Friday, January 29, 2010

Brandy Onion Soup

In my early 20's, I was in awe of Martha Stewart. I was baking desserts for 3 restaurants, all had a different feel - I needed inspiration.
I had a subscription to her magazine and would go over the pages slowly, as to properly absorb every single detail. What it should look like. What it should taste.

One thing I discovered early enough is that magazines do not test their recipes that much.
I remember trying some in her pies and tarts book and, oh, la déception.
So, read through magazines for ideas. That's it.

I was never really fond of onion soup until I tried putting brandy instead of beer or wine.
It adds depth and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. This I owe to Martha. (and her team, her huge team that makes her look sooooo perfect. I need one of those...)

My measures are very approximate as I do a ton of soup and freeze it in handy portions.
I like to use chicken and beef stock, it is a nice balance.

4 large Spanish onions, quartered, then sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brandy
pepper, freshly ground
2 branches thyme
2 bay leaves
6 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
water to top up

On low heat, cook the onions + garlic in butter. This should take about 1 hour. Give it a stir from time to time, they should become golden brown and soft. Add the brandy, cook down on low heat for about 30 minutes. The onions should become dark brown. Add a few cracks of pepper, the thyme and bay leaves. Pour in the stocks, let simmer for about 1 hour. Taste. If too salty, add water.

I used to add my crouton on the soup, then add cheese and put it under the grill. Lately, I have found that broiling the croutons and cheese separately from the soup works best... The cheese is nice and crisp on the sides, no goopy mess at the bottom of your bowl. You enjoy the broth more, onion soup is not only about the cheese and bread!! (Or maybe it is when the broth is just so-so...)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sichuan Pepper Shrimp

I have very fond memories of shrimp.
I remember being little and my father showing me how to devein them. So odd how people are scared to buy these whole and perform that little operation...
If you are buying whole shrimp, you will need to cut 'the whiskers', then snip off the mohawk, and finally, make a long slit down the back to expose the black canal and gently pull it out. Here it is, say hi!

I tossed the shrimp in very hot oil with lots of Sichuan pepper, salt and, once taken off the heat, some lime juice. Sichuan pepper is expensive but sooooo worth it, it leaves a nice tingly feeling on your tongue. I bought mine through Epices de Cru.

When Simon is out, I jump on the occasion to make myself some food that leaves him somewhat indifferent. My solo dinner:

Steamed broccoli, edamame, roasted kale, roasted kohlrabi with sesame oil, fried tofu with garlic&palm sugar&chili, Sichuan pepper shrimp, roasted chestnuts, rice...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Apricot and Raisin Bread Pudding

When Simon got up this morning, he asked:
What is it that smells so good in the oven?

He was a bit confused at the sight of the bread pudding as we both have never really eaten any.
Some food items are just not in your 'family cookbook'.
We are not drawn to it when we go to restaurants.
It is bread + pudding. Not very enticing.

I had leftover bread that I was going to bake into croutons, but then thought I should try this out.
It is all the rage in restaurants right now : probably because a) you can do it with leftovers b) it is cheap. Sorry for being so realistic.

Most recipes I looked at had jam, lots of fruit, syrups, sauces... just too much sugar.
I just did as I thought would taste good, overly sweet is not ideal for breakfast.

This was good, just like French toast. I loved the crunchy top and sides, and the creamy inside. Anything warm and comforting is a good start to your day.

Apricot and Raisin Bread Pudding
-very approximate measures... this was early morning.

bread cubes to fill a 9x9 glass baking dish
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
large handful of apricots, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Thompson raisins
1-2 tsp cinnamon
half a vanilla bean
unsalted butter

Heat the vanilla bean with the milk, scrape out the seeds, discard bean. (or skip this and replace the vanilla bean by 1 tsp vanilla extract)
Butter the baking dish generously.
Put the cubed bread in a large mixing bowl along with the dried fruit.
Mix the cream, milk, eggs, eggs yoks, sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Mix into the bread mixture, let soak for 10-20 minutes. Gently pour into prepared dish and cook at 350 for 50 minutes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Watercress and Chicken Salad

I thought I would be famished by the time I got home tonight...
Today was my first 'day' back to kickboxing, I had not been for over 1 year and a half. That should be enough to work up a large appetite.

