Monday, May 28, 2012

Grilled lobster with fiddleheads

     This is a great little dish that really takes advantage of seasonal ingredients. I adore fiddleheads, so when they start appearing in markets I make sure to grab them while I can. Fiddleheads are the tips of young ferns and can only be harvested in the spring, so once they are gone, they're gone. The season for fiddleheads is incredibly short, so if you see them, grab them right away!  They have a wonderful green vegetable flavour similar to asparagus or rapini, but they also have a certain, hard to explain, tanginess that is completely unique.
   Be careful when working with fiddleheads, because the raw plant contains toxins that can be bad for you. Soak your fiddleheads in cold water for a least one hour before cooking. Also, you should blanch the fiddleheads twice, straining the water and starting with fresh water each time. If you can't find fiddleheads, rapini (broccoli rabe) is a good substitute for this recipe.
      We are also in the middle of lobster season right now, so I'll be posting another lobster recipe next week. Because the warm weather is now here, I decided to grill the lobster to go with my fiddleheads. Usually though, grilling is not my favorite way to cook lobster, because it is so easy to overcook it on the grill. It's a damn shame to take such an amazing ingredient and then ruin it by cooking it until it's dry and chewy. You can prevent that by following a few simple guidelines to avoid overcooking your lobster.
       First of all, you will have to buy live lobsters. Precooked lobsters will dry out the moment you put them on the grill. If you can, get bigger lobsters (2lbs+) because they will take longer to cook and are more forgiving. Big lobsters can be hard to find and/or expensive, so don't worry too much if yours are closer to 1 lbs. When it's time to cook your lobsters, bring a large pot of water to just under a boil and cook them for 3 minutes - just long enough to kill the lobsters. Transfer the par-boiled lobsters to ice water to stop the cooking. Then, while you crack the shells of the lobsters, pre-heat you barbeque as hot as you can get it, so that you can quickly get a nice char on your lobster without overcooking it.
    One final note on the choice of sausage for this dish. Pretty much any sausage will do. I like to use a garlic sausage because garlic and lobster is obviously a great match. Toulouse sausage would be a good choice. I found some game sausage (boar, duck & venison) that was garlicky and herbaceous and worked really well with the lobster.  

Prep time: 15 minutes Cooking time 15 minutes Serves 4

2 live lobsters
4 cups fiddleheads
4 garlic sausage
3 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Soak the fiddleheads in cold water for one hour and then rinse thoroughly. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and then blanch the fiddleheads. Strain the pot and blanch the fiddleheads a second time in a fresh pot of boiling water. Transfer the fiddleheads to and ice bath.

2. Bring a pot of water large enough to fit the lobsters to a gentle boil and then cook the lobsters for 3 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Remove the tails and then use a knife to split them down the center. Remove the claws and use the back of the knife to crack open the claw. Hit the claw at the top, followed by the bottom and then once more in the center to crack the shell evenly in two. Finally, cut a slit in each part of the "knuckles" attached to the claw.

3. Preheat the grill to high heat. Poach the sausages in boiling water for 5 minutes and then transfer to the grill. Cook until browned on all sides. Place the lobster on the grill with the tails meat side down. Cook 5 minutes for a 1 1/4 lbs lobster, 8-12 minutes for larger lobsters. Cut two lemons in half and brown on the grill.

4. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan and add the fiddleheads. Cut the grilled sausage and then toss in with the fiddleheads. Add the juice of one lemon. 

To serve: Divide the fiddleheads and sausage among 4 plates. Place one claw, half a tail and a piece of grilled lemon on each plate. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Yogurt and berry Parfait

    As Donkey once said in Shrek: "Who doesn't love parfait?" I certainly do. This recipe is officially the easiest one I've posted so far. The reason for that is that it's Mother's Day tomorrow and this one is something that the kids can whip up for Mom, without having to touch the stove. The only element that involves cooking is the strawberry coulis. You can find the recipe for that in my last post for French toast. You can use a good quality strawberry jam instead, but the coulis is easy to make and is guaranteed to taste better than any store-bought jam.

Start to finish: 5 minutes. Serves 4


300ml Vanilla yogurt
100ml Strawberry coulis
8 ladyfingers
1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered
1 cup blue berries
1 sprig of fresh mint

Cut 4 of the lady fingers into small cubes and then place them in the bottom of a glass (I used wine glasses.) Add a few strawberries and blueberries and then a layer of strawberry coulis. Alternate layers of yogurt and strawberry coulis until the glass is full. Garnish with more fresh berries, one whole ladyfinger and a few mint leaves.

