Monday, 8 December 2008

Apple of My Eye

Number 50. So far, so good. I do hope you enjoy my writing and I truly wish that you have tried some of these recipes with success. It is an odd thing to follow a recipe: to trust some guy you have never met (or maybe you have) and spend the money on some method that may or may not out as well as you hope. I suppose such is the case for any cookbook. It is disappointing that the last comment made was October 20 but I suppose I can let that pass.

For a commemorative post, I have decided to offer a multitude of recipes. This was a menu I did for a cooking class recently. A local law firm decided to have a staff party at the cooking school and spend a couple of hours watching me cook up some food and anecdotes. It turned out well in the end.

The menu was titled "Apple of My Eye" and after reading the recipes, I hope you can locate the re-occurring theme.

I won't be offering any variations or helpful hints; since it was a paid class, it is possible that the class may feel ripped off if the chef went ahead and simply gave away all the hints and tricks. I suppose they could have paid to listen to my playful banter and witticisms. Yeah. Right.

Sweet Potato and Roasted Apple Soup

1 large Red Onion, cut in chunks
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
4 Macintosh Apples, cores removed
7 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
Pinch of Allspice
Pinch of Dried Ginger
Pinch of Clove
Pinch of Cinnamon
Drizzle Canola Oil
2l Chicken Stock
Salt & pepper, to taste

In a sauce pan, heat oil. Add onion and cook for two minutes. Add apples and garlic. Cook for two minutes. Add potatoes and spices and cook for two minutes or until potatoes are little brown.

Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Using a blender, liquefy soup. Season to taste.

Serves 10 – 12.

Gorgonzola and Apple Rolls

450 g pecans, finely chopped and toasted
4 Golden Delicious Apples, grated (make sure they’re delicious!)
12 Sheets of Phyllo
400 ml Unsalted Butter, melted
400 ml Gorgonzola Cheese
1 Sprig of Rosemary, chopped

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine apples and cheese.

Lay out pastry and lightly butter with pastry brush. Sprinkle rosemary. Lay another sheet and repeat. Sprinkle half the pecans and half of the apple mixture. Roll tightly and place onto baking sheet.

Repeat and use whatever remainder of the filling there is.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

Cut into medallions and serve with salad of your choice.

Serves 10 – 12.

Pork Tenderloin with Sour Dough Stuffing with Cranberry Leek Sauce

4 Pork Tenderloins, butterflied and flattened
1 Sprig of Fresh Sage, chiffonade
1 Large Loaf of Sour Dough Bread, cut into squares
100 g Dried Cranberries
4 Granny Smith Apples, grated
Splash of Rum
Dab of Butter
200ml White Wine
1 Small White Onion, finely diced
4 Cloves of Garlic, Crushed
1 Leek, julienne
500 ml Whipping Cream
50ml Maple Syrup
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to 350.

In a sauté pan, melt butter on medium heat. Add half the garlic onion and cook for 1 minute. Add apples and cranberries. Cook for 2 minutes. Add bread and half the wine. Remove from heat and soften bread. Season to taste. Let cool.

Lay out tenderloins flat with presentation side down. Distribute stuffing evenly in the tenderloins. Roll over tightly.

In a frying pan, sear pork in oil. 1 Minute each side. Place on a baking sheet and cook in oven for 15 minutes.

For the sauce, in a frying pan, melt remainder of butter until frothy. Add remainder of garlic and leek. Saute for 1 minute. Add remainder of wine and let reduce by half. Add whipping cream and reduce by one third. Season to taste.

Serves 10 to 12.

Hmmm. I think that's enough. The starch was Apple Potato Pancakes but maybe I'll save that for another day.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Whip It Up

When I started this blog, little did I realize that I was going to open each post with a brief intro and some chat relating to whatever recipe I write. I truly wonder if people actually read this. But, here I am 50 posts(!) later and now I must write about todays recipe: Zabglione with Berries. Ugh. Well, I suppose I have to think of something. Hold on. Let me think for a second. Wikipedia search maybe? Nah. I'll wing it.

I demonstrated this recipe earlier this week at a cooking class and I could tell the ladies watching me looked nervous as I whipped this dessert. They asked me, "Are you serious?"

It is true it takes a bit of work, however, if you have a hand mixer that you can use: this is the time. If you are brave enough to go for it with some gusto good for you. All I can offer to help is two words: figure eight (if you are unsure what this means, then use a hand mixer).

This morning on my way to work I listened to an interview with La Dolce Vita star David Rocco from the food network. Sounds like a nice guy who stumbled onto a great gig. Anyways, he went on about getting involved with your ingredients and some silly zen notion that food will taste better when you get your hands dirty. I guess there is some truth to this but some things you don't have to do by hand if you don't want to or if you are simply physically unable to. You want to make a glossy meringue by hand then be my guest. Are you comfortable enough rolling out pasta with a rolling pin or would you prefer sing a pasta roller? For this recipe, you are better off using a hand mixer unless you have been shown the best way of aerating egg yolks.

Trust me. You'll thank me later.

Zabaglione with Strawberries

4 Egg Yolks

200 ml White Wine or Sparkling White Wine

250 g Sugar

15-20 Strawberries, halved
Juice from 1 Lemon
200 ml Whipping Cream
Ice for Ice Bath
12 Biscotti
Mint for Garnish

Using an electric mixer, whip cream to stiff peaks. Reserve.

In a sauce pan, bring a little water to a simmer.

In a bowl, combine yolks, wine and sugar and lightly whisk.

On simmering water, whisk with a hand mixer the egg mixture until it triples in volume. After 10 minutes, place mixture into an ice bath and whisk for another 10 minutes.

Combine with cream by carefully folding into the mixtures.

Serve immediately with berries and biscotti. Garnish with mint.

Serves 6.

Variation: This is a base that you can expand on. Instead of wine, use Frangellico and garnish with hazelnuts or something like that.

A Humble Chef's tip: throw away your hand mixer and get your hands dirty! Food will taste so much better once you become one with your ingredients. Close your eyes and feel the gooey egg yolks coat your figures before you eat them. Trust me. You'll thank me later.

A Humble Chef's test: just checking to see if you actually read my intro.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Stir It Up

So far the winter is going well. I've recently discovered that I enjoy getting attention and teaching culinary skills is a great way to fill my void. Having said that, I truly relish the days where I get to go in front of a group of people I may or may not know and freely offer my knowledge (as little as it is for a humble chef) on cooking and entertaining.

Perhaps now I can let myself to lob my humility aside and finally admit that I do have a few useful things to offer: an essential skill (cooking), entertainment (my sense of humour) and the ability to create enthusiasm in people to try new things. On top of that, recipes. I do hope the readers of this blog try some the recipes I have offered (actually, a friend told me on Saturday that he has made some of the soup recipes and they were great for simplicity and effieciency, thanks!) and I reach out to people to offer comments, criticisms or praise.

