Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hand-made Hollandaise Sauce

After I made the Béchamel Sauce last weekend, I decided that I should learn to make all of the 5 French mother sauces.  And me being me, I thought the second one I made should be the most intimidating - Hollandaise!  I figure if I can master THAT nothing else should be out of my reach.

Hollandaise is a buttery, lemony sauce that is probably the most well known of the French sauces.  It is also the scariest because it can be temperamental and prone to curdle or not thicken.  It requires constant attention when cooking so be prepared to do nothing else for about 20 minutes while you make it.

Having never made it before from scratch, I decided to pull out my copy of Julia Child's The French Chef Cookbook, which is a wonderful compendium of recipes from her legendary cooking show.  I must admit that I really didn't understand the magnitude of the impact that Julia Child had on the culinary world - and to cooking on television in particular - until I read My Life in France last summer.  She was a pioneer and a perfectionist and tested and tested her recipes until they were fool-proof.  She made classical French cooking accessible to the "average American housewife" and was the first woman on television to have a cooking show.

As with most complicated recipes, I find having all your ingredients in place before you begin - your mis en place - makes all the difference to success or failure.  The thing I love most about Julia's recipes is the detailed list of tools needed and ingredients up front, and then the step by step instructions, complete with visual cues to help you along.  I find detailed descriptions, photos and tasting helps me immensely in knowing if  I got something right.

So below is Julia's recipe for Hand-made Hollandaise Sauce, almost untouched by me and achieved on my first try!  I am very proud of that fact - and it is a testament to her ability to communicate.  She also has a blender version, but I went for the handmade.  Man, that was a lot of whisking but the result is extremely satisfying.

Hand-made Hollandaise Sauce (Julia Child from The French Chef Cookbook)


1 6-cup saucepan
1 wire whip
1 pan of cold water (I tossed in a few icecubes to keep it cold)


3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper (oops I used black)
1 tablespoon cold butter
6 to 8 oz. very soft or melted butter (I used 6 oz and it was VERY buttery and rich)

Off the heat, whisk the yolks in the saucepan for 1-2 minutes to thicken them slightly and prepare them for what is to come.  Then beat in the lemon juice,water, salt and pepper.  Continue to beat and add in the tablespoon of cold butter, this will melt slowly when you put the eggs over the heat, and provide a little anti-scramble insurance.

Set the pan over moderately low heat (I was set at 2-3 on my electric stove) and continue to whisk at a reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook.  Remove the pan from the heat now and then.  If you think the eggs are cooking too quickly or if they seem to be lumping at all, plunge bottom of pan in the cold water, beating to cool.  Then continue beating over low heat.

The yolks are beginning to cream when you notice a steamy vapour rising from the pan.  In a few seconds the should be thick enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.  When they form a creamy layer over the wires of the wisk, they are done and you are ready to beat in the melted butter.

Immediately remove sauce from the heat and start adding the very soft or melted butter by teaspoonfuls, beating continually, waiting until the sauce absorbs each addition of butter before adding more.  Continue whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.

Cook's note:

I am sure most of you know this method for separating eggs but basically, I crack my egg on the counter, then turn it over, pull it gently into two and then gently pass the yolk back and forth from one side of the shell to the other to separate the egg white from the yolk.  Works like a charm!

Also, while I think Julia's recipe worked to perfection I found the taste extremely buttery and I do wonder if I could manage with 4 oz. butter and achieve the same results next time.  Not the classic preparation, but if one wants to actually make Hollandaise and use it with any regularity, the waistline must be considered!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vegetarian Thai Chili with Bulgur

So back in December I made this chili recipe from Clean Eating magazine with ground turkey for my Xmas party and it turned out really well.  It could have used a bump in the spice department for me, but that is easily achieved.  Also I found it a bit odd that there was no use of kafir lime, cilantro or fish sauce in a Thai recipe...huh?  So this time I modified things more to my taste.

This is the first time I am cooking with bulgur.  To be honest, the only reason I didn't make the recipe with bulgur originally back in December was that my local grocery store didn't have it!  Well, since then I have bought some and I thought I'd try this recipe out again.  Nothing better than a belly-warming chili to chase away the -20 temperatures in Toronto (-33 with the windchill....brrrr).  Sadly I have to be careful with the heat if there is any chance that the youngest will eat it.  The Teen is all about the heat, like us, but sometimes I think Justin was switched at birth!  I guess I'll give him a few more years to catch up with us on the Scoville scale.

