Archive for February, 2010

Reusability Redux

Lamb Chops With Sauce

A few weeks ago when the Everyman made un-Valentine’s Day dinner for me, the accompanying sauce for the pork chops was so slurpable that I could not bring myself to rinse the leftovers down the drain.  Instead I kept the pear, thyme and shallot infused jus in a small container in the fridge, with no clear idea for what I meant to do with the rest.

Flash forward to nearly 2 weeks later when a dinner of broiled lamb loin chops and cumin glazed carrots was looking rather forlorn on the plate.  Digging the jellified jus out of the fridge, I opted to warm it in a saucepan with a frozen cube of vegetarian stock.  Once it had thinned out a touch, a knob of membrillo jam melted and sweetened it a bit, while a splash of barley malt vinegar brought everything into balance.

Served with the crispy broiled lamb, the resulting sauce was quite nearly the perfect pairing for lamb.  It was so well matched that I think I’d even go to the trouble of making it from the start just for lamb chops next time.  Score 1 for culinary ingenuity!


From The Vault Of Delectable Chocolate Arcanum

Who Loves The Chocolate?

Above all else, I admire passion in others.

Not for me are the random masses shuffling along through their workaday lives, never fully immersing themselves or finding anything worthwhile to commit to.  Instead I respect the creative, overly exuberant doers, the ones who push the envelopes and expand the boundaries of their respective fields through constant trial and experimentation.

When I familiarized myself with Paul A Young’s 2009 work Adventures With Chocolate recently, I knew I’d found a rare culinary maverick worthy of further examination, whose book I just had to lay hands on.  Once I managed to track down a copy through Alibris UK I only had to exercise a modicum of patience until it arrived on my doorstep a week and a half later.

Adventures With Chocolate is a rollicking stroll through the mind of a (not so evil) genius, whose book jacket photo reveals a dapper young man reminiscent of a modern day Willy Wonka.  This is by no means your mother’s cookbook, resplendent as it is with the rich tones and lush textures of pure chocolate juxtaposed against rustic, homespun preparations.  It’s part concept journal and part chocolate as high art, but on all accounts they add up deliciously.  I’ve yet to test drive a single recipe, but after my recent experimentations with chocolate and ‘nduja I’ve been inexplicably drawn to some of his more whimsical combinations, including chocolate water crackers (for cheese), fig and date tarts with cumin chocolate syrup and cedar cassia truffles (to name a few).  I’ve no doubt that once I start I will work my way through the book in its entirety.

Especially helpful for the novice chocolatier is the glossary near the beginning that identifies certain flavours that marry well with distinct varieties of single origin chocolate.  I may be somewhere between amateur and professional (having only dabbled in truffle making during my late teens and early twenties under the moniker Princess P) but even I found the table to be an invaluable tool.  I’ve also found it curiously prevalent for British recipes to specify the variety of sugar; whether it’s turbinado, muscovado, caster or any other, nothing is left to chance in the precise flavour compilations Young is after (definitely a trend I would like to catch on universally).


The Soul Of Comfort Food

Cornbread; Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That!

When I was younger, comfort food took on many forms.

Being half Trinidadian, if my mom was cooking it often meant some sort of roti and curry preparation to warm our hearts and bellies.  After my parents split and my dad took over the cooking for our household, it was a Sunday roast chicken redolent with paprika, garlic, onion and pepper with a side of fluffy stuffing.  Once I was considered old enough to cook on my own, my foods of choice were often plain, bland and white, including tall glasses of cold milk, hot buttered rice and large piles of creamy mashed potatoes – clearly my love of starchy white carbs was cultivated at a young age.

These days comfort food in our household usually means homemade macaroni and cheese (prepared with creme fraiche, parmagiano, manchego and chevre instead of nuclear cheese food), baked panko crusted sriracha nuggets or my aunt’s Christmas morning poached chicken salad that the Everyman fell in love with while we were there for the holidays.  While the spirit of the dishes remains the same, the ingredients and methods have certainly gone more upmarket to account for our more refined tastes and preferences than what we would have settled for as kids.

