Monday, October 31, 2005

Chicory in garlic oil

An easy but delicious side dish:

First, blanch chicory in salted water for a minute or two, drain well and pat dry.

Second, slowly cook chunks of garlic in your favourite cooking oil (I used olive oil) until they become golden brown, make sure not to burn your garlic.

Then, add the chicory leaves and sauté them in the garlic flavoured oil for a few minutes.

Update on green pepper sauce

Just a word to say that I was able to improve on the green pepper sauce I did last few days ago (link).

I cooked two steaks and used the fond created by deglazing the pan to add more beef flavour to my sauce which I incorporated to the pan. I also cracked the green pepper corns before storing the sauce in the fridge last time and I believe it did help at imparting a stronger flavour to the sauce. Again, it was far from perfect but this one was less of a failure then its previous form.

The bread experiment 2

I worked on my bread making skills again today. I did improve on my previous experiment (link) but it is still not perfect.

This time, I used a bread flour which have a much higher protein content then regular all purpose flour. I also kept my sponge in the fridge much longer (almost two days) feeding it once in a while with honey and flour. I also added a bit of oil to my dough. And finally I've decided to test the doneness of my bread using a thermometer... And it confirmed that my baker's instinct was usually spot on.

The result was a more flavourfull bread with a more fluffy texture than all my previous experiments. But I'd love to succeed at making that very fluffy and tasty bread I have in mind but I guess I'll have to work more on it. At least, it makes me feel better to think that I am getting much better at baking bread.

Another nice chinese meal (ham mapo tofu)

This time, my partner made a delicious and very spicy mapo tofu dish. Since we didn't have ground pork at hand, we simply chopped a few slices of ham very finely and used it instead... and it worked alright. Other dishes includes: chinese chives and eggs, napa capage and turnip cakes.

Parmesan cheese crust

After hearing that one can use the crust of parmesan cheese to season a broth, I decided to test this theory while cooking a small batch of pasta sauce. I simply placed all the ingredients in a pot and added the cheese crust to the mixture. It did impart some of its flavor to the dish without making a mess by melting but the added flavour remained very mild. It can't replace freshly grated parmesan cheese... and I now think its effect would be stronger in a light vegetable broth.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Gravlax with lemon-dill mayonaise mousse

I made my own gravlax for the first time in my life yesterday and ate it today. I followed really loosely a few recipes (salt, sugar, dill and pepper) and it worked alright. I made a simple press using a cutting board and a few cans and placed the salmon and its very heavy seasoning in the fridge for 24 hours. The texture was perfect but I found it very hard to reduce the saltiness of the fish: I soaked it in water for a few minutes, changed the water many times... it was still way too salty.

A friend of mine suggested making a non salted lemon sauce to reduce the saltiness. At that p0int, especially since we were all hungry, I thought it was a wonderful idea so I started by making a simple mayo with one egg yolk and some lemon juice. My girlfriend, the two of my close friends who were with us tonight and I took the relay at beating the egg and oil as the emulsion was slowly forming. When we were all satisfied with our mayonnaise, we added chopped dill, lemon zest and some black pepper (no salt) to the mixture. At that point, I had the idea of beating the egg white that was left to stiff peaks and to incorporate it to the mayonnaise to make a nice fluffy sauce instead of the usual thick mayo. It worked wonderfully... and this time, the success was truly due to a collective effort from all of us.

This trick to make this simple but very elegant sauce is one to remember!

Zucchini spaghettis

In an attempt to eat healthier food without sacrificing taste, I cooked myself some ginger and garlic chicken that I served on top of what I call zucchini spaghetti. Zucchini spaghettis are simply made of zucchini (courgette) that where sliced into fine strips through a mandoline and sautéed rapidly in olive oil and garlic. I don't believe in that crazy no-carbs fad but let’s admit it, real pasta have far more calories than a vegetable like the zucchini...

I'm not a bit fan of kitchen gadgets but a mandoline do save time and helps at experimenting with new textures. I cooked this dish in a few minutes and I just can't picture myself doing the same thing with a knife at lunchtime.

