Archive for March, 2009

Success!!!

Some days I think Toronto Life is the greatest publication in the world.

Today is one of those days.

You see, I was reading their weekly foodie newsletter early this morning and there was an article about Toronto’s current obsession with sweets combined with bacon.  The bacon cupcake is nothing new, and neither is the piggy chocolate bar.  As previously mentioned here I’ve toyed with making pork jam in the past, but haven’t quite gotten the right consistency yet, plus I’ve also made porcine vodka.  What really got me excited was the fact that the article cites the Vosges Mo’ Bacon bar, and the note that a store called The Mercantile (which I loved when it was on College) carries them.

A quick email to the owner confirmed that not only do they carry Vosges, but they also have the majority of the bars I’ve been after.  I forced the Everyman to make a stop at the store after work, and not only did I manage to get myself a king sized Mo’ Bacon, but also the Goji Exotic, Black Pearl and Calindia.  Happy sigh! It really is the little things in life that are important.  And what’s even better is that the Everyman liked the Mo’ Bacon too, so whenever I want more, I’m sure he’ll take me back there.  As the Everyman succinctly put it; when you first think about the combination, it really doesn’t sound appetizing, but then, once you bite into it, all of a sudden it’s like, You Idiot!!! Of course it works!!! Shannon (the owner) also told me that the next time she places an order with her supplier, she’ll order some of my absolute favorite, the Barcelona bar, just for me.  Now that’s what I call great customer service.

Just wanted to share my good news with any other Vosges fans out there.

Until next time…

The Foodie 13 – TV Personalities

A conversation I had with the Everyman last week inspired the topic for our second installment of The Foodie 13.

As we enjoyed a dinnertime nosh, we started talking about some of our favorite foodie TV hosts of all time.  It became apparent to me a long time ago that people’s tastes in television personalities are as varied as their tastes in clothing.  My mother, for instance, loves Martha Stewart (creepy), The Two Fat Ladies (weird and unhealthy) and Ina Garten (uber-annoying).  Then there are people who enjoy Guy Fieri (so I’m told) and Rachel Ray (I have no idea why).  One thing that the Everyman and I agreed on was how awesome it would be if they gave Ted Allen and Jeffrey Steingarten a show of their own.  It would be like a modern version of the odd couple… only foodie-focused.  It got me thinking about who would make my list of top TV personalities… so in no particular order, let’s find out, shall we?

1- James Barber - A perennial favorite in my household growing up, James Barber was a character that was easy to love.  Though it’s likely he was always pickled-drunk, he was entertaining and amusing, and had much to do with inspiring my love of cooking and food over the years.  To watch his show now is both reminiscent and horrifying; it’s a wonder that I never noticed how unsanitary cooking shows used to be back then.

2- Alton Brown - A man of many talents and one for all seasons.  Whether laughing along to bad jokes or skits on Good Eats, or being captivated by his Feasting on Asphalt (or Waves), Alton Brown is as approachable and charismatic a host as you could hope for.  He’s educational and fun, and seems like the kind of guy I’d like to talk to over a beer (if I drank beer).  I won’t comment on his appearances on Iron Chef America, because I like to pretend they didn’t happen.

3- Ted Allen - Trendy enough for the younger generation (due to his tenure on QEFTSG), but non-threatening enough that your grandmother could fall for him, Ted Allen is a lovable, foodie TV fixture.  I mourned the loss of him during season 5 of Top Chef, but was taken by his new Good-Eats-meets-Popular-Science show Food Detectives.  I hear great things about Chopped too, but have yet to see an episode here in ass-backwards Canada.  From what I’ve heard about it though, it sounds awfully similar to the show that personality #9 hosts.  Plus, he’s not nearly as creepy looking when he’s in motion! :)

4- Jeffrey Steingarten - While he has yet to be granted a show of his own, his appearances on Iron Chef America are usually the only reason I’ll tune in.  I set the Tivo to record and fast forward to 15 minutes in – the point where they introduce the guest judges.  If Jeffrey’s on, chances are I’ll continue watching.  If Jeffrey and Ted Allen are there, I can’t not watch every gory moment.  The two of them together are like a train wreck that you just can’t tear yourself away from.  Never before has a curmudgeon been quite so entertaining, though I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to become so damn famous in the first place…

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Cor, Limey!

