Category Archives: USA

Ausable Chasm Grand Canyon and Rhubarb Apple Walnut Braid


Few days ago we had a special occasion. Good reason to get away from the bustle and hustle of the city, and have our computer-locked heads unwind in a fresh air and wilderness. We’ve selected Ausable Chasm Grand Canyon, NY for a destination: the nearest major powerful nature spot that works magic for body and soul to help restore the spirit somehow lost in translation. Four hours of driving (Montreal-Plattsburgh round trip with pit stops), 30 minutes of border crossing, four hours of hiking in the majestic canyon, few hours of chilling in Plattsburgh after: one wonderful day of a powerful natural healing activity equal to a week of vacation!  With rafting on the agenda it would be even better although we didn’t do it at this time. If you’ve never been there, check here or hereto see what kind of experience you are missing.  
The silence of the enchanted forest interrupted by mighty gushing roaring waters of the waterfalls whoosh all the thoughts away almost instantly, leaving you feeling serene and irrelevant tiny particle of the whole picture. I wish I could just have clipped myself to one of the rocks and stay there forever… But there are only so many hours in the day, huh?
A short picnic was a great idea to take on a trail to the Secret Vista.

We brought a few gourmet sandwiches with homemade meatloaf, garden tomatoes and avocado; our staple zucchini corn bread (I can’t believe I still didn’t post the recipe) and an absolutely decadent, totally grown up style rhubarb-apple-raisin-walnut braid that appeared to be the highlight of the little feast. 

If you can imagine a dessert that can replace a good quality wine (not allowed in the park) this would be a great pick.
For an impromptu recipe made a night before the travel, lo and behold, this braid turned out to be extraordinary.  I wanted to use the fresh rhubarb longing on the fridge shelf in a pack of newspapers,  to be eventually claimed. 
Without a question, the puff pastry was going to wrap anything that would come out as a dessert from the oven that night. There are some ingredients I prefer to buy ready-made and the pastry dough is one of them. Why wasting time on the elaborate pastry dough-making process if the one from the store has proven to be your best friend on so many occasions (PS: this grand recipe included)? 
The filling made of fresh rhubarb, green apples, sultana raisins and toasted walnuts tastes really multi-dimensional:  with the mild tartness of the rhubarb and its astringency of the hazy summer evening (when mixed with brown sugar, apples, raisins, walnuts and cooked together ); with the piquancy of nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and crumbled gingersnap cookies that’s reminiscent of Christmas holidays… To me it has a bouquet that can easily be compared (or even better, when paired with), to a nicely bodied Tempranillo with the nose enticing marmalade, hints of smoke, vanilla and figs (yes, figs!). As usually, you’ll never know till you try, right? And if you do, please tell me after if I wasn’t the last fine gueule to appreciate it.
Enjoy!
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Two years ago: Easy Banana Ice Cream
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RHUBARB APPLE WALNUT BRAID
Ingredients:
1 ½ cup fresh rhubarb, peeled and cut in ½ inch pieces
1 cup green apple, peeled, cored and cut in small cubes
½ cup sultana raisins
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup toasted walnuts, ground
½ cup gingersnap cookie, crumbled or crushed
1 package (397 g) puff pastry, thawed overnight in refrigerator
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
1 teaspoon icing sugar for dusting (optional)
Instructions:
Mix together chopped rhubarb, apples and raisins in a small bowl. Mix together brown sugar and corn starch in a medium sauce pan. Stir in rhubarb, apples, raisins and vanilla. Cook over low to medium heat until bubbling and thickened. Add cinnamon and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool completely. Add walnuts and mix.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Whisk together egg and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface into 12” x 9” (30 cm x 22 cm) rectangle. Place pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Spread half of the crumbled ginger cookies along the middle third of the pastry. Spoon the rhubarb-raisin-apple-walnuts mix over. Top with the rest of the ginger cookie crumbles.
Cut 1-inch (2.5 cm) wide strips on either side of the filling. Fold strips on each side alternately over filling to create a braid. Brush pastry with egg mixture.
Bake the braid for 20 to 25 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Remove baking sheet from oven and let cool slightly. Dust with powder sugar if wish be. Cut carefully into slices with the bread knife. Serve warm or cold with fresh berries on a side and ice cream if you wish.

