Posts Tagged ‘The Healthy Butcher’

Not Too Late To The Party

Leaves Of Plenty

Though it’s not yet May, this year I’ve often worried that I might have missed the window for Ontario ramps and wild fiddleheads.

With a warmer than normal March and April, these edible delicacies have been popping up much earlier than usual, which leaves me without farmer’s markets to buy them from, since all of the markets in my area don’t start up until mid May or June.  Last year we found them at The Cheese Boutique several times, but given my tendency to grossly overspend every time I cross their threshold, I wasn’t keen on the idea of heading over there just to get a couple pounds of ramps.

But then, on the way home from the Green Living Show yesterday, the serendipitous happened.

As I was walking along Dundas West, huddled against the wind and the rain, I noticed a lone sandwich board announcing a grand opening.  It turns out that Provenance Regional Cuisine has rented out some space in the existing Palmerston Cafe and is now a mini pop-up style grocery store.  I walked in to investigate, but since the Everyman and I were about to hurry off to a Cowbell brunch, I only made the most cursory glance of the products on offer.  Promising the counter staff that I would return, several hours later the Everyman and I did.

And what a bounty we found.  Not only is the place gorgeously curated, but it finally offers a place to buy local, sustainable meat that’s only a 3 minute walk from our house, as opposed to the 20 minute jaunt it takes me to get to The Healthy Butcher.  After a few minutes I managed to procure a bundle of ramps, as well as some homemade crostini, dried cranberry beans, sweet potato flour and more.  With the ramps firmly in hand, all that was left was to devise how to use them. (more…)

Rabbit – It’s The New Pork

Ragu

I think I’ve pretty handily established how much I’ve come to enjoy cooking and eating rabbit during the last 6 months.

Coincidentally, rabbit’s profile and status has been elevated in the media lately, with some even going so far as to dub it the “gateway” animal to raising their own food.  I wouldn’t necessarily go to that extreme, seeing as I have enough small, stinky animals coexisting with me as is, but I do love to suck the meat off the bones of the occasional, delicious hare.  No longer just a popular protein for immigrant fare, rabbit it seems is beginning to come into its own, whether the mainstream is ready or not.

So, it was without hesitation that I purchased a few whole rabbits on my last 2 trips to The Healthy Butcher, even though I had no particular plans for their meaty little carcasses at the time.

Since then we’ve had rabbit braised in red wine over polenta, a ginger mustard stewed rabbit, and most recently a succulent rabbit ragu (pictured above).  We generally don’t eat a whole lot of red meat or pork on a regular basis (it’s typically one or the other about once every 2 weeks), so rabbit has been a refreshing way to break up the monotony of a diet riddled with vegetarian meals, pastas and poultry.  It’s gamey, yet mild and faintly sweet, lending itself to numerous preparations; small enough to be cooked relatively quickly, while also capable of being braised for many hours.  In our house, one might even go so far as to say that rabbit is the new pork belly, or even the new chicken!?!

While sautéing the base for said ragu on a Sunday not too long ago, I stopped to reflect on a time when I used to think ragu was merely a brand that came in a jar, and how unlikely it would’ve been for that younger me to consume a bunny rabbit (nigh on 25 years ago, I’d reckon).  Oh, how things (and opinions) have changed.  After a 6 hour simmer, the ragu I craftily prepared with a jar of my own preserved bruschetta (subbing in for canned tomatoes) melted down into the perfect, wintry sauce for blanketing a bed of hand cut egg yolk noodles.  It wasn’t the first, but it’s sure to be but one of many delicious rabbits I’ll sit down to over the course of the rest of my life.

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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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Culinary Repurposing Is The Name Of The Game

Dinner #1

I’ve never really been a big fan of leftovers.

I’m not sure why that is, but during my formative pre-divorce years, I don’t recall my family ever really eating them.  However, I remember surprisingly little from that period of my life.

