Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate and Pistachio Yule Log

The traditional Christmas yule log has been our dessert of choice for years during the holidays - and this year I finally made my own. The versatility of this dessert is great. You can flavor the filling however you choose and add flavoring to the genoise cake too. You can also make a simple whipped cream to cover the cake instead of the more traditional Christmassy buttercream. I loved the green color of the cake - it made it look wonderfully festive for a night of family gathering around a plethora of food.

For the genoise:
4 eggs
120 grams of sugar
60 grams of flour
60 grams of powdered pistachios
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 container of mascarpone
2 tablespoons of melted dark chocolate, cooled
For the buttercream:
2 eggs
100 grams of confectioner's sugar
250 grams of butter
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

For the genoise:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Separate the yolks from the whites. In a bowl, mix the yolks and sugar until the mixture whitens. Add the flour, and powdered pistachio gradually. In a separate bowl, add the pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites in the yolk mixture until the mixture is homogeneous and smooth.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the batter to form a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Even out the batter using a spatula. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cake is done when you can gently press the cake with your thumb and the imprint disappears after a couple seconds.
Mix the mascarpone and melted chocolate in a bowl while the cake is baking, and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Lay a damp dish towel onto a flat surface and cover with a large piece of parchment paper. Once the cake is done, immediately invert it onto the parchment paper. Gently start rolling the cake (as you would sushi) until you form a log. This must be done while the cake is still warm in order for it not to crack. Leave the rolled cake to cool down.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk while progressively adding the sugar. Continue beating it over a bain-marie until the mixture thickens. Remove it from the heat and continue beating it until it cools completely. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and salt using an electric mixer until it ressembles whipped cream (5-10 minutes). Add the vanilla. Add the butter to the cooled egg mixture. The eggs must be cooled in order not to curdle. Mix until the buttercream is homogenous.
To assemble:
Unroll the cake and gently spread the mascarpone mixture on one side. Make sure the layer is even and not to close to the borders. Gently roll the cake up again. An additional, optional step is to wrap the entire cake in plastic wrap, twist it at the ends, and let sit in the fridge for 20 minutes to compress the layers together. Cover the cake with buttercream and decorate as you please. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Venetian Food Delights

Recent traveling has made it difficult to post as much as I would want, but here is a little taste of the beauties found in the fish and vegetable market in Venice. More is to come, this is just a little amuse-bouche!

From left to right, red beans by the dozen, fruit and vegetables ready to be tasted by a passing bird, fresh sardines, purple artichokes, zucchini flowers, fresh scallops being served, octopus and a view of the Venice outdoor fish market at closing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grapefruit, Avocado and Mint Salad

As I can tell from the recent pictures I published on tastespotting, Christmas spirit in truly taken over the food-blogosphere! I couldn't get enough of all your wonderful cookie pictures, and published a dozen in the past hour alone. Well, I am in the Christmas spirit too, and have a list of cookies and treats I want to make for the celebration. I'm sure you all agree that the holidays can however also be a little over-bearing. Sometimes, as a counterpart to all the craziness, I need a simple salad to get me through. This does it every time. Although, this salad is wonderful on a warm summer day, I also find it deliciously refreshing when you want something light but still satisfying in the winter. So here goes! I also love this salad because the acidity of the grapefruit helps to keep the avocado nice and green (as does the lemon in the dressing) so it's easy to make in advance for entertaining. However, if after a light meal you still want a treat, chocolate truffles, lemon ricotta cookies or panettone and chocolate bread pudding should surely do, right?

Recipe (for 4)
1 large grapefruit, cut into wedges
1 large avocado, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
A handful of mint leaves

Mix the grapefruit and avocado in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil and lemon. Taste the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the salad and garnish with fresh mint. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Panettone and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Bread pudding has always been a great way to use up stale bread and give it a wonderful luscious second life. In French, bread pudding is called "pain perdu" which literally means lost bread - and was one of the great recipes cooks came up with to use leftovers. So by all means, this recipe could be made with sourdough stale bread, or any kind of bread that can be sunk in a flavorful liquid, but I cheated a little. I used panettone, a wonderfully fragrant Italian bread that resembles coffee cake. You can find panettone made with dried fruit, and all kind of elaborate concoctions. The bread itself is slightly sweet and dry and soaks up custard in the most beautiful way. I'm not sure the picture really does the dessert justice: when you take it out of the oven, the bread puffs up, the custard is almost bubbly and the chocolate seeps through. I took the picture a little late (yes.. I had to taste one of the batches first) so the bread isn't at its puffed potential, but I'm sure you get the idea!

Recipe (serves 4)
2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of white sugar
1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small panettone loaf with candied lemon and raisins
2 tablespoons of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Butter, to butter the ramekins
4 oven-proof individual-sized ramekins

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, Grand Marnier, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Roughly slice the pannetone into one inch cubes. Butter the ramekins and place half of the panettone cubes at the bottom of each. Disperse 1/2 tablespoon of chocolate in each ramekin and cover with the remaining panettone. Pour the egg mixture over the panettone, and lightly push down with a fork until the panettone is covered with egg mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the egg mixture is just set. Serve warm with chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Herbed Shrimp Brochettes with Mango and Red Onion Salsa

This recipe is inspired from a dish I used to make when I worked in the catering business. We used to serve individual bite-size shrimp skewers with a dipping mango sauce as a canape to be passed around by waiters at cocktail parties. The basic premise is that mango and shrimp are a great pairing, and that marinating the shrimp in herbs gives it great freshness and flavor. I like to serve it in a more casual way for family and friends, but it's easily made suitable for a fancier occasion.

I find shrimp to be a surprisingly easy ingredient to use. Meats, chicken and fish can be a little tougher because you often have to use a thermometer, or know how to touch the product to know its level of done-ness. Shrimp however, is done when it's entirely pink in color, which is generally very fast! The trick, I think, is to not overcook it, because it can quickly become rubbery and chewy. For this shrimp marinade, just be sure never to use the juice from the lime because the acidity in the juice will cook the shrimp in no time. To me, the more shrimp, the merrier!

Recipe (for 8 brochettes)
32 medium sized shrimp
2 green onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup of cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of parsley, coarsely chopped
12 large mint leaves
Zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
8 skewers

Juice of 1 lime
1 mango, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
5 mint leaves, roughly chopped

In a blender, add the green onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, mint and zest. Blend until the mixture is homogeneous. Continue blending while slowly adding the olive oil. The final result should look like a thick and chunky pesto. Season with black pepper. Place the mixture into a sealable plastic bag. Add the uncooked, peeled and de-veined shrimp. Close the bag and move the shrimp around to make sure the marinade coats each and every one. Marinate for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably for 24 hours in the fridge.

Take the shrimp out of the fridge half and hour before you want to make it. Soak the skewers in a bowl full of water for 20 minutes to prevent them from burning. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Season the shrimp with salt and place 4 shrimp on each skewer. Place the skewers in one layer on an aluminum-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the shrimp has just entirely turned pink in color.

