Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Brie on the BBQ

This is one of Fufu's summer favourite. Most of you already know about baked brie's delicious gooeyness. This version is interesting because the grill adds a little smoky flavour that is very pleasing to this old classic.

First step: add grill marks on the cheese by placing it directly on the BBQ. This takes only a few seconds as the brie crust char very quickly. If you leave your cheese on the grill for too long it will melt and you won’t be able to retrieve it. Be fast and attentive here!


The second step consists of wrapping the cheese in grape leaves (or corn husk, or blanched leek, etc.) and using toothpicks to secure everything. This prevents the melted cheese from dripping and makes it possible to handle the cheese when ready. If you choose ingredients carefully, you can add flavour to the dish at this step. Roasted red peppers, for example, can add a very nice touch of sweetness.

After a few minutes on the upper rack f your grill (or on the main grill at a fairly low temperature) the cheese is ready to serve. To enjoy it, simply dip your favourite bread in it and serve with your favourite summer wine.

Talking about bad ideas

For some reasons, I had a lot of really bad ideas in the kitchen recently... and this one was a particularly bad one.

Since I got my BBQ, I am grilling almost every day. Its fun and it keeps the heat outside. But some things are just better when they do not touch the grill. Broccoli is one of these. Grilled broccoli tastes awfully bitter and is truly unpleasant. Don't try this at home.

Blender disaster

Sometimes you think you are brilliant but reality keeps reminding you that your own stupidity is hard to evade.

A few days ago, I decided to make a soup out of the many asparagus stems I kept in the freezer... you know the woody parts of the plant that most of us discard when preparing asparagus? I thought puréeing these to make a soup was a great idea but the only thing I was able to do was breaking my blender. While I was busy doing something else in the kitchen, long asparagus strings blocked the blender blade which in turn destroyed the rubber drive which linked the blade to the motor.

It can be repaired but I really feel silly.

Monday, August 07, 2006


My mom gave me her old gaz BBQ a few weeks ago. BBQ are really nice thing to own! As soon as we received it, Fufu and I went straight to the fridge to find things to grill: corn, asparagus, some ready made pork kebabs and a few chanterelles we picked in the woods. Not all worked well, the chanterelles for instance were not at their best, but we very much enjoyed that very simple meal.

It's so nice to BBQ in the summer: the home stays cool no matter how long you cook ... and grilling while drinking a beer never fails to bring out the man, the real and hairy one, in anyone.

Merci maman!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Summer = good tomatoes

Even with green houses and all the modern food technology available to entrepreneur wishing to make seasons disapear, tomatoes still taste better during the summer months. Its all about the sun I guess... just like for the tomato's best friend: basil.

That reminds me of this classic summer salad made of tomatoes, basil leaves and mozarella cheese. The key to this dish, in my opinion, is to sprinkle your salad with a nice amount of salt just before serving. Some people add a simple vinaigrette to this dish but I believe this to be totally worthless, if not innapropriate, when you have good fresh ingredients... the tomatoes will bleed their delicious sweet and sour juice anyways.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A few nice dishes I did not write about... yet

As you know, I took a few months off blogging and although having a weird work schedule preventing me from cooking as much as I would like, I did prepared a few nice dishes over the last months. For the most part, I did not take any pictures and my very poor memory does not allow me to recall exactly what I ate. Fortunately, I did take a few pictures here and there of certain dishes which I'd like to share with you. You won't find any recipes here as I forgot almost everything about these experiments but smart cooks might find ideas they might want to juggle with or offer comments on similar experiments of their own.

Chinese 'hot pot' or “huo guo” (火锅): this is a winter favourite here at home and it certainly does not require long hours of preparation to enjoy. Like fondue, almost everything is cooked at the table in a variety of flavourful broths. The traditional Szechwan 'mala' broth is seasoned heavily with hot peppers and Szechwan peppers and can be very, very, very, very… spicy. As for myself, I love it the day I eat it and hate it the next day... I'm not sure I'll give more details here, but let’s just say that this dish is spicy for quite a long time after ingestion.

Living with my adorable Chinese partner, I often Chinese food at home. One of the great thing with Chinese cooking is that the produce needed are usually fairly cheap (e.g. cabbage, rice or tofu) but always delicious. Take that napa cabbage dish (the top left dish on the picture), it costs next to nothing, can be enjoyed year round and complement almost anything... and I bet dieticians would say that it is very healthy.

