Category Archives: game

Hemingway Champagne & Cuban Rabbit Fricassee Recipe

With the whooping record of 3 million tourists this year and a hope for the end of the US embargo of 50 years, Cubans have something special to celebrate this New Year’s Eve. And while my festive rabbit stew (no need to advertise this light and savory Caribbean dish) is piping in the oven, I decided to drop a line to reflect on our most recent travel to Havana last summer and, particularly, the drink called Hemingway Champagne.


‘I drink to make other people more interesting,’ says the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway. That’s quite an understatement from the celebrated writer known for his way around the women, best bars and drinks from Paris to Madrid, from Key West to Havana. A well-known fact: drinks, bars and people in them helped Hemingway to create his characters and add the depth and thrill to his prose. In a letter to poet MacLeish he explained that: ‘It’s good for us both to lay off the old liquor too; but by God it’s dull work doing it. I’d like to hunt and fish the rest of my life and be just drunk enough to sleep well every night… But instead I’ve got to write, and boil the liquor out to be able to write my best, and get my sensitivity back to be able to write where (I) have sort of burned it away in war. Hell of a job.’

I’m a big fan of Hemingway’s works, so when we went to Havana last summer my first move was to go in the footsteps of ‘Papa’.  Obviously, I’m talking about the historical bars with character, where Hemingway used to spend his afternoons to kick start his muse during those good 20 years of his Cuban residence. Let’s put some Buena Vista Club on and go for a little Havana Vieja journey.

We hit the streets of Havana on one excruciatingly hot summer day to see what’s up with Hemingway’s Caribbean drinking memorabilia in the old city.  The first stop was at recently re-opened Sloppy Joe’s seafood and cocktail bar featured in the movie Our Man in Havana, which reopened its doors in 2013 after being closed for 48 years. Hemingway used to hang out there with many other celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Nat King Cole, Ted Williams, Errol Flynn and Gary Cooper. Back in the 50s the bar was also a prototype of the not less famous Sloppy Joe’s in the Key West I featured in this post.

We stepped into the freshly painted sleek bar décor and ordered Cuban pork sandwiches with sweet potato fries and ‘Cuba Libre’ cocktail they offered to go with the sandwich (from ‘To Have and Have Not’).  I loved the freshly re-constructed Art Deco Miami-style flair about the area, the cleanness inside out and the fast service. Don’t forget, this place was a complete ruin for 48 years, so one should not under-estimate the effort of the Cuban government and of course the Cuban expats to reconstitute the place. Hopefully, one day it will completely return to its glory – it definitely has now a potential for that.    

Corner of Zulueta (252) e/Animas and Virtudes, Old Havana, Cuba

Armed with the few heavy calories we headed to find the El Floridita, almost two hundred years old fish and cocktail bar at the corner of Obispo and Monserrate streets, where Hemingway used to team up with the famous Cuban bartender Constante Ribailagua to create his Papa Doble Daiquiri and other signature drinks. 

After few minutes walk through the Park Central which felt like a century due to the heat and the crowds of hookers of all ages and persuasion chasing us (surprisingly, not to offer their services, but just to ask for a soap or a tooth brush: sadly, YES, that’s how desperate is current Cuban’s economy nowadays), we managed to find the El Floridita bar. 

The frozen daiquiri tasted good and refreshing indeed, although it was three times more expensive than at any other bar in Cuba (you’ve gotta pay premium for the name and I have no problem with that). The life size bronze statue of Hemingway was leaning over the bar to remind that it used to be his haunt. However, the place didn’t feel like IT and was too crowded with tourists to feel comfortable.
ADDRESS: El Floridita
Corner of Obispo (esq. 557) and Monserrate Streets
Hours: 11 AM till midnight 

Hemingway’s Photo via Wiki

Next: ‘My mojito in La Bodegita, my daiquiri in El Floridita’, and so we followed Hemingway’s tip to try the best Mojito in Havana at La Bodeguita del Medio. When we reached the place, it was packed with locals, tourists, artists and musicians all drenching in sweat (forget the conditioner – it’s too much of a luxury in most places in Havana). We had to literally elbow-fight to get through to the counter to have a speedy Mojito, which didn’t much differ from any other Mojito you pay eight-plus pesos in the rest of Habana Vieja.  The spirit of Papa was nowhere felt.  I must admit though, the place did have character with all the musicians, graffiti and surroundings (playing kids, puddles of urine, etc.) as opposed to two previous bars. Oddly enough though, it was so far my least favorite. 
ADDRESS: La Bodeguita del Medio
206 Calle Empedrado 206 (between Cuba and San Ignacio Streets), Old Havana, Cuba
Hours: Noon till midnight

Our final stop of the day was Hotel Ambos Mundos at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes, where Hemingway spent seven years of his life in the 30ies. I was excited to see his room on the upper 5th floor, his typewriter and the views of the Old Havana and the harbor sea that inspired him daily. 

