Monday, February 26, 2007

WFD? Maple-Pepper Glazed Duck Legs

Maple-Pepper Glazed Duck Legs with Smashed Sweet Potato and Braised Bok Choy

These duck legs were fabulous after I brined them for several hours, then roasted and glazed them with a sweet peppery maple glaze.

Brining is an excellent way to add flavour and tenderness to meat that tend to be on the tough side. It’s nothing complicated; it merely involves soaking the meat in a salt-sugar solution for several hours prior to cooking, resulting in a piece of meat that will retain more moisture during the cooking process, thus making for a juicier dish!

Flavors may be added to the brine as the cook wishes, such as spices, beers, apple cider, juniper berries and maple, further infusing the meat with goodness!
I've only just started experimenting with brines, but we loved these duck legs the other night so much, I am passing along my recipes.

Roasted Duck Legs with Maple-Black Pepper Glaze

4 duck legs, trimmed of excess fat, washed and patted dry.
1 recipe Spiced Brine
Maple and Black Pepper Glaze (recipes follow)

Place duck legs in a water tight container (or hefty Ziplock bag) and pour enough brine over to cover. Seal container and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Remove legs from brine, rinse under cold running water and pat dry.
Place in a small roasting pan and roast for about
45 minutes. Remove from oven and glaze with maple glaze. Return to oven and cook another 10 minutes or so, until glaze is bubbly and golden.
Remove from oven and allow to rest a few minutes before serving.

Note: Roasting time will vary depending on size of duck legs. Mine were skinny little quackers.

Spiced Brine:

4 cups water
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
5 whole cloves

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and cool until quite cold. Brine is now ready for use.

Maple and Black Pepper Glaze

1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon freshly crushed black pepper

Combine ingredients in a small heavy sauce pot and bring to a boil. Be careful! Do NOT walk away, as this molten mixture loves to boil over onto your stove, making for a big clean-up! Reduce heat and simmer on low until mixture is reduced by about 2/3’s.Cool. Set aside for glazing duck legs.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blueberry Bran Waffles

My appetite is back! No long do I host a queasy stomach, and my eating habits are more than nibbling crackers and sipping mint tea. I woke up with my usual ravenous morning hunger today and decided to make waffles. I’m glad I did.

I’m sure you’ll love these health-conscience whole-wheat and bran waffles that came from the handy little booklet that was included with my waffle iron. They really stick to your ribs-in a good way.

No need for lunch!

Blueberry Bran Waffles

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unprocessed bran

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup butter, melted

1 ½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Lightly grease and preheat the waffle iron.

In a large bowl, with a wooden spoon, stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, bran, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and sugar. (it helps if your sugar isn’t rock hard, like mine was!) Stir in the milk and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture until just moistened; do not beat.

In a small bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until just stiff. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites and the blueberries into the batter.

Ladle batter into the center of each waffle section, close the lid and bake to the desired crispness.

Yields approximately 12 waffles.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I've Got a Craving for Pho

Our little house has recently been struck with a nasty bout of gastro-intestinal sickness that left us weak and without appetites. Rarely does it happen that I can’t stand the thought of food, but day after day of cleaning up vomit and other stuff has its effects; I could barely open the fridge without my stomach churning.

Yesterday, Day 6 of being sick dawned on our household and as we munched some more plain crackers and sipped some Gatorade, I had a craving.
A flash!

Of course. I needed Pho.

A Vietnamese staple consisting of gentle beef broth simmered for hours and infused with tummy-soothing spices like cloves and ginger, bland yet comforting rice noodles, a few tender cuts of beef, a shredding of basil, some bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime to awaken my disinterested palate.

At least, that is one version of it as it comes in many ways.
I got dressed and left the house for the first time in almost a week in search of pho.(pronounced‘fuh’) I wasn’t about to make it myself as I had no energy and the only thing I had cooked all week was some scrambled eggs (bad idea). The best pho in Montreal is in Chinatown, but I settled for some takeout Pho Ga (chicken) from a place nearby.
Danny and I lapped it up at home and reminisced about the last time I had desperately needed a helping of pho: in the hospital after giving birth to Noah. I remember pushing aside the hospital ‘food’ and requesting Danny go out in search of some pho ….and chocolate.

