Friday, May 30, 2008

Italian Nachos

Necessity provides inspiration. I needed to use the giardiniera that's been steeping in my kitchen for the past few weeks. I also felt like eating nachos. Solution: make nachos with giardiniera on it. But not any kind of nachos I said to myself. If I'm going to use an Italian ingredient, I might as well run with the idea.

So I arranged the nachos, evenly sprinkled with small lumps of pesto and tapenade, added slices of ham, slathered with giardiniera, covered with mozarella and placed a few grape tomatoes and chopped parsley and basil on top. Baked in my toaster oven till the cheese melted (5 minutes or so) the result was pretty good. These toppings would make an awesome pizza. Or pizza crust nachos? Something less salty than nachos. Pita chips?

Oh and the grape tomatoes got all stiff and hot and bursted in my mouth when I crunched into them. Yum.

Wonton Pizza Thingies

My girlfriend made these wonton pizza thingies for lunch one day. They come from a Kraft magazine so they obviously tell you to use all Kraft products but the ingredients of these particular concoctions are irrelevant. The important thing is the form. It's simply a purchased wonton wrapper, placed in a muffin tin, stuffed with whatever you like and cooked till golden and delicious. Here there was ranch dressing, mushrooms, pepperoni and cheese. You could do anything here. Fancy or simple. It just looks cool. Great finger food. Maybe an appetizer. Something to add to my pub-style food repertoire.

Fiddleheads and Steak

Fiddleheads are a New Brunswick staple. The unfurled fern shoots grow in sandy soils by water and are harvested here in the spring like they were made of gold. Everyone's got their spot. And trust me, we went out to harvest our own one day and only found woody stubs where fiddleheads used to be. We're not locals. We don't have first dibs. So we buy them at the market and hang our heads in shame.

I think the primary virtue of fiddleheads is that they're cool looking in all their curly cuteness. They taste like mild asparagus. Some people boil them but we sauteed them with butter and garlic. Supposedly they're good with butter and vinegar. All I know is that they're good. And they go well with steak. Which I am finally getting a hang of by the way. Praticing my squeeze technique. More on that later.

Fancy Foibled Fish & Chips

My intentions in the kitchen often do not match the results. I'm getting better at every attempt. But results vary.

The recipe for this particular dish comes from Canada's grill genius, Rob Rainford. As you can see in the above photo and here the idea is to wrap the halibut (which is in season here by the Atlantic) in prosciutto and then wrap that in a layer of very thinly sliced potatoes. Now below you see how it turned out on my own grill. Yes. That's right. The potatoes are no longer wrapped around the fish and cured ham.

The failure is due to the following factor: I did not use my food processor to slice the potatoes thinly. I thought I'd do it by hand but apparently my knife work still needs more practice. The result was still very delicious.

The fresh halibut which we got at the farmer's market is simply dressed in salt, pepper and lemon zest. You then wrap it in a slice of prosciutto. If you can slice your potatoes thinly enough, toss them in melted butter, salt and pepper, arrange on a piece of foil. Wrap the fish in the potatoes (much easier said than done) and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the butter set. In a perfect world, you then take the package from the frige, place on a well oiled sheet of foil on the barbecue, cook 5 to 6 minutes on either side and enjoy with tartar sauce or a lemon couli.

If you do not live in a perfect world, you can make little foil packages of sliced and buttered potatoes and cook these apart from the fish. I think this is a much safer idea. But I will attempt to replicate the first photo again. If a professional TV chef can do it, so can I. Or maybe I can't.

Bubble Tea at Zen Garden

We've recently discovered Zen Garden, definitely one of the best Asian food restaurants in Moncton. Though the building is really not much to look at, the food is excellent. In our small Canadian towns, it's rare that you'll find real Asian food unless you know the local Chinese family who owns the Chinese restaurant and place a special request to sample something authentic. The alternative is Chinese-Canadian food which I would really say is just Canadian food with soy and oyster sauce.

