Posts Tagged ‘Chowhound’

And I Killed Some Prawns, Just To Watch Them Die

See The Whites Of Their Eyes

As someone who developed a fairly serious allergy to most varieties of shellfish during the past few years (severe enough that I now carry an epi-pen) I don’t often consume much in the way of shellfish.

But last year, after eating smoked prawns at The Black Hoof, I fell head over heels in love with one of the few crustaceans I’m still capable of eating.  BC spot prawns are generally sold fresh (read: alive) and are only available for a few brief months each year, starting in May and usually stretching through to July or August.  I can’t quite explain it, but there is something so much more creamy, sweet and delicately briny about spot prawns than any other shellfish I’ve ever sampled before.  Being that they also don’t induce anaphylaxis in me doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve tried in vain to find them frozen on several occasions, only to come up empty handed.  A few weeks ago when I searched for them at the St Lawrence Market, 2 out of 3 fishmongers had no idea what I was even asking for and the third outright said they didn’t carry them.  Faced with being at a loss for a second season in a row, I half-heartedly reached out to the obsessives on Chowhound who were surprisingly adept at pinpointing several places in the GTA that could help a sister out (I’ve had mixed success with reaching out for help on Chowhound, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much).  Most of the suggestions were out of the way for this non-driver, in the burbs of Scarborough and such, but one happened to be right downtown.  The T&T Supermarket on Cherry St even had spot prawns advertised in their circular, so I emphatically coerced the Everyman into letting me take my practice drive for the day over to said grocery store.

Once we got there, we found a large tank at the back of the store teeming with the vibrant pink beauties.  The tank was overcrowded though, so the spot prawns didn’t seem as lively as I had expected them to be, though they were certainly still alive.  Asking for 2 pounds, the fishmonger deftly scooped them out of the tank with a net, which set the previously docile prawns to wildly thrashing about.  Once bagged and tagged, I didn’t waste much time before exiting the store and returning home.  Live stuff generally doesn’t stay alive for long when trapped in a small plastic bag.  As a last ditch effort at giving me the finger, the spikiness of the prawns managed to pierce a hole in their bag unbeknownst to me and leak seawater all over the floor mat of my car.  Note to future intrepid purchasers of live prawns – always place them into a cooler or some other hard bottomed storing device when travelling, so as not to suffer the same fate, unless you enjoy washing floor mats for fun.

At home, I had no concept of how to prepare live prawns, and after turning to the internet I was faced with the realization that I had to rip off their heads.  The picture above is what was left of the prawn heads once I accomplished that task; an experience I found more than a little chilling since they were still moving about.

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Around The World In 80 Bites

It’s been a while since the Everyman and I went on vacation.

We started our relationship by going on a roadtrip to Ottawa for a concert, then to Cuba for a friend’s wedding, but the last true vacation was to Panama in 2007.  Last year we did a few 4 day jaunts to the US, but they’re kind of a tease because as soon as you start getting relaxed you have to turn around and go home again.  We’ve been meaning to take some time off this year, but between the two of us starting new jobs within the last 9 months, it never seemed like the right time.  We’ve done a few long weekends this summer, but haven’t gone any further than our recent drive to Bradford for the Outstanding In The Field dinner.  This year, it’s been all about the staycation thus far, unfortunately.

We’ve been discussing a few potential places for several months, having narrowed it down to a long weekend in the Carolinas, a 7 to 10 day journey to Spain, and the decadent CuisinArt Spa in Anguilla.  The Carolinas might still be possible this year, but Spain requires a bit of advanced planning, since I’d have to visit El Bulli and the reservation wait list is notoriously long.  I’ve been thinking I should put our names down now for next year, even. On the other hand, the CuisinArt Spa is prohibitively expensive, so I don’t think we’ll be going there any time soon, but it’s certainly nice to dream.

