Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Epic Meal Time: Cabane à Sucre

That's "sugar shack," for all you anglos out there. The cabane à sucre, or sugar shack, is a long and glorious Canadian tradition. During the age of New France and onward, the settlers would spend the spring months tapping the maple trees and living in the bush. They then ate game, fowl, fat, and other delicious items you can find in the Great White North. All with a hearty helping of maple syrup, obvi.

Have you ever heard of Martin Picard? He is the chef at Pied au Cochon in Montreal ("pig's foot," y'all) and he has made an illustrious career based on the sugar shack alone. In honour of upcoming Canada Day, and my francophile leanings, here it is. Epic Meal Time: My Goose is Cooked.

The first most important thing to do is have a wonderful grocery store that carries goose. Farm Boy carries whole young Outaouais goose (that is a region in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario). The other day I was there and I saw one and I couldn't resist. I've been eyeing them for months and this was the only one in the entire store. Also it was on sale, only thirty bucks. Done.

I started forming the menu in my mind. It would be traditional, totally French, luxe, hearty, and sumptuous. The star (other than the goose, obvi) would be a foie gras stuffing. But do you think I could find foie gras anywhere in this bumpkin town? No. I called four different grocery stores. One poor young soul repeatedly said, "I can't understand what you're saying," as I screamed "FOIE! GRAS!" over the phone to him. Another young lady said, "Well we have something kind of like...No. We don't have anything remotely like that."

Okay, well we will do without the foie. Instead I opted for ground cherries, which are another Quebecois ingredient. They're kind of like little gooseberries but sweeter. They went in my stuffing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First you have to thaw your goose about two days. When you get ready to dress it, prepare yourself. It's horrific, because don't forget about those "long-necked geese" that Peter, Paul & Mary (or whoever) sang about. Indeed, pulling the neck out of the cavity is like pulling out a crowbar of flesh. Gah! Not to mention that the "neck skin" hangs off the body like a fleshy sock. Cut off the sock.

Okay, now we proceed as though it were a duck. Score the skin in a criss cross pattern. Salt, pepper, a little thyme, a little sage, set it aside. In a deep pot, sautee your celery and onions (but oops, I forgot onions) until they are soft. Add in your cubes of bread. Now add in your ground cherries. Add a little poultry seasoning, melted butter, salt, pepper, and sage. Let it cool down enough to handle and then stuff the bird.

Preheat your oven to about 420 and let the bird have ten minutes on a roasting rack under that heat to render the fat. Then turn it down to about 350 and let it be. Baste it every fifteen minutes or so with the drippings. I added a little white wine and water to the roasting pan ahead of time, but I probably didn't need to. The goose yielded about a litre of fat that I basted with.

Meanwhile, I started a glaze. The cabane à sucre tradition is to put maple syrup on EVERYTHING. So I melted down a jar of maple jelly (it's a little less sweet) with some butter, star anise, peppercorns, and a bit of balsamic vinegar (more for deep colour than anything else). I basted with this in addition to the fat.

Cook your bird for twenty minutes per kilo, plus ten minutes, plus thirty minutes of resting time. Flip your bird halfway through for extra crispy skin if you have the wherewithal, but I didn't. As it's resting, start your veg. I decided to do honey braised leeks.

Get half a stick of butter melted and hot. Throw in your leek slices (after washing!!!) and then drizzle in some honey. Please don't use the Billy Bee. This is serious stuff. I spent $6.99 on a piece of honeycomb once, and thank goodness I finally have a second occasion to use it. Buy the good stuff. Sautee the leeks until they are quite soft and flavourful.

When you go to carve the bird, be aware that geese have very shallow breasts. Carve at a wide angle to get the most slices. Serve with your leeks and a simple green salad.

