Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stilton and Lentil Soup with Goat Meat Pastilla

I had broth left over from a chicken we'd cooked the other day. When combined with a cold day, this broth becomes an inviting opportunity to make a delicious warming soup. So I cooked up an onion and some bacon strips. Added a mased garlic clove. Poured in the gelatinised chicken broth with it's beautiful little layer of fat (both marks of a good leftover broth). Spooned in two tablespoons of pesto. Dropped in two cups of cauliflower chunks, a large lump of stilton cheese, a quarter cup of red lentils and let the whole thing simmer away till the lentils were cooked and the soup looked delicious. I love adding a strong cheese such as stilton or blue in a soup because it's flavour gives the whole thing a bit of umph. It doesn't scream out at you but you know that its there. Season and enjoy.

Another treat for that night's supper was pastilla, a small prepared dish we bought at the farmer's market from the Belgian cheese lady and her son who have their kiosk by the French meat man's kiosk. This pastilla, she informed us, was of North African origine and made with goat meat which is slowly cooked overnight. She wanted to expose people to the potential deliciousness of goat meat (she makes the best fresh goat's cheese). And oh was it ever delicious! In true North African style, the dish was both sweet and savoury without seeming overly bizarre. The whole was wrapped in phyllo dough, cooked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. Simply delicious.

Blood Pudding in All Day Breakfast Salad

The fact that I was making a warm salad from the first chapter of Cook with Jamie was one thing. I mean, warm salad. Not even hot. Just warm. But the real kicker was that the recipe for "all day breakfast salad" asks for a major yuck factor ingredient, blood pudding. I thought to myself, what the hell, I'll try it. I'll get it from the French guy at the market who I know I can trust for quality and ignore all the stories I heard my parents relate where their parents had made them eat blood pudding. At least I could say that I ate it. I wasn't undaunted by a little blood.

To tell you the truth, I don't think it was the blood pudding that made this recipe kind of gross. You start off by cooking the blood pudding cut into rings with the bacon. Well the French guy at the market warned me that the blood pudding would come apart and that's the first thing that happened. But then you have to through some stale bread in. Now the recipe doesn't tell you to drain the fat. And it certainly doesn't mention anything about the bits of blood pudding that are floating around in the fat. So when you throw the bread in, all that happens is that a sort of greasy mush forms.

You then have to mix the mush with a handful of yellow endive leaves, an English mustard vinaigrette and top the whole with a poached egg. So I didn't mind the taste of blood pudding. Really. It's more of the grease factor and the fact that everyone I talked to made their ugliest face when I told them I had eaten blood pudding. Supposedly it's best when warmed up with apple slices. I unfortunately didn't have a chance to try this out. The blood pudding appeared in the trash before I could use the rest of it. It's a mystery how that happened. I swear.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stilton Steak with Pesto Spaghettini and Endive Apple Salad

A good steak is even better when it's stuffed with a strong cheese like English stilton. All things considered, pretty much everything is better when either covered or stuffed or accompanied by a good quality cheese. Here in particular, the cheese melts nicely in its little beef pocket as the steak browns in the cast iron pan and then finishes off with a nice long bake in the oven. The result is a nice jus and cheese sauce. And if you stuff the beef properly, the cheese will ooze out as you start cutting it. It's wonderful to have such a delicious alternative to barbecue sauce ladden steak.

Along with the steak, we made our little accompanying dish, pasta with pesto. Now store bought pesto is a very far cry from homemade pesto prepared at the peak of the basil season but it's still a nice side dish that beats making something from a box.

In addition, we used the green leaves of the Belgian endive, cut up a pink lady apple and tossed with the simple lemon oil my girlfriend's so fond of. This, I found, was a nice flavour mixture since you have tart, bitter, and sweet all with the underlying smoothness of the olive oil. All in all, this was a nice meal.

