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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nostalgic Rotisserie Chicken

When I was a child, I remember going to the grocery store and staring at the chickens, slowly turning in a massive rotisserie. I remember how succulent and juicy they looked, and how I wished that we would have one for dinner. And very often, we did. They were an inexpensive, healthy dinner option. Much healthier than fast food and much easier to deal with than making an entire meal from scratch.

I also remember times when we didn’t finish the chicken for dinner, and how there would be leftovers in the fridge for the next day. I would shred the cold chicken with my fingers, then place it between 2 slices of warm buttered toast with a little bit of salt and pepper. Yum yum!

Nowadays, I don’t purchase these rotisserie chickens, although at times, I am tempted by the memories of my childhood. It’s not that there is anything wrong with them. But I love cooking, and really try to cook as much as possible from scratch.

Then one day out of the blue, my husband suggested that we try the rotisserie component in our oven. What a great idea! I had completely forgotten that we had this feature! So, we bought the chicken, set up the rotisserie, and recreate the smells and tastes of my past. The chicken was absolutely delicious. Juicy, tender, and flavorful. Plus, it was so easy to make.

At this point, you might be tempted to try this recipe. Or, if you don't have a rotisserie, you are probably heading out the door to buy one (I mean a rotisserie chicken, not an actual rotisserie). But wait!! You can make this chicken without a rotisserie!

Just prepare the chicken as instructed in the recipe and roast it, breast side down (as I mentioned in my last chicken post), basting it occasionally, and the result will be just as tasty. The only difference really between rotisserie and roasting is that rotisserie allows for completely even cooking. I also think that the meat stays juicier since the chicken is always turning and the juices stay in the chicken instead of dripping out.

In this recipe, we used 2 baby chickens—1 each! No need to share or fight over our favorite chicken parts! You could also use 1 whole chicken if you prefer.
Nostalgic Rotisserie Chicken
Serves 2 hungry people

2 baby chickens, 500 grams each, or 1 1kg chicken

Outside Rub
1 tbsp Salt
1 tbsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 tbsp Paprika

For Basting Liquid
1 tsp Paprika
Juice of 1 Lime
3 tsp Brown Sugar
2 tsp Honey
1 tsp Salt
2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1/8 cup Water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Clean and prepare the chicken by rinsing it under cold water and then patting it dry. Rub the outside and inside cavity of the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika. Place on the rotisserie or in a roasting pan and into the preheated oven. (If using the rotisserie, I recommend you place a pan or foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any basting liquids or drippings).

Combine all basting ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Mix until honey is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Baste the chicken occasionally, about every 15 minutes. The chicken should take about 1 hour to cook. You will know it is done when a thermometer placed into the thickest part of the leg reads 165 degrees.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the oven and cover with foil. Let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fast Comfort Food: Beef Schnitzel with Pesto Potatoes & Carrots

There are times when we crave comfort food. Okay, crave is a slight understatement. Let me try again.

There are times when we NEED comfort food. During these times we really don’t want anything or anyone to stand in our way. The problem is that when we think of comfort food, this usually refers to slow cooked stews and items roasted in the oven for hours on end. But of course, the last thing we need is to spend hours in kitchen to stress ourselves out even more. So unless we have someone to cook for us when we are feeling down, how are we going to make this happen? Comfort food is laborious cooking. Who has the time or patience for that?

Here’s an idea. With absolutely no advance preparation needed, you can make the following dinner and be completely satisfied with the result. Okay, it’s not a hearty stew or big fat roast coming out of the oven, but it is fast and easy and I promise, it will leave you completely satisfied and stress free!

Don’t believe me? Go ahead! Try!

Beef Schnitzel with Pesto Potatoes & Carrots
Beef Schnitzel
Serves 4
375 grams boneless beef, cut into 4 pieces and pounded thin (I used topside which worked really well, but you could also use sirloin or ribeye

Mixed in one large bowl or shallow pan:
1 cup bread crumbs

1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

Mixed in another large bowl or shallow pan:
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Butter and Oil for pan

Dip one piece of beef into the egg mixture, then into the crumb mixture, being sure to coat both sides with bread crumbs. Then, place back into the egg mixture to moisten both sides, then again into the crumb mixture to create a thick crust. Repeat with other 3 pieces of beef.
Heat a pan on medium high heat and add about 1 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of oil. Once the butter is melted, add the crusted beef, being sure not to over crowd the pan (you may need to work in batches depending on the size of your pan). Leave the beef without touching for about 3-4 minutes, or until the crust is browned. Flip over and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. Once both sides are browned, remove from pan. Repeat with remaining beef. Serve warm with Dijon Mustard and Pesto Potatoes and Carrots.

