Category Archives: bacon

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.

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.

Nordic Shrimp Deviled Avocado


Nordic shrimp stuffed avocado is almost a no-recipe party deal with guaranteed success. My family members have pretty different tastes, but we all agreed on the winning combination of the ingredients in it. Oddly enough, we first made it to fit the choice of the wine we would have selected. Weird, but true (it’s usually the opposite): we were inquiring about Bourgogne Aligoté when sommelier at the liquor store gave us a flyer with summer recipes developed by their chefs to match the new wine arrivals. The festive picture of the stuffed avocados quickly caught our eye. And there we were on a hot summer night, grilling avocados on a BBQ before stuffing them with chilled zesty shrimp salad few hours later.  
Boy-oh-boy, they were delicious: delicate sweet Nordic shrimps soaked in yogurt herbal lemony mix, drowning in the nutty-creamy-smoky avocado flesh with little accents of a bacon crisp, Tabasco and lemon zest. Pure Heaven!  And, guess what? This appetizer is just as good with a simple rosé as it is with Aligoté or Sémillon varieties (as we had a chance to experiment later in summer).
Now that we have to close our BBQ for winter (hopefully not this week, may be the sun will still give us some slack this week-end), I am using the sandwich grill to char the avocado halves. A no-grill version is also good, but in this case I suggest you remove the avocado flesh with a spoon, cut it into 1.5 cm (3/4 in.) dice, gently stir them with the shrimp mix and then fill in the avocado peels.  Garnish with bacon bits, lemon zest and herbs. Finally, the recipe works perfectly well with fresh cilantro or dill replacing tarragon leaves in winter.  
Summer or fall; rain or shine – you should really give it a try!
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NORDIC SHRIMP STUFFED AVOCADO
Yields: 4 servings
Ingredients:
225 g (1/2 lb) pre-cooked Nordic shrimp
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain yogurt
60 ml (1/4) cup chopped fresh tarragon (or cilantro, or dill)
Juice and zest of one lemon
Tabasco to taste
2 avocados
125 ml (1/2 cup) bacon, cooked and crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Instructions:
Pre-heat the BBQ or the sandwich grill to medium high. In a bowl, combine the shrimp, yogurt, half the tarragon (or cilantro, or dill) leaves, half the lemon zest, all of the lemon juice, the Tabasco and salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator.
Cut avocados in halves and remove the pits. Brush the avocado halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down on the BBQ or sandwich grill for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Divide the shrimp salad among the avocado halves. Garnish with bacon bits, the rest of herbs and lemon zest.
Adapted from SAQ (The Société des alcools du Québec) Summer 2013 Recipes Collection.

No Fuss Coq Au Vin

”Have you ever tried Coq au Vin?” ”No, but I once let an Italian put his hand up my jumper on the back seat of his Fiat…” Anglophones truly love the play of French words in this dish. But, whatever the jokes are, Coq au Vin (rooster in wine) continues to tickle the taste buds and enthrall the world’s pickiest eaters through the centuries.

And maybe it’s not so bad that this French classic is so ‘’oxymoronic’’ – for sure it helps to create certain gastronomic enigma à propos de complexity of the dish. Which in fact is very simple to make and quite inexpensive if you adjust the ingredients set to create a healthy and easy weeknight meal. In this one I traded rooster for chicken, Burgundy for a good quality dry red wine (Cahors), and pearl onions for a regular yellow onion (the last one is REALLY a good idea when you want to have a quick supper without spending some extra 30 minutes peeling pearl onions). 