Now in medium sized towns like Moncton, you've got more chances of finding the real stuff. You've got Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Korean, Chinese, etc. I don't know exactly which Chinese cuisine we're talking about here at Zen Garden but that's sort of secondary to the topic at hand. All you need to know is that it's good. Really good.

This little exotic gem also has a wide selection of teas. You can buy them dried for home use or you can take tea with your meal. Actually, you should take tea with your meal. I mean, I hate when people go to a restaurant with a particular cuisine and order a Coke. You're ruining the whole experience. Rants aside, we tasted the Zen Garden's Bubble Tea. Turns out this is a fairly popular Asian sweet milky tea but it was new to us. So being the foodie that I am, I thought I'd be a bright little boy and make the Bubble Tea myself.

Find any recipe online and one thing is clear: tapioca is a bitch to cook. We find the little dry balls at our local Asian product market and followed the online recipe. Boil for half an hour andd let sit covered another half hour. ONE HOUR!!! For little gelatinous balls! This is the kind of thing that it's worth waiting to buy it at the restaurant. But regardless we did make it. It was more of an event than a recipe.

For the combination of the drink (which I think I read somewhere is famously presented by Tom Cruise's flairy bartendermanship in Cocktail) you simply incorporate 1 cup of black tea (we used Satsuma black tea) with 1 cup of soy or regular milk. Pour in a tonne of simple syrup (water, brown and white sugar) till it's almost too sweet and then drop the tapioca balls in the bottom. Best to drink with a wide straw and a moderate portion of tapioca. Those little gelatine balls can get to be much pretty quickly.

We served the Bubble Tea with California rolls bought from two Korean women at the farmer's market, quality soy sauce (not the salt-only HP kind) and a dollop of wasabi. It was good but I think we'll leave the Bubble Tea making to the experts.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Saint John City Market

When I visited the Maritimes for the first time a few years ago, one of the highlights of the trip was the Saint John City Market. Thinking back I’m pretty sure all great memories of that trip have to do with food but that’s beside the point. I’m a foodie. And a foodie loves a market. Especially one where merchants can offer quality products, specialize in a certain area, and survive. I find the supermarket trend unappetizing. It’s almost always inferior quality and there’s no pride in it. There’s no craftsmanship. There’s no one to tell you what to do with such and such a cut of meat because they’re somewhere in the back, laboriously carving away at carcass after carcass after carcass. The market is made for humans. It’s like a year round farmer’s market which is pretty much the next best thing in smaller communities such as the ones I’ve always lived in.

In the Saint John City Market you’ve got deli-men, bakers, produce importers, fruiterers, exotic food merchants, fishmongers, prepared food stands and a small assortment of arts and crafts. The focus is food. Quality food. There is pride in providing quality here unlike in the supermarkets. Here up north if you go to a supermarket you’re almost guaranteed that only 1 in 5 mangos will be edible. They don’t care what they put out there. People buy it anyways. It’s sad but that’s all we’ve got. Unless you’ve got a century old market like in Saint John.

I think that the idea of a year round market could feasibly be pushed a bit further. I mean, it could be just like a grocery store where you go around with a cart or basket and pay at one place. It could be a cooperative which allows for the tradesmen of food to survive independently. This is possible even in communities of 10,000 in population. If there’s a grocery store I say that there’s no reason why there can’t be a market. Or even a cooperative market. People can have quality baked goods, quality produce, quality seafood, quality canned goods, quality organic products and sustain their neighbours. Because like it or not, butchers and bakers have a hard time surviving solo in smaller communities nowadays. So change is necessary. But submission is not necessary. Independency is still an option.

Italian Giardiniera and Chicago-style Beef Sandwich

There were alot of Italian descendants where I used to live in Sudbury which meant that there were alot of Itialian products available. Cannolis, good quality deli meats and cheeses, and canned goods. Amongst these I discovered giardiniera which is basically vegetables pickled in oil and vinegar and spices. Here in the non-Italian Atlantic Maritimes, there is no giardiniera in the stores. So I decided I’d make my own. Part of the whole “I want to can stuff” phase I seem to be in right now.

