Chopped Night 2016

The theme for the 6th Annual Chopped Night was “Christmas Wrapping”: every dish had to include a specific kind of food that can be used to wrap other food.

Although the provisions of Chopped Night were far less strict than in previous years—only one required ingredient, any style of food accepted—I felt that this year everyone pushed themselves a little bit more, and it definitely showed! An exquisitely prepared and truly delicious seven-course meal was enjoyed by us all!

Read the rest of this entry »

Chopped Night 2015

It’s that time of year once again! This year’s theme: “Mo-rockin’ Christmas” (and for those of you who aren’t good at reading puns, the first chunk is a homophone for “Moroccan”). There were only two ingredients per person this year, but there was the added challenge that each dish was required to incorporate red or green (or both).

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Chopped Night 2014

Welcome, friends and family members! On December 28, 2014, the family Van Spronsen held its fourth annual Chopped Night!

This year, two exciting twists were added:

  1. Each set of ingredients was placed in a bowl and each person drew a set randomly, so that it wasn’t known which course or ingredients would go with each person!
  2. Ingredients were grouped by colour, and each person received a different colour!

As usual, the creativity was off the scale, and the night was a smashing culinary success! Well done to all participants! (Trust me, all the food was delicious too.) Read the rest of this entry »

Foodie Challenge #2

My foodie group had another Foodie Challenge! Like last time, we drew ingredients and courses randomly. To add to the challenge, however, this time we drew three ingredients instead of two. It was way more challenging (we all made the maximum of two dishes each!), but the results were simply spectacular! We all agreed that this one was even better than the last.

Sarah: Appetizers

Ingredients: Dates, Lime, Mushrooms

Dish 1: Cucumber Spears with Chaat Masala & Lime

IMG_0493

Dish 2: Prosciutto-Wrapped Dates with Sautéed Mushroom, Goat Cheese, and Thyme

Prosciutto Dates Goat Cheese Thyme

Lesley: Side Dish

Ingredients: Avocado, Raspberry, Oats

Dish 1: Spinach Salad with Avocado and Raspberry Vinaigrette

IMG_0490

Dish 2: Oatmeal Spelt Bread with Lavender Honey

IMG_0489

Jordan: Main Course

Ingredients: Apple, Beet, Tarragon

Dishes: Tarragon Chicken with Coconut Garlic Purée; Beet & Granny Smith Slaw with Ginger & Clove

Tarragon Chicken Beet Apple Carrot Slaw Ginger Clove

Jonathon: Dessert

Ingredients: Dark Chocolate, Sundried Tomatoes, Red Cabbage

Dish 1: Almond Vanilla Sorbetto with Sundried Tomato and Cherry Slatko; Japanese Hojicha Green Tea

Almond Vanilla Sorbetto Tomato Cherry Slatko Hojicha Green Tea

Dish 2: German Chocolate Cabbage Cake; Ritual “Hunters in the Snow” Espresso

IMG_0518

Good work, Foodies!

Foodie Group Challenge

My foodie group had a dinner last night at my place! We each drew courses randomly, as well as two ingredients from those we had submitted. Some of the ingredient combinations were really tough, but I was incredibly impressed with what we turned up! Each dish was sensational, so it’s hard to pick a winner, but for sheer audacity I think Jordan gets serious props for finding a dessert that used green peas. Here are the results of our culinary efforts:

Sarah: Appetizers

Ingredients: Cilantro, Balsamic Reduction

Dish 1: Cilantro Guacamole on Multigrain Crisps

Cilantro Guacamole

Dish 2: Strawberry & Goat Cheese Crostinis with Balsamic Drizzle

Balsamic & Strawberry Crostinis

Lesley: Side Dish

Ingredients: Yam, Pear

Dish: Roasted Yam & Pear Soup (Served with Focaccia)

Pear Yam Soup

Jon: Main Course

Ingredients: Red Wine, Oranges

Dish: Merlot Clementine Risotto with Parmesan, Chicken, and Oil of Rosemary

Wine and Orange Risotto

Jordan: Dessert

Ingredients: Green Peas, Coconut

Dishes: Green Pea Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting; Vegan Energy Bites with Cranberry, Nut, and Flax

Green Pea Cupcakes

Chopped Night 2013

December 23rd was the third annual Chopped Night at the Van Spronsens’ house! (In case you’re not familiar with the idea, each family member is given three ingredients and a course, and must make a dish appropriate to that course that uses all three ingredients.)

