Monthly Archives: April 2014

Engagement Style Spring Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables

This is perhaps the most festive and delicious meal I’ve made this spring so far: tender and juicy poussin with ethereal hint of lemon, cranberries and a touch of bacon smokiness on a bed of mixed potatoes roasted in the bird juices and flavored with mint – Oh là! And as much as the classic Engagement Chicken can allure you or your significant one, I guarantee you – this one is better (tested on family and friends). The Glamor’s fairy tale of irresistible roast chicken stuffed with lemons insists that the dish would put a spell on the partner and he/she would begin to think of marriage.  While the question still lingers about how a simple roast chicken can do such a miracle to hundreds of readers and, especially, to Howard Stern and his wife to be, I do believe that perfectly executed recipe of a roast chicken (Cornish hen in this case) served with a side of herbed root veggies and a glass of white Regaleali can be a bliss and will do you nothing but good. 

In Julia Child’s words: ‘ You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by its roast chicken…’. Today, I would add: fresh, free-range chicken – and, Yes, that would be step number one towards a success roast chicken story. Speaking of, I much prefer the Cornish hen (also called poussin or spring chicken) to regular chicken for its delicate and savory flesh. Last week-end I’ve googled a nice spot called Ferme D’Amours within the close reach from Montreal, where you can buy these birds of a top quality for less (around $6.00 each) than the imported ones in the grocery stores. Thirty minutes later, we were there in countryside abandon in the midst of the fertile farm fields of Monteregie with a steady hum drum of the tractors at a distance. The draft roasting project was already on my mind once we saw the directions to the farm and then there it was, the wowmoment discovering the treasures of Ferme D’Amours boutique: from Cornish hen and organic eggs to all parts of free-range chicken, as well as locally produced lamb, veal and sausages… my kind of heaven.

We bought a bunch of Cornish chicken among other things and, boy did I have fun with them!  First I made an Asian style healing soup (which I have to absolutely share with you one day), then a great Jamaican Jerk on a BBQ…

…and, finally, this dish.

For the roast spring chicken, when I was sprinkling the little hens with salt and pepper and rubbing the birds with olive oil and lemon juice, the idea of bacon bites for smokiness and cranberries for an extra boon of flavor came to my head, so I spread some bacon bits with scallions in a roasting pan, placed the seasoned chicken halves on top of them, added a handful of frozen cranberries and slid them into the oven warmed up to 450F.  Once you turn the chicken 15 minutes later, give it a splash of wine.  At the same time if wish be spread some cubed/sliced root veggies of your choice (I chose regular and sweet potatoes, but any other root veggies would be great) around the chicken and cover the pan with foil for the next 15 minutes, then remove it, add another handful of cranberries and some mint leaves and roast for another 15 minutes. Adding the mint in the process gives that unforgettable Middle Eastern touch of freshness to the roast.

While cooking, I was beaming and glowing because the smell of the dish would stream a message of happiness to my nose way before it was ready. And when taking the first bite of it I soon realized that this was a dish I wanted to stash among the happy reaches of my gastronomic mind forever.



For Cornish hen:
1 ( 500 g to 700g) Cornish hen, split in half
Sea salt, to rub the chicken
Freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
½ fresh lemon juice, plus additional ½ lemon sliced
Olive oil
5 scallions, chopped (optional)
4 bacon slices, cubed (optional)
2 handfuls of frozen cranberries
½ cup dry wine
½ cup water or chicken stock
2 springs of fresh mint
For Roasted Veggies:
2 big potatoes, thick cut with skin on
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and thick cut
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
4 springs of fresh mint
Preheat the oven to 450F. Split chicken in halves and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Rub the lemon juice into the chicken, place the chicken into the roasting pan breast side down, sprinkle with olive oil and scatter the handful of frozen cranberries over. If using bacon bits and scallions, spread them in the roasting pan and put the chicken on top of them. Roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the wine then turn the breast side up. Lower the oven temperature to 375F. Spread the potatoes or other root veggies of your choice around the chicken, sprinkle with olive oil, cover with foil and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the foil; scatter fresh mint, squeeze lemon slices and spread another handful of cranberries. Put back in the oven uncovered for another 15 minutes. After this, you can put the broil on for a few minutes to make a crisp chicken/potato skin. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. (In the meantime, you can drain the drippings liquid and make the gravy by adding a splash of wine and a teaspoon of cornmeal (gluten free) or flour for thickening.) Serve the Cornish hen halves garnished with fresh mint on the bed of roasted veggies and with the gravy on the side.