Now, back to North America... If memory serves me well, this dish is chicken in chipotle adobo sauce. Mexican and Americans living in the South West might laugh but true Mexican restaurants are almost nonexistent in this part of Canada and it takes some imagination and a trip to the local Latin-American grocery store to find out how Mexican food might taste like. I'm not so sure I did my job properly but this chicken did taste quite good with its cilantro and queso fresco toping. I have the feeling that roasted corn kennels would also make a nice toping here. Feel free to comment on this one, I still have a lot to learn about Mexican cuisine especially if it does not include taco or tortilla.

Another Mexican dish: guacamole. I went to Mexico City a few years ago for a conference. I didn't stay there long but took the time to visit the local markets. I found this beautiful molcajete (a Mexican mortar and pestle) made of volcanic rock. Unfortunately I haven't used this great cooking utensil that much but every time I make guacamole, it serves both as the preparation and serving bowl. Nothing says summer like guacamole, corn chips and cold beer so if you live in the northern hemisphere it is the right time to feel inspired.

Do you remember my Jamaican inspired pig tail stew? After eating the stew, we still had quite a lot of delicious broth so we decided not to waste anything and cook lentils in it. That was perhaps my greatest culinary discovery of the year. All the flavours from the stew were there and the gelatine from the pig tail formed the most delicious and unctuous sauce one could imagine for lentils. I am now thinking of cooking all my lentils with pork hocks, tails or trotters... too bad for my vegetarian friends! I wonder if one could use agar agar and other vegetarian ingredients to achieve that level of legume goodness.

The fact about most meat is that there is only two ways of cooking it: you either both sear it and serve it rare to medium or you cook it for hours (smoke, braise, stew...) until it becomes deliciously tender. Almost anything in between is tough and chewy. In my family, beef blade roast has been on the table since long before I was born. It’s a very cheap but quite tough piece of meat with a huge bone in it. We usually cook it for hours with onions and mushrooms, sometimes a bit of wine and some thyme. The end result is always delicious and so is the resulting sauce. This sauce is worth any fancy and expensive sauce you could think of and should not be wasted under any circumstances. Mashed potatoes or egg noodles are perfect starches to soak up this sauce and so is polenta (as shown on this picture).

Sometimes however, what we crave for is more on the light side. This soup was made with a few vegetables that were sitting in the fridge. I don't recall what kind of broth I used but if I had to make a similar soup today, I would probably use a lemon grass (or maybe kefir lime leaves) and basil flavoured broth.

Another nice summery dish, especially now that fresh local beets started to appear in the markets, is a beet carpaccio. Carpaccio is a fairly recent culinary invention born in Italy where ingredients are simply presented flat. It is usually made of raw beef tenderloin cut very finely but I don't see why one could not use anything edible... and many have done so. My version was made of beet roots sliced as finely as I could and served with the leaves sautéed in a little bit of oil and a curry mayonnaise. Let's just say that it was simpler version of one of my Paper Chef (non) entry.

What can you do when your partner does not like chicken but you love it? Transform chicken into something else by adding tons of strong flavours. Fufu does not like chicken here in Canada. To her taste it is bland and mushy. After tasting some good organic chicken here and even better farm raised chicken in China, I understand her dislike of the generic industrial chicken that populate the shelves of supermarkets these days. Let's all be honest here: styrofoam plate chicken does not have much flavour and can be alarmingly tender (not always good thing). But it is also a perfect support for flavour, chicken has a fairly neutral flavour which seems to blend with almost anything. It is this very particularity that I decided to exploit for this honey and balsamic glazed chicken. The bed of root vegetables on which it was served also deserve attention but I'll try to address this in another post.

A last dish: spinach with apple and raisins in a sherry sauce. The verdict: good but a little too much on the sweet and acidic side. In other words, too much apple and raisins. Otherwise, a very nice flavour combination.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Back to blogging

Ok... Where should I start... a lot have happened since my last post. I found a job. I ate and cooked a lot. I didn't write about all of this for many reasons but let’s say that I didn’t put a lot of energy on this blog because I was too busy enjoying life and working.

I plan to get back at blogging but I won't be able to set aside as much writing time as I once used to. From its very beginning, this blog has been a very personal undertaking which developed into a more connected community project like most blogs. I now want to return to this blog to its original focus: my own experience in the kitchen, my experiments, my failures and mistakes, my discoveries and my occasional rants about everything food.