Phew! Alright Quebec, you win.
Happy Birthday, Canada!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Cilantro Chimichurri Grilled Shrimp and Scallops

Now the thing about having an herb garden is that sometimes it bosses you around. You might be planning out your meals for the week and the weather changes, and everything changes with it. It's a "use it or lose it" thing with herbs. They are calling for a major heat wave here for the next four days. Hot, hot sunny weather. So I either had to kiss my cilantro and parsley goodbye, or use it up. I had to think fast on my feet too because everybody knows I hate to go outside to the store in any kind of extreme weather. Ah a Chimichurri of course! And I had everything I needed in the house to put this meal on the table without having to get in the car and burn my hands off on the steering wheel!

So I decided to make shrimp and scallop kebabs since I had some in the freezer. Grilled red pepper and zucchini would go nicely and a side of rice. Easy peasy! But you can use this sauce with chicken, pork or beef too.

For the Chimichurri you'll need:
A bunch of fresh cilantro
A bunch of fresh parsley
2 limes - just the juice
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of coriander
1/2 a chopped jalapeno (seeds removed)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes
1/2 cup of olive oil

In your food processor, chop the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Add the cilantro, parsley, lime juice, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and chili flakes. Pulsate all that until it forms a paste. Then slowly add your olive oil as you keep pulsating. If it's too tight, add more olive oil until it's the consistency of mayonnaise. Not runny. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Refrigerate it until you're ready to use it.

Soak your skewers for at least half an hour and thread on your shrimp and scallops. Season them with a bit of salt, pepper and just a dash of cayenne. Brush the chimichurri sauce onto them and grill them at low heat just for a few minutes per side. Turn them often so they don't scorch. Grill your vegetables at the same time. But they need a bit of higher heat, so keep one side at low heat for your seafood and the other side a medium for your vegetables.

Serve more chimichurri sauce as a garnish at the table. Easy, tasty and I didn't have to lose my cilantro because of Mother Nature's wrath! And this is why it pays to grow your own herbs!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Crab Cake Sliders with Remoulade Sauce

Just once in a lifetime, when you very least expect it, a good and true friend comes along. That is my friend Hallie. We came into each others life back when our kids dated in high school. Long after our beloved children paved their own and separate paths in life, our friendship continues to flourish. She has come to my aid more times than I can count. She makes me laugh my head off every time I see her (which is not nearly often enough) and our madcap adventures sustain me through the boring times when I have no adventures at all. In short, she brings joy and laughter to my life! So when she asked for my crab cake slider recipe, I was only too happy to comply. I only wish I could cook it and serve it up to her in the elegant style that she entertains me in, always with a magnificently set table, a welcome and comfortable home, and just for a special treat, once in a while she brings in her brother Jim, the talented chef that is always happy to cook a fabulous meal for all of us girls!

So let's get some crab cake on. You'll need:
Some of those little dinner buns you see in the bakery section. The small ones you serve at Thanksgiving dinner. Plan on at least 2 per person. Maybe 3.
1 pound of crab meat. This will make about 8 -10 small crab cakes. If you can't get fresh crab meat, you can use canned (won't be as good, but desperate times call for desperate measures). But at least buy the good stuff that's about $5.00 a can, and you'll need 3 of them. The Lump crab meat. But do try at least to get fresh since we're not running a canned soup casserole blog here.
10-12 salted saltine crackers, smashed up small to crumbs (and maybe a few more)
2 eggs
1/4 cup of real mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning
freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
a bit of lemon zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
a dash or two of tobacco sauce

Mix all of the ingredients together except the  cracker crumbs and crab until it's smooth and creamy. Add the cracker crumbs and crab. If it feels too loose to form it into a little cake, add a bit more cracker. But don't make it too tight because we're going to chill these for a couple of hours and the cracker crumbs will suck up a lot of the moisture. So if they hold together loosely, but not sloppily so, then don't add the extra crackers. Capiche? Hahaha this recipe takes a bit of practice!

Form them into little cakes the size of your little dinner rolls. Cover and chill them for at least two hours. Then just fry them up in a medium heat pan with a bit of vegetable oil about 4 minutes per side, so they're golden brown and crispy.