The recipe was easy to find thanks to the internet. It doesn’t quite taste like the product I used to buy but it’ll do. You can find the recipe I used at the following internet address

To go with my homemade giardiniera, I had to find a recipe. What I found in my research is that giardiniera was popular amongst Chicago Italian immigrants. Though they didn’t eat much meat in the old country, they crossed the Atlantic and found a bunch of hearty, burly carnivores who required that every worker eat excessive amounts of protein. The result (and I’m not being very historic here) was the Chicago style Italian beef sandwich. This is basically a mountain of thinly sliced roast beef, loads of giardiniera all atop an Italian style roll and dipped in the jus of the roast beef. Supposedly this soggy sandwich is some people’s reason to get up in the morning. And though I’m sure my attempt was far from the original, I can admit that it was pretty damn good. I wish I could remember what I put in jus for stewing the beef. I know there was a can of tomato sauce, beef stock, probably grainy mustard, etc. But it was good. Though I didn’t take enough meat for myself – we had an unexpected dinner guest – I still enjoyed the sandwich. Especially when I made a mess of dunking it in my bowl of delicious beef jus.

Vegetarian Miso Poutine

Poutine is a French-Canadian staple. The French-Canadian staple. More than pea soup which is something more traditional, dating back to the days of the voyageurs, poutine is part of the French-Canadian identity. And though the Quebeckers claim it as their own, all the other ignored French-Canadians beyond the Quebec borders love the 95% fat poutine.

I can take no credit for this poutine recipe. It comes from one of the ex-chefs at Calactus Cafe. The Moncton restaurant, which is pure brilliance for all vegetarians and non-vegetarians, does not make this poutine. They should. But they don’t. This guy simply makes it for his friends in Moncton’s only hostel, the C’mon Inn (clever, isn’t it). All I can take credit for is my particular recipe. The guy who introduced me to it only mentioned the ingredients. The rest is all me. Maybe a sign that I’m finally gaining a capacity to cook without a recipe. Give me the ingredients without any quantities or directions and I’ll whip it up. Within reason, of course.

Anyways, a poutine is three things: 1) fresh cut fries; 2) cheese curds; 3) gravy. The only thing different with this recipe lies in the latter of the three ingredients. Instead of a beef stock based gravy you do it as the following recipe describes. I don’t know how readily available cheese curds are outside of Eastern and Central Canada but google it. You’ll get an idea. This fries are easy. Cut clean peeled or unpeeled potatoes into fry sticks, toss in oil, salt and pepper and bake. Or you can deep-fry. But I prefer to bake them. This dish is fat enough as it is.

Miso Gravy

3 cups water
¼ cup miso paste
½ cup chopped mushrooms, oyster or shiitake
1 tbsp yellow curry paste
Dash fish sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
Corn starch

1. First consider that all ingredients are an approximation. You’ll have to eyeball this one.
2. Put all ingredient in a sauce pot, bring to boil and cook till mushrooms have softened and stock has reduced somewhat3. Transfer a bit of hot liquid to another bowl and mix with corn starch till there are no lumps. Pour the corn starch mixture into the miso sauce. Do this till you’ve reached desired sauce thickness. The sauce should stick to the cheese and fries once you’ve poured it on top of the latter ingredients.

Grilled Salmon

Salmon is something I consider to be a product that needs no help. Cured, smoked, raw or cooked, salmon has a killer flavour that is a real treat. Here I didn’t try to annihilate the flavour. I simply cut a slit in the salmon fillet, stuffed it with fresh dill, thin onion slices, and lemon. I strapped it all together and voila.

I think that the results would have been best if I’d made a sauce with the dill, the onions and some grill lemon (which is really great if you’ve never tried it...mellows out the juices). The salmon sort of started falling apart and, as usual, I didn’t cook the flesh enough. I have a hard time with that. My well done steaks always come off medium-rare. I need a small meat thermometer or something.

