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As a celiac, you have to acknowledge there’s always a risk in eating out, both with friends and family and at restaurants. You never really know what’s going on in the kitchen unless you’re there yourself. Over the 13 or so years I’ve been gluten free, I’ve been “glutened” dozens of times. It’s never fun. For years, getting glutened meant horrible cramps & diarrhea for 4-6 hours from even minor cross contamination (crumbs, shared cooking oil, wheat as minor ingredients etc) In the last couple of years my symptoms have moderated somewhat. I now seem  to avoid those “classic” issues and have bloating, gas,  what feels like heart palpitations, dry mouth shortness of breath, restlessness, extreme fatigue; in short I feel like I have ingested poison. Which, for my body, I really have.  I don’t really know why the change (perhaps my gut is healed?) and I am thankful to not have to endure the digestive troubles I used to but feeling like I do as I write this, (almost 20 hours later) is no picnic either.

If you’ve read any of the restaurant reviews I’ve posted since starting this a couple of months ago, you’ll know that I have been visiting restaurants in Edmonton that specifically offer either gluten free menus or gluten free options.  If I eat at a restaurant that doesn’t “do” gluten free specifically, I’ll talk to the server, talk to the manager or best of all talk to the chef. Ultimately though, if I get sick, I can’t really blame them. They don’t claim to cater to me, may have no clue what I’m talking about and it’s my “risk”.

However, one assumes if the place has gone to the trouble of developing a gluten free or celiac friendly menu or even just select gf dishes, that they will have some knowledge of what exactly that means, and more importantly, will have trained their staff as to what exactly that means.

So just what happened last night? Well, to quote the old game Clue, it was Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with Poison.

The Setup

July 21 was my 46th birthday (gah) and on a Wednesday, which is “date night” for Kim & I. So we decided to head out for a special evening at one of the higher end restaurants in town. We’ve been to La Ronde, Normands, Ruths Chris and a few others but we thought we’d try Lux Steakhouse.

Exhibit One

The lead up to the crime.

I’ve been following a few local chefs on Twitter and last week I was able to ask if Lux could do GF. I was assured that Lux not only can do GF, but that they actually have a separate GF menu. Ok then. We’re going. Next I make a reservation on OpenTable.com and highlight that I will be needing the GF menu, mentioning that I had spoken to the chef. I tweet to chef and receive reply “I’ll make sure it is awesome” (irony now apparent) Excitement builds. We’re set.

Exhibit Two

Arrival.

We arrive just after 6 and are seated immediately with the hostess saying she has a note that we need a GF menu. Score. Kim usually orders off the GF menu on date night so we can share (she’s nice that way) so we both took the GF menu. We did not mention that she doesn’t have to be GF (although she feels better when she is).  The bar is quite full but the restaurant is almost empty. Only 3 tables plus ours. This is a good sign, a really busy kitchen can make plating mistakes. We should be easy to deal with.

Exhibit Three

The menu.

We order a bottle of Wyndham Reserve Cab Merlot and have a look at the one page menus handed to us by our server. Doesn’t mention gluten free but it is a different menu than the regular one and it does say something to the effect of “we take your allergies seriously…blah blah” OK. It’s a pretty good looking menu with lots of choices which is something  not all gf menus offer. Let’s order.

Exhibit Four

Ordering.

Our server arrived and let us know the soup of the day, oops, not sure it’s gf so back to the kitchen. Point for server. Things looking good. Back to tell us that no, it’s not ok, but the organic tenderloin and organic ribeye both were. And they have some nice Malpeque oysters. We look at the menu and Kim spies her 2 favourite things, Ahi Tuna appetizer and roast chicken. I had my first oysters on our recent trip to Vancouver and discovered I really like them, so oysters for me and the organic tenderloin, medium rare. Oh and truffle bacon cream corn, just because (it’s my birthday right?!)

Exhibit Five

The scene of thecrime.

