Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hockey Night Fever With Fried Calamari

While I’m waiting in vain to have my little baby, hockey fever in Montreal is full on. I’m personally a Habs fan (Montreal Canadians, for those who don’t know the term) and despise the Boston Bruins… No offense to anybody who is. Tonight is the 7th game, which means either winning team will go on to the next round.

Now, here’s my little secret. As much as I love hockey, when it starts to be nice outside, there isn’t any point in watching a hockey game every 2 nights. I’d much rather go out and enjoy drinks on a nice terrace. Still, right now, I’m really hoping my team will go on to the next round. Not only because it would be absolutely great, but also because I know that in the next few weeks, I will not be going out to have drinks on a terrace… but will be staying very quietly at home, taking care of the newborn. With the Montreal Canadians on TV, I know I’m guaranteed to have a few good nights of TV a week. Otherwise I can easily get bored, not being a big TV fan.

Anyways, hockey night fever is always fun in our house. And it’s also a good challenge for me in terms of food since we almost always have our diner in front of the TV. Tonight will be no exception and I’m ready to serve some good stuff to anyone who’ll be watching the game with us. Junk food it will be… but good junk food! I’m going to make some nice fried calamari, which I looooove! They’re quite easy to make and only take a big 2 minutes to cook. Their only flaw: they can stink up your house if you don’t have a good fryer! So make sure the air is circulating well in your kitchen, and get your hands dirty with this amazing party food!

Makes 4 servings

1-pound calamari
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
Salt & freshly ground pepper
3 eggs

In a deep fryer, preheat the oil at 350˚F.

In a bowl, blend together the flour, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.

Rinse and pat the calamari dry. Cut the bodies into 1-cm thick rings. Dip the calamari rings in the eggs. Toss lightly, a few pieces at a time, in the flour mix. Shake off any excess.

Fry the calamari for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Note: You can serve the calamari with a simple tartar sauce or make a nice aioli mayonnaise with smoke paprika.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Treat: Chocolate Fondant

Happy Easter to all of you! I hope you’re enjoying a magnificent day and that you’re totally indulging in chocolate decadence. After all, it’s one of the little pleasures of this day, isn’t it?

As you’ve read before, I’m not chocolate’s number one fan. Although I cannot deny its goodness, I don’t think it’s the best thing in the world (please don’t hate me for this statement). But I have to admit that there are a few chocolate deserts that do get me going and excited. Today, we’re having friends over for dinner and I don’t think I can make them food without baking a great desert. And one of my personal favorites is, indeed, made of chocolate. It’s a chocolate fondant. A decadent piece of melting, hot chocolate. If I can’t resist it, I don’t think many can.

The best part of this desert is that it takes absolutely no time to make, and hardly any effort. I made mine in 10 minutes and I’ll bake the little goodies for 10 minutes right before serving them. I may not be the best baker in the world but this desert is honestly the easiest thing you’ll ever make. The only thing that you can worry about is cooking time. If you cook it too much, it won’t be melting. And if the center isn’t melting, well, then, the purpose of these little pieces of art is completely lost. So get your hands on a good timer and you’ll see, things will go really smoothly!  

Make 4 servings

3 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
115 g (4oz) semisweet chocolate (your best choice would be 60-65% cocoa)
½ cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour

Butter and flour 4 ramekins (size of ½ cup).

In a bowl, beat the eggs and the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. About 3 minutes should do.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over very low heat. Add the chocolate and stir until it’s completely melted.

Add the chocolate preparation to the egg mixture. Once everything is well blended, fold in the flour. Divide the mixture between the 4 ramekins.

When you’re about ready to serve your desert, preheat your oven at 375˚F. Put the ramekins in the center of the oven for 10 minutes. Immediately turn over on a plate and unmold. Decorate with icing sugar. Serve hot with small berries.

Note: You can prepare your ramekins a day ahead, cover them and keep them in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge for about 1 hour before cooking them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Making A Vegetable Exciting With Eggplant Curry

I’m always looking for interesting ways to add vegetables to my meals. Personally, I like plain vegetables just fine. I think that if they’re well cooked (meaning not too much!) they’re usually very tasty. But a lot of people don’t really like their veggies. So making ‘exciting’ veggies can be a plus at diner time. Last night I tried this delicious eggplant recipe. Eggplants can be pretty boring if kept plain, but can become so rich in taste when they absorb all sorts of flavors and juices while being cooked.