The one comfort food genre that I’ve never really dabbled much in was Southern food.  I like cornbread, fried chicken, BBQ and all the other stereotypical fare as much as the next person, but I generally don’t make much of it at home.  But between this article about Hank’s new Southern dinner menu and the return of more wintry weather recently, I was suddenly craving something heartier and more rib-sticking than normal. Over the years I’ve enjoyed all of the components of the dish I made last night separately, but I never bothered to put them all together as one before.  It’s far from authentic Southern or Caribbean fare but dang, it does taste good.

To begin I soaked half a pound of red beans overnight, then simmered them in several inches of water until they were mostly tender.  In the meantime, I sautéed several links of a homemade spicy poblano sausage I had in the freezer with some chopped celery, onion, thyme, cumin and cayenne until the whole upper level of our house was nose-tinglingly fragrant.  Once the sausage and veggies were well browned, I added a handful of frozen stock cubes and scraped the bottom of the pan with a spoon.  At this point I put on water to boil for a pot of brown rice.  Draining the beans in a colander, I added them back to their pan with the remaining sausage/veggie/broth mixture as well as a few fresh bay leaves, then covered and simmered again.  In the interim I mixed up a cornbread batter and slid it into a preheated blackened frying pan.  Once the cornbread was mostly cooked through I grated a large dusting of peppered pecorino on top of it and returned it to the oven to brown.  When everything was ready I served the sausage and bean mixture atop a mountain of brown rice with a wedge of crispy cornbread on the side.


Cowbell, To The Power Of 3


Today I am leaving you with a picture of a recent vegetarian supper I concocted out of couscous, lentils and roasted root vegetables in a tarragon cream.

The reason for this is that I am currently coming down from a meat hangover after having been to Cowbell twice in the last 36 hours, and needed something lighter and plant-based to inspire me.

We visited for dinner on Saturday night and enjoyed a meal of all of the usual delicious suspects, including the charcuterie platter, a consomme, some red deer and variety pork dishes, and a pot of chocolate rillettes.  Chef was kind enough to serve our dinner himself, and at the end of the night he even brought out some wonderful ice wine and wished me a happy birthday.  It turns out his birthday is also this week, so I wished him many happy returns.

On Sunday morning we came back nearly 12 hours later to enjoy the mother of all brunches.  I ingested what they call the Rusty and Jerome, which is a TV tray laden with just about every item on their brunch menu, including a melange of bacon, toast, waffles with fruit, meatloaf and gravy, eggs and baked beans and sausages.  It was quite the impressive feast, and I enjoyed it all the more when they brought it to our table and assumed the Everyman had ordered it.  Instead he had a Belgian waffle with the aforementioned fruit, a side of home fries and a few links of chorizo.  After behaving like a pair of gluttonous beasts, we left Cowbell once again and continued on with my birthday, albeit in a food-addled stupor.

The third instance of the equation is actually part of my present.  The Everyman and I will be participating in one of their private butchery classes (I just have to pick which one) which basically means that I received the gift of 3 Cowbells for my birthday.


New Beginnings


Tomorrow is my birthday.

So, it seems only fitting that as I prepare to spend another year in this skin, I should reflect on what it is I’m planning to do in the coming months, particularly in relation to gardening.

With the exception of the various forms of root stock I ordered (potatoes, sunchokes and asparagus) all of my seeds have arrived.  I spread them out on the kitchen table last night and simultaneously felt surges of fear and excitement.  There’s something rather exhilarating about the potential of this year’s garden with the many unknowns I’m introducing into the equation, but at the same time I can also see the immense amount of work all of the seed packs represent.

Of course, the few months between receiving the seeds and actually planting them into the ground is excruciatingly painful for someone as impatient as I am.  There is the distraction of starting the seeds in the basement, but that is just a temporary solution, which is why I invariably end up going back to the seed catalogues that keep showing up at my door and ordering more.  In fact, immediately after I placed the orders for all of the seed packets that you see above, another Richter’s magazine (ironically) showed up, attempting to entice me into purchasing again.  To date I haven’t caved, but only because I’m not sure whether I realistically have room for all of the things I’ve already bought.  Regardless of that concern, I’m sure before May rolls around there will be a few more seed orders arriving at my door.