Earlier this summer I wanted to take a short sojourn to Montreal or Ottawa during some time off, but the Everyman claimed ignorance once the time came, so we didn’t end up going anywhere.  When he happened to come home last week and tell me that we were going to go to Quebec City for Labour Day weekend, I was ecstatic.  Before even contemplating any sites to see or things to do, I hit up the Quebec Chowhound board to mine for edible recommendations.  I do enjoy travelling, but realistically, tourism is just something I tend to do between meals, which are really the star attraction for me.  One thing I’ve come to realize about myself is that no matter where we’re planning to go, the first thing I have to nail down is where I’m going to eat.  It’s the mark of a true foodie, I suppose…

We’ll be arriving on Friday around lunchtime, and returning to Toronto on Monday around the same time, so that leaves us with 9 whole meal opportunities!  So far, I’ve managed to gather 7 recommendations in the vicinity of our hotel (Chateau Frontenac) from haute cuisine to café fare, but I imagine we’ll just be stopping in to random places that we find.  Because we both have allergies and very rusty French, we have to be somewhat vigilant about not patronizing restaurants that do not provide English menus, because there’s always the chance that we’ll miss something and fall ill.  I had wanted to go to either Restaurant Toast! or L’Utopie, but the Everyman wasn’t a fan of the menu at Toast, and L’Utopie’s website does not have anything listed in English, so we’ll have to see once we get there.  It’s sort of a drag, because I was really looking forward to going to one of them, but I hear the food at Le Clocher Penche, Le Pain Beni, Cochon Dingue and Le Billig is fabulous, so hopefully I won’t be missing much.  The Everyman’s brother and wife did a trip to Quebec City for their anniversary recently, and they said the food was fantastic, but everything was over the top rich, to the point that by the end all they wanted was salad.  I’m hoping to mitigate that excess by sourcing a few vegetarian options for lunches, or alternatively packing an impromptu picnic or two.  Regardless, I’m sure the easy access to poutine and pain au chocolat will mean I’m 10 pounds fatter by the time we come home, but sacrifices must be made.  It’s a good thing I’ve been eating all this vegetarian food lately, I guess!

Of course, if any of you out there on the interwebs have recommendations, I am all ears!  Just drop a line in the comments, it would be much appreciated.

Until next time…

A New Kind Of Elder

Delicious Elderflower Slurry

Despite what you might believe, the Everyman is not the only amateur mixologist in our household.  While he mainly focuses on creating finished concoctions, I prefer to dabble in the individual flavor components, syrups, cordials and tinctures that can be used to prepare a bevy of mixed drinks and cocktails.

For quite some time now I’ve been interested in elderflowers and how they can be incorporated into various alcoholic and baking mediums.  After getting my hands on some at last week’s farmer’s market, I found I had more plans than I had supply of flowers (including flower jelly, panna cotta, angel food cake and cordial, to name a few).   Via a weekly newsletter from Chowhound I’d heard about a French elderflower liqueur called St. Germain that I really wanted to try – but, like most things I’d probably enjoy, it’s not currently available in our backwards-ass country.  Since getting my hands on the actual spirits was out of the question (until I go on another trip through the states, that is), the next best thing seemed to prepare myself an elderflower cordial.  It’ll probably be much more versatile and useful because I can mix liquor into it at random and still have a decent base flavor carrier for my other culinary intrigues.

So, while my inner cheapskate railed against me for doing it, I dumped 3/4 of my $18 bag of dried elderflowers into a boiling pot of sugary water.  Before you balk at that price tag, you should know that elderflowers are probably one of the most labor-intensive foods to pick, thus justifying such a hefty price per bag.  After stirring in a small amount of dissolved citric acid to act as a stabilizer, I covered the steaming mixture and let it steep for a long while.  Once done it’ll be strained of slurryish solids and bottled into the dainty glass pop top flasks I’ve been saving when we buy French carbonated lemonade.

I haven’t quite worked out what I’ll do with it yet, but right now I’m imagining a refreshing afternoon beverage of the syrup topped with soda water, or mixed into a vodka lemonade.  There really are endless possibilities for it.  I did note that the small spoonful I tasted was like nothing else I’d ever experienced before, so there’ll be a learning curve with it I’m sure.  Not that it matters though, because I just can’t wait!

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You Say Po-tay-toe, I Say Po-tah-toe, You Say ‘Nduja, I Say Wha???

Several weeks ago, while Foodgawk-ing, I came across a picture of something that looked awfully delicious, but I was unsure of its provenance.  Based on the color, I assumed it was a form of spicy tomato tapenade.  You can see for yourself here.  At the time I didn’t bother to investigate the matter further, other than favoriting the item and figuring I’d come back to it some other day.

