Katherine Jones’ King Apple Chutney

This recipe was written down by Katherine Jones  of Victoria at my request after I served her Chutney at a dinner and all the guests wanted to know about the ingredients, not believing me that it was apple chutney. She was kind enough to take the time and she also added that this recipe calls specifically for King apples and that if you need a substitute, it should be mangoes and not other apple varieties. Mrs Jones , of course, has no trouble acquiring King apples as she grows the trees on her property.

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Tender but Crunchy Asparagus on Sunday Brunch to fight the hang-over!

 Asparagus  is in season at last in the Pacific North-West. I have been wanting to replicate the fine  local fresh asparagus I ate in Provence at my brother’s about a month ago but my experiment with Mexico grown spears was not  even close. Today though I found some asparagus from Washington state  (they produce over a third of the US crop) and I am ready to give it another shot.


There are three little tricks I use. First the North-American tradition is that you do not cut the ends off but instead  that you break them off the stalks. Not 2 inches, not 3 inches, but exactly where they  will break off easily when you bend the stem, sometimes one inch and sometimes 4.  Only the tender part remains. They don’t know this in France, so they were impressed by my technique. But then, I was rather surprised when my brother started peeling the green asparagus, as I would  have only peeled the white  asparagus variety.  He took the time to do it with a potato peeler and that was well worth it. The last thing is the cooking, there is no set time, the asparagus can be grilled, steamed or blanched. If you blanch them, use lots of salty water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to help keep them bright green, then drain quickly and let the steam off. The key is to not overcook, so stand by with a knife to check often after 5 minutes of cooking.  Because of how well they were prepped, the asparagus need less cooking time. An asparagus cooker is not necessary, I use a frying pan.



DSC_0004Asparagus have a strong unique taste and I find it best not to add dressings made with olive oil, tarragon…  or Hollandaise sauce. I usually make a simple vinaigrette with peanut  or canola oil, Dijon mustard and  fresh lemon juice with salt and pepper. This asparagus salad is good warm or cold.


French people cut the ends with a knife and at home they eat the asparagus with their fingers. The result is a  woody stub left over on the plates from the part that has too much fiber to eat. The French asparagus though has a far superior taste, especially in Provence.

Asparagus  is very healthy, it provides good Vitamin C, B6, folate,  potassium , iron, fiber. It is a diuretic  good for uric acid. It is low-calorie and said to be effective to help gout and hangovers! The asparagus boosts  the   enzymes   that help  break down alcohol.  Might be a good idea for Sunday brunch!

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Red Lentil Tandoori Dahl with Eggplant to serve with Easter Lamb

It all started about a month ago, Valentine’s day to be exact. I was serving dinner for three couples and the theme was red. So, there I was looking at a bag of split red lentils and wondering how to make them  look more red. Raw, red lentils are at best  an orangy color and cooked they are barely yellow. I was serving chicken Tandoori and to avoid any flavour clash,  especially on that day, it seemed best to have the lentils “Tandoori” as well. It took a few attempts to perfect the recipe, hence the delay. But this a good one and I might even have  it again with the Easter lamb in a couple weeks,  so here is the post, I won’t keep you waiting until Valentine’s day 2014.


For six servings you will need  to simmer 2+1/2 cups of  pre-rinsed split red lentils (454 gr.) in 2 l  salted water until they are cooked and fairly mushy, over 30 minutes. Add extra water if necessary. The lentils must be split and all red lentils. I have tried other mixes and it did not work as well, as the cooking times are very different and the texture of other lentils does not absorb the curry well. While the lentils cook,  saute one onion and 2 diced Chinese eggplants  in olive oil and simmer until soft. Add a crushed garlic clove just before it’s done. By now, the lentils should make a nice puree-like dish, add 1/3 of a  jar of Patak’s Tandoori curry paste, stir, add the eggplant and onion and stir all together gently. Sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro and enjoy.


You can cook this the day before and re-heat it. In that case, add the cilantro just before eating.  I recommend using Chinese eggplant with the skin as they hold up well diced and don’t have too many seeds. I split them lengthwise and then slice them about 1/2 inch thick.


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Key Lime pie, Key lime is the key! Postcard from Key West

I thought nothing of driving 6856 km from Victoria, BC to Key West, Fl. in order to find an authentic Key lime pie, and the key, I discovered talking to the local experts, is the lime. You must use authentic Key lime (citrus aurantifolia), not the more common, bigger, greener,  sweeter, cheaper Persian limes which were introduced in Key West  after the native Key lime was destroyed and eradicated by a hurricane in 1926. Certainly, Key lime on the label does not mean grown in Florida as I have found that in January, there are no Florida-grown limes anywhere. Both the Key lime and the Persian lime varieties come from Mexico.

2013Key West 011

It is usually best to keep recipes simple, so I will follow the directions of the Key West Key lime pie recipe postcard. It calls for 1/2 cup of lime juice, a can of sweetened condensed milk, 4  large egg yolks. They say to mix the yolks and the condensed milk and to add the juice slowly stirring until the filling is smooth and creamy. At this point, you have 3 options, the postcard has no use for the egg whites, some recipes use them to make a light meringue to cover the filling, but I chose to beat  3 of them hard and to gently mix them into the filling at the end. After that, pour the filling in a graham cracker crust and cook for about 25 minutes at 350 F. Check with the tip of a knife, if the knife comes out clean, it’s done. Cool for 20 minutes, then refrigerate two hours before eating. Sprinkle and decorate with whipped cream and limes as you wish!

Key Limes and Persian Limes

Key Limes and Persian Limes

Condensed milk is the basic for the original recipe because early in the 20th century therephoto (9) was no refrigeration on the Florida Keys to preserve milk or cream. William Curry, a shipping magnate, invented the recipe to sell his imported cans of condensed milk. It has later been proven to make a smoother filling than cream although some people contend that a filling with Vanilla ice-cream was President Truman’s favorite.

On a final note, the pie should be yellow, if it is lime colour, this is a sure sign that it contains food colouring and should be disdained.

We found the pie to be quite sweet, but not as sweet as the restaurants’ versions. If you like it tart, make sure to use the small Key limes which are more acidic, and use only 3/4 can of condensed milk and an extra egg yolk.

photo (10)

Persian Lime

Persian Lime

Note: Sally Cole, who spends  her winter in Florida, suggested using ginger snaps instead of Graham crackers for  a more intense flavour.

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Downton Abbey’s Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

Last night, I was invited to dinner and  showing of Episode 1 Season 3 of Downton Abbey, a casual Sunday night with friends. They roasted  the Rosemary lemon chicken, a free range tender and tasty bird from Metchosin, raised with love and an elaborate grain diet. It was served with potatoes from 10 Mile Point, they grew themselves and carrots and asparagus with butter.  The main course was so  perfect, it would have met Dowager Violet’s daunting standard. 

photo (78)

I was next with dessert and chose the Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding  with Salted Caramel Sauce recipe, from the “Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily  Ansara Baines. Just what I think they served for the family alone on the eve of Lady Mary’s wedding if I heard Mrs Patmore correctly!

For 10 servings, the book calls for:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar for sauce, and one cup for pudding
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar for sauce and 1/2 for pudding
  • 1 cup heavy cream for sauce  and 1/2 for pudding
  • 3 1/2 tbsps butter for sauce
  • 1 tsp kosher salt for sauce and 1tsp for pudding
  • 1 pound French baguette, cubed
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup coffee liqueur such as Amaretto
  • 1/4 cup high quality cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsps almond extract
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 ounces high quality semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 ounces high quality milk chocolate
Half recipe for 5 servings

Half recipe for 5 servings

The instructions in the book are not all that useful so I will skip them. Who wants to dirty three bowls when it can be done with one. And why start with the sauce, when it can be made while the pudding cooks? I am sure that both Daisy and Mrs Patmore would agree, so here is my take. Cut up the baguette or white bread or brioche bread in cubes, grease a large baking dish 9X13 or 2 smaller ones, round works too. Place the bread in the dish.

In a large bowl, lightly beat 6 eggs, add the vanilla, almond and cinnamon and whisk together. Add white sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Thoroughly whisk until smooth. Add the milk, cream and coffee liqueur. As I did not have Amaretto I used rum and 1/2 tsp of instant coffee. Grate and add the chocolate, the hardest part of this recipe is grating all the chocolate! (I used 6 ounces bitter-sweet instead of 8 ounces semi-sweet). While the grater was out, I added the zest of a whole orange.  Mix everything. Pour over the bread, stir and let soak while you pre-heat the oven to 325. Convect bake for 30 minutes for half recipe or small baking dishes, 50 to 60 min. for large dish. Check with a knife and remove from the oven as soon as the knife comes out clean. It is best to make this just before dinner so the pudding will remain warm and moist.

photo (77)

On fine English bone China, it tastes even better!

The Cookbook features classic recipes,  from British upper-class fare to bangers and mash, and from refined French gourmet to mushy peas. I am not sure I would trust it to replicate difficult recipes like Sybil’s seafood Newburg or the Upstairs Downstairs Plum Pudding. If you wish to cook more of the Downton menus, I have already featured  my own recipes for some of the items such as Beef Tongue, Onion soup,  Crêpes Françaises, Roasted Duck or Mrs Patmore’s dropped chicken on this blog and the advantage of the blog over the book is the pictures and the practical approach. The book has not one single picture. Anyway, this is not a book review, I just want to say that leafing through the pages does make you dream about dinner at Downton’s, but for culinary facts , techniques, recipes, there are many more accurate sources. Likely why the publisher reminds us on the front cover that : ” This book is unofficial and unauthorized. It is not  authorized, approved, licensed, or endorsed by Carnival Film and television Ltd.” So you know. But I still enjoyed browsing through and now raise my glass for a toast “to  King George”!

