Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lamb Stew





        Nothing beats a warm, stick-to-your-ribs stew on a cold winter's day. This kind of comfort food happens to be my favorite style of cooking. What separates a great stew from a merely good one is not fancy ingredients or fussy plate presentations, but good old-fashion tender loving care. A hearty stew is a dish where you can really taste the love that went into making it. It's all about taking your time and and enjoying the process as much as the finished product. 

       Lamb is a bit of a luxury ingredient, but what's nice about this dish is that you don't need to buy a luxury cut like rack or filet. As in my recipe for veal blanquette, the best cut for this recipe happens to be one of the cheapest: shoulder. You can either buy a large boneless piece and cube it yourself, or you can buy a package of pre-cut "stewing cubes" that will most likely be shoulder anyway. Either way, you want meat that still has a decent amount of fat left on, because that fat will melt away into the stew, making it rich & flavorful.   


Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 90 minutes. Serves 5

2 lbs (907g) boneless lamb shoulder, cubed  
1/2 lbs (225g) nantais carrots  
4 branches celery
1lbs (454g) small potatoes 
1 large onion, peeled & diced
1 head garlic, halved 
1 medium size celeryroot (celeriac), peeled & cubed 
2 cups (500ml) red wine
4 cups (1L) beef or veal stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 branches fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh chives
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Season the lamb generously with salt & pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot and sautee the lamb and onions until they are nicely browned. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. If you need more space, use a frying pan to saute half the onions & lamb and then transfer it over to the pot when nicely browned. When the meat has fully browned, add a small amount of red wine to the pot to deglaze. Use a wooden spoon to scrap any brown bits off the bottom of the pot because these will add flavour to the stock. 

2. Add the remaining red wine, along with 2 carrots, 2 celery stocks, garlic and rosemary branches, all left whole so that they can be easily removed later. Add the beef or veal stock along with enough water to make sure that the lamb is thoroughly covered. Simmer until the lamb is very tender, but not yet falling apart, about 60 to 90 minutes. 

3. Remove the vegetables from the stock. They have already given their flavour to the stock and are ready to be replaced with fresh veggies that will serve as the accompaniment. Add the potatoes and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Top with water occasionally to make sure everything stays covered.  

4. Chop the remaining carrots & celery and add to the pot along with the chopped celeryroot. Simmer until the vegetables have just softened, about 10 minutes. Continue to add water as necessary to make sure everything stays covered. 

5. In a small cup, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water, then pour into the stew. Simmer the stew until the broth is just thick enough to coat a spoon. Season with salt, pepper & fresh chives. 






Monday, November 25, 2013

Veal Blanquette


    Veal Blanquette is yet another one of those old school French Classics that I just love. It`s warm and comforting, yet still classy and refined. Digging into a rich and creamy blanquette is the culinary equivalent of curling up on the sofa, crawling under a blanket with a nice Bordeaux and watching a classic movie that never gets old.

        Like any good stew or braise, the key to success is having a perfect sauce that coats soft, succulent meat. The 3 primary ingredients in the sauce for blanquette are cream, white stock and beurre manié. When I make blaquette at the restaurant, I make my white stock using veal bones, but when I make it at home I often substitute store bought chicken stock. Obviously making fresh white veal stock is best, but when you`re only making a few portions, it`s not really worth the extra effort. The reason I use store bought chicken stock instead of veal is because most commercial beef or veal stocks are brown (roasted) and wouldn`t work in this recipe.

      The other key ingredient, buerre manié, is a mixture of butter and flour, much like a roux. The buerre manié`s job is to thicken the sauce. Now, thickening sauces with flour is sometime looked down upon in professional kitchens as being out-dated. The new trend in professional kitchens for white sauces is to take `cooking` cream, which has already been thickened with additives anyway, and then thickening it further by reducing it. I personally hate this technique, because reducing cream just elevates its fat content and then the final sauce becomes much too heavy. Another objection to beurre manié might be that the flour contains gluten - the culinary boogie man du jour. While I`m all for cutting down on GMO wheat in your diet, which is in no doubt bad for you, the amount of gluten in the 2 tablespoons of flour on this recipe shouldn`t do too much damage. This is a special occasion, sunday dinner dish anyway, so just live a little, ok

   Once you have your sauce perfectly balanced - creamy & just thick enough to coat the meat, you are sure to wow anyone with this classic beauty. You can serve your blanquette with pretty much any accompaniment you like, the usual suspects being rice, potatoes or noodles. As for veggies, mushrooms & pearl onions are indespensible in a blanquette. Carrots are pretty traditional, but I like using rapini, because it`s bitter edge cuts nicely through the rich sauce. Brussels sprouts and patty pan squash are good choices too. The recipe can be made 1 day ahead, generally tastes even better the next day. 