Once I started living with my Dad though, leftovers became more frequent, but were usually transformed into something unrecognizable from the original meal.  Extra roasted chicken would morph into chicken a la king.  Oodles of spaghetti sauce became the basis for some seriously sloppy joes.  An abundance of mashed potatoes could either be combined to create fishcakes or the crust for a personal nemesis (shepherd’s pie).  Even though he had a penchant for scorching food and would probably be the first to admit that he wasn’t a very good cook, my Dad always managed to put enough creative energy into feeding us to ensure that nothing was ever wasted, yet our tastebuds wouldn’t be bored.

And yet somehow, over the years I’ve still only occasionally bothered to reinvent my leftovers into new meals.  More often than not I only cook enough for the Everyman and I, or when I’m cooking something slightly larger (like soups, beans or lasagnas) I just freeze the rest until I feel like eating it again.  It doesn’t really help that I don’t care for the taste of meat once it’s cooled (particularly poultry) which is a quirk I cannot explain but developed when I was a small child.  As best I can describe it, the food tastes like “fridge” to me after it’s cold and has always held little to no appeal for revisiting afterwards.  Inevitably, it just ends up hanging out at the back of the fridge until I remember to throw it out.

But obviously that’s wasteful, not to mention incredibly stupid.

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Game On!

The Trinity Bellwoods Farmer’s Market opens today!

Are you excited?  I know I am :)   I wonder what sorts of goodies there’s going to be?  I can’t wait to stop by after work.  Hopefully there’ll still be some good stuff left by the time I get there.

Plus, today is the day I pick up my variety meats from The Healthy Butcher, which means it’s ‘nduja time! The butcher called to say there was a mix up at the slaughterhouse and my stuff wouldn’t be in this week.  So I’ll have to wait 7 more days until I get my meat on, unfortunately.

Curses!  Alas, there will be no ‘nduja or csabai making being done in our house this weekend.  I wonder what else I should do to fill up my time?

Until next time…

Mighty Cheeky

After work today I ambled over to The Healthy Butcher, eager to finally get my paws on a couple jowls for guanciale.  I say finally, even though the plan for this guanciale-making endeavor was only formulated several weeks ago.  What can I say…?  I’m an impatient foodie.

The various recipes I’d consulted led me to believe that a single jowl would weigh in at nothing larger than 1.5 pounds or so.  Working with that rough estimate, I asked the butcher to order in 2 for me.  I figured that would be safe because it would leave me a spare if I messed up the first (highly unlikely) or a second to play with at a later date once I got the base flavor down.  Well… when I got to the butcher I found out that they’d put aside about $50 worth of jowls for me.  At approximately $4.99 per pound, you can do that math and figure out how much meat I ended up with.  I’d ordered it in though, so I took the meat and figured that at the very least, I was now set for jowls for the next year or so.

Getting the meat home, I began unwrapping my prize.  Lo and behold it turned out that I actually had 4 jowls.  I opted to freeze one whole package for later, and make a double batch with the other package for now.  As one of my recipes suggested, I began picking over my jowls for any errant glands; apparently these need to be removed prior to curing.  I didn’t see anything that looked like glands, but there were several sections of small, bubblewrap-like pockets, so for safety’s sake I pared those back.  Once that was done, I started to mix together the curing concoction.  It’s a pretty simple ratio; just use equal parts of salt and sugar, and whatever fresh spices you want your meat to take on the flavors of.  I’ve heard talk of people also using something called pink salt; I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I know it contains nitrites, so it’s not going in my food.  Next, you massage the mix into the meat, pressing it well into both sides and all the edges.  Place the thoroughly coated meat into a large freezer bag with any leftover mixture, close it and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it rest for 5-7 days, and make sure to flip the bag daily to evenly distribute the cure.