Our wine arrives and is poured into a decanter. Nice touch found in most of the better restaurants. Our appetizers arrive. Oysters look, well disgusting, but that’s an oyster for you. But oh, they were tasty with a pinch of salt, dash of lime and a drop of hot sauce. Kim’s Ahi arrives (cue Twilight Zone music..duh dee duh da, duh dee duh da).

Being in oyster induced bliss, I’m not really paying much attention but the the Ahi is served much like poke, one of our favourite Hawaiian tuna preparations, chopped raw ahi, sesame oil and in this case some mild hot sauce. The dish was garnished with shredded deep fried daikon (we think) and some chip looking things. Kim thought they might be potato, or perhaps even taro as that would be a natural thing to have with poke. She said they were pretty bland but tasty with the ahi. My gf-dar started pinging a bit at the sight of the chip things, but gluten free menu, talked with the chef via twitter twice, hostess & server comments, slow kitchen. They must be ok right? I broke the first rule of celiac and tried one, without double checking. In this case, it was more like checking for the 7th time but I should have waited. Silly of me really. As I’m thinking about what I just did, I’m thinking more and more that there’s no way those chips were GF. I told Kim this and she went through the same thoughts, we’d checked and checked and they -couldn’t- have made such an obvious mistake…could they?

They don’t come from the WontonTree…

Exhibit Six

Shock and Awe

Our server returns to clear the appetizers and asks how the appetizers were.

“Good, but are you sure that those chips thingies were GF?”

“Oh, yes, I remember them at the gf  menu tasting we did…mmbbmllee..I think.”

(Uh Oh.)

“Can you go check?”

“Ok, be right back.”

(cue 3 minutes of no, they couldn’t have, I’m sure it’s ok?, hmmm)

“They are wonton wrappers”

(cue red flashing lights & sirens)

“Wonton wrappers? There are no GF wonton wrappers that I know of.”

“Oh yes, we get them in specially”

(cough bullsh*t)

“Ok we’ll need to see the package because 1) we don’t think you are correct and 2) if you are we’d like to buy some because it’s something that we have never seen before.”

“OK, I’ll be right back”

(cue 10 minutes of waiting with no update, basically confirming what we already knew)

Out comes server with our main courses, placing them on the table he says “um yes sorry they do have some wheat in them (cough bullsh*t – they are 100% wheat)”

“Alright then. We have to leave right now. I may be violently ill within the next hour.”

(Remember that my experience with gluten reactions has been limited to cross contamination incidents. This is the first time in 13 years I’ve actually ate a large amount of gluten. I and most celiacs react to parts per millions of gluten; I had just eaten -grams- of the stuff. I had no idea what I was facing.)

“Ok well, I can take care of the meals for you (restaurant speak for free) but you’ll have to pay for the wine”

(internal dialog – Huh? You just poisoned me and you want to charge me for half a bottle of wine we had time to drink?)

External dialog “Really? You can’t be serious”

“Yes, I can only take care of the food. You’ll have to pay for the wine. I’ll be right back with the bill. If you like I can wrap up the food for you to go? No charge of course”

I paid my $63 for a bottle of half finished wine (which we did take with us) and left, drove home and proceeded to deal with now 22 hours of feeling like crap.

So.  There it is.

Exhibit 7

The cover up.

This is what really gets me. Now it’s impossible to know what went on in the kitchen between the server and the chef other than a gradual realization that they had seriously screwed up. My imagination sees something like this.

“Um you know that Ahi for table 16, that’s all GF right?

“Of course, it’s on the GF menu right?”

“They’re concerned about the chips.”

“The chips? They’re just chips. How could wonton have gluten in them? Tell them they’re fine” (cue internal dialog ” They’re like made of won? ton? is there a wonton bush?..hmmm. what are they made of”)

“Dude,  they say they want to see the package.”

” Ok, I’ll go look in the freezer. (rustle rustle oh sh*t) Um. Houston we have a problem. Ok, you have to go out and tell them.”

“No way man. I just serve the stuff.”

