Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lobster with Clarified Butter

Just thought I'd rub it in that I ate fresh lobster for supper today. Boiled for 5 to 6 minutes a pound and then dipped in a bit of clarrified butter, it's a simple meal that's high on flavour and simplicity. Flavour and simplicity. Two words that are so beautiful together when it comes to food.

Also, notice how nicer this picture is compared to all previous posts. That's cause we got a new camera. There's even an option that's specially designed to take pictures of food. How cool is that?!

Cook Tomato Salad with Jamie

At the top of my list of things I love are food and books. Therefore the natural combination of the two is a real treat. I like books that aren't only cookbooks but tell you a story for the recipes or are the recipes that a person gathered on a trip of some sort. Two books of this sort I'd been eyeing recently were given to me by my mother-in-law for Christmas. I got both Kylie Kwong's My China and Jamie Oliver's new book Cook with Jamie.

The basic principle of Jamie Oliver's book is that this celebrity chef's cooking program through his restaurant Fifteen is here presented to the general public as a sort of cooking textbook. I haven't seen recipes so far that are just slapped onto a page without any context or story or explanation. For example, the first recipe I prepared from this book was for a tomato salad. The introduction to the recipe is actually longer than the recipe itself and there are gorgeous photos to go along with all of them. And then you get to the recipe for the tomato salad and you're not just given steps to follow but little explanations that clarify why it is you're being asked to perform such and such an action. In the recipe in question, once you've cut you're fresh mixture of different tomatoes into odd sized pieces, you put them in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle them generously with sea salt. But the instructions don't just say do 1, then 2, then 3 and so on. They say that the reason why you're doing this is to draw out some liquid from the tomatoes to concentrate the flavour. It also explains that he's not expecting you to eat all of that salt...the salt will, for the most part, run off with the excess liquid of the tomatoes.

I've done basic tomato salads like this before. Tomatoes + olive oil + balsamic vinegar. All that's different here is the preparation of the tomatoes and the expected additions like garlic, fresh marjoram and basil and the not so usual addition of a hot red pepper. The recipe's additions were good. But it's the preparation and the learning that went along with the preparation that makes this book worthwile. Now I know that if I draw some water out of a vegetable that I'll be able to concentrate it's flavour. Simple in retrospect but it's one of those millions of little things that need to be learnt in the kitchen.

Cook with Jamie is a recipe book that reads like a cooking show. You get all the information that can be delivered in live action but in a format that allows you to move at your own pace. Isn't learning fun?!

Sausage and Cheese Breakfast

As always, we picked up a few things at the Farmer's Market. This time the menu was all-French. And I mean European French, French.

There's this French vendor, Ferme du diamant, who sells all sorts of specialty meat products. He's got veal, veal cutlets, smoked duck, foie gras, a whole selection of terrines, and the most delicious sausages I've ever had. Now I'm not usually a huge fan of sausages. It's all the stuff they put inside it which is mostly preservatives, fat and salt. But mention any hot dog or mainstream sausage and you've just started this vendor off on a rant about how gross food can be made. His animals are properly raised and his products are full of nothing but real, untampered food. In the above photo you can see the veal sausage with cheese and parsley that I bought from him for this particular breakfast alongside a healthy little dollop of grainy mustard. A few weeks ago I also bought a wild boar terrine and another Landais county pate with cognac which were both magnificent. Though both of these contain liver, I don't find it gross because I know the liver was put in there on purpose and is not just some remains that were floating around the blood covered floor of a slaughterhouse. If ever you're in Dieppe, New Brunswick, you must visite the Ferme du diamant's booth. If you already live in the Dieppe and Moncton area then I suggest you pull yourself away from your computer and sample the delicious local product that is NOT featured at your local supermarket. Farmer's market. Not super-market.

Right beside the abovementioned booth, there is a small Belgian lady who sells these beautiful goat's cheeses. We sampled a few which were all very delicious but finally opted for what I think is the Madawaska cheese. It's a very creamy, almost liquid cheese, wrapped in a beautiful crust and perfect for this little breakfast dégustation on a bit of Montreal style bagel. We went back today and bought an even bigger wheel. Good food is hard to find so when you find it you make sure to support it. And everyone at a Farmer's market is worth supporting. They're locals with a passion for their products. There is pride there that can't be matched by the highly advertised and unethically produced food you find at the grocery stores. The present is the best time to emerge from your suburban bubble.

Achiote Chicken Xmas Supper

We moved to the Maritimes because supposedly people were nice and life moved at a slower pace which is essential to quality of life. Though these things are true, living far away from the people and places we know is hard...especially during the holidays. For me, the Christmas season is not complete without some family squabble and seeing children opening presents. But, seeing as we might as well make the most of our present situation, we decided to alleviate the situation with a quasi traditional holiday meal.

It beeing a very mild December day, we fired up the bbq. Now we sometimes buy a pre-seasoned chicken and shove that on the beer butt stand. This time, however, I rubbed our achiote and orange juice mixture all over the chicken and under the skin. (Note: if you're going to put anything under the chicken's skin, you've got to be very delicate so as not to rip the skin. You also don't want to unstick too much of the skin from the flesh cause then everything's going to leak out and all of your efforts will have come to not.) With our red bird all moist and smocky, we prepared some peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce and stuffing. And though it really didn't feel like Christmas, we had a nice meal and came that much closer to realising how important home is. My grandmother told me on Christmas Eve that there's a reason why the age old saying "home is where the heart is" still exists. I guess I best start listening to my elders.

Happy holidays and have a wonderful new year. I hope you get to spend it with all of the people who are dear to you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fish Soup with Rouille

Trekking on with our soup “diet”, this fish soup was the next in line. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d like a recipe that asked for puréed fish but it turned all right. The flavour of the soup itself was nice but the texture sort of turned me off. On its own the soup was mediocre. What I really enjoyed about this was the dollop of rouille in the middle with the toasted baguette sliced on which we melted parmesan. So far the accompaniments for the soups in this cookbook are better than the soups themselves. Well we gave this one a 3 out of 5. Were it not for the rouille and baguette, the soup would probably score closer to 2.3. Anywho, here’s the recipe for rouille.

Rouille

2 garlic cloves
1 tsp coarse salt
1 thick slice of white bread, crust removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and cayenne pepper

Long way…Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and crush to a paste with the pestle. Add the soaked bread and chilli and pound until smooth. Whisk in the olive oil, a drop at a time, to make a smooth, shiny sauce that resembles mayonnaise. Season with salt and add a pinch of cayenne.

Short way…Purée everything except olive oil in a small food processor. Slowly pour in olive oil till texture reached.

Mexicanish X-mas Supper

In order to kill two birds with one stone, as the old adage goes, we introduced a small group of our friends to semi-authentic Mexican food which also served as a holiday supper. You can see in a previous post my entry on homemade flour tortillas. I’ll say it again though that nothing beats real tortillas. Like anything made fresh and never having been in contact with a store, it’s so much better. The taste cannot be imitated. But that’s my opinion.

Now given what I just said, you’ll probably think me a hypocrite to have served canned refried beans. (Note: don’t be intimidated by the fact that these look like dog food when coming out of the can.) Supposedly these take forever to make. Beans on their own are a pain in the ass. Imagine having to refry them! Geez! Anyways, the guacamole and Mexican style salsa were made from scratch. For the guacamole, I put two fresh avocadoes, a hot pepper, a tomato, half an onion and two garlic cloves into my food processor, turned the little switchy thing and voila. Pretty much the same for the salsa but I don’t make that. My girlfriend has the recipe and I’m not quite sure where she hides it.

Also available for tortilla stuffing – in addition to such boring things like slivers of iceberg lettuce, chunks of tomato and shredded cheddar – was pulled pork in achiote and orange juice. The stuff we use is like a red spice brick which is sent to us by my girlfriend’s Mexican stepmother. Strait from the source. On the last batch of products we also got various dulce de leche de cabra treats, sun dried peppers, Maseca, corn husks, some dry pulled pork stuff and other things that I forget cause they’ve already been eaten. The next thing I’m whipping up are tamales.