Moving on, today's recipe is too easy. A classic variation of a dish I use to make everyday at a club I used to work at. Chicken Stir-Fry with Basic Rice Pilaf is so easy and quick, it may become a staple for you. The stir-fry sauce is a simple Teriyaki style sauce that I like because it uses common ingredients in peoples kitchens.

The key to stir-fry is allowing the oil to get hot. Very hot. Smoking hot. Piping hot. About to catch on fire hot. My wife hot. The heat speeds up the process and evaporates much of the water from the vegetables leaving a thick flavorful sauce.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Chicken Stir Fry

1red pepper, julienne
1 green pepper, julienne
1 small red onion, julienne
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
Dried Ginger
Drizzle Sesame Oil
Drizzle Canola Oil
Pinch of Cumin
Pinch of Cajun spice
Stir Fry Sauce (see below)
Salt & pepper, to taste

In a hot stir fry pan, heat oils. Add chicken and let cook for 2 minute.

Add vegetables and spices and cook for 4 minutes. Add stir fry sauce. And bring to a boil.

Serve over rice pilaf.

Serves 6.

Stir Fry Sauce

250 g Brown Sugar
200 ml Water
200 ml Soy Sauce
200 ml Rice Wine Vinegar
Pinch of Ginger Powder
50 g Cornstarch

In a sauce pan, combine water, soy sauce, vinegar and ginger and bring to a boil. Dissolve cornstarch in some water and whisk into sauce pan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Keep refrigerated until needed. Will keep for several months.

Variation: instead of chicken, try shrimp or beef or lamb or pork or mussels or . . . . you get the idea I think. One suggestion I heard today was pineapple which would be wonderful, or oranges, or passion fruit, or whatever.

A Humble Chef's Tip: if you make the rice ahead of time, you can nuke your rice in bowls, place the bowls into your serving dish upside down, let the rice set and remove the bowl. Nice presentation and easy to do.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Phyllo Up

It appears I haven't posted for a few weeks. Shame really. For those who have been reading more faithfully, you have my apologies. And for those about to rock, I salute you.

I had a comment/request from the last post about convection ovens and their uses. Simply put, all a convection oven is an regular oven with a fan. The fan circulates the heat more thoroughly and results in faster cooking times. It is important to note that when following a recipe, the temperature recommended in the method is for standard ovens. It will take a bit of time to adjust to the timing but a good rule of thumb is to reduce by ten to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Anything you can cook in a standard oven can be done in a convection. However, don't forget that this reduces the cooking time. This is especially important when cooking a large roast such as a prime rib or a striploin. In a convection, the circulation of heat will increase the amount of loss in the cooking. In other words, you will have less yield. Slow roasting is the key and with a convection, you have to be careful with your heat because you are cooking for a long period of time. I hope that helps dear reader and I also hope that doesn't confuse you more. Convection ovens are great and learning how to use it is worth your while.

I don't have many fish recipes and I should. It's so easy. I've recently did a class on phyllo pastry (big fan here! See previous post for another recipe) and the attendees were all struck on how easy it was.

What I like about this recipe is the ease of the method and the final presentation. Try it and you won't be disappointed I assure you .

If you're sick of salmon (it's everywhere eh?), feel free and change it for something else. All of my recipes with fish have regretably been all salmon but don't you worry. You can go with tuna, halibut, trout, whatever man. Just be sure to make the portion size of your fish big enough to cook in about 15 minutes. From there, go nuts!

Salmon Wrapped In Phyllo with a Peach Salsa

1 Side Salmon, cut into approx. 6 steaks
4 Sheets of Phyllo
5 Peaches, cut in small squares
Half of 1 Red Pepper, finely diced
Half of 1 Red Onion, finely diced
Half of 1 Green Pepper, finely diced
1 Bunch of Dill, finely chopped
2 Lime, juiced
1 Lemon, juiced
Dash of Paprika and Chili Powder
50 g Butter
Drizzle of Olive OIl
Salt and Pepper to taste

Season salmon with paprika, chilli and pinch of chopped dill.

In a frying pan, sear one side of the salmon. Let cool.

Combine peaches, onion, peppers and lime juice. Season to taste.

Lay down phyllo (about 2.5 inches wide. Butter one side and sprinkle with dill and pepper. Repeat. Place salmon in middle and wrap upwards.

Cook for 15 minutes. Garnish with Peach Salsa.

Serves 4 -6.

Variation: like I said, whatever fish you like. Also, if peaches aren't your thing, works great with strawberries, honeydew or cantaloupe.

A Humble Chef's tip: make the salsa in advance so you can drain some of the water out. To make it easy, add your desired amount of salt then place in a colander over a bowl and let osmosis and gravity work their magic.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Root Awakenings

Cooking creatively can be challenging at times. I find I get most inspired in people's homes because I will often find ingredients I don't normally have at home or even in a professional kitchen. I even get much of my inspiration walking through markets and grocery stores.

Fennel is a vegetable that I don't normally have at home because I simply never purchase it. When was the last time you purchased fennel? Or parsnips? Turnip? Rutabaga? It simply rarely goes on most people's grocery lists because we never think of it. Yet these vegetables are easy to cook, easy on the wallet and probably healthier than most things on your grocery list.

I've learned recently that many root vegetables were considered good for feeding pigs. I wonder if this is because blandness of the vegetable or cost?

In a previous post, I have explained the risotto process in more detail. The risotto cooking method should be the same every time, but what you add is what makes it unique and yours.

Sausage and Shrimp with Fennel Risotto

3 Sweet Italian Sausages
16 Shrimp, deveined
250 g Arborio Rice
3 Red Bell Peppers
3 garlic cloves, crushed
A Few Chili Flakes
1 Fennel Bulb, finely diced
1 Red Onoin, finely diced
1 Green Onion, chopped
1 l Chicken Broth
100 ml Sambuca or Ouzo
50 g Marmalade Preserve
Drizzle of Olive Oil
Juice of 2 Lemons
200 g Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese, grated
100 g Butter
Season and Pepper to Taste

Combine marmalade, 1 clove of garlic, chili flakes, lemon juice and olive oil. Marinate shrimp in mixture in fridge for 1 hour.

In a sauce pan, heat chicken broth to a boil then bring to a simmer. Poach sausages for 2 minutes and let cool.

In a sauté pan, heat up drizzle of olive oil. Sauté onion and fennel until lightly brown. 1 minute. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add rice and sauté until translucent, about 1 minute. Deglaze with Sambuca and let reduce by half. Add ladle of broth and stir. As broth evaporates, add more broth by the ladle and stir constantly.