Pesto Potatoes & Carrots
Serves 4

4 large potatoes, cut into large chunks
4 large carrots, cut into large chunks
½ cup of Pesto (either in a jar or freshly made)

Place the potatoes and the carrots into a microwave proof bowl. Cover and place in the microwave on high for between 5-10 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Toss the potatoes and carrots in the pesto, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve along side the beef schnitzel.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cinnamon Buns

When I was a child, Sunday mornings were church days. My parents would go to the service downstairs, and us kids would go to Sunday school with the rest of the children. After one hour of bible stories, activities, and discussion, we were often “surprised” with a treat from the Sunday school lady. Trays of freshly baked cinnamon buns! The sweet cinnamon aroma. The light white glaze. The plump raisins peeking out. The soft, chewiness and the sweet stickiness… It made us look forward to Sundays again and again.

Ah… the sweet memories of my childhood. It’s funny how quickly we forget.

I had forgotten completely about my childhood affair with Cinnamon Buns. I had forgotten how I looked forward to them, how I ate them around and around until I came to the sweet and soft knob of brioche in the centre of the bun. How I licked my fingers and wished that I hadn’t eaten it so quickly. How I jealously stared at my siblings as they savored theirs.

When I moved to Toronto for university, I began to despise the cinnamon bun. They were everywhere… in food courts, in train stations, and on street corners. The smell of these buns was overpowering and suffocating. I cringed at the smell and tried at all costs to avoid those brightly lit kiosks.

Why? There is really something different about homemade cinnamon buns versus the commercial ones. I am not sure if it is the satisfaction from creating your own fresh tray of buns or the actual end result but there is really something not so satisfying and not so tasty about buying a commercially baked cinnamon bun and devouring it on the go. Maybe it’s because when you create your own, the smell is subtle, intriguing, and mouth watering rather than sickening and suffocating. And the taste and texture are light and well balanced, with just the right sweetness and stickiness. Or maybe it just needs to be the right thing in the right place at the right time.

And I believe now is the right time. Don’t be intimidated by this recipe. It is very easy, and allows you to make the buns up to 24 hours in advance and leave them in the fridge until you are ready to bake. So come on, let’s try…

Cinnamon Buns
Adapted from Recipe at

Makes 8-12 rolls

4 1/2 - 5 cups (630 - 700 grams) all-purpose flour
1 package (2 1/4 tsp/ 7 grams) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
1/3 cup (75 grams) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (66 grams) White sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) salt
3 large eggs

Filling3/4 cup (160 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cold (cut into pieces)
1/2 cup raisins or toasted pecans (optional)

In a medium-sized bowl stir together:
1/2 cup (58 grams) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Light Cream

In a large bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups of flour and the yeast.
In another bowl, place milk, butter, sugar, and salt, and place in microwave (or on stove) for about 1 minute 30 seconds, until barely warmed and the butter is almost melted.

Make a well in the flour mixture, and slowly add the milk mixture, stirring until incorporated. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one to insure it is incorporated. Once all the eggs have been added, beat well until mixture is smooth.

Then, kneading by hand, gradually add as much of the remaining 2 ¼ to 2 ¾ cups flour that you need to you make a soft and smooth dough that is no longer sticky. Shape into a ball and place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 ½ hours)

Once doubled, punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon for the filling. Cut in the cold butter to make a crumbly mixture.

Roll the dough into a 30 cm square and sprinkle with the filling. Sprinkle over the raisins or pecans. Roll the dough into a log and pinch the edges to seal. Slice the roll into 8-12 equal pieces. Place in a greased baking pan with enough room around each to double in size.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost double, about 1 hour.
(Alternatively, refrigerate the rolls for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator. Place in the oven which is NOT turned on and proof with a steaming pan of water for 30 minutes until almost doubled).

Brush dough with light cream and bake at 190C/375 F for about 25 minutes until light brown and a toothpick inserted into a bun comes out clean.

Remove rolls from the oven. Cool for about 5 minutes, then remove onto a serving plate.