Vegetarian Thai Chili with Bulgur

4 tsp thai red curry paste (mine seemed very mild heat wise so use your judgement here)
2-3 Thai bird chilis or more (to your desired heat)
2 tsp ground cumin
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup uncooked bulgar
1 large green or red pepper, chopped
1 can of kidney beans, drained
3 kafir lime leaves (optional)
1 cup light coconut milk
2 cups tomato purée or passata
2 green onions, choppped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp fish sauce

In a medium sized pot, add curry paste, cumin and 1/4 cup stock.  Stir mixture until curry paste dissolves slighty. Add remaining broth, bulgur and red pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then cover tightly with a lid, reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Add beans, coconut milk and tomato purée to the pot and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until bulgur is tender and chili has thickened.  Stir in fish sauce right before serving.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with green onions and more cilantro to serve.

Cook's Note:  I made the mistake of using a store bought commercial brand so the curry was very mild.  Store bought is ok but you won't get the heat unless you use a proper brand like Mae Sri.

Why did I not make my own like the one that Don Duong taught me in my Thai cooking classes years ago?!?!  If I remember correctly Don was born in Vietnam but was raised in Thailand and learned to cook Thai by his grandmother, whose recipes he taught my friend Ann and I at George Brown College.  Don is an amazingly accomplished pastry chef who was a pastry chef for the Metro Convention Centre at the time, but now owns his own successful business at Dessert Trends which has a commercial location on Weston Road amazingly around the corner from where I live currently and a new location on Harbord Street.  I still use his family recipes for Thai food and will always know because of him that Pad Thai does not use ketchup!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Justin's Junior Chef Bloggette - Seafood Corn Chowder

Today for dinner we are making a seafood soup that we thought looked good from my Mom's magazine.  We changed some stuff because the recipe used a lot of scallops and she says they are expensive.  We put some white fish and salmon in instead with a few baby scallops and some shrimps.  I thought it turned out really good but Brenden says it is "Just ok."  Whatever.

And I learned that when you cut up onions they make your eyes hurt and water.

What you will need:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 lb russet potatoes (2 medium sized baking potatoes), peeled and chopped into chunks
1 can peaches and cream corn
1 can creamed corn
1 cup whole milk (3.25%)
2 cups water or stock
100 g bay scallops
100g shrimp, tails removed
100g salmon, cut into chunks
100g white fish, cut into chunks
2 green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a soup-sized pot.  Add onion, carrots and celery, add salt and pepper, and cook until soft but not brown (about 6-8 minutes).  Add smoked paprika and thyme and stir.  Add water and bring to a low boil.  Add potatoes and reduce to a simmer until just cooked, about 7 or 8 minutes.  Remove about 1 to 1.5 cups of potato/celery/carrot and set aside.  Add in can of creamed corn and milk  Using an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth.  Add reserved potato/celeary/carrot mixture and the can of creamed corn, and stir to combine.  Add more salt and pepper if needed.  Cook for 5 minutes until heated through.

Add scallops, shrimp and fish to the chowder and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until the fish is cooked through.  The shrimp will turn pink and start to curl, and the fish will turn more white and opaque (solid) instead of translucent (almost glowy see-through).  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with green onions and serve!

Mom's Note:

Firstly, yes I am helping with the typing :-)

Justin is a natural chef.  His interest in trying just about anything constantly blows my mind.  We have fun just hanging together in the kitchen.  And I just love the way he comes out with these mature and sometimes rather profound observations about cooking for a 10 year old.  In addition to trying to teach Justin how to cook, I am also trying to teach him to be cost conscious.  There is no way a young guy would have a pound of scallops in a soup, so I thought he should learn the right way to substitute.  We also picked this recipe because corn was on sale at No Frills this week for $1 for a bag or 2 for $1 for the cans.  They were out of frozen, so I thought the creamed corn would add a great texture to the soup without fat.  And it is cheap!

A neat variation on this for the adults would be to stir in 1 tsp (or more) of thai red or green curry paste and substitute a can of coconut milk for the whole milk, and cilantro instead of thyme.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ach aye the noo! Happy Robbie Burn's Day...

So today is Robbie Burn's birthday, and Scots far and near will be celebrating the great poet's birthday.

The evening begins with the Selkirk Grace, followed by the Parade of the Haggis where the dish of legend is paraded in on a platter accompanied by bagpipe music and guests on their feet a'clappin'.

Burn's poem about the illustrious haggis is recited to the crowd, and the Haggis is then ceremonially stabbed with a sgain dubh (pronounced skeen do) which is a Scottish ceremonial dagger that a good Scotish lad always has tucked into the top of his sock.

More speeches follow, including the "Toast to the Lassies" made by a male guest as thanks to the women in their lives. Scotish women - never being short of a word - make a toast in reply to the gentlemen in their lives. And then the party REALLY begins....until the evening is over and closes with a rousing version of Auld Lang Syne, another more famous poem by Burns. And everyone stumbles home.....

