Ratatouille … One recipe… A big pot and so many yummy meals

This hearty country dish from the Provence region of France (Nice) is an easy mix of seasonal vegetables, garlic, aromatic herbs and olive oil.

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And yes, ratatouille is one of the summer dishes per excellence, not only in Provence but now in each region of France. In my family, we cook each time a large quantity, we enjoy this yummy vegetable stew with couscous, or we use the leftover as the main ingredient for different recipes during a week period.

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In my family, we plant tomatoes and zucchinis and we harvest a lot of them (giant zucchini!). Then, my sister in law – Isabelle spend some days during her holidays canning and/or freezing ratatouille. When I am in France, visiting them for Xmas, I have the opportunity to enjoy the taste of the sunny vegetables.

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I think it is time to cook and enjoy with amazing dish. This is my recipe:

Prep Time: 40 min                   Cook Time: 1 hour 20 min                     Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 large tomatoes

6 medium (or 3 large) zucchinis

4 small eggplants

3 medium bell peppers (one green, one red, one yellow)

1 onion

4 shallots

4 garlic cloves

1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs thyme, 3 to 4 curry leafs (facultative – it can be replaced by any aromatic herbs you like), 2 sprigs marjoram, 5 to 7 sprigs parsley)

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What is a bouquet garni?

It is a bunch of herbs that is added to casseroles, stocks, sauces and soups. It traditionally comprises parsley (or parsley stalks, which have lots of flavour), a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and other aromatics. These herbs may be bundled into a strip of leek or a piece of celery stalk, or tied in a muslin bag or with string, to keep them together during cooking and allow easy removal before serving

Basil

5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preparation

Wash all vegetables under warm water with a soft brush.

Dice the onion and mince the shallots.

Roughly chop the peppers, zucchinis, eggplants, and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Mince two garlic cloves. The vegetables will be cooked in batches, so keep each one in a separate bowl.

Why I recommend to use “the sauté each vegetable separately” method?

This dry-heat/high-heat method not only cooks off a lot of water from the vegetables but it helps concentrating their flavors. Another positive point, each piece of vegetable can brown and caramelize, which deepens and rounds out the flavor of the dish. Finally, the last benefit is that you can season each vegetable properly and cook it to just the right texture.

Warm two tablespoons of olive oil in a large (at least 5 1/2-quart) Dutch oven or in a non stick pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the eggplant until it has softened and has begun to turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot (or pan) and sauté the peppers until they have also softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the peppers to the bowl with the eggplants.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot (or pan) and sauté the zucchini with a generous pinch of salt until the zucchini has softened and is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the eggplants and peppers.

Add one tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven pot and add the onion, shallots and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion and shallots have softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan if any (good flavors).

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Add all the vegetables (i.e. peppers, zucchinis and eggplants) into the pot as well as the bouquet garni and some ground pepper, and stir until everything is evenly mixed.

Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low, half cover with lid. Stirring occasionally, simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; longer cooking times will break the vegetables down into a silky stew.

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I cook my ratatouille for 45 minutes (in general) at low heat and as you can see in the different pictures posted in this blog the pieces of vegetable are still distinct. With or without the lid, it really depends on how much juice I have in the pot – the idea is to reduce it if too much juice. Don’t rush your cooking process… I find cooking slowly helps to build and bring together the complexity of flavors.

Ten minutes before the cooking time ends, add two crushed garlic cloves and cover.

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Remove the bouquet garni. Sprinkle basil and a glug of good olive oil (if you want) over each bowl as you serve.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 3 months. Ratatouille is often better the second day, and it can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or warm.

Bonne Appetite!

Recipe Notes

If you want to make a smaller batch – cut in half the recipe and don’t be afraid to adapt it and use whatever vegetables you have.

You can add extra flavors – for something different, why not to try adding a tablespoon of smoked paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup of red wine, or a splash of vinegar to the ratatouille. 

Ideas for using your leftover ratatouille:

Serve over couscous, barley couscous or polenta with or without grilled chicken or roasted lamb

Use a scoop of cold ratatouille as part of a Niçoise salad, along with steamed new potatoes, green beans, tuna in oil, black olives, and hard-cooked egg. Drizzle with a lemon-garlic vinaigrette

Sunny and sophisticated vegetable soup – add some cold chicken stock and a little anise-flavored Pernod and mix with a blender

Pulse it in a food processor to a chunky purée, add mustard, vinegar and a dash of Tabasco, and you’ve got a spread for your sandwich or a dip for your pita chips

Mix ratatouille with some chopped brine-cured black olives, capers or anchovies, hot sauce or grated orange zest and pile onto toasted baguette slices as an appetizer