While the shrimp is cooking, make the salsa. Add the diced mango and red onion in a bowl. Add the lime juice and stir. Add the chopped mint and stir again.

Serve the warm shrimp with the salsa. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

4 Ways with Chocolate Truffles

I love making these truffles anytime there is something to celebrate: they're always a great treat to bring over for a dinner party or for a potluck and are delicious. I used to make regular cocoa-dipped truffles for years, until I started dipping them in different coatings. I always serve truffles like this now - they are easy to make, lovely to serve and the toppings add a nice crunch to the velvety and smooth chocolaty inside.

I think Christmas platters should be able to please all tastes, which is why I would serve these rich balls of decadence with some lighter cookies (like the ricotta lemon cookies with lemon glaze). It's all about balance, variety and moderation is it not?

Makes about 50 truffles
1/2 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound good quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of heavy cream
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon of good vanilla extract
One handful of shredded coconut
One handful of cocoa powder
One handful of chopped pistachios
One handful of ground almonds

Place the chocolates in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just starts to bubble. Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a wire whisk, stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, orange zest and vanilla. Refrigerate for an hour or until the chocolate mixture has hardened.
Using 2 small spoons, form round balls of the chocolate mixture. Then, using the palm of your hand, make the balls as round as possible and dip in the respective toppings. Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for another hour. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ricotta and Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

It seems that Christmas started even earlier than usual this year. The Christmas lights have been put up for weeks in downtown Montreal screaming for me to get into the kitchen and start baking. It took me a little while to get into the spirit, but I think I'm finally there. I had seen these little Giada de Laurentiis' cookies on Deborah's blog, and I immediately knew I wanted to try them. Ricotta and lemon are a true match made in heaven in my book, and ricotta is a great way to ensure that cookies and cakes stay moist and light. Light and moist they were. I am adding these to my holiday favorites.

Recipe (adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Store in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Penne with Prosciutto, Broccoli Rabe and Artichokes

As I have already mentioned, I am always trying out new pasta recipes to make on those days where you don't have too much time but still want something hearty and comforting to fill you up. I made this pasta a couple days ago, and I think it fits that motto pretty well. I used some leftover prosciutto from my eggs baked in tomatoes recipe, and some delicious broccoli rabe I had picked up this weekend. I've also taken a liking to using jarred artichokes. I usually try to get good quality ones that are stored in oil and spices and I find myself coming up with new ways to use them all the time.

On a different note, I will be taking Chocolate Shavings to France very soon! I'm going home for the holidays as well as a couple days to Venice which I am very excited about. I have a list of French cookbooks I can't wait to pick up, local markets I am planning on visiting and foods that I've missed and am looking forward to indulging in. As an early Christmas gift to all of you, I am taking any France-related food requests - so if there's a French dish you want to know more about or a type of recipe, ingredient or store you've been looking for, I am offering to be your official guide to Paris! I hope to hear from all of you!

Recipe (for 2)
180 grams of penne
4 cloves of garlic
2 small bunches of broccoli rabe, stems removed
8 artichokes, jarred
2 thin slices of prosciutto
2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan, and extra for serving
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package instructions. In a separate pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately strain, and transfer to a bowl of water with ice to stop the cooking process. In the meantime, thinly slice the garlic. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to a pan, add the garlic in a single layer and place the pan on medium heat. Cook the garlic on one side for 2 minutes and then flip them and cook for another minute. Add the broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Coarsely chop the artichokes and add them to the pan. Cut the prosciutto into bite-size pieces and add to the pan. Make sure that the prosciutto has direct contact with the bottom of the pan, and don't move it for a couple minutes so it has a chance to crisp up.

Strain the pasta adding a couple teaspoons of the cooking water to the pan. Add the pasta gently, and mix the ingredients so they meld in nicely. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the Parmesan and stir. Transfer to a bowl and serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eggs Baked in Tomatoes with Prosciutto and Basil Puree

I have been meaning to make this dish for a few weeks now, but had not found the time for a leisurely Sunday morning where I could afford to try it out and take the time to appreciate the result. This morning, the timing was just right: I had a couple tomatoes just asking to be cooked, and Oliver and I were both in the mood for a nice breakfast. I really enjoy making dishes like these that are hearty, fairly easy and fail-safe and that look and feel so deliciously rustic. I've taken a liking to serving food in my cast iron at the dinner table, and this would a great opportunity to do just that.

I got this recipe from Delicious magazine and slightly adapted it. It was truly one of the best meals I've had in the past few months. The salty prosciutto gets crispy in the oven, the tomato flavor intensifies, the basil smells wonderfully fragrant and the egg yolk breaks as soon as you dig in. Need I say more?

Recipe (for 2)
2 large tomatoes
A handful of basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
2 slices of prosciutto
2 eggs, at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 350F. Cut the top of the tomatoes with a sharp knife and gently scoop out the seeds and juices with a spoon. Lay them upside down on a couple sheet of paper towels to soak up extra moistness. In the meantime, using a mortar and pestle, smash the basil until it forms a paste. Add a pinch of salt, and drizzle a little olive oil to loosen the basil. Add some black pepper. Check that the tomatoes are dry inside, and dab the inside with an extra paper towel. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around the tomato, and, using a toothpick, seal both ends so they fit snugly around the tomato. Smear some of the basil paste inside the tomato.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a cast iron and lay the tomatoes in the pan. Cook for 15 minutes. Gently add the egg inside of each tomato and cook for another 8-10 minutes or until the egg is cooked to your liking. Remove the toothpicks and add a little salt and black pepper. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

Let me preface this by saying that I am a little uneasy with making caramel. Most people are quite aware of how dangerous caramel can be but I really learned the hard way. Let me set the scene. I am making 'creme caramel' at culinary school, and am at the stage where you melt the sugar, turn it into amber caramel and pour the liquid into the bottom of ramekins that will then be filled with custard. In an effort to get a perfectly even layer of caramel, my finger slipped in the boiling hot caramel.. and I lost more skin that I ever thought possible. The whole class stared, I had to be sat down (I was pale and livid and it seemed that I might pass out).. and was obliged to wear a 'finger condom' for the next couple weeks. Restaurant kitchens all have a stack of these tiny little finger condoms (they are literally minuscule latex tubes meant to fit your finger)that cooks wear when they hurt themselves to make sure that they don't infect the food. It's not exactly the most flattering accessory and a clear (and visible!) reminder that you did something wrong. That was by far the worst injury I ever experienced while cooking and probably the most pain I've ever been in!

However, my love for cooking and trying new things has always forced me to go beyond my fears, and when I saw this month's Daring Bakers challenge from Shuna Fish Lydon , I knew it was a great time to face the (delicious)caramel monster again. I had already made caramel a couple weeks ago to accompany a pear clafoutis, and everything had gone why not with this cake? Oliver helped me in the kitchen for this one, and he insisted that he would pour the water in the amber-colored sugar to finish off the mixture. I felt like I was standing in the lab of a mad scientist for a couple seconds, as the sugar started to bubble furiously, the pot fumed to the ceiling, and Oliver jumped back with a somewhat shaky empty glass.

