Friday, 11 December 2009

A Dessert to Mull Over

I haven't done a dessert in a while and so here we are. A cook's dessert that is easy to make, better when you let it set and fairly inexpensive.

Panna Cotta is a straight forward dessert that takes no time to make. The only catch is that you have to let it set in the fridge for a few hours before you serve. If you have the time to make it in advance for your party, it is well worth the patience.

Panna Cotta is strictly cream, milk, sugar and gelatin to let it set. An easy foundation that is highly adaptable.

Gelatin is available at all major grocers and is very inexpensive. If you are not aware, gelatin is a meat by-product that comes from the bone marrow. It can be purchased as a powder or as a clear, brittle sheet. It is usually found in, obviously, JELL-O, marshmallows, candies such as gummy bears and low-fat yogurt. When making a homemade chicken stock, if reduced too much, the stock becomes thick from the gelatin in the bone marrow. In fact, Demi Glace is a classic sauce, that essentially is a reduction of either beef or veal stock, that is so naturally thick from gelatin, that it is barely pourable. Very flavourful and usually very expensive.

Mulled cider has become a bit of a staple for me. Prior to working for a retailer that sampled Mulling Spices, I was not too familiar with the idea of spicing up cider or wine. And yet, I now appreciate the blend of spices for what they offer: a rich combination of flavours and an intoxicating aroma that spreads through the house. Mulling spices is basically a blend of whole cloves, cinammon sticks and allspice. However, that is strictly a base that you can expand from.

This recipe I recently taught in a cooking class and I was very happy with the final product. It had a nice appearance, vibrant flavours and a creamy texture that all came together.

Mulled Spice Panna Cotta

8 g Gelatin, powder (1 packet)
150 ml 2% Milk
350 ml 35% Cream
Mulling Spices (2 cinammon sticks, 4 whole cloves, pinch of ground allspice, zest of an orange)
Splash of Vanilla Extract
100 g Sugar
Drizzle of Maple Syrup
Berries and Mint for Garnish

In a stainless steel bowl, pour milk and sprinkle gelatin on top. Mix with a fork.

In a sauce pan, heat cream with spices and sugar. Bring to a scald and let her simmer for a minute. Strain spices. Add cream to milk. Add vanilla and stir. Pour cream into 4 ramekins (buttered is optional) and let set for at least 4 hrs.

Garnish with berries and mint.

Serves 4.

A Humble Chef's tip: it is easier to remove spices if you have a large infuser.

Variation: to keep it festive, try a Cranberry Orange Panna Cotta by subbing the milk with cranberry and orange juice.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Do Yourself a Party Favour Endive Right In

I often get asked what would be an easy yet elegant hors d'oeurve they can serve at New Years. I try to keep the work at a minimum when it comes to little bit sized app's. Because the work itself will be painstaking no matter what recipe you do: you will end up making all of your app's one by one. It's usually not as much fun when you have to make 2.5 pieces of everything you make.

It is common for catering companies to make 2.5 app's of each type per person. For example, you have 20 people. And you intend to make 4 types of hors d'oeuvre, then 2.5 times 4 making 10 multiplied by how many people there are; in this case 20. 200 pieces in total. Seems like a lot but when you figure that each one is intended only to be a bite size portion, it really isn't.

Doing little party snacks often don't get the appreciation they deserve. A ton of work usually go into it and most people consider them as a filler before dinner. Shame really. But that's the way things go. And so, in the industry, many establishments will outsource their hors d'oeurve from another business who would specialize in the production of this type of dish.

Endives are wonderful little vegetables. They have a unique flavour to them, can be easily used for garnishes and are great additions for salads. They are also great for hors d'oeurve as well. Unlike crostinis or crackers, there is no work involved in prepping them. Simply break the leaves off the core and serve.

To avoid confusion, endives are cone shaped and have layers that easily break off. In Canada, we call them Belgian Endives. I've worked with several cooks who called it something different (chicory, which we in Canada know it as something else, and witloof) but we all eventually understood each other. I've even worked with someone from Sri Lanka who referred to frisee as an endive. Suffice to say, we were both confused at first.

I've never seen endives grown myself, but like the white asparagus, it is deprived of sunlight to reduce the chances of it opening or turning green. A good rule of thumb for me when purchasing endives are to pick out the whitest ones. If there is chlorophyll, chances are it will be slightly bitter. Not better.

Crab and Watermelon Salad on an Endive

1 Can of Cooked Crab, chopped
1/2 Small Watermelon, medium dice
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced
Splash of Lemon Juice
Small bunch of Basil, chiffonade
Drizzle of Olive Oil
3 Endives
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, combine crab, watermelon, red onion, lemon juice and basil.Mix well and season to taste. Lat marinate for 15 - 20 minutes and drain.

Preplatter endives on large plates. Spoon desired amounts on endive and serve quickly.

Makes about 20 hors d'oeurve.

Variation: no crab? Try lobster. No watermelon? Try mango. No Basil? Try a new store.

A Humble Chef's tip: you can buy crab frozen instead and thaw it and poach it and cool it and break it and clean it and chop it and season it and serve it. Or buy the can and open it.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Food Pearing

Today we have two recipes. I've decided to provide two side dishes that you may want to serve during the holidays. These recipes are extremely simple yet add a little elegance to the norm.

