Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce

I'm writing this post from the train, laptop on my lap and comfortably seated en route for Toronto. This train has a very bizarre sense of utter loneliness, with internet and plugs at every seat as well as this 'bubble' setup where it seems that you're sitting in a sort of space shuttle from the 1970s. While I enjoy being able to stay connected at all times, there's this sort of strange feeling that the modern way is leading us to become most distant from one another, and to continue our individual endeavours, at all times.

This week, the Social Network comes out. It's a movie I've been looking forward to seeing for some time now. The idea that facebook, the ultimate social network, could have been created by a rather quirky socially awkward Harvard student who was really quite shy and definitely not one of the 'cool kids' is fascinating to me. On the one hand, it seems that facebook (as well as all other social networks) are bringing us together in a way that was never possible before. You can track down old high school friends, colleagues and acquaintances and keep updated with their lives, as well as share with them your 2 cents on the world, your current doings and your most recent activities. On the other hand, it seems that this kind of technology makes us more distant than we've ever been. Instead of a hand written note, we send a quick email. Instead of a phone call, we write a rapid text that we can duplicate to 2,3 or 4 people if need be. We can instantly upload a photo album of a weekend outing on facebook and, instantly, share it with'friends' who will be able to know what you have been up to a couple hours ago but who might have not talked to you in weeks, months or years. The easiness with which we are able to do this also makes us lose the more intimate rapports we used to have with one another.It's the ultimate paradox: we are ever more connected, and ever more alone. We send out mass messages, and don't individualize our thoughts for specific recipients as we once used to do.

Taking the time to reflect on these subjects has helped me take a step back and find a way to get the best of both worlds. I still remember my early teens when I used to have internet dial-up at home, in Paris. My mom would make me want until 10PM so that she wouldn't miss any phone calls before then. I'd get excited just hearing the noise of the computer connecting and getting a signal. Now, I find myself in a train where my brain has been trained to get antsy if a page takes a few seconds to load.

In light of this discussion, it seems quite fitting that today's recipe is a slow-cooked tomato sauce! A good old classic, traditional tomato sauce! To be honest, you can make the recipe in less time if need be (I have a 20 minute version of this recipe here) but if you do have the time, the sauce does benefit from simmering for a while. Actually, the sauce, as many stews and slow-cooked dishes, is even better the next day. I usually make a big batch, and freeze some in small plastic bags. You can use it to top some fish, garnish a pizza, toss it in with some pasta or eat it on a big slice of crusty bread.

Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce

4 garlic cloves, diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 small Vidalia onion, finely diced
2 big cans of San Marzano tomatoes
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
5 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

Spaghetti, cooked al dente and tossed in a little olive oil and seasoned with some salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Add a good drizzle of olive oil to a stockpot on medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and stir for 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Pour the tomatoes and juice into a bowl, and, using your hands, crush the tomatoes. Once the mixture is smooth, add to the onion and carrot mixture and add the tomato paste. Remove the thyme leaves from the stem and finely chop. Add the thyme and stems to the tomato sauce and stir. Generously season with salt and pepper.
Leave to gently simmer on medium low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Once the sauce is ready, blend using an immersion blender until you reach the desired consistency. You can opt for a smooth tomato sauce or a more chunky kind, depending on taste.

Spoon the tomato sauce over the cooked spaghetti, and sprinkle with a good spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oven-Baked Apple Donuts

No season makes me happier than Fall. Since moving to Montreal, the beautiful Indian summer has been one of my favourite moments of the year. Montreal weather tends to linger on (like our icy cold winters) but the peak of Fall only really last a couple of weeks so you have to learn to really appreciate it while it's here. Every morning during this time of year I can spot a new tree transitioning from green to a different shade of red, crimson, yellow and orange. There's something absolutely breathtaking to the vivid colors that nature projects in late September and October. It gets me every time. These are just a couple pictures of the trees this weekend.I suspect that in the next few days the green leaves will have changed their coat for good. There seems to be a whole story that nature is trying to tell us to stop us in our busy lives. It's all about taking the time to appreciate the beauty of changing cycles. Every year, the same tree starts the transition first. It always seems to me that he's the real trooper of the bunch, the one that had the courage to lead others and show them the way. Then, slowly, each tree embraces its destiny and one by one, they makeup a vivid canvas of colors. The picture they makeup as a whole is stunning, as is the individuality of each tree, slowly changing at its own pace in time.

