Monthly Archives: December 2013

Guilt Free Molten Chocolate Cake

If this little thing doesn’t scream EAT ME to you then I don’t know what will.  This lighter-than-air chocolate cake with gooey running inside pocket was the bang we made for Christmas. And, hopefully, will repeat today. ‘Cause hardly any other dessert can be more chocolaty or feathery light to go so well  with a glass of champagne.  Why guilt free?  Because it’s the New Year’s Eve (in Arctic cold weather), the cake is made of dark chocolate, without flour, with very little sugar) and … it is REALLY tiny (you can choose the individual size of the ramekin). And for the color and the year of the Horse …
Give a try to this exquisite and festive morsel with mostly 4 basic ingredients in it: dark chocolate, butter, (very little) sugar and eggs. We added a small pinch of cayenne pepper to increase the intensity and add a touch of the fire place warmth. 
The molten chocolate cake (which  also happens to be very easy and fast to make) is a truly nice step away from any heavy holiday classics, but if you don’t have time to make it today, then Valentine would be another perfect occasion…

Thank you for everything in 2013 and Cheers to the Happy and Easy 2014!
Molten Chocolate Cake
Yields: 6 to 8 small cakes in ramekins
8 oz (227 g) bittersweet or dark chocolate
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature + extra butter for greasing ramekins
2 tbsp cocoa powder
4 eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
pinch of fleur de sel (or fine flaky sea salt)
1 tbsp white powdered sugar for sprinkling ramekins
whipped cream or ice cream to garnish
fresh blackberries to garnish (or other fresh berries)
Prepare and grease 6 to 8 very small ramekins.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Place the chocolate and butter in a small bowl. Bring a small pot of water to boil and place the bowl with chocolate and butter in it to melt, stirring over medium-low heat until completely melted and well mixed.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder and cayenne (optional), mix well. Set aside.
Beat the eggs with the brown sugar and vanilla until thick and pale. Pour in melted chocolate mix, add salt and mix well until smooth.
Divide the butter among 4 greased ramekins greased and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until the batter rises, the edges are set, but the center is still gooey.  Serve warm or cold garnished with whipped cream or ice cream and fresh berries.
Tip: after the cakes cool down, they will shrink and pull away from the sides. If necessary, run a paring knife around the edges of the cakes to loosen them. Carefully invert into a plate.

Roasted Quail à la Milanese

Ladies and Gentlemen, I humbly invite you to indulge in my little menu with the succulent roasted quail mounted on top of sautéed veggies with pronounced Italian taste…  and the aromatic puddle of juices waiting to be picked up with the bite of a savory bread pudding (my version of holiday stuffing). For the contrast and/or a drop of color (not to mention the amount of fiber and nutriments) I added some steamed Brussels sprouts with orange zest to complete the unbelievable harmony of seasons in this recipe. Can you think of any more elegant setting for a holiday dinner on a budget?
I came up with this combination idea after some hours of mentally deconstructing a holiday bird and the stuffing (while driving long distances or on the bus), in a way you can still have fun with both.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas turkey dinners just like Chevy Chase’s, or Eddie Murphy’s characters or any other person who likes to chill out with the family.
This time though I was craving some new age flair for a change.  Something that would not require any horse power to manipulate with and would not cork the fridge the day after.  Something more visually and socially appealing and much more exciting for the taste buds than a turkey, and… that can actually be made in advance?AH! Hopefully I just got your attention!
This little quirky bird came to my response.  I know, I know, it is not much to eat, it’s messy and primal and it is not always working well in recipes. I’ve tried and failed the ones with all kind of sweet marinades over the years (allowing the marinades to destroy the delicate flavor of the bird) and that was the reason I got cold feet about it.
Until I discovered this absolutely amazing and easy Chef Jean Soulard’s recipe and am now proudly presenting it to you with almost no alterations.  The only thing I added to it was one jalapeno pepper for a bit of a kick.  So, NO, the recipe has nothing to do with my once upon a time travel to Milan where my luggage (not heart) was lost without a trace. But, YES, it is an Italian inspired dish I found in the French Canadian chef’s book. And the secret of its success is in the sauce…
Quails are available, relatively inexpensive (go to the Chinese supermarket for the best $ deal) and make a stunning addition to the festivities. Why do you think high-end restaurant menus have this bird so often on their holiday menus?  It’s easy and fast to cook, it makes a hell of a presentation (because of its small size) and (when cooked properly) it tastes divine. Also, don’t forget that quail has less than 300 calories per bird (yes, you will get much more from just a few bites of pigs in the blanket); it is lower in fat and higher in protein than chicken and is a great source of nutriments and is considered a low-fat energy booster. PS: Game meat is my next table resolution for 2014: to fight hormones, antibiotics, etc., make portions smaller and add some forgotten vigor to the plate.
If you are still not convinced, here is the best thing about the recipe: you can make the dish up to two days ahead! Or, did I already mention that? Keep it in the fridge and then just warm it up in the 400F oven for 10 minutes (buttering and broiling the top if necessary with the tips of the legs covered with aluminum foil not to burn).  Sure, if you serve it immediately upon cooking it will give you a tender juicy flesh, which some people are looking for. However, if you put it aside and let the juices ”cure” for 24-48 hours, the meat will be less juicier, but will become smokier and gamier and more acceptable for those, for example, who are not the admirers of the ”rare” condition.  And, by the way, no one has to know you did not cook it from skratch 15 minutes ago…  Check out the images below (right after cooking and after 36 hours in the fridge) to see the difference. 

