Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Year’s Eve Bubbly: Blanquette de Limoux

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, dear friends, relatives and readers!

New Year’s Eve Feast: Rosemary & Garlic Roast Leg of Lamb

The roast leg of lamb makes a delectable main perfect for holiday feast. It may sound like a daring task, but the truth is, it is surprisingly simple to prepare. The humble ingredients, such as garlic, rosemary and lemon zest add a very delicate flavour to this tender roast and the result will make your guests raving.
Last summer we took a stroll down the picturesque city of Chambly when an incredible smell (and then the picture) of a grilled lamb has allured us into trying this dish at the local Fourquet Fourchette restaurant. No doubt that grilling brings out the best in lamb, which is why, I have been planning to do the grilled leg of lamb at home ever since.
Except, of course, winter storm leaves me with the roasting option only. Anyways, what can be better than a gorgeous roast leg of lamb on a New Year’s Eve in the weather like this? Prime rib you will say, but I am already doing lamb and I am having a good time.
Here we are doing our lamb in two simple steps: rubbing with rosemary/garlic/lemon paste and then roasting it till perfection. The most important thing is to NOT overcook it, so check the thermometer for desired doneness.
The oven temperature is designed to first sear the leg at 400F and then roast it slowly at 325F without burning. Keep some water in the roasting pan to prevent the drippings from burning and smoking up your kitchen. It will also help to collect quality juices to be used for the sauce. It is also imperative to allow the cooked leg to stand before carving to make it juicy and tender, so please don’t rush with the carving.
The choice of roasted veggies to serve with the leg of lamb is unlimited and, bien sûr, a bottle of a robust SaintÉmilion, peppery Merlot or red Rioja is a very welcome addition to this main. Champagne was only an apéritif in this case, but you might as well enjoy it throught the meal.

1 leg of lamb, bone in (6 to 8 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
8 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup water for the roasting pan
few extra garlic cloves and rosemary springs for the slits and pan
Season meat with salt and pepper. Combine olive oil, white wine, 6 cloves of garlic, rosemary leaves and lemon zest in a food processor and mix to create a paste. Rub the leg of lamb with this paste using your hands, place in a plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the leg from the refrigerator, place it on a rack in a shallow pan. Slice 12 to 14 slits in a grill pattern using a sharp paring knife and insert 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and fresh rosemary leaves into them. Add some water and springs of rosemary to the pan. Roast at 400 degrees F for the first 30 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and keep roasting for about one hour longer until the meat thermometer registers 130-135F (for rare) or 145-150F (for medium). Make sure that the meat thermometer does not touch the bone. Add some water to the pan if necessary during cooking. Allow to stand for about 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with the pan juices and your choice of roasted veggies.

Walnut Cookies & Hot Chocolate

Next time I should be careful about what to wish for, as the snowfall which hit Montreal last night, might easily inch up to reach our roof by tonight. And that means lots of traffic, possible power shortages and massive driveway shoveling among many other not-so-pleasant things on the New Year’s Eve. So now my wish is: Let it stop snowing in Montreal!

Just yesterday we were doing cross-country skiing and some bird watching in a peaceful winter countryside.
Check what the landscape turned into today:
Fortunately, there are still some Christmas cookies left, so tonight right after shovelling we can do some cookie-hot chocolate cuddling next to the fire place.
I am not sure about the origin of these cookies. Most of the time they are called Mexican Wedding Cookies, but I’ve heard they originally came to America with Spanish conquistadors as Christmas cookies. Whatever the origin, we only make them in Christmas time and over the years they became my favourite thing to dip in a hot chocolate when “baby, its cold outside“. Except, maybe, churros, but those are summer treats for me.
The preparation only takes 15 minutes, baking only 20 minutes and the rest depends on how carb conscious you are. The walnut content replacing lots of flour is definitely a plus, although this does not prevent me from feeling guilty when I eat them. Anyways, kids or adults – everybody loves them during holidays!
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat the butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat till blended. Gradually, beat in the flour, and then ground and chopped walnuts. Divide the dough in half, forming each into a ball and chill in plastic separately until cold for about 30 minutes to 24 hours (I prefer to bake the second half next day).
Take 2 teaspoons of dough and roll them between the palms of your hands into little balls, press a little to form a cookie. Arrange on the baking sheet 1/2 inch apart.
Bake until pale golden brown for 18-20 minutes, cool for 5 minutes and toss the cookies into the powdered sugar. Transfer to the serving plate. If desired, you can sift them with additional powder sugar before serving.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen of cookies.