Apple sauce has always been a staple for large pork roasts. Personally, I am a fan of combining a little sweetness to a savoury roast. Though, there is no need to limit to pork. I'm sure many of you serve Cranberry Sauce with your turkey dinner. But, for a change I have a recipe that will certainly make your guests raise one eyebrow with the name, then both eyebrows with the taste.

As for the potatoes, during a busy time I like to keep things simple and still tasty. For large groups of people, I don't recommend a complex sides like Pomme Dauphine. But, you could go for my Mashed Potatoes and have it done in advance. However, roasting your potatoes is easy, tasty and a little more elegant than mashed. Well, at least, I think so.

Kiwi Pear Sauce

4 Kiwis, peeled and roughly chopped
8 Bosc Pears, peeled and roughly chopped
100 g Sugar
100 ml Water
Pinch of Cinammon
1/2 Stick of Butter

In a sauce pan, combine everything but the butter. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 12 - 15 minutes.

Remove from heat.

In a frying pan, melt butter until golden and frothy. Here you want to caramelize the milk solids to make a Beurre Noisette. Fold into sauce and serve.

Serves 8 - 10.

Herb Crusted Potatoes

16 Mid-Sized Yukons, cut into 8's, in cold water
Small Bunch of Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
Small Bunch of Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
Small Bunch of Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed
Pinch of Cayenne and Paprika
Drizzle of Peanut Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to 400.

In a tall sauce pan, fill with water and table spoon of salt. Bring to slight boil. Blanch potatoes until three quarters cooked. Remove from water and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine oil, salt and pepper, seasonings and herbs and mix. Add potatoes and toss. Lay out evenly on a baking sheet with parchement.

Cook in oven for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Serves 16. Two if they're Irish.

A Humble Chef's tip: if you have a food mill, don't bother peeling and seeding the pears when cooking. Then run your mix and puree through the mill.

Variation: for the potatoes, go ahead and try some of your herbs leftover from the summer garden. Oregano, sage, savory. Whatever you have.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Time to Book Your Hollandaise

I believe classics exist in cooking for a reason. Like many works of art, when something strikes a chord with people, the chances of longevity are increased. There are films, operas and symphonies that have passed the test of time and still continue to please it's audience. Cuisine isn't much different. No doubt there are many recipes and dishes from 19th century France that were popular then, but over time fall into obscurity. Chaud-froid sauce is an example of a sauce that is rarely used these days. While others have actually increased in popularity.

Eggs Benedict isn't a classic french recipe (or maybe it is, the origin is in dispute). However, it uses a classic sauce in hollandaise. Which happens to be one of the five mother sauces.

I've recently taught this recipe in a few cooking schools and it seems that not many people make it. In fact, the people who had made hollandaise did not make it recently and had no intention of tackling it again. It appears the sauce may be used in restaurants but is taking a split from popularity at home.

It's not hard to understand why: it's very rich, high in fat, intimidating to make and, without a demonstration, can be incorrectly made. But don't let that stop you! Trust me. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few . . . well, eggs.

There is a drawback of the sauce and it is the shelf life. It should be kept at room temperature and not be either refridgerated or kept hot. Because of this, the sauce is kept right in the middle of the danger zone of bacteria growth. Unfortunately. You have about 2 hours to use it up and then it is discarded. So that means you have to eat it all up. If you want to gain weight, try dipping crispy bacon into it. Hangover cure.

This recipe is a variation on the Benedict with a very simple, yet common twist.

Eggs Florentine

6 English Muffins, halved
1 Bag of Baby Spinach
1 Glove of Garlic
12 Whole Eggs
6 Egg Yolks
Splash of White Vinegar
Splash of White Wine
Juice of 1 Lemon
1/2 lb. Butter, clarified
Pinch of Cayenne
Splash of Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Place sauce pan on medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add wine to egg yolks and whisk well. Whisk over water back and forth until eggs triple in volume, about 6 - 8 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add butter while whisking. Add worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and pinch of salt. Hold at room temperature.

In a large frying pan, heat small amount of butter until hot. Add garlic and spinach and saute for 4 - 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In sauce pan, add white vinegar and keep on simmer. Add eggs (6 at a time works for me) and poach to desired doneness. 3 - 4 minutes for soft yolks. Toast muffin and top with spinach, egg and coat with hollandaise.

Garnish with cayenne.

Serves 6.

Variation: hmmmm, let me see, there's Eggs Benjammin with smoked salmon, red onion and capers, there's Eggs Neptune with lobster, there's Eggs Commander with Andouille sausage, recently created an Eggs Pope Benedict that I believe uses pumpernickel and Bratwurst sausage. I'm certain many breakfast joints have their own interpretation that only reinforces the idea that you can do whatever you like to the dish.

A Humble Chef's tip: you can poach the eggs then shock them in ice water if you have many people to serve. What I do is lay out the muffins on a baking sheet, untoasted, topped with cooled spinach, ice cold poached eggs and hollandaise. Then place in oven for 8 minutes at 350. Very simple.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Good Bye, Rueben Tuesday

Long before I decided to study Culinary arts, I attended the Ontario College of Art and Design. At the time, I had a mild interest in cooking but certainly had no designs on becoming a chef.