Meanwhile, coat red peppers in oil and char the skin on open flame (BBQ, burner or with a kitchen torch) and place in a bowl and cover. Let steam through for ten minutes. Open and let cool. Once cooled, shed skin, remove seeds and innards and chop up the flesh. In a frying pan, sauté peppers, green onion, and clove of garlic. Add a ladle of broth. Bring to boil and purée.

For the sauage, cut lengthwise, then in half moons and a bias. In a frying pan, heat drizzle of oil. Add sausage and shrimp with the marinate. Cook for two minutes.

As risotto finishes cooking (all your broth should be used up) add butter and cheese and stir. Add seasonings.

In a bowl, pour risotto, ladle pepper purée overtop and garnish with sausage and shrimp.

Serves 4 - 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: check the doneness of the rice before adding the cheese and butter.

Variation: Omit the fennel and through some other onion related veg, like leek or something. Not everybody likes the black licorice flavour fennel has. If you don't like Ouzo, go with Vodka.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The True Test

In any art form, it is a rare thing to make something completely original. After all, originality is the art of concealing your original source. To be innovative in baking can be difficult for me (and many chefs) because it requires several testings and I simply don't have the time to test one idea several times over to perfection. Or, I can do some research through some cookbooks or the internet and use some recipe that a test kitchen made several times over to perfection.

Besides, I am the type of cook to take classic stuff and interpret it. A sort of a Shakespearean Chef.

This recipe was from a cooking class I taught recently. It collected an excellent reception and I know that I would have never even thought of this recipe completely on my own.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake

500 g A.P. Flour
125 g Cocoa Powder
10 g Baking Powder
7 g Baking Soda
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Cinnamon
400g Chocolate Chunks
125 ml Oil
125 ml Buttermilk
500 g Sugar
3 Eggs
3 Zucchinis, grated
10 ml Vanilla
1 Zest of an Orange

Orange Glaze

350 g Icing Sugar
Juice of Two Oranges

Preaheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking dish 0f your desire: muffin tins, bundt pan, 8" springform, whatever.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk and eggs, Add sugar and whisk well. Add zucchini, vanilla and zest. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine. Add chocolate and pour batter into pan and bake. 35 minutes for muffins or 50 - 60 for a cake. If you're not sure, stick a toothpick in the centre and it should come clean.

In a sauce pan, bring juice to a boil. Add sugar and whisk. Let cool and brush glaze on top of cake.

Makes 12 muffins or 1 cake.

Variation: I used yellow zucchini instead of green. It tasted the same but the yellow added some nice colour. A small handful of pecans add a very nice crunch.

A Humble Chef's tip: grate the zucchini as freshly as possible. Also, be sure to use fresh vegetables.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Where The Wild Rice Are

I do enjoy dinner parties. Even though they can be expensive, stressful and physically taxing, the pay-off is very rewarding. As humble as I am, I do enjoy the attention from hosting dinner parties and the boost to my fragile ego.

Last night I cooked (with the help of friends and family) for seven adults a modest meal and so I was slightly pushed to include some of the recipes from last night. The salad was a last minute thought but the dressing turned out really well. The soup however was a hit and so I think I will include here even though I have so many soup recipes on the blog as it is.

As for wild rice, if you've never cooked it or used it before, rest assured it is very simple. I have only used Canadian Wild Rice (in fact, I didn't even know a Texan Wild Rice existed until I read the Wikipedia page on wild rice a few weeks ago, which I hear is in danger of becoming extinct) which is very straightforward. The trick is to soak the rice overnight is slightly salted water and this will not only reduce the cooking time, but it also helps in even cooking.

Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

1 Portobello Mushroom, stem removed, top thinly jullienne
12 Small Cremini or Button Mushrooms, sliced
5 Shitake Mushrooms, stems removed, top thinly sliced
1 Spanish Onion, half finely diced and other half roughly cut
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 Bay Leaf
1 Sprig Fresh Thyme, leaves and stem separated
1 Sprig of Rosemary, leaves and stem separated, leaves chopped
250 g Wild Rice, soaked overnight
1 Green Onion, sliced
10 ml Almond Butter or Chestnut Paste (optional)
Dab of Butter
Drizzle of Hazelnut Oil (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a stock pot, bring 4L of water to boil with mushroom stems, herb stems, bay leaf and roughly cut onion. Let boil for 8 - 10 minutes and set aside to cool slightly. Strain and reserve mushroom stock.

In a soup pot, heat a dab of butter and hazelnut oil until frothy. Sauté onion until slightly brown. Add garlic. After 1 minute, add medley of mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. If your pan is too dry from the mushrooms soaking up the fat, compensate by adding more olive oil. Add reserved stock and wild rice. Bring to a slight boil and reduce heat. Add herbs, almond butter and seasonings.

Serves 8 - 10

A Humble Chef`s tip: don`t make this soup too far ahead of serving or eating. The wild rice can become too mushy if you try to keep it for too long.

Variation: if you are the type of person who likes to add pasta to soups, orzo pasta is a good choice for this. Just be sure to cook the pasta separately, discard the cooking water and to add last minute.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Just For Pilafs

I just completed my third What's For Dinner moments ago. I gave my blog to the attendees and so here I am writing a recipe for those who didn't have time to write it down.

Rice is so easy to cook and yet so many people find ways to get it wrong. There are some tricks to the trade but keeping it simple works well for rice. Rice Pilaf refers to the cooking method where vegetables are cut up, sautéed with the rice and cooked in the oven with the broth. Obviously, there are several ways to cook rice but the pilaf method is straightforward and usually turns out well.

The class today was a demo of a Chicken Curry dish with sweet potatoes and carrots which was provided for me. Pretty easy dish actually. But I`m not sure if it`s kosher for me to provide the chicken recipe (truth is, all chefs take dishes, change it up then claim as their own) so I`ll stick to the starch only.

When cooking rice, check the packaging for the quantities. I used Basmati which is typically 2 parts liquid to 1 part rice.

Basic Rice Pilaf

200 g Basmati Rice, rinse if necessary
400 ml Chicken Stock
1 Carrot, small dice
1 Celery, small dice
1 Red Onion, small dice
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 Small Chunk Of Ginger, peeled and grated
Drizzle of Sesame Oil
Dab of Butter
Sal and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

In a small sauce pan, heat up chicken stock. If you have any trimmings, add to stock. Bring to boil and strain.

In a medium sauce pan, heat oil for 1 minute. Add veg, ginger, garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add rice and sauté until translucent. Add stock and bring to boil. Add butter and seasonings. Cover with oven proof lid and cook in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and fluff with a fork.