“Hey I outrank you. Go tell them. But I have an idea. wait until their mains are done, serve them, tell them about the wheat and offer to comp the meal. Maybe when they see the food they’ll not be so picky. Oh, and make sure they pay for the wine.”

Exhibit 8

Evasion tactics.

Is that what went on in the kitchen? I suspect something very much like it did. But I’ll not know. The chef did not come out to explain (well, really there is no excuse/explanation) or apologize. To me that is the thing that really upsets me the most. I expect much, much more from an expensive (50 bucks a steak) restaurant. On a slow night the chef or a manager should come out a visit all tables. It’s just good restauranting. (last date night we went to Joey South Edmonton, a much less expensive place and 2 managers stopped at our table to make sure our gf meals were good) And if you seriously screw up like last night, the chef, manager or both should have been there immediately. I might have felt sorry for our server for being the bearer of the news except for the “get them in special” comment and the thing with the wine.

Aftermath

So did I get as sick as I thought I might? No. Does it matter if I got a little or a lot sick? No. I still was up all night and have missed a day of work . I still feel lousy.

Apparently, while the chef didn’t want to come out and speak with me, he/she apparaently got on the phone right away to my Twitter contact from the restaurant who had sent me a direct message almost by the time I got home wondering if he could make it up to me by personally preparing a meal for me.

At this point, I’m inclined to say no way. I’m not writing this for free anything. It’s not as if there was a fly in my soup. That may be a “ok, you can make it up to me” offense, but this was in another league altogether. To have taken all the steps to create a GF menu and then have such a basic failure in the kitchen really brings into question whether they have any idea what it means to really offer a safe place for celiacs to eat. Were those shredded potatoey looking things next to my untasted steak deep fried in a dedicated frier? If not they aren’t safe. Dozens of questions. A gluten free menu you can’t trust is far worse than a menu with no options at all. And let’s not forget that this kind of mistake has killed people. Literally. There was a recent civil court case in the US that awarded millions of dollars to the family of someone who died as a result of being served shellfish in restaurant after alerting staff to his allergy. I’m not anaphylactic, but -I could have been-. Instead of sticking me with the bill for the wine (have you noticed that I haven’t quite got over that yet?), they could have been ushering me out of the restaurant in an ambulance.

What I’m hoping Lux will do

Realize the seriousness of the error and how they made things worse by not owning up to it.

Retrain kitchen and wait staff

Review all ingredients and procedures to make sure that they really know what they are doing.

Things I’m going to do.

Hit the Publish button on this post

Write a letter to management of Lux

Update this with anything I  hear from Lux

Wait a few days until I feel better, and see if a follow up post is warranted. I’ll see if I think this is a bit too snarky. Right now it feels just about right. I’m feeling lousy, my birthday was ruined (and then there’s that thing with the wine)

I’d really like Lux to post this in their kitchen as a reminder that they are serving people and not tables.

In the end, I have to take some responsibility for this. I ate the damn chip. But it should have never been on my plate in the first place.

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This is the best dessert I have ever made. I had family over about a month ago and hadn’t really planned for a dessert. People were eating a lot and there seemed to be a possibility that food would be gone before the appetites were. I figured I’d better throw something together quick. We had a nice ripe pineapple and I love grilled pineapple. Of course I couldn’t -just- grill pineapple. When I grill pineapple, I like to grind some fresh ground black pepper on to each side. If you look back to my strawberries post, you’ll see I’m a fan of fruit & pepper. This is tasty on it’s own, but I needed something to make it a dessert to remember. I thought I could make a quick caramel sauce and serve it with yogurt. That would be pretty good. But not wow good. I poked my head into my spice cabinet and started smelling spice bottles. The second bottle I opened was coriander seed. To be honest, I’m not even sure why we have coriander seed. I don’t think I’ve ever used it. Maybe in a curry. Maybe. You may not be familiar with coriander, but you are almost certainly familiar with the plants other name, cilantro. I’m one of those people that isn’t fond of cilantro. In small amounts it’s ok but it can really be overpowering to me. I took an online test to see if I’m a “supertaster” but if I am, it’s mostly to bitter.The test said I wouldn’t like coffee so basically it’s a useless test.