      Whilst making this recipe, I suggest putting on some old episodes of anything by Jaques Pépin or Julia Child to play in the background. Bon Appitie!  


Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 2 hours. Serves 5

Ingredients:

2lbs (900g) veal shoulder, cubed
2 cups button mushrooms
2 cups pearl onions
4 cups (1L) white stock (chicken or veal)
1 cup white wine
1 cup carrots, peeled & cut in large pieces 
1 cup celery, cut in large pieces 
2 bay leaves 
1/2 bunch fresh thyme 
2 cups 35% cream
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt & pepper to taste

Serve with rice, potatoes, or noodles, & steamed vegetables. 

1. In a large pot, bring a large amount of water to a boil and then turn off the heat. Add the veal and let soak in the hot water for 2 minutes to purge the meat of any impurities. Strain and discard the water. Season the veal lightly with salt and then return it to the pot with the white wine, 3 cups white stock, bay leaves, fresh thyme, carrots & celery. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 


2. While the veal is simmering, prepare the mushrooms & onions. To peel the pearl onions, bring a pot of water to a boil and have a bowl of ice water ready. Put the onions in the boiling water and then after 30 seconds strain the onions and transfer them to the ice water. The skins should pop right off once they have been blanched. If he mushrooms are very small (1/2 or less), they can be left whole, otherwise cut them in quarters. 

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan and then add the mushrooms and onions. Once then are soft, but not yet browned, add 1 cup white stock. Simmer until most of the stock has evaporated. Set aside until you are ready to add the mushrooms and onions to the finished sauce.  

4. When the veal is cooked tender, stain and discard the carrot, celery, thyme and bay leaves. Set the meat aside while you make the sauce.  

5. To prepare the buerre manié, heat the butter until it is soft, but not liquid (about 20 seconds on medium in the microwave) and mix in the 2 tablespoons of flour to form a paste. Add the buerre manié to the sauce a little at a time while whisking constantly. Let the sauce simmer until it is just thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Season with salt & pepper. 

6. Combine the finished sauce with the veal, mushrooms & onions. Serve with potatos, rice or noddles and steamed vegetables. 




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

coconut curry squash soup



    While I'm not in the habit of posting recipes based around puns, this one simply could not be avoided. I'm certainly not the first person to come up with the idea of putting curry & coconut in squash soup. And I swear I didn't choose to use red kuri squash just because of its punny name. Still, I'll admit I tend to giggle every time I say "curry kuri squash soup."

    Most people use butternut squash when they make a soup like this, which is fine because butternut squash is awesome. But there are so many more amazing kinds of squash out there and I consider it my humble job to introduce you to a one of the more lesser know varieties.
 
    I first met the red kuri squash when a farmer who supplies the restaurant where I work brought some in for us. I immediately feel in love. Its flavour is very similar to the butternut squash, but it's just a little less sweet and a little more earthy. What's also great about it is that it's a bit starchier than most other squash. That makes it great for roasting, because you can cook the heck out of it without it getting mushy. It's starchy character also makes it great for soup. When making soup with butternut squash I would often sneak in a bit of potato for extra body, but that's not necessary with the red kuri squash.

   Like most of my recipes I keep things really simple here. The only ingredients I use are squash, onions, garlic and of course coconut & curry. Most people automatically feel the need to put carrots and celery in any soup they make, but there is just no need. Adding celery simply risks leaving behind fibers that would need to be strained out and adding carrots wont bring anything either. Just let that squash flavour shine!

     The coconut milk melds really well with the squash flavour and brings a richness to the soup. Usually I finish any soup I make with a generous amount of butter, but because of the coconut milk, there is just no need. That means that the soup just happens to be vegan and I guess that's a good thing.

    Be sure to be gentle with the curry, because it can easily over-power the soup. I used regular curry powder, but if you want to be fancy fancy you could use red curry paste. Then you would have red curry red kuri squash soup!


Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 45 minutes. Makes 2L (about 6 portions.)

Ingredients

6 cups (1.5L) red kuri squash, peeled & chopped
1 cup onion (250ml), peeled & chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cups (1.25L) water
2/3 cup (160ml) coconut milk
2 tablespoons curry powder or red curry paste

1. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large pot and then add 1 cup chopped onions. Stir on medium heat until the onions just start to turn translucent. Turn off heat and add the garlic. The remaining heat from the warm onions will be enough to soften the garlic's flavour before you add the remaining ingredients.

2. To peel the squash, start by cutting it into quarters then use a spoon to remove the seeds & pulp. Use a sharp knife to remove the skin. You can cut each quarter into smaller, more manageable pieces to make the peeling process easier. Cut the squash into roughly 1 inch cubes, add to the pot and then cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Gently simmer until squash is very tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Purée the soup in a blender, adding the coconut milk as you blend. Reserve a small amount of the coconut milk to later garnish the soup. Season with salt & curry powder or paste.






