Friday, December 28, 2012

Swedish meatballs

    If you're looking for a last minute hors d'oeuvre to serve at your New Year's Eve party, meatballs are a pretty safe and easy option. They're dead simple to make and everybody loves 'em. Italian meatballs with tomato sauce are a bit been-there-done-that, so why not go the Swedish route? A while back I spent a bit of time in Sweden and I fell in love with their meatballs. Over there it's not just some Ikea cliche. They're everywhere. I had some amazing meatballs from street side vendors as well as some delicious homemade versions.      

       Swedish meatballs are a little softer that their Italian cousins, thanks to a healthy amount of breadcrumbs. What also sets them apart is the accompaniment.  You'll often see them served with gravy, but my favorite sauce to have them with is the uniquely Swedish lingonberry sauce. Lingonberries are small, sour red berries.  Unfortunatly, they are pretty much impossible to find in North American stores, so for my version I went with plums. With a little honey and red wine vinegar, you get about the same effect. 

    The lingonberry sauce that you find in Sweden (and Ikea) is actually very similar to cranberry sauce, so if you have some left over from Christmas dinner, that would make a perfectly good dipping sauce for these meatballs. I recently posted a recipe for a tangerine cranberry sauce that I might have used here, but I already used it as my garnish for my duck rillette canapes

      The ginger & clove plum sauce is very easy to make. You simply simmer plums in red wine with honey and vinegar, add the ginger & cloves and them puree everything together in a blender. The sauce comes out a brilliant purple with a perfect sticky-sweet texture. It's something you might want to make again to go with chicken or pork chops.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes. Serves 8


1 lbs (454g) medium fat ground pork 
1 egg
1 cup breadcrumbs 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onions, finely diced 
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (dried basil, thyme & oregano) 
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce  

Plum sauce:

2 cups fresh plums, chopped
1 cup red wine 
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 pinch ground cloves

1. To make the plum sauce: In a small sauce pot, combine the chopped plums with the honey & vinegar. Add the ginger & ground cloves. Add the red wine and then just enough water to make sure that the plums are covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook until the plums are very soft - about 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature and then puree in a blender. 

2. In a chilled mixing bowl, combine the ground pork with the remaining ingredients and mix well. The easiest way to mix the ingredients is with your hands, but be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before & after handling raw pork. 

3. Roll the mixture into 20 balls that are about 25g, or 1 oz. Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the meatballs until they evenly browned. Transfer to a baking sheet and finish in the oven at 350F for 8 minutes. Check to ensure that they are fully cooked before serving. If they are still a bit pink in the middle, return the meatballs to the oven for another 8 minutes. 

4. Serve with warm plum sauce

Monday, December 24, 2012

Warm Brie Canapes with Balsamic Onion Jam

       Most people's go-to option for snacks when hosting a dinner party is to offer a cheese platter. Nothing wrong with that - I loves me some cheese & crackers. This little hors d'oeuvre is good choice if you want to offer something just a bit more interesting. Serving brie cheese warm and melting really awakens it's flavours and the tart balsamic onion jam takes it to the next level. The onion jam has a punchy flavour that goes well with any kind of strong cheese. 

                   The cheese I choose for this recipe is called La Sauvagine. It's not really a "Brie"cheese, but it's the same style and has a robust flavour I just love. It's from a local producer here in Montreal and is found in most grocery store here, but I'm not sure how easy it is to find in the rest of Canada, or in the U.S. Any soft ripened cheese will work fine in this recipe, but ideally you should go for something with a punchy flavour that will hold up to the balsamic onion jam. Avoid double or triple-cream bries, because usually their flavour is milder and they can get too runny when heated. 
     The onion jam can be made ahead of time and will keep for weeks in the fridge if properly stored. The canapés can be made several hours ahead of time and kept in the fridge until need. Wait until the last moment to warm them up, because the are tastiest straight out of the oven. 

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes.  Makes 20 canapés 


2 cups onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

200g Brie, Camembert or similar cheese 
20 crackers or toast points 

1. Put the onions in a frying pan, season with salt and then place on medium/high heat. Stir occasionally and when the onions have softened and just start to brown, add the butter and olive oil. Continue cooking on medium/high heat until the onions are evenly browned, stirring occasionally. 

2. Add the sugar and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce until most has evaporated and the syrup coats the onions. The jam can be made ahead of time and will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. 

