Saturday, April 12, 2014

Maple mustard glazed ham & polenta fries

      We all know the best thing about the holidays is pigging out, and what better dish to pig out on then a good ol' Easter ham? Especially when it's smothered in mustard & maple syrup. Those two ingredients, along with a little dash of soy sauce is all you need to make that Easter ham sing. 

    When it comes to choosing a ham, I have one simple rule: go for the ones made by any small local producer. Hams manufactured by the big national companies tend to be pumped full of water, and may even contain artificial flavours. Don't be fooled by the label "All natural - no added preservatives" that you sometimes see on industrially produced hams. Using nitrates is part of the process of making ham and the big boys get away with the 'all natural' label by using cultured celery extract, which just happens to contain, you guessed it: nitrates! 

          You don't necessarily have to pay top dollar on an organic ham to get something good. Basically, just avoid the big name brands, or anything that is already flavoured because you will be dressing it up yourself with the maple mustard glaze. After that, whether you go for big, small, bone in, boneless, smoked, or plain that's up to you. Sometimes I like to go for the small 'jamboneau' hams, because they heat up really quick in the oven. If you are having a lot of people over, better to get one big ham, because there is less risk of it drying up in the oven. 

     Whatever ham you choose, make sure that you have a good meat thermometer handy. Any ham you buy will be already cooked and you just want to heat it through. Once the ham reaches an internal temperature of 70C / 160F, leave the ham in the oven on low until you are ready to serve. 

   The accompaniment I choose for my ham is somewhat untraditional, but sure to please everyone: polenta fries. They're crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and dressed with an awesome wild mushroom seasoning. When I make them at the restaurant, I deep fry them to get an extra crispy texture. This can be a bit tricky to do at home, so I'm giving you two alternatives for this recipe: fried or baked. Either way, the wild mushroom seasoning makes them ultra delicious!      

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: about 1 hour. Serves 5


900g (2 lbs) ham
120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
140ml (1 cup) dijon mustard
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

Polenta fries:
1 1/2 cup medium / fine corn meal
1L (4 cups) milk

2 tablespoons montreal steak spice
40g (1 1/2 oz) dried wild mushrooms, preferable black trumpet

oil for frying

Pre-heat the oven to 350F

1. Place the ham in a baking dish and spread half the mustard over the exterior of the ham. In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining mustard with the maple syrup and soy sauce. Coat the ham with the maple mustard glaze and pour the rest over the top of the ham, allowing it to pool over and collect at the bottom of the baking dish. Add 1/4 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish.

2. Place the ham in the oven at 350F and bake until the center of the ham reaches 70C / 160F, about 15 - 20 minutes per pound (454g) As the ham bakes, use a spoon or ladle to occasionally bast the ham with the glaze as it cooks.

3. Heat the milk in a medium sized sauce pot. Add the corn meal, along with a pinch of salt to the milk and stir constantly until the polenta starts to come away from the sides, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to minimum and keep stirring for another 5 minutes.

4. Spread cooked polenta out on a backing tray in about a 1 inch layer. Allow to cool ten minutes on the counter and then at least another 45 minutes in the fridge.

5. Cut the chilled polenta into 1/2 inch by 3 inch sticks.
    - To fry: heat about 1 inch of oil in a large pot to 350F and add the polenta fries. Do not over            crowd, work in small batches. Use metal tongs to gentle move the fries around to keep the from sticking to    the bottom of the pot. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes.

      - To bake: Lay the fries out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with oil and bake in the oven at 350F until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

6. Place the dried mushrooms, along with the montreal steak spice in a coffee grinder or food processor and pulse until they become a coarse powder.

