Curry Osso Buco with Roasted Cauliflower & Broccoli, garnished with Crunchy Snow Peas

If you hadn’t already noticed, I am quite the carnivore.  I loveeee meat, no matter the species.

Slow-braised meat on the bone is one of my favorite ways to eat it (next to eating it raw).  When I walked into the butcher’s yesterday afternoon, I was planning on picking up a couple of lamb shanks to braise in curry and served with roasted cauliflower.  Unfortunately, they were out of lamb shanks, but I was stuck on my original plan.

As an alternative, I asked for two veal shanks.  Osso Buco is like my favourite home-style meal.  It is the epitome of old school, traditional home cooking.  And this Indian twist to the original was actually really great.

Begin by heating up a saute pan (with high edges) and seasoning the meat.  Sear the shanks until they have a nice golden brown exterior.  In the meantime, dice one medium-sized onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery.  Take the shanks out of the pan once seared and add the onions.  Turn the heat to medium to medium-low and allow the onions to sweat, let out some of their moisture, and deglaze the pan.  Once the onions have become translucent, add the diced celery and carrots and sweat with some butter.  Crush a couple cloves of garlic and add those as well.

Buy a curry paste from your local grocery store – whether it be mild of hot (i suggest a hot curry paste because the coconut milk in this particular recipe will cut the heat).  Add about two tablespoon of the curry paste, along with some curry powder, into the pan with the mirepoix.  Cook for a couple minutes before adding the coconut milk (1 can, from your local grocery store) plsu one cup of chicken or veal stock.  Place the veal shanks back into the pan, add a bay leaf or two, some freshly grated ginger, and salt & pepper.  Cover the braising pan and turn heat to low.  Slowly simmer on low, stirring every once in a while, for about 2 hours, or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

To roast the cauliflower and broccoli, heat your oven to 425.  Drizzle the veg in a mix of olive oil and curry paste, and season with salt and pepper.  Throw in some garlic cloves, fresh thyme if you have it, and a couple bay leaves.  Roast until really nice and crispy and caramelized on the outside.  There is nothing better than a crispy, caramelized bite of cauliflower (trust me).

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Organic, Grain-fed Chicken Two Ways: Breast Stuffed with Caramelized Onions & Slow-Braised Legs

For many years now, I’ve cooked everyday of my life, whether it be professionally or personally.  I’ve never had the opportunity, however, to document my culinary adventures.  I’ve never owned a nice digital camera, or anything even close to it.  Any pictures I’ve ever taken of my food just didn’t do it justice.

This past week, I invested in a Canon Rebel t2i.  It was recommended to me by many photographers as one of the best entry DSLR cameras, taking professional grade photos, without being incredibly complicated like most professional DSLR cameras.

Long story short, the pictures Moira and I will be uploading from now on will be a whole lot nicer.

On to the food…

Last night I picked up this gorgeous-looking free-range, grain-fed, organically raised (bla bla bla) chicken and designed a tasty dinner around it.  Because the chicken itself was slightly outrageously priced ($17), I wanted to keep the rest of my costs down.  As such, I stuffed the breasts with caramelized onions (I always have onions in the pantry), braised the thighs and drumsticks with mirepoix, stock and wine, and used the carcass and bones to make a rich stock, which I used to make a parmesan risotto (parm also being a staple in my house).

Caramelizing onions is the easiest thing to do, and yet yields such a rich, tasty product.  It is slightly time-consuming, but well worth the patience.  Simply heat your pan, slice your onions (2 should be enough), and put them in the pan with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a couple tablespoons of butter and a pinch of salt and sugar.  Turn the heat to very low, cover, and let cook for at least 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat a stainless steel sauté pan.  Take the legs (which you have butchered yourself or asked your butcher to do), salt & pepper, and sear skin-side down in the skillet until golden brown.  Flip, sear for a couple more minutes, and deglaze with ½ cup of white wine and ½ cup of chicken stock.  Cover and put in a 350 degree oven until the chicken falls of the bone.

Once the onions have caramelized, add about half a cup of grated parmesan cheese and chill.  Slice the chicken breasts and stuff them with the caramelized onions as neatly as you can.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add about 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil.  Salt and pepper the stuffed breasts.  Sear the breast skin-side down in a very hot pan until it has a nice golden brown and crispy skin.  Flip over and place in oven (450 degrees preferred) until cooked through.