Monday, October 21, 2013

Brussles sprout 'slaw

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       I was walking down the isles of the grocery store the other day and I saw the most amazing bunches of fresh brussels sprouts still in the stem. Around this time last year, I posted a recipe for sauteed brussles sprouts, so this year I decided to do something different. The bunch that I took home was so fresh and crisp I decided to try using them raw. Turned out to be a good idea: the resulting slaw was pretty freakin' amazing. 

       I love making coleslaw, and I've tried all sorts of variations (one of my favorites is apple & fennel.) What I love about this recipe is that after being tossed in mayo, the salad strays really crunchy, even the next day. You can use store bought mayo as the base for this recipe and just add a little lemon juice & mustard, but it's really not hard to make the mayo from scratch as I do here. 




Prep time 15 minutes. Serves 5

Ingredients:

1 lbs (454g) fresh brussles sprouts
1/2 cup carrots, grated or finely chopped
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup (175 ml) vegetable oil
salt & pepper

  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the mustard & lemon juice. Add the vegetable oil in a slow steady stream, while whisking constantly. 

Pro tip: To steady your mixing bowl, soak a kitchen towel in water and then set in down on your work surface in the form of a wreath. Set the mixing bowl down in the center of the wet-towel-wreath to steady the bowl as you whisk,   

  To prepare the brussles sprouts, cut each in half lengthwise, leaving a bit of the stem still attached. Thinly slice the brussles sprouts starting from the top and working your way toward the stem, then discard the stem. Stir the brussles sprouts into the mayo and add the shredded carrots & onion. Season with salt & pepper.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Apple cinnamon cranberry sauce



    It's almost Thanksgiving here in Canada, and the fresh Quebec cranberries are here just in time to celebrate. Making fresh cranberry sauce is so easy - basically just add water & sugar and boil. Any other ingredients are just embellishments. 

   Last year, I posted a recipe for tangerine cranberry sauce. This year I'm again keeping things really simple. Instead of tangerine, I'm using Quebec apples. Since cinnamon is so good with regular applesauce, I'm throwing some into this recipe. 


Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes. Make 4 cups (1L)

Ingredients

4 cups (350g) fresh cranberries
2 cups courtland apples, peeled & cubed
1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups water


1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized sauce pot.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

3. Let simmer until cranberries are very soft and most of the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grilled pork chop with savory plum sauce


     Pork & plums is an undeniably good combo. Even cheap Chinese take-out pork with plum sauce can be pretty delicious. Thick-cut grilled pork chops with homemade plum sauce is simply amazing. 

  You can easily give your homemade plum sauce some Asian flair with soy sauce and ginger, but when I'm using fresh plums, I like to keep things minimalist so that they plums can shine on their own. I still like to play the flavours of  Chinese take-out, so I add some red wine vinegar and honey to make it a sort of sweet and sour sauce.  Sometimes I'll puree the sauce to get that sticky-sweet texture of Chinese plum sauce, but often just leave it chunky. 

       To get that really sticky constancy that some of the commercial varieties of plum sauce have, you can even add a little cornstarch. Take about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and dissolve it in 3 tablespoons of cold water. Puree the plum sauce in a blender and add the cornstarch as it's blending. Bring the sauce back to a boil and let the sauce simmer while the cornstarch does its thing. Some professional chefs are vehemently opposed to cornstarch - as if it was a tool of the devil - but sometimes you just want that goopy, meat coating texture. And if you use fresh plums your sauce will be way better than any commercial brand anyway. So there.     

     My one embelishment in this recipe is to add some fresh savory. It's not really typical for plum sauce, but I just happened to have an excess in my garden and I knew it would go well with pork. Savory is close in flavour to both rosemary and oregano, so either herb would make a good substitute. You could also substitute the grilled pork chop with a pan seared tenderloin. For a side, I would recommend either mashed or fondant potatoes. 

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Serves 4. 



Ingredients:

12 fresh plums
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 bunch fresh savory

4 thick cut pork chops

1. Halve the plums, remove the stones, then roughly chop the plums and place them in a small sauce pot. Add the honey, vinegar & savory, along with 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let simmer until the plums are very soft and most of the water if gone, about 15 minutes.  

  

2. Heat the grill to high, and grill the pork chops on both sides until the meat reaches an internal temperate of 63C (145F)

3. Serve warm plum sauce over grilled pork chops with either  mashed or fondant potatoes.  Check the description above for instructions on making a smooth pureed plum sauce.