3. Cut the cheese into 20 equal pieces and place each one on a cracker or toast point. Top with one small spoonful of onion jam. Place the crackers in a 300F oven until the cheese just starts to melt. About 3-5 minutes. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Duck Rillette Canapes

                 This canapé is delicious and just a little fancy - perfect for a New Year's Eve party. It's also a good way to use up any leftover cranberry sauce you might have from Christmas dinner. Duck and cranberries go so well together, and I put some tangerine in my cranberry sauce, which make it perfect dressing for duck rillette.

      Rillette is a classic French preperation, that is made from braised or confit meat, mixed with fat. The most common varieties are made with pork or duck. You can mix in any herbs and spices you want, but I like to keep his simple, adding only some dijon mustard. Rillette should be served at room temperature. Straight out of the fridge it will be hard, making it difficult to spread. Once it warms up a bit, the fat will start to soften and the favours and aromas will really start to come out. Perfectly tempered rillette will have a moist, melting texture.

          I'll be posting a couple more ideas for New Year's Eve party treats in the next couple of days that are easy to whip up, but I must warn you that this recipe is a bit tricky. It takes a bit of planning to put it together because the duck has to be cooked ahead of time and then allowed to chill overnight to give the fat time to set. Although it is a slow process, there is not that much actual work involved. The duck takes a long time to cook, but only minutes to prepare.

     One way to save yourself a bit of time is to buy pre-cooked confit duck legs. All you will have to do is warm the legs so that they are soft enough to work with, shred the meat and mix in the mustard and fat. The advantage to starting with raw legs is that they will give off far more fat than confit legs, making for a richer rillette. Also, raw duck legs are usually less expensive. Some grocery stores might only have the pre-cooked variety anyway, so don't worry too much if that's what you use. The guest at your New Years Eve party will still be impressed with how sophisticated your cranberry duck hors d'oeuvre are.    

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 2 1/2 hours + 12 hours to chill. Makes about 15 bites.


2 duck legs
1 small onion
1 head garlic
1 tablespoon juniper berries
salt & pepper

2 tbs dijion
toast or crackers for serving

Preheat the oven to 300F

1. Quarter the onion and cut the head of garlic in half across the middle and place in a large pot or dutch oven along with the duck legs and juniper berries. Add enough water to cover the legs half way. Cover with a lid or tin foil and place in the oven at 300F for 2 1/2 hours. When the meat separates easily from the bone, they are done. 

2. Allow to cool on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes and then transfer to the fridge. The legs can be chilled in the same pot that you cooked them in. If you transfer the legs to another container for practical reasons, make sure that you pour the broth & fat back over the legs so that the meat is covered as it chills to prevent drying. Chill overnight.

3. The next day, take the legs out of the fat. Put 3/4 cup of fat aside and allow it to come to room temperate. 

4. Take the meat off the duck legs and shred it. Stir in the reserved duck fat and 2 tablespoons dijon mustard. The mix should have the consistency of chicken salad. 

5. Spoon 1 tablespoon of duck mixture onto each cracker or toast and top with 1 teaspoon of tangerine cranberry sauce. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated to up to 2 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tangerine Cranberry Sauce

To me, it's not Christmas without cranberry sauce. It's as essential as turkey & stuffing and goes great on Christmas ham too. When I was young, we used to get that canned cranberry sauce that holds the shape of the can after you pour into the bowl. I loved it as a kid and it still kinda holds a special place in my heart. But one year my mother decided to make her own using fresh cranberries and orange juice. It was so tangy delicious that she never looked back and the old giggly canned variety became a thing of the past. So this recipe is dedicated to you Mum. 

 When it's time for you to lay out the Christmas spread, please don't mistreat that turkey and ham that you & your family have so lovingly slaved over with a can of goopy, gelatinous store-bought sludge. Making your own cranberry sauce with fresh (or even frozen) cranberries is ridiculously easy and well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to whip up. 

     I like posting recipes for things that people usually don't bother to make from scratch because the store bought versions are so common. I've posted recipes for homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce and even marshmallows. What these recipes have in common are that they are based around a few simple ingredients and can be put together pretty easily. If at Christmas dinner this year your mother, father or anyone else has already put themselves in charge of the turkey, this simple recipe can be your little contribution. If you're not super confident in your skills behind the stove, once you see how easy this one is you might even be brave enough to attempt making some homemade marshmallows for dessert.  

