Category Archives: spices

Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder with Pan Roasted Sweet Potatoes


Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder with Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

What we have in our house of cards for the main today is a new kid on the block: braised goat shoulder. Please don’t run away, it’s actually better than anything you can imagine braised in red wine, especially if you buy it fresh from the farm where they treat their goats with love and respect. Once you try it, you will know why the goat meat is the most widely consumed around the globe. Heavenly tasty! Paired with roasted sweet potatoes spiked with caraway seeds on a side it’s a pure delight. FYI, this recipe also works very well with goat/lamb shanks as well as the goat/lamb leg or shoulder. PS: this post is also written to encourage you to leave the metropolis from time to time to enjoy the incredible farm scenery in Quebec.

View of Montreal City Downtown from the Farm Road. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm, Quebec. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Contrary to the widely popular goat cheese, goat meat is not exactly a food staple in North America. For those of you who never tried the goat before and believe that it can be a challenging experience, here is an advice about eating some exotic foods for the first time from Jay Rayner,  The Man Who Ate The World: ‘…(Chef) Marcus made a very good point in last night’s show: that the odd is only odd the first time you eat it. After that it just becomes dinner. How right he is. A similar point could be made about the use of the word “exotic” when attached to certain food stuffs. What may be exotic to us, is part of the staple diet to others. For example, both Jody and Tony cooked with goat, which happens to be the most commonly consumed red meat in the world. It’s just not the U.S. and Europe that’s doing all the consuming. Goats are sturdy animals which can survive in arid conditions and that’s why they are so popular in Africa and the Middle East. Jody might not have much call for it in her corner of New England, but that doesn’t make it particularly outré. The same is true of black chickens, monkfish livers, and the rest.’

Goat accounts for 70+% of all red meat consumed world-wide. That said goat meat considered to be highly exotic in North America. However, as much as goat is not in the mainstream of our diets, things are gradually changing as the goat raising segment of industry is becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the livestock production in the US and Canada. People, especially those supporting wholly integrated farms and humanely raised food production, recognize the benefits of goat farming. 

Goat meat is not just about its unique taste quality, check this comparative table of meats and you will quickly notice that goat (chevon) is much lower in calories, minimal in fat and strikingly low in saturated fat while higher in protein than beef or lamb.

There are many other advantages of procuring goat meat: when you buy the locally produced goat meat (which didn’t take off yet in the big groceries) you know exactly where this meat came from (outdoor-bred, pasture-fed and organic), you don’t have to doubt its quality or identity; you support local producers and farming.The freshness and quality of meat factor in hugely in the final result of the dish.

This brings us straight to the Chevriere de Monnoir goat farm and its boutique we came to stock on cheeses to a few weeks ago.  This time I also noticed the new boutique had an amazing assortment of fresh meat cuts, immense variety of sausages, pattys, saucisson, tornedos, rolls, etc. – all made of goat meat from the farm. Seeing all this goodness, I felt like a pirate of Caribbean! 

Boutique at Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm, Quebec. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
New ingredient (with the short list of exceptions including some offal and fugu) puts me in a special excited spirit of adventure – I become fearless and energetic driven by the ambition to come up with the great new dish…

Fresh Goat Curd Cheese from Chevriere de Monnoir Farm, QC. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Don’t expect to just get away with $10.00 – there are so many choices, you can get lost. Their goat milk is pristine and their cheeses are to die for! The daily fresh curd cheese is my absolute favorite (the bag usually never reaches our house – I empty the whole bag while driving) and feta cheese is hard to beat.

1191 Rang de l’Église, Marieville, QC J3M 1N9
Tel: (450) 460-2221
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 10:00 to 18:00; Sun. 11:00 to 17:00

A short trip to this farm is also a nice opportunity to dive into the spring countryside and then may be continue down the Circuit du Paysan and explore the breath-taking lanscape with its vast sky,
beautiful little villages, churches, farms, vineyards and orchards.