In the Grange food court across the street on McCaul, there is a little sandwich shop. The name escapes me (I want to say Gypsy Eatery, but that doesn't seem right) at the moment but no matter. It was there that my film partner and I had Rueben Sandwiches with roasted potatoes. I had never had one before and I loved it. I remember asking where the sandwich comes from and he said it was eastern European. Well, he was wrong but it still tasted great. So simple and yet so flavourful.

There is some debate to the origins of the sandwich. The only definitive fact of origin is somewhere in the USA. It was probably New York. It seems like a New York kind of thing, doesn't it? Others argue Nebraska but for some reason, that doesn't add any appeal to me. As a special on a board, Nebraska-style Rueben Sandwiches simply does not have the same flair as New York-style. But, that's just me.

The sandwich uses corned beef which is usually a brisket cured in a brine. It is usually fairly inexpensive and it keeps for a little longer in your fridge than other meats. However, I must warn anybody about using Spam. Not my personal favourite. Spam is ground beef with gelatin in a can. Mmmm. More information on spam here. And it would certainly add a new, how should I put it, dimension to the sandwich.

Classic Rueben Sandwich

1 Loaf of Rye, sliced (dark or light)
100 ml Thousand Island Dressing
12 Slices of Emmenthal
1 kg Corned Beef, sliced
150 ml Sauerkraut
Half Stick of Butter, room temperateure

On a large griddle, heat beef and sauerkraut.

Butter rye bread and place bread on griddle butter side down. Spread desired amount of dressing on one side of sandwich and top with hot beef and sauerkraut. Top with cheese and remove from heat.

Makes approximately 7 or 8 sandwiches.

A Humble Chef's tip: melt the cheese on the griddle then place on sandwich for faster melting times.

Variation: try the Rachel Sandwich by using Pastrami instead of corned beef. The Rachel also uses Coleslaw instead of Sauerkraut. But, I'm not a fan of it.

Friday, 25 September 2009

A Post Title That Is A Little Thin on Humour

A few years ago, we had a teenage girl from Belgium live with us who watched our kids over two summers. Two things she insisted in taking back to Belgium was licorice and pancake mix. Apparently, neither was available back home. Strange really. Since the crepe is such a staple in France and Belgium. All you need to add is a leavening agent coupled with a nice package with a fictional character.

Strangely, crepes seems to be considered somewhat exotic. Truth is, it is very easy and very fast to make crepes. Eggs, milk, flour. What can be simpler? Since it is so simple and inexpensive, no wonder that every other European (and Latin American, for that matter) have their own name and style of this paper cake. Most famous is the Russian Blini which slightly different because it often has yeast added. My favourite is Pankakka (I think the spelling is correct) from Sweden. Only because it makes me chuckle and was always tempted to purchase these kakkas from the store in IKEA.

Crepes are very adaptable. They can sweet or savoury. Large or small. Hot or cold. Soft or crispy. Yummy or yucky. I personally prefer yummy but to each their own. Truth is, I like all types of food except one; yucky food. I'm typically picky with yucky.You will need a non-stick pan for this. You can purchase specific pans (blue steel) for crepes, but I usually use an 8 inch omelet pan and that usually does the trick.

Savoury Crepes with Bruschetta and Feta Cheese

250 ml Milk
1 Egg, beaten
200 g A.P. Flour
1 Garlic Clove, crushed
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced
Drizzle of Clarified Butter
4 Plum Tomatoes, innards removed, diced
3 Large Basil Leaves, chiffonade
200 g Feta Cheese, grated or crumbled
Splash of Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Whisk together flour, salt, pepper and half of basil. Create a crevice in flour and add milk, eggs and butter. Slowly whisk in until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, vinegar, basil and feta.

In a medium non-stick pan, melt small amount of butter. Using a ladle, pour desired amount of batter and move pan around to make the crepe flat. Cook for about 1 minute and flip. Continue cooking for about another 30 seconds. Flip pan over table and lay out crepe.

Lay out about a tablespoon worth of bruschetta mix and roll.

Makes about 6 - 8 crepes.

A Humble Chef's tip: have an omelet pan that you use only for crepes and omelets. Be careful not to scratch your pan by using metal utensils. Use either wood or heat -resistant silicone.

Variation: not a fan of feta, try some decadent Gorgonzola. Also, try serving this with a nice Arugula Salad. Nice combination.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Binary Chocolate Operation

Well, I won't lie to you: when I was in grade school, we had a Home Economics class as well as shop, music and et al. In Home Ec., we did some sewing and stitching (both of which I was absolutely terrible at) and we also had a dab at baking. Though I didn't really notice it at the time, my baking was really quite good. Somehow, even at a tender age, I had a knack for making little treats like cookies and biscuits and the teacher would even point it out to me. If my mother and I were fortunate to land a spot on Fergie Oliver's Just Like Mom, my mother would have no trouble eating whatever I would have made. I suppose it came naturally to me the same way a naturally gifted child doctor can convince another kid to play doctor with them. Although, I didn't really develop an interest in any form of cooking or baking until much later. Well, I have officially lost credibilty in being humble . . . .

