Ballotine de poulet redemption

As mentioned before in many of our posts, things don’t always go according to plan around here. Try as we might, disasters are part of the game for the home cook and recipes sure aren’t perfect. Oh the shame of it all. But we buck up right? We dust ourselves off and get back up on the horse. Before throwing it on the grill.

Case in point, the “truck full of jet-fuel crashing into a elementary school” Ballotine de poulet episode from last April. If you didn’t read it, I was at frustration level RED, my hands covered in guts, swearing like crazy while trying to tie up that #$%!@*in’ bird. Terra at my side hiding the sharper implements. Not my best moment but at least the spoils were worth the humiliation of my outbursts.

This time however, it was all Zen man. I went downstairs thinking, don’t get pissed off, concentrate and try to make it work. Debone and tie-up this chicken and enjoy it. And it worked! Wow. It’s like performing a task repeatedly helps you get better. Sounds like Greeting Card crap, but seriously. The tie-up part of the project went nice and easy. None of the stuffing (mushroom and herbs) came out while tying and the final product was pretty and delicious.

And this time we served it with carrots from a recipe in that amazing Joe Beef cookbook. Have I raved enough about that damn book yet? No.

I’m not an angry person in the kitchen. Normally cooking is my way to relax. That particular occasion last year was a lousy experience but I got the message. Try and try harder. It’s also fair to admit there’s still many chickens ahead of me before I replicate Jacques Pépin.

NB. Apologies for our absence so far in 2012. There’s no excuses, we’ve been lame. Happy new year anyway!

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Christmas potato and watercress soup

Christmas is all about the food for us. Are we alone here? Not a bloody chance. It seems this year all I’m hearing about are different holiday dinner plans. Course after course of insanity. Turkeys, pork, veal, vegetables, tourtières, desserts, cheeses, breads. Where do you stop? Actually another question would be, where do you start? With soup of course!

Winter screams for big, hot bowls of soup so why not squeeze one into the line up at Christmas time? With just a few ingredients, including a great stock, soup can start off your Yuletide feast and ease everyone into the heavy loads headed to the table. One I make often, that never fails, is a thick potato and watercress soup. Ready in about 25 minutes, it’s hearty and delicious.

Potato and watercress soup

  • 1 lb. – Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks)
  • 1 – Medium sized onion (chopped)
  • 1 – Garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 bunch – Watercress (coarsely chopped)
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 2 – 3 cups – Chicken stock (or turkey!)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Once the butter has stopped sizzling add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Don’t forget to season.
  3. After 5 minutes add the potato and just enough stock to cover.
  4. Bring everything up to the boil and then lower to a simmer.
  5. After 10 minutes throw in the watercress and add more stock to cover. You can use water instead but it won’t be as good.
  6. Cook everything at a simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.
  7. Once there find a way to blend everything. You could do batches in a counter blender or the hand held type. Make it as smooth or chunky as you prefer.
  8. Return the soup to a light heat and stir in the last tablespoon of butter. Season.

On a normal day you could serve this soup as is but t’is the season. Add some cream for crying out loud! We all know the rest of the meal is going to be rich. One variation I’ve tried is adding celery leaves with the watercress. Another could be a small pile of oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter placed in each bowl. Or pan seared scallops. Anyway you serve it, this soup is a champ.

So that’s it for SixTop in 2011. Thanks for all the comments, likes and tweets. We’re already looking forward to another year of posts, pics and crazy diet restriction experiments. We hope you’ll continue reading. Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!


Local diets begone!

As of November 1st Terra’s all Nova Scotia diet finally came to an end. We decided to celebrate by inviting the gang over for a multi-course, all night Italian feast like no other we’ve hosted. As luck would have it, the selected night also coincided with a visit from our dear friend Adriana Palanca. What a way to welcome back food.

On the big day we had a ton to do. Shopping at the market, booze, dishes and glasses to pick up, lunch and finally a full afternoon in the kitchen. Bliss! Once home Terra made a fresh batch of her expert apple sauce and jarred it up for take-home gifts. In the kitchen Adriana and I made pasta and tomato sauce. With that done there were vegetables to prep, the antipasto platter to build and two chickens to tie-up. I knew the night of food would go late so the invite was for 5pm. I was only setting the table as NickPick and Doug showed.

We kept the food coming steadily trying to leave enough time between courses for wine refills, burps and the hope of digestion. By evening’s end we ate five courses, two less than I would have liked, but for 10 people we did some damage. The true sign of a successful dinner party here is when Doug says he’s so full he’s getting angry. Which he did, and always as he plates more. What a guy. The others were no slouches either. But those who went for more lasagna gasped a bit when I showed off the two chickens and vegetables about to be roasted. They thought the lasagna was the meal. Bwahaha!