Quebec Countryside. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Because it is very low in fat, the goat meat requires a slow cooking with some additional fat: I used bacon strips. The bacon adds a nice touch of smokiness and brings richness and the crunchy indulgence to this slow-cooked dish that along with herbs and spices lift it far beyond a mere meat roast. I also layered the botton of the pan with carrots to place the meat over to prevent burning: you can choose to eat them or discard after. The taste of meat is rich, mineral and distinctly sweet (perhaps because of the way goats graze: unlike the sheep goats never eat roots of the grass).

Step by Step Braised Goat Shoulder Preparation. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

If you have time, marinating the meat overnight (rub it with ¼ cup of olive oil, mixed with three cloves of crushed garlic, 1-2 tablespoon of dried thyme, coarse sea salt and pepper) would be a good idea – the meat will turn out to be more tender and juicier. Although this recipe calls for the red wine, feel free to opt for half a bottle of beer, ½ cup of brandy or 2 cups of dry apple cider. I garnish the cooked meat with minced crisp bacon I used to cover the meat, fresh lemon zest and minced parsley for an extra punch of the flavor – worked well, adding notes of crisp, smoke, tang and freshness.  

Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

The pan-roasted sweet potatoes with caraway seeds perfectly complements the dish and is fast and easy to make.

Pan Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Caraway Seeds. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

If you happen to have the leftovers, just warm up the meat in the skillet along with some other root veggies cooked in the braised sauce – mouthwatering!

Goat Shoulder with Roasted Root Vegetables. Photo © www.letsheatit.com


Here’s my other secret agenda about the goat: it might be that secret dream worker I’ve been looking for years to take over our tractor-cutting-the-grass summer labour (we have a big land – cutting the grass is a bummer). If they do it in France and California, we can do that too, right? Imagine how much time it would save, not to mention the eco-benefits!

Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm Trademark. Photo © www.letsheatit.com

Carefully, I approach the issue with the farm owner, Marie-France Marchand: ‘Have you ever thought about renting one of your goats for summer?’ She grins and just nods and nods. ‘One day may be,’she chimes in as she catches my eye. This gives me hope. I love her goats. And her products. We will be back.

Interview with Marie-France Marchand at Chevriere de Monnoir Goat Farm. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Red Wine Braised Goat Shoulder. Photo © www.letsheatit.com
Happy Braising!
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One Year Ago: 
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RED WINE BRAISED GOAT SHOULDER
Yields: 4-6 portions
Ingredients:
2-3 pounds goat shoulder (to marinate rub it with 3 crushed garlic cloves, 1-2 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon olive oil, coarse sea salt and pepper)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup dry red wine
1-2 onions
5 medium carrots: 3 cut in half lengthwise, 2 chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, chopped (optional)
1 garlic head, halved
3-4 stripes of bacon
2 spring rosemary
2 bay leaves
5-8 Kalamata olives (optional)
2-3 cups chicken/beef broth or water
Salt & pepper
Instructions:
Marinate the goat shoulder from a few hours to overnight with garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line the Dutch oven with the carrots halved lengthwise. Heat the oil in the skillet to the medium high. Brown the meat on all sides. Deglaze with half of the wine. Place the meat on top of the carrots in the Dutch oven.
Add onions, garlic, celery, leek and the rest of carrots to the skillet. Add the rest of wine and stir to deglaze. Salt, pepper and transfer to the Dutch oven and distribute around the goat meat.
Cover the meat with bacon stripes and fix them with the toothpicks. Top with rosemary springs and bay leaf. Add olives, if using. Add the stock. Cover and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325F and continue baking for an hour and a half to two hours until the meat is tender. Remove from the oven, open the cover and let the meat rest for 10 minutes for the juices to set before slicing. Serve with the side of pan roasted sweet potatoes.
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SPEEDY PAN ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH CARAWAY SEEDS

Yields: 4 portions
Ingredients:
4 medium size sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons cooking oil, OR mix of cooking oil and clarified butter, OR coconut oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Sea salt
Instructions:
Peel potatoes and slice lenthwise. Cover potatoes with water in a saucepan, bring to boil and simmer for 3 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the skillet to medium-high, add oil and caraway seeds and roast them for 1 minute to release the flavor. Drain the potatoes and add them carefully to the hot frying pan with caraway seeds. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Increase the heat to high and roast potatoes for 7-10 minutes (depending on the skillet) until crisp on the outside and cooked through.