There are hundreds of variations on a remoulade sauce, but I like this one I make:
1/4 cup of real mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped red or sweet onion
1/4 cup of finely chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of capers
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
zest and juice of 1/2 a lime
pinch of salt and pepper

Put a bit of this sauce on each bun (like a Big Mac) and crab cake. And Voila! Great party food or just if you want to have dinner with your best friend. Serve with cole slaw and fries. Or whatever you like. Enjoy friends!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Summer dining is just the best. It’s so easy and carefree; everything just feels more relaxed. I mean, how could it be stressful, really? You jam a glass of wine or beer in someone’s hand, invite them to your outdoor living space, and fire up the grill. Nothing could be easier.

Except, of course, not grilling. Or cooking anything. This is somewhat like the infamous “Late Night Bacon” recipe from Rachel Ray, but here’s a secret: sometimes it’s okay to just have various snacks and call it a meal. If you’re into local breweries and scarves, you might just be inclined to call it “charcuterie”. You go to a number of different lengths with this if you’re entertaining, but it’s also a nice option for a meal just for yourself.

Here are the basics: meat, cheese, bread, some kind of jelly/dip, and a fruit or veg. In these photos, you can see I opted for prosciutto (because when do I not opt for prosciutto?), a nice topped goat cheese, and cornichons with Dijon. Believe it or not, that was only for me to eat (and okay, I didn’t eat ALL that cheese in one sitting). If you have a number of guests coming, maybe you would want to expand those options. For example, if you feel fraudulent for not actually cooking anything, why not make your own pâté? In Ottawa, where I live, we have this fantastic bakery, Art-Is-In, and they make this awesome olive loaf, which I highly recommend. You can tell they are serious because they call themselves a “boulangerie,” so it’s for sere, because it’s French.

I have seen various recommendations about serving charcuterie and basically the suggestion is two meats and three cheeses, plus your serving vehicle (olive loaf, peut-être), and then some little bits to go with, like olives, pickles, grapes or whatever. I like a sweet jelly (I’m hoping to eventually put a nasturtium jelly recipe in here) and then a spicy/salty spread like Dijon as well.

The showiness here is in the serving. Put it on some super rustic platter, or an ultra-modern one, and spend a little time in the arrangement. Maybe you’re doing a wine and cheese pairing party, in which case you would want to do some lovely little labels to show people what to pair. I’m totally into the chalkboard aesthetic these days, so I would be inclined to get some of those sticky chalkboard decals and put them on the table so you can spend a little time on designing that. Maybe you’re super crafty, and you are actually going to make a platter with chalkboard painted areas right on it. In serving your charcuterie, I can say that Pinterest is your friend for sure.

Like a summer’s eve, charcuterie is ripe with possibilities. All it needs is a little time from you, maybe a trip to your local cheesemonger, and all that creativity your day job sucks out of you. Have a lovely evening… and invite me over for some cheese and wine some time!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Cobb Salad

So I sit here tonight with Day-Glo pink toenails and fingernails, I have a mask on my face that I paid a fortune for to rejuvenate my skin and have Crest White Strips on my teeth. I'm on a self improvement kick. Still on my reducing plan too. And I've lost ten pounds. So it's all good right? Wrong! Because I'm doing every single thing in the world with the exception of getting my ass up off the chair and walking down the block! I understand the concept of baby steps, but no steps at all is a disgrace. So I'm going to work on that.

But first, I must share my Cobb Salad recipe with you. This is another one of my non-recipes that's all just smoke and mirrors. But in this case, I was all about fooling myself into thinking I was having a marvellous meal while I was on a diet. And guess what? It WAS marvellous! I would eat this salad anytime I want to enjoy a million wonderful and fresh flavours, dieting or not.

I was short on time tonight because my car was in the garage, so I needed something quick and easy. Normally I would roast off my own boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I used those strips you can buy already cooked (not nearly as good) and a good quality bottled Ranch dressing (definitely worth the time saved!).

You'll need:
A very big salad bowl if you're feeding a family
1 head of iceberg lettuce
2 stalks of chopped celery
4 large mushrooms, sliced
Break up your lettuce with your hands and lay it on the bottom of the bowl
sprinkle your celery and mushrooms over that

6 slices of crisply fried bacon
1 chopped tomato
1/2 a cucumber chopped
a couple of handfuls of chopped chicken breast cooked
3 chopped hard boiled eggs
Grated cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to season
Or add any other vegetables you like and herbs too!