Anyways. On to coriander seed. (it’s actually ground, dried fruit and not a seed at all but that’s what it’s called) Completely different taste and smell. What it smells -like- I can’t really say. Floral, fruity, nutty? Go smell some. For some reason this just seemed like the thing to add to my caramel sauce. That and rum.

Pepper Grilled Pineapple

Peel & core 1/2 ripe pineapple. Cut into 3/4″ thick slices

sprinkle freshly ground coarse black pepper on each side

Grill on BBQ over high heat for about 3 minutes a side until warmed through and you have some nice grill marks

Coriander Seed Rum Caramel Sauce*

1/4c butter (sorry no margarine allowed)

1/4 c granulated sugar (I used organic cane)

2 tblsp dark maple syrup

2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/2 tsp nutmeg (a pinch actually)

Pinch of salt

50ml dark rum (a free sample/airplane bottle size)

*as with all my recipes these amounts are best guesses. Your mileage may vary.

Combine all ingredients except rum in a shallow saucepan and heat over medium high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is melted. Boil mixture for 1 minute until sugar starts to thicken and turn brown (err…you know -caramel- coloured)

Add rum & stir. (At this point you could probably flambe but I haven’t checked the fire extinguisher for a while)

Serve the pineapple over vanilla yogurt and spoon sauce over the pineapple. It would also be great with vanilla bean ice cream. Serves about 6.

I’ve now served this twice, and the response from everyone is basically, ” I’ve never tasted anything like it but I love it!”

Coriander. Who knew.

Is there anything better than deep fried cheese? Crispy outside, melty & gooey inside. Here’s a simple 10 minute appetizer that everyone will love (unless you’re dairy intolerant that is 😉 . And it looks great too.

When you think of deep fried cheese, you usually think of cheese “sticks”. That is, buy a block of cheese, cut it into chunks, bread and deep fry. This version is a bit different and even easier as the cheese we are going to use is Babybel. Those tasty little spheroids of gouda with the obnoxious TV commercials. (OK, so Babybel isn’t exactly top line cheese but we’re deep frying it people!). There’s no risky cheese chunking and they are quite attractive on the plate.

The recipe is simple:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 pkg Babybel gouda* (6pcs)
  • Salt, Pepper, Cayenne or Chipoltle to taste
  • 3/4 cup Panko Bread crumbs. Because I’m gluten free, I used Kinnikinnick GF panko crumbs but any bread crumb should work. Use a Panko crumb if possible as it provides a crispier coating.
  • 2 cups oil for frying

*Babybel does make Swiss & Cheddar “Flavoured” cheeses but I don’t think they actually are swiss & cheddar so I’d say stick with gouda.

Lightly beat the egg in a small dish

Peel the wax coating from the cheese (I didn’t have to tell you that right?)

One at a time, dip the cheese in the egg, coating it completely.

Add spices to breadcrumbs and mix

Roll the egg coated cheese in the crumb. Place on a plate. Repeat for remainder.

Let rest for 5 minutes. (don’t cheat here, this is important!)

Carefully repeating the egg and crumb process with the already coated cheese. This double coating is the secret to a really great deep fried cheese. You need a good coating of crumb so that the cheese is trapped and doesn’t melt out into the oil. This trick gives you the best crunch. By letting the first layer of crumb set with the egg, you also reduce the chance of the crumb falling off in the oil.

Deep fry 1 or 2 at a time in about 350* oil for about 2 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is just beginning to oooooze out.

Remove from oil and pat with paper towel to remove excess oil. Serve immediately. I haven’t tried this but you could probably prepare these in advance and reheat in the oven for about 10 minutes @ 200*F. Not quite the same but if you are serving lots, it may be an option.