Spring has sprung

The grass is riz

This is where

The good stuff is!

I can’t quite remember where exactly that comes from, but my brain is leaning towards The Simpsons for some reason.  Given the current conditions here in Toronto, it seemed kinda fitting.  The weather is balmy, the breeze is warm, and I actually got to spend some time turning and cultivating soil today.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m just itching to get back to my garden, so this weather couldn’t have come a moment too soon.  The plants in my basement are coming along nicely, though the last batch of seeds I put down have yet to germinate, but it’s only been a few days.

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Bits And Pieces, Odds And Ends

I’ve got a lot of concurrent projects on the go right now, so instead of wracking my brain to come up with enough time and material to write 5 or 6 posts, I’ve decided to aggregate my updates into one smaller post.

Firstly, I finally managed to get my shit together garden-wise and inventory what’s growing in the basement.  I was able to determine what I needed to replant, and what had not been planted at all.  By the time I went to bed last night, all tomatoes had been started or were already sprouted (with the exception of the Sungolds) and the artichokes, celery root and chili peppers were planted too.  Hopefully I still have enough time to get them to seedling stage before it’s time to go outside.  I even managed to give West Coast Seeds a call to find out what was going on with my Sungold tomatoes and Ambition shallots; it’s been almost a month and a half since I ordered my seeds from them.  Turns out that my back order was just shipped on Tuesday (finally), so any day now I should be able to plant the rest.  I definitely feel like a weight has been lifted now that the majority of it is done.  All I have to do now is wait for warmer weather and pick up my kiddie pool, hanger bags and strawberry vines and let the nature handle the rest.

On the baking front, I’ve been nurturing the Bride of Frankenstein for several weeks now, and her progress has been quite promising.  Now that I only need to feed her once or twice a week it’s been much easier to manage.  I imagine she must’ve attained some depth during that time, so I am eagerly awaiting this weekend for another chance to make bread.  I also broke one of my ironclad kitchen rules and am anticipating the results of that decision.  Recently while reading Local Breads, I came across a list of somewhat essential tools for successful bread-making.  Typically I shun single-use kitchen gadgets because I hate clutter and have already completely filled our decently-sized kitchen with stuff.  Yesterday I caved and ordered myself a baguette pan and bench scraper from Golda’s Kitchen.  I can make a case for the many uses of a bench scraper, but the baguette pan as far as I can tell has one purpose only; alleviating my laziness.  You see, one of the techniques that my book recommends is “couching” your loaves while they proof and bake in order to obtain the correct size and structure.  The manual way to do this is to create an accordion out of parchment paper and then slip it between the loaves so that they are supported on each side.  While it rises, you slip a few kitchen towels under the folds to further support the dough.  This is not only time-consuming but annoying, so I bought a pan shaped for the purpose instead.  I intend to make lots of baguettes from now on, so rationalizing the cost/benefit was slightly easier.  I just don’t know where I’m going to be able to store it since I’m completely out of room.  I made myself feel better by not also purchasing a banneton and proofing box; two other things I wanted but don’t have room for.  D’oh!

Project guanciale has been coming along nicely too.  Every time I peek in, they’re slightly smaller than the time before.  I am continually amazed by how much of the marinade coating  has adhered during the curing phase.  The only things I’m not quite sure about is whether I’m supposed to rinse it off before serving and if I should’ve removed the “rind” before marinating.  Until this past weekend all the guanciale I purchased came pre-sliced.  While we were at the Cheese Boutique obtaining cottage provisions, we managed to score a hunk of guanciale; it just had to be sliced at home.  Whenever we go there I leave the meat to the Everyman and I tackle the cheeses, so he bought the chunk (which I later realized was a bad idea considering how much I have hanging at home).  Ah well.  They’ll be plenty of meat at our house!