I guess I know what my comfort foods are.

Friday, February 16, 2007

'Tis So Sweet: Sugar Cookies

Chocolate was an obvious theme throughout my Valentine's Day cookie and confections exchange last Sunday. The house filled up with guys, girls, really, really cute babies and a spread of decadent home baking. While the snow swirled around outside, we warmed up with coffee and let the truffles melt in our mouths. As a general rule, I tend to scoff at Valentine's Day festivities and traditions, but this year it offered a chance to get together with some great people and eat great sweets, so maybe it's not so bad after all.

Earl Grey Truffles

Raspberry and Mocha Truffle Tartelettes

Grand Marnier Truffles

Chocolate Fudge, Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies, and Seven-Layer Bars made up the rest of the spread.

Dressed up Sugar Cookies

Kahlua Truffles

Sugar Cookies are great anytime of the year and can be dressed up to match any occasion. Mine were decidedly romantic in pink and purple hearts. These ones from Martha Stewart taste just fine!

Dressed-up Sugar Cookies

1 pound (450g) unsalted butter
3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, abut 5 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla and salt; mix on medium-high speed until combined. With mixer on low speed, add flour in two batches, mixing until just incorporated.

Turn the dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and pat into flattened rectangles; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.
Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out one rectangle of dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes and transfer to baking sheet. Chill about 15 minutes or until firm.

Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Ice as desired.
Cookies can be kept in an airtight container for up to three days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Costco: Bigger IS Better

Stacks of my favorite Illy Coffee make my knees weak.

After three years as newlyweds on Rue St Denis in Montreal’s Plateau district, Danny and I seemed to make the transition in to suburbia with surprising ease. Within months of discovering we were pregnant, we had bought a family car (translation: Reliable), signed papers for a house, and gotten the necessary Costco membership.

Ah, Costco. At the beginning of our relationship, I was reluctant to admit I frequented such a place, but with each visit I found more and more reasons to give it a permanent place in or lives. Now we buy most of our staples there and the best news is it’s only about 5 KM from our house.

If you’ve never been, the first visit can be a bit of an attack on the senses: a real crash course to middle class shopping. The things you can buy there are astounding: anything from ready-made omelets to 12-man tents; four-foot high wooden nutcrackers at Noel, to enough edamame to fulfill any vegan's fantasy.

If you time it right, (not that I have EVER planned my shopping around some stupid samples…...OK, maybe) you can have a whole meal of free samples complete with ice wine and a breath freshener. Be wary though, some of the samples can be alarmingly bad. I wonder, who BUYS this stuff?

It’s good to go with a partner and watch each other’s backs. Danny and I don’t even have to speak to communicate; we seem to have developed these silent codes meaning "Red Alert!!" or "Mmm. Could you manage to score another one?"

I can see him veering away from the crab dip with his radar honed in on the nearest garbage can and I know to skip the dip and double up on the chocolate covered blueberries, one for me, one for him.

Hmm, looks like this Costco client is taking advantage of the Sample Lady's turned back as she flirts with yet another client. Must be a great way to pick up guys, though. "Hel-LO there, want to try my blueberry cheesecake?"

I just wish they would strategically map out the sample people with a little more consideration to the natural order of how things should be eaten. There’s nothing more revolting than nibbling on a dab of cherry cheesecake and then tasting a spear of smoked duck sausage right after. And what's up with ending your meal with breakfast cereal and milk? Come on! If I managed a Costco, I would make this negligence pretty high up on my priority list.

“Hello and welcome to Costco! Please enjoy your meal.”

It would be like a degustation, (or tasting menu for the blokes) and then you can have the option to buy everything.