Serve with you favorite dipping sauce. Some ideas

Wasabi Mayo – Mayonnaise, Lemon Juice, Salt & Wasabi powder (probably not a good sauce if you added anything but salt & pepper to the breadcrumbs)

Chipotle Mayo – Mayonnaise, Lemon Juice, Salt & Chipotle Chili powder

Fresh Basil, Garlic, Lemon Juice & Olive Oil

Update: just as I published this I had an additional idea that you could easily put a slit in the Babybel and stuff them with various things prior to coating with the crumb. Well, by various, I mean bacon. But you could use any cooked meat (bacon, crab, shrimp etc) or maybe roasted garlic clove, pickled asparagus, hot pickled peppers. Mmmm. (I need to go eat something…)

This is mostly a food blog, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. I was in Safeway about a month ago a noticed this in the laundry section.

This Method laundry detergent claimed to do 25 loads and it’s barely bigger than a cup of coffee. 300 ml to be exact. Way smaller by a factor of 3 or 4 compared to everything else on the shelf. 4 pumps of the dispenser per load say the instructions I was skeptical but I bought it just to see. It’s also “free & clear” so no added dyes or perfumes. We are a fragrance free household due to asthma & allergies so this is important. According to the package, it’s 95% plant based & biodegradable.

We’ve just bought our second “bottle” (hardly even feels right calling it that) and the stuff works as advertised.

What’s the big deal? Reduced plastic sure but what’s probably far more important in the long run is that it weighs so little compared to even regular “ultra” detergents. Less weight = less fuel to transport to market = less co2 emissions. That’s 2x clean in my books. Way to go Method.

What’s up with the title of this entry? The English tag line for this detergent is Extraordinarily Concentrated. The French is Hyper Mega Ultra Concentre, which is just cool.

Btw, I photographed this next to that particular cup because using this stuff seems awfully close to science fiction. Like something they’d use on the Enterprise when the molecular dirt dissolver broke down.

Recipe: Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

If you’ve never tried Quinoa.. Wait I should start that again. Have you ever heard of Quinoa? Quinoa (keen-wa) is a South American grain-like seed which was known by the Incas as chisaya mama or mother of all grains * It is grown today mainly in Peru.

Quinoa “has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest” *

Quinoa in its natural state has a bitter coating which has been an issue with acceptance in North America. This can be alleviated by soaking for several hours prior to preparing.  The first time I had it 10 years ago or so, I did not like it due to this problem but I love the stuff now. I think advances in processing and selective breeding have greatly reduced this bitterness and most Quinoas available (at least in Edmonton) shouldn’t require the soaking step. Read the package instructions.

Now back to “if you’ve never tried quinoa”, it’s a simple to prepare, healthy and versatile ingredient. You can use it as a high protein breakfast cereal (think hot with cinnamon & brown sugar), in pilafs and risottos (or any rice dish) and makes a great gluten free couscous. The recipe here is a simple salad that we have all the time.

Prepare 1 cup quinoa according to package instructions (usually 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa for 20 minutes)

Let cool for 30 minutes or so. In reality I probably let it cool for about the amount of time it takes to prepare the rest of the ingredients.  You can serve it hot if you prefer.

Seed & chop 1 medium red bell pepper into medium chunks (~1/2 inch)

Chop 3-4 green onions

Add the following to a bowl

1/4 c olive oil

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp cayenne pepper

salt & freshly ground pepper

Mix the dressing with a fork.

Combine quinoa, onions & peppers and toss with dressing. Serve. Goes great with just about anything.

A side note, our son’s girlfriend is a type 1 diabetic and told us that this “grain” salad hardly moved her blood sugar levels. She was astonished. The carbs in quinoa are complex and combined with the high protein count, quinoa probably should be in every diabetics food toolkit.

One final note, the Wikipedia article mentions that quinoa is a candidate for a crop on long term human spaceflight missions. How cool is that..

I’ve been putting this off for a couple of weeks because I wasn’t sure I was going to even write this. That and a trip to Vancouver which I’ll be writing about soon. The reason I’ve been reluctant? It will be my first bad review. (well I hope the -review- isn’t bad).