Drizzle with glaze and serve.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Super Easy Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Loaf

Nothing says "I love you" like freshly baked goods in the morning.
This could be anything…bread, sticky buns, muffins... the list is endless. But who actually has the time to make this stuff?? I mean, between hitting the snooze button, dragging yourself out of bed, then running around getting ready, there cannot possibly be any time to do anything else, right?
Wrong!!! Nothing is easier than this delicious breakfast loaf. Since time is of the essence when preparing breakfast, whatever you choose needs to be simple, to the point, tasty, and filling. And I guarantee this recipe has it all.
Whether you make it in the morning, or the night before, this recipe is so easy on so many fronts. Check out this list of reasons why you should try this recipe for breakfast:
Easy Factor #1: You can definitely fit it into your schedule. If you make it in the morning:
  • Soak the oats while taking a shower- 15 minutes
  • Mix the batter - 5 minutes
  • Dump into a loaf pan and bake in the oven while dealing with hair, face, clothes, accessories- 25 minutes
  • Eat the warm loaf- as much or as little time as you want.
  • Think this is pushing it a little? Make it the night before and let it cool on a wire rack until morning. Then wake up and enjoy!
Easy Factor #2: The ingredients are already in most pantries.
Easy Factor #3: Substitutions are allowed. In case you don’t have all the ingredients in your pantry, keep in mind these substitutions:
  • No Whole Wheat Flour? Use all White/ All Purpose
  • No raisins? Use dried cranberries, cherries, apricots (cut into pieces), apple, or no fruit at all.
Easy Factor #4: You only need 2 bowls, 1 spatula for mixing, and 1 loaf pan, so cleaning up is also a breeze.
Easy Factor #5: Got leftovers from a few days before that are getting old and dry? All is not lost. Just slice it and throw it in the toaster! Just as good as it was yesterday!
Easy Factor #6: No complaints! Everyone will love this loaf plain, with butter, jam, or whatever other condiments you have.
Are you ready to try it?
Super Easy Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Loaf
Not too sweet, perfectly moist, and nutritious breakfast loaf
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup Quick Cooking Oats
1 cup Milk (I used skimmed)
1 Egg
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/8 cup White Sugar
1/2 cup Raisins
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
Preheat oven to 220C/425F.
Put the milk and oats into a bowl. Stir until oats are moist and leave to soak for about 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, add oil, vanilla, and egg to oat mixture and beat until combined and smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (both flours, sugar, raisins, baking powder and salt).
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and stir gently until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for about 25 minutes. You will know when the loaf is done when a skewer in center of loaf comes out clean. Enjoy warm or cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brioche French Toast with Fresh Orange Zest & Vanilla

Of course everyone that read my posting last week made Brioche, right? I mean, my husband found time to make it, so I am absolutely positive you all did too. And if you didn’t, well, you are certainly going to miss out on this one!

Today, with that piece of uneaten brioche sitting on the counter (which I am sure that you have considered tossing but never got around to actually doing), we are going to make some French Toast. And not just any French toast. We are going to kick it up with a little fresh orange zest and vanilla! Yum yum!

Before we begin, I’d like to start by discussing this topic of “French Toast.” I mean, we have all eaten it as kids for breakfast, and you can find it on most breakfast menus in pretty much any hotel or diner in any city around the world. But where did it come from? I mean, is French toast even French??

After some research, I have found that the birthplace of what we call “French Toast” today is up for debate. I guess everyone wants to take credit for this delicious breakfast staple! But the reason by which this interesting concept began is agreed upon by most... It originated as a way to use stale bread. By coating the bread in egg, then frying it, the bread became edible (Actually, edible is an understatement... the resulting bread is irresistable!).

In France, this type of bread dipped in egg is not even called French Toast (or i guess you could say, Toast Francais). It is actually called "Pain Perdu" (literally "lost bread" referring to its ability to use the lost or old bread).

Anyway, does it really matter? I mean, whatever it’s called and wherever it came from, it is so so good. Here are a few tips for making what I think is the best French Toast.

The Type of Bread: Of course, you could use any old bread you have lying around, but brioche makes the best French toast. When the bread soaks up all that eggy milky goodness, it really gets a second wind, and becomes a beautiful breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snack.

The Age of the Bread: As mentioned before, French Toast was created to use up old bread. Now, some of you are probably thinking... "if the recipe tastes good with old bread, it must be just divine with fresh bread!!" WRONG! You really need to use day old bread to get the best end product because old bread keeps a firm texture even after the dip in egg. If you use fresh bread, which is already soft, the end product is just a soggy mess when it comes out of the pan, let alone when you douse it in maple syrup...