Dressing of your choice, but I'm all about the Ranch for this salad

Line your bacon, tomato, cucumber, chicken and eggs as you see in the photo on top of the salad.
Serve your dressing on the table so people can take as much as they want. Serve it up.
Can you believe that's all there is too it? And it doesn't taste like a diet at all! It tastes like pure indulgence. Like this facial wrap that promises me my youth back! Smoke and mirrors baby!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Lobster Rolls

 This has been an East Coast summer so far. With the exception of a few hot days two weeks ago, it’s mostly been rainy and chilly. It’s vaguely annoying, because this winter was so awful; I was really ready to be hot for a few months. No sense in dwelling on it though; when life gives you lemons, right?

In honour of our Newfie blood, and in honour of this rainy evening, I decided to make lobster rolls. It’s never really occurred to me that I could make these at home, because it seems like one of those restaurant foods. Or at least a food you want to eat while you sit in the sun and stare out at a wharf. But they’re actually dead easy to make. They’re on hot dog buns, for the love of Pete! You can do this.

So, us LadyGirls once attempted lobster on this blog before. Perhaps you followed this hilarity, perhaps you’ll read that for the first time and wonder why you ever trusted us to guide you in the kitchen. (Important Editorial Note: Kelly now owns a whisk. In fact, I am pretty sure that thanks to that blog, she received one from every member of our family for her birthday.) But today we are not going to poach our lobster, because that was lovely for that meal in which lobster was the main feature, but there’s no need for that here, because we are going to drench our lobster here with mayo and put in on some Wonder Bread, so let’s not overly trouble ourselves.

You could certainly get a whole lobster (or several) and cook them up and go with that, but I didn’t do that for several reasons. The main reason that I wasn’t emotional prepared to put any crustaceans to their death on this particular evening. Secondly, de-crusting said crustaceans seemed also like a lot of work on this day (I work, after all.) So again, we aren’t going to be doing that kind of thing on a Monday night. What I did do was buy some tails and steam them. Easy! When they turn bright red, they’re ready. Take the flesh out and chop it up. Put the bits into a bowl.

Now, we are going to add a few shakes of Old Bay, one chopped stalk of celery, one chopped green onion (or two, depending on how much lobster you have) a healthy tablespoon or two of mayo, dash of hot sauce (I used Grace Hot Pepper Sauce, but I encourage you to experiment) some salt and pepper, and a squeeze of citrus. Lime was on hand in this house, but clearly lemon would be just fine. Take those soft, white, processed to infinity and beyond buns (don’t roll your eyes at me- this isn’t some kind of fancy adaptation of lobster rolls, just put them on the damn hot dog bun) a toast them ever so SLIGHTLY under the broiler (like, way slightly. Like, just a hint of colour) and then butter them lightly. For a little freshness, add some lettuce and then nice big scoops of your lobster mixture.

Now THAT is a meal worth having on a Monday night! 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Caramelized Onion Hummus

Hummus, the now-ubiquitous staple of crudité platters everywhere, is one of those exotic food transplants that makes me wish I could travel the world and just eat.  It’s really no wonder that it is literally everywhere you look. It’s healthy, flavourful, can be vegan/organic/gluten-free/etc. It’s also super easy to make, and you can add all kinds of flavours to it. This is a good thing, because it’s getting a little boring now, don’t you think? This a jazzy take on a new classic.

As you know by now, I absolutely love caramelized onions. (It’s also an inside joke with a friend of mine. I have this habit of changing the subject to something, ANYTHING, if the situation I’m in starts to get awkward or tense. I will literally search around frantically for something to talk about. So this one time, I’m with her in her kitchen and we have just had a conversation ten minutes prior about her caramelizing the onions in the pan. Lo and behold, another couple she has over start getting into an argument right in front of everyone. My spidey-senses of awkwardness start tingling immediately. Out of desperation, I re-bring up the caramelized onions in the pan. But this time, I raise my eyebrow and get as close as I possibly can to her face, to surreptitiously signal that I’m awkward, which, of course, was not surreptitious at all. It was one of those moments that kill the awkward situation you’re in, because it instantly becomes more awkward that you’ve just brought attention to how awkward the other people in the room are making you. It was great. Now anytime we feel uncomfortable, we talk about caramelizing onions.)