Managing your pantry is really important when you cook. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to cook a simple ingredient and not having anything exciting to transform that simple ingredient into an amazing dish. Which is why you should always have a few basics on hand. Coconut milk is one I always have in stock. You never know when you’re going to want to add it to your cooking. Last night was one of those nights. Mixed with the curry leaves and a few great spices, my simple and plain eggplant became an exciting vegetable that everyone at the table was really happy to eat. I even got asked for seconds, which is always a good sign!  

Curry leaves

Makes 4 servings

2 eggplants
2 tbsp Ghee or vegetable oil
3 onions, finely diced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
4-5 curry leaves
1 tbsp powder coriander
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp tomato paste
250 ml coconut milk
3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped (or basil)

On a baking sheet, line the eggplants and sprinkle with salt. Leave to sweat for 30 minutes. Pat dry with Scott towels.

In a large skillet, heat the ghee and add the onions. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Incorporate the garlic and ginger. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add the curry leaves, the powder coriander, cumin and mustard seeds, and the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the eggplants, cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the eggplants are tender. Uncover and cook for another 5 minutes. Incorporate the fresh coriander. Serve immediately.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Monday Afternoon Project: Lasagna

As some of you may have read throughout this blog, I’m big time pregnant right now. In fact, I could pop any day. I’m basically waiting around at home until the big day comes, which has great advantages. The downside is that I don’t have much energy left in me. Consequently, I’m not always in the mood for cooking. Still, I put a great effort to make sure I do keep on cooking. First, to stay healthy. But also to have great recipes to add to this blog.

You can also imagine that my fridge is pretty much kept full at all times. I’ve been like a small ant lately, making provisions for the hard times to come (because you never know what you’re going to get!). I have all sorts of frozen goods ready to be heated up, either in the microwave or in the oven. There is no way I will be cooking in the first few days after giving birth. Which is why yesterday I gave myself a big kick in the butt and made an astronomical quantity of Lasagna.

Don’t get me wrong, I love lasagna but it’s not something I eat every week. More like twice a year. Yet I find that when you make lasagna, it takes so much time that it’s not worth it if you’re only going to make one. Which is why I made 3 huge ones and froze them. I can keep them all if I want to or, I could give some out if I feel like it. You could do the same.

The following recipe is pretty traditional. If you want to make a few lasagnas at the same time, you’re going to have to multiply the ingredients. With the Bolognese sauce recipe below, you’ll be able to make 3 big lasagnas and you might even have some sauce left over. If you’re not planning on making many lasagnas, you can choose to cut the quantities to make less sauce or, better, keep the quantities and freeze the extra sauce for spaghetti. Same thing for the Béchamel recipe. You’ll have enough to make 3 lasagnas. This sauce doesn’t freeze so you should cut the quantities if you only want to make 1 lasagna. Finally, I like to buy aluminum lasagna pans that I can throw out after one use. There cheap, the perfect size and you can keep your good baking pans out of the freezer.

Oh yeah! I didn't eat lasagna last night so I froze all 3 of them without cooking them, which is why I don't have a great picture of the final result. I'm sure you can imagine what it'll look like once it's perfectly roasted! 

Makes 1 lasagna
(Make sure you multiply the ingredients if you’re making more than 1 lasagna)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
About 12 dried lasagna sheets 
Black pepper
2 ½ cups Bolognese sauce (see recipe below)
1 ½ cups Béchamel sauce (see recipe below)
1-pound ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 packs of 10z frozen spinach, chopped, unfrozen and dried
3 cups mozzarella cheese
¼ cup freshly ground Parmesan cheese

If you’re planning on eating your lasagna on the day of preparation, preheat your oven at 375˚F.

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable oil (so your lasagna won’t stick together). Add the lasagnas and cook for about 6 minutes (they have to be all dente). Take the pasta out and pass under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside, covered with a slightly humid towel so they don’t dry out.

