Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cora's Skillet Imitation

Things have turned out for the best lately. Not only have I found a great job but the hours there have allowed me to take on another weekend job as waiter. And I couldn't be waiting at a better restaurant.

Breakfast at Cora's (or Déjeuner chez Cora as per it's original name) is a restaurant chain at the forefront of the all-day-breakfast trend...at least as far as Canada is concerned - see www.chezcora.com. Bacon and eggs only takes a small corner of the very colourful menu. They're...hum...we're cooking elaborate eggs benedict, omelettes, crepes, etc. etc. What's even greater, I get to see how a full service 140 seat restaurant operates. 5 kitchen chefs at their stations...one guy on the pass...7 waiters...three hostesses...and lineups of people waiting to enjoy fresh coffee and a great breakfast. But best of all, I get to work in a restaurant. Boo yeah baby!!!

So after a day's work, full of enthousiasm, I grabbed whatever I found in my fridge and made a quick imitation of a 10 on 10 skillet. My skillet was composed of sautéed brocolli, onion, celery, snow peas, tomatoes, garlic, ham, pepperoni, green tomato salsa, topped with melted mozzarella and an over-easy egg. In true Cora's fashion - they're famous for their sides of fresh fruit - I cut up some pear, apple, banana and served with a fresh slice of artisanal cheese. If you look at the above photo, you'll see the fancy way Cora's cuts their apples..fan like.

Anyways, the skillet was a great way to get rid of all the stuff in my fridge and made a great light meal. It's a great idea and just one amongst many I can easily imitate from Cora's. I'm that much closer to owning my own restaurant.

And now I know for sure that I want to work in a restaurant. Nay, I want to own my own restaurant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Short, Amateur's Guide To Selling Hot Sauces

I love hot sauces. I love spicy food. I love the burn and the cooling sensation of endorphins flowing through my body, easing the pain. I also love to think up of business ideas.

Hot food is become more and more popular. Mexican. Indian. Thai. And so on. All of these ethnic foods are growing in popularity and their love for spice is following them into the upper realms of culinary acceptance.

Sadly, most people and most supermarkets are limited to jalapeno peppers or pickled hot banana peppers. Sure you've got some "spicy" ethnic sauces coming onto the market but hot sauce is like good music. The real good stuff is in the underground. It's the yet-to-be-discovered. It lives in small venues across the world. Thankfully, delicious and spicy hot sauces are at home on the net.

For review on thousands of hot sauces on the market, take a tour at the http://www.hotsauceblog.com/. These mad chilly heads test hot sauces, review them, give recipes and generally have a blast (both coming in and certainly going out ;). They provide information on how to get your hands on their reviewed hot sauces and much much more. The good thing about hot sauces is that they can be shipped and most hot sauce makers are set up for mail orders. Most hot shops are also set up to make deliveries (for my fellow Canadians, please see http://www.chillychiles.com/).

But if you're not one for flavourless internet shopping, your local hot shop is the best place to go. "But Pat," you say, "there aren't any hot shops in my area!" My answer to that would be that you've already got all the ingredients for an entrepreneurial venture. You like it hot and you want more of it.

So let's say we start small. You have two options: 1) visit every single hot sauce makers website and gather their wholesale information --- wholesale is the price retailers pay which they then mark up to sell to consumers; 2) process your orders through hot sauce wholesalers such as http://www.hotsaucewholesale.com/. The advantage with the second option is that these wholesalers can split cases. This means that you don't have to buy, say, 50 bottles of one hot sauce. Instead, you can order one of this, two of that, four of these, etc. At first you'll want to sample the market so split cases is the best place to go unless you want to make a trip to a hot sauce store and have the owners there guide you through your options. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, the important thing is that you want product knowledge without having to re-mortgage your house.

Once you know which hot sauces you'd like to sell (I suggest you start small and then build your way up), you need to decide where and how you're going to sell these. One great inexpensive option is to set up a booth at your local farmer's market. The fee shouldn't be very high and the advantage is that you get to speak to alot of people face to face, let them try out some sauces, and get your name out there. A farmer's market is where people go to see what's in season. They love food. They love making food. They love talking to people. At least that's the vibe at my market.

Once you've become comfortable with the basics of product knowledge, ordering, finances, and sales, you can either open a permanent hot shop, sell your hot sauces on a special rack at grocery stores (you'll need to make arrangements with the administration for this), open a mail order business, market your product at events and festivals, etc. etc. etc. The possibilities are endless. Heck, you could even create your own hot sauces and start bottling and selling them to the world. Visiting hot pepper festivals and making a name for yourself.

Whatever you want to do, hot sauces and the chileheads who love them are part of a very fun, unpretentious culinary world.

Here's a list of award winning and larger hot sauce maker websites:

OH! And if this blog entry has led to you starting your own store or making your own sauce, or anything, I wouldn't mind a free sample....really.....a small fee to pay for inspiration and business consulting....right.....be a pal...............

