Saturday, April 12, 2014

Maple mustard glazed ham & polenta fries

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

oil for frying

Pre-heat the oven to 350F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Quail Egg Spinach Salad

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

prosciutto and cheese salad

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pepper crusted tuna

   Spring sure is taking it's time getting here, but thanks to some nearby greenhouses, some local greens are already starting to arrive in Quebec markets. I got my hands on some great red oak lettuce, still in the earth that it was grown in, and based this whole dish around showcasing that great product. The leaves were so tender and juicy that I thought they would stand up great to a quick sauteing. Most people aren't used to serving lettuce warm, but a quick dip in a hot pan with some melted butter really brings out the flavour in the red oak leaves. 

        The other accompaniment that I use for my seared tuna is the red carrot puree that I posted the recipe for last week. This is a perfect early spring dish, because the carrot puree has some of the richness that we all love about winter food, while the warm sauteed lettuce give us a hint of what's to come with the warmer weather. 

Prep time: 5 minutes (+25 minutes to make the carrot puree) cook time: 5 minutes. Make 6 appetizer portions 


500g sushi grade tuna
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 small or 1 large head of red oak leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt 
radish sprouts (optional)
2 cups red carrot puree  

1. Use a coffee grinder to crush the black peppercorns with a few quick pulses. Alternately, you can use the bottom of a small pot to crush the peppercorns by hand. Spread the crushed peppercorns on a cutting board, generously season the tuna with sea salt and then press each side down into the peppercorns. 

2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a hot cast iron pan until it just starts to smoke. Add the tuna and quickly brown it on each side, about 1 minute per side. Let rest at room temperature while you sautee the lettuce & warm the carrot puree.  

3. Separate the leaves of the red oak lettuce, then wash & dry them. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon water in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the lettuce and sautee until just wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt & pepper, drain off any excess water and pat dry with paper towel.  

4. Warm the red carrot puree and spread about 1/2 cup on each plate. Place a small pile of sauteed lettuce in the center of the plate. Use a very sharp knife to slice the tuna and place a few slices on top of the lettuce. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some radish sprouts.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Red Carrot Puree

           Nowadays, people are making more and more of an effort to buy locally sourced ingredients, which is obviously great news. Besides being good news for the environment, this is also great news for your plate, because locally sourced ingredients usually pack way more flavour. While sticking to local ingredients can be pretty easy in a warm, bountiful climates like California, this can be a bit more of a challenge in colder climates, like here in Quebec. That's why I'm always looking for new ways to work with my old friend, the humble carrot.   

       Fortunately, along with the growing interest in local ingredients, there's been a surge in popularity of long forgotten heritage breeds of familiar vegetables. Usually the most common variety of stable fruits and vegetables that you see in grocery store were chosen not for there superior flavour, but because they traveled well and had long shelf lives. When smaller producers are picking which varieties to grow for local markets, this is less of a concern, so they are free to explore some neglected varieties that really deliver on flavour. 

        So now, when you go to the grocery store, chances are you'll have more to chose from than just the industrially grown carrots that are as big as a tree stumps and taste about the same. A good grocer or market will have all sorts of varieties, that each have their own unique flavour. When talking about red carrots, there's actually 2 different types that are becoming increasingly common. There are red carrots that are red all the way through, but then there is another variety that is purple on the outside and red/orange in the center, and that is the kind I used for my puree. The purple carrots give the puree a deep rich color, and I throw in just one red pepper to brighten it up. 

        This puree is great with pretty much any meat or fish. I like to add a bit of sriracha to give the puree some zing, and it can even serve double duty as the sauce for duck, pork or chicken. In my next post, I'll be doing a recipe for seared tuna that uses this red carrot puree.    

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Makes 6 side portions.


4 cups red (or purple) carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded & roughly chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce
salt & pepper

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium sized sauce pot. Add the onions and sautee until they start to turn translucent, about 2 minuites. Add the garlic and sautee for another 1 minute. 

2. Add the red wine and simmer until reduced by half.

3. Add the carrots, red pepper and  just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the carrots are very soft, about 12 minutes. 

4. Blend the puree on high speed and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter as it blends. Season with salt, pepper and sriracha.   

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pan seared fois gras with sunchoke blinis and macerated cherries

   Valentine's Day is around the corner and it's time to bust out some fancy cooking to spoil the one you love. This dish is pure luxury, with silky, melting seared fois gras and boozy macerated cherries. The earthy notes of Jerusalem artichokes (i.e. sunchokes) enhance the flavour of the soft blinis (fancy pancakes) and a drop of pure maple syrup sweetens everything up. 

       Fois gras is a real luxury ingredient, one that you usually only seen in high-end restaurants and rarely in the home kitchen. It has a reputation of being hard to prepare, and that can certainly be true. Classic preparations like fois gras terrine or torchon involve a lot of steps and can be pretty tricky. Making seared fois gras is actually pretty quick and easy - but you still need to be careful because it's also easy to mess up and ruin a very expensive ingredient. Luckily, I will show you a fool-proof way to make seared fois gras at home for a fraction of the price you would pay at a fancy restaurant. 

      The biggest mistake you can make when working with fois gras is to overcook it. Overcooking is a sin when working with pretty much any beautiful, fresh ingredient, whether it's a well marbled rib steak or a spear of local asparagus, but it's a particularly grievous error when dealing with fois gras. What makes fois gras so succulent is all that luscious duck fat locked up inside. When mistreated, fois gras looses all that precious fat and will taste grainy and 'livery.' Not good. 