Monday, August 26, 2013

bacon wrapped scallops



                It's time to take advantage of the beautiful local sweet corn. Fresh corn on the cob, drenched in butter is a beautiful thing, but sweet corn can also be used in a more "fancy" setting. I use those same two ingredients, corn & butter, to make a luxurious purée that goes great with all kinds of meats and seafoods. Scallops in particular work really well with slightly sweet garnishes, so that's what I use here. 

      Bacon wrapped scallops are kinda old-school, borderline tacky, but they are a cliché for a reason - they are so good. They're great on their own, served as an hors d'oeuvre, but they also work great as an appetizer at a sit-down dinner party. Add some potatoes and sauteed veggies, and this dish easily could work as a main course. The oven dried tomatoes bring a nice tartness to the dish that compliments the sweet popcorn flavour of the purée.


Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time 30 minutes + 3hrs to dry the tomatoes Serves 4 




Ingredients:

12 large scallops
12 strips of bacon
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoon olive oil
6 cobs fresh sweet corn
55g (2oz) cold butter, cubed
salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 220F

1. Slice all the cherry tomatoes in half and lay them skin-side down on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven at 220F to let dry. Check about once an hour. Once they are dry to the touch they are done. Will take between 2 - 3 hours depending on your oven.

2. Cut all the kennels off the corn and place them in a sauce-pot, cover with water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer until the kernels are very soft - about 30 minutes. Strain & reserve the cooking liquid. Puree the corn in a blender with 1 cup of the cooking water. While the corn is pureeing, add the butter one small cube at a time. Put the puree back on the stove and gently simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. It should have a texture simmer to applesauce. 

3. Season the scallops with salt & pepper and them wrap then with bacon, using toothpicks to hold the bacon in place. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan and sear the scallops on all sides, starting with the bacon side at the seam. To check when they are done, use a thin knife to cut into the center of one scallop and touch the tip of the knife to your lip. If the knife is warm to the touch, they are done. Remove the toothpicks. 

Tip: To get a proper sear on the scallops, they need to be spaced apart so that none are touching. They scallops can be fried in batches and kept warm in the oven at 220F with the cherry tomatoes

To serve: Place about 1/2 cup of corn purée on each plate, top with scallops and garnish with oven dried cherry tomatoes.  


Friday, August 9, 2013

Grilled Tofu Salad


      I love grilling all sorts of things over an open flame. This recipe, like my like post, is meant to show that there are plenty of foods besides meat that can undergo great transformations on the grill. Poor, misunderstood tofu is just the kind of ingredients that really benefits from a kiss from an open flame. 

             While this salad is somewhat similar to the typical balsamic chicken salad that is on a lot of restaurant menus, I usually don`t like to treat tofu as if it`s simply a meat replacement. Often if you just substitute tofu into a recipe that calls for beef or chicken, you can be left with some pretty bland results. The secret is to treat tofu for what it is: a blank canvass, waiting to be filled in. That`s why I include a healthy amount of sesame oil and mirin in the marinade to round out the flavour. The balsamic sesame marinade also doubles as the salad dressing that you can try out on other salads. 

       




prep time: 15 minutes + 1 hour resting time. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 5. 

Ingredients:

500g medium soft tofu
500g spinach
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
1 english cucumber, sliced
150g sunflower seeds 

Marinade / Dressing

80 ml balsamic vinegar
60 ml mirin
60 ml sesame oil
150 ml olive oil
salt & pepper to taste


1. Whisk together all the ingredients in the marinade except for the olive oil, then slowly incorporate the oil in a slow steady stream, while whisking constantly. Set aside half the dressing for the salad and use the rest to marinate the tofu for at least one hour, or overnight.

2.  Get the grill the very hot and the grill the tofu until nicely browned on each side, about 4 minutes per side. Slice the tofu into small wedges.

3. Toss the spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes & sunflower seeds in the dressing and dived into 5 bowls. Top each salad with slices of grilled tofu. Garnish with extra sunflower seeds.



Monday, August 5, 2013

Grilled Fruit Salad


         August is here, and with barbecue season now in full swing, it's time to break out the fruit salad. Instead of that regular mid-summer classic, here I offer you a twist: grilled fruit salad! It's amazing how just a quick grill over an open flame will completely transform the flavours of any summer fruit. You don't need to add any herbs or spices to get a deep rich flavour. Because this fruit salad is meant to be served warm, it works best as an accompaniment to any BBQ'ed dish. It goes great with ribs and is awesome with grilled chicken.   

         Stone fruit, such as peaches, nectarine & mango all work really well on the grill, but feel free to experiment with other fruits. One word of advice: try to choose fruit that is still slightly under ripe because they will hold together best on the grill. Cut the fruit into large pieces that will be easy to grill and then quickly chop the fruit into smaller pieces just before serving. If you are making a big batch for a lot of people, it's easiest to grill the fruit well in advance, then let it cool before chopping it up. When it's time to serve, gently warm the fruit in a sauce pot on the stove.  

