Category Archives: Chefs

Mother’s Day Best: Buttermilk Pancakes with Soft Cheese, Strawberries and Pistachios

What would I do without my mom? Where would I be? What would I become? How would I be? ‘Mothers are the vessels of life that build and grow societies all over the world. Moms are the thread that holds it all together and the tie that binds. They operate on passion and instinct and never let fear guide their way. Mothers are the strongest and most resilient people on this earth, and for that all reverence is justified…’ 

My mom left me some images and collages, took a break and asked me to take care about this post. She means the world to me and there can’t be any better time, no matter how busy I am. My grandma’s birthday falls on May 10th, so this day has double significance in my family being both, Mother’s day and my grandmother’s birthday.  Love is in the airon this day and celebration is big. A festive breakfast or brunch starring with these cakey and creamy pancakes which absorb maple syrup like a sponge makes a good start!  The strawberries add freshness and flavor, pistachios kick in a salty crunch and the delectable blanket of cheese completes the riff wondrously bringing the Glass Candy’s videoin my head to the Air France’s version. A very cool commercial indeed, if you haven’t seen it! 
The buttermilk pancakes family tradition takes years, although the recipe itself took many twists and turns to finally settle with this one, which we find to be our favorite.

The recipe is based on the formula from the master bread maker Peter Reinhart , who searched for the fool proof recipe himself for years to finally stumble upon Marion Cunningham’s buttermilk pancakes recipe, which he now calls the “best pancakes in the world.

Please follow these tips to achieve the best results:
a) This formula does not lend itself to multiplying, so the measures are given only as volume and not weight.
b) Most pancake batters are mixed ahead and then rested. This one is griddled immediately, so it must be handled tenderly to prevent the gluten from toughening.
c) The lumps disappear in the frying pan, so mix only till all the flour is wet and assimilated.
d) The larger the pancake the more unevenly it will cook, with the center being slow to finish. If you like your pancakes custardy, make the big ones, if you prefer them well-done, make two or three small ones in the same pan (or keep two pans going).
e) Unbleached flour is preferred but bleached flour will also do.
f) Feel free to alter the toppings with other fresh fruit or berry, nuts or soft cheese (i.e. My grandma loves it with cottage cheese, while my mom prefers fresh goat cheese and I always opt for whipped mascarpone with fruits like strawberries).
Enjoy!
Great for breakfast, lunch or a tea break:
P.s. Before I finish, there’s something else I wanted to share with you: the video about the video.  It’s about how much effort/cost it takes to make  45-seconds glam video ad.  You might find this comparison weird, but to me that is my mom and myself in a nutshell: an iceberg the tip of which is me. And so is my grandma to my mom. 
Happy Birthday dear granny Nelly! We love you!
Happy Mother’s Day to All the Great Moms!
Yours truly, T for Tat.
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BEST BUTTERMILK PANCAKES
Yields: 4 to 8 pancakes
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon butter or oil for the pan
Instructions:
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a mixing bowl.
Crack-open the egg and pour it whole into the center of the flour mixture. Pour the buttermilk over the egg.
Stir the ingredients together with fork or a large whisk just till a lumpy batter forms and all the flour is absorbed. Pour in the melted batter just till the butter is dispersed.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add a teaspoon of butter or oil and swirl it around to coat the pan.
Ladle or pour the batter into the pan to the desired size and tilt the pan to spread the batter (it is thick so it will not spread very much).
When bubbles begin to appear on the top of the pancakes, flip them and continue cooking for about 1 minute. They should be brown on both sides but tender in the middle.
Keep the pancakes warm in a 200F oven or on a plate under a clean towel, while making the rest.
Serve with maple syrup and/or your favorite fruits, nuts and cheese.
Adapted from: ‘Crust and Crumb’ by Peter Reinhart, Ten Speed Press, 2006.