The majority of our food comes from an organic grocery delivery service called The Clean Food Connection.  In the summertime they provide us with a fresh, local farmshare from Zephyr Organics and in the winter we leave most things to chance with something they call a vegpak.  A vegpak is a bundled order of fruits and vegetables that comes in several different sizes, and is assembled based on what’s in stock at the store that week and a list of our preferences.  Year-round our grocery deliveries are a sort of culinary roulette; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.  Our vegpak last night included a handful of lemons, which were hastily thrown in my chalice (current housing for a glut of multicoloured citrus).  Staring at the lemons and lamenting how to use them, the Everyman came up with the perfect solution; lemon curd!  I still have half a jar left from the last time I made my version of the lemon/lavender/white chocolate Black Hoof dessert, but I really don’t think you can ever have too much.  Kudos to the Everyman for a brilliant suggestion!  I’ll be curding it up while the bread bakes this weekend.

Making it two for two, the Everyman also had another fantastic idea that I can’t believe he heard about before I did.  While perusing Cowbell’s website, he noticed that they will be participating in Ontario’s first Outstanding In The Field dinner.  If you’re not familiar with Outstanding In The Field, I suggest you check it out.  It’s a roving, open-air dining experience that pairs farmers, chefs and the dining public for a not-to-be-missed culinary adventure.  I purchased their cookbook last year and was captivated by it, but never realized that they organized dinners in Canada as well.  Apparently they’ve done some in BC to great success, but this will be the first Ontario event.  It’s sort of Stadtlander-esque, but on a grander scale, as dinners can include as many as 200 guests.  The Everyman and I have decided that we’re going to go, so I now have something else that’s fun to look forward to this summer (aside from his birthday).  Plus, it’s being held at Dingo Farms so I bet there’ll be cows to hug too!  If you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited.  Now I just have to find somewhere to stay in Bradford that isn’t a B&B.

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Subterranean Plantsick Foodie

It’s a trying time of year for me here at Foodie and the Everyman right now.  The weather in Toronto has been experiencing the usual ups and downs; it’s just that this year there seems to be a much more extreme variance than usual.  For me this is like some kind of medieval water torture.   The temperature soared to 16 degrees one day last week, and then several days later was back down to below zero.  Of course the way we gauge temperature is all relative, but when it changes so quickly it can feel downright arctic in your head.

It can be also be very frustrating when you’re trying to plan a garden and start seedlings when the weather is neither consistent nor cooperative.  I have about 40 tomato seedlings (as seen below) currently hanging out in my basement, waiting for their turn in the sun.  Every time the weather warms up a bit, I get my hopes up, yet they are continually dashed.  I still have all my other plants to start, but the lack of space and shifting weather have left me slightly confused about how long I should wait to start them.  I read recently that the You Grow Girl folks are starting their seeds in a greenhouse down the street this weekend, so that should be a good indication that I need to get my butt in gear.

I also have a few lonely fig trees cloistered away in my sun room; one of them has even started growing it’s first fig already.  I look forward to the day I can put them (and their lemon and lime tree brethren) out on the deck where they’ll hopefully fare better.

Springtime, won’t you come on down?

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Flour + Water + Yeast + Salt = Deliciousness

Daily Baguettes - Take II

Though I’ve been somewhat quiet on the subject during the last week or so, I have not stopped experimenting with bakingness.

Never one to be satisfied with my prior accomplishments for very long, I knew that my initial success with baguette making would only spur me on to try for more.  There were several items I wanted to improve on after my first attempt, including taste, color and crunch.

To address the taste issue, I poured in what I thought was a reasonable amount of the Bride of Frankenstein.  I’ve always been somewhat of a kitchen rebel (as I believe most good cooks are) and even in an arena like baking, where a greater degree of precision is typically required, I tend to want to “wing it”.  I was fully aware that not measuring the amount of levain in the bread could ruin the batch, but I decided to go with my gut.  I have a pretty innate sense of how to properly do things, even when I’ve never done them before.  I credit this odd behaviour to many years spent observing my mother and stepfather in their restaurant kitchens.  Thanks for encouraging child labour, Mom and Dad! :)

Improving the colour of the loaf was easier though, and meant nothing more than increasing the baking time.  Trying to come up with the correct timing was a bit more difficult, and required much monitoring.  Once you’ve nurtured a loaf of bread for 3 or 4 hours, the last thing you want is to burn it beyond recognition.  Now that I’ve done it once though, I know that 7-9 minutes beyond what the recipe suggests produces a beautiful, hazelnut-coloured crust.  When experimenting, it certainly helps to have a baseline to work off of.