Then, earlier this week the Chowhound San Francisco Digest newsletter (because I like to know what’s happening in food all over the world) made mention of this stuff again, and provided additional details.  Whereas before all I had was a name (‘nduja), now I had a rough idea of the components that made up this luscious-looking spread, and I was intrigued…

It turns out that ‘nduja is a regional Calabrian salami of sorts, that is prepared with large amounts of pork, fat and spicy Italian hot peppers.  It is sold in one of two forms, either smoked in animal casing, or jarred and “raw”.  My curiosity piqued, I knew that this was something I had to try for myself, not to mention that it sounded like something that’d be right up the Everyman’s alley (and I do so love lavishing him with things that are right up his alley, the lucky duck).  However, tracking down an authentic recipe is more challenging than it sounds.  As with much of Italy’s regional delicacies, not much is know about n’duja outside of a very small area surrounding Calabria.  Not one to be foiled, I pressed on with my search, eventually uncovering a vague suggestion of what is required for the potential meaty deliciousness.

Some sources say that the mixture is nothing more than ground pork, ground fat and Calabrian peppers, while others refer to pig’s liver as well.  Pig’s liver could technically be considered a form of fat, but the bigger challenge will be the hot peppers.  The specific varieties of peppers are integral to the flavor of this raw meat paste, but no recommendations was made about suitable substitutes.  I have a small list of Italian peppers I’ll be on the lookout for, in the hopes of recreating my own ‘nduja soon.  If I manage to scrape something together, I’ll post my own recipe, too.  I may need to reach out to someone from the Toronto foodscape who’s more knowledgeable on the subject than I.  I think the hardest thing about the whole process will be keeping my hands off it, as I’ve read that it’s meant to cure anywhere from a few months to a year before serving.  Since it’s supposed to be eaten raw (though it’ll be cured, I guess) I think I’ll need to smoke it in order to feel comfortable eating it, but I don’t have a real smoker yet.  Perhaps, once the time comes, I will though.  Lots to think about!

Until next time…

Scratch Wintervicious, Part 2

As you may recall, the Everyman and I had plans to trip the light fantastic at Veritas for Winterlicious this past weekend.  However, due to an ailment and some negative reviews I read on Chowhound, we didn’t end up making it there.  I felt really bad about canceling the morning of, but I was having some pretty bad chest pains and wasn’t up to making the trip out there for potentially crappy fare.

We did get to Czehoski for lunch though, and yet somehow still managed to get foiled by them.

You see, last weekend we tried to get in to Czehoski for a Winterlicious dinner, but they were packed and the wait was at least half an hour long.  We’d been there during previous ‘Licious‘ and never needed to make a reservation before, so this was a bit of a surprise.  Being absolutely ravenous, neither of us could stand to wait so we walked down the street to our old standby, Terroni.  One thing we both realized after our dinner at Terroni is that their food, while good, is nothing to write home about.  It’s just standard Italian comfort food.  For the most part the Everyman goes there for one reason only; the mezzo mezzo platter.  It’s basically just an antipasto plate with cured meats, cheeses and breadsticks.  In fact, most of the time the ones we make at home are better.  But it’s only after we finish eating dinner that we wonder to ourselves why we keep coming back there.  Most likely because it’s a safe bet, I’d say.  Walking in you know you won’t get anything mindblowing or spectacular, but you know it will be decent, solid cuisine.  We probably should’ve gone to The Black Hoof instead.  The food would have been better by leaps and bounds, and it isn’t nearly as noisy and the service is much friendlier.

Anyhow, as we were approaching Czehoski on the weekend, I had an ominous thought.  We had our mind set on the Winterlicious menu (for the second time), but it occurred to me that because it was the weekend and before 3pm, they’d probably be offering the brunch menu instead.  As we stepped over the threshold, I realized that I was unfortunately right.  We gave the brunch menu a once-over, then decided we both just wanted a burger (which is on the brunch menu) anyway and sat down.

