Sunday, September 28, 2008

Amateur Mushroom Hunting

We went mushroom hunting this morning. It's late September and it's been raining for the past few days. Logic says that there should be a tonne of mushrooms in the area. We weren't dissapointed when we visited the first legs of the Dobson Trail in Riverview. However, we didn't venture to cook any of these fungal delights.

The slugs were having a field day amongst almost all of the mushrooms. This bolete was having a particularly bad day.

There were quite a few bracket mushrooms all over the forest but no Hens of the Woods. The trees were mostly conifers so next time we'll try to find a hardwood forest. Or a field where we could hopefully spot some really cool giant puffballs.

I'm pretty sure these last two photos are of false chanterelles. The were orangy-brown, in the funnel shape but their gills were wavy whereas real chanterelles (if I understood properly) are supposed to have well structured straight gills.

The World According to Monsanto: A Review

I thought I'd heard everything there is to know about the horrible chemical and biotechnology corporation called Monsanto. Boy was I short on information.

This documentary produced by ONF, delves into the political manipulations, ecological and not to mention community destruction, and all other nasty things this international regulation-free corporation is responsible for. This documentary will want to make you wish someone would do something drastic to hurt the Monsanto corporation like they've hurt people and the environment and biodiversity as a whole.

Fighting bioterrorism with bioterrorism aside, you NEED to see this documentary. It's a real eye opener. Even for those with their eyes already wide open and terrified.

I'm almost tempted to say that the looming collapse of the American empire is a blessing in disguise for the world as a whole. But I wouldn't want to go too far would I?

The Full Conversion to Fresh Food

This week, I've set myself the challenge of purchasing 100% of my grocery at the farmer's market and supplemented by my neighbourhood natural food store. I'd say that 100% is hard since there is still alot of stuff in my pantry and in my fride that have their origins at the supermarket but still...

The above photo shows a very good example of what shopping entirely at the market could be. Fresh sausages and locally made bread (and supermarket bought sauerkraut and mustard which I'm sure I could find elsewhere). Market corn with GMO free margarine. Sun gold tomatoes with organic olive oil (and supermarket bought balsamic vinegar). Fresh local apple cider. With only a few exceptions like salt, everything on this table is market bought. It's really easy when you just set your mind to it.

I find alot of people who go to the market only go for the treats. Don't get me wrong, I love hot cinnamon buns as much as the next guy, but I also recognise that there's everything at the market for me to eat very well for a whole week. There's bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, pastries, wine, beverages, nuts, pasta and even milk. Plus there's the advantage that mostly everything is either organic or locally grown or both. There are only a few stands where there are inported items. But even these include things like walnut oil or dates which can't really be made in our region anyways (except for the oil...but I digress).

The point is that getting your grocery at the farmer's market is good. Supermarkets and their monoculturally grown, 2500 kms travelling products, genetically modified processed foods are bad. The best way to stop the world from crumbling under too much agricultural "progress" (which includes biodiversity killing genetically modified foods and pesticide uses) is to support your local farmer. Call it Slow Food or 100 mile challenge or whatever you like. If it's chemical and coming from halfway across the world, it's bad. For your health and for the environment and for the future.

It's as simple as that. Or nearly.

Roasted Pig's Feet with Wilted Kale and Mashed Veggies

Seeing as I didn't have my girlfriend with me at the market last week, I made a few purchases that I would only have made alone. The blood pudding was the first purchase. Pig's feet were the second.

Looking at the fatty pig's feet, I assumed there would be a fair amount of meat on them. They surely smelled delicious as they roasted for 9 hours. This was based on another of Jamie Oliver's recipes from Cook with Jamie. In the "overnight slow-roasted pork", a pork shoulder is called for. It is to be scroed and rubbed with olive oil, sea salt, and fennel seeds. Uncovered in a roasting pan atop halved onions, carrots, garlic and fennel bulbes (which I replaced with potatoes), the pork roasts at 250 degrees for 9 to 12 hours. Fat side up of course.

You then make a sauce by dumping a whole bottle of white wine and a pint of vegetable or chicken stock into the roasting pan for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The result is a very tender and sticky meat along with nicely roasted veggies and a sauce which, once reduced, makes a nice sharp gravy.