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.

In Juniper Spirit: Ham in Pastry Crust (Jambon en Croute) Recipe

“All right, all right, I’ll give you a break for now, but we’ll have a serious conversation in January,” I promised my protruding belly’s mirror reflection a week ago.  Christmas is about tradition and comfort food, so it’s OK to feel or look a little pudgy…  Soon I will have all the time needed to martyr myself with celery and quinoa salad and the ideas of how to “look great in a minivan,” I thought to myself later that day, buying a naughty chunk of a Christmas ham to cook for the family dinner…
And what a dinner it was!  Even our most ferocious calorie-count members admired it. Not only that centerpiece ham expressed and celebrated Quebec’s oldest Christmas tradition, it tasted better, than ever and not just because of the wine was on a table. One secret ingredient made that magic. It was neither the ham itself, nor a crust, but a little crushed juniper berry I added to the mustard rub in between.  It infused the ham and crust with the touch of piney Christmas spirit and balanced the flavors wonderfully.
Earlier in fall we had to cut some old juniper skyrockets in our yard and I foraged an impressive quantity of juniper berries. Not that I didn’t know anything about juniper berry as a spice: it turns vodka into gin, improves the fermentation process of sauerkraut, and makes a great concoction for a hot bath…

However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.

Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected.  I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.

What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.

I also researched extensively about the juniper berries and came up with this list of

What You Can Do with Juniper Berries in Your Kitchen:

  • Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
  • Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries 
  • Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
  • Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings 
  • Infuse salt or sugar
  • Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer 
  • Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
  • Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
  • Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
  • Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
  • Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.):  works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
  • Add to bird/meat stuffing 
  • Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
  •  Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
  • Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
  • Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.

Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).

Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.

Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.

Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.  

Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!

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Other Festive Recipes for Holidays:
Two years ago:  Crispy Cod Croquettes
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JUNIPER INFUSED HAM IN PASTRY CRUST (JAMBON EN CROUTE)
For Ham in Crust:
3 pounds (1.5 kg) smoked ham, boneless, fully cooked
1 bouquet garni with 6-8 juniper berries added
3 tbsp (45 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard grains, crushed
1 tbsp juniper berries (about 8-10 berries), freshly crushed
1 pound (450 g) puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tbsp (30 mL) water for brushing the dough
For Madeira Sauce Infused with Juniper Berries:
3 tbs (45 mL) unsalted butter
½ cup (125 mL) shallot, minced
½ cup (125 mL) Madeira or Port wine
1 cup (250 mL) brown veal or beef stock
¼ cup (60 mL) 35% cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 juniper berries for infusion
Instructions:
Cover smoked ham with cold water in a big pot, add bouquet garni and bring to boil. Simmer the smoked ham for an hour and half to two hours to remove some salt. Let cool.
Drain the liquid and pat dry the ham carefully. Mix the Dijon, crushed mustard and juniper seeds in a small bowl.  Rub the ham with mustard-juniper mixture all over.  
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Roll out the puff pastry into a sheet/s about ¾ in (1.5 cm) thick and transfer to the baking sheet. Place ham in the center of the dough sheet and wrap the ham with the dough completely. Add patches of dough when necessary to make sure all ham is well-covered for the juices not to drain out.
Mix the egg yolk with water and brush the pastry from all sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and puffed. Remove ham from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes for the juices to set before carving. Cut the ham with the knife long enough to cut the entire length of it. Serve with Madeira sauce, mashed potatoes, rice or fresh pasta.
Madeira Sauce with Juniper Berries:
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add chopped shallots and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add Madeira (or Port) and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add brown veal or beef stock. Add cream and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper.  Add 4-5 juniper berries for infusion and set aside covered for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce from juniper berries before serving.
Adapted from: « Le cochon à son meilleur » by Philippe Mollé, Les Éditions de l’Homme, March, 1996