The French way, try vegetable pie, savory gratin or crumble (the new cooking trend in France) and why not, a savory flan like clafoutis

A healthy Sunday brunch or breakfast – ratatouille with poach eggs in the center and a splash of hot sauce (you can also add some crème fraiche et cheese on the top of each egg)

Fill an omelette with ratatouille and crumbled goat cheese

Pasta dish with ratatouille, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen

Vegetarian lasagna

Nestle three jumbo shrimp (peeled and deveined) in individual gratin dishes filled with ratatouille. Top with Greek black olives, crumbled feta, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake until the shrimp are pink and everything’s hot and bubbly, and serve as a first course

Grill some meaty fish steaks, such as halibut, tuna, or swordfish, and top with a spoonful of ratatouille and a squeeze of lemon

References for some of the “leftover use” suggestions:

The New Ratatouille

Ratatouille leftovers

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Socca … An easy going but delicious Provençal street food

One funny thing, I never ate socca when living in France. I went to Provence several times, but never to Nice specifically (the kingdom of socca).

How did I discover socca?

In little India, here in Toronto. Funny! We were in an Indian restaurant, enjoying our vegetarian meal. As we try not to eat too much meat, we were looking for inspiration – some ideas for “meatless meals”, and we started to look at the different ingredients used in vegetarian Indian recipes. Chickpea flour was one main ingredient of the food we were eating, and I started to look on internet what we could do with this flour… and this is how we have discovered that chickpea flour is used since a long time and with a lot of success in French cuisine.

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Socca and Cade are Provençal pancakes that go back at least to 1860. Cade de Toulon, probably the most ancient, was made from corn flour and the Socca de Nice that evolved from it is made from chick-pea flour. In that ancient time, there were cade/socca sellers at the marchés and at work sites where they provided the favorite morning meal of the workers. The cade/socca sellers used special wagons with built-in charcoal ovens to keep their wares hot while they announced them with the appropriate cries of “cada, cada, cada” or “socca, socca, socca caouda”. Some of the ambulatory socca/cade sellers (or their descendents) are still to be found in the markets at Nice, Toulon and la Seyne-sur-Mer, where the slices are served in paper cones. In Nice, the Cave Ricord restaurant has been selling socca continuously for the past 80 years.

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Socca is a simple but easy to love traditional Provence street food made of chickpeas flour. Yesteryear, it was cooked using a large round (50-70 cm diameter) copper “pie tin” (plaque) in a very hot wood-fired oven for about six minutes, until the top is golden. The copper is important for spreading the heat evenly. Nowadays, you can cook socca in the oven or on the stove in a cast iron skillet. Personally, I like to use a good quality non stick skillet or a non stick cookie sheet because socca can badly stick to your pan. I have experienced this misadventure several times in the past before I decided to switch for a non stick skillet. You can make your socca really fine and crispy, or a little more thick – still crispy outside but creamy inside. Yummy!

Chick peas (like chick pea flour) is gluten free and really nutritious: 22 grams protein and 11 grams fiber per 100 grams as well as a low glycemic index that help to control hunger cravings (satiety). It can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and it is a good source of minerals (like magnesium (41% daily value) and phosphorus (32%) – essential to healthy bones, potassium (24%) – help keep fluids and minerals in balance in the body and regulates blood pressure, and also iron (24%), zinc (19%), copper (46%), and manganese (80%) per 100 grams) as well as vitamins (thiamin (32%) and vitamin B6 (25%) – two of the B vitamins that help you convert food into energy, folate (104%) – essential to red blood cell development and the prevention of certain birth defects and vitamin K (11%) per 100 grams).

Unfortunately, chickpeas, like all nuts and seeds, grains and pulses, contain food phytate that can bind minerals, and prevent their full absorption. Furthermore, chickpeas, like other pulses, can be difficult to digest. However, the minerals in chickpeas like the minerals in other pulses, grains and nuts, are better absorbed when the chickpeas are prepared properly through sprouting, soaking or souring.   These traditional processes render the minerals found in these different foods more bioavailable, and can also render the bean easier to digest.

For this specific recipe, I am using the souring technique – i.e. soaking the chickpea flour overnight (or for 24 hours) in an acidic environment (lemon juice or beer + lemon juice). It also gives the final flatbread a wonderful, faint, tartness that complements the naturally earthy, nutty flavor of the chickpeas.

I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe:

Adapted from Nourished Kitchen recipe.

