Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tuna Casserole

For me, this is the dish that I can whip up when there's absolutely no food in the fridge. Canned tuna, pasta, and left over bits and pieces from the crisper. There's nothing easier. The usual tuna casserole call for a can of mushroom soup. I have just about anything "canned" in my cupboards in case of emergencies, but god knows why I didn't have this item. I had some mushrooms left over from the mushroom gravy in my last post, so I sauted as mush flavour as I can get out of them and made a white sauce.

Boil the pasta as instructed on the package. I made 3/4 of a package of rigatoni and mine went for about 13 minutes. When they are done, drain but don't rinse.

1 1/2 cup mushrooms
1 cup onion
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 cans tuna

Saute the mushrooms and onion in the butter for 10 minutes. Sprinkle over some salt just to help them release the water. Once the onions are very translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk into tiny pieces, add in the flour. Cook for another 2 minutes then start adding in the milk.

 Start with 1/2 a cup and once the mixture thickens, you can add in the rest. Cook until the sauce becomes creamy and thick. Taste for seasoning. This step is extremely important because you need a lot of salt to balance out the sweetness from the onion and mushrooms. Take it off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese and the tuna.

Fold in the drained pasta and pour into a baking dish.

Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese and bake in a 400 degrees oven for 20 minutes. The cheese should be melted and some parts should have turned a golden brown.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Blackened Pork Chops with Mushroom Gravy

I sent Chris grocery shopping the other day, and he came back with these amazing pork chops. Just look at them: lean, fresh, and beautiful. I decided to try a new technique (it's not really a "new" technique, but it is new to me) which is basically covering the meat in spices and seared it on high until the spices turn completely black and looks burnt. Don't worry, you won't be burning anything other than the spices, although you might set off the fire alarm like I did.
Does anyone else get joy from looking at these pieces of meat?

The spice rub is simple:
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1tsp hot Hungarian paprika
1 tsp cayenne 
1tsp all spice
1/2 tsp curry powder

I got 2 little packs of paprika from Budapest and it was totally worth it because they have such a nice, smoky flavour. I'm just trying to be all fancy with my Hungarian paprikas but you can use any regular paprika.

Sprinkle the spice all over the meat and press it in a little. There's no salt at this point so you can let it sit and marinate for 4-5 hours. I was in a hurry to feed someone so I left that part out. 

Sprinkle with salt right before you want to cook it. When you're ready, start on high heat and sear the pork for 2 minutes, then turn it down to medium high for another 5 minutes. Do it on both sides. You have to watch it pretty closely cause it may blacken more quickly than you expect. I had to turn my heat way down when my house got completely filled with smoke and the alarm went off :(

Transfer the pork chops to a piece of aluminum foil and wrap them up tightly. Leave it for 10 minutes to finish cooking in the aluminum foil. After the 10 minutes, there should be plenty of juices in the parcel to make a nice gravy. I made a mushroom gravy just to add a bit more flavour to the pork. It's pretty straight forward. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tbsps of butter until they start to brown. Add in 2 tbsps flour and cook for another minute. Next, pour in the meat juices and some water and stir until thickened. Please make a gravy for your pork, it was so good.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Chocolate Lava Cake

My first ever attempt at making a molten lava cake, and also my first bite at one. I must wonder why I haven't made it earlier. It's like biting into a chocolate cake, then taking a sip from a cup of the thickest hot chocolate. You know, like the ones in Belgium where they make it with real chocolate and cream.

This is my secret stash of premium chocolate and I never use it for baking. I decided to make an exception this time because chocolate is the dominant ingredient here, and a good quality chocolate really makes a difference. Put 5 tbsp of butter and 100g/3.5oz of dark chocolate, has to be dark, in a bowl and melt it in the microwave. 

In a bowl, combine 2 large eggs, 2 egg yolks, and 3 tbsp of sugar. You need to cream them together until the mixture turns a pale lemon color and becomes frothy. Now, i decided to do this by hand because that's what chef's do right? 

 Listen to me when I tell you to do your arm a favour and use a hand mixer. I was an idiot for thinking that I could whisk eggs continuously for 10 minutes.

 That's me, 2 minutes into whisking...

Finally,pale and frothy a good while later.

 Now pour in the chocolate mixture, checking to make sure that it's cool enough not to scramble the eggs.

Sift in 2 tsp of cocoa powder, pinch of salt, a tsp of vanilla extract and 3 tbsp of flour, 1 tbsp at a time. I made a mistake in adding the flour all at once, and ended up with a thicker batter than I intended.