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Orange Recipes for Halloween Dinner

Nachos and squash dip


Carrot salad


Roasted Yam fingers


Squash soup in Pumpkin


Stuffed orange Peppers


Roasted Butternut or “Sasquatch feet”


Blood Orange tart from Lucy Waverman in Globe and Mail


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Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings, Caramelized Parsnip and Carrot fries

For some curious reason, which I did not figure out, my Canadian family’s Thanksgiving dinner was hosted today, Saturday, in prime Haliburton  cottage country  in a solid wood chalet by  chilly Lake Kushog (believe me, I actually had a short swim- and short is the stressed word here). First, we had rain, then the sun tried a brief appearance but, soon the hail was taking over followed by a hard rain and  a refreshing breeze. So  quick swim, recovery in hot-tub and off to a full day of cooking, with ETA 18 hundred hours,  for a buffet for 17. The good thing about this Saturday’s rehearsal is that it was a great success that can be replicated on Thanksgiving day, Monday. (By you, not us).

A 25 pound grain fed Ontario  Turkey bird  from White House Meats, green beans, Brussels  sprouts, mashed potatoes, squash purée, Romaine lettuce, roasted yams, cranberry sauce and fig-orange conserve. As you can see, this is quite a few dishes and I forgot the stuffing and gravy!  Good thing that it was a family affair, that my sisters-in law are amazing cooks. They did produce this feast and tarts, not to mention pumpkin pies  with  hand-beaten vanilla whipped cream. The whipped cream was the only item produced by a male, and today  I wondered if this was really my Canada🙂.

Bonnie made the parsnip and carrot fries and they were the highlight of conversation. Nephews commented at the clever disguise, a vegetable that looked like a French fry, but turned out to be  a parsnip or carrot with a Balsamic caramel “costume”. The carrots were heirloom carrots from Québec with amazing colours, ranging from pale yellow to bright orange with red stripes.

My job  was to cut up all the parsnips and carrots in pieces about the size of  thin shoestring fries. All the thin cuts were gathered in a large bowl and sprinkled with a mixture of equal parts of Extra-virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar with brown sugar, I think it was a good cup of the “sauce” for 6 pounds of vegetables. After tossing them well, you lay them out flat on cookie sheets and roast them at 350 or higher for maybe 30 minutes, or the time it takes to get them crispy on the outside and very mushy inside just like the original French fries should be. Haha, that’s the trick and Bonnie is keeping that one under her hat. The vegetables are only roasted though, which brings the flavours out and saves you from the  evil of deep-fry. The adults loved it, the younger crowd complained about the cheat, but there was not one “fry” left.  As for French fries, do sprinkle with lots of salt before serving!

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Antipasto Pickle Preserves, a taste of summer to last through winter!

Although I have been eating this delicious antipasto since I moved to Victoria nine years ago, I never knew how to make it. Then last month, I was given the original list of ingredients from Grandma O’Brien by her grand-daughter Kieran and there I was  trying to figure out the “how to”  make the recipe, so that it would taste like  genuine Italian antipasto. Because I was very anxious not to ruin all this food, I divided the amounts given by half. The recipe below yielded about 22 eight-ounce jars, and a bit extra for testing by the cook. I was surprised that a lot of ingredients are actually canned, jarred or pickled but was told by another friend, who has been making this  for years , that it was best not to tamper with good things and that  this antipasto  recipe was incredibly good and addictive.

  • 1 lbs  Dill pickles (no garlic) sliced
  • 1 lbs  silverskin onions pickled, cut in halves
  •  1 lbs cauliflower cut in small pieces
  • 2 tins sliced mushrooms (284ml)
  • 1 lbs yellow pepper
  • 1 lbs green pepper
  • 3 tins chunk tuna (regular size, net weight 120gr)
  • 1 tin black ripe olives sliced (375ml)
  • 1 jar stuffed Manzanilla green  olives sliced (375ml)
  • 1,87 l ketch up
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tin green beans cut (398ml/14fl oz)
  • 1 tsp salt

Heat a  small quantity of olive oil in your largest stockpot, or Le Creuset cast-iron pot, or a very large non-stick pot. Add the peppers, cut up in squares about 1/2 inch and sauté them gently 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and sauté 1 minute. Add everything else except the tuna. Simmer 15 minutes. Add the flaked tuna and simmer another 2 minutes. Keep stirring often to prevent burning the bottom.

While your antipasto cools down with a lid on top. Sterilize Mason jars, tops, rings, prongs, a large spoon. Then, fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch at the top, cover and preserve  for 20 minutes. If you are not familiar with preserves, follow a book or internet directions. As we all preserves, the process is important to avoid botulism, and  especially  here because low acid foods are included in this recipe. Note also that there is no garlic for that reason. (If you don’t feel like preserving, the antipasto can also be frozen).

Try to save the jars for one month before eating! Right!

Note: To be truthful, I have to confess that I added 3 tbsp red wine vinegar and 3 tbsp Frank’s red hot sauce, but that is up to you!

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Quick Rock Crab Cakes

Steamer Cove, Shelter Inlet, Clayoquot Sound

It had been a long day sailing from Ucluelet through Clayoquot Sound on the way to Hot Springs Cove. 48,7 nautical miles, most of those on the big Pacific open Ocean on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, in swells five to seven meters high and through fog so thick, you would have thought to be in the British Isles in November. Steamer Cove in Shelter Inlet, off Flores Island, was the furthest we could go that day. Located behind the Georges Islands, the inner cove was the choice of the old time steamers looking for true shelter from the frequent gales blowing through the West Coast. Our highest speed was 22.4 knots that day, no doubt coming down from the top of a giant wave, our all time speed record on the sailboat. After anchoring, we just had enough energy to lower the crab trap below the boat. Next morning, we had the delight of finding two male Rock crabs well over 4,5 inches across, big enough to keep, and threw back the smaller guy overboard. Lunch that day would be much improved from the routine cheese and bread.

The recipe for the Crab cakes had to be pretty simple. I started by dropping the crab claws and legs in a pot of boiling sea water, simmering for 5 minutes and draining. As soon as the crab was cool enough to handle, I removed the shells and gathered the meat in a bowl with one beaten egg, 2 tbsps mayo, ¾ cup Panko, the juice of ½ lemon, 1 tsp of red wine vinegar  and 4 tbsps of a really tart salsa I had brought along for lunches on the go. I formed four cakes and fried them in a little bit of olive oil with a clove of garlic. The Rock Crabs are smaller and more work than Dungeness but the meat was very tender and tasty. As you see on the picture they are red even before they are boiled. I served the cakes with Frank’s hot sauce on the side and a salad of greens.

After lunch, as we were sailing towards Hot Springs Cove, we had a visit from a family of sea otters, enjoying the sun. And right by Sharp Point, a huge grey whale was feeding and showed her tail. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough to get a picture.

Sea Otters in Clayoquot Sound

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2012 Fawn growing fast, eating all my flowers and bushes

The fawn strolls by every morning looking for treats in my garden

The doe must have heard that Jules the Jack Russell terrier was no longer on duty here in Victoria BC, since he got a transfer and huge promotion in March as guardian of  the  orchard in the Garden of Eden. I know he is doing a great job there,  but we do miss him so much. RIP Jules! The deer have free rein here now and the doe knows it!

She jumps the fence and the fawn goes under!

Today’s  Deer prix-fixe menu: (seulement pour les habitués).

Organic mesclun of dandelion and chive sprouts  with sauteed fresh insects , maple sugar vinaigrette

Bird nest soup (extra-charge)

Wild mushroom burger sprinkled with Rosemary and Thyme  served with bamboo heart fries and parsley relish.

Blackberry flower sherbet with lavender coulis  and pine nuts (early bird only as the temperature does rise a little above freezing by 9am these days) and wild oat cookie.

Pairing: clear glacial water from the pond, naturally mineral rich with earthy taste and gary-oaky flavours.


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La Bouillabaisse de l’Oncle Jean-Louis

Bouillabaisse used to be the soup of the poor in the port of Marseille.  You simmered the bony rock fish abundant in the Calanques in a vegetable broth and added better fish according to your budget. It means boiling on low in Provençal.  Today, bouillabaisse is featured in gourmet restaurants at high prices because the Mediterranean has been overfished and polluted. But it is not difficult to make your own, so long as you have time on your hands.

Dorade royales, vive, loup, pagre, rougets on the right
Rockfish combination on the left for the broth

I got this recipe from Oncle Jean-Louis, my brother from Aix-en-Provence. I watched him as he prepared dinner last week with  the fresh fish available that day from the sea. The night before, he sauteed  1k and a half of rock fish  (rascasse in French) caught on the line with olive oil, garlic, onion a bay leaf, parsley and five whole garden  tomatoes. After a few minutes, he added  a cup of white wine and water to cover the fish  by one inch and let the pan simmer gently for one hour. He added some good quality saffron, salt and pepper and let  the whole thing sit  in a bowl in the fridge overnight to infuse.

Simmering the fish soup

sauteeing the rock fish

The next day, he strained it through the food mill, first  through the coarse setting, then through the fine. And there was the soup! We are half way there. The next step was to remove about 2 cups of liquid to simmer new potatoes (without letting them boil).  During that time, we prepared the “rouille” a mayonnaise with 2 cloves of garlic and saffron, and Cayenne pepper, that is very spicy. He actually used Harrissa to spice it up, the sauce usually served with Couscous. It was placed in the fridge to harden until dinner.