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes. Makes 1L cranberry sauce


4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries 
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup tangerine juice 
zest from 2 tangerines
1 pinch salt

1. Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pot and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until the cranberries are soft and the syrup is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon - about 10 minutes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Brussels sprouts with almonds and bacon

     Poor, misunderstood brussles sprouts. They are the cartoon characture of foods kids hate. There's also no shortage adults who refuse to eat them. I can understand why most kids hate brussels sprouts because they have a strong flavour with a bitter edge to them. To me that bitter, punchy edge is exactly what gives them their adult appeal. I also get why plenty of adults have an aversion to brussels sprouts aswell. If they are cooked wrong, they can be pretty offensive. Brussels sprouts that have been maliciously overcooked in pot of boiling water will become a mushy, stinky mess. Cooked just right, with a generous amount of butter - or even better bacon - those brussels sprouts will sing.

    Because brussels sprouts have such a naturally strong flavour, they can hold up to some heavy handed garnishing. That's why I like to load mine with lots of toasted almonds & bacon, along with some Tabasco and Montreal steak spice. I also like to brown the brussles sprouts in the bacon fat until they are almost burnt, to get a wicked roasted flavour. Try this recipe for family at Christmas and you are sure to have a couple of brussels sprouts coverts, kids and adults alike.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes Serves 6


5 cups Brussels sprouts, halved, stems & outer leaves removes
2 cups bacon, chopped
1 cup shaved almonds
1 tablespoon Montreal steak spice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water to cool the sprouts after cooking. Cook the sprouts in the boiling water for 4 minutes and then strain and transfer to the ice bath.

2. Place the chopped bacon in a cold frying pan and then place on medium-high heat. Once the bacon gives off a bunch of fat and starts to brown, add the brussels sprouts. Spread the sprouts evenly & stir occasionally until they start to brown. For best results, I suggest using two large frying pans side by side, to increase the amount of surface area where the sprouts touch the pan directly. This helps the browning process and will boost the rich nutty flavour of your sauteed brussel sprouts.

3. Once the brussel sprouts have browned, add the shaved almonds and continue sautéeing until they too have brown. The nuts will toast quickly so be careful not to let them burn.

4. Season the brussels sprouts with Montreal steak spice & a few drops of tabasco.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cod with lemon rice & seared fennel

        This dish is an example of how just a few ingredients, cooked from scratch can make a quick and satisfying meal. I love pairing fennel with fish, and the lemon flavoured rice makes for a perfect accompaniment. This dish is very similar to my recipe for baked cod in a wasabi crust with braised fennel, but much simpler. The lemon rice is very straightforward and the pan seared fennel takes about 5 minutes to make. The cod is cooked exactly the same way as the fennel and you can even use the same pan twice, to cut down on clean up. 

           For the lemon rice I use arborio, which is the kind of rice used to make risotto. It's a very starchy rice, and when cooked right it has a very creamy texture. Japanese sushi rice would also work really well for this recipe.  

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Serves 2 


2 filets of cod
1 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tbs lemon zest
3 tbs lemon juice
1 small white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel
3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
1/4 cup chives, chopped

1. Heat 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter in a pot and sweat the onions on medium heat until the are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, then add the rice. Add half the chicken stock, stir occasionally until it comes to a simmer, and then add the remaining chicken stock. Simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender - about 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice & chives. Season with salt & pepper. If the rice becomes to dry before it is fully cooked, add a little water to keep it from sticking to the pot.

2. While the rice is cooking, make the pan seared fennel. Slice the fennel 1/4 inch thick (about 1/2 cm.) Heat 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter in a large frying pan. Season the fennel slices with salt and pepper and then lay them down in the pan without any overlap. Fry the fennel on medium-high heat until they are browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the fennel and continue cooking until they are soft, about 2 more minutes.

3. Once the fennel is cooked, set it aside in a warm place and use the same frying pan to cook the fish. Once again heat 1 tbs olive oil with 1 tbs butter. Season the fish with salt & pepper and them fry on medium high heat until the fish is browned, about 5 minute. Flip the fish and continue cooking until the filets just start to break apart at the touch of a fork, about 2 to 6 minutes depending on thickness.