Top Twenty Hottest Food Trends 2015

For the week-end update and the January’s wrap up, I’ve collected some interesting data about the Food Trends for 2015. From the Food Channel to Better Homes & Gardens to Yahoo Food and many other sources, the experts and chefs agree on the following common food trends for 2015: 

ALL THAT VEG: Veggies are still going strong in 2015 to the greatest salumi-lovers chargin. The new crossbred vegetables like broccolette and kalette will enter the groceries and our kitchens. New cruciferous species are introduced by chefs (i.e. spigarello is the new kale according to Mario Batali). The underdogs like cauliflower and radishes re-emerge and will have a better standing throughout the year. 
I think it’s time to post my Cauliflower Lobster Dumplings Soup and/or Walnut Pesto Roasted Cauliflower soon. Stay tuned.
DIY FOOD BARS: From hippie lemon coconut cookies to healthy diy bites, raw food bars are becoming the new lunchables and your best traffic companion. Try this bites for some healthy breaks.
DUCK IS THE NEW CHICKEN: The duck’s popularity continues to grow and its healthier sustainable protein and fat are more and more recognized (along with duck eggs that cost the same as chicken eggs at Asian supermarkets). Roast it, use it in soups and stir fries, make some roasted duck skin salads (2014 restaurant hip). If not already, try this remarkable and easy duck roast to start falling in love with it. 
Follow with the duck skin salad for more adventure.
VEGETARIAN RAMEN: From NYC to Montreal and Toronto; from East coast to West coast, North to South, Ramen is still one of the most wanted foods, except this year vegetarian versions are more and more in demand. Pack it with all kind of Asian greens and herbs, miso/sriracha/and bunch of other flavors, add some sea weed and poached egg and you are good to go. Try to avoid the instant noodles unless you want to die a little each time you let 50% saturated fat and 2-days dose of sodium fuzz your digestive tract.
RABBIT IS THE NEW IT MEAT:Looks like my New Year’s Eve post on Cuban Rabbit Fricasse was right on time: rabbit is the next lean-clean light meat that can absorb all kind of flavors and make you feel light and good. 
Just wait until you try my rabbit lasagna!
SMALLER FISH:The time of the Old Man and the Sea has passed and the small fish is a new big fish logo now with all points sustainable. Try some Japanese smelts tempura or grilled sardines next and you won’t miss any big fish anymore.  
OYSTERS IN SEASON: Raw or baked, this highly sustainable and still very affordable bivalve is taking restaurant and home kitchens by the storm in 2015. Why not? The year of the Goat is all about elegance and class: let’s fancy this trend with a dash of sustainable kelp caviar, lime granita and a bit of mignonette sauce on a side.  
SEAWEED SAGA: 2015 is also about sophisticated cooking so many Japanese condiments have a strong presence including seaweed (fresh, dry or reconstituted) being added to stocks, salads and mains for added taste and umami. Great iodine booster besides other things, a pack of dried sea weed for the cup of morning miso or kombu for some hearty stocks make the most welcome additions to your pantry.
KEEP FORAGING:from edible weeds and berries to wild flowers to mushrooms and nuts foraging expands like never before to bring a touch of wilderness and rare flavors to the dishes and make our lives healthier and fancier. Check the recipes for Juniper Ham in Pastry; Cream of Foraged Greens; Almond Gazpacho with Violets; Fiddlehead Ferns Omlet and Pasta.
BREAD REVOLUTION: While the gluten free trend is still strong, there is a growing revolution in the area of artisanal breads (with multi and/or sprouted grain), which according to the world’s bread experts is going to expand over the next few years. Check this easy super-savory Cypriot-style bread recipe for the first hand exposure when making your own first artisanal bread.
FERMENTED & SOUR FOODS: Healthy gut has become the American priority in the war against the obesity. Fermented foods – yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso are trendier than ever. Use this fool proof kimchi recipe to join the movement. 