The fish and the “rouille” as we are serving

At that point you  have also grated some Gruyère cheese and you are ready to toast some thin baguette slices for croutons. The last stage is done only when the guests are here. You simmer the fish  ( traditionnally, congre, vive, grondin) in the soup adding them one by one according to size so nothing is overcooked. Once all the different fish are cooked, they are boned and served on a platter. The soup is dished out in large soup plates and the fish, potatoes and croutons topped with “rouille” are added into the soup. We all seemed to vie for the “rouille” which had to be passed across the table many times. 

Jean-Louis has boned the fish before serving

There are many variations on the bouillabaisse,  other fish can replace the original choices such as turbot, monkfish, and also mussels, prawns and octopus can be added. Some people  add a small piece of orange zest, or a branch of fennel, or a tbsp of Pastis and I like adding a leek to the broth. To make the “rouille” start with a traditional mayonnaise using a full cup of olive oil and 2 crushed garlic cloves and saffron and cayenne pepper or harrissa sauce.

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BC Spot Prawns on Local Greens

The spot prawns were so tasty! They were a gift from the Forbes family, owners of Critters Cove Marina in Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. I think that I must particularly thank the boys, Bryce and Tucker who caught the  not so small crustaceans (huge). They were so big it was really easy. After they were completely defrosted I threw them in a boiling vegetable broth, with a tsp of vinegar, and brought it back to a boil, tuned the heat off and let them steep for five minutes in that pot. Then, I drained them, peeled them and a couple needed deveining. Just before dinner, I started a frying pan with 1/2 tsp olive oil and butter on high, the highest possible, I added the prawns and crushed garlic, tossed them around for 2 minutes, added a spoon of cider vinegar and served them on a garlicky dressing Romaine lettuce.

If you like your prawns with more zest, try a bit of Fran’s Hot sauce, or Frank’s Hot lime.

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Salsify in garlic butter to satisfy the most delicate palate

I was very surprised today when I saw a familiar vegetable from my youth in France, something I had not seen ever again since emigrating to Canada almost 30 years ago. This root vegetable is slightly larger than a carrot, about the size of  parsnip, but the skin is black. Salsify (scorzonera hispanica) is the most delicious of all root vegetables by a long shot. It is grown mostly in Europe during the winter months, and why it only arrived at my grocer ( aptly named “The Root Cellar”) just now is a puzzle. They import it from Belgium, and maybe the endive producer suggested  they test it in B.C. Most customers probably did not see it, there were only a few pounds and the price was, well, the highest of any vegetable there, wild mushrooms excepted. For something that retails for 1 to 2 Euros a pound, $10/lbs here  would only be paid by someone like me in search of childhood memories. This said, I highly recommend salsify,  a most refined vegetable.

They have only one drawback : You MUST wear gloves to handle them because they contain a white sap which is extremely unpleasant to the skin. I am saying this first  in case you are tempted not to read to the end because the price to pay would be washing your hands 12 times and still feeling sticky. One more thing to keep in mind is that salsify turns dark brown immediately upon air contact unless it is immersed in water containing lemon juice or vinegar.

So here we go, prepare a bowl with lots of cold water and  3 tbsps lemon juice or white vinegar. Put the gloves on. Peel the salsify roots  one by one with a Y-peeler or a regular potato peeler and immediately plunge them in the bowl. Then cut them in sticks  just about over an inch long, and split the thickest parts again lengthwise so they cook evenly.

Boil salted water, add the juice of half a lemon and the salsifies and cook  until very tender, but not mushy. Larousse Ménager says 2 hours, I have seen 30 minutes on the net, but mine took exactly one hour at a gentle boil. The new plants must be more tender than those grown in the ’20s. Drain and sauté on medium heat in butter with a crushed garlic. A half teaspoon of olive oil will prevent the butter from browning. Add chopped parsley before serving. Salsify goes well with almost anything roasted or grilled. I find it best just done in the light garlic butter as the delicate taste comes out best that way. It also makes a delicious warm salad with a balsamic and peanut oil dressing.

Excerpt from Wikipedia: “The black salsify is considered nutritious: it contains proteinsfatsasparaginecholinelaevulin, as well as minerals such as potassiumcalciumphosphorusironsodium, and vitamins A, B1, E and C. Since it also contains the glycoside inulin, which mainly consists of fructose, it is particularly suitable for diabetics.”


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Roasted Pork Tenderloin, wrapped in bacon, more tender and moist

Sometimes you need a nice dinner that does not  require a lot of work, maybe after a long day of skiing or a long day period. Most of the time spent on this recipe is roasting time, during which you can have drinks with your friends or a nap if you are exhausted. No need to check on the food very much either, it roasts together nicely in one dish.

You can adjust the quantities according to the number or guests, one tenderloin is enough for 2 or 3 depending on its size. First, I sprinkle thyme and rosemary on the meat and I wrap each tenderloin (the filet) in 2 slices of bacon. It keeps the moisture in,  prevents it from browning too much and getting hard on the outside. In a greased (olive oil is healthiest, butter is best, bit of both is what I do!) oven roaster, I put together the tenderloin with peeled carrots split through the middle lengthwise, potatoes cut in eights, sliced onion, and peeled apple quarters. I let everything roast about 40 minutes at 350 in a convection oven and it is all  ready at the same time. The pork should be just about past pink with still all the juice inside, otherwise it is overdone and dry. You may have to reduce the heat if it is going to fast, better to do that than reduce the cooking time, the meat will be more tender. 

Slice just before serving

Of course there is no limit to what you can add to the roaster pan. Peppers, mushrooms, cut-up turnips, yams, all cook fast enough. Also, a clove of garlic cut in four can be hidden between the meat and the bacon.

Slice and serve with Dijon mustard or chutney  and white wine.

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Refreshing Arugula Salad

This salad was prepared for a potluck and served after a multitude of delicious dishes. We thought that people would eat very little after the gourmet meal but, surprisingly, the digestive benefit of this salad was evident as soon as you had one mouthful. In fact, we had to make seconds as the big salad bowl was empty before it had even gone around the table. The recipe was kindly provided by Susan Vigneux from Vancouver and here it is: ( Notice that she is careful not to give away all her secrets leaving the amounts up to your creative input!).

“Grated lemon rind
Grated garlic
Lemon juice
Grated asiago cheese (or whatever else you fancy)
Generous amount of anchovy paste (I used about 2 inches worth)
Olive oil

We usually mix it right in the salad bowl, adding everything and ending with lots of arugula. Mix when serving.”

The dressing is incredibly refreshing and Arugula (Eruca sativa) is rich in Vitamin K, and A,B,C, and also in Potassium, Manganese, Magnesium and Calcium. If vitamins are an issue, then mix the aragula with fresh raw spinach leaves for an increased count of all those except calcium.


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Black bean salad to replenish your magnesium!

Black beans are very rich in magnesium, a very beneficial mineral and they make a delicious warm salad in about five minutes. It is a wonderful menu item on a day when you are home-bound by a snow blizzard as you don’t really need to get to the grocery store to gather ingredients.

Black Bean salad as garnish to Roast Duck with turnips

For two large portions, almost meal size, I drained and rinsed a can of black beans. Then I sauteed half a sliced onion with olive oil in a frying pan with a diced pepper. Any colour or a mix will work equally well. After about 3 minutes on medium/high heat and constant stirring, add the beans for another 2 minutes on medium and stop stirring. The black bean will get mushy quickly, so wait until you are ready to eat to add them. Before turning the heat off add one tbsp Dijon, three tbsps cider vinegar or lemon juice or lime juice and sprinkle with cilantro or parsley. Salt to taste, remembering that canned beans are usually pretty salty.

Black beans contain 120 mg of magnesium per cup. Refer to the WHFoods newsletter for the nutrition benefice of eating black beans.

Rinsing the canned beans  is highly recommended as it makes them much crispier but also reduces the flatulence effects and removes some of the “bad carbs”.


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Halloween Squash or Pumpkin au Gratin

Last year the blog featured something scary for Halloween, but scary is no longer politically correct, so this year I have something orange. Not that I pay attention to correctness when it comes to cooking, but last year’s post, you would not have wanted to eat, cook or even see. So there is something creamy and soft that will go smoothly on Hallow’s eve.

It is best not to use regular pumpkin as their meat barely has any taste, but otherwise you can mix any kind of squash. For the bright orange colour, you are best to include orange hubbard squash or at least kabocha, more yellow. However, the very best choice is: The Pumpkin French Cinderella, ‘Cucurbita maxima’,  a beautiful French antique heirloom with vibrant mahogany-orange skin that transformed into a coach for Cinderella. The French Cinderella is also called Rouge Vif D’étampes.

The quantities are not very important for this. For four, you need  about the equivalent of 6 cups of diced squash. First, peel the squash and remove all the seeds. Best to use a Y shaped potato peeler and to wear rubber gloves for that. Then dice the pieces. Cook in olive oil with 2 peeled apples (any variety) , a clove garlic, thyme and salt,  for 20 minutes.

Mash with a food mill or a fork and add  one beaten egg, about 1/2 cup hot whole milk, sour cream, 10% or  heavy cream. Basically you choose how much you want to indulge with the cream! You must however add one cup of grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes on 340. You may add lardons and garlic croutons, but on Halloween, I opted for blue corn chips, just because. 

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Cream or not Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup

Saturday, I picked wild white chanterelles in the pouring rain and tonight the forecast is warning against frost. The Indian Fall is not that hot this year and I am making mushroom soup to warm up. The best way to clean the chanterelles is to keep them dry and to use a knife to trim the stem and  scrape off the moss, pine needles and soil, then wipe the knife and repeat.

Chanterelle Soup

First thing is to melt one slice of thick  double-smoked bacon in a Le Creuset pot. Add about 2 cups of chanterelles cut up in small pieces (just tear them apart with your fingers, they actually shred), 1 cup of cut up white mushroom,  one  sliced  medium onion, 1 clove garlic,  and 1/2 cup celery leaves if available. Sauté until the onion is transparent about 5 minutes. Add 1 liter (about 4 cups) of chicken broth and 1/4 cup of  chopped parsley. Simmer for 30 minutes with a lid on.