Coq au Vin

So I've got three quarters of a bottle of Merlot left over from my dégustation and my first thought is boeuf bourguignon. But thinking further, the words coq au vin pop into my head. So in an instant I've got my A Little Taste of France cookbook out and I wasn't surprised to find a recipe for the traditional chicken stew.

I find that chicken never takes on flavours very well. Chicken is chicken. Sure the skin can taste really great. But the flesh, especially the dryer white breast that I prefer, barelly soaks up any flavours. Take beef. It becomes one with whatever you throw at it. But chicken is obstinate and always maintains its individuality. As if it's too good for a world of flavours. Well trust the French to beat the pig-headed meat at its very childish game.

This recipe calls for the chicken to be marinated overnight. Throw anything in wine for over 12 hours and it's sure to be happy at the end of it all. So I guess the moral of the story is that when faced with a challenge, soak it in alcohol and marinate overnight. Yes. That's the answer.

Coq au Vin

1 whole chicken cut into eight pieces (leg, thigh, upper breat, lower breast and repeat)
1/2 bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
Half a package of bacon (250g or 9oz)
60g (2 1/4oz) butter
20 pearl onions
250g (9oz) tiny button mushrooms
1 tsp oil
30g (1/4 cup) plain all-purpose flour
1/2 litre (2 cups) chicken stock
125ml (1/2 cup) brandy --- which we omitted as per the price of brandy
2 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tbsp softened butter
1 tbsp plain all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Put the win, bay leaves, thyme and some salt and pepper in a bowl and add the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate, preferably overnight.

2. Sauté bacon in a frying pan and drain excess fat. Take cooked bacon out of frying pan. In the now vacant pan, melt a quarter of the butter, add the onions and sauté until browned. Take out of pan.

3. Melt another quarter of the butter, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

4. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, and pat the chicken dry. Season. Ad the remaining butter and the oil to the frying pan, add the chicken and sauté until golden. Stir in the flour. Transfer the chicken to a large saucepan or casserole dish and add the stock. Pour the brandy into the frying pan and boil, stirring, for 30 seconds to deglaze the pan (use the stock or marinade if you aren't using brandy). Pour over the chicken. Add the marinade, onions, mushrooms, bacon and tomato paste. Cook over moderate heat for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

5. If the sauce needs thickening, lift out the chicken and vegetable and bring the sauce to the boil. mix together the butter and flour to make a beurre manié and whisk into the sauce. Boil, stirring, for 2 minutes until thickened. Add the parsley and return the chicken and vegetables to the sauce.

6. Serve with a nice glass of wine and some torn baguette pieces to soak up the sauce. Make sure to have a victory laugh over the chicken who capitulated at your flavour onslaught ;)

Yet Another Dégustation

I guess it's going to be a tradition of sorts for now that we pick up some delicious new cheese at the market on Saturday's and pig out on a dégustation.

For this particular plate of assorted goodies, I prepared a salsa verde (or whatever you call a salsa made with green tomatoes). I put green tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, orange zest and juice, pureed it Mexican salsa style - as opposed to American style chunky salsa - and served it to go along with my multi-grain baguette. A great accompanying little treat to this were the very thin slices of dried duck. Though they were very fatty - as only duck can be - and barely tasted anything unless you sucked on them, those little slices of duck were a good initiation to other items that particular vendor has at the market. These include foi gras, terrines, French-style sausages, and other weird French delights.

As for the fruits and veggies, I cut up some apples, pears, cucumber, served them with grapes and these really beautiful looking sour prunes I found at the market. Along with some merlot (this time I tried to read the descriptions of the wines on their labels to make sure the pairing wasn't totally off) and a cheese whose name I can't remember but was stronger than gruyère but milder than the Le Comté which I had last week, this dégustation was a nice light meal.

BBQ Season is Coming to an End

Pretty much all the trees have turned yellow, orange, and red. The wind is getting colder. It rains a cold kind of rain that makes you want to stay inside and make soup. But I'm still braving the weather. I'm still firing the grill.

I made an oregano and walnut pesto and stuffed it into some nice big white mushroom. Topped with a tiny mound of shredded parmesan, the turned out juicy and delicious. So did the plump tomatoes on which I placed thin slices of fresh garlic underneath yet other mounds of parmesan cheese. The result was barbecued vegetabley-goodness (I make up words like that).

The vegetables accompanied a piece of steak with perfect hatch marks. One problem I have with cooking steak is that my grill is steaming when I slap the meat on. That's not the problem. The problem is that the exterior chars fast but the middle doesn't cook as fast as what the outside would make you believe. So what I'm left with are beautiful, barelly cooked pieces of beef. Given that my girlfriend just started by capable of overcoming her psychological and bio-class induced fear of anything below medium, I've had to reheat steaks every time I'm ready to sit down for supper.

