Monthly Archives: July 2013

Green Mountain State & Sour Cherry Banana Bread Pudding

I call this simple dessert the epitome of summer happiness as it truly gives your taste buds that special touch of freshness you can only find in sour cherries. Their season is short, however, so if you are a sour cherry lover, you better hurry to the farmer’s market now for these little delicate fruits only show up once a year and not for long. Sour cherries are amazing in baking: they hold well under the temperature while their tartness and tanginess bring any dessert to a new tasty heights. As antioxidant-rich fruits (viva quercetin!) they are also huge on nutritional benefits and are known to relief stress, prevent cancer, improve cardio-vascular and anti-inflammatory functions.

Bread pudding is often associated with a heavy, cloying desserts most often served during fall or winter, but just wait until you try this one and you will surely be surprised. This recipe was inspired by our recent trip to the Green Mountain State – a week of a prolonged indulgence in the green beauty and locally grown organic food. For most of us Vermont is known for its skiing or fall foliage, but it is actually in summer that it really shines and you can see for your own eyes why it has consistently ranked the healthiest state in America. 
Vermont is so much more than just maple syrup or Ben and Jerry ice cream. It’s a lifestyle. The farmers’ markets are bustling with everything from locally grown food, to cheese and wine, arts and crafts. The switch to more organic, good-for-you products is apparent everywhere, even at the level of the convenience stores.
Lush green mountains, crystal clear lakes, pastoral scenic roads, rolling farmlands, rivers and waterfalls – you notice immediately how ”green and clean” this state is. You can actually enjoy the scenery while driving – no billboards obstructing the view. Back in 1968 Vermonters voted to regulate business for the benefit of the landscape and thirsty travelers. Since that time there has been no billboards along their roads. Surprised? Me too. (Curiously, the billboards are also banned in three other healthy and least populated states including Hawaii, Maine and Alaska).
Living in the green paradise clearly has its perks and you quickly notice that well-being is another Vermonters’ forte. People are shockingly friendly and relaxed. So nice and welcoming (so rare in our remorseful post-affluence society) that I felt I was lost in time somewhere between Norman Rockwell’s characters and Happy Hippies. I had to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I was not having a hallucination.
 Like taking a sip of a clean cold water on a hot summer day, so truly refreshing was my summer-in-Vermont discovery. I promised myself to embark on this wanderlust again shortly. So, when am I going back? This weekend, as a matter of fact. Yep, that’s how much I liked it! But let’s get back to our pain perdu aux cerises (French for our Cherry Bread Pudding), my little tribute to the state of all foods good and wholesome.
This lazy-amazing bread pudding takes only 15 minutes to prepare and easily converts to gluten free if you choose to use a gluten free bread like I did. In fact, I much more prefer it with gluten free bread (I used the most popular white rice flour bread variety you can get anywhere, from Walmart to Loblaws) since its major ingredient is rice, and, rice (as we all know) is awesome in puddings. Fresh sour cherries are of course the star of this dessert, but, frozen, dried or canned sour cherries work well too, or, you can vary the flavor using other sour fruits (i.e. apricots, plums, apples, cranberries, etc.) and adapt it to the summer’s bounty your way. One big ripe banana is a must as it makes a perfect taste & texture juxtaposition with any fruit combination. So, in four easy steps: 

  1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F; pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make about one cup of pitted cherries; cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make about 4 cups; peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces;
  2. using a wire whisk, stir together beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (sometimes I use blender for this to cheat on the whisking);
  3. place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking pan or dish; distribute cherries and banana slices; top with remaining bread cubes; pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture;
  4. bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

Looks convincing? Tastes too, you bet!
Bon Appétit and have a Happy Summer Time!
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free rice flour bread (or regular raisin bread), cut into 3/4 inch squares
2/3 cup fresh or (frozen, canned or dried) sour cherries
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pit the sour cherries using safety pin to make 2/3 cup of pitted cherries. Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in an 8x8x2-inch buttered baking dish; distribute cherries and banana slices and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly and serve warm with a splash of cream and maple syrup drizzle (optionally, I also splash it with Grand Marnier) or a topping of your choice.