No worries I have not decided to try to make Haggis. Not this year anyway, but you never know with me what I will do next year. However, I thought since it was Burns Day I would give my own little solute to the Haggis. I always wanted to have a Highland Terrier and name it Haggis. And a second one to name Hamish. Don't ask why...there is no reason, I just do.

I am sure many don't really know what a Haggis is, right? When I was a little kid I thought it was a creature that ran through the heather and up and down the hills of Scotland and had legs short on one side and long on the other. Apparently there is a flying variety also....yes I read too many Dandies and Beanos as a child!

Well a Haggis is a very, very old Scottish dish in which the liver, lungs and heart of a sheep are boiled, then minced and mixed with chopped onions, oatmeal, salt, pepper, and spices. Not that the Scots really use much spice. If I ask my mother what her two favourite spices are she would say "Salt and pepper". Yep...that's what I grew up on. No wonder I learned to cook. But I digress....then the lovely mixture is stuffed into a cleaned sheep's stomach, which is sewn up and boiled! Wonderful.

The Haggis is served along side Tatties (mashed potatoes) and Neeps (mashed turnip) and sometimes if you are lucky, Mushy Peas (exactly what they sound like). Dessert might be a Clootie Dumplin'(my Aunt Dorothy apparently makes great ones) with hard sauce and/or a Scottish Trifle (a dish which my Mom excels considerably), which is basically boozed and jello'd up sponge cake layered on top with custard, fruit and then whipped cream.

A taste delight be sure, but I was born in Aberdeen and it is my heritage so I share it with you today!

Address to A Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve, Are bent lyke drums; Then auld
Guidman, maist like to rive, "Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

Haggis photo courtesty of

Monday, January 24, 2011

Croque Monsieur - The King of The Sandwiches!

Being sick and being around sickies last week made me think of comfort food. When I was sick I always remember my Mom making me grilled cheese with tomato soup when I was recovering, so of course that is what I made myself.
It is amazing how wonderful simple food tastes after days of either nothing (air sandwiches LOL) or broth-based soups. Sinking my teeth into that grilled cheese was like experiencing a taste sensation for the first time. The sweetness of the melted butter…the suppleness of the fresh bread…the crunch of its light crust….and the sharp creaminess of the melted cheese.  othing better!

So I am back at work now but still thinking about grilled cheese, so I thought this weekend I would explore different “versions” of grilled cheese. I thought I would start with what Julia Child called the “King of the Sandwiches” – the Croque Monsieur!  I have never actually eaten a Croque Monsieur but for some reason I have decided now that I HAVE to make one. They looked so delicious in that Alec Baldwin- Meryl Streep film I saw last weekend called “It’s Complicated”. I think that is where the obsession began….

There seems to be some debate as to what goes into a Croque Monsieur. At a minimum the traditional Croque Monsier is made with fresh ham (preferably Jambon de Paris), Swiss-Gruyere cheese, Pain de Mie (French sandwich bread) and unsalted butter. Some recipes also call for the addition of Béchamel sauce.

Jambon de Paris is basically an un-smoked, wet cured, good quality boiled ham. I am sure someone will have it at the Market but I haven’t managed to get there this week with the cold, so I am going with the recommended substitute of Proscuitto Cotto, which we can get easily here at any deli counter. As with most sandwich meats, thinly sliced is best.

Pain de Mie is a crustless French sandwich bread that is more or less the same as Pullman Loaf or any fresh sliced sandwich bread you get at a bakery. What it is not is Wonderbread!

Béchamel is one of the 5 French mother sauces, the others being Velouté, Tomato, Hollandaise, and Espanole. Each of these sauces is the basis of other sauces. For example, add shredded cheese to a Béchamel and you get a Mornay Sauce. Hmmmm….I think I feel another themed post coming on….but back to the Croque Monsieur for now.

Apparently at one time McDonald’s – the scourge of France and North America – even tried to introduce the "Croque McDo" sandwich! That is just WRONG on so many levels.

The below recipe is a combination of the traditional Julia Child recipe, mixed in with a bit of Barefoot Contessa, and a sprinkle of Sandra.

Croque Monsieur (Serves 2)

1 recipe Basic Béchamel Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 slices Swiss-Gruyere cheese
4 ounces Swiss-Gruyerre cheese, grated
4 slices Pain de Mie or fresh white sandwich bread, crusts removed
4 slices Jambon de Paris or good quality Proscuitto Cotto, thinly sliced

Prepare Béchamel sauce and set aside to cool.