Prep Time: 12 to 24 hours                            Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 1 thick 12.5 inches pancake or two thin 7 inches pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup chickpea flour

3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (or only 2 teaspoons lemon juice if you use beer)

1 1/4 cups water (or 3/4 cup American Pale Ale beer + 1/2 cup water)

I will recommend to use a light beer for this recipe like the American Pale Ale from Black Oak. I find its buttered bread, english muffin kind of malt taste works perfectly with the naturally earthy, nutty flavor of the chickpeas. The hops flavors are also present with a soft aftertaste bitterness.

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for greasing the pan

1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt

 

Instructions

Dump the chickpea flour into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and water (or beer + water + lemon juice). Cover the bowl, and allow it to rest at room temperature at least 12 and up to 24 hours.

Whisk in olive oil and salt, until it forms a thin, smooth batter.

Film a non stick pan with oil and set over medium-high heat. Pour in the socca batter. Decrease temperature to medium heat. After about 8 to 10 minutes (shorter time if you are using a smaller pan) when the edges are firm, gently lift the pancake and flip it. Cook on the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes, until both surfaces are dry and beginning to brown.

Gently remove the socca from the pan, continue with the remaining half of the batter if you are using a smaller pan. Cut into squares, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little good olive oil.

Socca is best if eaten immediately after baking while still warm, but can be refrigerated (keep it in aluminium foil) and re-toasted for up to a week.

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Socca is delicious sprinkled with salt and pepper and served with some olive oil, cured olives, cherry tomatoes, Mediterranean cheese… You can also be inspired and creative – use or serve socca with whatever you happen to like (some great ideas here).

Bonne Appetite!

French green salad with Imperial IPA beer jelly vinaigrette, pickled cherry and pecorino cheese

A green salad is the corner stone of every meal in France – It can be the first course, or a side dish with the main course for lunch, or your main dish with cheese or a hardboiled egg for dinner.

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One important aspect and characteristic of the French green salad is the vinaigrette or “sauce moutarde”. It must be very mustardy. This was, and is still like this in my family in Burgundy. A strong mustard, the Dijon mustard… is the star!

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As a French expatriate, there are some food products that I can’t live without… and mustard is number one in my list. I can eat American mustard with hot dogs or with my burger but not in a salad dressing. Dijon mustard was the one in France, Dijon mustard is still the one in Canada.

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And let you go, be a real French! Don’t be afraid to make things “au pif’ or “by the nose”. We do this all the time when it comes to salad dressing.

 

Good quality mustard, shallot and/or garlic, a mild but flavourful wine vinegar and a good vegetable oil. This is the perfect combination!

No red wine balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil with Dijon mustard… There would be too much competition between so many good and tasty ingredients. You really want to taste and enjoy the flavor of the mustard.

Don’t get me wrong! I love red wine balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil with salad or other vegetables but without mustard.

As a food artisan start-up, the beer jelly is my leading product. A breakthrough for me! it pairs so marvellously with cheeses (like pecorino cheese with peppercorns) and it is easy to use when you are cooking … a teaspoon here or there.

Imperial IPA beer jelly (because of the hops flavor) works perfectly in a salad dressing and complements very well the taste of the green leaves. It is a must to try! A simple dish like a green salad can be so tasty… a symphony of flavours. You won’t look behind you after.

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If you are not living in Toronto (e-commerce for Canada available soon on my company website), you can find a similar product in USA. If not, I suggest you replace the beer jelly with apple cider jelly or apple jelly. Try to find one that is not too sweet, and in this case use apple cider vinegar.

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I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe:

French Imperial IPA beer jelly vinaigrette

A few simple ingredients that can come together so well, when done right. A symphony of flavors!

 

Makes about 60 ml (1/4 cup), enough for one large green salad

Ingredients

A pinch (1/8 teaspoon) sea salt

1 tablespoon white balsamic wine vinegar

1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon) (facultative)

A generous teaspoon Dijon originale mustard like Maille

A generous teaspoon old style mustard like Maille

1 teaspoon of Imperial IPA beer jelly (or apple cider jelly or apple jelly)

3 to 4 tablespoons (45 ml to 60 ml) vegetable oil like sunflower

Fresh ground pepper

Fresh herbs, if desired

 

Preparation

In a large bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

Shallot is the chic cousin of onion. When marinated in vinegar, it gets soften and adds an attention-grabbing flavor to the dressing because of its slight bite. A must, you need to try!

Mix in the two mustards, beer jelly (or apple cider jelly), then add 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of vegetable oil and freshly ground peppercorns. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional vegetable oil and more salt, if necessary.

You can add fresh herbs, but it’s better to chop and mix them just before serving so they retain their flavor.

