Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ancient-sounding Onion and Ale Soup
is perfect for winter

The recipe for Onion and Ale Soup with Blue Cheese Croutons (click for the recipe) first attracted me because it had the word “ale” in it.
    This conjured up an image of men clad in animal robes, swords in scabbards on their belts, holding up humongous beer steins and grunting out appreciation for their mug of ale.
    It could have been onion and beer soup, but’s not – it’s onion and ale soup, which seems somehow more ancient and more cool.
    Upon further examination of the recipe, I saw it looked like a nice twist on traditional French onion soup. The onions are plentiful and there is cheese-topped bread on top, but there is none of the extra work of putting the cheese-covered soup bowls back into the oven before serving.
    This soup is delicious and terrific for a cold winter day. My husband was particularly fond of it, especially the blue-cheese covered croutons. The croutons sink into the soup, getting nice and soft and slurp-able.
    I was amazed to find how well leftovers warmed up the next day. I put the soup in a container with some croutons on top and sealed it with the top. The next day at work, I popped the whole thing in the microwave for lunch and was rewarded with a hot and fresh soup that was just as good as it was the night before.
    The recipe calls for pale ale such as Saranac or Sierra Nevada. These are both American brands not available in our local liquor store.
    There was a Canadian brand of pale ale, Original 16, that my husband bought and I used in the soup. It was brewed by the Great Western Brewing Company in Saskatoon, a city right in my home province of Saskatchewan.
    I have a couple bits of advice for this recipe. Abide by the recipe’s instructions to cut the sourdough bread into one-inch cubes. They are quite big, but need to be so that pieces of blue cheese can be put on them with ease, and so the blue cheese in turn has a large surface area on which to melt.
    Make sure, too, to use a soft blue cheese such as Gorgonzola, which the recipe advises. It will melt more easily. The recipe says to “sprinkle” the blue cheese on the croutons, but I took the time to put a piece of blue cheese on each piece of bread.
    Thinly-sliced yellow onions are cooked in a Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot for up to half an hour.
    Pale ale is added and brought to a boil. This will take just seconds, after which the heat is turned down slightly and the ale and onions cooked until nearly all the ale has evaporated.
    Chicken and beef broths are added (I used storebought) and the mixture is brought to a boil, then simmered for about 10 minutes.
    Meanwhile, bread cubes cut from sourdough bread are tossed with olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, then baked in the oven for about 10 minutes. Blue cheese is put on top, then the croutons are baked until the cheese has melted.
    The soup is served in bowls with the croutons and a sprinkling of fresh chives on top.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Celebrate citrus season in style
with Blood Orange Margaritas

It’s the time of year when citrus fruit is tumbling off the stands at supermarkets, and I’ve got a drink that will help you celebrate this abundance in glorious style.
    Blood Orange Margaritas (click for the recipe) are absolutely fab. You won’t go wrong mixing up a batch of these easy cocktails.
    Combined with the acidity of the lime juice, the puck-er-i-ness of the tequila and the salty rims of the glasses, the blood orange juice takes margaritas to a whole new level.
    As I suspected when I first read the recipe, blood oranges are a perfect fit as the main component of a margarita, as they are both sour and sweet at the same time. My husband and I always comment that blood oranges taste like sour candies.
    Blood oranges are so named because they have a crimson flesh that’s nearly the colour of blood. I love to slice open blood oranges and see the beautiful flesh.
    In Canada, you may or may not find the label “blood oranges” at the supermarket. Most likely, you’ll find them named as “Moro,” the only variety I’ve ever seen.                     
    You’ll need to make these margaritas now, as moros are only to be found in supermarkets in Canada during the December-early March citrus season.
    The margaritas are very easy to make. I used an electric juicer to juice the oranges and limes. Take note that the recipe makes 12 servings, so be sure to half the ingredients for six servings or divide the ingredients by three for four servings.
    Fresh blood orange juice, juiced from blood oranges, is mixed with fresh lime juice, Cointreau or triple sec, and silver tequila in a pitcher and refrigerated until chilled, at least 30 minutes.
    The rims of margarita or martini glasses are moistened with an orange wedge, then dipped into kosher salt to lightly coat.
    Ice is added to the pitcher of margaritas and stirred well, then the margaritas are strained into the prepared glasses. I used a small mesh strainer for this step, pouring the margarita through it into each glass and gently pushing on any solids left behind with a spoon to make sure all the juice was squeezed out of the pulp that will be left behind.
    I skipped garnishing the margaritas with blood orange wedges and sage leaves.     
    Serve the margaritas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grapefruit-tangerine hybrid makes
for yummy salsa with coconut shrimp

It was all in the name: Tangelo.
   When I read the name of the of the citrus fruit it made me think of Jell-O because the two words rhymed, which in turn made me feel happy and want to try the recipe for Baked Coconut Shrimp with Tangelo Salsa (click for the recipe).
   Truth be told, it wasn’t just the name. First, I’d always wanted to try making coconut shrimp at home, and the recipe looked like a good one.
   Second, I saw tangelos in the grocery store one day, cementing my decision to give the recipe a try. (Tangerines can be substituted, by the way).
   A tangelo is a hybrid between a tangerine and a pomelo or grapefruit. The type of tangelo I used, a Minneola, is cross between a grapefruit and tangerine.
   The shrimp and salsa turned out very well.
   The shrimp was covered with a perfect amount of coconut, and the salsa was a fresh, bright accompaniment.
   Rather than serving them as appetizers, my husband and I ate the shrimp and salsa for supper with a side of jasmine rice. Make sure to heap lots of salsa on each of the shrimp before you eat them – the combination of tastes is part of the allure of the dish.
    The shrimp is cooked using an excellent technique which ensures they are properly cooked and don’t have coconut falling off everywhere when they are removed from the pan and then eaten.
  The shrimp are butterflied by cutting halfway through the back to the tail. The shrimp is dredged in a flour mixture, then stood tail-up on a baking sheet.
   We followed the recipe’s advice and used unsweetened coconut. Make sure also to use large shrimp (21-25 per pound) as the recipe says, as anything smaller will be much more difficult to butterfly.
The recipe is easy to make.
   The tangelos or tangerines, red bell pepper, a scallion (also called a green onion or spring onion), jalapeno pepper and salt are combined in a food processor or blender and pulsed to form a chunky salsa. (We skipped the cilantro, which we hate!)
   Eggs are beaten in one dish; flour, paprika and garlic powder are combined in another dish; and unsweetened shredded (or desiccated) coconut and salt are combined in a third dish.
   The shrimp is peeled and deveined, but the tail is left on (we skipped this step by using pre-peeled and deveined shrimp with the tail left on). After the shrimp is butterflied, it is dredged in the flour mixture, dipped in the egg then coated with coconut. The shrimp is stood tail-up on a baking sheet.
   The shrimp is baked until cooked through and the coating is starting to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
   Serve the cooked shrimp with the salsa.