I mashed up the veggies and wilted some fresh organic kale to go along with the pork. The kale was nice and bitter, the veggies were rich and chewy, and the pork was tender, sticky and fennely like the recipe promised. The only problem was that there was little to no meat on the bony legs.

I would recommend this preparation for any roast but I would also recommend using a cut with a bit more meat. I mean, if you're going to cook something for 9 hours, it better be plentiful. Oh well, there's always next time. Maybe a leg of lamb. Or a whole duck. Mmmm...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blood Pudding and Apple Breakfast Bake

This is a very descriptive title for a very simple dish. Slices of apple go into a small ovenproof dish, is topped by slices of blood pudding (or black pudding, or boudain in French), doused with a bit of maple syrup and baked till the the whole is warm.

This is my second time eating blood pudding. The first time was horrible. Apparently the sulfur in the eggs really doesn't mix with the blood pudding. This apple concoction is my friendly neighbourhood charcutier's recipe. He told me how you're supposed to spin your hand in the blood falling into a bucket so that all the coagulating stuff stick to your hand and all your left with is lumpless blood. Along with other ingredients it makes up what is known as blood pudding. And I have to admit that this was quite delicious. The only thing I'm not too sure about is the texture of the blood pudding. The taste is actually quite delicious. Doesn't really taste like blood although my blood consuming experiences aren't that diverse.

For many, if not most, eating blood pudding is weird and grosse. For me, head cheese, blood pudding, pig's feet and all other parts of animals that we'd rather throw away is a waste and a disrespect of the animal. Two generations ago, nothing was wasted. Now we're so used to excess that we waste more than we actually consume.

Plus, we're programmed to gag on things like worms in apples or tomatoes and blood pudding and all other things that we're tought is grosse. When you don't waste and you produce in an environmentally compatible way this is what you get. Worms, bugs and odd animal bits. I think we should push ourselves to undo the illogical gag factor that has been programmed into us. No more of this "space-age food" as a friend of mine has called it.

I, for one, want REAL food. Vive la revolution!

Beef Stuffed White Pumpkin

I was driving away from the market when I saw a lady walking with two white pumpkins in her arms. I thought that they were so cool that I jumped out of my car (shutting it off first, making sure not to idle) and purchased a nice sized white pumpkin for myself. It was only $1.50. How could I go wrong.

Turns out that the pumpkin was the ideal vessel for other items I'd purchased at the market that day: sweet corn, white carrots, and fresh onions that look like overgrown green onions. I also dropped by my local natural food store, Corn Crib, and purchased some organic vegetable stock and some wild rice. Wild rice, it must be noted, is both native to North America and quite a bitch to cook. Even after simmering in the pumpkin for 2 hours they were still chewy. They're certainly not like their worldly relatives.

Anyways, what I did was lop the top of the pumpkin, scoop out its entrails and prepared the beef mixture. I first dry toasted the wild rice to make it a bit nuttier. That's what you're supposed to do with nuts but I'm not sure that you're supposed to do that with wild rice...maybe it contributed to making it uncookable. I then sauteed the onions till soft, added the beef till brown and then threw in the carrots, corn kernels and stock. At this point I wanted to add other things but I simply didn't have any room left. The contents of my cast iron frying pan just fit into the cavity of the pumpkin with a stick of cinnamon, a few bay leaves and a whole dried chili. Salt, pepper and in she went into the oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours.

What emerged from the oven was very good. The pumpkin had gone soft and the mixture inside was quite delicious albight a bit bland and requiring a bit of help in the form of a chipotle hotsauce. All in all it was a very healthy meal. And fun to make. Maybe it'll be boeuf bouguignon stuffed in the pumpkin next time. Who knows?

Pumpkins are so versatile.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stilton Borscht

Similar to my experience with coq au vin, making borscht was a matter of knowing what could be done with two large, excessively fresh and earthy beets. Plus both results are purple. But that's just a cool coincidence.

Though there are probably thousands of recipes for this traditional Eastern European dish, I adapted mine from one of my soup & stews cookbooks. Here then is my version of borscht. Note that most of the ingredients were just things I threw in because I had them on hand. Sort of like cleaning out the fridge sort of thing. This recipe is definitely not set in stone. Whatever tickles your own fancy.

