Monthly Archives: April 2013

Arugula Pear Blue Cheese Salad with Nuts

Spring is a delicate time for everyone going easy on carbs and fat in hope for renewal (and to eventually fit into bikini). This colourful salad is a great recipe to include in your transitioning menu and feel festive at the same time. The contrast between sweet pears, bitter arugula, sharp hits of blue cheese and the toasty crunch of slivered almonds makes this dish an instant hit. It travels really well too, in case you would like to include it into your picnic basket or to brig to the potluck party. This salad can be ready in 15 minutes and is excellent with some toasted bread. It was inspired by our trip to St. Benedict Abbey (Saint-Benoît-du-Lac)earlier this month and the specialties we brought with us from there.
Located in Eastern townships (around 150 km Southeast of Montreal), the monastery was founded in 1912 by exiled French Benedictine monks. A little more than 50 monks live there today under the Rule of Saint Benedict spending their days in ”vigilate” (watch & wait in Latin), divine reading, meditation, prayer and humble work. The impressive medieval-looking architectural complex perched on the hill overlooks the eerie lake of Memphremagog and is surrounded by forest, apple gardens, marshes and fields. 
Receiving guests is in the faith of Benedictine monks, so visitors and those who decided to stay temporarily in their guest house feel welcome. The on-premise store sells their quality crafts like: fine cheeses, jams, jellies, apple cider and vinegar, ice wines and even CDs of their famous Gregorian Chants. If you manage to be there by 5PM, the time of the liturgy, you can listen to Gregorian Chants (Vespers) in their church: an incredible and thrilling experience in itself. In case you would like to learn how silence works or to live a life much different from yours for a short period of time, check their website on how to become a staying guest. Keep in mind though, it’s a community of men, although women can visit the monastery and attend the church any time.
The rhythm of cheese making combines well with the monastic life, and St. Benedict Abbey has been making cheese since 1942. It is the only cheese factory in North America managed by Benedictine monks, which is why you may have heard about them even if you are not Catholic. It is especially famous for their blue cheeses like ”Bleu Ermite” and ”Bleu Bénédictin”, which are made the same way, but are different at their ripening stage. 
Blue Ermite, not so strong blue with herbal aroma, hints of sweetness and earthiness is perhaps their most famous one. It is aged for five weeks, then is removed from the ripening room and the natural mould rind that has formed is washed away. Because it is very mild blue, in today’s salad, I would pair it with Romaine lettuce, almonds and apple cider vinegar in the dressing (see below choices) for harmonious result.
Blue Benedictine, an award winner across Canada, is sharper and tangier: it stays in the ripening room for three months and the blue mould rind is kept on. This outer layer and longer aging help to add flavour and ripen the cheese further, making its texture smoother and creamier than Blue Ermite. Its tastes better combined with stronger ingredients, such as, bitter arugula, radicchio, rich walnuts and tangy balsamic (or even xérès) vinegar.

I personally find a special magic in the taste of this salad if you use some apricot preserve in your dressing. If not, honey works well too. And, by the way the blue cheese can be any of your choice including Gorgonzola:
 Voila: bitter-sweet, salty, tangy and light – what else blue cheese and pear lovers can dream about?


Yields 4 portions
3 cups baby arugula (or 1 head of Romaine lettuce rinsed, dried and chopped)
2 small heads radicchio (optional)
2 ripe but firm pears, cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4” thick slices (sprayed with lemon juice to prevent darkening)
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted* (or other nuts of your choice)
2-3 ounces of crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup almond oil (or olive, or walnut oil)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or apple cider or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons honey (or apricot jam preserve)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, combine the arugula, radicchio, pear slices and nuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Mix well and pour dressing over salad. Toss until evenly coated. Spread crumbled blue cheese on to and serve.
*To toast nuts, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 6-8 minutes until lightly toasted. Cool completely before using.
And here is more about Abbey St. Benoit du Lac should you decide to visit:

Eggs Asparagus Ham Savoury Tart

Here is what can be called ”Breakfast of Champions” way to cook the eggs and asparagus together into a fancy yet delicious quilt pie you will never forget. Baked eggs have all but disappeared from home menus, which was a pity because they taste great and are so easy to prepare. Just like poached eggs, baked eggs are about to be back IN due to the chefs who are trying to re-invent them with some awesome recipes. This is one of them from local celebrity chef Ricardo (Larrivée), which he called ”Savoury Quilt Pie”. 

Right Image: Amédée Varin from “Drôleries végétales. L’Empire des légumes, mémoires de Cucurbitus Ier” 
by Eugène Nus and Antoine Méray, Paris: Gabriel de Gonet, 1861.

This tart is a perfect way to showcase your freshly bought spring asparagus packed with vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, selenium and many other minerals our bodies need after a long nutriments-depriving winter.