In a large bowl, mix together the Bolognese and Béchamel sauces. Adjust taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, the eggs, salt & pepper. Set aside.

In a 13”x 9” ovenproof pan, spread 1/3 of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce. Cover with 5 lasagna sheets. Evenly spread the ricotta mix over the lasagna. Cover with spinach. Add 5 more lasagna sheets over the spinach and cover with another 1/3 of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce. Add ½ cup of mozzarella cheese. Cover with the remaining 5 lasagna sheets. Empty the rest of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce and cover with what’s left of the mozzarella cheese, as well as with the Parmesan. Put in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or until the cheese makes bubbles on top. 

Notes: I believe real traditional lasagnas should be made with Marinara sauce and separately cooked meat. Since I’m a little lazy sometimes (!), I prefer to make a simple Bolognese sauce so the meat is already integrated to the tomato sauce.

If you choose to unfreeze and cook, make sure you take your lasagna out of the freezer at least 10 hours before heating it. 

Makes about 10 cups

½ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves (or more if you like!), finely chopped
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4 celery branches, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
Salt & pepper
3 - 36oz preserved tomatoes
2 dried laurel leaves

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and the garlic. Cook for about 8 minutes. Add the beef and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of freshly ground pepper.  Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the laurel leaves.

Simmer over low heat for about 1 hour or until the sauce has thickened.

Take off the heat. Throw out the laurel leaves. Adjust taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 cups

5 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups hot milk
Salt & white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

In a small pan, heat the milk until it’s just about to boil.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Bring the temperature to medium heat and cook for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the hot milk to the mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the mixture is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Set-aside until you’re ready to use it. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Radish Salsa Just For My Mom

I don’t know if she’ll mind me saying this, but I’m about to reveal to you one of my mom’s secrets: she’s totally addicted to radishes! She’s the one and utmost fan of radishes. She craves them all the time, eats them everyday and when she comes back from a trip abroad, radishes are always the first thing listed on her grocery list, she dreams of them! I don’t know if you know anyone who is more of a fan than her (if you do, please let me know… they absolutely have to meet!). I certainly don’t.

Which is why this is the absolute, most perfect recipe for her. When she reads this I guarantee that she’ll jump off her chair and call me in the instant to thank me for the idea (mom, you better call!). I can even bet that she’ll be trying the recipe inside of 3 days tops. I don’t see why she would put off such an easy and tasteful recipe!
Making the salsa should take you about 15 minutes. The hardest part of the recipe is cutting the radishes. The smaller the pieces, the longer it’ll take you, yet it’ll look that much better with tiny pieces. Make sure you make the salsa in advance so you can chill it for at least an hour. During that time all the juices will go into the radishes, which will give the salsa a more intense flavor. The salsa is excellent on grilled fish or chicken, or even with tacos. I served mine with grilled sardines… I won’t lie it was a terrible choice. Because of all the fish bones in sardines, it was a real hassle to eat. I guess we all make a mistake, that’s the beauty of it! I’d recommend a white-fleshed fish like Mahi-mahi or Sturgeon. You should have more fun eating your meal than we did.

Radish Salsa

12 radishes, washed, trimmed and diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 orange
Juice from 1 ½ lime
1 tsp raw or brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

Put the orange and lime juices in a bowl and add the radishes. Mix well.

Add the chopped cilantro, raw sugar and balsamic vinegar. Stir the ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rainy Day Comfort Food: French Onion Soup

It’s a gray rainy day out here in Montreal and I feel like some comfort food. I know! You think I’m going to say French fries or pizza, but you’re wrong. Although the latter definitely fall in the comfort food category, I’m thinking of something else. As I’ve got time on my hands, a luxury these days, I’ve decided on preparing one of my favorites, a French onion soup. Onion soup is quite easy to make and, whenever necessary, I don’t hesitate on making a fast version of it. But nothing beats the real thing. A soup in which the onions are deeply golden brown and have cooked for so long their rich flavor takes all its meaning.

Like I said, onion soup is really easy to make. But if you’re going to tackle the following recipe, you’re going to need close to two hours to make it (although you could pull it off in an hour if you’re in a rush). Don’t worry though, most of the time you’ll be able to do other things at the same time. Onions don’t require too much attention! And the reward is definitely worth it. It’ll make your evening a great one, especially if you’re planning on watching the French version of the electoral debates tonight… not something I’m looking forward to!