Sesame-Encrusted Savory Easter Bread

A beautiful loaf: crisp and golden brown on the outside, slightly moist and tender on the inside;  topped with sesame, cumin, poppy and caraway seeds. The sesame seeds give that wonderful nuttiness while the crushed herb seeds in the dough give it a great flavor without overwhelming the taste. The cumin, poppy, caraway and fennel seeds make it super savory. But the best things about this bread are: it is super-easy to make (even for a novice); it makes a whole lot of presentation; AND, it keeps very well. Let’s say, if you spend a few hours making it on Good Friday night, wait for lots of kudos coming your way on Sunday.
This bread is a close cousin of Greek street treat Koulouri (as well as Turkish Simit; Bulgarian Gevrek, Serbian Devrek, etc.), a ring shaped bread with sesame seeds, which, I’m sure many of you tried while traveling to those places, although it has zero sweetness compared to the bagel-shaped cousins.
Because it is full of flavors, I personally love it slightly toasted, smeared with a bit of ghee. Primarily though, this apple of the eye is a perfect party patter. Serve it sliced alongside a dip, olive salad, gourmet cold cuts, interesting crudité… and it WILL make the Easter party goers of every kind happy. And of course with its visually appealing shape and seeded crust, it makes a remarkable centerpiece statement.
From personal experience, making this bread with kids is fun (especially the rolling dough in seeds part) as well as perfect activity for kids to learn about life beyond the cream eggs. Once ready, koulouri bread also travels very well in a picnic basket.  My kids used to love to bring it to the farm visits where they could also secretly give some to animals… which is why this bread became so distinctly and wonderfully Easter to me.
Not to mention that it reminds me of my travels to Cyprus, its humble and honest food and picturesque villages perched in the mountains, where they bake this bread outdoors in a brick-clay oven . Well, we don’t have this luxury here, but no biggie: a few prep steps and it will bake perfectly well in the regular oven filling the house with the smell of freshly baked bread and herbs and putting everyone in a special peaceful holiday mood.  

Happy Easter to All of You!

Yields: one big loaf
4 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of mastika & mechlebe, OR ground fennel/anise seeds
1 ½ tsp sea salt
1 oz (30 g) fast action dried yeast
¼ (50 ml) cup olive oil
1 ¼ warm water
3 ½ oz (100 g) sesame seeds (mix of white and black if you wish)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
Grind mastika and mechlebe, OR fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar to a smooth powder. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and water in a large bowl and blend together. Add mastika & mechlebe OR fennel powder and knead for 6-7 minutes. Let the dough stand in the bowl covered to rest for 1 hour.
Tips the sesame seeds, poppy and cumin seeds into a big bowl and pour over a tablespoon or so of water to moisten the seeds, ballon them and release their juice.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape into a ball. Drop the dough into the dampened seeds and turn until covered in the seeds, then place the dough on the baking sheet and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Score a line all the way around the side of the bread and two slashes on top with the knife. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, then transfer to the wire rack to cool. Slice only after the bread cooled completely.
Adapted from ‘100 Great Breads’ by Paul Hollywood, March 2004, Cassell Illustrated.

Nifty Herbed Lentil Avocado Spread

A quick and luscious herbed lentil avocado spread is yet another proof how delectable and versatile a meatless dish can be, specifically, towards the end of Lent.  A cross between hummus and guacamole, packed with herbal flavors and good-for-you ingredients, this speedy little thing really belongs to the party table, as it combines with number of ingredients.
Spring has finally sprung in Montreal breaking the ice on St. Lawrence, flooding the streets with melting snow and filling the air with singing birds. The other day I went National Geographic in our backyard to capture some of that spring renewal commotion, which might seem usual, but feels so refreshing to look at, after a long working day in the stone cold city. Especially after a few of those herbed spread nibbles.  
I have been starving for some new vegetarian ideas for a while now, so at some point I decided to ditch the cookbooks and just check what I have left in my pantry and fridge for an instant catch and there a can of lentils and few avocados got my attention. With a bit of lemon juice, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, garlic, cumin and chili and a lot of fresh herbs, a nifty spread was born within less than 10 minutes.  Call it a spread or a dip – it’s all good –not only on the baguette slices (in this case, Easter Cypriot bread we baked last Tuesday which will follow shortly), but with many other things including eggs. Little quail eggs with running yolk pair fantastically with it. 
A few tablespoons of it mixed with hard-boiled egg yolks and a pinch of smoked paprika deliver smart and tasty twist on a known party pleaser: the devilled eggs. Although not as sophisticated as porcini stuffed eggs they still make a great party offering (during Easter times included) and variety.
Smear the spread on crostini topping them with thinly sliced radish, cucumber or zucchini for a crunch, or use the spread in a sandwich instead of mayo. Garnish a bowl of steamed rice with it.

Finally, my most recent application of this spread was to add a few tablespoons of it to the 10-minutes vegetable stir-fry (carrots, cabbage, broccoli, mini corn and fresh bean sprouts) at the very end of cooking. Why not? Lentils go perfect with veggies as do olive oil, herbs, tahini and lemon, while avocado (the nature’s butter) is adding a smooth soft touch to the dish.  

And that’s how I kept it simple (my 2014 credo) and used my herbed lentil avocado spread within 24 hours. If you prefer, swap lentils for canned beans or chickpeas and your spread will be as delicious. Add avocado flesh, tahini, olive oil, garlic, spices and salt … some hot sauce for an extra zesty taste if wish be. 
Few short pulses and viola: enjoy your spread!     
One year ago:   Knockout Lamb Chops;
Yields: party of 6 to 12 people depending on appetite.
2 avocados flesh, scooped out
1 can (19 oz) lentils, drained, OR beans, OR chickpeas
2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 clove of garlic
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil, a bit more for drizzling
1 small bunch of fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, etc.), coarsely chopped
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground chili (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine sea salt to taste
For serving: assorted bread, crackers, tortilla chips, crudités
Scoop the avocado flesh into a food processor. Add the lentils, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, olive oil, herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. If necessary add a bit more olive oil to reach the right consistency. Transfer the spread to bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve with bread, chips and crudités.