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time 8 minutes, makes about 5 servings 


Ingredients:

2 peaches
2 nectarines  
1 mango
1 bunch red grapes
1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Cut the peaches & nectarines in quarters and remove the stone. Peel the mango and then slice down each side of the stone along the wider side of the fruit to make two large slices. Toss the fruit in a mixing bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the juice of 1/2 a lemon.

2. Get the grill very hot and then grill the fruit on each side until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side.  

3. Remove the grapes from the stem and put them in a mixing bowl. Chop the warm fruit and toss in the mixing bowl with the grapes plus the juice from the remaining 1/2 lemon and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Serve warm as an accompaniment to ribs, grilled pork or chicken. 






Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Caprese Salad


        This popular classic Italian salad is almost as ubiquitous at Italian restaurants as the ever present Ceasar salad. While I do loves me some Ceasar salad, Caprese has a freshness and lightness to it that just can't be beat. This blog is all about making restaurant style recipes at home, and this is one that's super easy to recreate at home. You don't need any fancy technique or equipment, just some top notch ingredients.

     Like most of my favorite recipes, this one has a very short list of ingredients, so it's important that they are all top quality if you want your Caprese salad to really sing. Be sure to use buffalo mozzarella. Regular mozzarella (especially the cheaper varieties) can be too dense for this salad. Buffalo mozzarella has a very light, milky texture and it's flavour has a nice gentle zing that works so well in this recipe.

   When choosing the basil, freshness is obviously key. You also want to look for a variety with leaves that are tender and more lightly flavoured than regular basil, because they work best served raw in salads like this one. Fino verde basil is a good choice. It is often found potted in earth at grocery store. When it comes to the choice of olive oil, go for a dark and rich extra virgin olive oil that has some good peppery notes to it. In a recipe with this few ingredients, even your choice of salt & pepper is important. Use a crunchy fleur-de-sel sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

    As for the tomatoes, almost any variety works, so long as they are ripe and fresh. I found some nice vine-ripened tomatoes that were about the size of a ball of buffalo mozzarella. They made for a nice tight presentation, but you could just as easily use beefsteak or cherry tomatoes. Local tomatoes are just coming into season, so now is the time to take advantage of whatever is best at the market or coming from your own garden.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.


1 lbs (454g) fresh tomatoes
8 oz (225g) buffalo mozzarella 
1 bunch fresh basil
2 oz (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
"fleur de sel" sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the tomatoes in half and then use a paring knife to take out the green core. Cut the tomatoes into thick slices. Cut the buffalo mozzarella in half, then into slices about the same size as the tomatoes. 

2. Gently toss the tomatoes and cheese in olive oil and season with fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange the tomatoes and cheese on 4 plates and garnish with a bit of extra olive oil, salt & pepper. Garnish with sliced basil and a few smaller leaves left whole. 



Saturday, June 22, 2013

Portuguese Chicken


           Montreal is lucky to have an amazing Portuguese neighborhood that filled with great little restaurants. There are many places where you can buy fantastic chicken sandwiches served in soft & chewy buns. Most places make both rotisserie and grilled varieties of the distinctive, chilly flavoured Portuguese chicken. The roasted chicken can be a bit tricky to perfect at home, but the grilled version is really easy to make. 

        I don't often buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, because the usually don't deliver much flavour-wise The marinade in this recipe packs a big punch, so they actually work great in this recipe. To get a good, flavourful char on the breast, you should make sure your grill is smoking hot. To ensure that the breasts don't dry out before the middle is fully cooked, I flatted out the breasts by butterflying them and then pounding them with a meat hammer. This way I can give each side a quick char and it's ready in minutes. 

      Grilled portuguese chicken is great on it's own, with a little potato salad, or in a sandwich with a Portuguese bun.   

Prep time: 10 minutes + 2 hours rest. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 6 

Ingredients:

6 chicken breasts
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons red chilli sauce (Piri Piri, Tabasco or Sriracha)
tablespoon dried thyme and/or oregano  


1. Butterfly each breast by slicing it most of the way down the middle without cutting it in half. Lay out the butterflied breasts on a layer of plastic wrap and then cover with a second layer of plastic wrap.  Hammer the breasts until they are flat and even.

2. Place the chicken into a large, sealable plastic bag. Stir together all the ingredients in the marinade together in a mixing bowl and then pour the marinade into the bag with the chicken. Shake well and then store in the fridge for 2 hours, or overnight.