My Little New York Cheesecake Diary

You might think that summer is too hot to have a piece of cheesecake, but for us, Northerners, a piece of this unctuous treat with a cup of tea, a glass of cider or low-alcohol slightly effervescent young wine is just what the doctor ordered on a cutting-the-grass chilly afternoon like today.

For many the New York style cheesecake may sound like a cliché, but I have my own special connection with it. It began with the first bite of the world’s most fabulous cheesecake at Junior’s Cheesecake and Desserts in New York City (NYC) years ago. The taste of the suave white cheese and the clean citrus tang lingered in my mouth for hours. That night I decided that, whenever possible, I would start taking notes of the cheesecake recipes from different eateries in New York whenever I’d try it, as long as it would be same impressive.

 

I started a little diary and called it ‘My New York Cheesecake diary’. I’ve collected over a dozen recipes of the variations of the New York style cheesecake, including the immortal Lindy’s, Reuben’s and of course, the Junior’s one.

Lower right image is a postcard photo of Lindy’s Restaurant at Broadway and 52st Street in New York City in ‘60s

Of course, there are countless diners in NYC to have a fabulous piece of NY style cheesecake. The Junior’s remain to be my preferred one, and any time I’m in NYC, I’m trying to block out an afternoon to get that piece of cheesecake and take a subway ride from Manhattan to Coney Island or Brighton Beach to watch the cityscape like a local (since I’m way passed the Empire State Building or Central Park phases)… to have a cake on the beach for a much deeper connection with the great Metropolis and its sounds, colors and tastes. 

That for me is the latest ultimate luxury of an experience as well as the way to culminate into that city-that-never-sleepsfinal vibe, which feels like in that realtor’s quote:“We give you the chance to stay in someone’s place while they’re out of town. Live their life for a few days and nights. Act like you own the place. Because, for a few days, you do.”

And that’s also the reason why I got hooked on one of the final episode of Girls’ so much: when Hannah is sitting in the sand of Coney Island, eating the cake she previously saved at the wedding for her boyfriend, and reflecting. Of course it’s is also because of the genius combination of the sounds of the ocean, the seagulls, the cake-smacking and that uber-engaging instrumental that I can’t find anywhere, but mostly because this experience is almost personal and leaves me hungry for more of the NYC gastronomic experiences.
Photo © Girls via Indiewire.com
When experimenting with NY style cheesecake at home, I figured over the years that my favorite one is the Three Citrus Cheesecake, which I glazed this time with my own candied Meyer lemon and it was simply out of this world…  That is the reason I’m sharing the recipe with you today. Enjoy it!

PS: Please note that two major ingredients of New York cheesecake are Philadelphia cream cheese and Graham crumbs crust. Feel free to use the ready-made Graham crust to save time and effort.  For other than Graham crumbs crust, please see the recipe below.

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One year ago: Thai Chicken Burger
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THREE CITRUS NEW YORK STYLE CHEESECAKE WITH CANDIED MEYER LEMON
Yields: 12 portions
Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups Graham crumbs* (see the substitutes below if necessary)
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 pkg. (250g each) Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp each grated lemon, lime and orange peel zest
1 tbsp each lemon, lime and orange juice
Thinly sliced citrus or candied Meyer lemon for garnish
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Unless using a ready-made crust, mix crumbs and butter and press firmly onto 9-inch springform pan. Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and mix until blended. Stir in zested peel and juices and pour into the crust.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Garnish with candied Meyer lemon slices if available or lemon, lime and orange slices, or fresh fruit.
*For Gluten free Graham crust:
Mix the following ingredients and spread evenly but lightly in 9-inch diameter springform pan:
1 ½ cups commercial gluten-free flour*
½ cup unsalted butter (melted)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup minced chopped nuts
* Note: You can make your own GF flour by mixing 6 cups sweet rice flour; 2 cups tapioca flour and 1 cup potato starch flour
Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Stir until well crumbled, return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more until evenly golden brown.
** For the Flour Made crust Lyndie’s Cheesecake style (for two cakes):
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved
Combine flour, butter, sugar, zest, salt, yolk and vanilla seeds in a bowl, work with fingers until dough forms. Form the dough in 2 rounds; wrap each in a plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour. Press 1 dough round into 9 –inch springform pan; pull off pieces from remaining dough and press around sides of pan. Set aside. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes until golden and proceed with the filling part above.