Cajun Grill Summer Fiesta

If you ask me what I’ve been grilling lately, my answer would be: what haven’t I been grilling lately. From classic meat, poultry and fish to pizza to all kind of veggies, including bok choy, Swiss chard and scallions and now we’ve even upgraded ourselves to grilling the fruits too. Peaches, pears, apples, even grapes – everything flies into our BBQ for that juicy quick char and we can’t get enough of it. And what can be faster and more convenient way to decompress after a hard working day and traffic on a cool summer evening? Here are the images of our latest Cajun grill char summer fiesta dinner with the tips on how you can char grill restaurant quality chops, fruits and veggies.

Everything you see was seasoned with practically one home-made spice: Cajun Spice Mix. 
A friend from New Orleans passed us his killer Cajun spice recipe long time ago and I can’t stop appreciating it. Mixed with a bit of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and sometimes a dash of Jerk or Tabasco it makes a fantastic rub for the pork chops in an instant.  
These are our simple and easy apps for the Cajun spice and that restaurant quality char grill (polished with practice) blackening and the perfect diamond grill marks everybody’s looking for:
Cajun Spice Mix (see the recipe below) is not hard to make as long as you have all the right ingredients. The tips are:

  • Avoid using table salt (it makes the mix too salty and less flavorful) – use Kosher, Himalayan, Maldon, Fleur de Sel, sea salt, etc., but avoid the table salt by all means
  •  Try to use freshly ground black pepper when you can;
  •  Use garlic and onion granules instead of powder to prevent sticking and burning;
  •  Feel free to include or exclude any extra spices of your choice (in moderation) to find your ideal mix.

For the perfect grill marks and quality results with your pork chops (charred on the outside, tender and juice on the inside):

  • Always pat-dry the meat before seasoning, including before marinating or rubbing;
  • Allow the chops to sit for at least 10 minutes in the fridge upon rubbing and before grilling;
  • Heat the grill to high. Clean with brush and brush with oil;
  •  Place your chops on the grate on the high heat at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks (1 minute max);  
  • Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern (1 minute max). Repeat on the other side (another two minutes);
  • Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10 minutes (15 minutes max in total) away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain that juicy tender yet well done state;
  • Do not over-grill your chops (12-15 minutes max in total) or they will become tough.
  • And that’s it: congratulations, you have just made the criss-cross of a pro!

As for the veggies and fruits, just slice them in not less than ½ inch thick, sprinkle with Cajun Spice Mix and throw on the grill for 1 minute each side. Turn carefully as some (like watermelon) can be fragile.

Serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce (suggestions: Tkemali or the Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce below) and/or a quick mix of Salsa Verde with some extra lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped parsley. I also had a bit of currents from our garden, so I gave them a quick stir with a splash of white wine and a dash of maple syrup to make a quick dressing coulis. 

Amazing!  I hope you will find some tricks useful. Enjoy your grilling!

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CAJUN GRILLED PORK CHOPS, CORN, PINEAPPLE & MELON
For: Cajun Spice Mix
¼ cup quality salt
¼ cup paprika
¼ garlic granules or powder
¼ cup black pepper
2 tbsp onion granules or powder
2 tbsp dry oregano
2 tbsp dry thyme
1 tsp dry basil
½ tsp crushed bay leaves
½ tsp red chili flakes
Dash of ground coffee (optional)
Instructions:
Mix all ingredients together and store in the air tight container in a dry dark place for up to 6 months.
For Cajun Fiesta Grilled Pork Chops
  
Yields: 6 portions
¼ cup Cajun spice mix (see recipe above)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
6 medium size pork chops ½ to ¾ inch thick
Instructions:
Mix first three ingredients in a bowl and rub both sides of each chop. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before grilling. Preheat the grill to the high. Place the chops on direct heat for one minute to char at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks for one minute. Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern for another minute. Repeat on the other side. Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10-12 minutes away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain the juicy tender yet well done state. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes before serving on the heated plates.
For Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce
1 cup ketchup
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Yellow mustard
1 tsp Spicy Dijon or Hot Creole mustard
¼ cup molasses
2 tbsp red vinegar (optional)
6 dashes Tabasco sauce or 4 Habanero sauce or 4 Jerk
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion or shallot finely chopped
1 tsp Cajun Spice Mix (above)
Instructions:
Mix all the ingredients in the saucepan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.