Serves 6 sides.

A Humble Chef`s Tip: Once the rice has come to a boil, stop stirring the pot and cover quickly. If stirred too often, the starch can bleed out making it gummy.

Variation: Use half tomato juice, half stock, add some chili powder and cayenne and you have Mexican Rice.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

I Rest My Quesadillas

So, I recently went to the Real Canadian Superstore in Wasaga Beach and gave my first cooking class. It's what they call a What's For Dinner class where people can walk in watch me give a demonstration for an hour and try whatever it is I make. It is free and open to anyone interested in ideas for dinner. It was fun once I got past my nervousness. I will be giving more all summer both in Wasaga as well as Midland.

I decided on a fairly easy menu since it was my first time and something I felt that anybody can do in the same amount of time. It is an easy recipe and hopefully a little different than what people make themselves on a Friday night in August.

I've noticed in the past that a good portion of people dislike cilantro. Fair enough. If you want something different in your salsa, use fresh oregano or savory.

Quick Quesadillas

1red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 medium tortillas
500 g Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Drizzle olive oil
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of Cajun spice
Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a hot frying pan sear seasoned chicken, 2 minutes on each side. Place in oven and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, cut into medium-sized cubes.

In a hot frying, drizzle olive oil. Add cumin and Cajun spice. After 15 seconds, add onions, peppers and chicken. Sauté for 2 minutes.

In a cast iron frying pan on medium-low heat, lay tortilla flat. On one half, sprinkle small handful of Monterey Jack. Spoon chicken-vegetable mixture evenly over cheese. Sprinkle same amount of cheese on top. Fold other half over. Toast each side for approximately 1 minute, or until tortilla is crispy. Cut into three triangles. Serve with sour cream and salsa. Repeat.

Serves 3.

Homemade Salsa

3 mid-sized tomatoes, chunked
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small jalapeno pepper (seeds removed), finely diced
1 small bunch cilantro (coriander), roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Splash red wine vinegar
Drizzle olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

In a large bowl, combine ingredients.

Serves 4.

A Humble Chef's tip: try this with the Cilantro Lemonade and Vodka. Party time.

Variation: use some chopped shrimp or maybe if you have some leftover lobster or king crab, throw them in with a splash of lime juice. Mmm.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Me Poppy`s Favorite Salad

This post is a direct result of a request made by the teachers at my children's school. I had prepared for them a small luncheon as their end-of-year gift. Fairly simple really, two salads, a tureen of Vichyssoise and some Nutella Brownies (click on chocolate in my tabs and give it a shot).

My salads pretty much change every time I make them because I use whatever I got in arm's reach.

I even sometimes like to throw stuff in that even I least expect. Like poppy seeds.

Before I write out the recipe I would like to tell a story about a man I used to work with at a restaurant that shall remain nameless. A very nice man with a very strange diet. He had some, how shall I put it . . . digestive issues. First he would cook some noodles (and when I say some, I mean a few pounds worth) and boil the pasta for about 20 to 25 minutes. Not exactly al dente. Then he would wash the pasta in running cold water for another 5 minutes. Then he put his drained pasta in a large garbage bag with some olive oil and tons of poppy seeds. Shake it like a polaroid pictcha and vacuum seal each portion. He would live off the noodles for probably a week or so. I felt bad for him because he loved food so much and whenever he would succumb to temptation and have himself a pastry or something, he would get sick. Then go back to his poppy all'olio. Necessity is the mother sauce of all inventions, I suppose.

Boiled Starch Salad with Honey-Glazed Salmon and Poppy Seed Dressing

1 package of Penne (my wife likes the regate, I like the lische, to each their own)
1 side of Salmon
20 g of Honey
Splash of Olive Oil
1 Red Pepper, finely diced
1 Green Pepper, finely diced
1 Red Onion, finely diced
1 Roma Tomato, finely diced
Small Bunch of Dill, finely chopped
250 ml of Lemon Poppy Dressing (see below)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to 325.

In a tall stockpot, boil pasta in salted water and follow directions on package. Drain pasta and toss in oil. Reserve for later. Save 100 ml of pasta water. Add honey and stir to dissolve.

In a hot skillet, heat oil and sear salmon. Turn over and pour honey water over. Cook in oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, roughly chop the fish and add to pasta.

Add peppers, onion, tomato and dill. Add dressing and lightly toss to coat evenly. Taste and then adjust to seasoning.

Serves 6 - 8 people or 4 - 6 teachers

Lemon Poppy Dressing

25 ml Dijon Mustard
50 ml Lemon Juice
200 ml Olive Oil
35 g Poppy Seeds
25 g Sugar
Salt and White Pepper to taste

In a blender or with a mixer, blend mustard and lemon juice until completely mixed. Slowly drizzle oil while whisking vigorously. Add seeds and sugar. Add salt and pepper sparingly.

A Humble Chef`s Tip: if you find the dressing is too acidic for your tastes, feel free to add more oil. If the dressing gets too thick, slowly whisk in small amounts of hot water. This trick will work with any emulsified dressing or sauce. i.e Hollandaise, Caesar, Mayonnaise.

Variation: with pasta salad, there are no limitations. I draw the line with adding anything deep fried.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

You See What I`m Reduced To

Now that my website is up and running I am forced to update my blog as frequently as possible. Some posts may be very simple just so I can amass a good amount of them. Nonetheless, each of my recipes are still worth making (with the possible exception of the fresh pasta) and have my wife`s seal of approval. I hope the new website will increase my readership and I hope there will more comments in the comment box.

So, without further ado, here we go with our next little dish. This is one is really, really easy. It's a simple classic. It's fool proof. It's alive, afraid, a lie, a sin. It's magic, it's tragic, it`s a loss, it's a win.

Balsamic reduction is a great back-up garnish in a professional kitchen. It's cheap to make. Keeps forever. Great contrast on your plate. And it's pretty darn tasty. If it's available to you, try purchasing Vin Cotto at your fine grocer. For your reduction, just buy the cheapest balsamic vinegar you can get. Do not be fooled by fancy packaging that says it`s from Modena or something. You are about to change the taste of the vinegar so don`t bother spending your money. It`s like using expensive wine for your Red Wine Jus on your Prime Rib.

I may have explained this before but I am going to repeat: a chiffonade is a technique of cutting a large flat herb. Take several leaves of the herb (basil in this case) and layer them. Then roll it up and slice thinly. Basil can bruise easily and if chopped up, they go brown and lose their appeal.

When cutting your tomatoes, keep them evenly sliced, and not too thick and not too thin. Seems like common sense, but I`ve learned to take very little for granted when giving out recipes. Besides, in a salad, presentation is even more important because, in a restaurant, many patrons ask themselves, "Why would I order this when I can make it at home?" There is truth to that question, so, I take a little extra care in making my salads look great.