Grease 4 ramekins really well, and drop in the batter with an ice cram scoop. Tap it on the table to get rid of all the air bubbles and smooth out the top. Place them in a large baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Take them out after 30 minutes and make a water bath by pouring hot water into the large baking dish, covering the ramekins halfway. 

These go in a hot oven, 425 degrees, for 15-17 minutes. If you want more lava, then bake it for a shorter period of time. The top should be set but still squishy when you touch it. 

Anyways, do forgive me for not perfecting the recipe first before posting it. I will definitely tweak it to get more of that lava flowing out of the cake. If you've never tried a lava cake then you have to make this recipe. I can't promise you won't get addicted though!

2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
100g dark chocolate
5 tbsp butter
2 tsp cocoa
3 tbsp flour
1tsp vanilla
pinch salt

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Onion and Bacon Breakfast Buns

I bake bread once a week as an emergency ingredient for breakfast or lunches that I don't have time to prepare for.  A slice of white bread with a piece of salami and a sprinkling of cheese is unbelievably good. This week, however, I decided to combine all the ingredients and make a breakfast bun that's filled with caramelized onions and crispy bacon. And from experience, we all know that bacon makes everything delicious. 

You'll need a really soft and sweet dough for this, and the secret is milk and corn syrup. 

3/4 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp corn syrup
1 large egg
4 cups flour
4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

Combine water, milk, butter in a large bowl and microwave until melted. Stir and set aside to cool to room temperature. If you crack in the egg right away, you'll end up with scrambled eggs. To help the mixture cool, I stirred in the corn syrup first, and at this point it was cool enough for the egg. The cold egg will cool it down further so that it is at a good temperature to activate the yeast. You want the liquid to be at around 110 degrees, so put your finger in and if the mixture feels warm, it's at a good temperature.

Stir together the wet ingredients with 1 cup of flour and the yeast, and let stand uncovered for 15 minutes. By the end of the 15 minutes, it should have puffed up just a little. Now pour in the rest of the flour and the salt. Using the hook attachment, work the dough on low for 10 minutes until it's soft and smooth and no longer sticky. If you don't have a stand mixer, just kneed the dough for 12 minutes by hand. Pour some oil into a clean bowl, turn the dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the oven, or somewhere draft free for an hour. Prepare the filling while you wait.

1 finely diced onion
3 cloves of minced garlic
5 slices of cubed bacon
1/4 cup of butter
2 tbsp of oil

Saute the onions in oil and butter until they are translucent and start to turn brown. Add in the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds. Pour into a bowl and reserve. Fry the bacon on high, breaking apart pieces that are stuck together. When half of them have turned brown and crispy, take it off the heat and let them finish in the hot oil. Pour into the bowl with the onions and garlic.

Stretch the dough into a large rectangle and run the rolling pin over to even out the thicker parts. Leaving a small boarder along all sides, spread on the filling and drizzle over the oil, butter, and bacon fat. Sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese.

Start from one end, roll as tightly as you can into a log. Cut into 12 pieces and drop them into 12 muffin tins. Top them off with a bit more sprinkling of cheese. Now they need to rise again until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the rolls have doubled in size, put them into the oven for 18-20 minutes.

Chris had one immediately after they came out of the oven. Then he had another and hid the rest in a box in our room. And there I thought we wouldn't be able to finish all 12 of them before they go bad. The bacon and onions give so much flavour and makes it so tasty. It takes away the effort in dressing up a plain slice of white bread and makes it such a great snack. I know I'll be making these again very soon.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Apple Cider

It's getting unbearably cold as December approaches, but I find comfort in knowing that I can make it all better with a cup of apple cider. It's apple season making it fairly easy to get your hands on some good apple cider. I felt so silly looking for it in the apple juice aisle, and from experience, I can tell you that you won't find it there. It's in the produce section. You must use apple cider and not apple juice, since you will need to bring it to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. I don't know exactly why apple juice wouldn't work, I was just told not to use it.

2 cups of cider
2 sticks of cinnamon
a small nob of ginger
orange peel
apple for decoration

Normally I would drop in a couple cloves but I couldn't find any in the supermarket. Also, It is very important that you only use the rind of the orange and not the white parts to prevent the cider from turning bitter.

Bring everything to a boil and lower the heat down to a simmer. Let it go for 15-20 minutes and skim off any foam that comes to the top.

