Too rainy to BBQ ? Bake the salmon!

The weather has been damp and grim, too cold and wet to step outside to the BBQ. Most of my friends are in Mexico or Hawaii escaping the local desolation of our rain forest climate. I had this beautiful Spring (also called King or Chinook) salmon and filetted it. But then, no one would get their rubber boots and umbrella to cook outside in the darkness. Rainy day cooking is every day cooking in BC this time of year. Better adapt.


About 30 minutes before cooking, I greased a large Le Creuset enameled cast iron oven roaster with olive oil, added the two filets skin down and brushed them with two tbsps Dijon mustard each. Before putting the dish in the oven set at 330, I added thyme, salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of pure Canadian Maple syrup. The cooking time was about 20 minutes. ( no turning over). The salmon is ready as soon as the flesh turns from translucent to almost opaque. Best not to overcook as the fish will dry instantly. Served “rare” the filets are moist and melt in the mouth. You may sprinkle them with cilantro or chopped green onions before serving and another option is to deglaze the dish with 1/2 cup dry white wine.

salmon

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Delectable Victorian New Year’s Eve Menu

Pictures only!

Candy Cane beets with vinaigrette

Spot Prawns from Critters Cove Marina Nootka Sound

Fanny Bay Oyster Fritters

Roasted Goose

GingerBread cookies by Caolyn P.

Ginger Bread cookies by Artist baker Carolyn P.

Chocolate truffles

 

Fresh dates filled with cream cheese by Laurence

 

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Fanny Bay Oyster Fritters, a New Year’s day appetizer for Kings

This is a Lucy and the Frog… I executed Lucy Waverman’s recipe (pasted below)  from the Globe and Mail to the letter. It was easy, clear and incredibly good! My choice was the local  Fanny Bay oysters from Vancouver Island, as we get them so fresh!


Ingredients

12 large oysters, shucked

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup finely chopped shallots

½ cup finely chopped celery

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup cold water

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

½ cup vegetable oil for frying

Method

Drain oysters in a strainer for a few minutes. Coarsely chop and return to strainer until ready to use.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and celery and sauté for 2 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Let cool.

Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in pepper. Make a well in the centre and drop the egg and water into the well. Slowly stir into flour mixture. Stir in shallot mixture and parsley. Stir in oysters.

Heat ½-inch oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until a cube of bread turns brown in 15 seconds.

Drop batter into oil, 2 tablespoons at a time, and cook fritters until golden brown, turning once, about 1 minute per side. Drain and serve immediately. Makes 10 to 12.


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Victorian New Year’s eve dinner: the Goose

Not because I live in Victoria, although… The idea came from Eat Magazine and their picture  with the caption ” Pander the Gander”.  The  brine and stuffing are almost exactly the recipe from Lucy Waverman’s column, “A Dickens of a Dinner, a Victorian Holiday Feast” (Globe and Mail Dec 8, 2010). The technique is from the December issue of Cooks Magazine for the glazed turkey. My Goose grew up in the Fraser valley and travelled to Slater’s, the butcher, on Dec. 22.

Victorian Goose with prune stuffing, chanterelles and baked apples

So  I picked up Mimi the Goose, all  10 and 1/4 pounds of her, wet and naked, at Slater’s on Wednesday and thought she could use a couple days off to recover from the ride with BC Ferries. In fact, the poor thing was so shaken that on Friday, I decided that she needed a day at the spa and a perfume bath, aka the brine.  I put her in my cherished Le Creuset  blue tub with  3 liters of  cold water mixed  with a brine made of 1 l of water (= 4 cups), 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup kosher salt, the rind of 1/4 orange, 1 tbsp cracked peppercorns, boiled 2 minutes. There were no bubbles, but it was all natural! Mimi liked it so much she soaked in there overnight despite being outside on the cold patio. I let her sleep in Friday morning, then patted the poor dear dry, rubbed her with a kind of talcum powder combining 3 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper and let her air dry some more on a rack so that her skin would take a better tan later. Then, I inserted two cloves garlic, two smoked sausages, a mandarin peel, thyme, in her chest cavity, closed her off and pushed slices of black truffle under her skin. I also nicked her all over with the tip of a knife so her fat would drain out during her visit to the tanning salon. The thermostat was at 33o for an hour and 3/4, a slow start. Then 30 minutes rest while I drained the fat into a glass jar.

Le Creuset Stock pot used as Hot-tub, or rather cold bath.

During the next 30 minutes of cooking the heat was higher, about 360, and she required frequent applications of tanning lotion, at least 3 or 4 times. This glaze was made by reducing 1/2 cup molasses, 1 cup red wine, 2 tbsp balsamic, 1/2 can cranberry sauce, 2 tbsp Cognac,  a small chunk of butter, salt and pepper for 20 minutes. This glaze created a perfectly crisp brown skin. I served the goose with potatoes, yams, chanterelles, baked unsweetened apples (the tartness is nice to counterbalance fat), gravy and prune stuffing.

For the gravy, pour all the fat from the roasting pan into jars to save. Add a cup of water to the pan to deglaze, add whatever is left from the glazing mix and stir. You should not have to add flour.

For the stuffing, sauté 1+ 1/2 cups chopped celery, 5 sliced green onions, 2 cloves garlic, in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add thyme, sage, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1 tsp soya sauce, 2 tbsp Cognac, 12 chopped prunes, 1 cup white wine, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, add one cup crushed croutons and stir. This is more stuffing than can fit inside the bird, so it is more practical to serve  on the side.

The goose was tender, moist,  gamy and very tasty. No one ever wants to have turkey again! The 10 pounder was plenty for six large servings, just enough left-overs for the next lunch, a nice jug of broth from cooking the bones, and of course the precious goose fat.




Pistou

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Good old Times Butter Tarts from home-made Lard

When it comes to baking, Sharon is a perfectionist. And that is our luck because she has allowed me to share her recipes for the best butter tarts I have ever had. I say recipes, because we are not talking about the average pastry and filling combo here. Rather, this is a voyage back in time and tradition, from rendering the pig fat to produce lard to making the flakiest dough and a filling to die for.

I guess it all started when Sharon bought half a pig from a farmer she could trust. Piggy or should I say his better half arrived in Victoria with all the trimmings, some that no one was too sure what to make of, including a package of fat. Eat Magazine came to the rescue with an informative article about rendering pig fat and how to make leaf lard. That was the lucky break and the excuse to eat the fat!

Sharon's butter tarts with home-made lard pastry

Step 1: How do your render lard? ( excerpts from Eat Magazine Jan 2010) Making lard is not difficult. Rendering is the process of separating and clarifying the pure lard from the fatty  connective tissue of pork fat. You simply chop up some pork fat, (preferably from the leaf or the back) place it in a pot with a cup or two of water and slowly heat it up. By the time the water has evaporated, enough of the lard has started to render out that the remaining solid fat can slowly poach and render at low heat without risk of burning. Let it bubble gently until you have a big pot of melted fat. Strain this and let cool. Portion and store in the fridge or freezer.


Step 2: Pie pastry with home-made lard , excerpts from Eat Magazine Jan 2010 . 2 cups flour, 1T. sugar, 1tsp salt, ¾cup cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes, ½ cup cold lard cut into small cubes, 6-­‐8T. cold water, or mix of half water and half vodka. Measure and sift flour with sugar and salt. Cut butter and lard into the flour mixture until you have flour coated fat pieces that range in size from corn meal to small peas–with more smaller pieces than large pieces. Slowly sprinkle in cold water, 1T. at a time, using a fork to mix the dough. Stop after you have added 6T. of water, no matter what the dough looks like. Turn dough out on to the counter. The dough will be very dry and crumbly at this point. Use your hands to gently gather the dough into a ball using gentle pressure to make it hold together. If the dough is still too dry, sprinkle on  1T. more of water and mix the dough with hands again until you can form it into a ball. In rare cases you will need to add the final tablespoon of water.(If using vodka and water mix, you can be more cavalier about adding liquid because the alcohol in vodka won’t form gluten. Gluten is what will make the pie crust tough.) Divide dough in two and form into disks. This dough can be used right away or  wrapped and refrigerated for a few days or frozen until you need it.

Step 3: Butter tart filling recipe adapted by Sharon from her family’s old recipe books.  ¼ cup melted butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, ¾ cup currants or raisins or pecans, (I always use currants), touch of vanilla and salt. Melt butter, mix in sugar, egg, vanilla and salt until well blended. Add currants and mix. Spoon into unbaked tart shells– about 2/3 to ¾ full. Bake at 450°F for 8 minutes and 6-­‐8 minutes longer at 350°F. Let cool for 5 minutes or so and then remove from muffin/tart pans and cool on rack. Makes enough for 6 to 8 regular muffin tin size tarts or 8-­‐12 small tarts.

Final comment by Sharon: I think I am going to try this recipe again with less butter, e.g. 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup homemade lard to see how it works because I found it quite rich and think the pastry will still hold together with a bit less butter.