Tomato Salad with Bocconcini Cheese and Balsamic Reduction

4 Ripe Tomatoes, sliced as in photo
4 Balls of Bocconcini Cheese, cut in slices
1 Red Onion, sliced thinly
1 Bunch of Basil, chiffonade
Drizzle of Balsamic Reduction (see below for recipe)
Sea Salt to taste

On one large plate or evenly distributed over six, arrange tomatoes attractively. In other words, make nice. In between each tomato, place a slice of cheese for contrast. Randomly sprinkle onion. Randomly sprinkle the basil. Randomly drizzle the reduction. Randomly sprinkle some sea salt. Randomly give to your guests.

Serves 6.

Balsamic Reduction

500 ml of Balsamic Vinegar
Small Handful of Brown Sugar

Put in pot and reduce on low heat to one fifth its original volume. Let cool at room temp, store in an airtight container and serve whenever needed.

A Humble Chef`s Tip: the reduction will bleed quickly after you drizzle it. Do this at the last minute so the salad doesn`t become a pool of balsamic and tomato water.

Variation: Go fusion with this and add a drop of soy sauce to your reduction. Trust me, it`s not bad.

Friday, 30 May 2008

The Prancing Pony's Soup of the Day

My goodness. I was on a roll there for a while. But, as summer came, writing was the last thing I wanted to do. Besides, my hard drive failed and I am currently sans laptop. Nevertheless, I am still cooking (unfortunately at times) and still experimenting.

I am making soups for a local business in the small town I call home and today I made something different. In this part of the world, some people like to cook to season. Sometimes I do. In this case, asparagus has come to town from local farmers and so I am obliged to help out the local economy and use what they grow.

Asparagus is my favourite vegetable. It has a nice natural tang, it goes well with everything, it looks great on a plate (height, contrast, appearance) and it's really easy to cook. On top of that, you can eat raw, steamed, blanched, sautéed or cooked and served cold. Brilliant.

This soup (another soup I know) is essentially a variation on the standard theme. I imagine you may start seeing a reoccurring theme.

With the asparagus, trim only bit of the woody part. After liquefying the soup, it adds to the flavour and helps thicken the soup.

Asparagus Purée with the Village of Brie

2 Shallots, roughly cut
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed
2 Bunches of Asparagus, roughly cut (save one spear for garnish)
1 Sprig of Basil
3l Vegetable Stock
20g Brie (basically two slivers; one for thickening, one for garnish)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a soup pot, sauté the garlic and the shallots until golden. Add chopped asparagus and cook for one minute. Add stock and basil. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for ten minutes.

Add half of the brie and stir. With a hand blender, liquefy the soup until desired texture. Season to taste.

In a separate pan, sauté the remainder of the asparagus and add so the soup. Chop up remainder and add to the soup.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: Don't forget to not cover the vegetables when they're cooking through.

Variation: If brie is unattainable, go ahead and use camembert (everybody has camembert in their fridge for back-up).

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Chocolate Wrapper

Ever try to make phyllo pastry? I'll be honest here. I haven't. Even in cooking school, we used store bought. I cannot imagine a reason to justify me making this pastry from scratch. I imagine some readers may be disappointed by my honesty but here I have to be. If someone asked me for a recipe, I would look foolish.

For this recipe, I strongly recommend using the finest chocolate available to you (I used Milk Chocolate Pyramids from a great chocolatier downtown) and of your preference. White, dark, milk, whatever.

Keep this simple and you'll have no trouble at all.

Milk Chocolate Pyramid Wrapped in Phyllo with Strawberry and Blackberry Coulis

8 Milk Chocolate Pyramids
3 Sheets of Phyllo, cut in 16 rectangles
10g Unsalted Butter, melted
Icing Sugar for Garnish

Preheat oven at 325 celsius.

On your countertop, lay out 1 sheet of phyllo. Using a pastry brush, apply small amount of butter. Lay another sheet and lightly brush some butter. Place chocolate in center and fold up pastry to cover. Place on some parchment on a cookie sheet.

Repeat with other chocolates.

Back for 15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown on top edges. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Dust with icing sugar and serve with coulis.

Serves 8.

Strawberry and Blackberry Coulis

1 pint of strawberries, washed and trimmed
1/2 pint of blackberries, washed
40 g sugar
Splash of Vanilla Extract
Splash of Maple Extract (optional)

In a small sauce pan, heat berries and sugar and extracts. Add splash of water and cover. Bring to boil on medium high heat. Remove cover and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using a blender, purée until smooth. You can strain through a fine mesh chinois to remove seeds though not completely necessary.

Let cool completely and place into a sqeezee bottle.

Serves 30 desserts.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A Cheesy Post With A Cheesy Title

Well, my fellow connoisseur du fromage and I catered a small event over this past weekend with great success. Not only is she a great help with the small touches that I would normally overlook (we had little give-aways of Balsamic Reduction for the guests of the dinner party) but she was also invaluable in helping me with plating, tasting, cleaning and prepping. In fact, she visualized the Tomato Salad which was what we ended up going with in the end. She also made up a small menu to give to the guests. Here is what it looked like when I copied and pasted it:

Chef’s Amuse


Potage Crecy au Chèvre


Roma Tomato Salad with Bocconcini

& Balsamic Reduction


Filet Mignon with Molten Gorgonzola Mousse,

Thyme-scented Broccoli & Chesire Potato Purée


Sélection de Fromage

Queso Manchego, Oka Québécois,

Yorkshire Wensleydale with Cranberries


Milk Chocolate Pyramids in Phyllo

It looked much better on a little menu.

The party went extremely well. In case you're wondering, the Amuse was a Lobster Watermelon Salsa on an Endive. I was pretty happy with it, but next time I know how to make it unbelievable.

The next time you have a party, a cheese selection is highly recommended. You can do them in advance and use it for in between meals. Besides, 99 people out of 100, love cheese. Every once in a while, somebody is a vegan or lactose intolerant. Very rare when somebody simply dislikes cheese.

You can go with simple, local cheese with plain crackers. Or, go with some imported selections that you really like. One thing to keep in mind is to have a variety of flavours, textures and colours. I really like the aged cheddar with Guinness because it has great contrasting colours and because most people really enjoy it. Have one soft, ripened cheese like brie or camembert. Maybe a hard ripened cheese like Manchego, Edam, Gouda. I love blue cheeses myself, I usually go with Gorgonzola or of the like when I compose my platters. Don't use unripened cheese (mozzarella, feta, ricotta) because they aren't the classiest. Goat's cheese is usually a favourite

As for garnishes, you can do whatever you like: dried apricots or cranberries, fresh figs, dates, grapes, apple slices, pistachios, walnuts, whatever. Make sure it is a palate cleanser whatever it is. Grapes are basically a must. It the photo I used cranberries soaked in red wine and grapes.

