Monthly Archives: July 2014

End of Line Adventures: Whole Fish Grilled or Baked in Salt


‘Eww, what’s that?’ I can hear you saying looking at the images while I’m posting this almost a week upon drafting (sorry, I’m temporarily in vacation and away from my computer). Well, what can I say, at least I’m not offering you a blood sausage or a liver pate (not just yet, because one day I surely will). Some foods deserve more attention than they actually get and a whole fish is one of them… I know that besides the ocean/lake taste, scaling, gutting or de-boning fish may repulse some people and I do hope you are not one of them. But if you are, in favor of its deservingly good rep among healthy celeb foodies like Martha Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Trudie Styler and others, I can tell you that poached, steamed, baked, roasted or grilled whole fish is actually considered to be a light and elegant meal by many; and is a must do on many personal chefs’ menus.  This recipe is one of the easiest and the most impressive one in this repertoire.
Here is what you can do with a pack of salt and one whole fish. Just gut the fish, keep the scale on, wrap it in salt (with the choice of your seasoning) and grill it or bake it for 25 to 35 minutes depending on the size of the fish. I personally find this trick (leaving the scale on) invaluable for fishing or camping menus, when you catch a great perch or walleye (both are great tasting fish, but a bloody disaster when it comes to scaling).  The scale will come off with the salt crust easily upon cooking (where not, just gently remove it with the sharp knife). 
The result: moist, well-done, packed with oceanic or lake flavors tamed by the diffusing aromas of whichever herbs, condiment or spices (from peppercorns and bay leaf to mustard, sriracha, soya sauce, to lemon, bacon, salami, parsley, thyme, or just any edible wild grass you can find around your camping spot including young cattails shoots and wild garlic) you decide to insert in the fish cavity before encrusting it in salt.  Truly, I’ve seen no better or easier way to bake, roast or grill the whole fish to perfection, keeping it simple, not to mention the impressive presentation. Don’t worry about the saltiness, once you break off the crust and remove the salt, the flesh will be just perfectly salty and succulent. 
Earlier this summer we went for our first fishing trip this year to Champlain Lake at the US border for walleye and perch, but only caught some baby pikes, which we released back into the lake. For the times like that I always bring at least one whole fresh fish with me in the cooler to grill later on a BBQ, so we can embrace the ambiance and the great fishing spirit no matter what, and share the incredible fishing stories over the plate of what could have been the fish we caught. 

This time is was a haddock (previously I also salt-crusted successfully white fish, tilapia, perch and walleye). Haddock is great for the recipe: the flavors are enhanced and there is some smokiness added to the taste. We had it with salsa verde and fingerling potatoes and everyone loved the tender savory fillets sprinkled with parsley and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. 

Great tip from Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen:rub the fish with soya sauce before encrusting it in salt to give it some Asian flavor kick:
Even those in our gang who don’t usually admire any kind of fish (they fish for sport, we fish for fish) reluctantly admitted it tasted great. You will never know until you try it for yourself. Good luck fishing and grilling; and as the Irish blessing says: ‘May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it.’


WHOLE FISH BAKED OR GRILLED IN SALT CRUST
Ingredients:
One whole fresh fish (1 to 2 lbs), gutted, with head, tail and scales left on
1 tbsp soya sauce, rubbed in fish (optional)
8-10 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Small bunch of fresh parsley (or mix of parsley and thyme), chopped
2-3 lbs of coarse salt, preferably sea salt
3+ tbsp of water or beer (to mix with salt)
Lemon, butter, olive oil to sprinkle with when serving
2-3 scallions and some fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F, or the BBQ to medium high.
Rinse the fish in cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Insert the peppercorns and parsley inside the cavity of the fish.
Mix the salt in a bowl with enough water or beer to make a consistency of the sand castle sand. Spread half quantity of the salt on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil slightly bigger than the fish. Lay the bay leaves on the salt and place the fish on the bay leaves. Spread the remaining slat over the fish until it’s totally encrusted. Leave the tail fin exposed if necessary.
Place the pan with fish on the middle rack in the oven or on the BBQ grill and bake for 25 (for 1 lbs) to 35 (for 2 lbs fish) minutes. The salt crust will become dry and hard. Remove the fish and gently crack of the layer of salt, removing as much as you can. The skin will come off the fish as well (use the sharp knife to remove the rest if necessary).   
Remove the fish fillets and divide between warm serving plates. Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter and lemon juice and sprinkle with scallions and chopped parsley if desired.