Servers at Czehoski are a unique breed altogether.  While ordering my cheeseburger, the waitress asked me how I would like it.  I answered by saying “as rare as you can legally serve it to me!” knowing full well that there are laws against serving burgers anything less than done.  That doesn’t change the fact that I like to enjoy them that way every chance I get though.  Funnier still was the waitress’ answer of “we can serve it to you any way you’d like!”  Sitting at the table waiting for my meal I was giddy at the thought of finally getting a properly restaurant-charred medium rare burger.  You see, when I was a youngun’ and working in my mom and stepfather’s kitchen, my stepdad introduced me to the joy of griddled, bloody medium rare burgers.  I make them at home, but they never taste the same because I can’t get the right level of heat to char the surface properly on the stove.  So, the possibility of being moments away from one was like Christmas to me.

When the burger finally arrived, it was misshapen, but large.  You could tell that it was handmade at least, what with all the flecks of red pepper flakes, onion slivers and parsley bits.  Within the first bite it became clear that this burger was nowhere near medium rare, but it was still juicy and flavorful.  The Everyman remarked to me that the waitress probably had no clue about burger regulations, got to the kitchen, tried to order it, and then got set straight by the kitchen staff.  Oh well, my dream of medium rare burgers will have to continue unabated until I return to the US or somewhere else where this is not regulated.  At any rate, the burger was quite tasty, with a flaky quality to the patty, and a nice kick from the red pepper flakes.  It was also served with a rosemary chipotle aioli that sounds like a strange combination, but works surprisingly well.  As usual, the fries were stellar, although this time they were not served in a chalice (BOO!).  If you don’t understand why that is a big deal, let me explain.  [Last fall the Everyman and I went to Czehoski for lunch on a rare day off.  We had delicious steak frites and bottle of red, and whiled the afternoon away while laughing at all of the suckers who were at work instead.  The aforementioned frites happened to be served in a rather large, stately brass chalice.  I decided that day that eating from a chalice was way too much fun, and that I would endeavor to do it all the time from that moment on.  I even went so far as to avow that I hoped to one day be rich and famous enough that I could bring my own chalice in to any restaurant I wanted and make them serve my food to me in it.]   All in all, the burger at Czehoski was much better than I had expected, and though it sort of reminded me of meatloaf because of all the additives, it was a nice, satisfying meal and miles ahead of most of the burgers served in Toronto.  I’d go back for one in a heartbeat the next time I crave a decent burger and don’t feel like grilling it myself.  I suggest you try it some time.

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Is There Anything Bacon Can’t Do?

A few weeks ago I happened across an interesting discussion of technique on Chowhound.

The poster was explaining how to imbue liquids with flavor by using a technique called fat washing.  In particular, he related his experience with adding a smoky, bacon flavor to Bourbon. Bourbon’s not my tipple of choice, but regardless, this post intrigued me.

If you’ve been paying attention all this time, you’ll recall exactly how much the Everyman loves all things porcine.  In fact, off the top of my head I can’t think of anything that the Everyman thinks wouldn’t be improved by the addition of bacon.  He’s one of those guys who can watch them making bacon ice cream on Iron Chef and almost have an a-ha moment.  Coincidentally, making bacon ice cream would probably also be considered a type of fat washing, because cream is a fat…

Anyhow, after reading about this, I couldn’t help but try it myself.  I chose vodka, because even though I don’t really like it all that much, it’s a clean, neutral base flavor, and it’d be much more likely to be used in cocktails at our house than the aforementioned Bourbon.  Of course, as soon as I mentioned my plan to the Everyman, he started getting that crazed look in his eye and mumbling about toasted tomato cocktails.  I find it amusing that his mind works that way because the original Chowhounder that posted about this mentioned the possibility of creating a BLT cocktail.

To create a fat wash, get a bottle of your spirit of choice and half a dozen pieces of bacon.  Fry the bacon until all of the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy.  At this point you have two options; you can discard the bacon from the recipe (and use it for something else that’s delicious) or you can use it in your preparation.  For ease of assembly I chose to omit the bacon solids.  Combine the bacon grease in a clean mason jar with your alcohol and seal.  Let steep at room temperature for several weeks.  Once you are comfortable with the flavor, place the jar in the fridge or freezer so that the fat can solidify.  Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and voila!  Bacon flavored vodka!  Use in cocktails, or even that famous a la Vodka pasta sauce for a new twist on an old favorite.  Enjoy!

Until next time…