Going up to the mountain this weekend with a good cup of coffee and a warm scarf, I enjoyed a moment of peacefulness by the water. There has been quite a lot of business going around these past couple weeks and it's sometimes nice to take a step back and just enjoy a calm, nature-filled morning. The recipe I bring you today fits those fall days like no other. It uses the fruit in season (deliciously plump apples) and is a healthier twist on the traditional deep-fried donuts. These are baked, best eaten straight out from oven, after they have been tossed in a little cinnamon-sugar.

Oven-Baked Apple Donuts

Makes about 24 mini donunts
Adapted from

1/4 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup of white sugar
1 1/2 cups of bite size chunks of apple, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup of cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/4 cup of milk

To Coat:
1/4 cup of butter, melted
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat your oven to 350F. Whisk the flour, baking powder, sugars salt and and nutmeg in a bowl. Add the cold chopped butter. Rub the pieces of butter with the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Mix in the milk and fold in the chopped apples. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir using a spatula or spoon making sure not to overmix. Place a spoonful of batter into each mold of a buttered mini muffin pan.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the donuts are just golden. Remove from the oven, unmold and lightly brush each donut with the melted butter. Dunk in a bowl with the sugar and cinnamon mixed in. Shake off excess sugar and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Speedy Stir Fry Series - Chicken and Mango Stir Fry

Hi, this is O. again taking a little bit of Jenn's Chocolate Shavings space for my Speedy Stir Fry Series. Despite all the syrupy, sickly sweet concoctions served at many chinese takeout joints, I still enjoy the addition of a sweet element to a stir fry. This Mango and Chicken Stir fry follows a basic quick and simple technique, with some added finely sliced mango. It really brings this simple dish over the top. I find that it makes a perfect end of summer lunch.

Chicken and Mango Stir Fry

Serves 2-3 people

1 large chicken breast
2 tablespoons finely diced garlic
2 tablespoons finely diced ginger
1 tablespoon of peanut oil
5 green onions, cut in half lengthwise, then into 2 inch pieces.
1 mango, sliced into 1/4 inch strips

For the marinade:
2 tablespoons of Shao Hsing rice wine
1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of cornstarch

For the sauce:
1/4 cup of chicken stock
2 teaspoons of Shao Hsing rice wine
1 teaspoon of cornstarch

Mix together the marinade ingredients, making sure to dissolve the corn starch. Slice the chicken into bite sized cubes or strips and add to the marinade. In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients. Prepare your garlic, ginger, green onions, and mango and reserve.

Heat your wok until it begins to smoke. Add the cooking oil. I sometimes like to add a big chunk of leftover ginger to flavor the oil, but this is optional. Add the chicken and marinade mixture to the wok, spreading it evenly. Let it sear for 30-45 seconds without mixing. Add the garlic and ginger over top and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the green onions and sauce and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through. Add the strips of mango, stir a couple times and serve immediately with rice or noodles. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nutella and Marshmallow Brownie Bites

It's that time of the year folks, that time of the year! Every year, I cave and get a jar of Nutella from the grocery store. I only indulge rarely, mostly due to the fact that the jars rarely make it more than a couple days in my pantry. Because, really, is there anything better than a little spoonful of Nutella (or two, or three?)? Well, these little treats might be the next best thing. I had as a mission to put this jar of gooey chocolate hazelnut goodness to good use before it was gone in smoke. So here you are, Nutella bites! These are incredibly, incredibly easy to make - they literally take minutes- and only require 4 ingredients. The marshmallow is optional of course but it makes for a fun touch - perfect for kids and an added touch of gooeyness in the center of each Nutella brownie bite.

I also wanted to announce the winner of the ThinkFood cookbook contest! The free copy of this brain-healthy cookbook goes to Megan at Foodalution. Congratulations!

Nutella and Marshmallow Brownie Bites

Makes 12 mini brownies
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life

1/2 cup Nutella spread
1 large egg
5 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
12 mini marshmallows

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper liners. Put the Nutella and egg in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and well blended. Add the flour and whisk until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins (about 3/4 full). Place a marshmallow in the center of each brownie and gently press down with your finger so you can only see the tip of each marshmallow.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the brownie part of each bite comes out with wet, gooey crumbs, 11 to 12 minutes. Set on a rack to cool completely. Serve immediately or cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creamy Mustard Chicken with Mushrooms

Working in the food industry often means having to boost your cravings at odd times of the year. Back in hot and humid June where sweaters and socks were tightly packed away, I found myself in my kitchen with my oven on for hours on end taste-testing slow-cooked recipes for different magazines I work for. Now that the leaves are slowly changing colors - my favorite, favorite time of the year - it's the best time to put these recipes to good use and get the most out of gentle and slow cooked meats.