And so it’s time to dust off our best cutlery and open a bottle of good wine and prepare to celebrate Christmas. Be deliciously Merry and have a Happy Holiday! Cheers!

Wait, what about the dessert? Good question – I saved that for a bang tomorrow!  Oops, who am I kidding, it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and I am not home alone!

Merry Christmas to All of You!
Quail à la Milanese (Cailles mijoutees comme a la Milan)
Yields: 4-8 portions (two birds per person are suggested, but you can easily go with one)
Time: 20 minutes to prepare/20 minutes cooking time
8 quails
30g (2 tbsp) butter
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
6 bacon slices, cut in small pieces
2 onions, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in julienne
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced into julienne (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
20 black olives,
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh basil, chopped
Salt & pepper
In the large Dutch oven or skillet, brown the quails on all sides in the mix of butter and oil for 5 minutes. Salt, pepper and set aside. Keep warm.
In the same skillet, add bacon and onions; sauté for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, peppers, garlic and olives. Mix, place the quails over the vegetables and let simmer for 15 minutes. Five minutes before the end of cooking, add basil. If desired, broil quails for an additional minute for a crunch and/or presentation. Dress the plates and serve the quails on the mountain of sautéed vegetables.
Adapted from: Le Grand Soulard de la Cuisine by Jean Soulard: 1150 recettes classiques au gout du terroir quebecois ©Les Editions La Presse, 2013

Savory Mushroom Leek Parmesan Bread Pudding

The weather has been nasty in Montreal for the last few days which predisposed us to mostly stay home and do tons of baking (hoping that the ice rain will not bring electricity cut so often challenging us in this area).  Our family’s patriarch was successfully experimenting with kamut and millet bread to the Christmas jazz tunes. While I came up with an idea to make this bread pudding as a prequel to my Christmas post menu (which goes next).

This recipe was conceived last summer when I was staring at the mountain of the leftovers of commercial multi-grain gluten-free bread (which no one in our house eats except me) thinking how can I possibly re-use it.  I cut the stale bread in small cubes preparing first to use them instead of the crumbs in some fancy deep-fried recipes. Then I realized what a caloric bomb it would be if used that way (putting an extra load to our already weakened livers).
So pudding came next to my mind – I like no frills recipes where I can also recycle the leftovers.  Porcini, leek and Parmesan (I used old cheddar initially) factored in and Ta-dah! – few hours later I was trying the creation surprised with how little savory it tasted against my expectations.  I put other puddings in the fridge and re-heated one of them next day to have with a stew and, oh boy, it tasted so different! All the flavors I expected in a first place were set and present and waiting to be discovered upon a quick broiling to make the top crusty. Excellent main (with some good sauce or gravy) or side dish for stews and roasts.

Tonight I am repeating this exercise as I think it will work marvellously with the mystery bird I planned to cook for the Christmas dinner and act as a new age holiday stuffing. Buckle up with me if you like bread puddings.