In order to satisfy my appetite for spiciness, I put the two hot sauces I now have in stock on the table. The hottest in the Tabasco line, the habenero and chipotle hot sauces got a few people sweating. Now I know that these are mild in comparison to most real hot sauces but you’ve got to keep in mind that my French Canadian friends aren’t used to anything spicier than pepper and radishes. One advantage is that I was able to amaze them with my hot sauce eating capabilities. I’m like a super hero to the hot sauce layman’s eyes

For desert, my girlfriend made crème caramels which we found in our Mexican cook book which therefore means that it’s Mexican (A+B=C). The melted icing sugar caramel sitting on top of the gelatinous custard tasted a tad burnt. Supposedly that’s what it’s supposed to taste like. Served with some fresh mango I really didn’t care. It was a great end to a meal and a great launch to hours of wicked conversation and coffee drinking.

P.S. The coffee was made with my new Bodum coffee press by the way. I’m never going back to drip coffee again…ever…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pork and Noodle Broth with Prawns

To start, let me put you into the context of my Asian food exposure. I grew up in an isolated lumbering town where everyone was snow white except 1 African-Canadian family who was a doctor and 2 Asian families who owned the Chinese restaurants. No Greeks or Ukrainians or Mexicans or Arabs where I'm from. The first time I saw a black person speak French - which is basically the primary language all over Africa - I was amazed. Shows how much I knew.

Long story short, food was basically limited to the usual Canadian and French Canadian fare. So you can say that I was pleasantly surprised when I made this soup and found that my chopsticks smelled like authentic Asian food. Not to mention that I actually found Kaffir lime leaves at my local Asian food market. I mean, for all of you big city folks living on the American west coast or anyone in a larger city of the world, finding these ingredients might be as common as finding carrots. But when I tasted this soup I got an appreciation for the delicious, not too overwhelming flavours of Asia. This particular soup is supposedly of Vietnamese origin.

Like a good spaghetti sauce, I find soup is always better the day after when it's reheated. The flavours have come together and things are all beautiful and stuff. And your chopsticks can be sniffed for hours afterwards.

Finally, I find following a recipe to the T is not any fun. This one calls for 12 ounces of pork. Do you think I really went out there and measured 12 ounces of pork? No. I cut up the pork tenderloin and stuffed it into the soup. Recipes are made to be altered. But I found that when I was starting to cook that it was better to stick to the recipe. So, rule of thumb, you can depend less and less on recipes as you practice more and more. Like anything, really.

Pork and Noddle Broth with Prawns

350g / 12oz pork tenderloin
225g / 8oz raw shrimp tails
5oz thin egg noodles
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
4 shallots or 1 medium onion, sliced
1 tbsp finely sliced fresh root ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp sugar
6 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 kaffir lime leaves
3 tbsp Thai fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
4 sprigs of fresh cilantro and 2 green onions (scallions) chopped for garnish

1. Remove fat of tenderloin and slice as thinly as possible. A good trick is to put the thawed pork in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm the flesh up. It's then easier to slice thinly.
2. If using raw prawn tails, peel and devein the prawns.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and simmer the egg noodles until softened, or according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set the noodles to one side.
4. Pre-heat a wok. Add the vegetables and sesame oils and heat through. When the oil is hot, add the shallots or onion and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until evenly browned. Remove from the wok and set aside.
5. Add the ginger, garlic, sugar and chicken stock to the wok and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, fish sauce and lime juice. Add the pork, then simmer for 15 minutes.
6. Add the prawns and noodles and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or longer if using raw prawns to ensure that they are cooked. Add the shallots or onion.
7. Serve garnished with cilantro and the green onions.

Definitely a 4 out of 5.

P.S. Sorry the pork looks purple in the photo. My camera sucks. I do not like green eggs and purple pork. I do not like them Sam I...um...Fork?

Harira a.k.a. North African Spiced Soup

All right so I'm not going to spend $18 for 5 strands of saffron. Call me cheap but...well...maybe I am. Maybe it wouldn't have made much difference to this exotic tomato soup.

Supposedly this soup is served in the evening during Ramadan, the Muslim festival when followers fast during the daytime for a month. I found it warm both because that's the nature of soups and due to the cinnamon, grated ginger and chickpeas. This is perfect for a slight twist on a basic tomato soup.

North African Spiced Soup (always from 400 Best-Ever Soups)

1 large onion, chopped
5 cups stock
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp grated ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 hot pepper, cut into rings (my contribution to this recipe)
14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 lb floury potatoes, diced
5 strands saffron
14 oz can chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
fried or barbecues lemon wedges, optional

1. Place the chopped onion in a large pot with 1 1/4 cups of vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, caryenne pepper and 2 tbsp of stock to form a paste. Stir into the onion mixture with the carrots, celery, pepper and remaining stock.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, then cover and gently simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and potatoes and simmer gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the saffron, chickpeas, cilantro and lemon juice. Season to taste and when piping hot, serve with optional fried or barbecued wedges of lemon.

This one scored a 3.3 out of 5. It's good but it's not "holly shit is this ever good" good.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Parsnip Soup

This is the first time I ever ate parsnips that I'm aware of. They're a carroty, potato-ish, sort of rutabaga-like flavoured vegetable. I guess someone whose familiar with parsnips would just say that they taste like parsnip but hey, I'm a rookie in the foodie world.

I love starchy, purréed soups like this one. My girlfriend is nuts about my Leek and Potato Soup - also known as a Vichyssoise - which is pretty similar in preparation and texture to this soup. What really makes this soup remarkable is the very tasty flavour of cumin with the parsnip. It gives it real depth and warmth which is perfect for a snow shovelling day...and boy did I ever shovel alot of snow lately. We got 43 centimeters of snow in 2 strait days of storm. Which would equate to a natural workout for all of you positive thinkers out there.

Parsnip Soup

2 lb parsnips
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
5 cups hot chicken stock
2/3 cup light cream
salt and black pepper to taste
chopped fresh chives, parsley and/or croutons to garnish

1) Peel and thinly slive the parsnips. Heat the butter in a large heavy pan and add the peeled parnsips and chopped onions with the crushed garlic. Cook until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Add the groudn cumin and ground coriander to the vegetable mixture and cook , stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, and then gradually blend in the hot chicken stock and mix well.
2) Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the parsnip is soft. Purée the soup, adjust the texture with extra stock if it seems too thick, and check the seasoning. Add the cream and reheat without boiling.
3) Serve immediately, sprinkled with garnish.

This one scored a 4.2 out of 5.

Our new bowls are again featured here. Isn't the contrast of white and red totally mouth watering or is that just me....

Curried Salmon Soup

Forging on with our soup suppers, I made a sort of Indian-ish/east coast soup whose main features are yellow curry paste and coconut. Being in a medium sized Canadian town, I had to cross my fingers and hope that the only Asian food store in the city would have yellow curry paste. Luckily for me, they did have curry paste and the friendly guy at the counter told me that coconut milk and yellow curry paste with chunks of baguette is a great way to have it. This soup is along those lines. It also looks nothing like the picture in the cookbook...I'm sure those food stylists used dye or something. Stlylists! Phaw!

Curried Salmon Soup

1/4 cup butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 tsp mild curry paste
2 cups water
2/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup creamed coconut or 1/2 cup coconut cream....I used coconut milk...you work with what you got
2 potatoes, cubed
1 lb salmon filet, skinned and cut into bitesize pieces
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley...use the rest of the bunch to make tabbouleh
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a large pan, add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Stir in the curry paste. Cook for 1 minute more.
2. Add the water, wine, cream and creamed coconut or coconut cream, with seasoning. Bring to the boil, stirring until the coconut has dissolved
3. Add the potatoes to the pan. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until they are tender. Note: I forgot the covered part of this recipe and ended up having to add water as it evaporated all which caused the potatoes to take twice as long to cook. Do not allow the potatoes to break down into the mixture.
4. Add the fish gently so as not to break it up. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until just cooked. Add the parsley and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

We gave this one a 3.5 out of 5. And also featured in this entry is the appearance of our new bowls. Sexy, non?

New Apartment, New Soup Diet

To make a long story short, we moved into the apartment building we never should have bought to make our lives easier, put it up for sale, and have only been able to get back in the kitchen in the last few days. There's 3 feet of snow outside (the above photo is about 2 months old) and I'm walking distance to work. Life is alright now. Backed up into a corner but alright.