On a flat work surface, lay one slice of bread and brush lightly with melted butter. Flip bread over (buttered side to your cutting board) and spread the inside with a thin layer of Béchamel sauce. Top with a slice of cheese, several slices of ham, and another slice of cheese. Thinly spread a second piece of bread with Béchamel, lay on top of the open sandwich, Béchamel side down, then brush the exposed top lightly with melted butter. Press the sandwich together firmly, leaning on it with a spatula or the palm of your hand. Trim off the crusts, if desired, and press down again on the sandwich.

In a medium sized frying pan, add 1 tsp of the butter, heat it to bubbling, add the sandwich and brown rather slowly, 2 to 3 minutes on each side, so the cheese will melt. Turn on the broiler while the sandwich is browning.

When finished, slather the top of the toasted sandwich with more Béchamel sauce, sprinkle with a few ounces Gruyere. Place sandwich on an oven safe pan and and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Basic Béchamel Sauce

In my quest to make Croque Monsieur for lunch today, I have to master the Béchamel! Béchamel is one of the 5 mother sauces in French cooking, meaning it is one of the base sauces from which many others can be derived. 

The 5 mother sauces are: Béchamel, Velouté, Tomato Sauce, Hollandaise and Españole Sauce. I am pretty good at making a basic Tomato Sauce, but in all honesty, I have never made any of the others except from a packet!  Scandalous! 

A basic Béchamel Sauce (often just called "white sauce") is a milk or cream based sauce that is thickened using a blonde (or white) roux. A roux is just a mixture of butter or oil and flour that is combined and cooked for a period of time, then used as a thickening agent in sauces. A blonde roux is just a roux that has not been cooked for very long, in fact hardly at all. This compares to a brown roux, the thickening agent in gumbo, which is cooked for 30 minutes or longer depending on the chef.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what proportions of flour to butter to milk should be used. I have experimented with a few different combinations this week, and the one that I found works best for me is 1 tablespoon butter to 1 tablespoon flour to thicken 1 cup of milk.  Same concept and proportions apply when making gravy too.

Also, stay away from 1% or skim milk and use whole milk.  Your Béchamel will work using a 1% (I did that Thursday when I made Mac'n'Cheese) but a creamier milk produces a creamier sauce.  And it is not like we eat this stuff everyday, right? So go for it!  As Julia Child said, "Everything in moderation - including moderation."  I love that quote.

The sauce that the 1:1:1 ratio produces has the creamy consistency I want - it is pourable and perfect for gratins or adding cheese to to make a Mornay Sauce. The mark that you should shoot for is a lumpfree sauce that coats the back of a spoon.

Basic Béchamel Sauce

In a sauce pan, warm milk over medium heat until just below the boiling point.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a separate sauce pan, melt the butter over a medium-high heat.

Add the flour, and stir around vigorously with a wooden spoon.  

The roux will look creamy at first, then a bit grainy.  Once you see that you will  know that the butter has absorbed the flour and the roux is ready.  

Remove from heat immediately so as not to add any colour to the roux.

Slowly start to add the hot milk to the roux pan, stirring constantly, and scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure you incorporate all the roux.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cook for 2-3 minutes.

Once the sauce boils it is at its maximum thickness, so if you find your sauce is too thick (unlikely) add a bit more milk, or if it is too thin, add a bit more roux.  Season with salt, white pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are an integral part of Moroccan cuisine.  Preserved lemons are basically lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices. The peel, pulp, and juice squeezed from the lemons can all be used in dishes such as tagines, soups and stews.

I even had them recently in a salad dressing at an upscale (and definitely not Moroccan) restaurant in Toronto called ByMark, and I've seen them used in cocktail recipes also.

I've never made preserved lemons before but - again - it is one of those things that I've been meaning to make for years. So I am using a recipe from Epicurious created by Paula Wolfert.  No alterations - shocking, I know.

If you are going to make preserved lemons, you need to plan ahead as they require time to "mature" on your counter top for a period of time, and I've seen times that span from 5 to 7 days to a few months.

Meyer lemons are apparently the best to use as they have thin skins and are extremely juicy. Sadly my local grocer did not have Meyer lemons nor even organic ones, so I am using regular run of the mill lemons this time. We shall see!

Thanks to Kevin at Closet Cooking for sharing his experience as a first time preserver of lemons. The tip he gleaned from his research into the recipe was that you could tell the lemons were ready when the pith was no longer white. I'll have to keep an eye for that.


6 lemons
2/3 cup kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (from 5 to 6 additional lemons)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Dry lemons well and cut each into 8 wedges, cutting off any protruding stems or bumps. In a bowl toss wedges with salt and transfer to a glass jar (about 6-cup capacity). Ideally, you want the lemons to be packed very tightly. Compress the lemons as you add them to the jar to release their juices. Add lemon juice and cover jar with a tight-fitting glass lid or plastic-coated lid. Let lemons stand at room temperature 7 days, shaking jar each day to redistribute salt and juice. Add oil to cover lemons and store, covered and chilled, up to 6 months.