You can keep this salad dressing for about eight hours at room temperature. If you want to make it farther in advance, as I suggest previously, add the shallots and the fresh herbs closer to serving so they don’t loose their fragrance.

 

French green salad with pickled black cherry, pecorino cheese and Imperial IPA beer jelly vinaigrette 

4 servings            Preparation 15 minutes

 

Ingredients

1 Head red leaf lettuce (leaves torn) or a large bag of mixed baby green leaves

50 grams (1/4 cup) of pickled black cherry, pitted and sliced

100 grams (3 ounces) pecorino cheese with peppercorns, shaved or cut in small cubs

You can also use a local cheese like pepper potts cheese. This cheese is rubbed in freshly cracked pepper and aged for 18 months. it is a pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese made in Sudbury, Ontario. A traditional Tuscan-style pecorino recipe!

Salad dressing (recipe above)

Salt and peppercorn

 

Directions

In the large bowl that contains the French Imperial IPA beer vinaigrette, add the lettuce (or mixed green leaves), pickled cherries and half of pecorino and toss to coat. Top with rest of pecorino.

Add fresh ground peppercorns and salt if necessary.

Green Salad with Imperial IPA vinaigrette

Bon Appetite!

Pickeld Black Cherry

Each year during the summer season, I try new recipes for jam and pickle or I rediscover something I was making with my grandmother Adele in Burgundy. This year, because of my cooking class, I have decided to make pickled black cherry. Never made it, never eat it! This is a premiere.

Easy to prepare – less than 30 minutes. You can choose the spices and aromatics that you would like to infuse your cherries with. However, you need to be patient , at least one month (better two months) before to open the jar and enjoy this treat with pâté, cured meat and local artisan cheese, or mix into stuffing and pie fillings, or add to a rich sauce made with wine or beer, or in a salad like us (recipe will come next in my blog). It needs some time to be able to develop its full potential of flavours and be ready to tickle your taste buds.

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This is also the perfect gift for Christmas or when you go visiting friends… add a nice cheese, a bottle of wine or a pack of craft beers, a nice artisan bread or some crackers. The perfect combination for an impromptu culinary experience.

I think it is time to pickle, this is my recipe:

Adapted from Epicurious.

Yield: Makes 3 X 250 ml jars

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

200 ml (1 cup) distilled white vinegar

200 ml (1 cup) water

30 grams (1/4 cup) sugar

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 to 3 cloves

2 to 3 cardamom pods

3 curry leaves or 1 bay leaf

450 grams (1 pound) fresh rip cherries

3 small rosemary sprigs

Preparation

Wash the cherries as described previously (20 to 30 minutes in 10% white vinegar solution) and pat dry. Cut the stems to keep 1 inch, and don’t remove the stones as these add flavour to your finished product, just remember to warn guests about the pits.

Wash the seals (or lids) and jars in hot soapy water and rinse well. Set the seal aside in simmer hot water and place the jar in the oven on a moderate temperature (about 200 F degrees) for 10 minutes.

Bring the first 10 ingredients to a boil in a medium stainless-steel saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 5 minutes.

Add cherries and rosemary to saucepan. Simmer until cherries are tender, it will take 3-5 minutes.

Transfer cherries and rosemary to 250 ml jars. Pour in enough pickling liquid to cover cherries.

Seal the jar straight away and chill, and leave for 2 months before eating.

Will keep in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year. Once opened store in the fridge and eat within 3 weeks.

Strain before serving.

Bon Appetite!

 

 

Roasted Duck Legs with Oatmeal Brown Ale Beer and Cherry Sauce

The first time I have discovered the possibility to cook duck with cherry was in France. My brother Jean Michel had offered me a cooking book for my 20th anniversary: Larousse Traditional French Cooking by Curnonsky.

Maurice Edmond Sailland was an interesting man. Better known by his pen-name Curnonsky, and dubbed the Prince of Gastronomy, he was the most celebrated writer on gastronomy in France in the 20th century. He was also a prolific fictional author (over 65 books and enormous numbers of newspaper columns) , a bon-vivant, a raconteur and a gourmand (he wrote several cookbooks). He is often considered the inventor of gastronomic motor-tourism as popularized by Michelin, though he himself could not drive.

He advocated simple food over complicated, rustic over refined, and he has often repeated the phrase:

Et surtout, faites simple!

And above all, keep it simple!

I have read his book like a captivating novel, I have prepared many of his recipes…and I have learnt so much from the 1, 5000 recipes he has collected in his cookbook. Thanks Jean Michel for this gift!