Healthy Summer Scoop: Banana ”Ice Cream”

The temperatures have been soaring sky-high in the last few weeks, which turns summer basking into a doubtful pleasure of a never-ending smog. And the heat goes on and on. The time when everyone is looking for shade and a good scoop of an ice cream.

As much as I love Coaticook or Lactantia commercial brands, an idea of a healthy simple home made banana ”ice cream” was tempting me since I discovered the recipe. So I made it: there is no dairy or sugar in it; it’s gluten free, relatively low in calories, and, super-refreshing on oppressively hot and humid summer day. I promised to a friend of mine, who tried and liked it and wanted me to share the recipe with her, that I will post it this week. So here you are, my dear.

Slice and freeze some bananas; blend them with almond milk, some maple syrup and vanilla extract – and it’s ready to serve. Top with some roasted sweet-and-salty slivered almonds. Voila, almost a sin-free dessert with some very positive nutritional value, which you can make in a few minutes!
Ideal when served while you laze around in the garden or the pool, but also perfectly refreshing when you come back home on one of these sweltering days.
Yields about 1 pint
4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted almonds
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons good-quality maple syrup, divided
A pinch of coarse sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Freeze the banana slices in a single layer on a tray or plate lined with parchment or wax paper. Once the slices are frozen, use them immediately or keep frozen in a zip-top plastic bag or airtight container for up to a month.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the almonds with 2 teaspoons of the maple syrup and the pinch of salt and set the mixture aside.
Combine the frozen banana slices, the almond milk, the remaining 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and the vanilla extract in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is the texture of soft-serve ice cream, scraping down the sides as necessary. Don’t worry if the mixture is not totally smooth at first – once the bananas start to break down and defrost in the food processor, they’ll give in and the ”ice cream” will take shape quickly.
Spoon the banana ”ice cream” into bowls immediately and sprinkle with a bit of almond mixture.

Recipe from: ”It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow with Julia Turschen, Grand Central Life & Style Hachette Book Group, April 2013.

Tkemali Sour Plum BBQ Sauce

Another great recipe from the Republic of Georgia. This sauce has an unforgettable kick and identity. Plum sauce is commonly associated with a glutinous yellow sweet and sour condiment used with Chinese deep-fried dishes. Georgian Tkemali sour plum sauce has nothing to do with it (except the plum ingredient). It has totally different pungent, sour-tangy, spicy and herbal taste and goes with much bigger array of dishes, especially grilled or broiled.