Cook's Note:  This recipe took very little time and has turned out to be one of the best adds in my kitchen.  When I don't have fresh lemons in the kitchen and I need lemon for a recipe, I pull these out and slice them really thinly.  The other thing to remember when using them is that they are packed in salt, so rinse them well under warm water and be careful about the amount of added salt you include in a dish that uses the Preserved Lemons.  All in all indispensable for me now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Justin's Junior Chef Bloggette - Chicken Cacciatore

Hi!  My name is Justin and I am 10.  I like to cook in the kitchen with my mom.  Sometimes we bake, sometimes we make dinner but my specialty is making gravy.  And I have knife skills!  My mom and I have decided that once a week we will make dinner for our family together, and try out a new a easy recipe that is fast and doesn't cost a lot.  I think when I am older I am going to make these kinds of simple meals for my family.

Tonight we made Chicken Cacciatore based on a recipe by Massimo Capra.  He is a chef in Toronto at a restaurant called Mistura and he has a crazy moutstache!  We didn't have all the ingredients for the recipe so we just put in what we had and it was awesome!

My mom has a secret that uses in dishes like this - she keeps the rinds from pieces of parmesan cheese and freezes them, then she adds them into dishes like this for extra flavour.

Here's what you need:

3 chicken quarters, skinned and cut into pieces (or 8 skinless chicken thighs)
1 medium onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 box button mushroom, cut in halfs or quarters depending on how big they are
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
rinds from 2 pieces of Parmesan cheese (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large non-stick frying pan, add oil and brown chicken on both sides.  Add garlic and onion and continue to sauté.  Add sliced peppers, sliced onions and mushrooms.  Pour can of chopped tomato over and combine.  Add oregano and bay leaves and Parmesan rinds.    Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, making sure the chicken is falling off the bone.  Right before you eat, be sure to take out the bay leaves and Parmesan rinds.

My mom ate hers with sautéed rapinni (blech) but we had ours with pasta.  Yummy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce

Another VERY snowy day in Toronto - the roads are WAY too much of a mess to drive down to the market to pick up beef tenderloin, so we decided to make something involving the pork tenderloin we have on hand instead. After a very very long week of sickies in the house, I want something tasty but simple, so we have settled for a Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri sauce.

Same as I talked a while back about different cultures having their own version of the trinity in cuisine, so do most have their own version of a green sauce.  The French make Sauce Verte, the Germans Grune Sosse, and in Mexico there is the tomatillo-based Salsa Verde.  My two favourite variations of the green sauce, however, are the Italian Salsa Verde (parsley, capers, anchovies and garlic base) and Chimichurri which originated in Argentina and Uruguay.

Chimichurri is served primarily as a sauce for steak, but it works equally well with chicken, fish and pork tenderloin.  Generally, the sauce is parsley based, but as with most things, is open to interpretation and most savoury herbs work well.  I like the addition of cilantro to add brightness and a fresh flavour to the sauce, and sometimes I add mint if I have it on hand.  I also prefer the addition of lime juice over lemon juice to compliment the freshness of the cilantro.


2 pork tenderloins
2 tbsp olive oil for searing
1 recipe for Spice Rub

Spice Rub:

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed and rough chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Chimichurri sauce:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, stems removed
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, stems removed

For spice rub:
Combine all ingredients in with a mortar and pestle and...uuhh...smush....grind...pound.  I am very fortunate to have a beautiful black volcanic rock mortar and pestle that weighs about 20 lbs. and gives me a good work out. The alternative is to whiz the mixture in a coffee or spice mill.  We have two coffee grinders - one we use for coffee and the other we keep for grinding spices.  Works quite well.

Rub pork all over with spice rub, being sure to use all of the mixture.  Allow to marinate for several hours before ready to cook.

For chimichurri sauce:

Combine all ingredients in blender; blend until almost smooth. 

To cook pork:

Preheat oven to 450°F. Add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large oven-safe sautee pan over medium-high heat. Sear pork on all sides, about 2 minutes. Place skillet with pork in oven. Roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 155°F, about 10-15 minutes. Remove pork from skillet and and allow to rest on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes to allow the juices to reabsorb. You an tent the tenderloin with foil if you like to retain heat.

Once rested, slice pork on the diagonal and serve with Chimichurri sauce and your choice of sides.