Vegetarian Borscht Primer


Now that 2014 Olympic Winter Games are over and 70,000 gallons of what was called classic Russian Borscht were reportedly flushed down with the help of vodka and adrenalin in Sochi, I think I can finally reveal my favorite borscht recipe. This is not to bring your attention back to the Soviet food like a dreary svekolnik, listless shchi or mayonnaise-drenched salads – all of which celebrity food critic Jay Rayner called ‘miserable in every way‘. Rather, I really wanted to share a wonderful recipe of the great vegetarian borscht with cabbage, Porcini, beans and of course BEEEETS, which I guarantee will make your heart beat happily. A Ukrainian friend from Toronto shared this recipe with me almost a decade ago. It was so good it became my vegetarian borscht primer. I made small additions to it over the years (swapping cultivated for wild mushrooms, adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of spices to create a serious depth Porcini, a touch of organic cider (which I home-made last summer) and cumin can offer in soups. Voila, deep yet clean flavored borscht, which I like to punch with anchovy-garlic-parsley umami-drizzled croutons when serving.
Beets are relatively unpopular in the West, but their liver cleansing, heart strengthening and anti-inflammatory powers have been known in Eastern Europe for centuries, hence the countless varieties of beet dishes which became kitchen staples there. 
Borscht became so popular in Ukraine and Russia, for example, that people were eating it three times a day. A century ago, Russian kids were even served borscht for breakfast. 
One century after. Brooklyn, NYC…
Some of these Russian kids’ descendents are in Brooklyn now waiting to be called yet for another plate of borscht
Here, in North America, the most popular beet soup established under the name borscht (Yiddish) due to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The name stuck to it and today even the Ukrainian variety from ‘’Baba’’ is called borschtand not borshch. The New York City, namely, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach or East Villagewould probably be the spots to sample borschtof all kind of origins at once in Jewish, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian delis, dairies and coffee shops. And so would have any other big city’s Russian-Jewish quarter on a smaller scale.   