Yes, start off in the mini quiches and frozen appetizers section, move to the pastas and breads, a little duck or fish here and there, a dab of cheeses, and finish up with some of those gourmet ice creams.

I’d team up with some people from Ikea, whoever the wise guy is who paints the arrows on the floor and keeps us all going in the same direction.

Come to think of it, I am ALWAYS hungry when I shop at Ikea. Hmm, I can see a merge in the works here.

The Costco food court isn’t bad either. Skip the fries, but the sausages and pizza are pretty good and the ice cream is a good bang for your buck.

All this talk and I think I have a shopping list forming. I better check…yep, I knew it, getting low on T.P again. I only have 18 rolls left and I can see the bottom of my 25 gallon drum of olive oil!

Wait! I gotta get a case of those energy drinks too! And I am down to my last jar of Dijon.

What is it about Costco that you always end up going about a hundred dollars over budget? Is it because of that 1.1kg bag of Jelly Bellies you grabbed at the end? The fact that you couldn’t turn down a 3.3 Liter jug of Kalamata olives for $14 bucks? Or was it the 2 dozen roses for $14.99 that caught your eye?

Anyway, even if your not a member yet, remember, there are some benefits to getting older, tied down, and suburbanized.

So we've found.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

So, who HAVE I cooked for?

Tonight, watching Prince gyrate around during the Super Bowl halftime show, two thoughts came to mind:

1) "Hey, I've cooked for that wild guy" and 2) "Who cares?"

No one, really.
It's such a minescule, pitiful claim to fame; but somedays when I see a perfectly crisp zucchini tempura stick or a fluffy warm blueberry muffin flung worthlessly under the high chair by Noah, it helps to take a deep breath and remind myself that, once upon a time, I DID have clients that appreciated my cooking.

Prince was one of them.
I remember he was in town to perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and he ate at the swanky place where I was working at the time. He was a vegetarian.
Since we're on the topic, here are a few more...
Goldie Hawn, Charlie Hayden, Empress of Japan, Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore, Patrice Brisebois, Gerard Depardieu, Ricardo
and piles of Quebec celebs, but you wouldn't have a clue who they are. I never did, but usually noticed when my co-workers flipped out over names like Annie Broccoli or Julie Schnider.

So there, Noah.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hop to a Food Shop in T-Dot

Toronto's CN Tower, Canada's tallest building, peaks through the grey haze.

We spent a few days in T-dot last weekend at my in-laws. My MIL and I went downtown a few times to check out the markets and foodie hotspots and I got a little glimpse of life in Montreal’s rival city.. Now I am pretty unbiased. I don’t have years of built up anger against Toronto, nor a fierce ambition to prove that we are the better city, have the better bagels, the better hockey team, etc. So, after seeing some charming areas and great markets, I found Toronto pretty cool; however, people could take a few hints from Montrealer’s on how to dress. I am no fashion expert, but I know a funny get-up when I see one!

We visited St Lawrence Market, which is great for picking up fresh meats, fish, bread vegetables and cheeses. I kept seeing bins full of something called “Montreal Bagels” which looked nothing like anything I had ever seen before, and the line up at St. Urbain Bagels was almost out the door. Hmm.

Famous Toronto Italian gourmet grocers, Pusateri’s, was quite the scene. The parking lot was jam packed with Mercedes, BMW’s and Jag’s; inside we found Toronto’s upper class selecting their bonbons, baguettes and biscotti for the weekend. Plenty of Gucci and Prada handbags were around, showing that these people don’t have to care about the over-priced store items. Here they find a great selection of chocolates, a coffee bar, a small deli, bakery, and all the staples to make this a one-stop shop, so why not?

I grabbed an Illy coffee at the bar and got yelled at for taking a photo of the pastry counter,
“No photographs inside the store!!”. (above picture)
Next to me a girl wearing Uggs, sweatpants, a down coat, and with a flashy handbag, yaked into her cell phone:

“Yeah, I’m at Poo’s. Need anything?”

Ah, I had seen enough.
Until next time, Toronto!


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