I modified the recipe just a little bit over the course of a few tries. Particularly, I reduced ham to 200 g (Ricardo’s version is way too MEATY for me) and used only green asparagus (did not get the white one before the week-end).  The preparation takes about 25 minutes, 30 minutes of fridge time and around 45 minutes of cooking, so give yourself a good hour to make this impressive meal. Once you taste it, you will not regret. Steps are easy: defrost and roll the puff pastry, boil or steam asparagus; chop the ham and mix it with sauteed onions and mustard, spread everything according to the instructions and bake. Add eggs 10 minutes into the end of baking. Mine got little out of whack, but the look and aroma were still amazing.

The recipe below is a version of chef Ricardo unchanged.
400 g (14 ounces) store bought puff pastry dough, defrosted
2 onions, chopped
1/2 pound sliced ham, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
30 green asparagus, each 5” long
30 white asparagus, each 5” long
6 eggs
salt & pepper
Line a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) rectangle. Place it on the baking sheet. Fold the edges of the dough inward, making a 1 cm (1/2”) upturned edge. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the onions in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. In a bowl, combine the onions, ham, sour cream and mustard. Refrigerate.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spears to a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Spread the ham mixture evenly over the dough. Place the baking sheet next to the work surface, with a long side parallel to the edge of the counter or table.
Mentally divide the pie into 6 squares, 12 x 12 cm (5” x 5”) each. Working from left to right, lay 10 green asparagus spears side by side in the first square. In the next square, lay 10 white asparagus spears side by side, at right angles to the green asparagus. Repeat with the remaining squares, alternating colors and directions to create quilt effect. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Break egg onto each square. Bake for 10 minutes more. Cut into 6 squares and serve.
Adapted from: Ricardo Larrivée, ”Parce qu’on a tous de la visite” (La Presse, 10/2008)

Knockout Lamb Loin Chops

You will notice that the image of these mouth-watering lamb chops is a bit out of focus. Don’t be surprised, please. I was salivating like Pavlov dog and couldn’t hold camera well towards the end of grilling – the look, smell and taste were to die for, which is why I called them ”knockout lamb chops”. (I suspect, I violated Rule No. 1050 for food photographers: ”Never take food pictures on an empty stomach, especially when grilling lamb chops. Have plenty of bread before you start cooking them, or you will have a tremor.”) Anyways, I believe the image will still carry the message of how good they were. We inaugurated spring with our first BBQ this way, and what can be better than grilled spring lamb for this occasion? But, first, the story.
Last week we took a road trip South to Philipsburg, a small town bordering with the US state of Vermont, where you can watch the birds’ migration over the Champlain lake at this time of the year.
Well, we didn’t see much birds in Philipsburg, but it was nice to have some fresh air of a countryside, see the nature reviving, pass by the farms and visit some specialty stores.
I saw a smoke coming from the fields of one of the farms and started thinking about those packs of lamb chops nesting in my fridge for the last few days. The idea of grilling them asap grew fast and shortly became an obsession for the evening.
We caught some images of the migrating birds on our way back, much closer to our house. Although the scenery was breathtaking, the lamb chops won and we hurried home to prepare the feast.
Whether for a quality that never fails, availability or a very strong trademark identity, New Zealand lamb is usually my first choice. (Thank You, Kiwi Farmers & Exporters!) Always fresh, perfectly marbled cuts of lamb are heavenly and make a quick, tasty and festive dinner in minutes. You can grill them, broil, or pan-fry, the result will be awesome.
A simple marinade of rosemary & thyme (crushed in mortar), garlic, Dijon mustard and olive oil will make a trick which works best when you just keep your chops rubbed in it for about 30 minutes at the room temperature.  When grilling, one of the celebrity chef’s tips is to turn the chops also the fat side down (after flipping the chops on both sides) to melt the fat out and get that amazing crispiness. You can also score the fat before marinating the chops.
It’s always fun to end the day next to the grill sharing the impressions and sipping some good wine. Speaking of which, grilled lamb loin chops are perfect with fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot. We shared them with green beans and the bottle of Californian Liberty School. Ahh, I wish every day could be like that.
8 lamb loin chops 3/4 inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry rosemary crushed in mortar
1 teaspoon dry thyme crushed in mortar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
In a bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, crushed dry rosemary and thyme, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Whisk well. Rub the chops with this marinade, cover and keep for 30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for 1 to 6 hours.
Heat the grill until almost smoking, add chops and sear for about 2-3 minutes. Flip the chops over and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare and 3-4 minutes for medium.
Place lamb chops on broiler pan and broil 4 inches from heat for about 5 to 7 minutes per side or to desired doneness.
Pan fry them in skillet on high to medium heat for 5 minutes on each side and 3 minutes on the fat side.
Adapted from: the mix of  New Zealand Lamb Recipes and Giada De Laurentis Grilled Lamb Chops.