And honestly, the pork is good with or without the sauce.  The rub can stand on its own with a little bit of liquid added to the pan juices.  It was extremely tasty an simple and quite possibly going to be on the camping-cottage rotation this summer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Tower of Tuna Tartare with Asian Dressing

One of my favourite things to eat is tuna. I love it as sushi, sashimi, seared as a steak but I particularly like Tuna Tartare.  I can pretty much be guaranteed to order it if I am out for dinner, but I have never made it.  Probably one of the main reasons is it is really really expensive.  The price at the St. Lawrence Market yesterday was $27.99 per pound!!  Ouch.

So I bought a pound with a plan to make two different tuna dishes for me and the Om for dinner - at that price the kids are going to have to eat something else!  Just kidding....I fed it to them.  The Teen LOVED it while the T-Rex thought it was ok with too much lime.  Such a critic for someone not 10 for another month!

For those that don't know, tartare is basically a preparation of finely chopped meat - either beef or fish - that is seasoned with spices and served with a sauce.  That's it.  You MUST have the freshest of fish or beef and be very careful when handling it to ensure it stays cold in preparation and that no cross-contamination with any potentially harmful ingredients occurs.

One of my favourite favourites is the Tuna Tartare at ByMark in Toronto (which is in my opinion one of the best restaurants in the City).  Mark McEwan serves his tuna as a tower atop a crispy rice cake with layers of lime-spiked avocado and Japanese mustard aioli.  I get hungry just thinking about it!  My other favourite still is the Tartare di Tonno at Med Bar & Grill in Montreal, where they serve a spicy tuna tartar with avocado, coriander emulsion and taro chips.  The below is my attempt to create something in the spirit of both of those dishes. 

Tower of Tuna Tartare with Asian Dressing 

(Serves 4 as an appetizer)

1/2 pound very fresh tuna steak, ahi if possible.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice (2 limes)
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 minced scallion, white and green parts
1/4 cup cilantro, very finely chopped.
1 ripe avocado
1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, for garnish - optional


1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon agave nectar
Freshly ground black pepper

Chop tuna into a 1/4 inch dice and place it in a large bowl. In another bow mix all wet ingredients (not the avocado) together. Pour this mixture over the  tuna and allow the tuna and mix well.  Allow the mixture to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  

For the dressing, shortly before serving, stir together the wasabi powder and 1 tablespoon water to make a smooth paste. Whisk in the soy sauce, lime, mirin, sesame oil, vinegar, and agave nectar. Add black pepper to taste. Set aside.

When ready to serve, cut the avocado in half and discard the big centre seed.  Using a spoon scoop out the ripe avocado flesh into a bowl.  Chop to a 1/4 inch dice. Carefully mix the avocado into the tuna mixture. Add toasted sesame seeds and season to taste. 

Helpful Hint:  I find the best way to get the seed out of the avocado is to hold the avocado half in the palm of your hand then whack the seed in the middle with the blade of a chef's knife - you will find the knife will stick in the seed - twist the knife gently to the right, and remove the seed while still attached to the knife. To remove the seed from your knife, bang the shaft of the knife against a hard surface and the seed should just pop off.

To Serve:

If you want to be fancy, spoon the tuna into a mold to give the tower effect. I don't think I did too bad considering this was my first time constructing a tower from raw fish :-).

You can use a 2-inch chef ring or an small clean pizza sauce can with the top and bottom lids cut out (as I did) or use a section of PVC pipe cut to the appropriate height (thank you Ming Tsai on Top Chef for that idea).  Basically, you do not have to spend an arm and a leg to buy the special molds Food Network chefs try to sell you from their product lines ;-).   Oh, and I found it does help if you lightly oil the inside of the mold to assist in ease of removal.

To build your tower, lay a foundation layer of sprouts or greens at the base of the mold.  Fill the mold with the tuna-avocado mixture, being sure to pack it down lightly.  Drizzle the sauce around the base of the tuna tower.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds for contrast and garnish with alfalfa or ther sprouts, pea shoots or other small delicate green if desired.   Then carefully lift off the ring...hopefully you have a beautiful tower before you to eat!

This recipe could easily be doubled or trippled for a big party (rather expensive though) and served in baked won ton cups or on Asian soup spoons or on top of good quality waffle cut potato chips.

Won Ton Cups

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place wonton skins on a cutting board and brush lightly with oil. Press each into a miniature muffin tin, oiled side down. Bake until wonton crisps are golden brown, about 8–10 minutes. Allow to cool for five minutes in the tin, then set aside and repeat. (The crisps can be made up to two weeks in advance.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cheese Tasting #1

I don't know about you but I have a habit of going to the market, picking a number of nice cheeses, coming home, eating them....loving many, but tossing out the valuable piece of paper that tells you the name of the darned cheese!  Then I go back to the market another time hoping that I will remember what it was that I ate and liked, but I can't always find it.