But no.

As I came home, I put some chicken in the oven and we went for a walk. It was so beautiful with the light snow, the river and sky were the exact same colour.

Then, still, I just wanted a salad. And sometimes, simple is good.

The dressing was a combination of minced garlic & ginger, grainy mustard, orange juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Shredded Beef Tacos

I love tacos sooooo much.
If I ever get married, it is my dream to have a taco stand in a field to feed all my friends. Hopefully there will be some tamales too... I discovered those in Mexico and have been craving them since, I will soon try to make some.

To prepare the tacos, I had to use my trusty pressure cooker.
I stared at it as it hissed, it still scares me. But it is ever practical!!!

It cooked half a beef roast in about 40 minutes. It was pull apart tender. Incredible. The pressure cooker has become my new best friend. The difference between 'real beef' and ground beef was amazing, major upgrade.

For the beef:

Sear the roast in the pressure cooker. Then add your seasonings:
2 Tbsp Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili (or any dried peppers - I had huge ones that I bought in a Mexican store in Mtl but forgot the name...)
1 1/2 cups beefstock
1 tsp tomato paste ( I freeze it in handy portions...)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bird's eye chili, chopped (you could use more authentic chilies, this is all I had)

Close the pressure cooker and let it go for about 40 minutes, the meat should be tender and tasty when you open it! Once the pressure is released and that you can open the cooker, put it back on the stove and cook down the sauce. This sauce was pretty spicy, if you like it less spicy, hold back on the spices in the cooker and adjust as you are reducing the sauce.

I use Philippe de Vienne spices, they are really tasty. It is worth it to invest in good spices.
These can be purchased online (email me if you want to buy some, I will get some more, ha ha!)
or in some stores around the city (I know La Brulerie in Hull had them), or, go to the Jean Talon market in Montreal.

It is also very much worth it to take the time to roast whole spices and then grind them. I always do it for cumin.

We served the tacos with sauteed onions and peppers, shredded lettuce, scallion, cilantro, sour cream, 5 year old cheddar.

Monday, January 18, 2010

chunky tomato sauce and brown butter

Life is kind with me, I've never really had to 'watch' what I eat. Blame it on my nervousness. Genes. Or just plain luck.
Carbs? Give me a whole plate of it.
Cream, butter? Bring it on. Staff have seen me eat whipped cream by the spoonful and the amount of butter I put on bread is quite shameful a sight.

When I feel lazy, we often eat pasta. Maybe it ends up being more work than another possible meal, but it seems simple in my mind.

Tonight I sauteed the penne in olive oil and pepper to give it a nice crunchy texture, then topped it with a vegetarian tomato sauce. We ate it with crusty bread and brown butter (that I had done for our dinner guests the previous evening, but totally forgot... It seems like every time I have guests, I forget at least one thing - how I long to be the perfect host!)

Easy Chunky Tomato Sauce

10 pearl onions, cut in half
1/2 cup red wine
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 rib celery, cubed
1 Chinese eggplant, cubed
1 can good quality canned tomatoes
1 bird's eye chili, minced
Olive oil
Kale, chopped
optional: black olives, capers, parmesan

Simmer the onions in red wine, let reduce until almost no liquid is left. Add a bit of olive oil, then garlic, saute for a few minutes, add celery and eggplant. Cook for a few minutes, add tomatoes and chili. Let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil, let warm through, add kale just before serving. Top with chopped kalamata olives, capers and parmesan.