On the food front, we've decided to go on a soup diet...and by diet I just mean what we're eating and not the weight watching obsession of the 21th century. Every night we make a different soup from the cookbook 400 Best-Ever Soup by Hermes House publishing. We then rate and date them that way we're actually getting some use out of our cookbook, are better able to track our progress through it and are making lighter meals that don't sit in our gut till midnight. All in all, it's a fantastic way to eat. More for breakfast and lunch, less for supper. And, of course, everything except the stock itself is from scratch.

The first soup we made in our soup diet wasn't very good...a 2.5 out of 5. You see, I don't like eggplant. I've tried it time and time again but that big purple bulbous plant just doesn't do it for me. However, I thought I'd swing another kick at a dead horse and tried the Greek Aubergine and Courgette Soup. I thought to myself, "What could go wrong with roasted vegetables in a Greek inspired stock with a fresh dollop of tzatziki in the middle?" The answer: three watery vegetables - eggplant, zucchini, and cucumber - and a taste that just doesn't inspire a wow. The only good thing about this recipe is that I find putting tzatziki in a soup is a great take on the usual dollop of crème fraiche. It was flavourful and cooled down the soup nicely. So let's forget the recipe for the soup and just go with the one for the tzatziki.

Tzatziki
1 cucumber (english)
2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 cup plain yogurt
small bunch of fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Peel, seed, and dice the cucumber. Place the flesh in a colander and spinkle with salt. Leave to dehydrate for 30 minutes.
2. Mix the garlic with the vinegar and stir into the yogurt. Pat the cucumber dry on kitchen paper and fold it into the yogurt.
3. Season to taste and stir in the mint.
4. Chill until required.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Leftover Pita Pizza

So my girlfriend's working. There's a tonne of dishes in the kitchen which I don't feel like doing. And even though Family Guy is always on somewhere, I just wanted to sit in front of the TV and eat a simple meal. The solution: thaw Greek style pita, slather with store bought hummus, cover with thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions and sprinkle the whole with a few clumps of brie. Cook in oven till you don't feel like waiting anymore and enjoy. Nothing fancy.

Was it delicious? Maybe not that much. But it was good which is good enough for me after a long week full of a head cold, tenant issues, and a job I just can't seem to get a hang of. Yes life is full of frustrations but food is always a comfort at the end of the day. And making it, even when it's a very simple meal thrown together from a bunch of leftover bits and pieces from the fridge, is always a delight. I can't wait till the day where such a blog entry finishes with the words "Yes. Life is good."

Pauvre, pauvre, pauvre petit moi. - Sol

Low-Fat Brownies

I know the title of this post sounds like an oxymoron but trust me on this one. The recipe comes from a diet program called Minçavie which literally means "thin for life" in Québec talk. Similar in fashion to Weight Watchers, meaning that you count points and what not, Minçavie is very popular in French speaking Canada...and possibly elsewhere but I wouldn't know...if you've seen anything else on this blog you probably won't find it surprising that I'm not a dieter. I am, however, health conscious so the recipes of this diet program are worth trying. Hey, if you can eat brownies and not feel bad about it, everybody wins. So without further ado, here's the recipe....enjoy....but don't enjoy too much cause that just defeats the purpose....or enjoy and screw the purpose....

Brownies

2/3 cup sugar or sweetener
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cacao
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup margarine
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup apple puree

1. Mix all dry ingredients.
2. In another bowl, beat together margarine, egg and vanilla.
3. Incorporate the apple puree to the wet mixture and then mix wet ingredients in with wet ingredients.
4. Cook in a greased baking pan at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes (time depends on depth of your pan...brownies should be about an inch thick).
5. Cool brownies on a grill before serving. Divide into 6 brownies....or sit down with the steaming baking pan with a fork, a tub of icecream, caramel spread and those cute little candy sprinkles.

Cheers!

Summer Rolls, Steak and St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout


The first time I made Tyler Florence's summer rolls it wasn't an overwhelming experience. But it's the sort of thing that you get a craving for. The dipping sauce is so savoury and the summer rolls so fresh that you just want to make them five times a week. I have yet to use rice paper to make different wraps. I know that it's popular in Asian cuisine and given that it's lighter when compared to wheat based wraps, I'm sure its versatility is beyond limits. Anywho, just google these exact words --- Summer Rolls with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce --- and you shouldn't have a problem finding the recipe.

Without following upon any theme whatsoever, we ate steak with our summer rolls which we bought pre-crusted with montreal steak seasoning (an example recipe can be found at this link : http://www.recipezaar.com/83902). Given that the salty seasoning had been on the steak since its days on the supermarket shelves, it had been marinated to make the steak nice and tender. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, chemically speaking, but suffice it to say that montreal steak seasoning is great. One relevant story is when my uncles had killed a moose and as I took off individual muscles off the leg hanging in the garage, others in my family were cutting the meat into thin slices, cooking it in a cast iron pan and then seasoning with montreal steak spice. I guess it might be kind of morbid for all you vegan city slickers out there but for other people who aren't so detached from the nature of things, eating truly fresh meat is a rare delicacy. I can't wait till I get to go to hunt cariboo in Nunavut, slice them open and eat the flesh raw right there on the spot....they actually do that....I'm not just trying to be gross....hee hee

The final member of our buffet of eclectism was St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout which is also from Montreal (www.mcauslan.com). Similar in colour to Guinness, this stout is a tad more bitter and has strong hints of dark chocolate or espresso....at least that's what the label on the back of the bottle says ;) A good, dark beer goes well with a steak so strongly seasoned. The intensity of the flavours is what I enjoy. None of that subtle crap for me. I like my food to kick and pick a fit on my tongue. I want to taste it. But that's just me. Plus I just finished talking about dainty little summer rolls so who am I to talk.......

Trout With Capers

I the recipe for this simple trout from the show French Leave which was about British chef John Burton Race who uprooted his whole family for a year and moved them to southern France. In the episode Garçons will be garçons, he and his only son - he has something like 6 daughters - went fishing for trout. Upon reeling in a fresh trout, he serves it up in the simple but delicious recipe.

Obviously, seeing as there are so few ingredients, it is essential to get the freshest trout possible because this recipe is all about enhancing the natural goodiness of the pink fleshed fish. Anyways, here's the recipe.

Trout With Capers

2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
2 fillets of brown or rainbow trout, skin on and scales craped off
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 lemon, peeled and segmented ***
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp capers, squeezed dry
75g unsalted butter, diced
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1. Sprinkle the flour on to a plate and season it with salt and lots of pepper. Roll the trout fillets in the flour, shaking off all the excess.
2. Put a large frying pan on the stove, pour in the oil and heat it until it starts to smoke. Carefully lay the trout in the pan and cook the fish one side for about 6-7 minutes to brown them, then turn them over and cook on the other side for a similar length of time.
3. Now tip in the lemon segments, garlic, capers and butter dice. As soon as the butter has melted and starts to forth and colour - but not burn - sprinkle the parsley into the pan. Serve immediately with a glass of dry white Gaillac.

*** these lemon segments are also called supremes...fancy word meaning the flesh of the lemon only. Cut both end of the lemon and them cut the flesh off to fully expose the lemon segment's flesh. Use your knife to seperate flesh from dividing skin of segments and voilà!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I've got an espresso machine!!!

That's right, no more paying ridiculous prices at Starbucks anymore. No more visiting coffee houses and indulging in a false sense of artsiness. I've got my own espresso machine and it works like a charm.

My girlfriend works at a kitchen appliance store (fellow foodies eat your heart out ;) and she gets anything she wants at wholesale cost. So we've got a new 9 piece set of pots and this beautifull Breville Café Roma espresso machine.

Though it'll take a bit of tinkering since the machine does not automatically pull one shot of espresso, I'm already getting the hang of it. My espresso so far is a bit to liquid and I can't attempt any latte art. I don't know if anyone has any tips but so far the milk just blend into the espresso like it would in coffee. Do I need to make the shot shorter? Should I pack the grind harder? Anyways, I don't know.