I think that I'm going to celebrate what's left of the bbq season with roasting squash or grilling root vegetables that are in season. A good grilled vegetable soup, some maple syrup glazzed pork maybe, or stuffed onions. Who knows? But I have to do something before winter hits...and seeing as most of the people who visit my sight aren't Canadian, all I can say is that almost everything stops when Old Man Winter rears with ugly head.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Le Comté Cheese Dégustation

I'm not from a culinarily sophisticated family. We didn't know anything about wines (my parents didn't drink which certainly didn't help). We didn't experiment with recipes from around the world (my parents idea of cooking was grilled cheeses or reheated pizza fingers). And we certainly never had any fancy French cheeses served with fresh fruit as a meal.

Thankfully, I know a bit better now. So when I walked up to the Loup Gourmand - a cheese counter at the local farmer's market - and asked for dégustation suggestions, I was more than pleasently surprised of the intensity, rich, nutty flavour of Le Comté cheese (www.comte.com).

This cheese was simply beautiful. Complex. Rich. And a great cheese to eat with a simple dégustation. All I did for supper was cut up the cheese, an apple, some chinese pears, a mango, tomatoes, prepared some grapes and garlic stuffed green olives. I also bought some fondu beef (thinly sliced beef), wrapped it around German salami and brie, and then cooked these little hot morsels in a bit of oil. Along with a Wolf Blass Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (which my very mediocre sommelier skills tell me there probably could have been a better wine pairing) the meal was a party of different flavours taking each other's place one after another to leave you with a very satisfied feeling of having eaten well.

Anyways, I don't know much about cheeses or wine but I do know that this meal was good. In my opinion, a dégustation is perfect for any day.

Home Food

There's comfort food and then there's food from home. Whether it's your grandmothers chicken noodle soup, the neighbourhood pizzeria that has never been beat (in your mind) in all of your travels, or just that small restaurant that doesn't serve anything particularly special but every time you step in it your reminded of all of those times your parents treated you to supper or brunch there. For me, Kapuskasing, Ontario is the place of my HomeFood - check it up if you want to know how isolated a place it is.

There's Thong La's, a Chinese restaurant that is unparalleled (it helps that my father knew the owners which meant that we were eating some real Chinese food instead of the simple deep-fry and stir-fried Chinese Canadian food). There's Great Northern Pizza that makes massively loaded pizzas (such as the Wango Tango...mmmm) and panzorati's to rival any Italian mama. But the place in my mind that is more closely linked to the blue-collar, lumber town atmosphere of Kap is the Coffee Bar.

Consisting of no more than 10 benches arranged around a bar which looks upon the griddle and very minimalistic kitchen supplies, the whole being no larger than a medium sized bedroom, the coffee bar was primarily a place where people could go buy some milk from the Community Dairy that operated in the same building. Growing up, the coffee bar would be full (yes all 10 benches were occupied) of construction men or factory workers gearing up for a days work. Coming from a construction family myself, the Coffee Bar was a frequent meal spot.

Most famous of all in my mind are the westerns they make at the bar. It's nothing overly sophisticated. It doesn't cost $50 for every item. It doesn't come with a wine suggestion...just chocolate milk. All the western is is a thick stack of ham and onion omelet between two pieces of bread and the optional processed cheese slice or ketchup. They would wrap it in wax paper and hand it over to you in a brown paper bag if you were taking it to go. You could then sit on the job site and drip omelet and ketchup all over the place.

Like I said, HomeFood is more often than not very simple. It's linked to memory like no five course meal can be. It's comfort food at the ultimate level. Best of all, it's replicable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Onion Soup = Comfort Food

I've recently purchased an apartment building. There are three units and one group of tenants decided to ditch me in the middle of the month and not pay their rent for that month. But that not's the worst part. The mess they left behind took about two weeks to clean up. And to mention what I had to clean up would be unappetizing on a food blog. Needless to say, I'm sick of working in that apartment and was more than happy to prepare one comfort food that is an essential on any comfort food list. Onion soup.

The way I make onion soup is pretty simple. Thinly slice about three cups of yellow onions, sweat in butter, add a clove of garlic, some thyme, about 4 cups of beef broth, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and two tablespoons of red wine vinegar or cooking sherry and that's it. Bring to boil, drop a crusty/toasted slice of baguette in each bowl, top with grated gruyère, broil and enjoy. The sweet onions coupled with the warm taste of the soup make me happy. Especially in this autumn season with the hills turning beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. I'd even argue that soup is a cornerstone (if not the keystone) of fall season cooking. What would October be without homemade chicken noodle soup?

Along with my soup, I made a delicious panini sandwich. Between two slices of onion cheese bread, I sprinkled the remaining gruyère cheese of the onion soup, added slices of apple, mustard seed salami slices, alfalfa sprouts, and honey dijon sauce. I put the whole thing in the panini press and smooshed it down to make it all hot, thin and yummy. The result was nothing mind blowing but the simple fact of having the time to cook was enough for me.

I love to cook. I don't love cleaning and renovating apartments. Grrrr...