Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ham Terrine with Organic Spring Garlic Salad

When I watch FoodTV the chef's are alway saying that you have to draw inspiration from fresh ingredients found on the tables of enthousiastic merchants at markets. Some times I think that that's only available to big city dwellers, sort of like to those who frequent the famous Green Market in New York. But our humble little farmer's market here in Moncton also has great things to offer. I've said it time and time again but right now, at the end of spring, we've got all of these young vegetables showing up. It's great.

I found on the table of the Market's organic farmer a selection of veggy treats. The first were the long stalks of spring garlic. It looks sort of like a gigantic green onion but has a mild garlic flavour. I also found these little radish looking things that the informed me were small young white turnips that his teenage apprentice was eating like candy. These beautiful little vegetables also had edible leaves that had little holes in them. Proof of the organic farming means of this farmer. A case of give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, please!

I tossed the spring garlic and white turnips with organic mesclun, toasted pita chips and my balsamic honey dressing. The dressing is equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil, with about a quarter of that of honey, smashed garlic, salt and pepper. I first tasted this vinegrette at the Parker House in Sudbury and the owner wouldn't give me his recipe. Said that his recipe depended on propertions. Well I did it. So there!

Along with the salad, I served some delicious ham terrine I bought at the French charcutier La Ferme du Diamant. This is without a doubt the best ham I've ever eaten. It wasn't too salty like most hams so I assume it was cooked in flavoured stock or something. The terrine was built with big hung of ham with gelatine, loads of onions and some parsley. There might be something else in there but that sounds about right. I have to get some recipes from those guys before I move from Moncton in a few years. I certainly support them enough.

This supper was light, fresh and all about the farmer's market. It feels good to know the people who are making and growing the food I put in my mouth. That's how it should be in my opinion. Sometimes it really was better before the invention of globalisation and international production of goods.

Matante Sue's Baked Macaroni

This recipe is an example of what I consider homefood. It's nothing magical, just long macaroni with loads of ground beef, garlic and onion powder, chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and covered and baked with a crust of shredded cheddar cheese. It's something my aunt used to make that we all enjoyed with a good piece of bakery fresh white bread with butter. Not low-cal but a recipe that's nice and comforting. Sort of like shepherd's pie or the left over fricasse's my aunt used to make or even the cabage rolls of my other aunt. It's not food that you'ld be wowed over unless you grew up on it. Even my aunt can't understand why I love her cabbage rolls so much. She appreciates my enthousiasm but she still doesn't understand it. How do you tell someone that that simple dish she's now pulling out of the oven for the millionth time is part of the pattern of your youth and something that bring memories of home rushing back. Plus I love that my the women in my family make the same dishes over and over again and nobody ever gets bored. As for me, I don't often make the same dish twice unless I was overwhelmed the first time or trust that tweaking it is worthwhile.

They say that sent is the sense that is most closely tied to memory so it follows that food would be a very important constituent of memories. So does a rich childhood or even a rich life come from loads of good food? I think so. Ergo, food lovers have a happier life. Pleasantly plump.

Grilled Orange Butter Scallops

I realised two things while preparing this meal: grilling scallops is made easy by the use of skewers and butter flavoured with oranges could make a really delectable topping for fresh crepes. But the crepes aren't the focus here. The scallops are.

I took this recipe from The Great Scallop and Oyster Cookbook. It's chocful of recipes for baked, grilled, raw and other preparations for these shellfish. I've also got another cookbook from the same series for mussels and clams.

There's really nothing surprising about the recipe I used. Skewer a bunch of scallops (a lady was selling them at work by the hug bag full). For the orange butter, all you need is the juice and zest of one large orange, 1 tsp of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of butter. Simple and great when basted and charred on the grill.

For the pasta, I basically repeated the flavour of the orange in a sort of simple orange sauce vierge with tomatoes, zucchini, spaghettini and parmesan. All and all, it was a nice, well balances supper.

Pears Poached in Red Wine

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that I took this recipe from my cookbook A Little Taste of France. This is a traditional recipe the recolection of which came to me like the making of coq au vin or boeuf bourguigon or other such recipes that just come back to me when I'm wondering what to do with left over this and that.

This desert is light, delicious and I'd even venture to say that it's healthy as far as deserts go. I mean it's pears poached in sweet red wine. Nothing bad there. Plus you're eating your fruit. Everybody wins. And alcohol evaporates when cooked so it's a great summer treat for children and adults alike.