The rest of the cake was easy to make, so easy in fact that I was worried it might taste quite ordinary. Quite to the contrary, the cake was moist, rich in caramel flavor combined with a subtle mix of sweet and salty.

Recipe (found here)
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup (recipe found below) into the bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

The cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (to "stop" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Classic Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know, you've probably seen a zillion chocolate chip cookie posts on a zillion different food blogs, so why should you care? Well, maybe because I've tested a lot of them. Maybe because sometimes you want a moist and soft chocolate chip cookie and you end up with a hard crackling cookie and you just don't know where the recipe failed you! First, let me share a little secret. I have a newfound love for chocolate shards. I always used to use chocolate chips to make cookies until one day, I found myself out of them. I used a good quality chocolate bar instead, and coarsely chopped pieces of dark goodness that I then folded into my batter. I've been making cookies like this ever since. Sure it takes a couple extra minutes to chop the chocolate, but the end result is a cookie where some pieces are melted and gooey and others are just specks of dark chocolate seeping throughout the dough.

Now for a good, reliable recipe. This one really did the trick. It's a recipe from the Martha Stewart Cookie book and the batter is the best cookie batter I've had yet. It's fluffy, sweet, but not too sweet and absolutely delicious. Should I confess that a few of these cookies-to-be were eaten raw? The cookies were delicious - so good in fact that we had to give them away because the pile of them was mysteriously getting smaller during the course of the day.

Recipe (makes about 3 dozens)
2 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of light brown sugar
1 teaspoon of coarse salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups of bittersweet chocolate shards (about 12 ounces)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Whisk together the flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugars. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy for 2-3 minutes. Reduce to low speed and add the salt, vanilla and eggs. Mix until just incorporated. Mix in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Leave a 2 inch space between each. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until the edges turn golden but the centers are still soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Let them cool on cooling racks. The cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Herb Frittata with Feta, Green Onions and Arugula

We had some of our friends over for brunch Sunday morning."Why don't we make them poached eggs?" Oliver asked seconds after we were brainstorming brunch ideas. Oliver has a sort of obsession with poached eggs and has spent weeks (or is it months?) perfecting his poaching skills. But, true to habit, we still went browsing through our ever-growing cookbook collection when we stopped on one of Jamie Oliver's recipes for a shrimp frittata. I had made it a few months ago and I remembered it being easy and delicious. "Maybe we should make a version of this instead? It would be easier to prepare beforehand, don't you think?". Oliver didn't look entirely convinced, but as soon as I suggested a mix of herbs, feta and green onions topped with market fresh arugula, he was sold.

The thing is, when you have guests over, there is nothing more annoying than having to run back and forth to the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, getting your guests in the kitchen to all cook together is on the top of my list of great entertaining, but sometimes it's just not what you want. Frittata made our brunch preparations a breeze. I had everything ready in a bowl and just popped my cast iron into the oven as my guests were coming in, and 5 minutes later - literally - it was on the table, warm and rustically served in the cast iron. I also made a batch of chocolate and candied orange muffins the day before, our guests brought a lovely fruit, coffee and hot chocolate, and we were set.

Recipe (for 4)
8 eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
1/2 tablespoon of chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 lemon zest
1/4 cup of crumbled feta
3 spring onions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A small handful of arugula
Extra virgin olive oil
Squirt of lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 400F. In bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the parsley, chives, dried oregano and lemon zest. Stir gently. Fold in the feta and green onion. Season with salt and pepper. Place a cast iron (or any oven-proof pan) on medium heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the egg mixture and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Place the cast iron in the oven and cook for 5 minutes or until the egg has set.
In a bowl, add the arugula. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Serve frittata in the cast iron, topped with the arugula.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sweet Potato Fries with Parsley and Caper Mayonnaise

Oliver and I were contemplating going out for dinner, when, suddenly, I noticed our two lonely sweet potatoes that we hadn't gotten around to using this week. Sometimes, the best meals are built around a single item, and this smelled like that kind of night. I had published these sweet potato fries while working on TasteSpotting a little while ago and knew they would be my inspiration for tonight's dish. We opted for baking the fries (a generally much healthier version than deep frying), keeping it rustic with the skins left on, and serving it with a hearty batch of homemade mayonnaise.

I don't know if it's because I grew up watching my mother make mayonnaise time and time again, or if it's just because homemade mayonnaise is so easy to make, but I never understood why people buy the jarred stuff. Sure, I won't lie, it has come in handy a couple of times in the past, but the real stuff just takes whatever you're making to a whole new level. Trust me, your usual potato salads, sandwiches or dips featuring homemade mayonnaise just have that extra something a mass-produced product can't compete with.

Recipe: (for 2)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled
3 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 375F. Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices, stack the slices and cut again into sticks. Using a mortar and pestle, mash together the oregano, rosemary and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Once the mixture is well blended add the olive oil, little by little to form a paste. Add the mixture to the potatoes and, if needed, add some more oil to make sure each and every fry is well-coated. Place on a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes, rotating the sheet half way through the cooking time. Increase the temperature to 450F and cook for another ten minutes. Remove from the baking sheet and transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels to suck up any excess oil. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

1 egg yolk,
150-200 ml of canola oil
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon of parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small bowl, add the egg yolk and mustard and whisk until blended. Slowly add the oil, whisking continuously. After you have incorporated about a quarter of the oil, you should feel the mayonnaise coming together and starting to form a thick sauce. Add the oil very slowly to make sure that it has time to be completely incorporated in the mustard mixture before you add more oil. Once all the oil has been added, add the vinegar and lemon and whisk again. Add the capers and parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve alongside the fries. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Potato and Leek Soup with Crumbled Blue Cheese

The inspiration for this soup came from a classic Vichyssoise, a potato and leek soup generally enjoyed chilled. During the unbearably hot days at culinary school in New York, my teammates and I had made a cold Vichyssoise as an amuse-bouche for the school's restaurant. It turned out that a shot of cold yet creamy soup was the perfect way to start off a copious meal. Chilled soup would, however, be difficult to want to make at this time of year, so I tweaked the recipe to make it desirable for much cooler days. And what better way to serve it than in little espresso cups?

Montreal is a cold and bitter city come winter, but also a city where people - who are used to the wintery temperatures - still go out, eat out and enjoy life. Any Montrealer's wardrobe includes an extra pair of legwarmers under your jeans, socks up to your knees and fleece wherever you can fit it. The upside is that once you beat the first couple of steps out of the door, your body, although oddly at first - think frozen eyelids, and steamy cold breath - gets used to the cold and resets what normal warmth is. All to say that a bowl of steamy soup is really a great way to welcome the cold months to come.