So, today I decided I need to start writing down the names of the cheeses I buy and keep a few notes about each cheese so I can buy them again if I like them or avoid them if I don't.  And being the generous sort that I am, I thought I'd share this info with you lot!  Maybe I'll make this a monthly thing.

In Canada we are blessed with some amazing cheese makers, many of whom reside in La Belle Province, Quebec.  Today I purchased two Quebec cheeses that I haven't had before, along with a blue from Australia and a sheep's milk cheese from Italy.  Here's a little info on each gleaned from various websites along with our thoughts on each cheese:

Le 14 Arpent (Fromagerie Médard ) - Quebec
Fromage 14 Arpent is a Farm cheese made from the milk of brown Swiss cows, and has a creamy interior covered with a orange-coloured washed rind. Strong on flavour, it releases a taste of hazelnut.  The cheese is named after the road that borders the dairy where it is made - Le Chemin 14 Arpents (arpents = acres).

Our thoughts - Definitely a good choice for a cheese tray instead of your run of the mill brie or camembert.  For a soft cheese, it does have a strong flavour which is mellowed by its creamy texture.  I did not get a taste of hazelnut from the cheese, but I certainly enjoyed it and will buy it again.

Alfred Le Fermier (Fromagerie La Station) - Organic Raw Cow Milk Cheese - Quebec
Alfred Le Fermier is firm, washed rind organic raw cow’s milk cheese. It is ripened for eight months on wooden spruce boards by they cheesemaker, Alfred Bolduc.  The cheese has a flowery and nutty in flavour, with its orangey crust having a woody odour.

Our thoughts - This cheese delivers.  If you look closely at it you can see small pin-holes throughout its creamy flesh.  Looking at the cheese in the store,  I expected it to be harder and dryer but it is quite supple and creamy in texture.  It is buttery and nutty in flavour with good salt, but I did not get anything flowery at all.  Totally a keeper.

Pecorino Toscano DOP Fresco - Sheep Milk - Italy
This is a young Pecorino from Tuscany that is made only from the milk of pure-bred ewes. It is mild, and pleasant to taste with a sweet grassy flavor, The D.O.P. designation, much like the VQA or DOCG wine designations, guarantees that it is produced within a specific region of Tuscany and meets special standards. Pecorino Toscano Fresco is rich in butter fat and is best enjoyed as a table cheese; it is not recommended for grating.

Our thoughts - Pretty underwhelming and not something I would buy again.  I found the cheese lacking in any real flavour or character and rather bland to be honest.  It does have a slight sweet grassy flavour but nothing pronounced.  Guaranteed not to offend any palettes.

Roaring Forties Blue (Kings Island Dairy) - Australia
Roaring Forties Blue Cheese is made on an island just north of Tasmania, Australia. The cheese is named after the Roaring Forties winds of more than 100 kms per hour that the island is known for.   Unlike typical French blue cheeses made from sheeps's milk, Roaring 40's Blue is made entirely from cow's milk from Australian cows, which gives it a milder taste than other blues. It is a full bodied blue with a sweet, mild, creamy and slightly nutty taste. It is a rindless cheese, matured in a thick dark blue wax coating to cut off the oxygen supply, which helps it retain moisture and creates a smooth and creamy texture.

Our thoughts - Wow!  This a great blue.  Not as strong as a Stilton and not as daunting as some of the other very heavily blue veined cheeses. Very sweet, creamy and rich in the mouth, though once again I am not getting the nutty flavour all these cheeses claim.  I also like that it has this almost gritty, salty feel in the mouth very much like my beloved Bresse Bleu.  This is a great choice for a blue on a cheese tray.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Puttanesca Sauce over Wild Pacific Cod

First fish dish of take on a fish with Puttanesca Sauce. The sauce is made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, anchovies, onions, garlic, and herbs. It is an easy sauce, briefly cooked, and is very fragrant and can even be spicy.

Now we all know the story about this sauce, right? So there are two basic theories of its origin.....the first says that the name, "puttanesca" translates roughly as "in the style of the whore" because the name derives from the Italian word for whore - puttana. Uh...interesting. The story goes that prostitutes made it for themselves for dinner to keep the interruption of their business to a minimum and they made it for the men awaiting their turn at the brothel to keep them occupied while waiting in line.

The second story, according to Wiki, is the dish was invented in the 1950s by a chef named Sandro Petti. That story goes one evening near closing, the chef had a party sitting at one of his tables. He was low on ingredients and told them he did not have enough to make them a proper meal. They complained that it was late and they were hungry. They said "Facci una puttanata qualsiasi", or “make any kind of garbage,”. So in this story, puttanata is used meaning worthless or easy to make, unlike the other story which alleges its origins with prostitutes.