Christmas Rosemary Infused Glazed Ham (Jambon de Noël)

In the province of Quebec Christmas-eve celebrations are called réveillons which literally translates to “staying awake“. For the majority, it means lots of home cooking using recipes passed on from generation to generation to have a late-night dinner followed by a party. As glazed ham is a traditional Christmas staple here, there are probably hundreds of different ways to cook it just in Montreal alone. Honey, brown sugar, molasses, pineapples, corn syrup, cola, ginger ale, beer – everyone seems to have their own fashion to get the “honey-ness“ of a glaze. My twist on it this year: maple syrup.

This recipe calls for a pre-cooked bone-in ham, not cured or canned. It is very simple, a real no-brainer for any cook who will be busy at this time with thousand other chores.
Combine maple syrup, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and mustard in a small bowl. Spread this mixture over the ham. Powder with brown sugar all over. Moistening the coating by spraying some brandy or apple juice is really optional, but I find it adds some interesting layer in the result.

My cooking tip is to add some water to the bottom of the roasting pan and put few springs of fresh rosemary to infuse the ham with its wonderful smell during cooking process.

4-8 pound bone-in cooked ham
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup mustard (Dijon or old-fashioned)
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup brandy or apple juice
3-4 springs of fresh rosemary
1 cup of water for roasting pan
1/4 cup of maple syrup for final glaze
for the sauce
1 1/2 drippings with/or stock
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl combine maple syrup, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and mustard. Spread this mixture over the ham using your fingers. Powder with brown sugar all over. Spray some brandy or apple juice using a spray bottle to moisten the sugar coating. Bake ham uncovered for the first 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Cover the ham with aluminum foil, add 1 cup of water and a few springs of fresh rosemary to the bottom of the roasting pan and bake for another 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the foil, baste the ham with additional maple syrup and let it glaze in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing, which gives you enough time to prepare the sauce.
For the sauce. In the saucepan, mix the ham drippings and some stock to make 1 1/2 cups and bring to medium boil. Add maple syrup and spices and cook until thickened. Serve over ham at the table.
Serve with your choice of vegetables. Pair with a bottle of your favourite Riesling or Pinot Noir.

Christmas Countdown Two: Porcinin Deviled Eggs

It’s beginning to look a lot like a Christmas, so its time to reveal the secret of the Porcini Deviled Eggs which will definitely conquer the heart of your most sophisticated guests. Except, of course for the ones who are afraid of the caloric bombs, but then, again, isn’t it what Christmas is for?
The steps are easy and the whole thing will probably take you less than half an hour to make. Soak the porcini, boil the eggs, make the quick onion-porcini sauté, mix egg yolks with porcini mixture, add some mayonnaise and, voila: your seductive hors d`oeuvres are ready to be served!
6 hard boiled eggs
1 handful of dried porcini (aka ceps)
1 small onion chopped
2 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt (preferably grain de sel)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Soak the porcini in a boiled water and set aside for 10 minutes. Place the eggs in a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil over medium heat. After 2 minutes of boiling turn off the heat and cover. Allow to sit for 12 minutes. In the meantime, drain and chop the porcini. Chop the onion and sauté them in butter until translucent. Add porcini, continue sauté on the low heat for about 7-10 minutes. Allow the porcini onion mixture to cool.
Drain the eggs and let them sit in ice cold water for 10 minutes. Peel the eggs and sit in the refrigerator to chill. Cut peeled eggs lengthwise in half. Slip out the yolks into a medium mixing bowl, mash with fork. Mix in salt, pepper and porcini-onion mix. Add mayonnaise and stir to combine. Fill whites with egg yolk mixture. Put in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving or up to next day in a plastic container. Garnish with some chives when serving.