It was a bummer to see the sign ‘Hemingway’s room is closed for visitors’ next to the old elevators, of which the guards were very protective of. I was beginning to feel that the ‘lost generation’ term was actually quite literate. Hopeless to find any leftover of the spirit of Hemingway, we went through the hall with the walls covered with fading cheerless images of the writer and his life in Cuba. 

The uniform-dressed woman at the lobby desk had a major presence signifying that if we would like to find some trace of Hemingway, we’d rather go back home and read a book about him. We retreated to the empty bar in the lobby and just sat there with the gloom of disappointed kids waiting for the bartender to come… 

Catching our pointless glare, the bartender asked if we would like to try some Hemingway Champagne. We agreed. In a gesture of encouragement, he procured a bottle of absinthe from under the counter and poured some of it in the flutes. He then topped them with the iced champagne and handed us the milky mix right away. Our disappointment evanesced the minute we took a sip of that drink. ‘OMG, this is where he is,’ I realized suddenly – ‘HE IS the DRINK in this sweaty, ruined, wonderful Havana!’  
ADDRESS: Ambos Mundos Hotel /Bar

153 Calle Obispo, Old Havana, Cuba

And this is how we scored our ‘in the footsteps of Hemingway’s cocktails game’ that day. I must say it was a tough mix of alcohols. ‘You can’t handle it, little mama,’ was the last thought in my head (with the voice of Ron Burgundy (aka Will Ferrel) before I passed out in the hotel room that afternoon. Clearly, the ‘Death in the Afternoon’ (alternative name of this drink) is an acquired-taste type of the cocktail, at least in my case.  Ernest Hemingway created this drink further to his non-fiction ‘Death in the Afternoon’ about Spanish bullfighting and it was later published in the 1935 collection of celebrity cocktail recipes. His instructions were: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” If you feel like trying it, I suggest you go for the legal absinthe alternative for this drink, Pernod, in the same proportion.

Tonight we’re going to drink simple but elegant Crémant d’Alsace. There will be no Hemingway Champagne. So why was I telling you all that? Definitely, not to encourage you drinking. Because it’s the New Year’s Eve, many are going to the most popular Caribbean destination; and it’s time to have fun, reflect on 2014 and celebrate the miraculous.  There will be an upscale Cuban dish on our table though: a wonderful one-pot rabbit fricassee full of Creole flavors and sunshine.  

Lean, healthy, light, highly aromatic: it makes you feel like dancing all night long – no wonder Cubans have the historic affinity for the rabbit dishes (from Batista to Castro). 
Note for Paleo and Gluten Free people: skip dusting the rabbit in flour and proceed with browning without it.

Happy New Year Everyone – Peace on Earth!

***

CUBAN STYLE RABBIT FRICASSEE

Yields : 6 servings
Ingredients :
1 (about 3 lbs) rabbit, cleaned and cut into pieces
3-4 tbsp flour
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp curry powder
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee
2-3 tbsp olive oil
6-8 strips of bacon cut in cubes
1 tbsp paprika
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
¼ tsp saffron powder (optional)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 ½ cups chicken stock or water
1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup raisins
¼ cup green pitted olives, whole or chopped
1 can (10 oz) green peas, drained
Salt and black pepper to taste
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Season the rabbit pieces generously with salt and pepper. Mix the flour with thyme and curry powder and cover the rabbit pieces with it (use the Ziploc bag if necessary to evenly distribute the flour mix). Heat the butter and olive oil in the deep skillet to medium high, place the rabbit pieces and brown on all sides for about 6-7 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to the Dutch oven.
Add the bacon to the skillet and brown on medium high for a few minutes. Distribute bacon pieces over the rabbit. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bring the skillet to the high heat. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, saffron and cumin to the skillet for 2-3 minutes mixing vigorously. Add diced tomatoes and wine, mix well. Add the onion-tomatoes mixture to the rabbit-bacon mix. Drizzle with lemon juice. Add bay leaf.  Pour the hot chicken stock or water over the rabbit and bring to boil.
Cover the casserole with foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 350F and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
In the meantime, cover the potatoes with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer for 3 minutes and drain the water. Set aside.
Remove the casserole from the oven, check the seasoning. Add parboiled potatoes, capers, raisins and olives. Cover with foil and return the casserole to the oven and cook for another 30 minutes.
Check the rabbit for tenderness: the meat should be starting to fall off the bone when it’s ready.  Stir in frozen green peas and return to the oven for 5-7 minutes uncovered.