Anyways, the grilled salmon has room for improvement. Maybe basted with maple syrup next time with a small amount of Dijon and dill sauce. Mmm...sounds good.

Corn Tostadas

Alright so anyone who lives south of here might think I’m kind of a quack to get excited about finding corn tostadas in the supermarket. Well I am. Very excited. I mean there are more and more “authentic” Mexican products readily available to the masses. We here in Canada don’t have the privilege of being able to shop on So I make do with having my mother in law send me Mexican products whenever they do their yearly trip down there. I’ve got corn husks and Maseca waiting to become tamales but now only sitting in the pantry (which I’ll have to talk about someday soon because we moved yet again and I’ve got a whole bunch of cool food-related features about my new apartment). The dulce de leche treats sent to us from Mexico have disappeared a long time ago though.

In the picture above you can also see another joyful discovery I made while shopping at my local Sobey’s. Mrs. Renfro's Hot Habanero Salsa is the first salsa readily available north of the Canadian border here that says it’s hot and actually delivers. I mean all other salsa beside this one look like ketchup. This salsa has balls. I really wish I had a hot sauce store in Moncton here. I need some readily available chilihead fixings. Oh well.

As far as hot sauce go, however, the four you see on the table there are what is available here in my neck of the woods. Cholula (Mexican flavour over kick), Tabasco Habanero and Chipotle sauces, and finally a Louisiana style hot sauce I find best in jambalaya. Nothing overly fancy. Nothing to scorch your whole digestive tract. But you work with what you got. You know.
Finally, I grilled a pork roast to round off my tostada toppings. During the cooking of this roast I also used my BBQ smoke box for the first time. So with cherry wood smoke curling around it at a nice gentle heat, the pork became something worth writing about. So that’s what I’m doing. Talking about the tostadas I ate and all the beautiful food that makes life worth living. If only everything had a spicy kick to it I’m sure that I’d want to live forever.

BBQ Pork Tenderloin

I love pork tenderloin. It’s way cheaper than beef tenderloin and still oh so good. To cook this lean and tender cut on the barbecue is nothing short of heavenly. I mean, good meat + BBQ is always a recipe for success. When we lived in Sudbury I used to buy Renee’s Creole Dijon Sauce and slather that over the tenderloin while it cooked on the barby. It was good. Sweet, sticky, sharp, and really delicious when you take into consideration that it comes from a supermarket bottle. Something that can’t be found when, say, you try to make good Indian food with a jar of Pachuck. For this I just marinated the tenderloin in a Greek-ish marinade. As you would expect, there was tonnes of oregano, garlic, olive oil, a bit of vinegar, etc. It made the tenderloin pretty delicious though I’m always disappointed at how little chicken and pork take on flavours. But at least the marinade tied the meat into our Greek salad and leftover souvlaki pita sandwiches. Nothing fancy. But good.

Deer Stew

I exchanged a pot of dulce de leche with deer meat from a girl at work. Actually, she gave me deer meat sausages and a mason-jarred deer meat stew. I’m finding canning more and more intriguing these days. I mean, you can grow anything and can it. You can hunt for your own meat and can it. You can basically be self-sufficient with the art of canning. Unfortunately I know nothing about canning and I’m kind of scarred of killing someone with botulism or something.

We like our stew to be hearty. Taking the mason jarred meat as our base (basically cubed deer meat with loads of onions in water and a bit of spices...supposedly keeps forever...hmm) we then build with what I consider to be traditional stew ingredients. Rutabaga cubes, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, and finished off with sweet peas. Now I know I shouldn’t admit to this but we used a pre-made stew St-Hubert spice mix to flavour the stew. In my defence, I’m not the one who was cooking that night.

Anyways, the stew turned out to be delicious. It’s more or less these kind of things that push me towards building my own pantry and relying less on the always disappointing supermarket products. Have you ever tried canned stew from the grocery store? It’s gross. Like those canned potatoes. Pure yuck.