The menu:

  • Cannelloni beans and onions marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar on bread
  • Olives and pickled mushrooms
  • Prosciutto and various salumi
  • Pecorino with aged balsamic
  • Olives Ascolane (Fried stuffed olives)
  • Lasagna
  • Roast chickens with sautéed carrots and roast beets with garlic
  • Chad’s homemade pistachio ice cream (killer)

It all went down with help from insults, jokes, Italian beers, champagne, 10 bottles of wine and finally limoncello.

No one would disagree the culinary stars of the night were the stuffed olives and lasagna. Both Palanca inspired and made possible with her awesome help. We even put in a long distance call to Mama in NDG for live tips!

Adriana calls Olives Ascolane “little prayers” and here’s why. Originally from Ascoli Piceno, the recipe calls for each olive to be carefully opened to remove the pit and stuffed with incredibly fine, sautéed ground beef and olive meat. The olive is then reshaped,
rolled in fine bread crumbs and fried. No we didn’t make them! That would be insane. Fourtunetly I happen to have a source that keeps me well stocked. Serve them hot with a lemon wedge to complete the miracle.

The lasagna though, was entirely homemade. We made a seven egg and olive oil pasta
that was light and airy like linen. The thin sheets dried in the dining room for an hour before a quick boil. Together with the tomato sauce, we had 12 gorgeously thin layers, bubbling with cheese after an hour or so in the oven.

By 11pm the chickens hit the table. It had been about an hour break since the last course and with all the wine going around we were ready to eat again. I seem to recall Chad and Shawn saying they were actually hungry. Nice! The closers were bowls of smooth, cool ice cream, made by Chad, which completely hit the spot. A fine ending.

This was easily our best dinner party yet. We celebrated Terra’s will power to eat local for a month and welcomed back to the table what she missed the most; olive oil, salt, pepper, citrus and pasta. Thankfully we had friends on hand willing to endure over seven hours of eating and who still asked for seconds.


Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

The eat local menu continues! Terra has one week left and we’re already planning how we’re going to celebrate. We have an epic Italian blow-out planned for that first weekend with special guests. More on that later.

For now I thought I’d offer up another successful, purely local meal we created this month. The recipe is for chicken breasts stuffed with sautéed onions, ham and cheese. Yet another SixTop take on Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Remember gang, while it’s constantly been a challenge for me to cook without salt, pepper and my much missed olive oil, you can still season your version how you want. And serve with whatever side you wish too! We had steamed cauliflower.

Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

  • 2 – Large chicken breasts
  • 3 – Onions (sliced)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (mined)
  • 1 – Hot chili pepper (mined with seeds)
  • 4 – Pieces of smoked ham (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 4 – Pieces of cheese (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 1/4 cup – white wine
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • Plastic wrap and kitchen mallet
  • Butcher’s twine or toothpicks
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small sauce pan melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.
  3. Once butter has stopped bubbling add the onions, chili and garlic.
  4. Sweat the onions et al. After about five minutes add the wine and cover. Let cook until onions get much deeper in colour.
  5. With a nice sharp knife butterfly the chicken breasts. Put the plastic over the breasts and pound them out with the mallet to about 1/4″ thick.
  6. But the ham and cheese into the 1/4″ inch square and 3″ long pieces.
  7. Heat up a large frying pan to medium, medium low. Not too hot!
  8. When the onion mixture is ready, spoon half onto each flattened breast.
  9. Place the ham and cheese in the onion mixture. Keep about an inch inside of both sides of the breasts.
  10. Roll up the breasts, tucking in the side edges. Tie them up or use toothpicks to hold them together.
  11. Melt the last two tablespoons of butter. When the sizzle has stopped add the stuffed breasts.
  12. Cook on all sides until you get a nice brown colour all over.
  13. Once ready put the whole pan in the oven and let the breasts continue to 175°. Use an instant read thermometer.
  14. When they’re ready take the breasts out and let them rest.

Normally for this kind of dish you would season the breasts with salt and pepper before and after stuffing. Then the next usual steps would be to roll them in flour, followed by an egg bath and finally dipping them into Panko or bread crumbs. I skipped the crust part altogether (cuz I had to) and worked around the seasoning by adding the chili to compensate for pepper. The onions and garlic we’re the salt. These stuffed breasts were not low on taste.

Go the traditional if you like, but as we are learning, there are many ways to get over salt. Seven days from now, we’re going to need high blood pressure pills.


Misery loves roast portobello with fried eggs

Terra’s long-suffering sentence of only eating 100% from Nova Scotia has been affecting us both. Now at the halfway mark, we are getting used to the restrictions. Some obstacles persist, limiting us in different ways.