Brown Butter

In a small pan, gently heat the butter until it turns a nutty brown color. I usually test it out every few minutes with a white spoon: just insert it into the pan and see the color. The darker, the nuttier. Strain the butter and let cool. When it is set, whip it in a mixer until fluffy. You can add herbs, salt flakes, pepper, spices... I like mine plain with sea salt.

If you don't have time to wait for it to cool, have some ice in a large bowl. Place this bowl under the mixing bowl as you whip, it will cool down fast.

You can roll the butter in parchment paper and slice it to serve. Makes butter special, an extra little something to impress your guests!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

fried smelts, twice baked potatoes...

Do you remember Hung from Top Chef?
I really related to him, I think I was a bit the same when I worked in restaurants. I loved the challenge of doing too many things in too little time. It made me smile when I had 10 orders on the go and 10 more in the back of my mind - you feel challenged.

Last night I took the bus home and, as it drops me right in front of my mum's house, I stopped by to say hello. Then walked over to the grocery store and got a few things for dinner: oh what a treat when I saw smelts!!!

I slowly walked home and appreciated the mild weather.
Arranged for a computer conversation via Skype as a gallery in Edmonton was planning the last details for the opening of my solo art show...

Then I saw the time.
I had about one hour before Simon got home and at that time also, the doors to the gallery would open and they would get Skype going again (so that I could see the crowd!)

In record time:
Twice baked potatoes with aged cheddar, roasted fennel, bruschetta with garlic croutons, roasted chestnuts, roasted kale, fried smelts...

We toasted with delicious Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

some mornings, you just need cake...

a lovely phone picture this morning.

I got up, and with my eyes still half closed I started doing this cake. Like a little robot, each step automatically...

brown sugar.
butter. into the oven.
get pineapple.
put over melted butter. back in oven.
make cake.
pour over pineapple.

Pineapple upside down cake

1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. cake flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
1 tsp rhum extract
1 can pineapple slices in syrup

Use an 8" square or round pan. Drain can of pineapple, saving the syrup.

Place butter in 8" pan, melt in the oven while preheating to 375°F.

Sprinkle brown sugar over melted butter. Arrange whole pineapple slices over the brown sugar in pan.

In a bowl, combine softened butter, milk, egg, rhum extract and 2 tablespoons of the pineapple syrup with cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. Yup, everything. It will be nice and smooth. Easy.

Pour batter into the pan being careful not to disturb the pineapples.

Bake at 375°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake is golden and has pulled away from the edges slightly.

Remove from oven and allow to stand for a few minutes to set and then turn it upside down onto a serving dish. Serve while still warm.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chicken, Thai Eggplant and Basil and ...

Tonight we felt like an extra serving of veggies, does it show?

I did a chop suey type mix with bean sprouts, veggies, ginger, garlic, vegetable stock, mirin. I think this was Simon's fave, with added crispy noodles on top.

My favourite was a simple sauté of chicken and vegetables, lots of ginger, garlic, vegetable stock, bird's eye chili and Thai basil.

The Chinese greens I bought were exceptionally yummy, after rinsing them, we started chomping on them raw. We did end up roasting them with lemon zest though...

It felt great to eat almost only vegetables, we didn't feel too full. The evening continued with a nice walk to the waterside, a few footsteps on the ice, and a beautiful view of the white, frozen river, meeting the dark sky. I love winter.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pad Thai

I used to eat Pad Thai so often.
A girlfriend of mine and I had a 'date' every Monday night, we called in our order to Lotus Royal Thai, week after week, exactly the same: Deux pad thai au poulet, merci!

One brought it home as the other prepared the plates, and we ate until we burst.
Little rituals like this bring you closer (actually, a few people at school thought we were a couple... Two single girls who did not need boys, what else could it be?) and it also creates great food memories.

As I prepared the sauce for the noodles tonight, I tasted obsessively. It was not the same. Then, you put all the pieces together and it is perfect harmony.

There is one foolproof recipe for pad thai and it seems that all follow it. I have not seen many variations - and if you have had authentic pad thai, following these steps will make it taste exactly the same.