Chef Heidi Fink on lard: (excerpt from eat Magazine Jan 2010). Lard is better for you than shortening and better for cooking than vegetable oil. It is a whole food, a naturally saturated fat that is stable at high temperatures and won’t burn into trans-fats as it heats. Lard ( at 40%) is lower in saturated fats than butter 60 to 65 %, margarine 45%, and palm oil 80+%. Even better, most of the remaining fat in lard is made up of oleic acid, the very same kind of mono-unsaturated fat that makes olive oil so famously good for you. I am of course talking about home-made lard. I make my own lard so I can make the best pie crust! Shatteringly flaky.




buttertart

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The green vegetarian quiche

This  is a smooth quiche and it does turn out a nice green colour. All the ingredients can be stored in advance which is nice if you are renting a place which is far from grocery stores. This is also a good recipe to get rid of leftover salmon for those who have salmon instead of turkey for Christmas. I am having goose, but that’s  another story! My goose is fattening nicely in the Fraser Valley as we talk and will arrive fresh by BC Ferries Dec. 22 just on time for a nice bath (in brine not bubbles) before getting dressed up for Christmas Eve.


It has to be the easiest recipe ever.  For two quiches, just dump 7  large eggs, 15 artichoke hearts, one pack of frozen spinach, 1/4 cup cilantro (or 2 tbsp dry), one green onion (or 1 tbsp onion flakes), 1 large (15oz) can of salmon, 1/2 tsp seasoning salts in the food processor and puree. Transfer to a bowl, add salt and pepper and 2 cups grated cheese. Pour in the pie shells. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. The taste is slightly tart. It is best served warm, but cold is not bad. For a more fluffy result, beat the egg whites separately before adding them last to the content of the bowl.

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Tasty tender lamb stew in sauce

This stew is another one of my winter favorites, it is easy to make, the lamb meat is inexpensive and the sauce is not fat, but very tasty. For three people, I had three shoulder lamb shops and about as much weight in lamb necks, less meat but great bones for flavour. I started by sprinkling 2 tbsp garam masalam powder and 1/2 tsp thyme on the raw meat cut in small pieces leaving it on the counter while I chopped an onion and four tomatoes. I then browned everything together in 2 tbsp olive oil in a cocotte Le Creuset for a good 5 minutes. At this point, I added 1/2 glass white wine and 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper, 1/4 cup cilantro, 2 cloves garlic, covered with a lid and cooked on medium low for 25 minutes. Now, time to add sliced carrots, black kalamata olives and white mushrooms. Cook another 30/40  minutes, either covered or not depending on how much sauce you want. Serve with mashed potatoes and a dry white wine.


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The ultimate chocolate truffle

Cocoa tree and bean

This is truly the chocolate lover’s ultimate treat, a dangerous little nugget, smooth inside, covered with a soft shell and dusted in powder,  all three elements containing chocolate. You try one, it tastes so good, you have to test another to identify all the flavours but it is impossible to stop, each one you thought would be your last, is better than the one before… so my advice is don’t double this recipe. It is enough for a batch of four dozens, plenty even if you have company and …a few samples for the chef, necessary for quality control.

You need 400 gr of the best dark chocolate you can find. I am bias to think that the French brands are ideal for cooking. Smoother than Baker’s or Caillebaut and more tasty. First,  mix two large high quality egg yolks with 5 tbsp icing sugar until the mixture is creamy. Second, melt 300 gr of the chocolate in a bain marie, then add 10 cl Armagnac or the liquor of your choice and keep warm. Third, bring to a boil 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 1/2 cup 30% cream, 5 tbsp icing sugar, 1 tsp instant coffee,  whisking constantly.  Pour this over the egg yolks  while stirring, then pour this over the chocolate stirring with a fork. When it is completely smooth,  refrigerate for about three hours.

Form small balls with two teaspoons or  with a pastry bag with a smooth tip. Put them on  wax paper on a tray or cookie sheet. Refrigerate again for one hour and get set up for the last stages. Melt the last 100 gr of chocolate in a large mug, add 1/4 cup warm water to it. Dip the truffles in the chocolate using prongs and return to the wax paper, the soft centre is now covered with a chocolate shell. Refrigerate 2 hours, then roll the truffles in the cocoa powder. Store in the fridge and eat quickly, no, not that quickly!



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Pork tenderloin in mustard cream sauce minus the cream

The mustard sauce is perfect with the tenderloin as it keeps it really moist. Tenderloin being very lean would  tend to get dry easily, so  a short cooking time and a good sauce are required.

preparing to brown

I start by chopping about half a pink onion and cleaning some nugget potatoes. I start a large cocotte Le Creuset with 3 tbsp olive oil on medium high and brown all together the onion, the potatoes, and the whole tenderloin with sage and thyme. After 5 minutes, I deglaze with 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup dry white wine and 1/2 cup H2O. I add 1/4 cup chopped parsley, salt and pepper and cover on low for 30 minutes. Mushrooms and other vegetables like golden beets can also be included then.

Everything should be cooked within the half hour, I  remove it all from the cocotte, slice the meat and reserve it in a hot serving dish on the side, while I add 4 tbsp Dijon Mustard to the sauce, stir well and cook this for 5 minutes. If the remaining mixture is not enough, just add a bit of water, but I had just the right amount left. The mustard has to cook, as this will mellow its taste. The sauce will look like a cream sauce and will be a little tart but not like eating mustard.  Pour the sauce over the meat. Rice and mashed potatoes also go well with this. No need for cream, but of course, if you want to indulge, add 1/2 cup 30% cream and stir on low for another 5 minutes. Below, tonight’s dinner without cream!

Pork tenderloin with mustard sauce, potatoes, golden beet, mushroom and apple

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Hot Chili Peppers, get your BTU’s

The traveller’s guide to Mexico makes it all clear!

“The Scoville scale measures their (chili peppers) hotness in heat units (SHUs). Cayenne, the chili Tabasco sauce is made from, ranks a respectable 3rd place behind the hottest chili known to man, the habanero. The green Bell pepper is a 0! See how your favorites stack up.”

Chili                                           SHU

Habanero                                 100,000-350,000

Piquin                                          50,000-100,000

Cayenne                                       30,000-50,000

De Arbol                                       15,000-30,000

Chipotle                                                       15,000

Serrano                                          5,000-15,000

Jalapeno                                        5000-10,000

Pasilla                                              1,000-2,000

Poblano                                           1,000-1,500

dranzer says:

..just a correction, the hottest chilli according to  the Guinness Book of World Records is ‘Bhut Jolokia’ with an SHU of over 1 Million. Habanero comes second;)


Capsicum Annuum or Cayenne pepper named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana


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Gratinée Lyonnaise sounds much better than just onion soup

This is probably the best comfort food  on a cold day, a great way to stave off the anxiety of a looming dark and stormy night, and assurance to bring rosy cheeks and smiles to all. Most of the time, onion soup can just be whipped up by browning chopped onions and adding broth, but when you are in need of a severe antidote to extreme weather, I recommend the gratinée.


For two bowls, chop one large onion and bring it to a nice golden brown color, but without burning, in a pot on medium heat with  one tbsp olive oil and one tbsp butter,  1/2 tsp sugar, a bay leaf, thyme, a tsp parsley. Be patient, stir often. When the onion has a nice honey brown color, add 2 tbsp flour (tapioca flour is nice) and stir in for 3 minutes (starting a light roux). Add 1/4 cup  Macon or another dry white wine, and 1/4 cup Beaujolais or another light red, a sprinkle of Worcester sauce, salt and pepper and 2 cups beef broth and one cup water. Reduce by  roughly one cup of liquid simmering gently for some time. The onions should be tender and the broth a little thicker by now. Throw out the bay leaf.


Pour into bowls that can go in the oven at a fairly high temperature. Do not fill the bowls more than 3/4. Add two thin slices of  toasted baguette on each bowl and cover generously with grated Gruyère cheese. Brown the cheese in the oven.

This is a fairly rich soup as it is, it has a creamy texture but no cream, and I do not use very much butter at all contrary to some traditional French chefs.

Gratinée in old Le Creuset Oven bowl


onionsoup

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Ceviche de Pescado

This is a most refreshing lunch on a hot day, I just had this in Barra de Navidad, a small town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico just North of Manzanillo. We sat right on the sand beach, and the waiter was kind enough to share the ingredients with me although not the exact quantities. So I leave that up to your individual flair…


The fish was Sierra (Pacific Sierra, Sierra Mackerel, Scomberomorus sierra).


It was prepared with tomatoes, onions, avocado, cilantro, lemon and lime juice, Serrano chili pepper (Capsicum annuum),green pepper, cucumber, salt and pepper. All the ingredients chopped. The fish is very lightly marinated as the ceviche is made fresh when ordered. It was served with extra avocado slices and tortilla chips. Beside Mackerel, ceviche is often made with sea-bass, mahi-mahi, halibut or prawns.

