Archive for October, 2009

Quintessential Canadiana

Raisin-y, Custardy Goodness

Some things are unapologetically Canadian.

Like maple syrup.  Peameal bacon.  Poutine.  And, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, the butter tart.

Growing up, we were never really that much of a butter tart family.  I vaguely recall my grandmother making (or having) them occasionally, but other than that, we weren’t crazy for them the way many other families are.  That’s no surprise to me since butter tarts are typically loaded with raisins, which just happen to be a dried fruit I hate with a passion.  The only dessert my family ever went batshit crazy for was mincemeat, and that was really only once a year.

But then I fell in love with a man who loves butter tarts.  Actually, as a full disclosure, when I first met the Everyman I found out that he ate a butter tart, banana and chocolate milk for breakfast every day.  Mmm.  Breakfast of champions, right?  Luckily I’ve managed to nudge him in a slightly healthier direction over the years, but he still does love him some butter tarts.  But, because they’re still not something I care for, I’d never thought to make them.

But then I came home one day and just felt like it, so I went with it.  And of course, the Everyman was happy about that.

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Failure Is Not An Option (Or How I Invented Gar-amel-ic)

All Wrapped Up And Ready To Go

I don’t think it would come a surprise to anyone that I have a slightly morbid curiousity regarding combining garlic and sweet things.

Having fallen in love with Odile’s fleur de sel caramels, I’d intended to make a homemade batch for quite some time.   But, I also adore old school Mack Toffee, and had been considering how best to copycat that.  As a child it was one of my most favourite treats, and one that I could always count on my dad to buy for me because he loved it, too.

Then it dawned on me.

I shouldn’t make caramel or a toffee.  Gar-amel-ic was the answer; a roasted garlic infused caramel toffee.  The real conundrum was how to get the garlic into the toffee without having actual bits of garlic floating around in it.  Since my tea infusion worked out so well the other day, it seemed like a smart jumping off point for garlic infusions, too.

I again turned to Alice Medrich as my guide, since her take on brownies hadn’t steered me wrong. (more…)

Seriously. What The Fuck?

Why?

When I was a teenager, my mom and stepdad owned a small bistro in a little town in Ontario cottage country called Dorset.

Dorset, for those of you who aren’t aware, is in the general area of Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, etc.

One of the things it is most famously known for is an old general store called Robinson’s.  These days, that general area (though Huntsville specifically) is also known as the hometown of the fabulously glam-rockesque Hawksley Workman, not that we’re keeping track or anything…

Now, during the summer that I was working at the bistro with my parents, I spent a great deal of time handing out advertising (menus and such) in front of Robinson’s.  And back then (nigh on 13 years ago), Robinson’s was an old fashioned general store with bits and bobs and handicrafts.  I’m not sure when during the last 13 years it merged with a Foodland store to provide a greater selection of groceries to the cottaging masses, but I’m sure you can sense how that in and of itself offended my sensibilities.  It seems that over the years, the little things that made Robinson’s unique have been slowly falling away.

So, I’m hoping you will also be able to understand how I found myself standing in the produce aisle at this Robinson’s/Foodland blend last week, full of moral indignation.

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Zen; Or The Art Of Ayurvedic Brownie Making

Brow-nie!

Like the enduring search for a suitable mate, a good brownie is similarly hard to find.

There are fluffy brownies, cakey brownies, nutty brownies and frosted brownies.  There are chunky brownies, sweet brownies, crispy brownies and chewy brownies.  There are more kinds of brownies than there are hours in the day, and for my money, most of them are not worth the bother.  I’ve had success with Alton Brown’s cocoa brownies in the past, but every once in a while I get a craving for something just a little bit different…

To my mind, brownies are the ideal candidate for simplicity.  I don’t want nuts, frosting, M&M’s or candy mix-ins.  And I most certainly don’t want them swirled with cheesecake or peanut butter or any other heavy viscous substance.  When I take that first bite, I want the top to shatter in a mixture of crunchy, caramelized chewy delight, while the interior should be rich without being dense or cakey.

In short, I’m looking for a brownie miracle.

Months ago, when I finally located some 100 Mysteries tea, I’d found it a fantastic ingredient to experiment with.  It made its way into a panna cotta, and I’d intended to try additional applications, but other projects got in the way.  This weekend, I finally managed to pick up where I left off by producing a batch of 100 Mysteries brownies.

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Superfood Or Supercrap?

Powdered Acai

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that nutrition-based food claims make me more than a little uncomfortable.

It seems that for every “scientific” paper that proves the benefits of consuming a certain type of food or nutrient, there are still others disputing it.  In a way it’s no different than the claims made by the multi-billion dollar diet industry bent on pushing yet another new faddy regimen.  Every few months new research surfaces to show that some thing (that until recently had been a workaday foodstuff) has been catapulted out of obscurity and into the limelight.  At times it makes me wonder if all of these studies are in some way connected to each food’s saavy marketing board…

In the last few decades, we’ve had studies revering margarine and vilifying butter.  Years later, butter faced a (luke-warm) reprieve, if only due to the fact that research arose stating that margarine had gross things like trans fats in it.  Then there was the jump on the olive oil bandwagon, backed up by research into the healthful Mediterranean diet.  And on, and on, ad naseum.

