Archive for the ‘Teach’ Category

If you have visited my blog you’ll know I also have a passion for wine.  In the past I’ve given you a few recommendations however this is all about to change.   My dear friend and sommelier, MaryFrances, will now contribute to Tales From My Plate!

I am very excited to be able to share her extensive wine knowledge with you therefore you will find a new category has been added, Wine Pairings.   Each dish will be paired with a recommendation (or two if she’s ambitious!)

We hope you enjoy the new addition!

Sadly, the final days of summer are quickly evaporating.    I have to admit it has been an awesome summer.  Before the fall descends I want to introduce you to brining. A brine is essentially a heavily salted liquid mixture infused with spices and is a technique used to tenderize and impart moisture and flavor into meat, poultry and fish.

Although it may not seem logical to submerge a whole chicken or rack of pork in a cold liquid, brining is a magnificent way to take your cooking to the next level without investing a fortune in cooking lessons.

There are a number of different recipes for brines dependent on what flavors or meat you want to cook with.  I will share a few during September to get your creative juices going 😉

You’ll need to prepare the brine a day in advance to cool it sufficiently.  In the morning, butterfly the chicken and submerge in the brine.  I’ll continue to share my love of brining throughout September and October.

Continue for recipe for Beer Brined Chicken and a glass (or 2?) of fabulously paired wines.

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Beer Brine

1 3-1/2- to 4-lb. chicken  (organic if possible)

1 liter boiling water

1.5 liter ice cubes or very cold water

96 g kosher salt

96 g packed dark brown sugar

12 black peppercorns

6 cloves garlic skins on smashed

6 bay leaves, crumbled

1 bunch fresh parsley

½ bunch fresh thyme

2 X 350 ml cans or bottles cold pilsner beer

Method for brine

In a large pot, combine the kosher salt, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, smashed garlic cloves and bay leaves. Add 4 cups very hot water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the beer and stir well to remove the carbonation. Add about 4 cups ice cubes to cool the brine rapidly. When the ice has melted add the parsley and thyme. Refrigerate the brine overnight (minimum 4 hours).

Prepare the chicken for the brine

To butterfly a chicken is quite simple.

  1. Place the chicken back side down on the cutting board.  Using a small paring knife remove the wishbone, top end of the chicken near the neck.  If you don’t know how to do this it is possible to skip this step.
  2. Place the chicken breast side down on a cutting board.  Using a sharp deboning knife or poultry shears cut out the backbone entirely; discard.
  3. Flip the chicken over with breast facing you.  Flare out the legs to the side and press firmly down on the breasts in the center to crack the bone.
  4. Your chicken should now lay relatively flat on the cutting board.
  5. Place the butterflied chicken in the brine, top up with cold water if necessary but try not to dilute the brine; return to the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.
  6. Remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels and leave at room temperature for 20 – 30 minutes.  Discard the brine.

Season chicken spice rub before bbqing

Simple Spanish flavors:

1 tsp. smoked sweet Spanish paprika (pimentón)

3/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp celery salt

1/4 tsp chili flakes

1 tsp packed dark brown sugar

½ tsp dried oregano, Mexican if you can find it

Acouple grinds of freshly ground coarse black pepper

3/4 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Rub or brush the chicken with the olive oil.  Mix all together in a small bowl.  Apply the spice mix over skin side of the air dried chicken.

Method for cooking

The best method of cooking the butterflied chicken is over indirect heat. Fire up your bbq and heat to medium (or around 200 C).  Once the bbq reaches temperature turn one side off completely.

Place the chicken skin side up on the grill and close the lid.  Rotate the chicken every 15 min.  The chicken will need approximately 45 min to 55 min to cook.  Test the internal temperature reaches 78 to 85 C.  Take off the grill, place paper towels around the bird, cover with foil and let the chicken rest for 10 min.   Cut into portions to serve, mini drumsticks, breasts, legs and thighs.

Are you ready for a fabulously paired glass of wine?

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Quinoa Salad with Edamame, Radishes and Avocado adapted from Plenty by Ottolenghi

A few weeks back I was engaged in eating my home made lunch at my desk, per usual, when my colleague Adam turned to me to say

“I am starving and I only have a ½ hr until my next meeting.”

“Well go get lunch at the canteen.” I said.

“I just can’t bear to eat that crap food.” He said.

“You have to eat, so stop being silly and go get a sandwich.”  I replied

“No, I just can’t bear it.  It’s such crap.”    He said.

