Category Archives: Mains and Meats

A Celebration of Old Classics: Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

Harvesting Dinner is barely two years old and I have enjoyed writing every single post!While I jumped in blindly with little direction, knowing only that I wanted to share my insane attraction to our edible world by writing recipes, telling little stories about my life, sharing the joys of eating out or the effects of eating too much, I didn’t know what personality this little diary of mine would take on. If I were to choose a new name, I may be tempted to select something like “Heritage Kitchen”, “Legacy Cooking” or “A Mother’s Pantry”, which would surely better capture the essence of this blog… I seem to gravitate towards heirloom recipes and stories; I am inherently attracted to the cooking of the mothers in my life… I love the mixed heritage of my kitchen where French Canadian, French (from France) and East European all collide with international cuisines! And I am deeply rooted to my family’s origins through the traditions and knowledge these humble home cooks have imparted on me. In my home, I tend to prepare the simple yet comforting dishes of everyday cooking when a budget needs to be respected and time is often elusive. Although I have the expertise to take on intricate recipes and I do enjoy cooking elaborate meals from time to time, this type of cooking does not portray what goes on in my everyday kitchen which is the one I share with you most often. I will seldom post dishes that require extremely elaborate preparations within this blog unless I decide to share a culinary experience that is well worth it. As simple as it is, my cooking is no less inviting: it is all about awesomely good food, warm & comforting, served with love and abundance, to enjoy in the presence of people who truly matter. Whether it is a simple weeknight tête-à-tête with the King , a small gathering of the family or a grand celebration, I aim to serve foods that beg for seconds and “take home” care packages. I also like to «be» with my peeps at mealtime and I will favour dishes that can be prepared ahead so that I am free to partake in all the conversations that are happening at the dinner table. I am definitely the queen of one pot dinners, of tough pieces of meat bubbling away  softly in a fragrant broth until they render their full potential and fall off the fork tender. I love simmered dishes the most: those that fill the house with mouth-watering aromas for hours until you can’t stand it any longer and must dig in. I also enjoy the carefree approach to summer grilling paired with fresh produces enhanced with perfectly balanced vinaigrettes.

I do favour simple cooking over intricate, that is for sure.  Yet, simple does not necessarily mean quick! There are times when you just need to soak things overnight, simmer all day or spread the prep over a day or two… The time spent preparing a meal is not a reflection of how difficult the recipe is; it simple means that the recipe requires a bit more planning. For me, simple cooking also means familiar: food prepared with “easy to find” ingredients (not too many) that are budget friendly. I love old classics and appreciate having been taught the rudiments of French cuisine: I can whip up a great hollandaise, make my own mayo, serve a silky smooth sabayon and bake bread. And although I often refer back to recipes for proportion, especially when it comes to baking, I can make a bechamel sauce without even taking a peek into a book!

One classic preparation I am particularly thrilled I have learned to master are crêpes; they are so versatile! They really are easy to make: the most difficult part of making crêpes (if one can call this difficult) is knowing how much batter to pour into the pan to ensure the right thickness and size. It really isn’t that hard: I always mess up the first one which I am sure I subconsciously do on purpose so that I can eat a hot crêpe right away!!! There are many things I love about crêpes: they can be done in advance, they can be sweet or savoury, they can be served hot or cold, they can be filled, rolled or drenched in syrups, whatever your fancy! They are neutral enough to be a perfect vehicle to an infinite combinations of ingredients yet are just as delicious sprinkled lightly with sugar… What matters most to make really great crêpes is time: the batter really needs to “relax” in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. It only takes about 10 minutes to whip a batter up in a food processor or a blender and just a tiny bit longer if you have to whisk everything by hand. What takes the longest is the cooking time as each crêpe must be done individually. There are pans that are specifically designed to make crêpes and they work extremely well. However, any good old frying pan you have on hand will do. I made crêpes for decades before I splurged and bought a crêpe pan…

This savoury crêpe recipe I am about to share with you is a long time family classic. It does require planning and involves several steps but none of them are difficult. What I like best about this particular recipe is that it can be prepared entirely in advance AND the ingredients are easy to find. Simply pop it in the oven one hour before serving. Pair with a nice crisp salad and you have a festive meal that will make your guests very happy!

I recently made this dish and took the opportunity to take plenty of pictures at every stage. Then our guests arrived and ya know, we got into cocktails and instant conversation… I was way too happy being with my friends than hidden in the kitchen and not only did I completely forget to set my timer, I also forgot to check in on the crêpes! A lovely intense smell of melted Gruyère eventually got my attention and as a result, I over baked the crêpes by a good 35 minutes. The verdict? Although the crêpes were still very delicious, they had absorbed most of the sauce. I hesitated to add the final picture because it should be much saucier but then I figured that mistakes happen even with the best of techniques and planning. So expect a saucier dish if you decide to make this recipe: that is how it should be 🙂

Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

This recipe serves 4 and can easily be doubled (I always double, left overs are great!)