Smoked Herring Sandwich

Looking at this photo some of you might think that it looks delicious. "Doest mine eyes see pickled onions?" you may wonder. "And smoked herring! How delightful!" Well to think such thoughts might be right in certain circumstances but not here. No, this sandwich was a class-A dissapointment. It's not the flavour pairings; that is to say that it's flavour failure is none of my fault. No the fault here lies in the quality of the fish.

Truth be told, the appropriate name for this fish would be "oversalted herring" and not "smoked herring". I'm sure herring is delicious but the amount of salt here was quite literally disgusting. Like when there's so much salt that you're getting the sweats, there's a problem.

If, however, you do find good quality smoked herring or pickled herring or canned herring, here is what I recommend you pair it with to make a fabulous sandwich: 1) a good quality dark rye bread; 2) strong russion style or honey dijon mustard; 3) onions pickled in malt vinegar England style. With strong flavours come other strong flavours to make a strongly flavoured whole. The trick is to make everything shine and not put anything in there that would simply go totally unnoticed. It's robust cooking. Thump your chest and call yourself Bif. Har. Har. Har.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Barnyard Barbecue Rules

I'm choosy when it comes to restaurants. If I can make it better at home or don't find the price matches the decor more than the quality of the food, I'm out. But the Barnyard Barbecue on Mill Street in Moncton is a guaranteed winner.

As the name would suggest, their specialty is barbecue. I mean I had roasted and smoked chicken with beans the other day and they even manage to make that taste delicious. The flesh was smoky, the skin with crispy, the bbq sauce they slathered on top of the chicken was delicious and even the beans were tasty.

You see that's what's great about restaurants that aren't chains. They have to make everything themselves or are doomed to mediocrity. I had a burger at the Barnyard once that goes by the name of "the Burger that Ate Moncton". It was a huge beef patty, topped with shredded pork with all sort of other goodies inside, topped with fresh bread (a must!) and bacon with fries or whatever side you wish for. It's "oh my god" good. That's what it is.

Plus the great thing about the Barnyard is that it's located at the front of the Pump House Brewery. You've got all of the containers and equipment behind floor to ceiling windows that attest to the fact that the beer you're drinking couldn't be any fresher. So while you sit in the southern/hick/shed-like decor, you can watch honest men and women toil away at making the areas best beer.

My only gripe with the Barnyard is service. It could take awhile to get your food amongst other things. Like the other day when we went, we were sitting back in front of empty plates and the waitress looked at us but didn't take the plates. I mean I know it isn't your table but please think about overall customer service here. Come on!

Anyways I do recommend the Barnyard Barbecue. To get an idea of what to expect, check out their menu at You'll have a great time and even better food and beer. One of the only musts I've found in Moncton so far.

Hot Chicken Sandwich

My girlfriend had a craving for something which is traditional in our neck of the woods; a hot chicken sandwich with fresh fries and sweat peas. All this is, for those unfamiliar with the dish, I'm not too sure how "international" this fatty meal is, is shredded and usually leftover chicken or turkey on a slice of bread, smothered in gravy, topped with another slice of bread and covered in even more gravy. It goes without saying that the fresher the bread and the better the gravy, the better the sandwich. And this is one of the only things I'll eat fries with. When I was a kid my dad would make me go on my bike to the nearest chip stand - that's what we call the fry and burger serving seasonal trailers in Northern Ontario - to get fries. We'd enjoy them with a tonne of ketchup and the essential side of sweat's the healthy side of this balance things off, you know...

If available in your area - i.e. if you're in Canada - I suggest you use St. Hubert brand canned gravy if you're not making your own. They're the masters of roasted chicken. Masters I tell you!

Asparagus & Fennel Quiche

Making recipes is fun to a certain extent. But what's even better is when you're left with a whole bunch of ingredients that you're not altogether familiar with and have to use your creativity to make something of it. This is exactly what this quiche was. Leftover flaky dough and vegetables from Jamie Oliver's funky salad.

