Archive for July, 2009

Thank You, Porkosity

ChowtimeBeing that we now have half a hog monopolizing space in the freezer, I’ve been tiptoeing around “the other, other white meat” territory for the last week and a bit, searching for potential new ways to prepare the various cuts of our porcine friend.

A post over at Porkosity (The Star’s food critic Corey Mintz’ personal blog) reminded me of a Minimalist podcast I’d downloaded last year for pork shoulder (that I mistakenly remembered as being cochinita pibil, but upon researching found to be pernil).  Between what I recalled of the Minimalist recipe, and Corey’s version below (which has strangely disappeared from his website), I decided to mimic the flavours as a marinade for more chops, throwing in a little tomfoolery along the way.

Pork

I don’t like orange juice, which features prominently in both versions (truthfully, I despise it), so I decided that switching it out for lime juice sounded like a fair compromise.  I also zested my lime for some extra pungency, traded in the white vinegar for cider vinegar, and ground up the annatto seeds (which make up achiote) by hand.  The garlic and salt added, I tasted a fingerful and decided I wanted something more.  Into the bowl went a handful of epazote, (which has such a pleasant ring next to achiote) and a sprinkling of ancho powder.  After it was all done, I slathered it on the chops, then left them to marinate for an hour.

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Not So Convenient, Actually

I’ve said it before, but it looks like I don’t need to say it again.

Someone has finally gone and done a study to prove that convenience food isn’t actually all that convenient (nevermind the long term effects some of it will have on your health).

As it is so succinctly put in this Grist article, just because something is pre-packaged doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier in the end.  For example, if you use canned vegetables instead of fresh ones in a casserole dinner, you may save a few moments between opening the can vs washing and preparing a whole food, but it becomes pretty moot once you realize that the food still takes the same amount of time to cook, anyway.  Essentially, it will take you a comparable amount of time to prepare something wretched like Hamburger Helper as it would to cook fresh pasta and toss it with a quick veggie sauce.  So where’s the disconnect?  Is that extra 10 minutes or so of prep time really that hard to come by?

Food prep is relatively minimal unless you’re trying to create elaborate, multi-course meals, anyway.  This is part of the reason why I don’t understand the appeal behind the glut of prep kitchen centres that are popping up all over the burbs, lately.  Why would I want to drive there (or in my case, walk), figure out what I want to make, then pay a premium to assemble a small armies’ worth of dinners in little ziploc baggies amidst a room full of frenetic soccer moms, instead of just being mindful and planning my menus in advance?  There’s no doubt that life has become increasingly hectic, but at a certain point one has to draw the line and make time for the things that are important to them.  Health, would ideally be one such priority.

Meal planning in and of itself is a lost art that could help people save so much time in the kitchen if they bothered or knew how to use it.  Planning a week’s worth of meals and then shopping for the ingredients to prepare them is simply…smart.  You can purchase foods that might be more time-consuming to prepare, and then cook them in bulk so that they are ready for you to use several times over.  An excellent example of this would be cooking with dried beans.  Yes, they usually take 12 hours to soak, but if you soak several portions’ worth and cook them, you can save leftovers to use in other dishes.  A surprisingly small outlay of time on the front end can drastically reduce the time spent further down the road, if you have a plan.  It’s not rocket science; just another version of mise en place.

This article, published back in 2000 provides insight into the declining nature of time spent on food preparation in North America.  Looking back to the 1900’s, food prep and clean up amounted to an expenditure of 44 hours a week, which is understandable since everything was manual.  Advances in household technology throughout the 1920’s helped that number dip below 30 hours a week, and by 1975, it had plummeted to 10 hours per week, what with more women working outside the home or running single parent households.  Extrapolating from the Grist article an average of 52 minutes spent on meals today would put our modern total around the 6 hour mark, a pretty dismal amount when you think about it.  At that rate, some people probably spend more time watching TV in one day than they spend cooking over the course of 7 days!?

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Verdancy

Tiny Strawberries

Despite it’s lethargic start, the garden is now in full swing.

Salad Days

The cooler weather seems to have been most beneficial to the salad bowl, which is still going strong, even though we’re halfway through July.  By this time last year it had already bolted and gone to seed.  I love to go up to the roof and aimlessly stare into the variegated shades of green, interspersed by the occasional frond of delicious red leaf lettuce.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something soothing about staring at this picture.