Duck and cherry, I have tried this combination many times – or something similar to this recipe – using the whole duck or the ]breasts with red Burgundy wine instead of beer. The first time, it was specifically for my grandfather Paul. Both my grandparents Adele and Paul had a farm and a luxuriant orchard and garden. I have spent so many summers with them, enjoying cooking and making jam and preserving with my grandmother Adele, harvesting the products of their farm and orchard with my grandfather Paul. It was a way to honor him … a fantastic roasted duck with his sour cherries. A little of nostalgia …. but also great memories!

I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe.

4 servings      Preparation 30 minutes            Cooking 2 hours and 15 minutes

 

Ingredients

4 duck legs, skin on

Salt and pepper

3 chopped shallots

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup oatmeal brown ale beer

The recipe for this classic French dish is quite standard. You can use red wine or Porto as well as Stout, but I wanted something different, lighter and well balance. The red wine, like the stout, can be overpowering (thick and heavy sometime – more for winter cooking), and as a result, the cherries would play only a second role.

Left-Field-Brewing-First-edits-Photos-by-Mark-Horsley-4As a result, for this recipe, I have decided to use a brown Ale, more specifically the Oatmeal Brown Ale Eephus, from Left Field Brewery.

Left Field Brewery is my neighbour here in Toronto East. One among the vibrant local craft breweries in Ontario! I love to go there and order a sampling of their beers. I bring some food (like cherry), a book about pairing beer with cheese and/or food. I let my imagination wander, and I decide if one of their beers might be an interesting addition to my food and cooking research and development adventure.

Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale (5.5% alcohol) is malty and nutty, well balanced but on the sweet side, with a touch of bitterness. The perfect pairing for the dark cherry!

The sauce is smooth with a mild but intricate rich flavor and a touch of bitterness. It balances perfectly the aroma of the dark cherry and work perfectly with duck. A must to try!

250 to 300 grams (1 ½ cups) dark sweet cherries

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon butter

A few drops of Tabasco chipotle smoky sauce

Black pepper

Salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 F degree.

Pat the skin of the duck leg with a kitchen towel.

Prick the skin of the leg all over (taking care not to pierce the meat).

Season duck legs with salt and pepper.

Place the duck legs skin side down in a cold skillet large enough to accommodate them comfortably. Turn heat to medium, and cook until skin is scrip and mahogany colored (between 6 to 10 minutes). Turn legs over and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack on a roasting tray (or a baking dish) and cook in the middle of the oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours for optimal outcome, i.e. until legs are very tender. Transfer legs to a platter and keep warm (cover with foil).

One thing you need to keep in mind, it is almost impossible to overcook duck legs. Don’t be afraid to let them for more than 1 hour in the oven. The first time I did this recipe, I worried so much and I have removed the duck legs after 50 minutes, mostly because the duck legs have exceeded the optimal cooking temperature of 180 F degree. Yes, for sure it was cooked but it was not tender. I put back in the over the second leg for an extra 40 minutes, and it was perfectly tender after spending extra time in the oven.

Then, these are my two advices: keep in mind the size of the leg (small, medium or large) and start to check if the duck is cooked and tender (using a knife) after 1 hour in the oven … and stay Zen!

Two more tips:

You can reduce the oven to 200 F degree and keep the duck in a warm environment until ready to serve for up to 1 hour.

To crisp the skin back up (it can become soft in the oven), preheat the broiler and place the duck under the broiler for a few minutes, keeping a very close eye to make sure the duck doesn’t burn.

Pour out the drippings from the skillet into a storage container and reserve it for later use.

While the duck is almost cooked, make the cherry sauce.

In the skillet used to brown the duck legs over medium high heat add 2 tablespoons duck fat from the reserved dripping. Add the shallots and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add brown ale, pitted cherries cut in half, soy sauce, maple syrup, Tabasco sauce and black pepper. Deglaze the pan by scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (this is going to give an extra yummy taste to the sauce). Allow to boil, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 8 minutes.

Swirl in the butter and rectify seasoning if needed.

Spoon the sauce over the duck just prior to serving, or serve alongside.

The perfect side dish: potatoes as well as French green beans.

Bonne Appetite!

A little of science…

Some nutritional information about Duck:

Duck is not only a richly flavored meat well-suited to strong accompaniments like fruit and potent spices, it is also nutritious.

Duck is rich in dietary protein (11 grams per 100 grams), which helps boost satiety.

Despite the fact it is a significant source of saturated fat, duck is also a good source of monounsaturated fat (almost 50% of the total duck fat contain) – the same fat found in unrefined olive oil, avocados and pastured lard that is renowned for its ability to increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, duck fat is situated between butter and olive oil when we compared their fat composition.