A whole celery with the root, stems and leaves

Finish by pulsing in the blender or in the food processor with 1/4 cup sour cream or regular cream or no cream at all, not to fine, you want to see small pieces of bacon and mushroom. Serve with parsley leaves and a whole chanterelle in the centre of the bowl. Croutons optional. A glass of red wine or white wine are also optional as a replacement for 1 cup of broth.

I got lost in the woods  searching for chanterelles and ended walking somewhat in circles, but mostly up and down, probably  ten kilometers in diluvian rain, carrying two heavy baskets of chanterelles  without any chocolate in my pocket or anything else to eat.  I had never tasted  anything so good as the cauliflower cake  made by my friend Sharon from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe published in the Guardian when I finally reached the trailhead.

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Icelandic Minke Whale Steak

Minke whale are not endangered  and they rather flourish in Icelandic waters with counts over  70000 just in that area. Being quite a delicacy, no wonder that they have been a staple on Icelandic menus for centuries. The meat  (Minke are mammals, not fish) is very red like a Toro tuna with a texture like the most tender beef filet mignon you ever tried. It is for sale in most butcher shops in Iceland and at the Airport duty-free counter, pre-packaged either as small marinated filet or as a whole plain filet. I was lucky to be on the way to France when my eye caught the  Icelandic only labels. As there was no border control to prevent the export from Iceland or the import in the E.U., there I was, proud owner of the rare treat  while staying at my sister in the Alps for a few days.

Marinated Minke filets

It was not too hard to convince Christophe, my brother-in-law and also a Master Carpenter to use some of his best hardwood scraps to light the perfect barbecue. The whale needs very high heat and very little time. It is best served quite rare like tuna, hardly 2 minutes on each side. 

The tasting provided excellent results, I preferred the marinated chunks but the plain thick steak was also praised. Both are well worth getting if you are on your way to Europe.

Steak cut

I have compiled some information about the nutritional values of Minke meat  from Taneko Suzuki, Professor, Nihon University:

Whale Meat Is Rich in High-Quality Protein. It has a Lower Calorie Content Than Beef or Pork, a Much Higher Iron Content Than Other Animal-Related Foodstuffs,  Is Rich in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids,  Is Relatively Low in Cholesterol and the leanest meat.

Duty-free sealed package at Reykjavik airport


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Lapin à la Moutarde de Dijon

This recipe is a family staple that I have wanted to feature for a long time. The delay was caused by the extreme difficulty that faced me trying to assemble the ingredients. A little bit of cream is no problem, even a little white wine can be found in Canada if you don’t mind going to a Government store to purchase the “criminal” nectar, the Dijon mustard is ready available almost anywhere. But, the lapin? Hordes of them have been taunting me on the University of Victoria campus and in my own backyard fighting for my best bushes with the deer. But, even expressing the thought of eating them would bring outrage. Can’t really risk a charge of cruelty to Bugs Bunny.

So here I am visiting my brother in Aix-en-Provence and my chance to buy a nice big specimen without further question or anyone raising an eyebrow. When I had gone to the Oak Bay Butcher Shop, a place that sees itself as a serious butcher, and asked for a rabbit, the two staff behind the counter had acted as if I was pulling an April’s fool prank on them sending me on my way with that arrogance often described as French in North America and absolutely no rabbit.

After first coat of Dijon, add another one after browning

The rabbit is painted with a thick coat of Dijon Mustard and sprinkled with a tbsp of olive oil, browned on high for 10 minutes, turned over and browned on the other side for 10 minutes, then roasted another 25/30 minutes on medium/high. Then, deglaze the pan with a glass of white wine, pour into a pot. Place the rabbit back in the oven to keep warm. Make the sauce with the  jus, 2 tbsps cream, 2 tbsps mustard and fresh thyme.

Another way to prepare this dish is to cut the rabbit first, brown the portion size pieces in olive oil in a Le Creuset dutch oven and to simmer with lots of Dijon Mustard, adding white wine, cream and thyme at the end.

Fresh Dijon Mustard


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Stuff the pork loin to take on a picnic!

I don’t know what got into me when I offered to give a pound of chanterelles to all the friends who would help me with a pledge for The Run For The Cure, coming up October 2nd. But It is on paper and I have to honor the promise, so today  I spent two hours gallivanting  in my wool socks and hiking boots through difficult terrain at my secret spot searching through the moss for the early specimen of chanterelles, and it was hot, and the mosquitoes were biting. Thank God, Jules the Jack Russell located a few patches.  With Dunnery’s help, I hauled in 3 kg of premium chanterelles, those that have not been touched by rain and are the tastiest. Not too many of those on Vancouver Island. The secret spot is so remote that there is no food available for miles and I had to bring a decent picnic to motivate the pickers. Since this was all planned, I had roasted a stuffed loin of pork last night that I just had to slice today to eat cold in the woods.

Stuffed Pork loin Roast: I started with a fairly large  loin, about 3 kg and cut it in half as I don’t own a dish long enough to roast that in one piece. I saved half and started by spreading the roast I was going to stuff on a good board, then sharpening a good knife almost like a filet knife. The key to the stuffing staying in and looking good is the cutting of the meat. So I started  by cutting through the length of the roast , not in the middle but  at about 1/3 of the thickness. You stop before cutting the roast in half, then open the top flap and keep doing further lengthwise cuts and pull open, so that the result looks like one large flat rectangle of meat. If it is not even , it does not matter. It is almost as if you were undoing a Swiss roll  jelly cake with a knife. You could not rotate the knife in the jelly groove, so you would insert and open and again.

1/2 Pork loin

All the hard work is done now, you just have to spread a filling of your choice on the meat. I used a mix of Kalamata olives, zest of half a lemon, 2 tbsp sage, 1 tbsp rosemary leaves,  2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper all ground together in the food processor and mixed  with 2 tbsp of hot pepper jelly. The hot pepper is nice, but next time I will replace it with grainy mustard. Also, next time, I will try stuffing with chanterelles and tomatoes, parsley and garlic.

The next trick is to roll the roast with the stuffing trapped inside. Because you are actually rolling the roast together and not just shutting it down (if you had just cut in the middle like in a butterfly cut), the stuffing does not really leak. You need twine though. Cut about 3 feet off so you do not contaminate the rest. Tie the first knot at one end of the roast but do not cut the twine, keep going like a seamstress, make the next loop and pull the thread under it before you go to do the next loop. It is neat and pretty. Decorate with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of rosemary, roast at 360 for 55 minutes.

Cool down, wrap and refrigerate overnight, cut thin slices the next day and eat with a dash of mustard.

And do remove the strings before serving, oops!

Thick slices to serve hot in picture or thin to serve cold.


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At the Lavender Farm

A visit at the Lavender farm in Sanichton on Vancouver Island is a rejuvenating experience. The field is incredibly beautiful  with the blooming lavender plants ( of  a rich, dark, lavender colour of course) and the fragrance goes right to your head. It is immediately calming and relaxing.

Cedric and Lissa Zala normally sell the  entire crop to a wholesale outfit, but this year the man had a medical emergency just before harvest and the lavender has not vanished into a factory. This is a good alternative for the local folks as we can now buy the lavender direct from the producer.

If you get there fast, there is still a  row and a half that have not been harvested yet. Most of the crop though is hanging  upside down in bunches in the barn to air dry under the hum of the fan. When you enter in there by the side door, it is like walking into the aromatherapy room of a Provence spa.

There is a choice of three different varieties for different uses, I chose the most fragrant thinking of filling fabric sachets  for my closets and gifts. However, I was warned by Lissa that I should be careful not to use much at all of this variety in my baking as it is much stronger. The truth is, I have not made anything yet with lavender. And the other thing I have to admit is that I have not filled sachets either since my kids were young enough to want to help me with crafts. (Long time). It has been way more fun to give away the lavender bunches to my friends, and much easier. There is always next week to start sewing the sachets, when the flowers will be properly dry. Lissa also makes wreaths, wands, and other crafts to sell at the market. I am just going to try a dessert and will report on that soon.

In the meantime, if you feel like a lavender fix, take a drive to 7776 Trentelman Place in Sanichton between 6 and 8 pm.  You won’t regret it. The bunches are $5 or 5 for $20 and some of the proceeds go to charity. Then place a bunch in your bedroom and you will be guaranteed a good night sleep. Lavender has many therapeutic uses and feels good. Imagine a plant that is so good  for you!

Lissa holding 5 bunches of 2011 lavender

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Voodoo doughnuts earns Guinness record for biggest box

Good things come in pink boxes and the larger the box the better. The largest box of doughnut ever just earned Voodoo the Guinness record last Saturday. Of course, the box was pink! I happened to be there a few days before the record attempt and there was a long line  of people wanting  their own little pink box around the block. Like everyone else, I was told that the magic was in the hole and I had to see it for myself.

Notice the Voodoo doll doughnuts and the incredible variety. The neat fact is that they are open 24/7 and that they have a doughnut answer for any craving including  grape and bacon! The names are very creative, the colors amazing and they do taste all right. The prices are even reasonable. The owners really  have invented the magic potion, sorry I meant  magic rings.

The shop is in Portland Oregon and well worth a visit if you are in town. The decor is very “Voodoo” and  the doughnuts are incredible or at least touched by Voodoo stuff.

The irony of it all is that across the street from Voodoo there is a weird inscription on a brick wall…..

And they do keep it weird, so they do!

All photos  (except  first, last, and 2 small ones)  courtesy of Veronica Best.