Pears in Red Wine

1 tbsp arrowroot (or flour)
1 bottle red wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick (I used powdered cinnamon)
6 whole cloves
zest of 1 small orange
zest of 1 small lemon
6 large pears (ripe but still firm)

Mix the arrowroot with 2 tbsp of wine to make a roux and set aside. Heat the remaining wine in a saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves and orange and lemon zest. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved.

Peel the pears, but don't remove the stalks (they make the pear look alot cooler). Put the whole pears in the saucepan of win, cover and poach gently for 25 minutes, or until they are very tender, turning occasionally. Lift out with a slotted spoon and place in a deep serving dish.

Strian the wine to remove the cinnamon stick, cloves and zest, then pour the wine back into the saucepan. Stir in the arrowroot and add to the hot wine. Simmer gently, stirring now and then, until thickened. Pour over the pears and leave to soak until cold.

Serve with cream or creme fraiche or with a small portion of red grapes.

Too Much Lobster

Yeah, that's right. I said too much lobster. Maybe I should say almost too much lobster. Over a dozen to myself alone in one week. A real Maritime experience and I had to wait for my father in law to come down from Northern Ontario to fish before I could experience it.

So anyways, my father in law's a real fishing nut plus he thought he'd kill two birds with one stone and come see us at the same time as he went lobster fishing. Now fishing lobster isn't open to anyone. You need a license to even put your hands on a lobster cage. But the friendly fishermen don't mind if you got out with them on there boat so long as you stand out of the way. Two men to a boat who are working on one side and you stay on your side trying to not get sea sick. We went up one day to go fishing - at 5 in the morning no less - and I found out that the trick to not being sea sick is to keep busy. So I chopped the frozen mackerel's in half or put the elastics on the lobsters's pincers or simple walked around. As soon as I sat down for an extended period of time I could feel my heart rising into my throat and my head getting a bit groggy. Not a very pleasant sensation.

Another thing I found out is that the lobster traps attract more than just the lobster. This being the end of the spring lobster season - the lobster getting "sick" as they say here in order to shed the shells - the traps were mostly empty. Not even enough in them to pay for the fisherman's gas which means that we came back to shore a good 4 hours ahead of schedule. But I did manage to swap a few crabs from the traps before we left. They don't charge for these. They're barely worth anything and they'd have thrown them back in the water anyways so we got a good little treat. And a few hours of taking these apart. You thought lobster was hard to dissect. Try a small crab. Now that's a real pain in the ass.

So true to North American fashion, we ate the majority of our lobster with garlic butter. It's the first time I ate my lobster cold and I think I prefer it this way. When you cook your lobster it tends to get tepid by the time you've started to eat it anyways. So being cold already, you just crack and dip. You don't have to rush. Unless you've got a cooler full of lobster you've got to get through. But I don't think that that's the case for most normal people. Plus our cold lobster had been cooked the same day it was taken out of the water and eaten no more than a few days after that. Fresh is an understatement.

Being a gourmand (or gourmet?) I couldn't be satisfied with eating my lobster just one way. So in the photo above you can see the cold cooked lobster, a ramekin full of fresh garlic butter and a mess of Jamie Oliver's Sticky Finger Lobster taken from Cook with Jamie. This recipe was simply amazing for someone whose never eaten their lobster any other way than whole. The sauce was a mixture of loads of pepper, honey, chopped green onions, garlic, ginger and lemon juice. Though the recipe calls for slicing a live lobster in half and then slathering the different sections with the sauce before baking them in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes till done, I only had cold cooked lobster available. But it worked beautifully anyways. The sauce caramelized and became sticky and delicious. Topped with fresh cilantro and chopped red chilies (or my Thai Hot Sauce which gave it a really delicious flavourful kick) I will certainly eat my lobster like this again. What the hell, eh! When you've got enough lobster to experiment you take the advantage. The results are pure deliciousness.

With the crab, so far, my girlfriend made a crab dip which can be found on almost all apetizer lists in restaurants across Canada. You can find a recipe anywhere on the net but it's basically just a creamy crab dip that I prefer serving with toasted pita slices rather than salty nacho chips. I broiled a good layer of parmesan cheese on top. It makes for a nice apetizer or rich lunch. Loaded with fresh crab meat, you can't go wrong.

I've also got a recipe for crab on toast that's simply dressed with lemon juice and a few other things but that's for another post. Plus that recipe calls for the brown meat inside the shell but cracking a lobster open I wasn't sure what was poop and what was meat. I'll have to go get a course from my local fish monger. I'm not putting anything in my mouth that's brown unless I know for sure that it's meat.