The crunch factor was wrapped up with the color quest, as the crust would automatically become crunchier the longer it stood in the oven.  I decided to give myself a bit of added security by upping the ice cubes required to produce the steam that immediately hardens the crust.  My attempts were only somewhat in vain; when I removed the loaves from the oven they were richly coloured, lightly crisped, and hollow-sounding when tapped.  After the bread cooled however, the crusts softened slightly, which must be why the recipe suggests that the bread is best eaten within 4 hours of baking.

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The Foodie 13 – Cookbooks

As promised earlier this week, we’re unveiling a new feature at Foodie and the Everyman today; book reviews and recommendations!

This also dovetails nicely with another addition to Foodie and the Everyman that I’ve started called The Foodie 13The Foodie 13 will be an ongoing series of lists about 13 really neat things in specific categories, that I intend to publish several times a month.  For our first Foodie 13, I thought I’d pick a subject that is near and dear to my heart; cookbooks!

So, without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are the 13 cookbooks I can’t live without:

1- Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn – There’s much that can be said about this great book, but primarily it’s the one I credit with sparking my carnivorous love affair.  After less than 10 minutes of paging through the book I was already plotting exactly where in my shoebox apartment I could fit a Bradley smoker.   Each new recipe I try from the book spurs me on to try even more.  A real winner.

2- Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz - A fantastic book laced with great recipes for enjoying the simple pleasure of homemade frozen desserts.  Since purchasing this book I’ve sampled approximately 20 of the recipes, and not one of them was bad.  The pear sorbet is definitely a recipe of note, as are the spicy, crinkled speculaas cookies, that are meant to be folded in to recipes but are amazing in their own right.

3- Local Breads by Daniel Leader - This is the most recent purchase on my list, so I can’t vouch for a very large percentage of the recipes yet.  From what I’ve already sampled and pored over pictures of though, it’s clear to me that this is a book worth having, as it conjures up an intense hunger every time I read it.  The pictures peppered throughout the book are colorful, rustic, and absolutely delicious.  And the Parisian daily bread is to die for, and as I’ve said before is worth the cost of the book alone.

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Chocolate Lovers Of The World, Unite!

Recently I discovered something so colossally delicious that I just had to share.

Actually, if we want to get technical, I discovered it last summer.  I’ve just been too scatterbrained to bring things to fruition until now.

You see, when the Everyman and I were visiting Chicago last summer, I picked up a delightfully quaint little souvenir from the Museum of Science and Technology gift shop; a 9 piece box of mini Vosges chocolate bars.  I’d heard the name Vosges many times in the past, but had never actually sampled any of their wares.  They are a small, artisanal chocolate company based in Chicago, renowned for their unique flavor combinations.  As with most of my good intentions, when I arrived back home in Toronto, the little box went into my chocolate drawer and was promptly forgotten about until  a month ago.

On a recent Sunday afternoon I was putting together an office care pack to use in case of emergencies, or gross coworker stupidity.  Naturally, my chocolate drawer was  the perfect place to start because it was brimming with unopened snack size chocolate bars and candies.  The Vosges chocolate box made it into the care pack, and was again forgotten about once it arrived at my desk drawer at work.

That is, until I had a nervous breakdown at work last week.  I began frantically digging through my desk for something to calm my nerves and spotted the mini library of chocolate bars.  Thumbing through the collection, I found one that sounded like it would suit my immediate needs; the Black Pearl bar.  The bar is a mixture of dark chocolate, wasabi, ginger and black sesame seeds that is simultaneously sweet and a little piquant.  At that moment I fell in lust and felt that I’d just discovered something I enjoyed even more than Godiva.