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Sour Cherry Jam

Sour cherries (or griottes in French) make the best jam of all fruit, and that has got to be true because no one would  bother with the small sour cherries at all  thinking of  the work of removing the stems and pitting the cherries. Yes, it does take about an hour to pit 1.750 kg of the small sour cherry variety.  A good cherry pitter ( same tool as the olive pitter) is necessary and  so is a good show  to watch on  TV. Anyways, let’s say you manage this interminable task late at night, sprinkle the cherries (about 1.5 kg left)  with 1.250 kg of sugar and refrigerate overnight. To pit sour cherries   try pulling the pit out with the stem. If the cherries are ripe enough, it should actually slide out from the fruit, and you only need the tool as a back up.

In the old days,  the tradition was to  break the pits to find the almonds, wrap all this in a mesh bags and add it to the fruit in lieu of pectin. So go ahead with it, it works, unless you allow yourself to cut that corner and add a bag of pectin instead.

Add a lemon juice and the halves of the rind to a jam pan or your largest frying pan and slowly bring to a boil. Remove any scum (sour cherries don’t need produce much). Cook  as long as it takes for the ” is your jam ready test”. Your jam is ready if a tiny teaspoon of jam will take on a cold plate instantly. It will take some time. Cool 10 minutes, stir, remove the lemon rinds and transfer into sterilized jars. Screw the tops on and turn the jars upside down for a while (so the fruit does not all float to the top of the jar).

old fashion cherry pitter

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Peppers of all colours

The Bell peppers are really sweet right now. They are sweetest in July/August when they can fully  ripen before harvest. The local red, orange and yellow peppers are the sweetest of all and they also contain the most vitamin C, and lots of carotene and  the antioxidant lycopene. Like avocados, peppers are  a fruit although they are treated as a vegetable for culinary purpose. They are great just plain as a fruit cut up in slices but I like them best sautéed  with bacon!

Mix any colour peppers cut in squares into a frying pan with slices of bacon cut in four and slices of sweet onion. Sauté on fairly high heat about 5 minutes. Drain the fat. Enjoy!

I also added some fresh lamb kidneys cut in half and barbecued about 5 minutes to make it a full meal. A little thyme is lovely as well. And the juice of half a lemon adds a little tang. Do not cover or the peppers will become soft instead of crunchy.

Reminder: now is the time to make your apricot jam, the apricots are just about perfect.

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Rare bright red lobster looks cooked but it still lives…

By Greg Burchell (from the National Post July 06, 2011)

When a Quebec grocery store opened a shipment of lobsters, one of the crustaceans looked like it had already been boiled and was ready to eat — until it started to move.

France Dauphin, who has worked in the fish department at the Trois-Rivières IGA for seven years, said she was taken aback when she opened the shipment.

“I found it, and ‘Hey, what’s that! Is it cooked? No, it’s alive!’ ” she laughed, and said that no one at the store had ever seen a lobster like that.

It wasn’t a zombie lobster, back from the boiling pot to terrorize bib-wearing diners, just a genetic rarity — only one in 10 million lobsters get that just-cooked look on their shell naturally.

The lobster was named Youppi, after the ginger-furred mascot of the old Montreal Expos who now cheers for the Montreal Canadiens. Ms. Dauphin said the store isn’t sure where the lobster came from, but most of their lobsters come from Nova Scotia, and all of them are from Canada.

Though many customers have tried, the IGA isn’t planning on selling the rare crustacean and are working on finding it a new home, most likely at the New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre in Shippigan, about 10 hours away. For now, it is kept in a tank with the other normal green and brown lobsters, where it enjoys a diet of shrimp twice a day, which staff drop into the water right in front of it.

This reminds me of a  Paul Bocuse prank years ago. During a tour of a famous friend and restaurateur’s kitchen, he was alone for a few seconds with the most junior apprentice who was looking at a crate of lobster and at the large cauldron of boiling broth on the stove, gathering the poise to start the killing. Bocuse sensing his hesitation, said to him : Ah, you do know what to do with the lobsters, don’t you! You dip them in the pot one by one and if they turn red, they are bad, so you discard them immediately. The few words of encouragements seem to motivate the clueless youngster who proceeded to throw the lobsters one by one in the pot, looked for the change of color, and verifying that they were not staying dark but turning red very quickly, discarded them all to the large garbage, convinced that they were bad. No need to tell you what color his ears turned when the Chef appeared a few moments later and had no lobster left for the prep!

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Heirloom Tomato Salad

It used to be that there were no really good tomatoes until the middle of summer, the kind that ripened on the plant in dry heat under the hot sun. They were firm, really red, sweet but with still a bit of acidity, juicy but not watery and not overwhelmed by seeds. Heaven if you put the right dressing on them. Yesterday, I made a salad with Heirloom tomatoes, closed my eyes and had this flash back to my grandmother’s house in the French Alps. She grew all her own vegetables on a 2 acre lot and also kept a couple dozen chicken. When my grand-father had sold their farm, he had written in the contract that the new farmer would pay him cash the day of the transaction and also in kind with the yields of the farm until the day he died. So for the remaining of their life, my grand-parents received a liter of milk and wine (pretty rough plunk actually, but made great vinegar and good enough for the daily  toast with the mailman) per day, bushels of corn, potatoes,  and what not.  So with all this, they were pretty well set, but I digress. I should go back to the best tomato salad.

The dressing is made of 1 tbsp of really good red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp balsamic, 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, one shallot chopped very fine, salt and pepper. Mix together, add the tomatoes cut in thick slices and sprinkle with chopped basil or curly parsley. Stir gently just before eating. Fresh green beans can be added. Baguette  should be close by to  sponge leftover dressing.

Never put the tomatoes in the fridge as they would loose their taste

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Rhubarb-Berry Crisp à la Lakefield or à la Mode

This is another recipe from Penny Pierce in Lakefield, Ontario. One of those that she keeps in her head because she has made it so many times. There is no need to follow the printed recipe because she changes the content every time to include whatever fruit is ripe at the time. The crisp she made last saturday was a four cups rhubarb from her garden and two cups strawberries. Mine today is one cup strawberries, one cup raspberries, one cup red figs, one cup apple and two cups rhubarb, all fresh from The Root Cellar. Penny added  sugar to the fruit  and I did not, it is just a matter of  sweetening the rhubarb.  Sometimes, she also adds the zest of an orange. All the fruit is diced, sliced or cut in small pieces, mixed with 2 tbsp flour and laid out in the bottom of an oven-proof dish at least 3″ deep. Deeper is recommended to avoid spilling over.

For the crust, Penny mixes 1 cup oatmeal with 1/4 cup brown sugar, and one tsp cinnamon. Then, she adds 1/4 to 1/3 cup of  cold butter cut in bits and mixes quickly with fingers, squeezing and tossing so butter gets mixed through but mix is still crumbly. She spreads it on top of the fruit and bakes it at 350 for 55 minutes. Decorate with fresh mint at the last minute. Serve warm or chilled, maybe with Vanilla or Honey ice-cream.

Note: Tapioca flour is a good thickener. The more berries, the more flour! More butter is well… more buttery! and a pinch of salt  in the crust is good too.

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Wild fiddlehead and fresh Fava bean salad

Tis the season to get in the woods and pick edible greens. Fiddleheads (or crosses de fougères in French) are a  delicious vegetables full of vitamins. They must be picked while they are still completely rolled up, and only the curled part is eaten.  They are mostly found in woods close to creeks and the earlier they are picked, the better.  They are worth a Sunday outing as they are very expensive in stores as they do not keep well. Best to cut them up with scissors, then wash them thoroughly and remove all brown parts. Cook them 6 minutes in  lots of boiling salted water, drain them and rinse them again.

 Also, shell the Fava beans and cook them 2 minutes in salted boiling water, rinse under cold water and remove the peels. If you pierce the other end, the beans will slide out of the peel easily by pressing at the germ end.

To make the salad, start a pan with 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat and sauté the beans and fiddleheads together for 2 minutes. Add 2 tbsp balsamic, 1 tbsp Dijon grainy mustard, 3 sliced green onions, the juice of half a lemon and stir well. Serve in a plate decorated with Campari tomatoes. Add fresh ground pepper!

Goat cheese is a nice addition and maybe pine nuts. If you can’t find fresh fava, frozen Edamame beans are a good substitute.

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French Crêpes are always fun to make!

February 2nd is Chandeleur day in Europe, it is a day of purification after winter when all candles  are lit in celebration. It marks the end of winter and was officially the  first day of the sowing season. Hence, the tradition to use up left-over flour to make crêpes. Apparently, you can test your good fortune for the coming year by holding a gold coin in your left hand while you flip the crêpe in your right hand. If you can land the crêpe back neatly in the frying pan, your prosperity is assured for the new season. 

Crêpe with sugar and lemon juice

The batter is made from 3 large beaten eggs and 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of salt, 1+1/2 cup homo milk,  about 2 tbsp melted butter, all mixed well together. Then, add one cup of flour (all purpose). Stir with a whisk until perfectly smooth.

Let sit on the counter while you start a  frying pan  on medium low with a tsp vegetable oil spread with a brush. Wait about 3/4 minutes for the oil to be on the verge of smoking. Very quickly stir the batter and  pour 1/4 cup (for an 8/9 inch bottom pan)  in the pan. Pick up the pan and tilt it in all directions to spread the batter and fill the pan. You have to be fast. Put it back down on heat set between Medium/low and medium ( on the Viking gas range anyway). In about one minute, you can see the edge turning golden, it is time to flip the crêpe. Grab the pan and give it a good forward and up thrust  for the flip. Maybe do it a few times before you try the coin trick! Or if that fails,  a spatula does just fine. Wait another minute or so and transfer the crêpe onto a heated plate reversing it so the smooth side is at the bottom and becomes the outside when you roll the crêpe. Fill with a small nugget of butter and 2 tsps sugar, roll and eat.