Sour Cherry-Happy Pie vs Phony Fruitcake


Fresh sour cherry summer pie is one of those foods that I just can’t stay away from no matter how hard I try: it’s the best way for me to enjoy those intensely tangy and rich little fruits in season. In the juxtaposition with the neutral and subtle baked pear, the cherries shine even more. I intensified the filling taste with lemon zest, ginger and cinnamon and added a bit of almond flour to the crust dough to give an extra nutty charm to the flaky crunch. I also replaced the standard vanilla ice cream with quick homemade yogurt cream. The result: simply irresistible summer concoction bursting with freshness and flavors!

This pie actually broke my almost 10 days of strict diet regimen. In strive to get more of a bikini body towards vacation time I decided to be more active: I took up running and (almost) eliminated sugar and carbs from my diet (fats die hard with me). My only dessert during this time was a little fresh watermelon cake, the recipe of which I picked up from Better Homes & Gardens (June 2014 issue), although I’ve discovered many of them on Youtube and internet after.

I got really hooked: it was refreshing and innovative with almost zero calories and great quench. I named it phony fruitcake and continued to experiment with the concept of having the no-bake body of a cake made of fresh fruit. I eliminated the frosting part (which was a little too kitsch for me) and just kept carving my phony fruitcakes from melon, pineapple, papaya, etc. topping them with fresh berries and sometimes a lace of berries coulis with maple syrup instead of sugar. The cake didn’t have much of a substance, but I liked the simplicity and the skinny side of it.

The phony fruitcake became my best dessert-friend for a while and I really hoped that our connection would last… Then the sour cherry-picking time arrived and I became ravenous-hungry for an old-fashioned simple rustic pie with lattice crust. (Last summer I already disclosed my weakness for sour cherries here).

So when a friend came with a pack of pie dough in shell (yes, I’ve even cheated on the dough this time) to help me cherry picking and asked me to ditch the diet for once (politely) and whirl the grandma’s cherry pie with her, I gave up. Later that night I was devouring the best cherry pie I’ve had in a long time, even with commercial crust (below is my recipe of the pie dough from scratch).

I quickly traded the previous motivational quote by Kate Moss: ‘’Nothing tastes as good as thin feels’’ (heck, I don’t even remember how thin feels, although I’m sure even Bethenny Frankel often feels like that too) for much more appealing one by Woody Allen: ‘’ When we lose twenty pounds… we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.’’ (What a great soul bargain – I like it!) 

Like anything seasonal, my phony fruitcake has to go into temporary liquidation. Obviously it’s hard to compare these two desserts because both are very different and have almost the opposite designations.   The phony fruitcake might be a great addition to some over-the-top posh micro-cuisine table d’hote, or some special occasion, but sometimes you just need a simple cherry galette to nourish your body and soul. It should be noted, the cherry pie tastes much more complex and interesting than just a piece of water melon and is much more than just an empty calorie. It wraps me mentally in my grandma’s blanket and I close my eyes and realize that I’m already in vacation at so many levels…

I suggest you try them both and tell me which one you prefer: the Cherry Pear Pie or the No Bake Fresh Watermelon Cake.  Cheers!

 
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SOUR CHERRY & PEAR PIE WITH YOGURT CREAM
Yields: 8 portions
Ingredients:
For Double Crust Pastry
 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour (optional)
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter cut in cubes
1/3 cup (or more) ice cold water
  
For Filling & Assembly
 4 cups (1 lb) sour cherries, pitted (about 1 ½ lbs whole unpitted cherries) fresh, frozen or canned
¾ cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
 3 tbsp cornstarch
2 medium size pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp freshly grated ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tbsp butter, to dot
1 tbsp milk for brushing the crust
Instructions:
Combine flour, almond flour, sugar, salt in a bowl or food processor. Add butter and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (or rub with fingers until the small clumps form).  Add ice cold water gradually while pulsing until the mixture forms a ball.  Divide in two pieces, form each piece into a ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 days).
Preheat the oven to 425F. Mix cherries with sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add lemon zest, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. Add pears and mix. Set aside.
Roll out the first dough disk on floured surface to 12 inch round. Transfer to 9 inch diameter round pie dish. Roll out the second dough disk on floured surface to 12 inch round. Cut 10 ¾ inch wide strips from dough round with pizza knife or similar.
Transfer the filling to dough-lined dish. Dot with butter. Top with dough strips in a lattice pattern. Trim the dough overhang to ½ inch. Crimp the edges to seal. Brush lattice crust with milk. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Place pie on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F. Bake for another 45-50 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. Transfer pie to the rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with yogurt cream, frozen yogurt, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
YOGURT CREAM
1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
Mix the three ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cajun Grill Summer Fiesta

If you ask me what I’ve been grilling lately, my answer would be: what haven’t I been grilling lately. From classic meat, poultry and fish to pizza to all kind of veggies, including bok choy, Swiss chard and scallions and now we’ve even upgraded ourselves to grilling the fruits too. Peaches, pears, apples, even grapes – everything flies into our BBQ for that juicy quick char and we can’t get enough of it. And what can be faster and more convenient way to decompress after a hard working day and traffic on a cool summer evening? Here are the images of our latest Cajun grill char summer fiesta dinner with the tips on how you can char grill restaurant quality chops, fruits and veggies.