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The result of overbaking: a little «dry» yet still delicious

 

Part 1 – Crêpe Batter

What you need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250ml)
  • 1 cup milk (250ml)
  • 1/2 cup water (maybe a bit more) (125ml)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (2.5ml)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (30ml) plus 1/4 cup (65ml) melted butter for cooking

How to make it:

  1. Using a food processor, blend together the eggs, flour, milk, water and salt until well blended. With motor still running, pour in the melted butter and whip until well blended.
  2. Transfer batter in a jug or a bowl, cover and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.
  3. Making the crêpes: strain the batter using a small sieve to remove any lumps. The batter should be silky smooth. Add  water if the batter is too thick, a little bit at a time: it should have the consistency of buttermilk or hollandaise.
  4. Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, coat the pan with a small film of butter. Drop about 1/2 cup of batter in the pan spreading quickly by tilting the pan in a swirl motion. How to video, click here
  5. Once all your crêpes are done, set them aside. You can stack crêpes in a plate, they will not stick together. Crêpes can also be done a day ahead and refrigerated : simply wrap very well with plastic wrap to avoid drying and refrigerate. Crêpes also do well in the freezer for a few weeks.image

Part 2 – Chicken and asparagus filling

What you need

  • 2 large chicken breast, with skin and bones
  • 1 onion, peeled and left whole
  • 2 carrots, peeled and left whole
  • 3 celery branches, with leaves if possible
  • 2 bay eaves
  • 1 tbsp salt (15ml)
  • 1 tsp pepper (5ml)
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • 2 shallots finely chopped (or 1/2 cooking onion)
  • 1/4 cup butter (65ml)
  • 1/4 cup flour (65ml)
  • 4 cups milk (1l)
  • 1 tsp salt (5ml)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (fine grind)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, 35% (180ml)
  • 2 cups grated Gruyère* cheese (500ml)

*Swiss cheese will do but Gruyère really takes it to the next level… If you can splurge 🙂

How to make it

  1. Cook the chicken: In a large stock pot, place chicken, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil on high heat, then reduce heat and cook over a gentle boil, partially covered. the chicken should take about 30-40 minutes to cook through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool before removing the skin and bones.
  3. Meanwhile, discard the celery and onion from broth. Remove the carrots and set aside. Strain the broth in a fine mesh sieve. Return carrots to broth and save for another time. The broth will not be needed in this recipe
  4. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Chop meat into cubes: this should yield 3-4 cups of chicken (750-1000ml). This variation will not impact the recipe much. Refrigerate
  5. Set a pot to boil filled with plenty of salted water
  6. Chop the shallots and grate the cheese
  7. Prepare the asparagus: clean well snap off the hard woody part off the stem, normally a lighter green that the rest of the asparagus. Cut asparagus in pieces about 1 inch long (2-3cm). Once the water is at a full rolling boil, add the asparagus. They will cook very quickly. I find that they are done once the water reaches the boiling point again, usually 3-4 minutes. As soon as the water starts boiling again, strain the asparagus and immediately immerse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Change the water frequently until the asparagus have cooled, strain and reserve.
  8. Make the bechamel sauce: in a mid-size saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to foam slightly. Add the shallots (or onions) and cook until translucent 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for an additional 23 minutes. The only trick here is that you want the flour to cook without browning. Slowly start pouring in the milk, whisking well as you incorporate. I usually add about half first, whisk well and then pour in the rest. To avoid lumps, it is best to use cold milk. Because this bechamel has shallots in it, you will not be able to strain it to remove the lumps. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce reaches a soft boil and it has started to thicken. Remove from heat, whisk in the heavy cream. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap by sticking directly onto the sauce to prevent a crust from forming. Set aside to cool.image

Assembly:

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This is a double batch
  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, the asparagus, 1 cup of cheese and just enough bechamel (about half) to moisten the preparation.image
  2. If you plan on baking right away, preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Butter the sides and bottom of a large casserole dish, like a lasagna dish for example. If you do not own a large dish, use two smaller ones.
  4. Spread the filling evenly between each crêpe. Roll by first folding the left and right side towards the middle, then rolling to close. Place the crêpes seam down in the baking dish. Do not stack crêpes on top of one another: if you run out of room, it is best tu use a second baking dish.image
  5. Spread the remaining bechamel evenly over the crêpes, sprinkle with cheeseimage
  6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the cheese starts to take on a golden hue and bubbles lightly at the edges
  7. Let sit 10 minutes before serving

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be increased slightly if the crêpes have been refrigerated
  • The entire dish can be prepared a day in advance, which makes it a great party dish!
  • This dish also freezes very well: freeze in individual portions for easy weeknight dinnersimage

 

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Some days dinner should be simple, like a sandwich or something. That is what I was hoping for last night but I had some fresh local zucchini beauties I needed to use up and there was a pack of chicken thighs already defrosted in the fridge. Sigh… I was not in the mood… Mood or not, I really had to find my mojo and get cooking. What to do, what to do??? Too lazy to browse through my collection of recipes saved everywhere: online, on paper, bookmarked, in magazines, in e-mails… Too tired to want to try something totally new… I also wanted to cook something that wouldn’t radically bust the calorie count; I didn’t want to ruin my “9km walking dowtown” day. Soooo, I opted for familiar with what I had on hand: onions, zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers and parmesan. A never fail pairing with chicken. The combo worked and by the time I had my ingredients sorted out, I found my second wind. It smelled divine in the house and we couldn’t wait to dig in.  I served myself just a little wee bit of pasta but the King, who has been blessed with a “piss me off” good metabolism, piled it on his plate with reckless abandon (his plate in the picture). I drooled with envy over his copious serving and cursed the gods of curvy bodies… He gobbled it up with a guilt-free conscience,  adding a few slices of über fresh sourdough bread from Bread and Sons, generously slathered with a thick coating of  Riviera Salted Butter (my new heart throb). Lucky man… Not fair… He had seconds… I went to water my plants lol!