No-Bake Maple Power Bites

Viva Maple Syrup! Let me present to you this incredibly simple and nutritious whole food trail mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and citrus peel bonded by maple syrup. They make a universal ticket to: have a wholesome breakfast, snack, travel companion or dessert; throw a quick party or picnic; boost your energy or use an instant pick me up; help the sweet tooth craving with nutrient-rich ingredients and much less guilt; trick your kids into eating healthy foods; store with or without the fridge for a long time; and, finally, ignore the store-bought granola once and forever.  
When the Sugar Shack (Cabane a sucre) time arrived this year I had an impulse to partake of some gluttonous a la Picard-esque staples with tons of fat wrapped in additional fat and then rolled in syrup … then after, if still alive, try that famous ostrich egg with the yolk size of a baby’s head at one and only Martin Picard’s Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon… Then it hit me in the face that I’m currently on a ban wagon trying to become a better looking person by Easter and that’s a no-go for all that lard. This is to tell you that the decision to make a healthy snack with wholesome ingredients bonded by maple syrup came naturally upon eliminating 1001 maple recipe ideas from my mind while I was driving back home with a few freshly procured cans of the Canadian liquid gold. 
I wanted to use this syrup in the recipe instead of sugar not only to pay a tribute to our national pride. 
Maple syrup (I’m talking about the natural one of course) is a unique natural sweetener that comes with a whole bunch of added perks. Declared a new superfood few years ago, it has 54 compounds with anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits, including recently discovered Quebecol (yes, named in honor of the province of Quebec) – an antioxidant polyphenol created during boiling sap into syrup.  Sweetener that can lower your cholesterol and give you a boost of iron? Precisely. That’s something unheard of… yet, totally true and therefore – awesome! So how about I use it as a sweetener along with pressed dates and molasses in my new granola power bar?
I took neutral gluten free oats as a background for the mix. Then I added my favorite nuts, seeds and berries to make it nutty-fruity and fun including:  pecan nuts, shredded coconut, pumpkin and hemp seeds, dried goji berries, cranberries and raisins. The tangy chewy candied citrus peel also went in as my latest favorite (and much more than a one-trick pony). The maple syrup, black-strap molasses and pressed dates served as sweetener and bonding agents. Finally, I used the nut oil/butter (coconut/almond) and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla) for savory touch. Here are the visual steps:
You don’t need to be a nutritionist or a dietitian to see that all these ingredients classify as healthy (gluten-free) superfoods in one way or another.  Mixed together, they make a healthier version of whatever you crave most remaining as close to their original whole food form as possible.
Gluten-free, highly nutritional, plus no-bake morsels  requiring only 15 minutes prep time. Do I have to convince you any longer? Now that our 6-months winter is coming to an end there can’t be a better timing for these little treats. Our bodies are deprived from nutrients, vitamins and micro-elements at this point not less than those of almost surreal pack of starving deer I caught on a camera today. 
April 2014: Starving deer are looking for food in the melting snow over the corn field along the highway.
Keep the formula, experiment with ingredients, try to add some other stuff – ultimately, these bites will help you eating your way to a healthier life. Best high-protein treats with no more midday crashes (just don’t eat them during the staff meeting or in front of your boss). Easy, sweet and more than worthy!

Yields: 50 to 60 bites depending on a size
1 cup pure Maple Syrup
½ cup virgin coconut oil, OR canola oil
1/3 cup Black-strap Molasses
1/3 cup pressed dates (optional)
½ cup unsweetened almond butter, OR peanut, OR other nut butter
4 cups rolled oats, regular or gluten-free
½ cup Goji berries, OR dried cranberries, OR tart cherries
½ cup dried currants, OR raisins, OR dried blueberries
1 cup pecan nuts (raw and chopped) OR walnuts, almonds or cashews
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup pumpkin seeds (raw), OR sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp Himalayan salt
Add maple syrup, molasses, dates, oil, and vanilla to saucepan and warm over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes while you mix other ingredients.
Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, berries, candied citrus peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.
Add nut butter to the syrup mixture and mix well. Remove from the heat and mix into dry ingredients in a large bowl. The mix will be sticky, but after it cools down, you can continue mixing the ingredients with your hands.
Line a 13 by 9 inches pan with a waxed paper. Spread the mixture into a pan evenly. Cover with another piece of wax paper and continue pressing until even across the top. Use a small cutting board that fits in to press the mix into the pan. Refrigerate until firm overnight or up to 24-48 hours. Cut into the bars or bites (rolled between hands) and keep in the airtight container in the fridge until ready to use. If necessary, wrap the bars into a wax paper and secure with twine. The bars/bites will keep in the fridge up to one month.