To serve, you can strain the cider through a coffee filter to get rid of the particles. I didn't think it was necessary so I just fished out the cinnamon, orange peel and ginger, and poured it in my cup. As I sipped away, they settled at the bottom anyway. If I was making it for company, I might consider the coffee filter. Drop in a slice of apple for garnish and enjoy!

*Makes 1 serving

The Hidden Gem in Montreal : Garde Manger

You'll never find this restaurant if you didn't know what you were looking for and came looking. The "Garde Manger" sign is inside the restaurant and there is nothing outside but a street number to help you out. We initially wanted a reservation for Saturday but no one answered the phone and all the restaurant reviews indicated that it was impossible to get a seat without a reservation. The restaurant is only open for service from 6PM till 11:30 PM, but we decided to visit during the day just to see what it was like.

We walked up and down St. francois Xavier 3 times without luck finding the restaurant. Finally I googled the exact address and found it that way. There was a small wooden door with the plate 408 on top, nothing else. I decided to try the door and it was open! When you first walk in, there is a small hall way with "Garde Manger" printed on a black board, surrounded by all the cut-outs from newspapers and magazines featuring Chuck Hughes. As you walk further, there is a black curtain that leads to the dining room area and the kitchen. As I walked in, I saw a girl sitting at a dinner table, on the phone, with huge binders laid out in front of her. The kitchen is exposed to the dining area, almost like a sushi bar where you can see the chefs in action. There was one chef in the kitchen at the time, probably preparing ingredients for service that night, sadly it wasn't Chuck and I learned that he was in Toronto for the weekend.  They didn't seem to mind my intrusion at all, or rather it was like they didn't even see me. I tried to make a reservation with the girl after she got off the phone, but had no luck. I left disappointed, but took a bunch of pictures at the door.

A while later, I got a call from Garde Manger to say that a table was free on Sunday at 6PM. I was so excited that it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. There were several things to consider though: if we ate at 6 and left Montreal at 8, Kevin and Kate won't make it back to Guelph until 1AM, and Chris would have to stay up late to finish the assignments due for Monday. To make up for all these inconveniences, the food had to be amazing. And it was.

I wondered around the restaurant as we waited for our food. They didn't seem to mind me snapping pictures as they worked. 
Bruschetta with Swiss Chard, lentils, Goat Cheese, Crispy Prosciutto
We ordered an appetizer to share as we waited for our mains. Bruschetta sounded like something shareable, but I guess at fancy restaurants that's not the case. We split it into quarters and tried to make it as even as possible so we get to taste all the ingredients. There was a lot going on on this plate but it worked out so well. There was tanginess from the greens, sweetness from the tomato, saltiness and crunch from the prosciutto. The goat cheese and the lentils provided subtle flavours that complemented everything else. Using Chris's words, we were bombarded with flavours, but it was perfect.

Lobster Risotto

Short Rib with Goat Cheese Mash

Flank Steak with Fried Cheese Balls and Bone Marrow

My dish was the flank steak. I lucked out with that one because every component was delicious. The flank steak was charred so that it was really crispy and had a nice smoky flavour. The cheese balls were also a nice addition. I'm guessing its potatoes and mozzarella so I'm gonna try recreating it.

Chicken Pot Pie and Duck Confit
Chris's dish was good, but I don't think I would order it again or recommend it. The duck on top was too salty even for me, and my palet can take some pretty strong flavours. The chicken pot pie had a cream base that held flavours that were odd to me. At first I thought it was nutmeg but it was really a combination of star anise, cinnamon, and smoked rock salt. It's not your regular white sauce so be prepared. Otherwise it was a great dish and I enjoyed beautifully flavoured chicken and how crispy the duck legs were.

If you are a foodie and ever come to Montreal, this is a place you absolutely must visit. Don't be like me and try to get a reservation last minute, call 2 weeks ahead. If you really can't get a reservation at Garde Manger, you can try Le Bremner. It's Chuck's second restaurant that opened in July without any press or advertisement, staying in line with their "low key" theme. It apparently has a different vibe to it, but many prefer it over Garde Manger, which has a younger, more hipster atmosphere. I have yet to try Le Bremner so I'll speak for it next time. Until then, I loved Garde Manger.

The Best of Montreal

 If I disregard the 3 pounds that I've gained over the past 3 days, The trip could be considered perfect. Thanks to the great people ( Chris, Kevin, and Kate), great food, and a great agenda. We arrived around 4:30 pm on Friday and settled in our room in Hotel Omni. It used to be a Four Seasons, so although a little outdated, it was clean and comfy. There was a bidet in our washroom, which we all found extremely interesting. I guess we are in a French city after all. 