And now, to conclude, the food porn you all expect from a food blog: the close up shot or three pot stickers we made a few months ago.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Paper Chef # 15 - The Medal Ceremony

The judges have been carefully reviewing all entries, re-read all the rules, selected finalists for all categories, argued over all the details and finally agreed on a winner in all but one category. A grand winner has been chosen along with a Paper Chef Super Saver, a Paper Chef Indiana Jones and a Paper Chef Picasso but we have a tie in the Home Cook category and the judges have decided it was a good thing after all.

So, who takes it? Whose cuisine will reign supreme?


The Super Saver award honours a chef who was able to turn cheap ingredients into culinary masterpiece. The finalists for this category are:

And the winner of the Super Saver award is (drum roll): Tankeduptaco! You just can’t beat legumes and cheap cuts of meat to get the most out of little money… especially when they are so cleverly used and plated.


The Indiana Jones award was created to pay tribute to fearless cooks who moved away from their culinary comfort zone and experimented with new ingredients or new techniques. This is exactly what a fairly high number of participants did for this edition of Paper Chef:

  • Noodle Cook experimented boldly with new flavours to create a visually stunning dish.
  • Louise deep-fried for the first time making beautiful beet chips.
  • Haalo used a very bold combination of flavours (sweet, salty and sour) in her spectacular faux-nigiri sushi.
  • Pille candied beet roots to top her superb mascarpone and white chocolate mousse.
  • Surfindaave made beet ice cream… yes, your eyes didn’t fool you: beet ice cream!

The winner of the Indiana Jones award is (drum roll): Haalo! Although none of the judges would have ever thought about combining these ingredients both were thrilled about the idea after reading the fabulous description of the dish.


The Picasso award rewards cooks playing close attention to the artistic value of food preparation. As such, dishes that are beautifully plated and/or induce a certain level of thought and contemplation on the part of the observer are particularly valued. The finalists in this category are:

  • Noodle cook for the creation of a gorgeous dish and the play on the judges’ cultural backgrounds in the choice of ingredients and techniques.
  • The Belly Timber duo for the decadent and delightful set of dishes composing their Valentine’s day menu.
  • Stephen for his striking beet and pear salad which reminded the judges of the sun’s sweet warmth at a time of the year when it is particularly lacking (at least for us Northerners).
  • Haalo for her exciting play on Japanese culinary tradition in her fabulous nigiri sushi trompe l’oeil.

And the winner of the Picasso award goes to (drum roll): Noodle Cook whose dish, even after considering the slightly unpleasing combination of flavours, was considered extremely thoughtful and creative.


Paper chef Home Cook is awarded to the participant whose culinary talent is put to good use in the creation of dishes meant for the family table and of dishes with a certain comforting quality. The finalists in this category are:

  • Alanna for transforming a 1960’s church cookbook recipe into a pleasant and witty dessert.
  • Marie-Laure for creating delicious and healthy breakfast or snacks which would make your coworkers or your kids’ classmates red with envy.
  • Surfindaave for his great effort at adjusting the menu for the whole family.
  • Louise for the extra care in selecting wholesome food and getting as much information as she can on nutrition.

And the winner of the Home Cook award is (drum roll)… Oh wait! we have a tie! So let’s me rephrase it: the ex aequo winners of the Home Cook Award are: Alanna and Surfindaave! After long deliberations, the judges were unable to find a clear winner in this category. Alanna certainly got extra points for reinventing, with a twist, a very comforting dessert but so did Surfindaave for his hard work at pleasing the whole family. For this reason, and to avoid an unnecessary fight between the two judges, it was decided to grant the Home Cook award to both participants and their excellent entries.


And now, for this month’s Paper Chef Grand Winner… perhaps the most difficult category to judge… the finalists are:

And the winner of this edition of Paper Chef is:

(Last drum roll of the day for our exhausted drummer)

Haalo for her amazing and audacious use of the themed ingredients. Both judges were delighted by the playfulness of the dish. A perfect amuse bouche or appetizer that could feature on some of the most extravagant menus of the planet.


Finally, we would also like to underline the good use of the resources offered on the culinary blogosphere by Marie-Laure, Pille and Ilva. You sure showed us one of the best sources of inspiration available.


Do not forget to visit Tomatilla the first Friday of each month for new editions of Paper Chef. This means next Friday! March the third!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cheese Sandwich Day

I have been quite busy with Paper Chef recently but I was able to come up with my own little cheese sandwich contribution (apart from my attempt at creating 'designer' grill cheese sandwiches inspired by the success of the Virgin Mary grill cheese sandwich sold for 28 000$ a few months ago).