I served my chicken two ways on parmesan risotto.  I made chicken stock with the bones of the chicken and made a very simply risotto with shallots, onions, celery, thyme, white wine, and a whole bunch of parmesan and cold butter.

Adrian & Laura’s Wedding Cake

Several months back, Lauren posted about our trial run wedding cakes for my brother’s wedding. Well, the wedding was at the end of June and was absolutely beautiful! (And I must say, so was the cake) Simple, but elegant is the best way to describe the wedding cake.

I ended up using the pound cake recipe I originally used, but with the alterations Lauren and I had made. We substituted cake flour for all-purpose flour, and buttermilk for milk. The result; a to die for pound cake that practically melts in your mouth.

Cake baking was the easy part, it was the hot humid weather in Halifax proved a new challenge I wasn’t anticipating. Relocation from the dining room, adjacent the kitchen where my mother was busy cooking away was necessary to escape the battle of Fondant & Moira VS Humidity. So the logical solution…have my father re-assemble our dining room table in the basement. After a couple attempts to roll the fondant out perfectly, I got the cake exactly where I wanted it to be.

The next challenge was to get the cake from my family’s home, to the hotel where the wedding reception was being held in one piece. You might wonder why this would be a challenge, and if this is the case it means you have never driven with my mother. Luckily we made it there, and the cake arrived in one piece.

The reception was lovely, and my brother Adrian and his wife Laura loved the cake. Laura’s mother froze the top tier of the cake for them while they are away in Germany. I can’t wait for them to enjoy it again on their 1 year wedding anniversary. (Although I’m sure it will not be nearly as tasty after being frozen for a year!)

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Blueberry Tart with White Port and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

One of my new favourites, this little tart will please anyone! I recently had a friend over for dinner and completely forgot to plan dessert. I happened to have the ingredients for this dish in my cupboard because it is just so simple it’s hard not to have everything you need on hand.  If I had a little bit more time, I would have made a delicious White Port and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream to serve alongside.

All you need is a basic pie crust recipe…..

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water

1.)    Butter must be cold, not room temperature. Cut the butter into small cubes.

2.) Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter but only pulse until the butter is mixed in to pea sized clumps. Add the ice water until the dough just comes together.  Be very careful not to over-mix.  A great pie crust is soft and crumbly, without being chewy or hard to cut through.  The less you mix any dough, the softer it will be.

2.)     Remove dough from food processor and cover it with flour so that it is easier to roll out. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/8th of an inch thick (make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the table as you roll it out! Just sprinkle more flour on BOTH surfaces of the dough if it is.) Press the dough into greased tart pans, and cover with parchment paper and uncooked beans to blind bake the crust.

Blind bake the crust in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for 10-30 minutes (depending on the size of your tart). You want to be sure the dough is sufficiently chilled before blind baking to make sure the sides don’t “melt”.  Remove the beans/parchment from the shell, and poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust to allow the air to escape. Allow to bake for another 5 minutes or so until it is a light golden brown.

4.)     Fill pie and bake for 10-15 minutes.

…Blueberry Port Filling

2 small sized containers of blueberries

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup port

Corn Starch Slurry – to thicken

In small pot, cook 1 container of blueberries with sugar and port. Combine about 1 tablespoon of cornstach to a couple tablespoons of water to make a slurry.  Add the slurry to the blueberry mixture to thicken it (this will ensure that your amazing crispy crust will remain that way).  Once this becomes soft and syrupy, add the second container of berries (if you add both at the beginning, there will be no whole berries and your filling will be very mushy) Pour into pre baked pie crusts and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Steak Frites

Nothing is better than Steak Frites done right.

The secrets you need to know:

1.  Always sear your steak in REALLY HOT pan.  Let the pan heat up for a minute or two and add the oil – if it starts to smoke, it’s hot enough.

2.  DON’T OVERCROWD THE PAN.  If your pan isn’t big enough, sear your steaks separately.  The last thing you want is an overcrowded pan.  The hot pan will cool down substantially if it is overcrowded with meat, and steaks that are too close to each other with cause steam to form.  This will essentially mean you are steaming your steaks and you will never get a nice crust – eww.