I’m faced with a greater cooking challenge than normal. First off, everything has to pass the “Is it local?” test. Which isn’t really a biggie anymore. With two weeks in we have our sources and plan better for meals. The thing I can’t change is I have to continually figure out how to avoid olive oil, salt & pepper and citrus. All of which I normally rely on to enhance what I cook.

Of course, Terra is carrying the heavier sack of rocks. Take this weekend. She was miserable. Sitting there on the couch counting the days left. Depressed and hungry with her eyes shut tight, she was probably dreaming of November 1st and the sweet, tasty freedom to come. A nice meal out, bread and pasta, olive oil or awesome chips with a movie. Not that she ate those things often before but now the option to have them is missing too. I feel for her.

Truthfully our meals so far this month have been pretty damn good. Our thanksgiving dinner, the roasted chicken and fish dishes are only some of the great things we’ve conjured up that turned out well. This post is about last night’s creation; roasted portobello mushroom caps topped with mushroom duxelle, aubergine and tomato sauce with fried eggs. The only sin was the four tablespoons of butter. The fried eggs were a last-minute addition and I thought they made the meal something more special. We washed everything down with more Jost L’Acadie chardonnay, a surprisingly good Nova Scotia wine we’ve taken a shine to. Here’s what to do:

Roast portobello with fried eggs

  • 2 – Large portobello mushrooms
  • 4 – Button mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 – Onion (chopped)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 – Small aubergine (chopped)
  • 3/4 cup – Tomato sauce. I used my usual recipe but omitted all the no nos.
  • 4 – Springs of thyme (stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup – Cheese (grated) We used a local cheddar.
  • 4 tbsp – Butter
  • Salt and pepper for you hipsters not on wacky diet like this.
  1. Set oven to 375°
  2. Cut off the stems from the portobellos.
  3. Chop button mushrooms, onion and aubergine and portobello stems into small 1/4 dice. Heat up a frying pan to medium high.
  4. Melt one tablespoon of butter and evenly drizzle it on the underside of the portobello caps. Put mushroom on a wire rack in a tray and into the oven.
  5. Put the other two tablespoons of butter in the pan, melt and the pour in all the copped vegetables. Cook until browned. After a few minutes add the thyme.
  6. Once the vegetable have cooked pour in the tomato sauce. Cook it down so it’s reduced and not runny. When done pour it all into a waiting bowl or something.
  7. Heat up another pan for the eggs.
  8. Turn the oven off and take the caps out. Spoon a good portion of the vegetable sauce mix on top of the caps.
  9. Put the last tablespoon of butter in the pan, crack the eggs in and fry ‘em.
  10. Sprinkle the grated cheese on the caps with topping and put back in the cooling down oven to melt.
  11. When the cheese has melted, plate the mushrooms and fried eggs.

With two weeks left to go eating only local we’ll have to keep up the creativity in the kitchen. And while Terra endures the pain, I’ll continue dealing with the cooking limitations and my effort to try something different every night while keeping things somewhat simple and delicious.


Thankful for fat

How do you make food taste great when you’ve cut out oil and salt from your diet? Butter is a miracle worker, but you don’t want to use it in everything. Thankfully, there’s always animal fat.

Thanksgiving pretty much kicked off my month of eating 100% local. We based the menu around a chicken we had in the freezer and vegetables that came from our CSA farm. Everything else came from the farmers’ market or the Local Source Market.

We settled on roasted chicken stuffed with herbs, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, roasted beets and sauteed turnip greens with bacon bits. I admit, the menu wasn’t all that innovative. The challenge here was to time every dish so we could use chicken or bacon fat for the other dishes.

For the chicken, we took thyme, parsley, rosemary and a little sauteed onion and stuffed it all under the breast skin. We got that roasting so we could ladle out the fat to use for the beets. Once the bacon was cooked for the turnip greens, we used that fat to prepare the chanterelle mushrooms.

We only used butter for the potatoes. I’ve been reluctant to use butter because it comes from the grocery store. It claims to be Atlantic, but I don’t think that qualifies as truly local since I can’t track exactly where it came from. The problem is I haven’t been able to find butter at the farmers’ market and I’m really too lazy to make it myself.

So, let’s just agree that this meal is 95-99% local and move on.

The meal was fantastic. It’s true what they say, fat does equal taste. But to be honest, I thought the mushrooms and potatoes needed salt (which is another thing I can’t seem to find). We washed it all down with a bottle of Jost L’Acadie chardonnay.


Did Colin have friends?

This is not me. I swear it. But if I ever ask a server if the chicken had a name, shoot me, stuff me with locally grown herbs and serve with homemade apple torte and Valley wine.