Once I was done with the basic guanciale, (which in addition to the salt, sugar and peppercorns also contains thyme) I decided I wanted to get a bit crazy with the next one.  Instead of using thyme, I opted for a healthy pinch of several types of chili flakes.  Once mixed, patted and put away, I started to feel a bit dejected.  All of the anticipation and excitement of the last few weeks was over in less than 20 minutes.  The next 7 days will be relatively boring, and the 21 after that absolutely excruciating.  If everything goes well after that, I’ll have guanciale instead of a thriving bacteria population eager to kill us all.  Obviously I’m sure you can tell which one I’m hoping for.  During the next month I’ll continue to post periodic updates on Project Guanciale, and if it turns out, I may even post a few pictures.  In the meantime, here are some recipes for cures you can use, since people always tell me I need to write this shit down.  Um, no, I don’t, but I’ll humor you this once nonetheless.

And as an aside, I also finally got to the bottom of the Everyman’s squeamishness regarding guanciale.  When he took a peek at the butcher package today, he remarked incredulously to me, “Hey, this is pork?”  Well of course it is, and I thought he knew that.  It turns out that the first time we had guanciale was at Cowbell, on one of those mixed beef nose to tail plates that the chef loves so much.  The Everyman didn’t care for it then, and ever since had wrongly assumed that the guanciale I keep talking about was also made with cow cheeks.  Now that he realizes that I’m using pigs, I think he’s alot more receptive to the idea of Roman bacon.  Success!  Now all I have to do is make sure it tastes good… hmmm… maybe I should ask Grant from The Black Hoof for some tips…
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Sausagefest

I realize that some people might read this title and get the wrong impression, so let me stop you right there.  I spent several days this weekend perfecting my sausage-making technique thank-you-very-much.  That is what I did and that is what I’m going to talk about, and that is all.

You see, I’ve been meaning to try sausage-making ever since I bought Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book several years ago.  So far the only thing I’ve managed to make from that book is some beef jerky for the Everyman that I somehow managed to overcook.  Who knew that was even possible?  For several years I’ve also been meaning to invest in a smoker of some kind so that I can get further into the book, but I just haven’t been able to justify the cost and waste of prime garden real estate on my roof.  Yet.  I’m sure I’ll get there.  Just this weekend I re-examined the book and found a half dozen new things I wanted to try making in the near future.  More on that later though.

If you’ve never made sausage before, you can’t quite appreciate exactly how gross the process is.  Grinding up all the meat and mixing it with spices; that’s child’s play.  The fun really begins when you start working with casings.  If you’re a normal home sausage-maker, you’ll probably be using hog casings that have been packed in salt.  I found mine at a Fortino’s in Brampton (of all places) and not realizing exactly how many yards were required for a single project, ended up stockpiling close to 100 yards in my freezer.  After hearing how hard the Everyman laughed at this number, I figure I’m set until the end of eternity.  So first off, you have to remove all of that salt from the casings so that they’ll soften up and be pliable enough to stuff.  That requires a soak in some warm water for about a half hour.  So far, so good, no big deal, right?  Next, you have to flush the interior of the casing, to make sure that there’s no salt particles left inside either.  In order to do that, you have to start fiddling around with the slimy little bits of innards to find an opening.  As if that’s not gross enough, then you have to tie off an end and feed it onto your stuffing tube.  Lucky for me, I have a Kitchenaid stand mixer and sausage attachment, so I was able to be pretty hands-off after that.  Basically you start shoving your meat mixture down the feed tube and the auger twirls and pushes it into the sausage casing.  The hardest part about this is trying to make sure your sausages are properly packed without letting the casing burst.  I had a few bursts myself, but you just tie them off and start over again.

For the maiden voyage I opted to start with chorizo because it’s a sausage that both the Everyman and I enjoy quite a bit.  The funny thing about chorizo though is that there doesn’t seem to be a standard for what does and doesn’t constitute its ingredients.  I reviewed approximately 20 recipes and they were all wildly different.  Not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket in case the results were bad, I chose 2 different recipes that produced approximately the same yield; a hot chorizo (nice and smoky red in color) and a Mexican chorizo (a really anemic grey).  Pretty much the only ingredient these recipes had in common was the pork butt.  Other than that they were like night and day.  Making each of them over the course of two days also helped me to understand what I do and don’t like in a sausage-making experience too, which will be valuable information once I start concocting my own.