Before I get into the recipe, a quick story: early in my relationship with my girlfriend (now my wife), I stayed an afternoon at her house while she went to work. While she was there I thought I could do some baking to pass the time and to impress the family. I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies using the recipe from the package. They turned out all right but the family seemed to be impressed by how quickly I made them and how well they turned out. The recipe was so easy but that didn't seem to matter. Point is, if you need to kiss up to somebody, bake them cookies and you'll win them over.

I have seen huge cookbooks dedicated to cookies. The possibilities are endless. If you have a base to go with, then go for it. Add whatever you want. I just made these with my kids from a kids cookbook but made a change or two to make it our own and to avoid plagiarism.

Double Chocolate Cookied Biscuits

8 Chocolate Cubes, about 225 g
200 ml Unsalted Butter
Two Heaping Spoonfuls of Smooth Peanut Butter
20 g Salt, about a 1/4 teaspoon
20 g Baking Powder, 1/4 tsp.
250 Sugar, about 1 Cup
125 g Flour, about 1/3 Cup
2 Eggs
125 g Chocolate Chips

In a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter. Remove and add peanut butter and stir until blended.

Preheat oven to 325.

In a bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and sugar and mix. Add chocolate and mix. Add flour in three stages and fold until well blended.

Let stand (or if you feel like sitting) for 30 minutes. Then spoon small amounts on baking sheet and bake for 13 - 15 minutes.

Cool on racks.

Makes 30 small cookies or 20 medium cookies or 10 large cookies or 1 massive cookie, your choice

A Humble Chef's tip: try not to taste this one as you go, it's very addictive.

Variation: I actually haven't tried this yet, but next time I do I'm adding some chili powder. That's the fad these days, Spicy Chocolate.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Give Me A Minute to Abzorba the Greek

Sometimes to make something new, all you need to do is change a known thing ever so slightly. This is the foundation of sauce cookery: taking a mother sauce, changing it up by adding something new and ending up with your own creation.

I am a big fan of adding a little protein to a salad. I like the change of textures, contrasting flavours and combining hot and cold. This is nothing new. In fact, adding chicken to a Caesar Salad probably dates as far back as the original salad itself (I can't say that definitively, but you get my point).

Every so often, I get sick of lettuce. Garden Salad. Caesar Salad. Spinach Salad. Arugula Salad. Even my favourite, Mache Salad. Today's recipe is a salad without lettuce. It is not uncommon to have a salad without leaves: pasta salad, potato salad, cous cous salad, even quinoa salad. There are many. Yet, I often forget that we can go further in that. How about a good ole vegetable salad? Sounds simple and refreshing, doesn't it?

To name a salad over a culture seems a bit silly to me. But I suppose there is no way around it. We have become so ingrained with these names that it would sound silly to change it. Or would it?

Mixed Vegetable Salad That Are Really Fruit Thrown Togther With a Simple Dressing, Topped with Feta Cheese, Olives and Steak

2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 English Cuke, cut in half and in semi circles
2 Large Tomatoes, cut into thin slices
1 Red Onion, jullienne
1 Red Pepper, jullienne
1 Yellow Pepper, jullienne
1 Jar of Kalamata Olives
Small Package of Feta, crumbled or grated
400 ml Olive Oil
200 ml Lemon Juice
Blend of Dried Herbs: Oregano, Sage, Rosemary
3 lbs. Fast Fry Beef, from Inside Round

In a small bowl, marinate beef with half of the herbs, drizzle of oil and let sit for 1 hour.

In another small bowl, combine remainder of the herbs and lemon juice. Quickly whisk in oil. Season to taste.

In yet another bowl, combine veggies and dressing. Place in a serving bowl of your choice and top with feta and olives.

In a frying pan, heat small amount of oil on high heat. Sear both sides of beef for 1 minute. Place on cutting board and slice thinly. Top salad with beef.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: leave the meat whole when searing. If you slice the beef raw, you can very easily dry out the meat.

Variation: this recipe works well with white fish and, of course, chicken.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Claw and Order

Every so often, it's good to spend a little extra on food. It's an area most people try to save money on during hard times. Yet, we often forget to treat ourselves to a nice meal from time to time. When was the last time you cooked a tender Chateaubriand for yourself? Shucked fresh oysters? Compiled a decadent cheese platter for your family? Yes, these are expensive. So, everything in moderation.

A Court Bouillon is a poaching liquid that is used only to poach foods. It is not advised to use a court bouillon as stock since you add things to a court bouillon that you would not to a stock. A Fish Stock is strictly made with bones, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, celery and leek trimmings (no carrots in this one). And it only takes about forty five minutes to make this stock (unlike beef stock which takes forever). With fish stock you can make a soup like Bouillabaisse, or a seafood risotto or use it in a sauce like beurre blanc or creamy shrimp pasta sauce. Whatever you like.