I absolutely adored this quiche. The idea of having a pie that's also an omelette was great. I'm not sure I've ever eaten quiche before. Go figure. However, I think this impromptu recipe was better, say, than quiche Lorraine which is just bacon, ham and cheese. Just pop into a 425 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes and enjoy.

The leftovers that went into my quiche (whole spears of asparagus, a few leaves of arugula, a bunch of chervil, half a finelly sliced fennel bulb, fennel greens and mozzarella) blended so well together in this rich, fluffy, perfectly textured omelette pie. Plus a cool thing was that all of the ingredients floated up towards the surface as the eggs rose. Simple things amuse simple minds ;)

Anyways, quiches are officially part of my favourites list. Plus it's an excuse to make pie dough! All that flaky goodness just begging for a partener to combine with. A partener such as butter and brown sugar rolled into pinwheels...mmmm...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pâté au saumon with Funky Salad

I was sitting at my desk at work and suddenly I had a craving for pâté au saumon, a Québécois expat food I grew up on. What this meal is is basically just a meat pie whose protein is salmon. The only salmon that might be found in the middle of the Boreal forest where I'm from are those who are hopelessly lost or cans of this rich pink fish. So it's a Pacific sockeye salmon meat pie in a Québec recipe, made by a guy from Northern Ontario whose presently residing in New Brunswick. How's that for an all-Canadian meal?! (Sorry prairies...)

To offset things, I made a recipe from the best known British chef, Jamie Oliver. When it comes to greens, I would like to consider myself an amature. Truth be told, I think most of us cringe at the thought of paying for and eating something called "dandelion greens".
"Isn't that the crap that grows in my front yard that's full of ants I just can't seem to get rid of?" you ask.
"Why yes," answers the celebrity chef. "Would you like to pay me a ridiculous price to eat them?"
"I think I do Mr. Celebrity Chef. I think I do. Your popularity persuades me."
Ridicule aside, the salad was a bit too expensive for my tastes. Many of the ingredients in this salad recipe aren't readilly available unless you live in a metropolis. These ingredients include fennel, arugula, dandelion leaves, watercress, baby chard, asparagus, and fresh chervil. I found everything except the chard and watercress. They were out of chard so the only thing really not found was the watercress. And the only reason I found any of the other ingredients is because they opened a new grocery store in town and are making an effort to be cutting edge. After a while they'll have wasted so much produce that it'll be back to iceberg and romaine lettuce.

Pat's pâté au saumon

Dough...super flaky and rich...the best ever!!!
200ml shortening
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vinegar
1 egg
200ml water

1. Cut shortening into flour.
2. Add salt, vinegar, the egg and water. Mix well. The dough should be pretty sticky. Refrigerate till ready to use.

1/4 cup carrot, brunoise (cut julienne and then cut into small cubes)
1/4 cup celery, brunoise
1/3 cup onion, brunoise
1 tbsp olive oil
450g canned sockeye salmon (I just used two 213ml cans)
1 cup cooked and mashed potato flesh (it's good to use leftover baked potatoes)
2 tbsp sour cream
1 egg
1/2 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tbsp fennel greens and chervil (or dill or parsley...I just happened to have these herbs on hand)
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sweat the carrot, celery and onion in olive oil till soft. It's best to keep the lid on for this since the goal is to keep the humidity in the pot with the vegetables.
2. Mix together the salmon, mashed potato flesh, sour cream and egg. Fold in sweated vegetables, lemon zest and herbs. Season to taste.
3. Take dough out of fridge, roll out and layer into a greased 8 1/2 inch (or 22cm) wide pie dish. Dump salmon mixture into the prepared pie bottom.
4. Place another sheet of dough on top of the pie and crimp edges. Poke or cut holes in top of pie.
5. Cook pie in 425 degree oven for 10 minutes then bring temperature down to 350 degrees and cook for 30 minutes.
6. Serve hot.