The Cut of the Bread: Now, I like to cut the brioche quite thick, about ¾ of an inch thick. The reason? Because even after soaking up all that liquid, the bread still maintains a great shape and texture. If you cut it too thin, you get soggy French Toast (again...). Are you getting the message here? The idea is to have French Toast with texture, not a puddle of soggy bread and fried egg on your plate.

Condiments: Okay, this isn't really a tip. It's more of a preference. But I highly recommend you serve this French Toast with real Canadian Maple Syrup. Yup, the good stuff. And I am not being biased because I am Canadian. I am just telling the truth. Try it, then you will taste what I'm talking about.

Brioche French Toast with Fresh Orange Zest & Vanilla
Makes 4 thick slices of French toast

4 slices of brioche, cut about ¾ inch thick
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 whole orange
3 tbsp Sugar
Butter and Oil for cooking

Beat together all ingredients.
Heat a large, non stick skillet over medium heat. Add about 1/2 tbsp butter and a drizzle of vegetable oil (you could use just butter, but the oil helps prevent it from burning. You could also use just oil or non stick spray, but to be honest, it's not the same. The butter adds flavour!).

Place a slice of brioche into the eggy mixture, let it soak for about 10-15 seconds, then flip it over for the same amount of time so that the other side soaks up some goodness. Place the egg soaked brioche into the heated skillet and cook on both sides until golden (about 1 minute per side).

Eat immediately plain, with maple syrup, or your condiment of choice.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And then there is DUCK!! Cantonese Style Roasted Duck

I absolutely love duck. The richly flavored meat, the crispy skin when roasted, the layer of fat which adds so much flavor. This is a bird whose glory I think is overshadowed by the ever popular chicken. Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy chicken. But I have a love affair with duck.

Duck has its own rich flavor, unlike chicken which we usually add flavor to. Plus, the meat has a nice meaty texture.

Of course, ducks also have their downsides compared to chicken. For example, ducks have less meat than chicken. What I mean by that is that a 1 kg chicken will yield more meat when cooked (i.e. feed more people) than a 1 kg duck. Why? Because duck is fattier and much of this weight is lost during cooking.

That leads to my second point-- the fat content. In this day and age, when obesity reigns and everyone is watching their fat, carb, calorie, and sugar intake, duck doesn't appear to be in the running of healthy "diet" foods. But I truly believe in everything in moderation.

Thirdly, duck can be a little unapproachable. It is not as widely available in supermarkets, especially whole, and not many people have experience cooking it. Also, it can be more expensive than other poultry.

Okay, there it is…now you are thinking, I don’t want to eat duck. It will make me fat, it will cost more money, and I don't even know how to cook the thing. And maybe some of those points are true. But I am telling you, once you have had a good duck, you will crave it. And you will never compare it to chicken again…. Ever!

My memories of duck go way back to my childhood. I remember seeing those shiny ducks hanging in the windows of the noodle houses in China Town. I remember walking in with my mom as she chose a duck and asked the gentleman behind the counter to cut it up for her. I remember him using one of those huge knives and really whacking that thing until it was cut into nice, uniform pieces. Then he would scoop all the pieces off his wooden chopping block with the side of the knife and slide them into a white Styrofoam take away container sitting on a scale. Then, into a small pink plastic bag and off we went.

The smell of the roasted duck during the car ride home was almost unbearable. I would imagine myself biting into my first piece right when we got home, not even waiting for the rice to be served or the vegetable accompaniment to be quickly stirfried. This was really love.

When I go home to visit, one of our meals needs to include a properly roasted Cantonese style duck. It is a requirement. I write it into our itinerary. No joking. It needs to be done.

I recently found out that they sell frozen ducks at Carrefour in Dubai. I decided to try to recreate these familiar tastes and textures at home. So, I gave it a shot, and it was well worth it. Granted, it took time and patience, but it was so good, that I am already thinking about doing it again. So you need to try it.

Now having said that, this is definitely not something that you can do everyday, but when you do take the time to do it right and taste the results, I am sure that you will make time to do it again and again.

Cantonese Style Roasted Duck
Serves 4

1 whole (4 to 5 pound) duck

For Outside Rub
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper

For Stuffing
1.5 inches cut into slices fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch green onions
1/2 orange peel cut in big strips
1 teaspoons five-spice powder

For Basting
1/8 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Preparing the duck is very important, because ducks have a lot of fat. If you want the skin to crisp up, you need to trim any excess fat and remove the tips of the wings. Blanch the duck in a large pot of boiling for about 5 minutes. Remove and dry very well, inside and out, with kitchen towels. Then, prick the duck all over, being careful only to cut through the skin and fat layer, not the meat! Place the duck in the fridge and let it cool down and dry completely before proceeding.

