Archives for January 2009

An Indian Film, A New Spice Blend and a Giveaway


This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to the winner, EMILY of Sugar Plum!

I don’t write about movies very often on this space simply because it’s a food blog, and also since I don’t watch very many films. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love movies, but let’s just say the the opportunity doesn’t present itself very often. On the rare occasion that I find myself with a few hours to myself, I’d much rather spend it in a book store (AHH, the silence!) or perusing the shelves of my favorite gourmet food shops. If a film is released that I think I want to see -i.e. not a summer blockbuster or holiday fluff- I tell myself that I’ll just rent it. Famous last words, for Danny and I seldom rent films either! There’s always something better to do with our time in the evenings, like play Agricola or…[glancing out the window]…shovel snow. Not More Snow?!
However, I couldn’t wait to see Slumdog Millionaire after all that I had heard about it and so when my sister agreed to come hang out with the boys on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Danny and I were out the door as fast as you can say ‘popcorn’.
The film does not disappoint and pins you to your seat for an emotional and exhilarating journey to a colorful, yet often brutal India. I loved it, but it certainly tugged on a mother’s heart! Upon my return home I hugged my boys a little tighter than usual and cooked a simple dinner in honour of the movie. That’s where the spice blend comes in.


From Montréal’s spice expert, Philippe de Vienne, comes a special new blend: Route de la Soie or Silk Road Blend. Inspired from his travels to Kashgar and containing only the very best of spices, Silk Road Blend is to the palate what Slumdog Millionaire is to the eyes.
This blend marries the flavors of traditional Chinese, Persian, and Indian cooking. It contains over fourteen spices including Iraninan rose petals, green and white cardamom, casse, fennel, ginger, long pepper, saffron, anise, black pepper, white pepper, cloves, cumin, and rose buds. I used it in perhaps the simplest way possible: a rub for a Cornish game hen that I finished with a drizzle of honey. It was excellent! This dish perfumed the house with its extraordinary bouquet and transported us back to Central Asia.


Since you absolutely must try this blend, I am giving away one can to a lucky winner! Leave a comment before February 1 and your name will be entered to win. To get a second entry, blog about this giveaway and let me know where you have done so. Winners will be announced sometime on Sunday, February 1.
Good luck to everyone!

Silk Road Blend and more of M. de Vienne’s spices can be purchased online or at
Olives et Épices
Marché Jean Talon

7070 Henri-Julien etal C-11,

Montréal, Quebec



Roasted Cornish Hens with Silk Road Blend
Serves four.

(You can find Philippe’s original recipe here, which I only just discovered! It’s in French, but likely far better than mine below! I’ll give it a try next time.)

Two Cornish Game hens, rinced and patted dry
1 tablespoon Silk Road Spice Blend

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup butter, melted

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup honey

Grind spice blend until fine and place in a small mixing bowl. Add garlic, salt and melted butter and mix well. Using your hands, rub spice mixture generously all over the hens. Marinade for an hour or two.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Place hens in a roasting pan and then in the oven. Roast for about 45 minutes or until tender and the leg easily pulls away from the carcass. Remove hens from oven and pour honey all over them. Allow to rest for at least five minutes.
To serve: use a sharp carving knife to remove the leg. Slice down the breastbone and remove the breast and wing.
Serve a leg and a breast per person.

DIY: Bagel Tutorial and More History.

How does working from 5AM ’till 10PM, seven days a week, in a remote location, for an entire summer sound? Ten years ago to me, it sounded like a pretty good plan…

Here’s a bit more history for you.

Flashback to 1999 in Northern British Columbia. I’m 19, no serious plans for the summer except slinging food in the mediocre bistro where I am presently employed, wishing to get out of my small town and see some of the world.
I get a phone call from George (same George as in this post but he had since moved to Vancouver) and he has a proposal.

“How would you like to be my sous-chef at a fly-in fishing resort on the BC coast for the summer? Financially, it’s very attractive.”

“What’s the catch?” I ask.

“Well, let’s see, the workload is extremely heavy, there is no contact with the outside world except snail mail once in a while, and once you’re in, that’s it, you can’t change your mind.”

“Hmm, sounds like fun.” I say. “I can be ready in a few weeks”.