Everything you see was seasoned with practically one home-made spice: Cajun Spice Mix. 
A friend from New Orleans passed us his killer Cajun spice recipe long time ago and I can’t stop appreciating it. Mixed with a bit of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and sometimes a dash of Jerk or Tabasco it makes a fantastic rub for the pork chops in an instant.  
These are our simple and easy apps for the Cajun spice and that restaurant quality char grill (polished with practice) blackening and the perfect diamond grill marks everybody’s looking for:
Cajun Spice Mix (see the recipe below) is not hard to make as long as you have all the right ingredients. The tips are:

  • Avoid using table salt (it makes the mix too salty and less flavorful) – use Kosher, Himalayan, Maldon, Fleur de Sel, sea salt, etc., but avoid the table salt by all means
  •  Try to use freshly ground black pepper when you can;
  •  Use garlic and onion granules instead of powder to prevent sticking and burning;
  •  Feel free to include or exclude any extra spices of your choice (in moderation) to find your ideal mix.

For the perfect grill marks and quality results with your pork chops (charred on the outside, tender and juice on the inside):

  • Always pat-dry the meat before seasoning, including before marinating or rubbing;
  • Allow the chops to sit for at least 10 minutes in the fridge upon rubbing and before grilling;
  • Heat the grill to high. Clean with brush and brush with oil;
  •  Place your chops on the grate on the high heat at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks (1 minute max);  
  • Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern (1 minute max). Repeat on the other side (another two minutes);
  • Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10 minutes (15 minutes max in total) away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain that juicy tender yet well done state;
  • Do not over-grill your chops (12-15 minutes max in total) or they will become tough.
  • And that’s it: congratulations, you have just made the criss-cross of a pro!

As for the veggies and fruits, just slice them in not less than ½ inch thick, sprinkle with Cajun Spice Mix and throw on the grill for 1 minute each side. Turn carefully as some (like watermelon) can be fragile.

Serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce (suggestions: Tkemali or the Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce below) and/or a quick mix of Salsa Verde with some extra lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped parsley. I also had a bit of currents from our garden, so I gave them a quick stir with a splash of white wine and a dash of maple syrup to make a quick dressing coulis. 

Amazing!  I hope you will find some tricks useful. Enjoy your grilling!

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CAJUN GRILLED PORK CHOPS, CORN, PINEAPPLE & MELON
For: Cajun Spice Mix
¼ cup quality salt
¼ cup paprika
¼ garlic granules or powder
¼ cup black pepper
2 tbsp onion granules or powder
2 tbsp dry oregano
2 tbsp dry thyme
1 tsp dry basil
½ tsp crushed bay leaves
½ tsp red chili flakes
Dash of ground coffee (optional)
Instructions:
Mix all ingredients together and store in the air tight container in a dry dark place for up to 6 months.
For Cajun Fiesta Grilled Pork Chops
  
Yields: 6 portions
¼ cup Cajun spice mix (see recipe above)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
6 medium size pork chops ½ to ¾ inch thick
Instructions:
Mix first three ingredients in a bowl and rub both sides of each chop. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before grilling. Preheat the grill to the high. Place the chops on direct heat for one minute to char at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks for one minute. Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern for another minute. Repeat on the other side. Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10-12 minutes away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain the juicy tender yet well done state. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes before serving on the heated plates.
For Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce
1 cup ketchup
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Yellow mustard
1 tsp Spicy Dijon or Hot Creole mustard
¼ cup molasses
2 tbsp red vinegar (optional)
6 dashes Tabasco sauce or 4 Habanero sauce or 4 Jerk
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion or shallot finely chopped
1 tsp Cajun Spice Mix (above)
Instructions:
Mix all the ingredients in the saucepan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.