As an added bonus, the company that sent me the seeds on the very left (Heritage Harvest) included a free package of tomato seeds with my order, and I’m very intrigued by them.  They’re called Henderson’s Wins All and apparently this heritage variety grows grotesquely massive 2-3 pound specimens.  While some of you may be aware of my fascination with all things tiny and squee, I’m also (surprisingly) amazed by those biggest vegetable ever contests that people hold every harvest season.  Between the Sicilian Saucer (another 3 pound beast) and this new Henderson’s I think I’m going to have giantesse all wrapped up this year.  I’m expecting it’ll be a very Alice In Wonderland-esque garden with all of the tiny cherry tomatoes being dwarfed by these 2 oversized plants.


Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children???

First off, I don’t have kids, nor do I ever want them.

In fact, if I’m to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that I generally despise the smarmy little buggers (with the exception of the kith and kin of a few friends or relatives of mine, that is).  For comfort’s sake I usually prefer to keep a fair amount of distance between me and the lot of them with their bad manners, foul mouthes, entitled attitudes, short attention spans and constant orbit of gadgets and technology (/rant).

That being said, there’s been a lot of talk about children in the media lately.  There’s plenty of discussion surrounding the obesity epidemic that’s facing their generation and how as a society we need to focus our energies to improve and shift their current fate.  Mrs. Obama has her Let’s Move initiative, Alice Waters has the Edible Schoolyard program,  and Jamie Oliver’s recent TED Prize wish was to teach every child about food.  Of course, that’s merely a sprinkling of the many projects attempting to tackle this multi-faceted problem, but these 3 just happen to be some of the most highly visible.

On the surface they all sound like rather noble causes, and certainly there is a degree of credibility behind the idea of educating children about food and exercise in order to stem the tides of an obesity related epidemic.

And anyone who has seen the promo clip of Oliver’s upcoming show (specifically the kids that don’t know the difference between potatoes and tomatoes at around 1:16 in the video) should be able to grasp the positive ramifications when kids get switched on about food.

However, the point where I often find myself flummoxed is when people start talking about banning, outlawing, taxing or restricting certain foods deemed to be “unhealthy” from school premises  in order to achieve that goal.


Tomato Slippers

Delicate Slippers

Aside from my timtana experiment last week, I haven’t really done a whole lot of bread baking yet this year.  I’ve been more than a little preoccupied with work, planning our vacation and things of a more pastry-ish nature, so when I decided to make bread again this week there was a fair amount of anticipation on my part.

I once read that the word ciabatta loosely translates to mean “carpet slipper” in Italian.  Given their delicate dough and diminutive stature I can’t really say I’m surprised, though I’m not sure what about carpet slippers is supposed to make them sound appetizing or appealing, despite the fact that they are.

Coincidentally those small, squat rolls are some that I enjoy preparing (and eating) quite a bit.  Of course because I am merely an honorary Italian, I make no bones about putting my own little twists into the bread that I’m baking, and on Family Day yesterday I decided to enhance the ciabatta with a healthy dose of homemade tomato conserva.

Aerated Biga

I began the night before by mixing up a biga (sourdough starter) by combining flour, water and a small amount of yeast and then letting it ferment on the counter.


You Choo-Choo-Choose Me?

The Big Whoopie

I know, I know.

That clichéd Simpsons line has been popping up in stories all over town this week but I really do love the Simpsons and specifically enjoy that episode.

We’re not really fans of the big “V-day” here at Foodie and the Everyman (which I tend to refer to in my head as venereal disease or victimized delusions day, for no particular reason).  In fact, when the Everyman and I first started seeing each other, it was only a few weeks before V-day (and my birthday which is one week after) and we both agreed about how ridiculously stupid it is.  So generally speaking, we don’t tend to celebrate it.  I prefer to think that the person I’m with is going to do nice things for me all year round instead of being bludgeoned into submission by some industry’s made up excuse for a spending spree.