7. Toss the polenta fries in the mushroom powder. Serve with the glazed ham. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quail Egg Spinach Salad

            It's finally starting to feel like spring for real, so today I bring you another light salad to celebrate. Easter is coming up, so I thought it would be fun to do something with eggs. Instead of using regular eggs, I decided to go a little fancy and use quail eggs. 
         You could just as easily use regular eggs in this recipe, but I like using quail eggs for a couple of reasons. Firstly, though they can be a little hard to find, when you do see them, chances are they can from a small farm not to far from where they were sold. I always like to support local farmers when I get the chance, so I'll choose quail eggs over factory farm eggs any day for a recipe like this. Flavourwise, they are not that different from regular eggs, but they do have a nice light flavor and they have a good white-to-yolk ratio. The last reason - and honestly the real reason I go for quail eggs - is aesthetics. They just look so darn cute, especially next to the identically sized grape tomatoes.  

    For the dressing I made a really simple, super delicious sundried tomato vinaigrette. It takes just a couple of minutes to whip up and can be used on all sorts of salads. It's especially good with grilled salmon or chicken salad. 

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 5 minutes. Serves 5


20 quail eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 pinch of salt
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 lbs baby spinach

sundried tomato vinaigrette:
3 oz (85g) sundried tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 1/3 oz (100ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon water
salt & pepper

1. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tbs vinegar and 1 pinch of salt, followed by the quail eggs. Simmer for 5 minutes, then check the eggs by cutting one in half to make sure they are done. Transfer cooked eggs to cold water.

2. Peel the quail eggs under running water. Cut 10 eggs in half and leave the other 10 whole.

3. To make the vinaigrette, combine 1 tablespoon each of tomato paste, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and maple syrup in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking all the ingredients together. Add 1 tablespoon of water to thin the dressing and then season with salt & pepper.

4. Combine the spinach, eggs & red pepper in a large salad bowl and stir in the vinaigrette.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

prosciutto and cheese salad

    The weather may not exactly be cooperating, but I'm feeling in a spring mood already. This dish is just the kind of thing to get me excited to the coming bounty. Green vegetables are one of the first crops to peak as the warmer weather rolls around, and this light salad is a perfect way to celebrate. Crisp asparagus, snow peas and green beans bring a nice fresh flavour, and the Seranno ham & Louis D'Or cheese add a nice richness to the dish.

    You could serve this salad cold, or even room temperature, but I like it best served just a little warm. After a quick flash in a pan with some good olive oil, the green vegetable take on the perfect tender/crisp texture and the warmth from the greens is just enough to soften the ham and melt the cheese a little bit. A touch of warmth also wakens up all the flavours, especially in the ham & cheese. 

         For the dressing I use just olive oil and vinegar, so it's important that you use good quality ones. When buying olive oil, it's good to pick up two different kinds: one cheaper one to use for cooking and one smaller bottle of  high-end olive oil for garnishing dishes. In the restaurant we refer to our premium oils as "finishing oils" because we only use the expensive stuff to pour over finished dishes. I used a great olive oil from Crete that my brother gave me. You can use any kind you like. There are lots of great olive oils out there to discover.   

        The ham that I used is Serrano, which is a Spanish ham, very similar to prosciutto. I like it's rich flavour, but you could just as easily use Italian prosciutto here. For the cheese I chose Louis D'Or from Quebec. It's a strong, firm cheese, similar to Gruyere.         

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.


300g thinly sliced Serrano ham
300g Lois D'Or or Gruyere cheese
1 bunch asparagus
100g snow peas
100g green beans
1 cup cipollini oinons, peeled & quartered
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
100ml extra virgin olive oil
50 ml red wine vinegar
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper 

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. prepare a large bowl of ice water for chilling the vegetables. Blanch the vegetable for until just tender, about one minute. Transfer the blanched vegetables to the ice water to stop the cooking. All 3 vegetables should take about the same amount of time to cook, but it is best to do each one individually, allowing the water to come back to a boil each time.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onions until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the green vegetables and saute until just warmed through, about 2 minutes. Season with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. 

3. Divide the vegetables among 4 plates. Garnish with Serrano ham. Use a vegetable peeler to grate thin slices of cheese over the salad. Garnish with green onions.