And that’s how I found myself on a small floating fishing lodge in a quiet inlet on the Pacific Ocean, cooking three square meals a day for 35 people, and having some of the best adventures of my teenage years. Although the working hours were long and the nights very short, the benefits almost balanced out the hardships: whale watching, crabbing and fishing, sandy beaches and the sheer beauty of British Columbia’s rugged coastline in my backyard.

Life there revolved around one thing: the King Salmon. Clients didn’t pay the big bucks to fly in on a little Otter float plane just to taste my cooking (although luckily for them, it was a big bonus) but for the thrill of reeling in one of these beautiful fish. While they took home anything they caught, we always had plenty of fresh-caught salmon on hand for eating that the staff reeled in. George constructed a smoker and smoked huge fillets of the scarlet fish while I baked the best thing to complement smoked salmon: bagels.


When the guests came in for lunch at 11:30, ravenous from a morning’s work in the fresh sea air, they were treated to a decadent lunch of piping hot bagels, home-smoked salmon and the fixings.
No wonder the staff said that that summer had the best food they had ever experienced–probably no one else put the love into their cooking that George and I did, and everyone knows that’s what makes the difference!
I made enough money in that eleven week job posting to take the next half-year off and travel and that’s just what I did. I bought my first camera-a Pentax- and a one way ticket to….but wait, that is another chapter entirely and not for this post.

My family has been making these bagels for as long as I can remember and to me they are the very best I have ever tasted. While I know they might not be the definition of ‘the perfect bagel’, to me they are just that, and a whole lot more because I grew up eating them. My boys already love them, so things are going to stay this way for at least another generation.

Aimée’s Family Bagel Recipe

(adapted from The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton Jr.)
Makes 16 large bagels

Dough:
3 Cups warm water

4 Tbsps yeast

1/4 cup Sugar

2 Tbsps Salt

7 Cups All-Purpose Flour (approx)

Toppings to taste:
diced onions, poppy, sesame or caraway seeds, etc…

Boiling Water:
2 quarts water

1 Tbsp sugar

Glaze:
1 Egg white
1 Tbsp water

Coarse salt

Directions:
In a mixing bowl, pour water and yeast. Stir to dissolve, and leave for 2-3 minutes until yeast is creamy. Stir in sugar and salt. Add 4 cups of flour, and beat at low speed for 1 minute, then turn to high for 3 minutes. Stop mixer and add balance of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter. When it becomes difficult to stir, remove from bowl and work with your hands on the counter. Knead dough for about 8 minutes. Dough should be firm – add more flour if sticky.


Return dough to clean, greased bowl. Cover it tightly with plastic film and allow to rise for 1 hour.
During the rising period, prepare water in a large 4-1/2 litre pot. Bring to a boil, and add sugar (the sugar will give the bagels a nice sheen when the come out of the water). Cover and leave simmer on low. Grease 2 baking sheets with oil and sprinkle generously with cornmeal. Whisk together water and egg white for glaze and set aside. Prepare toppings of choice and reserve.
Preheat oven to 450F
.

Shaping!
Turn dough onto work surface and punch down.
With a sharp knife, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball as shown on video above. Allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.


With your thumb, press deep into the cente
r of the ball, and tear open a hole with the fingers. Watch the video above for a complete demonstration on the shaping. Place formed bagels together on the work surface, cover with a towel and leave until dough is slightly raised – about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring your water to a low boil. Gently lift bagels, one at a time, and lower into the hot water. Do not do more than 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for about 30 seconds, then flip them over in the water using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 15 seconds. Lift out with the slotted spoon, and place on your baking sheet. Repeat with all the bagels. Brush with egg glaze and dress them up with the topping of your choice and a sprinkling of coarse salt before popping them in the oven.


Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Keep an eye on them so that the bottoms don’t burn. Remove from oven, cool on a rack and enjoy!

These bagels freeze beautifully and toast up well for a perfect breakfast.