For the Rub: Combine the 5 spice, salt and pepper, and rub all over the outside of the duck.

For the Stuffing: Mash all together (I used a pestle and mortar) and rub inside the cavity of the duck. Leave it all inside. At this point, you could tie the duck legs together so the stuff doesn’t fall out, but I never do and never have a problem.

Place the duck on rack in a roasting tray breast up (we want the skin to crisp) and put it in a 375 degree oven.

Prepare the basting liquid by putting all ingredients into a pot and bringing to a simmer over medium heat. After the first hour, flip the duck over and baste. Then, after every 30 minutes afterwards, flip and baste until the duck is cooked and the skin is crispy. Should take about 3 hours to be fully cooked. You will know it is cooked when a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 165 degrees F or 75 degrees C.

Take duck out and let rest for about 10-15 minutes. Take the juice (drippings) from the bottom of the pan. Serve with white rice, and the drippings drizzled over the duck.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chicken Burgers on the BBQ

We all love a good barbeque.

The smell. The sizzling sound. The slightly charred, grill taste. The good friends. The beer. And the great outdoors. But one thing about barbeques is that there is always so much food. The night’s sleep passes uneasily and you wake up the next day still feeling full. Very full.

But that doesn’t always have to be the case. We had a wonderful barbeque the other day. Granted, we still made way too much food and had plenty of leftovers, but I believe we all slept like babies. Well, I know that I slept like a baby.

How you ask? Was I on a diet? Was I sick? Did I deny myself of the barbequed goodies? No, no, and no!!! I ate. And ate. And ate, like a little piggy. It's what I ate that made the difference.

Traditional barbecues call for steaks, burgers, ribs, sausages, and all that red meat goodness. And guess what? We didn't have any of it. Yes, you heard me correctly. We had a barbeque with no beef, no lamb, no veal, and not even any pork (which isn't really red meat, but for argument's sake...).

Now you are probably asking how good a barbeque can possibly be without any meat. I mean, after all, this is a barbeque staple. Grilled meats glistening and sizzling over the barbeque, basted with a variety of sauces, the fat dripping into the fire...

Well, let me tell you-- as much as I love a good hunk of meat or a nice juicy burger, red meat does not digest well. Period. And after eating a big steak for dinner, I can almost guarantee that anyone would be tossing and turning all night.

So what did we do? We made chicken burgers.

Now, I know that you skeptics out there are already flipping the page, thinking that it’s not a barbeque if you forgo the meat and eat wussy chicken burgers! Trust me, I was also a skeptic. Especially when the memories flooded back of those thin, frozen “chicken burgers” which you buy in the frozen section of the grocery store. But, I quickly got over my fear and decided to go with it. I mean, how bad could it be? Especially since I was craving that barbeque taste!

And I don’t regret it at all! The burgers were so simple to throw together and just as juicy and tasty as beef burgers, with the added benefit of being much lighter on my stomach. I ate like a pig, then slept like a baby… very very rare.

So, I encourage you to try it for a change. You have absolutely nothing to lose!

Grilled Chicken Burgers
Makes about 8- 10 burgers

1 kg Chicken Mince
1 Medium Red Onion, chopped fine
2 Cloves of Garlic, minced
½ tsp Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 tbsp dried Oregano
2 tbsp Ketchup
2 tbsp Dijon Mustard

Place chicken mince in a large bowl. Add red onion, garlic, salt, pepper, dried oregano (or whatever dried herbs you have.. thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, herbes de provence would all work well) and mix together with you hands (yes, you can use a fork, but your hands are the best tool you have!). Add the ketchup and mustard and mix until combined.
Shape the mixture into patties (about the size of the palm of your hand and about ¾ inch thick). Place on a plate or baking sheet drizzle with a little vegetable oil.
Transfer the burgers to the grill, first flipping the patties on the plate so both sides have a little oil.

Grill for about 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through (there should be no pink in the centre of the burger)

Serve with whatever condiments you like.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cooking is Contagious: Simple Brioche

Everyone says that smiles are contagious. And it's true. They are.

So is cooking. Once a household is invigorated by the smells and tastes of great food, others are somehow inspired to take on the task and try to recreate their favorite recipes.

