Author Archives: gentlemangourmet

About gentlemangourmet

My name is Mike and even though I’m not always a gentleman, it’s safe to say I am in love with food. Like my more famous namesake, the kid on the cereal commercial from the early 80′s, I had an ability to eat just about anything and “like it.” I’ve become a tad more discerning since my toddler phase: I prefer Pinot Noir to the customary Shiraz my parents liked, I no longer eat parmesan cheese sprinkled from a container, and can pick out which ingredients I like or don’t in a recipe by smell alone. I blame my Lebanese heritage, my large Lebanese nose (all the better for smelling with) and exposure over the past few years to some exquisite ethnic cooking styles and cuisine, as well as to some stunning, inspiring cooks who are family or friends. I’ve included a lot of their favourite recipes on this site, as well as a few of my own that have become my staples over the years. I hope you find something here that you like. Happy cooking!

Panko-Crusted Risotto Balls Stuffed with Mozzarella and Peppers

If you’ve never been to Nelson, British Columbia then you have been missing some of the most awe-inspiring natural landscapes that the province offers, as well as some of the best restaurants this side of Montreal. In addition to its brush with fame in the 80’s as the filming location for Steve Martin’s Roxanne, the town also has an eclectic music and arts scene, decent skiing and an economy that is apparently fuelled principally by the sale of psychotropics. The highlight of my stay was stumbling upon a couple of hidden gem restaurants that intrigued me with the novelty of their meals. Two side dishes, in particular, sent me reeling at the table: Masala Poutine with fromage frais and flash-fried risotto balls in panko.

I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the masala poutine. Hailing from La Belle Province I have a predisposition for poutine and anything deep fried, just as I have an ingrained dislike, equally strong, for Quebec’s other well known export, Celine Dion. I picked up a mandoline to emulate the style of fries, but to no avail. I’ve also ruined two batches of masala sauce concoctions, none of which are worthy of the original. When I finally do get this close enough to post, remind me to tell you the story about the time we introduced poutine to Laos.

The risotto balls, on the other hand, have agreed with my efforts of experimentation. I’ve strayed from the original ones I sampled, but did still choose to enrobe them in panko, with a quick dip in the deep fryer for crunchiness. I’ve also added a little bit of white wine, for added flavour and acidity, and stuffed the balls with mozza and a fire roasted red pepper fresh from my BBQ. I made each ball a little larger than a golf ball; and although their size is diminutive, they are tremendously filling, beware.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

With the hot spell these last few days, lingering on from the sunny weekend, I’ve been staring longingly from my office window with wistful thoughts of approaching summer: a beach towel spread on a grassy field with a Nabokov novel, wine tasting on a wisteria-scented verandah, or evening bonfires with buttery corn on the cob and cold beer.  I’m sure the productivity graph for most of my colleagues has shown a similar plunge. The weather in Victoria doesn’t stay agreeable for long this time of year, reassuringly for those with deadlines to meet, so undoubtedly this splendid sun-euphoria will be short-lived.

In the meantime, I’m going to induce an early summer any way that I can. I will play Beach Boys music and hop around the kitchen as I dry the dishes. I will wear my sandals, even when I can’t feel my toes in the cold of early morning. I’ve cleared out the wasp’s nest from inside my barbecue, unused through the wet winter, and have baptized it anew with a salmon fillet and sumptuous steak with melted blue cheese. I’ve knotted up my gums with my first corn on the cob of the season (imported from California, but corn nonetheless). I also picked up a basketful of inexpensive berries at the grocery store on the weekend. My reserves of jam are pretty well stocked, so when I saw pints of strawberries on sale, I knew that strawberry rhubarb pie beckoned instead, the quintessential summer treat. My unruly rhubarb plant has been giving me grief each time that I pass nearby with the mower, jabbing me irritatingly, so making this recipe was a good excuse to trim it a little.