Remove from the oven, check the seasoning and serve immediately.

Engagement Style Spring Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables

This is perhaps the most festive and delicious meal I’ve made this spring so far: tender and juicy poussin with ethereal hint of lemon, cranberries and a touch of bacon smokiness on a bed of mixed potatoes roasted in the bird juices and flavored with mint – Oh là! And as much as the classic Engagement Chicken can allure you or your significant one, I guarantee you – this one is better (tested on family and friends). The Glamor’s fairy tale of irresistible roast chicken stuffed with lemons insists that the dish would put a spell on the partner and he/she would begin to think of marriage.  While the question still lingers about how a simple roast chicken can do such a miracle to hundreds of readers and, especially, to Howard Stern and his wife to be, I do believe that perfectly executed recipe of a roast chicken (Cornish hen in this case) served with a side of herbed root veggies and a glass of white Regaleali can be a bliss and will do you nothing but good. 

In Julia Child’s words: ‘ You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by its roast chicken…’. Today, I would add: fresh, free-range chicken – and, Yes, that would be step number one towards a success roast chicken story. Speaking of, I much prefer the Cornish hen (also called poussin or spring chicken) to regular chicken for its delicate and savory flesh. Last week-end I’ve googled a nice spot called Ferme D’Amours within the close reach from Montreal, where you can buy these birds of a top quality for less (around $6.00 each) than the imported ones in the grocery stores. Thirty minutes later, we were there in countryside abandon in the midst of the fertile farm fields of Monteregie with a steady hum drum of the tractors at a distance. The draft roasting project was already on my mind once we saw the directions to the farm and then there it was, the wowmoment discovering the treasures of Ferme D’Amours boutique: from Cornish hen and organic eggs to all parts of free-range chicken, as well as locally produced lamb, veal and sausages… my kind of heaven.

We bought a bunch of Cornish chicken among other things and, boy did I have fun with them!  First I made an Asian style healing soup (which I have to absolutely share with you one day), then a great Jamaican Jerk on a BBQ…

…and, finally, this dish.

For the roast spring chicken, when I was sprinkling the little hens with salt and pepper and rubbing the birds with olive oil and lemon juice, the idea of bacon bites for smokiness and cranberries for an extra boon of flavor came to my head, so I spread some bacon bits with scallions in a roasting pan, placed the seasoned chicken halves on top of them, added a handful of frozen cranberries and slid them into the oven warmed up to 450F.  Once you turn the chicken 15 minutes later, give it a splash of wine.  At the same time if wish be spread some cubed/sliced root veggies of your choice (I chose regular and sweet potatoes, but any other root veggies would be great) around the chicken and cover the pan with foil for the next 15 minutes, then remove it, add another handful of cranberries and some mint leaves and roast for another 15 minutes. Adding the mint in the process gives that unforgettable Middle Eastern touch of freshness to the roast.

While cooking, I was beaming and glowing because the smell of the dish would stream a message of happiness to my nose way before it was ready. And when taking the first bite of it I soon realized that this was a dish I wanted to stash among the happy reaches of my gastronomic mind forever.

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CRANBERRY LEMON ROAST CORNISH HEN WITH MINTED ROOT VEGGIES

Ingredients:
For Cornish hen:
1 ( 500 g to 700g) Cornish hen, split in half
Sea salt, to rub the chicken
Freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
½ fresh lemon juice, plus additional ½ lemon sliced
Olive oil
5 scallions, chopped (optional)
4 bacon slices, cubed (optional)
2 handfuls of frozen cranberries
½ cup dry wine
½ cup water or chicken stock
2 springs of fresh mint
For Roasted Veggies:
2 big potatoes, thick cut with skin on
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and thick cut
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
4 springs of fresh mint
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 450F. Split chicken in halves and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Rub the lemon juice into the chicken, place the chicken into the roasting pan breast side down, sprinkle with olive oil and scatter the handful of frozen cranberries over. If using bacon bits and scallions, spread them in the roasting pan and put the chicken on top of them. Roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the wine then turn the breast side up. Lower the oven temperature to 375F. Spread the potatoes or other root veggies of your choice around the chicken, sprinkle with olive oil, cover with foil and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the foil; scatter fresh mint, squeeze lemon slices and spread another handful of cranberries. Put back in the oven uncovered for another 15 minutes. After this, you can put the broil on for a few minutes to make a crisp chicken/potato skin. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. (In the meantime, you can drain the drippings liquid and make the gravy by adding a splash of wine and a teaspoon of cornmeal (gluten free) or flour for thickening.) Serve the Cornish hen halves garnished with fresh mint on the bed of roasted veggies and with the gravy on the side.