Ok, enough with the pity party!! I could have ended up with a hard boiled egg and a sliced tomato… Instead, I got to enjoy a respectable serving of this really yummy and healthy meal! I hope this recipe inspires you: the instructions may seem long but I added a lot of details to help those who are really new in the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated, this meal is super easy to make…

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Because nothing evokes the Med life better than tomatoes, zucchinis and garlic simmering together…

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What you need:

  • 5 good size zucchinis, diced in big chunks
  • 1 generous tbsp olive oil
  • pepper
  • 6-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange sweet pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 big tomato, diced
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • pasta or rice, enough for 4 servings (optiona)
  • grated parmesan

How to make it: 

I roasted the zucchinis first while I prepped the rest. It does cut some of the cooking time a bit plus add just that umph of flavour. I was able to cook everything else while the zucchinis were taking on a nice roasted flavour. I like to crank my oven up to 450F on convect roast to get a good char going on… For more ideas on how to maximize the use of your oven, I invite you to read an older post dedicated to this subject. You can skip this step and add the zucchinis with the onions and peppers at step 6.

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set grill rack to the upper middle position
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Toss the zucchinis with olive oil and pepper. Spread even,y on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis will be ready when they start to have a nice brown outer edge
  3. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tsp salt and some coarse ground pepper. Add to the chicken and coat well, set aside
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large and deep skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat; add the chicken, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. You want to achieve a nice golden crust and cook the inside without over cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the onions, sweet peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Gather the remaining ingredients. Set your water to boil if you are cooking pasta or get started on the rice
  6. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan. You shouldn’t need any additional oil. Sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize then add the garlic and oregano. Toss a round a little until the garlic starts to soften without browning. If using, add the white wine and cook down until nearly all evaporated, 3-5 minutes. If you are not using wine, skip to the next step
  7. Check on the zucchinis… If they have a nice brown colour and have softened, they are ready to pull out of the oven
  8. To the skillet, once the wine has reduced, add the fresh & canned tomatoes and the  tomato paste. Stir to mix well.
  9. Add the zucchinis, stir and taste for seasoning. I added 1tsp of salt and some black pepper
  10. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables without burying completely in the sauce. Bring to a gently bubbling simmer, cover and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes
  11. While the chicken is simmering, cook the pasta or rice (optional)

Serve with a generous shower of freshly grated Parmesan although asagio, and romano would be honourable substitutes and fresh mozza, crumbled feta or goat cheese would easily enhance as well.  Everyone is happy 🙂

Side note: if in Ottawa, you must visit Bread and Sons on Bank Street, it is worth discovering!  I am not receiving compensation from these businesses, just sharing my appreciation for what they offer.

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When fall returns to haunt June weekends… Fragrant Moroccan Chicken Stew

Note: this dish can be entirely adapted to accommodate a vegetarian diet. In lieu of chicken, double up on the chickpeas and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

It’s been cold, damp, windy and simply unspring like over the past few days… You are not playing nice Mother Nature! This kind of weather begs for a warm hearty serving of some sort of simmer. Not that I necessarily wait for cooler days to make this beautifully fragrant dish: I do not own a BBQ in my city home therefore summer grilling is reserved for the cottage. I must admit that not having a BBQ at home is a bit of a challenge, especially when the mercury hits the sizzling hot zone. On those days, I wish I could simply throw a chunk of meat of the grill, serve it with a huge salad and call it a day. Easy grilling days not being a dinner option in the city, my stovetop remains my “go-to” cooking tool, even in the middle of the summer. When the work days wipe any dinner creative energy out of me, on those days, our go-to easy summer meal is more likely to be a sandwich or an omelet. And I am very grateful for air conditioning which permits me to cook with abandon using a hot stove or oven even during heat waves.

For the most part, I cook a full meal nearly every night of the week. Well, ok, maybe not every night, that would be a slight exaggeration! I often tend to make enough to have left overs for at least a second meal… Sometimes we even get tired of eating the same stuff a few days in a row… Oh well, even though he is The King, he can’t expect to eat like one every single day!!! Like come on now, a girl needs to do other things once in while other than working and cooking right? Although Jamie Oliver and a few others try to makes us believe a fully cooked dinner from scratch can be dished out in 15 minutes, I beg to differ. There is absolutely no such thing as a 15 minute meal unless there are little minions living in your house who gather ingredients, portion the meats, wash all the produce, take out all the required ingredients and clean up the entire mess after you. I have no such minions, do you? I consider myself a pretty skilled cook, with solid organization and planning strategies. I can handle a knife with certain ease (although not a pro) yet dinner prep in my house averages at about 1 hour. I clean up as I go usually leaving only the service dishes and pots for the after dinner clean up crew (luckily, I have one of those). I do not mind that 1 hour prep time at all. I never set myself up for disappointment since I never, ever expect to make a meal under an hour… Except when there are recipes such as this Moroccan Chicken Stew! So simple and so easy to throw together that you wonder why you don’t make it more often!!! This one truly takes maybe up to 30 minutes to assemble including prep AND cleaning up as you go. And then, it takes maybe 30 minutes to cook (which allows me plenty of time to check what is going on in the world via my beloved I-Pad). When I last made this dish, it was ready to serve in less than one hour; almost faster than firing up the grills!