Anyway, in case you are not yet familiar with Cheese Sandwich day, it all started with an article from Pete Wells in Food and Wine magazine which annoyed and sometimes even infuriated a great number of food bloggers. For more information, have a look at Kalyn's blog especially this post and this one. There are also excellent comments on this whole debate on Deep end Dining, on Food Musing, Slashfood, Gourmetish, Tiger and Strawberries, Paper Palate, and a number of other blogs. It's amazing to see how such a text can make such an impression on a community of food bloggers.

Ok, I admit, my cheese sandwich is not really a sandwich... it is closer to what I grew up calling a 'croque', a French word for a type of open face sandwich. During my teens and early twenties, when meeting friends in the cafes of Québec city, I ordered tons of croque monsieur and croque madame. It was always cheap, tasty and filling... the perfect combination when you are young and living on a student budget. This is a slightly different version from the traditional 'croque monsieur', which is generally toped with béchamel sauce, ham, tomatoe and cheese; my version was made of asparagus, prosciutto ham, gruyere and a mustard flavoured béchamel. It was served on baguette bread and toasted under the salamander for a few minutes. Add a simple salad and you got the perfect cafe/bistro meal!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Paper Chef #15 - The Round Up!

The paper chef round up! This is my favourite part of the Paper Chef “contest” and I am glad to be able to write this Valentine’s Day special edition round up. We had a total of 12 ½ entries this month all proving that food and love are intimately related to each other. However, the way each of us link the two varies greatly and this diversity in interpretation is what makes Paper Chef such a great event.

Each month, a series of ingredients are chosen by our ‘chairman’, Owen, at Tomatilla, and food bloggers from around the world are invited to share their creations based on these same ingredients. This month’s ingredients are:

  1. Lime

  2. Beets

  3. Pears

  4. Aphrodisiacs

While the first three ingredients are fairly straightforward, the fourth one is open to interpretations. This ultimately translated into a wide variety of interesting aphrodisiac candidates: pomegranate seeds, vanilla, honey, caviar, Barry White (Oooh yeah baby!), chocolate, black beans, ginger, pine nuts, carrots, asparagus and beef tongue! Well, there are more aphrodisiacs in all the wonderful entries, but you’ll have to find them by yourselves.

This element of interpretation seems to be an characteristic of the most recent Paper Chef events. It is a feature that I personally find quite fitting for a competition celebrating a diversity of dishes made from the same ingredients. This restricted creativity is what makes this event so interesting. It reminds me a bit of some of the literature produced by a group of mostly French authors whose works now forms the core of the OuLiPo movement, but I digress and might even be exaggerating a little bit here.

Anyway, we are here to celebrate inventiveness, but it is this same inventiveness that makes judging so difficult. Not only do we have to judge food without smelling and tasting it, but we are to judge very different creations. If all of us were making the same apple pie, it would be easier to establish a clear grading scheme; alas it is not the case with Paper Chef. This makes judging Paper Chef quite complicated and this is why you will have to wait a few more days before the Paper Chef #15 award ceremony. In the meantime, let’s all have a look at all the contenders.

First we have an audacious entry by Tankeduptaco, of Food for Thought: Pickled Tongue with Lentils, Beetroot, Cucumbers and Pears. This remarkable dish features a great variety of textures: crunchiness from cucumber, chewiness from the tongue, the silkiness of lentils... An interesting combination of flavours is also exhibited here: Sichuan pepper, horseradish, thyme, lime… A very international approach to our four ingredients combining flavours from Eastern Europe and Asia through the talent of Tankeduptaco.

Also from Australia, Noodle Cook, from the unique Electronic Restaurant, offers an elaborate Lime jelly and oyster avocado mousse using French techniques and Chinese ingredients. Although the result was not as good as Noodle cook expected it to be, the visual aspect of the dish is simply stunning. Noodle cook also used unusual ingredients in equally unusual ways; for instance, as aphrodisiac, Noodle cook chose dried Chinese oysters and turned it into a mousse. Finally, is you visit the Electronic Restaurant, you might come across a picture which can turn out to be very pornographic for people with a slightly twisted mind… No wonder oysters are believed to be aphrodisiac!

With her always humorous approach, Alanna, of A Veggie Venture, prepared a 1960’s church cookbook inspired Jelly Fruit salad for grownups. Her Wine & Fruit Salad is definitively not the usual clear dessert jelly; first of all, it contains a huge amount of pureed beets as well as an equally impressive amount of fruits and it comes with a delicious aphrodisiac sour cream sauce.

