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.    

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homemade Buckwheat Pasta

      I consider myself very lucky because I love my job. I get paid to do what a lot of people do as a hobby. I love cooking. There is a real satisfaction to making something with your own hands. As one chef once said to me "Cooking is not an art, it's a craft." I think that's what I like about it so much. There is a certain amount of artistry that goes into the job, but also the challenge of making something that's purpose is to both please and nourish. I realize that I'm already sounding like a hippy here, but as cheesy as it sounds, I find that there is something particularly Zen about making pasta. For some reason I find rolling out sheets of pasta from a hand-cranked pasta machine very relaxing.

     Making homemade pasta is not that hard to do. A pasta machine will certainly help speed up the process, but if you are very patient, all you need is a table and a rolling pin. You just need to roll out the dough as thin as possible and then  use the sheets to make ravioli or cut it into strips for tagliatelle/linguine. If you don't already own one, a pasta machine is a worthy investment. You don't need a fancy expensive one. The one I have at home cost me about $40 and works great. Bonus: they are really fun to use. Using a pasta machine reminds me of the ever-awesome Play-Dough Factory(c).

             Using buckwheat flour gives the pasta a great earthy flavour, but if you want you can simply use 4 cups of regular white flour.


1 cup unbleached all purpose white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
6 eggs

1. On a large, clean work surface, mix the 3 types of flour into a pile and then make a deep well in the middle. Crack the six eggs into the well.

2. Use a fork to break up the yolks and whisk the eggs. Dust your hands with a little flour and then start gathering up the flour from the sides of the well and incorporate it into the eggs. Mix the eggs with flour until a stiff, but workable dough forms. If the dough it very dry and too hard to kneed you can add a little water to soften it.

3. Kneed the dough for 10 minutes. It is important to work the dough well so that it will have some bite to it when cooked. If the dough is not worked enough at this stage, the pasta will becomes too soft when cooked. Whole wheat flour and buckwheat flour have less gluten than regular white flour and will need an extra bit of kneeding.  Don't be shy. Pick up your dough and slam it into the table. Hit it with your fist a couple of times. Relieve some stress!

3. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or even overnight.

4. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and then flatten into rectangles. Secure the pasta machine tightly to your table and set it to the widest setting. Feed the dough through once, fold it in half and then pass it through once more on the widest setting. Continue passing the dough through progressively thinner settings, one at a time. Occasionally fold the dough over and pass it through the same setting twice as you did for the first pass.   When you reach the finally setting you should fold the dough and re-pass it at least once. The sheets will get very long at this stage, and it helps to have a friend nearby who can feed the pasta into the machine while you roll it out.

5. Spread the pasta sheet on a floured work surface and then repeat the process with the other pieces of dough. These sheets can be used to make lasagna or ravioli.

6. To make tagliatelle or linguini: Attach the cutting attachment to your pasta machine. Feed the sheets into the cutter and then use a knife to cut the noodles when they get about 6 inches long. Toss the noodles in flour and place them in a sealed container until ready to use.