In Morocco, the weather is warm nearly year round and although they can whip up some fantastic grilled meats, some of their most famous dishes are slow simmers using tagines. Tagines are clay cooking pots with lovely cone shaped lids which allow the steam to build up, get caught up at the top of the cone, condense again and the trickle back down to the food, constantly bathing what is cooking inside and infusing all the flavours and aromas. I do not own a tagine (yet) but I have had the pleasure of eating delicious Moroccan food cooked in this traditional utensil. So even though the weather is very hot in Morocco, I bet these stews are popular not only because they are so delicious but most likely because they are very economical to make: they yield large portions of food using humble ingredients while showcasing masterfully blended spices such Raz el Hanout. Here is a interesting little tidbit info capsule that may also explain the popularity of tagines: fresh bread is sacred in this country and baked daily in wood burning ovens. Although the dough is prepared everyday at home, the raw loaves are brought to a communal oven where the master baker bakes all the loaves. These ovens are quite large and will retain residual heat for a long time even after the rush of bread baking has come and gone which is where the tagines end up later in the day to simmer slowly. Such stews, served piping hot over a bed of couscous, are always a crowd pleaser! My Moroccan Chicken Stew may not simmer slowly in a tagine nestled in a wood burning oven yet it still manages to evoke images of Marrakesh, white washed homes, blue mosaic tiles frescos and bustling spice markets.

I have adapted this recipe from Everyday Food by Martha Stewart which has now become a family classic because it is super healthy, packs a ton of flavour yet is so easy to make. There is no “heat” to this recipe either, for those who are sensitive to spicy foods.

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Moroccan Chicken Stew

serves 4 generous portions

What you need:

Don’t overlook making this dish because the ingredient list seems too long. Apart from the spices, there are very few ingredients needed and very little preparation required. You can replace Ras el Hanout with chili powder and garam masala (1 tsp each). Sumac and parsley add an extra dimension but can easily be omitted

  • 8 pieces of chicken, skinless, bone in
  • 2 cups of carrots peeled and cut into 1.5 inches long pieces then halved or quartered depending on the size of the carrots
  • 2-3 medium yellow onions, thin sliced
  • 1 small can stewed tomatoes, whole or diced (14oz or 400ml)
  • 1 small can chickpeas, rinsed or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (14oz or 400ml)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (500ml)
  • 1.5 cups dried fruits of your choice: figs, prunes, raisins, apricots**
  • 1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1 tsp. dry
  • 2 heaping tsp. Ras el Hanout***
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. sumac (optional), adds a citrusy flavour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Plenty of pepper
  • 2 zucchinis cut the same way as the carrots
  • The juice of 1 lemon (preserved lemon pieces would be a great substitute)
  • A generous handful of fresh chopped parsley if you like but not necessary
  • Couscous

* I like to use a combination of thighs, drumsticks and halved breasts with the bone in because it yields maximum flavour. This dish can also be done with boneless chicken pieces of your choice which will slightly reduce the cooking time.

** I like to use figs and prunes which I cut in half.

*** Ras el Hanout has become much easier to find recently although if at all possible, I strongly recommend sourcing a good blend from a small spice store instead of a grocery store. Raz el Hanout’s personality varies from one master spice blender to another. It is the North African equivalent to India’s garam masala. It evokes sun drenched spice markets of the Mediterranean.

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How to make it:

  1. Now this is where it gets really easy: add everything to a large pot except the dried fruits, zucchinis, the lemon juice and the parsley.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes (15 minutes if using boneless meat).
  3. Add the zucchinis and fruit, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package instructions. Couscous is normally ready in about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir lemon juice and fresh parsley in the stew
  6. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  7. Ladle over couscous and serve.

A Taste of the Sunny Far East: Coconut Lime Chicken with Mango Salsa

Sometimes, it really doesn’t take much to bring home flavours of exotic cuisines… Of course, some specialty meals are so complex it may be a much better idea to go out to a restaurant to enjoy instead of making them at home. I have shied away from making certain dishes because the ingredient list alone is daunting, let alone the techniques used and the equipment required. I don’t think I will ever attempt to make those Asian «pulled» noodles for instance… But there are other dishes, like this Coconut Lime Chicken, that is a reminiscence of fragrant dishes from Thailand or Cambodia yet is extremely simple in its preparation. I created this dish a few years ago wanting to enjoy a «Thai like» meal without leaving my house… I am sure I must have been inspired by a recipe I saw somewhere but honestly, I cannot remember what the source was or how much I deviated from it…  As well, the ingredients are very easily found in any grocery store. This dinner is bright, fresh, easy to make and relatively healthy depending on what your thoughts on good fats are. If you do not cringe at the fat content of coconut milk, then you will enjoy every single bite of this dish; I prefer to use whole coconut milk although I presume it would still taste great if it was swapped for light coconut milk.

Although the chicken would probably benefit spending a bit of time in the marinade, it is also possible to infuse enough good flavour even if it only marinates during the time it takes to pull together the other components of the recipe. The mango salsa is pretty amazing on its own; as a matter of fact, it could be used as a condiment in many preparations. I suggest serving this dish with basmati rice however, you could also use the coconut milk poached chicken in lettuce wraps and instead of making the sauce using the carrots and zucchini, you could top the chicken lettuce wraps with  mango salsa and the grated vegetables.

If you decide to make this recipe, I would be thrilled to hear how it turned out :)!

