Monthly Archives: August 2014

Brewing Your Own Specialty Vinegars

There are million ways to capture the essence of season. Home making herb flower or berry vinegar at the end of summer is my favorite. Not only it’s dumb-easy and fast to make, it can be a child’s play. You can enjoy the results as soon as within 3 days. Use it in variety of stews, dressings, sauces and gravies in upcoming fall and winter and they will always remind of the beautiful and warm summer afternoon you were making them. Give it as a surprise hostess gift to your guests, decorated with tag and nice ribbon and they will always remember you.  Add it to your home spa and it will relax and sooth you beyond imaginable.  Rinse your hair with nettle infused vinegar/water solution and it will shine better than after any L’Oreal professional product. And the list of benefits goes on. Sounds convincing? Great!
First though, a brief digression for fun and to challenge some fellow Montrealers.
This Sunday, August 24th foodie enthusiasts will have a chance to attend the International Gourmet Fair at Cosmodôme in Laval, where they can sample all kind of gourmet foods from local producers  or from around the globe, from Australia to Brazil, Europe to Africa, Mexico to Alaska.  Note: you can save a few bucks on specialty vinegars after this post, because from now on you’ll be able to make them yourself – ta-dah!
Another event (which is quite unusual) designed for singles with dogs is ambiguously called ’Finally, Speed Dating with Your Dog! . For only $5.00 participation fee it can lend you with a perfect match provided you have a dog and are ready to speed-date. That’s if your dog is a well-trained ice-breaker who makes strangers say: ‘God, he’s so cute!’ and wears no muzzle. In this case, I assume you can easily approach a similarly-looking dog’s owner who appeals to you saying: ‘Hey, do I know your dog?’ If the person responds: ‘Yes, it’s the same breed’ it’s a sign he-she is interested. You can now proceed to the ice-breaking topic on how to remove the fleas or make the coat shiny with home-made nettle vinegar and fatty acids  and see where it goes with his/her/dog’s reaction and body language… But if you don’t find your ‘Gerard Butler’ at this event, don’t despair, keep in mind that sometimes ‘a coatrack with a leather jacket on it’ (Tina Fey’s excerpt quote) can be a safer speed-dating option.
All right, enough with entertainment, let’s take a closer look at the infused vinegars. The infused vinegars take the taste and blush of the herbs/flowers/berries along with the part of their nutritional value.  

They can be made with practically any edible herb, flower or berry. Use the herbs you grow in your garden, balcony or you just bough at the farmers market, they are all good as long as you know they are fresh and organic.

Simple how-to: fill the glass container half-way with herbs/flowers/berries (wash them only if see necessary, otherwise use them as is). Pour the vinegar of your choice (from regular white to wine to rice to apple cider to champagne vinegar) to the top. Cover and store in a cool dark place for three days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discard the herbs/blossoms and pour vinegar back into the bottle. Cover tightly with non-reactive plastic or cork. Store the infused vinegar in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Tips for the stronger and better quality infusion: warm the vinegar up to the hot, but not boiling point before pouring over the packed herbs/blossoms. Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Equally, you can skip warming up the vinegar and store it for brewing in the sun on the window seal, however, expect the color of the vinegar to fade a little in this case. Final tip from the folk magic: collect your herbs, berries and flowers either in the morning or later in the afternoon to attain the best flavor results.
Below I am giving three recipes for herbal, flour and berry infused vinegars, respectively.
I selected the stinging nettle for herbs because of its versatility. Not only it makes a great, nutty tasting, refreshing component of the salad, stew or soup dressing, it is an amazing skin and hair product for the anti-bites of the insects, soothing baths or the hair rinse (50/50 mix with water). For centuries stinging nettle has been known to add life and vibrancy to weak, distressed and dull hair and help the skull dryness issues as well as the hair loss. Use organic or homemade apple cider vinegar for an extra goodness. And don,t forget the doggie’s coat if you really love your pet!
The rose petals vinegar of an amazing fragrance and lovely magenta color has properties similar to nettle vinegar, except of course you would not add it to the soup (well, a cold almond gazpacho maybe?)  It adds a wonderful floral touch to baking goods, pancakes (try blueberry pancakes with it), fruit salads. It has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites (anti-itch), sunburns, small cuts and even rosacea (mix of 3 parts witch hazel water and 1 part rose petal vinegar). It can be successfully used as a rub to bring down the fever. As for the home-made spa soaks and baths I would only compare it with the luscious lavender vinegar.
Finally, the mix of herbs and berries in vinegars is also an outstanding way to bring the best out of both. My current favorites are: currants & mint (recipe below); juniper berries and sage; blackberries, lemon balm mint and lemon peel.
Good luck brewing your own herbal vinegars!
One Year Ago: Grilled Sardines 
2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Pack the glass jar with the stinging nettle leaves wearing the gloves. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Use in salads, baths, or as a hair rinse (mixed 50/50 with water).
2 cups fresh organic rustic rose petals
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Pack the glass jar with the rose petals. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors.
1/4 cup fresh and clean mint leaves
2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 ½ cups raspberries, blueberries, currants or blackberries
Glass jar with wide mouth
Chop or slightly rub the mint leaves between your palms. Pack half of the leaves into the jar, add berries, then the rest of mint. Place vinegar in the ceramic or glass container and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour hot vinegar over the berries and mint, gently stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 weeks. The longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavors will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
The last recipe was adapted from: William Sonoma