The next day I had to have another; all thought of rationing these precious chocolates went right out the window.  However, I still wanted to save the ones that sounded most interesting for last; it’s a little quirk I seem to have picked up from the Everyman over the years.  The next one I chose sounded vaguely intriguing, but I didn’t have very high hopes for it compared to the others; the Barcelona bar.  This one was deep milk chocolate blended with Hickory smoked almonds and Fleur de Sel, and it was literally like crack.  As soon as I bit into it I began cursing myself for not sampling these while I was in Chicago so that I could’ve brought more of them home with me.  It is the absolute pinnacle of sweet and salty combinations.  Yum!

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Behold The Mighty Staff Of Life!

There are few things in life I love more than a really good piece of bread, except perhaps the Everyman, or a really good piece of bread with some freshly churned homemade butter.  I find it so incredibly fascinating that the same 3 or 4 ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast) can create such a myriad of different flavors, textures and effects through such minute variations.

I’m not talking about chemicalated Wonder Bread though, but a nice crunchy baguette or crusty sourdough.  I’ve waxed poetic over the joys of focaccia over the years, and dabbled in bagels and crackers.  However, my Achilles heel has continually been my lack of know-how and experience when it comes to more artisanal bread matters.  I’ve turned out plenty of delicious quick breads using my bread machine but somehow anything more complicated always seems to literally fall flat.

Several weeks ago I attempted to grow my own levain, in the hopes that it would help me work towards becoming a better baker.  I’d found incredibly detailed instructions on Epicurious.com by (apparent) bread guru Rose Beranbaum.  About a week into the process I ended up killing the levain (which I’d named Frankenstein) by forgetting to feed it a few too many times.  I dejectedly flushed him down the sink and a week later decided to start again.  This week’s levain is far from robust, but does not appear dead, so thank god for small miracles.  I’ve named this one Bride of Frankenstein, and hopefully in a few more days I’ll get a chance to see what she tastes like.

All of this failure was convincing enough for me to decide that I needed to get educated.  I went out and purchased a few books upon the recommendations of several food bloggers I respect.  I don’t believe that The Bread Bible by Rose Beranbaum is the kind of book for me.  While many people swear by it, once I started paging through and reading some of the instructions, the book began to overwhelm me.  Everything was a little too precious and intense, which had the effect of making me feel like I’d never be able to successfully produce anything from its pages.  Perhaps once I have more confidence with bread I’ll be able to revisit this book with better results, but for now, it has been shelved.

The other book I purchased was by contrast, a revelation.  Local Breads by Daniel Leader was full of beautiful, glossy photos of food I’d want to eat (and so would you).  And it was written in a simple and straightforward enough manner that I began to feel that I could do this.  I picked the first real recipe in the book because it says it’s the simplest, but it also happened to be one of the types of breads I wanted to master the most; Parisian daily bread (baguette).  The recipe is clearly laid out, and while the process might be long, overall it is quite easy.  There are several different intervals for rising, proofing and fermenting, but for the most part it’s pretty hands off.  Towards the end you get to knead the dough a few dozen times with your hands, but the recipe can be achieved with 90% of the manual labour done by a stand mixer.  About 4 hours later your loaves are ready to meet their toasty oven and steam sauna.

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What’s New Pussycat?

There is much afoot at Foodie and the Everyman this week.

Spring has imparted me with a desire for renewal, so I’ve been playing around with the aesthetics of our website a little during the last few days.  I think I’ve finally gotten it to where I want it to be through some subtle tweaks that make it more a customized blog and less a right from the WordPress box compilation.  I like it… what do you think?

I’ve also decided to add a new (but long overdue) category to the blog… about books!  I am constantly buying cookbook and food-related literature, and I think it’s high time that I start reviewing and sharing some of the ones I bring home.  Look for my first post on that later this week.

Lastly, I’ve decided to put a moratorium on my laziness and vow to bring pictures back to the blog.  I’ve already snapped a few for some other posts I’m working on, and will upload them as soon as I find the silly cord thing for my laptop.