I discovered several weeks ago that many major grocers do not have fish stock in their inventory. Either it's frozen in the fresh soup area or not available at all. So, whenever you get a chance to make a stock, you may want to try it then freeze it until you need it. I find stocks can last a few months in your freezer, but once it gets freezer burnt, thaw and use quickly.

Anyways, I don't why I rambling about stock when in this recipe I use a Court Bouillon.

Poached Lobster with a Garlic Clarified Butter

1 Whole Live Lobster, named Yummy
1 Cooking Onion, roughly chopped
1 Celery, roughly chopped
A Few Black Peppercorns
1 Bay Leave
100 ml White Wine
Juice of a Lemon
100 g Butter, melted
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
Pinch of Sea Salt

In a tall stock pot, heat some oil and add onion and celery. Cook for one minute, add white wine and half of lemon juice. Add water to almost fill the pot. Add bay leaf and peppercorns and bring to a rapid boil. Do Yummy a favour by cooking him or her in rapid boiling water and not simmering water.

In a small pan, saute garlic in melted butter. Sprinkle with sea salt. Remove any milk solids at the top and keep warm.

For a 1.5 lb. lobster, cook for 12 - 15 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute and let the fun begin.

I usually remove the claws from the arms and crack them. The arms are a pain to eat from but considering the cost of it, you better take everything you can. Then pull the tail off, squeeze it to crack the shell. Pull it apart and the tail comes out pretty easily.

This process is so much easier to show than to write. One day, buy a lobster and just go for it.

Dip lobster into butter and enjoy.

Serves 2.

A Humble Chef's tip: keep it simple! Don't try grilling live lobster or something silly like that. Steaming live lobster can be messy too. Trust me and cook it in a Court Bouillon.

Variation: of course, the meat can be used in so many ways. In a salad, or a soup, or a pasta or even in an hors d'ouvre.

Monday, 4 May 2009

In One Spear, Out The Other

I am a big fan of asparagus. I already posted a great soup that really celebrates this singular speared vegetable. It looks wonderful on a plate and it is so easy to cook. Quite simply blanch in salted water and voila! A wonderful side dish to any meal. Whip up some hollandaise, reduce some balsamic vinegar and create a wonderful little salad.

Harvested in spring, expensive in winter, asparagus should be used in season as much as possible. If you like the white asparagus more than the original, be prepared to spend for it. It is a little more labour intensive to create the the white asparagus. Which is done by denying the asparagus any sunlight.

I like the green variety myself; especially for this recipe. A simple pasta served in a light broth. I think it is a shame that many home cooks feel like they have to have a sauce for pasta. That is simply not true. In fact, "alla olio" refers to a style of pasta that is lightly tossed in oil.

Keep it simple and the results just may amaze you.

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Baby Scallops

12 Asparagus Spears
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 Cooking Onion, finely diced
Juice of 2 Lemons
1 Small Red Pepper, finely diced
1 Pint of Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
200 ml White Wine (I've used rum and it works too)
Small Bunch of Chives, chopped
About 30 Baby Bay Scallops
Box of Fettuccine
Drizzle of Olive Oil
Dab of Butter
200 g Parmasan Cheese
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta as per manufactuer's instructions.

In a medium sauce pan of salted water, cook asparagus until tender. Cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Remove and shock in cold water.

In a large saute pan, heat oil and cook onion and garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Add peppers and tomatoes and continue to cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Add scallops and wine. Bring to a boil and let simmer for one minute. Add lemon juice and asparagus. Bring up to heat and season to taste.

Toss with pasta.

Serves 8.

A Humble Chef's tip: if making right away, don't bother shocking the asparagus and toss in broth. If you like a little more liquid, hold back on seasoning and add a small ladle of pasta water.

Variation: Shrimp, white asparagus, rose sauce. Wonderful.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

I Yam What I Yam. A Sweet Potato.

Now that the weather is warming up, it is time to leave the kitchen and start burning propane. When comfortable, you can cook more than burgers and chicken on a stick on your outdoor grill.

Generally speaking, there are three overall methods of cooking: dry heat, moist heat and n0-heat. Within those are all the ways we cook. For instance, dry heat is roasting, grilling, sauteing, deep frying (yes, deep frying is considered a dry heat method) and broiling. Moist cooking is blanching and braising. No-heat would be curing and pickling and these sort of things.

If you can remember that the BBQ is just an oven that is outside, then sky's the limit. Once you have the mindset, you can do braises on your BBQ, or roast beef or chicken or whatever, standard grilling foods like meats and vegetables and even some starches. Heck, desserts aren't even out of the question if you're brave enough. If you have some cedar planks, then you can really treat your BBQ like any oven.

It is unfortunate that sweet potatoes aren't as popular as they should be. Not to be confused with the yam, sweet potatoes are a distant cousin of the common potato we all know and love. Yet, sweet potatoes are high in fibre and complex sugars. Virtually opposite to the delicious cousin. So, why don't we eat more of it? I'm not sure why but I do know that many people I talk to about cooking are often afraid that they are higher in carbs than other potatoes which couldn't be further from the truth.