Coconut Lime Chicken

COCONUT LIME CHICKEN WITH MANGO SALSA

What you need:
Marinade:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in thick strips
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper

Mango Salsa

  • 1 ripe mango cut in small cubes
  • 1/3 large red onion finely chopped
  • ½ red pepper, finely diced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper

Sauce:

  • 1 each grated carrot and zucchini, yields a generous cup of each vegetable
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • fresh cilantro

Cooked basmati rice

How to make it:

  1. In plastic airtight container, toss together chicken with coconut milk, lime zest & juice and salt & pepper. Let marinate in refrigerator while you prep the rest of the recipe or up to 12 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, toss all the ingredients for the salsa together. Adjust seasonings and let sit in refrigerator for a few hours if possible. Adjust seasonings again to taste as flavours will evolve while resting.
  3. Pour chicken and marinade in large skillet or stove top pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and poach gently until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Remove chicken and set aside. Add zucchini, carrots and honey to cooking liquid and simmer until sauce has reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon basmati onto serving platter. Pour half the sauce over the rice. Add chicken strips to rice. Pour remainder of sauce. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve cold salsa on the side.

Variations:

  1. Making wraps: why not marinate and poach a little extra chicken breast to use later in wraps? Grate a little extra carrots and zucchini too. Refrigerate this extra chicken; once cooled, take large lettuce leave, rice wrapper or tortilla. Add chicken, top with some grated carrots & zucchini,  add salsa and voilà! Lunch in a jiffy!
  2. Playing with flavours: why not add green, red or yellow Thai curry paste for a completely different meal? Any curry for that matter will radically change the meal. The base is simple yet so versatile.

Mishmash of cooking fun on an ordinary weekend

Although spring is really pushing through these days with the snow melting and the birds singing mighty glory to the morning, the wet drizzly stuff that is hanging over our heads call for more warm and hearty foods no? This post is about a bunch of stuff: recipes by others that I tried, visits to our local food providers, exploring new tools, tips on this and that…  It’s really about a simple, joyful and ordinary moments in my little world.

I was playing in the kitchen this past weekend (as I normally do since it seems obvious I really have nothing better to do in life than to cook, read about cooking, dream about cooking and write on Facebook &  in my blog about cooking), trying to maximize the use of my pantry items before going grocery shopping. There were ripe bananas on the counter and fresh walnuts I wanted to use up but I was out of milk, yogurt and buttermilk. All I had on hand was half a tub of sour cream: could this work?  I swaped the buttermilk for the exact same measurement of sour cream in my Banana Chocolate Chip muffins and  it sure did work!!! Crispy tops and moist, tender centers, just like we love them. Experiment succesful, yay!

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Last Sunday was one of those epic early spring days where the sun is warm and the breeze is gentle. The King and I, our tummies full of warm muffins and strong coffee, grabbed our shopping cart and set out to the Byward Market by foot.  It was too glorious a day to pass by… We were not alone in seizing spring: many cafés, restaurants and bars had their patios opened. The world in downtown Ottawa was happy! After much debate on where to grab a bite to eat, we enjoyed a lovely Vietnamese lunch at Saigon on Clarence Street (no website) before doing our usual food store rounds. Our regular stops included: The Byward Fruit Market, The House of Cheese, Le Moulin de Provence (best sourdough bread), Your Corner Butcher, Continental Delicatessen and the Market Organics. There are a lot of other shops we like, such as La Bottega, but the above are our go-to main food suppliers. We took our time, enjoying the sun and doing a bit of people watching  before returning home several hours later with over 8.5km on our trackers. Blissful day 🙂

After such a long walk, Sunday dinner was kept simple as I wasn’t looking for anything requiring too much prep time. Nothing fancy yet über comforting: roasted chicken (lemon, honey, rosemary, garlic) with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, roasted spaghetti squash, pan gravy and coleslaw. Yup, you have guessed it, we are huge fans of roasted everything! Throw in a little  glass of vino and voilà! A perfect Sunday dinner!

Monday was a vacation day for me; I decided it was time to discover the many possibilities my pressure cooker has to offer. I purchased this tool last summer for the sole purpose of helping with my canning projects.  I had not yet taken the time to further explore its various cooking features. It offers a lot more than I actually thought: it can slow cook as well as pressure cook, it can cook rice, it can actually sear meat and it can steam vegetables. Pretty cool if you ask me! There are even Facebook groups dedicated to the joy of owning a pressure cooker! It was high time I did more with it than seal summer crops in jars right? Pressure cooking promises to cook  in record time and it delivered: I ended up making a braised Asian pork shoulder with cabbage and potatoes in about 1 hour plus a bit more for minimal prep time the recipe required. I adapted a slow cooker recipe by Ricardo to use the Pressure Cooker instead: I had to tweak the cook time since I was going from super slow to super fast. Although I made a few rookie errors such as adding the potatoes and cabbage in a little too early, the finished product was delicious. The recipe’s flavours were bang on. I will probably try this one again, maybe in my slow cooker this time just to compare the results:  Ricardo’s Pork and Cabbage Stew

Continuing on the Ricardo love fest bandwagon, I made his slow cooker milk rice pudding from his book: Ricardo’s Slow Cooker and this dish also turned out great. Two for two Mr. Ricardo Larrivée!  Although I did add my own footprint by throwing in raisins and cinnamon which I think brought it up a notch. All the recipes I have tried from this book on slow cooking have been successful. I find slow cooking a lot more complex than I ever imagined: the right proportion of liquid and aromatics to meat/legumes/vegetables definitely impacts the end results. I have been left more often than none with watered down bland meals in the past…  Ricardo’s book has become my «go to» resource when I feel like trying something new in the slow cooker. What a crazy day this turned to be with both my slow cooker and pressure cooker going at the same time!