Kim and I stopped by The Dish Bistro on 124st and Stony Plain road on a Wednesday a couple of weeks ago on the way to our Wednesday night thing. I’d seen online that they have a gluten free menu and cater to allergies so that’s always large determining factor as to where we are going to eat. We arrived at 5:30 and on entering we were seated immediately, there being only one other table occupied at the time. The place has an OK ambiance but on close inspection, it’s looking a bit tired. Our server was prompt and brought us the GF menu right away. We ordered a 1/2 litre of the Torconal CabMerlot which is an alright wine selection for a house wine. Nothing special but when you don’t want a whole bottle, it is just fine.

Before you read further, here’s two things to keep in mind. I’m not a huge fan of vinegar and this experience could be a result of ordering off the gluten free menu. We were a bit rushed for time as is often the case on Wednesdays and were looking for a lighter meal in any case so we decided to have an appetizer to share and a couple of salads. We agreed that the Risotto Cakes sounded tasty. According to the menu, these are

Asiago and spinach risotto cakes stuffed with goat cheese and served on a fresh tomato salad

The cakes are served on a bed of lettuce with a thick slice of tomato chopped into pieces with some large slices of purple onion.  I guess this qualifies as a fresh tomato salad but I thought it would be more tomato-ey. The tomato itself was rather tasteless, looking like a food service, it’ll ripen eventually tomato. The cakes themselves were alright. They were creamy and rich. It had mostly goat cheese notes, but I would have liked to have had a more prominent asiago flavour. And to be honest, I didn’t even notice there was spinach in the cake. However, what I liked about these cakes was completely drowned in balsamic vinegar. You can see from the picture that the straight balsamic was just poured over the cakes, soaking in and completely overpowering the flavour of the risotto. We ate around the vinegar. The greens also had quite a bit of balsamic. I am -not- a fan of straight balsamic poured on salads. Perhaps this is a personal quirk of mine but I believe a vinaigrette needs to be something more than just vinegar. I was also a bit surprised as the menu didn’t even mention a vinaigrette. I suppose they felt it needed something. It may have but I don’t believe it was 1/4 cup of vinegar.

For our mains Kim ordered the Dijon Chicken on Greens

Dijon marinated breast of chicken on mixed greens with tomatoes, carrots, Spanish onions, artichoke hearts and a roasted red pepper dressing

Kim’s salad arrived looking reasonably tasty.  The chicken is served cold which was a bit of a disappointment. I’d expect cold, premade chicken in a salad from a chain restaurant (on the lower end of things). I can handle cold chicken, but cold, dry and tasteless is another thing. If there was a trace of dijon flavour we certainly couldn’t find it. The chicken itself had an almost pasty coating on it which gave it an unpleasant mouth-feel. Fortunately, the red pepper sauce was pretty good [EDIT: Apparently a couple of weeks has clouded my memory. Kim just informed me she thought the red pepper sauce was/tasted like thousand island dressing) and dipping helped mask the problems with the chicken.  However, there wasn’t near enough sauce for the chicken. The artichoke hearts appeared to be pickled artichoke hearts from a bottle.

I ordered the Spicy Beef on Greens

Chili and garlic marinated beef flank steak on mixed greens with tomatoes, carrots, Spanish onions, artichoke hearts and a fresh herb citrus vinaigrette.

Flank steak can be a difficult thing to prepare due to its toughness. Marinating and/or braising is usually used to help break down the muscle fibres and produce a more tender end result. In the case of my dish, neither seemed to have worked. The steak was tough. Really tough. Almost beef jerky tough. The flavour? Spicy? Chili? Garlic? I could not detect any hint of heat, garlic or chili in any piece I tried. Now there may be a reason for this. The entire dish was absolutely soaked in balsamic vinegar. Fresh herb citrus? No idea. All I could taste was balsamic.  Not vinaigrette. Balsamic. Vinegar. The greens were even worse than the beef. Drowning in the stuff. Completely inedible. I ended up eating the rest of Kim’s chicken, which by this time was not as bad as I originally thought. At least it didn’t make my mouth burn. And burn. Two hours later my mouth was still feeling the effects of my vinegar soaked meal.