Salsa Verde Pasta & Our Talladega Nights


A close cousin of French persillade, Argentinean chimichurri and German grune sosse, the classic Italian salsa verde (from Lombardia region) green sauce is a simple combination of herbs, greens, garlic, anchovies and olive oil.  It’s a wonderful condiment (enhanced with nuts and Parmesan, it turns into a savory pesto) to make your pasta extraordinary in a wink and/or to jazz up the flavor of the freshly barbequed meat, poultry, fish, pizza, salad dressing, etc. Salsa Verde is real must-have condiment for me at any given time or meal, as it is the way to almost anyone’s heart when applied to dishes.
 Lately we’ve been eating pasta a lot (at least three times in a last 10 days, wow) – all of them with green color hues of Salsa Verde (parsley, basil, arugula, oregano), and/or with quickly sautéed greens to praise the summer bounties like spinach, broccolini, rapini, green peas, asparagus, etc. Anchovies, nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino ingredients add tons of umami (see my previous post) to the dish with which they can’t get any better, or bore you, for that matter. In fact, I’m getting hungry for Pasta Verde again by just writing this… 
With days passing at a cosmic speed we couldn’t be any busier this summer: first Montreal’s Grand Prix; then the World Cup; then national holidays, then The Jazz Festival, now Week-ends du Monde and the International Fireworks Festival  – one can barely find time to catch up with all this hurly-burly hot summertime commotion.  So many things to do, places to go, things to watch or discuss over the supper, it’s overwhelming.
Certainly, the trap of the fast food dinner is always at the corner during such times, just waiting to strike. It’s so easy to reach for the plastic and call for Domino’s or St-Hubert or Chinese delivery and then happily re-enact the hilarious Talladega Nights movie ‘supper’episode
I totally don’t mind to have the Talladega night-style dinner from time to time. The problem is: a few dinners like that and the heartburn knocks in, the headache knocks on, the tummy knocks up and the mojo knocks off. We don’t want that. Pasta might not be the leanest or the most dietetic answer to the summer hustle, but it is a much healthier alternative to the junk. You can have totally wonderful wholesome and comforting Salsa Verde pasta dinner packed with good-for-you nutrients within less than 30 minutes. 
A good Salsa Verde is all about the fresh and quality ingredients: the freshest herbs available and the quality olive oil deliver the best result. Once you have a batch in your fridge sky is the limit: you can apply it to or transform it into so many things. The other day we were making BBQ dinner; I used it as a base adding more olive oil, freshly chopped parsley, a dash of fresh thyme, a juice of one lemon, few minced garlic cloves and a pinch of chili flakes to make a great Chimichuri sauce for grilled meat and veggies. It is really one worthy jar of greens with hundreds of dish possibilities. Try it for yourself and see where it takes you next. And it takes 5 minutes to prepare. 
The Salsa Verde pasta dish is a breeze to put together (a friend of mine asked me to put the measuring in ml, which I did below). Cook the pasta of your choice to al dente, drain, toss with salsa and its ready to be served seasoned with freshly ground pepper, drizzled olive oil and garnished with shaved Pecorino or Parmesan :
I like to also mix it with some sautéed greens (see the next few images) in addition. 
FYI, tubular pasta is especially good to absorb the sauce…Nothing however is more comforting to me than orzo or linguini…
Rapini, asparagus and fresh peas are my favorite inclusions for the sautéed greens…
Few simple steps while your pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, drain and add to the skillet to dry it  and mix with the green goodness.
And now it’s time to toss with salsa verde:
It’s a to-die-for healthy and comforting vegetarian dish, which I can devour hot, warm or cold anytime, anywhere – a perfect swoon.
 Enjoy the plate of dolce vita!
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SALSA VERDE (ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE) PASTA WITH SAUTEED GREENS
For Salsa Verde Sauce
2 cups (500 ml) fresh green herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, chives, arugula, oregano, marjoram, mint) mixed in any proportion*
2-3 cloves garlic
¼ cup (50ml) pine nuts or slivered almonds
3 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tbsp (30ml) capers, drained
½ (100 ml) cup quality olive oil
¼ cup (75 ml) cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
½ cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
½ tsp sea salt
 *Note: If wish be, pre-saute the greens with olive oil for 1-2 minutes and cool before blending for a milder taste and longer shelf life
For Pasta Verde
1 lb (500g) pasta of your choice
1 cup (75 ml) Salsa Verde  sauce (see above)
Freshly ground pepper
For Sautéed Greens (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 cups fresh rapini, spinach, broccolini, Swiss chard or collard greens coarsely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of chili flakes
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon zest
Sea salt to taste
Instructions:
Combine all Salsa Verde ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a few quick 6-8 pulses until roughly chopped into a coarse puree.  Reserve what you need for the dish and keep the rest refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 6 days.
Optional sautéed greens: preheat the skillet to medium-high and add chili and garlic to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Add green peas and coarsely chopped greens and two tablespoons of water. Increase the heat to high and wilt the greens over the high heat during 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl and put aside.
Cook pasta according to the package instructions in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Place lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Add pasta and cook tossing for 1 minute until it becomes dry. Transfer to large warmed serving bowl. Toss with Salsa Verde sauce and some extra sautéed greens. Drizzle with some extra olive oil, season with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately garnished with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino and a dash of fresh mint.