That was a rather long aside, but now you have a strategy if you find yourself in the middle of a domestic dispute this week. Now you can talk about this great new hummus recipe you’ve tried. Start by caramelizing an onion or two in a pan. Set aside.

You’ll need a can of chickpeas, olive oil, your onions, some garlic, cumin, lemon juice and plain yogurt. Traditional hummus calls for tahini, and if you wanted this to be vegan, you could certainly use tahini and up the olive oil. I happen to like my hummus very creamy, so I use yogurt in place of tahini. Use two healthy scoops for one can of chickpeas. Put all of it in a food processor or blender, and whir it up to desired consistency. It’s almost a fake recipe it’s so easy. If you are bringing this to a party or something, then I suggest putting some effort into the plating of it, just so people don’t think to themselves, “Oh great, another bloody hummus.” This one is JAZZED, so make sure you plate it up really pretty so people think to themselves, “Oh wow, that looks like regular hummus, but it must be some kind of super jazzy hummus, because there appears to olive oil drizzled across the top of it.” As Mummy would say, “Smoke and mirrors, baby!”


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Asian Inspired Snapper

I'm so happy that summer is finally here and the gardens are herbs are all planted! Everything has taken root, and now it's time to just enjoy watching it all grow. And to eat it as it ripens and enjoy all the delicious freshness your own garden can provide. But even more wonderful than eating your own harvest, is to receive a gift of produce from somebody else's garden! That is truly sharing at it's finest. And my lovely co-worker Frenk bestowed a gift of green onions from his garden to me this week. So I tried to think of a recipe that would do such a fine gift justice.

But because I'm seeing all of our yard in beautiful bloom and so much abundance of fruit on our various fruit trees, I decided I looked quite in despair in comparison! So it's time for me to shape up and lose a few pounds after such a long and lazy winter. Rich meals and stews and gravy have their place in a Canadian winter for the comfort they provide, but boy, you sure pay the piper for it when you try to stuff yourself into your shorts on the first warm day of summer! It was like stuffing twenty pounds of potatoes into a ten pound bag!

Now being of middle age, and clearly a lover of all things rich and buttery, I'm no stranger to dieting. And if I've learned anything over the years, the key to success is to stay positive and not to focus on the things you can't have, but rather the abundance of delicious and healthy food that you can have. So with Frenk's spring green onions in mind, and keeping my weight loss goals in mind, here is a delicious and easy red snapper fillet recipe that you can cook on the barbeque, so no mess either!

You'll need:
3 fresh snapper fillets (or any other kind of fish that you like)
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons of reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons of dry sherry
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
2 cloves of minced garlic
zest and juice of a lime
3 thinly sliced green onions - use the whole thing
 a tiny squeeze of honey
freshly ground pepper
And whisk it all together.

Lay the fish on a large sheet of heavy tin foil that's been sprayed with non stick spray and pour the sauce over the fish. Fold up your tin foil to seal everything inside, but leaving a space enough for it to steam. Like a tent. If you don't have heavy duty foil, use 2 sheets. Now I have a cookie sheet that I use just for the barbeque so it doesn't matter if it gets wrecked. I suggest you use one too. Lay the tin foil pouch on the cookie sheet and put the whole thing on a pre-heated barbeque at medium to low heat. Let it cook with the lid down for about half an hour.
I also made grilled vegetables with this. And they can go directly on the grill beside the cookie sheet. Grill anything you like. Just brush it with some olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, freshly ground pepper and whatever dried herbs you like. Zucchini with oregano is a good one. Or new potatoes, onions, corn on the cob, portobello mushrooms. The list is endless. Easy, delicious and with no guilt whatsoever. Soon I'll be as shapely as our peach trees!