Also using gelatine, Emma, the Laughing Gastronome, proposes another dessert: Beetroot and Carrot Jelly with Pear and Lime Sauté. Who would have thought that roots could look so sexy? A light and delicious jelly for a Valentine’s Day dessert is a sure way to ensure that the celebration could continue after dinner.

Another contestant also made good use of gelatine in her dessert (what is it with jelly and love?). Ilva, of Lucullian Delights, prepared a visually spectacular pasta dish making full use of the coloring power of beets. Her Pink pasta with Asparagus, pear, pine nuts and lime is so tempting that it is already being emulated by others.

Stephen, of Stephen Cooks, is exhibiting, once again, his incredible talent at making jaw dropping works of culinary art. His Salad of Pears, Roasted Beets and Three Aphrodisiacs is a delight to the eyes and I am sure the palate as well. The pears and beets certainly shine in this dish, but the cheese and vinaigrette play an important supporting role here too.

Louise of Pâté Chinois and Co. decided to use black bean in her recipe after attending a lecture called “Beat the winter blues and boost your libido” at her local natural food store. The result was a hearty black bean pear and lime salad served with home made beet and potato chips. I don’t know about you, but a recipe that includes black beans, cayenne pepper and cilantro is more than just appealing to me.

Pille, our favourite Estonian foodie in Edinburgh, at Nami-Nami offers us a beautiful Mascarpone mousse with white chocolate and lime juice, topped with candied pear and beetroot. Following cues from different bloggers, she was able to create a dessert of her own which screams to be eaten. Hummm, I am still salivating!

Haalo, who seems willing to Cook Anything at least Once, propose a faux nigiri sushi served with equally faux soy sauce and faux wasabi and made with her beautiful Beetroot Cured Salmon. This dish would certainly make a high impression even at top restaurants such as the Fat Duck, the French Laundry or El Bulli.

Chopper Dave and Mrs D, of Belly-Timber, decided to go for luxury by using caviar, truffles and snails (among other things) in their multi courses meal which includes: Snails in beet cups with truffle butter, Salmon and beet mousse barquettes and Poached pears with agave caramel sauce. Let’s just say for now that we agree with them that they have no chance of winning the Paper Chef Super Saver award… but all the other categories are still open to them!

Marie-Laure, of the web site Ô Délices, took the extra time to translate her entry from French to English. Also inspired by other bloggers, her ‘Muffins à la betterave et aux poires’ are very “light and moist” and would probably make a fabulous breakfast or afternoon snack. The French version of the recipe can be found here.

Surfindaave does not own a blog, but his contribution was published here on Slurp and Burp. After some serious thinking and experiments in the kitchen, a few brilliant ideas were brought to fruition in his kitchen including a Proseco cocktail with pear and lime ice balls, and candied beet stem swizzle stick, a Roasted golden beet and ruby pear salad on arugula with lime vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds and parmesan shavings, Seared diver scallops on beet and pear risotto with lime mango salsa, served with sautéed beet greens and port reduction and Beet ice cream with kiwi-lime and thyme-pear sorbets on dark chocolate sauce with pistachio powder. I am not the only one to hope to be able to read the eventual Surfindaave’s blog in a near future.

Finally, Sam of Becks & Posh, sent us this beautiful picture of Dark chocolate lime and honey truffles served with pink heart pear crisps which were coloured with beet juice. She did not have the time to complete her post (yet?), but at least we can enjoy her work through the picture.

As for myself, I presented my own Paper Chef non-entry: Beet root carpaccio with a warm pear and walnut compote and pieces of grilled pig heart. I thought it was bold and delicious looking but reading all the other entries has been quite humbling… especially for someone who had world dominance ambitions

Fufu and I will now examine each of these entries one by one and make our final decision. It might take us a few days, but rest assured that we will be back soon with details on our finalists and winners for each categories as well as our grand winner.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Paper Chef non-entry


I know… you are all waiting for the round up. Let me divert your attention with my non-entry for this edition of Paper Chef.

As you should know by now, the ingredients featured this month are:

  1. Lime

  2. Beets

  3. Pears

  4. Aphrodisiacs

My first attempt at using these ingredients in recipe was a failure. I had little time at hand so my first though was to make a juice with half a lime, one very large pear, one beet and a bit of ginger (the aphrodisiac). When you have a juicer the process is simple and self-explanatory. The problem is that even when you are able to do exactly what you intend to do it does not mean that your first idea was a good one. The taste of raw ginger made the juice totally undrinkable. I hate to say this but we wasted good ingredients as no one at home was willing to take a second sip of that awful juice after the first one.