So stop being a Sweet Potato hater and make the switch. It is brilliant mashed, in a soup, roasted and, of course, grilled. Yum.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with a Honey Tarragon Glaze

2 Large Sweet Potatoes, cut into 3 cm slices
50 ml Liquid Honey
Small Bunch of Fresh Tarragon, chopped
Juice and Zest of 3 Limes
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Drizzle of Oil

In a sauce pan, combine honey, tarragon and lime juice. Reduce by half to a glaze. Remove from heat.

On your BBQ, heat one side to high and the other to medium low. In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes in oil, salt and pepper and zest. Grill potatoes on hot side and grill for 3 - 4 minutes. Turn sweet potato one quarter to make cross hatches and grill for another 3 - 4 minutes. Flip and repeat. Transfer potato to other side of BBQ and using a silicone pastry brush, glaze potato with reduction. Cook until tender. Usually 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the sweet potato.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

A Humble Chef's tip: you can lay down some foil on your cooler side of your BBQ to prevent burning.

Variation: Sweet Potatoes have an affinity with spices like cinnamon and clove and these sort of things. You can make a sweet glaze using the same method except omit the tarragon and substitute whatever spice you often use in apple pie.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Don't Worry. No Poblano!

Despite the fact that yours truly is of Guatemalan descent, there aren't many Latin American recipes on my blog. Truth is, my training is classical and the places where I've worked prepares mostly traditional cuisine.

Growing up, fresh tortillas and refried beans was certainly a staple for weekend mornings. My mother takes pride in the simplicity of this style of cooking. On top of that, it is comfort food for myself and my brothers since it transports us to our childhood.

Yet, my mother never really showed me all the unique flavours and techniques Latin cuisine has to offer. We did do some staples like fried plantains, tamales, frijoles, fresh tortillas, fajitas and burritos. We even did pupusas with spiced coleslaw from time to time. For the most part, my mother cooks very simple North American foods like anybody else. And so even though I have a base knowedge of Latin foods, much of what I know of this type of cuisine is either self taught or through expirementation.

Mole Poblano is a classic sauce that hasn't really become too known outside Mexico. Yet, Mole Poblano sauce is nothing new. In fact, it has roots in Aztec culture. The thought of adding chocolate to savoury dishes seems unsavoury to many people but whenever I offer my chili to guests with the secret ingredient of chocolate, I get nothing but raves.

It can be a little off putting for some palates, but in time I'm sure you will appreciate the unique flavour and density of this sauce. If the sauce tastes a little bitter to you, a little sugar can offset that unwanted flavour.

For the adventurous, there many more Mole sauces: Amarillo, Negro, Rojo, Verde and Cacahuate. I'm sure there are more but this gives you an idea how many types there are.

Pecan Crusted Chicken with Mole Poblano Sauce

1 Cooking Onion, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, whole
Small Handful of Sesame Seeds
Small Handful of Almonds
1 Ancho Chile (if available)
Small Blend of Spices: cumin, cinammon, nutmeg, coriander, chili powder
2 Roma Tomatoes, chunked
100 g Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
Dab of Butter
6 Chicken Breasts
100 g Pecans
Salt, Sugar and Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 325.

In a sauce pan, heat butter until a little brown. Add onion and garlic and cook until golden. About 7 - 10 minutes. Add spices and continue top cook for another minute. Add seeds, almonds, chocolate, tomatoes and ancho chile and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Let simmer and puree. Adjust to seasonings.

Using a frying pan, heat oil until very hot. Sear skin side of chicken until golden. Remove from pan and using a pastry brush, spread a layer of sauce on top of chiken. Roll in pecans and place on cookie sheet with a rack. Cook in oven for 15 minutes or until internal temperature of 160 degrees. Let rest five minutes and serve with sauce.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: if the onion caramelizes enough, you may not need to add sugar. Taste the sauce at the end and add what your instincts tell you.

Variation: there are many interpretions and variations to this sauce but before you change it, I would stick to one classic recipe and make changes when you're more comfortable. This works well with pork chops and really well with turkey.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Disco Stew Doesn't Advertise

I get asked often how to cook shellfish. There is a certain amount of trepidation that swims around the cooking of shellfish. Truth is, it could be easier to cook shellfish than some other meats you may cook frequently.

Take mussels for example. It takes minutes to cook mussels and it is as easy as it gets. Heat up some wine, add garlic and tomatoes. Add mussels and cover for five minutes. And for less than five bucks, you got mussels for two. What can be simpler than that?

Fish stew comes in many varieties: Cioppino from California, Acqua Pazza from Italy, Caldeirada from Portugal, Bouillabaisse from France to name a few. You have fishermen (sorry, fishers) who have some leftovers from today's catch, put it in a pot with some veg and you have cheap meal. Peasant food for lack of a better word. Thing is, these stews are now considered to be high end where for the longest time some seafood was never touched by the bourgeois. Lobster for example, was considered so plentiful and common that only peasants would eat it. Ironic. Anybody who buys lobster knows that it is a rare treat since it usually costs ten to fifteen bucks a pound these days.

So fish stews have a great amount of respect now. Bouillabaisse is now a classic because it offers great taste when made properly and with fresh ingredients, high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and it usually takes little time to prepare.

This isn't new stuff. There are references of the soup that date back to the Ancient Greeks and is even referenced in Roman Mythology! Apparently, Vulcan was making a candlelit dinner for Venus with fish stew long before any mortal got their greedy hands on it.