Duck meat is both mineral- and vitamin-rich. It is a rich source of niacin (vitamin B6 – 50% daily requirement per 100 grams serving):

This vitamin plays a vital role in the metabolism of fats in the body. It has also been established to have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Niacin helps to reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which when oxidized forms plaque in the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease. Good choice of meat if you want to promote your cardiovascular health.

Niacin also supports genetic processes. Components of cellular genetic material require niacin for their production. Inadequate niacin in the diet can cause DNA damage. Niacin also helps to stabilize blood sugar and regulates the metabolism of insulin. This makes duck a good dietary item for diabetics.

It is also a good source of riboflavin (12% daily requirement per 100 grams serving), selenium (43%) and iron (13%).

Dark Cherry Clafoutis

Oh my, this is one of my favorite desserts during the summer . Easy to do, luxurious, wobbly, custardy, light but flavourful, healthy and so tasty.

Clafoutis is one among so many different French fruity desserts that we can enjoy during the summer season. It is a speciality of the Limousin region, where it is traditionally made with the local black griottes, or sour cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter.

There are numerous variations using other fruits, including plums, prunes, apples, pears, rhubarb, figues, cranberries or blackberries. When other kinds of fruit are used instead of cherries, the dish is properly called a “flaugnarde”. You can also prepare a savory version with different vegetables like cherry tomatoes, shallot, zucchini, spinach… You can also add ham and cheese. Children will love it!

Clafoutis is a versatile and casual dish, a little rustic for sure but so tasty. So feel free to personalize it, your family and friends will love it.

The name “clafoutis” comes from the Occitan dialect word claufir, to cover or fill. And it is exactly what this dessert does, very pleasurably, indeed.

Traditionally, a French clafoutis contains the whole cherries (i.e. with the pits). Over the past few weeks, I read a lot about cherry clafoutis and I have found several recipes that call for removing the pits – some important authors: Julia Child and David Lebovitz, to name some of the well known North American French cuisine gurus.

The idea of removing the pits is a difficult decision for me. I live in North America and I understand that it is important to adapt recipes to the audience we would like not only to reach but also to engage in a culinary journey. However, I really want to share with people the pleasure of French food and the essence of what makes our cooking style that is prepared using simple ingredients so tasty.

I have a lot of thoughts about this dilemma. It is true that I am under the influence of the French tradition and the fact that I don’t want to be too “Americanized” – stubborn French girl!

But to be honest, it is more complicated than this. It relates to my childhood, my grandmother Adele’s clafoutis, the way she taught me how to make this recipe, and the sweet and lip-smacking souvenirs associated with this dish. A real gourmandise! And honestly, I really think I will be so disappointed to discover after so many decades of delicious cherry clafoutis that the fact of keeping the pits doesn’t make any difference at all. The flavour is the same with or without the pits!

Then, I have decided that I will leave to you the decision to remove or not the pits. The only thing I can do is to give you the “food science” explanation of why we need to keep the pits when doing this specific dish – to be able to make the most delicious clafoutis!

According to The Larousse – one of the most prestigious series of French cooking books, the pits have a particular aroma which infuses the batter as they warm up in the oven. As a result, removing them robs the dessert of its full cherry flavour. The pits contain amygdalin, the active chemical found in almond extract. Thus, a small amount of amygdalin from the pits is released into the clafoutis during baking, adding a complementary note to its flavor.

If you decide to remove the pits, you can add some of this flavourful characteristic by adding 1/8 teaspoon almond extract. This is the secret!

I think it is time to cook. This is my recipe for a true French cherry Clafoutis.

 

8 servings          Preparation 3 hours and 30 minutes                    Cooking 45 minutes

Ingredients

600 grams (1.32 pounds) sweet cherries

45 ml (3 tablespoons) kirsch or other brandy

3 large eggs, at room temperature

70 grams (½ cup) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract (only if you pit the cherries)

80 grams (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) plus 45g (3 tablespoons) sugar

330ml (1 1/3 cup) whole or low fat milk

Pinch of salt

Softened butter (for the baking dish)

 

Preparation

Wash the cherries and remove the stalks.

SONY DSC

If you are not buying organic cherry, it is really important to wash them appropriately to remove as much as pesticides you can. Cherry is one of the “Dirty Dozen” among the fruit and vegetable list. I recommend to simply wash them in a solution of distilled white vinegar and water. You can soak the cherries in a solution of 10% vinegar for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse them in clear water. Using this technique, you should be able to remove 80% of all pesticides.