4. Serve over a mount of rice with a few slices of seared fennel. Garnish with extra chives.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sausage & Lentils

It's getting cold here in Montreal fast and I'm in full comfort-food-mode now. Last week I posted a recipe for braised lamb pasta because I was craving something rich & hearty. I'm keeping up the meat 'n starch theme of that last dish here. We added a bunch of hearty winter dishes on our new menu at Chez Ma Grosse Truie Cheri and this recipe is inspired by one of them. We are serving braised leg of lamb on a bed of Du Puy lentils with bacon. The lentils and bacon are so good that I decided to make some for myself at home. Because I just did braised lamb last week, I went with one of green lentil's other classic dancing partners: sausage. I already had my heart set on bacon, so why not throw in some veal sausage and salami too?

          When I buy green lentils, I always go for the Du Puy variety, sometime labeled as "French lentils."  They are smaller and darker than regular green lentils and I like them because I find their texture much better. You can cook them for longer without them getting mushy, and when they're still a bit of crunchy they are so delicious. Du Pu lentils a bit more expensive, but lentils are usually pretty cheap anyway, so it's worth the extra buck or two. Even though Du Puy lentils are a bit tougher, they are still easily overcooked, so you will have to keep a close eye on them if you want a perfectly-tender-but-not-too-soft texture. 

     As for which sausage to choose, there are lots of different kinds that would be good in this dish. Veal sausage is a pretty traditional accompaniment for lentils so that's what I went with here. Mergez or Italian sausage could work just as well. I like to use two different kinds, one fresh and one cured, to get a contrast of flavours and textures. For the fresh sausage I used Boudin Blanc or "white pudding."  It's a French pureed white meat sausage that is basically a veal hotdog. The kind I used was pre-cooked. If you buy raw sausage, boil it for 8 minutes and then let it cool before slicing and sautéeing it. For the cured sausage I used an Italian Chianti salami. If want to keep things French, you could always go for Rossette de Lyon or any other sausisson.          

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes Yields 4 appetizers or 2 main courses.  


1 1/2 cups Du Puy Lentils
3 1/2 cups + 1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 cup carrots, peeled & diced
1 cup onion, peeled & diced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups mushroom, quartered
100g bacon, chopped
150g veal sausage, halved lengthwise & sliced
150g salami, halved lengthwise & sliced
1/2 teaspoon worchestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoon white wine (optional)

1. Rinse the lentils and then place them in a pot with the carrots and 3 1/2 cups beef broth. Season with a couple pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer until most of the broth has been absorbed by the lentils, about 8 minutes.

2. While the lentils are cooking, place the bacon in a cold frying pan or wide-bottomed pot and place on medium-high heat. When the bacon starts to sizzle, add the onions. 
3. Once the onions start to brown, add the mushrooms, followed by the sausage & salami. Sautee everything together until all the ingredients are nicely browned and then add the garlic. Sautee for one minute more and then deglaze with 2 tbs white wine or water. Season with salt & pepper. 

4. Add the lentils and 1/2 cup beef broth. Simmer for 3 minutes and then serve. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Braised lamb with buckwheat pasta

                 This dish is about as "comfort food" as it gets. It's like meat & potatoes without the potatoes. It's really simple, but if you make every thing from scratch it's pure love on a plate. With a dish as simple this, fresh pasta noodles make all the difference. I posted the recipe for how to make the buckwheat pasta last month - you can find the recipe here

         This recipe is based on a dish that fellow Top Chef Canada alumni Dusty Gallagher made for me when I visited his restaurant in Toronto. I liked it so much that I've since made it at home a couple times (to rave reviews) so I decided to share the recipe here. Each time, I've braised the lamb specifically with this dish in mind, but this is also something you could make if you just happen to have some leftovers in the fridge that need to get used up. You might want to try my recipe for braised lamb shank first, just so that you can make this pasta with the leftovers. Leftover beef bourguinon makes a killer pasta too.      

                 Because you will be shredding the meat after it's cooked, you can use any cut of lamb that braises well. I bought leg of lamb because that's what happened to be on special at my local supermarket. If you see packages of cubed lamb, those should work perfectly well because chances are they were cut from the shoulder or rump, which are both great cuts for braising. Look for meat that has a good amount of fat and connective tissue left on it because that will melt down and keep the meat tender and juicy.  

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 3 hours Serves 4


250g fresh buckwheat pasta

600g fresh lamb (shoulder, leg or rump)
2 carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled & roughly chopped
1 head garlic
1/2 bunch fresh sage
2 cups red wine
1 tbs corn starch
4 tbs vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the to 350F

1. Heat 2 tbs vegetable oil on medium heat in a large pot or cast iron dutch oven and sautée the carrots & onions until they are nicely browned. Cut the head of garlic in half and then press the exposed cloves down against the bottom of the pot to brown them a little. Deglaze with 2 tbs red wine. Use a wooded spoon to scrap up any brown bit stuck to the bottom of the pan.