Chocolate Pots

Two words that should always go together: chocolate and cream. I mean, come on. What can be better after a light spring supper then rich dark chocolate coupled with a thick cold cream. I don't know, but this desert certainly hit the mark. And it was so easy to make. I'm no pastry chef and usually end of cooking deserts that are always a failure. My cakes look like giant cookies and my cookies look like mini cakes. But this. This was effortless. Plus you get to make it almost as far in advance as you want. Which makes it great for all of you people out there who like to host dinner parties. Listen to me, I sound like a TV chef.

Anyways, I took this recipe from Trish Hilferty's Gastropub Classics. It's a great cookbook. For all of those unfamiliar with the term, a gastropub has the atmosphere and beer selection of a regular pub but it's food goes well beyond the deep-fryer. It's like a fine dining hand reaching down into the grease pot of a pub and transforming it into a sumptuous yet posh-less experience. Or so I've read.

So the desert section of this cookbook is full of what the author calls puddings. Here is one great example of simplicity and great flavours coming together for something rich but also light at the same time.

Trish Hilferty's Chocolate Pots

1/2 vanilla pod (I cheated and used vanilla extract. I'm cheap.)
175ml double cream (called heavy cream on this side of the pond)
125g dark chocolate with 70 % cocoa solids, chopped (I used 85% Lindt which was awesome)
75ml milk
2 organic egg yolks
30g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit of 140 degrees Celsius. Slit the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the seeds, then put the pod and seeds in a small pan with the cream. Warm the cream, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. In a seperate pan, melt the chocolate in the milk over a gentle heat, then leave to the side to cool a little.

Whisk together the eggl yolks and icing sugar, then pour in the chocolate milk and the cream. Mix together, pass the mixture through a sieve and pour into 6 ramekins. Place the ramekings in a baking tray and pour enough hot water into the tray to come half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for between 45 minutes and 1 hour, until the puddings are a little spongy and puffed up. Leave to cool for around 4 hours before serving.

We served them with cream but the addition of raspberries is also a suggestion of the author.

Season of Beer

This is without a doubt the summer of beer. Not only am I working for the Pump House Brewery and one of its restaurants the Barnyard BBQ, but I’m up to my ears in beer. Now, that might seem like a beautiful problem to some of you but I don’t drink twelve beers in a week unless there’s a party in there. But I don’t party that hard. So I just keep accumulating beer. And more beer. And more beer...

The story starts at the Atlantic Beer Festival which was started and is still ran by Pump House owner Shaun Fraser. It’s a great event with just over 100 different beers this year and drawing in about 2000 people. Being the good guy that I am, I volunteered my time. What the hell, I thought to myself, I work a bit and drink beer all day. Everybody wins.

Well I spent the day preparing pulled pork sandwiches and drinking beer after beer after beer. And we didn’t have those small 4 ounce glasses. No sir. We had the full 16 ounce glasses. The result is that I was getting more and more generous as the day carried on. The patrons were happy. And I was giddy. Then I was sick of beer. Can you believe that? Sick of beer!

Well that day ended with me taking home a whole bunch of leftover beers from the festival. Shaun was given a few dozen 24 packs of beer which was supposed to be for some volunteer party. I didn’t attend no such party and I don’t think there ever was one. The beer just disappeared within the confines of Mr. Fraser’s yellow SUV and was never seen ever again. Oh the joys of owning a brewery!

From the Fuller’s booth I swiped a Headstrong Pale Ale and a Fuller’s London Porter. The Headstrong was a pretty typical pale ale. It was hoppy but not too hoppy. A good aftertaste of citrus. All and all a great example of the style. As for the porter, it was also loyal to its style. Rich, chocolaty, and smooth with a slight bitterness. I enjoyed this porter much more than the Halifax brewed Propeller London Style Porter. The latter was also chocolaty and rich but the bitterness and an overpowering strength of taste turned me off. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t up to my triple taste test that night but I preferred the Fuller’s Porter to the Propeller. People from Halifax seem to like it bitter. Real bitter.

Along with the Propeller Porter, I sampled the O’Hara’s Celtic Stout and the German Edinger Dunkel. I wasn’t a fan of the O’Hara. It had a much stronger taste than what I’m used to in a stout. I’m no beer-geek but all other stouts I’ve drank were smoother than porter and the flavours not overpowering. A bit of a burnt, rich flavour but not a slap in the face which wasn’t the case with the O’Hara. However, the saving grace of these three beers was the dunkel. A German wheat beer complying with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, it had a beautiful smooth flavour true to the wheat beer style and balanced with a bit of dark chocolaty flavour more intensely present in Irish style stouts. This beer was a real treat. Something you could drink more than one of. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I wasn’t quite in the beer drinking mood but still...the dunkel was fantastic compared to the stout and the porter. Although the Montreal St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout comes in at a close second...smooth and dark. Yum.