Friday, May 11, 2012

French Toast

   French toast is a great brunch classic. It's so easy to make, but if it's done right it can be a real luxury. The key to good French toast shouldn't surprise you - it's all about using the right bread. Avoid using pre-sliced white bread, which truth be told, is good for for pretty much nothing. What you want to use for French toast is either brioche, or a good quality egg bread such a challah. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even make your own bread. I posted a recipe for braided Easter bread on the site that would be perfect for making French toast with. The other secret to great, restaurant-style French toast is to slice the bread really thick, about one inch. This way you can get a nice brown crust on the bread and still have a beautiful soft center.  
        The strawberry coulis in this recipe is super simple to make. It has just two ingredients: strawberries and sugar. You simply cook the strawberries for a few minutes and then purée. The coulis make a perfect accompaniment to all sorts of desserts. It's a great way to add a homemade touch to any store-bought cake or ice cream. 

Prep time: 8 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes, Serves 4 


4 thick slices of brioche
1 pint fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter

1 sprig fresh mint (optional)
icing sugar, for garnish

1. Quarter all the strawberries, then set half of them aside for garnishing the finished toast. Put the remaining strawberries in a pot with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water. Let simmer for 10 minutes and then purée. 

2. While the strawberries are make the egg-wash and toast the bread. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and cinnamon. Dip each piece of bread in the eggwash, make sure it is thoroughly coated on both sides, and then remove from the bowl, allowing the access eggwash to drip off. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a large non-stick frying pan and cook the bread until golden of each side, about 2 minutes per side. 

*Having your pan at the right heat will help you get a perfect crust. You want the pan just hot enough that the bread sizzles in the pan. If the pan gets to hot, the toast will burn before a nice golden crust has the chance to form.

To serve: Pour 3 tablespoons of strawberry coulis in the center of each plate. Lay one piece of toast on top of the coulis and then garnish with fresh strawberries, mint and icing sugar.    

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Clams Casino

    Clams Casino is an old American classic. I absolutely love that other American baked shellfish classic, Oysters Rockefeller, and this dish is just as tasty. 
             I got the idea to make this dish based on what I happened to have in my fridge that day. I had some clams leftover from when I made Pompano a la nage and some handmade salami that I picked up at a local Italian deli. Clams casino is usually made with bacon, but I knew that the homemade salami would go really well with clams. Like many old classics, there are a lot of different variations of the dish. A lot of recipes call for red peppers. I decided to use sun-dried tomatoes for a little extra tartness. A healthy amount of garlic and a good dose of butter make the clams really sing. 
         To open the clams, I give them a quick steam before stuffing them. Although, if you are feeling patient and are good with a clam knife, it is worth the extra effort to open them by hand. The clams will be extra tender if they are raw when you bake them. The things is, it takes a long time to open each clam by hand, whereas they'll all pop open with zero effort if you steam them. I opted to steam them, so I certainly won't hold it against you if you do to. 

Prep time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 15 minutes Serves 4 as appetizers 
1 lbs littleneck clams

80g salami, finely diced
80g sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced  
100g (1cup) breadcrumbs 
50g butter, melted
juice of 1 lemon

100ml white wine (for steaming)

1. To open the clams, put 100ml white wine in the bottom of a pot and bring to a slow boil. Put the clams in a strainer above the pot and cover. Steam the clams until they are all open, about 8 minutes. Check the pot occasionally to make sure the wine isn't boiling too rapidly or it could all evaporate. If the level gets too low, add a bit of water. 

2. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well.
3. Remove the top shell from all the clams and then use a knife to separate the clam from the bottom shell. Place a spoonful of stuffing in each clam and then pack it down. Lay the clams on a baking tray. Broil with clams on the middle rack until the bread crumbs have browned, about 3 - 5 minutes. 

*You can use a layer of course salt mixed with a bit of water to steady the clams when baking them, but unlike oysters, I find you don't really need to with clams.   The clams will need something to steady them when you serve them though. For this you can use coarse salt, but instead I like to use a bed of seaweed. I find it looks nice, and the aroma of the seaweed reminds me of the sea as I eat the clams. Inexpensive packets of dried seaweed can be found at most Asian markets.  Soak the dried seaweed in cold water for about 10 minutes, strain, and then pat them dry with a towel.