Carrot , Leek & Apple Soup with Garlic Croutons


The challenge of creating a spectacular-or at least edible-dish out of fridge odds and ends is one that I have always relished. I believe it to be a sign of a good cook: creative, resourceful and an independent thinker rather than just open a cookbook. I have to say I’m pretty good at visualizing how ingredients can come together for a potential meal-probably thanks to all the practice I got making ‘staff meal’ when I worked in a professional kitchen. No, we didn’t tuck into a lamb chop from the menu when we were hungry or munch on foie gras pâté and croutons, we ate a family-style meal together every night just before service that was prepared by one of the chef de parties.
I should have kept a log of the random items that were held on the shelf designated for staff eating. It was not uncommon to have to put together a meal for fourteen using some or all of the following:

several litres of razor clam juice
60 or so scrawny quail legs
reject fresh pasta dough (presumably tough as nails)
soft/slimy cucumbers (tomatoes, peppers, spinach)
a jar of picked quail eggs
giant tub of dijon
mounds and mounds of venison scraps
a litre or more of beet purée

and so on and so fourth.
What I made was generally decided for me; it depended on how much time I could take away from my usual lengthy list of prep work. One has to think “is it really in my best interest to clean all the venison, grind it, make a bolognaise and a spinach béchamel, and roll the pasta for a lasagna?”
As popular as I would have been with my fellow chefs had I done so (comfort food rocks when night after night all you plate is ultra-finicky fine cuisine) the more realistic scenario was probably me tossing the quail legs in a speedy marinade before roasting them and serving with a pot of rice.


All that said, I recently made a memorable soup from my fridge scraps after a vigorous clean turned up some withering vegetables. There’s hardly a better time to clean out the refrigerator than after the holidays (after a power outage is pretty ideal, too) and it’s a New Year to boot, so if you haven’t done it yet, get in there and toss those mouldy brussel sprouts and stale fruitcake. Be sure to wear gloves, though, it may be worse than you think; as it was in my case.

As I was making the soup, I took the time to scribble down what I was doing in loose recipe form in case I wanted to blog about it. Of course, I have no idea where that piece of paper/napkin/envelope is now, so I’m going to try and remember what I did because it’s worth repeating.

Carrot, leek and apple: not a new combination by any means, but a trio that I had wasting away in my vegetable drawer; add a liter of homemade chicken stock in the freezer that needed to give way to three vital incoming pints of Hagen Daaz (good things come in threes), and voilà, soup! For fun, toss in some whole-wheat garlic croutons for crunch and bacon because–well, bacon needs no explanation, really.


Carrot, Leek and Apple Soup
(All measurements are estimates. Feel free to change up the recipe to suit yourself)

Peel four large carrots and chop into 1-inch rounds. Remove outer leaves from a large leek and discard. Wash the leek well and chop roughly. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add carrots and leek. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften and their color brightens.
Peel two apples (I used Granny Smith), core, chop and add to the pot. Add about 4 cups of chicken stock or water (enough to cover the carrot mixture by an inch or so), a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover pot and simmer until carrots are tender. Remove pot from heat and discard bay leaf.
In a blender, puree soup until silky smooth. Season with salt and pepper and thin with a little cream to desired consistency.

For Croutons:
Cube several slices of bread into 1 centimeter cubes. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. When it is very hot, add the cubed bread and a clove of peeled, smashed garlic. Toss gently to coat bread with oil and cook until brown and crispy. The oil will be all absorbed. Salt generously, remove from pan and cool on a paper towel. Discard garlic.

Orange Madeleines and a Holiday Relapse Recap


I seem to be having a hard time saying goodbye to the holiday season and here we are almost two weeks into January. Valentine’s decorations are up in store fronts and my neighbor tossed her Christmas tree a long time ago (like on Boxing Day); everyone seems to be moving on except moi.

I’m not a sentimentalist, it’s not like I am hanging onto decorations or playing carols over and over (dear me, I’ve had quite enough of those thank you), it’s more of that relaxed, unmotivated feeling that comes from no real schedule to speak of and too many late nights.
Quite honestly, I blame the cozy zen mornings I’ve been having with the little ones, snowed in with a real Winter Wonderland outside, reading the new books they got for Christmas and munching on the remains of the stolen and panettone. I don’t have to head back to school like some of my friends and I have no job to report to at 9AM that will shake me out of my White Christmas reverie, so what’s to prevent me from extending the holiday cheer a little longer?