On the beach, Barra de Navidad, Mexico

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Fresh Mayonnaise and Sauce Tartare

The first snow has arrived early in the Pacific North-West and it is an early warning to get organized for holiday cooking. You are going to need mayo, because it is a great complement to all seafood, a lot of crudites, and can be used as a dip. Home-made mayonnaise tastes ten times better than the stuff from the store, and it only takes a couple minutes to whip up, literally!


Select the freshest jumbo egg you can find with a dark orange yolk if possible. Separate the yolk from the white and keep the white in the fridge for something else. In a bowl, start with the yolk, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, stir with a whisk, a fork, or even a spoon.  The key is to stir steadily in the same direction while you drizzle about half a cup of peanut oil in the bowl. When the mayonnaise is hard (it sticks to the spoon and you can draw a pattern on top) you are almost done. Just add a tbsp wine vinegar and stir it in. The amount of oil is not set exactly, it is what you need to obtain the consistency. Peanut oil van be replaced by canola or olive oil. Always keep mayo in the fridge before serving and discard any leftovers that were not refrigerated right away. Do not keep mayo more than 24 hours in any case.


There are many old-wives tales about women failing to make mayo, I guaranty you that they are just that. It is impossible to flunk mayo. If by incredible bad luck, the oil separated, you can add 2 tbsp hot water to the mix, stir vigorously and the mayo will “take” again. I think this was just a male excuse to keep women chefs out of the kitchen.

For sauce tartare, make twice this amount of mayo and at the end, add 1 tbsp capers, 1 pickle, 1 small shallot, 1/2 tsp tarragon, 1 tsp parsley, all chopped finely.





mayonnaise

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Pink onion and apple jam or is it relish?

This is just what you need to serve with sausages or to add to lamb burgers instead of the traditional Ketchup, green relish and French’s mustard. Jane provided the apples from her magnificent old tree and with a couple pink onions, it was just a matter of time before it was ready.


I sautéed  four pink onions and two large apples, both peeled and sliced,  in olive oil for quite a while on low heat without browning, adding 1/4 cup white wine, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, salt, 1/2 cup golden brown sugar, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 clove minced garlic, and one tbsp couscous spices. I let that reduce, so that the liquid evaporated. Just one more step, pour the jam into jars and sterilize in the pressure cooker 10 minutes from the boil. I got four  small jars and it just fit. We ate the first jar before I had a chance to take the picture…

Couscous spices are a blend of coriandre, pimento, cumin and fennel. I bought them at the Grand-marché in Aix-en-Provence.

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Looking for Cinderella’s pumpkin, is it midnight yet?

I bought a pumpkin at Dan’s Farm that may be what you are looking for. It is a French pumpkin – here is some info from a website that sells the seeds: “The Pumpkin French Cinderella, ‘Cucurbita maxima’, is 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 Cinderella is a very striking pumpkin with deep ridges and is large sized, up to 15-20 pounds. This pumpkin looks good even if you do not carve it. The flesh is excellent eaten as a winter squash. Tell your kids you are going to grow Cinderella’s carriage!”

 

Cinderella Pumpkin

 

This is a comment from my friend Linda, who also brought the Cinderella pumpkin to my house where I cut it in halves and got to keep this bounty. I peeled my half with a  Y-shaped potato peeler by Oxo Good grip. It makes it  a very easy job and it means that the pumpkin can be peeled raw which is much better. So if you feel that you can no longer live without one of these peelers,  and you can’t, I know, just buy one  online at the bookstore, not kidding : Amazon will mail this to you now.

 

The Y peeler by Oxo Good Grip

 

This was a lot  of pumpkin, so I roasted some of it cut in slices about 1/2 inch thick in the oven with sage and a brush of olive oil. Served with fresh ground pepper, it was really tender and delicious, almost like eating butter. The color was a vibrant orange and looked good on the plate with the lamb, Brussel sprouts, fingerlings and baked apple.


The last piece, I made into a soup with one large russet potato, 1 clove garlic and chicken broth with one tbsp fresh grated ginger added at the end, the whole thing puréed very fine and served with grated cheese, croutons, and a little dash of cream. Good enough for Cinderella herself! Just eat before midnight.

 

Cinderella Soup best before Midnight!

 

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Hedgehogs…not the chocolate kind

November is getting late in the season for chanterelles, but nature is kind to us on Vancouver Island as the even better  Hydnum Repandum or hedgehog mushroom is now prime in old-growth forests. We found two kinds,  the small orangey cream and the larger and rarer almost white kind. They both taste incredible, I only prefer the larger one because it takes much less time to pick! Unless we get snow at low altitude, we will be picking until Christmas.

 

Hydnum Repandum (the hedgehog)

 

After brushing off any moss and dirt, I just fry them  a good 5 minutes in a bit of  duck or bacon fat or olive oil with 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes and one sliced shallot. I add parsley at the end and butter is also optional. They are good with anything but they are so tasty on their own that I would recommend eating them just with toasted baguette on the side.

It is best not to wash mushrooms with water as they absorb it and will boil in their own juice when you cook them. Most mushrooms have gills, veins or pores, but the hedgehog is easy to identify with all the little spines under the cap.

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Peach and hazelnut tart

The  2010 hazelnut crop is ready. Directed by hazelnut connoisseur Richard, my friend Linda brought back a kilo of shelled hazelnuts from the Chevron gas station in Chilliwack. You are  now laughing, because I get my hazelnuts from the gas station, but these organic hazelnut kernels are actually grown  by “Canadian Hazelnut Company” in Agassiz, BC, a family hazelnut orchard as they call themselves, and well worth the detour. I learned in the  fresh fig tart recipe that nuts provide a nice coating of the crust and prevent it from getting soaked by juicy fruit. The subtle hazelnut taste goes well with the peach and it worked, the crust remained flaky.


First, boil the peaches 3 minutes, cut them in quarters and peel them.  Pre-bake a pie shell for 20 minutes at 360 with weights, also, grind 3/4 cup hazelnuts  very fine in the food processor. Make a paste in a bowl with the ground nuts, one  large egg yolk, 1/4 cup honey, 1/8 cup melted butter, 2 tbsp tapioca flour, a small 1/4 tsp ground anise. Stir well, pour on the  pre-baked bottom pie shell, arrange the peaches on top, as many as possible, the insides facing down. Bake 35 minutes at 360, cover top with foil if necessary to prevent browning. Brush the peaches with red currant jelly or peach jam. Take a picture, this won’t keep, it is too good.


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Chanterelle and onion tart, could be my best chanterelle recipe? tell me!

 

Jules, the mushroom sniffer

 

Saturday November 6 was probably the last good day to pick chanterelles, as the  heavy rain wants to turn them into mushy fungi. The rain, however, did not stop Michel, Dunnery, Jules (the mushroom sniffing Jack Russel) and I from tramping through steep forest to pick a few baskets of chanterelles and a bag or so each of hedgehogs, and only two matsutakes. The pro pickers had taken all the pine mushrooms which is not so bad as they don’t usually bother with the other kinds. So we got drenched, then came home to the fire in Annabelle and Michel’s Cowichan valley chalet for a raclette Savoyarde for 20 people, the majority French. We all pitched in cleaning chanterelles and had a great time devouring the charcuterie, the melted raclette cheese over new potatoes and many salads.

I had also made the chanterelle and onion tart in advance and we just warmed it up. First thing to do is to sauté 2 sliced onions in a couple table spoons olive oil for a few minutes without browning them at all. To that, I added  2 tbsp chopped parsley, a sprinkle of thyme, 2 tbsp cut-up sun-dried tomatoes, 2 tbsp balsamic, salt and pepper and a cup of red wine. Keep cooking on low until reduced by half. Add a tbsp tapioca flour and stir briskly letting thicken. Turn off. To this mix, add about two cups sautéed sliced chanterelles and 1/2 cup 30% cream, salt and pepper. Stir and pour into a pie-shell that has been pre-baked 10 minutes at 360 with weights. Top with 3 slices of cheese. Bake 40 minutes at 350, cover with a loose foil if the top wants to brown too much. Wait 10 minutes before serving.

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Brussel sprouts that you will love! and so green!

Brussel sprouts are not to everyone’s taste and that’s because, most of the time, they are not cooked properly,and are reduced to a mushy, smelly, yellow or even brown, horrible food instead of a bright green, delicious vegetable. Right now, there are available at all the markets, sometimes even still on the tree. Get the freshest you can find, and then in only a few minutes, you can prepare  the sprouts to complement the colour scheme of a roast served with squash and mashed potatoes. They are a natural choice for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and go well with turkey and goose.

