my 5 favourite kitchen tools

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

Attempting a masterpiece in the kitchen is often much simpler and more accessible through the use of specialized tools and gadgets. Unfortunately, many tools accomplish a single task – usually very well – but regardless, a specific task (enter the … Continue reading

guest post – how to picnic when it rains

It’s a dreary, dreary day, which made our Downton Abbey-inspired picnic seem a little less inspired.  We wound up instead in my dining room over a game of Scrabble – a slightly reduced but stalwart group, eating tandoori chicken skewers with mango chutney, scones with clotted cream and raspberry preserves, and butter square. All of it homemade, of course. It was delightful, even if our letters weren’t… but we couldn’t help looking out the window and wistfully discussing summer cocktails.  Claude is the master of summer cocktails.  He has introduced us to Lillet and to all manner of interesting taste combinations.  My favourites involved grapefruit, ginger or fresh herbs like lavender, basil and mint.

But the real question is: Claude, when are you going to find your vodka-soaked cucumber cocktail recipe?

– Rachel L.

 

Claude’s response:

Always wanting to make sure my guests are happy, I invite you to check out my favourite recipes page for the Cucumber-Ginger Fizz

rubbing on the flavour

Nothing quite imparts the same intensity of spice flavour as a well mixed and applied spice rub.

We are participating in a ‘Downton Abbey’ inspired picnic tomorrow.  There are promises of clotted cream, scones, crustless cucumber and jam sandwiches, homemade ginger ale, and of course, Pimms No. 1.  As a nod to the British colonization of India, I have decided to contribute tandoori chicken skewers, homemade mango chutney and some decidedly British smoked salmon and dill rosettes.  The rub has a distinct Indian flair and creates an intense red ‘bark’ due to the paprika and crumbled saffron threads.  The smell transports me back to my staple Indian haunt, the East India Company.

Tandoori Spice Rub

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6 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp ground coriander, ground cumin, coarse kosher salt
1 tbsp ground black pepper, sugar, ground ginger
1 tsp   ground cinnamon, crumbled saffron threads

1/2 tsp cayenne powder

Also, while I was mixing up the spices, I decided I would prepare the ‘best rib rub’ a friend passed along – the Bone Dust BBQ spice.  I received it last year but was pleased to be reminded of its smoky, yet balanced flavours.  It works well when liberally rubbed directly on ribs cooked over rinsed sauerkraut.  Prepare for Nirvana!

Bone Dust BBQ Spice

1/2 cup  paprika
1/4 cup  chili powder
3 tbsp    salt
2 tbsp    ground coriander, garlic powder, sugar, curry powder, hot mustard powder

1 tbsp    black pepper, dried basil, dried thyme, ground cumin, cayenne powder

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

humble beginnings

I am visiting my parents back in Ontario for a week and have an opportunity to reflect on my culinary roots and how I was influenced to develop into the fearless person I am today.

We certainly did not grow up in a gourmet world, often surrounded by comfort food and efficient dishes to feed a family of six: Shepherd’s pie, moose stews, meat pies, pots of steamy soup, chicken hearts and gizzards followed by loads of apple or jellied desserts.

One dessert that rings true to comfort food is the aptly named Impossible Pie.  You combine seven ingredients (in no particular order), pour into a pie plate and bake.  The result is a delightful pie crowned with golden flaked coconut, an eggy custard centre above a thin crust that seems to have made itself.

Ingredients:

– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup flour
– 4 eggs
– 2 cups milk
– 1/4 cup butter, melted
– 2 tsp. vanilla
– 1 cup coconut

Directions:

Beat all ingredients until fully combined.  Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.  Allow to come to room temperature and serve.

I believed the Impossible pie was something unique and delightfully ‘unrefined’ as no one else had ever made or had it other than our family.  In my fearless exploring of culinary dishes, I stumbled upon a standard and traditional French custard dessert – the clafouti, described as a baked dessert where fruit (typically black cherries) are covered with a thick flan-like batter, dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm.

It seems the clafouti, and the non-cherry flaugnarde version, are elevated versions of our humble Impossible pie.  Who knew one of my favourite comfort dessert was based on a classic French delight?  Here is my go-to clafouti recipe:

Ingredients:

– 1 lb. fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or frozen pitted cherries, thawed, drained
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
– 4 large eggs
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
– 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
– Powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Butter cake pan or ramekins. Arrange cherries in a single layer in pan.

2. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Set aside. Combine eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl; whisk to blend. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture; whisk until custard is smooth. Pour custard evenly over cherries in pan. If necessary, gently shake pan to allow custard to settle.

3. Bake clafouti until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes for ramekins and 45-55 minutes for cake pan. Let cool 3 minutes, then run a knife around pan sides to loosen clafouti (if using a cake pan). Dust top with powdered sugar; cut into wedges and serve.

under pressure

As experienced and knowledgeable as I may feel in the kitchen, I am dumbfounded when I reflect on the techniques, tools, ingredients and types of cuisine still unknown to me.  I must put every effort to explore these unfamiliar culinary realms to properly prepare for my hopeful MasterChef Canada journey. My experience in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves has taught me proper planning and preparation prevents p!ss poor performance – and I’m determined not to perform that way!