3. Heat the grill of hot as you can get it. Place the marinated chicken on the grill and cook each side until well charred, about 3-6 minutes per side depending of the strength or your grill. Slice one breast down the middle to ensure the meat is fully cooked. If it's still a bit pink, cook it for another 5 minutes on each side.

Friday, June 21, 2013

cucumber and fennel potato salad


        Barbecue season is here, so it's good to have a potato salad recipe handy for any pot-luck dinners you might get invited to. It's even better to have a couple different recipes at your disposal so that you can fit the salad to the occasion. I often like to use sour cream and pickles in my potato salad, but that version can be a bit heavy. This recipe, with fresh cucumbers and fennel is nice and light and works really well with chicken or fish. 

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 15 minutes. Serves 8


Ingredients:
2 lbs waxy potatoes, peel & dice
1 large english cucumber, diced
1 large head of fennel, diced
1 bunch tarragon, chopped
1 1/2 cup homemade mayo
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are easily crushed with a fork. Strain and then cool in the fridge.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the mayo, lemon juice & tarragon. Add the potatoes, cucumber & fennel then season with salt & pepper. 


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lobster Thermidor


   Lobster Themidor is a dish fit for a king. It's one of those rich, creamy French Classics that is just pure, unabashed opulence. You take a delicious, fatty lobster and smother it in creamy custard. Then, if that's not enough for you, you top it off with a layer of melted Brie or Gruyere cheese. Oh, la decandance!

   Lobster Themidor was first made in Paris in 1894. It takes its name from a play about the French Revolution and the era in French history that followed, known affectionately as  "The Terror". I love the irony that such a luxurious dish was named in honour of one of history's greatest class struggles. Lucky for you, lobster is relatively cheap and plentiful during the summer, and you don't need a king's riches for the eggs, cream and brandy that round out this recipe.

   What you will need is a bit of time to spare. While lobster is significantly cheaper during the summer, they stuff don't exactly give it away, so its worth taking the time to make something really wow with it. This is a fun recipe to try at home, because its one of those dishes that could easily cost you 45 bucks a plate in a restaurant, but you can recreate it at home for much less.   

   Making Lobster Thermidor is certainly a bit trickier that just making straight up boiled lobster, but with a little bit of care you should have no problem making something truly memorable. The key to success here is to get the cooking of the lobster bang on. What you will need to do is cook the lobsters as little as possible when you first boil them. You then add the lobster meat to the custard at the last minute and very gently finish the cooking, until the meat is soft and melting.

Warning: When you sneak a bite of that delicious lobster - poached in custard and drowning in rich, creamy cheese - you might feel the need to look over your shoulder to make sure there aren't any Revolutionaries coming to overthrow you.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 25 minutes Serves 2




Ingredients:

2 whole lobsters (1.5 to 2 lbs each)
1 cup 35% cream
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup finely diced french shallot
1 clove garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
100g brie or camembert cheese 
2 oz brandy
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped 

1 bunch swiss chard (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the lobsters for 8 minutes. Transfer the lobsters to a large bowl of ice water. Remove the meat from the shell. Wash the body and tail shell from 1 lobster and reserve in the fridge. The lobster meat should still be a little undercooked at this point. You will finish cooking the meat inside the custard.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium sized sauce pot and sautée the garlic and onions until they just start to turn translucent. Add the brandy simmer on medium-low until almost completely reduced. Careful as it might catch fire. Have a lid handy to put out the fire if it doesn't go out by itself after a minute. 

3. Gently heat 1 cup of 35% cream in a small saucepan and add a 1/4 cup of hot cream to the onions and garlic. Whisk in the eggs yolk, followed by the remaining hot cream. Continue whisking over low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. 

4. Add the lobster meat and 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, then gently simmer on low heat until the lobster is fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon chives. 



5. Spoon the lobster mix into the reserved lobster shell. I like to put all the meat from each lobster into just one half shell so that it looks extra heaping. Top each stuffed lobster with thin slices of brie cheese and then place under the broiler. Broil on high heat until the cheese is well browned.

6. Place the swiss chard in a large pot with 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons water. Cook on medium high until the leaves are wilted then season with salt & pepper. Strain the swish chard and then place a mound in the center on 2 plates. Place one lobster thermidor on each pile of swiss chard and then garnish with fresh chives.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Smoked Salmon Blinis


      This little canape is one of those go-to classics in my repertoire that I often rely on when I need a known crowd pleaser for a cocktail party. The weather has been bright and sunny lately, and this canape is perfect for the season because it is so light and fresh. 

         There are many different variations on the classic blini, which is basically just a savory pancake. Some recipes call for yeast, but here I just use baking soda as my leavening agent. Using yeast adds an interesting earthy flavour to the blinis, but using baking soda is just plain easier. 