Before sharing the recipe, another little story...
I was speaking with a friend who has tried out a French language, open to public cooking school in Gatineau, she had kind words for it. She told me she took a Thai class with this French chef. I was intrigued... They even made Pad Thai she said! What were the ingredients I asked.

Get ready.

Ketchup. Apparently the chef swore that 'The Real Ones' use ketchup too. Oh my.

Pad Thai

1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup tamarind pulp
1/2 palm sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili flakes
Siracha or sambal to taste (I add about 2 Tbsp, I like it spicy!)

If you bought a bloc of tamarind, you will need to mix it in with hot water - cover the bloc and work it with your fingers. About half the package should give you 1/2 cup pulp once you pass it through a sieve. I don't know about 'ready made" tamarind pulp, I have never tried it in my food - I have tasted it once mixed in with an hors-d'oeuvre for a cocktail and it was NOT good.

Combine all the above ingredients in a saucepan, add enough water so that it is just slightly thick. Set aside.

1/2 package rice noodles
Shrimp, deveined ( I put in 4 per person)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 green onions, cut on the bias
2 eggs
2 cubes fried tofu (you can use regular firm tofu, I am a sucker for this one), cubed
2 large handfulls of bean sprouts
Chopped roasted peanuts
Lime cut in wedges
Extra siracha or sambal

Soak the noodles until almost soft. Have all other ingredients close by and ready to go, you need to act quickly!
Heat a very large pan (mine is soooo big it does not fit in out sink, it is a pain to wash) or wok. Add 3-4 Tbsp vegetable oil. When hot, add the shrimp, sauté for one minute, add tofu, flip a few times until it starts to get crispy. Add garlic, cook for a minute. Add noodles, then sauce. Push to the sides: break the eggs and let cook in the middle for about 20 seconds until they start to change color. Give them a little stir, let it cook a bit more. Add half the peanuts, the bean sprouts, green onion and saute well to mix.

If you are doing this with a large pan, your wrists will hurt from turning and turning it but it is so worth it... By doing this and not stirring, you will get nicely mixed noodles, not a goopy mess of broken strands.

Serve with extra peanuts, squeeze some lime on top to fight the heat!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cheddar Bacon Risotto

For the first time ever, i did a risotto without measuring.
I've always been concerned about getting the 'proportions' right...

Last night, we come home a bit late, going out for a beer at the neighbourhood bar.
L'autre Oeil has the best beer selection in the region (even beating Pub Italia!!), it is so cozy and has great nachos. (We often try nachos when we go out for a beer - the worst? The Woods. Worst ever.)

Anywhoo... I craved junk food. I wanted poutine. I wanted gooey macaroni.
We did with what we had, no noodles but risotto.
Simon had bought a crazy 5 year old cheddar, so we put a bit of that in. Smoked bacon. Parmesan. Shallots. Wine. What was left of vegetable and chicken stock. White wine.
It totally satisfied my craving.

We had it with this wine:

I don't often post what we drink (maybe I should!), but this one is worth sharing.
I went to an SAQ near our house, and the person giving me suggestions probably thought I was an 18 year old who never drinks and suggested a bunch of bad wines - this is the one I got when he turned away... It was delicious.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Noilly Gnocchi

This is Simon's absolute favourite.
If he feels sad, it's the solution.
If he finishes a big contract, this is the treat.
If he can have anything in the world, he wants gnocchi.

We joke around a lot when we watch shows like top chef or dream of a restaurant of our own: what would be my signature dish? This would be it he always says. Then I go into a long tirade about how I cannot be known for a 'pasta' dish, I want to be more than that.

Then I make it and it just melts in my mouth and I think, yeah, maybe.
It all happened by accident some years ago...
I wanted to make egg noodles with a wine/cream sauce.
We had no egg noodles. We had no white wine. And really, we didn't have many vegetables either. Over the years, we tried many variations, added veggies because we feel bad when it doesn't cover 3/4 of the plate - but it tastes the best when it is simple.