This dish was OK although I could have done something better with my zucchini... a bit of that very nice aged Chinese vinegar we have on the shelf at home... I'm glad I added tomatoes to my dish though, I found it added enough acidity and flavour to the zucchini which honestly were a bit bland.

Another nice version of this dish would be to use balsamic vinegar, some chicken without the garlic and ginger and a sprinkle of parmigiano... some olives and anchovies maybe? Oh! Oh! What about lemon and orange zest?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Green pepper corn sauce

Tonight we had steaks with a green pepper corn sauce.

The diner was OK; everything was good without being exceptional. The sauce on the other side was a bit disapointing for two reasons:

1. I re-used a beef broth I used previously to cook turnips and the flavour of turnip wasn't matching well with the other ingredient... I should have made a vegetable soup instead with it.

2. I didn't crush the pepper corns before putting them in the sauce. This resulted in a sauce which lacked the intensity of those wonderful little berries.

Sage tea

After reading that one could make an herbal tea from sage, I decided to try it with some of the sage that grows in our garden. It tastes alright, I would even say that it is quite good... my girlfriend on the other hand didn't like it. I wonder if it works with dried sage too...



Clockwise, starting from the top-left corner:
- Napa cabbage
- Zucchini
- Prok and bell papper stirfry
- Fried turnip cake (strore bought, fried at home)


I love eating a fruit as a desert on weekdays... especially when the fruits are good, sweet and on season. Recently, we bought some awesome tangerine oranges. I learned to make a simple but nice presentation with oranges while eating in a Korean restaurant in Toronto a few years ago. I find it both easier and more delectable to eat an orange this way than by traditionally peeling it by hand.

You first start by cuting the top and the bottom of your orange and to cut the whole fruit in two identical part.

Then you slide your knife under the skin in order to extract the pulp of the fruit. Make sure not to break the skin as it is part of the final presentation.

Place the top and bottom part of the peel into the small cylinders of peel you just created to form a small basket into which you can place the pulp that you previously sliced in quarters.

Serve on a small plate with toothpicks. It makes a nice ornament on a larger fruit platter too.

Single brand coffee test


Every morning, I make myself a bowl of 'café au lait' and almost every time I buy coffee for my espresso machine I buy the cheap 'red' Lavazza expresso coffee. I don't know exactly why I buy this brand; I know very well I could get something better (there are some very good organic fair trade coffees available in my region for instance)... I guess it's just because it is easy and simple since there are tons of those little red and silver packages at any grocery store.

I noticed recently that the same brand also have a 'deluxe' version of their coffee and I decided to compare the two. I suspected that some kind of marketing scam was involved there since both coffees claimed to be made of the finest Arabica available and that I could not see a way one could be better roasted than the other for a price premium by the same company. In any way, I had grown tired of the 'red' Lavazza and was ready for some kind of upgrade.

I made two cups of espresso (no milk, no sugar, no nothing) Overall, the two coffees were quite similar. Both had a nice crema on top and tasted OK. The smell of the black package 'perfecto espresso' coffee was slightly more pleasant and its flavour slightly better but the package had just been opened while the other coffee was in my coffee jar for about a week. Overall I was not pleased by any of those coffees which is weird since I am drinking that stuff for over 4 years now; I guess when the bitterness is rounded by milk and sugar (as in my morning café au lait) one is less attentive to the quality of his coffee.

I'll now have to hunt for a new brand of coffee... I'm open to all recommendations!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Better yogurt

Since I bought a lot of yogurt for my yogurt tasting test I decided to drain the excess water of some yogurt overnight using cheese cloth and a colander in order to make a thick yogurt for my breakfast. The result: THICK yogurt... really THICK yogurt! I believe many people do something similar to their yogurt... I think it is widely done in the Balkans, in Turkey and Greece. As for myself, I learned this long ago in Turkey. The procedure is easy and it tastes fabulous! :
. .