The key is to cook them at the last minute, and to cook them just enough that they are tender. Most often, I will cut 2 slices of thick bacon into small lardons, that I fry in their own fat for about one minute. I add a tbsp vegetable oil and the sprouts, saute for 1 minute on medium, and add 3/4 cup of water and salt, also a sprinkle of baking soda. Cover and cook 5 minutes on low, remove the lid and finish cooking, evaporating the water. The sprouts remain bright green and that is the test. Their taste is not that of old boiled cabbage. So, here it is: no sugar, no browning, no caramelizing, no roasting, no onions, no garlic,  no cream to mask the bad cabbage taste, maybe just a small chunk of butter to enhance the flavour from the Brussel sprout. Even the bacon is optional. You will know what you are eating and love it!

 

Bright green, moist and tender!

 

Posted in Side, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Soupe à la courge at aux Châtaignes served in a Pumpkin for Halloween

Madeleine Montabert lives in the medieval village of Crillon-le-Brave in Provence. She is the owner and chef of “Cooking in Provence”, a sophisticated small cooking school. There, in a morning, you can learn how to prepare a genuine French home-cooked  meal with local produce  and you get to taste it as well with your fellow chefs in training. No big crowds, just a few people in her home kitchen in a peaceful Provençal village close to Mont Ventoux, one of Lance Armstrong’s toughest challenge. Madeleine was kind enough to offer to share a recipe from one of her sample meals. So here is her “Soupe à la courge et aux châtaignes”  (squash and chestnut soup).


The original recipe  from “Cooking in Provence” is reprinted below with permission:

Soupe de courge et châtaignes:

1 kg de courge, 150 g de châtaignes épluchées (l’utilisation de châtaignes pelées surgelées est un gain de temps appréciable si vous êtes pressés !), 12 cl de crème épaisse, ¾ litre d’eau, ¼ litre de lait, ciboulette, noix de muscade, sel, poivre.

  1. Rincer et ôter toute trace de terre de la tranche de courge. Oter les filaments et pépins, puis l’éplucher.
  2. Couper la chair de la courge en dés (dés de taille égale pour qu’ils aient tous le même temps de cuisson). Placer les dans une casserole.
  3. Ajouter les châtaignes pelées, l’eau, le lait, et le sel. Porter à ébullition puis réduire le feu. Remuer de temps à autre pendant la cuisson (environ 30 mn) jusqu’à ce que les dés de courges soient tendres et se laissent facilement transpercer par les dents d’une fourchette.
  4. Mixer le tout (avec un robot plongeur) jusqu’à une consistence crémeuse.
  5. Juste avant de servir, remettre la casserole sur feu doux, ajouter la crème, le poivre et la noix de muscade.
  6. Goûter et rectifier l’assaisonnement. Servir chaud parsemé de ciboulette hachée.

In case this is chinese to you or French, here is what I did. I  had to make a few changes, as the vegetables are not quite the same here. We don’t have “potiron”, the squash that goes into the soup. Pumpkin would not work, it is a different species with different taste and texture. After Halloween though, you can use  a large pumpkin as a soup tureen, great way to recycle and show off with presentation.

First, I boiled the fresh chestnuts in water for nearly 30 minutes and then peeled the shells and the brown skins off. This is much easier to do if you cut a small piece of the shell before cooking with a sharp knife. Then, I peeled the squash  with a potato peeler (a mix of butternut, carnival and kabocha), cleaned it and boiled 1 kg in one liter of chicken broth with 2 cloves of garlic. I added 1 cup of milk, waited for the boil again and pureed everything together (squash,  3/4 cup chestnut, broth). Back to the pot  on low with 1/2 cup of  cream or sour cream, salt and fresh ground pepper, and grated nutmeg if you like it! I served this soup inside a hollowed pumpkin. On the side, I offered garlic croutons, grated cheese and of course, the chopped chives! The soup turned out to be very smooth and creamy with a lovely chestnut after-taste.

 

Carnival,Butternut, Kabocha

 

 

Chestnut

 

For more information on “Cooking in Provence” go to : www.cookinginprovence.fr

Crillon-le-Brave is a wonderful village close to the Ventoux and Chateau-Neuf du Pape vineyards. It is a great area for cycling, browsing antiques, lingering at cafés, tasting olive oil and to enjoy all the foods of Provence.

 

Crillon le Brave

 

 

Olive tree

 




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Tomato sauce

 

Chunky Sauce 100%vegetables

 

Whenever I can find bushels or bags of tomatoes and vegetables for sale in the fall, I know it is time to make  a batch of tomato sauce. Originally I canned it, but the extra trouble is pretty time consuming and I find it now much simpler to just freeze the sauce in individual plastic containers that can be thawed quickly in a hot water bath when I need to whip up a pasta dinner at the last minute. I guess every Sunday after sailing, skiing or roughing it in the woods.

I have a basic list of ingredients that are in all the sauces and then a few others that I add to the base according to  what’s in hand. The basics are 18 ripe tomatoes, 3 carrots, 1 cup celery,  1 zucchini, 1 large onion, 4 cloves garlic, 4 tbsp olive oil, thyme, a bay leaf and parsley or cilantro. I chop them all and throw them in a couple very large frying pans or Le Creuset Cocottes  with salt on medium heat, stirring at first  until the tomatoes have produced enough water.  The onion should turn golden but no more. Then, cover 5 minutes and when you have lots of liquid,  simmer open almost an hour to reduce and cook the vegetables. Cool down.You are done if you want chunky sauce but throw the concoction in the blender for smooth sauce, a great way to get kids to eat their daily vegetable servings by the way. There is no need for sugar because of the carrots, and no need for flour or a roux because of the zucchini. This sauce is 100% vegetables. I don’t peel the tomatoes nor the zucchini but you could. These vegetables yielded four containers each big enough for  pasta for four.

Popular add-ons are, peppers of any colour, fresh basil, pitted olives, mushrooms, swiss chard, fennel, spinach added for the last  5 minutes,  oregano instead of thyme, 1/2 cup white or red wine, balsamic vinegar, cream. Also add fresh ground pepper when you serve,  or maybe a fresh crushed garlic clove as garlic tends to lose flavor in the freezing process. That’s only if you are not having  home-made garlic bread with the pasta.

If it is past the time of year when the tomatoes have taste, add a couple tbsp tomato paste.

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Edamame (green soya bean) salad

While there are still a few tasty tomatoes at the market, you can whip up this unusual nutritious salad in no time. I did not think much of edamame until I had them at The Marina Restaurant in a vegetarian main course which was absolutely delicious. I can’t imagine how to replicate the complex combination of flavours that Chef Matt Rissling produced, but  here is a simple  high protein salad.

I could not find any fresh edamame pods at the local groceries and ended up buying a  one pound bag of frozen shelled beans. I cooked them 4 minutes in salted boiling water with a tiny sprinkle of baking soda to enhance the green colour, removing the white scum as needed. Then, drained and shocked with cold water.

For four people,  I also used four ripe tomatoes, 2 avocadoes, and about 20 leaves of fresh tarragon. First, in the plate are the sliced tomatoes, then 2 quarters of avocado, then 25% of the beans sprinkled with the chopped tarragon. At the last minute, I pour a dressing made of 2 tbsp cider vinegar, 2 tbsp balsamic, 4 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp Maille Dijon green mustard, salt and fresh ground pepper.

When there are no good tomatoes around, replace them by a layer of red beets.

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Flu remedy: Chicken noodle soup with ginger or Matsutake

 

The Lagostina stainless pressure cooker

 

This is a pressure cooker recipe if you have one, otherwise a  Le Creuset large stock pot will be more than fine, so long as you are patient (double the times). I always  break in half and freeze the carcasses of roast chicken, and as soon as I have three, I throw them in the pressure cooker with 6 cups of water, pepper corns, salt, 3 cloves, 1 star anise, a sliced onion, 2 cloves garlic. Boil for 30 minutes. Cool a bit and pull the carcasses out to remove the bones and skin. Poor the broth in a jug and refrigerate long enough for the fat to rise to the top and solidify, and then skim it out. Keep the meat  wrapped in the fridge in the meantime. It is convenient to do this overnight.

Next, you need  2 cups thinly sliced celery, and one  of carrot, at least two more cloves garlic and a sliced onion that you cook in the broth for about 10/15 minutes. Open the pressure cooker, add the chicken meat, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle or more hot sauce, a cup of white wine and half a cup of chopped cilantro or parsley. You could also add a tbsp grated fresh ginger or three or four sliced pine mushrooms. Bring back to a boil and serve hot. Dip your bread!

Other optional ingredients are a cup sliced green cabbage,  fresh tomatoes, bean sprouts, and a cup alphabet pasta (cook 7 minutes). And if you are serving a gang of famished teenagers, add a can of Campbell tomato soup concentrate and another cup of water. Udon noodles can replace the alphabet pasta and with that Asian theme, you may want to add lemon grass. You will have to replace the water that evaporated from the stock pot during cooking before adding the vegetables and add water as well if you are not including white wine.

Fresh ground pepper enhances the taste of pine mushrooms (matsutake).

