Laura Calder is one of the Food Network chefs whose recipes I like, so when I learned about her latest book Dinner Chez Moi: the Fine Art of Feeding Friends, I had to have it.
I went through a French period in my evolution as a cook, and there are still a number of favourite recipes and techniques that are now part of my repertoire—hangovers of that period. Her cooking show, French Food at Home, harkens back to that time with some scrumptious-looking dishes.
She also has a good approach to cooking which I agree with totally—relax and don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients or to be creative with recipes. Use them as guidelines, because they’re not etched in concrete.
She also encourages you to enjoy cooking for people you love, whether it be simple food or something a little more sophisticated, and I whole-heartedly agree.
After trying out a few of her recipes, I’m not disappointed. They were excellent. For instance, even though a Mashed Potato Torte with Tomato and Mint sounded like an odd combination, I had all those things in abundance, so I tried it. It was delicious, and leftovers were very good.
In this book, she has organized the recipes and commentary around menus for dinner parties, but they’re very flexible ones, and chiefly suggest some dishes that go well together for one reason or another.
Published by Harper Collins, this would make a great gift for your favourite cook’s next birthday.
As summer winds down, we have an enormous bounty of colourful vegetables fresh from the garden and the market, so following are a couple of recipes featuring the harvest of fall: potatoes, onions, herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and other squashes.
And, you’ll find lots more seasonal recipes in my book, Jude’s Kitchen, available locally at Mosaic Books, Chapters and all of the best wine shops, both at wineries and such independent VQA shops as Discover Wines and the B.C. Wine Museum’s wine shop.
Laura notes that this is not your ordinary quiche, a custard in a crust, but a combination of options: appetizer cubes you can serve as finger food or squares on a plate with a dab of sour cream and a curl of smoked salmon to begin the meal. I’ve served a similar dish on a brunch buffet as well, in wedges.
2 c. (250 g) flour
1 tbsp. (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) salt
6 tbsp. (90 g) butter
6 slices bacon, in lardons
1 medium leek, sliced
4 eggs, slightly beaten
3 c. (360 g) shredded zucchini
1/2 c. (20 g) finely-grated parmesan
1/2 c. (125 ml) grapeseed oil
1/2 to 1 tsp. (2-5 ml) cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a nine-inch pie pan.
Blend the flour, baking powder, salt, and butter to fine crumbs, either with your fingertips or in a food processor. Set aside in a large bowl.
Fry the bacon (cut into lardons: small strips or cubes) gently until cooked but not crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the flour mixture.
Fry the sliced leek in the bacon fat, adding a splash of oil if needed, until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the flour mixture, along with the eggs, shredded zucchini (about two small ones), cheese, oil, cayenne, salt and pepper.
Stir to combine thoroughly and pour into the pie plate. Bake until set, about 40 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature in wedges, cubes or squares.
Serves 8 or so.
Mashed Potato Torte with Tomato & Mint
We served this warm as a side dish for lamb chops and it was a great combination, but Laura notes you could also serve it at room temperature or on the cool side as a first course. It can also be made as individual cakes instead of in a cast iron frypan as I made it.
1 lb. (450 g) baking potatoes
2 tbsp. (30 ml) butter
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium tomato, chopped to a pulp
1/4 c. (60 ml) white wine
a handful of chopped fresh mint
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp. (50 ml) finely-grated parmesan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
Peel the potatoes, about two, and cut them into a few even chunks. Boil in salted water until very tender; drain and mash. Set aside.
Heat half the butter and half the oil together in a cast-iron or non-stick frypan and very gently cook the onions until soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then add the tomato and wine. Boil to evaporate the liquid completely and make a thick sauce, about five minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir through the fresh mint, parsley and parmesan cheese. Stir the whole mixture into the mashed potatoes and combine thoroughly.
Quickly whisk in the eggs with a fork. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 450 F. Heat the remaining butter and oil in the frypan over medium-low heat. Add the potato mixture and cook, without disturbing, until set on the bottom, golden and quite crisp, about 20 minutes.
You may want to dot the top with more butter. Then transfer to the oven and bake until the torte is completely set and the top golden, about 15 minutes.
Serve straight from the pan or flip onto a large plate or cutting board. If anything stays behind in the pan, scrape it out and patch it back on.
Serve in wedges.