Time for comfort food and celebration

| January 2, 2020 | 0 Comments
Zippy Smoked Oysters on Oriental Spoons are a lovely canapé for a party or a starter for a romantic meal for two. (Photo: Margaret Dickenson)

Zippy Smoked Oysters on Oriental Spoons are a lovely canapé for a party or a starter for a romantic meal for two. (Photo: Margaret Dickenson)

With the arrival of the New Year, we look forward to going back to favourite comfort food recipes, and to Valentine’s Day. Chocolate, no doubt, remains the most popular way to celebrate this February Hallmark holiday. Some may also choose to put oysters — a renowned aphrodisiac — on their Valentine’s Day menu. Being true to tradition, my irresistible chocolate cheesecake garnished with red raspberries and my slightly zippy smoked oysters would be perfect menu choices. As for comfort food, Apricot Garlic Chicken has been a family and entertaining favourite for decades, regardless of the time of year. Don’t hesitate to serve it cold, particularly for al fresco occasions in the summer.


Zippy Smoked Oysters on Oriental Spoons
Makes about 15 spoons

This unusual hors d’oeuvre features smoked oysters lacquered with a touch of hot mustard glaze and elegantly perched on grated sesame-scented zucchini. Soy-Wasabi Mayonnaise reinforces an Asian touch.
15 Oriental porcelain spoons
1 can smoked oysters (can: 3 oz or 85 g)
½ medium zucchini, whole (weight: 7 oz or 200 g)
1 tsp (5 mL) sesame oil
¼ tsp (1 mL) each of black and toasted white sesame seeds

Fiery Hot Mustard Sauce
2 tbsp (30 mL) powdered mustard
2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) hot water
1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice

Soy-Wasabi Mayonnaise
1/3 cup (80 mL) mayonnaise
2/3 tsp (3.5 mL) each of soy sauce and sesame oil
1/3 tsp (2 mL) each of granulated sugar and wasabi paste
15 small tender sprigs of fresh dill weed

1. To make the Fiery Hot Mustard Sauce, in a small bowl stir together all sauce ingredients until very well blended. (Makes 3 tbsp or 45 mL.)*
2. To make the Soy-Wasabi Mayonnaise, in a small bowl whisk together all ingredients until well blended. (Makes 1/3 cup or 80 mL.)*
3. Shred zucchini on the coarse side of a box grater. (Makes about ½ cup or 125 mL of grated zucchini.) Toss with sesame oil and seeds; set aside.
4. Place just a drop (1/16 tsp or 0.3 mL) of Fiery Hot Mustard Sauce in the bottom of individual oriental porcelain spoons. Add about 1½ tsp (8 mL) of sesame zucchini to each spoon; top with a dab (1/3 tsp or 2 mL) of Soy Wasabi Mayonnaise.
3. Shortly before serving, drain oysters well and allow to rest briefly on a paper towel. If necessary, cut larger oysters in half to obtain 15 pieces (i.e., whole and halved oysters). Rub each oyster with just a “spot” of Fiery Hot Mustard Sauce and place one on each spoon, perched on top of the Soy-Wasabi Mayonnaise.
6. Garnish each oyster with a tender sprig of dill weed.
7. Arrange filled spoons on a serving tray, accompanied by an empty container to catch the empty spoons.

* You only need a small portion for this recipe. Refrigerate the remainder in a well-sealed jar. The Fiery Hot Mustard Sauce will keep for months, and the Soy-Wasabi Mayonnaise keeps for up to several weeks.


Apricot Garlic Chicken Breasts (with Sautéed Shrimp) is a nice main course for a Valentine meal. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Apricot Garlic Chicken Breasts (with Sautéed Shrimp) is a nice main course for a Valentine meal. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Apricot Garlic Chicken Breasts
(with Sautéed Shrimp*)
Makes 4 servings

Apricot Garlic Chicken is one of my earliest creations from our days in Moscow a few decades ago when ingredients there were desperately limited. However, chicken and garlic plus fabulous apricot jam from Georgia were always available. The optional garnish of garlic butter-sautéed shrimp heightens the sophistication and complexity of the recipe — not to mention the taste.

4 single chicken breasts, boneless with skin (each: 6 oz or 170 g)
¼ cup (60 mL) Lightly Spiced Flour*
1 to 1½ tbsp (15 to 23 mL) vegetable oil
1 to 1½ tsp (5 to 8 mL) finely chopped fresh garlic
3 to 4 tbsp (45 to 60 mL) apricot jam
4 sprigs of fresh herbs or edible flowers (optional)
1 1/3 cups (325 mL) Cognac White Wine Cream Sauce (recipe attached), optional

Shrimp Garnish (optional)
8 large shrimp (fresh or frozen), unpeeled, but deveined
2 to 3 tsp (10 to 15 mL) herb garlic butter
To taste salt and crushed black peppercorns

1. Dust chicken breasts with Lightly Spiced Flour.*
2. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chicken (skin side down); cook until golden brown; turn over. Chicken breasts are only turned once.
3. Spread top browned surface of chicken (skin side) with garlic and then apricot jam. Be careful not to allow garlic or jam to fall onto surface of skillet as they burn easily.
4. Once second side is golden brown, cover skillet immediately and reduce heat to low/a gentle sizzle. If necessary, add just a touch of water.
5. Cook until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear. (Total cooking time: about 15 to 20 minutes.) If desired, sprinkle lightly with salt.
6. Meanwhile, if garnishing with sautéed shrimp, peel shrimp, leaving tails attached; rinse and drain well.
7. In a medium skillet over medium heat, sauté shrimp in herb-garlic butter. Season with salt and crushed black peppercorns to taste; sauté until just barely cooked. Immediately remove shrimp from skillet.
8. Artistically, top chicken breasts with sautéed shrimp (2 per chicken breast) and if desired, sprigs of fresh herbs or edible flowers. Drizzle plates/platter with Cognac White Wine Cream Sauce and pass extra sauce at table. Note: For a “wow” combination, serve the Apricot Garlic Chicken on a bed of mushroom wild rice.