Anyhow, take a peak around and drop us a line to let us know how you like the changes; we are a work in progress after all.

Until next time…

Epic Noms!

I think it’s safe to say that the Everyman and I officially have a problem.

We ended up at The Black Hoof for dinner again on Friday night, which would officially make this the shortest amount of time between our visits (Sunday to Friday). Considering that (I think) they’re closed 2 of the days between Sunday and Friday, that’s pretty bad. We’ve been to The Black Hoof about 4 or 5 times since January, which I’d say is an even greater frequency than the last restaurant we fell in love with (Cowbell).

Truth be told, I’ve been missing Cowbell a little lately too; the last time we visited was probably in September or October of last year.  It’s just that every time I get it in my head to go out for dinner, every other restaurant gets edged out by The Black Hoof due to the proximity factor.  There’s nowhere else I love so much that is less than a 5 minute walk from my house, which realistically means I have less than 20 minutes to having the food in my mouth.  It’s hard to argue with that sort of convenience, especially when the food is so good.

On Friday, we continued with our plan to be sensible and pare down our orders and decided to split a large charcuterie platter and large bread, followed by dessert.  Every time we go, there are always so many things on the menu that I want to try, but it’s difficult to deviate from the things I already know because they’re always so freakin’ good.  I mean, I can’t really think of anything I’ve had there that I didn’t like at least a little.  The only downside I could possibly come up with would be the lack of vegetables.  It doesn’t bother me as much, because I’ve typically ordered dishes with vegetables incorporated into them (cabbage soup, octopus salad), but the Everyman has mentioned that the past few visits he’s felt like he had protein poisoning afterwards because there are no vegetables to balance out his meal.  If The Black Hoof added a few stellar veggie side dishes that you could add on to your meal  (a la bone marrow) or just have family style for sharing, that would improve things a lot.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably one of the biggest carnivores out there, but all meat all the time just isn’t healthy.  Even if they just increased the size of the pickle platter and started charging for it instead, at least it would be some form of greenery.  However, I should point out this is not a complaint, rather a mild suggestion.  At the end of the day if they never put any veggies on the menu, it won’t stop me from going; I’ll just fill up on them at home before I go instead.

Anyhow, back to our Friday night dinner.  On the magical platter this time we had more of the salt crusted goji berry fois gras, a lamb headcheese with grainy mustard that was amazingly good (and we both HATE mustard, but we used it on several items on the platter), some large slices of mild soppressata, the excellent beef and dill sausage, the mustard seed crusted horse braesola (that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine), some smaller slices of hot soppressata, thin rounds of pepperoni, the exquisite chicken liver mousse, and a slice of rabbit and black trumpet mushroom terrine.  Everything was fantastic as usual, and even so good that the Everyman decided to try a few bites of things he normally wouldn’t.  This time he took a dab of the chicken liver mousse and realized he liked it (dammit, now I have to share!!!) and we both agreed that it’s really like the most luxurious meaty butter.  He also tried the lamb headcheese, which I totally wasn’t expecting, and we ended up politely fighting over that too.  Although I may have distracted him with the last piece of headcheese so that I could polish off a chunk of goji fois.  Turnabout is fair play, after all. It turned out that a large order of bread was not enough to polish off all of the sliced meats, terrines and moussy items, so we enlisted another half basket from our waitress; the same waitress who remembered us from Sunday night and asked the Everyman if he was sure it wasn’t too much food for him this time – HA HA HA!  It ended up being almost as big as our original order of bread, so in the end we had too much.  Of course the Everyman couldn’t stop eating it either, because it was right in front of him.  This probably had a lot to do with him feeling so bloated afterwards too.

As the evening drew to a close, we shared a lovely slice of the lemon lavender white chocolate tart; and by shared I mean he had two bites and I polished off the rest.  With my glass of cava it was a wonderful close to another delicious evening.  That still won’t stop me from trying harder to get to Cowbell next time though; I really do miss that billygoat beard!

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The Tequila Effect And Various Other Stories…

What a weekend this has been.