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Golden beets, grown down the street

Carolyn and Paul down my street grow an amazing selection of vegetables,  and they have generously brought me Romaine lettuce, green onions, heirloom tomatoes and a magnificent specimen of golden beet. Maybe it is the sea view, but most likely their green thumbs  and Italian ancestry that produce such tasty vegetables.

 

Golden beet grown by Carolyn and Paul

 

All beets are good, but the golden beet is sweeter, it looks fantastic and it cooks a little bit faster than the traditional red beet. Of course, they can be boiled or steamed in the pressure cooker, but they come out best roasted.

They are very quick to prepare, but they cook for close to an hour so they are a good vegetable for a day when you have a roast in the oven. I peel them, remove tops and bottoms,  slice them, put them in a dish and sprinkle them with ground sage leaves, and baste them with a mixture of 1 tsp olive oil and butter, before cooking and every 15 minutes. Cooking time depends on the oven temperature for the meat and on the thickness of the slices. Smaller beets can be roasted whole.

 

Peeled and unpeeled Golden beets from the Root Cellar basted with sage or thyme butter

 

Note: Be sure to coat the peeled beets with butter  or olive oil right away or they will turn black.

PS: If you don’t know Paul and Carolyn, the Root Cellar sometimes has golden beets from the Saanich peninsula Vantreight Farm.

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Pine Mushroom scalloped potatoes

October 16th was Pine mushroom day in my family. The weather was perfect Indian summer and there were more than a dozen cars parked at or near my secret mushroom picking spot on Vancouver Island. It did not bode well, and indeed, the woods had been  picked for the elusive Pine mushroom  by pros using a military level search pattern. But, we either got lucky or our perseverance  roughing through swamps, bushy areas and cobwebs was rewarded. At the end of the day, we had  hiked many miles and gathered many prime Matsutake specimen (the pine mushroom) and also some cauliflower mushroom, lobster mushroom, white and yellow chanterelles and even a few hedgehogs.

Hedgehog, yellow and white chanterelles, lobster mushroom, pine mushroom and cauliflower mushroom

Pine Mushroom have a very strong and distinct aroma not dissimilar to that of wine that would be kept in pine wood casks. The aroma does not come out best when it is sauteed so the pine is a great addition to  soup, risotto or scalloped potatoes.

 

Matsutake or Pine Mushroom

For 2 people, I peeled two baking potatoes,  sliced them thin, washed and dried them. I grease a  Le Creuset gratin dish with olive oil and then layered potatoes and slices of  pine mushroom, added  1/2 cup strong chicken broth, 1/2 cup 33% cream, salt and pepper and cooked it for a full hour at 350. Wait  another 10 minutes before serving, you are going to eat the tastiest potatoes ever. (The mushroom would make lighter cream curdle).

Made by Veronica

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Fresh California figs and Noix de Grenoble tart

This an Indian summer dessert, as it is best made from fresh very ripe figs. In this instance, I bought a tray of  fresh figs at the Root Cellar in Victoria. The crate indicates that they are  either “black mission”(Halloween special?) or “brown turkey” (Thanksgiving leftover?) and that they were packed  in Fresno. If I follow the logic from the “Noix de Grenoble” being a product of California last week, it may be that those figs were imported from Provence and just packaged in California  for export to Canada. I am not sure, and to tell you the truth, the French figs are usually bigger and sweeter, so maybe what I made is really “California Tart”  when I thought all along that it was a French tarte aux figues et aux noix de Grenoble.


I asked my favorite pastry chef to make a nice flaky crust for a regular size pie dish, I bake it empty with weights at 360 for a good 20 minutes until it was basically cooked. While it cooked, I mixed together in the food processor a cup of chopped Grenoble walnuts, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, 1 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp ground anise, the zest of half a lemon, and grounded the whole thing into a  fine paste. The paste keeps the pastry dry and the figs very moist.

Next, you pour the paste on the pastry and arrange the figs on top. The figs have been cleaned, top and bottom removed and cut in four almost all the way to the bottom but not quite, so they can be opened up into a flower when set on the walnut paste. It took about 16 small  whole California figs to fill the pie shell tight. With bigger figs, I would cut them in halves or quarters. Bake at 360 for 35 minutes and glaze with  2 tbsp red currant jelly or peach jam or any jam. Eat still warm with crème Chantilly on the side.

Local Vancouver Island green skin fresh figs, ripened with love on the tree and brought over by a friend Sept 5th. 2011

I have been trying to grow a fig tree in a large pot for the last four years but so far I have not got one single fig and barely enough leaves to cover Eve, who’s got figs?

Pistou

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Pumpkin Gnocchi for Halloween

Anita Whyte and I use to work together in Toronto some years ago promoting French tourism, gastronomy and good life in general. She has not had a chance to move to the West Coast yet, so she is now a professional Food Fluffer, and that has got to be the best job if you have to live in Ontario. She is passing along a gnocchi recipe that she made for Thanksgiving and I thought I would re-blog it in preparation for Halloween. Eating candy is great if you are under 12 but, for most of us, a good balanced dinner is better. So, instead of candy kisses , try Anita’s home-made pumpkin gnocchi below:


“I came across a Lidia Bastianich recipe for squash gnocchi, and seeing how the directions were long enough already I tweaked it and used (canned!) pumpkin instead.  The result was great, in fact we five had them for a main course one night and for an appetizer for 8 two nights later for the big dinner.  (The potato ricer is a must for this recipe.)”


1 12 to 14 ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, (or more)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons fresh sage, small leaves or chopped larger ones
1/2 sliced almonds
Boil potato in a saucepan until tender, maybe 15 mins.
Drain, while warm press through potato ricer in to a medium bowl and let cool completely.  Measure out 2 cups, loosely packed, riced potato.
Mix together pumpkin, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg and salt.  Gradually add in the flour until dough holds together and is almost smooth.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently until smooth.  Divide dough into 8 equal parts.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper sprinkled with flour.  Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll it out onto a floured surface until it is 1/2″ thick rope.  Cut the rope crosswise into 3/4″ pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on one side.  Transfer gnocchi to baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Cover loosely and chill for at least one hour.  In a large skillet, heat almonds until toasted, set aside.
Working in two batches, cook gnocchi in boiling salted water until very tender, 15 – 17 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer them back to the same parchment paper.  Cool (up to 8 hours) and until ready to use.
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, 3-4 minutes.  Add sage, cook for 1 minute. Add gnocchi, cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 – 7 minutes.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Transfer to individual plates, sprinkle with toasted almonds and reserved Parmesan.  Serve and enjoy!

One last thing on the pumpkin topic, beer!  Yes, different kinds of beer brewed only in the fall and using our all-round favorite squash.

These four are available now at the LCBO:
Brooklyn Brewery Post Rd Pumpkin Ale, Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale, (the name makes me think of Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin episode…..), St. Ambroise Citrouille, and Southern Tier Pumpking Ale.

Now, my own comment, if you have problems with canned pumpkin, there is a very delicious  edible pumpkin species that is better than the carving one and worth the trouble. No molasses in this recipe, sweet enough as it is…

Confession: I do not have a ricer, but I do have a food mill or moulin à légumes, same result!

Want to know more about my friend the Food Fluffer, go to:

http://www.thefoodfluffer.com/

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Grenoble walnut square

I grew up in Grenoble, the walnut capital of the world. In the country side around the city, there are acres and acres of walnut trees, and one can tell easily that they are walnut trees, because their shade is so thick that nothing grows under, hence the beautiful golden brown soil raked in a very symmetrical fashion below the trees. The walnuts are exported everywhere, and eaten as nuts, made into oil, liqueurs, candy, etc…


So there I am in the local supermarket, gathering ingredients meeting the 100 mile rule, and when I saw a bag of “Noix de Grenoble” I thought that by a long stretch of imagination,  I could qualify this purchase since it was a product of my home town.

I quickly proceeded to turn those walnuts into yummy squares, by melting  together in the microwave 3/4 cup of honey, 50 gr of bitter chocolate, 1/8 cup butter. I added one and a half cup of chopped walnuts and two sprinkles of cinnamon, poured the mix over a pastry dough and baked at 325 for 20 minutes in a square pan. Then, cool down,  and cut in squares.  Almost a healthy treat!


Now, I am putting the stuff away and read the labels on the “Noix de Grenoble” packaging. To my absolute horror, it says “Product of the USA”. So much for my comfort food, I have been cheated and deceived by Uncle Sam,  the US now grows “Noix de Grenoble” in California. Yes, this is totally Hollywood style, I am calling the Governor. 1 (213)…….

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Duck pâté with olives

This is a good appetizer to share and it has to be made in advance which is convenient on the day of the party. Pretty much, you should start in the morning by roasting a whole  5 pound duck in the oven at 325 for three hours with a bayleaf and a clove garlic inside. Bone it, keep the meat in a bowl, the fat in a jar in the fridge, the bones in the pressure cooker with  one liter of hot water with which you have deglazed the roasting pan for duck noodle soup.