Tonight I sauteed a few mushrooms in butter, salt and pepper and frankly, we did not care for them much (even though their were Christophe's!) because the gnocchi were so rich and velvety and made everything else disappear.

ok. And we had an arugula salad for good conscience.
The vinaigrette was a really simple mix of nicely aged balsamic and good olive oil (a splendid xmas gift from Candice!)

Noilly Prat Cream Sauce Gnocchi

2 cups gnocchi (about the equivalent of one commercial package)*
2 French shallots, small dice
1 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6-8 slices prosciutto, roughly chopped
3/4 cup Noilly Prat (dry vermouth, this is our favourite)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup emmenthal cheese, grated, packed cup
1/2 cup grated parmesan (or more, to taste)
1 cup 35% cream
Fresh cracked pepper

Get the water boiling for the gnocchi and start the sauce. The time it takes to boil and cook the gnocchi, should be perfect timing to add the potato dumplings to the sauce. (cook until the first one comes to the surface - never overcook gnocchi, they get sticky and mushy)

In a large pan, cook the shallots in butter for a few minutes on med-low heat. Add chopped prosciutto, cook a few minutes more. Add vermouth, let reduce. When almost no liquid is left, add garlic, then chicken stock. Again, let reduce (by about half volume). Add the cream and cheese, stir constantly so that the sauce does not curdle. I take my cream out as soon as I start cooking, the 'temperature shock' is often responsible for curdling. When sauce begins to thicken, add the gnocchi to the pan. Cook until it reaches a thick consistency.

Serve with fresh cracked pepper - don't add salt until you taste it!!! I am a very salty person and I never add any to this dish. You can also garnish with chopped green onions, it adds colors and crunch.

*Commercial gnocchi.
I have tried so many kinds... Nothing is as fluffy as homemade ones, but really, who has time to do that from scratch on a weeknight when you come home from work at 7pm??? La Bottega in the market has really good ones, and really horrible ones too! Trust good 'pasta' brands and respect the cooking time (or be really alert for the first floating ones!)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


In his last post, Ron Eade used the words 'comforting leftovers'.
This soup is exactly it. A kinda-sorta minestrone perfect for chilly days...

It seems too that we shop at the same place... Mid East Food Center is heaven for beans, nuts and dried fruit. And garlic spread. And olives. And fresh dates. And oh my does it always cost me a fortune when I go there...

Simon could eat this every day of the week for his lunch.
I have major issues eating the same two days in a row.
So, to please my man, I do a huge batch of this soup and freeze it in handy portions.
You can use only vegetable broth to make this veggie.

One major yum factor for this is the parmesan rind. I keep all my leftover rinds in a resealable bag in the freezer.
I vary this soup depending on what I have in the fridge or pantry...
Rachelle, we can wing it when it comes to soup, eh?

Two yellow onions (or 1 large spanish onion)
6 oz striploin, cut into tiny cubes
1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
1 carrot, cubed
1 parsnip, cubed
2 medium sized potatoes, cubed
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 shallots, minced
1 bird's eye chili, minced (or more if you like heat, we do!)
1 can diced tomatoes
8 cups beef broth
2 cups vegetable broth
1 parmesan rind
2 handful dried beans (or you can use one can of mixed beans, jumbo ones are great)
-mine was a mix of jumbo beans, cooked in advance, a 'regular' mix + yellow & green split peas
1/4 cup barley (or quinoa or both!)
1 handful noodles (I had tiny bows)
greens to finish the soup (i had swiss chard, but I also use fresh herbs in summer)

Cook the onions, with the beef in a bit of oil, until onions are translucent. Add the dried herbs and shallot, cook for a few minutes more. Add the carrot, parsnip and potato, cook for a few minutes. Add canned tomatoes, broths & dried beans and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Throw in the parmesan rind. Test the beans for doneness - it may take more time. (Cut the time by using canned beans altogether... Small beans and split peas do not take a lot of time though...). When done, add the pasta, cook for a few minutes, add the cooked beans and heat through. Add the greens right before serving.