SPECIALTY PASTAS: Gluten free movement resulted in some outstanding specialty pastas (brown rice, kamut, buckwheat, spelt, etc.) that are now available at the restaurants and in stores. Make your next pasta meal special with this Pasta con le Sarde recipe and spaghetti of your choice.
SPICES & SMOKE ON A RISE: Learning how to season food in more than just salt and pepper has never been more exciting. From Cajun Spice and New Orleans food chronicles in the Chef movie, to Middle Eastern Za’atar mix the spice empire is raising its bar high this year. Check these simple Cajun and Zaatar spice mix DIYs, or try the some juniper berries in your next recipe. Add some smoke whenever you can and/or use more of the smoked paprika and chili seasoning.
FANCY COOKIES: The wheat revolution brought more focus on home-made cookies. From chocolate chips to Eccles cakes to gluten free hazelnut chocolate bites or candied ginger scones packed with dried fruits (coming soon) – gran style cookies with some modern health twist are very much in. FYI, cannabis is becoming a popular baking ingredient further to more and more of its legalization in many places.
BITTER IS A NEW BOLD: Wake up your bile and liver!  The watercress, ginseng, green collards, coffee, dark chocolate rubs and other acrid, astringent taste sensation evoking foods are in and ready to help your liver recovery.  Try the watercress salad for a difference.
SIPPING BROTH: Healthy broth is predicted to take over by the end of 2015. Anything that can increase the body’s alcalinity is a hot trend.  I’m already making my own miso soups for breakfast, but I’ve also experimented with a bunch of vegetarian broths that can boost your energy in the morning. Like this rainbow broth (red color is given by beets) that is great to kick start the day on a positive note with something less boring than smoothie. Stay tuned. And hey, mark my words: the Ginseng Chicken Soup will be a giant hit by the end of the year or earlier.
HOME BREWING & CANDYING: The DIY alchemy has never been stronger, from home-made apple cider to specialty vinegar to DIY rose water, to making your own primitive fermented drink, beer, wine or cider – I’m in, and ready to finally go and buy that special ‘mother’ to start brewing the real deal. Candied orange, lemon and ginger are also now very hot ingredients.
WINE CASUALIZED: Here is a bit of good news for everyone: from liquor stores to big gulps to future AA people and the rest of us.  A bit of wine each day is better than getting wasted during the week-end and that’s the whole thing about the great red cell cardio benefits.  
Make it casual. Make it French. Make it quality over quantity. Start using it in cooking sparingly: from stew, to soup to the dessert jelly, a splash of wine works wonders in cooking.  
ETHNIC BECOMES GLOBAL: The word ethnic is being removed from the chef’s vocabulary. Food and trends have turned global and we are all contributing to it. There will be no more polemic as to the origin of borscht.
RESTAURANTS – MY KITCHEN, MY RULES: The restaurants start discouraging the food photography and cell phones in general focusing on their food rather than opinion, which is the great news to those who want to be inspired by the food quality and cooking innovation rather than formality of the rating in social media. Example: this guy gave me the stink eye (aka dirty look) after I was taking the picture and I think he was absolutely right: it is disturbing.
REPLICATING RESTAURANTS: This is one of my favorite things and I’ve already been doing it for years. What’s the point of going someplace they serve what you can make at home in minutes (and without an extra pound of re-fried butter in it)? However, if it’s something extraordinary like this or that, I’m always in, and impressed and would like to go back even if I can deconstruct it and make it at home. I’m a big miss in general for the Michelin type of restos simply because I don’t like to feel like the honorable cadavre staring at some kind of tiny food in jello or smoke displayed (yes, I’m talking about micro cuisine) on a perfectly clean plate and reminding of the sad future of food and humanity. But some hearty hole in the wall with down to earth alternative burger packed with fresh ingredients and flavors: YES, PLEASE.