3.  Get a thick cut – at least 1 1/2 inches thick.

4.  Have your oven preheated to 450 (throw your thick steak in once you have a nice caramelized crust, until its to your desired doneness)

5.  Blanch your fries before you crisp them up! Fry your potatoes at a low temperature (325-350) until they are soft and cooked through, but not browned.  Then, increase the temperature of your oil (to 375-395) and let them get crispy.  Also, make sure to salt your fries as soon as they come out of the fryer to ensure the salt sticks!

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Crispy Confit of Pork Belly with a Sour Apple Salsa

I loooove pork.  I especially love fatty pork – hence my obsession with pork belly.   And what a better way to cook it than in its own fat!

The first time I had the pleasure of eating pork belly slowly poached in its own fat for hours and hours was at the Gilead Cafe (Jaime Kennedy’s hip spot in Queen East).  I honestly can’t even remember the accompaniments on the plate because I was so infatuated with every bite of the succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork.

I was inspired by my experience when developing a menu for one of my client’s later that month.  The belly is a comparatively heavy piece of meat when it comes to pork (which these days is too lean in my opinion) – exemplified in its most common use: bacon.  In order for the belly to be edible by most people’s standards, the thick layers of fat nestled between the rich meat must be rendered down.  By poaching the pork belly in its own fat, it cooks in its own rich flavours and becomes supremely tender.

With most meat that has been confit-ed, you always want to add a tart, sweet and sometimes acidic component to the dish to balance out the richness of the fat.  In this case, I serve the confit-ed pork belly with a sour apple salsa, made from granny smith apples, some apple cider vinegar and a touch of maple syrup.

TO CONFIT PORK BELLY:

Salt & Pepper your pork belly the night before.

Preheat your oven to 200 F.  Buy enough lard to cover your pork belly completely.  Melt the lard in a saucepan/pot and add your spices (bay leaf, thyme, cloves, garlic).  Add the pork belly in rather large pieces (to be cut after it’s been cooked).  Bring the lard to a simmer and place in the oven for 6-10 hours depending on the size of your pork pieces.

You will know it’s ready when you can stick a fork in it with ease and the meat pulls away easily.

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Thomas Keller’s Creamy Lobster Broth

This is probably one of the easiest and most delicious hors d’oeuvres I have ever come across.  As mentioned in earlier posts, I am not one to use recipes – ever.  The thing I love so much about being a cook is that I can have fun with ingredients and be creative every step of the way, whether I’m making a sandwich or a five course meal.

I must say, however, that Thomas Keller‘s cookbook, The French Laundry, is the best I’ve ever read.  It is more than just a recipe book – even though it does include some amazing recipes.  It is a story about food and Chef Keller’s love for it and that’s why I love reading it.

The following recipe for Creamy Lobster Broth is to die for.  Although incredibly simple in preparation, it is not such in taste.  The rich flavour of the lobster is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else.  Please, next time you have a couple of lobster bodies laying around, do yourself the favour, and MAKE THIS DISH.

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup           canola oil

3                      raw lobster bodies (cut into quarters, no meat)

1 1/2 cups      chopped tomatoes (use canned unless in season)

1/2 cup          chopped carrots

1 bunch         tarragon

2 cups            heavy cream

NOTE: this is a very rich soup and is best served in small portions, as a canape/hors d’oeuvre

Heat oil in a large rondeau, or deep straight-sided braising pan.  Add the lobster shells and sear over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes per side, until they turn red.  Add the tomatoes, carrots, and tarragon, cover the shells and vegetables with water, and bring to a boil.  Skim off any impurities that rise to the top.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain the stock thorugh a large strainer or a China cap, smashing the lobster bodies with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid and then strain again through a chinois into a clean saucepan.

Return the strained stock to the stove and simmer until it is reduced to 1 cup.  add the heavy cream, return to a simmer, and cook, skimming occasionally, until the broth is reduced to 2 cups.

To serve: place broth in a saucepan and whisk vigorously over medium heat to froth.  The broth should have a beautiful pink colour.

When we serve this hors d’oeuvre at personal chef events, we serve is with a tarragon crisp as shown in the picture.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Search For Quail Eggs In Nova Scotia


Since moving to Toronto and immersing myself in the culinary world, my view towards food has changed a great deal.  I have always loved great food, and have cooked and baked with my mother growing up but the options in Halifax Nova Scotia are much fewer than here in Toronto.