Best to use a non-stick pan

Heat the pan again adding a squirt of oil and repeat adjusting the heat if necessary. Some people say the first crêpe should be thrown away as it is never perfect, but actually, if the pan is heated right, that is not necessary. This is enough for about 8 to 10 crêpes. Always stir the batter before taking the amount for the next crêpe, otherwise the last ones will be too thick to spread.

Other nice fillings are jam, whipped cream, lemon juice and sugar, nutella, chocolate, honey. 

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Oysters not quite Rockefeller, a nice treat for Mother’s day

Not that we are necessarily poorer up North in Canada, it is just that our local Pacific Fanny Bay oysters are usually sold shucked and not in the shell. So no way to bake them on the half shell. It is a splendid dish with a glamorous name and it would do well on Mother’s day as even the most novice cook would have no trouble putting it together.

One 16 oz container of  shucked oysters (it contained 24), one head of fennel, fresh or frozen spinach, 1/2 an onion, a clove garlic, 1/2 cup cream,  a slice of bacon, a splash of hot sauce or Cayenne pepper  and grated cheese is all what you need.

First chop the fennel and the onion and saute them on medium heat in olive oil for about five minutes, add the spinach, salt,  and cook another 5 minutes. Empty the frying pan into a gratin dish. Add the bacon cut into lardon size bits and a little more oil  and the chopped garlic, with the drained oysters and fry for about 5-7 minutes on high. Add the hot sauce or Cayenne ( and if you like anise , a tbsp of Ricard or Pernod or 1/4 tsp ground anise seeds). Add the cream and 1 tbsp tapioca  flour or other flour and thicken. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to the gratin dish and stir with the vegetables. Cover with a thin layer of fine bread crumbs ( optional) and grated cheese (not much) and broil 5 minutes or until lightly brown.

Serve with rice as a main course or in small ramequins as an appetizer, eat with your eyes closed. Happy Mother’s day!

Note: If you have to shuck oysters, it helps to put them 10 minutes in the freezer to relax the muscle and make it easier to open the shell. The dish was called  after Rockefeller because it is so rich. Butter can be used instead of cream to make it even richer.

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Iles Flottantes, the floating islands

Floating Islands is the name you would see on a restaurant menu. Most kids would actually request “oeufs à la neige”  (eggs à la snow or beaten egg whites), the more popular term. Both names come from nature, neither are very accurate, as the final look is more like icebergs on a yellow sea. In any case, this is a French classic and always a kids’ delight.

First stage is to bring to  boil half a liter of whole milk with a tbsp of vanilla extract and half the peel of an orange. Let it cool, remove the orange peel and the skin on the top of the milk. Now, mix eight egg yolks with one cup of white sugar with a whisk. When the sugar has melted and the texture is totally smooth, transfer it to the pot with the milk and put it back on low/medium heat to thicken into a custard while stirring. As you see the first evidence of thickening, turn the heat off and keep stirring vigorously until cool enough to stop the thickening. Cool completely and refrigerate. If your custard is perfectly smooth, that’s all that’s required. If it is not, there are too options, straining it through a “chinois” might do it. If, however, you overheated the custard and it formed lumps, the only remedial trick short of starting over again is to throw the custard in the blender and pulse it until it looks smooth.

Mixing the sugar and the egg yolks

The last thing to do is to beat eight egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are very firm. Then, throw 6 X-large spoonfuls in a large frying pan full of boiling water and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Try to shape them to look like islands or icebergs! Drain on a clean tea towel, then drop gently on top of the custard. Traditionally, the islands are sprinkled with caramel.

the custard

For the caramel, heat half a cup of white sugar in a very clean pot with 1/2 tsp lemon juice, when brown add 2 tbsp cold water carefully as it will splash. Stir and pour drops on the floating islands. Refrigerate at least one hour. Serve one island on each plate and add the custard around it.

the islands on the custard

Note: The eggs should be really fresh. The shells should be washed before breaking the eggs. I like using omega 3 eggs for the bright orange yolks.


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South-Western Cuisine Class by Andy Food

I travelled all the way to Phoenix  for this cooking class (not quite…), and considering the unexpectedly cool temperature and heavy rain, standing behind the furnace was actually the place to be. First, we got a lesson on different peppers’ btu’s ,  a suitable “warm-up” to the local cuisine.


Then, Andy Food Culinary Studio, divided us into cooking brigades responsible to deliver Chevre Guacamole, Flour tortillas, Tortilla bread pudding, Chile lime chicken Machaca, Fish cakes with tomatillo vinaigrette,  Mexican chocolate cheesecake and Mexican wedding cookies. All the recipes are posted on AndyFood.com and every dish tasted excellent.

Fish cakes with tomatillo vinaigrette

I was on the fish cake crew, and we started with the tomatillo vinaigrette. The key is to wash the tomatillos very thoroughly under water to dissolve the bitter sticky coating occurring naturally on the skin.Then you puree together in the blender: 8 tomatillos, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 cloves garlic, 1 chipotle in adobo sauce. (I would change that to “up to 1”). The vinaigrette was very hot for a Northerner.

The fish cake  are patties made of 1 pound red snapper or tilapia, 2 eggs,1/2 cup Monterey Jack, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Everything is chopped coarsely in the food processor. The patties  rolled in corn-meal and flattened, then  sauteed in olive oil on  one side then the other. Serve with salad greens and drizzle everything with tomatillo vinaigrette.

Mexican wedding cookies

Last, we proceeded to a buffet style lunch to sample each others recipes quite happy with ourselves. My favourite was the Mexican wedding cookies, maybe because I sat next to a Mexican lady who guaranteed that they tasted genuine! In any case the tangy lime aftertaste was welcome to refresh our breath from the hot and smoky chipotle in the vinaigrette!

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Leg of lamb roast with goat cheese & grainy mustard stuffing

Supermarkets in North America are having giant turkey sales for Easter. They could give it to me for free and I would not want it. I cannot celebrate Easter without a spring lamb roast. We used to have the full leg, bone in, but I have just tested a recipe which is perfect for a smaller crowd.

I bought a boned leg of fresh New Zealand spring  lamb, about 3 pounds and wrapped in elastic mesh. I took it out of the fridge two hours prior and removed the mesh carefully without cutting it. Then, I opened the leg as best as I could and stuffed it with 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbsps grainy mustard and 2 tbsps of fresh goat cheese, 1 sprig of rosemary. The hardest part was to put the mesh back around the roast.

It cooked for about 1 hour and 1/4 at 360 to a perfect pink. I served it with potatoes, button mushrooms, cooked arugula sprinkled with balsamic and onion jam.  I poured the jus from slicing the roast back in the pan and that  made for a wonderful brown gravy combined with the mustard and goat cheese that had leaked from the stuffing. No need to add anything but salt and pepper. The meat was tender and very tasty. For Easter, I will serve it with gratin Dauphinois!

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Blood orange tart with pistachios from the Globe & Mail

End your meal with blood orange and pistachio tart

LUCY WAVERMAN Globe and Mail Published Tuesday, Mar. 22, 2011


2 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 2 blood oranges, thinly sliced, 1 cup shelled pistachios, ½ cup unsalted butter cut into pieces, ½ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon grated orange rind, Pinch salt, 2 eggs beaten, 1 pre-baked 9-inch tart shell, 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pistachios.

Cooking Frog's from Lucy Waverman's recipe


Place water and sugar in a wide pot over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low, add orange slices and simmer, turning oranges occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes or until oranges are soft and peel is beginning to look translucent. Transfer slices to a rack to cool, reserving syrup for glaze. If syrup is too thin, boil down until it thickens. Preheat oven to 375F.


Combine pistachios and butter in a food processor. Sprinkle in sugar and orange rind and pulse until mixture is combined. Add salt and eggs and process until incorporated. Spread mixture in pre-baked tart shell and bake 25 to 30 minutes (covering the edge of the pastry with foil if it begins to get too browned), or until filling is puffed and browned. Cool.

Fan orange slices decoratively over top of tart and brush with orange glaze. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

This was an unusually pretty dessert. I found that I used up four oranges instead of two. Another comment is that the filling was not great and next time, I will make the blood orange tart with the filling of my peach tart, (hazelnut vs pistachios and minor adjustments). I might still have the pistachio sprinkle on top of the oranges because the colours compliment each other. Blood oranges have a short season which is running out soon, so go find them quickly and enjoy!

The tart was a bit awkward to cut and one of my guest suggested using “mini” pie shells and I think that ‘s a much better idea!

On the 2nd attempt, the Peach tart filing worked out much better, ( 1 egg, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup butter, and 1/4 cup ground hazelnuts. Still sprinkled pistachio bits on the oranges and a tester commented that pistachios and blood oranges both grow in Sicily, so a natural association, you could say. Next, will try adding some Dark French chocolate, maybe for Christmas.


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Poulet Chasseur

The morels are not out on Vancouver Island and this is a good time of year for recipes with white mushroom. I found some baby white mushroom the other day at the grocer and that put me in the mood for Poulet Chasseur, a popular recipe when I was a kid.

In a large Le Creuset pot, brown the skinned pieces of chicken in olive oil or other type of fat. I like to use thighs, but there is no rule. Add 3 cloves garlic and a half a big chopped onion, cook another 2 minutes on high and then, add a cup of whole baby white mushroom, thyme, one bay leaf, salt and pepper, one cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of stock, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup of black pitted  olives. Stir well and add potatoes cut in half on top. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are done. Remove the potatoes and keep them hot. Add half a can of tomato paste, one tbsp tapioca or regular flour and more stock if needed. Add a quarter cup of chopped parsley. Stir well, thicken 5 minutes. Serve on hot plates with the potatoes. The sauce should be a nice reddish brown, the kind in which you can’t help but dip your bread!

