Posts Tagged ‘Foodgawker’

If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

Assemblage

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.

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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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The Pervasiveness Of Food Porn

Nom

Years ago, the term food porn primarily referred to those glossy spreads of salaciously styled meals in culinary magazines or chef-authored cookbooks.

The food itself almost seemed to take a back seat to the implications that one could not possibly enjoy a meal unless it was as artfully arranged as that displayed between the covers.  As entertaining as it might be to flippantly peruse the pages of the latest foodie publications, all of this imposed perfection has the detrimental effect of discouraging home cooks from actually cooking anything, by setting them up for failure.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought twice about trying a recipe (on the rare occasion I use one) because the accompanying photographs left me with an uneasy sense of dread, knowing that whatever I made would never look like this.  To that end, I don’t subscribe to many foodie magazines anymore, whereas at one time I couldn’t move around my tiny apartment without tripping over a stack of Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc.  Now I tend to focus on magazines with a purpose that is more substantial than superficial or skin deep, like Edible Toronto.

Plus, now I have the internet when I need a fix of some food porn…

First there were sites like FoodPorn, then came Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Photograzing, and countless others.  The community-driven visual potluck (as Tastespotting calls itself) is page upon page of softly lit, flawlessly portioned food, each photo portraying fare that is more preciously unattainable than the last.  On several occasions I’ve submitted content to Tastespotting and Foodgawker, only to have the editors inform me that my food is not appealing enough.  While I suppose that charcuterie’s heyday has not yet hit its apex of popularity, I still think that my photos had some merit.  It’s nice to know that society’s consistent across the board now in judging food solely on it’s looks, as we do with just about everything (and everyone) else (sic).  Though I still keep tabs on a few of these sites today, I find that instead of being a place to share all manner of food photography, they’ve become an exercise in unrealistic one-upsmanship.

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and to a certain extent I agree.  However, throughout history there have been many dishes and even whole cuisines whose appeal goes far beyond their rustically plebian presentations.  One dish in particular that comes to mind is the Italian dessert brutti ma buoni, which roughly translates to ugly, but good.  The meringue-like cookies, which are typically chock full of pinenuts, hazelnuts, almonds and orange zest, might not have the visual fireworks of a New York Black And White, but they are quietly tasteful, and still pretty darn good.  And truly, if we only concerned ourselves with ingesting “pretty” food, we wouldn’t have sludge like Taco Bell, now would we?  As with people and all things in nature, just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.  A well-prepared veal cutlet on a bun is a delicious treat, but in most cases is nothing to look at.  There’s no reason that visual blahness should invalidate its culinary significance.  At the end of the day, taste should be the overriding priniciple that we are striving to achieve.

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There’s A First Time For Everything

A Flaky Slice Of Heaven

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Browsing through the foodporn-ish content on Foodgawker and Tastespotting last month, I came across submissions from a cadre of bloggers who belonged to The Daring Bakers.  At the time I didn’t think too much of it, but as I delved further into the archives, I began to see a common theme; recurring weekly or monthly challenges.  It turns out that the weekly challenges are hosted by another web group called Tuesdays With Dorie, who concentrate on preparing one recipe a week from Dorie Greenspan’s delectable cookbook.  The Daring Bakers (and Cooks) by contrast choose one recipe per month (per group) and then mass-post the results online on a pre-set date.

I was initially drawn to Tuesdays With Dorie (mostly because their photography was so enticing) but when I tried to register I learned that membership was closed for the time being.  I then investigated The Daring Bakers, and was intrigued by their dual challenge options, featuring both sweet and savoury iterations.  Erring on the side of caution for once in my life, I decided to only register as a baker at first, in order to test out the waters and complexity of their challenges.  Unfortunately, by that time the April challenge had already been announced and was in progress, so I had to wait until May to join in the fun.

On May 1st I logged in to the covert challenge section of their site, and there it was… my very first Daring challenge!  When I initially read the recipe I was a little let down, if only because I’m not an apple strudel fan.  It turns out that the Everyman is though, so I jumped in wholeheartedly and decided to try my hand at it that weekend.  At worst it would be a chance to improve my craptastic pastry skills and leave me with plenty of time for a do-over if I failed, and at best, it meant I’d have dessert for a few days.

Ingredients

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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…

National Grilled Cheese Month, You Say?

Sweavoury Sammy

News has been flying all over the interwebs lately that April is National Grilled Cheese Month.

By all over, I mean on foodie blogs, Tastespotting, Photograzing, Foodgawker et al.

It was first brought to my attention via a post round-up over at Taste T.O. - one that this blog coincidentally happened to be mentioned in…

Over at Closet Cooking, blogger Kevin opined on his combination of grilled cheese with a newly prepared mango cardamom jam.  More than anything, the comments left on his blog were what surprised me.  People seemed astounded to consider the marriage of the two, but I posit this; do you not enjoy Brie-like cheeses with tangy fruit compote, or a figgy jam with a platter of cheese and crackers?  The evolution of grilled cheese to include some form of fruit is pretty natural, and one I would consider borderline mundane.  It’s a pretty close relative to bagels with cream (cheese) and jam, after all.

His post did call to mind a peculiar habit I used to have of slathering my cheeseburger buns with strawberry jam, though.  I’ve often been one for somewhat off the wall flavour combinations; as a child I eschewed ketchup and preferred to dip my french fries in the chocolate shake.  When I moved out on my own, it wasn’t uncommon to find me slurping up a cone of ice cream doused with sriracha before bed or chowing down on a pork and peanut butter sandwich for breakfast.  After our lunch at Mercat Ala Planxa last year, I’m constantly dreaming about garlic dulce du leche every time I eat charcuterie, and the list could go on and on.

