Monthly Archives: March 2013

Maple Syrup Crème Brûlée

A recent trip to the Sugar Shack (la Cabane à sucre) made me think of all things maple. Spring officially starts in Quebec when maple syrup steps out from grandma’s pantry into a full food-fashion limelight. Its the time when almost every celebrity chef puts on a plaid shirt, pair of lumberjack boots, grows some facial hair and comes up with a new creation featuring maple syrup. Commoners are welcome to join this movement with their humble concoctions.

I wanted to make some extraordinary dessert with maple syrup, but somehow the only thing that came to my mind was Crème Brûlée (as it always does). Can I make it with maple syrup? The answer came next day in the form of an article from METRO newspaper recipe ”Crème brûlée à l’érable”, which translates to the ”Maple Syrup Crème Brûlée”. The recipe cites new popular book: ”Recettes du Quebec. Les editions Transcontinental”, which is why, I assume, many Montrealers who love both, crème brûlée and maple syrup, have also tried to make it. But for those of you who did’t, here is everything you need to know about it and more.
I used to be afraid of making crème brûlée at home thinking that it was a restaurant-only staple. For some reason, I was especially concerned with bain marie(water bath ) part. Until one day I tried and could not believe how easy it was to make it. So don’t let the French words put you off this glorious dessert. Today’s version applies maple syrup reduction instead of sugar, which turns this dessert into a ”crème de la crème” of all crème brûlée varieties I have tried. It is simply incredible! The delicate sweetness of the cold creamy custard laced with an aromatic hint of maple syrup contrasts beautifully with the warm crunchy layer of burnt caramel. A real explosion of textures and flavours to titillate your palate!
If you happen to have a can of a real Maple Syrup, go ahead and impress yourself and your guests with this easy yet unforgettable creation, which puts French-Canadian culture on display. A few words of wisdom with regard to otherwise easy steps:

* don’t forget to cool and filter milk-cream mixture
* keep mixing maple syrup with fork all the time when making reduction to prevent too much thickening
* let the maple sugar reduction cool down completely before adding egg yolks to it
* spread sugar evenly to cover the whole surface of the dessert, or the custard will burn when uncovered
Serve your crèmebrûlée shortly after you burn the sugar top , since the caramelized sugar will melt once it absorbs the moisture from the custard. If you are making the dessert in advance, keep it in the fridge and burn the sugar top at the very last minute.

The bain marie is as simple as pouring hot water in a pyrex glass double bath to prevent your dessert (particularly egg yolks in it) to overcook. Maple syrup adds beautiful golden color to the custard.
When caramelizing sugar layer, please feel free to select one the following methods:
A. Grill in your electric oven. Make sure the custard is cold before you slip it under the grill to achieve hot & cold effect.
B. Blow with torch. This technique is my preferred: you can burn the sugar evenly over a dozen of ramekins in seconds, while the custard remains cold. If you live in your own house, the torch is a worth of investment. I would not buy it however if its only to make this dessert (use method A)
Note: Please follow safety tips when using and keep children away from this gadget!
C. Use searing iron, which is usually a part of the ramekins set for crèmebrûlée, also called ”catalan cream” (see the image below). This is probably a mini-replica of a 17th century fire-shovel, which freelancer and cook François Massialot used to melt and caramelize sugar on his own creation back in the days. Otherwise, I don’t understand how can it be so uncomfortable, laborious and medieval in use (you need to re-heat it for, like, thousand times), especially if you are making a double or triple amount of the dessert.  He describes it in his book Le Cuisinier Royale et Bourgeois:
Maple Syrup Crème Brûlée
Preparation: 1hr. 40 min.; Cooking: 1 hr. 30 min.; Refrigeration: 2 hrs.
Yields 4 to 6 portions depending on the size of a ramekins.
1 cup (250 ml) milk 2%
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream 35%
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla or maple syrup extract
2/3 cup (160 ml) real maple syrup
4 egg yolks
maple sugar or brown sugar for coating to taste
In the pot, mix the milk, the cream and vanilla extract. Bring to boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Let the mix cool down at the room temperature. Filter the mix and reserve it in a big bowl.
In the separate pot, add the maple syrup and simmer to evaporate until it is reduced to about 6 tablespoons (90ml). Pour it in a small bowl, keep mixing with the fork until it cools down. Add egg yolks and mix again.
Using wooden spatula, incorporate the syrup mixture into milk-cream mixture. Mix to a perfect smooth consistency. Ladle the mixture into individual ramekins. Place ramekins into Pyrex glass (1 inch (2.5 cm) tall pan and add boiling water to the pan to reach 3/4 of the ramekin level.
Bake in the pre-heated oven at 275 F (135 C) for 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and slide under the grill for 2 minutes to caramelize the top. (Equally, you can use the torch for caramelization.) Serve immediately.
Adapted from: Recettes du Quebec, Les Éditions Transcontinental (02/2013)