Start  to saute 300 gr of pork sausages peeled with 300 gr chicken livers, thyme, one onion and a clove garlic with 1/4 cup duck fat. After 5 minutes, add 1/2 cup red wine and a shot of Port. Turn off.

Now get the food processor and chop the duck meat coarsely. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Chop 2 pieces of toast or 2 croissants with 1 cup of milk and 2 eggs. Add to the bowl. Chop the sausage/chicken liver mix fine with parsley, chives and 2 dozen green olives. Mix everything together in the bowl adding salt and pepper.

 

in Le Creuset cast-iron dish

 

Pour into a pâté dish, cover and cook for one hour at 340. Cool down, keep in the fridge overnight before serving.

 

The duck fat will turn white as it cools down

 

 

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Languedoc Garlic soup

Gardeners, this is for you. The home-grown garlic is ready to be picked and for this soup, the fresher, the better. My father-twice-in law Hugh  just sent beautiful heads of garlic from his sunny Vancouver garden and I peeled 12 average size cloves to make a soup for three.

I simmered them for about 10 minutes on very low heat in 2 tbsp of duck fat. The original recipe calls for goose fat, but I have not encountered any goose  in my back yard lately, only deers and rabbits unfortunately, the lean and mean game that eat all my plants. But, if you have no goose or duck fat, then olive oil is just fine. Next, add 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth, I had leek broth today and that worked well. Cook for another 10 minutes. Purée the garlic in the food processor with 2 egg yolks and 1/4 cup 30% cream (or water),  1/4 cup dry white wine, salt, pepper and thyme. Return to the broth and simmer another 10 minutes whisking to keep the soup smooth as the egg thickens. This is all there is to it, serve over croutons. You will be amazed at how smooth the taste is.  This is a great soup for flu season, no way you can catch a virus if you eat this once a week.

Languedoc is a region of France around Nimes. The garlic soup is called a “tourin” à l’ail in that area.

Pistou

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Poached salmon

There is really no need to own a poissonière or a turbotière to poach fish. They are great to use if you own them, but for most of us not worth the space they take on the kitchen shelf.

Are they not beautiful though? The best thing about them is that there is a strainer fitted inside the pot that helps cook the fish evenly and of course, to drain it when it is cooked.

So to poach our fish today, a filet of sockeye salmon, instead of these magnificent pots, I will  use a large frying pan with a strainer at the bottom if possible, if the fish is not bigger than the strainer.

So unless you had the sixth sense to put the above on your registry list, you will have to be careful during the process not to let the heat go high and not to break up the fish when it comes out of the broth.

The broth is a vegetable broth, made fresh with carrot slices, onion, leek, celery,  pepper corns, thyme, parsley,  slices of lemon, salt,  and  2 tbsp vinegar. Or you can use a fish broth from the store, or powder vegetable broth adding just vinegar. It should be strong, so boil it for a while if you make it from scratch. When it is ready and boiling hot, lower the fish in, and turn the heat down to medium. For a thin filet, bring back to a boil, then turn the heat off and wait 15 to 20 minutes, the fish should be done. For thicker cuts, simmer  5 to 10 minutes before turning off. It is impossible to give exact times as it depends on the fish. What matters is that the fish stays in the broth the longest time possible so that it absorbs the flavour, slow cooking it is. All fish should be served hot but “rare”, meaning the meat is no longer see-through but no more. Anything beyond, is overcooking and drying the fish.

Variations: depending on the fish, the broth can be stronger and include  white wine, fennel, garlic,  dill, even capers with ray.

Note: Poached fish is often served with a sauce  in which case you may want to use some of the broth in the sauce. Or you can boil potatoes in the broth.


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My Grand-Mother’s creamy polenta

Louise-Marie, or la Louise as my grand-father called her, was a great cook. She was a Savoyarde, from the region across the Alps from Italy and  she was bilingual, French and Patois, the  Alpine dialect spoken on both sides of  the border. Alpine French and Italian folks also shared many recipes with cheese as a key ingredient. Polenta is the best souvenir of my stays at her place. I now own the dish in which she cooked it. It is a very heavy cast-iron pot, sort of an ancestor  to the Le Creuset brand.


I suggest that you use a non-stick pot as I do now. Yes, a crime, but it will reduce the stirring required and give you the time to make the rest of dinner at  the same time you cook the polenta. So, boil 5 cups of salted water  for each cup of  corn semolina with a sprinkle of baking soda to prevent lumps. Add the semolina slowly while stirring. Reduce heat to minimum and cover. Stir again every 5 minutes. After 10 minutes, when the water seems to be all gone, add 2 tbsp olive oil or butter. Cook 20 to 25 minutes max. Add a cup of grated Parmesan or Gruyère, depending on whether you want the Italian or French bias. Ah, and butter, as much as you think is not too much! Do not cook in advance as the cream will turn into a solid as it cools down. If you follow this carefully, I guarantee  a creamy result without any lumps.

My Grand-Mother Louise's (1902-1977) polenta pot

Notes: The coarser the better for the semolina. I think that bright orange is better than  the pale yellow if you can find it. One cup is enough for four servings. Chicken broth mixed with water has a nice flavor, a clove garlic is pretty good too, crushed at the end.

Next day: Take the leftover out of the fridge, cut it in squares and fry it in olive oil. Delicious too!

Best served with rabbit in blood/red wine sauce (civet de lapin).


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Bison Bourguignon

This does not sound right, no bisons in the Bourgogne, that’s for sure! This  bison meat stew though was better than any genuine boeuf bourguignon. I know you are already thinking Julia Child and all the trouble involved with cooking the famous recipe, so ” pas de souci” as we say in French for no worries, the bison bourguignon  à la frog is SO easy. Because the bison meat is lean, there is no need to remove the fat, but I am not going to go into details, just remember the bison stew is tastier,  healthier to eat, and  much easier and faster to prepare, and it is so tender.

Bison with Cherry tomatoes from Carling's garden

You need about a pound of bison meat, such as stew meat or top sirloin or round, that you cut in large chunks about the size of two mouthful and marinate in the fridge in a Ziplock bag overnight with a  large cup of red wine, thyme, a clove garlic crushed, a tbsp bbq sauce, a tsp of Worcestershire sauce. Suck the air out before closing the bag, spread out the marinade. Turn the bag over at 3am sharp! (just kidding, but yes try to do that a couple times).

After browning the meat

Now,  save the marinade in the bag for later, brown the meat in olive oil in a Le Creuset pot or something like it for about 5 minutes. Add 2 cloves garlic, a sliced onion, a tbsp balsamic, the marinade,  a tbsp Dijon mustard, a cup of water,  2 tbsp tomato paste or fresh tomatoes, salt and fresh ground pepper. Cover and keep in the oven for 75 minutes at 325. Take out, check if you need to add more water, add 10 cherry tomatoes and either parsley or cilantro. Cook another 15 minutes. Serve on hot plates with broad egg noodles or potatoes and your choice of vegetable.

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Six root vegetable gratin

Thanksgiving dinner is coming up soon and although mashed potatoes are always high on the request list, the root vegetable gratin would be a seasonal dish that would go very well along with a turkey. It requires no work when you have to carve the bird and lay out all the food, so it is a pretty easy vegetable dish for a big day.

Yam, carrot, parsnip, potato, turnip and celery root

Pick one of each, potato, yam, carrot, turnip, parsnip, celery root and add one onion and a clove garlic. Peel them all and cut them in fairly thin slices except the garlic clove which should be cut in two and rubbed at the bottom of the gratin dish. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and all the vegetables with salt and pepper between the layers. Cover with whole milk or a blend of milk and cream. A bit of butter is quite nice as well. Lots of grated cheese helps too.


Leave in the oven for 75 minutes at 350. If it looks too dry by then, add a little bit of cream.

Options: a pinch of nutmeg or thyme or oregano, more garlic, more cheese… all cream!

Vegan: use almond milk.


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Vinaigrette dressing

This is a tricky recipe because it changes depending on what  the vinaigrette is used with. So I will start with the basic ingredients and go from there. Quantities are more or less for one salad bowl.

  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (Maille or Unico)
  • 3 tbsp peanut , canola, or extra-virgin olive oil

Common add-ons:

  • one clove garlic crushed or chopped very fine, maybe two?
  • one tsp Dijon Mustard (Maille is best but salty so you don’t need salt)
  • Fresh green onions instead of garlic
  • Balsamic vinegar instead or combined with wine vinegar for tomatoes, green beans, spinach
  • 1 tsp walnut oil on Belgian endive salad
  • Grated Parmesan, lemon juice  and anchovies for Romaine
  • 1/4 cup white wine for potato salad
  • lemon juice and thyme for carrot salad
  • Parsley, chives , basil or cilantro for tomatoes, beets etc…
  • blue cheese
  • Soft-boiled egg on curly lettuce
  • another tsp of mustard for leek salad
  • White or cider vinegar are fine too, but not white or malt vinegar. Use less vinegar on delicate leafs and more on Romaine, Endive etc…
  • French’s mustard is a NO and so is sugar

I always make the dressing directly in the bowl,  never  in advance so I can match it to the salad.  Stir the dressing well, add the salad but only toss it when you serve. It is best not to use metal  utensils for salad. Olive wood is best.