   Many recipes that you will find for blinis call for potatoes, which you can easily work into this recipe. Simply boil the potatoes until a knife easily runs through them and then either mash them while they are hot for a smooth result or let them cool and then grate them for a more chunky texture. Either way, you don't need to alter the blini batter in this recipe. Just mix the potatoes into the batter and fry normally. Like in yeast leaven blinis, the potatoes add a nice earthy note, but I chose to leave them out of this recipe to keep things light. 

      Any good quality smoked salmon works fine for this recipe, but if you're feeling ambitious, I really recommend that you try my recipe for homemade smoked salmon. Spring is the perfect time to try out making your own smoked salmon, because it's important that the salmon stays cold while you smoke it. A cool spring or early summer evening is the perfect time to get those wood chips smoldering.  

Prep time: 15 minutes + 10 minutes rest time. Cook time: 10 minutes. Makes 24 canapes.


Ingredients:

350g smoked salmon
3 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 pinches salt
3 tablespoons butter


1. To make the dill sour cream, mix together the sour cream, dill & lemon juice with a pinch of salt. Let rest in the fridge while you make the blinis, to allow the flavours to marry.

2. To make the blini batter: in a mixing bowl, stir the baking soda into the flour along with a pinch of salt. Make a well in the flour and add the two eggs. Use a fork to beat the eggs and then incorporate into the flour. Add the milk and stir all the ingredients together without overworking the batter. It is ok if it the batter is a bit lumpy - overworking the batter will make the blinis tough & chewy. Stir in 2 tablespoons fresh chives and set aside for 10 minutes in a cool place to allow the baking soda to activate.


3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat. Spoon the batter into the pan - about 1 heaping tablespoon for each blinis. Cook until nicely browned on one side, about 3 minutes and then flip and brown the other side, about 2 minutes more. Fry the blinis in batches and keep in a warm place until you have made 24.

4. Top each blini with a small slice of smoked salmon, a dollop of dill sour cream and garnish with fresh chives. Serve at room temperature.




Saturday, April 27, 2013

Crab Salad with Grilled Asparagus


         Spring is finally in full swing and great local Quebec products are showing up all over the markets. Crab is easily one of my favorite foods. That's why fresh snow crab, pulled straight from the Atlantic, is a pretty exciting sight to me. Local asparagus is just coming into season too here in Quebec, which is perfect timing, because asparagus just happens to be a perfect match for crab.  

       When you are dealing with ingredients as beautiful and fresh as these, you want to dress them up as little as possible. Just let their natural flavour shine. The only dressing I use for this salad is olive oil and lemon juice. The only seasoning is salt and pepper with a bit of fresh dill. Yet this dish still packs a flavour punch, all thanks the grilled asparagus and that amazing snow crab. A little sprinkling of grated hard boiled eggs adds a bit of buttery texture to the salad.


Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 15 minutes. Serves 4


Ingredients

4 snow crab sections (2 whole crabs)
2 bunches asparagus
2 eggs
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch fresh dill
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. To prepare the crab, cut a slit along the edge of each leg and use the knife to slide the meat out. Cut the body in half and use a fork to remove the meat there. Crack each claw's shell in half and then remove the bottom part and leave the meat in the shell. Toss the crab meat in 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Season with a bit of chopped dill, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Keep refrigerated.

2. Cook the eggs in salted water until they are hard boiled. Chill the eggs in ice water, peel and then separate the yolks from the whites. Use the fine side of a box grater or a Microplane to grate the eggs. 


Tip: To avoid having any nasty gray edges on the yolks that can come from overcooking the eggs, I never let the water get to a rolling boil. I keep the water around the temperature of hot coffee. The eggs take longer (about 12 - 15 minutes) but the texture of both the yolks and the white are softer and more buttery when cooked gently.    


3. Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for just under 1 minute. Toss in olive oil, salt & pepper and then grill on high heat until just browned.

4. Divide the asparagus among 4 plates, top with crab salad, crab claw & grated egg. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over each plate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gnocchi with Sage Butter



     If you take the time to make the homemade gnocchi from my previous post, this simple dish is a perfect vehicle to show off your hard work. A rich coating of butterperfectly complements the gnocchi's soft, melting texture and the flavour of the sage is a perfect match for the potato pasta.

 Gnocchi works well with simple sauces, and this one is about as simple as it gets. It only has 3 ingredients: sage, butter & water. What  makes the difference between a good butter sauce and a great one is technique. Like in a beurre blanc, the base of this sauce is a beurre monté. To make a beurre monté, you gently melt butter in a hot liquid one cube at a time so that it doesn't break and become greasy. In a beurre blanc you would typically use reduced white wine or vinegar. For this sauce I simply use some of the water that the gnocchi was cooked in. 

