Archive for January, 2010

Panino Sinestro (Or, I Give You The ‘Nduja Burger)

'Nduja Burger

Ever since I made ‘nduja back at the beginning of May I’ve been playing the waiting game while it fermented, cured and hung in my kitchen window, taunting me.

During that time my friends Larbo and Scott of This Little Piggy and The Sausage Debauchery (respectively) have been churning out all kinds of wondrous delights made with their versions of the piquant spread while I’ve been quietly biding my time.  In fact, Larbo’s probably been the most prolific, creating ‘nduja di bufala, ‘nduja pate and most recently an ‘nduja mortadella to make us all jealous and drooling.  Once I work through some of my own ‘nduja reserves I fully intend to build on his pate idea, but for now I’m holding those cards close to the chest.  Lest you think that Scott’s some sort of slouch, let me tip my hat to him for single-handedly starting up a mail order business to bring ‘nduja-making supplies (and other imported Italian goodies) to the masses.  As you can see, our combined aim is to completely blanket the planet in ‘nduja fever!

Hanging

In an attempt to keep mine somewhat traditional, I’d let the ‘nduja hang for as close to the year I’d originally intended as I could possibly wait.  Some of it will surely see a 1 year anniversary since my first attempt was a double batch, leaving me with close to 6 kg of ‘nduja hanging around waiting for inconspicuous consumption and culinary inspiration to strike.

This very weekend was the first time since I stuffed the ‘nduja that I’d had an occasion to cut down a finished link and give a taste, and words cannot express how truly excited I was.

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Larding The Pantry

Pure As The Driven Snow

As some of you may recall, late last year I embarked on an attempt to cure my own prosciutto.

And now, as the first stage of that nearly 2 year process draws to a close, we’ve come to one of the more time-consuming and arduous tasks.

Having been rested in a salt and herb coat for quite some time now, the prosciutto is nearly ready to be smeared with a mixture of lard and black pepper and hung to be aged until it’s magically delicious.

Of course, to get to that point, one has to have a fair amount of lard.

Lucky for me I bought half a pig last summer, which came with its own lion’s share of fat.  As you may know, fat can eventually be rendered down into lard.

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Nothing Compares To You

BarcelonaGoji

It’s been a little less than 2 years since I first became enthralled with the absolutely delectable chocolate from Chicago’s Vosges Haut Chocolat.

During that time I’ve come to love many of their varieties, but none more than the Barcelona, Goji and Mo’s Bacon bars.  Suffering from withdrawal last year, I even managed to find a Toronto source for Vosges that would order in the ones I liked after my mini library stash ran out.  But even the benefit of having a local vendor like The Mercantile to get my fix doesn’t come without its costs.  Firstly, the bars are quite pricy at $10 per, which is pretty much on par with what they sell for in the states.  Combine that with the current state of construction and disrepair on Roncesvalles (where The Mercantile resides) and you’ll understand why I stock up every time I go.  But, even though I savour the bars slowly, only allowing 1 or 2 squares (from a 9 square bar) at a time, there’s still something a little obscene about walking out of a store with $100 worth of chocolate.

So, over the last little while I’ve been contemplating potential alternatives to Vosges, focusing on the characteristics that I enjoy so much in them.  The one common denominator I’ve noticed between my 3 favourite bars is the fact that they all contain a savoury element.  The Barelona and Goji bars both contain salt (grey sea and pink Himalayan, respectively) blended with Vosges signature (but oxymoron-ish) dark milk chocolate, while the Mo’s bar combines it with Alderwood smoked salt and (also salty) bacon.  That being said, sea salt chocolate bars sounded like as good a place as any to start, so I started asking around for options.

First was Lindt Excellence’s A Touch Of Sea Salt bar ($3.99), one that I’d previously heard about but never seen at a retailer before.  It was sheer coincidence when I happened upon it during a pre-movie candy run to Shoppers, so I couldn’t help but buy one.  Snapping off a piece in the dark theatre, I found myself supremely disappointed.  For mass market chocolate, Lindt is usually decent, but A Touch Of Sea Salt was anything but.  The chocolate had a waxy quality that I didn’t enjoy as I scraped it against my teeth, and combined with the chemical-like bouquet of the “sea salt”, it made for an exceptionally unpleasant bite.  I spent the rest of the movie with nothing to nibble on, which made the whole experience that much more annoying, and at the end I went home with a full bar left over.