I suppose you could say I have the pastoral dream, and though I’ve had a blast growing my little microcosm of deliciousness on the roof these past 2 years, I am really looking forward to this taking off, so I might be able to have some in-ground opportunities.  I’ve often considered propositioning some of my Little Italy neighbours for just such an arrangement, being they are mostly older and retired, but one glance from our rooftop confirms that they still take pride in their yards, growing tomatoes, grape vines, and zucchinis galore.  In some ways the Sharing Backyards concept reminds me of a favourite childhood book, The Tiny Little House.  The gist of the book is an old woman who makes amazingly delicious cookies, but has nowhere to sell them.  Her and two mischievous little girls decide to renovate an abandoned little house into a cookie shop, and hilarity ensues.  Like the old woman from The Tiny Little House, some day my ideal space will come…

Potatochokes

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Moe-lass-iss

Dinner

While I’ve been cognisant of pomegranate molasses since at least 2001 (thanks to Christine Cushing harping about it every chance she got) it was never an ingredient I rushed to experiment with.

Examining my habits, I’ve found that my cooking experimentation and infatuation with ingredients tends to be rather transient.  When I hone in on something that intrigues me, I work with it obsessively until I get bored and then move on.  In essence, I’m trying to “master” the ingredient in a way that I find palatable (not in every way, because that would take a lifetime) before I take my next step.  In some ways I suppose you could say that I have culinary ADD (attention deficit disorder) because I jump around so much to ensure I keep those synapses popping.

As I mentioned in a previous post, while I was visiting The Spice Trader on the weekend, I happened to grab a bottle of the aforementioned pomegranate molasses, along with some argan oil (more on that later), more coffee olive oil, and some white balsamic.

I first read about argan oil back in 2007, in a book called In Bad Taste?: The Adventures And Science Behind Food Delicacies by Dr. Massimo Marcone.  Argan oil comes from the argan tree.  In Morocco, goats climb these trees and eat the argan nuts, and then dispose of the rest.  What’s left when they’re done eating is collected and oil is extracted from the remnants.  When I saw it on the shelf at The Spice Trader, I knew I couldn’t resist picking up a flask of this highly unusual oil.

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My Ode To The Everyman

Loaves

The Everyman is my main squeeze (as if you didn’t already know that, though).

Oftentimes when I’m flipping through cookbooks or browsing foodie publications on the internet, I am reading with an eye to him in mind.  If there’s one thing I seem to be known for, it is spoiling people via nourishing and delicious home-cooked food.

This past weekend was just one such occasion.

In my ongoing quest to expand my bread baking skills beyond simple baguettes and foccacias, I’ve been selecting intriguing recipes from Local Breads by Daniel Leader to test out over the past few months.  I haven’t been disappointed yet, though you can definitely tell which breads I’ve enjoyed most based on how watermarked and crinkled the pages are in places.

On Saturday afternoon before we went to another Summerlicious dinner, I perused the book and immediately spotted a loaf I knew the Everyman would love; prosciutto bread.  The Everyman loves prosciutto more than any man or beast I know (with the exception of my departed cat, Cuddles, who would wrestle it from your cold, dead hands if she ever got the chance).  Contented that I’d picked a good recipe, I prepared the required biga and set it to rest until the following day.

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A Peek Inside Foodie HQ

The Full Monty

Some of you may occasionally wonder what sort of kitchen I get up to all my delicious mischief in, so for today only, I am allowing you a rare peek into my private, hallowed space.

Above is a shot of an old cupboard/pantry made of some really old Indian door; I didn’t like the way it looked standing up, so I turned it on its side and now it also serves as a sideboard.  It houses my monstrous (exploding) cookbook collection.

Cookbooks

Resting on the sideboard is another pile of cookbooks, a small jar of chocolates, a cupcake-shaped cookie jar I bought on Ebay, what I refer to as a frequent buyer tin from The Spice Trader (buy 8 spices at a time, get a free tin) and my dwindling supply of red fife wheat, in a charmingly old fashioned cotton sack.  Above, a print of a photo I loved so much on display at Czehoski that the Everyman bought for me just so he could see me smile.  I christened him Frankfurt before we brought him home (for some reason he reminds me of Dr. Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror Picture Show) but the irony is that when we picked him up from the artist in question, she also happened to be from Germany (Frankfurt-Germany, get it?  Ha ha!)

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Summertime, And The Eating Is Easy

There are an awful lot of naysayers out there still, but despite all of them, the Everyman and I continue to enjoy the Summerlicious/Winterlicious promotions.