Just like Argentinean Chimichuri, it’s perfect with grilled beef, pork or lamb, but is also very good with grilled or fried chicken, or fish. For some reason, I keep having this parallel of Georgian and Argentinean cuisines in my mind exactly after visiting and trying the Georgian grill (Mcvadi) + Tkemali and Argentinean grill (Parilla) + Chimichuri. Both sauces are sour and full of garden freshness; both go well with all kind of grilled meat and are delicious with vegetables; both can be also used as a marinade. “So do tomato or pepper-based sauces”, I can hear you saying. Yes, but you will not have that “garden in your mouth”, and that is the power of this sauce.
Genuine Tkemali is made of small yellow-green plums called tkemale in Georgia. In season, for a short period of the time, we have a similar variety of yellow plums in stores here at the end of summer. Red sour plums (under ripen), can serve as a good substitute to make this sauce and right now we have them as an import from Chile, Peru and California. You will need about 9-10 plums (about 23 oz or 650g) to make a decent amount of this sauce, which you can keep in the fridge for a few weeks after in clean sterilized jars. Add a splash of an apple cider vinegar while cooking it if you need to keep the sauce for a longer time.
Making it takes not more than 30 minutes in total. I tried to keep the recipe as authentic as I could (considering that there are hundreds of varieties of this sauce) to attain that “garden” taste effect and avoid adding any vinegar (stay away GERD!). Put less cayenne if you want to temper the heat. The mix of freshly ground coriander, fennel seed, cayenne and crushed garlic add a distinct smoky dimension when incorporated into the plum paste.
As one Russian chef said in the heydays of cold war and Soviet bonanza: “Georgians can eat sauce on sauce”. Sauces are so important in Georgian cuisine, nothing is eaten without them. Known to have lots of aromatic herbs and spices in most of their variations, each and every sauce is very different and designed to be taken with a specific dish. Tkemali sauce is very versatile though. And with the new trends for salty-sweet-sour and/or use of fruits in place of veggies, you can literally take it with anything, even the ice cream. I find it tastes especially good with lamb and chicken, others love it with broiled fish, burgers or grilled veggies. 
 Lace your dish with or dip it in, this sauce successfully contends with the best BBQ sauces I know.
Yields: 6 to 10 servings
9-12 (650-800 g or 23-25 oz) sour under ripe plums pitted and sliced
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons coriander seed, grounded
1 teaspoon fennel seed, grounded
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, grounded
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
black pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1/2 cup fresh coriander, minced
Bring water to boil, add plums, simmer for 10 minutes, remove from heat. Transfer to the blender, add garlic, salt and give it a few runs to blend the mixture to paste. Transfer blended mix back to the saucepan. Add grounded spices: coriander, fennel seed, cayenne and black pepper to taste. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add minced fresh mint and coriander. Mix and boil for 1 minute. Cool to room temperature and transfer to clean sterilized jars. Keep refrigerated. Great with lamb, chicken, fish, beef, pork or grilled veggies.
TIP: Dry fry the coriander and fennel before grinding to powder in a pestle & mortar to enhance the flavor of the spices in the sauce.

Crispy Chicken Tabaka

Chicken Tabaka is a traditional dish from Georgia (the country, not the state below the Mason-Dixon line). The name has nothing to do with misspelled ”tobacco”, but refers to Georgian ”tapha”: heavy skillet in which the dish (the spatchcocked/butterflied chicken) was traditionally prepared.

This recipe is a rear catch for anyone who loves fried chicken. Crispy, juicy and packed with garlic infusion, this fried chicken is delicious and as healthy as the fried chicken can be. No crumbs coating, no deep-fry oil, no messy marinade – all you need is: one chicken, one garlic bulb, salt & pepper, frying pan. And 30 minutes of your time. Major tip: you will need a brick, or other heavy thing (I used a gallon-size stockpot filled with water) to flatten the bird for quick and even cooking.
Earlier this year, British Woman & Home magazine cited Georgian cuisine as one of the emerging global food trends and I was not surprised. Georgian cuisine is simply fantastic! In the Soviet Union with hundreds of different ethnic food influences, Georgian cuisine played a role similar to the French cuisine in the West. To the point that many Russian dishes (i.e. “shashlik”) today are, in fact, of Georgian origin.
Photo credit: Woman & Home Magazine
As long as you have some weight to flatten the bird/parts, there is no need for a special skillet. I use a regular frying pan. Split the chicken along the breast bone and flatten it (see the image). Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan to high, place the chicken covered with weight (I use no oil at all to let chicken cook in its own fat: for that you have to use a good even skillet without scratches). Flip it once, pack the skillet with garlic and fry with the weight on until brown and crisp. 30 minutes and Ta-Dah! It’s ready!
The genuine recipe calls for a sophisticated way of preparing pressed chicken, which I do not do, but just will show you an image from a cookbook Russian Cooking, Time Life Books, circa 1969. The back and breast bones are removed and the legs are drawn through the openings in the breasts to flatten the chicken before frying. Absolutely no way I am re-enacting this in my kitchen (who has time or patience for it these days?), plus the weight will do the desired magic trick anyways.
Don’t have a whole chicken? Do the same with chicken parts. In fact, it turns out to be even better to apply the same technique to fry chicken legs, for example: it seals the juices individually and you don’t have to cut the chicken into the portions upon frying. Also, many prefer dark meat to white – there is never enough of drums or thighs when you prepare a whole chicken. Be it organic or the cheapest chicken cuts, this recipe is a winner with its almost no-grease+flattened+garlic infused technique. 
Serve hot or cold, at home, party or picnic with another Georgian classic: Tkemali sauce (see the next post).
Right and bottom images credit Russain Cooking, circa 1969
With tons of unique methods of cooking, aromatic herbs & spices and huge focus on the fresh ingredient, Georgian recipes hold a special place in my heart. I will continue testing and posting many others, for this cuisine is a real bomb.
1 small-to-medium chicken, or Cornish chicken, or 4 chicken legs with bones
1 garlic bulb, cloves separated and crushed with the skin on
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon frying oil, or butter
Rinse and pat dry the chicken and place it breast side up on a large cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice down the middle of the breastbone, to separate the rib cage. Do not cut all the way through the chicken backbone as it should remain in one piece.
Optional: if you wish, make a small slit at the lower edge of each breast half and push the tips of the drumsticks protrude on the skin side. Make similar slits on the upper edge of each breast half and push the wing tips through. Each breast half should be covered by drumstick and a wing (see the above images). Flatten the chicken gently with the meat pounder.
Rub the chicken with salt and pepper. Preheat the frying pan at the high and add oil. Place the chicken skin up into the heated frying pan for 2-3 minutes, then turn to the skin side down and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Cover with the heat proof plate that fits into the pan and place a heavy object over the plate to flatten the chicken. Fry over medium high heat for 15-20 minutes. Remove the weight and plate carefully flip chicken skin side down and distribute crushed garlic cloves evenly around it. Re-cover with plate and weight and fry for 15-20 minutes more, until the skin is brown and crisp. Discard the garlic cloves. Serve with Tkemali sauce and the side course of your choice.