The origin of borschtis a bit complicated and is closely connected with the cultivation of beetroot in the territory of modern Ukraine. I tend to agree with the narrative from the ‘’Russian Cooking’’ volume from Foods of the World published by Time Inc. in 1969: ‘’Ukrainians insist that they were the originators of borshch, and since there was Kiev when Moscow was a ‘’wheel track in the forest’’ they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first – or, for that matter, the best – borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted. In general, Ukrainian borshch is distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables, including garlic.’’  
But who am I to take a stand on the borscht’s heritage? The dish has been a subject of geopolitical irony between Russia and Ukraine forever and it looks like Ukraine has been doing some serious steps to defend what is Ukrainian lately, so there’s probably no need for my rumblings. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am frightened of one of my local Russian acquaintances and don’t want to give too much food for her inevitable anger (just kidding, darling).  Each to their own, and so I cease any further discussion of the origin of borsch and proceed to the recipe.
Now, who wants to know a great Lenten recipe of vegetarian borscht? First of all, allow yourself at least 1 hour to make a good quality borscht. Secondly, it’s important to have the right proportion of vegetables in this recipe. Since it’s hard to measure the size of veggie to a cup volume sometimes, I’d tell you my usual quantity is 3 medium-sized beets, 2 small potatoes, 1 carrot, 1 onion, ½ green cabbage head, 1 can of white beans, ½ cup of tomato coulis for the quantity of liquid mentioned below. When reconstituting dried mushrooms, I save the liquid and add it to the stock for enhanced flavor. I also believe that adding a small shot of apple cider vinegar is balancing the flavor of the borscht perfectly. In many recipes a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar is suggested to add extra sweetness, but I think if you have enough beets, there is no need for that.
It’s very important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others. Finally, timing is crucial not to overcook the borscht turning it from red, crunchy and flavorful to yellow and tasteless. Because of that I could never understand the recipes of borscht that take hours to cook.
Final tips: Borscht tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Is delicious hot or cold, with or without sour cream or croutons. It also freezes well.  Enjoy your Slavic cooking experience!
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VEGETARIAN BEET, CABBAGE, MUSHROOM & BEAN BORSCHT
Yields: 6 to 10 portions
Ingredients:
10 cups (2.5 l) vegetable stock or water
1 generous handful dried Porcini, reconstituted and minced OR 2 cups of sliced cultivated mushrooms
4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil OR sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cup (750 ml) beets, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
3 cup (750 ml) green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 can (19 oz) or 2 cups cooked navy OR white kidney beans
½ cup (125 ml) tomato coulis OR 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped canned tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 ml) organic apple cider vinegar OR lemon juice
1 pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
For garnish:
1 bunch of parsley OR 10 dill springs, chopped
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
Garlic-Anchovy Croutons for an extra garnish:
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4-5 chopped anchovies and cook for a minute or until they melt into oil. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of cubed stale bread (gluten free if you like) and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Toast tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until croutons are golden and crisp.
Instructions:
Note: It’s important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others.
Add the stock or water to a large soup pot and bring to boil. In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté onion with mushrooms for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add sautéed mushrooms, onion to the boiling stock and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté  beets and carrots for 2 minutes. Add beets and carrots to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add shredded cabbage, beans, tomato juice, vinegar, cumin, pepper and salt to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender, but still a bit crunchy. Check the seasoning and skim any foam. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaves.  Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with generous dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley or dill. Serve immediately.

Green Mountain State & Sour Cherry Banana Bread Pudding

I call this simple dessert the epitome of summer happiness as it truly gives your taste buds that special touch of freshness you can only find in sour cherries. Their season is short, however, so if you are a sour cherry lover, you better hurry to the farmer’s market now for these little delicate fruits only show up once a year and not for long. Sour cherries are amazing in baking: they hold well under the temperature while their tartness and tanginess bring any dessert to a new tasty heights. As antioxidant-rich fruits (viva quercetin!) they are also huge on nutritional benefits and are known to relief stress, prevent cancer, improve cardio-vascular and anti-inflammatory functions.