Fish Chowder

Oprah Winfrey has cited this fish chowder recipe as President Kennedy’s Favorite Chowder. Jackie, the First Lady, said it was ”one of her husband’s favorite American recipes for fish, which he frequently enjoyed”.
via Wikimedia Commons
Well, last night I had 2 lbs pack of (sustainable) blue cod thawing in my fridge waiting for me to just do this dish. As simple as it looks, this chowder is a wonderful showcase for any fresh catch, but my experience shows that frozen filleted fish can do perfectly well in it on a chilly mid-March day (as long as it’s of a good quality). A trick to prevent even slight mushiness while thawing fish, is to never let it to be fully defrosted. I tried this chowder with different kind of fish: haddock (for which the recipe calls), sea bass, ocean perch, cod – they all worked well – just make sure that fish is mildly -flavored, firm and not fatty (i.e. keep your mackerel or bluefish for the grill). Here are the steps on how to prepare the fish chowder:
Personally, I like the lightness of this dish: it has a mild fish taste and is easy on fat or roux (there is no heavy cream or flour in it). Bacon bits make a tasty decadent garnish, however, you may wish to replace them with just some chopped parsley.  
This recipe might not be a knockout compared to the upscale varieties of chowder available today. But it is definitely a good-looking and tasting comfort food, the reason why it found its place in the menu of the White House in its ’60s heyday. Feel free to layer it with wine, seafood, spices and herbs of your choice to turn it into something that will become YOUR favorite. In my case, I just added a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of Sauvignon Blanc. When serving, I paired the dish with a glass of the same wine:
Mrs. Kennedy called this dish New England Chowder, however a quick glance into the history reveals that the same recipe can be called old Irish Chowder, Canadian Sioux Indian Fish Chowder and many more. One thing is for sure, the word ”chowda” came to New England from Newfoundland in the days when Celtic Breton fishermen would throw the daily catch into a boiling pot along with other available food.
Newfoundland before and today via Wikimedia

Whether this dish has travelled to Newfoundland from the Ireland, England, Brittany or any other place, it has truly become one of the early spring staples in my family.

Finally, here is an old Irish fish chowder recipe-poemone chef fella digged out to put in his blog:
And now, back to the Jackie Kennedy’s fish chowder recipe:
Serves 6.
2 lbs haddock fillets (or other non-fatty white fish, such as: perch, pollock, grouper, cod)
2 cups water
2 oz diced salt pork lard
2 onions chopped
4 large potatoes, diced
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 quart milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt (for simmering fish)
1/2 teaspoon salt (for sauteing veggies)
freshly ground pepper
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
fresh parsley for garnish, finely chopped
Cover the fish with 2 cups of water, bring to boil, add salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain. Reserve fish broth. Brake the fish in coarse chunks, removing bones if any.
Saute diced pork until crisp, remove and reserve half of the pork. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add potatoes, celery, bay leaf, salt, pepper and keep sauteing on low-to-medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add fish, pinch of nutmeg and a good splash of white wine to the mix, raise the heat and give it a quick stir.
Transfer the mix into a large pan, pour in reserved broth, add some boiling water to make 3 cups of liquid. Simmer for 25 minutes. Add milk and butter. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve sprinkled with the rest of the diced reserved crisp pork, or just garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Adapted from:
Happy St-Patrick and I am off to the parade…
via Wikimedia Commons
Today & in 1909: any similarity?

Erin go bragh!

Pear Yogurt Granola Muffins

American-style muffin is one of our country’s (and my family’s) perennial favorite. Which is why I always search for a new tasty and nutritious semi-sweet cake that uses some interesting ingredients. Pear was on my mind this time, so I went high and low to find what seemed to be the best combination of pear, yogurt and almond oats granola in this version of muffin recipe from Coup de Pouce magazine.
In this recipe the low-fat yogurt replaces much of the usual butter to produce moist muffins with a subtle tang. The pears (I wanted to use them in muffins for such a long time) dance perfectly with homemade almond oats granola creating a huge hit of fiber-rich and nutty-fruity nutrients. Of course, you can swap the pears out for some apples or peaches, but for me the pear ingredient is a major inspiration of this recipe, so I won’t.
Here are some simple visual steps on preparing the muffin mix and fixing it into the tins.

Finally, you will notice handmade muffin cups made of the parchment paper cut in squares – a new elegant presentation, especially useful when you run out of store-bought muffin cups.

Here is to witness my attempt to add some green color to the topping in honor of approaching St. Paddy.
I am sure you will find these muffins wholesome, tasty and quite easy to make on one of a grey sky week-end morning. Hopefully, some will last into the week-days breakfast as a cup of coffee will never be the same with them!
Makes 18 muffins.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
4 pears peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
yogurt and honey topping (optional)
1. Prepare home made granola in advance.
2. Cut 18 squares of 5 inches (13 cm) from parchment paper. Pre-place them in the tin using the glass with the same diameter to press on the paper to fold it into the right shape (see the image above).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt and baking soda and let the mixture bubble and grow. In the third bowl, whisk oil, brown sugar and eggs. Peel the pears and cut them in 1/4 inch dice. Prepare 1 1/2 cup of granola crumbs.
4. Mix the eggs and yogurt mixtures and pour into the bowl with dry ingredients. Add the pears and granola and mix carefully with wooden fork. Using the ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cup 3/4 full.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin. Store in hermetic container for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
6. If desired, make yogurt and honey topping (below) and add to the muffins with some sprinkled granola on top (optional).
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup soft cream cheese
2-3 tablespoons liquid honey
Whisk all three ingredients until smooth and keep in the fridge until ready to use as a topping (keeps in the fridge for up to 2 days).