Follow this simple Pie crust recipe for a no-fail two crust pie, or pick up one that is store bought if you want to save 10 minutes. But for the difference in taste and added crumbliness of homemade crust, I make my own from scratch every single time. Tonight, after the grilled steak and corn on the cob, why not turn on some Beach Boys and make room for dessert. Wouldn’t it be nice…

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Easy to Make Dark Chocolate Bowl

I was flipping through a cooking magazine the other day published by my favourite chef, Ricardo, a French Canadian cook with a penchant for preparing foods high in cholesterol, sugar and fat, or at least that’s the impression a reader would get from this one issue. The magazine features his take on all the (traditional) foods that I grew up with as a boy in Quebec, like hot chicken sandwiches smothered in gravy, poutine, mac and cheese, and chocolate donuts. As if this wasn’t incentive enough to pick up a copy, the remainder of the magazine paid homage to the splendours of chocolate and is replete with new and creative ways to rot teeth and keep dentists employed. One recipe in particular (if a recipe with a single ingredient even qualifies as a recipe) struck me as ingenious and I felt compelled to share it.

Those of you who work with me may already know I’m referring to a bowl made entirely of chocolate, like the one I brought in midweek to keep as far away as possible from my house. It is not as daunting as it appears and the method for creating it is so quick and easy that you’ll almost slap yourself after I reveal it. I feel like I’m giving away something esoteric, like a solution to the magic trick where a women gets sliced in half; but recipes, unlike David Copperfield secrets, are meant to be shared and enjoyed.

There are so many things one could do with the chocolate bowl, the least of which is devour it as is. They are also great to use for serving ice cream, cereal, or chocolate covered strawberries. I made the latter, as I had some melted chocolate leftover that I didn’t want to waste. I haven’t yet served hot soup in it, though I can pretty much guarantee your table cloth will need to be laundered. Enjoy!

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Kalamata Tapenade with Tomatoes and Spinach

A few summers ago, my friend Luke had been bragging about salmon recipes he was experimenting with, which included daubing the fish with old fashioned mustard, on one occasion, or black olive tapenade. I was determined to try the tapenade recipe to prove my superiority over an obviously talented cook. I searched the grocery store, near the hummus section, but the only product in stock was a small container with a price so exorbitant that I nearly gagged. I was chastised by an elderly woman watching me as she saw that I gave serious consideration to the purchase. She was shaking her head and probably thinking what morons young people are. I had nearly forked out a good sum of money for a mush of capers and olives that literally takes seconds to puree. The woman explained the basic recipe to me, as I took mental notes, then she continued on her way.

I used to think that tapenade came from Italy, as I erroneously attributed olives with the land of vino, the Pope mobile and the Sistine Chapel, but it is actually the French who first had the insight of mashing up capers and olives to serve on bread. Perhaps there was a shortage of jam that year.

Like Luke, I’ve used tapenade many times on my salmon and am never disappointed. It’s so easy that it doesn’t really even warrant writing the recipe down: basically, spread the tapenade on the uncooked salmon, like a thick paste, then cook the salmon as normal. I also suggest eating tapenade, as the French had originally intended, with a freshly baked baguette. For my own take on tapenade, I use additional ingredients for taste and colour, and pureed them quite finely; you may prefer a coarser texture, in which case puree very briefly.

 

Ingredients:

3 tbsp capers from a jar (don’t use the water that comes with the jar)

24 Kalamata olives, pits removed

1 Roma tomato

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

 

Puree all the ingredients in a food processor, in short bursts until the desired consistency is reached. If you want larger chunks of chopped olives and a coarser texture, add the olives last.

