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.

Paper Chef #15

It is time for one of my favourite blog event: the Paper Chef contest! Paper Chef is a very informal and fun competition where participant are asked to prepare delicious dishes using four pre-selected ingredients. Each participant has the weekend to cook their creation and write about it. It is all done for the fun of working with different flavouring combinations and to appreciate the diversity of dishes produced by all participants.

This month I have the privilege of hosting and judging this edition of Paper Chef. Since I realize that a large numbers of my readers are French speakers who are able to read English but might feel discomfort with expressing themselves in this language (I sometimes still do), I would like to offer my help at translating a short paragraph describing their eventual contributions.

My partner Fufu will help me in the enjoyable but delicate task of judging each entry but before going any further, let’s have a look at the specifics of this edition.


Three ingredients have been randomly selected from the current Paper Chef ingredients list by Owen at Tomatilla. They are:

  1. Beets

  2. Pears

  3. Lime

This leaves the choice of a fourth ingredient to me. Since this is Valentine Day weekend, I think aphrodisiac ingredients are more than appropriate. I will leave the interpretation of what constitute an aphrodisiac to you but I do expect some kind of justification for your choices.

Hence, at the risk of repeating myself, the ingredients for this edition of Paper Chef are:

1. Beets
2. Pears
3. Lime
4. Aphrodisiacs

Rules (I hope I get them right)

  1. This event was created to be fun. As Owen, the creator of Paper Chef, puts it: “For absolutely only the fun of it and for no other reason whatsoever, the Paper Chef challenges each and every one of you reading this to let loose your culinary imagination and make up a dish of your own. Loosely based on the ideas of the Iron Chef, fond TV favorite in the US and Japan, and on the British show Ready, Steady, Cook! (fond favorite in the UK), the Paper Chef is all about creativity and constraint, challenge and cooking.”

  2. From this day (February the 10th, 2006) you have until Wednesday noonsih to publish your entry on your own blog and send me an email at “magictofu (at) gmail (dot) com”. Please include your name, the name of your blog, a permalink to your post and, if available, a picture of your dish that you would like to see on the round up (or more simply a link to this picture).

  3. If you do not own a blog, you can also participate by sending me your contribution by email at “magictofu (at) gmail (dot) com”, I will post them on this blog for the benefit of all.

  4. Substitutions of ingredients are allowed. If, for instance, you can’t find an ingredient, suffer from food allergies or simply do not like one of the chosen ingredients, do not refrain from participating. Simply select an appropriate substitute which would preserve the original character of the event.

  5. Have fun, be inventive and let us know about it!

Special prizes

Following some of my predecessors, I have created special prizes for this edition of Paper Chef. They are as follow:

Paper Chef Super Saver. Following the idea set forward by Noodle Cook, this special prize honors cooks who were able to prepare exquisite dishes with cheap ingredients or using inexpensive cooking techniques. If you plan on using caviar, foie gras or truffles, forget about this prize.

Paper Chef Indiana Jones for the most adventurous cooks. This prize has been created to pay homage to cooks who had enough courage to step outside their comfort zone by cooking unknown ingredients or attempting difficult recipes. Note: to win this prize, success is absolutely not required and honesty, in the case of culinary failure, might be rewarded with extra points.

Paper Chef Picasso. This prize rewards the best culinary works or art. You could chose to be as figurative or abstract as you want and even delve into conceptual art. This is the time to revise you high school art class and put your creative energy at work. Note: a picture or a short description of the ‘artistic value’ of your dish is necessary to be eligible for this prize.

Paper Chef Home Cook. Since I have the feeling that people more inclined to prepare home style comfort food have not been sufficiently rewarded for their work in previous editions of Paper Chef, I have created this special prize. It rewards food created for the family table which convey a certain sense of warmth and simplicity. Contrary to what some food magazines want you to believe, such food does not have to come from 1950s’ America; each of us, after all, have our own history and cultural background.

To simplify our task, we would love to read why you think your dishes fit one or more of the aforementioned categories. Put a nice twist on your creation by providing us with a certain perspective and entice our senses. This is not exactly a cooking competition but a food blogging event; as such, pictures, comments and descriptions carry some significant weight. Put us in context, show us your writing skills, entertain us with your whimsical humor, and, more than anything else, tell us about your experience.

A note about the judges.

Every judge and judging panels have their own bias. We believe that we should tell you as much as possible about our own tastes prior to the event.

Fufu, being of Chinese origin, tends to favor strong tastes and especially spiciness. She is also crazy for the very healthy fruits and vegetables as well as the less healthy charcuteries such as sausage and cured meat.

As for myself, being of French Canadian origin, I often crave protein: eggs, dairy products and meat (lumberjack food). Mushrooms and potatoes never fail to please my palate. Unlike Fufu, I prefer subtle flavors and aromas. Finally, again unlike Fufu, I am a total sucker for sauces: pasta sauce, demi-glaze sauce, stews…

These are our own little food bias but we will do our best to offer a fair judging. After reading entries from past Paper Chef editions, I can already speculate that this time again it won’t be an easy job.

A la cuisine!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

There is more to mash than just potatoes

Ah the marvels of mashed potatoes! They can be as chunky or as silky as the cook wants them to be and they take almost any flavour you fancy to throw at them. I grew up eating tons of mashed potatoes, digging little hole in them to make lakes of gravy, sometime decorating the shores with trees of broccoli and cauliflower. Some say mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food but that, of course, is subject to debate especially considering that it is a very western centered cultural assertion.