I had my first in-car driving lesson, during which I was eternally traumatized (because I almost hit a police car).  I then spent the afternoon at a dealership with the Everyman test driving and sitting in cars.  All roads led to cars on Saturday, it seemed.

When I woke up this morning, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and set up my hanging meat cave.  If you’ve been reading, you already know that I’ve been putting this off for the last 4 or 5 days.  What was supposed to salt cure for 5 to 7 days actually ended up soaking for 12.  I’m pretty sure this won’t have any ill effects, except perhaps resulting in a slightly stronger flavor.  Considering that various curing recipes I consulted prior to undertaking this endeavor couldn’t even reach a consensus on the duration of any step, I’m not overly concerned.  The hanging’s been causing me greater grief.  My original thought was the broom closet, but after examining it this morning, I started to worry that it was much too small.  There was also the short-lived plan to hang them in the coat closet, which was dashed when the Everyman declared he’d probably never put his coats in there again afterward.  It became apparent that the broom closet would have to do, despite its shortcomings.  I cleared it out and thoroughly wiped down all the walls, setting down aluminum foil on the bottom to catch any errant leftover brine.  Next, I removed the freezer bags of liquid and jowls from the fridge, gave them a good massage ‘n’ shake and popped one open.  Removing jowl from bag, I noticed it was stiff (as the recipe said it would be) and that quite a lot of briny liquid had seeped out during the last 12 days.  I let as much of the liquid drain off as I could, then set the jowl in a bowl and cut a gargantuan length of twine.  I’ve never been all that good at trussing, and today it was proven even further.  I’m sure that someone who knew what they were doing could have used a third of the twine that I did, but all that mattered to me was that I managed to get it to hang vertically.  Using a handy folding cooling rack strapped to several closet hooks, I was able to suspend meat via twine strung through the rack.  It was big and sturdy enough to hang both jowls simultaneously and far enough away from each other that I shouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination of flavors.  I can say quite honestly that I’m both proud and embarrassed of my homemade setup.  Proud, because it was quite MacGyver of me.  Embarrassed because it’s incredibly ghetto.  But, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating… so come 3 weeks from now, we’ll just see, won’t we?


Moving back to other matters, the Everyman had agreed several weeks ago to take me out for  dinner to either celebrate (or commiserate) my first driving lesson.  As it turns out, commiseration was required.  We tried to stop by The Black Hoof around 10:30 last night, but the place was absolutely packed and the non-chef owner suggested going to a local bar and having them call us once a table opened up.  Neither the Everyman or I was in the mood to wait for our food or a table, so we gave our most sincere apologies and headed home.  A quick stop at the store for gathering provisions and 10 minutes later the Everyman’s delicious grilled cheese was in my hands instead.  Not exactly what I’d been hoping for at the time, but a boon of a completely different kind.  He really does make the best grilled cheese’ in the world!

Flash forward to this afternoon, and the decision to return to The Black Hoof as soon as it opened to secure a table and some calm before the storm.  We weren’t far off either.  Arriving only 30 minutes after opening, there was but a table of 3 in the back, and several people lining the bar.  I don’t think I’d ever seen it so empty before, and it was quite nice that the volume was still at a conversible decibel.  As we sat down, we both noticed that the menu had several subtle changes, a few new additions and some deletions.  New to the menu were St Johns bone marrow, testina and lentils and a duck confit sandwich.  Dearly departed were the duck confit puff and pork merguez.  Before we left home we’d both vowed to be slightly more sensible than on previous visits, and not eat until bloatation.  Having perused a menu devoid of several of our favorites (even though I knew whatever we ordered would be amazing), I optimistically believed that would be possible.