If you don't have chilies, you can use chili-garlic sauce or Siracha for a touch of heat.
I like to have celery in my soup too, we just didn't have any on hand...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Quick Banana Bread

Did I ever post this recipe?
I may have, because I love anything that says 'quick' and am loyal to foolproof recipes - this turns out perfect every time no matter what variation I decide to try...

Today, I added cranberries, apricots and walnuts to the recipe.

Quick banana bread

Preheat oven to 350

Sift together and set aside:
1 3/4 cups flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt.

in another bowl, mix:
1/3 cup soft butter
2/3 cup white sugar

Mix in:
1 beaten egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
zest of one orange

Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture. I like to add a dash of cinnamon, maybe nutmeg :) then add your nuts or dried fruit. Cook for about 1 hour. You can use a 9x9 cake pan, a round 9inch springform or a bread pan (but I find that the edges tend to get too dark for the centre to be fully cooked). Also, you can either butter + flour your pan or use parchment paper - that is what I do, less messy.

For the icing:
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
juice of half an orange + zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Just mix all the ingredients together and pour over the bread - make sure there are no sugar clumps!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Smoked Trout Salad

good morning, meet our yummy breakfast.

We had some smoked trout left. I like fish for breakfast, I often have gravlax or pan seared fish at Benny's bistro.

We did a salad of baby spinach, parmesan, red onion, smoked trout and a light lemony vinaigrette. This was topped by poached eggs, gooey goodness.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vodka Soaked Salmon

What was your best bite? Your best mouthful?

A friend of ours brought this up a few days ago. I don't know about you, but I always try to get all the little bits and pieces on one fork, to get all the flavors possible in one bite. Then, obviously, there is the subject of 'official' bites like hors-d'oeuvres and amuse-bouche - I would eat those every night of the week.

The last days of the year were all about achieving perfect bites - it starts with great ingredients. I drove to Old Chelsea for fish (if you have the opportunity, try the Chelsea Smokehouse's new restaurants, Fish and Chips to die for!!!), and to Ottawa for meat and cheese.

A platter of smoked fish and seafood with fresh artichokes and roasted chestnuts was a start for a dinner with friends (along with lapin à la moutarde as the main, beets, mushrooms, sunchokes...). Vodka soaked salmon and mini beef tenderloins were a highlight for new year's eve. The next morning, absolutely delightful pancetta bites were served alongside poached eggs - I will try to redo them today and photograph properly. Gosh, my life revolves around food.

For the new year, a few good intentions:

*Taking better pictures. So many good recipes that I would have shared were not posted because my pictures were so crappy, like the rabbit I did a few days ago... We bought a light that should help with that!
*Grow more in the garden! Better planning and care - operation snail and earwig will be full-force.
*Thinking about the perfect bite some more. When I eat out, when I plan meals.

Vodka Soaked Salmon
simple simple bite for your next dinner party...

  • Good quality, really fresh salmon (The Boucanerie one is great because it sometimes picks up a bit of the smokiness from the other fish in the fridge...)
  • Good quality vodka (it will give a crisp taste... Cheap one will be a bit dull)
  • A bit of olive oil or light tasting oil
  • Lemon zest
  • Roughly ground pepper
  • Onions and capers for garnish, maldon or coarse sea salt to sprinkle.

Cut the salmon into bite size pieces and put into a resealable bag. Add vodka, lemon rind, pepper and oil (if you wish, I actually did not add any - it could also be drizzled on right before service). Suck out all the air and seal the bag. Rest for at least an hour. Garnish with thin slices of onion (ours were soaked in lemon juice) and capers (fry them for an added textural element, I could eat a bowlful this way...) Sprinkle with salt (we had Salty Don's Pink Sea Salt)
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