appetizer

Watercress Pesto

The peppery flavor of watercress and its juicy leaves are terrific in pesto. Think peppery, lemony, garlicy goodness together with toasted nuts and punchy parmesan. If you want a quick, crowd-pleasing appetizer or a spread for that grilled tomato sandwich, give watercress pesto a try. You even have the option of drizzling some with added oil on your meat or fish. Pesto is versatile, and since the greens and the garlic remain uncooked, it's also very healthy. Enjoy! Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients

• 1 cup pecans (or walnuts) • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds • 2 cups packed watercress • 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan • 3/4 cup olive oil • juice of one lemon • 3 garlic cloves • salt + ground black pepper

Dry toast the nuts and seeds in a pan, shaking, until they're ready. In a food processor, whizz the nuts and seeds until finely shredded. Add all the other ingredients, and whizz again. Season with salt and pepper and adjust to desired consistency with olive oil. Serve with fresh bread.

Port and Thyme Chicken Liver Pâté

While food shopping, I came across some quality chicken livers perfect for making pâté.What's nice about this kind of recipe is that you can experiment with it; swap the port for a different liquid or switch the thyme for another herb or spice. Don`t be scared. Making pâté is easier than it looks, and it can be done in under 30 minutes*. Enjoy it with crackers, on toasted bread, or in a sandwich.

Ingredients

• 1 lb chicken livers • 2 shallots, chopped • 1/2 cup port wine • 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only • 1 garlic clove, chopped • 2 tablespoons butter • 2 tablespoons duck fat or butter • salt + black pepper

In a sauté pan, sweat the shallots in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat until soft--about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. In the same pan, heat up a tablespoon of oil and once the oil is sizzling, sauté the chicken livers. Cook on each side for about 4 minutes. Add the shallot mixture, stir, and add the port. Let it reduce until you have a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Transfer everything to a food processor and add the duck fat (or butter). Whizz until smooth. Line a mold with plastic wrap and pour the mixture in. Seal it with the plastic. *Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Mustard and Asparagus Flatbread

Mustard (a blend of mustard seeds, vinegar, and spices) is what we use to crank up the acidity in our food; to send our tastebuds into hyperdrive. In this recipe I spread some old-fashioned mustard (the kind with whole seeds) on a flatbread, top it with asparagus and gouda cheese, and crisp it in the oven. Now that's some quality pub grub, to be enjoyed with drinks among friends. Okay, it's really important to use good mustard. We use and I recommend "Pommery - Moutarde de Meaux." It's a bit pricey but worth every penny. Any good old-fashioned mustard will do, though.

For the flatbreads, you can use this recipe.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients

• 2 flatbreads • 12 asparagus • 150 g gouda cheese • 2 tablespoons old-fashioned dijon mustard • 2 tablespoons olive oil • salt + black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 450F.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the asparagus for 1 minute. Cool them in cold water. Lay the flatbreads on a baking pan and spread 1 tablespoon of mustard on each. Add the asparagus and top with big chunks of gouda cheese. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cook for 15 minutes or until the flatbreads are crispy. Slice and serve hot.

Butternut Squash Potato Cakes

This first recipe makes one killer appetizer while the second goes well with any breakfast. They are both really simple; two ingredients apiece, both grated, squeezed of excess water, and fried in a pan. The ratio is half potatoes, half whatever other vegetable. I made some with zucchini and some others with butternut squash. Feel free to experiment with anything you have in your own veg box and to size your cakes according to your own meal plan. Both of these recipes will make around 8 large or 16 small cakes. Cook for 6 minutes on each side for larger cakes and 4 minutes on each side for smaller ones. For an extra punch throw together a lemon-dill yogurt sauce, which, just so you know, also tastes great with fish. Serves 4-6

Butternut Squash Potato Cakes

• 3 medium potatoes (500g) • 1/2 butternut squash (500g) • salt + black pepper

Grate the potatoes and butternut squash. Put in a large bowl and season with salt. Let sit for about 5 minutes to let the moisture out. Put them in a colander and squeeze them with your hand to get the water out. Do this until there's almost no more water dripping.

Heat up 2-3 tablespoons oil in a large pan. Form a patties about 1.5" in diameter and slide them in the hot oil. Put 7-8 at a time. On medium-high heat, cook the cakes about 4-5 minutes on each side. Season with salt and pepper.

Set the cakes on a plate or in a warm oven while you fry the rest. Fry the rest. Eat.

Lemon-Dill Yogurt Sauce

• 1 cup plain yogurt • 1 tablespoon dill, chopped • 1 tablespoon lemon juice • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients together.

Zucchini Cheddar Potato Cakes

• 3 medium potatoes (500g) • 2 medium zucchini (500g) • 100g cheddar (optional) • salt + black pepper

Grate the potatoes and zucchinis. Put in a large bowl and season with salt. Set aside for about 5 minutes to let the moisture seep out. Put them in a colander and squeeze them with your hand to get even more water out. Do this until there's almost no more water dripping.

Heat up 2-3 tablespoons oil in a large pan. Form patties about 3" in diameter and slide them in the hot oil. Put 4-5 at a time. On medium-high heat, cook the cakes about 6 minutes on each side. Season with salt and pepper. As your flip them, add some grated cheddar on top.

Set the cakes on a plate or in a warm oven while you fry the rest. Fry the rest. Eat.

Pan-Fried North River Smelts

I was lucky at the market today. I got my hands on some fresh, ice-fished smelts. The best way to enjoy them is simple; floured, pan-fried, salted and then dipped into a sauce. For the dip, you can pretty much use anything but I went with horseradish, because the zest of it works amazingly well with the fish. If horseradish isn't your thing, try it anyway - it's an acquired taste!

These make for a great appetizer but also a great lunch. Eat the small ones whole. For the larger ones, once they're cooked, you can easily peel away the spine, leaving you with only the filets.

Pan-Fried Smelts

• 12 smelts • 1/2 cup white flour • 1/2 teaspoon salt • a pinch of cayenne pepper • oil for frying

If the smelts are whole, cut off the heads, gut them, and clean them under cold water.

Mix the flour with the salt and cayenne. Heat about 1/4 cup of sunflower, canola or grapeseed oil in a saucepan or chef's pan.

Flour the fish and put them in the pan, about six at a time. Once they're brown and crispy on one side, flip them. It takes about 2 minutes on each side. Proceed for as many fish as you have. Add a pinch of salt and serve right away, hot!

Horseradish Dip

• 1/2 cup sour cream • 1 tablespoon horseradish • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Mix, done!