This year we all had to bring our A-game, because there were three additional challenges to make the evening that much more special:

  1. We had a theme! This year’s theme was Italian.
  2. We were each given four special ingredients to use in each dish instead of three.
  3. We were asked to provide a drink pairing with each course.

It ended up being a tremendous success! Here are the culinary creations our family came up with:

Antipasto #1 (Doug)

Required Ingredients: Prosciutto, Friulano cheese, pears, balsamic reduction

Prosciutto Pintxos

Prosciutto Pintxos

Drink Pairing: Ford Cocktails (by Ivan)

Ford Cocktails

Antipasto #2 (Jon)

Required Ingredients: Bocconcini, lemons, chard, Campari tomatoes

2013-12-23 18.40.45

Fried Panko Bocconcini with Chard Crisps & Tomato Chutney

Drink Pairing: Burdock Dandelion Soda with Mint Sprig (by Leah)

2013-12-23 18.42.59

Insalate (Matt)

Required Ingredients: Radicchio, olives, orange, egg

Italian Chopped Salad

Italian Chopped Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Drink Pairing: Festive Flips (by Shari)

Festive Flips

Primi (Leah)

Required Ingredients: Squid ink pasta, ricotta, artichoke hearts, foccacia

2013-12-23 20.22.43

Sicilian Pasta with Foccacia Crumb

Drink Pairing: Pinot Grigio

Secondi (Ivan)

Required Ingredients: Tenderloin, porcini mushrooms, fennel, rosemary

Pork & Fennel

Dijon Pork Tenderloin with Merlot Porcinis & Grilled Fennel

Drink Pairing: Chianti

Cantorini (Shari)

Required Ingredients: Farro, anchovies, sundried tomatoes, grey squash

Farro & Grey Squash

Farro with Squash & Tomato

Drink Pairing: Chianti (served alongside previous course)

Dolci (Elyse)

Required Ingredients: Apple, pear, vanilla, basil

Galette

Apple & Pear Galette with Basil Disaronno Whipped Cream

Drink Pairing: Lillet Prosecco Cocktails

2013-12-23 22.11.11

Nice work, everyone!

Pepper Dinner

Katie was in town dropping off a friend. I suggested making food; she suggested the theme: PEPPER. It ended up being a fantastic idea.

Appetiser (Katie)

Lemon Coriander Fromage Blanc with Date & Pear

Pepper Appetiser

Pepper: Szechuan Pepper

Katie made the fromage blanc herself at home in advance. She propped pears diagonally in the cheese on a rice crisp, added dates and parsley, and cracked some Szechuan peppercorns on top.

Entrée (Katie)

Buckwheat Crêpe with Mushroom, Poached Egg, & Shallot

Pepper Crepe

Pepper: Orange Bell

A simple but delicious crêpe draped with ricotta and sautéed mushrooms, shallots, and orange pepper. A poached egg, peppercorn sprinkle, and parsley sprig add flair and flavour.

Salad (Jon)

Falafel with Harissa Tahini Smear

 

Pepper Salad

Pepper: Chillies

Falafel made with kale and pepper flakes served on a romaine leaf with sliced cucumber, accompanied by a smear of tahini lemon harissa paste.

Dessert (Jon)

Poached Pear with Chocolate & Peppered Crème Fraîche

Pepper Dessert

Pepper: Black Peppercorn

Okay, I’ll admit it: I stole this idea from Matt. I did change it around a bit, though. Vanilla-poached pear with milk chocolate spread and cinnamon pepper crème fraîche, polished by maraschino cherries on top.