Stilton Borscht

1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove
2 medium to large beets, peeled and chopped small (about 2 cups)
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup or so of chopped daikon radish (I just had some of this on hand)
500ml box of organic vegetable stock (the stuff I buy is very rich...almost a soup in itself)
1 medium onion, peeled and left whole
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. sweet paprika
spicy chili flakes or powder of choice to taste
1 tbsp. tomato paste or 1 small can of tomato sauce
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
3/4 bottle of amber to dark beer (I used a Scotch beer)
a little less than 1/4 cup's worth of stilton or other blue cheese (goat's cheese would also be lovely and obviously milder)
generous handful of asian greens (I substituted these for cabbage...they look like lettuce but apparently they are related to cabbage)
salt and pepper

sour cream, for serving

1. In a medium pot, cook onions in hot oil till they start to brown. Add all other vegetables and sweat covered, stirring occasionally till vegetables are softened.
2. Add all other ingredients and cook till flavours have developed and all vegetables are soft.
3. Puree the soup with a hand blender (or you can do it the hard way with a regular blender).
4. Adjust seasoning and serve with a very generous dollop of cold sour cream.

This soup can be eaten hot or cold and as with any soup or stew, it only get's better with time. You can even freeze or can this stuff. Plus it looks really cool. I'm sure kid's would have a blast with this...especially seeing as the very healthy veggies are disguised as a Barney coloured puree.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Harissa and Ham-Burgers

I'm having real fun with the versitility of the grill lately. Grilled pizzas, fries, veggies, you name it. My aunt in Ottawa does nearly all of her cooking on the bbq nowadays. She even bakes her cakes using the bbq as an oven. Now all I wish I could have access to is a charcoal or brick bbq. No more propane for me.

To make grilled sweet potatoes or regular potatoes, simply toss relatively thick slices of them in oil with salt, pepper and whatever flavouring you want (I added some harissa) and grill till charred on the outside and soft on the inside. It takes a good half hour on medium-high heat but the result is better than trans-fat laden deep-fried fries any day. "Fries" this way are actually healthy.

With the grilled sweet potato I grilled some ham-burgers (ground pork with 25% ham) from the market and a nice simple tossed salad with orange segments, asian greens and bean sprouts. I put spicy jerk bbq sauce on the burgers and sandwiched them in some English muffins which are way better than the crappy air filled burger buns you buy from those cheap bread industrial bakeries.

With a generous dolop of harissa, this meal was nice slow food...meaning that I took the time to select and gather ingredients and then took time cooking and eating it while enjoying my time with my girlfriend. Life is good on the slow side.

Dumpling Squash with T-Bone Steak

As time passes, we've been shopping more and more for our nutritional needs at the farmer's market. We now buy 99% of all our food from either the farmer's market or our local natural food store Corn Crib. This means that almost everything we eat is either 1) locally grown or produced; 2) organic or natural; or 3) both of these. By shopping in the manner and encouraging others to do so, I'm doing my part to stop GMOs, mass-produced food and all other nasty stuff associated with a globalized and industrialized food industry.

In the news I read that certain powdered milk products in China are seriously poisoning young infants. The reason? It's cheaper to produce the powdered milk with the toxin than it is to produce it without it. HOW FUCKING SICK IS THAT?! And don't get me going about battery farming, listeria, avian flu, etc. We're in a real mess if you ask me. So rebel. Eat organically and locally.

Following with my culinary acts of defiance, I've purchased an organic dumpling squash from my friends at Amarosia Organic Farm. They said that it was really sweet and delicious. So what I did was slice the squash in half, smear it with olive oil and apple butter which was already spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Had it not been, I would have gone with cardammom.

As I baked the the squash I fried up some locally raised t-bones in my cast iron skillet. I finished them off in the oven along with the squash. The problem was that my t-bones were well done before my squash was fully cooked. The meat was still very tender - which is one of the reasons I really love buying my meat from this local farmer - but the squash was pasty. If I'd mashed the squash it would have been better but seeing as my timing was already off and the t-bones were cooling down quickly I had to just eat the squash this way. 350 degrees for 45 minutes wasn't enough. Oh well, there's always another time. Hell, there surely are enough pumpkins and squashes at the market in this season to permit trial and error.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moncton's Asian Garden Indian Restaurant

We went out on Friday night for dinner and a movie. Since our discovery of Zen Garden here in Moncton as well as Saigon Thai and other asian restaurants, we've fallen in love with all things truly asian. Though for some reason I don't automatically assume Indian food when I think of the words asian garden (undoubtably due to some ignorant Western and back-of-the-woods part of me) I can't say that I was dissapointed. We had a fantastic meal at this small restaurant.

