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.