Put in a bowl and lightly crush them, so the skins pop but the fruit retains its shape. Add 3 tablespoons sugar and the kirsch, toss together, cover and leave to macerate for two hours.

If you use pitted cherry, you don’t need to crush them but you will have some juice. Do not discard it, you can add some to the batter.

Why is it important to macerate the fruit in kirsch (or other brandy) and sugar for two hours before cooking?

This is a technique I use a lot when I am doing jam. The sugar will slowly permeate the cherries and intensify their flavour. The alcoholic bath will give an extra flavour.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

Grease generously a 3-liter (3-quart) baking dish, just wide enough to hold the cherries in one layer.

Lay the macerated cherries in a single layer in the baking dish.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt and the 80 grams of sugar. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the milk until you have a smooth batter. Stir in the vanilla extract and almond essence, if using it.

Pour the batter over the cherries and bake for about 45 minutes, until it just sets but it is still a bit wobbly (a knife poked in the center should emerge relatively clean).

If you want you can sprinkle some Demerara sugar on the top (it will add a more interesting texture, providing a crunchy counterpoint to all that wobbly custard and juicy fruits).

The clafoutis can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. It’s traditionally not served with any accompaniment.

You can make it up to one to two days in advance, and refrigerated it.

Bonne Appetite!

 

A little of science…

Nutritional and health value of cherry – A way to boost your energy and your overall health

There are two primary varieties of cherries: sweet and tart (also known as sour cherries). Sweet cherries, such as Bing cherries, are best eaten fresh (and raw), while sour cherries develop a fuller flavor when they’re used in cooking (like baking).

Cherries are one of the very low calorie fruits (63 calories, 13 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fibre per 100 grams).

Cherries, and more specifically sour cherries (mostly because most of the research done so far has been done with sour cherry), are packed with numerous health benefiting compounds that are essential for wellness.

It is important to keep in mind, if you eat cherries for their therapeutic value, that 10 sweet cherries or 1 cup of sour cherries contain about 4 grams of fructose (recommended total daily fructose consumption ≤ 25 grams).

Below are some of the benefits eating different kinds of cherry:

Be Zen and sleep well

Cherry fruits are one of few natural sources of stable anti-oxidant melatonin, a hormone that can lower the body temperature and also can cross the blood-brain barrier easily. As a result, it can produce soothing effects on the brain neurons, calming down the nervous system irritability, which helps relieve neurosis, insomnia and headache conditions. To sleep better, you can drink half to one cup of sour cherry juice an hour before bed.

Balance your blood pressure and maintain your heart as young as possible

Sweet cherries contains potassium (6% daily value per 100 grams), a natural blood-pressure reducer. Potassium balances fluids in our bodies, essentially offsetting the blood-pressure-raising effects of sodium. One cup of these ruby gems packs roughly the same amount of potassium as a small banana and also contains some quercetin, an antioxidant that may help keep blood vessels relaxed and stretched.

Sour cherries provide cardiovascular benefits equal to some medications, and can improve the result even when taken with prescriptions.

Finally, anthocyanins (the pigments that give the sour cherries its red color) may activate a receptor called PPAR in different tissues of body. It can regulate metabolism genes expression, which in turn regulates fat and glucose levels and thereby reduce risk factors for high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.

Relieve muscle pain

Scientific studies have shown that anthocyanins in the cherries may act like anti-inflammatory agents by blocking the actions of cyclooxygenase-1 and -2 enzymes. Interestingly, the sour cherries’ antioxidants can also protect against attacks by exercise-induced free radicals, which can lead to painful inflammation. Thus, consumption of cherries has potential health effects against chronic painful episodes such as gout, arthritis, fibromyalgia (painful muscle condition) and sports injuries like post-workout pain.

Fight cancer

Sweet cherries are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, anthocyanins (red, purple or blue pigments found in many fruits and vegetables, especially concentrated in their skin, known to have powerful anti-oxidant properties) and quercetin, which may work together synergistically to fight cancer. Interestingly, preliminary studies suggest the anthocyanin cyanidin may prevent genetic mutations that can lead to cancer and keep cancer cells from growing out of control. While tart cherries contain some anthocyanins, sweet cherries pack nearly three times as many (two-thirds are found in the skins). The riper the better: as cherries darken, they produce more antioxidants.

Shape your body and overall health through weight management

Anthocyanins in sour cherries may activate a molecule that helps augment fat burning and decrease fat storage. Recently, researchers have shown that rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet didn’t gain as much weight or build up as much body fat as rats that didn’t receive cherries. Interestingly, their blood also showed much lower levels of certain inflammation markers linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than their cherry-deprived counterparts.

Let’s eat some sour cherries when they are in season!