Note: This is not French dressing!

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Roasted Zucchini with cheese

From Sharon's garden in Victoria

Sharon gave me this odd colour zucchini from her  Oak Bay garden explaining that this European seed produced a much tastier vegetable than the local produce, and it did! This one was hand-picked and harvested by Richard on  September 15th.

Growing zucchini and squash is going to be one of my new projects for next year. I also plan to try “Potiron” a beautiful large orange squash from France which makes the best soup.


All I did was follow Sharon’s instructions, cut up the peeled zucchini in slices, lay them in a pyrex dish greased with olive oil. Add  chopped garlic and loads of grated Asiago cheese. It then baked slowly for 45 minutes. It was  so good, I will have to make more with the local zucchini  next year!

Last night dinner: Sharon's zucchini, Carling's tomatoes, Dunnery's Cadboro Bay crab cakes and the chanterelle tart served with Balsamic vinegar


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10 kg of White Chanterelles

White Chanterelles picked Sunday Sept 19th 2010

Recipes including Chanterelles:

Chanterelle omelet


Chanterelle tart


Chanterelle quiche

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Chanterelles in butter and parsley

What do we do with 10 kg of white chanterelles?

First, I air-dry them  spread on trays for a day especially if they were picked on a rainy day, and they were!

I dry the smallest ones on an  electric dehydrator tray then soak them in water or white wine before using them.

I freeze the biggest ones cut up in small pieces and fried  7 minutes in just a little bit of oil, in ziplock bags (the least fat and moisture, the better). Then, I add garlic, butter, parsley etc… when I prepare them.

I can keep the best ones in the fridge for about a week, cleaned , wrapped in paper and in my “mushroom saver” container, which is a gift from my friend Linda. ( a plastic container with ventilation holes).

I make a puree in the food processor after cooking the broken ones that I will use for soup or sauces.

Most of them, we seem to eat fresh right away and give away to our friends, especially the friends who send along fruits and vegetables from their garden!

I would happily trade white chanterelles for almost any good food, maybe someone has some venison in their yard!


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Chanterelle mini-tart appetizer

That was a lot of chanterelles we picked and  they have been on my menu every day. Last night was a more unusual appetizer, kind of a tapenade of chanterelles in a small tart shell. This a good use for the chanterelles that are broken or don’t look so good and although it is not  a lot of work, the result is one of the best mouthful I ever had.


Sauté some chanterelles in olive oil for about 8 minutes. Transfer  a cup and a half of cooked mushroom to the food processor and chop fine with 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil, 100 gr fresh goat cheese, 4 tbsp balsamic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, sprinkles of hot sauce, 1/4 cup of 30% cream, salt and fresh ground pepper. Fill the tart shells with lots of mixture. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or time to cook the pastry. Decorate with a pitted black olive.

Notes: I used the small tart shells today and the above was plenty for six. The mini-tart shells are better as an appetizer since they are just right as a mouthful. The sun-dried tomatoes should be soaked in advance if they are not preserved in oil.

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Easy moist pound cake with yogurt

This is one that you can just whip up in no time, and that is a good thing because it will disappear just as fast. We used to make them all the time when I was a kid and really it never fails. Le “gateau au yaourt”  was  the French school children’ s equivalent to Rice Krispies squares. Before you could even reach for the counter, you were allowed to tackle that recipe. It is not really a pound cake as the ingredients are not a pound  each  of flour, butter, sugar and eggs, it is not a traditional yogurt cake either as this would include a yogurt container  full of oil, forget that!

With the orange zest

In a bowl, break 4 eggs and beat them with a whisk. Add 1/3 cup of melted salted butter and 3/4 cup sugar, then mix well until you cannot feel the sugar at all. Time to add 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 1+ 1/2 cup flour, a pinch of salt and 1 tbsp baking powder. Stir until smooth. Pour into a greased mould. Bake 50 minutes or until ready at 350. Cover with a foil after 30 minutes if it is browning too much. Cool down before eating.

Note: I usually add the zest of a lemon or an orange or a tbsp vanilla extract. The yogurt could be flavored and you could add blueberries or chocolate chips! Some kids spread Nutella on their slices.

If you can use Omega 3 eggs, they have wonderful yellow yolks that will make the cake look even more appetizing.

Another great recipe to go along your afternoon tea is the  all butter fruit cake! Try to make one of each and compare.

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Chanterelle Omelette

It was quite foggy and it rained a lot yesterday, but it was not a bad day to go mushroom picking on Vancouver Island. My friend Sharon and I covered miles and miles trying to identify new picking grounds without much success, even Jules the Jack Russell Terrier trained to sniff for morels could not discover any chanterelle. Our only encounters were hunters, logging trucks, deer and bear scat. It was only by going back to my usual secret place that we managed to  find clusters of both orange and white chanterelles and filled heavy baskets. We worked really hard for this, bush whacking our way through rough terrain, tree stumps, creeks, going up and down steep banks and of course bending over for each of the coveted chanterelle. Despite the rain, we were never cold and certainly got our exercise for the day and the endorphins  to go with it plus all the joy from bringing nature’s bounty home. I was so tired all I could do for dinner was an omelette.

September 15th

For two servings, clean  enough chanterelles to fill two cups when raw and cut in small pieces. Sauté the chanterelles  in a large frying pan with olive oil for  about 7 minutes on high and turn the heat off. Beat four eggs with 1/2 cup of cream or whole milk and salt and pepper for at least 5 minutes.  Turn the heat back on  medium under the frying pan, add a chunk of butter and pour the egg mixture over the chanterelles and cover. After one minute, bring in the edges with a spatula so that the liquids spread to the sides and cover again. When done, fold over and serve with a green salad and bread or toast.

Chanterelle omelette

Optional add-ons: onions, shallots, garlic, ham (cook with the chanterelles) cheese, parsley  (add on top of the egg mixture before covering).

Note: for a fluffier omelette, beat the egg white separately first then add to the yolks and cream.

Chanterelle omelette with cheese

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Peaches in light syrup

The peaches are best right now at the end of summer and it is tempting to buy a whole case. Of course, that is too much to eat right away for most people. Cooking them in syrup is a nice change.


Boil some water and plunge six ripe  washed peaches for 3 minutes. Remove the peaches and peel them, cut them in half, pit them.  Put the peaches in a pot with  1/2 cup of the boiling broth, 1/4 cup rum, a sprinkle cinnamon, a sprinkle ground anise seeds, the grated zest of half a lemon and a quarter of an orange, 2 tbsp maple syrup. Cook another 5 minutes.

Serve plain, or with vanilla ice-cream as a pêche melba, or with raspberry sherbet with a few leaves of mint, or just on your cereals.

Note: The peaches are ready to freeze or can as well.

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Ratatouille quiche

With all the fall vegetables so plentiful at the farmers market, I made a huge amount of Ratatouille and of course, I had extra I saved for a quiche and a nice lunch. Click on ratatouille for the link to the recipe.

This is a very quick recipe once you have the raratouille. Beat 3 eggs with a half cup of milk or cream , salt and pepper and add enough ratatouille to fill a pie shell. It is best not to include too much of the liquids of the ratatouille. And the crust will be best if you pre-bake it for 10 minutes at 375 with a weight in it. A chain weight or beans or  small pebbles or whatever that will prevent it from rising when baking empty.  If you pre-bake the crust, bake the quiche for 40 minutes at 350 otherwise, a bit longer.

More options: add anchovies and or pitted black olives!

Pie chain weight

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Cake au beurre (Fruit Cake)

This is the French version of Fruit cake, they just call it cake and often serve it for the afternoon snack with tea or even at breakfast, how decadent!

Cake in Le Creuset dish

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2+ 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1/2 cup of dried fruits (apricots, cherries, cranberries,…)
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • grated zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1/4 cup rum

The night before, soak the diced fruits and raisins in the rum, adding  1/4 cup of water. Then, melt the butter and add it to the beaten eggs, mix, add the sugar and beat three minutes. Add the flour and baking powder. Mix well with a fork this time as it is too thick for the whisk. Add the  zests, raisins and fruits, but save the liquid for later. Butter a mould, fill it and bake at 380 for 10 minutes, then at 350 for 60 minutes. Cover with a loose foil if necessary after 30 minutes. Check with a knife before taking out. Immediately pour the Rum  solution on top. Let cool completely. Take out of the mold, wrap  tightly in wax paper, then in plastic, and keep another day before eating, if you can!

Note: I had dried cherries and apricots in this one with the raisins and orange and lemon zests. More rum is an option, (double it then!)

Would you believe? some Moms put butter on the slices for the gouter.

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Chanterelle Quiche

I have been picking again last week-end and found a few chanterelles. It was too dry up until now and they were  small and scarce, the good thing being that the flavor is very intense. I decided to make a quiche.