And for the most part the Everyman does and so do I.  Though he doesn’t often bring me the “traditional” gifts of chocolate or flowers, he does regularly indulge me in other ways, such as expanding my love of restaurants and travel.  In fact, just last week he told me I could start planning our next vacation to wherever I wanted to go, and to me that’s more romantic than a February 14th drugstore chocolate sampler any day.

But because we both love to eat, we did go out for dinner on V-day one year (to Mistura) but like that article in the Globe earlier this week, I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a worthwhile experience (though it was one of the last times I ate lobster before I got sick).  The whole time we were there the service was so rushed and you could tell the meal had been hastily prepared.  At the end of the night it was apparent that their main objective was maximizing bums at tables and gross consumerism is just so sexy, you know?  So, we just don’t bother anymore.  If the Hoof wasn’t constantly overrun with hipsters, I’d probably have gotten on board with going there for an anti-V-day meal, but it’s packed every night of the week anyway, so that was pretty much out of the question.  I don’t enjoy busy restaurants on a good day, so amplifying that by adding a “holiday” to the mix makes it even less appealing to the both of us.


Silencing My Inner Critic

I grew up in a restaurant family.

While other kids got to have play dates and scheduled outings with their moms and dads, I enjoyed an absentee relationship with mine; 2 of 3 being terminally addicted to their kitchens.  In the years that my parents were together I barely saw my mom because she’d leave for work while I was still at pre-school and not return until 2 or 3 in the morning.  After my parents separated, my mom and stepdad were too busy chasing their restaurant dreams to worry about things like family all that much, so I lived with my dad and only saw them a couple times a year.

Despite many wonderful things I learned and was inspired by during my time in their restaurants, the one thing that continues to irk me to this day is the overly critical nature that they’ve imbued in me.  It was never more evident in them than on the rare occasions when we would go out to eat as a family.  Rather than enjoying the brief time we had together, they would categorically pick apart whatever we were eating, regardless of whether it was a cheap trattoria or a fancy French bistro.  They’d then move on to analyzing whether they could make a particular dish better, and consequently discuss how to do so.

It drove me nuts.  Had I been older it probably would have driven me to drink, but at that young age all I could muster was a withering roll of the eyes.  I didn’t see them often, so all I wanted was to make the most of our time, but they never let up.  For years I vowed I would never be like them, determined to be happy with whatever was set before me, instead.

But, over the last few years I’ve found their somewhat unsavoury trait rearing its ugly head more and more in my demeanour.

Between working in their kitchens and stints at culinary school I’ve had plenty of time to develop an overly picky palate.  In a lot of ways it’s been for the best; I’ve gained a certain level of disdain for junk, fast and pre-packaged food-like substances in favour of slow (or what I like to call real) food.  On the flip side, it also makes friends and lovers (unnecessarily) nervous wrecks when feeding me, and coworkers assume I’m some sort of snob because I choose not to eat their hydrogenated oil filled crap or corn syrup laden goodies.  Even though I’m relatively quiet about my beliefs and standpoints on food (preferring to internalize rather than proselytize) most people assume I’m some sort of elitist crank or cow hugging moon maiden, anyhow.  That I don’t care what anyone thinks of me or my habits seems to stymie them all the more.

I often try to rationalize that I’ve only taken on the best parts of this annoying habit from my parents.  Instead of critiquing things for how bad they might be, I strive to only indulge in tastes of ridiculously good food because I think it satisfies your body, soul and cravings more.  Of course, that’s a mantra that’s easier said than done…


If You Can’t Stand The Heat…


Lest you start smirking about how seasonally appropriate this next dish is, wipe those silly grins from your faces because it was actually inspired by a comment left by Larbo’s friend Dan (aka the Chocolate Man).

It wasn’t enough for me to make my own ‘nduja.  Nor was it sufficient to try my hand at combining it into ‘nduja burgers.  And even after all that, my ‘nduja chocolate truffles only served to stoke the fire of my curiousity.

Nope.  I had to reach further; I had to do more.