Makes 4 servings

5 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt + more for seasoning
¼ tsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
6 cups beef broth
½ cup dry white wine or Vermouth
Black pepper
3 tbsp Cognac or Brandy (optional)

2 cups grated Suisse or Gruyère
1 tbsp butter
8 1-inch thick sour dough bread

Preheat your oven at 450˚F.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil together over moderately low heat. Add the onions, toss them, and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low and let them steep for 15 minutes.

While you’re waiting, spread some butter on your bread slices and put them on a baking sheet in the oven for about 8 minutes or until they are crispy and golden. Set them aside while you continue to prepare your soup. Keep your oven heating.

Uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in ¼ tsp of salt and the sugar. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, for another 30 to 40 minutes until they turn a deep golden brown.

Once the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle them with the flour and cook, while stirring, for another 3 minutes. Add the wine and the stock a little at a time, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir in the Cognac. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for another 15 to 30 minutes.

Arrange 4 ovenproof soup bowls on a baking sheet and divide the soup among them. Place the croutons on top of the soup (let them float!) and cover them with the grated cheese. You can add more cheese if you find you don’t have enough!

Bake the soups on the tray for about 15 minutes. Finish for a minute or two under the broiler if the cheese isn’t brown enough. Serve immediately on a plate as the bowls will be steaming hot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Creating Hello Kitty With A Million Dollar Cake

There’s nothing like a good sugar rush. But what about your first ever sugar rush? Who remembers that? I certainly don’t but I did witness someone else’s first sugar rush just a few days ago. My little girl turned one (yep, she’s a big girl now) and with her first birthday came her first birthday cake. Chocolate cake on top of it, designed by her mom, aka me (!), into her favorite character: Hello Kitty. Seriously, it was the best feeling ever to see her discover the sweet taste of the icing as she slowly licked her little fingers. It was an even better feeling when she started digging into the cake, with her little hands, putting handfuls of cake into her tiny mouth. She got so excited she was kicking her feet at the same time. With her face dirty with cake, I knew I was a good mom and that she would thank me later for the initiation… as, I have no doubt, there will be many other sugar rushes in the future. If you’ve ever been the witness to such a moment, you know what a priceless moment this has been for me!

For the big event I wanted to make a chocolate cake, there was no compromise on that. I certainly wasn’t going to buy a commercial cake or cake mixture, and I didn’t necessarily want a cake filled with rich chocolate, as this was a first. Which is why I turned to a recipe I’ve been using for a few years now. My sister’s best friend’s Italian grandmother has handed it down to me; it’s one of those secret recipes that you just don’t find in cookbooks. It almost tastes like a Duncan Hines, but 100 times better… and healthier. Super easy to make, it also has the perfect texture if you want to ice your cake or if, like me, you want to make a design out of your cake. This is the recipe that everyone will want to steal from you.

As for my Hello Kitty cake, I searched the Internet for an easy image to reproduce. Once I found it, I outlined my cake pan on a piece of paper and drew inside of it the Hello Kitty image. I cut out the paper and then cut the cake in the right shape. I finished off with the icing – which, I have to admit, I bought premade – and gave life to the cake. It’s really easy to do with any simple shape. If you want to try it with another image, go ahead and get creative. Whoever you’ll be serving the cake too will be delighted by your effort (or talent!). If you don’t want to make a shape, simply make a 2-layer cake and add the icing. Decorate the top of the cake the way you feel like or, even simpler, leave it naked!

Makes about 10 servings

2 cups flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup white sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ baking powder
1 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water

3 cups icing sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your over at 350˚F. Butter 2 8-inch cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.

In another bowl, add water to the mayonnaise and mix well. Add the dry ingredients while mixing well.

Split the mixture between the 2 cake pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until à toothpick comes out clean.


In a small bowl, melt the butter in the microwave.

In a larger bowl, slowly add the butter to the icing sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla extract.

Note: Although this recipe is much better with the original icing, you can buy store ready icing if you’re looking for a color in particular, which can often be hard to make.