P.S. If anyone has home recipes for fun lattes or cappuccinos such as pumpkin spice, gingerbread, eggnog or others, please share....As you see, all I've got so far is a caramel latte.

Roasted Squash Soup

Though autumn is coming to an end - evident in my neck of the woods by the fact that there's snow on the ground - the season is ripe for squashes, potatoes, onions, carrots and other such homely vegetables. So once again perusing through the market, looking for something to inspire my mediocre (at best) culinary skills, I found a lady selling a bunch of squashes. I'd seen and cooked with acorn, spaghetti and butternut squashes before, and I couldn't tell you the specific name of the squash I chose....the above photo will have to suffice for now.

Now being an amateur of soups, I turned the yellow fleshed squash into nothing more elaborate than a roasted squash soup. All I did was cut the squash in half, sprayed it with olive oil, salt and pepper and popped it into the oven till the flesh was nice and tender. Accompanying the squash was one of the purple potatoes I've got sitting in my kitchen. Though the lady at the market said that she throws in the peel and everything of the squash in her soups, I went for a more conservative preparation of simply using the flesh of the squash, that of the potato, an onion, some garlic, chopped carrot, chicken stock and a some thyme. I would have put in some celery to complete the mirepoix, but we ran out a few days before. Anyways, once every vegetable was nice and soft, I put the whole thing in the blender and served it pureed.

A simple and light meal. You just can't screw up when it comes to soup.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Blue Cheese Steak with Balsamic Reduction and Purple Mashed Potatoes

I know I talk about the market pretty much every time I start writing a word but I'm really obsessed with the place. The cheese counter we go to every week always makes us taste something different. You tell them what you like and what you've had and they pull something new out. Like that tulip petal cheese I mentioned in my last blog entry. Or the subtle nutiness and fruitiness of the powerful blue cheese I used to stuff my steak with.

I prepared the steak by cutting a slit into the steak and working my knife around a bit to make a sort of pocket. You have to be careful when doing this not to make any holes or make the opening too big. The result of these simple mistakes is that you loose all your cheese to the buttom of the cast iron skillet or worse, the barbecue. I use my fingers to make the pocket larger and then stuff it with the best blue cheese I can find. What's great about blue cheese is that it's got an intense flavour but still let's the flavour of the steak shine through. Coupled with a drizzle of balsamic reduction (which is just balsamic vinegar boiled down to make it more concentrated) you've got yourself a steak worth any overly priced big city steak house. And if you really want to treat yourself, go with filet mignon. It's always tender and not having to cut around any bones, fat or cartilage always makes for a more pleasant meal.

Along with the steak, I served mashed purple potatoes. It doesn't look too purple on the photo but I just couldn't resist grabbing a bag when I saw how cool the farmer lady at the market thought her purple potatoes were. I'd seen them before, along with purple carrots and other such odities, but I figured it would be fun to eat. To tell you the truth, I'm not a big potato eater and these potatoes, though very cool, were not the best tasting. However, when standing aside a well browned blue cheese steak and a mound of sautéed mushrooms with onion and garlic, taste can take a backseat to coolness.

Chocolate Fondu

So I've been having alot of dégustations lately but the word "dégustation" really fulfills its meaning when you're dipping everything in chocolate. The idea --- if you've never had a chocolate fondu --- is to melt chocolate in a bowl and serve it with a whole bunch of fruit. We had grapes, strawberries, pineapple, mango, banana, pear, apple, and kiwis. Yet we included things which aren't traditionally served with a chocolate fondu: cheddar cheese, popcorn and pastrami slices. We also cut up some pieces of a really unique cheese we bought at the market that has violet petals in the cheese. It didn't taste too fantastic with the chocolate but it's still a really good, original cheese.

For the chocolate, we simply melted chipits of milk chocolate along with some Carnation evaporated milk. If you don't want a chocolate overload --- as if such a thing exists --- you're better to add more milk to the chocolate. When you're pigging out on a tonne of fruit you're best to have a lighter chocolate or else you'll have too much very quickly.

Anyways, I think there should be more fondus of every kind available at restaurants. They're great for a group and cater to the typically North American need to eat slower. Or you can have a fondu for two and take time to take time...if that makes any sense.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cora's Skillet Imitation

Things have turned out for the best lately. Not only have I found a great job but the hours there have allowed me to take on another weekend job as waiter. And I couldn't be waiting at a better restaurant.

Breakfast at Cora's (or Déjeuner chez Cora as per it's original name) is a restaurant chain at the forefront of the all-day-breakfast trend...at least as far as Canada is concerned - see www.chezcora.com. Bacon and eggs only takes a small corner of the very colourful menu. They're...hum...we're cooking elaborate eggs benedict, omelettes, crepes, etc. etc. What's even greater, I get to see how a full service 140 seat restaurant operates. 5 kitchen chefs at their stations...one guy on the pass...7 waiters...three hostesses...and lineups of people waiting to enjoy fresh coffee and a great breakfast. But best of all, I get to work in a restaurant. Boo yeah baby!!!

So after a day's work, full of enthousiasm, I grabbed whatever I found in my fridge and made a quick imitation of a 10 on 10 skillet. My skillet was composed of sautéed brocolli, onion, celery, snow peas, tomatoes, garlic, ham, pepperoni, green tomato salsa, topped with melted mozzarella and an over-easy egg. In true Cora's fashion - they're famous for their sides of fresh fruit - I cut up some pear, apple, banana and served with a fresh slice of artisanal cheese. If you look at the above photo, you'll see the fancy way Cora's cuts their apples..fan like.

Anyways, the skillet was a great way to get rid of all the stuff in my fridge and made a great light meal. It's a great idea and just one amongst many I can easily imitate from Cora's. I'm that much closer to owning my own restaurant.

And now I know for sure that I want to work in a restaurant. Nay, I want to own my own restaurant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Short, Amateur's Guide To Selling Hot Sauces


I love hot sauces. I love spicy food. I love the burn and the cooling sensation of endorphins flowing through my body, easing the pain. I also love to think up of business ideas.

Hot food is become more and more popular. Mexican. Indian. Thai. And so on. All of these ethnic foods are growing in popularity and their love for spice is following them into the upper realms of culinary acceptance.

Sadly, most people and most supermarkets are limited to jalapeno peppers or pickled hot banana peppers. Sure you've got some "spicy" ethnic sauces coming onto the market but hot sauce is like good music. The real good stuff is in the underground. It's the yet-to-be-discovered. It lives in small venues across the world. Thankfully, delicious and spicy hot sauces are at home on the net.

For review on thousands of hot sauces on the market, take a tour at the http://www.hotsauceblog.com/. These mad chilly heads test hot sauces, review them, give recipes and generally have a blast (both coming in and certainly going out ;). They provide information on how to get your hands on their reviewed hot sauces and much much more. The good thing about hot sauces is that they can be shipped and most hot sauce makers are set up for mail orders. Most hot shops are also set up to make deliveries (for my fellow Canadians, please see http://www.chillychiles.com/).

But if you're not one for flavourless internet shopping, your local hot shop is the best place to go. "But Pat," you say, "there aren't any hot shops in my area!" My answer to that would be that you've already got all the ingredients for an entrepreneurial venture. You like it hot and you want more of it.

So let's say we start small. You have two options: 1) visit every single hot sauce makers website and gather their wholesale information --- wholesale is the price retailers pay which they then mark up to sell to consumers; 2) process your orders through hot sauce wholesalers such as http://www.hotsaucewholesale.com/. The advantage with the second option is that these wholesalers can split cases. This means that you don't have to buy, say, 50 bottles of one hot sauce. Instead, you can order one of this, two of that, four of these, etc. At first you'll want to sample the market so split cases is the best place to go unless you want to make a trip to a hot sauce store and have the owners there guide you through your options. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, the important thing is that you want product knowledge without having to re-mortgage your house.

Once you know which hot sauces you'd like to sell (I suggest you start small and then build your way up), you need to decide where and how you're going to sell these. One great inexpensive option is to set up a booth at your local farmer's market. The fee shouldn't be very high and the advantage is that you get to speak to alot of people face to face, let them try out some sauces, and get your name out there. A farmer's market is where people go to see what's in season. They love food. They love making food. They love talking to people. At least that's the vibe at my market.