Eccles Cakes: Three Fillings


As other places in the world are springing forward, Montreal is actually wintering back with snowstorms and minus 25 C in the air (I can’t believe that two years ago people were already sitting on terraces with a beer, sleeveless, in the same city). As usually, snow is calling for some nurturing foods. Here is something to rave about on a cold March night: Eccles cakes with three different fillings – one is English authentic, one Canadian berry twist, and one which is called ‘place the order’.
The famous North of England sweet delicacy is made of puff pastry filled with mix of dried currants mixed with candied peel, butter, sugar and mixed spice.  Sometimes the currants are replaced by raisin, otherwise we are out of luck for variety. Well, I decided to extend the fillings selection…
The ancestor of Eccles dessert though was quite different from today’s or mine versions of cakes offering a lurid tale of Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe that called for a boiled calf foot as a major filling ingredient…and was called ‘sweet patties’…   
Not that I was looking for such an exotic extreme, but I only had dried black currants enough for the first batch of filling, so I decided to make a second filling with dried Saskatoon berries (which were sitting in my pantry for a while screaming to be used), crushed walnuts and candied citrus peel, turning them into a Canadian berry twist on Eccles cakes. 
And when my daughter popped in asking for her favorite raspberries, I couldn’t but make a third filling with frozen raspberries mixed with raspberry jam and candied citrus peel. All of them made a huge hit! If you have some other berries in mind (blueberries, cranberries, etc.) you can totally piece them together with the same filling base (see candied citrus peel + butter syrup mix in the recipe) and I almost guarantee a satisfactory result.
Puff pastry is used to wrap the Eccles cakes filling in and I suggest you use a frozen ready-made one unless you are a pastry chef or are skillful enough to whirl your own in a wink (which I doubt). I used  three packs of pastry (one pack per each filling), which delivered around 56 cakes. As for the fillings, make sure they sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to let the juices mellow.

By the time the first bunch of Eccles cakes was piping hot and the tea was steeping, the blizzard increased and the temperature was dropping down fast. Suddenly, a family of gorgeous blue jays flew over to the bird-feeder right outside my window (perhaps to wow me on the cakes)… I was happy I had camera in my hands as I managed to take few of these cool blue jay shots:   

Whatever the weather, once you are close to a plate of these babies still warm from the oven three feelings will be revealed: JOY, HAPPINESS, LOVE. Try them to make them in summer with some fresh berries from your garden: complete awesomeness!

Enjoy your baking!

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ECCLES CAKES: THREE FILLINGS

Ingredients for classic Eccles Cakes with Currants:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (375 ml) fresh, frozen or dried currants
1/3 (75 ml) cup soft brown sugar
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) ground allspice
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan, add sugar, currants, mixed peel, nutmeg, all spice, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.
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Ingredients for Eccles Cakes with Canadian Saskatoons & Walnuts:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup (225 ml) dried saskatoons (prarie berries)
½ cup (50g) walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp (15 ml) soft brown sugar
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) ground allspice
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add sugar, saskatoons, walnuts, mixed peel, nutmeg, all spice, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.
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Ingredients for Eccles Cakes with Raspberry & Pecan Nuts:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup (225 ml) frozen raspberries, crushed
½ cup (50g) pecan nuts, chopped
2 tbsp (15 ml) soft brown sugar
1 tbsp raspberry jam
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add sugar, jam, raspberries, pecan nuts, mixed peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.