Transform The Table

Everyone knows how much I love a good cookbook, but how about a more creative way to share it with your giftee? With Easter and Mother’s Day coming up, consider making a recipe from the cookbook of your choice, and present it as part of a potluck meal.

Before you balk at this idea and go “But I’m not a chef! I’m buying gifts for A CHEF!” let me assure you, today’s gift suggestion is the best of both worlds. Everyday to Entertaining by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder features 200 recipes that transform basic recipes into sensational, you-impress-me dishes. So if you’re feeling a little low about your own cooking skills, go for the slightly easier versions of delicious recipes like Parmesan Flatbread. When your seasoned chef picks up the book, they can evolve your flatbread into a super-sleek go-with that also includes roasted pears, argula, and gorgonzola.

Beyond the neat way you can hand this gift over, I also appreciate that the basic versions are just as tummy-rumble-inducing as the fancier versions. On the flip side, I love that the book is so user-friendly, those upgrades don’t really seem that challenging. Every recipe clearly spells out how many portions you’ll get, the hands-on prep time, and the overall cooking time so you aren’t halfway through your Almond Cornmeal Cake with Balsamic Strawberries only to realize you’re going to be about two hours late to your Easter dinner this Sunday. They’ve also spelled out bold and bright preheat instructions, equipment requirements, complementary dishes, entertaining ideas, and tips to make your bestie a better cook.

As I mentioned, this is a great choice for the next few meal-ready occasions. I found it online on the Indigo website for just $18 – easily enough to spare a few $$$ to cover the cost of recipe ingredients. If you’re pining to get something going before you actually buy the book, here’s the recipe for one of the so-called expert entertaining dishes, Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel and Prosciutto.

One of the best reasons to wear perfume is that its scent precedes you. It relays a silent message of great expectations. Similarly, we love how the peppery arugula brings out the best in savory, roasted fennel, with salty prosciutto chiming in. A simple browning of the shallots will give you a vinaigrette with out of this world taste.

Serves 6
Hands-on time
30 minutes
Start to finish
45 minutes

Make Ahead
The vegetables, dressing and Parmesan curls can be made up to 4 hours ahead of time and kept, covered, at room temperature. Toss arugula and dressing together moments before serving.

•    Preheat greased barbecue grill to medium-high
or preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
•    6 chilled plates

Caramelized Shallot Vinaigrette
2    shallots, peeled and quartered    2
1 tbsp    extra virgin olive oil, divided    75 mL
plus 1⁄4 cup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp    white wine or sherry vinegar    30 mL
1⁄2 tsp    minced fresh thyme    2 mL
1⁄4 tsp    salt    1 mL
Pinch    freshly ground black pepper    Pinch
2    heads fennel, trimmed and sliced    2
crosswise into 1⁄8-inch (3 mm) slices
1 tbsp    olive oil    15 mL
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
11⁄2 cups    arugula    375 mL
8    slices prosciutto, coarsely chopped    8
1⁄2 cup    chopped toasted walnuts    125 mL
18    curls Parmesan cheese, preferably    18
Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved
with a vegetable peeler

1.    Caramelized Shallot Vinaigrette: Spread shallots on a grill basket if grilling or a baking sheet if roasting in oven. Drizzle shallots with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill or roast for about 15 minutes or until shallots have caramelized and softened. Let cool. Mince and transfer to a large bowl.
2.    Add vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper to shallots. Let stand for at least 5 minutes or for up to 1 hour. Whisk in 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) olive oil. Set aside.
3.    Spread fennel on a grill basket if grilling or a baking sheet if roasting in oven. Drizzle fennel with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grill or roast for 7 to 8 minutes or until fennel softens slightly. Transfer to a medium bowl. Toss fennel with 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the vinaigrette. Set aside.
4.    Add arugula to a large bowl and toss with 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the vinaigrette until well coated. Be careful not to overdress the salad. There shouldn’t be any dressing pooling in the bottom of the bowl.
5.    Divide arugula among 6 chilled plates and arrange roasted fennel decoratively on top. Sprinkle prosciutto and walnuts over top and garnish with Parmesan curls.

Caramelized Shallot. Grilling or roasting the shallot brings out its sweeter nature. Once the sugars have browned, the shallot morphs from sharp to sweet, providing a rich, full-bodied background flavor. Once you’ve become familiar with shallots, your kitchen will never be without them.

Excerpted from Everyday to Entertaining by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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