What must be stressed is that you can do what you want with fish stews. Add what you got, stir it up and have fun with it.

A Humble Chef's Stew with the Fishes

1 lb. Bag of Mussels
1 lb. 16-20 Shrimp (P & V'd [peeled and deviened])
1 lb Baby Scallops
1 Filet of Tilapia or Catfish, cut into 3 oz. portions
4 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Red Pepper, diced
250 ml white wine
12 - 15 Capers
500 ml Fish or Vegetable Stock
8 or so Sundried Tomatoes (SDTs), julienne
15 - 20 (about a pint) Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
10 Kalamata Olives, halved
Small Bunches of Parsley, Basil and Tarragon, chiffonade or chopped
Juice of a Lemon
Drizzles of Oil of Choice
100 g A.P. Flour
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large saute pan, heat drizzle of oil on medium-high heat. Sweat onions and peppers until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook for two minutes. Add capers and wine and reduce by half. Add olives, SDTs and tomatoes and stock. Bring to a slight boil then simmer. Add tarragon and basil.

Meanwhile, dredge fish and sear in hot frying pan with drizzle of oil. Add a ladle fish stew broth to fish and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 5 - 7 minutes.

Bring stew to a boil and add shrimp, scallops and mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, scoop stew first then top with cooked fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Serves 8ish.

A Humble Chef's tip: more of a necessity than a tip; remove any unopened mussels and discard. Do not eat any mussels that you have to open up ever.

Variation: turn this right up Decadence Alley by adding some crab, lobster and maybe even some oysters. Then take a left to Carbohydrate Lane with some Orzo pasta. Just don't get lost getting there!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Number One On the Poppy Chart!

Too make up for some lost time, here is a new recipe just in time for Spring.

In the last post, I mention that we are often restricted in being creative in baking. Well, this is true to a degree but you can make slight changes in the flavour as long as you stick to the basic recipe.

There are some staple recipes in baking that I'm sure if you're willing, you can adjust to seasonality or availability. Today is the perfect example. This is a fairly standard recipe that I have taken and tweaked it a little to call it my own. You can do the same.

Lemon-Cranberry Poppyseed Loaf

350 g (1.5 Cups) A.P. Flour
2 Pinches (2 tsp) of Baking Soda
1 Pinch of Salt
250 ml Plain Yogurt
200 g Sugar
200 ml Canola Oil
2 Eggs, cracked
Splash of Vanilla Extract
Small Handful of Poppyseeds
Small Handful of Dried Cranberries
Finely Grated Rind of 1 Lemon
Dusting of Icing Sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter loaf pan (approx. 1.5L) and dust with icing sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, poppyseeds and lemon rind.

Add wet mixture to the dry and fold in until combined. Add cranberries and fold in.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 - 45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Makes 8 - 10 slices.

A Humble Chef's tip: use a toothpick and insert in the middle to check to see if it is cooked. If it comes out dry, you're awesome!

Variation: try with a lime or an orange. It is virtually the same but still different.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Hip! Hip! Purée! Hip! Hip! Purée!

For many cooks and chefs, some of our best creations come either by accident or by utilizing up some stuff in your fridge that has to be used up. The latter is more common and is the case for this recipe.

Last night I taught a class in Ottawa. Most of the people attending were friends and colleagues of my Savoury Student also known as my wife. Because of that, I felt like treating them to something that wasn`t on the menu. And so I made an extra recipe using up a vegetable stock I had made from the trimmings of the vegetables and using leftover vegetables the cooking school had in their fridge from a previous class.

That's the great thing about cooking: thinking on the fly and being creative. You see, in baking, you'd have to be very experienced and confident to simply whip somthing up using leftovers. I find that when dealing with breads and pastries, you are usually following a recipe fairly stictly. In making a soup on the other hand, it actually improves your culinary skills because it forces you to learn what ingredients that have an affinity with others. Further, it increases your confidence in cooking without a recipe. Try it and don't be discouraged by the results of your first few times. This is how cooks and chefs increase their skills: combining ingredients you`re unsure about together and taking risks. And when they work and you`ve created something you`re proud of, then you understand one of the reasons why some people become chefs: the gratification of creating a new and different dish.

Carrot and Cantaloupe Purée

8 Carrots, peeled and chunked
Half a Small Cantaloupe, chunked
3 Small Cooking Onions, roughly chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, chrushed
Half a Red Pepper, chopped
A Few Pinches of Dried Ginger
3 l Vegetable Stock
Drizzle of Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a stock pot, heat oil. Cook onion until slightly golden. Add garlic and peppers and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add carrot and dried ginger and sauté for 2 minutes. Add stock and cantaloupe and bring to a boil. Cook thoroughly until carrot is tender. Using a blender, carefully purée soup until desired consistency. Season to taste while hot.

Serve with desired garnish. e.g. chives, parsley, goat`s cheese wrapped in phyllo, whatver

Serves 12

Variation: I`m sure this would work well with some other type of juice. I you have leftover cranberry, blurberry or fruit cocktail, use up some in this recipe for some added sweetness and depth.