Clean the chanterelles  without getting them wet if possible, brushing and scraping with a knife. Then chop them in fairly small pieces. You need about two cups raw. Add them to a large frying pan with 3 tbsp olive oil set on high. Also add, half a medium onion and one large peeled  zuchini, both chopped finely, and a cup of roasted ham cut in very small dices. Sauté  about 8 minutes, lower the heat if necessary as not to burn the onions. Cool this on a plate.

In a bowl, beat 5 eggs. Then, add a half cup of milk or cream, salt and pepper, a sprinkle of hot sauce,  and 1/4 cup of either cilantro or parsley chopped fine. Stir well, add the mushroom mix, and 3/4 cup grated cheese, stir again and pour in your favorite pie crust. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until done.

Vancouver Island Chanterelles

Note: Chanterelles are good, other mushroom would work as well.

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Cauliflower Soup in less than 10 minutes

This is a light soup, no cream! Local cauliflower is at every vegetable stand right now, it is a good time to enjoy it really fresh.


This recipe is one of the most simple soups to make and is a very healthy  light start to dinner. Remove all the green parts from the bottom of the cauliflower and remove any black from the flower. Then, steam it on a strainer in a stock pot or boil it in salted water until it is tender but not soft. Purée it in the food processor with two cups of broth and about a quarter of a bunch of fresh cilantro or parsley. This will give it the nice light green color. Add water  or hot milk  if needed. Serve very hot with grated parmesan and croutons on the side. Add fresh ground pepper! Butter optional.

Note: one cauliflower is about enough for three or four depending on its size. One cup of liquid per person is about right. Of course, you can add onion, garlic, carrots, or leek, but then it will take longer. The cauliflower only recipe should take less than 10 minutes.

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Chti dinner, from the North (of France)

I visited my sister in France this summer on her farm in the country. The 200 +year old farmhouse attracts family and friends and there was not a day with less than 15 for dinner. In most household this would create mayhem but there, everyone takes turns with the cooking and it makes for a lovely experience, almost like a  Gourmet Tour de France. The nights were warm and clear of bugs so we ate in an old stable open to the breeze and with a fireplace big enough to roast a lamb.  This night was the turn of Marie Castelain and her boyfriend Nicolas and they served a menu from their home region, the North of France. So “Chti”  or Picard cuisine it was. They went shopping in the morning, spent hours on the net checking the recipes and started cooking a 3:30pm for the dinner served fashionly late around 8:30. The truth is the wait was well worth it, they outdid themselves. Every dish was home made and delicious. You would not guess that they are not professional cooks or at least parents of a large brood. No, they are not even married yet, she is a school teacher and he is almost ready to start as a landscape architect. How did they do it?

Thin crust Tarte au Maroilles served with local beer

Belgian Endive salad with apple and lardons

Carbonnade de boeuf

Home-made Fries and Carbonnade de boeuf à la bière with HoneySpice bread croutons.

Stinky cheese: Maroilles

Marie Castelain et sa tarte au sucre and waffle biscuits and speculos

Note:The Pain d’épices recipe was featured in a previous blog.

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Chanterelles with butter and parsley

The end of August is that time when the first chanterelles spring out of the moss  on the slopes of old forests. This year is not a good one yet, as we have not had much rain. But my tenacity  paid off and I still found a few small ones well hidden under dead trees and barely visible. So, I can’t wait for some heavy rain and then more sunshine!


The biggest job is to clean the chanterelles by cutting off the bottom of the stem and scraping and/or brushing off any sand or soil and removing all leaves, worms, pieces of moss.  I find it best to use a knife, scrape pine needles and dirt, wipe the blade and repeat. All this without water if possible. If the mushrooms are very dirty, it will help to clean them under running water, but avoid dipping them in a water bath as they will retain all that water. Wet chanterelles don’t sauté well and loose a lot of flavor.

Now, cut the chanterelles to an even size, small or big does not matter. Pat them dry if there is moisture on them. Add them to a very large frying pan or, if you have a lot to cook,  a jam making pan, containing olive oil or canola oil. Sauté at least seven minutes on very high without covering. Add  chopped garlic, butter and sprinkle with parsley at the end. If the chanterelles are very dry, which happens sometimes, you can add a half a glass of white wine after a few minutes to finish the cooking without burning. The problem is usually the opposite though, getting rid of all the moisture quickly so the mushroom do not boil in their own water. It helps to salt them right away.


Note:  You can also fry them in a pan with 2 or 3 slices of bacon. You can also add cream, shallots, balsamic.

Once the chanterelles are ready,  eat them, or add them to a risotto,  a sauce or an omelette. If you want to freeze some, do so once cooked but before adding anything as they will fare better plain in ziplock bags.

I only found yellow chanterelles today, but the recipe is the same for  the white variety (even more flavorful).

A Very Good Recipe.

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Crunchy Cucumber salad

This is another one of many different “crudités” that French people will prepare for a Sunday lunch, along with grated carrots, red cabbage, macédoine, etc…

Field cucumbers are best. If the skin is coarse and bitter, peel the cucumber first, then cut it in fairly thin slices. Lay them on a large plate and sprinkle with  fine salt, about a tbsp or so. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, then drain, rinse quickly, and drain again. Pat dry.

Serve with a vinaigrette made of 1tsp grainy Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp cider vinegar,  2 tbsp canola or peanut oil. Mix well and add fresh ground pepper! Sprinkle with chopped  curly parsley.

This recipe is supposed to make cucumbers easier to digest. I can’t prove that, but for sure , by drawing the water out, it makes them very crunchy and that is a wonderful easy way to prepare them.

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Pain d’épices du goûter

Literally, a spice bread usually served to  French children after school as a snack, either plain or with unsalted butter and sometimes jam as well. I used to love it when I was a kid. It was store bought and I never knew anyone making their own, but because I can’t find it to buy here in Canada, I tried a few  combinations, did a lot of reading and decided that the recipe below is closest to my childhood memory. Traditionnally, pain d’épices does not include ginger and although many North American or British recipes do, I stuck to the original ingredients.


  • 400 gr honey ( any kind will do, the original appears to have been dark buckwheat honey) = 1 cup
  • 2 tbsp fancy molasses
  • 1/8 cup  salted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup  sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour ( 1 rye, 1 buckwheat, 1 +  1/2 white)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp ground anise seeds or 1 tsp Pernod
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 4 tsp baking powder

Melt the honey,  sugar, butter, molasses in the water.Cool down. Add this to all the other ingredients and mix well. (I wish I had an electric mixing bowl for this, but then I would have to go the gym for strength training, better the kitchen). You might have to add a little bit of extra water. When the mix is smooth, pour into a bread loaf mold lined with parchment paper and greased. Bake  70 minutes at 350 or until your knife comes out clean.

Saves well wrapped in a plastic bag. Slice like a thin toast, butter!


Stale pain d’épices is great to make bread pudding on its own or mixed with other bread. Not that we are ever going to have stale pain d’épices leftover!


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Icelandic Delicacies: Puffin, Whale, Foal and Fermented Shark

The Atlantic Puffin forms part of the national diet in Iceland, where the species does not have legal protection. Puffins are hunted by a technique called “sky fishing”, which involves catching low-flying birds with a big net. The meat is smoked and cured. It is featured routinely on restaurants menus.

Smoked puffin

Foal tataki with parsley root purée, pickled red cabbage and smoked mushrooms

Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic for “fermented shark”)  is a Greenland or basking shark head which has been cured through a  fermentation process while burried in sand  and hung to dry for four to five months. Hákarl  has a pungent ammonia-rich smell and  a  fishy taste. Not my idea of a treat!

Shark brought to the table in a sealed jar at Laekjarbrekka

The most surprising menu item of all was of course the grilled steak of minke whale with mashed potatoes and brennivin sauce. Brennivin, also called svarti dauði , or black death is an Aquavit type schnapps made from potato pulp flavored with caraway seeds. The whale meat was incredibly light, tasty, and tender, not the least fishy, likely the best meat I ever had. Minke  are small baleen whales.

Grilled steak of minke whale with mashed potatoes and brennivin sauce Restaurant Laekjarbrekka in Reykjavik

For another recipe of Minke whale steak, click here.

For more on Minke whale meat click here.

A potential source of meat, systematic whaling was not possible in Iceland until the late 19th century due to the lack of ocean-going ships. Small whales were hunted close to the shore with the small rowboats used for fishing. When Iceland started commercial whaling  in the early 20th century  whale meat became popular as a low-priced red meat which can be prepared like beef. When Iceland withdrew from the International Whaling Commission  in 1992, commercial whaling stopped but some whale meat could still be found in specialised stores coming from small whales accidentally caught in nets or beached. In 2002, Iceland rejoined the IWC and commercial whaling started again in 2006. Whale meat is thus commonly available, although the price has gone up due to the cost of whaling itself.

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