Now with this bad of an experience, you may be wondering why we didn’t send the food back. Firstly, we had to be somewhere and didn’t really have time to wait. But mostly, I’m not sure what difference it would have made. It’s not as if we were served an under or over done piece of meat. This is apparently how these dishes are served. And to be honest, I’m someone who almost never sends anything back. I’m working on it. I’d be interested in hearing from others to find out if this was a bad gluten free dining experience or simply a bad dining experience.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I really debated whether I should even write this. But I decided that if I’m going to write reviews, I’ve got to write about bad experiences as well as good. So here it is.

On Saturday Kim picked up some nice organic strawberries and she suggested we make some labneh to go with them for Mothers Day dessert. For those of you who don’t know what labneh is (like either of us did until I looked it up yesterday), it’s simply strained yogurt. It’s also known as Greek yogurt and is the base for tatziki. (tatziki too runny? Use labneh!) We were first introduced to it  when we saw a recipe for labneh, maple syrup & roasted pecans on a Food Network program months ago, tried it and liked it quite a bit.

Labneh has a really nice, firm texture like cream cheese so our first thought was to make a strawberry cheesecake. This is something we still want to do as I think it will be really tasty and since full fat yogurt is only 3.5% fat, it’s a much healthier option the regular cheesecake made with cream cheese.

But we didn’t make the cheesecake. Yesterday, I was poking around in the fridge and saw we had some fresh basil left over from margherita pizzas last week. I had one of those “aha” moments and knew dessert was going to go in a different direction. The recipe appeared to me as if I was channeling Iron Chef. Labneh with fresh basil, strawberries and…black pepper. You may not know it but basil is a member of the mint family and goes quite well with fruit and sweet ingredients. I’ve always wanted to use black pepper in a recipe with fruit, especially strawberries so this seemed like the perfect combination of flavours.

Preparing the Labneh

You do need to be a bit organized to make labneh as it takes several hours to prepare. Actually it takes about 5 minutes to prepare but several hours to drain. We used two large containers (4 cups) of 3.5% fat yogurt. Traditionally you would use plain yogurt but because we were making a dessert we used French Vanilla flavoured. You can use any flavoured yogurt. To prepare, line the bottom of a colander or strainer with a large basket coffee filter (or several overlapped smaller ones), cheesecloth or even a paper towel. Place colander in a large bowl or pot so that has an inch or so of space for liquid to collect, cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

This is the amount of liquid that drained from about 750ml of yogurt. This liquid is whey and I’m sure I could make something with it, but don’t know what just yet. Our cat & dog seemed to enjoy it.

Strawberry Basil Pepper Sauce

This sauce is very simple and can (and probably should) be prepared immediately before serving. Since this is the first recipe I’m posting here, I do have to add this disclaimer. I never measure when I cook and I don’t record what I am using  so everything you see here that has an amount noted will be accurate to plus or minus 50% 19 times out of 20.

5 tblsp butter (no you can’t use margarine – ever)

3 tblsp sugar

8-10 large ripe strawberries diced

6-8 good twists of the black pepper grinder

pinch of salt

4-5 large fresh basil leaves chopped

1/2 c dark rum

Melt butter and sugar over medium high heat until sugar begins to caramelize (just begins to brown)

Add strawberries, pepper, basil & rum. You could flambe at this point if you were really adventurous and have fire insurance.

Stir over heat for 3-4 minutes until strawberries are reduced and sauce has thickened.

Remove from heat.

Spoon sauce into small serving dish (I used a sushi plate). Add a spoonful of  the labneh and top with a drizzle of the sauce. Serve with strawberries and a fresh basil leaf as garnish.

Everyone really enjoyed this.  It is has many layers of flavour and is certainly not your average dessert. As one guest put it,  “I’ve never tasted anything like this before but I really like it”

Try it and I think you will too.

Labneh (greek yogurt cheese)