Once you've become comfortable with the basics of product knowledge, ordering, finances, and sales, you can either open a permanent hot shop, sell your hot sauces on a special rack at grocery stores (you'll need to make arrangements with the administration for this), open a mail order business, market your product at events and festivals, etc. etc. etc. The possibilities are endless. Heck, you could even create your own hot sauces and start bottling and selling them to the world. Visiting hot pepper festivals and making a name for yourself.

Whatever you want to do, hot sauces and the chileheads who love them are part of a very fun, unpretentious culinary world.

Here's a list of award winning and larger hot sauce maker websites:


OH! And if this blog entry has led to you starting your own store or making your own sauce, or anything, I wouldn't mind a free sample....really.....a small fee to pay for inspiration and business consulting....right.....be a pal...............

Coq au Vin

So I've got three quarters of a bottle of Merlot left over from my dégustation and my first thought is boeuf bourguignon. But thinking further, the words coq au vin pop into my head. So in an instant I've got my A Little Taste of France cookbook out and I wasn't surprised to find a recipe for the traditional chicken stew.

I find that chicken never takes on flavours very well. Chicken is chicken. Sure the skin can taste really great. But the flesh, especially the dryer white breast that I prefer, barelly soaks up any flavours. Take beef. It becomes one with whatever you throw at it. But chicken is obstinate and always maintains its individuality. As if it's too good for a world of flavours. Well trust the French to beat the pig-headed meat at its very childish game.

This recipe calls for the chicken to be marinated overnight. Throw anything in wine for over 12 hours and it's sure to be happy at the end of it all. So I guess the moral of the story is that when faced with a challenge, soak it in alcohol and marinate overnight. Yes. That's the answer.

Coq au Vin

1 whole chicken cut into eight pieces (leg, thigh, upper breat, lower breast and repeat)
1/2 bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
Half a package of bacon (250g or 9oz)
60g (2 1/4oz) butter
20 pearl onions
250g (9oz) tiny button mushrooms
1 tsp oil
30g (1/4 cup) plain all-purpose flour
1/2 litre (2 cups) chicken stock
125ml (1/2 cup) brandy --- which we omitted as per the price of brandy
2 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tbsp softened butter
1 tbsp plain all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Put the win, bay leaves, thyme and some salt and pepper in a bowl and add the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate, preferably overnight.

2. Sauté bacon in a frying pan and drain excess fat. Take cooked bacon out of frying pan. In the now vacant pan, melt a quarter of the butter, add the onions and sauté until browned. Take out of pan.

3. Melt another quarter of the butter, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

4. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, and pat the chicken dry. Season. Ad the remaining butter and the oil to the frying pan, add the chicken and sauté until golden. Stir in the flour. Transfer the chicken to a large saucepan or casserole dish and add the stock. Pour the brandy into the frying pan and boil, stirring, for 30 seconds to deglaze the pan (use the stock or marinade if you aren't using brandy). Pour over the chicken. Add the marinade, onions, mushrooms, bacon and tomato paste. Cook over moderate heat for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

5. If the sauce needs thickening, lift out the chicken and vegetable and bring the sauce to the boil. mix together the butter and flour to make a beurre manié and whisk into the sauce. Boil, stirring, for 2 minutes until thickened. Add the parsley and return the chicken and vegetables to the sauce.

6. Serve with a nice glass of wine and some torn baguette pieces to soak up the sauce. Make sure to have a victory laugh over the chicken who capitulated at your flavour onslaught ;)

Yet Another Dégustation

I guess it's going to be a tradition of sorts for now that we pick up some delicious new cheese at the market on Saturday's and pig out on a dégustation.

For this particular plate of assorted goodies, I prepared a salsa verde (or whatever you call a salsa made with green tomatoes). I put green tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, orange zest and juice, pureed it Mexican salsa style - as opposed to American style chunky salsa - and served it to go along with my multi-grain baguette. A great accompanying little treat to this were the very thin slices of dried duck. Though they were very fatty - as only duck can be - and barely tasted anything unless you sucked on them, those little slices of duck were a good initiation to other items that particular vendor has at the market. These include foi gras, terrines, French-style sausages, and other weird French delights.

As for the fruits and veggies, I cut up some apples, pears, cucumber, served them with grapes and these really beautiful looking sour prunes I found at the market. Along with some merlot (this time I tried to read the descriptions of the wines on their labels to make sure the pairing wasn't totally off) and a cheese whose name I can't remember but was stronger than gruyère but milder than the Le Comté which I had last week, this dégustation was a nice light meal.

BBQ Season is Coming to an End

Pretty much all the trees have turned yellow, orange, and red. The wind is getting colder. It rains a cold kind of rain that makes you want to stay inside and make soup. But I'm still braving the weather. I'm still firing the grill.

I made an oregano and walnut pesto and stuffed it into some nice big white mushroom. Topped with a tiny mound of shredded parmesan, the turned out juicy and delicious. So did the plump tomatoes on which I placed thin slices of fresh garlic underneath yet other mounds of parmesan cheese. The result was barbecued vegetabley-goodness (I make up words like that).

The vegetables accompanied a piece of steak with perfect hatch marks. One problem I have with cooking steak is that my grill is steaming when I slap the meat on. That's not the problem. The problem is that the exterior chars fast but the middle doesn't cook as fast as what the outside would make you believe. So what I'm left with are beautiful, barelly cooked pieces of beef. Given that my girlfriend just started by capable of overcoming her psychological and bio-class induced fear of anything below medium, I've had to reheat steaks every time I'm ready to sit down for supper.

I think that I'm going to celebrate what's left of the bbq season with roasting squash or grilling root vegetables that are in season. A good grilled vegetable soup, some maple syrup glazzed pork maybe, or stuffed onions. Who knows? But I have to do something before winter hits...and seeing as most of the people who visit my sight aren't Canadian, all I can say is that almost everything stops when Old Man Winter rears with ugly head.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Le Comté Cheese Dégustation

I'm not from a culinarily sophisticated family. We didn't know anything about wines (my parents didn't drink which certainly didn't help). We didn't experiment with recipes from around the world (my parents idea of cooking was grilled cheeses or reheated pizza fingers). And we certainly never had any fancy French cheeses served with fresh fruit as a meal.

Thankfully, I know a bit better now. So when I walked up to the Loup Gourmand - a cheese counter at the local farmer's market - and asked for dégustation suggestions, I was more than pleasently surprised of the intensity, rich, nutty flavour of Le Comté cheese (www.comte.com).

This cheese was simply beautiful. Complex. Rich. And a great cheese to eat with a simple dégustation. All I did for supper was cut up the cheese, an apple, some chinese pears, a mango, tomatoes, prepared some grapes and garlic stuffed green olives. I also bought some fondu beef (thinly sliced beef), wrapped it around German salami and brie, and then cooked these little hot morsels in a bit of oil. Along with a Wolf Blass Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (which my very mediocre sommelier skills tell me there probably could have been a better wine pairing) the meal was a party of different flavours taking each other's place one after another to leave you with a very satisfied feeling of having eaten well.

Anyways, I don't know much about cheeses or wine but I do know that this meal was good. In my opinion, a dégustation is perfect for any day.

Home Food

There's comfort food and then there's food from home. Whether it's your grandmothers chicken noodle soup, the neighbourhood pizzeria that has never been beat (in your mind) in all of your travels, or just that small restaurant that doesn't serve anything particularly special but every time you step in it your reminded of all of those times your parents treated you to supper or brunch there. For me, Kapuskasing, Ontario is the place of my HomeFood - check it up if you want to know how isolated a place it is.

There's Thong La's, a Chinese restaurant that is unparalleled (it helps that my father knew the owners which meant that we were eating some real Chinese food instead of the simple deep-fry and stir-fried Chinese Canadian food). There's Great Northern Pizza that makes massively loaded pizzas (such as the Wango Tango...mmmm) and panzorati's to rival any Italian mama. But the place in my mind that is more closely linked to the blue-collar, lumber town atmosphere of Kap is the Coffee Bar.