Savory Mushroom Leek Parmesan Bread Pudding
Yields: 8 portions
3-4 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
3 green onions (scallions), minced
30+ gr dried porcini, reconstituted and minced, or, ½ lbs (225 g) fresh shiitake or button mushrooms (or fresh mushrooms of your choice), minced
2 leeks, white and tender green thinly sliced
Splash of white wine, or apple cider vinegar mixed with water (50/50)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
4 cups multi-grain (gluten free), or whole wheat stale bread, diced or in crumbs
4+ cups chicken stock, or milk, or mix of milk and cream
¾ cup Parmesan or other dense cheese of your taste, shredded
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
 Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Butter eight ¾ cup ramekins and set them in a roasting pan.
Melt the rest of the butter in a skillet, add scallions and mushrooms and cook stirring on the high heat for about 2 minutes. Add leeks, garlic, thyme and a splash of wine and continue stirring for another 5 minutes lowering the heat to moderate.  
In a large bowl, stir together the leek mushroom mixture, bread crumbs, stock, cheese, salt and pepper to taste until fully combined. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. In a saucepan, bring the stock (or milk and cream) till hot, but not boiling, remove from heat and gradually start whisking the eggs into the liquid. Stir the custard into the bread mix and let stand, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, for about 15 minutes. 
Divide mixture into the prepared ramekins, place in the roasting pan, add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover loosely with the foil (all at once). Bake for 25-30 minutes. Then carefully remove the foil and broil for 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the bread puddings out onto an ovenproof platter. Sprinkle (optionally) with Parmesan and broil for about 30 seconds or until golden. Equally, you can make the pudding ahead and perform the same after up to 48 hours of refrigeration. Serve hot.


Haute Homey Meat Pie: Lac-Saint-Jean Tourtière

I wish my parents in law would live long enough to try my take on this traditional French Canadian holiday food. They would be so pleased. Contrary to more popular crass variety of meat pie tourtière you can find frozen in any grocery, I could not believe my tongue when I tried a piece of this gamey-smoky mix of meat and potato morsels.  I’ve never made Lac-Saint-Jean Tourtière before, but this year I could not resist the temptation any longer.  The comfort pie made a massive come back this fall popping up all over menus at once. Just the latest issue of Signé M food magazine by Louis-François Marcotte (LFM) alone is featuring at least three varieties of tourtière recipes and they all look to die for.  And what can be better than having fun with a familiar favorite? So last week-end I gave it a swirl (we also shoveled a lot, as snow storms are our other familiar ”favorite”).
The name tourtière(for those who don’t know) comes from the word tourte, French for the Passenger Pigeon wild bird which was used in this pie when people were step-dancing much more than today  Up until the bird was over-hunted (for its flesh and feathers) and disappeared. The name was kept, but different kinds of game meats like partridge, fowl, pheasant, rabbit, deer, wild boar, deer etc. are now used for filling mixed with pork, veal and beef. Or, sometimes, three kinds of red meat are combined with poultry or game.  Duck and pork make a very interesting filling too, but I prefer to use it in individual small mini-pies as duck taste is pretty intense.
Now, does this dog look to you as if she was touched by the pigeon story?  Why is she so sad? Obviously, she is not suffering from malnutrition. So why these beggar’s eyes? The answer is: acting skills beyond imaginable dog’s capacity. This is how she actually acquired her middle name Sarah – in honor of the divine Sarah (Bernhardt). Doggie simply wants to come inside, because she is bored. Check her out just few minutes ago.  Once she saw us shoveling the backyard, she put up a real fight and wanted to eat all the snow being shoveled (she doesn’t like her landscape to be altered). She gave up 15 minutes after realizing that it was fruitless, and this kind of face was meant to ask to go back in where she could smell the cooking and/or join us for a poker party later.
Back to the pie. Lac-St-Jean Tourtière is made of various meats and potatoes cut in small cubes (both are not pre-cooked as opposed to ground meat pie varieties). The mix of meats (cubed pork, veal and chicken + lard in this case) and spices (onion, garlic, oregano, savory, white wine, salt and pepper) has to be marinated in the fridge overnight. I did not have the cubed veal, so I used the ground veal instead and it worked very well. For the meat cuts, shoulder or top round parts are the best to use.  Next morning it is mixed with cubed potatoes and then distributed evenly into the deep dish lined with the pie dough. 
The pie is cooked for a long time. It is important to make a big hole (2’+) in the center of the pie for proper ventilation, and cook the pie covered with foil (after the first 45 minutes). Keep it moist by adding some stock (though the vent hole) when necessary. Decorate the top with the dough scraps shaping them with cookie mold and fixing to the pie with a clove.
I used standard 9 by 13 inches dish for baking, but if you are going to use a deeper dish (with more meet), add hours of cooking accordingly (i.e. 3 more hours for twice more filling). Once cooked, let it stand for about 15 minutes and serve hot with cranberry sauce/salsa, home-made ketchup or your favorite chutney.