Crackers are up to you. Going with crostini is a nice touch but nobody will begrudge you if you simply go with the store bought artisan crackers. Crostini is just a baguette cut into small circles with your flavours of choice: garlic cloves rubbed on, sprinkle some chopped parsley, olive oil or butter, whatever.

A Humble Chef`s tip: Be sure to have the cheeses at room temp. Otherwise, your brie will taste pretty much like butter.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Not Just Any Salad

I'm sick of writing about soups. They're cheap and easy and repetitive. Every so often I need to make something new.

Well, with spring apparently around the corner, how about a salad. But not just any salad. A potato salad. But not just any potato salad. A German potato salad. But not just any German potato salad. A Humble Chef's German potato salad. But not just any Humble Chef's German potato salad. But A Humble Chef's German potato salad made by none other than my wife, The Closet Optimist herself. That's right readers. My Equality Equation made this fantastic recipe as dictated by me.

I have some esplainin' to do. She has this fear that if I were to unexpectedly meet my end, it would be unfortunately the cessation of my recipe development. She would never be able to eat any of my food again. Ever. So, she wrote down a few recipes while we were working together in the kitchen to preserve her pickle of a husband's legacy (actually, this is why I am writing this blog).

So, I will leave out any notes and go for the jugular.

Not Just Any A Humble Chef's Farinaceous Salad Made In the Style of the Germans

8 Red Potatoes, cleaned and quatered
5 Slices of Bacon Itself, medium chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, medium dice
1 Green Bell Pepper, medium dice
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced
1 Green Zucchini, medium dice
1 Stalk of Celery, finely diced
3 or 4 Sprigs of Sage, chiffonade (don't you dare ask me what that is)
20 gr Pommery Dijon Mustard
200 ml Mayonnaise (or as needed)
A Few Drops of Worcestershire Sauce

Blanch potatoes until you can eat it. Probably 8-10 minutes. Try to not overcook them. It usually doesn't take very long.

In a sauté pan, fry up yummy bacon until crispy. 5 min. on medium high heat. Remove bacon and add peppers, onion, celery and zucchini until bright. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Season to taste.

Serve warm.

Serves 4.

Variations: Everybody has their own version of potato salad. Add your signature to this classic. I like to add quatered hard boiled eggs myself.

A Humble Chef's tip: Add a few extra potatoes to use as testers. Don't be embarrassed that you have to check your potatoes to see their doneness: everybody does it.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

What Are Ya? Chicken?

Here we go again. Another soup. Well, my restaurant partner (known as my wife) and I really enjoy this thai inspired recipe that we used to get at a local place by our old home. I have taken it and pretty much adapted the flavours to a method that I find to be very easy.

I was at my cousin's apartment making some of this soup and he and his fiancé loved the stuff. It's so easy that I figured that I'll give my take on this basic of basic of soups.

One last note: Please try this recipe. It is so easy it should be illegal.

Did I mention it was easy?

Easy Mushroom and Chicken in a Coconut Broth

Dab of Butter
1 Medium White Onion, finely diced
1 Clove of Garlic, minced
200 g Mixed Mushrooms (Shitake, Button, Oyster, Cremini), sliced
2 Chicken Breasts, sliced
1 Can of Coconut Milk
600 ml Chicken Stock (or veg)
5ml Honey
1 Small Bunch of Cilantro, roughly chopped
A Few Leaves of Basil, chiffonade (chopped)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a mid sized soup pot on medium heat, melt up some butter until frothy. Add onion and garlic. Cook but not browning. Add mushrooms. Cook for one minute. Add chicken and lightly brown.

Add coconut milk. Add stock. Add honey. Add something else . . . . you got it! The cilantro and basil. Bring to a boil. Simmer and season to taste. That's it. No really! Walk away from the soup and let it sink in how simple that was.

Serves 4. Not including my cousin. For him, it serves 2.

A Humble Chef's tip: Use a whisk if the coconut milk is still a little lumpy. The greater amount of surface area of the coconut milk, the faster it dissolves into the soup.

Variation: I almost made this with mussels. Take out the 600ml of chicken stock and add half wine, half fish stock and you've got a real winner.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Uncle Ben's Making Dessert

I was fortunate enough today to bear witness the famous rice pudding my in-laws were spoiled with; made with love by their neighbour. I've never been the biggest fan of this particular dessert but I will try anything at least once. It is very easy to make and fairly foolproof.

It is an interesting recipe (a different method than I would use) but that is how things are done in the country and when you've made this recipe for several decades, well, why then would you change it?

She used instant rice strictly because that is what she had available to her. Besides, it cuts the cooking time considerably.

Concession 8 Rice Pudding

500g Instant Rice
Dab of Unsalted Butter
350g Sugar
450ml 2% Milk
250g Raisins, soaked in warm water
2 Eggs
Splash of Lemon Juice

Preheat oven on broil at 450 degrees.

In a pot, boil 500ml of water. Add rice and butter. Turn off heat and cook for 5 minutes.

In a casserole dish, whisk together sugar and eggs. Add 500ml of milk, lemon juice and raisins. Add cooked rice and mix. Add 50ml of milk on top.

Place into broiler and cook for 20-30 minutes.

Serves the ladies at church for several days.

A Humble Chef`s tip: Well, what can I say without offending anybody and come across as a know it all. But if were to, well, maybe I'll keep the comments to myself.

Variation:Uhhh, add vanilla? How about maple syrup? Or almond extract? Or dried cranberries? Or whatever you have in your house.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and . . . Duck

When I first entered the industry, I was working at the busiest fine dining restaurant (so they thought) in Canada: the 360 in the CN Tower. It was great. A wonderful learning curve. A few weeks into my employment there I was entrusted with preparing the Duck Confit. It was something new alright. I had never cooked Duck before, let alone 500 portions at once at a fine dining restaurant.

Not the healthiest dish but I soon learned to appreciate the duke of death, I mean duck, when I consumed copious amounts at work. It is extremely fatty and delicious. It is fairly rare to find whole fresh duck ready to be cooked (well, maybe not if you live in Chinatown). Usually it is frozen with giblets roughly 8 to 10 bucks at your major grocer.

The issue I have with duck is that it has a poor yield (usable portion from the beginning to end of the cooking process) and so you usually only get 3 portions from one duck. An odd number so it makes it difficult at times to prevent waste.

One thing to remember: much of the fat will render so you will need a rack to roast the duck on or throw down leftover vegetables in the roasting pan and use the veg as your rack.