Bite of Nanaimo Review

What a tremendous surprise this festival was! It was great to finally enjoy some interesting quality culture from Nanaimo. This has been one of the first times I’ve really felt like people have taken care, which means a lot to me.

There were so many choices of what to eat and drink, so I had to be picky. I’m sure I ate more than I should have, but I’m glad I know a bit more about which restaurants to try and which not to try. Basically, you buy tickets at the door, worth $1 apiece, and each menu item is between 1 and 4 tickets. Here are the things I tried:

Appetizers

Clam & Scallop Chowder (Landlubber Pub)

Brilliant flavour. Not too salty and no old-fish taste. And it was free, to boot. (7/10)

Bruschetta (Landlubber Pub)

Nice prerequisite drizzle of balsamic reduction. Great presentation and generous portion, but had this odd eggy taste to it. (3/10)

Entrées

Tuna Tataki (Cactus Club Cafe)

You’ve all had it, and you all love it. Not much more to say. Crisp greens and citrus glaze as good as ever, and presentation was impressive, considering the disposable dishes. One of the best dishes of the night. (9/10)

Sesame-Crusted Halibut with Shiitake Vinaigrette (Lighthouse Bistro)

Excellently done. Nice presentation, perfect texture, brilliant sesame flavour, and served on an Asian noodle slaw. Mushrooms and vinaigrette worked well to balance out the sesame. The surprise hit of the night for me. (8/10)

Coconut Panko Prawns with Blackberry Artisan Salad (Millstone Eatery)

I really liked the coconut in the prawn batter. They could’ve easily overdone the coconut flavour but didn’t; it was very subtle. Made to order, too, which I appreciated. My only suggestion would be to add some sort of glaze or crema to the prawns because they were fairly dry. Salad was average. (6/10)

Crab Dog (Corner Bistro)

I have to give these guys props for sourcing locally and for inventing such an interesting combination of ingredients! However, this dish didn’t quite work. The bun was terrific, as it had just been baked, and the julienned beet was a nice touch, but the crab itself was in a mayonnaise-type dressing that overwhelmed the taste of the crab for me. I think with a few tweaks this recipe could be sensational. (5/10)

Desserts

Hazelnut Profiterole, Pistachio Macaron, and Pain au Chocolat (VIU Baking Students)

Their booth was set up like a French pâtisserie, with baskets of breads all over and a fantastic line painting of a French boulangerie in the background. The students didn’t seem to know much about what the desserts they were serving, but they were fundraising for a trip to Paris for pastry classes, so I’m sure they’ll figure out soon enough! The macaron was the hit of the night. The pain au chocolat could have used a little less “pain” and a bit more “chocolat”, but was still good, and flaky without being dry. The profiterole was delicious, though I usually prefer more of a whip filling to a pudding like they had. Picky point, though. (7/10)

Pumpkin Spice Tiramisu with Dulce de Leche Drizzle (Millstone Eatery)

It was a little too fresh, as the coffee in the middle made it a bit watery. However, the flavour was fantastic (and ingenious) and they were generous with their caramel. (7/10)

Drinks

Open 2007 Cabernet Merlot (TheatreOne)

I don’t usually like reds, as you know, but both the whites they had were wines I knew I hated, so I tried the Cab Merlot. It was pretty good for a red! Most reds are far too dry for me, or have too many tannins or are too bitter. This wasn’t, which probably means it’s a terrible wine to the connoisseur. But I thought it wasn’t bad. Since it’s so hard to make me like a red, I’m rating this one highly. (8/10)

Goji Açai Green Tea (Winston’s Tea Co.)

Delicious. I expected high acidity and was surprised at how delicate it was. Flavourful but not overwhelmingly. A great way to finish the evening. (8/10)

Phenomenal Yam Recipe

Recently I discovered this phenomenal side: Yams with Brown Butter Vinaigrette. It was amazing and really simple. Actually, just make the brown butter, and make the yams however you want.