2. While the vegetables are browning, brown the lamb in a separate pan. Generously season the lamb with salt & pepper. Heat 2 tbs of oil in a frying pan on high heat and sear the lamb on all sides until it is nicely browned. Deglaze with 2 tbs red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the meat to the pot with the vegetables. 

3. Add 1/2 of the fresh sage to the pot and the remaining red wine, then add water until all the ingredients are covered. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook at 350F until the lamb is tender and easily breaks apart with a fork, about 3 hours. 

4. When the lamb is ready, stain the cooking liquid into a large frying pan or shallow wide-bottomed pot. Discard the vegetables - their job is done, all their flavour has been infused into the meat and sauce. Place the meat in the frying pan and use a fork or wooden spoon to break up the meat into chunks. Mix 1 tbs corn starch with 2 tbs cold water and then pour the mix into the sauce. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce until the sauce is just thick enough to start coating the meat, about 5 minutes. 

5.   Bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al-dente - 6 minutes for fresh pasta. Strain the noodles and then toss them in the pan with the meat & sauce. Simmer the noodles with the sauce for 1 minute and then serve. Garnish each plate with some freshly chopped sage. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Gratin

         This side dish is a twist on the classic potato gratin, aka scalloped potatoes. I've given the dish little touch of fall by including some butternut squash and sweet potatoes. When it comes to which cheese to use, Gruyere or Parmesan are both good choices, but I decided to go a little off the beaten path and went with Pecorino. Pecorino is similar to Parmesan (it's a firm, aged cheese) but it's made with sheep's milk. It's a little more tangy than Parmesan and goes really well with the squash. If you want an even more flavorful gratin, you can try adding a little sage and/or nutmeg.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time 45 minutes. Serves 6


1 butternut squash
1 large sweet potato
2 large Yukon gold Potatos
300ml milk
300ml 35% cream
2 tbs butter
100g pecorino cheese, grated
1 tbs sage, finely chopped (optional)
2 pinches ground nutmeg (optional)
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375F

1. Peel all the vegetables and then use a spoon to scrape the seeds from the butternut squash. Thinly slice all the vegetables.

2. Use 1 tbs of butter to grease a baking tray deep enough to hold all the vegetables. Place the vegetables down in layers in the baking tray, seasoning with salt & pepper as you go.

3. Combine the milk and cream in a sauce pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in half the cheese and 1 tbs butter. Season with salt & pepper. Add the nutmeg and/or sage (optional.)

4. Pour the cream & milk mixture over the vegetables and then press down with a spatula. Add a bit more cream and milk if necessary to ensure that the vegetable are covered.

5. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 375F. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and add the remaining 50g of cheese. Return to the oven and bake uncovered until the vegetables are soft and a knife will pass through the gratin with little or no resistance. For an extra crisp crust, place the gratin under the broiler until the cheese is thoroughly browned.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Soup

              Recently I proclaimed beets my favorite vegetable, but I actually had to think about that for a minute, because at the back of my mind I could hear a little voice crying out: "What about Squaaassshhh?!?" Yes, I do love squash in all of it's marvelous varieties. Right now the markets, vegetable shops and grocery stores are overflowing with all kinds of varieties of squash in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Last week I did a recipe for Cinnamon Chicken with Buttercup Squash. Buttercup squash has a beautiful red-orange colour and a nice buttery texture. Its cousin, the spaghetti squash, has a unique texture all it's own. When perfectly roasted, the flesh of the spaghetti squash with break apart into long strands which make for perfect "noodles" in this tasty soup.

       To compliment and boost the roasted flavour of the squash, I chose to add some roasted red pepper. To roast the peppers, brush them with oil and them roast them in the oven 400F or higher, until the skins are black. Place the roasted peppers in a bowl and then tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap to that the steam they give off will loosen the skin. The charred skin should be easy to then peel off with a knife. Run the peppers under cool water to wash away the remaining bits of skin. To save yourself some time, you could always just buy a jar of roasted red peppers.