Potato & Egg Salad

Don’t know what to do with those Easter hard boiled eggs leftovers? Well, if they have been pending in your fridge for no longer than just a few days, here is a quick suggestion about what you can do with them. Four to six Yukon Gold or similar medium-starch boiled potatoes will be plenty for this salad. Mixed with eggs and the right dressing (the star of this salad), it goes well with all kinds of meat and fish. You can make in advance for parties and gatherings or have it for lunch in a humble way, with some tinned sardines on the side.
Due to the dressing, this Potato Egg Salad is little bit lighter than classic Mayonnaise Egg Salad. Secret ingredient? A few spoons of brine from a pickle jar (preferably kosher) to dilute your mayonnaise dressing! A year ago I was watching Rachel Ray’s show on TV where she was making a coleslaw dressing using some of the pickle jar liquid and I figured it was a great way to recycle something of a great flavour, which we usually waste without any hesitation. Especially, when it’s this foggy brine of some quality kosher pickles, which have naturally fermented in. Since that time I have been storing this liquid in bottle and keep in the refrigerator to use in different kinds of salad dressings.
Other ingredients making this little salad a success are: Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chopped pickle, capers, dry tarragon, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Mixed with mayonnaise and thinly sliced red onion and celery stalks, they make an amazing rustic dressing, that is slightly tangy and light.
Yields: 4 servings
4-6 potatoes boiled in skin, peeled and cubed
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cubed
1 small red onion thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced celery stalks
1 tablespoon capers
1 pickle cubed
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons pickle brine
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
some chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Peel hard-boiled eggs and chop them (in cubes or slices). Cover potatoes in their skin with water, bring to boil and simmer for about 25-30 minutes or until soft, but not mushy. In the bowl, combine and blend well all the ingredients, except the potatoes, eggs and parsley for dressing. Put aside.
Rinse boiled potatoes in a cold water for a few seconds, peel and cube them while they are still warm. In a big bowl, layer potatoes with cubed eggs and pour the dressing over. Mix and serve immediately or refrigerate until later (or next day). Garnish with chopped parsley if desired.

What’s Up Egg? It’s Easter Time(s)

It is trendy for the food blogs to mimic magazines’ practices. Fellow bloggers advance their recipes weeks before the holidays, forcing themselves (and their families) to enjoy festive food way before the holiday arrives. So they can finally relax and watch TV quietly during the actual holiday, satisfied that their readers have been informed. I still have to learn how to do that. In the meantime, I am placing this little web log about our past week-end activity, and retrieve into the process of the Easter eggs coloring.
Orthodox Easter celebration: Niko Pirosmani’s  art & old Russian poster of 1900s via Wikimedia

Officially, Easter has passed as a holiday, but what about Bulgarian, Cypriot, Greek, Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and other people of Eastern Orthodox faith? (I have a sudden flash of memory from ”The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”movie, when people are placed in a trance where the name Constantinopleis uttered.) Well, for people of the Orthodox faith or tradition, who will celebrate their Easter on May 5th this year, it ain’t over yet. (HA, I am not so late with my news, get it?)

Easter Eggs in art, old posters and postcards via Wikimedia Commons.
Coloring eggs is a custom going as far back as to the times of Mesopotamia, when the early Christians stained eggs red to represent the blood of Christ and rebirth. From the Greek Easter κόκκινα αυγά, to Russian krashenkas, to Ukrainian pysankas, to even Fabergé tsar imperial Easter eggs, there are so many traditions, decoration techniques, rituals and applications related to eggs during Easter times!
Tapping Eggs, F Sychkov, 1917

The following method of coloring eggs might not render you some state of the art Ukrainian ”Pysankas” (above), but I’m sure it will satisfy your Easter egg need big time. Dying eggs is easy, inexpensive and sooo entertaining – kids, adults, even grandparents love to do them! No need for decal or chemical food dyes. Simple, fast and very traditional. The most important part of it is to collect enough of dry onion peels, so you can prepare your own dye. Don’t worry, the eggs will not smell like onion. I usually collect the peels during the year (whenever I remember) in a brown paper bag. When ready, cover the peels with cold water, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Voilà, your dye is ready.

Once the dye is prepared, go ahead and boil the eggs in it for a nice marble tint. Or, go for an extra mile and craft original sunprint eggs with some botanicals. For that, you will need a bunch of little green leaves, flowers, petals, or, a handmade mini-decal from paper. Once your collection is ready, take some nylons, affix your selections to the egg, tie with knots on both sides carefully, submerge into the room temperature die, bring to boil and boil for a minute. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
Rinse with plenty of cold water and release the eggs. Use as a decoration and/or a part of your Easter breakfast/lunch/dinner. We had them for brunch with some crêpes and smoked salmon:
And don’t forget to do some tapping to see whose egg is left unbroken:
12+ onion peels (the more the better)
12 white eggs
Pack the onion peel in the sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for about 10 minutes to release the maximum of color. Put aside and let cool to the room temperature. In the meantime, prepare the eggs. Fix them in nylons with botanical decals, if applicable. Submerge the eggs into the dye carefully, making sure the onion dye covers the eggs. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat and wait for 10 to 15 minutes. Chill the eggs under cold running water, place in the bowl, remove the nylons and decals and let the eggs dry. Once the eggs are dry, feel free to slightly rub them with olive oil to give them a nice shine.
Easter Greetings, B. Kustodiev, 1912
Happy (Belated) Easter Everybody!