On a less formal note, I am off to Venice in a couple weeks. Oliver and I were thinking about a small getaway and since were are spending the holidays in France with my family, Venice seemed like the perfect place to go to. I am sure you food lovers and travel lovers can relate to this: when I start booking a vacation, sure I look at the great sights, museums, architecture I want to be sure not to miss, but let's face it, I want to know what kind of food I'm going to be able to sample. Traveling through food is one of the greatest way to really experience the culture of the place you are in, the customs, the traditions and the aura of a place. I've done quite a bit of research and it seems quite unanimous that Venice is not the Italian city where the food is the best. I hear that finding more remote restaurants is the way to go to avoid touristy places with touristy prices. Any advice from you food lovers out there would be more than welcome! I promise to bring back a myriad of photos, and hopefully at least a couple recipes too.

Recipe (for 6)
2 ounces of pancetta, roughly chopped
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 leeks, chopped (use white and light green parts only)
2 bay leaves
2 cups of chicken stock
1 pound of diced Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 small potatoes)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese of your choice
Chives, to garnish

In a stockpot, add the pancetta on medium heat and cook until some of fat renders (about 3 minutes). Add the onion and stir to coat the fat. Add a drizzle of oil if needed. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic.
Chop the leeks and add to the stockpot. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the diced potatoes and cook for another minute. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock. The liquid should just cover the potatoes and leeks. Add water to cover if there isn't enough stock to do so. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves and blend with an immersion blender until the soup is smooth. Add a touch of water if the soup is too thick for your taste. Strain the soup to remove any lumps and strands of leek. Serve warm with crumbled blue cheese and garnish with chives. Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shrimp, Sugar Snap Pea and Baby Bok Choy Soup

Have I been in a bit of a soup-obsessed mood lately?... maybe. Or maybe it's just that when it's getting bitterly cold, the only way to fight back is to get in the kitchen and make a great big batch of soup! I was in the mood for something light, easy and heart-warming. I think this pretty much did the trick: a couple ladlefuls of chicken broth, a myriad of greens and some shrimp all simmering in the cradle of a wok. 10 minutes later... voila. Lunch is served my friends!

Of course, in a more perfect world, I might have taken the time to enrich my stock with added chicken bones and aromatics. I might have added some chicken or sliced pork too. But as time was of the essence, I came up with this easy enough concoction and the result was quick and perfect.

Recipe (for 4)
4 baby bok choy
12 sugar snap peas
12 shrimp, peeled
1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger
1 tablespoon of peanut (or canola) oil
A pinch of dried chillies
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
2 spring onions, sliced
4 cups of chicken stock
Toasted sesame seeds
300 grams of dried udon noodles

Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Run them under cold water once cooked, and reserve.

In the meantime, add the bok choy (cut in half lengthwise) and the sugar snap peas to a pot of boiling water. Boil for 2 minutes. Shock the vegetables by placing them in ice cold water. This stops the cooking process and helps the vegetables maintain a nice green color. Once the vegetables are cold, drain and remove excess water with paper towels.

Heat your wok to medium low heat. Add the peanut oil, ginger, garlic and dried chili. Stirfry for 2 minutes. Add the peeled shrimp. Once the shrimp starts to turn pink, add the vegetables stirring constantly. Once the shrimp is entirely pink in color add the noodles. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once the broth has come to a boil, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and spring onions and cook for another minute. Serve topped with toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Crispy Sage and Parmesan Grilled Bread

Butternut squash is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with in the Fall. There's just something comforting about roasting its orange flesh until it becomes soft and sweet - and the wonderful color gets me every time. Apple and squash must have been high school sweethearts of sorts as their flavors meld wonderfully but also manage to stand up to one another. The great thing about these kinds of soups is that they fill your kitchen (and whole living space when your apartment is not very spacious!) with a wonderful earthy smell - and while they take a little while to simmer, the end result is grand amounts of luscious soup that can be frozen to enjoy at a later time if desired.

So, grab your favorite fleece blanket, some crusty bread and a bowl of steaming soup and just enjoy being inside and warm on a cold day.

Recipe (for 6)
1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size cubes
3 apples, peeled and cored into bite-size cubes
1/2 white onion
1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
2 celery stalks
2 carrots
6 sage leaves, and one extra per soup bowl
3 cloves of garlic, diced
3 shallots, diced
1 1/2 qt of chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

Parmesan Bread
One loaf of sourdough bread
Olive oil
2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 F. Place the butternut squash and apple cubes on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, the apple cider vinegar and season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to mix the seasoning in. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the cubes are soft. Check on the apples after 20 minutes as they should be be ready before the butternut squash.

In the meantime, dice the onion, celery and carrots into similar size bite-size chunks. In a pot, heat a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the vegetables and stir. Cook on medium low heat for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the chopped garlic and shallots and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the cooked apples and butternut squash. Add the 6 sage leaves (minced) and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Blend (preferably with an immersion blender) until the soup is smooth. If the soup seems a little too chunky, add some water, one tablespoon at a time into you reach your desired texture. Keep warm on low heat.

Heat a good drizzle of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a pan on high heat. Add the extra sage leaves. Turn them after 1 minute and fry on the other side for another minute. In the meantime, cut some sourdough bread into slices. Drizzle with olive oil and grated Parmesan. Grill for about 2 minutes on each side.

Serve the warm soup with a drizzle of olive oil, some cracked black pepper, a fried sage leaf and a couple pieces of bread. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Portobello Mushroom, Spring Onion and Pine Nut Pasta

To tell you the truth I wasn't planning on posting this recipe. I was making a quick lunch yesterday, was in a hurry to head out the door and then realized that this was exactly what I needed to write about... the fact that sometimes we have very little time to make ourselves a quick meal, but that with a few simple guidelines it can be a wonderful, heart-warming dish that keeps you going for hours.

I very often turn to pasta dishes when I'm in no shape to cook a lengthy meal. As I have mentioned before, I am not a big fan of pasta with a lot of sauce, especially for everyday lunches. Here are the few guidelines I have been living by: firstly, don't underestimate the power of mixing your pasta in the pan where you cooked the vegetables, meat or whatever else you are using as a garnish. Mixing the pasta in that pan melds in a few seconds all of the flavors together and makes the pasta actually taste flavorful.. because, let's face it, pasta on its own has very little flavor. And, secondly, any pasta can use a little bit of crunch! Whether it's pine nuts like here, toasted breadcrumbs, crispy pancetta or al dente peas - a little crunch adds wonderful texture to any pasta.

All to say, that I ended up spending some time taking a picture of my lunch, ate it cold, and was late!

Recipe (for one!)
100 grams of spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large portobello mushroom, sliced
2 spring onions, diced
2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan, and more for the table
1 small handful of pine nuts, toasted
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the pasta. In the meantime, drizzle some olive oil in a pan on medium high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the mushrooms in a single layer. Don't move them for 2 minutes. Turn the mushrooms and cook for another minute. Turn the heat to medium low, add the spring onions, garlic and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the pasta is al dente add a teaspoon of pasta water to the pan. Add the drained pasta and stir vigorously. Add the Parmesan and the pine nuts and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and extra Parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spiced Pumpkin Pie

I know, pumpkin pie is a North American classic, and has been for years. You all have probably been making them, or sampling them, forever. Most of you undoubtedly celebrate Thanksgiving with a slice of pumpkin pie(or two...or three) and I must admit that I've felt somewhat out of loop knowing I had never had a piece. As you probably know, pumpkin isn't a commonly used ingredient in France.. and Thanksgiving not exactly a celebrated holiday - hence my lack of pumpkin-pie eating growing up. All to say, that I was in dire need of making my very first pumpkin based dessert! I followed Anna Olson's recipe from October 'cooking club challenge', and found myself happily surprised when I was sent a copy of Food 2.0:Secrets From The Chef Who Fed Google as a winning prize.