Finally, we come to my two favourite Pump House beers. Though mostly available in New Brunswick, these beers are a great example of local craft brewing. The Scotch, for its part, is a style of beer that focuses on its rich earthy flavour of malts and, more specifically, on the peat malts which are the cornerstones of all single malt Scotches...hence the name, Scotch Ale. It’s a smooth beer that has the richness appreciated by all real beer drinkers who want something with body but aren’t up to something heavy like a stout or a porter.

My second favourite of the Pump House is the Red Ale. Though I prefer an Amber to a Red, what makes this particular beer special for me is the particular batch this bottle comes from. I spent on day in the brewhouse with one of the Pump House’s brewmasters Greg Nash. Now for anyone who knows anything about Canadian Micro Breweries, the name Greg Nash is a model of what a brewmaster should be. Previously working at Garrison’s where he crafted the Unfiltered Imperial Pale Ale and a Black Lager that I’m trying to convince him to brew again, he was poached by the Pump House. I worked with Greg all day, asking every question I could think of. From gravity readings to mashing temperatures to the difference between an ale and a lager to the best book for anyone interested in home brewing (it’s The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by the way). It was a nice day even though I had to crawl into the mash tun and wash that hotbox. I learned alot and, two weeks later or so, I’m sipping on a beer I helped to make from scratch. Eat your heart out beer geeks!

Beer, it's not just for breakfast anymore.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thai Flavoured Hot Sauce

That's right. I finally made my own hot sauce.

The mash of 50/50 Thai and red cherry chilies with sea salt has been fermenting for a month in my fridge and were finally ready to become something more glorious.

I matched the amount of rice vinegar to approximately the same amount as the mash. I then purred the mixture in the blender with 2 cloves of garlic, a tablespoon sized knob of ginger, 2 tablespoons of lemongrass paste (the 4 supermarkets I went to didn't have any fresh lemongrass), 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of miso paste. These measurements are approximations. I eyeball things more and more.

What I ended up with was a liquid sauce that had a beautiful burst of flavours followed by a pleasant kick of spice.

As we speak, I'm letting the sauce sit in the fridge with a couple Kaffir lime leaves in it. I don't know how long I'll leave it there but I can't wait to douse shrimps in this nice little creation of mine.

Look mom! I didn't follow a recipe!

Goat Cheese, Cucumber and Turkey Sandwich

I had a bunch of mild ingredients in my fridge that needed to be got rid of. Leftover from the previous Saturday's market was half a small wheel of mild goat cheese. This particular local craft cheese has an almost bocconcini-like mildness but the softened texture and muted tang of goat cheese. It's very light tasting and was a natural match for peeled and thinly sliced cucumber along with sliced deli turkey. I added just a few little dollops of pesto on top of the turkey and sandwiched the whole in plain crusty white bread. Lightly toasted, this sandwich is very light and almost feminine in quality. Maybe I should slice the bread thinner and remove the crusts to make is even more gentle. Next time I guess.

Onion Tarts with Scallop Carpaccio

This recipe is from Alain Rayé's cookbook La Régalade, a no-fuss book that focuses on french bistro food. What I love about this book is the evident passion this Vancouver based chef has for food. The book is divided by season so that you're only cooking with the freshest ingredients and only cooking for what is appropriate for that season; a beef bourguignon in summer is a no-no. Being a Frenchman, every recipe comes with a suggested wine pairing. I personally can't wait for the day where cookbooks will have suggested beer pairings.

The recipe for these tarts didn't quite turn out like I would have wanted them to. The general idea is great. Caramelize onions in olive oil and thyme, arange on top of thawed puff pastry squares, bake till fluffy. You then arrange a layer of very thinly sliced scallops (which is made possible by partially freezing the scallops before slicing) on top and warm the whole. Given that these are supposed to be carpaccio scallops - meaning raw - the purpose is only to warm them up. Cooking them defeats the purpose and the texture. As you might notice in the above photo, I made the mistake of cooking them. My girlfriend isn't a fan of raw anything. But she hasn't had beef carpaccio with truffle oil and capers yet....pure yum.

As always, I'm persistent in my failure as a pastry guy and the puff pastry ended up mushy and didn't rise. I think they should cook for awhile without the caramelized onions on top. It seems to keep the pastry down plus gives off unwanted moisture. But all in all this is a great simple appetizer. It lets all the ingredients shine. So next time I will definitely not cook the scallops. Raw and chewy.