Consisting of no more than 10 benches arranged around a bar which looks upon the griddle and very minimalistic kitchen supplies, the whole being no larger than a medium sized bedroom, the coffee bar was primarily a place where people could go buy some milk from the Community Dairy that operated in the same building. Growing up, the coffee bar would be full (yes all 10 benches were occupied) of construction men or factory workers gearing up for a days work. Coming from a construction family myself, the Coffee Bar was a frequent meal spot.

Most famous of all in my mind are the westerns they make at the bar. It's nothing overly sophisticated. It doesn't cost $50 for every item. It doesn't come with a wine suggestion...just chocolate milk. All the western is is a thick stack of ham and onion omelet between two pieces of bread and the optional processed cheese slice or ketchup. They would wrap it in wax paper and hand it over to you in a brown paper bag if you were taking it to go. You could then sit on the job site and drip omelet and ketchup all over the place.

Like I said, HomeFood is more often than not very simple. It's linked to memory like no five course meal can be. It's comfort food at the ultimate level. Best of all, it's replicable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Onion Soup = Comfort Food

I've recently purchased an apartment building. There are three units and one group of tenants decided to ditch me in the middle of the month and not pay their rent for that month. But that not's the worst part. The mess they left behind took about two weeks to clean up. And to mention what I had to clean up would be unappetizing on a food blog. Needless to say, I'm sick of working in that apartment and was more than happy to prepare one comfort food that is an essential on any comfort food list. Onion soup.

The way I make onion soup is pretty simple. Thinly slice about three cups of yellow onions, sweat in butter, add a clove of garlic, some thyme, about 4 cups of beef broth, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and two tablespoons of red wine vinegar or cooking sherry and that's it. Bring to boil, drop a crusty/toasted slice of baguette in each bowl, top with grated gruyère, broil and enjoy. The sweet onions coupled with the warm taste of the soup make me happy. Especially in this autumn season with the hills turning beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. I'd even argue that soup is a cornerstone (if not the keystone) of fall season cooking. What would October be without homemade chicken noodle soup?

Along with my soup, I made a delicious panini sandwich. Between two slices of onion cheese bread, I sprinkled the remaining gruyère cheese of the onion soup, added slices of apple, mustard seed salami slices, alfalfa sprouts, and honey dijon sauce. I put the whole thing in the panini press and smooshed it down to make it all hot, thin and yummy. The result was nothing mind blowing but the simple fact of having the time to cook was enough for me.

I love to cook. I don't love cleaning and renovating apartments. Grrrr...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fisherman's Paradise : A Review


I've been getting more and more picky when it comes to restaurants. What I hate is paying inflated prices for something that I could do at home and could probably do better. An example of this is the Pisces restaurant in Moncton where the surf and turf came with a double boiled and cold half lobster. Yesterday we went to another seafood restaurant here in Dieppe and it blew the competition out of the water.

The Fisherman's Paradise is a bit fancy in decor. Yet it's not like fancy chain fancy. It's more of a local, small-town fancy. The waiters wear a white shirt and the bartender has a black vest over his shirt. The lights are low but everything rings as unpretentious. We walked in in our jeans. The woman at the table beside us was wearing her black dress in front of her equaly darkly clad and moustachiod husband. We didn't receive any worst service than what they did.

What really made the Fisherman's Paradise a definite regular destination for me was the food. Once again it wasn't fancy for fancy's sake. There weren't any grand presentation that taste like crap. I took the Captain's Plate which included a baked fillet of sole with cheese sauce, baked stuffed shrimp, breaded scallops wrapped in bacon and breaded fried clams. As you can see, Red Lobster has nothing on these guys (there are no restaurants of this chain in this part of the country...they would go out of business in a week with competition like this). Every piece of seafood had it's unique taste and presentation. The sole's cheese sauce was rich. The stuffed shrimps were perfectly cooked and the stuffing was really delicious. The scallops were crispy and tasted fresh like only fresh scallops can be. The fried clams were lightly battered which didn't make them greasy. As an added bonus, the salad that came with the plate was mind blowing. It was what you would expect from a salad but with homemade croutons and a chunky, sweet, homemade blue cheese sauce. The meal finished with some nice cheese cake, the kind with the filling whipped up and the crust hidding granules of crunchy sugar.

I couldn't recommend the Fisherman's Paradise enough. I know my words probably fall short of describing how good it was but being the not-easily-impressed-restaurant-goer that I am, just saying that I recommend it is already alot. Really good food and typical Maritime easygoing.

http://www.fishermansparadise.net/

Messy BBQ Ribs

I'm no barbecue expert. I don't have any cookbooks that deal directly with the cooking process nor do I have that much imagination when it come to that very manly grill. This might be why I was suprised to see that the recipe for ribs asking for this fatty meat to be cooked for 1 hour and a half to 2 hours.

Surprise aside, the ribs turned out delicious. The only thing I find with ribs is that restaurants always make them better. I don't know if I don't trim them properly or what it is I do. They're good, tender, and in this case sticky but they're still not great. I know that there are several grill afficionados out there so feel free to give me some rib tips....rib tips....I made a funny :)

For now I'll have to post this recipe I took from the 2002 edition of Better Homes and Gardens' New Cook Book. The sauce would also be great for any barbecue.

Glazed County Ribs

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar or wine vinegar
1/4 cup mild-flavored molasses (I used maple syrup)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsps chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
my optional extra: 2 tbsp chipotle hot sauce
2 1/2 to 3 pounds pork county-style ribs

1. For sauce, in a medium saucepan combine ketchup, onion, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, garlic, chipotle hot sauce and 1/2 cup water. Bring to boiling: reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or to desired consistency, stirring often.

2. Trim fat from ribs. For a charcoal grill, arrange medium-hot coals around a drip pan. Test for medium heat above pan. Place ribs, bone sides down, on grill rack over pan. (Or, place ribs in a rib rack; place on grill rack.) Cover and grill for 11/2 to 2 hours or until tender, brushing occasionally with sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Adjust for indirect cooking. Place ribs in a roasting pacn (see above picture) place on grill rack, and grill as above.) Pass remaining sauce with ribs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Simplest Tomato

As always, simple is best. Having produce that's in season also helps because it's only in the dead of winter that it's time for stews that cover up the fact that you might not be cooking with the freshest of ingredients. While perusing through the farmer's market this weekend, I couldn't help but notice that almost every vender was selling what I'd been anticipating all summer...tomatoes!

And the ones I bought aren't just your average beefsteak tomatoes. I got myself a nice little basket of bright red roma tomatoes. Even though they're fantastic on their own with just a touch of salt, I had to bring in a bit of variety. But not just variety for varieties sake like in all those fancy restaurants (ex: I saw one of Wolfgang Puck's recipes for celery soup that had 24 karat gold in it...WHAT'S THE POINT!?). This preparation is simple, let's the beauty of the produce show and is taken from Michael Smith's show Chef at Home.

Simply chop fresh tomatoes into cubes, splatter with good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar and that's it. Simple and delicious. To give it a bit more of a spin you can throw in some feta and fresh basil. I've tried it a few times with kalamata olives (thus basically short of cucumber which would make it a greek salad) but to really let the tomatoes shine it's best to go with the basics. And that's better than any $500 meal any day.

24 karat gold....I don't get it....I just don't get it....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bagna Cauda

I've seen recipes for this hot vegetable dip before but this is the first time I've ever tried it. It's not the lightest of dips but for the amount that stuck to the vegetables it really doesn't matter that much. It was just perfect. It tasted beautiful, salty, and rich but not too rich.

The recipe I followed is from one of my cookbooks entitled Nibbled. The whole principal of the book is to make mini, canapé-esque food. Most of their food in the recipes is just cut in order to make it small (a frittata for example) and many of the recipes are either too simple they're obvious to anyone with even the slightest culinary skills or require such exotic ingredients that only someone living by the Green Market in New York could find all the stuff they require. Criticism aside, the principle of having a meal made up entirely of bite sized food is fun. It's something that would be fun in a restaurant to have one night where you can choose from a select number of mini food for a fixed amount. Variety would be the key.