A few weeks later, while I was shopping at The Healthy Butcher, I noticed their display of artisanal chocolate next to the cash register included a sea salt bar ($4.99) by Montreal’s Gallerie Au Chocolat.  Clearly I’m not immune to the crafty wiles of impulse purchasing, because a bar of it came home with me, too.  After cracking open its rustic cardboard box, I was met with the lovely aroma of finely tempered dark chocolate and a bar that had a surprising amount of heft to it.  Breaking off a small chunk, I placed it on my tongue and waited.  Though the chocolate was rich, creamy and smooth, the salt was much too overpowering, situating the bar firmly in unpalatable territory.  After a few days I began to wonder if it might be a bar to chop into my next batch of chocolate brulee or chocolate chip cookies, allowing the extra salinity to be camouflaged by all of the other ingredients, but I have yet to test out this theory.  At any rate, unlike the Lindt, I have not yet completely written this one off.

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The Best Damn Cookie In The Universe

Ubercookie

Last night when I got home from work I was itching for a spectacular batch of cookies.

You see, the Everyman and I visited Sweet Flour Bake Shop on the weekend to make customized cookies, but the ones I made for myself just didn’t satisfy my cookie craving.  There was nothing wrong with them per se, I just didn’t figure out that they weren’t what I wanted until after we’d already left, negating my ability to correct my mistake with more cookies.

Since then I’ve understandably had cookies on the brain.  But, I had a very particular cookie in mind.  I wanted something akin to what I remember the Chewy Chips Ahoy from my childhood to be like, only not full of preservatives and trans fats.

Surprisingly, I don’t often (read: never) make plain chocolate chip cookies, so I was a bit stymied by the prospect of finding a place to start.  Usually I am seduced by wonderful additives like oatmeal and peanut butter, etc and never make it to the good old fashioned triple C (chocolate chip cookie).

But last night nothing else would do, so I hauled out all of my recipes and cookie books and started poring over my options.

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What Shall We Eat For Dinner?

The Gastronomy Of Marriage

I’ve often wondered if those 6 words might just be one of the most uttered phrases in any relationship.

Having caught up on some (long overdue) reading lately, I’ve had my nose stuck into The Gastronomy Of Marriage by Michelle Maisto for the better part of the past week, a tale which attempts to answer that exact question.

I’d first heard about the book back in December, while combing through one of many ‘makes a great gift for a foodie’ guides that tend to present themselves right before the holidays.  The summary made the story sound interesting enough, so I’d earmarked it on my Chapters wish list and then forgotten all about it.  While at the bookstore returning a duplicate gift after Christmas, I’d spied the bright veg on its cover and was inspired to take it home.

I’m not entirely certain what it is about the photo, but there’s something romantic, sensual, yet poignantly sad about those 2 crooked gourds wrapped around each other.  Perhaps I’m just full of silly sentimentality, but to me it evokes an us-against-the-world feel which doggedly tugs upon my heartstrings.

Throughout the story, Maisto explores the link between family and food and how they influence our personal opinions of what makes a suitable meal (or comfortable life), all against the backdrop of her impending marriage.  Combining the single households of Italian American Maisto and her Chinese American husband prior to their nuptials often produces comical results.

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Whoopsie Daisy

The Finished Whoopie

Last weekend I visited Fiesta Farms to do a little shopping for that aforementioned rabbit, among other things.

While I wandered the aisles, one of the other treats I came across was a lovely 2 pound clamshell of those alluring Meyer lemons.  Surprising even myself, I resisted the urge to buy up the whole stand on sight.

You see, I’ve been enjoying the taste of Meyer lemons in restaurants for ages, but until now had never seen them at the grocery store.  Of course, since I use an organic delivery service I rarely go to a grocery store to begin with, so I should hardly be surprised.  I’ve been pondering where to find Meyers (as well as the more ornate Buddha’s hand) for quite some time, so when I spotted these I immediately had to snap some up.

Coincidentally, days later I happened on a fellow Torontonian’s entry in Tigress’ Can Jam who had managed to find Buddha’s hand lemons (Whole Foods apparently carries them – go figure!) in Toronto, so I imagine I will be visiting them soon, too.  I’m not entirely certain what I intend to do with a Buddha’s hand lemon yet, but I’ve been rolling a concept similar to limoncello around in my mind along with the possibility of infusing it into some rye.  But that is a different tale for another day.  Back to those Meyer lemons…

Gorgeous Meyer Lemons

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Rabbit; The Final Frontier

Joli Lapin

When I was growing up I wasn’t exposed to much in the way of game meat.  Aside from the occasional curried goat roti (a nod to my mother’s Caribbean heritage) or a festive Cornish rock hen (often my father’s answer to preparing holiday meals for 2) I didn’t really develop a taste for wilder fare until I was in my early 20’s.