Roast Duck with Orange Lavender Glaze

1 Whole Duck, thawed with giblets removed
1 Large Onion, cut into chunks
1 Stalk of Celery, cut roughly
1 Large Carrot, cut roughly
1 Naval Orange, quartered
Dab of Butter
Pinch of Ginger and savory
1 Shallot, finely chopped
Splash of White Wine
500 ml Orange Juice, no pulp preferably
100ml beef broth
20ml Maple Syrup
Handful of Lavender Leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven at 375 degrees.

Score the top of the duck (the breast side) two "X`s" on each breast. Stuff the duck with veg and oranges. Place into roasting pan and cook for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan on medium heat, melt a dab of butter and add shallots, ginger and savory. Cook for 1 minute. Add wine and reduce by half. Add OJ and lavender and reduce by half. Add beef broth and maple syrup and reduce to a glaze. Season at the end on this one.

Remove duck after 1 hour of roasting. Pour half of the glaze and broil for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for 8-10 minutes. Cut off breast and legs and serve with remainder of the glaze.

Serves 3-4.

A Humble Chef's tip: if you have leftovers, cool and use for sandwiches or stir-fries. Brilliant.

Variation: You can add whatever you like on this one. It's very adaptable. I served Pancetta Quinoa and Asparagus with this dish.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Beans To Bundle Up With

This is a quick post because I have a photo I am excited to use. This is the veg I served with the previous post (Rack of Lamb in Puff Pastry) and if you are looking to make this dish, then here is a nice veg on the side.

Do these in advance and re-heat to serve.

Green Bean Bundles

15 - 20 Green Beans, trimmed
1 Stalk of a Green Onion, cut in half
Sesame Oil
Sprinkle of Paprika
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large sauce pan, bring salted water to boil. Add drizzle of sesame oil. Blanch green beans for 1 minute then refresh in ice bath. Repeat with green onion. Use the picture as a guide.

Reheat in a steam insert or your microwave or whatever you feel comfortable with.

Sprinkle salt and paprika just before serving.

Serves 4.

Variation: Toast some sliced almonds and sprinkle on for Haricot Almandine. You can drizzle some hazelnut oil if you have some and then these are very tasty.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Rack en Chemis

This past weekend my partner and I (she prefers to be referred to that since we are now business partners) spent the weekend at her parents to cook some dishes for some photos (that's my sexy hand right there). It was interesting because they had no running water and we had to basically boil down snow to wash the dishes afterwards. But enough of that.

I should record all the dishes because all the photos turned pretty well. The first dish was a good one to do because it simply photographed well and it isn't that difficult to make.

Puff pastry is kind of like pie dough. Yet this stuff can rise like a weed even though it has no leavening agent that you would normally add. No yeast. It rises because of steam. It's actually very tasty and a pain to make from scratch. I haven't actually made it since school and I have been using store bought for my purposes.

Enough of that. Rack of lamb is usually expensive and if you ever see it on sale, get some and freeze it for dinner parties. Trust me. Where I live doesn't offer the highest quality of lamb but it suffices. Frozen New Zealand. I don't have a choice. However, if your butcher offers lamb from Washington or southern Ontario, go for it. The meat is more tender and more flavourful. But it's expensive (ironic that meat from the other side of the planet is cheaper than the stuff a few kilometres away).

As for juniper berries, well, I guess you'll have to search around for that one. Hell, you may even have a juniper bush in your backyard and never knew what to do with the berries. Well, here's one way of using it.

Rack Of Lamb in Puff Pastry with a Juniper Reduction

1 Rack of Lamb, bone clean and cut into chops
1 Package of Puff Pastry
Blend of Dried Herbs and Spices:
Garlic, Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Paprika, Cayenne, Pinch of Sugar
Dab of Melted Butter

For the Reduction:
About 6 Juniper Berries
500 ml Lamb or Beef Stock
Drizzle of Maple Syrup
1 Shallot, finely diced
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
Splash of Port or Sherry
1 Sprig of Fresh Thyme and Rosemary
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees.

Season lamb with blend of herbs and spices and sear in a frying pan on high heat. Nice and brown of course. That's it!

Serves 4.

Just kidding. Lay out pastry and sprinkle any leftover herbs and spices you have. Lay lamb on pastry and wrap. Brush a little melted butter and bake in oven for 25-35 minutes. If you like it rare, 25 minutes and that's it. If you like it well done, drop the temp by 50 degrees and bake for 40 minutes.

For the sauce, in a small sauce pan, add your melted butter on medium high heat. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add garlic and juniper berries and cook for 1 more minute stirring constantly (don't burn the garlic). Add port or sherry and reduce for 1 minute. Add stock, syrup, herbs and reduce to about 100ml. Strain through a fine mesh colander (or a chinois, if you know what that is) and season with salt to taste.

Drizzle on pastry when serving.

Serves 4.

Not kidding.

Chef`s tip: Serve this with your favourite green vegetable that is hopefully not overcooked. Mash is good with this but I served a fig risotto with this and it turned out very well (lamb and fig have a affinity). How do you make fig risotto? Well, there are several ways you can infuse the flavour. First, oh fig. That deserves it's own post methinks.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

I'm Dangling Carrots Here

Another soup, I know. But having just finished my diploma in snow blowing, it's no wonder that I was inspired to write about the heartiest of all dishes.

I like purée soups because they are easy, require less prep time than chowders or broths. And once you've got some practice with purée soups, then making them will become second nature. I don't bother with recipes usually, but especially more so with soups because the technique is usually the same: onion, principal ingredient, stock, purée and season.

For purée soups, you can use frozen or fresh (or dried, but, egh). When you can, use fresh. Easier to control the water levels, usually better tasting and it leaves you the option of roasting your principal ingredient. However, sometimes you have to use frozen (ever try making Corn Chowder for Christmas?) and utilize what you have available to you. That is a staple of cooking that is truly learned to deal with as you gain experience.

Some chefs like adding an extra potato or two to help thicken the soup. This is to help reduce food cost and thicken their soup with a cheap vegetable. Well, that is something I might have done when I was going through college along with collecting all my coupons to save 5 bucks.

This recipe was kind of an accident and I probably wouldn't bother keeping record of it because at first glance it is not very unique. But then again, this is exactly the type of soup where I would say, "That's different. I should try and remember that one." And then I'll forget it.