So as far as bagna cauda goes (the words meaning hot sauce in the Piedmonte region of Italy), the recipe called for assorted crudités such as celery, babry carrots, baby beans and radishes, sping onions and quartered fennel. According to Wikipedia "The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables: especially cardoon, celery, cauliflower, peppers, and onions. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests." As you can see in the above photo, I went with cauliflower, carrots, scallions, green beens, broccoli, and mushrooms. That's what I had on hand so that's what went in. I figure you can always experiment with anything you might have on hand. Rolls of salami? Cubes of cheese? Go nuts.

Bagna Cauda

400 ml (14 fl oz) cream...I used 10%
2 tbs olive oil
6 tbs of anchovy paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed

1. Bring cream to boil in a saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the cream has thickened and reduced by about half. (Mine wasn't very thick which assured that there wouldn't be too much sauce sticking to every vegetable thus making the dip too heavy. So I suggest leaving it liquid enough.)
2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and cook anchovy paste and garlic for 1-2 minutes, stirring to mix ingredients.
3. Add anchovy mixture to cream and whisk for about 1 minute.
4. Pour sauce in a serving bowl and serve with crudités to dip in the hot sauce.

Strawberry-Balsamic Granita

I had a case of strawberries and was getting to the bottom of it where the fruit was bruised and generally unapealing. Solution: throw them into a food processor with sugar, water and balsamic vinegar, freeze for 3 hours or so and enjoy. Yet another recipe out of my Fine Cooking / Fresh magazine.

Contrary to sorbet, granita is slushier. When thoroughly frozen it gives a nice aerie and sweet slush that's nice after a summer meal. Sad thing with my experience is that the granita wasn't freezing fast enough and melted fast...though it would probably have helped to follow the recipe completely (I did not freeze it overnight...just the 3 hours). I also found this recipe to be a little too sweet. Also, the balsamic vinegar went unnoticed amongst the very ripe strawberries. Anyways, here's the recipe in the magazine. If you have any suggestions on how to improve the recipe, feel free to comment.

Strawberry-Balsamic Granita
Yields about 6 cups scraped granita

10 oz. ripe strawberries (about 1 pt. or 2 cups lightly packed) rinsed and cored
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tbs high-quality balsamic vinegar

1. Throw strawberries in a food processor with sugar and process until smooth.
2. Add water and balsamic vinegar and blend well.
3. Pour mixture into a 9-inch-square shallow baking pan.
4. Put the pan in the freezer and stir every 30 minutes with a fork, being sure to scrape the ice crystals off the sides and into the middle of the pan, until the mixture is too frozen to stir, about 3 hours, depending on the individual freezer.
5. Cover the pan with plastic and freeze overnight.
6. When ready to serve the granita, scrape the shaved ice and fill you glasses and bowls.

Grilled Chicken with Asian Dipping Sauce

I found this recipe in a special edition of Fine Cooking magazine entitled Fresh (spring/summer 2007). Along with 70 other recipes centred on the freshness of spring and summer ingredients, I found a very simple recipe for grilled chicken with an Asian dipping sauce. Though the dipping sauce and the recipe are nothing original, they make for a nice, easily prepared meal that doesn't require you to hunt down obscure ingredients in all of the specialized grocery stores in town.

I don't think it useful to give the recipe for grilling chicken on the barbecue. Trim fat off chicken breasts, season, and cook till ready. The one thing that is always necessary to stress is that anything on the grill should be given time to cook. That is to say that you shouldn't crank your barbecue up to high all the time. A nice medium heat and your chicken will come out tender and juicy instead of charred and dry...the latter is my father's kind of cooking. Not recommended.

As for the dipping sauce, it's mellow and the recipe makes enough sauce to serve 6 or so people. You could always use the leftovers for a stirfry. To give it an extra kick, you might want to add some red chili paste. But as it stands, this recipe is nice and simple.

Asian Dipping Sauce
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 to 2 serrano or jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced crosswise
2 tbs chopped green onion (scallion)
2 tbs. choppped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbs chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 to 3/4 cup water; as needed

1. Finely chop garlic on a cutting board. Sprinkly 1 tbs of the sugar over the garlic and mash garlic into sugar using the backside of knife while pressing down on it with your palm. Scrape the garlic sugar paste into a medium bowl.
2. Add remaining 3 tbs sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and lime juice. Whisk until sugar is dissolved.
3. Stir in chiles, scallions, cilantro, mint, peanuts, and enough water to creat a mellow but zesty sauce.
4. Serve in individual bowls along with grilled chicken.
5. Dip and enjoy.

Turkey Pesto Burger with Havarti

Not only is ground turkey alot leaner than beef, I would argue that it's juicier. As I was grilling them, the exterior of the patties were getting nice and golden. Inside was a little pocket of goodness and juice. I then folded the slices of havarti I had into a little stack and melted them onto the patties - this helped to keep most of the melted cheese on the patties and not in the bottom of the bbq.

Putting my homemade pesto in the patties was a great addition. It completely sprung out and made the usual bland pattie taste good. Think about this: if you wouldn't eat the pattie by itself then maybe you should work on that before working on any fancy toppings. I find that ground beef doesn't help much with tastiness of patties since it has little to no taste...meaning that it's not like a smack in the face, party on your tongue kind of taste. Granted I don't have the most sophisticated of pallets. Anyways, pesto in patties is simply a good idea.

As far as toppings go, I went with the usual: salsa, tomato, pickle and red onion slices. The result was one great burger lying between two slices of a toasted bun. Contrary to my experimentation with sausage burgers, turkey pesto burgers were very delicious.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Beer Butt Chicken Revisited

I know I've talked about my beer butt chicken before but I won't say that I'm sorry. If you haven't tried this yet you should. If you're making excuses that you don't have a big enough barbecue or that you don't have the proper equipment you should stop stressing over the little things. This is the best preparation for chicken ever and yields the best leftovers.

My photo isn't clear but if you look at the base under the chicken you'll see a black bowl sort of thing and won't you don't see are the two metal arches on which the chicken rests and the cavity these create where a half-full can of beer is placed. 45 minutes to an hour on a medium low bbq and you've got yourself one juicy, tender, awesomely tasting bird.

One thing I especially like about the beer butt chicken are the wings. They come out crispy and smoky and better for than most deep-fried versions you'll find in your neighbourhood pub. I think you could make some sort of hanging rack to cook the chicken wings over the barbecue. If anyone out there owns a bbq restaurant, this is how you should prepare wings. People will go nuts for this, especially when you tell them that it's better for them than the usual grease ladden crap they're served.

Very, Very Basic Salad

Something else I picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend was frisé lettuce. I don't know the English term for it but it's the kind of lettuce that curly and a bit bitter. Once again considering the freshness of ingredients at the present time, I didn't want to mess around with the crisp, beautiful lettuce. The result was the making of the simplest salad I know. A recipe from our grandmothers in Kap.

All you need is a fresh head of curly lettuce, 6 or so green onions, cream or sour cream, salt and pepper. I added colour with some locally grown yellow zuchinni but this is usually left out which results in a very minimalistic salad that highlights the unsung beauty of lettuce.

If it's fresh, don't mess with it. Leave that job to crappy restaurants.

Market Fresh Pesto

When it comes to figuring out what's in season, the grocery store is almost useless. The only place to go, in my opinion, is the local farmer's market. Everything is fresh, local and in season. Seeing as we're coming around to tomato and fruit season, it came as a beautiful surprise to find a generous bunch of fresh basil.

The only obvious thing for me to do with basil is good old fashioned Italian pesto. Though I have an excellent Italian cookbook in my library, I figured I'd just grab the ingredients and wing it. After all, how hard can it be to make pesto.

As is not always the case with my impromptu cooking, my pesto turned out great. In contrast to the overly salty versions you find at the grocery store, my pesto was smooth and creamy. I filled my food processor with about 8 cups of loose basil leaves, topped with 3/4 of a bulb of garlic, a bag of pine nuts equal to about 3/4 cups, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and started the machine. All I did then was pour olive oil into the spinning mixture till it formed a nice sauce...not too oily and not too light.