*To make Lightly Spiced Flour, mix together ¼ cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour, 1/3 tsp (2 mL) of your favourite curry powder, ¼ tsp (1 mL) each of crushed dried tarragon leaves and salt, and a pinch of all of the following ingredients: crushed black peppercorns, garlic powder, ground nutmeg and dried mustard powder.


White Wine Cream Sauce
Makes 1 1/3 cups or about 325 mL

2½ tsp (13 mL) instant chicken bouillon powder
1 1/3 tsp (7 mL) sandwich mustard
1 cup (250 mL) hot water
1 ½ tsp (8 mL) finely chopped fresh garlic
1/3 tsp (2 mL) peeled and grated fresh gingerroot
1 1/3 tbsp (20 mL) butter
2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
2 2/3 tbsp (40 mL) white wine
1/3 cup (80 mL) heavy cream (35 per cent fat)
2 tsp (10 mL) cognac (optional)

1. Dissolve chicken bouillon powder and mustard in hot water.
2. In a small saucepan, sauté garlic and ginger in melted butter over medium heat for about 1 minute; blend in flour and cook for another minute. Whisking constantly, add bouillon mixture and wine; whisk until smooth.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low; continuing to whisk constantly, add cream and bring sauce to a simmer. Allow sauce to simmer gently for a couple of minutes; remove from heat; stir in cognac.

Make ahead tip: The sauce may be stored refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for months.


Raspberry Toblerone Cheesecake makes an exciting mid-winter dessert. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Raspberry Toblerone Cheesecake makes an exciting mid-winter dessert. (Photo: Larry Dickenson)

Raspberry Toblerone Cheesecake
Makes 8 small individual cheesecakes

Hoping to overwhelm family and guests? Serve these tantalizing mini cheesecakes. They will meet all expectations for any special occasion, particularly Valentine’s Day.

8 small ramekin dishes (size: ¼ cup or 60 mL)
½ cup (125 mL) crushed dark chocolate wafer cookies
2 2/3 tbsp (40 mL) unsalted butter, melted
1 bar (3 ½ oz or 100 g) Toblerone chocolate bar (dark)
½ oz (15 g) dark, high-quality chocolate, finely chopped
1 package (8 oz or 225 g) cream cheese (regular or low-calorie), room temperature
1/3 cup (80 mL) icing sugar
½ tsp (3 mL) vanilla extract (preferably clear)
1 tbsp (15 mL) seedless raspberry jam

3/4 cup (180 mL) Raspberry Coulis Sauce (recipe below)
1 cup (250 mL) whipped cream
24 small fresh raspberries
Stems of fresh lavender or mint (optional)

1. With plastic wrap, completely line the bottom and sides of 8 small ramekins, leaving an overhanging portion.
2. Finely crush chocolate wafers and place in a bowl. Drizzle with melted butter and combine thoroughly.
3. Divide wafer mixture among the ramekin dishes and press firmly into the base. Tip: Use a shot glass with a flat bottom to assist in this task.
4. Coarsely chop Toblerone bar, put into a microwave-proof bowl and place in a microwave oven at medium-low heat until very soft, about 1½ minutes. Remove from the oven, stir until completely melted and smooth. Add the finely chopped dark chocolate; stir until completely melted, smooth and well blended.
5. With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl for 2 minutes until light and smooth.* Add icing sugar and vanilla; beat for another minute.
6. Add melted chocolate and beat until very well blended.
7. Add 1½ tbsp (23 mL) of chocolate mixture to each ramekin; insert 1/3 tsp (2 mL) of seedless raspberry jam into centre of the mixture in each and top equally with remaining chocolate-cream cheese mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set — at least 4 hours. Allow cheesecake to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
8. Remove the cheesecakes from ramekin dishes with the aid of the overhanging plastic wrap and peel away plastic wrap. For individual servings, place one mini cheesecake on 1 tbsp (15 mL) or so of Raspberry Coulis Sauce, top each with whipped cream, garnish with 3 fresh raspberries and, if desired, fresh herbs.

* If desired, whip up to 3 tbsp (45 mL) of heavy cream (35 per cent fat) into the cream cheese.

Raspberry Coulis Sauce
Makes 1 cup or 250 mL

This slightly tart sauce is exactly what is required to cut the sweetness of many desserts. I usually keep Raspberry Coulis Sauce in a handy squeeze bottle (refrigerated up to a few days or frozen for months). Drizzled on plates or over desserts, it always adds an executive chef’s touch.

2 cups (500 mL)* frozen raspberries
1½ to 2 tbsp (23 to 30 mL) sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) seedless raspberry jam (optional)

Place raspberries, sugar and raspberry jam in a blender; process for a few seconds. Press purée through a fairly fine sieve into a bowl and discard seeds.** Refrigerate sauce until ready to use.

* This is about 11 oz or 310 gm.
** For a thicker sauce, place purée in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a very small bowl, whisk 2 tsp (10 mL) of cornstarch into 1½ tbsp (23 mL) of cold water until smooth; stirring constantly, add to heating raspberry purée. When mixture bubbles and thickens, remove from heat. Cover sauce and allow to cool.

Margaret Dickenson is a cookbook author, TV host, menu/recipe developer and a protocol, business and etiquette instructor.

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Category: Delights

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Margaret Dickenson wrote the awardwinning cookbook, Margaret’s Table — Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining (www.margaretstable.ca).

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