We were greated and seated by a very enthousiastic and very outgoing little girl. I convinced her to fetch the waitress when she tried to convince me that she could take my order without writting it down. I'm in the restaurant industry. Can't pull the wool over my eyes.

I had a Kingfisher beer from India (nothing special here) and my girlfriend had a really delicious smoothie like mango drink. We opted for a very generous 3 course meal option which gave you an appetizer, two veg entrees, one non-veg entree, some naan bread, basmati rice, a desert, and an option of chai tea or coffee.

We started with some veggie pakoras which were good. They were what you would expect from pakoras but still very good. The highlight of our meal came at the entree.

Now I love having a variety of things on the table and you can pick a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The Asian Garden definitely delivers on this point. We had fresh hot naan bread (which is equally delicious if not better than fresh tortillas), fluffy basmati rice, a mildly spicy lamb dish, a flavourfull chickpea dish and a sweet pea dish with chunks of cheese (or tofu?). I didn't write the names of the dishes down but I can tell you that they were all very very delicious. They exploded with flavour and made me and my girlfriend exclaim the number one compliment we can make to a restaurant. That is, "I wish we could make this at home!"

Finally, we were served home made saffron scented ice cream with chai tea. My ice cream was mango flavoured and my girlfriend's was pistachio. They were both equally good. And though the chai tea wasn't a total knock out, it was a very nice finish to a very pleasant and tasty meal.

I definitely recommend paying a visit to the Asian Garden on Killam Drive in Moncton.

Shrimp and Shiso Wraps

Based on our success with summer rolls ( and our growing love for asian food, we decided we'd throw some ingredients together in a wrap, make the sweet and spicy sauce for dipping and call ourselves geniuses. It was a couragous attempt. But we came a bit short.

Given that we had a big bag of shiso sitting in the fridge, I though we'd go all asian and buy some various asian produce at the farmer's market. We found some nice knobbly organic daikon radishes, some earthy beets, organic purple shelled Italian beans (delicious raw even though they're obviously not asian), and enoki mushrooms, beans sprouts, chopped peanuts, vermicelli rice noodles and shrimp from the supermarket.

We then simply wetted some rice papers (careful, they're fragile), places all of the ingredients on them with the shiso placed so that it would show through the rice paper, and rolled. Though good, these rolls weren't great. The shiso was a bit overpowering. But most of all, the rolls just didn't have any wow factor. At least they were healthy.

Ground Cherries, Wonderberries, and Shiso

There are three things that are really cool with the above selection of produce: 1) they're all organically grown; 2) they each taste really unique and delicious; and 3) I PICKED THEM MYSELF!

I know the majority of the "civilized" world would not get excited about picking their own produce but I, for one, think it's fantastic. Here I was, back at the organic farm, volunteering my time in exchange for a bit of an education in gardening/organic farming, and I was put to work weeding the spinach beds I'd passed through last week. Although it was fun uncovering the poor little spinach from it's weedy invaders, I was happy when Rowena asked me to come with her to pick some berries.

I started crouched beside some ground cherry plants, trying to find the yellow skinned ones that had either fallen off the plant or easily seperated from it. This plant is quite difficult to manoeuvre around since it groes low to the ground and has long chunky branches which are reminiscent of rhubard. But leafy-er and growing fruit and not red.

Seeing as I was a bit too slow, Rowena traded places with me and I jumped onto the wonderberries. Although they're a berry by name, these little delights are related to the tomato family (if I listened properly). They tasted fruity but you couldn't miss the tomato resemblance. They were, deep down, quite similar in flavour to the ground cherries only that these were slightly more pineappley.

Finally, I was put to work prunning the shiso plants. Now shiso, according to my research, is the same thing as perilla which is part of the mint family. The resemblance to mint is unmistakable. These little leaves, in addition to being beautifully two toned, are quite pungent. Though they are a bit, shall I say, grassy-er than their minty relatives. And they're apparently used in Chinese medicine to stimulate the immune system. So plant a bush in your front yard today. No one would know that your front yard is edible.