My cooking day didn’t end there:  a huge batch of comfy beef vegetable soup was concocted using ground beef, a rich beef stock made a while back and the last jar of homemade tomato juice from last August canning extravaganza. The soup started with the usual trinity: onions, celery and carrots to which were added zucchinis & red peppers. The taste profile had  Italian undertones thanks to garlic, oregano and basil. But the umami of this dish was reached by adding a generous splash of balsamic and red wine vinegars as well as some sumac. To make this soup nearly stew like, a generous cup of pasta was added near the end. Sumac is new to my spice pantry;  is broadly used in Middle Eastern kitchens. It has a tart citrusy flavour which begs to be discovered and is not «hot» spicy at all. I have started adding a splash of vinegar (mostly balsamic) to soups and pasta sauces recently, after reading somewhere that it is that little secret oomph thingy that make people ask what is THAT flavour? It fills the need for the acid notes  in a recipe.

Tip on herb storage: who doesn’t love to cook with fresh herbs? Yet most spoil so quickly… My mom discovered this cool herb saving gadget that works beautifully and I bought it upon her recommendation. My mom has been my first mentor in the kitchen and still rocks our world when she cooks for us! So when she tells me something, I listen LOL! And this gadget is fantastic!!! Especially for delicate herbs. The pictures show cilantro after 6 days in the fridge and then again after 11 days in total!!! Impressive :).  I bought mine at Zone on Sussex Drive but have seen it in many kitchen emporiums. It takes very little room in the fridge when it is closed. Brand name is Prepara Kitchen Tools. This gadget is perfect for delicate herbs such as cilantro, oregano, basil, tarragon etc.  The downside is that it cannot accommodate thick bunches. And although parsley does very well in it, it is difficult to squeeze an entire bunch in the tube.

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Herb Storage Solution by Prepara

So for sturdier herbs such as parsley, I make my own mini refrigerator greenhouse. In the pictures below, the parsley on the counter is 2 weeks old. To make a herb greenhouse, all you need is a  glass jar, water and a clip of some sort. With scissors, trim the stems a bit just like you would fresh cut flowers. Keeping the bunch tied, rinse well under cold water and get rid of any spoiled bits and leaves (if any). Shake the excess water and set in the jar. Add enough water to cover the stems. Use the bag it came in to cover up leaving air in. Keep in fridge and pull branches as needed. I changed the water once and I find it amazing at how long the fresh herbs have lasted.

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Parsley Greenhouse

My two days of kitchen projects delivered great results:  delicious meals, snacks and a fridge full of leftovers to make the working week easier to handle! I managed to use up some pantry items before the end of their shelf life, discovered that sour cream can replace dairy in a muffin recipe and that sumac adds a wonderful citrus note to a soup. I got to explore the various uses of my pressure cooker too while trying a brand new recipe created by someone else!

 

 

Rolling in the Deep Dead of Winter with Cabbage Rolls

It’s January. It’s cold. It’s dark. There is nothing better than cooking up comfort foods and family favourites. Especially those casseroles that are easy on the budget and not too bad on the calorie count. The first time I ever ate cabbage rolls I was 23 years old. Yup, I had been living in the dark ages up until then… Cabbage was hardly, if ever served at home when I was growing up. I am not sure why. I suspect my mom’s distaste of the cruciferous globe may have had something to do with it. And to think of it, I am not sure that she disliked cabbage, I simply think she didn’t like cooking with it much.

At any rate, I never tasted the little parcels until I met my King. One of our first get away together was at his family’s cottage. It was January (we had recently met in December) and we were completely gaga over one another. Yes, already! To celebrate our newly found love, the King had invited me to spend some quiet alone time at the cottage (yes, the same cottage I refer to frequently in this blog). Although the cottage is more a house than a cabin, it does get closed down completely for the winter months. It requires a bit of work to get it going and habitable during this season: other than electricity, there is no running water and no instant heat. A big cast iron woodstove eventually keeps every one warm and cozy (until the fire dies out in the middle of the night) and water is lugged in from a hole dug through the ice on the lake. We need this water to clean dishes, tend to basic personal hygiene and flush the toilet. In the winter, the cottage is half rustic and half city slicker!!! It didn’t take me long to get accustomed to cottage life, regardless of the season but on that very first romantic get away, the King planned everything himself. I guess he was trying to impress! He went ahead of time to get the place all toasty and comfy, to dig the hole in the ice, to clear a pathway from the road to the front door and to bring up the edible supplies we would need. He then returned to town to pick me up… Such chivalry!!! Amongst the dishes he brought along for our sustenance were these magnificent cabbage rolls. One bite and my heart was 100% conquered. It took me a while to discover that his mother, not him, was the real cabbage roll master. I simply assumed he had made them and he simply didn’t elaborate. Oh well, one small omission of truth on his part lol! And by the time the truth finally came out, we were already a solid item! It didn’t matter much to me if cooking was not his thing: since he could still clear the path, dig the hole for water, split the wood and keep me nice and warm in the deep dead of winter, I was than happy to take over kitchen duties. Yes, I have very fond memories of our first weekend together. I knew then that not only would I end up spending a long time with this wonderful man, I also knew that one day, I would learn to make these little gems of cabbage, meat and rice!

It is my understanding that many, many families have their own cabbage roll recipes. Depending on the recipes’ origins, cabbage rolls can be made with fresh cabbage or with sauerkraut. Some recipes have tomatoes and others don’t. Some have more rice and others more meat. The truth is that I have never tried a homemade cabbage rolls that I didn’t like! There is just something über comforting about these plump pockets of meat and rice. This recipe is the exact recipe I had fallen in love with so many moons ago. It is very economical to make although it does require an investment in time. Since they also freeze very well, I tend to double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for quick and easy meals. It is bound to warm your heart.