Moules Mariniere & Roasted Rainbow Fries Recipes


They say Belgian and Northern French people are almost religious about moules -frites (mussels & fries), but so are almost all French Quebecers.  Rain or shine, snow storm or ice storm, none of my friends can pass on a well-prepared bowl of fresh steamy bivalves floating in a cloudy-winy-garlicky broth with French fries and crusty bread on a side. Each time we discover a good place serving this dish, it spawns a new sensation. This particular post, for instance, was inspired by a little gem place in Verdun we discovered recently, the ‘Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre’.
The bistro has opened its doors back in 2011, and within the record time became No. 725 out of 4543 restaurants in Montreal rated on Tripadvisor (as of today), which is a big deal for Montreal (i.e. Jamie Oliver’s Maison Publique is No. 763 on that list), winning also the first prize of the young Entrepreneurs of Verdun in 2013. Once you try their honest food (priced very reasonably) you will know why.

From the Home Burger with Melted Brie and Caramelized Onions garnished with microgreens (which was of a superb quality and tasted so much more than just a ‘lump of ground beef between two buns’); to ideal endorsers of the fans of Les Canadiens – merguez pogos; to their signature dish: Moules Mariniere, the place which is steadily conquering the hearts of many tourists and Montrealers.  

How come I didn’t know about the place? Perhaps I was too much grieving over the death of ‘Mas Cuisine’ in the neighborhood (which re-appeared recently in the Mile End as a new ‘Wilfrid sur Laurier’ brasserie where Michel Ross reunited with chef Suhl). Obviously, the explosion of Griffintown development did not inhibit Verdun’s Chef Georges Nory and he’s bringing his French bistro/Italian trattoria/American diner classics to the new level. The rustic-meets-funky bistro interior adds to the hipster feel, but with only 20+ seats in winter you’d better nip to it fast. I’m definitely coming back.
Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre 
750 rue de L’eglise
Verdun, QC H4G 2M8
(514) 768-0740

The oversized mussels they serve in Bistro are most probably a special order, but don’t shy away from a bag of fresh mussels in IGA, METRO or LOBLAWS if you are ready to make your own Moules Mariniere at home. This recipe of was given to me hush-hush almost 20 years ago by the first French Chef Manou in Kiev (he also happened to originate from Normandy). He often served our diplomatic receptions and each time everyone was particularly smitten by his Moules Mariniere, so I had no choice, but to take a note of his recipe. Now that thousands of the wine steamed mussels recipes are surfing the internet in mass, you are in a privileged position to try, test and select your own favorite version. And, hey, they are very easy to prepare – with all the right ingredients you are basically 30 minutes away from that bowl of goodness.
I had them with these crispy-crunchy rainbow roasted fries, for which I used a regular potato, sweet potato and purple yam (procured in Chinese grocery). These three ‘potatoes’ worked really well together balancing the regular potato crunch with the sweetness of sweet potatoes and balmy  delicate tuber yams, making a healthier match to the plump steamed mussels. Feel free, however, to use any other root vegetable of your choice (carrots, celery root, turnips and parsley are great too).
Here are some killer apps to speed up the healthier roasting fries method while still having a restaurant-style results: (1) parboil the fries before roasting for exactly two minutes uncovered; (2) drain, toss with oil (duck fat you’ve saved from the roasted duck would be a great savory alternative), garlic and herbs of your choice (rosemary always marries great to fries, but so does thyme or tarragon, fresh or dried).
Try to align the cooking process of both (for that you’ll have to begin with fries and proceed with mussels once the fries are in the oven) to have this outstanding meal, which is definitely romantic under any and all circumstances. Don’t forget some crusty baguette to sop that fragrant broth. Enjoy, or should I say with the French sign-song lilt Julia Child was trying to imitate for years, Bon appétit?
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CHEF MANOU’S MOULES MARINIERE
Yields: 2 generous portions
Ingredients:
1 pack of mussels (2 lbs or 910 g), cleaned under the cold running water
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped finely, OR 1 cup of chopped shallots (5-7 shallots)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Small pinch of chili flakes (optional)
1 bouquet garni (small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, 3-4 branches of fresh thyme and 2-3 bay leaves)
1 ½ cup dry white wine
3-4 branches of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
3-4 green onion branches, chopped
1 ½ cup 10% cream or milk (if milk intolerant, substitute with clam juice)
Instructions:
Clean the mussels under the cold running water removing the beard-strings or barnacles you might find on some with your fingers or paring knife.  Press the shells of any open mussels with your fingers: discard them if they don’t close.
Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven (enough to take all the mussels: the pot has to be half-full) over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute until fragrant and onions are translucent. Add bouquet garni and half of white wine. Bring to boil on a high heat and add mussels. Close the pot tightly with the lid and cook for 4 minutes, shaking the pot 3-4 times. Open the lid and add the rest of wine, cream and chopped parsley and scallions. Close the lid back and steam mussels for another minute shaking the pot to help the juices and steam distribute evenly. Remove the pot from heat. Discard bouquet garni.
Divide the mussels into two big (preferably warmed) bowls. Ladle the broth over the shells.  Serve immediately with fries (check the tips on great home-made fries and try the Three Root Fries below for a change and uplifted taste) and, of course, crusty bread to sop up that magical broth. Don’t forget to place some empty bowls for shells and some finger bowls with lemon skin water along to indulge in the dish ‘comme il faut’.  Enjoy!
PS: Discard unopened mussels if any.
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ROASTED RAINBOW HERB & GARLIC FRIES
Yields: 2 portions
Ingredients:
1 big potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big sweet potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big purple yam (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
3-4 tbsp duck fat or high heat cooking oil
1 tbsp rosemary, dried
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Cover the fries with cold water in a medium pan. Bring to boil on a high heat and boil for exactly two minutes not covered with lid. Drain the water and toss the fries carefully with fat or oil, garlic and rosemary.  Spread in a single layer into the foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven, flip the fries carefully with spatula and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until crispy and browned (preferably, flipping fries one more time in between to make sure they will not be glued to the foil because of their sugar content).  Season fries with salt and pepper. Serve hot with garlicky aioli sauce on a side for dipping.

