Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chicken, Brie and Fig Sandwich (just like Earls, but better)

If you suffer from the same problem as me, when you go to a restaurant you pretty much have to order the same thing every time. Not because there aren't any other good things on the menu, but because you know just how good that one item you like is and it may be a long time before you get to try it again.

My dish of choice at Earl's has been the Chicken, Brie and Fig Sandwich for years now. I literally have not tried another dish at Earl's since I've tried this one.

The other day I was inspired to try and recreate this culinary masterpiece on my own when I saw some Granny Smith's in the fridge. Only having access to one small grocery store for the summer, I had concerns that I wouldn't be able to pull this off. Luckily for me, I wasn't disappointed.

I started with this recipe which laid out the basic elements of the sandwich that I needed. I made two changes to the ingredients list - one for convenience and one for authenticity. Instead of cooking my own chicken, I decided to buy a nice hot roasted chicken from the grocery store. It was a good decision. Secondly, instead of just garlic mayonnaise, I made garlic aioli, using this recipe. Also, another good decision. I ended up baking my apples in tinfoil on the BBQ at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes to get them soft all the way through.

  • roasted chicken breasts
  • garlic aioli
  • fig jam
  • double creamy brie
  • baby spinach
  • ciabatta buns
  • Granny Smith apples
  • cinnamon
  • sugar

One of the complaints I had about the recipe is that it is somewhat vague in terms of time and quantity of ingredients. However, in hindsight, I believe the author did this purposely so that you can add the ingredients the way you like them (ie: thick slabs of oozing brie). Next time, I think I'll cut my apple slices a bit thicker (about 1/8" slices) to help bring them out a bit more as well as add more spinach.

After assembling the sandwiches on my ciabatta-like buns, I rolled them in tinfoil and put them back onto the BBQ for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Upon first bite, I was immediately taken back to that first time at Earl's. The interaction between the fig jam, apples and brie is utterly magical. I was floored that this sandwich could so easily be recreated without compromising a thing. The fact that I can now make it with my own proportions (ie: thicker slabs of oozing brie) in my own kitchen makes me think that I won't be going back to Earl's again anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Holy Guacamole!

After recently having some Mexican food in San Diego, I had a craving to recreate one of those culinary experiences. Specifically, I wanted to make some burritos that we picked up at Chipotle Mexican Grill. They were fantastic! I would definitely recommend eating there if you’re a Mexican fan.

So I found myself with a problem. There was no guacamole at the supermarket where we are staying for the summer. So I had to make it.

My favourite recipe database is at There you can search for anything and choose based upon a recipe’s popularity. The user feedback really helps you tweak each recipe based upon your tastebuds.

Here is a link to the guacamole recipe I tried out and the recipe itself:

6 avocados (soft, but not mushy)
2 -4 garlic cloves, minced (depends on how much you like garlic)
1 lime, cut in half
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
chopped cilantro (optional)
1 diced jalapeno peppers (optional) or 1 diced serrano pepper (optional)


1.     Cut avocados in half, remove pit, and spoon avocado into a mixing bowl.
2.     Add minced garlic and squeeze the juice from one-half of the lime into the bowl of avocado.
3.     Mash the ingredients together to desired consistency using the back of a large spoon or a potato masher (some like the avocado chunky, some like it smoother).
4.     Fold in diced tomato and diced onion, a couple pinches of salt, and the juice from the remaining lime half (Also add cilantro or peppers at this time).
5.     Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
6.     Uncover and taste.
7.     Add salt as needed.
8.     If you don't give the resulting guacamole at least 4 stars, then you ain't making it right.
9.     NOTE: The purpose of the lime is to allow any leftover guacamole to retain its "avocado" color as it sits in the fridge.
10.  Some folks use lemon, but it's been my experience that if you accidentally add too much lemon, it seriously affects the guacamole's flavor; if you happen to add too much lime, the guacamole just gets a little more tangy. If you find the leftover guacamole has darkened, simply stir it before eating and use more fresh lime juice next time. 

The only changes I made were to leave out the cilantro (because it is nasty), add in one big jalapeno (bam!) and double the garlic (which just about quadrupled after a day in the fridge).

It was really easy to make and turned out so delicious that we never even made burritos! It ended up being scooped up with some salsa and sour cream. You can’t miss with this one and it is easy to tweak. If you don’t like spicy and love cilantro, go for no jalapeno and the right amount of cilantro (don’t ever use too much cilantro – you can’t go back). If you like chunky guacamole, don’t mash your avocados too much and cut your ingredients into larger chunks. For you smooth fans, do the opposite. Use it in any dish or simply by itself. You’ll love it either way. Enjoy!

NOTE: I strongly recommend making sure that your avocados are ripe. I tried making it a second time and it was a complete disaster because they hadn’t ripened enough. Absolutely no taste!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Breakfast Club

Having one of those nights where you feel like breakfast for dinner? Well, here is a simple little recipe that my family enjoys.

Ingredients to prep
(approx. measurements add as much or little as you wish)
1 Cup mixed Peppers
¼ Cup Onion (red or yellow)
4 Cups Hash browns
½ Cup Cheddar cheese & Mozzarella cheese
3-4 slices Bacon (I used Costco ready made)
4-5 eggs
2 tbsp. milk

The first thing I did was brown the hash browns in a frying pan with a bit of oil (vegetable oil is great for higher heat). Once the hash browns are browned turn down the heat to low.