I would use slightly less actual butter than they did; maybe 1/3 cup instead of half. I’ve also tried with onions instead of shallots; it worked, but it wasn’t quite as interesting. Apple cider vinegar works great when you don’t have red wine vinegar.

We didn’t have the full 50 minutes to get the yams done, so we just quartered them, poked them all over with a fork, roasted them for 30 minutes or so in the oven, sliced them, and poured the brown butter over-top. Yum!

Chopped Night 2012

What a lot of fun this was! I have such an original family!

(Sorry the photo of my dish is so bad … it’s the only one I took!)

1-marshmallow
Chef: Elyse
Course: Appetizer 1
Dish: Marshmallow Yam Spread with Beet Chips
Required Ingredients: Yams / Sage / Marshmallow
Christmas Word: ?
2-mushrooms-tanenbaum
Chef: Shari
Course: Appetizer 2
Dish: Mushroom Tanenbaums
Required Ingredients: Chorizo / Cranberry Port Jelly / Walnuts
Christmas Word: Tanenbaum
3-a-myrrh-ican-caesar
Chef: Doug
Course: Salad
Dish: A-Myrrh-ican Caesar Salad
Required Ingredients: Kale / Parmesan / Coconut
Christmas Word: Myrrh
4-gnocchi-garland
Chef: Jonathon
Course: Entrée 1
Dish: Gnocchi Garland with Savoury Thyme Applesauce
Required Ingredients: Gnocchi / Apple / Mustard
Christmas Word: Garland
5-indian-beef
Chef: Ivan
Course: Meat
Dish: Indian-Spiced Beef on Rice and Crisp Greens
Required Ingredients: Beef / Garam Masala / Cream
Christmas Word: ?
6-deconstructed-salad
Chef: Leah
Course: Entrée 2
Dish: Deconstructed Ornamental Salad
Required Ingredients: Endive / Beet / Pomegranate Molasses
Christmas Word: Ornament
7-pepper-toffee-caramel-pears
Chef: Matt
Course: Dessert
Dish: Pepper Toffee with Caramelized Pear
Required Ingredients: Pear / Pepper / Dulce de Leche
Christmas Word: ?

Pancetta and Roasted Squash Risotto

20120704-170413.jpg

Continuing the risotto theme, I made a fantastic risotto (epicurious, of course) and I felt I should post the recipe here. I paired it with black bean chicken with asiago and asparagus (i.e. contents of fridge).

Some comments:

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Truffle Cream

Well, it’s official. I’ve now worked at the pizza place for a year, and it’s no secret to my coworkers that I often opt for the truffle cream as a sauce for my pizza each week. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to make. It’s pretty decadent, though, so I try to have other sauces every once in a while. 🙂

Sauté the mushrooms in a pot in olive oil on medium heat, until tender. Drain any extra oil. Return to the heat. Add the cream and stir. Whisk in a tablespoon or so of flour until the cream starts to thicken (5-10 minutes should be good; add extra flour if necessary). Remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender or food processor to thicken the mixture and lightly pulverise the mushrooms. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Stir in the truffle oil. Refrigerate until use. Makes a LOT.

Dry-Brining Eggplant

As we all have recently witnessed at our family gathering, dry-brining an eggplant makes a world of difference in the flavour of an eggplant (for the better!), and there has been some question as to how to do it. It’s simple, really:

  1. Cut the eggplant into four or eight large chunks. You can peel it if you like (I usually do, unless the recipe says not to).
  2. Put the chunks into a colander. Cover them completely with salt.
  3. Let them sit for half an hour. The salt will draw out all the bitterness into a brown liquid that comes out of the bottom of the colander. (I’m sure there’s a use for this eau d’aubergine, but I haven’t found one yet.)
  4. Rinse off all the salt, and prepare the eggplant as usual (pan-fry, grill, bake, etc.)