And what could be better to complement a lovely orange-tinted pie than the scenic view of falling fall leaves?

For the dough, follow my fail-safe pate brisee recipe.

Pumpkin Pie
2 cups canned pumpkin
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp fancy molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp fine salt
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to just under 1/4 inch thick. Dust the bottom of a 9-inch pie shell with flour and line with the dough. Trim edges, keeping scraps to roll and cut for garnish, if desired. Blind bake (using beans to make sure the dough does not rise) for 7-8 minutes.

In the meantime, make the filling :whisk the pumpkin with the brown sugar, molasses spices and salt. Whisk in the eggs and the whipping cream. Pour into the pre-baked pie shell.
Bake for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the filling puffs just a little around the edges but still has a bit of jiggle in the center when moved. Allow to cool to room temperature, then chill completely.

To serve the pumpkin pie warm, it is recommended to bake and chill completely, then re-warm in a 300 degrees F. oven for 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Double Chocolate Banana Espresso Muffins

I just fell in love with a new cookbook. I'm quite frivolous when it comes to cookbooks, and have yet to be able to name a month where I haven't taken a new one home. True, I am not loyal to each and every one of them at all times, but I find myself remembering an old flame a couple months down the road and browsing its pages with immense pleasure. While I have not tried nearly as many recipes as I would want from each and every book, just flipping through the pages is a constant source of inspiration. This new cookbook is a real keeper. It's the Baked Cookbook, from a bakery in Brooklyn and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the cover. Yes... I do judge on appearances!

These muffins were the first recipe I tried from the book. They worked out wonderfully because I had been saving a couple bananas for weeks. The thing with bananas is that they really get sweeter as they ripen. When the skin gets really dark brown and the banana really soft, you know it will give you the most delicious base for banana bread or in this case.. banana chocolate muffins! I also chopped the chocolates into coarse pieces instead of using chocolate chips which added a nice rustic look to the final product.

Recipe, for 12 muffins, adapted from the Baked Cookbook

1 1/2 cups of mashed ripe bananas (about 4 medium-sized bananas)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup of whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon of strong espresso
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
3 ounces of milk chocolate, cut in small pieces
3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, cut in small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir in the banana, sugars, butter, espresso, milk and egg.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle of the bowl and gently add in the banana mixture. Stir into just combined. Gently fold in the chocolates.

Fill each muffin tin about three quarters full and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Once cooked, move muffins to a cooking rack. The muffins can be stored in an air tight container for up to two days. Enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Milk Chocolate Pot de Creme

First, a little word of advice: this is not for light eaters, so consider yourself warned!

I had made these pot de creme a while back with bittersweet chocolate, but had always wanted to jazz them up a little. Yesterday seemed like the perfect day: it was cold outside and an ideal day to watch chocolate slowly melt. I had bought really good quality milk chocolate, you know the kind that you get in big uneven chunks from specialty stores? The kind that come by weight without any fancy packaging but that tastes like an intense version of chocolate.. and smells like it too? Still in my fleur de sel mood, I added a tad of saltiness to the mix and it added a nice hint of caramel-y flavor.

This really is a rich dessert though - and it can't be eaten in very large quantities. Although, the one I made for Oliver yesterday was eaten at a steady rate throughout the evening...and the once full little ramekin was found empty by midnight.

Recipe: (for 4)
4 oz good quality milk chocolate, chopped in small pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten lightly with 2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
3/4 cup of whipping cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon of Fleur de Sel
Whipped cream
Chocolate Shavings

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Once it has fully melted, add the cream and whisk so that the mixture become a uniform color of brown. Add a small ladle of the chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs and stir to temper the eggs. This ensures that the egg slowly heats up before being added to the heat so it doesn't curdle. Slowly add the egg mixture to the chocolate and cream mixture and stir with a whisk. Add the vanilla, salt and Grand Marnier. Cook on the double boiler for 3-4 minutes, whisking gently. Once the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat and stain to remove any egg lumps. Transfer to small ramekins or espresso cups and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until set. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Make Pizza

Pizza was this month's Daring Bakers' challenge and it couldn't make me happier. Oliver and I have tested quite a few pizza dough recipes and we were glad to try out this one and compare it with the others. We found the dough quite easy to work with (although also quite delicate) and the end result great. We pre-cooked the dough until it started to slightly bubble, and then added our toppings. A simple homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil was our pick - simple, bold flavors.. delicious.

You can find the recipe on Rosa's blog who kindly put together this challenge.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

Growing up in Paris, I have fond memories of macarons, croissants and fresh baguettes as regular morning treats. Paris is filled with bakeries, or 'boulangeries' where bread is freshly made and can often be bought still warm from the oven. Certain things, however haven't yet made it to our tables...and cupcakes are of those things. Sure, France has some of the most elaborate pastries around, but no authentic cupcakes to be found. There's just something about a moist cakey cupcake with luscious sweet icing. It's surely hard to beat. While I was living in New York last year, my near-obsession with cupcakes compelled me to wander into any cupcake store I could find. I always felt the slight irony of me wanting a simple heart-warming cupcake when I had spent the day making intricate meat dishes, homemade pasta or puff pastry from scratch at school.

All to say that posting a cupcake recipe was long overdue! I made a simple chocolate buttercream with a cocoa base this weekend and it turned out well. Next on my list is making orange-flavored buttercream. Mistake to be avoided would be: adding orange juice to buttercream as the acidity in the orange makes the icing curdle (I speak from experience here!).. so I will be making it with Grand Marnier and orange zest only. For now though, these all-chocolate cupcakes did the trick.

Recipe (batter adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
Makes about 15 cupcakes

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup of buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick of butter
1 3/4 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and sour cream. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar little by little. Mix for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Add the cooled chocolate and vanilla extract and mix well until the chocolate is entirely incorporated. Ice the cupcakes as you please. Enjoy!
Once you have iced the cupcakes, it is best not to store them in the fridge to maintain the icing's texture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pear Clafoutis with Fleur de Sel Caramel

First, before the food, a food news! I have the honor to announce that I am now one of the online editors at As most of you know, tastepostting is a great outlet for all of us food blog owners, and I have been using it for months. I cannot overstate how happy I am to be a part of the project. I have already discovered dozens of wonderful blogs through all the photographs submitted to the site and it's been great to be a part of the approval process. I look forward to discovering more of the blogs out there!