Pretli Family Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage Rolls

 

What you need:

  • 1 large green cabbage or Savoy cabbage
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 3 lbs lean ground beef (1.3 kg)
  • 2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper or hot paprika
  • 4 cups tomato juice (1L)
  • ½ cup tomato ketchup

How to make it :

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  1. Set to boil a large deep stock pot with salted water
  2. Using a small sharp knife, remove the core of the cabbage while leaving the cabbage whole with all the leaves attached
  3. Place the cabbage in the pot, keeping the water to a soft boil
  4. Using kitchen tongues, remove cabbage leaves one by one once they are cooked. You will need a bit of patience to get to the center of the cabbage and you do not want to undercook the leaves. The cabbage should be tender enough to be pliable without being overcooked. Overcooked leaves will break easily
  5. Deposit cooked leaves in cold water to stop the cooking process
  6. Meanwhile, cook rice covered with plenty of salted water, maybe 2 inches above rice. Bring to a boil and cook for 9 minutes. Drain rice but make sure to keep cooking liquid. The rice cooking water will be used to help bind the meat mixture.
  7. In large bowl, mix together: beef, onions, garlic, cooked rice, Hungarian paprika, salt and cayenne. Once well blended, add just enough reserved rice cooking liquid to moistened meat mixture. The texture should resemble that of sausage meat.

Stuffing the leaves:

  1. Drain cabbage leaves well and remove any excess water. With a paring knife, remove or trim down the coarse rib of each leaf.
  2. Reserve 2 or 3 large cabbage leaves
  3. Lay one leaf at a time on a flat surface and add a generous scoop of filling, approximately the equivalent of an ice cream scoop, not quite in the middle of the leaf. If you were to separate the leaf in 3 imaginary zones, the filling would go on the first third closest to where the rib was. Start rolling from this end, folding sides over the center, tucking the leaf snuggly in the ends.

    Cabbage Rolls Filling
    Cabbage Rolls Filling
  4. Proceed until all the meat has been used
  5. Coarsely chop the remaining cabbage, except for the reserved leaves.
  6. In a large and deep casserole dish*, spread half the chopped cabbage. Layer cabbage rolls on top, then spread the remaining chopped cabbage over the rolls.
  7. Whisk together the tomato juice and the ketchup. Pour over the cabbage rolls. Lay the large leaves on top, pressing down slightly to help the liquid spread evenly.Cabbage Rolls 1
  8. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 ½ hours

*I like to use a deep covered roasting pan, especially if I make a double batch.

Cabbage Rolls 2
Cabbage Rolls 2

Technology woes… Lost post in cyberspace

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Prologue

I spent a good chunk of this past Thanksgiving weekend writing… I was truly inspired by the beauty of the early fall and my writings were oozing bliss, thankfulness and contentment. I was working offline, saving my text regularly. All that was left upon my return to the city where I have full connectivity was to add a recipe I had fallen in love and some photos.  And then poof! Just like that, the Microsoft Office Online App I have on my i-Pad crashed. And again… And again… I rebooted and even downloaded the latest updates available for the Microsoft app as well as for the i-Pad. No luck. 1000+ words, rewritten several times, changed, tweaked until I was happy with my text, gone. Arghhhhh! Because it was offline, it didn’t get scooped up in THE cloud. Double injury! You can’t recreate stuff like that. Lost simply because I didn’t want to go over my data monthly allowance. I chatted with someone at Microsoft earlier this week but I had the wrong department, and no, it doesn’t seem like they could reroute me to the correct techy pro. Another arghhhhhh! And then, just as it had magically disappeared, the app started to work again. Poof, just like that!!! So tales of my King and Princes, of flamboyant trees, of missed sunrises, of love, family, blessings and good food were not lost after all, as if a magic wand managed to sprinkle my i-Pad with fairy dust. I am very relieved that my sappy, self-indulgent text I wrote when my heart was content and my soul was at peace has been recovered. And it went like this:

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Plentiful… 

I really tried to catch the early autumn sunrise on the lake this weekend. Sunrise is by far my most cherished “me time” at the cottage (or anywhere for that matter). Each season brings its own moments of awe as the fireball timidly peeks behind the tree-lined edges of the east shore. What Autumn traditionally brings along  are the most spectacular dawns: colourful,  eerie and still. The cold night air colliding with the lake, its waters still warm from the late summer’s caress, create plumes of steam dancing around  in  elusive patterns… Even the  sky shows off its own seasonal colours: hues of pink, purple, grey and blue. Mystical. Magical. And so on the first 2 mornings of this three day weekend, I sat in front of our  large living room window, steaming cup of java in hand, and I waited and waited for the greatest show on earth… Well, the sun popped out on time but sadly covered by low hanging grey clouds. Not the rain type clouds, just plain grey obtrusive clouds. Sigh… On the third morning, I completely missed it and  I think it was the glorious one I had been waiting for simply because I slept right through it. Darn!

The mornings may not have delivered their expected splendor but the days have been pretty nice. The trees may not have exploded yet into the deep reds, oranges and gold typical of early Autumn here in Ontario, but there was enough of a hint here and there to thrill the onlookers. The weather was still unseasonably balmy and the sun was almost as warm as in late August. The golden rays now only hitting the world sideways since the sun never quite makes it to the top of the sky anymore, created plays of deep dark shadows against bursts of flaming yellow when hitting the trees. I truly enjoy this time of year even if the stunning scenery is a prelude to the fast approaching winter that  will  freeze everything up for too long of a time… Don’t take me wrong, I will manage to enjoy the cold season,  at times, and will curse it, at other times…  Winter is not easy north of 50!