Such a simple modification, but so worth it.

Island Citrus Curry

I’m particularly proud of this recipe, because it’s delicious, simple, fresh, relatively inexpensive, and completely original to me. (Well, I’m sure someone’s done something similar before, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.) If only it were quick, then I’d make it even more often than I already do. Ah well, you can’t have it all, I suppose.

Juice the oranges and lemon, and add the curry and brown sugar. Slice and pan-fry the chicken in the olive oil. Pour in citrus mixture (adding the garlic if you have any). Cover with a lid. Simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minute; uncover, stir, then cook 5 more minutes or so. Serve over rice and vegetables.

Roll With Me, Henry

Just to be ambitious, I figured I’d try making my own cinnamon buns. I wasn’t ambitious enough to do all the grunt work, though — I let the bread machine do all the rising and kneading. With a dollop of cream cheese icing on top, they made for some pretty amazing treats for my guest(s). Here’s the recipe I used, but I doubled the cinnamon mixture, and instead of the glaze I made some cream cheese icing that was equal parts cream cheese, butter, and icing sugar.

You know, I think I’ll eat one now.

Bruised, Perhaps, But Not Defeated

Last month I tried to make pots de crème. My makeshift bain-marie was a dismal failure, however, making the entire venture an utter waste. My initial attempts were inspired by this beautiful webpage, though, and even though it’s not mine I felt compelled to share it. Maybe eventually I’ll have the courage to try making them again.

More Cookies

It seems like I always pick the busiest times in my life to start baking. This time, I had a bad chocolate craving while studying for calculus, and the only thing I had that was chocolate was cocoa, so I found this recipe on Epicurious and tried it out. It’s a good one.

One commenter had good advice, which was to both make sure the butter/sugar mixture is creamed well, and to refrigerate the dough for a while before baking. The dough is really sticky, making it was hard to form into cookie shapes, so don’t be surprised if your cookies are ugly. That’s my only complaint, though; overall they’re pretty good. Not as good as Leah’s homemade Oreos, but still good.

(P.S. I used whole-wheat flour, and it didn’t seem to make a difference.)

Fishes Delicious

Here’s a simple recipe I used to spice up the cod Dad gave me. You’ve probably made similar recipes already in your travels, but I found this particular combination truly spectacular:

1 cup crushed soda crackers (the finer the better)
2 minced cloves garlic
4 leaves finely chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp each salt and pepper (adjust to preference)
1 tbsp lemon juice

4-6 cod fillets, skin removed
4 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first group of ingredients. Rinse and pat dry the cod fillets. Immerse them in olive oil, then roll them in cracker mixture. Arrange on a pan and bake for 15-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

Reconciliation

I found a new recipe for Whole-Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies that FAR outweighs my previous failure. In fact, at the rate I’ve been eating them I may have to make more tomorrow.

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup oats (I didn’t have any; I used bran cereal instead)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp brown sugar

1 cup peanut butter
½ cup honey
1 egg

Preheat oven to 300°F. Blend dry ingredients in one bowl and other ingredients in another. Using biceps to their max, combine all ingredients together thoroughly. Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes. Spoon tablespoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet (squish with a fork if you wish) and bake for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Makes between two and three dozen cookies.

Pannekoeken!

Okay, so they’re not authentically Dutch, but this recipe was originally an Alton Brown recipe (with some alterations by yours truly), so I think that lends them some credibility. They also happen to be delicious and easy.

Whole-Wheat Pancakes

1 cup whole wheat flour
½ t baking powder
¼ t baking soda
½ t salt
1½ T sugar

1 large egg
1 cup milk
2 T butter, softened

Blend dry ingredients well, then mix in the other ingredients. Lightly grease a frying pan or griddle set to low-medium heat and pour ¼-cupfuls of batter onto the pan. Cook until bubbles break on the surface, then flip; cook until undersides are golden brown.

Makes about 10.