My second attempt was, fortunately, much more successful. This time I cooked a beet root carpaccio with a warm pear and walnut compote and grilled pieces of pig heart.

Yes, we had pig heart to celebrate Valentine’s day; isn’t it romantic? Heart is a delicious piece of meat and I wonder why it is not used more often in this part of the world. I first tried it in Peru eating the local street delicacy “anticuchos de corazon” (heart kebab). The interesting thing with pig heart is that it does not taste exactly like pork, I would even say that the flavour is closer to veal or beef. Anyway, you should try it and judge by yourself but for now let’s call this our aphrodisiac… And if you find eating heart objectionable, you can substitute it with another kind of meat or marinated extra firm tofu. I also included a few other aphrodisiacs in my recipe: vanilla and cayenne pepper.

The recipe

  1. Roast the beets, peel them and slice them very finely. Overlap the slices in circles in serving plates. Let them cool under a plastic wrap until service.

  2. Prepare a balsamic vinegar reduction sauce by reducing balsamic vinegar and a little brown sugar until the liquid coat the back of a spoon.

  3. Prepare chive oil by blanching very quickly some chive and passing them in the food processor with the oil of your choice. (I prefer a neutral oil for this)

  4. Grind coriander seeds, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and lime zest in a mortar. Add about the same quantity of flour to your spice mix and rub the resulting powder on large chunks of pig heart (the flour is optional but it helps at developing a nice crust).

  5. Cut your pears in small cubes and squeeze a little bit of lime juice on them to avoid oxidation.

  6. When ready to serve, sauté the pears in a pan with some walnuts and a little bit of salt. Near the end of cooking, add a few drops of vanilla and enough butter to create a rich sauce. Place a good portion of this compote in the center of the beet carpaccio.

  7. Cook the pieces of heart, now seasoned, in a pan or on the grill until it is medium cooked. Place a few chunks around the pears and walnut compote.

  8. Sprinkle lima beans and cheese (in this case a nice ‘Bleu Hermite’ from Québec and a Boschetto al tartufo, a sheep and cow milk cheese filled with bits of white truffles).

  9. Top the pears and walnut compote with a watercress salad (or any small greens you might have). In my case, I made a quick dressing using olive oil and sherry vinegar.

  10. Finally, drip the balsamic reduction and the chive oil over and around the beets.

The result was fantastic. I am extremely proud of myself here. The flavours integrated surprisingly well, even the heart and the pears. This is definitely a dish I would do again. I might try to improve a few things though. I would, for instance, pick pears that are not entirely ripe to keep the sweetness of the compote as low as possible. I would also opt for beets of different colors so that the balsamic reduction and the chive oil remain visible. I might even consider using larger plates so that these two sauces have a place of their own around the beets.

Stay tuned for the round up!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Paper Chef 15 - Variations on two Themes

This post was sent to me by Surfindaave for the Paper Chef event. Surfindaave does not own a blog which explains the publication of his entry on Slurp and Burp.


Paper Chef 15 - Variations on two Themes

Initially, the ingredients list looked a bit challenging. Not so much the beets and limes, and there are certainly enough things that are considered aphrodisiac in nature somewhere in the world to someone - but working in the pears seemed to be the challenge.

I spent most of the time looking into lists of aphrodisiacs, and even better the descriptions of why these items supposedly had this power, and in some cases their very specific effects. Everything from chocolate to tiger testicles. I stuck with things I thought I could reasonably and legally get a hold of by the deadline.

We are a house strongly divided on food likes and dislikes - the one half likes pretty much exactly what the other half does not (Life without dark chocolate?? Ever??? Harsh!). Makes for tense moments in the kitchen most nights. I schemed of bringing in the elements I wanted without having to take pictures of food taking a trip down the disposal.

The initial idea of a salad - roasted beets, pears, lime vinaigrette - came quickly. I make a similar salad with roasted beets, oranges and fennel with orange vinaigrette, so that seemed fairly straight forward. But not likely to get much attention, as I imagine it would occur to many people. None the less - doable, makes the majority happy (teenage girls). Add some arugula, pomegranate seeds, etc., for aphrodisiacs, and voila!