Bon appétit and enjoy your holiday prep!
Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean
Yields: 8 hearty portions
250g veal (or beef), cut into ½ inch cubes
250g pork, cut into ½ inch cubes
250g chicken breast, cut into ½ inch cubes
60g salted lard, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried savory
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine (or mix of cider vinegar and water)
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
Home-made** or store bought pie dough (1 kg)
1 egg combined with 2 tbsp. water
Mix the meats, onion, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and white wine in a bowl and keep refrigerated for overnight or 12 (up to 24 hours) covered. After 12+ hours, remove bay leaves and toss the meats mix with cubed potatoes (using your hands) seasoning with salt and pepper additionally and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Divide the dough in two balls (for the top (1/4) and the bottom (3/4) crusts). Roll the dough (bottom part) and line it up in the deep baking dish covering the edges.  Spread the meats-potato filling and cover with rolled dough (upper part). Make a 2’ inch hole in the center and few incisions in the dough for ventilation. Seal the edges pressing with the fork and brush with egg-water mixture. Place at the center of the oven uncovered and cook for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, lower the temperature of the oven to 300 F, cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 4 hours. Remove from the oven and let the pie rest for 15 minutes. Serve hot with cranberry sauce/salsa, home-made ketchup or your favorite chutney.
** Home-made pie dough:
5 cups flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/3 cups vegetable shortening
1 cup ice water
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. With a dough knife, mix the shortening in with the dry ingredients. Continue mixing until the shortening is reduced to pea-sized pieces. Add the water quickly and mix the dough gently. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Roasted Chestnuts, Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potato

Earlier this week, I woke up one morning and saw this little hare under the falling snow right outside the bedroom window (perks of the rural living vs when you see a homeless person urinating on your luxury condominium (well, at least from my personal experience…)).  I realized that Christmas is in less than two weeks. Clearly, this year I am so dans la lune (French for spaced out) that not even Michael Buble’s soundtrack in the stores could alert me about how close I am to my favorite holiday. I guess the rabbit was my jingle bell to get ready for my réveillon.
It’s time to roast our holiday boon (chestnuts), mount a Christmas tree and get enchanted with the Holiday spirit and Nat King Cole. With that in mind, I’m going straight to this year’s holiday recipes, which, hopefully, will be taking the same direction as my 2014 New Year’s Eve resolutions in draft. 
Naturally, I mean food and health-related resolutions (there are simply not enough pages on this blog to list all the others).  OK, let’s begin (wish No. 1): I wish I will eat more vegetables and nuts. ‘’Your wish is my Command!’’ Wow, that fast? Is that me, or are YOU for real?  
And I just happen to have some chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes on my kitchen counter. In my head I am adding olive oil, shallot, Spanish paprika, salt, pepper to this trio and it seems to me that the mix will be a delicious treat for today’s lunch or a holiday side dish. And I’m not even talking about nutritional bonus of all three. Hands on…
Ta-Dah! 40 minutes later I sit down with the plate of steamy veggies and roasted chestnuts. Excellent dish for an established vegetarian, but since I am not the one yet, it’s (me) asking for some extra things. What would it be?  A plate of home-made potato-sage gnocchi with hazelnut glaze sounds like a good idea (thumbs up, I’m still pushing in vegetarian direction).  Both dishes make a perfect company for someone busy to decorate a house and/or a Christmas tree. Are they festive enough though for a holiday table?  N-nay…
My autopilot is pushing me to start kneading for some traditional classics, which I do – no problem with that.  And while I am doing that, some ideas finally start visiting me.  I might reveal them this weekend. In the meantime, have a happy shopping, work-partying and decorating time!

 Stay tuned, have a great one and be excited!

1 lb sweet potatoes in cubes
1 shallot, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¾ tsp. sea salt
Pinch of Spanish paprika (optional)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup freshly roasted or vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to  400F. In a bowl, toss cubed sweet potatoes with a tbsp. olive oil and Spanish paprika.  Spread evenly in a baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes or until potato is soft but not mushy.
 In the meantime, coat a baking sheet with olive oil. In a bowl, mix Brussels sprouts, 1 tbsp olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.   Toss well to coat, spread evenly on the sheet and bake for 20 minutes next to sweet potatoes, stirring once.
After 20 minutes, remove both from the oven; incorporate Brussels sprouts with sweet potatoes, top with sliced roasted chestnuts and toss slightly to distribute evenly throughout. Return to oven and bake until Brussels sprouts are tender and golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve very hot.