But potatoes are not the only roots which can be mashed with success. My mom, for instance, used to add turnip, carrots and parsnips to her delicious mashed potatoes. A recent discovery of mine was taro. It is a tropical root which is delicious in stews as it absorbs flavours like no other vegetables. It can also be mashed into one of the most luscious purée.

The idea is the same as mashed potatoes but you have to make sure your taro root is not too fibrous; chose younger and smaller specimen. If you are lucky enough, your purée will show a slight purplish-blue tinge but if, like myself, your taro roots are a bit pallid your purée might end up slightly greyish; it will still taste very good but might not be very pleasant visually once on your plate.

I personally add a touch of honey and black pepper to my taro purée. They both work very well together to accentuate the flavour of the root. Green onions or chive also add a nice finishing touch, especially if your purée turn out to be a little greyish.

Quel est ce légume? - What vegetable is that?

The answer and more details tomorow! - La réponse et plus d'information demain!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sautéed watercress


I don't know why I feel so compelled to write this post. After all, I barely have a recipe to propose. Simple ingredients simply prepared are sometimes more appealing to me than the complex integration of rare ingredients.

Here it is anyway, a Chinese classic: sautéed watercress with garlic. It resembles the equally simple chicory dish I made a few months ago but here the heat is key.

To prepare this delicious side dish, put a little bit of oil in a very hot pan or wok. I prefer peanut oil but feel free to use any oil which has a high smoking point. Add watercress to the pan along with some garlic. Stir often so that the watercress and the garlic do not burn. Add salt. Stir more and more and more… and then serve.

The very strong heat does wonders to the taste of watercress by adding a slightly toasty flavour. If your pan is so hot that everything burns however, just add a sprinkle of water to cool it down… this way at least you’ll save your watercress.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The egg test

What are the best tasting eggs available on the shelves of my local grocery store?

If eggs differ in taste in the same way as the animals that lay them, organic eggs should be noticeably more flavourful than their industrial counterparts.

I have discussed the tasteless character of North American industrial chicken before (here et ) and the always eloquent Kate of the Accidental Hedonist offered us her own set of explanations for this demoralizing culinary fact. The topic has also been addressed on other food blogs such as Blue Lotus. What prompted me to ask questions and do some research in the first place was the discovery of huge differences in taste between Canadian raised chicken and Chinese chicken as well as between organic and free range chicken and the usual industrially raised chicken from the average North American grocery store. Organic and free range chicken taste much better than industrial chicken but all the backyard raised chicken I tasted in China were even superior. Partial explanation to this problem can be found on the Accidental Hedonist as well as on Blue Lotus, the comments on both these posts are extremely interesting as well.

Now, what about eggs? They come from the same animal and, as my little experience abroad (again in China) also suggests, their taste can also vary greatly. To answer this question I bought a box of each of the three kinds of eggs available at my local grocery store (organic, regular and ‘Omega 3’ eggs). I then tasted each type with my dear Fufu. I made two very simple recipes so that no other ingredients interfered with tasting: hard boiled eggs and scrambled eggs. Here are the results.

Hard Boiled Eggs

Visually all eggs were very similar. All had fairly pale yolks although the organic egg yolks were slightly darker. This was a bit disappointing since most of what I had read suggested that the darker the yolk, the better the flavour. And lets admit it, we also eat with our eyes and nice colours are always welcome on our plate.

Texture wise, they were all identical or at least none of us were unable to distinguish them from one another when considering their texture alone.

As for the taste, arguably the most important point in our little study, they were very little differences. For some reasons, before the test I believed that the ‘Omega 3’ eggs would have an off flavour but they were almost identical to the regular industrial eggs. The organic eggs were slightly better in my opinion but Fufu didn’t see any difference between them and the other eggs.

Scramble eggs

This time three ingredients were added in equal quantities: butter, milk and salt making the tasting a bit more challenging. The results from the scramble eggs test were nonetheless very similar to those of the hard boiled eggs test.

The color and texture of all eggs were practically identical and only at the taste test did I notice a barely perceptible improvement in the flavour of the organic eggs.


  1. Grocery store eggs pretty much all taste the same, including organic eggs. The very slight difference in taste that I perceived but that Fufu didn’t would be insignificant in any recipe. The way you cook your eggs is much more likely to affect the taste of the final dish. Eggs do not abide by the same rules as chicken it seems.
  2. That being said, I did try very good eggs in China and I believe better eggs could be available elsewhere than at the local supermarket.
  3. I am also in the belief that most grocery store eggs, being regular, ‘Omega 3’ or organic, are the product of industrial farms. What drives production is probably primarily economic: what counts is the number of eggs multiplied by their price on the market for each dollar invested. Smaller local farms might produce better quality eggs for a niche market of egg fanatics, I might have to investigate a bit further.
  4. On the other hand, unlike for chicken, I didn’t find the commercially available eggs to have any off taste but I grew up eating these eggs so I might be slightly biased.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It's ingredient nomination time for Paper Chef #15

You like the Paper Chef event? You want to participate or you just want to see what participants would do with various ingredients? Well it’s time to go nominate ingredients for the next edition of Paper Chef so go straight to Tomatilla and submit you ideas! Nominating an ingredient does not commit you to anything but believe me, participating in such event is a ton of fun.

If you don’t know yet what Paper Chef is, have a look at this. Fufu and I will happily judge the next edition so even if you don’t participate, come back here in about two weeks to see the round up and learn about the winners.