Black olive tapenade on salmon, with red quinoa salad and lemon butter brussel sprouts


Moroccan Beef Tagine with Honey and Raisins

Even before I had visited Marrakech, I had already tasted Moroccan tagine at a local Victoria restaurant and had become enamoured of the unmistakable, splendid tastes of this North African country. A trip to Morocco, however, will imbue any subsequent taste of its cuisine with rich and fond memories that greatly enhance each long-savoured bite.  When I now taste slow-cooked lamb or beef simmered in cinnamon, cumin and honey, or whenever I open up the lid of a hot tagine fresh from the oven, I imagine Marrakech – the magical, medieval city with its labrynthine alleys, with its fruit stalls and monumental date pyramids or its many wooden carts filled with fresh mint leaves, with its colourful tins of bulgur, lentils and dried beans, or its famous night market where each bodily sense of the observer is titillated.

Satisfying my olive craving

Night Market at Marrakech

I don’t eat a lot of beef at home, so tend to lean more towards cooking chicken tagine when in the mood for Moroccan. If I have the time, however, I thoroughly enjoy the robust taste of beef tagine cooked to slow perfection with raisins, honey and middle eastern spices. I remember once seeing this dish served with sauteed apples glazed with honey and cinnamon, to lend a pleasant tartness to the dish, so I’ve duplicated it here. I didn’t use a tagine to cook this dish, but you could have just as easily cooked this in a tagine in the oven or stovetop, instead of in a large saucepan.

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Homemade Kale Ravioli and Marinara Sauce

One Friday night a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work under the tutelage of Bruce at his Saltspring Island restaurant. Although I tell people, tongue-in-cheek, that I used to be a chef in an Italian restaurant when I was younger, the truth is that I was just a lowly pizza cook, burning my forearms daily on the oven door and reeking of pepperoni for minimum wage and free pizza-by-the-slice. Since then, pizza has never held the same appeal. I was expecting a similar kind of hell at Bruce’s Kitchen, but was pleased to find a professionally run, familial kitchen where gourmet meals were prepared using only fresh and local ingredients. I’d expect nothing less from an eatery on Saltspring Island, a Gulf Island eden that is so sheltered from most western commercialism that the mere mention of an impending McDonald’s franchise would spur locals to chain themselves to bulldozers and burn clown effigies in protest.

Bruce takes pride in all aspects of his food, from farm to table as his slogan proclaims, and his attention to detail is astonishing; even the most basic condiment, such as mustard, mayo or vanilla extract, is made painstakingly from scratch by Bruce himself. For anyone ignorant of the sustenance that feeds them, they need only pass an afternoon in Bruce’s Kitchen watching its namesake chef hard at work.

I was there to help Bruce with his renowned Friday night dinners, for which menus were prepared using clever and creative themes that changed on a weekly basis. That night’s menu was of a children’s literary theme, drawing as its muse such works as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (hand-ground lamb meatballs stuffed with fire-roasted red peppers, served on a bed of creamy polenta), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (chocolate espresso mousse) and the classic Green Eggs and Ham (kale ravioli).

It was this last dish that I aimed to duplicate at home, it was so good. I have used my pasta maker previously to make ravioli, but the pasta turned out bland and misshapen by the time it landed on my plate. To remedy this, Bruce used a ravioli cutter or pastry crimper to properly shape the ravioli; so I took note and picked up my own afterwards. To liven up the taste and colour of the pasta, he mixed in chopped kale.  I couldn’t remember the exact recipe, a few weeks after the fact, but trial and error gave me a finished product that I was pleased with. Thanks for the inspiration, Bruce, and for your patience with my endless questions.

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Breaded Halibut Dijonnaise

Halibut season started a few weeks ago and I couldn’t resist picking up two exquisite pieces from the seafood counter to celebrate. I recently vowed to cut down on seafood posts as this was starting to feel like the Plenty of Fish online dating website. The reality however is that the majority of my meals contain something from the sea and these fillets were too nice to pass up.

I wanted to coat the halibut with crushed almonds, similar to the pistachio crusted salmon that I made a few weeks ago, but unable to read my own chickenscratch on the crumpled Post-It note, I forgot the almonds, so we improvised with bread crumbs. If you have almonds, I suggest using them crushed, otherwise it was still delicious with the bread crumbs.

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