Take my husband for example. He is the most patient, willing, taste-tester that exists. He will always try my creations and provide critique. He will also provide some ideas of his own (which I will then attempt to execute).

Then, every once in a while, he will become so inspired by an idea that he will try his own hand in the kitchen (albeit, it's usually when I am not around so perhaps its his hunger that inspires this flurry of activity).

Oh well. I'm not complaining! Regardless of the inspiration, when I returned home, I was greeted by the smell of freshly baked goods. On inspection, I found the suspect. Peeking out from under its hiding place was the muted yellow flesh of a perfectly baked loaf of Brioche. Yum yum!

What is brioche you ask? Well, it's basically a yeast leavened bread which is rich and tender because of the addition of eggs and butter.

The French (a.k.a- my husband) love brioche because it has a delicate crumb, can be made slightly sweet, and works well as the base for a tartine with butter, jam or NUTELLA!! And we all know how the French love a good tartine!! Let's eat!!

Simple Brioche Recipe
Makes 1 Loaf
375 grams White Flour
1 Tbsp Instant Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 pinch Salt
1/3 cup Whole Milk, Slightly Warm

80 grams Unsalted Butter, melted but not hot (at Room Temp)
2 Large Eggs plus 1 Large Egg, Room Temperature

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.

Make a well in the middle and add the milk. At the same time, slowly incorporate the milk with the flour and yeast by stirring gently with a fork.

Add the butter, one piece at a time while continuing to mix, now with your fingers.

Add 2 off the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each to ensure they are incorporated. Once both the eggs are added, knead the dough until it is elastic and smooth.

Cover with plasic wrap and let proof in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until it doubles in size.

Once doubled, punch the dough down with your fingers, then gently knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a log or into 4 balls and place in a greased loaf mold and cover. Let rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven at 230C/450 F.

Brush the brioche with the remaining beaten egg.
Bake until golden brown - about 30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches about 185 degrees. Remove, unmold and let cool on a rack.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

“Whatever-Is-In-My-Pantry” Pasta

There are days when you have all the time in the world to come up with some masterful culinary creation. And there are days when you just couldn’t be bothered. Today is one of those days.

Whether you have just arrived home from work, dead tired, or you are famished and didn’t have the chance to buy groceries yet, there is always a day when you need sustenance and pleasure as simply as it will come.

So, what do you do? Some people reach for potato chips, chocolate bars, and other convenience foods. Some people pick up the phone and speed dial their favorite delivery. Me? I reach into my pantry and fish out whatever food is in there that is still edible. Once I’ve inventoried the goods, I need to decide… either take it or leave it. Well, I think I’ll take it.

Today, in my pantry, fridge, and freezer combined, I unearthed the following: Pasta (well, of course everyone has a box or bag of pasta kicking around), a few random vegetables, and about a handful of frozen, precooked medium sized shrimp. Hmmm… it definitely could be worse.

So, here we go… Simple Shrimp and Veggie Cappellini. Sounds exotic right? That’s what's so great about pasta! With a few simple ingredients, in no time at all, you can transform this pantry staple into a feel good, no fuss meal. Much better than delivery, anytime!

Simple Shrimp and Veggie CappelliniServes 2

2 cups Vegetables, cut into chunks (I used yellow pepper and courgette)
1 medium tomato, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced
¼ tsp Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen shrimp
170 grams of dried pasta (about 85 grams per person)
Olive oil
Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)

Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and sautee the vegetables, garlic, and onion together until just softened. Add tomato and salt and pepper and heat through.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water. When almost cooked, add frozen shrimp to the pan with the pasta, and let it come back up to a boil. Strain, reserving a little pasta liquid.

Add the pasta into the pan with the vegetables and toss all together. Add some of the pasta liquid and salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the pasta into 2 servings. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and garnish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Friday, March 6, 2009

How to Cook Chicken? Citrus & Thyme Roasted Chicken

Ah, this is the question.

Chicken, the versatile, highly available, good for you source of protein. Everyone has their favorite chicken recipe. And yet, everyone seeks something different. A NEW feel good, fast and easy way to cook this bird.

Why? I mean, why does one person need so many recipes for chicken?

I think it's because everyone seems to eat chicken. If you are entertaining, it’s a pretty safe bet to cook chicken. Some people don’t eat red meat, some don’t like fish, others don’t eat pork, game, duck…the list goes on. But somehow, most everyone eats chicken.