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I was amused by our two very opinionated resident red squirrels who are not fond of sharing their property with us. As soon as they spot any one of us, they start yakking with attitude: what a racket! They stare at us with defiance and arrogance. I find them absolutely adorable… Even when they scatter an obscene pile of cedar cone shells all over the deck and the BBQ. They are so tiny, it makes one wonder how much food they can pack in and hide for the winter months. I guess we both have something in common in trying to hoard as much of summer’s harvest as possible before it is all gone. My pantry shelves are loaded with jars of preserves: tomatoes, pickles, relishes, jams and apple sauce.

I could have helped out getting the outside ready to greet the snow but I much rather play in the kitchen. No one complained. As a matter of fact, I think they prefered it that way: if I had been working outside, meals would have been reduced to quick sandwiches and canned soup. I am assuming they were grateful for the food that graced the table… I particularly enjoy cooking at the cottage: the time is uninterrupted by other pressings chores or unplanned shopping expeditions. My cottage kitchen is ridiculously tiny and quirky but it can deliver feasts for many! The weekend meals included chicken in brine for 24 hours then slow roasted on the BBQ, roasted garlic potatoes, plenty of fresh vegetables and copious glasses of good wine. Apple desserts were baked and gobbled up just as fast. One meal stood above the others this past weekend: it was a stuffed delicata squash. I was intrigued and inspired by Paula Roy’s squash recipe stuffed with sunchokes, also know as Jerusalem artichokes. Paula is a  fellow Ottawa blogger: you can tap onto her blog  Constantly Cooking, it is well worth the visit. I love her close connection to the Ottawa Farmer’s market and how the market association provides her with mystery baskets of produce from which she has to create new recipes.  I had every intention of making her exact recipe until I hit a dead-end and couldn’t score the tuberous vegetable. And I was short on time to try and visit  a different store… Sunchokes are normally not terribly difficult to find at this time of year, so I was slightly annoyed that it was not available. So I improvised, following Paula’s lead on basic squash preparation while creating a stuffing of my own. Lucky though, I found delicata squash! I had my heart set on trying this particular squash because as its name suggests, the skin is delicate enough to be eaten when cooked. It delivered, the skin melting in the mouth, nearly as tender as the flesh. Another attribute of this squash is that it is not as sweet as many others and paired beautifully with the savoury stuffing I ended up putting together.  I think this may just be my new favourite squash!  I will hunt for sunchokes on my next shopping expedition because I must make Paula’s recipe. But this rice and sausage concoction of mine worked beautifully. It was rather simple to put together as I prepped most of my vegetables while the rice was cooking. Served with a huge green salad and some warm bread, it was truly yummy!

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Stuffed Delicata Squash

2 delicata squash
3 slices of thick bacon I like double smoked, diced
3 med carrots, peeled and grated
3 ribs of celery, finely diced (brunoise)
3 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
3 sausages, casing removed. I used German garlic sausages but any sausages except breakfast sausages will do
2 heaping teaspoons full of sweet Hungarian paprika
1/3 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup brown rice
2 tbsp fresh savoury roughly chopped
1 cup shredded Jarlsberg, Emmenthal or Gruyere
2 tbsp olive oil or melted butter
s&p

In medium pot, add the rice, 1 tsp salt and plenty water of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes. Save some of the cooking water, drain rice in strainer and let cool.

Cook bacon in pan. Do not add oil, the bacon fat will be plenty. Add the onions and celery until they start to brown slightly. Add the crumbled sausage flesh and cook through

add the carrots, garlic and paprika. Cook until the carrots soften slightly. Add the white wine and let reduce a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved rice and savoury. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. If the stuffing is too dry, meaning it won’t hold together when formed into a ball, add a bit of reserved rice water. Not too much, you don’t want o water down the filling.

Wash the squash well, slice in 2 lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and fibrous membrane. You may want to shave a little bit of skin off the back of each piece so the squash sits flat in your roasting pan. Brush the inside of the squash with a bit of olive oil or melted butter. Sprinkle with s&p. Divide the stuffing amongst all 4 pieces. Place in large roasting pan, add about 1 inch of water at the bottom. Cover with foil and bake at 325F for 1.5 hours. Remove foil, top with cheese and broil until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown slightly. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving. The squash will most likely fall apart…

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Epilogue

And so here we were on this final weekend at the cottage, counting our blessings for the little lakeside home dreamed of and built by my in-laws. I am grateful for the path that has brought me here, grateful for sharing it with my King and my Princes. Grateful for my own parents who have braved many storms and have given me the gifts of love, resilience and optimism, among many others I will not list today. I am grateful for so, so many people and things… My sisters, who have also weathered storms and have come out victorious in the end: they are a constant source of inspiration.  But beyond the immediate bonds of flesh and bones, I am grateful for an endless list of amazing people: my step family, my extended family of cousins & aunts & uncles, my dear, dear friends, (more than any one could ever need in a lifetime and each more extraordinary than the other) and my work colleagues. I think if I dug through a big pile of dead leaves, I would be able to assign a blessing for every single one… Yes, maybe a bit sappy but if one is never truly grateful, one misses out on the true essence of life. Thanksgiving, it was happy!

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