Some  will add a sprinkle of tarragon and some Cognac at the same time as the white wine.

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Artichauts à la Barigoule

Spring is everywhere except here in Victoria, we are craving sun and green vegetables. At the Root Cellar, ( you might have guessed, my favourite green grocer) I found baby fresh artichokes and thought they would be as good as a week-end in California! The barigoule has the best Provence aroma, it is just like eating at a bistrot by the  market there or in Nappa.

First thing to do is to rinse them well, cut the top of the leaves and the stems, rinse again. Keep the stem as they taste quite good as well, although slightly bitter.

Set the artichokes in a Le Creuset pot with 1 tbsp olive oil per artichoke. Crush one clove garlic on each artichoke after you have opened the leaves as much as possible, sprinkle with parsley, thyme. Optional in the bottom of the pot are one diced carrot, onion, a bay leaf and lardons. Brown lightly, then add 3 tbsp white wine and 1 tbsp lemon juice per artichoke. Cover and simmer until the leaves come off easily and are tender. ( A good hour, better more than less cooked). Just before serving, sprinkle with chopped basil. Serve with good dry white wine.


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Soupe de moules aux légumes (mussels in vegetable soup)

Months including an “R” is the best time to eat shell fish, the saying goes. This is not only a safety recommendation, the hot months have no “R”, but also a matter of taste. The colder the water, the better for mussels, oysters, crabs, and other mollusks and crustaceans. So, I bought a large tray of  fresh mussels from Prince Edward Island, 2.74 Kg to be precise. That is a huge amount to deal with, but I am well equipped to deal with party quantities with a huge Le Creuset stock pot. It came in handy.

First step is to make a broth in the stock pot to cook the mussels. About 3 inches of water, 1 tbsp sea salt, pepper, 2 tbsps wine vinegar, one bay leaf, thyme, one small onion chopped and two tbsps of  powder vegetable stock. Boil for 10 minutes, add the mussels and wait until the shells are open. Drain them but keep the stock. The rule about mussels is as follows. Throw out all the mussels that are wide open and look dead before cooking and all the mussels that did not open during cooking. Check before cooking if they need a rinse. Sand in the sauce is not so good, but if they are clean don’t bother so you retain all the flavour. When they have cooled down, remove and discard the shells and keep the mussels in a bowl.

Next, or before cooking the mussels, you have to make the sauce/soup. For that I chopped one whole sweet onion, 4 cloves garlic, 1 yellow pepper, one red pepper, 1 leek, 1/4 cup parsley, and one bunch of spinach, stems cut-off. I cooked this on low heat with olive oil until all tender. Then, I added a can of tomato paste,( during the month with an “R” the tomatoes have no taste and a can is better), 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil and all the broth from cooking the mussels. (Check if it needs straining). Simmer gently for another 10 minutes, add Frank’s hot sauce or Cayenne pepper, and last the mussels and another sprinkle of chopped basil. Serve as soon as the mussels are hot.

Optional but recommended: 1/4 tsp ground anise seed

Optional: 1/2 cup cream, not required, definitely optional, add at the very end.

Optional if you have left-over kicking around, a cup of white wine in the broth to cook the mussels.

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Topinambour, the Jerusalem artichoke now called sunroot.

The French is topinambour, in English it used to be the Jerusalem artichoke but stores are now calling it sunchoke or sunroot, maybe because it is neither from Jerusalem nor a member of the artichoke family. It is a tuber native of North America and can be prepared basically like potatoes. It does have a more sophisticated  taste though, pretty close to artichoke.

I prepared them very simply so the subtle taste is not overwhelmed by strong spices. First, peel them and slice them. Slices about 2mm thick, then transfer them right away in an oven roasting disk that has a lid with 2 tbsps olive oil, a small piece of butter and 1/4 of a finely chopped sweet onion, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes at 330. There is no need to add water or milk. The starch  of the tubers will create a nice creamy like effect. You could sprinkle a bit of grated cheese but I did not. The bottom layer browned nicely so turn the gratin over when you serve.

In Europe, topinambour  are still considered a war vegetable like rutabagas and a lot of people who were children at that time  won’t eat them. During the few years when food coupons were in effect, many grew potatoes, rutabagas and topinambours in the basement and this is basically all the vegetables they ate. Meat allowances were a mere few ounces per week so most meals were a variation on the root vegetable theme. These vegetables had a very low profile there as a result and it is only recently that they are again featured on restaurants menus.

If you are looking for “sunchokes” in Victoria, BC, the place to go is the aptly named produce market “The Root Cellar”. They have them right now.

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Steelhead trout

Winter is not the best time for fresh fish selection and this week the only choice was Steelhead trout. That was the reason I bought it, that it was fresh. I had not expected it to be so good. In fact, it was  so surprisingly tasty, moist and easy  to do that I bought it again the next day. I prepared it the same way both times, with the snow storms the BBQ is not an option.

It was filetted with the skin on, I had a frying pan with 2 tbsps olive oil on the highest setting, added the fish, skin side down first, browned them well so the skin would be crispy, turn them over, turned the heat down to medium for another 2 minutes, added the juice of half a lemon and served with Jerusalem artichokes and eggplant. All very subtle flavors not overwhelming the trout.

The fish  should be at room temperature at the time of cooking. It is cooked very quickly and the flakes should still be a bit translucent when you serve. Hot plates are highly recommended. If the filet was scaled properly, the skin is delicious to eat.

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The Caviar of the poor, it’s eggplant!

I have been thinking about old family recipes, traditions I could pass on. This one came from my Aunt Marie-Paule, born in the Savoie region and a pharmacist in Paris for most of life. She bought her own small community pharmacy and did not have much money left after the payments, but she liked good food, was a fabulous cook and this was one of her favorite rants, “le caviar du pauvre”. La pauvre, it was her! The name caviar came from the eggplant or aubergine seeds, which create an illusion of the eggplant being a roe like fish caviar.

You need three eggplants, fresh and firm. They will peel well with a Y-shaped potato peeler. Once peeled, slice them but do not remove the seeds. Spread the slices on a cookie sheet, salt, sprinkle with thyme and drizzle with olive oil, and roast for an hour at 340. Layers are okay, just turn the slices over half way. Do not let them burn (use foil protection if necessary) but  brown is good.

Chop 1/4 cup parsley, 1/2 sweet onion, 4 cloves garlic with 3 tbsps olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, hot sauce to taste, 10 black olives and the cooked eggplant in the food processor. Make sure to stop before it is puréed, so you can feel the eggplant seeds, the caviar!

I bought a jar of caviar d’aubergine, recette méditerranéenne, when I was last in France, they seem to use the same ingredients, but the texture was too fine and it was not nearly as good as made from scratch. Because they sold it at the price of real caviar, or almost, I guarantee you that the result is well worth the trouble of roasting a few eggplants.

Caviar d'aubergine in petit pot Le Creuset

Eat cold with rustic bread or make a bruschetta. This yields about two small mason jars.

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Slow cooked beef shank with tastes from Provence

Doesn’t “Slow cooked beef shanks” sound a lot more  complicated and fancy than “beef stew” or “boeuf bourguignon”? Well it does, but it is not! This is a very easy to cook dinner with incredible flavours. The meat is tender and moist and the preparation does not involve the typical Julia Child  “turn the house upside down” requirements.  I made this last night and it tasted just like the right thing to offset the Arctic air passing through right now.

Buy beef shanks cut in thick slices with the bone attached. Marinate them in two cups of red wine, 1 tsp sugar, 1 clove garlic,  1/2 bay leaf, thyme, for one hour. Pat the meat dry, then brown the meat in a cocotte Le Creuset on high with olive oil. After 3 minutes on each side, add the marinade, 2 sliced carrots, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 sliced onion, 2 pieces of orange peel, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup finely chopped sliced leek greens,  1/4 tsp ground anise seeds, 1 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and the stalks of a fenel , chopped very fine. Add one cup of water,  salt and pepper, cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 2 hours at 325.

During the last 15 minutes of cooking add slices of potatoes in the cocotte on top of the meat. Also sauté the sliced fennel bulb and a green bell pepper and serve on the side. The marrow bones can be served on the plate, or you might want to empty them in the gravy. The fennel and spices added a  welcome summery taste to this winter dinner.

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Edamame, Avocado, Beet salad : satisfy your winter craving for greens

If you scroll down all the way to the bottom of this page, you will notice a new “calorie counter” in the bottom right corner. It is very neat as it will tell you not only calories, but also all the vitamins and minerals and fiber contents of almost any food.

The salad was made with 1 avocado, 1 cup of beets (cooked, peeled and sliced), 2 cups Edamame (cooked) and vinaigrette dressing with two chopped green onions.

To illustrate, I punched in the ingredients of this salad  for two and for fun you can calculate that  it has 280 calories per person (without dressing),  48% of your recommended daily fiber and 18% of your iron .