Roasted Quail à la Milanese

Ladies and Gentlemen, I humbly invite you to indulge in my little menu with the succulent roasted quail mounted on top of sautéed veggies with pronounced Italian taste…  and the aromatic puddle of juices waiting to be picked up with the bite of a savory bread pudding (my version of holiday stuffing). For the contrast and/or a drop of color (not to mention the amount of fiber and nutriments) I added some steamed Brussels sprouts with orange zest to complete the unbelievable harmony of seasons in this recipe. Can you think of any more elegant setting for a holiday dinner on a budget?
I came up with this combination idea after some hours of mentally deconstructing a holiday bird and the stuffing (while driving long distances or on the bus), in a way you can still have fun with both.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas turkey dinners just like Chevy Chase’s, or Eddie Murphy’s characters or any other person who likes to chill out with the family.
This time though I was craving some new age flair for a change.  Something that would not require any horse power to manipulate with and would not cork the fridge the day after.  Something more visually and socially appealing and much more exciting for the taste buds than a turkey, and… that can actually be made in advance?AH! Hopefully I just got your attention!
This little quirky bird came to my response.  I know, I know, it is not much to eat, it’s messy and primal and it is not always working well in recipes. I’ve tried and failed the ones with all kind of sweet marinades over the years (allowing the marinades to destroy the delicate flavor of the bird) and that was the reason I got cold feet about it.
Until I discovered this absolutely amazing and easy Chef Jean Soulard’s recipe and am now proudly presenting it to you with almost no alterations.  The only thing I added to it was one jalapeno pepper for a bit of a kick.  So, NO, the recipe has nothing to do with my once upon a time travel to Milan where my luggage (not heart) was lost without a trace. But, YES, it is an Italian inspired dish I found in the French Canadian chef’s book. And the secret of its success is in the sauce…
Quails are available, relatively inexpensive (go to the Chinese supermarket for the best $ deal) and make a stunning addition to the festivities. Why do you think high-end restaurant menus have this bird so often on their holiday menus?  It’s easy and fast to cook, it makes a hell of a presentation (because of its small size) and (when cooked properly) it tastes divine. Also, don’t forget that quail has less than 300 calories per bird (yes, you will get much more from just a few bites of pigs in the blanket); it is lower in fat and higher in protein than chicken and is a great source of nutriments and is considered a low-fat energy booster. PS: Game meat is my next table resolution for 2014: to fight hormones, antibiotics, etc., make portions smaller and add some forgotten vigor to the plate.
If you are still not convinced, here is the best thing about the recipe: you can make the dish up to two days ahead! Or, did I already mention that? Keep it in the fridge and then just warm it up in the 400F oven for 10 minutes (buttering and broiling the top if necessary with the tips of the legs covered with aluminum foil not to burn).  Sure, if you serve it immediately upon cooking it will give you a tender juicy flesh, which some people are looking for. However, if you put it aside and let the juices ”cure” for 24-48 hours, the meat will be less juicier, but will become smokier and gamier and more acceptable for those, for example, who are not the admirers of the ”rare” condition.  And, by the way, no one has to know you did not cook it from skratch 15 minutes ago…  Check out the images below (right after cooking and after 36 hours in the fridge) to see the difference. 

And so it’s time to dust off our best cutlery and open a bottle of good wine and prepare to celebrate Christmas. Be deliciously Merry and have a Happy Holiday! Cheers!

Wait, what about the dessert? Good question – I saved that for a bang tomorrow!  Oops, who am I kidding, it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and I am not home alone!

Merry Christmas to All of You!
***
Quail à la Milanese (Cailles mijoutees comme a la Milan)
Yields: 4-8 portions (two birds per person are suggested, but you can easily go with one)
Time: 20 minutes to prepare/20 minutes cooking time
Ingredients:
8 quails
30g (2 tbsp) butter
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
6 bacon slices, cut in small pieces
2 onions, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in julienne
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced into julienne (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
20 black olives,
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh basil, chopped
Salt & pepper
Instructions:
In the large Dutch oven or skillet, brown the quails on all sides in the mix of butter and oil for 5 minutes. Salt, pepper and set aside. Keep warm.
In the same skillet, add bacon and onions; sauté for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, peppers, garlic and olives. Mix, place the quails over the vegetables and let simmer for 15 minutes. Five minutes before the end of cooking, add basil. If desired, broil quails for an additional minute for a crunch and/or presentation. Dress the plates and serve the quails on the mountain of sautéed vegetables.
Adapted from: Le Grand Soulard de la Cuisine by Jean Soulard: 1150 recettes classiques au gout du terroir quebecois ©Les Editions La Presse, 2013