There are definite constraints in the MasterChef kitchen – a masterpiece must be plated usually in less than 60 minutes.  The brave chefs use daring techniques to develop flavour profiles and manipulate their ingredients through the use of a sous-vide, smoke guns, blast chillers and pressure cookers, to name a few. I must familiarize myself these new tools and techniques to be an effective participant in the MasterChef process.

I am lucky to live on a street that is more than a street – it is a real community.  A core group of neighbours are quite close and get together throughout the year for potluck dinners or appetizer nights.  We had such an occasion just recently and was the perfect opportunity for me to break in my newest kitchen purchase – a T-Fal Clipso Pressure Cooker – and an opportunity to make my first pulled pork shoulder!  With a bit of research, I found just the directions and inspiration I was looking for: an Asian inspired pulled pork.

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/05/166417870/learning-to-cook-under-pressure

The NPR site has a good warm-up for your first ventures with a pressure cooker which lists four recipes of varying complexity.  The sweet yet distinctly Asian broth melted away all connective tissue of the pork shoulder resulting in a mound of delectable shredded meat.  Our contribution was served with slider-sized ciabatta buns and elicited many ‘oohs‘ and ‘mmms’ through the night.

I believe my love affair under pressure has just begun.

guest post – trusted guinea pig

IMG_2289Claude is a marvel, a delight and a law unto himself.  Even apart from being one of my favourite people – he is the consummate host.  Everything is impeccable, and yet it is still comfortable such that I don’t panic when the dinner party is at my house.  I suspect this is partly why it’s been so fun to throw a few curve balls at Claude through the MasterChef preparatory social events.  I’m allowed to admit to finding this fun because it still didn’t throw Claude off stride.  Green papaya?  Perfect – modernized slaws are a Claude specialty.  Kalamansi?  No problem – dressing it is.  (I still think it would have been interesting in the pana cotta, although I did adore the grapefruit and vanilla bean version.  And, as a side note, the kalamansi G&Ts is a worthwhile endeavour.)  Beef heart… a little pause, perhaps, but promptly off to trimming and prepping for rouladen, dill pickle and all.

I’ve been asked what I consider Claude’s specialties to be.  Instantly, I thought of champagne grape jelly, oven-hot pretzels, and themes of piquant salads and interesting cocktails… and then I stopped and realized I couldn’t think of any other dish I’ve had twice at Claude’s.  I admire his zest for trying new recipes and his skill at making them so deliciously (really with only one exception, and fresh sardines in Winnipeg are a bit of a challenge), and I am honoured to be a trusted guinea pig.

– Rachel L.

guest post – to the market we go!

I’m on an early flight en route to Winnipeg as I type this out, it’s Canada Day and I can’t help but feel a little giddy because today is the last day before Claude’s audition for MasterChef Canada and I’m his self-appointed head cheerleader!

Friends and family are important to Claude, we have that in common.  He is the definition of Host with the Most in my mind.  As I reflect on the countless times I’ve sat at his table one time in particular sprung to mind.  We were visiting Rouge Mountain on the lovely island of St Martin.  Our housekeeper told us of the weekly fish market right on the shore and, always trying to embrace what the locals enjoy, Claude decided we’d be up at the crack of dawn to greet the boats as they came in with their catch of the day.

Since Claude is the planner that he is, we were early.  We found some locals getting coffee and a pastry I could only describe as a cross between a doughnut and a sweet bun and we happily tried one for ourselves.  Island time is a different sort of thing; the boats came in not en mass rather trickling in one by one.  We checked out the stalls as the attendants of each one tried to cajole us into buying from them.  Claude’s great to watch in a market.  He’s careful never to get to enthusiastic, and his laissez faire method usually nets us better pricing.  I on the other hand smile from ear to ear with such gusto that the market stall workers look at me as the answer to their prayers.  Suffice it to say I always let Claude carry the money and make the final decisions.Image

Phread and Eric believe that both Claude and I, when given the choice, choose the rarest ingredients (often searching a dozen stores to find it) or the recipe with the most ingredients.  Their assertion may be largely correct but I assure you Claude’s motives are simple; to make a pleasing dish.   On this particular morning he meet a man from a boat with a fish that we’d never seen before.  We made our purchases (after dickering on price en français) and headed back to the villa.

The fisherman told us he feed this fish to his kids lightly battered and it roughly translated to Old Lady.  It had one main piece of cartilage instead of many bones.  Unsure of what to do, Claude set to work cleaning and butchering it.  We floured it and lightly fried it in sort of a finger size format.  It was buttery, rich even and took a nice dusting of salt.  It was delicious but…weird.  Eating it was a little bit like eating ribs off a bone, not at all the fish experience one was expecting.  When our housekeeper saw what we made she laughed a little at us, which we took as a compliment.  Clearly we were the first visitors who braved a local dish like this.  That in itself is a win in Claude’s book.

I know the journey ahead for Claude will be filled with many first times and I know he’ll do well as he addresses all the challenges with reckless abandon.  And trust me, its going to taste great.

Sherri G.