Pickled Kobalsa

My girlfriend has fond memories of this concoction. Back home, pickled weiners and pickled eggs are quite popular. They probably are elsewhere as well but I don't know about elsewhere. All I know is that pickled kolbasa would be something you would find in the fridges of the people back home. And with good reason.

Making this is simple. We bought our kolbasa from a German deli counter at the farmer's market and then simply chopped the pungent cured meat sausage in chunks. You top it with a generous amount of onions (as you can see in the above photo) and pour white vinegar over it. You may want to dilute the vinegar with water but that's completely up to you.

All you do now is let the kolbasa and onions steep in the fridge for about 3 days and enjoy. I imagine you could can this if the vinegar were hot but why wait.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pepper Steak

I had a recipe for pepper steak in Gastropub Classics but I basically just used it as a guideline and as a confirmation that I knew what I was doing. The reason I had a pretty good idea what I was doing was that I'd bought some green peppercorns in brine at the Italian deli I'd visited in Ottawa. Who could have passed up such an opportunity?

My memories of pepper steak involve my father's charred pieces of beef doused with a sauce reconstituted from a package. The idea of a cream and peppercorn sauce isn't something that's really difficult. I knew I'd be using cream, the beautiful little green peppercorns and some dijon mustard probably with whatever else I felt like putting in on the spot. The only thing I added due to my inspiration from Gastropub Classics was some vermouth (she recommended white wine and chicken stock but I only had vermouth) and garlic.

We bought the steak at the market so it doesn't cook the same as a supermarket steak. The meat turns out to be more of a pale colour than the brown of other beef. I don't know if that's a good thing but his meat is always tender no matter how long I forget it in the cast iron frying pan. Plus I've got Gordon Ramsay's steak doneness trick down pat: 1) your cheek is rare; 2) pushing up on your chin is medium; and 3) your forehead is well done. Pocking my steak as many times as I can helps me determine what this is supposed to mean. I'm actually getting good at cooking my steaks properly.

Pasta Lunch Delivery

I love being back in my kitchen. I've cooked 3 meals today. Market bought bacon, free range eggs, and multigrain bread toast with hot red pepper jelly (sweet and spicy...yumm) in the morning. For lunch, I was kindly asked by my girlfriend if I'd meet her at university to have lunch. It meant that I had to go early to school. But at least it gave me an excuse to cook something for lunch. I would probably just have eaten a Pop Tart if I was the only one to feed.

This dish was basically just a fridge emptying entreprise. Half a zuchinni, six or so tomatoes from a crate we'd purchased and have been eating away at for the last week, on onion, a good dollop of pesto, lots of pequin chili flakes, the rest of a bag of penne and the really tasty left over crumbling salami. I simply cooked the penne while I cut up the veggies. I then used the same pot to cook the veggies. I should have used some of the pasta water but it was down the drain before I could think about it. Anyways, I added the salami last, put the dish in 2 portable containers, took a picture and met my girlfriend for lunch. She was happy that I'd made something as opposed to just bringing her something like cold Pop Tarts. What the hell is up with Pop Tarts anyways?

Monday, September 8, 2008

I'm a celebrity!

So I'm sitting at home, fresh off my trip to Ontario and I suddenly pick up the phone, call the phone number I found on the internet for Amarosia Organic Garden and ask if I can volunteer for a day. They say yes, of course, and the next morning at 7AM, I arrive at the farm ready to see the nitty gritty part of organic farming. Hell I'd seen them enough times at their booth at the farmer's market, might as well see what they actually do in a day.

Rowena welcomed me and then promptly put me to work resetting some row covers that had blown off some lettuce. I then used the hoe you see above to weed out a bed where some spinach was trying to survive amongst the weeds. I just hope I got more weed than spinach. We'll see if they show up at the market in a few weeks. The rest of the day was spent washing and bagging lettuce to prepare for the market the next day. I also had a really good time working and talking with Serge who, he informed me, was working in agriculture out of interest. The guy has a degree in commerce but chooses to work in agriculture. Gives me something to think about. Especially seeing as I'm entering my first year of a commerce degree. Oh the irony!

