to visit some of my mother's brothers and sisters.  The aunts and uncles weren't allowed to sell us vegetables as their fields were all under consignment to Aylmer Tomato or other plants.  

But we NEVER left a visit without a brown bag or two -- Leamington tomatoes, Chatham corn stand out.  Mom could do a meal with just those two vegetables and the combo of corn and tomatoes stands out as some of the favourite memories of childhood.  Whenever I go back to that area in the summer, I make it a point to drive to a local farmer's stand and buy a bag of tomatoes to bring back to Ottawa.  Weird, but wonderful.

Except on Labor Day weekend at the Parkdale Farmer's Market where my husband and I discovered a particularly interesting stand with excellent-looking Ontario Beefsteak Tomatoes.  From experience, we knew that excellent-looking on the outside could be a ruse for what's inside but we bought a small basket to try.  And, I am very pleased to report that we've had happy tomato experiences.  So these beefsteak tomatoes were used for side disk number 3 (I know I took a while getting to it but, hey, it's a blog).  I'm reading that tomatoes are late this year so perhaps the September-October period will continue to give us great tomatoes. 

For the dinner, all I did was cut the tomatoes into wedges, add in some low-fat bocconcini TreStelle mozzarella and fresh basil leaves from my deck planters.  The dressing was on the side ... again olive oil, balsamic vinegar and coarse dijon mustard.  Some opted to drizzle a little on vegetables.  Simple but good... 

Dessert:  Voila the French Vanilla Ice Cream with Peaches 

Well, dessert is my latest craze.  Home-made Cuinsinart ice cream, specifically vanilla bean vanilla ice cream.  Wow.  Like wow.  Not your low fat kind -- I'm working on recipes for that.  Pair that ice cream with fresh peaches, lightly sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar (to keep from browning) and then add a hint of Triple sec (or Grand Marnier or whatever) and, like I said ... wow.  

The ice cream is from the Cuisinart book.  It has in it whipping (or heavy) cream, homogenized (or whole) milk, sugar, 7 eggs (yep 7 ... 3 whole eggs and 4 just the yolk) a real vanilla bean.  First time working with vanilla beans and scraping out the 'seeds'.   It's fiddly ... simmer boil for 30 minutes, make a custard, add more stuff, chill thoroughly, then process in the Cuisinart and freeze for a day.  

But the end result is ... let me repeat ... wow.   Just put a little bit in a cute waffle cup, top it with peaches and the guests and hosts are happy.  Jog around the block anyone?  



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