Calories in California Avocado

California Avocado
Nutrition Facts

1 fruit, without skin and seed (136g ≈ 0.300lb ≈ 4.80oz)

Calories 227
From Fat 189
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20.96 g 32%
Saturated Fat 2.88 g 14%
Trans Fat ~
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 10.88 mg 0%
Total carbohydrate 11.75 g 4%
Dietary Fiber 9.25 g 37%
Sugars 0.41 g
Protein 2.67 g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Calories in Edamame, frozen, unprepared
Edamame, frozen, unprepared
Nutrition Facts

1 cup (118g ≈ 0.260lb ≈ 4.16oz)

Calories 130
From Fat 50
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5.58 g 9%
Saturated Fat ~~
Trans Fat ~
Cholesterol ~~
Sodium 7.08 mg 0%
Total carbohydrate 10.12 g 3%
Dietary Fiber 5.66 g 23%
Sugars 2.93 g
Protein 12.10 g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Calories in Beet
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained, sliced…
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 85g ≈ 0.187lb ≈ 3.00oz

0.5 cup slices (85g ≈ 0.187lb ≈ 3.00oz)

Calories 37
From Fat 1
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0.15 g 0%
Saturated Fat 17 mg 0%
Trans Fat ~
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 65.45 mg 3%
Total carbohydrate 8.47 g 3%
Dietary Fiber 1.70 g  7%
Sugars 6.77 g
Protein 1.43 g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C

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Sable fish and Scallops on hazelnut pesto with sepia ink rotini and fresh hedgehogs

It is not heart shaped nor red but I think that plate could make a very successful Valentine’s day dinner if you are lucky enough to celebrate. Fresh sable fish, sometimes called black cod, has just arrived to Vancouver Island and it is a great treat, nothing to do with cod. Its flakes are moist and tender, far superior to the halibut’s, and its flavour is one of the best in the Pacific ocean.

The pesto is made in the food processor with 1/4 cup parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup cooked spinach, 1/2 cup fresh organic  BC hazelnuts, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 cup water. It is heated up on low.

The pasta is black as it is dyed naturally with cuttlefish ink  also called sepia. It is just cooked al dente in abundant salted water.

The hedgehogs mushrooms were picked near Victoria  between snow patches in the woods and they are sauteed in butter with a diced clove  of garlic added towards the end.

The sable fish  and scallops were cooked in a frying pan with olive oil on high for a short time. The fish skin is very  crispy and delicious once browned so leave it on for sure.

Serve with Champagne, of course!

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Quiche with spinach

There is a good idea for a quickly prepared impromptu lunch. Pretty much your regular “quiche lorraine” recipe with added spinach. We had that today with a fresh beet salad on the side. It was  a perfect winter lunch.

For one pie crust, I cooked 4 slices of bacon cut in small bits in a frying pan with four sliced white mushrooms and a quarter of a chopped large onion for about 5 minutes. This I mixed with 5 eggs beaten with 1/4 cup cream (or homo milk). I added one package of frozen spinach ( about the equivalent of a fresh bunch) salt and pepper. Mix well, pour into the pie shell, add small slices of cheese on top,  raclette  cheese today. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Turn off and serve 5 minutes later. I served it with sliced beets sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and truffle oil.


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Roasted Yams à la Canadienne

You might think that yams are sweet enough, but… if you are Canadian or leave in Canada and have to go through the Canadian winter, you might think that you can’t get enough calories from  vegetables alone to keep you warm. Besides, it is likely better for you to have a treat of roasted yams  brushed with maple syrup than almost anything you buy already made. The yams are bright orange when they are cooked and certainly, as far as I am concerned, they rival with any candy.

It is best to plan the yams for a day when your oven will be on for a while at a medium temperature. First thing to do is to peel them, which is easy enough with a Y-shaped peeler. Do this just before cooking them so they do not discolour. Rub the bottom of a dish with the two halves of a garlic clove, then spread either butter, goose or duck fat, or olive oil (or any combination of these). Cut the yams in thick slices or long sticks and rub them in the fat, then turn them over. Sprinkle thyme, oregano and start roasting around 325. Sage is also a good choice  and would go well with a pork roast. Turn the yams over a couple time while they cook. When the yams are tender (30 minutes or more depending on the size), paint them with 100% pure Canadian maple syrup, just a light coating, and finish in the oven for another five minutes. Add salt and pepper before serving.

Note: It is best to warm up the syrup  a little bit as it will spread more easily on the yams, especially if it is kept in the fridge.

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Green Bell Peppers stuffed with Fava bean Tahini

It all started at For Good Measure, my local bulk store and a great place. I bought two cups of dried fava bean, because of a sudden craving for bean salad. I was very careful with the fava beans  as they should look their best for a salad, but things went terribly wrong as I cooked them. Maybe because of the altitude (I was up island at Mt Washington) the beans turned almost immediately mushy when I started cooking them. Small disaster as we had lots of other items on the menu that night. I was left with about two cups of fava puree, not such a bad thing it turned out.

Puree two cups of cooked fava beans with 3 tbsps Balsamic, 2 tbsps olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 tsp seasoning salt, the juice of half a lemon,  3 crushed cloves of garlic, salt and pepper. Cut the top of the peppers, remove the seed and any white parts.  It would be best to pick  round-shape peppers as my long and narrow ones had a tendency to topple over that I could not control. Fill the peppers with the spread, cover with the tops and roast at 325/350  for 30 minutes. Although very nourishing, the fava bean is a very fluffy and light stuffing.

If you are using canned beans, make sure to rinse them thoroughly. I was using dried beans. First, they have to be rinsed well and  soaked overnight in lots of water. Then, they need to be peeled and rinsed again. The beans that float should be thrown out. The beans are boiled gently in water for about 30 minutes and drained and rinsed again.

Dried fava beans peeled after soaking

” Soaking dried beans activates the beans to begin the germination process. Once wet, the beans release enzymes that begin to break down their complex sugars into more simple ones. It is the bean’s complex sugars that give you gas and indigestion after eating beans that haven’t been pre-soaked. The overnight soak method reduces 60% of the complex sugars in most beans.”

“NO SALT When Cooking Dried Beans:
Add NO salt until the beans are tender and cooked completely. Adding salt will prevent the beans from absorbing water. This is because a bean has an opening that is large enough for water molecules to enter it, but salt molecules are larger and will plug the bean opening, preventing the water to enter… thus you have HARD beans that never seem to cook right. Some say the bean is TOUGH, but the scientific reality is that the bean only got to absorb the water you soaked it in and not the water you cooked it in.”

Above comments from : http://www.chezbettay.com/pages/basics1/basics_beans1.html

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The best home-made comfort food is Lasagna!

Home-made lasagna is just enough work that you feel rewarded for serving a healthy home-made dish without  incurring too much trouble, especially with the ready to bake pasta now available at all grocery stores.  This is the point of this recipe, not too many pots, not a lot of fussing. ( 1 frying pan, 1 baking dish, 1 bowl).

First, the frying pan : Brown  half a kilo of lean ground beef with one chopped onion  or 5 green onions, and 3 tbsp olive oil, one tsp thyme, one tsp oregano for about 5 minutes.

The bowl: beat one egg with 1/2 cup cream, 1 tsp salt, pepper. Add one  400 gr. tub of Ricotta cheese, one package of frozen chopped spinach thawed but not drained, one chopped yellow pepper, 12 black olives pitted and cut in quarters, 1/4 cup chopped parsley,  2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 can of tomato paste,  1/2 cup water, one cup of grated Mozzarella, the content of the frying pan.

The baking dish: rub two tbsps olive oil on the bottom, add a layer from  the bowl (1/4 of the content), cover with the lasagna sheets, (cut and paste to fit the dish). And so on until you have four layers of pasta. Cover with one can of  crushed tomatoes (398ml) and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350 uncovered.  After 35 minutes, if necessary, adjust oven temperature and amount of liquid to obtain a moist dish with a nicely brown topping.  When achieved, stop the oven and let rest on the rack for 10 minutes. Serve with green salad and garlic bread!

Today, I used fresh spinach, one large bunch blanched and chopped, two inches cut off the stems. ( I know, one more pot to rinse!) And I had some Raclette cheese that I cut up in strips to decorate the top layer. That was very tasty. Serves 4 to 6.

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Red Swiss chard, a Vitamin K trove.

This is a really nutritious green vegetable and unlike kale, rapini and collard green, it is tender, exquisite and quick to prepare. The green is not really Swiss, it was just called that originally to distinguish it from French Spinach. Not a very good explanation as chard, actually a member of the beet family,  grows well in all Mediterranean countries. The fact that chard belongs to the beet family, a root vegetable, might explain why my grand-mother would cook only the  white stems and give the greens to the chicken. I certainly would not do that, mind you I don’t have chickens.

The chard I buy at the Root Cellar is , although very fresh, quite mature and the stems are a bit hard. I therefore  separate the greens, and cut the stems (especially the red ones) in 2 inch pieces to boil about 5 minutes in a little salt water. When the water has evaporated, I add two crushed cloves of garlic and a good size chunk of butter and sauté this with the greens for another 7-10 minutes. Don’t overcook!  No need to add anything else, the flavour is delicate but perfect without other spices. Tonight I served this with a roast chicken, left-over gratin dauphinois and sauteed Hedgehog mushrooms  we picked yesterday (yes Jan 15th) in between snow patches in woods close to Victoria.


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Quick chicken thighs en cocotte

I just don’t feel much like eating these days, don’t feel like cooking. There has just been too many good meals, too many “French” (5 courses) menus, way too many cookies, chocolates and other treats. It felt somehow expected and appropriate to serve all this during the holidays but now a healthier, simpler fare is back on the table. January being the month of good resolution, I am back to “la cuisine des familles”, mostly dishes that can be put together in half an hour or so and that require few ingredients.

Last night was a treat! All ready on the table in 30 minutes. I skinned four large chicken thighs and started browning them on high in a Le Creuset cocotte with one clove garlic and 2 tbsp duck fat (olive oil is a good substitute). I turned them over and added a chopped onion, two sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, thyme and parsley, 2 leeks halved and a cup of white wine (left-over and kept in the fridge). I simmered that with a lid on for 25 minutes. There was just enough sauce at the bottom of the pot to moisten the chicken and the potatoes when I served. You could have also thrown in olives and mushrooms. The chicken thighs are better than breast meat as they remain very moist and tasty from cooking with the bone in. The white wine is just an option to finish open bottles, but chicken broth is just as good, or a mixture of water and lemon juice.

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