Which then prompted a string of books about why one culture’s diet was better than another, including French Women Don’t Get Fat, (a book a well-meaning friend once brought me to stave off boredom while I was sick) that among other things advocates living off a watery leek broth when you’ve overindulged (real healthy… snerk!)  Or the (more than a little smug) rebuttal Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat, which I bought for the express purpose of seeing what exactly they would claim was better in their “lifestyle” book than the French one, but 3 years later, I’ve yet to get past page 2.

The revolving door of nutritional recommendations doesn’t stop there, either.

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Over The Lips And Past The Gums

Ugh

Several months ago when I purchased a quarter of a grass fed cow, a rather large and unwieldy package stamped simply with the word tongue found its way into my freezer.

And for months, I couldn’t fathom exactly what I should do with it.

I’d had tongue on several occasions in the past, including at The Black Hoof in the form of a thinly sliced sandwich (among other things), but I’d never felt the need to tackle this offal matter at home.

But then one day, I felt like making these, figuring that instead of the pork cheeks, I’d substitute in the tongue.  Not knowing too much about tongue, I assumed that the results would be similar since tongue is a rather fatty, gelatinous cut.

So, before I left for work one day, I tossed the requisite ingredients into my handy dandy slow cooker alongside the tongue, and went on my way.

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When Life Gives You Green Tomatoes…

Salsa Verde

For close to a month now, I’ve been patiently waiting for Indian summer to set in.

I’ve optimistically/delusionally put off closing up the garden in the hopes that some unseasonably warm weather would drop by and bring the masses of tomatoes on my vines to fruition.

But, with the Everyman and I leaving for a week’s vacation at the cottage, it appeared I would have no such luck, so rather than hoping for the best while we were away and potentially losing all of the tomatoes to frost, I sucked it up and stripped the plants bare over the weekend.

The damage?

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Meatycake, Meatycake, Butcher Man

Stockcakes

Day by day, it’s getting colder and colder, and becoming more and more apparent that summer is long gone.  With that shift in seasons, we spend a little less time cooking outside on the grill, and a little more time indoors baking, braising and stewing, etc.

One of the indicators that typically signals the arrival of fall for me is my willingness to spend time making homemade stock.  Such a steamy, sweaty endeavour would be out of the question during the dog days of summer, but in the fall when days are brisker and nights hold a chill, warming the air with rich, meaty scents sounds like a wonderful, reflective idea.  It also happens to appeal to my waste-not-want-not mentality.  Each time I make stock, I continually marvel at the amount of flavour you can extract from little more than kitchen scraps.  And with such a small amount of effort, you can improve just about every dish you add it to.  Bored of rice?  Simmer it in stock.  Making mashed potatoes?  Boil those in stock first, too.  Deglazing pan juices?  Stock can do that.  In just about any cooking application where you would use water or wine, stock makes a flavourful stand-in.

But, before we get to the meat of the matter, a few “suggestions” about making stock that will make life a little easier.

1) Be organic – I try to buy as much organic food as possible, mostly because I think it tastes better, but also because it’s better for me and the environment.  I usually try not to preach to others about why they should too, because I understand that some things about food are very personal matters.  In this case I’m breaking my rule, though.  If at all possible, try to use organic food to make your stock.  With something as simple and elemental as boiled bones and veg, imperfections easily come through, so starting with the best product possible will automatically put you ahead.

2) Save, save, save – If you roasted a chicken, save that cleaned carcass in a ziploc bag in the freezer.  Once you’ve amassed a few, you’ll be well on your way to a flavourful stock.  And don’t hesitate to add vegetable trimmings to the bag either, as long as they’re cleaned first.  Carrot peels, onion skins and celery leaves all make great additions to a stock base.

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Time For The Feats Of Strength (And Meat) And Fortitude

Mincemeat

I’ll be the first to admit that my family does have some rather odd traditions.

For instance, when my sister and I each left the proverbial nest, we’d invariably guilt my mom (a now-retired professional chef) into making our favourite Trinidadian delicacies whenever she’d pop by for a visit, which in my case meant the labour-intensive but delicious dhalpouri roti.  Or on my dad’s side of the family, there’s a yearly Kris Kringle exchange that is more like ultimate gift fighting, with the intent being to steal as many gifts from the people who want them as possible.

Of course, this is nothing in comparison to the Everyman’s family’s tradition of celebrating Festivus “feats of strength” more often than I care to remember.