And for the voyeurs: here's my typical breakfast: toast, coffee, fruits and yogurt (note, I generally have a banana or a slice of melon, not strawberries):


Yogurt test


Since we had a lot of apples, I decided to make an apple crumble yesterday. Nothing really fancy. I love to eat apple crumble with ice cream or just plain cream but since I believe it is wiser to eat yogurt instead of these two fatty but delicious ingredients, I decided to use that opportunity to compare a few of the plain yogurts we usually buy.

My usual favourite is the Liberty 2% yogurt. This Québec brand makes among the finest fresh milk produces available in this part of world, including fresh cheese and crême fraîche. They have an awesome 10% fat "Mediterranean" yogurt and some nice organic yogurts.... but prices and fat content pushes my choice toward their 2% plain yogurt... they also produce a 0.1% fat yogurt but I really don't like it... yogurt needs to be a little bit fat otherwise it taste a bit too acid and feels grainy. They also have flavoured yogurts (some with soft whole grains) but I like to buy plain yogurt and add the flavours I like by myself (pecans and honey are a usual toping for breakfast but jams or fresh fruits work quite well too).

When I was living in Toronto Liberty was not widely available but another brand, Astro, satisfied my hunger for good yogurt with its 6% fat "Balkan style" yogurt.

Yesterday we tried these two yogurts, the 2% fat Liberty yogurt and the 6% fat Astro "Balkan Style" yogurt, as well as another yogurt from Astro, the Bio Best 1% fat yogurt (which incidentally is made with the same types of cultures as the Liberty). Here is the result of our flavour and texture test:


Liberty 2% fat: By far the sourest of all the yogurts tested (overly acid for my girlfriend but alright for me).

Astro 6% fat "Balkan style": The best taste... the natural acidity is rounded by the richness of the cream used to make the yogurt. It taste a bit like grass... quite pleasant.

Astro 1% fat "Bio Best": Strangely sweet for a plain yogurt (we looked at the list of ingredient, which is longer than for the two other yogurts and did not find any obvious reasons... pectin maybe? or lactase? I'm really not a food chemist).

Texture (because texture is key in appreciating a yogurt):

Liberty 2% fat: Almost liquid and a bit grainy on the tongue.

Astro 6% fat "Balkan Style": Again the best... it is creamy but has a nice firmness.

Astro 1% fat "Bio Best": This one was the worst... it was quite firm, almost like jelly (I believe the agar and pectin listed in the list of ingredient is responsible for this annoying texture) but kept its equaly annoying graininess.


It is sad but it seems the best yogurts need to show a relatively high fat content (nothing like cream, mayonnaise or ice cream though). I'd love to compare the Liberty 10% yogurt with the Astro 6%... I am quite sure the Liberty would win the competition.

I also believe that the least number of ingredients, the best the yogurt will be. All the yogurts I like have 2 main ingredients: milk and bacterial cultures. The milk however is often found under different forms (milk powder, milk protein concentrate...) under the generic term: "modified milk ingredient".

I know it is very easy to make our own yogurt but I've never tried... I might want to try to make my own later on... watch out for a possible account of such an experiment on this blog.

Wild mushrooms soup


My girlfriend and I are enthusiast mushroom hunters. The harvest this fall has been quite good and after badly cooking a big amount of mushrooms (too much mushrooms in a single pan and the stupid addition of sugar) I decided to make a soup in an attempt to salvage the fabulous taste of these mushrroms (Blewits, Canaris, Porcinis, black trumpets, oyster mushrooms...).

This soup isn't great... it is still too sweet and the herbs I added blended badly with the flavour of the other ingredients.... but with a bit of sour cream, it becomes a bit more palatable.

Glazed rutabaga

Here"s a little side dish that I am quite proud of... I simply boiled rutabaga chunks into a beef broth to which I added some herds (parsley stems, thyme and one bay leaf) and then prepared a honey and butter glaze into which I re-cooked the turnip for a few minutes before serving. I bet it can be eaten cold.