Sorry that my measurement systems are all over the place. That's what happens when you live in a non-metric system country beside the largest metric system country in the world. Maybe it's time for the US to join the rest of the world and convert.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sweet Hamburgers with Stuffed Potato Skins

I hate making something really basic and simple without doing something creative with it. For example, making a hamburger pattie with nothing but ground beef topped with ketchup, relish and mustard is simply boring. In this particular instance I cracked some fresh pecans that come from my in-laws land in Mexico, the remainder of my fig and balsamic sauce, some honey, chopped onions, chunks of parmesan and a bit of Tabasco chipotle hot sauce. I'm trying to learn to balance flavours better. Sweet. Salty. Bitter. Creamy. And so on. Plus I don't mind making a burger pattie where beef is little more than a binding agent for other deliciousnesses.

Though I didn't buy fresh bread for the hamburger bun I toasted the halved buns on the grill and removed some of the flesh of the bun so that my hamburger isn't all bread. I hate having a sandwich or hamburger that's nothing but bread. It's like you have to procude five times the amount of saliva just to swallow one bite.

Given that I made an effort to make a tasty pattie, I kept my toppings simple and complimentary to the flavours already present. Some grainy mustard which has a nice sharp, earthy taste, a thin slice of tomato and some onion sprouts than are milder and earthier than regular old yellow onions. All in all, it was a nice tasting burger.

To accompany the burgers, I made stuffed potato skins. The recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook said to basically throw away the cooked flesh of the potato skins and sprinkle the potato skins with toppings such as tomato, bacon, green onions and cheese. Instead of doing that, I made a sort of mashed potato with the flesh and put all sorts of ingredients in the mixture. Here's the recipe....or something close to it

Impromptu Stuffed Potato Skins

4 medium sized baking potatoes
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp butter

1/3 cup shredded cheddar, colbe, mozzarella
1/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in irregular sized pieces (any tomato is good so long as it tastes better than those big wattery ones)
1/4 cup diced onion
1 hot pepper, sliced with seeds (be adventurous...go with habanero)
1/4 cup shredded and dehydrated Mexican style pork (or shrimp or bacon or assorted basically whatever protein you have on hand)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper

1. Brush potatoes clean and prick all over with a fork. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and pop into a 475 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

2. Take potatoes out, slice in half and scoop out the cooked flesh making sure not to tear the potatoe skins. Mash potatoes together with sour cream and butter.

3. Add about one third of the cheese and all other ingredients to the potato mixture, season and fold together to distribute all ingredients evenly. Scoop mixture into the potato skins and top with remaining cheese. Put potatoes skins back onto baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes to heat all ingredients through. Switch to broiler to make the cheese nice and golden. Take potato skins out of oven and serve without forks. It makes a mess that way. Fun times.

It's amazing that all of this meal came from my fridge which contains little more than leftovers and odd bits. I also threw away like 4 containers of sour cream. Why I had so much sour cream is beyond me. How does a person accumulate 4 extra containers of sour cream? And one had never been opened! Weird.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Beef Fondu with 3 Dipping Sauces

So we've all done fondu's before. Stick some canned fondu sauce in a saucepan and have your guests cook their own damn meal ;) We served ours with chinese fondu style beef slices - which are just really thin slices of eye of the round - shrimp, spinach, zuchinni, chinese radish, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, and three types of cheeses: smoked gruyère, colbe, and mozarella. I made little pockets full of cheese, veggies wrapped in beef so that it doesn't leak all over the place and enjoyed more food than I should have eaten.

To kick things up a bit I made three dipping sauces. One of them was just the leftover of the lemon oil I used for the salad the other day (see previous blog entry) and the other two were aïoli and an improvised fig balsamic honey sauce. Now aïoli is just a fancy word for garlic mayonnaise which is just egg yolks with oil and a squirt or two of lemon juice. For this particular recipe I used half an egg yolk - don't ask - and beat it together with one mashed garlic clove. To properly mash a garlic clove, chop the garlic as finely as you can, sprinkle a bit of coarse salt on it and then use the flat part of your knife and press down with your palm, working it to really mash the garlic to a paste. You obviously need a proper chef's knife for this. No paring knife here.