Bread pudding is often associated with a heavy, cloying desserts most often served during fall or winter, but just wait until you try this one and you will surely be surprised. This recipe was inspired by our recent trip to the Green Mountain State – a week of a prolonged indulgence in the green beauty and locally grown organic food. For most of us Vermont is known for its skiing or fall foliage, but it is actually in summer that it really shines and you can see for your own eyes why it has consistently ranked the healthiest state in America. 
Vermont is so much more than just maple syrup or Ben and Jerry ice cream. It’s a lifestyle. The farmers’ markets are bustling with everything from locally grown food, to cheese and wine, arts and crafts. The switch to more organic, good-for-you products is apparent everywhere, even at the level of the convenience stores.
Lush green mountains, crystal clear lakes, pastoral scenic roads, rolling farmlands, rivers and waterfalls – you notice immediately how ”green and clean” this state is. You can actually enjoy the scenery while driving – no billboards obstructing the view. Back in 1968 Vermonters voted to regulate business for the benefit of the landscape and thirsty travelers. Since that time there has been no billboards along their roads. Surprised? Me too. (Curiously, the billboards are also banned in three other healthy and least populated states including Hawaii, Maine and Alaska).
Living in the green paradise clearly has its perks and you quickly notice that well-being is another Vermonters’ forte. People are shockingly friendly and relaxed. So nice and welcoming (so rare in our remorseful post-affluence society) that I felt I was lost in time somewhere between Norman Rockwell’s characters and Happy Hippies. I had to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I was not having a hallucination.
 Like taking a sip of a clean cold water on a hot summer day, so truly refreshing was my summer-in-Vermont discovery. I promised myself to embark on this wanderlust again shortly. So, when am I going back? This weekend, as a matter of fact. Yep, that’s how much I liked it! But let’s get back to our pain perdu aux cerises (French for our Cherry Bread Pudding), my little tribute to the state of all foods good and wholesome.
This lazy-amazing bread pudding takes only 15 minutes to prepare and easily converts to gluten free if you choose to use a gluten free bread like I did. In fact, I much more prefer it with gluten free bread (I used the most popular white rice flour bread variety you can get anywhere, from Walmart to Loblaws) since its major ingredient is rice, and, rice (as we all know) is awesome in puddings. Fresh sour cherries are of course the star of this dessert, but, frozen, dried or canned sour cherries work well too, or, you can vary the flavor using other sour fruits (i.e. apricots, plums, apples, cranberries, etc.) and adapt it to the summer’s bounty your way. One big ripe banana is a must as it makes a perfect taste & texture juxtaposition with any fruit combination. So, in four easy steps: 

  1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F; pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make about one cup of pitted cherries; cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make about 4 cups; peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces;
  2. using a wire whisk, stir together beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (sometimes I use blender for this to cheat on the whisking);
  3. place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking pan or dish; distribute cherries and banana slices; top with remaining bread cubes; pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture;
  4. bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

Looks convincing? Tastes too, you bet!
Bon Appétit and have a Happy Summer Time!
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SOUR CHERRY BANANA BREAD PUDDING
Ingredients:
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free rice flour bread (or regular raisin bread), cut into 3/4 inch squares
2/3 cup fresh or (frozen, canned or dried) sour cherries
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make 2/3 cup of pitted cherries. Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking dish; distribute cherries and banana slices and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

New Year’s Eve Bubbly: Blanquette de Limoux

Happy New Year to you all and lets talk a few minutes about the affordable bubbly. Although Forbes was calling it Crémant d’Alsace this year, Blanquette de Limoux with its light, fruity notes of apples, cider, apricot, its pleasant bouquet and its very fine bubbles is definitely my favourite. And there is a very interesting story to it too.
Six years ago we first visited Languedoc-Rousillon and bravely crossed those steep limestone garrigue hills over from Carcassonne to Limoux. Lost in the mountains of Midi-Pyrénées, we stopped at an old Benedictine abbey Saint-Hilaire and took a quick tour. Here are some photos from that time.

It was then when we learned that the monks of Saint-Hilaire were officially the first ones in the world to discover the effervescent wine back in 1531. They invented the first sparkling brut and tried it well before it was introduced to Champagne region. According to the abbey records, Dom Pérignon was a monk there before moving to the Champagne and spreading the sparkling wine-making method. So, technically, Blanquette de Limoux was the beginning of all champagnes!

And guess who was the first one popularizing Blanquette in America in the 19th century? Of course, Thomas Jefferson, the “first American distinguished viticulturist“ (and the third US President), who else could it be? Apparently, the only sparkling wine he kept in his cellar at Monticello till his death was exactly Blanquette de Limoux. You may have doubts about my palate, but Jefferson’s preferences stood the test of time. So next time you want to try some new amazing bubbly, try Blanquette de Limoux for a change. And for under $20 a pop I am sure it will not brake your bank.
What is you favorite bubbly on the budget?

Well, its time to say good-bye to 2012 and prepare for that amazing bubbly! As for the wishes, no one would probably express them better than Boris from “Whatever Works“ movie, so here you are:

Happy New Year, dear friends, relatives and readers!