Later in the afternoon I proposed a subversive idea.  We would pick a day, bring our home made lunch and eat away from our desks.  Only a few rules I said, no prepared store foods & definitely no chemicals in your food.  He agreed readily and that’s how I came to start a movement in our office.  It’s called the Subversive Wednesday Lunch.

Why subversive?  It seems that cooking your own food is one of the few ways to undermine the grip on the food market held by the huge processed food companies.    It is one way to gain back control of what you eat and the money you invest in food.

Our canteen has few offerings that I would consider to be whole food.  The salad bar is generally lettuce, canned tuna loaded with packaged mayonnaise, tinned olives, chickpeas, bean salad and if you’re lucky there might be a fresh tomato or two.  They do offer a salad of the day, which is generally better, but that’s it for fresh veg.

The remaining offerings are processed lunch meats, pate’s, fried croquettes, pasta with canned sauce, parboiled rice – well I could go on but you get the picture.  There are fruit juices, but I suspect it’s not exactly fresh squeezed so I’d hate to see the sugar content.

Is it their fault?  Yes and no.  Our canteen services are outsourced to a third party company via a global contract.  So I say it is their fault for not negotiating a better deal and insisting on more fresh foods on offer.  It is not their fault because the staff has little choice but to eat there.  There are neither refrigerators to keep your lunch cool nor microwaves to heat up your delicious leftovers from the evening before.

I have rarely eaten in the canteen since my arrival in the Netherlands.  Some of my colleagues thought me unsociable, but rather it is just that I am not easily coerced to eat bad food.   No matter how cheap it is – why bother?

I’m excited to say my movement is catching on, we are in our 4th week and we have now 6 persons thinking subversively. I’ve learned a lot about my workmates from lunching with them and it is exciting to see their enthusiasm for eating.  We’ve even found a secret outdoor courtyard where we can enjoy the sun, our delicious and nutritious lunches and get to know each other a little better.   I encourage you, my fellow foodie, to start behaving subversively as well.  Start with a small group of like minded people, make few food rules, show them your delicious side and watch the movement grow.

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I’ve been pondering what I will do once I finish my Cordon Bleu diploma in November 2012.  As I think through the possibilities, one that intrigues me is owning a cooking school.  I believe that cooking is a life skill and although there are a plethora of cooking shows and Masterchef renditions, not many people actually learn to cook.

This journey to become a better cook began when I moved to Amsterdam.  My husband could see I was struggling to settle in our new life and suggested I take a few cooking classes.  Exploring hobbies or passions is always a great way to meet like-minded people and he’d found La Cuisine Française close by our home.

I embarked on 2 series of 6 lessons packages on Italian cuisine, met a couple of passionate foodie friends and then before I knew it I was obsessed and registering for Cordon Bleu in Paris.  I’ve kept in contact and become friends with Pat, the owner of the cooking school, over the past couple of years. This spring, post Intermediate Cuisine, I volunteered to be her assistant for her “Basics of French Cooking” series.

The series consists of 6 classes where the students are led through the foundations of French techniques.  The 6 classes were: Stock and fish fileting; Dressings and poaching; Pate’s and terrines; Eggs; Shellfish and roasting, and finally Game.  It’s an ambitious course and not for novices.  Although a number of the ingredients and most of the dessert recipes were new to me, I felt generally confident in assisting.

There were 14 students registered, a full slate, for the Monday evening class.  I was curious as to how Pat would progress through the full menu plan and what I was to help with. As she’s been an instructor for most of her career, this was all quite matter of fact for her.   Although for me, I was used to sitting back taking notes and planning my approach for the practical learning.

We met in advance of the first course where she provided a bit of guidance on where she would start and where I would assist in the demo.  Seems straight forward but when you are with a group often questions and plans shift and change to suit the crowd.  I found myself explaining chopping techniques for vegetables, gutting and fileting a fish and scurrying to remove dirty dishes.

When the demo was done after 1.5 hours the students then went to work to prepare the 6 dishes.  It was beyond challenging the first night to try and keep up with questions, make certain cutting boards were cleaned of raw fish before vegetables were chopped and that no one cut themselves!