More creativity was needed. Maybe it was the red of the Chinese skating team against the ice in Turin - maybe the sudden heat wave in SoCAL. Who knows, but the second idea was there, and it triggered a mini flood of ideas. Idea number two seemed almost too easy - a trio of sorbets - lime, pear and roasted beet. Maybe on a chocolate sauce, or with chocolate shavings, and with pistachio powder – in any event, chocolate was going to be there – dark chocolate – lots of dark, dark chocolate. Maybe I can squeeze some sorbet in around the edges.

The beet sorbet turned into beet ice cream (unbelievably good, by the way). The pear sorbet was done quickly, with thyme to add depth. The lime sorbet turned into the disaster of the weekend. Seemed so simple - limes, sugar, water. But I wanted to be a bit more clever - key lime sorbet, from an interesting Alton Brown recipe (might even work!), but the ingredients were not to be found - anywhere. One down. Back to plain old lime sorbet. But that died too - the juiced limes, reduced with some sugar, looked so bad - pale yellow, with odd chunks floating in it - that we were all afraid to even taste it (if I found that on the floor – the dog would banished for a week). Plus - it wasn't green! No contrast with the pear sorbet. Time was running out. And my ice cream machine - not industrial by any stretch - was tapped out from the other sorbet and ice cream. Two down. But not out - yet!

In the mean time - The Brilliant Idea - a Champaign Cocktail – with, of course, the pear and lime sorbet as ice balls, and the Champaign as the aphrodisiac. But how to work in the beet? The Beet Stems, brilliant red sticks, candied, as swizzle sticks! I tried it - candying (is that a word?) some nice red beet stems in a simple syrup, and letting them cool. They hardened nicely, and seemed like they would do the trick. I just needed the sorbets.

Now the idea became variations on a theme – an entire dinner based on the Paper Chef 15 ingredient list. I was giddy. Little did I know that disaster would be the second theme.

Back to the lime sorbet. I settled on a simple lime sorbet based on frozen limeade and kiwis. The limeade, from the frozen food section (shudder) was already frozen, the kiwis were nice and ripe - what could go wrong? The color was brilliant green - with those nice little black kiwi seeds. Couldn't be better. But no ice cream machine (used it up with the pear sorbet and the beet ice cream). So I put the sorbet liquid on a baking sheet in the freezer - two days ago. Not even slush yet, let alone sorbet. I guess it is the freezer? Maybe the limeade has some residual antifreeze in it? Do kiwis prevent freezing? Who knows. Without the lime sorbet, I get no dessert dish, and no Champaign cocktail. Worst of all – no dark chocolate sauce with the sorbet dish. Life is just harsh sometimes! The weak link was the simplest of all the dishes.

No time to despair (I ate the dark chocolate anyways – got to pump up the endorphins, or something like that!). People were going to be hungry whether I had lime sorbet or not. Time to please the crowd. Fresh seared diver scallops, on a bed of red beet and pear risotto, with a lime and mango salsa over the top, and sautéed beet greens on the side. Looks spectacular (despite my pictures), tastes even better.

Last step, tweak the salad – I already have lots of red beets (I mean how many beets can you eat in one sitting?). I wanted to switch to golden beets, but was concerned I would not be able to find them. If I went with golden beets, then I could poach the pears in something red – ruby port, for instance, and have a nice contrast to the main plate. Five stores and $12.00 later, I found the golden beets – for a price (it is just a root, after all!).

The final menu:

Proseco cocktail with pear and lime ice balls, and candied beet stem swizzle stick (photo tomorrow) – aphrodisiac is the Proseco

Roasted golden beet and ruby pear salad on arugula with lime vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds and parmesan shavings (photo) – aphrodisiacs are the arugula, pomegranate seeds, and parmesan (who knew?)

Seared diver scallops on beet and pear risotto with lime mango salsa, served with sautéed beet greens and port reduction. (photo) – aphrodisiacs are the scallops, mango, and port, not to mention the red color of the risotto

Beet ice cream with kiwi-lime and thyme-pear sorbets on dark chocolate sauce with pistachio powder (photo tomorrow) – aphrodisiacs are the dark chocolate, and pistachios

Served over two days – as I have to wait for the lime sorbet to finally freeze – like waiting for Godot – the second variation on a theme.

So half the house was happy – diver scallops and salad, with the fatty dessert (which they complain about but scarf down anyways) delayed till tomorrow! One abstained (doesn’t like scallops or salad, already ate half the ice cream during the preparation – went for the cheerios). I sat in a dim room, sipping Proseco, nibbling dark chocolate, the hushed cracking of red and yellow stones coming from the TV (Curling rocks, by the way!)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jamaican inspired pig tail stew


After feasting on pig trotters a few weeks ago, we decided to try other often forgotten parts of this culinary versatile animal. A week ago, we spent a few days in Toronto to meet friends, eat out and shop for delicacies that we could bring back in out camping cooler. Yes, we can be that obsessed with food.