I guess regardless of its actual origin, it tastes great, it is fast and I always have the ingredients on hand in my fridge to make it. In this version, I added half a shaved fennel bulb just to mix it up a bit.

Puttanesca Sauce over Wild Pacific Cod

1 b. Cod (approx. 6 pieces) or other white firm fish such as halibut, monk fish, mahi mahi or tilapia
3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp. anchiove paste
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 cups basic tomato sauce
3-4 whole tomatoes from canned, chopped
1/2 medium sized fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 tbs capers, whole
½ c cured black olives , pitted and coarsely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
3 sprigs basil (I only had fresh thyme and it was nice)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a non-reactive oven-safe pan. Place fish skin side down in the pan and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

While oven is heating....

Place the first 3 ingredients in a large skillet over low heat. Once the anchovies have dissolved add the fennel and sautee until soft and slightly browned, approximately 5-8 minutes. At this point, place fish in preheated oven, and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes depending on thickness, until fish is almost done.

Add remaining sauce ingredients to pan, stir, bring to a boil and cook for a further 8-10 minutes, until fish is almost ready. Take fish from the oven and place in the skillet with the sauce for approximately 2 minutes to let the flavours incorporate and the fish finish cooking. If using fresh herbs, add after you have removed sauce from heat. 

Serve as is or on top of pasta, or with grilled pollenta. We served ours with left-over Risotto Milanese. Top with freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano if desired. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Crawfish Etouffée and The Trinity

In an effort to reduce the meat in our diet a bit, we picked up a package of frozen crawfish from the St. Lawrence Market last week.   I long to go to New Orleans to eat fresh crawfish by the bucketful but haven't been so lucky in life yet.  One day....

While I am not a great afficiando of Cajun or Creole food, I really was first introduced to this type of food by none other than Emeril Lagasse over 10 years ago when the Food Network first came to Canada.  While back then I found his stilted food presentation skills underwhelming on Essence of Emeril, the food he turned out was extremely interesting and flavourful, so I bought Louisiana Real and Rustic and have made many things from it over the years, including variations on Gumbos and his Ham Hock and Sweet Potato Soup (both to die for).  As time went by, however, with every "BAM!" he made, we became less and less enchanted with the show as it seemed to become so much more about the celebrity chef than the food itself, which is what brought him into our homes to begin with.  I never lost interest in the food of course.

So what is an etoufée anyway, right....  According to Emeril, the word étouffée means "smothered," and in Cajun and Creole cooking generally refers to anything cooked in its own juices, sometimes with a bit of water or stock.  Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans which look like tiny lobsters and which have extremely sweet and tender tail meat.  So I guess Crawfish Etoufée is basically smothered crawfish.

As is the case in every Creole recipe I have ever made, this recipe calls for the holy trinity. Generally, a "trinity" refers to the three cornerstone ingredients of a particular cuisine, a trio of specific ingredients that are combined together and sautéed to become the flavour base of many dishes. These 3 ingredient combinations appear as the basis for many cuisines, such as mirepoix - the basis of French cooking, which is a combination of onion, celery and carrot.  In other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, the trinity is comprised of garlic, onion and tomato and are called by different names such as refogado in Portuguese, soffritto in Italian, and sofrito in Spanish.  In Phillipean cooking, the same basic combination is called ginisá.  

In Chinese cooking, the trinity is scallion, ginger and garlic, similar to Indian cooking which favours onion, ginger and garlic.  Greek food favours olive oil, lemon juice and oregano, and galangal (thai ginger), kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass are the basis for much Thai cooking.  Obviously, I could go on and on and on.....but in Creole cooking the trinity is comprised of onion, bell pepper and celery.

This is our "lightened" version of Crawfish Etoufée with far less butter than some recipes I have seen.

2 tbsp buttter
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 pound crawfish tails (we can only get frozen in Toronto)
2 bay leaves (we were lucky enough to get fresh this week)
1 cup water + 1 tbsp flour for a slurry
1/4- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp chopped parlsley
3 tbsp chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet or non-stick pan. Add onion, celery and bell pepper and cook until softened, approx. 10-12 minutes. Add crawfish and bayleaves, and reduce heat to medium. Cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until crawfish release their liquid.  Season with salt and pepper.

Dissolve flour an cayenne in water to make a slurry, an add to crawfish trinity mixture.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.  Stir until the mixture boils slightly and starts to thicken, about 3-4 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and green onion.  Don't forget to remove the bay leaves before serving!

Serve over white rice.