Anyways, the highlight of my day was at lunch time. Now it's no secret that I love food but my host, Rowena, didn't know that. I was just some weird kid who wanted to work on the farm for a day. But I was really happy when we all sat down in the shade under some trees with a bowl of some tuna, tomato and cucumber mixture, a generous portion of olive loaf (I noticed that she gave me the biggest piece of the three), and some really good olive oil for dipping the bread. Everything was really delicious and was even nicer when shared under the shade after a full morning's work being harassed by mosquitoes and talking of sustainability and other such subjects.

So we're sitting there talking and I mention that I write a food blog. Rowena then says something like "Are you that spoon guy?". I say yes, wondering how the hell she knows about my blog...we both assume that nobody reads our blogs (her's is at the following address by the way Turns out she'd wanted to invite me to the farm. Well there I was so it's a small world after all. Even on the internet. Maybe my anonymity has been compromised but who cares. I'll be back at the farm soon. Maybe on Wednesday morning. Like I told Rowena, I'll keep going back till I've dispelled any romantic notions I had about farming in general. If they never dispell well then maybe I'll be onto something. But we'll see.

Mostly Market and Organic Dégustation

The return to New Brunswick spells two thing: the return to the farmer's market and my own kitchen. It's always a bitch to be in someone else's ill equiped kitchen, where you don't even know in what drawer the spatulas are. On est bien chez sois.

This dégustation featured fresh salami, Champignon brie with green peppercorns (absolutely delicious and creamy and mild), Oka (a Canadian cheese with a quite bitter taste), a stilton blue, and a garlic and chive English cheese whose name I forget...something about monks or mountains?

The olive loaf you see on the side there is from a wonderful German woman's bakery. It's soft, fun to tear as opposed to slice, and absolutely exquisite when dipped in olive oil (my girlfriend said that the olives in the bread put the olive back into the olive oil and that the olive oil put the oil back into the olives...if that makes any sense to you). I got the idea from my day at Amarosia Organic Garden where I was fed this wonderful bread. Exposure to great food through sharing. But more on that later.

The other part of our little finger food meal was comprised of vegetables and fruit from the previously mentioned farm. The whitish-yellowish thing you see right in front that looks like the quarter of an apple is actually a cucumber! Lemon cucumbers to be precise. They were fresh, crunchy and something I could see in a ploughman's lunch. Really cool vegetable. How many times have you seen the word cool used to describe vegetables, eh?

The little orange tomatoes were soft, burst in your mouth and had a really sweet taste almost reminiscent of cantaloupe. All organic so you don't get that unshakeable pesticide taste. At the far back we also had organic Galia melon. It looks like a cantaloupe but a tad smaller, with green flesh and not as sweet. Really nice.

The un-organic part was comprised of dull avocado and some ripe pears. Nothing exciting there.

I'd like to take a moment to advocate this sort of meal. Since it's all finger food placed in the middle of the table, it accomplishes three things: 1) It encourages us to take our time to eat. A bit of this. A bit of that. And here on the Western part of our blue planet we tend to have a problem with eating too quickly. So this makes it easy. And fun; 2) Having a bit of everything satisfies the picky people sharing your table since if they don't like such and such an item, they don't have to eat it. More for you; 3) Like a fondu, I find this is a very social way of eating. We're all sharing from the same plate, just ripping away at some bread, taking time to talk about the wonderful things we're eating and generally having a good time centralized on food. It's something a TV can't accomplish. Whoever heard of quality family time spent in front of a TV? Plus you don't have to take the time to cook it or make individual plates so it's really not labour intensive. Just slice and throw it on a plate.

Screw fondus! Have a dégustation with your family tonight!

Creole Dijon Pork Loin and Grilled Peaches

When we were living in Ontario, my girlfriend had fallen in love with a bottled sauce manufactured by Renee's Gourmet. I don't know if their sauces are available outside of Canada but I do know that the Creole Dijon sauce she was so crazy about is not available in New Brunswick. So two bottles of the stuff followed us back into New Brunswick.

To our utter dissapointment, the sauce tasted nothing like we remembered it. Think sweet but with a dijon tang and a balance of creole spices all getting gooey on a barbecued pork tenderloing - which is a wonderful vehicle for sticky and tasty sauces by the way. This sauce tasted like, well, like it came from a bottle. A bottle that came from some manufactury. Maybe I'm too spoiled now but I don't particularly care. Whether it's massed produced or only made for home, it's got to be good or it's not worth the effort. Sorry Renee. But I'll make it myself next time.