10 Ways to Enjoy Poutine with One Big Campfire Special

Honestly, I wish we had the weather like today back on Tuesday, June 24th, so our Saint Jean Baptiste celebration wouldn’t got screwed. It was nerve-wrecking watching all that rain pouring cats and dogs on those masterfully constructed bonfire-to-be structures that finally never took off – a real bummer… A comforting traditional supper was the only way to save the holiday. Fortunately, in the food-haven city of Montreal there’s always plenty to choose from to celebrate. We opted for a home-made good old Poutine among others, one of the great French Canadian creations that put Canada on the world’s culinary map.  A mountain of freshly cooked French fries smothered in gravy and cheese, which you can top with unlimited number of your own favorites, from Italian sausage, to magret de canard, to umami anchovies to make that simply irresistible caloric bomb and save the day…
Poutine is a true culinary oxymoron: a greasy, salty, heavenly-tasting convict of the premeditated gluttony, it is a real fast food junk on one side – but a valuable haute cuisine material on the other. Take the glorious creations of Poutine Foie Gras by Chef Martin Picard or Lobster Poutine by Chef Chuck Hughes, for example: each made an instant hit at their restaurants, respectively, long time ago each doesn’t seem to slide off the menu any time soon.  Since the time of its inception in the 50s, Poutine has been a subject of a lot of grotesque stories and anecdotes that don’t seem to end, but all that jazz only reinforces its popularity.
Everybody likes crispy fries and squeaky curd cheese. Almost everybody likes gravy. Combined together in Poutine, they make a one huge memorable feast you won’t forget soon.  My recently discovered trick was to use other kind of cheese in the absence of the curd cheese that is not always available. Guess what, apart from the missing squeakiness the dish works quite well with simple Mozzarella or Cheddar, or even Feta, and, especially well, with savory cheeses like Gouda or Gruyere. Of course if you are by-the-book rigid with recipes chef, I suggest you stick to the curd cheese and disregard this post completely.
Another affordable adjustment is using the store-bought Poutine gravy, or make it from the store-bought organic beef stock (in the absence of one) by adding some flour (or corn meal in gluten free cases), Worcester sauce, butter.
 For the camping purposes, feel free to use the non-perishable cubed or powdered beef stock.
 As you can see from the images, making fries at home and turning them into Poutine is a no brainer. One big killer app for successful and faster cooked pan-fried or roasted potatoes I’ve been using for years: boiling potatoes in the water for exactly 4 minutes uncovered (for the rustic chunks), 3 minutes for French cuts, 2 minutes for shoestrings; draining them and shaking carefully with canola or sunflower oil before pan-frying or roasting. Always delivers the best results! Another good tip: always use baking potatoes, such as Idaho or Yukon for fries or roasted potatoes; they are the highest in starch and therefore deliver the best results for the crispy on top, light and fluffy inside fries.
OK, this little fresh oregano leaf might be the only healthy thing on the plate, but Poutine takes no prisoners: there won’t be a drop left within a few minutes. And here is a fun fact: no matter how full of salt and fat Poutine is, Monsieur Putin is still much more dangerous.
There are many ways to enjoy Poutine at home or elsewhere in Montreal or Quebec in general.
Image via Wikimedia
 Here are my 10 WAYS TO ENJOY POUTINE in Montreal, or Quebec in general.
1. Go to one of the Poutine specialized placesserving the authentic Poutine, like La Banquise, Poutineville, Smoke’s Poutinerie in Montreal or Chez Ashton in Quebec City.
2. Upscale yourself to one of those haute Poutine places like Au Pied de Cochon or Garde Manger.