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The next few lessons are centered on cuisine from Bordeaux. I think most people have heard of Bordeaux wine and perhaps even had a sip or two. This great wine is a blend of 5 varietals of grapes, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. There are two rivers that run through the region, the Garonne and the Gironde. The open waters of the Bay of Biscay border the appellation of Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wines are classified as either left or right bank wines, meaning the grapes grew on one side or the other of the Gironde. On the north bank or left bank we find the appellations of Graves, Pessac Leognan, Haut Medoc, St. Julian and Paulliac. On the right bank are the regions of Pomerol and St. Emillion (the one gorgeous village I have been). There is also a small appellation in the middle of the two rivers called “Entre deux mers” or between two oceans.

All these appellations are well known for luscious red wines so it’s only fitting that they would bless us with some truly gourmet cuisine. Our first taste of Bordeaux is one of my favorite dishes to cook, Magret du Canard avec Bordelaise Sauce.

I promised my father I would provide clear instructions on cooking a duck breast, Magret du canard, as he is keen to try it out. So get out your sauté pans and let’s get cooking!


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Our culinary tour begins on the flowered coast, the region of Calvados. Situated in the north coast of France nearest the English Channel, Normandy is often remembered for the D Day landings of British, Canadian and American troops that stormed ashore to battle the Germans in WWII.  I’ve yet to visit this region, but after this lesson I suspect there is much to remember and discover.

Chef Tivet created 3 dishes in practical, all based on liquors from Normandy.  All of the dishes were based on the simple and honest apple.

Matelote Normande au Cidre Brut, Fish Stew with Dry Cider

Pintade Fermiere Poelee Vallee D’Auge, Pan Roasted Guinea Fowl with Calvados Sauce

Tarte Fine aux Pommes et Cremeux Caramel, Apple Tart with Creamy Caramel

Each dish features an alcohol based on apples, dry ciders or calvados, and cream.  From savory to sweet the flavors of the region are remarkable.  What was interesting is the menu did not compete against each other on the apple front, but rather took you on a journey from the salty fish stew onto the sexy Calvados cream fowl and finally to the apple forward dessert.

It struck me in the practical that French chefs are persistently cruel with their seafood.  In basic you witnessed I murdered crabs, and you will see me in a future lesson inflict the same treatment on a lobster.  In this demonstration the Chef removed the intestine from live crayfish before putting them to death in a pan of hot oil.  Mon Dieu!  Must we always be so barbaric?  Seems I forgot all about it when the fish stew was served though – perhaps I am now on their side?

For our practical we prepared the Pan Roasted Guinea Fowl with Calvados Sauce.  Guinea Fowl, originally a wild African bird, is farm raised and has both light and dark meat.  For this recipe, if you cannot find such a bird, substitute a pheasant or chicken.  The bird will be braised whole on a bed of aromatic vegetables for 40 to 50 min at 200 C.   An accompaniment of apples pan fried in butter is delicious alongside. Continue reading for instructions….


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“Gently sloping from the western foothills of the Pyrenees into the deep sapphire-blue Bay of Biscay, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria in the Basque language; Le Pays Basque in French) straddles modern-day France and Spain. Yet this feisty, independent land remains profoundly different from either of the nation states that have adopted it.

The French side (or as it’s diplomatically referred to here, the ‘northern side’; ‘Iparralde’ in Basque) accounts for roughly 20% of the Basque country, and is famed for its glitzy beach resort, Biarritz.”  Lonely Planet

The cuisine of the “Pays Basque” is influenced by it’s proximity to the mountains and the sea and most definitely it’s proximity to Spain.   To generalize, the dishes of the Basque Country take their flavour and color from red and green peppers.  A notable dish I’ve made that is truly Basque is piperade which you will find in the Ad Hoc cookbook.  It is a lovely sweet roasted pepper side dish that elevates simply cooked eggs, chicken and fish.

Other “produits du terrior” besides peppers include fish, chicken, pork and lamb.  Game in the form of poultry is notable and they farm rice, peppers, corn and salt from Bayonne.  Cheese made from ewe’s milk, Ossau Iraty, which is medium soft and light in color with a complex yet delicate flavour.

One of the most interesting seasonings from the Pay Basque is piment d’espelette.  It is a sweet but spicy dried ground pepper that flavours many of the regions dishes.  I really like it and use it in a number of non French dishes as well.  It’s expensive but worth the price.

Traditional dishes, other than piperade, from the region include fish soups, the use of Bayonne cured ham (similar to Serrano ham) and desserts such as cakes filled with black cherry jam.