       The secret is to cook the fois gras from frozen. That way you can sear your frozen pieces of fois gras on high heat - giving them a beautiful golden crust without melting out all the fat. Simply finish the fois gras in the oven.  Cook them just long enough to warm through the interior and you will have that perfect, melting texture every time. Pre-portioned pieces of fois gras are available at some grocers and specialty store. These are perfect for this recipe, but if you can't find any pre-portioned fois, simply freeze the fois gras yourself in tightly wrapped individual portions and then take them out just before cooking. Use a warm sharp knife to score the fois gras before searing to help the seasoning penetrate. This recipe calls for 50g of fois gras per person, but feel free to double that amount if you are feeling generous.   

                     The blinis in this recipe are as easy to make as any pancakes, but the inclusion of some pureed jerusalem artichokes takes them to the next level. You could save some time and energy by just omiting the puree in this recipe and still have a pretty respectable dish, but fois gras is such a luxury ingredient that it's worth going the extra mile. 

       For the macerated cherries, you have lots of options. In the summer, when cherries are in season it is definitely worth getting fresh cherries and macerating them yourself for a couple of hours in sugar and alcohol. In the winter months, go for jarred cherries in light syrup - not the canned variety in heavy syrup.  Some specialty shops have great macerated cherries in liquor, but you can always just add the booze yourself. Kirsch is best, but brandy, sherry or even port wine work just as well.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 8 minutes. Serves 2.


100g fois gras, cut into in 50g frozen portions
(go for 200g of fois gras if you want to double your pleasure)

60ml (4 tablespoons) maple syrup
75ml (1/4 cup) macerated cherries

for the blinis:
100g (about 1 cup) jerusalem artichokes, peeled & roughly chopped
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 pinches salt

1 tablespoon butter

Pre-heat oven to 350F

1. Place the jerusalem artichokes in a small sauce pot & cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the jerusalem artichokes are very soft, about 8 minutes. Strain, then puree with an immersion blender or potato masher. Let cool.

2. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in the blini recipe and then make a well in the center. Add the egg and half the milk into the center of the well and stir in the flour. Add the rest of the milk while continuing to gently stir. Do not overwork the mix - small lumps are ok. Gently fold in the jerusalem artichokes puree. Let rest for at least 5 minutes to allow the baking powder to activate.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan and use a laddle or measuring cup to pour the batter in 4 cm (1.5 inch) circles. Cook on medium heat until browned (about 2-3 minutes) then flip and brown on the other side. Tranfer blinis to paper towels to drain off excess oil.

4. Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Generously season the fois gras with salt & pepper. Place in the hot pan and gently press down on the fois to ensure even contact with the pan. When browned on one side (about 1 minute) flip, brown on the other side and then transfer to paper towel, with the blinis. Heat in the oven at 350F until fois gras is soft to the touch, between 3 - 6 minutes depending on the thickness of the slices.

5. To dress: place a pile of 3 blinis at the center of each plate. Place seared fois gras on top of each stack of blinis and garnish with cherries and maple syrup.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunchoke hash

    Jerusalem artichokes, sometimes called sunchokes, are one of those ingredients that is usually only seen used in fancy restaurants. That's too bad, because they are delicious. They are similar in texture to potatoes, but have a rich nutty flavour. They are great for making rich purees and creamy soups with a real depth of flavour. Jerusalem artichokes come from the same family as sunflowers, which explains their nutty, almost sunflower seed taste and also the 'sunchoke' nickname. 

    I think one reason that sunchokes are not more popular is that they can be a pain in the butt to work with. Besides being much smaller than your average potato, they tend to come in all sorts of odd, knobbly shapes, making them pretty hard to peel. That's why sunchoke soup or puree is considered a luxury dish. They're both pretty labour intensive recipes compared to their potato counterparts, just because of how hard those damn little tasty tubers are to peel. 

    But fret not! This Jerusalem artichoke recipe is peeler-free. Here I use them in a potato recipe where I usually leave the skins on for extra flavour and texture. Before boiling the sunchokes, I simply give them a once-over with a paring knife to get rid of any knots or imperfections. Then I just chop them up, and in the time it takes to boil them I fry up some onions and bacon to make a killer hash that is the perfect side for a nice thick steak.    

            Of course, this recipe can serve as more that just a side for steaks. It's also great with fish, or you could just through in some cubes of ham or beef to make a satisfying full meal.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Makes 4 sides.


680g (1 1/2 lbs) jerusalem artichokes
4 green shallots, diced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 cups onion, finely diced
1 cups bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup sour creme or creme fraiche

1. Thoroughly wash the Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and then use a paring knife to cut away any brown spots or imperfections. Cut the sunchokes into 1/2 inch cubes, place in a sauce pot, cover with cold water and add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer until the sunchokes are very soft, about 8-10 minutes. 

2. While the sunchokes are simmering, sautee the bacon in a large frying pan. When the bacon just starts to brown, pour off some of the excess fat and then add the onions. Continue frying until the bacon and onions are golden brown. 

3. Strain the sunchokes and then add them to the onions & bacon. Sautee everything together on medium-high heat until the sunchokes start to brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the flat leaf parsley. Season with fresh ground black pepper. Add salt if desired, but depending on how salty your bacon is, you might not need to add any. Serve with sour cream and green shallots.