Now.. for this little dessert. There are those days when you're just not in the mood to make a real, rustic tart dough. Yesterday was one of those days. Let's face it, no matter how much you like to cook, there will be days when you want to take the easy way out. For some it might be take-out or running to the closest pastry shop, but for me it's going for a quick substitute. Clafoutis is possibly one of the easiest ways to make a fruit tart without worrying about making dough. It's as simple as cutting fresh fruit and pouring a sweet custard mixture over top.

I have also been meaning to try out this simple caramel recipe we used to make at culinary school and to tweak it a little at home. It's the easiest caramel sauce, and we would use it to decorate our dessert plates. I decided to add a touch of 'fleur de sel'- a gourmet hand-harvested salt - which added a nice hint of salty goodness. Fleur de sel is quite a pricey ingredient, but I've really grown to love what it adds to meals. In this case, it turned a simple caramel sauce into a burst of different flavors.

Recipe (makes 6 individual clafoutis)

1/3 cup of sugar, and extra for your molds
3 eggs
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter each mold lightly, sprinkle some sugar and tap off excess.

Beat the eggs and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed and the flour, cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt, and Grand Marnier. Reserve

Meanwhile, peel,core and cut the pears into thin slices. Using about half a pear per mold, gently arrange the slices so as to cover the bottom of each mold. Pour the batter over the pears. Bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set. This will take about 40 minutes.

Caramel Sauce
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of water
1/2 cup of cream
1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel

In a pan on medium heat, add the sugar and water. Without stirring, let the sugar dissolve in the water (until the mixture looks like water only). Once it has, let the mixture come to a simmer. At this point, you can gently swirl the pan around. Be extremely gently (and stay concentrated) because the mixture is extremely hot. Keep a watchful eye on the mixture, and wait for it to turn a nice mahogany color. It will take about 6-7 minutes to change colors, but once it has started it will go very quickly. The sugar also burns very fast once the color changes, so be careful. Once the caramel has reached the right color, remove from the heat and slowly add the cream. If the sugar starts to harden, place back on low heat for a couple minutes and let the sugar melt down. Once the mixture is homogeneous, set aside and leave to cool. The caramel sauce can be stored in the fridge, and gently re-heated before using. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

I've always loved entertaining, but especially love easy entertaining. I've learned from trial and error to always make something fresh and simple, and something you've made before! These bacon-wrapped scallops make for great finger food. you can make them ahead of time and reheat them at the last minute and switch the ingredients around. You can use pancetta in place of the bacon and dates or figues instead of the scallops. Any crispy and salty cured meat will pair wonderfully with, in this case tender scallops, or fruity and soft fruit.

The only thing about this recipe is that because it is simple, the ingredients have to be really good .. so try to get the bacon from a good deli, and the scallops as fresh as can be.

Recipe: (for 12 scallops)
12 scallops
12 thin slices of bacon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 wooden toothpicks, soaked in water for 20 minutes

Set your oven on broil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Tightly wrap them with a piece of bacon and seal by inserting a toothpick to hold the bacon together. Place on a bacon sheet and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the scallops. Remove when cooked through. If the toothpicks burn a little while in the oven, gently remove them once out of the oven, and replace with new ones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thick Mushroom and Herb Soup

I think I would have a lot of trouble cooking without herbs. Some things can be altered or replaced, but there is nothing like the nutty, fresh, at time lemony and peppery flavor of herbs. They can turn any meal into something special and I find it bland to cook without them.

Funny enough, I used to absolutely hate them as a child. Like most children, I had a few strong dislikes for certain foods, but none greater than the fear of herbs, or 'bouts verts', as I used to call them in French. I would drive my mom crazy and pick them out one by one in tomato sauces, salads or any other sauce where I knew my mom had probably tried to conceal them. I also used to be difficult with soup.. and would only accept to eat it if I was promised it was 'potage', and not soup. This makes me seem like quite the difficult child but those were the two things I really took issue with. This herbed-filled mushroom soup is thus a little wink to my childhood years and to how things can change for the better.

Recipe (for 4), adapted from the Soup Bible
2 ounces of smoked bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
12 ounces of combined portobello and cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups of good meat stock
1 small wine glass of dry sherry wine
2 tablespoons of combined rosemary, thyme and marjoram - stems removed
1 teaspoon of dried italian seasoning
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A couple spoonfulls of thick yogurt or sour cream

Roughly chop the bacon and place in a large saucepan. Cook slowly until the fat renders from the bacon. Add the onions and saute gently until the onions become translucent and soft. Add the mushrooms to the pan. Cover and sweat until their liquid has run out and they have reduced in size. Add the sherry, stock, as well as the fresh and dry herbs. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Process the soup in a food processor or blender until smooth but still a little chunky. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer to the saucepan to heat through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and garnish with a parsley leaf. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Spaghetti with Sausage and Cilantro Pesto

Who says pesto can only be made with basil and pine nuts? Certainly not me! I have been testing different ways of making pesto - using different types of herbs and nuts to see how the flavors changes. I tried this cilantro (or coriander) pesto a couple nights ago and was pleasantly surprised by the result. Cilantro can be a little overpowering at times, so I used a handful of peas in the mixture to soften its taste and it worked well with mild Italian sausage.

The point is.. I might be a bit of a rebel (but certainly not a maverick!) and don't really like following recipes too closely. I do when I bake - doughs can turn out seriously wrong if you don't follow ratios - but when I cook savory foods, I tend to let my imagination go. Pesto is one of those things I tend to have a sudden craving for, so it helps to be able to tweak the original recipe and make it with what I have on hand that day.

Recipe (for 4)
One bunch of cilantro
2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted if possible
1/4 cup of frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper
450 g spaghetti (for 4 people)
2 good quality mild Italian sausages from your Deli
2 tablespoons of bread crumbs

To make the pesto: In a blender place the cilantro, garlic and pine nuts. Pulse. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Once half of the oil is added, add the peas. Pulse again. Add the lemon juice. Once the mixture is smooth (but still a little chunky) add the Parmesan and pulse again. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve.

Boil the water for the pasta. Salt generously and cook the spaghetti for the indicated time on the package until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat a pan to medium high heat with a good drizzle of olive oil. Slice the sausage and add to the hot pan in a single layer. Do not move the sausage for about 3 minutes. Turn on the oven side once the sausage is nicely browned. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Make sure the breadcrumbs are nicely toasted and coat the sausage. Once the sausage is cooked through, remove and place on a paper towel to soak up excess fat.

Once the pasta is cooked, add a small ladle of the pasta water to your reserved pesto to loosen the sauce. Drain the pasta and transfer to the pan with the sausage. Add the sausage, the pesto and mix in. Serve. Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lime Meltaway Cookies

With Autumn in fall swing, all I want to do is bury myself under a warm blanket with a warm cup of tea. This vision might be very grandmother-y, but that's always the way I feel when the weather starts to change and the leaves start to turn. Montreal has this wonderful way of welcoming you to fall. In anticipation of many weeks of winter to come, the trees lend themselves to a spectacle of oranges, burgundy and browns. Our new apartment has a great view on the montain, and every morning it seems like a new tree has decided to rid itself of its greens. Every year I wonder which tree has mounted the necessary courage to change colors first without fear of ridicule...and like every great trend, its neighbhours then follow one by one.