Larbo’s friend Dan succinctly reminded me that what had initially inspired me to make ‘nduja truffles in the first place was a bizarre chocolate and ‘nduja pasta recipe on an Italian food website I’d noticed through Foodgawker.  It seemed only fitting that I should further expand on that idea in my own unique way.

Ideas have been marinating for a couple of days now, but yesterday afternoon I finally came to a conclusion about what I wanted to do.


A Flour By Any Other Name Could Still Be As Sweet

A First Look At Timtana

A couple of weeks ago, I entered and won a contest over at Kitchen Therapy that netted me a free bag of a new gluten free product called timtana.  Timtana is a milled all purpose flour ground from timothy grass, which is completely gluten free but full of lots of good for you nutrients like fibre, protein, calcium and iron (you can read more about it over at Kitchen Therapy if you’d like).  A company called Montana Gluten Free graciously provided the bags of flour for the Kitchen Therapy giveaway.

As I’ve previously mentioned, my mother in law is allergic to wheat, so I often keep an eye out for new developments in gluten free products, and have a whole drawer in my freezer devoted to the various alternative flours that I use when baking for her.  Over the years I’ve found that while gluten free baking is not easy, once you know what you’re doing improvisation is possible.

A 3 pound bag of timtana flour arrived at my door a little over a week ago, and has been sitting on my counter waiting for inspiration to reach out and strike ever since.

While an original idea has yet to take shape, in the interim I decided to use Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio app and the basic bread dough formula for a first pass.

The proportions are simple and include 3 parts water to 5 parts flour, plus a little bit of salt and yeast thrown in for good measure.  Because timtana is gluten free, I also opted to toss in a bit of xanthan gum (the gluten free baker’s friend) for some extra leavening power.


An Unorthodox Usage For Lard


As you may recall, one of the things I wanted for Christmas was a bag of Chris Cosentino’s Boccalone lard caramels (amongst other things).

After the holidays I was able to cross a few things off that massive list (I Know How To Cook, the dough press, a scraping beater, a rolling pin and the spice storage solution, specifically), but I was still no closer to tasting those caramels.  As I probably mentioned at the time of writing, unless I get myself (or someone I know) to California (which is highly unlikely) I don’t have much chance of partaking of them any time soon, either.

You may also have noticed that this past weekend I rendered down the better part of 10 pounds of pork fat into lard, the majority of which has been earmarked for sealing the prosciutto.  Even after taking that into consideration, there was still a fair amount of fat left over.  Some I planned to freeze for another day, but it occurred to me that I had enough of a surplus to sacrifice a little to a lard caramel experiment.

When I first read about these fancy lard caramels, I assumed there must be some magical twist to them.  Further research revealed that wasn’t the case, and in fact the only thing unique about them (compared to other caramels) is the fact that the lard supposedly comes from Cosentino’s restaurant.  Beyond that, everything I read indicated they’ve employed a fairly standard caramel recipe.


Something Wicked This Way Comes

Truffes De 'Nduja

I’m going to preface this by saying that this post is probably not for everyone.  With that in mind, I suggest you read on at your own risk.

Just before Christmas, Larbo and I were discussing ‘nduja and fate happened to drop this on my lap.  Being that our combined aptitude for deciphering Italian is mediocre at best, the consensus we reached was that it was a recipe for an ‘nduja and cocoa nib pasta sauce, but at the time we were unable to tell whether it was actually a traditional recipe from the Calabrian region that ‘nduja hails from, or just some kind of joke or one off creation.  Both somewhat perplexed, the bizarre medley has been on my mind ever since.

Generally speaking, Larbo, Scott and I have been good-naturedly one upping each other with this ‘nduja stuff since we all started making it early last year.  It’s become somewhat of a common theme in our posts, and I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s likely one of the top trafficked search terms that brings people to our individual sites (I know it is on mine).

But, I just couldn’t shake this chocolate/’nduja feeling, so after much deliberation I decided what direction I wanted to take it in – that which has always been near and dear to my heart; the truffle.

Miscellaneous Bar Ends