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Tee Hee Hee Oops!

I must admit, I’ve been somewhat lax in updating our web content this week.  Work has been busy, which tends to leave me drained, and unfortunately I’m not at the point in my life where I can afford to blog full time either.  Perhaps someday…

I will be honest though, I’ve spent a great deal of my free time over the last few days on the Foodgawker website.  I think this little break has been for the best too.  It’s given me a chance to recharge my culinary batteries per se, and gotten me intrigued about joining a group called the Daring Bakers who participate in monthly baking challenges and then post pictures and descriptions of their results.

One thing I have been meaning to get around to blogging about is my wrap-up from our dinner at Cowbell last week.  For the better part of this week I was debating whether or not I wanted to write about it, but have since decided that if I start censoring the content of my experiences, I’m no longer running an objective website.  And that would be wrong.  So in the spirit of that, let’s dig right in!

Anyone my age or older probably remembers Kevin, the annoying mascot for Rainbow Chips Ahoy! who permanently etched those 4 words into our collective consciousness.  Our dinner at Cowbell last week contained several rather distinct tee hee hee oops moments.  I must preface my account by saying that I do still love this restaurant and do not fault them in the slightest; if anything, the experience reminded me that they’re human after all :)

To wit, the decision to visit Cowbell came about rather quickly during a wildly spiraling bad day at the office.  When I called to see about a reservation at 2pm on a Thursday, I was not overly hopeful that we would be accommodated.  I felt it a stroke of good luck when I was advised that not only were there seatings free, but the only thing the reservationist wanted to know was whether I thought we’d be longer than 2 hours with our dinner.  I hung up the phone happy and excited for nibbles, but also mildly confused – isn’t the time required controlled by the speed at which the kitchen can provide my food?

When we arrived, we were greeted by a server who remembered us as semi-regulars; always a nice feeling.  We were given a four-top, even though it was just the two of us, and there were other 2 seaters available.  When the server mentioned that the menu might contain other items not listed on the chalkboard the Everyman’s imagination went off on a tangent that a private party was happening at 10 (hence the 2 hour question) and perhaps there was a secret menu.  After a subsequent probing of our waitress, we learned that there was only the one menu, it just happened that they were already sold out of one of the options.  Dang, no secret food for me tonight!  I guess I’ll have to get my fix at Charlie Burger instead.

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Pick Me, Pick Me!

I’ve always been a great lover of pickles.

But – I am very specific when it comes to foods of the brined variety.

I don’t abide dills and I dislike large ones.  Last summer I put up an entire flat of baby cucumbers using a gherkin recipe but they turned out like a weird hybrid sweet.  I then tried to use a bit of the leftover brine to make a mixed vegetable pickle with overstock vegetables from my farm-fresh CSA, only to find several caterpillars floating belly up in it a few hours later.  That’s one of the only downsides to buying a picked-that-day farmshare; occasionally it arrives with wily, hiding nuisances.  My first attempt at mixed pickles failed, so I instead jarred spicy jalapenos and sweet and tangy beets, slapdash provolone stuffed cherry peppers in vinegar and fiery matchstick carrots.

My lust for pickles has not been easily quelled, and throughout the winter I’ve been daydreaming about what sorts of fermented things I’ll make this year.  After another batch of gherkins the first thing that comes to mind is a sweet cauliflower pickle; all the better if I can get a brilliant purple, green or gold variety.  A fantastic idea sat up and smacked me in the side of the head a few weeks ago, and only after seeing a picture on Foodgawker did the idea flit back into my consciousness.  You see, one of the tubers I’m devoting some space to in my garden this year is the humble sunchoke.  While sunchokes are delicious when cooked and pureed, or even shredded raw for a salad, I did not realize their full potential until my happy accident.  Several weekends ago I was in the kitchen, shredding pickled beets, carrots and sunchokes on the mandolin for a raw, slaw-like salad.  Noticing that I still had half a sunchoke left and not quite sure what to do with it, I haphazardly tossed it into the jar with the pickled Chioggia beets without thinking.  For the record, when heat-processed they lose all their pretty, stripy color and turn an eggshell white that is not nearly as appetizing.  I forgot about the lonely sunchoke until the next time I needed some pickled beets and was fishing them out of the jar, its color having changed to a dusky pink.  A small nibble confirmed that pickled sunchokes are actually quite good.  With a texture somewhere between daikon and a potato, I think the sunchoke lends itself well to this kind of preparation.  My next thought was that there were several pounds of sunchokes in the crisper and no immediate plans for them.

After considering my options for awhile, I settled on a sweet/spicy combo.  My tolerance for mustard seeds having increased during my last visit to The Black Hoof, it sounded like an intriguing flavor to incorporate.  The sunchokes sliced into small, stubby rounds, and half an orange bell pepper would provide some semblance of color.  Into the brine I threw some mustard seeds, turmeric, peppercorns, celery seeds, chili flakes and a few sliced cloves of garlic.  The whole mess was heated on the stove, steeped and then showered over jars packed with the cut-up vegetables.  It’s then allowed to sit until cooled, and then you seal the jar and leave it in the fridge for a week or two.  Once they’re ready to eat I’ll post a recap.

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