I also skipped the roux turning it into a gluten free meal (the sauce turned thick enough without any flour in it and, yes, turned into a gel comme il faut when placed in the fridge). The result: my very FRENCH (Canadian) hubby devoured it in seconds without even noticing there were no pearl onions in it, which are usually a big deal for him.  And if this did not convince you yet, please also note that for a true comfort dish like this, it is VERY low in calories. At different times, I served it with egg or rice noodles, with roasted or mashed potatoes, as well as with potato leek gratin, but my favorite part is just dipping the crusty bread in that savory wine sauce that is so typical in taste to this particular dish. HEAVENLY!
Although many historically attribute the origin of Coq au Vin to Burgundy region of France, rumor has it the Caesar’s cook made it when Romans were battling the Gauls (at that time Romans were very well established in the area of modern Southern France and they really liked local wine). The Gauls sent Caesar a scrawny rooster as a message of defiance. Caesar ordered to cook the rooster in wine and herbs and invited the Gauls to eat it to demonstrating the overwhelming sophistication of the Romans… Or so it goes… But most agree that Coq au Vin existed as a rustic dish long before that and was a way for peasants to recycle an old rooster or an old egg-laying hen by slow cooking in wine and herbs.  
Today Coq au Vin is made with cuts of chicken from hen or capon and has many designations depending on a wine being used: Alsacienne (with Riesling), Nuitonne (with Côte de Nuits), Jurassienne (with Arbois rosé), etc. My twist relates to Quercynoise version and table travels me to the beautiful town of Cahors where I tried Coq au Vin for the first time. It was made with a real cockerel (rooster) and Cahors wine; and included true Quercy-Perigord ingredients: fresh ceps wild mushrooms and duck fat. Needless to say, that a splash of Armagnac flambé was applied to the browning process in this version… The taste of it comes back to me each time I am looking at the pictures or am thinking of that travel…  
Again, this is a speedy version of the Coq au Vin, with no ceps or duck fat in it, but as hearty as the dish can be. The stock, wine, mushroom & bacon sauce imbues chicken and veggies with the iconic flavor during slow cooking transforming any cheapest piece of commercial chicken into a little French culinary voyage. Free range chicken however would deliver much tastier results, but you already know it. 
And, of course, if you are a true admirer of ‘’Mastering the Art of French Cooking’’ and are not looking for any tasty ersatz, I suggest you use Julia Child’s recipe or the version of the host of the Iron Chef of America, both of which are designed to turn you into a real connoisseur of the dish. 
 Cheers to all and happy French cooking!
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NO FUSS COQ AU VIN
Yields 4 servings
Ingredients:
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into bite size
3 lbs chicken thighs and drums (8+), skin on
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots peeled and cut into cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. dried thyme
3 tbsp. butter
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cups dry red wine
6-8 fresh parsley springs, minced
3-4 scallions, minced
¼ kosher salt (or to taste)
¼ freshly ground pepper
Instructions:
In a large skillet, brown bacon bits, remove them to the paper towel and set aside while reserving the bacon grease in the skillet to brown the chicken. Add chicken pieces skin side down and sear them on the medium high heat until golden brown on all sides for about 6-8 minutes each side.  Transfer chicken to the Dutch oven or another casserole dish.  Add onion, garlic, carrots, bay leaves and thyme to skillet and continue sautéing for about 6 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Transfer the mix to the casserole to cover the chicken pieces. In the still hot skillet, add butter, mushrooms and shallots and cook for 3 minutes. Add wine and broth to the skillet, stirring constantly until the mixture boils and thickens a little bit (5 minutes). Add seasoning, mix well and pour over the chicken in the casserole dish. Simmer or bake for 30-40 minutes at 350F. During the cooking process, carefully skim off and discard any fat from the surface with the spoon. After 30 minutes of simmering, verify the seasoning, add chopped parsley and scallions and give it another 10 minutes of simmer. Serve hot with roasted/mashed potatoes or egg noodles and crusty bread on the side. Enjoy!

 

Father’s Day Sizzle: Bacon Wrapped Corn on the Cob

It’s the third Sunday of June. It’s Father’s Day, and it’s time to celebrate all the great Dads! Beer and muskoka chair (which arms make a super mini-table for a beer glass) are the two quintessential vices of the Father’s day (and a good book, in our case). And, for once, kids volunteer to cook for their parents. CHEEERS!

A nice BBQ sizzle goes hand in hand with them. Juicy T-bone steaks, smoky sausages, grilled veggies – enough variety to keep Daddy’s taste buds hoping and your grilling skills honed! And… bacon? Yes, bacon ingredient ultimately brings the grill feast to the next level. How not to burn it? Wrap it around the corn keeping the husks over! Here is how.

But first, a Father’s Day sentiment from us for a brief digression: Bonne fête des Pères, Papa! Voici ton Georges Brassens préféré et sa chanson superbe sur ses souvenirs d’enfance chantée par Patachou et lui-même.
Back to the dish. Bacon wrapped corn is a pretty well known dish but the often missing magic ingredient of this grill is butter for the final touch (the devil is in detail). Lime-chilli butter, in our case, laces the grilled smoky corn and bacon with a zest of spice and freshness and turns the dish in a real showstopper. Simply add a lime zest and a pinch of chilli flakes to your butter at the room temperature and mix well with fork to make it fluffy. I also add a few drops of lime juice to this mix. Prepare the lime-chilli butter up to 24 hrs in advance and keep it in the fridge to marry the flavors. This lime-chilli butter tastes so good and refreshing you can skip the bacon part and the dish will still taste superb!
The steps are as easy as: pull back the husks to remove silk keeping the husks attached; wrap the bacon around. Equally, you can use prosciutto or thinly sliced pancetta. Close the husks back and fix them with the butcher’s string. You can make them in advance and keep them in the fridge for a few hours. When it’s time for the grill, preheat your BBQ to medium heat and grill the wrapped corn for 15-20 minutes turning occasionally to char evenly. Some chefs (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/bacon-wrapped-grilled-corn-on-the-cob-recipe/index.html) suggests to soak corn with husks in the water for 30 minutes to prevent the corn from drying out on the grill, but I think if the corn is fresh from fields this step is not necessary. Serve immediately with lime-chilli butter, coarse salt and lime wedges on a side.

Bon Appétit and Have a Great One!!! T.

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Bacon Wrapped Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime Chilli Butter.
Ingredients:
12 ears corn
1 pound bacon
1/4 lbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 lime zested
1/3 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)
1 lime cut into wedges
coarse salt
Instructions:
Combine the butter, lime zest, chilli flakes and few drops of lime and keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Pull back the corn husks keeping them attached to the bottom of the cobs. Remove the corn silk. Take a strip of bacon and wrap it around the corn. Fold the husks back covering the bacon and corn and tie leaves with butcher string. Repeat the process with each corn. Place the ears of corn on the hot grill and cook turning occasionally until bacon is cooked and corn is tender, for about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately with lime-chilli butter, coarse salt and lime wedges on a side.