 Adapted from Coup de Pouce magazine (10/2012).

Homemade Granola

Here is something to kick-start your day, week, week-end or just to have a great snack, whichever is applicable. This crunchy simple homemade granola is not only a great breakfast material, but a powerful snack for even gluten intolerant people. It quickly became a keeper for me, which I also happen to munch on to help those hunger attacks or to prevent staring at commercial granola bar thinking whether or not there is a corn syrup in it. What is beautiful, you can control the taste (adding different ingredients), or sweetness (more, or less, or not at all), fiber (add bran). Finally, you can play with grains and customize this granola to your taste with dry fruits, hemp or flax seed at the finishing point.
With only 10 minutes of hands-on work, you can enjoy these granola bars almost as soon as they come out of the oven. Cinnamon and vanilla add a nice flavor, while you can also venture for more exotic spice, such as cardamom or nutmeg. I really encourage you to try to make different varieties with your favorite or healthiest ingredients, because this recipe is really fool proof.
Today I am making this granola as first step towards Pear Yogurt Granola Muffins recipe which will follow right after. Yes, you can use this granola as an ingredient in many other creations as well.
Yields 3 cups (750ml)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup vegetable oil (corn, canola or any oil without much flavor)
1/4 cup liquid honey
1/4 cup brown sugar (or less)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line the roasting pan with parchment paper. Toss the oats and almonds in a big bowl and mix with pinch of salt and cinnamon. Whisk together the oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla extract and pour over the oat mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands and spread onto the roasting pan around 2/3 inch thick or less. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until granola turns golden brown. Remove from the oven, let it cool, then, brake in pieces to store in hermetic containers for up to 3 weeks.
Tips: vary the grain or nut ingredient with your own choice keeping the proportion; once cooked, sprinkle your favorite dry fruits over, i.e. cherries, cranberries, currents, diced figs or apricots, etc. for immediate consumption. Do not add chopped fruit if you are storing granola for up to 3 weeks.

Vintage Granola Advertizement

Lesson: How to Buy a Fruit Tree

Le verger, Camille Pissaro, 1872
Ten springs ago when we were much younger garden enthusiasts, we went to a local Centre de Jardin and bought a whole bunch of fruit trees to plant in our backyard, including: peaches, nectarines, walnuts, cherries, apricots, pears, and, of course, apple trees. We were very excited about our project. We selected the strongest looking species with the best looking crowns and flowers. Each tree had a heavy price tag with an image of a gorgeous ripe fruit on it. There were also some zone numbers on the tags of which the garden center rep gave us short but sophisticated speech to help us to conclude that it was fine to buy all those trees for our climate zone. And we did. Little did we know that the zone factor was huge and there was actually no such thing as a Zone 3 to 6 swing. Next, we almost killed ourselves planting all those trees in one shot during one hot week-end. The trees looked great during summer and fall. Then, suddenly, the peach and nectarine trees did not ”wake up” next spring. So did walnut and pear trees in the following spring. Within three springs cherry trees joined the others and we had 12 trees dead out of 18. Heartbroken, we were looking at them thinking:
”Fey withouten fait is febelore þen nouȝt, and ded as a dore-nayl.”
[Faith without works is feebler than nothing, and dead as a doornail.]
Not that we did not take care about the trees, on the contrary, we spend hours trimming, watering and feeding them in seasons. So, why did they die? Because their tag said: ”Zone 5 or 6” while the sales person successfully maneuvered us into a sack with his elusive speech on the ”climate zones”. Needless to say, the guaranty for the trees was only 3 months at that time. We had our lesson.
Fortunately, there were some trees that did have correct ”Zone 3” tag, including few apple trees and one sour cherry which we still have in our orchard. They are alive and kicking and giving us plenty of wonderful fruit each fall.
As for the Garden Centre shopping, we are now well-armed with the knowledge of, both, how to select a tree for our climate zone and how to deal with those sales reps that are ”doing it wrong”. In Shakespeare’s words it would be:
”Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was
broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I
have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and
thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead
as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.”
King Henry VI, Part 2., 1592.

PS: I was actually planning to write this post as a reminder to all gardeners that it is time now to trim the fruit treeswhile they are still dormant. For Eastern Canada and New England zones you can still do it until the end of March. Pruning is important especially to remove damaged, diseased or the branches that grow straight up toward the sky, which do not produce fruit, but take lot of energy. Help your trees to produce some delicious fruits this year. Here is a good  source on tools and techniques to use for pruning and trimming the fruit trees.