      The sausage that I use for this recipe is the French rosette de Lyon. I find this sausage works well because it has a nice deep flavour that will add richness to the broth. Because it's a cured sausage, it will still have a nice chewy texture, even after the soup has been chilled and reheated. Using a cured sausage is also a good choice because you don't need bother with pre-cooking it - just dice it up and chuck it in. You can use any sausage you like. A couple options that come to mind would be an Italian salami with fennel or a Spanish chorizo. The smokiness of chorizo would go really well with the flavour of the roasted red peppers.   


1 spaghetti squash
150g rosette de Lyon, diced
150g roasted red pepper, diced
1 cup onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tbs dried thyme)
2 tbs vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 400F

  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash skin side up on a greased baking tray and roast in the oven at 400F. Turn the squash after 30 minutes and continue cooking, skin side down, until the flesh of the squash easily breaks apart with a fork - about 15 to 30 minutes more.

  2. While the squash is roasting, start making the broth. Heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a medium sized pot and then add the onions. Sautée until the onions are translucent and then add the sliced garlic. Sautée for 1 minute more and then add the chicken stock and fresh thyme.

  3. Use a fork to "spaghettify" the squash. The flesh of the squash should break apart into long strands as you gently pull it out of the skin. Reserve 2 cups of  squash for the soup and set aside the rest for another use. Leftover spaghetti squash will make a nice side dish to any meal when gently warmed with a generous amount of butter.

  4. Add the squash, roasted red pepper & rosette de Lyon to the broth and let simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to marry.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Braised Cinnamon Chicken with Buttercup Squash


      While I'm not so thrilled to see summer fade away and I'm certainly not a fan of cold weather, I do love cold weather food. Comfort food. It's the kind of food I love to cook and the kind of food I love to eat. This dish is just the kind of thing I start to think of when the cold winds start blowing. It features what I call "the Fall Spices" - cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg - cinnamon being the star of the show here. Those rich spices are perfect match for the buttercup squash and it give a nice depth of flavour to the chicken.

     This is a good go-to dish when you want something that's delicious and comforting, but simple to make. It's a perfect example of what professional cooks like to refer to as a "One-Pot-Wonder." Everything is thrown into same pot, simmered together, and it's done. It's not the prettiest dish around, but it's damn tasty. Just roughly chop up your ingredients and throw them in the pot. Cutting all the vegetable big and chunky will give the final dish a nice hearty texture. I even chop the garlic into big chucks, because it will mellow out and give all its flavour to the broth as the stew cooks.

      I used buttercup squash, but any variety will do the trick. If you can't find yellow beets, I would not recommend using red beets. Besides the fact that they will turn everything purple, their flavour is too strong for this dish, and wouldn't go well with the cinnamon. If you can't get your hands on yellow beets, just double the amount of squash.  

         To make this dish I used one whole chicken, which is enough for 2 big portions, or 4 smaller ones. Buying whole chickens is the most economical choice, and I personally find it fun to butcher it myself. For braised chicken, legs and thighs are better than breasts (which tend to dry out when stewed) so feel free to just use a package of pre-cut dark meat. About 6 drumsticks or 6 thighs can take the place of the whole chicken in this recipe.                    

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 40 minutes


1 whole chicken
1 cup onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups buttercup squash, peeled & cubed
1 cup yellow beets, peeled & cubed
1 cup potato, peeled & cubed
3 sticks cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
2 cloves
2 tbs vegetable oil,
salt & pepper

1. Start by breaking down the chicken into drumsticks, thighs, wings & breasts. Discard the skin from the breast & thighs because they will make the broth too fatty, but keep the carcass because it will add flavour to the broth. Generously season all the cuts of chicken with salt & pepper. If you don't know how to break down a whole chicken, Gordon Ramsay has a good how-to video on You Tube.

2. In a large pot with a wide bottom, heat 2 tbs of oil and then add the onions. Sautée until the onions are translucent and then add the chicken. Let the chicken brown on one side, about 4 minutes, and then turn the pieces to brown the other side. If your pot is not wide enough to fit the whole chicken in one even layer, use a frying pan to brown what doesn't fit and then add it to the pot. Add the garlic and sautee for 1 minute more.

3. Deglaze the pot with 1/2 cup chicken stock and then use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Add the remaining chicken stock, followed by the vegetables and spices.

4. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pickled Beet Salad

  Beets are probably my favorite vegetable. They have a delicious earthy flavour and are really versatile. They are easy to grow at home and local varieties are plentiful at any grocery store or vegetable market. It's fun to make your own pickled beets and pickling is a great way to preserve any surplus from a home vegetable garden.