Celebrating: Multicultural Potluck Summer Sail Picnic

As one folk put it: ”celebrating Canada day is more of a family business while 4th of July is all about parades and fireworks.” How about mixing both, especially for those who constantly sail South or North of the border and have two flags on their boat? After all, both holidays are to celebrate freedom and diversity at the same time. I personally don’t see any better occasion to have a multicultural potluck picnic party with friends and family when you can connect, enjoy a lovely scenery and great food.

The ”melting pot”term symbolizing American pride (created by playwright Israel Zangwill about a century ago) has evolved to the ”mixed salad bowl” metaphor representing cultural mosaic of our society. Most recently, there’s been even a new humaphor created by Stephen Colbert to describe ”the patriotic division of America into individual sanitary compartments of like minded citizens” and called ”lunchables”. The beer and hot dogs celebration in NYC might not be what it used to be, but I’d say it’s all about your own idea of fun, location and company you choose to celebrate with.
Spontaneous parties are usually hit or miss, which is why it’s good to have everything well organized. We planned our potluck gathering in rural American marina weeks before and had a rip-roaring good time! The potluck party is becoming more and more popular method of entertainment in these struggling economic times and it’s clear why. You stretch your grocery buck. No need to slave over the hot stove hovering nervously over assembled invitees as they chow down, chat and have fun. Everyone is bringing his/her trademark dish assembled in its best. You share, communicate, exchange, take notes of the new recipes and no one feels under the privilege. Awesome!
Here are the dishes I prepared for my picnic basket this time along with the reasoning:  
Queenie Zucchini Corn Bread – a great gluten free twist on all-American classics, goes well with almost anything;
Montreal-Style Smoked Meat Sandwiches – for a patriotic twist, although, the smoked meat was Costco bought (no way you can cook it yourself: in Montreal it would be a shame);
Chicken Tabaka with Tkemali SauceGeorgian food is IN world-wide this year and people know very little about it;
Bull Shot drinks (variation of a Bloody Marry) – my tribute to the 80s – go well alone or with mains and can be made with or without alcohol;
Assorted cheeses from Quebec – to join the dessert list and for variety.
There were no leftovers. Everything disappeared well before the dusk and fireworks. The dish that really wowed the crowd, however, (including myself since I made it for the first time) was a sour plum Tkemali Sauce which went so well with all kind of BBQ dishes. I will be posting this sauce and other potluck recipes over the next few days. CHEERS!