3. Go North for the world’s best poutine experience at  the hidden gem, little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, where they top their poutine with the mountain of their own produced squeaky cheese and lace it with variety of savory gravies at Fromagerie Perron poutine buffet.

4. If in a hurry and/or on a strict budget, try no frills places like La Belle Province, Valentine or similar local fast-food corners for a soggy to my taste, but an acceptable alternative.When desperate, pressed with time or transport constraints, try the convenience store (depanneur), McDonald or Burger King variety for an ersatz of Poutine.
5. Buy some ready-made French fries, curd cheese and gravy and assemble the dish yourself at home for a quick TV dinner. 
6. DIY your own Poutine at home from scratch(see the above paragraphs).
7. In winter or fall (and for weird people like me), enjoy the Poutine served in the movie theater in the comfort of the darkness, big screen and loud noises. Don’t take me wrong though, I would never have it offered in a blind restaurant for the fear of any organic extra added to the dish (roaches, rodents, spit, etc.) no matter how attractive the idea of enhancing your senses in the dark is.
8. My summertime favorite: hit the road and explore the casse-croûtes spots in Quebec countryside, the real place of Poutine origin. 
Go North, South or East of Montreal during summer and stop here and there at the tiny casse-croûtes along the road while enjoying the breathtaking landscapes, farms, and nature. For me it’s like time traveling to a long forgotten past and going to the places that were just called a ‘Bar’ or a ‘Restaurant’, like these ones, so locals or hungry travelers can navigate themselves in with ease.
French workers having casse-croûte lunch via Wikimedia

In case you don’t know what the casse-croûtes is, the word itself in French literally means breaking the crust or (in some dictionaries) a crust-cracker tool used to crush the crust of bread for (here goes an interesting trivia) the old people who would have lost their teeth. Eventually, around the end of the 18th century, the casse-croûte began to signify a quick lunch the workers or travelers had and generally started to represent a simple meal or a sandwich. In Quebec, this French term got used to signify the fast food places around 50-s and coincided with the Poutine creation.