Purée of Carrot Soup With Goat's Cheese (Potage Crecy au Chevre)

20g Unsalted Butter
800g Carrots, chopped
1 Small Onion, chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
700ml Stock (chicken or veg)
200ml Orange Juice (no pulp if possible)
Pinch of Tumeric, Cayenne, Rosemary, Thyme, Clove
A Few Pinches of Dried Ginger (or fresh if you got it)
Salt and White Pepper to taste
40g Goat`s Cheese

In a medium size sauce pan on medium heat, melt a dab of butter and heat until frothy. Add onion and garlic and cook for one minute. Add dried spices and herbs and continue to cook. Add carrots. Add Orange Juice and reduce by half.

Add stock and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add cheese. Purée soup with an immersion blender. Season properly and add stock for desired consistency.

Serves 6.

Variation: You can omit the OJ and use cranberry juice. It's a little bitter but that is easily solved with some sugar. However, the colour is truly unique.

Chef's Tip: If you aren't interested in peeling a whack of carrots then chopping them up, then don't do it. Go ahead and spend the extra 50 cents and buy ready baby carrots. When you're in a hurry, this is a major time saver.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Chocolate Cake Without the Bouquet of Flours

Valentine's. Sometimes I surprise my wife with a decadent treat for her to come home to. This is a relatively easy recipe that I've adapted and changed over the years.

Working with chocolate can be fun or a headache depending on the chocolate you buy and how much you eat during the process. I usually over measure my chocolate a gram or two to compensate for quality control. Because you never know when the chocolate you just bought could have, uh, gone rancid or something. Really.

When melting your chocolate avoid boiling the water. You don't want to burn the chocolate or get any moisture inside the chocolate.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Unsalted Butter and Flour, for preparing the pan
200g Semisweet Chocolate, chopped
110g of Unsalted Butter (1 stick is good)
4 Eggs, separated
Splash of Vanilla Extract
8g granulated sugar
Splash of Espresso

Preheat your oven at 375 degrees.

Butter a springform pan and lightly dust it with flour. Turn upside down to remove excess.

To melt chocolate, place a stainless steel bowl on top a pot of simmering water and add the chocolate and remainder of the butter. Taste it as you go and wash your hands before you handle the next stage of the recipe.

In a bowl, combine egg yolks, espresso and vanilla and briefly whisk. Pour into melted chocolate and vigorously fold in. Taste it. Wash your hands again. Ask your spouse to taste.

To make meringue first refer to a previous post. If you forget, quite simply start with sprinkle of sugar on the bottom of a pan. Add egg whites and whip like crazy. Slowly add sugar until egg whites are glossy and shiny and have stiff peaks (appropriate for Valentines). Do yourself a favour and use an electric mixer.

Gently fold into chocolate mixture and taste one last time. Pour into springform pan. Bake fo 20-25 minutes. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Let cool for 15 minutes. Pop out cake carefully and if you have a wire rack, go ahead and cool it down on that for an hour.

Serves 1-12 (depending your fondness for chocolate)

Chef's tip: Garnish with something. You can use fresh berries, whipped cream, chocolate mousse (no, it isn't too much chocolate), mint oil or all the above. Your call. As you can see, I used Icing Sugar and Berries.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Made With Real Cocoa

So, you've tried my "Hunter-Style" braised chicken and you're ready for the next stage. Right? Yeah. So I like to think. Should I bother posting a Coq au Vin recipe that nobody will ever make? Well of course I should.

What's funny to me is how easy this dish is to make and the reluctance to make it. First you need to ask yourself one question? No, not "Do I feel lucky?" How about "Do I feel nervous about searing some chicken, adding some basic vegetables, adding wine and stock and slowly braising it"? If the answer is a "I dunno" or "What's braising?", well, then perhaps trying that french restaurant downtown might be next on your to-do list. Or maybe just getting the 14 pc. bucket of chicken instead.

It is a tasty little dish that can be made in advance and kept warm until you serve. The alcohol evaporates leaving you with the flavour of the wine so you can serve it to your kids or your pregnant sister-in-law.

There are no tricks. No secrets. No nifty techniques. You won't even need your crock pot that you never use. Just trust me.

Coq au Vin
2 Chicken Thighs
2 Chicken Drumsticks
2 Chicken Breasts, cut in half
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 White Onion, finely diced
250 g Mushrooms, sliced
200 ml Chicken Stock
50 g All Purpose Flour
400 ml Red Wine (not white! unless that's all you got)
2 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme, chopped
A Few Whole Black Peppercorns
2 Bay Leaves
50g Butter

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

In a wide pot, on medium high heat, brown chicken in a bit of oil. Remove chicken and set aside. Add a little butter and add mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook for one minute. Add chicken stock, bay leaves, peppercorns and wine and bring to a boil. Add chicken and cover.

Place pot into oven and cook for 30 - 40 minutes. Remove from oven, add thyme and remainder of the butter.

Reduce sauce for 10 minutes on stove top and serve.

Serves 4.

Variations: Classically, this dish might have been made with bacon (my God, bacon again) and pearl onions. Well, if you feel decadent this weekend then be my guest.

Chef's Common Sense Tip: Make sure the handle of your pot is not plastic and make sure it can withstand the heat of the oven. Sounds silly but I've had people ask me.

Bacon. Tomato. Cream. Enough Said.

It has been a while since I last posted anything but here I am, back from the grave. On my other blog perhaps I will go into detail why I haven't posted anything for a while but here I will stick to recipes.

I am starting a catering company and I made a soup recently that I served to a group of ladies who raved over it. Actually, it was an ideal soup to bring and offer samples because it is a little different but not so different that it would detract people to try the damn thing.

It is winter so here is a winter recipe that is quick, cheap and easy (my favourite kind). Just like Butternut Squash, you can roast the principal ingredient of the soup (in this case, plum or roma tomatoes) to caramelize the sugars. This is extra work of course so you can decide whether you want to bother or not. Me? Glad you asked. Well, of course I would. I'm a chef and strive to intensify the flavours as much as possible. Well, at least I would at work; at home is a completely different story.

Puree of Tomato and Bacon
8 Fresh Plum Tomatoes, quatered
3 Strips of Bacon, diced
1 White Onion, medium dice
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed
2 Sprigs of Fresh Basil
100ml of White Wine
750ml of Chicken or Vegetable Stock
200 ml of Whipping Cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven on roast at 400. On a baking sheet, lay out tomatoes skin down. Drizzle some oil over top and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden crusted.

In a medium sauce pan on medium heat, cook bacon with touch of butter. Once fat is rendered (about 2 minutes) add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent.

Add wine and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cream.

Using a blender, puree the stock until desired consistency (how rustic are you?) then bring back to temp.

Season carefully to taste.

Remember: there is salt in the bacon, so taste the soup as you go.

Variation: Omit the cream, chop the tomatoes finer and leave as a broth. Then add some cooked pasta, then you have a version of Minestrone. A tasty version though. Unless you don't like bacon (ha!).