Without a doubt, the one meat I’ve been an exceptionally slow adopter to is rabbit.  This is partly because the skinned carcass of a whole rabbit too closely resembles that of the small felines that share my home.  I make no bones about eating cute, fuzzy animals if they taste good, but the possibility of questionable provenance has held me back in the past.

It’s taken a few years, but I’ve gradually warmed to the idea of rabbit.  It may have started during a meal at Cowbell or perhaps tasting a terrine from The Black Hoof, I’m not quite sure.  While we were in Quebec City in the fall I enjoyed shredded rabbit confit linguine at Le Lapin Saute, and for our anniversary I consumed a similar dish at Splendido.  I’m still not a fan of rabbit rilettes, but I think I’ve made substantial leaps and bounds (har har!) towards getting over my mental distaste for it.

Recently, I even went so far as to buy a saddle of rabbit at Fiesta Farms, a place I know I can steadfastly trust not to sell me skinned kittens.  But for several days the packet of rabbit sat on the bottom shelf of the fridge, taunting me.

At first I’d considered using the Ratio app to make another batch of dough for tagliatelle, but pasta seemed an awful lot of work, and also not very far outside of my past 2 rabbit experiences.  I briefly toyed with confit as well, until I realized the duck fat was frozen. (more…)

Truly Outrageous

Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to watch episode 2 of Hugh’s Chicken Run, which is a BBC show that features Britain’s own Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) exposing the realities of commercial chicken production.

I intended to write about this yesterday, when I could still feel the fire of indignation in my belly, but the more retarded of our 3 cats chewed through the power cord on my laptop charger, thus leaving me without access to the interwebs.  My ranting has likely grown a little more subdued than it would have been immediately following the show, but it still raised questions nonetheless.

In the second episode, Hugh takes a group of people he’s convinced to raise chickens on a tour of a poultry-rearing facility that he’s constructed as a small-scale model of the difference between conventional and free range birds.  He fills half of the giant shed with 1,600 chicks destined to have a relatively charmed existence, while the remaining 2,400 or so( of the 4,000 birds he starts with) are crammed into the same size shelter on the other side of the barn.

The free range birds obviously have a little more space because there are less of them on their side of the shed, but they also get perks like bales of hay to roost on, balls to play with, CDs to peck at and access to the great outdoors.  What might seem like small concessions make a world of difference to these birds, as is evidenced by the flock of perky, upwardly mobile chickens pecking and scratching around.

By contrast, the conventional birds were much more cramped in their space, and had no “toys” to play with at all.  After several weeks they could barely walk, having eaten so much (during the 23 hours a day they’re encouraged to eat) that the poor birds had grown faster than their legs could support.  The carpet of bird shit was so heavy that apparently the barn stank of ammonia and many chickens were getting “hot spots” on their legs and feet (which is a pleasant way of saying they were being burned by the chemical reactions of so much shit coming into contact with their extremities).  Having so many birds confined to such a tiny area also increases the chance of illness infesting a flock, so any time a sick or slow bird was found, it had to be removed.

On top of that, Fearnley Whittingstall discusses how he has to cull many chicks because they are smaller than the rest and won’t make “market weight” at the same time.  Because this unfortunately represents no profit, they must be dispatched.  Throughout the show you can see him becoming increasingly shaken with each cull, but on the conventional side, birds are only given 5 to 6 weeks to live and one cannot risk the safety of the flock with ideals.

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The Constant Gardener

Rememberies

Isn’t that a beautiful picture?

That is an heirloom caprese salad courtesy of my own garden, circa September 2009.

And as winter drags on in it’s pithy little way, I find myself drawn to the photos I have of my garden (or the spoils thereof) to help keep me going during this wretched time of year.

As usual, I had seed catalogues to pore over at Christmas again, and have spent the better part of a dozen hours agonizing over what I should, would, could grow this year.  In a surprising twist of fate our condo board reversed their decision to rip up and replace our roof deck this year, so I unexpectedly have the luxury of planning a 2010 garden once again.  It may seem early, but once I determine what to grow, seeds will need to be ordered and started indoors, so really, I’m right on schedule.

Given my (ample for a roof) yet rather confined space, it’s always a difficult task deciding what I should grow.  Successes from previous years fight for acreage against new plants I’ve been seduced by but have yet to try.  The fun part is attempting to harmoniously blend them all together in a symbiotic way.