Happy Rustic Berry Tart with Almonds

This berry tart bustling with freshness and happy summer flavors is a real catch when you are up to something special. Not only it will accompany any party table with unique charm, it is remarkably simple in preparation.  The combination of fresh berries, puff pastry and roasted almonds in this tart make a totally out of this world snack, appetizer, side course or dessert, not to mention that it goes hand in hand with array of great cheeses, wine and even champagne.

There are times in our lives when we feel the magic shift has just taken place, except it’s a brief thing and like anything ‘happy’ when such moments arrive all you can do is blurt out ‘wow, thank you’ while, in fact, you are thinking: ‘Wait a sec, what’s going on here?  Am I in some kind of a movie?’ You are so busy worrying that instead of acknowledging the obvious you don’t know whether to pinch yourself or start spinning around and pretending you are a Wonder Woman. Because, all you do know, it has been one of your wildest dreams and now you feel it’s too good to be true. Only when back home you are finally convinced that it was you and your effort that just got rewarded and your life will never be the same. End of story. You can exhale, overwhelmingly happy, and have a good laugh at yourself for being so stressed. Naturally, you celebrate with your beloved ones with champagne and something exquisite and memorable because things like that are much better remembered in retrospect. 

Well, in my state of excitement I would play the jazz flute of destiny if I could, but I made this amazing Fresh Berry Tart instead (following my mom’s spur of the moment recipe) with fresh currants, gooseberries, grapes, yellow plums, rhubarb and wine jelly. What a great partner for any parte-e-e!

Although it looks promisingly fattening, fear not, the amount of sugar in it is minimal and the puff pastry open crust is not exaggerated, but gives that freshly baked state of crisp and buttery flakiness you are looking for in the high-end desserts. The runny berries center, both sour and rich, gives an aromatic citrusy tang with a backdrop of nuttiness from roasted almonds – simply irresistible! Watch the simple steps and follow the recipe below:

Even if the craft of the pastry chef is by necessity highly precise, you can vary the seasonal fruits in this tart, from the super-juicy ones, to more dry by adding more or less jelly and water into the syrup. Try the wine jelly (red or white) instead of the berry for once, it adds an interesting spike in flavor and expands the variety of wines you can take with the tart. 

The other important ingredients besides the berries, jelly and pastry dough are:
Crumbs, which can be Panko, Graham or semi-salted cracker crumbs depending on whether you like it sweet, semi-sweet or salty-sweet.
Roasted slivered almonds and Demerara sugar or (my preferred) cracked or flaked maple sugar.

The number of dishes that can partner with this tart is quite astonishing: from snack and appetizer in tapas or aperitif bar, to BBQ red meats, to desserts with assorted cheeses – it will be a hit in any given combination.

Finally, it is an awesome way to eat the freshly collected berries from your garden, forest, farm or local market.

Call it happy endings, or beginnings or just a HAPPY tart, ultimately, everyone deserves to share a bit of this happiness. Major tip: serve it freshly baked and you will be astonished how many of your guests will take a second piece.  So worth an effort, you won’t regret! T.

Yields: 8 servings
1 puff pastry sheet (1/2 store bought pack of 397g), thawed
3 cups mixed fresh berries (preferably tart, like currants, sour cherries, plums, etc.)
¼ cup sugar
3-4 tbsp. fruit or wine jelly
1-2 tbsp. water
1 cup Panko, Graham or semi-salted crackers crumbs
2-3 tbsp. butter in small pieces
1 cup roasted slivered almonds
1 egg wash
2 tbsp. Demerara or cracked maple sugar
Preheat the oven to 375F. Melt the jelly with water over the medium heat. Add 2 cups of mixed berries and sugar and mix gently. Bring to simmer for 1 minute and set aside to cool for 7-10 minutes.
Roll out the dough on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Optionally, cut the edges of the dough square to make more round/oval tart shape. Spread the crumbs in the middle leaving the ring of about 2 inches around.  Place the bits of butter over the crumbs. Spoon the berries out of the jelly syrup and spread over the crumbs without touching the edges. Reserve the leftover syrup liquid. Fold the edges over the berries, pinching the edges to form the rustic tart and leaving the center open. Brush with an egg wash or 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the edges of tart are golden brown. Remove the tart, scatter 1 cup of fresh berries, spoon the leftover syrup over and toss with almonds and cracked maple or Demerara sugar. Return to the oven for another 7-10 minutes. Remove and let stand for 5-7 minutes. Cut and serve hot, warm or cold as an appetizer (with cheese), side course (with roasted red meats), or dessert (with ice cream or parfait).