In our first lesson we conquer Basque Chicken which is served with a garnish of meltingly tender onions and peppers.  I arrived at the demo to find all the front seats taken and was relegated to the back of the classroom which for me is not ideal given my height.   Luckily it was a pleasantly uncomplicated start!

Basque Chicken is a very simple dish, however it seemed to take me over two hours to cook in the practical (I am a falling behind the pace most definitely but I’ll catch up).   The method for portioning the chicken vexed me the most as it was slightly different and included Frenching the drumsticks.

Tip:  By roasting the bones and bits in the oven you will have an even coloring and the thin wing tips and bones will not burn and ruin the caramelization in the pan.  Burnt bones; burnt sauce!


  1. Portion a whole chicken into 8 pieces leaving the breasts on the bone.  Season all the pieces with salt and pepper.
  2. Chop up remaining bits, wing tips and back bone for the sauce.
  3. Heat a generous amount olive oil in a sauté pan over med heat.
  4. Fry the chicken pieces, presentation side down first.  Flip and brown second side, then set aside in the warm place.
  5. Add the “bits” to the hot oil and fry quickly.  Then pop into an oven at 180 C for 15 min or so until golden.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and deglaze with about 50 ml of white wine.  Ensure wine is fully reduced.
  7. Add a tbsp. or so of tomato paste and cook off the raw flavor, then add 500 ml of chicken stock (please homemade or at minimum sodium reduced).
  8. Return the chicken to the pan and pop it all back in the oven for 20 min.  Baste occasionally.
  9. Remove from the oven and decant the chicken.
  10. Strain the bones from the sauce and return the sauce to the pan and reduce.
  11. Discard the bones.
  12. If you can manage, debone the chicken thighs and breasts – tough work as it’s hot – then wrap the pieces in Bayonne ham.  Keep warm.
  13. When the sauce is reduced and seasoned to your liking, place the chicken pieces in a roasting pan and return to the oven for 5 to 7 min maximum.  Watch that the ham does not become crisp!
  14. Remove from the oven, place on a warm plate with the sauce on the side.

Suggested sides, piperade and saffron rice….

Wine pairing:  Last night my fridge contained only a Sancerre and it was in fact nice but a little light.  I think a white Rioja would be nice but this is a French cooking class so I best recommend a Gamay/Beaujolais or a hearty white Burgundy.

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What elevates a dish from average to sensational?  My belief is the balance of flavours and finesse of texture are what that takes the ho hum into the sphere of well done.   What makes ones mouth water, leaves another dry but that is why there are so many cookbooks on offer!  A recipe draws in the reader firstly with a scrumptious photo of the finished product, then secondly with a list of ingredients that appeal to the readers flavour profile.

I find myself drawn to recipes by the list of ingredients/flavours, textures and by cooking methods that appeal to me.  I am a huge proponent of braises as they delivery melt in your  mouth textures combined with creamy and rich sauces, grilled meats and vegetables for the characteristic charcoal flavour and baked or roasted for optimum crispy exteriors with moist centers.


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Tuscan Stew

Adapted from Fine Cooking vol 81.

30 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 hot or mild Italian sausage, casings removed

2 medium garlic cloves minced

2 400 ml (14 oz) cans of white kidney beans or cannellini beans drained and rinsed

150 gram baby spinach, washed and dried

250 ml chicken broth, low sodium – homemade if possible!

10 ml (2 tsp) red wine vinegar

Salt & pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese


Heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven.  Add the onion and sweat for 5 to 6 minutes, do not brown the onion.  If it begins to color add a little water.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the sausage meat.  Cook, stirring to break up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula until lightly browned; around 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute then stir in the beans.  Add the spinach leaves in batches to the mixture, using tongs if needed, incorporating until the spinach is wilted.

Add the chicken stock and cover the pot until the stock comes to a boil.  Season with the vinegar and taste; if it need more punch add a little more vinegar.  Season for salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer yummy stew to a bowl and sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese.  Raise glass of Dolcetto and enjoy your meal!

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I felt it was my duty to do a little research on cheese while living in Paris to ensure I was experiencing all the culinary aspects of French living.  Traditionally the country produces between 350 and 400 different types of cheeses; however the list has now grown due to variations on a theme to around 1000 types.

Around the corner from my tiny Parisian apartment on Rue Blomet, there is a gorgeous cheese shop, Androuet, that I frequented once or twice a week.   In my broken French I would ask for pairings of cheese with Champagne, Chablis or avant Magret de Canard and they were always able to find a lovely match.


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