These cookies fit my mood this weekend. They were easy to make and as promised did meltaway in your mouth leaving behind a lovely taste of sweet lime.

Recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of confectioners' sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt
Put the butter and 1/4 cup of confectioners' sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 4-5 minutes). Add the lime zest, juice and vanilla and mix until fluffy.
Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt in a separate bowl. Add to the buttery mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.
Divide dough in half. Place each piece of dough on an 8 by 12 inch sheet of parchment. Roll in parchment to form a log. The dough will be a little sticky folding the dough in the parchment and rolling through the paper will help to form an even log. The log should be about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Pressing a ruler along the edge of the parchment at each turn will help to make the log as round as possible. Once the log is formed and wrapped in the parchment, chill for at least an hour. Do the same with the other piece of dough. If you can chill the dough for 2 or 3 hours, it will make it that much easier to slice.
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Remove the parchment, and cut each log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes rotating the sheet half way through. Once the cookies are cooked, transfer to wire racks and leave them to cool for about 10 minutes. While they are still warm, toss them in the remaining 2/3 cup of confectioners' sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lemon Risotto with Pea Puree and Mushrooms


There's just something about risotto. I don't know if it's the way you see the strands of rice start binding together gently or if it is its velvety and creamy texture once done, but it gets me every time. In fact, this is one of the meals I find myself making the most because it's so easy. I remember reading about how tedious it was to make and how you had to be behind your stove carefully making sure the rice didn't burn. The reality is that risotto is very quick to make (about 20 minutes) and can usually be made with ingredients most of us already have on hand. A few things, however, can turn a risotto from a simple weeknight supper to an amazing meal. First, using good quality stock really does make a difference, and in the case of risotto it makes the whole dish take on a richer and more intense flavor. You can obviously make it with store bought stock if that's all you have, but if you want to make this a real treat, homemade stock is definitely the way to go.

For having made stock over and over again at culinary school, I can assure you that chicken stock is pretty easy to make. Veal and beef stocks are more tedious to master, take a long time and require ingredients the regular cook does not have at home (like veal bones!). Chicken stock, however, uses the simplest ingredients. It does take about 2 hours to make, but you just need to skim off the fat from time to time once it's on the stove, so you really just need to be home and you can be doing something else while your stock is slowly simmering away. Chicken stock also freezes very well, so you can make a big batch every couple months and freeze them in individual ziploc bags that you can then take out as needed.

Once you have good stock, it's almost impossible to end up with a bad risotto, as long as you let it gently simmer away to get the rice to slowly release its starch and allow the strands to slowly meld together. I treat risotto much as I do pizza: as long as you have ingredients that complement one another, you really don't have to follow a recipe, and the possibilities are endless.


Recipe (for 4)
1 1/2 cup of arborio rice
4 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of thawed frozen peas
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
3 shallots, diced finely
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 glass of good quality white wine
2 tablespoons of butter
A large handful of cremini mushrooms
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan, and extra for serving

In a pot, bring the stock to a boil, reduce to a low simmer.
In a saucepan, add the butter and a good drizzle of olive oil on medium low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the shallots, the garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme and the oregano. Once the shallots have softened (about 2 minutes), add the rice and coat with the butter, stirring until the rice looks lightly toasted. Add the wine and gently stir. Once the wine has almost evaporated, add the stock, ladle by ladle. Keep adding stock once it has almost evaporated in the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, heat some olive oil on medium high heat in a separate pan. Add the 2 remaining sprigs of thyme. Add the chopped mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Reserve.

In a mortar, add the peas, lemon juice and zest, a good drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Crush with the pestle until the mixture binds together but is still chunky. Reserve.

While you are making the pea puree and cooking the mushrooms, keep a constant eye on the rice, keep adding stock and stirring gently. After about 12 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning (do not put too much salt because the Parmesan is quite salty). Once the rice is cooked, add the mushrooms and Parmesan. Fold them in gently. Add the pea puree just long enough for it to be cooked through. Serve immediately, with shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mushroom and Roquefort Tartelettes


So.. it has been a while since I was able to write. It's not that I haven't been cooking, I've actually been cooking more than I ever have before but I've had little time to blog about it. Now that I have a little more time, you can be sure that what I have been making will be documented very soon. I am also thinking of migrating to blogger..any thought about whether it's a good idea or not are welcome!

As for these individual tarts, they were made last night and turned out really well. I have been buying the magazine Delicious. every chance I get. I highly recommend it. Granted, it is a bit of a splurge and will set you back 10 something dollars, but it's worth it. The recipes are mouth-watering, clear and easy to follow. This recipe was adapted from the latest edition of the magazine. I liked using roquefort too, as it gave the tarts a real pungeant flavor. Roquefort can be an acquired taste for some (it is one of the strongest blue cheeses around, and probably not the best date smell!), but it really has a creamy goodness that works perfectly with the sweet shallots and flaky dough. Puff pastry is also one of my favorite ingredients to use to make any meal simple and chic. So here goes!

Recipe (for 6 individual tarts)
1 sheet of puff pastry (left in the fridge to defrost)
3 handfuls of muhsrooms (use any kind you have on hand)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 shallots, sliced
A teaspoon of brown sugar
Roquefort cheese (or any blue cheese)
Frisee salad
1 egg yolk, beaten
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper
A muffin pan (preferably silicone)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Lay out the pastry dough and cut out circles of dough a little larger than the size of the muffin molds. Grease the inside of the pan and place each circle of dough in the mold. Once filled, place the muffin pan in the fridge to stay cold.

Place a pan on medium-low heat with a good drizzle of olive oil. Cook the shallots gently, stirring often for abour 20 minutes, until the shallots are softened. In the meantime, cook the mushrooms and garlic separetely in another pan. Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. Once cooked, place the mushrooms on a paper towel to soak up the moisture. If there is not much moisture, the puff pastry will be too humid, not hold together well, and taste mushy.. so soaking up some of the moisture really helps! Mix the mushroom and shallots together. Reserve.

Take out the pastry dough. Sprinkle the bottom of each molded circle with brown sugar. Add an euqal amount of the msuhroom/shallot mixture in each circle of dough. Brush the sides of the dough with the beaten egg (this helps the dough to get golden brown in the oven). Place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.

In the meantime, dress the frisee with a good drizzle of olive oil and a small drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Take the tarts out of the muffin pan, add the crumbled roquefort and top with a few sprigs of frisee. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lamb and Pine Nut Kebabs

These were made a little while ago, and I just realized I hadn't posted the recipe. It's actually been one of my favorite dishes made this summer (so far!). I've been using our newest purchase (a barbecue!) as much as possible while the warm(ish) weather lasts. The kebabs turned out well... although Oliver and I both forgot to soak the skewers we were using...which is definitely a must when placing wood on an open fire! Battling the small flames of the barbecue certainly played a part in making the experience of outdoor cooking that much more adventurous!


