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.

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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.


Les skills pour une Ballotine de Poulet

Did you watch that de-boning video? Skills yo indeed! I had to try it for myself and trust me, it is not as easy as it looks.

In it Jaques Pépin demonstrates how to debone a chicken for use in a Ballotine or Galantine. Yes those words are French and both mean “meat rolled into a circular shape and stuffed to enhance the flavour”. From what I gather, the difference is a Galantine is wrapped in cheese cloth, poached in a broth and then served cold while a Ballotine is served hot.

The de-boning process I had (go on, get it out of your system now) was easy enough but in no way did I finish as quickly. And I think I would have massacred that bird had it not been for the video. An interested note, the tenderloins did not come off in one piece as demonstrated. They broke apart even with the little force I used.

Before getting my hand covered in slim and chicken guts I made a mushroom, zucchini and spinach stuffing. Spreading it all over and stuffing the legs was child’s play, but without a doubt the worst part was tying up that damned stuffed chicken. I thought I was going to pop a gasket. Ask Terra, she helped keep the chicken, and me, together. No matter how hard I tried the stuffing kept coming out the front! Way too many analogies so I’ll spare you. I was swearing, sweating and getting more and more aggravated. But we had a good time right Terra? In the end it wasn’t as pretty but we finally got it tied, in a pan and roasted the thing. The end product was gorgeous and tasted fantastic! Totally worth the effort. We served the chicken with some pan roasted broccoli.

The experience made me appreciate JP’s skills even more. I watched the video again after the bird went into oven and could only shake my head. It was good to review, I picked out little steps I missed and will apply next time. The important thing is Terra and I had a relaxing afternoon in the kitchen together. I’m sure she’s looking forward to the next time.


Saved by black bean soup

It’s hard to stomach but winter is almost here. The cold, the shovelling, being indoors all the time and the lack of sun drive me nuts. Sharing warm, hearty food with friends at this time of year helps to forget the coming threat of snow. And there’s something about the colder months that seems to make dinner parties special.

To stretch our legs I decided we needed a theme. After going through some cookbooks I thought a Cuban inspired meal would be a perfect way to try something new and remind us of hotter days. I discovered a recipe from Jacques Pépin for black bean soup that set the tone for the menu.

We started with fresh guacamole and tortilla chips. It was one of the better batches I’ve made all year and probably the last I’ll have until next summer. As we ate I thought of the beach and mentally held my middle finger up to December.

Next came the soup. Full of heat, textures and lots of flavour it was easily one of my favourite courses of the night. And it’s a dark soup – like mud – but glorious. What sets it even further apart from other soups are the condiments. Once served, you pile chopped banana, hard-boiled egg, raw onion, cilantro, red wine vinegar and olive oil on top. And don’t forget to add plenty of tabasco!

Our main course was a butterflied roast chicken with a Latin inspired spice rub. We served it with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. After roasting I reduced the pan juices for a simple dressing. The labour-intensive part was the side dish, Papas Rellenas. Basically, these are mashed potato balls stuffed with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. I learned they’re a standard Cuban accompaniment to a meal, and after all the effort, worth it. We ended with ice cream and mango slices covered with a Tequila cream liqueur.

Everyone enjoyed the meal as far as I can tell. The black bean soup was a big hit and I’ll credit it, and Jacques Pépin no less, with inspiring the evening. If you hate winter you have to find things to keep you happy. Preparing a dinner party can be a great way to spend the day in the kitchen and an evening with friends at the table. It’s funny that a cookbook by a classically trained French chef showed a Canadian how to make Cuban soup. Do we even know if these dishes have ever been prepared in Cuba? Nope. And does it matter? Of course not.

Black bean soup

  • 1 lb. dried black beans
  • 2 potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup onions (chopped)
  • 2 tomatoes (diced)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

Garnishes

  • 1 onion (finely chopped and rinsed in water)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)
  • 2 small bananas (chopped)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar to drizzle on top

Instructions

  1. Remove the debris or damaged beans and wash the remaining in cold water. Drain and put beans in saucepan and cover with cold soak to soak for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare other ingredients
  3. Drain the beans again and put them in a large pot. Mix in the potatoes, salt, thyme, onion and tomatoes. Mix in the water and chicken stock.
  4. Cut the cilantro leaves from the stems, chop the stems coarsely, and add them to the soup.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to low, and cook uncovered for about 2 hours.
  6. Pay attention towards the end of cooking and scrape the bottom of the pot so the soup doesn’t stick.
  7. When done puree one third of the solids and then return to the soup. You can add some water if it’s too thick.
  8. Add the olive oil, red-wine vinegar, Tabasco and garlic and stir to incorporate. Bring to boil before serving.
  9. Once ladled out, drizzle on extra red-wine vinegar, olive oil and add the garnishes. Serve while very hot.