References

http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/cherry_nutrition_benefits

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/natasha-turner-nd/cherries-benefits_b_3757989.html

Bacon Sauteed Spinach

Green vegetables… Oh, my! We all know that we need to add them to our diet in a daily basis. This is so important for your health, but some days it is hard. Too busy, too tired… I am facing the same issues. Finding quick ways to cook veggies help us to keep on track.

I love spinach and I have learnt to cook them here in Canada, more exactly to cook them differently.

In France, we have had the tendency (30 to 40 years ago… I am not sure if we are still doing this nowadays) to boil mostly all the vegetables before to “sauté” them in butter or olive oil. Imagine the impact of boiling for several minutes delicate on vegetable like mushroom and spinach. Yaqui … the spinach turns dark green/kaki color and has no taste, and the mushrooms’ texture is similar to rubber without any flavor. I have grew up learning this technique of cooking… no questioning at that time about taste or texture!

Cooking in Canada was a new adventure where I have learnt to cook vegetable differently. During my first few years here, I shared my apartment with Chinese girls, students like me at University of Toronto, who are my friends now. They were exceptional cooks. I have learnt how to cook Chinese food, and more importantly I have discovered the technique of stir fry, and this technique has changed my life – more specifically my way to cook vegetable. I am not cooking anymore the same way, and cooking vegetable is now my number one talent. Thanks to the Chinese cuisine!

Stir fry takes only a few minutes. It is an easy way to cook spinach (no excuse like I am too busy) and keep the overall nutritional and health value of this fantastic veggie.

As I have explained in a previous blog, spinach is one of the best sources of magnesium… so important for your health.

Magnesium is a key nutrient that contributes to overall cellular health and plays an important role in more than 300 different bodily functions. For example, magnesium is needed to regulate calcium, potassium and sodium, which together all control neuromuscular signals and muscle contractions. This is why a magnesium deficiency can sometimes result in muscle pains and cramps. Magnesium deficiency is also associated with insomnia, mood disturbances, headaches, high blood pressure, and an increased risk for diabetes. One major concern is the fact that a lot of adults in developed nations are actually experiencing a magnesium deficiency. The good news is, magnesium in spinach stays intact after being cooked.

Another important aspect is the fact that if you are cooking spinach with some fat, you are going to improve the absorption of its mineral and vitamins content. You can use, vegetable oil or why not, grass-fed butter, pastured lard or bacon fat. I am using bacon in this recipe, for extra taste. This is the Chinese way to cook vegetable with a little of ground pork meat for taste.

Why bacon?

As explained so nicely in a blog of Nourished Kitchen, lard is still on disgrace, and this despite the fact that monounsaturated fat, the same fat that makes olive oil and avocados so healthy, is the primary fatty acid in lard (~ 40-45% of the fat content). The remaining 55-60% is a combination of saturated fat (~37-42%) and polyunsaturated fat (~ 18-23%).

Lard is also a potently rich source of vitamin D, the second richest source after cod liver oil. This is only the case if the fat comes from pasture-raised hogs. Hogs, like humans and unlike cows, are monogastric animals and they manufacture vitamin D in their skin which makes their fat extraordinarily rich in this fat-soluble vitamin.

To date, up to 60 to 70% of the Canadian population is suffering from insufficient and deficient levels of this vitamin as sunlight alone is typically not adequate in replenishing vitamin D stores and some should be consumed in the diet. The inclusion of pastured lard as well as supplementary cod liver oil and the eating of oily fish helps to ensure you get plenty vitamin D which is essential for proper immune system function, cognitive health, regulation of inflammation, calcium absorption and overall systemic wellness.

Try to add some pasture-raised lard or bacon to your diet.

I think it is time to cook, this is my recipe.

2 to 4 servings                            Preparation 5 minutes                             Cooking 8 to 12 minutes

 

Ingredients

1 to 2 slices of pastured bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips

2 bunches baby spinach

Peppercorn

 

Preparation

Rinse the spinach well in cold water to make sure it’s very clean. Spin it dry in a salad spinner, leaving just a little water clinging to the leaves.

In a very large pan or skillet over medium heat, cook bacon for 5 to 7 minutes until it begins to get a nice brown color or you begin to salivate at the incredible smell. – Increase heat to medium/high, and fill skillet with as much spinach as will fit. Season with pepper. Cook, tossing spinach and adding more as it wilts (it may take up to 2 minutes to fit it all). Continue to cook until tender, 1 to 3 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, lift the spinach to a serving bowl that contain beer infused rice pilaf or rice and quinoa. Serve hot.

Bonne Appetite!