The saving grace of our barbecue were the grilled veggies. This is nothing new. I've made it and written about it before. But I've got some techniques now. The mushrooms go on first, gill side down. They've got to be almost completely dehydrated so that they become chewy and really concentrated in their flavour. The zuchinni, on the other hand, musn't be cooked for too long or it get's all limp and watery. It needs to retain it's crunch so it goes on last.

The really cool thing was that in between the mushrooms and the zuchinni I grilled some fresh halved peaches. My girlfriend, like so many other times, looked at me like I was crazy but the end justified the means...or the madness. Grilled fruit is great. Watermelon. Peaches. Lemons. Pineapple. Whatever. It's all great. And it compensates for the icky junk sauce you might buy to slather on your tenderloin.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trip Back Home 2008

For the last 3 weeks in August we travelled back home - New Brunswick to Ontario and all over - in order to visit family. But being the gourmand that I am, I couldn't help but organise the trip around food as well. So we had a whole whack of places we had to stop. 6000 kms later, I'd eaten through alot of culture. Here goes...

Ottawa Area

My father lives in the Ottawa area and though I've never lived there very long, I still have a few food hotspots to check out every time I go there. The first of these hotspots is Rami's Pizzeria in Rockland. They have an OPP salad there which is to die for (OPP stand for Ontario Provincial Police...yeah my dad's a cop...and if he's a pif than I'm a piglet...I know). It's lettuce with crispy pita chips, tomatoes, red onions, a vinaigrette I haven't gotten the recipe for and what they call garlic sauce. I figured it out this time that they're "garlic sauce" is actually just aioli, garlic mayonaise. It's a great salad from a great little place. Those Lebanese have got a good thing going in the Ottawa area. Their food is great. Maybe Lebanon is the new Italy, culinarily speaking? Who knows...

The second hotspot in the Ottawa area finds itself in the very small town of Navan which is basically just a block around an intersection in the middle of vast stretches of field, the standing sentinals of Ottawa's disgusting urban sprawl. City planning angst aside, Navan is home to Chilly Chiles ( This ingenious little store started from an online venture of selling hot sauce to fuel the hotsauce addiction of its owner. Now, Chilly Chiles has a little store full of hot sauces, salsas, dried chilies, chili paraphernalia, barbecue sauces and other spicy things. To say that I have to hold myself back when I go in there is an understatement. I could go bankrupt in that place. I mean there are hot sauces that you have to sign a waiver before you can buy it. Now that's hot!!!

I've included a picture of the chosen hot sauces. I might give a further break down of them in later postings but for now the picture will have to do. I've also included other picture of my loot which includes Mexican chocolate.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican chocolate, you need to climb out from under your rock. It's this great little puck of quality dark chocolate, sugar, ground almond, cinnamon to which you add heated milk and dark ancho chili powder. This is really good. There might be better versions of Mexican chocolate than Ibarra's but that's what I got. If you know of a better product, please don't be shy. Who's your dealer man?

Here's a picture of the prepare hot chocolate in handmade pottery cups my mother-in-law brought us from Jasper on their Western Canada trip. We got so much free stuff by visiting family it's not even funny. We even inherited an apparently really good surround sound system. Let others buy it new. Second hand is twice as cheap. Especially when it's free. :)

Another Ottawa place we went to was the Courtyard Restaurant on the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa ( Needless to say, we weren't paying. I enjoyed foie gras for the first time...complete with house-made "Nutella", roasted cherries, and profiteroles. I have to agree with a description I'd previously heard about foie gras that it tastes like meaty butter. The "Nutella" was a bit bland but the presentation and general taste was good. My girlfriend, and half the table, thoroughly enjoyed a cold lobster vichyssoise sitting around a ball of ice cream with a salad of East Coast lobster and watercress. They seemed to really be enjoying their appetizer while I crushed foie gras against my palette trying to really taste the foie gras. Who knows when I'll be eating it again.