We started our culinary adventure with a large charcuterie platter and basket of Thuet bread.  No matter my personal opinion of him, Thuet does turn out some really scrumptious crumbs.  The platter was large, and arrived with the customary side of pickled vegetables.  There should definitely be more of those on the plate, especially the cauliflower and onions.  Mmm!  Our platter ran the gamut from mild to wild, and included a fois and goji berry pate, translucent slices of lonzino, meaty beef and dill salami, creamy pork rillettes, slivers of mildish horse braesoala, something that I remember as cappicola and the Everyman remembers as pork shoulder, a smoked venison and cherry salami, smooth rabbit and parsley terrine, silken duck mousse, several rounds of lacy saucisson and small chunks of smoky chorizo.  Now that’s a mouthful; both literally and figuratively!  I’m never disappointed with the meats here; each has a unique flavor and voice all its own.  While I may favor some more than others (the fois goji, duck mousse, horse and cappicola), there never seems to be anything on the plate that I feel I wouldn’t eat it again.  He’s just that good at what he does.  It really is a testament to his skill level too, because whenever the Everyman and I prepare antipasti or charcuterie platters (depending on your cultural leanings) he usually camps out firmly on the meat side, and I meander over to cheeses.  Every time we’ve had Hoof charcuterie though, I tend to match the Everyman bite for bite.  It also doesn’t hurt that the ones I like less, he usually likes more, and vice versa; though we did have a polite stare down over the last of the fois goji.  We feasted like kings, and by the time it was all over, I felt as if I was 75% of the way towards stuffed, which was a drag because I still had another dish coming.  It was at that precise moment that I inquired whether the Everyman still felt it was such a good idea to have ordered the cassoulet.  He said he was fine, so I thought nothing more of it.  I may have also commented that the Everyman was lucky that I planned to marry him some day, otherwise I would have gotten down on one hoof (ha ha) and proposed (to the chef).  Being the Everyman, he at first assumed I was talking about the nerd specimen that had just arrived one table over, with a date who looked 15 years his junior.  Um, not quite.

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

I wish there was a better word to properly articulate my level of frustration right now.  I don’t think sigh quite cuts it, linguistically speaking.

First off, Frankenstein died.  That would be my less than a week old levain.  See, I forgot to feed him a few times because the instructions were so involved that they stopped making sense.  Compounding it all, I couldn’t remember what day of the instructions I was on, so on days I was supposed to feed him I didn’t, and vice versa.  I suppose that once I rinse out his jar and decide to start over I’ll have to be attempt to be more organized.  Maybe even write down a schedule on the fridge or something.  Really, I just need to summarize all the paragraphs of nonsense that all amount to remove half a cup of dough base and stir in half a cup of flour and a quarter cup of water or, better still, do nothing.  The investment in time also slightly bothers me.  The idea that once the dough is fully activated I have to cultivate it just like a pet or a plant that could live for many years longer than I is both equally thrilling and suffocating.  It’s cool that what I’m doing now could directly affect bread I make 20 years from now, but in the very immediate future the time required to get it off the ground just makes it seem like too much to take care of.

Admitting to another of my failures, I haven’t yet hung my guanciale.  In order to buy myself a bit more time, at the last minute I opted to let it cure in the salt for 10 days total, instead of the regular 7.  Perhaps through some great miracle by the time Saturday rolls around I’ll have figured out where and how to hang these things.  I read a post online the other day about a charcutier who hung his guanciales in the window of his sun room.  It almost sounded like a good idea until you got to the addendum to the story that explains how light tends to make fat go rancid.  So far it seems the broom closet is still looking like the best option…

Unfortunately, the gardening front is not overly promising at the moment either.  Of the 30+ tomato seedlings I started in the basement a few weeks ago, about 2/3 germinated, which is great and around what I expected.  However, the toilet paper roll pots I used to start my seeds have all started to mold, and about half of the plants that did germinate are already starting to wilt and die out.  To get back on track I have to carve out some free time to catalog what’s still growing well to figure out what isn’t, and then replant that.  On top of that I still have to start all of the other plants that aren’t tomatoes that I’m planning on growing this year.  I have no clue when I’m going to have some free time to do that either, and considering that it’s March now, the pressure is on to start getting my shit together.

Overall, I feel extremely tired and disconsolate over this last round of perceived failures.  I have so much more I want to do, but no energy to accomplish my aims.  I’d badly like to go on a vacation, but can’t afford any of the places I’d want to go.

I’m sick and tired.  Of everything.

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