Once the egg yolk and garlic are properly combined, slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil making sure not to pour in more than what can be absorbed. So pour slowly then whisk or have someone pour for you while you work up some of that unused elbow grease. The mixture should now be nice and stiff so add about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to break it up a bit, whisk together one last time and voilà! You've just made aïoli! And don't tell your friends it's just mayonnaise with garlic. You'll sound cooler if you say aïoli. Pronounciation unsure...I just say ah-ee-oh-lee.

The other dipping sauce I made was basically the flesh of three black figs, a tablespoon of water, a tablespoon of honey and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar. I didn't measure anything and just went with my gut. My cheesy beef and vegetable fondu bits had the delightful opportunity of going for a dunk before dissapearing forever down the gullet.

Mmmmm....saucy goodness...


When it comes to making soups, there can be nothing simpler than Vichyssoise which could also be called a Leek and Potato Soup. It's traditional French fair, smooth and a delight to eat. The use of leeks is also nice because they're just like a milder onion. All the deliciousness but none of the strong smelly taste.

What's also nice about puréed soups is that it really doesn't take any fancy cutting or special presentation. Just simmer, stick the hand blender in there, serve and enjoy. If you don't have a hand blender you should really invest in one. The alternative is transferring everything back and forth between the pot and the blender. And plus you get to buy kitchen toys. Fun times!

Leek and Potato Soup
from "A little taste of France", Murdoch Books

50g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 leeks, white part only, sliced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
200g potatoes, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup cream (10% is not too heavy and not too light)
2 tbsp chopped chives, optional

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, leeks, celery and garlic. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to the boil.

2. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Allow to cool a little before puréeing with a hand blender or in a blender or food processor. (You could also go super old school and push the soup through a fine sieve with the back of a wooden spoon.) Return to the clean saucepan.

3. Bring the soup gently back to the boil and stir in the cream. Season with salt and white pepper and reheat without boiling. Serve hot or well chilled, garnished with chives. Another option is to serve the hot soup and have people pour in the amount of cream that they want. This cools down the soup a bit, allows everyone to add cream to taste and also helps when reheating because you easily avoid curdling the cream.

This soup is definitely a 4.8 on 5 in our book.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Simple Salad with Lemon Oil and Lots of Snow

So like I said last time, there's a whole chapter in Cook with Jamie that's all about salads. I figure it's not a huge sin if I don't have all the ingredients for a salad so long as it's close. I mean a basic salad is a basic salad. I'm not talking about fancy salads with cured meats and fancy cheeses and dressings with 28 ingredients in them. But this particular salad was entitled "Simple Crunchy Salad". I was missing romaine lettuce, green beans which were supposed to be blanched and cucumber. The ingredients I did have were Boston lettuce, a carrot, celery heart, parsley and I added some grape tomatoes. This chapter also has a few recipes for dressings; because if you're going to make fresh salad, might as well make the little extra effort to make your own fresh, preservative-free dressing. And the dressing I chose couldn't be any simpler: 3 1/2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice with 10 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil shaken together and seasoned to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Simple dressing, simple salad but really nice taste.

In the background you might recognise a generous slice of tourtière which also goes by the name of meat pie. Where I'm from a tourtière is made with ground beef but this one was made with ground pork. It was storebought so it wasn't the best I've ever eaten. I'm used to 3/4 meat and a thinner crust. All that was needed was a bit more ketchup yet it was still easily outshined by the simple salad. Some things are just better when your grandma makes it.

Oh and here's a photo of my front yard today. The office was closed so I'm snowed in :) Who says winter isn't a beautiful season?