One of our nicest discoveries at a Chinese grocery store in the suburbs of Toronto was pig tail. We almost bought pig snouts too but, since I should watch my diet a bit more closely said the doctor a few weeks earlier, we reached a compromise and only got the pack of pig tail. I had no idea how to prepare it at the time and to be honest my mind was just overwhelmed at all the other things we bought: tons of bones to make stock, great vegetables that we just can’t find in Ottawa, a mortar and pestle, etc.

The day after our return home, I started thinking about a recipe. I even googled a few combinations of the words pig, tail, recipe and stew but got very few interesting ideas. I knew I wanted to braise or stew the meat; I don’t believe there is any other interesting way of preparing this part of the animal. At some point, I thought about Jamaican ox tail stews and that was all I needed to select a few spices on my shelves and work with what I had in the fridge.

I first cut some aromatic vegetables (onion, celery and jalapeño peppers) to add flavour to a chicken stock made earlier with all the bones also bought in Toronto. To add more flavours I also added a few dried Mexican peppers (I forgot which exact type), garlic, well strained canned tomatoes, a few bay leaves, curcuma, all spice as well as the usual salt and pepper.

The chunks of pork tail were first browned in a pan; then the aromatic vegetables were added and everything else followed. Near the end, I also added large slices of carrots, a few florets of cauliflower and a can of broad beans.

The stew was excellent although the meat remained quite rich. I served it on a bed of basmati rice cooked with a few spices and a handful of raisins and a side of fried green bananas and lime wedges. I think the lime juice played an important role in cutting the richness of the stew and enhancing all the flavours; I would not serve this dish without adding such a touch of acidity.

Reminder - Paper chef #15

I have just received the first entries and if they are a first taste of what is coming, this edition of Paper Chef is going to be a delicious and very diverse one. It is not too late to participate as the deadline has been extended to Wednesday February the 15. All the details can be found here.

You are also encouraged to use the Paper Chef technorati tag so that all of us can search for other entries over there before the round up.

Friday, February 10, 2006

La réponse - The Answer

This post is written in both French (blue) and English (pink).
Ce message est écrit en français (bleu) ainsi qu'en anglais (rose).

J'ai reçu plusieurs réponses à ma petite devinette d’avant hier. Bien que certaines d’entre elles s’approchaient drôlement de la réponse exacte, aucune d’entre elles n’était parfaitement correcte. Le légume dont il est question est simplement le cœur d’une laitue romaine dont on enleva progressivement les feuilles du bas lors de la pousse. Il s’agit d’un légume prisé des chinois et tout à fait délicieux. Cet article décrit comment l’apprêter.

I received many answers to my little trivia question posted two days ago. Even though many of them were close to the real answer none were perfectly right. The vegetable in question was simply the core of a romaine lettuce from which the lower leaves were progressively removed when the plant was growing. It is a prized vegetable in China and is simply delicious. This post describes how to cook it properly.

Puisque la pelure de ce légume est très fibreuse, il faut le peler. L’épaisseur à enlever est parfois importante car on doit retirer toute la chair striée de blanc.

Since the skin of this vegetable is very fibrous, it has to be peeled. The thickness of skin to be removed can be significant since all the white streaked flesh has to me removed.

On obtiendra un superbe cône allongé de couleur vert pâle. Notez que sur la photo accompagnant cette description, il reste à retirer la chair striée de blanc.

We should obtain a nice light green elongated cone. Note that it is still necessary to remove a layer of the white streaked flesh on the lettuce core found on this picture.

Ensuite, tout ce qu’il reste à faire c’est de le couper de la taille et forme désirées.

Then, all you have to do is to cut it to the desired shape and size.

La meilleure façon d’apprêter ce légume c’est de le sauté dans un peu d’huile de façon à préserver son côté croquant. La saveur étant plutôt délicate, il ne faut pas ajouter trop d’assaisonnement. Un tout petit peu d’ail et de gingembre, par exemple, suffisent.

The best way to cook this vegetable is to sauté it in a little bit of oil while preserving a nice crunchiness. The delicate flavor of this vegetable can easily be overwhelmed by strong flavoring ingredients. Just a little bit of garlic and ginger, for instance, would generally be more than adequate.