9. Enjoy the Poutine take out from one of the above places in the great outdoors, like on a picnic in the park, fishing or biking trip. 
10. Finally, my all-time favorite – the CAMPSITE POUTINE! What a wonderful experience – nobody can pass on it. After a long day of hiking in a murky deep forest, there is nothing better than sitting around the fire telling stories and making Poutine with friends.
Once you heat those charcoals and put the frying pan on with a bunch of sizzling potatoes, the whole process becomes a life of a party. The wood coal fire infuses the fries with that one of a kind smokiness you can especially appreciate in the fresh and cool forest air. Use the store-bought frozen fries or the above described technique for making fries from scratch.  
Nothing is left in the bowls no matter how hard you try to leave some – the ooey-gooey camping Poutine will conquer your heart fast and easy. For some reason it never gives me the heartburn either, even the one made with store-bought fries and canned gravy (non-perishables are always better for the camping trips). And did I mention to you that it’s gluten free? Awesome…
Wow, that’s a longest post I’ve written so far – thank you for your patience and I hope you will find some of the above useful and practical.
Lots of sunshine and happy long week-end celebration, cooking, hiking, fishing and paddling to all the lucky campers and others!
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One year ago: La Vie En Rose Moment;
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CAMPSITE POUTINE (which you can also make at home)
For 2 people (for more, increase the amount accordingly)
Ingredients:
2 big Idaho or Yukon potatoes cut in rustic chunks, parboiled, or store-bought frozen
½ cup (3.5 oz or 100g) curd (or other cubed) cheese
2 tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Pinch of dried rosemary
For Gravy: use the store bought canned Poutine Gravy, or DIY (follows)
1 cup organic beef stock (or re-constituted beef stock from powder for the fast version)
1 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tbsp flour (or corn meal for gluten free version)
1 tsp Worcester sauce
Instructions:
Parboil the potatoes for 4 minutes uncovered (skip this step if using frozen potatoes). Drain the potatoes, add 2 tablespoons of oil, pinch of dried rosemary and give it a gentle shake to cover the potatoes with oil evenly.
While potatoes are boiling, prepare the gravy by mixing butter and flour (or corn meal) in a hot saucepan and whisking in the stock and Worcester sauce 2 minutes on a low-heat until it thickens.
Keep hot.
Prepare the grill for a high heat or the skillet for the stove high heat.
Prepare the curd or other cheese and set aside.
Heat oil in a large cast iron camping skillet set directly on grate. Add potatoes. Cook turning carefully until browned, for about 7-10 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet from the grill/stove and distribute the potatoes in two plates. Top with cheese and cover with the hot gravy. Serve immediately with or without your favorite topping.

Go Wild and Try Some Violets

Today is special: my best college friend happens to have her anniversary. We never collected violets together, but we did have some crazy-wild, beautiful times that I will never forget. Happy Birthday, dear Ira! Here’s to our friendship: make a dive back into the 90s with this good old school gem from our past. You’re probably too busy now to do anything with violets, but I hope one day you will return from wherever in the world you are now celebrating, and check your e-mail, and find this message, and will be set adrift on memory bliss like me today. And then, eventually, maybe you will even try some of my recipes. Cheers!
My other best friend from Toronto will have her birthday around Victoria’s Day and what can be more Victorian than violets on that day? Happy upcoming B-Day to you, my friend AB, I love you dearly and think about you very often! Another Cheers!  
Back to our food business. Blissfully, our (not chemically treated) lawn is currently invaded by wild violets this spring which I’ve been previously collecting for flower arrangements, but this year I put my hands on developing recipes with them. I always knew that wild violets are highly medicinal: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, high in vitamin C and A, great to relief coughs and sore throats. Never before though I tried them on my palate, but following the Nordic cuisine focus on the native produce, and René Redzepi’s inspiration credo that ‘there’s no conflict between better meal and better world’ I decided to go foraging  and experiment with this new ingredient.  It took no time to figure out that freshly picked edible wild violets (please make sure you are dealing with wild violets, not the decorative ones) are mostly used to garnish dishes, but the vinegar based on them can be applied to an array of foods. I’ve made some research and here are the dishes I came up with using violets and/or violet vinegar:  Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup for a hot day; Green Pistachio Violet Salad for a light healthy lunch; Bacon Asparagus with Violet Vinegar Reduction Appetizer for a decadent treat and, finally, Violet Dressed Cupcakes for celebrations. I’ll begin with the violet infused vinegar.
Violet Infused Vinegar:
I used rice vinegar, but you can use any kind of basic vinegar as a base, depending what kind of result you’re looking for – delicate (based on a rice, apple cider or champagne vinegar) or more acidic (white, red or white wine vinegar). Collect violets from clean and pesticide-free areas, preferably where cats or dogs do not make their breaks. Fill the glass bottle/jar about half full of violets and pour vinegar of your choice over them to fill up. Use a non-metallic cork to close and let the vinegar sit for a week in a cool dark place. It will become between a pink and magenta color hues depending on the flowers-stems ratio and the hue of the violets. Strain the vinegar and store for a year or longer in a glass container. You can use only flowers for a darker color, or flowers with stems for a lighter one. Here are the steps:

Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup inspired by classic Spanish Cucumber Almond Gazpacho and a lovely Spanish girl (Hola, Ana!). When freshly picked, the violets faintly smell like a cucumber or a grape candy, so I had the idea to use them along with violet vinegar in a cold gazpacho-style soup with almonds, grapes and cucumbers. An absolute must try on a hot spring-summer day, with or without the violet garnish. Killer app: add some red grapes to the soup mix to enhance the color-coordinated violet look.

Green Pistachio Violet Salad inspired by Watercress Pistachio and Orange-Blossom Salad by Chef Yotam Otolenghi: 
I replaced the watercress with spring mix, skipped the herbs and swapped the lemon juice for the mix of the violet vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon of rose water in otherwise similar dressing, and of course, added some fresh violets. Light, slightly flowery, pistachio crunchy and well-balanced dish to go with toasted bread or the next dish (bacon!).

Inspired by Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt by Chef Redzepi:

Most of us have experienced the power of pork and vinegar combination in cooking or marinating. Most of us also love bacon (and some are ready to kill for it). Inspired by Chef René Redzepi’s recipe of Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt from his cookbook NOMA, I cooked the bacon, made a reduction of bacon cooking juice (½ cup) with a mix of apple cider (1 tbsp), violet (1 tsp) and balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and laced the mix of crisp bacon and crunchy steamed asparagus with it. To die for: 
Inspired by Poulet let au Vinaigre de Vin (Chicken With Wine Vinegar) by Chef Bocuse:
The low-acid violet flavoured vinegar suggested a take on a classic French country dish, which celebrity Chef Paul Bocuse is famous for. I baked it instead of pan frying and replaced tomatoes with scallions for a spring touch. And, of course, I garnished it with some fresh violets – stunner of a great tasty dish! 
Finally, edible violet flowers make glamorous dessert topping on the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, parfait, yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, salted caramel, you name it, as well as the violet essence that can give totally different taste. Check how to make candied violets to use in desserts here. 

I had a wonderful time experimenting with violets and I do hope you will try some of them or that some of them will be an inspiration to you.

Enjoy!
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CUCUMBER ALMOND VIOLET GAZPACHO
Yields: 2 servings
Ingredients:
200 g blanched almonds
200 g white bread, crust removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cucumber
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp violet vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
10 ice cubes
Salt & pepper
Garnish:
100 g white grapes
50 g blanched almonds
few slivered slices of cucumber
5 fresh violet flowers (optional)
Instructions:
Mix garlic, bread, almonds, cucumber, ice cubes, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Start adding olive oil gradually to reach the right consistency. Taste for the seasoning, ad a bit of extra salt. Put in a fridge for a few hours. Wash the grapes and cut them and almonds in half. Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Garnish the soup with grapes, almonds, strips of cucumber and fresh violets right before serving.
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CHICKEN IN APPLE CIDER AND VIOLET VINEGAR
Yields: 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1.5 to 1.8 kg chicken parts (preferably free-range)
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup violet vinegar (or champagne, or rice vinegar)
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
20 fresh violet flowers for garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, rub salt and pepper in and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels, rub with olive oil. Place (do not crowd) the chicken in a deep baking pan (2-3 inches) greased with 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down and cook in the oven uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Turn once for another 10 minutes to brown the chicken on all sides.  Add garlic, return to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Gradually add vinegar mix and scallions and return to the oven uncovered for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F, cover with aluminum foil and finish roasting in the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and to your taste. Remove the chicken and transfer to warmed platter. Collect the cooking juices, bring them to boil and simmer in a small saucepan to reduce by 1/3. Add remaining butter and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper and parsley. Pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh violets (if available). Serve with roasted or steamed veggies of your choice, a green salad and crusty bread.