As I’ve said in the past, in order to maximize the experience, you just have to go into it with the right mindset.  Don’t expect that you are going to have the greatest meal of your whole life, take it for what it is; a cheap way to test out potentially delicious establishments.  Plus, there’s a lot to be said about the customer service one experiences during the ‘liciouses.  If a restaurant still manages to provide outstanding service during such a stressful time, you know that you’ve found a good one.

For the summer version this year, we picked 4 new restaurants to visit, all of which I’d heard good things about and had been wanting to sample for some time.

First off, there was opening Friday at Senses at the Soho Met.

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Hey Pig, Piggy, Pig Pig Pig… All Of My (Dreams) Came True

There are probably less than a handful of people reading this blog who will get the titular reference, but to those that do, I salute you ;)

After a slight delivery snafu on my part last weekend, I finally took possession of my side of pork on Wednesday night from Bob, our friendly organic grocer.

Well, most of it.

It turns out that the slaughter weight of my particular hog was slightly larger than the average I’d been quoted (80-100 lbs) so my fridge, freezer and all available space is now crammed full of 147.5 pounds of high quality porkiness.  That includes one completely intact belly side, which I’ve been lusting after since I saw it and intend to use for a half dozen preparations of bacon, a whole boned out shoulder for grinding into various forms of charcuterie, a couple slabs of ribs, a bone in leg that I’m deliberating over turning into prosciutto (I’m not sure I’m experienced enough for that), plus a shitload of meat packaged into chops.  There was also a full third box that did not get dropped off containing the fat from the animal to be used for charcuterie and rendering into lard.  Luckily, Bob offered to hold it at his store for us for a few weeks while we get busy making some room, because after I put away what he did deliver, we are completely and totally full.  And that includes the large upright second freezer that we keep in the basement just for things such as this.

Ah, but what a nice feeling of fullness it is.  My mind is whirring full speed (no, it really isn’t just the godawful noise from the Indy cars) with all of the potential and possibilities ahead of me with this cache full of meat.  Just this morning I stopped off at The Spice Trader to pick up supplies for other projects and was inspired to purchase some fennel pollen with the intent to use it on one of the versions of bacon, plus some grains of paradise, vanilla powder and exotic Saigon cinnamon that I thought would be fun to experiment with, aside from my regularly scheduled purchases.  I always love going there because I come home with so many unique and interesting things to keep myself busy in the kitchen.

Stay tuned for more tales of pork possibilities.

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Some News

I’ve been deliberating for a little over a month now about whether or not I wanted to share this with all of you readers of the webosphere…

I’ve finally come to my decision, and have opted to cut a swath through the anonymity of Foodie And The Everyman to let you in on my little secret.

Just under two months ago I accepted a freelance writing job for a little Toronto-based web publication that you may or may not be familiar with; Taste T.O.

If you’ve come to be a fan of my writing during the last year and a half, some of you may already have put two and two together and realized that Porsha Perreault and mochapj are one and the same.  In that case, I applaud your deductive prowess.

For the rest of you, this is just a heads up to let you know that there is now one more place to find my particular brand of writing on the interwebs.  So if you’re interested, I encourage you to check it out.  My writing for Taste T.O. generally tends to be a little more sharply focused than the more generic rants over here, but is nevertheless entertaining.

Over the next little while I hope to add links to my published articles to the sidebar for those of you that care to look.

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Steaky Steak Steak Steak

Dinner's On!

Rather unsurprising to you I’m sure, but the Everyman and I both really love a good steak.

Despite the fact that we purchased a quarter cow earlier this year, I would comfortably estimate that we eat red meat once or twice a week, but probably eat steak only once a month.  Much to the Everyman’s chagrin, of course!

To be fair, the Everyman consumes steak much more regularly than I, as it’s his de facto higher-end equivalent to a BLT or club sandwich.  (For a long time after I first met him, he had this quirk about only ordering BLTs, club sandwiches or chicken fingers when we went out to new casual restaurants, or always ordered a steak when we went out to nicer ones.  He’s gotten better over the years and experiments much more often, but his thought process behind those choices has to do with the unlikelihood that the kitchen will screw up those kind of orders)

At any rate, thanks to that glorious quarter cow, we have a plethora of steak cuts lounging in our storage freezer (soon to be joined by my half hog, actually).  Through some amazing twist of fate, when our cow was delivered all of the meat was portioned into either a steak, a roast or ground, omitting the usual stewing cubes and flaccid stir-fry strips that would likely not get used around these parts, anyhow.  I’ve blown through half of the roasts already just by making beef jerky, and the ground gets used for weekly burger nights, meatballs and chilis, but the steaks have languished by and large.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy them; their grass-fed beefiness is exquisite.  It’s just that (to me, anyway) beef of this calibre seems to require more care, forethought even.  Sometimes when you get home after a long day at work, that just feels like too much effort.