I've heard a LOT about the Schwartz's Deli and it seemed like the place to visit in Montreal, so we made it our first dinner spot. It was a 30 minute walk from our hotel, heading East on Sherbrooke, then turn left on Saint- Laurent and walk straight until you see it. How can you tell that you're at the right place? Well, there would be a line up out the door, and you will be overwhelmed by its heavenly smell. You know the food will be good if you can smell it from across the street. We were lucky because a huge group of people had just came out of the restaurant as we arrived and we didn't need to wait long.
Aside from the smoked meat, they are also known for their pickles. I expected it to be a sweet pickle, but it was sour and I thought it tasted like a regular pickle, but bigger. The smoked beef sandwich was a great hit though. There are two cuts of meat: lean which was probably 80-20, and fat which was 50-50. You can order your sandwich lean, med, or fat, and medium is just a combination of the 2. I must admit, I considered getting the lean version then decided against it. I was only going to be in Montreal for 3 days so I might as well go all out. I've never made a better choice because the best part was the fat. 

Sharing a pickle!
line at Schwartz

The famous sandwich

They must be credited for getting the smoked beef to that perfect tenderness.It's easy with pork but rarely do you see beef in that fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth state. I got a lean piece in my first bite and my immediate thought was "this isn't as good as I anticipated". Then I got a nice, juicy, fatty piece, and I melted a little inside. The sandwich is simple: smoked beef between 2 pieces of bread served with a little bit of mustard. A sandwich is $6.15. I totally should have ordered a pound of meat and a loaf of bread. It costs 15 bucks but it will be the equivalent of 4 sandwiches. 

There was a Santa parade the next day so we got a table at a crepe place that over looked St-Catherin street where the parade was going through. Kate and Kevin had sweet crepes while Chris and I shared a savory one. I also got myself a Cafe au Lait, oh how I miss Europe.
Nutella and banana crepe

Swiss cheese and chicken crepe

We walked down St-Catherin after the parade was over, finally arriving at the old town. It definitely had a different vibe to it than that of downtown Montreal, and I would say I liked downtown better. We visited the  Notre-Dame, walked along the Old Port, and through China Town. Quite a bit of exercise for 3 hours but a lot of food to balance it out.

We gave ourselves a nice little break by taking a nap. It was really hard to wake up but we really wanted to see the night scene from Mont-Royal. We went up from the South side of the mountain and it was a straight 20 minutes of stair climbing. I thought I could handle it, but after 3/4 of the way up, I was out of breath. We went down from the East side so we could end up on St-Laurent and find a place to eat there. It was less steep but a much longer walk.
From the top of the mountain, so worth it.

Check out was at 12:00pm, but we were so tired from the previous day's walking that we dropped off the keys at 12, then got back in bed. We didn't leave the room until almost 1PM, thank god the room service lady didn't show up. We went to Nickel's Restaurant for Brunch and apparently it's the creation of Celine Dion in 1990. The food was surprisingly good for a diner, but I'm not sure if it was good enough to be associated with a celebrity. There's my philly cheese steak poutine, yummy yummy!!

Another great find was the Montreal bagels. I've heard a lot about them but didn't take it to heart since I was never a big fan of bagels. The place we went to was Fairmount Bagel Bakery on Avenue Fairmount between Saint-Urbain and Saint-Laurent. It's a small store to begin with, and 3/4 of it is taken up by the kitchen. The line up is out the door and there's barely space to open and close the door. There are two gigantic ovens in the kitchen, 1 dough station, and several flavoring stations. They pump out those bagels fast
huge piece of dough
The kitchen at Fairmount Bagel

There are so many flavours you can choose from: sesame, cumin, garlic, onion, all dressed, muesli, multi grain, ect. Kevin and Kate each got a dozen, while I only bought 4 different flavours to experiment. I wish I had bought more because these are delicious! They are bagels but so sweet that it's halfway between a regular bagel and a donut. 

I had them for breakfast this morning and made a caramelized onion cream cheese spread. So good!

4 oz of room temperature cream cheese
1 onion
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Dice the onion very finely and saute on low in the oil and butter. Stir once in a while baking sure that they don't burn. It's okay if they turn  brown, they are supposed to be that way. Pour everything into the cream cheese and stir vigorously until combined. Taste for seasoning. You can use this on bagel or toast, up to you.

That was mostly what we did in Montreal minus the bars and Chuck Hughes' restaurant: Garde Manger. I'll save that for a different post because Garde Manger most definitely deserves a space of its own on my blog!