Chef Cora’s Chicken Lemon Soup

Once you try this four-season soup for the first time, it will instantly evoke the feeling of comfort and home.  Avgolemono(αυγολέμονο) is the real name of this traditional Greek chicken ‘noodle’, and though it is much more popular these days in many non-Greek kitchens (and even some New York hip restaurants) than, say, a decade ago, I think it still merits to be showcased again and again, so many more people can admire its heavenly fusion of its components. Homemade chicken stock with chicken, lemon juice, eggs and rice: just imagining these ingredients together already sounds refreshing and soothing at the same time, for rain or shine, summer heat or winter cold.
One rumor has it that Avgolemono might be originally a Jewish dish from Iberia; other credits the soup invention to the Greek mountain shepherds.  Which might be confusing, but, really, who cares today? You will realize with the first spoon that it doesn’t even matter who invented it. It will carry you away to the sunny Greece and you will just be craving more after.
I’ve opted for one of my favorite Iron Chef’s Cat Cora (who is also one of the 50 most influential women in food, according to Gourmet Live ) recipe of the soup considering her Greek origin and the number of stars Food Network awarded to her Avgolemono.  I slightly modified it, oven-drying the chicken in advance, adding bouquet garni and carrots and leeks to the stock from the beginning. Otherwise I kept the recipe intact.
I liked the fact that she was using whole eggs (no waste) and cooking the chicken from scratch. Some recipes use just the egg yolks instead of whole eggs, or beat egg whites to make it whitish and foamy, some trade rice for orzo. This recipe is using Arborio rice. Please note that it takes around 3 hours in total to cook the soup from scratch, but if you have a quality chicken broth, some roasted chicken leftovers and cooked rice in your fridge already, just skip the making-broth steps and proceed right away with egg-lemon sauce (I do it all the time). This way you will have an amazing soup within 15 minutes or less.

Once you master the classic recipe, feel free to add some extras like grilled corn leftovers, green beans, or even chopped avocado if you wish to add some Latin American touch to the dish and make it more complex.

Quick warning: when re-heating the soup, do not bring it to the boiling point, or the egg will coagulate. It will still be tasty, but much thicker and may be not as pretty, like this one I warmed up the other day for too long. 
The origin of Avgolemono can be traced back to the times of Alexander the Great. Almost as old as the Greek civilization itself, it table travels me to Greece every time I eat it and makes me think of Woody Allen’s quote about the ancient ruins: ‘you see those ancient ruins and you’re hyper-aware of the fact that thousands of years ago, there was a civilization that was mighty… and how glorious it must have been. And now it’s a couple of bricks here and a couple of bricks there and someone’s sitting on the bricks eating their sandwich.” Well, Avgolemono soup in my case, which, I’m sure, will survive as a great Greek classic dish for as long as humanity will continue to have chicken, rice and lemon.
One Year Ago: Muffuletta Sandwich 
One 3 lbs free-range chicken (or equivalent in chicken parts)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
1 leek, cleaned and quartered
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, parsley and thyme)
2/3 cup Arborio rice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 large eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 450F. Wash chicken under cold running water and pat dry it. Optionally, place the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes to dry further and seal the juices for the clear quality broth (turning at least twice to dry it all around). Transfer chicken in the large pot and add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to low skimming the foam when necessary.
Heat the oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add onions. Cook the onions until clear for about 5 minutes. Add to the chicken pot. Add the bouquet garni, carrot, leek and simmer for about 1 ½ -2 hours (depending on the size of the chicken) until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the broth. Let the chicken cool. Pull the meat from the bones. Dice into large cubes and set aside.

Discard the carrot and leek. Bring the broth back to boil and add the rice to the broth. Turn the heat to simmer and let the rice cook for to al dente for about 30 minutes (15 minutes max for long or jasmin rice). Add the chicken back to the broth. If necessary, add some boiling water.
Beat the lemon juice and eggs together in a small bowl. Pour two cups of broth slowly into the bowl, whisking constantly. Once the broth is incorporated, add the mixture into the pot of chicken soup and stir to blend well. Add the salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with minced fresh parsley, oregano or dill.

Adapted from: Chef Cat Cora’s recipe for Avgolemono soup from