Well, the other night steak seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered, so I lit up the grill and started perusing the internest for recipes.  I came across this and was mildly intrigued, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I made a bunch of changes to the proportions, then slathered it on the steak and left it to marinate for twenty minutes.  In retrospect I’d probably leave this sitting longer next time (but you know what they say about hindsight).  A quick char on the grill and we were off to the races.  It was smoky, a little spicy (could use more heat next time) and just a little tangy. And with a tiny sprinkle of lime salt it was elevated to a completely new level. Methinks I just fell in love!

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How Green Is Your Valley?

Spiced Chard

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of the more challenging (and oftentimes frustrating) things about belonging to a CSA is trying to find new ways to use up the bounty before it goes bad.  While not much of a problem once summer is in full swing and the options are plentiful, after a long cool spring this year we’ve been getting a barrage of various greens for the past few boxes and not much else.  In the box we received on the weekend ($35) we had;

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 4 baby bok choi
  • 1 bundle chard
  • 1 bundle kale
  • 1 bunch radishes
  • 1 head romaine
  • 1 lb beans
  • 1 tangle garlic scapes
  • 1 bag mixed baby greens
  • 1 bundle baby chards

Truth be told, neither of us is all that big on greens other than salad, though I do enjoy the odd experiment every now and then.  That means that more often than not I have to find a captivating way to use the produce, or assume the guilt tantamount to my wastefulness, when a week later I have to throw it out, limp and lifeless from the back of the fridge.

I’m determined not to do that so much this year, so with that in mind, I started combing my brain for ways to use the chards and kale (our least favourite items aside from the radishes, which I will probably have to give away).  As a worst case scenario I knew I could always use the kale to make my awesome bread soup with the parm rind and beans (a riff on ribollita) but being that it’s summer I didn’t want to resort to that because it’s hot and rather filling; more of a winter dish really.  If I really wanted to I could just make it and freeze it for later, or lunches, but I wanted to try and find something new.

And then I remembered this.

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The Foodie 13 – Quintessential, But On The Fringe Herbs And Spices

Spice

Seasoning.  Flavour.  Herbs.  Spice.

Food is generally palatable (unless you really don’t know how to cook) but can usually be improved by the addition of that little something extra.

This instalment of The Foodie 13 takes a look at the herbs, spices and seasonings that you might not have previously considered or cooked with, but are actually rather essential to having a well-rounded spice pantry.

So, without further adieu…

1 – LavenderI’ll admit that it’s gentle hue, which is both a colour, flavour and fragrance, was something that has grown on me slowly over the years.  Once relegated to old ladies’ soap dishes, lavender is now coming out into the spotlight to shine in more mainstream preparations.  It’s faintly floral, herbal notes are a perfect compliment to a myriad of dishes, from roasted meats a la Provence, to sweeter endeavours, like the chocolate chip lavender fookie (big fuckin’ cookie) I made several months ago.  Plus, one whiff of it’s heady aroma can make you feel like you’ve been summering in the south of France.  Not bad for a handful of powdery blossoms, eh?

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This Week’s Breadly Adventures

Rosemary

If you hadn’t already noticed, I bore easily.

That (among other reasons) is why I will (most likely) never work in a professional kitchen.  I can’t do the same things over and over again or else I go stir crazy.

As much can be said about my exploits in my home kitchen.  I typically make a loaf of bread and a sweet of some kind for work each week, but after a week or two I have to move on to something else or I start to get lazy and don’t want to bother anymore.

I’ve been feeling that way about bread baking lately, so I’m making a conscious effort to challenge myself with a new recipe each week.  Through that mantra I came out with the ciabatta and roasted tomato foccacias, both of which have been mighty tasty.  I would’ve been happy enough to bake another batch of ciabatta this week, but I decided to stretch myself and pick something different.

From my go-to bread cookbook Local Breads by Daniel Leader, I selected an Italian regional loaf called a filone that looked promising.  With a light, bubbly, biga-infused crust, this bread is shot through and through with freshly chopped rosemary.

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