This recipe is a real pleasure during those colder months of the year where you want to dig into a creamy and tender chicken dish after a long day. This recipe makes the most of being slow-cooked and retains all the flavor of tasty organic chicken by being cooked with the bone and skin. The skin should stay crispy and the meat be fork-tender when you bring it to the table. Served with mushrooms and a creamy mustard sauce it's pretty close to a perfect meal in my book. I like to present it alongside some wild rice mixed with nuts and cranberries, some couscous with herbs and almonds or some potato puree finished with a touch of truffle oil. It's also delicious as it is though - served with a nice piece of crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Creamy Mustard Chicken with Mushrooms

6 chicken pieces, legs and thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1/2 cup of low sodium chicken stock
16 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup of half-fat cream
2 tablespoons of grainy mustard
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
A small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place a stockpot on medium high heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Dry the chicken pieces on each side with a paper towel and generously season with salt and pepper. Place in the stockpot and leave untouched for 3-4 minutes while the chicken browns. Gently turn the chicken and brown for 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Add the chicken stock to the stockpot, leaving the chicken skin side up so it doesn’t become soggy. Cook for 45 min-1 hour until the chicken is just cooked through. When the chicken is just about done, add a good drizzle of olive oil to a small pan on medium heat. Add the mushrooms and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Saute the mushrooms for 5-6 minutes. Lower the heat and add the reduced chicken stock from the stockpot. Add the cream, grainy mustard and stir. Reduce the sauce until desired consistency and add the lemon juice. Spoon over the chicken. Sprinkle with the parsley. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

This weekend, it started to feel like Fall in Montreal. The weather got frisky and it was time for boots, scarfs and autumn jackets to come out. I aboslutely love Fall, it's one of the best times to get in the kitchen and take the time to try out some new recipes. In times like these, a comforting meal always comes to my mind. It's hard to go wrong with some tender, juicy, fork-tender pulled pork.

After having had some great pulled pork at various restaurants in North America, it was time to develop my own recipe to make it at home. This is really not the kind of food I grew up on in France but has been a wonderful food discovery. This is the kind of slow-cooked recipe that is perfect for a lazy Sunday. The prep time is pretty fast, and then the hardest part begins... waiting for the meat to be ready!

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Serves 4

600 grams of pork Shoulder, or pork butt
1 tablespoon of paprika
A pinch of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of low sodium chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Small ciabatta breads
1/2cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

In a small bowl, add the paprika, onion powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Using your hands, rub the mixture on all sides of the pork. Set to marinate in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 220 F. Place the pork in a stockpot. Pour the chicken stock around the pork and add the bay leaves. Cover and cook for 4-5 hours, until the pork is fork tender. Flake the pork using a fork or your fingers. Place in a bowl and fold in the barbecue sauce. Toast the sandwich bread and fill with a hearty mound of pulled pork and serve with coleslaw. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Creamy Spinach Pasta with Pancetta and a Cookbook Giveaway!

First things first... the cookbook giveaway! I'm proud to have been asked to participate in the ThinkFood Cookbook which features brain-healthy recipes from 50 bloggers around the world. It was published by Posit Science and aims to bring awareness to brain diseases and gives advice on what foods are nurturing to your brain and body. The recipes all include 'brain-healthy' ingredients such as spinach, blueberries, matcha, pecans, cinnamon, garlic and dark chocolate. The book is absolutely gorgeous and I am honored to be a part of it.

Now, about how you can win this beauty of a cookbook! To enter the contest, simply comment on this post and tell me which recipe you are looking forward to try from my blog. Contestants must be from the United States or Canada to enter and the contest will end on Friday September 17th, at midnight. I will then randomly pick a winner and send you the book!

Now, for today's recipe! This is a take on pasta carbonara using pancetta and a healthy dose of spinach. It's nice and creamy and easy to put together. Just make sure you use good quality Parmesan as it really makes the dish. The eggs just slightly cook when tossed into the pasta and create that perfect amount of creamy goodness without using cream. It's really one of those perfectly comforting meals for the colder days ahead. I like to serve it with a simple tomato and crisp lettuce salad and finish the meal with a simple fruit salad such as this one.

Creamy Spinach Pasta with Pancetta
Serves 2

Penne pasta for 2
1/4 cup of diced pancetta
1 egg yolk + 1 whole egg
1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
2 handfuls of baby spinach
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, add the diced pancetta to a pan on medium low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and whole egg until the mixture is homogeneous. Add the cracked black pepper and Parmesan. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking water from the pasta to help temper the eggs. Whisk vigorously as soon as you add the water to the eggs.

Add the spinach to the pan with pancetta and saute for 2 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and stir through. Add the egg mixture and stir. Serve immediately with a little extra grated Parmesan. Enjoy!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin