Thursday, November 13, 2008


I’ve always wanted to throw a cocktail party, especially around the holidays. Everyone would look chic, my sophisticated apartment would glow with candlelight, beautiful glasses would be filled with ruby-colored cocktails, and the food would be plentiful and gorgeous. In short, at least for one night, my life would resemble a glossy spread in Gourmet magazine.

My husband does not share this fantasy, which is probably okay since it would take an enormous amount of time and money to make our apartment resemble a home worthy of Gourmet. Not even a truckload of candles would do the trick.

However, if I were to throw a cocktail party I would definitely make canapés – delicate finger sandwiches that look impressive and taste delicious. They also don’t take long to prepare, with one caveat: when assembling these lovelies, one must use a light touch. Raggedy edges and sloppily-placed toppings have no place in the canapé realm.

The other beautiful thing about canapés is that you can really employ any savory toppings you choose. I would say that it’s essential to include a spread on the bread to moisten the canapé and anchor additional toppings – although I’m not sure if it really is essential. After the spread, add a topping for flavor and height. A garnish rounds out the elegant presentation. So use your imagination! While this may seem INCREDIBLY downscale, I’m already plotting a peanut butter canapé with a dab of artisanal jelly on top or maybe just a few slivers of grape. I’m still thinking about what the garnish would be…

Courtesy of Francine Segan, here are the recipes for the canapés we made Saturday night at the French cocktails and snacks class I took at ICE. The recipe and photo above come from The Opera Lover’s Cookbook, Francine’s latest book.

French Canapés
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook, by Francine Segan
Serves 6

For 12 ham canapé:

3 thin slices white bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 thin slices smoked ham
Dijon or honey mustard
3 cornichons, thinly sliced

Butter the 3 slices of bread and top each with a slice of ham. Using a very sharp knife cut off the crusts. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally to create 2 triangles and then in half again diagonally, creating a total of 4 triangles per slice. Top each triangle with a tiny dollop of mustard and cornichon slice.

For 6 watercress canapé:

6 thin slices black bread
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika plus more for garnish
1 hard boiled egg, minced
Freshly milled pepper

Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter cut out circles from the center of the black bread. Mix the butter, paprika and egg in a small bowl until very well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the butter-egg mixture onto the 6 circles and gently press watercress leaves in the center of each circle. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika.

For 12 aioli shrimp canapé:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely mashed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly milled pepper
3 thin slices white bread
6 small shrimp, poached
Zest of 1/2 lemon

To make the aioli, combine the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in a small bowl until well mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the aioli onto each slice of bread. Using a very sharp knife cut off the crusts from the bread. Cut the sandwiches in half to create 2 rectangles and then in half again, creating a total of 4 squares per slice.

Thinly slice or chop the shrimp. Top each section with shrimp and a sprinkle of lemon zest.

[Jenna’s note: In class we replaced the shrimp with Italian tuna packed in olive oil. It was delicious.]

Monday, November 10, 2008

My pâté epiphany

Saturday night I took a recreational cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), the school where I earned my culinary arts diploma. The theme of Saturday’s class was French cocktails and snacks, and the course was taught by Francine Segan, a culinary historian and cookbook writer who also gives numerous food and drink-related talks around the city. Each of the recipes we prepared are in Francine’s latest book, The Opera Lover’s Cookbook: Menus for Elegant Entertaining. As I reviewed our menu for the evening, my mouth started watering…pâté with Chambord glaze, herbes de provence onion tart (a.k.a. pissaladière), tapenade red potato bites, red pepper coulis shrimp toasts and French canapés… just to name a few. My group made the pâté, the canapés, and the steak au poivre. They were all delicious (and the canapé recipes will be posted soon), but the pâté was a revelation.

In my last few weeks of culinary school we made more pâtés then I cared to count, and since then I haven’t been inspired to make a one of them. But this chicken liver pâté with the Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) glaze was so easy and so delicious. The livers are blended with dried apricots and cherries, whose sweetness makes the entire spread divine. Francine was kind enough to let me post the recipe.


Pâté with Chambord Glaze
From: Opera Lover’s Cookbook, by Francine Segan
Serves 8

1 large red onion, minced
5 tablespoons butter
1 pound chicken livers
2 dried apricots, finely minced plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon dried cherries or cranberries, minced plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup Chambord or other black raspberry liqueur
1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more as needed
Freshly milled pepper
1 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin
1 loaf French baguette bread, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. In a medium skillet sauté the onion in 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the onion is golden. Add the liver, apricots, cherries, thyme and allspice and cook for about 3 minutes. The liver should be pink in the center. Add 1/2 cup of the Chambord and cook for about 1 minute until the liqueur is absorbed. Remove from the heat and cover until cool.

2. Place the liver, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cream into a food processor and purée. Add more cream if needed until the pâté is smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place the pâté in a shallow serving container roughly 9 x 7 inches and top with a scattering of apricots and cherries. Reserve.

4. Place the gelatin in a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of boiling water until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of Chambord and stir. Carefully pour the gelatin over the pate and refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.

5. Just before serving, preheat the broiler. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and brush with the olive oil. Toast each side of the bread under the broiler until light golden brown.

6. Place the pâté on a serving platter surrounded with the warm baguette toasts.


Also on the menu Saturday night was coconut berry dacquoise, the gorgeous cake on the cover of Francine’s book. I have to admit that when I first saw the recipe I wasn’t excited about it. I’m usually a chocolate, caramel or lemon dessert person – I like cakes, bars, and custards with density. Dacquoises with their frothy layers of meringue and whipped cream don’t really appeal to me. BUT it was (and is, since I’m eating leftovers as I type) sensational. The chewy coconut, luscious berries and sweet whipped cream are, as the French would say, a combination formidable.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mothers & Menus

When Rosa was a baby I planned to start her on solid foods the first weekend she was six months old. Even though I knew some people fed their babies solids a little earlier there seemed to be no reason to rush it. (Why spend even one extra weekend cleaning up baby food mess??) But one week before the scheduled start date I was looking at Rosa, looking at her mouth move and watching her eye my lunch, and I knew she was hungry. And not just for milk, but for food. She got her first taste of rice cereal that day and a couple days later some homemade applesauce.

Since that point Rosa has rarely, rarely, rarely eaten processed foods off the grocery store shelf – not baby food, not canned soup, not jarred pasta sauce. We kept some organic baby food in the pantry in case of emergency, but just opening one of those jars made me lose my appetite. I couldn’t even bring myself to taste that food; why was I asking Rosa to eat it?

I believe in eating food cooked at home, not “food” plucked off the grocery store shelf – that’s just who I am.

There is one time in life, however, when I can wholeheartedly justify and endorse buying your meals – and that’s for the first few months after giving birth. When you’re not getting any sleep, nursing, and becoming accustomed to being a parent, eating healthful, delicious meals can keep moms sane – a big plus for moms, dads, and babies. Preparing wholesome meals at this time of your life can be daunting. Enter Mothers & Menus.

Founded by mother of three Karen Gurwitz, Mothers & Menus is a meal delivery service for new moms. Sign up, and Mothers & Menus deposits a day’s worth of organic, balanced meals at your door each morning. The food sounds delicious, but what I like even more about the company is the great content on its website. Karen believes in whole foods, real foods and her site offers straight-forward, important information on organic, natural, and genetically modified foods.

Karen has also written The Well-Rounded Pregnancy Cookbook: Give Your Baby a Healthy Start with 100 Recipes that Adapt to Fit How You Feel. (And she does video podcasts. Wow!)

So in addition to helping new moms eat well (and inspiring small business owners everywhere), Karen has also made Mothers & Menus a place where all moms can learn how to better feed themselves and their families.

Sounds good to me!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What I learned in Montreal

* On Halloween, many Montreal households give out savory as well as sweet treats – in addition to her candy, Rosa received numerous small bags of Ruffles, Cheetos, and Old Dutch chips. Most people gave candy along with the chips. One lady gave us a walnut.

* When you’re making a tomato salad, skip the vinegar – the tomatoes are acidic enough. I’ve always added a dash of balsamic or red wine vinegar to my tomato salads, but darn it if my mother-in-law's sans vinegar method didn’t taste even better.

* Cardamom-spiked truffles are delicious – spicy and exotic. For a mouth-watering selection of chocolate truffles and a variety of rich, silky hot chocolates, I will visit Juliette et Chocolat on Laurier again la prochaine.