       To give the dish an extra bit of texture, I fry some sage leaves for garnish. The crispness of the fried sage brings a nice counterbalance to the soft gnocchi and makes for an elegant presentation. Sage holds ups well to frying and the process helps bring out its earthy flavour. Fried sage leaves are a great garnish for all kinds of dishes, particularly poultry.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time 15 minutes. Serves 5.


Ingredients

2 lbs (900g) homemade gnocchi
1 bunch fresh sage
1/4 lbs (115g) cold butter, cubed 

2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

1. Heat the vegetable oil to 300F in a small pot equipped with a deep fry thermometer. Cut half the leaves from the bunch of sage, choosing a mix of both the biggest and the smallest leaves. Fry the sage a few leaves at a time until they are crisp and have almost stopped bubbling. Transfer the fried sage to a baking tray lined with paper towel and set aside to dry. 


2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and then cook the gnocchi until it floats to the top of the pot. If you are using frozen gnocchi, don't defrost it first - add it to the boiling water while it is still frozen. Fresh gnocchi will be ready in about 3 minutes, frozen gnocchi will take about 2 minutes more. Strain the gnocchi and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the gnocchi with a knob of butter and keep it in a warm place while you make the sauce. 

3. Finely chop the remaining sage. In a large pot or frying pan, gently heat the reserved cooking water to the temperature of hot coffee. Tilt the pan so that the water collects in one side and whisk in the cold butter, one cube at a time.  Add the sage and let the sauce rest for 5 minutes to allow the flavour to infuse. 


4. Add the cooked gnocchi to the butter sauce and toss over gentle heat for 2 minutes. Divide the gnocchi among 5 bowls and top with fried sage. 



  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Homemade gnocchi


Making gnocchi is one of my favorite jobs to do a work. In fact, with some good classical music playing in the background, it doesn't feel like work at all. The big payoff is that once you invest an afternoon in making gnocchi, you can have plently of quick meals ready for you anytime in the freezer. 

This recipe makes enough gnocchi for several portions, so you can easily freeze half and save it for another time. You could also make a double batch and really stock up your freezer for several meals. If you do make a double batch, only mix the ingredients together for one recipe at a time, because the dough can get soggy if it sits too long. You can cook & puree all the potatoes at once, and then mix each recipe just before you roll and cut it. 

Always spread the gnocchi out on a tray before putting them in the freezer so that they don't stick together. Once the gnocchi are frozen, you can put them in bags so that they take up less space. 
  
    Homemade gnocchi work best with really simple garnishes. I like to just toss them in olive oil with diced tomatoes and basil. They're also great with in a cream sauce with bacon. I'll be posting a recipe soon for a really simple sage butter gnocchi that takes minutes to prepare. 


Prep time: 1 hour Yields about 8 portions



Ingredients:

1 kg potatoes (roughly 3 large potatoes)
2 whole eggs + 1 yolk
3 cups flour
salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400F

1.  Lay the potatoes on a baking tray and bake uncovered until a knife passes easily through them, about 1 hour.

2. While they are still hot, peel the potatoes and then mash them. To peel hot potatoes, hold the potato in a small kitchen towel and use a paring knife to remove the skin. A potato ricer is the ideal too to puree the potatoes, but a traditional masher works fine - just make sure there are no lumps in the mash. Spread the mash out on a baking tray and allow it to cool - first for a couple of minutes on the counter, then for about 10 minutes more in the fridge.

3.  Dust a large work surface with a generous amount of flour and then place the mashed potatoes down on the flour. Add 2 1/4 cups flour and a bit of salt and pepper and gently mix it into the potatoes. Make a well in the top and drop in the 2 eggs and 1 yolk. Use a fork to break up the yolks and whisk the eggs a bit. Use your hands to mix the eggs into the dough. Continue to add flour a bit more at a time until the dough is dry enough to for a ball. The total amount of flour needed will vary according to the moisture content of the potatoes you use.


4. Knead the dough for a good 5 - 10 minutes. Don't worry too much about over-working the dough. A well kneaded dough will make gnocchis that are soft, yet still have some texture to them. My trick to tell if the dough is ready is to give it a good solid punch. When the dough has a bit of resistance and springiness to it, it is ready to be rolled & cut.



5. Divide the dough into 6 balls and roll each one into long strips and then cut the strips into 3/4" (2cm) pieces. Transfer the gnocchi to a floured tray in one even layer. Cook in boiling water until they float to the top, about 3 minutes. Use a bowl a ice water to chill the gnocchi if you don't intend to use them right away.

*Gnocchi can be frozen pre-cooked or raw. Freeze the gnocchis laid out individually on a floured tray that has been wrapped in plastic before transferring them to bags or sealable containers.