 In another pan add the peppers and onion, cook until tender.(if you want you can just add the vegetables into the same pan as the hash browns but I like my hash browns crunchy) 

While peppers were cooking I microwaved the bacon. When the peppers and onion are ready add them into the pan with the hash browns.

In a cup crack your eggs, add milk and sprinkle in some pepper then whisk. Turn heat back up on the pan with the hash browns then add in your egg mixture.

Stir ingredients like scrambled egg, so all of the egg gets cooked with out turning into an omelet.  

Once the egg is cooked add the cheese. (Cover with a lid if you have one that fits to help cheese melt) 

When the cheese is almost done melting stir in the already cooked bacon. Plate! Eat! Enjoy!

This breakfast can easily be adjusted to your own taste. Add or subtract whatever kind of ingredients you like for breakfast. If you like sausage add sausage. If you like spicy add hot sauce into your eggs or add your favorite seasonings into your hash browns.  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Homemade Pizza Pops! (Or Calzones, whichever you prefer)

So I had some left over pizza dough (see my last blog post for the dough recipe) and figured I could try to make some calzone. The trick was going to be how to cook the dough on the inside of the pocket.

I stretched out my leftover dough (after 2 days in the fridge it responded pretty well) on an oiled counter top, then threw in whatever ingredients I had laying around (pizza sauce, onions, green peppers, pepperoni and some taco meat). I folded over the dough and pinched the edges to keep it closed.

To cook it, I turned on the oven to 425 degrees, while heating up a frying pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, I threw in some olive oil and placed my calzone into the hot pan to cook the bottom. After 3-4 minutes the bottom was light brown in colour, so I flipped it over carefully and did the same on the other side. Once the top was light brown, I put the calzone into the oven for about 12 minutes.

They were fantastic! Crispy on the outside and cooked to perfection on the inside. Just like a pizza pop, the contents on the inside were incredibly hot. I would recommend cutting them in half to let the contents cool down before attempting to eat them.

You could really customize this dish with any types of food that you like. Chicken, beef, pork, vegetarian – they would all work. I’m even thinking of trying a chicken curry calzone the next time…

Below are some pictures from my first time experimenting with this dish. It is sure to become a favourite in our household.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When the Moon Hits Your Eye...

Bobby Flay is my favourite chef (my wife thinks I have some kind of romantic obsession). The other day I was watching one of his latest shows, BBQ Addiction, when I saw him make fresh pizza from scratch on the barbeque. This blew my mind. Fresh pizza on the BBQ? I had to give it a try. Here is the recipe, as taken from the Food Network website (link here).

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce envelope)
  • 2 cups warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
  • 5 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting, preferably organic
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dissolve the yeast in warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 3 cups flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Stir in an additional 2 cups flour; continue adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time (up to 1/2 cup), stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Start by slapping the dough onto the counter, pulling it toward you with one hand and pushing it away from you with the other. Fold the dough back over itself (use a bench scraper or a wide knife to help scrape the dough from the surface). Repeat until it's easier to handle, about 10 times. Finish kneading normally until the dough is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little tacky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it's done; an indent should remain.

When I made this, I was more interested in the dough, instead of all of the fancy toppings (I was pretty sure I couldn't get my hands on the taleggio cheese). I was more in the mood to use traditional (and some of my favourite) toppings.

The dough does take a while to prepare, I'd say start it around 4 hours before you're ready to cook. Its a pretty straight forward recipe, I took the added step of pre-heating my oven to 170 degrees, turning it off and then placing my plastic wrapped dough in the oven with a jug of boiling water. This kept it warm and moist for the entire 3 hours it was rising (and whoa did it rise).

When shaping the pizza crust, it was really difficult to get the dough to keep its shape (super elasticy). I found that I ended up shaping it on a well greased plate directly before I put it onto the barbeque. In fact, I actually had the plate beside the barbeque so there was minimal travel time. I also found that instead of brushing olive oil, salt and pepper onto the crust beforehand, I simply poured on some oil, seasoned it, then worked it back into a ball before final shaping.

Now for the grill. I cranked up the heat on the barbeque to the max. After quickly shaping my crusts (try to maintain a 1/4" thickness as best you can) I put them onto the grill. Each side needs very minimal time (at least at 550 degrees). We're talking 30 seconds per side at the most. Once done, I turned off one of the burners and reduced the other one to low - for the cooking of the toppings.

Back inside the kitchen, I threw my toppings onto the pizza while the crusts were still very warm. Once ready, the pizzas went directly onto my barbeque, now acting as my oven. Pizzas can stay on until you think they're ready.

A couple of thoughts: If you're into lots of toppings and browning your cheese a lot, you may want to consider throwing your pizza under the broiler at the end. What I found that worked the best was to stick with minimal toppings and wait until the cheese was thoroughly melted. You don't want to keep your crust on the barbeque too long, as it will eventually get too hard and burn. Short and sweet is the key and it will leave you with a nice light, fluffy crust.

Here are some pictures of the ones I've cooked so far:

Pepperoni, Green Pepper and Onion with Bolognese Sauce

Chicken, Bacon and Corn with Alfredo Sauce