Now there are many things to ponder when considering this famed bird.

First of all: What part of the chicken do you prefer? Do you prefer the white meat or the dark meat? Chicken wings or drumsticks? Do you want to cook the whole chicken, or just pieces? No matter what your favorite part of the bird is, you will never have to fight over it! Every part of the chicken seems to be readily available almost anywhere you go!

Secondly: Skin or no skin? Well, for me, it depends, but to be honest, 99% of the time, I eat the skin. Yes, okay, the skin is mostly fat, but it’s also a tasty, marinade holding, crunchy, flavorful part of the chicken, so I suggest you eat it. But, if the thought of eating the skin of the chicken makes you cringe (even though I have never seen anyone remove the skin off a piece of FRIED chicken and toss it… I guess anything fried is good eats), then remove the skin off your chicken parts before cooking. If you wait and remove it later, you lose all the flavor the skin has absorbed and end up in most cases with just plain old chicken, and you didn’t go to all that work rubbing and marinating and crisping for plain old chicken, did you?

Thirdly: Once you have decided on your chicken parts, and the fate of the skin, how do you cook it? Roasted? Braised? Fried? Sauteed? The possibilities are endless! And this really brings us back to the first question….how should we cook it?

That, my friends, is where I come in.

Now, I am no chicken expert (let’s leave that to KFC, the rotisserie chicken vendors, the people that make chicken nuggets, and all the rest of them), but I do think that I have a few good chicken recipes up my sleeves. Plus, you can't possibly eat KFC every single day...can you?

Let’s begin with roasting…..

This recipe is really great, because I think the citrus gives a little pep to the chicken, keeps the breast meat moist, and cuts through the richness of the dark meat.

Citrus & Thyme Roasted Chicken
Serves 4

1 kg Whole Chicken
1 Orange, cut into 8 pieces
2 Lemons, cut into 4 pieces each
4 cloves garlic
4 springs of Fresh Thyme (or oregano, or any fresh herbs you have)
Course Sea Salt
Fresh Pepper
Some butcher string to tie the legs together
About 1 cup chicken stock (for basting)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

Rinse chicken (inside and out) and then blot dry with paper towels.

Season the inside and out with salt and pepper, then stuff the chicken with the 6 of the orange pieces, 6 of the lemon pieces, the garlic, and the thyme. Tie the legs together so the stuffing doesn’t fall out of the chicken

Put the chicken in a roasting tray, breast side down (*see below), and squeeze the juice of the remaining 2 pieces of each orange and lemon over the chicken.

Roast chicken for about 1 ¼ hours, basting with chicken broth every 15 minutes or so, until cooked (juices should run clear when you cut into the thickest part of the chicken, inside the thigh). Remove from oven and let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

*Breast Side Down??

You are probably wondering if this is a typo, but it’s not! Some people might think I am crazy, but you really get a much juicier chicken by cooking breast side down.

You might be wondering at this point how I know this....

Well, it actually started with turkey. Now, I love turkey, but as a child, I never really liked the breast meat (unless I smothered it in gravy) because I always found it too dry. That is, until one day, I asked my mom to cook the turkey breast side down. My mom asked me why I wanted her to do this. After all, having a nice, golden breast sitting up on a platter is generally how you serve, then proceed to carve, a turkey during the holidays. It's tradition!

I explained to her that I thought if she flipped the bird over, the breast would soak up all the juices dripping through the turkey and into the bottom of the pan, and would soak up the flavors of all the aromatics she used to put in the roasting tray. So, she trusted me and she tried it.

The result? A very tender, juicy breast and since then, neither she nor I has ever looked back! Try it and tell me what you think!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sweet & Sticky BBQ Chicken and Ribs

Sweet, sticky, finger licking, lip smacking goodness.

Ah yes… ribs! Chicken and ribs to be precise. The stuff my dreams are made of!
After having lived in Texas for over 2 years, every once in a while I will get a serious craving for meat doused in BBQ sauce. And I’m not talking about sophisticated chicken breasts or fillet mignons brushed with a thin layer of the stuff. I am talking about quarter chicken parts, manly pork ribs, and meaty beef ribs sloshed with so much brown goodness that they are almost swimming.

Once cooked, good chicken and ribs should be sticky and slippery between your fingers. And most importantly, there should be a trail of reddish brown gooey-ness dribbling slowly down your chin. So, if you are not prepared for this madness; if you would prefer a fork and knife kind of meal, then stop reading now. This is definitely not your bag!