One such relaxed morning was spent looking back at the photos from the past month and in doing so I realized I had a few food related shots that I could potentially share. A photo recap of sorts–or a relapse back into winter holidays, call it what you like.
So indulge me this one last jingle and then I promise I’ll eat the remaining lonely gingerbread man left in the freezer and move on with my life.


We enjoyed these madeleines fresh out of the oven on Christmas morning. The batter is a cinch to whip up the night before and all you have to do in the morning is bake them while you are brewing the coffee.


Orange Madeleines Makes 2 dozen
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more for pan
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar

2 Tablespoons finely grated orange zest

1 vanilla bean, halved & scraped

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, ground almonds, and sugar; set aside. Add the orange zest to the cooled butter, stir to combine.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla bean seeds and salt and mix until frothy. Whisk in reserved flour mixture to combine. With a whisk, fold in the butter mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter two 12-mould madeleine pans, and dust with flour. With two small spoons, spoon batter into moulds, filling about halfway. Bake, rotating pans if needed, until the edges are a light brown and tops spring back gently when pressed, 12-14 minutes.

Immediately invert madeleines onto a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.

WFD? Lemon, Chicken & Leek Pot Pies

What’s For Dinner? Individual Chicken Leek Pot Pies with Lemon and Tarragon.

It’s feels natural to jump on the comfort food bandwagon in January. Enough with the holiday finger food, the bowls of nuts, and elaborate dinner parties; what we need now is a one-pot meal to sink our fork into and forget about how dang cold it is outside. I think you’ll find this updated pot pie pretty satisfying.

Although I’ve been making variations on this dish for my family for a while, I might never have posted the recipe if it wasn’t requested by an old friend of mine. OK, maybe ‘request’ isn’t the right word, it was more like an order. In fact I believe her exact comment in response to this post was:

“I want your chicken leek pot pie recipe. I don’t like baking, but I like cooking so lets get on with the real food!”

Yes madam! Well, she did used to boss me around something fierce back in the day, so it comes naturally to her. I guess some things never change, eh?
So here you go, Kelly, I’ve done my part. You better make these now to feed all those bambinos of yours. Trust me, they will thank you for it.


I usually make these in massive batches as they freeze and re-heat wonderfully.
(edit 1) Since we sometimes need ‘heat & serve’ instant meals (little children’s tummies don’t understand waiting), I bake these as I normally would for a dinner, then cool them down, wrap them well and freeze for a later date. I re-heat them in the oven to keep the pastry crisp.
(edit 2) I find blanching my garlic alleviates some of the not so fun side effects while maintaining the full flavor that we love around here. However, this is not scientifically proven, just an opinion. I don’t do it often, perhaps just when I want to serve the dish to 10-month-old Mateo.

Chicken, Leek and Lemon Pot Pies

About 4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I prefer dark meat and usually use thighs)
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and de-germed

3 leeks

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup white wine (Optional)

1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tsp dry
(thyme is good, too)
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1/4 cup whipping cream

Salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup green peas, defrosted if frozen

1 recipe pie crust or 450g puff pastry
(my lazy way out, although in the photos I used my usual pie dough.)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Place garlic in cold water, bring to boil, and boil for a minute or so. Drain and roughly chop. Reserve.

Cut very dark green leaves from leeks and discard. Wash leeks well and slice into 1/2-inch (1-cm) sections (I use about 2/3 of the leek)

Heat butter in skillet on medium heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes or until leeks soften. Stir in flour and cook until pale gold, about 4 minutes, adding more butter if needed. Stir in chicken stock, white wine if using, tarragon, lemon juice and rind. Bring to boil. Add cream, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick and glossy. Season well with salt and pepper.

Stir in green peas and chicken. Place in a 6-cup baking dish or individual baking dishes. Roll out pastry 1/4-inch (5-mm) thick to cover top of dish. Cut a steam hole, decorate with any extra pastry cut in shapes, if desired. Brush with egg.

Bake pies on middle shelf of oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until pastry is golden and mixture bubbles.
I usually set my baking dish or dishes on a cookie sheet as I inevitably get one that overflows.