The Raw (Literally) Ingredients

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We Can Rebuild It; We Have The Technology

Choco-Rosemary Bacon

That niggling chill in the air meant that yesterday morning I pulled the final mini slab of vanilla pink peppercorn bacon out of the freezer after I’d used the last thawed bits in a crockpot of fall-appropriate baked beans.

Thus, it seemed like as good a time as any to get started on my next batch of bacon.  Since bacon requires a 7 to 10 day lead time before you have finished product, it was imperative that I get it curing, lest I run out of delectable home-cured porkiness.

Magical Ingredients

While considering the next methods of flavouring, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet gotten on Scott and Larbo’s choco-bacon train (though I’ve been meaning to).  Being a rabid consumer of my chocolate-covered guanciale toffee, I knew there was serious potential in the choco-bacon combo, but I wanted something more.  Leave it to me to prove that nothing exceeds like excess.  Recalling a dessert that I love at one of our favourite local haunts (Czehoski) formed the basis for this inspiration.  The chef there makes a rich and melty chocolate ganache flavoured with rosemary that is out of this world, so my mind immediately thought chocolate + bacon = good and chocolate + rosemary = also good, therefore chocolate + rosemary + bacon must = out of this world good.  And of course because I never do anything by half measures, it also occurred to me that a little pure Ontarian maple syrup might not be a bad idea either.

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Surviving The Holidays With Allergies

Blobs Of Dough

As most of you probably already know, we’re only a few days away from Canadian Thanksgiving.

And, as I’m well aware, having a food allergy can make enjoying holiday meals more than a little challenging.  On the one hand, you don’t want to inconvenience your host by making a big deal about your situation, but many allergies can be deadly; anaphylactic shock is a sure way to ruin any holiday celebration if you ask me.

In my case, I’m lucky that I don’t often have to worry about my seafood/shellfish allergy, because neither are typically included in traditional holiday meals, and when they are, they’re pretty easy to spot.  For others (like my mother in law) it’s unfortunately not so simple.  An allergy to wheat that she developed later in life means that she can’t always spot the things that to her are deadly, but knows exactly what it is she’s missing (hello baguette!).

Being a fellow allergy sufferer (one who also developed an allergy in adulthood) I can sympathize with the notion of pining for something you used to be able to eat before – I constantly decry my memories of fresh caught crabs off the piers in BC.  But, one thing I’ve noticed about people with food allergies in general is that they don’t want you to take pity on them.  All they really want is something good to eat!  There’s nothing worse than feeling like a leper because everyone else is eating “normal” food while you nosh on some “alternative” bread, cake, pie, etc.

But, what people often forget is that there’s a whole slew of great recipes that are unintentionally allergy friendly.  If you’re a raw foodist, you can eat gazpacho (I think, I’m not super familiar with their ideology, to be honest).  If you’re allergic to wheat, well, there really isn’t anything better that a decadent flourless chocolate cake, you know?  And if you’re allergic to eggs, well I recently found out that ground flax and some water makes a surprisingly decent substitute (ascertained when I accidentally ran out of eggs for banana bread).

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Snatchy Snatchy

Just One Of The Two Bushels

As nothing more than an honorary Italian, I decided some time over the course of the summer that this year I wasn’t going to “do the tomatoes”.

We still had plenty of canned whole romas and sauce from last year, and the bruschetta recipe I’d canned turned out to be one big, mushy failure, so it didn’t seem necessary to go through all of that dirty, steamy work again this fall.  But, as with all of my best laid plans, more exuberant intentions got firmly in the way.

And so, that was how on the 1st of October I found myself reaching out to every resource I could for advice on where to procure a few bushels of roma tomatoes.  The time of year coupled with our supremely awful growing season left me with some pretty slim pickins’.  Even my old standby, Fiesta Farms was completely sold out of their cache of bushels, with every grocery store I contacted between here and Mississauga all but laughing at me.  One gentleman from Highland Farms was particularly morose, simply stating the the tomatoes were all done, in a manner similar to one used to inform someone of a death in the family.

But, nobody can ever say I do things by half measures.

Wracking my brain for alternatives, I remembered the many organic grocers we’d tested out prior to settling on Bob a few years back.  After a few more calls, I found that Front Door Organics had two bushels of organic local tomatoes left, and in that moment I decided I was taking all of them.  Last year I processed close to 150 pounds of tomatoes.  This year, I was going to have to make due with 40.  Of course, the one catch to the situation was that in order to buy the bushels, I had to order one of their weekly “fresh boxes”, because you can add to an order, but a fresh box is mandatory.  Total cost for 2 bushels of tomatoes plus a fresh box?  Just slightly above $100.  However, I was only personally using 32 of the 40 pounds of tomatoes, and the fresh box replaced my weekly jaunt to the farmer’s market, so the actual cost for 32 pounds was $55.  Still steeper than last year’s $15/bushel, but these were organic tomatoes, and it was the end of the season, so I’m sure the price was reflective of supply and demand.

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