Note: the sweetness of the honey helps in balancing the bitterness of the rutabaga.

Japanese noodles

This is a simple noodle dish that I made for lunch today: noodles, napa cabbage and shitake mushrooms in a soy sauce and bonito flakes broth (I drained broth to get rid of the bonito flakes before serving it of course). The red bits on the picture are simply pieces of minced chiles. Now, I just need to find a better brand of noodles and the dish is ready to serves to guests ... the noodles we got tasted a bit like cardboard and did not have a nice texture either.

The bread experiment

I made bread today. I have never been satisfied with my bread but everytime I work on it, it gets better. So far, I found better ways for my bread to proof (e.g. using spice bottles to hold a damp kitchen towel on top of my loaves) and to form a crust (leaving a pan of water in the oven and spraying the oven with a spray bottle). My main improvement so far, however, has been to make a sponge with water, flour, honey and yeast and let the whole thing rest overnight. This adds a lot of flavor and, by placing it in the fridge, I can easily split the task of making bread over a full day or even over night.


My utlimate goal would be to produce one of those really airy loaf of bread with a nice crust and large bubbles which would nicely catch droplets of melting butter. So far, I got the crust part covered although there is still part for improvement but tastewise and texturewise, I still have a lot to learn to produce the perfect baguette.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fried rice and crunchy garlic stems

We had Chinese food again recently... We usually cook Chinese or Asian food 2 to 4 times a week... We love it and its a big part of my partner's cultural background.

I tried to recreate a nice fiddleheads and bacon fried rice that I made earlier this month with the frozen fiddleheads we picked last spring and still have in the freezer (we picked a lot of them). This time however I failed: too much soy sauce, too much rice in a single wok and I didn't cook the eggs enough before mixing them with the rice. You can see why the eggs were incorporated too fast in the rice in the next picture. I usually push the rice on the side of the wok in order to cook my eggs before mixing them with the rice but this time the wok was overflowing and the rice fell in the eggs before they had the time to cook... The result was a mushy fried rice... The taste was ok (too salty from the soy sauce) but the texture wasn't there... And the enjoyment of eating a fried rice is at least 50% texture.

On the other hand, I was still able to cook a very nice dish made with a Chinese veggie which I think is the stem from the flower of the garlic plant. It tastes like garlic and asparagus mixed together; it has a very nice crunch and a nice sweetness to it. It is definately one of my favorite vegetable.

To this veggie, I added some frozen bay scallops that had been quite disappointing in previous dishes (too old maybe?). To improve on flavor and texture, I placed them in a brine a good 30 minutes before cooking them. They almost doubled in size soaking up the brine... You had to see it to believe it! After draining them well, I sauteed them over very high heat and added the garlic stems which burned a bit under such a strong heat (this adds a ton of flavour!). I did not season my dish more than that since the scallops were salty enough. It is a simple and delicious dish to prepare... And the more I think about it, the more I believe it is the brine and the extreme temperature that made that dish sooooooo good!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The rice experiment

For some weird reasons, I've decided to try to make my own rice crispies today... Without a recipe! Of course, I failed...

I simply put a handful of rice grains into a skillet in which I heated a little oil and waited for it to puff like pop corn would. The grain did puff a little but nothing like what I was expecting so I waited a bit more stirring occasionally until the rice turned brown... I stopped the whole experiment at that point and drained the rice on a paper towel... Then I seasoned it with some salt and tried to chew on a few grains... To my surprise not only was it fabulously crunchy and chewable but it was also delicious! It tasted a bit like roasted nuts and I believe I can use it the same way (as a snack, on salads...). My partner finished all of my failed 'rice crispies' in a few minutes... I'll make more one of these days.

Chinese banquet

My partner just came back from Toronto where we used to live with 2 full bags of groceries... She loves Chinese food and took the opportunity of a business trip there to splurge on some delicacies that are hard to find here: marinated pig feet, braised pig ears, ready-cooked fish, etc.