A Humble Chef`s tip: I`ve used this tip in the past but I`ll use it again, if you don`t feel like peeling and chopping all your carrots, feel free and use the baby carrots for added convenience.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

In The Pommes of Your Hand

This quick and easy post is here because I promised a class today that I would post this immediately. It is quick and easy recipe for a quick and easy dinner. The only drawback is you need to deep-fry it. It can be baked but it is so much better in oil.

If you do not own a deep fryer, you can use a sauce pan to deep fry. The drawback is that is can be difficult controlling the heat of your oil without a thermometer. I have a deep fryer that I rarely use for a few reasons: very unhealthy way to eat, annoying to clean, wasteful on oil and it stink up your house and clothes. If you use a sauce pan to deep fry, you won't use so much oil and the clean up is considerably easier.

This basic of basic recipes can be fun and interesting to make. The cooked pastry is called Choux. This simplified version should turn anybody nervous in the kitchen turn into a confident chef. Choux can be made sweet or savoury. Here, it is savoury.

Be sure to dehydrate the potatoes after they have been cooked in a sauce pan. The less water the better.

Finally, for those who read my blog, you will know that I prefer to roast my potatoes for making mashed. This is no different, if you have the time. It takes ore than a hour to roast through a Yukon Gold Potato. If you boil them, drain well and dehydrate in the sauce pan.

Pommes de Terre Dauphine

250 ml 2% Milk
250 ml Water
1 Stick of Butter
500 g Flour
4 Eggs
5 Large Yukon Gold Potatoes
Seasoning to Taste

In a deep fryer, heat oil to 350 degrees.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook potatoes in oven for at least one hour;longer if the potatoes are really large. After they are cooked, remove from oven and let cool. After the cooled, using a serrated knife slice potatoes in half. Scoop out innards into a bowl. If still wet, place in sauce pan over low heat to dehydrate further.

In a sauce pan, combine milk and water over medium high heat. Add butter.Once butter melts, remove from heat and add flour. Mix vigorously until dough comes off the side cleanly.

Fold potatoes into choux. Add seasonings. Shape and deep fry until golden; about 7 minutes.

Makes about 20 balls.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

I Never Quiche And Tell

I apologize about the converter . . . working on it.

I did a class today and I told the class that I would post the recipe and so here it is. Apparently, I do quiche and tell, but only this once!

I was amazed by how many people why don't know how to make quiche. Well, actually, many simply haven't tried. It is a type of meal that we forget about. I'm not entirely sure who but I have some theories: fear of making the pastry (although, most cooks don't bother making the crust anymore, they purchase them), it takes a little bit of time to cook for breakfast, it's just as easy to make an omelette. However, as I talked about it to the class, it clicked in that quiche has all your basic food groups: protein in the eggs (or meat if ant), dairy in the milk (and cheese if any) and grain in the flour of the crust. It's very well rounded!

I think it's a perfect Sunday brunch item myself. It takes a little more time to cook than scrambled or over-easy eggs, but if you're not in a rush, then there's no problem.

Quiche is also great because it is so adaptable. You have leftover spinach? Heat it with some garlic and clove and poof! Quiche Florentine. Or, leftover roast beef? No problem: heat some chopped onions, mushrooms and a few drops of horseradish and . . . oh. My. God. Prime Rib Dinner Quiche complete with built-in Yorkshire Pudding.

Point is, it's great. You eat it.

Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche

2 Broccoli Crowns, washed and cut into florets
200 g Cheddar Cheese, grated
6 Eggs
250 ml 2% Milk
1 Large Pie Crust
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Ice for Ice Bath

Preheat oven to 328 exactly.

Just kidding. It's actually 329 exactly.

In a bowl, whip eggs with milk and seasonings and place into a picture. Well, that might be messy. Maybe try a pitcher. Let come to room temperature.

In a pot of salted water, cook broc in water for 1 minute and shock in ice bath.

Place the broc in the crust, cover with egg wash and top with cheese.

Cook in oven for 30 - 35 minutes.

Let rest for 5-6 minutes.

Serves 6ish.

Leek and Peameal Bacon Quiche

1 Leek, rinsed well and julienne
2 Pieces of Bacon, cut into squares
1 Garlic Clove, crushed
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced
150 g Oka, grated
6 Eggs
250 ml 2% Milk
Pinch of Dried Sage and Thyme
1 Large Pie Crust
Drizzle of Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to hot.

In a bowl, whip eggs, milk and seasoning. Place in a jug and let come to room temperature.

In a saute pan, heat oil on high heat. Sweat leeks and onion for 1 minute. Add garlic and herbs. Add bacon until opaque.

Place filling in crust, top with egg wash and top with Oka. OK?

Cook in hot oven, preset at 325 for about 30 to 35 minutes.

Let rest for 5-6 minutes.

Serves around 6 Grandmothers.

A Humble Chef's Tip: make sure you dehydrate the filling as much as you can on the bacon recipe. Let it evaporate for a minute or two to dry out. It can get soggy if it's too wet.

Variation: are you kidding me? There are so many that there are some restaurants that have quiche of the day! Go nuts!

Monday, 19 January 2009