I recently went home to Halifax for my brother’s wedding and of course, wanted to share my love for food with my family and friends by cooking for them.  I found that I was constantly running around the city trying to find ingredients I take for granted in Toronto. I had my heart set on cooking specific dishes for my family knowing they would love what I had planned, so I was willing to spend the time to find the ingredients I needed.

I wanted to make Beurre Blanc Poached Lobster on a bed of Wilted Garlic Spinach, topped with a Soft-Poached Quail Egg. Of course, lobster was easy to get my hands on back at home, and at a fantastic price of $5.99/lb. The other ingredients of butter, spinach, garlic, white wine were all also very easy to find as they are common ingredients. The challenge was in finding quail eggs! I went to my neighborhood grocer with little hope of finding them there but figured it was worth a shot. Unfortunately there was no luck there as I had expected. My next stop was Petes Frootique, which is comparable to Pusateri’s of Halifax. Pete’s used to sell quail eggs, but they came in frozen and ultimately they decided it was not worth bringing them in. I was next sent to the Italian Market in hopes of finding the eggs there, but again no luck.

At this point I was getting discouraged but knew there was still one more chance to find my quail eggs. I had my father make the trip to drive across the bridge to Bedford to the original location of Petes Frootique to see if they would have them. They did not have any in stock as the item is simply just not in demand, but they could order me a half dozen in for $18.99 with a 15 day wait.

Needless to say, my family did not get to enjoy the meal I had originally planned, but were not disappointed in the lobster and steak I prepared for them after my day of ingredient hunting. Next time I visit home, I’ll be sure to place an order for quail eggs as soon as I arrive and plan for a dinner at the end of my trip.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pan-seared Jumbo Scallop w/ Avocado & Shrimp Salsa

One of the most simply beautiful things to put in one’s mouth is a perfectly pan-seared scallop.  Although relatively simple to execute, I’ve had many over-cooked, chewy or soggy scallops in my short lifetime eating them.  It’s the simplest things that are the easiest to fuck up, excuse my language.  Eggs, for instance, require a certain patience and skill.  They are deceivingly simple, shall we say.

Getting back to scallops: when you pan-fry them, the best seasoning is simple salt and pepper.  Dry them off as much as possible before you fry them in a very hot pan.  I like to use duck fat instead of oil for my scallops.  Duck fat is always a good call in my books.  If you’re can’t get your hands on duck fat, pork fat (lard or bacon fat) is also a great alternative.  After all, bacon and scallops are a classic combination.

Because fresh scallops are very delicate and sweet in both flavour and texture, I usually serve them with something delicate and neutral in flavour, so as to not overwhelm and mute the scallop’s beautiful taste.  In this recipe, the avocado and shrimp salsa pairs perfectly!

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 2:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tuna Tartare with an Avocado Mousse

 

There is nothing better than good, fresh sashimi tuna. Only in recent years have I become a fan of tuna tartare but it seems to have become a favorite choice of mine for a great app or meal.

When Lauren and I go shopping for the fresh fish, we usually head down to the St Lawrence Market.  The tuna they have there, while expensive, is always fresh with a beautiful sweet smell.

The beauty of this dish as an hors d’oeuvre is that a little tuna goes a long way.  You don’t need much for a dinner party of say 6.  For example, when we’ve worked dinner parties of about 20 people, we’ve only had to purchase about $20-25 worth of tuna when using it as an hors d’oeuvre.  We serve it on a taro crisp with avocado mousse.  The crispy sweetness of the taro and the creamy neutral flavour of the avocado mousse are a perfect balance for the fresh tasting, asian inspired tuna.

Ingredients

Tuna Tartare:

Olive Oil

Sesame Oil

Very Finely Chopped or Grated Fresh Ginger

Rice Wine Vinegar

Soy Sauce

Lime

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Chives

Hoisin Sauce

½ 1 Shallot Small Dice

1 Piece Raw Sashimi Grade Tuna

(all ingredients to taste)

Slice the tuna into a nice brunoise (very small dice).  Brunoise the shallots and chives and add those to the chopped tuna.  Add the rest of the ingredients together in a separate bowl to act as the dressing.  We never measure these ingredients, especially since different soy sauces, fish sauces, and hoisin sauces tend to have slightly different tastes and salt contents.  Also, its a lot more accurate to use those awesome taste buds we all have.

Avocado Mousse:

1 Ripe Avocado

Lemon Juice & Zest (to taste)

2-3 TBS 35% Cream

1-2 TBS Goat Cheese