Using these dishes along with some leftovers and a few extra dishes, we managed to fill our table with an overabundance of food worthy of the best Chinese banquets.

This is a picture of my partner's watercress and tofu soup... in this one she added tomatoes but she often adds shrimps or bay scallops instead. It has become a classic at home because it is so easy to prepare and so good to eat. We actually make the broth with a powdered Chinese seafood broth... probably not the best base to use but its easy and cheap so we stick to it for everyday cooking.

The next picture shows my own interpretation of what could be a sichuan dish... I bought a big pork loin the other day and decided to trim it a bit in order to make a better roast. I chopped very finely some of the trimmings to make some sort of ground pork that I marinated in some store bought Chinese black bean sauce, a bit of oil and soy sauce as well as a huge quantity of ground sichuan peppers. I fried the meat, reserved it... cooked the (canned) bamboo shoots in the same pan with a little bit of water and then arranged the whole thing in a nice bowl. To be honest, the bamboo shoots were not that good... I should have added much more flavors to the broth in which I poached them and cooked them a bit longer. On the other hand, those little bits of pork and spices on top were just fabulous! We'll try them on noodle later this week.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A few pictures of recent dishes

I don't have much time now but I'd like to add a few pictures of some dishes I've done recently (I've just started taking pictures of what I'm cooking in order to build this journal and work at improving my cooking). Most of these were successes... there is always place for improvements, that is for sure, but I am quite proud of each of these dishes. It has been a good week for me in the kitchen.


Lamb rack with cepes, vegetables, speatzel and cepes sauce



Herb roulade of pock sauce moutardine



Deep fried boletes




Cool prosciuto, blue cheese and tomato amuse bouche with balsamic dressing and green onion oil





Bean casserole




Bean salad, parsley salad and classic smoked salmon croutons with cream cheese capers and onions


Weaved zucchini basket of chicken mousse with red pepper coulis

Ok... This one didn't work!

I got the idea of steaming a mousse in a weaved basket of zuchinnis watching that mind numbing TV show "Iron chef". One of the constestant, if I remember it well, cooked foie gras in a similar basket. I can't afford foie gras but I thought the presentation was neet... so i tried my own version using ground chiken as a base for my mousse. I never made mousse in my life and assumed i didn't need a recipe... I guess I was wrong there. Texturewise, my mousse resembled more a soft meatloaf and flavourwise, it wasn't great. Fortunately, I had the idea of serving it with a coulis made of roasted and raw red peppers (I had leftover roasted red peppers in the fridge). The sauce provided a nice cover for the bad taste and texture of my dish.

Next time, I think i'll use chicken livers, cream, eggs and a bit of sherry to make my mousse... If I don't have red peppers, I might try a flavoured beurre blanc (or some healtier version of it) for a sauce.

Brocolli soufflé

I tried to make souffles in the past but I was never satisfied until this one... I decided to make this one earlier this week beacause I had a lot of leftover egg whites from the crèmes brûlées I made earlier that week and because I had a nice head of brocolli in the fridge. I unfortunatelly forgot to write down the recipe but I can tell you that parmesan cheese and cooking cream where added to the creamed brocolli mixture.

I think i have now resolved my problems with souffles... I don't overbeat the eggwhites, I do add a little cream of tartar to them and fold them VERY gently into the flavouring ingredients. I'll see if i can reproduce a similar recipe later on... if so, i think I'll do much more of those fluffly things in the future...

Grand opening

Ok... I've decided to publish this blog because I have some time to spend and because I am trying to improve my cooking. I'm not a chef or anything like that but I do like food and cooking. I have to admit that I generally hate following recipes but I still do it once in a while. On the other hand, I love searching for some inspiration from cookbooks and even some cooking shows on TV.

This blog will serve as a kind of cooking journal where I'll post pictures, recipes and comments about the food I'm cooking. I hope this blog will develop as a tool to improve my recipes, learn from past experiences and exchange ideas with other food enthousiasts. As such, please feel free to comment on what you see and read!