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Burger Wars

Not A Slider, Actually

There’s been quite the battle being waged for burger supremacy in Toronto lately.

Specifically, it seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new fancy burger joint (complete with a list of premium organic meats and toppings) opening up.

I’ve sampled most of the “gourmet” burgers in town, being an above-average fan of burgers in general, and also a lover of a man who absolutely adores all things bacon cheeseburger-esque.

During the last few weeks I’ve sampled 2 of the newer offerings, so I’ll be ranking them in the context of some of the other boutique burger shops I’ve tried thus far.

Shortly after it opened in early November, the Everyman and I hightailed it to Oh Boy Burger Market to see what all the fuss was about.  We’d been anticipating its opening for quite some time; likely ever since I first saw their papered over window during the summer, if memory serves.  While the service was a bit spotty, the room completely packed and several items were sold out on our visit (can you blame them when they had only just opened and had already been written up in The Star?) the burgers themselves were tasty and exhibited that lovely, lacy crust that I crave on the outside.  I opted to have the Oh Little Boy combo which came with 2 mini burgers, while the Everyman had a regular size.  Both were skillfully cooked, and it’s important to note that even with the size differential both were flavourful, juicy, and not the least bit dried out.  They also got bonus points for offering a really pungent blue cheese for topping the burgers; on top of the 2 minis it was like tiny bites of heaven.

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That’s The Way (Uh Huh, Uh Huh) I Like It (Uh Huh, Uh Huh)

chocri

I think I’m in love.

Last night I came across the greatest idea I’ve ever wished I had.

It’s called chocri.

Chocri is a German-based company that specializes in build-your-own chocolate bars.  According to their website, they take the idea of food customization to its most promising apex – the blendification of bespoke bars.  Considering what a trend food individualization has become over the last few years (as I discussed in my article about Sweet Flour Bake Shop last month), I can completely understand how this idea came about; I just hope it proves popular enough to make its way to Canada.

On the chocri website, you get to choose from the 3 basic chocolates (white, dark or milk) and then add up to 5 (of more than 90 potential) toppings.  There are fruits, nuts, spices, candies, granular additions like seeds, etc, and decorative elements like dragees and sugar pieces just waiting to grace your personalized edible confections. Once you’ve selected your toppings, or chosen one of their signature blends, chocri will create and ship your treat directly to you within 14 days.  And that is what they call, a fait accompli.

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There’s An App For That

Fin!

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself purchasing Michael Ruhlman‘s Ratio application from the iPhone App Store.

It’s a bit of a dirty little secret that I’ve become addicted to food and cooking apps, and I have the Epicurious, Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals, and Nat Decants apps to prove it, and now Ratio as well.

Now, I may have a fair amount of respect for the Charcuterie book (moreso for its co-author than for Ruhlman himself) but the more I see him on TV (typically on No Reservations) and with that whole “are we too stupid to cook” thing he blundered last week, the more I’ve started to view him as a pompous, self-aggrandizing ass.

But, I had bought the app for the inherent practicality of it, so I still intended to test it out.

Ratio Dough

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Barbaricly Dainty

Odds And Ends Marinade

On a recent Sunday morning I had a bit of spare time, so I chose to do one of the things I love to do best; sit down and be entertained by James Chatto on Gold Medal Plates 2008. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there is something so soothing about listening to that man talk that it practically lulls me to sleep.

Whilst watching, a glaze on one of the competitor’s dishes (I think it was Patrick Lin’s) inspired me to prepare a few quails I had lying around the house for dinner.  I had a bunch of new spices I wanted to test out, so I started brainstorming how I would likely blend them together.

We love quails here at Foodie and the Everyman, but I find there’s such a dichotomy surrounding them.  On the one hand, they’re quite delicate and twee because they are such tiny little birds, but on the other there’s something rather primal and brutish about ripping apart a whole bird to consume all by oneself.  Either way, they make an absolutely delectable meal, and in some ways can be considered game “lite” because their flavour is exceptionally mild and not nearly as intense as horse or moose or venison by comparison.

Once I sat down and pondered for a few minutes, the flavour profile I wanted to create became relatively clear.

I began with the base that had sung to me on the show, a mixture of honey and lavender thinned to a glaze-like consistency.  To smooth it out I added a little melted butter, then a handful of crushed long peppers, and finally a splash of leftover juice from a finished bottle of pickled balsamic onions.  Swirling it all together, the fragrance leapt up and smacked me in the palate; always a good sign.  Dipping a finger, I found it was just right.  The quails were brushed liberally with the liquid, then left to marinate in the fridge for a few hours.

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