Recipe, adapted from Cooking Morrocan (serves 4)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of chopped coriander leaves
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) of ground lamb
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
A handful of pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
8 skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes before using
Lemon wedges and salad leaves to serve

Put the onion, parsley and coriander in a food processor and process to a puree. Add the lamb, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Process to a paste, scrapping the side of the bowl occasionally.

Place a pan on medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast them, stirring them often. As soon as they start browning and become fragrant, remove them from the pan. Coarsely chop them and fold them in to the lamb mixture. Divide the mixture into 8 even portions. Form into about 9 cm long cylinders (3 1/2 inches) and leave to chill for an hour in the fridge.

Insert the soaked skewers through the center of each lamb sausage. Cook on hot oiled barbecue or indoor grill until cooked through (about 5 minutes on each side). Gently turn the kebabs often to insure that they don't stick to the grill. They will feel firm when lightly pressed with tongs once they are cooked.

Serve with lemon wedges and lettuce leaves. Enjoy!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eggplant Puree with Ricotta, Coppa and Chives

I've always liked presenting food in transparent glasses. This works particularly well when you are serving food with different textures and colors, and makes you want to dig in instantly! I made these a little while ago for my family during a vacation in the South of France, and they were pretty easy to put together for a crowd. I like these types of appetizers because they are so versatile. You can change the herbs or the cured ham depending on what you've got on hand.


Recipe, adapted from the Jose Marechal's book Verrines. (makes eight)

2 large eggplants
2 shallots
1/4 cup of plain yogurt
1 garlic clove
A handful of chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
8 thin slices of coppa
400 grams of ricotta

Extra Virgin Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a aluminum-lined cookie sheet in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the eggplant in soft. Scoop out the flesh and place it in the bowl of a mixer. Add the garlic, half of the chives, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in the yogurt. Place in the fridge to cool.
Mix the ricotta with the lemon juice and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil
Cut each slice of coppa into small pieces.
Assemble the appetizer by placing a couple spoonfuls of eggplant puree, topped with a spoonful of ricotta, a few pieces of coppa. Garnish with the chopped chives and serve with crusty bread. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus


Often times, the most simple recipes turn out to be the ones you want to make over and over again because they are so delicious. This recipe fits this category perfectly. Having recently purchased a barbecue, I have been grilling a lot and discovering the joys of outdoor cooking (on a balcony that is). Grilled asparagus is fast and delicious, and it took minutes to put this whole recipe together. Please feel free to share your favorite grilling recipes here, I would love to know what has been making your best-recipe list this summer!

Good quality thinly sliced prosciutto
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice

Turn on your barbecue (or indoor grill) to medium heat. Drizzle a little olive oil on the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Grill for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and wrap the prosciutto around the stems as soon as the asparagus is cold enough to handle. Wrap the prosciutto tightly to ensure that it will stick to the asparagus. Grill for an additional 2-4 minutes depending on how cooked you want the asparagus and how crispy you want the prosciutto. Drizzle with a little lemon juice, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Olive Tapenade and Lemon Arugula

bass_websize.jpgWith the summer in full swing, I have been very keen on cooking simple flavorful meals with crisp and fresh flavors. I was inspired by one of Jamie Oliver's recipes in which he paired monkish with an olive salsa. Bass was the fish we had on hand though, so bass it was! I often turn to Jamie Oliver when I'm looking for great flavor combinations that transform into rustic and colorful dishes. Fish can however be a little tricky to cook, as fillets such as this one cook relatively fast and over-cook pretty fast too. Loyal to my culinary school knowledge, I crisped the fish skin in a hot skillet and finished the cooking in the oven. It turned out well, and the whole dish came together nicely. The rest of the olive tapenade was then used on crusty bread. I have been deliberately writing out my blog recipes more liberally than I used to. I find it difficult to set exact quantities of salt, or oil to be used. That depends on not only taste, but the size of your pan, the quantity of vegetable that you have on hand, the weight and thickness of the fish or meat that your are using etc. I have learned a lot about cooking by learning how to taste my food. I now taste my food constantly as I am cooking it to adjust seasoning and flavor. I have also learned to use ratios in the kitchen rather than exact quantities. For salad dressings for instance, the standard ratio is usually 3 parts fat to 1 part acidity. This ratio works for olive oil and vinegar dressings as it does for lemon and oil ones. Let me know if you have any comments on this new setup of recipes as I do intend them on being as clear as can be!
Recipe: (for 2)
2 bass fillets
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Olive Tapenade:
A good handful of good quality black olives, finely diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon of capers, drained and sliced
Lemon juice
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
A handful of fresh oregano and basil, finely chopped

Arugula Salad:
A handful of arugula
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Make the tapenade by mixing the olives, capers, herbs and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle in some balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and taste again. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to bind all the ingredients together. You can also do this in a blender. Reserve.Preheat your oven to 400 F. Pat the fish dry. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet to medium high heat and add some oil. Once the oil is hot, add the fish, skin side down, and press it down with a fish spatula to make it doesn't curl up and crisps evenly. Leave to cook for about 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Shake the pan at times to make sure the fish does not stick. Once the skin has crisped and browned nicely, flip the fish over on the flesh side and cook for 30 seconds. Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 2-3 minutes until cooked through. The fish is done when it's flaky but still slightly bouncy to the touch.Toss the arugula with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. The ratio should be 3 to 1 with 3 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon. Serve the fish on top of the arugula and spoon over the tapenade. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Caponata-stuffed Mushrooms

I have been meaning to post my caponata recipe for a while. I like this recipe because it can be applied to so many different dishes. You can serve the caponata simply tossed with penne, served with a firm piece of fish, to top a bruschetta, or, as I've done here, as a filling for mushrooms. It's also a great recipes for those days where you want something hearty but don't have that much time to cook.

I haven't been cooking nearly as much as I would want. A lot of our kitchen utensils are still in boxes (we are pretty slow at the whole moving thing!) and our kitchen, had, up to a few days ago, been housing excess boxes as well. Things are slowly moving forward though, and with my cookbook collection out again, I have never been in such a good cleaning mood. For now though, the aroma of this simple meal wafted through our new place and helped make it feel a bit more like home..


Recipe (for 4), adapted from Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy
1 italian eggplant, diced
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 large tomatoes, diced
A handful of chopped parsley (leaves and stems to be kept separately)
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
3 cloved of garlic, minced
Large button mushrooms

Cook the eggplant in a pan on high heat with some olive oil. The eggplant should cook on one layer, so you might have to cook it in batches. Cook the eggplant for 4-5 minutes until it softens. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion, garlic and parsley stems. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the red wine vinegar, capers and tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Rid the mushrooms of their stems and scoop out some of the inside to obtain a large surface to welcome stuffing. Grill the mushrooms (or saute) until lightly golden brown. Fill with the caponata. Enjoy!
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