The hot chorizo was firm and contained very little liquid but a ton of spices.  This made it really easy to pipe out of the stuffer and resulted in some beautifully reddened, appetizing looking sausages.  In the end I was left with about 10 fat 4-5 inch links of this sausage.  Conversely, the Mexican chorizo was quite watery, even after I reduced the amount of liquid in the recipe by half.  It called for vinegar and a boatload of guajillo chillies.  By the time it was finished marinating it smelled good, but was still much too soupy.  Trying to stuff sausages with this mixture felt like a battle too.  The machine seemed to create a vacuum and kept getting clogged with the mooshy material.  It also split much more than the first batch did, which made things a bit messier and more frustrating.  To top it all off, trying to ram the material through the machine with the tamping stick kept spraying watery sausage juice all over the kitchen;  juice which I will undoubtedly still be cleaning off surfaces in the weeks to come. This recipe was slightly smaller and amounted to about 7 lumpy 4-5 inch links.

I have not yet had a chance to do a taste test of the results, but will post my findings once I have.  If I had to judge based on looks alone, the hot chorizo wold be the clear winner.  Only time (and my tastebuds) will tell though.  I’ve already decided that once we plow through all of this chorizo, my next project is going to be a blueberry baco noir sausage similar to one I purchased from Viva Tastings last year.  The relative success of this first project has also inspired me to jump into charcuterie a bit more and attempt some guanciale.  I happen to really love guanciale and am always heartbroken whenever I visit The Cheese Boutique or The Healthy Butcher and they don’t have any around.  I’m sure that once the Everyman gets over the psychological hurdle of cheek and tries it, he’ll love it too, because it really is just a porkier, silkier version of prosciutto that I’ve recently seen referred to as Roman bacon.  The Healthy Butcher will be helping me out with procuring some jowls too, so in just over a week, I’ll have them in my hot little hands and be ready to start curing.

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A Little Story

Last year I mentioned my love affair with a little place you may have heard of called the Cheese Boutique.  I was pretty adamant that I would not be adding my usual, witty commentary to the site regarding them because they are a purveyor, not a restaurant.  The winds have changed though, and I feel that it is necessary to give you a few cents, if for no other reason than to be able to relate to you a funny story involving them.

On New Year’s Eve I had to work a half day.  The night before I’d had the brilliant idea that the Everyman and I should visit The Cheese Boutique and the LCBO the following afternoon to procure some supplies for the next few days.  The next day after leaving work I headed to the LCBO to rendez-vous with the Everyman.  However, I have the same problem with the LCBO that I do with any good grocery store; if you leave me in there for too long, I just start randomly picking up things I didn’t come for that I want to try.  By the time the Everyman showed up I’d amassed a cart of 15+ bottles plus a few types of bubbles for good measure.  While I’d been browsing, I noticed a man that looked slightly familiar.  Upon closer inspection I realized it was Ed Ho, owner of Globe Bistro.  I recognized him from the episode of Opening Soon when they had profiled Globe a few years ago.  I figured that he must live in the area and was doing much the same as we were, stocking up for New Year’s Eve.  After loading up the car, we hopped in and headed on our way to The Cheese Boutique.