All right. Now that we have weeded out the wimps, let’s get down to business. There are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to chicken and ribs, and they are oh so good. And so so easy! Basically, put the chicken and ribs (pork ribs, beef ribs, or both if you prefer) in a ziplock back, add the marinade, squish it around, and pop it in the fridge for 1 hour to 1 day. Dump it out onto a roasting tray, and bake until sticky. Could it get any easier?

There are lots of great recipes out there for chicken and ribs. On today’s menu? Chicken & Ribs with a Tangy Mango BBQ Sauce. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy, dark and rich, this is the perfect complement to a nice cool beer, a jug of sangria, or both! If you don't have mango, use nice ripe peaches instead.

Chicken & Ribs with Tangy Mango BBQ SauceServes 4

For the BBQ Sauce
(this sauce has been adapted from the recipe "Chicken with Mango Barbeque Sauce" by Ellie Krieger, 2006 )

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 red pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup pureed tomatoes
1 mango, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 fresh green chillies, seeded and minced

3 kg of Meat (I would suggest 2 kg pork or beef ribs, 1 kg chicken parts with skin and bones)

To make the sauce: Cook the onions in the olive oil for a few minutes until translucent. Add the red peppers, garlic, salt and pepper, and allspice and cook until peppers are soft. Stir in the vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and tomato sauce and heat through. Add mango and chillis and blend all until smooth.

Marinate the meat: Place the chicken and ribs in a ziplock bag with the bbq sauce. Make sure everything is coated with the sauce. Leave to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour (or up to one day).

Almost Ready to Eat: Dump the contents of the bag into a roasting tray and place in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) for about 1 hour, or until the chicken and ribs are sticky.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Does it have to be HOT??? .... Take Three: Thai Kao Soi Curry

This was the first dish I ate after arriving in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I already had great expectations for this dish, having read it in every travel guide and on every food list prior to my arrival. Then, there it was... listed on the menu as Famous Chiang Mai Curry Noodles with Chicken. I had to try it. Mildly spicy, creamy, rich…since that moment, I have been dreaming of recreating this dish at home! So here is my version. Don’t be intimidated by all the ingredients. I assure you, it’s an effortless and crowd pleasing dish!

Kao Soi - Chiang Mai Style Curry Noodles
Makes 4 Servings

Drizzle of Vegetable oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced
3 Tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste (found in the grocery store)
500 grams of Boneless Chicken or 750 grams with bones (I prefer thighs because of the softer texture and more moist end product)
2 cups Chicken Stock (I like to use low sodium if available)
1 can (14 ounces) Coconut Milk, unsweetened
1/8 cup Soy Sauce
2 tsp Curry Powder
1 tsp Sugar
Juice of 1 Lime
500 grams of Fresh Egg Noodles, or any other noodles you like- cooked per manufacturer’s instructions
1/2 cup Red Onion, very thinly sliced

For Garnish:
Chopped Cilantro Leaves
Lime Wedges
Crispy Chow Mein Noodles

Heat a large pan with oil. Add chicken and brown on both sides (2 minutes). Add curry paste and garlic and toss together for a couple of minutes until the curry paste coats the chicken.

Add stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, curry powder, and sugar. Cover and let simmer until chicken is cooked (about 8 minutes). Squeeze in fresh lime juice.

Place the cooked egg noodles into the bottom of the 4 bowls and pour over the chicken and curry sauce. Serve with the thinly sliced red onions, cilantro, and crunchy noodles.

The Easy Way Out

Now, as easy as these recipes were (the Indian Fish curry in the previous post and the Kao Soi Curry), I also realize that sometimes, we don't even have time to make these! Especially if you need a quick lunch, or you arrive home late, or you just don't have enough time to grocery shop. So, I have devised a plan.... the easy way out. The throw together meal or snack when you are craving a curry but don't have the time or patience to do the full blown cooking thing.

All you have to do, is pick up a jar of Thai Red Curry Paste and/or Thai Green Curry Paste and some canned coconut milk the next time you head out to the grocery store. Then, at any given time, when you need a no fuss, satisfying dish, just add a couple of tablespoons of either of the pastes into a pan with a little oil and garlic. Add some chicken, frozen shrimp, veggies, or whatever you have around, and toss in the pan for a few minutes. Add a can of coconut milk, a little salt and pepper, and serve with noodles or rice. Yum!! Let’s eat!