Though I'm sure there are other ways to serve pesto (if you know any please comment on this post) I like my pesto with pasta and nothing more. My girlfriend added some shrimp one night and that gave it a nice added touch. Either way you serve it, pesto is just great. The perfect recipe to highlight the fruits of the market and the hard work of local farmers.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

More Seafood Chowder

All right. So I've been to parties where everyone brings their own meat and you just barbecue. But only in the Maritimes could you go to a party where everyone pitches in to buy over 10 pounds of mussels. But these weren't going to be just boring old steamed mussels if I had anything to say about it. It wasn't hard to convince our fellow party goers to let us make the sauce for the mussels.

The sauce we picked was from a recipe for Moules Mernier. All it consisted of was a whole bottle of white wine, the same amount of water, chopped parsley, and about 8 cups of finely shredded onions and shallots. Heated through and then cooked for about 20 minutes, we then strained the sauce and were left with a delicious broth ready for buckets of mussels and a quart full of cream.

After the party, once everyone had forgotten about the food and moved on to other things, I packed up a pot full of leftover mussels and some of the broth. Once we got home, we simply added a few packages of mixed seafood - once again an advantage only available to coastal residents - diced potatoes, carrots, celery and some chopped parsley. The ensuing soup was good but not great. We'd forgotten to take into account that the broth had reduced at the party and therefore it had become way too salty. Oh well, at least now I know that those Belgians really had the right idea. Beer and mussels...mmmm!

Peach Tart

The Ontario peaches were on special (and therefore in season) all over town this week. With a full box, I really had to find something to do with them. So, while going through Alain Rayé's cookbook La Régalade, I found a recipe for an apricot tart. Peaches...apricots...I figured they were interchangeable. Pluse the recipe looked so darn good.

I had to run around to find frozen puff pastry. But the end product was so easy to make and really showcased well the deliciousness of the peach.

For the recipe, you can either cut a sheet of puff pastry or make individual squares as I did above. Once the puff pastry has thawed - if you're using the frozen variety - prick the dough with a fork and place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sliced the peaches or apricots in half and remove stone. You then have the option of cutting them into fans as I did above or simply cook the halves as is.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Take out the dough fromt he refrigerator and push the cut fruit lightly into the dough. You then sprinkle with salted butter (about 2 tbsp per half fruit) and sugar (also about 2 tbsp per half fruit). Place in over and bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough is puffy and golden.

Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream. Simple and delicious.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Ultimate Salad

I don't know if I mentioned this before but the house I grew up in was not culinarily inclined in the least. The worst meal my father used to make was those little sausages with canned cream corn and dry mashed potatoes. This meal came from a line of economy cooking along with other such delicacies as hamburger patties in mushroom soup.


When I was in highschool my parents didn't mind a bit if I cooked. I liked cooking. I liked how it was calming, methodical, and how you needed to be organized to get it all together. It's in those days that I discovered that grilling sweet corn without he husk and spreading barbecue sauce between every kernel was simply a great idea.


Seeing as corn is coming into season, I grilled some corn in this fashion for my girlfriend. At first she thought it would just be like all my other quirky food preparations and prefered to stick to her boiled corn with butter, salt and pepper. But after she took one bight of my corn, which I'd slathered with Jamaican jerk bbq sauce, she was cooked.


The next day, I figured I'd use the rest of the corn to make a salad. The result was one of the best salads I've ever eaten although with the amount of ingredients in it, I'm not sure it still qualifies as a salad. We piled the leftover corn kernels all sticky with barbecue sauce along with chunks of cheddar, mangos, apple slices, tomatoes, cucumber, barbecued chicken, grilled red and green onions, grilled mushrooms, and California trail mix over romain lettuce and drizzled the whole with a honey balsamic vinaigrette. The result was really delicious and filling.


Like soups, stews and sandwiches, I find salads have a great potential for variety. You have the form and the basic elements and then you could just keep adding till you satisfied. For salads you know you have a vinaigrette with some vegetables. For a soup you know you have stock with whatever else you want. For sandwiches you have bread, a sauce and some fillings. The options are unlimited and the form is so easy to work with.


Anyways, that's that. Grill your corn with barbecue sauce.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Barbecued Perogies...Who Knew?

I haven't touched my barbecue lately on account of a ridiculous schedule and all too frequent downpours. But these last two days, sitting at home and reading the latest escapade of our friend Harry Potter, I finally had time to cook...even though it was nothing very fancy.

Two days ago my girlfriend revealed that she had a craving for perogies. When it comes of those little morsels of carbs and starch I'm really not one to refuse. So, taking the frozen grocery store variety out of our freezer, I boiled the perogies and prepared a frying pan in which I placed bacon, chopped onion and garlic. But this time, instead of transferring the perogies to a skillet full of peanut oil, I brought the little dough balls to the barbecue. The result was nicely charred, crispy and puffy perogies accompanied by the bacon mixture, sour cream, salsa and hot sauce. And anyone who says "Ew!" to salsa on perogies hasn't tried it yet. They're a match made in heaven

In my book (dans mon livre à moé) everything can be grilled except the obvious exceptions such as eggs and other liquid food items. I cook corn (without the husk) directly on the grill and make sure to get loads of barbecue sauce in between each individual kernel. Today I even cooked some bacon strips on the grill to go with my hamburgers. They sizzled beautifully over the flames they were feading in the bottom of my bbq. I then sandwiched them between the patty and a slice of processed cheese, waited for the cheese to melt and then splattered my face in the tomatoey, pickle, onion, jerk bbq sauce goodness of the hamburger more appropriately called a manwich. Simple but delicious.

Now I just have to figure out a way of making my patties taste less bland, a feat I haven't yet achieved dispite the fact that I load it with flavoured bread crumbs, cajun spice mix, chopped red onion, and an egg. Sigh *

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Food on the Backburner

My schedule at work right now makes it nearly impossible for me to cook anything. I go to work at 9 AM and come back at 7 PM which means that almost all my meals are limited to sandwiches, granola bars, and frozen foods.

I have, however, had the chance to go for a hike on Sunday at Fundy National Park here in New Brunswick. The trail was about a 45 minute walk and then you came upon a really nice waterfall (pictured above). The hitch is that you had to climb back up the steep hill for a good 15 minutes...wait loss the natural way ;)

For lunch on our hike we brought some sweet peas and fresh garden carrots we had bought at the market the day before. They're coming into season and they make a great snack...better than anything which has suffered through some sort of cooking process. Oh and while I'm talking about the market, might as well mention that I bought a huge jug of goat's milk to make cajeta (mexican milk-based caramel). I'll post the yummy results of this soon. Till then, sorry for not posting much...I really wish I could be cooking instead of...well...doing anything else :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Soup & Stew

I had frozen soup I made about a month back in my freezer and have ventured into the not always successful practice of reheating previously fresh food. The soup I mimicked from a small café here in Moncton. With sausage meat balls, lots of chick peas, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, canned chopped tomatoes, and some fresh ginger, this soup is really nice. The added ginger also give it a suprising flavour you wouldn't expect.


I like making soups because you could basically try any flavour combination as a test run to see if they blend well together. The required cooking time and usual suspects - broth, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic - welcome almost anything you throw at them. Any protein is welcome along with any starch and vegetables. Soups, I think, are one of the most versatile food. Plus, when you do fall upon a delicious combination, you can always take from the soup stage and try to make those flavours stand alone.


Another deliciously variable cooking process is the stew. For this particular stew I tried to deviate from the usual by using Asian ingredients. The recipe list goes as follows: bacon, stew beef, kimchi cabbage (yes I still have some and am trying to use it as much as possible for nothing more than to get rid of it), sliced onion, carrots, potatoes, canned sweet peas, beef broth, rice wine vinegar, red chilli paste, sesame oil and a bay leaf. The end result - cooked all day in a crock pot - tasted pretty much like your everyday stew. Good. But average.


Mistake 1: I should have put some of the kimchi "juice" in with the stew. Mistake 2: Cooking the stew for a shorter period of time would possibly have kept the Asian flavours intact. Happy discovery 1: Vinegar in stew is really good. I've tried beef bourguignon before which is made with red wine but vinegar really gives the stew an added dimension.


So, in conclusion, I can't push soups and stew enough. Eat them always with a nice little sandwich and life is good...not to suggest that life without these cannot be good but the chances dramatically decrease with the absence of homecooked food.