It was packed.  It seemed like all the gourmets in Toronto had had the exact same idea as me, and the place was swarming.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that busy or with that much staff on the floor before.  As we entered the main room and I started browsing, I turned around and who did I see, but Ed Ho again!  I motioned to the Everyman to take a look, and told him who it was.  The Everyman muttered something to me about how he wondered if the guy had any hard feelings about Mark Cutrara leaving him to start his own (probably more successful) restaurant.  I didn’t hear everything that he said so as I continued around the store I asked him to repeat it; only to see Ed Ho within earshot as he said “…but not as good as Cowbell!”  Ouch.  He shot us some eye daggers and was on his way.  It’s probably a good thing we don’t intend to visit Globe Bistro any time soon, because after that I’d be seriously worried about him recognizing us and trying to poison our food LOL.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Globe Bistro though, it’s just that I can get the same quality of food that they serve somewhere a little closer to my house, like at Cowbell or now, The Black Hoof.

Anyhow, now that I’ve relayed my funny story, I can get back to writing about the food.  When you enter The Cheese Boutique, you become extremely aware of the mind-boggling amount of choice available.  Not just some corner cheese shop, they dabble in deli, produce, pastry, bread, condiments… you name it, they most likely will have it or know where to get it.  They happen to be my absolute favorite place to buy fresh figs because the ones they choose are so luscious and bursting that you just can’t not want to eat them.  The tiny prepared foods counter is excellent also, with the best thing I’ve sampled from it being a smoked chicken quesadilla bite.  All of the bread comes from only the best sources in Toronto, including Thuet, Celestin, Ace, Fred’s and many others.  The pizza nuda is absolutely fabulous, by the way, but so are any number of loaves they carry.  The cheese selection is so large as to be intimidating, however all of the staff behind the counter are so warm and friendly that they whisk you away and wrap you in their extreme devotion to cheese, coaxing out you likes and dislikes as they bring you sample after sample.  Every time we’ve been I come away with another new cheese I’ve never heard of or tasted before, and have rarely been disappointed.  They even make their own in-house version of a fresh bufala mozzarella, although they don’t call it that.  Nonetheless, it is wonderful, being both creamy, silky and rich all at the same time.  The meat selection is like heaven for the Everyman, and if I had any complaint about the place, it would have to be that they have always been out of the one type of meat I wanted every time we visit; guanciale.  I tried it once at The Healthy Butcher, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  As a sidebar, I recently completed my set of The Good Cook cookbooks by Time Life and I’m looking forward to when they arrive so I can read the Variety Meats book to learn about things like cheek (which Guanciale is made from) and marrow, tongue, etc.

Overall, the selection at The Cheese Boutique just can’t be beat, and I look forward longingly each time I get to return.  The sheer quality of the products that they sell shows you just how much the Pristine family (who owns it) love food and entertaining.  If you haven’t been, I urge you to go.  You’ll probably end up coming away with more than you bargained for, and everything you didn’t know you really needed.

Until next time…

Craft Burger

A few months ago my place of business moved into a larger office space.  And one of the first things I noticed was a little spot in the area called Craft Burger.  I hounded the Everyman to go there for what seems like forever.  Well, now that it’s finally springtime in Toronto, he decided to listen to me.

Craft Burger is exactly that; a perfectly crafted burger.  On my first visit I had what they call a Craft Spicy, which is a delicious, not overcooked patty on a sesame bun with spicy chipotle aioli and carmelized onions.  Delish!  I washed that down with a chocolate milkshake, and I must say, (aside from the Everyman’s homemade milkshakes) I have never tasted anything better.  The Everyman had an organic burger (courtesy of The Healthy Butcher on Queen West) and an order of fries.  His verdict: who doesn’t like burgers?  Now when are we coming back here?

About a week later we went back again, and this time I had the signature Craft Burger.  This is another perfectly grilled patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, fried mushrooms and roasted garlic mayo.  I had to take it to go, because I had a busy day at the office, but let me tell you, friends, that burger was so good that I licked the paper that it was wrapped in clean.  All sense of civility and decorum went right out the window when I mowed down on that thing.  It was primal.

Craft Burger has now been added to the office lunchtime rotation.  I used to despair the loss of all my favorite lunch spots when we moved (previously my office was across the street from the St Lawrence market) but now, I guess it’s not so bad.

Until next time…