      This salad is a slight twist on a classic recipe. A lot of Montreal restaurants have a beet & goat cheese salad on their menu. I've certainly made my fair share. What makes this one different is that instead of roasting the beets, as most restaurants do, I pickle them. Also, instead of just roasting the walnuts, I candy them because I find the little bit of extra sweetness goes well with the tangy pickled beets. I then add some peppery arugula for a welcome bitter edge. This salad packs a flavour punch, and so a small serving portion is all you need.

    Often chefs choose fresh goat cheese to make this salad, but to balance out the strength of the pickled beets, I like to use a semi-ripened goat cheese (specifically Paillot de Chevre from Fromagerie Alexis  de Portneuf.) This cheese has a really nice texture when melted, so I hit it with a blowtorch before serving. I realize that a blowtorch is not exactly a common tool in ever home kitchen, but they do come in handy. If you ever want to make creme-brulée at home you will definitely want to buy one. You can also use a torch to melt brie cheese over a steak, or you can even torch the steak directly to get an extra crispy sear.

    Propane torches can be picked up inexpensively at any hardware store, or you can splurge on a butane creme-brulée torch at a kitchen supply store. A butane torch is a good choice because they are smaller and easy to use. If you don't have a torch at home, you can melt the cheese under a broiler on a piece of parchment paper and then use a spatula to transfer the cheese to the salad. Just make sure you don't melt the cheese too much or you will have a hard time lifting if off the paper!

     To pickle the beets you will need some pickling spice. You can find pre-mixed pickling spice at most grocery stores. Sometime I like to make my own mix, but the advantage of the store-bought mixes is that they will have all sorts of spices in them that you might not already have in your pantry, such as dill seed and fennel seed. The important spices that you will want to use are mustard seed, coriander seed, black pepper, bay leaf and clove. Generally you will want your mix to have lots of mustard and coriander, but few cloves, because they are so strong. In this recipe, I don't add any salt until after the beets are cooked so that I can take a bit of the unsalted cooking liquid and reduce it down to a syrup to garnish the salad.

       This recipe takes a good amount of time to cook and then let all the ingredients cool down before serving. The good thing is that all the cooking can be done well ahead of time. If you are planing on making this salad for guests, I recommend you make the pickled beets and candied walnuts a day ahead. You can even double or triple the recipe if you want because both the beets and the candied nuts have a long self-life. Once those are made, the salad takes just minutes to throw together. You could always just go and buy pickled beets and candied walnuts and skip the majority of the steps of this recipe (go straight to step 4). Sure, you wont get the satisfaction of making everything from scratch, but at least you'll have a damn tasty salad.

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 45 minutes + 30 minutes to cool.  Serves 6


Pickled beets:
5 cups fresh red beets, peeled and sliced.
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbs pickling spice
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Candied walnuts:
100g walnuts
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water

beet syrup:
2 cups cooking liquid
1/2 cup sugar

3 cups arugula
200g semi-ripened goat cheese (Paillot de chevre)

Pre-heat the oven to 350F

1. Place the pickling spice and crushed garlic in a cheese cloth or coffee filter and tie it closed with string. Place the beets & onions in a large pot and cover with 3 cups water and 1 cup red wine vinegar. Add the sugar and sealed spices. Add a bit more water if necessary to ensure that the beets are covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook until the beets are tender but still have a slight crunch, about 45 minutes. Pour off 2 cups of the cooking liquid to make beet syrup. Season beets with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let beets cool to room temperate.

2. To make the beet syrup, add 1/2 cup sugar to the reserved cooking liquid and simmer on medium heat. Reduce the syrup until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

3. Place the walnuts on a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Roast in the oven at 350F for 7 minutes. Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer while gentle shaking the pot, without stirring, until it reaches 130C (265F) on a candy thermometer.  Place the nuts in a metal mixing bowl and pour over the caramel, stirring constantly. Spread the candied nuts on a baking tray and leave to cool.

4. Once the beets, syrup & nuts have cooled to room temperature, you are ready to assemble the salad. Strain the beets and toss in a mixing bowl with the arugula.  Drizzle some beet syrup around the plate. Place a small mound of salad on each plate (a ring-mold will help keep things neat & tidy.) Place a few slices of goat cheese on each salad and then melt it with a blowtorch. Garnish with candied walnuts.