For a main course, my father and I had the Kanata elk ranch striploin sous vide, Ciel de Charlevoix Quebec Blue which was undoubtedly the best blue cheese I've ever tasted (move over Roquefort), quinoa which were another great little thing, braised utility greens, and truffle jus. I really like the taste of elk. It's gammy but not dry like bison. Really a great dish. Quality that my money can't buy...especially not in restaurants. This meal was really appreciated though. Hey, it's hard to not enjoy gourmet food when it doesn't happen very often and when it's shared with family.

A final hotspot in Ottawa I visited was this great Italian deli on Bank Street. The goal was to go to Arbour Environmental, a store that has a whole selection of environmental products from composting toilets and biodegradable baby diapers to biodegradable cleaning products and environmentally focused books. I bought 1) Solar Water Heating by Bob Ramlow which is a great little book which really goes in depth about how to heat water for free and 2) The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook by Richard Heinberg which is a good general book that explains how one should prepare for the innevitable day where we will no longer have access to cheap and plentiful oil. I haven't tried any of the recipes but that will come with time.

While on Bank Street, we stumbled into Lost Marbles (a quirky toy store), Sugar Mountain (a candy heavan where we stocked up on super sour candy for my girlfriend) and the previously mentioned Italian deli. The place was full of quality canned goods, super expensive olive oils (which I had to hold back from buying), fresh deli meats and cheeses, fleur de sel, eggs, coffee, gelato and the piece de resistance olives! All sorts of olives I'd never seen before. Cured olives, fermented olives, bright green olives, regular kalamata olives in oil and on and on. I had to settle on a mixture of fermented black olives, and two other varieties which I can't remember. All I can say is that they were a real treat at my aunts place. Roast beef, cheddar cheese and olives. Can't go wrong with that. Plus I scored some giardiniera and green peppercorns in brine...more on that in a soon to come post.

Oh and by the way, I'd also go bankrupt being close to such sources of delicious food. It's all over in Ottawa. I haven't even gone close to Chinatown yet. And I also got an $80 parking ticket to put a damper on all the fun I was having. Damn meter maids! Ruining perfectly good afternoons.

Ottawa to Kapuskasing

On the 12 hour drive from Ottawa to Kapuskasing I had 2 stops to make. The first was in Earlton at the location of where the Earlton Zoo used to be.

What I didn't know about this place but should have assumed from the giant statue of a bison standing beside the highway during all those trips when I was a kid is that there's a bison ranch here. My parents aren't food people so such a thing would not have really interested them. But now that I know and now that the wonderful people of the former Earlton Zoo have started a small store I will definitely stop every time I drive by.

In the store they had their own bison meat (of which we bought jerky), local elk meat (of which we bought jerky), flour from a local mill (which is great...these seem to be popping up all over the place lately...vive la revolution culinaire!), and all sorts of other regional food products. We also bought pickled quail eggs here. They're really cute and tiny. Taste pretty much like chicken eggs but so much tinier. And tiny is cute where food is concerned.

The second stop on the trip was Kenogami Bridge Inn. My girlfriend had worked on a geological mapping research project there a few years ago and we'd spent the better part of a summer in this little cottage village by the highway. Food-wise, the inn had a little restaurant where they had great wings and Kenogami chips. These are basically just chips like you would find in those grease bags but fresh. And they also had another thing that I love about Northern Ontario...REAL FRIES!!! If you'll permit a little rant here, what the fuck is up with frozen fries?!!! They taste like shit - that grosse grainy texture they get - and are now being served everywhere. I understand that they'll be in chain restaurants. Those bastards make no effort and take up three quarters of the market because of marketing ploys. But all of the other guys. I mean it's a fucking potato! You don't even have to peel it! They sell these really cool machines where you go whack! and voila! you've got fries. Blanch and fry. Easy. Throw away the frozen crap. Real fries should be everywhere.

Kapuskasing a.k.a. Kap

Kap is my hometown. It's where I grew up. It's where my heart is if you want to be sentimental. It might be a crappy dying lumber town to those driving through but Kap is a really beautiful town. And if you know where to go, Kap is a food paradise.

Number on is my grandmother's house. We didn't have time to make any of her traditional French Canadian food but she did treat us to a great steak dinner. No one can cook a skillet steak like she can or so the story goes. Next year I told here we're going to be making ragout (pig trotter stew), six-pates (wild meat with dough), and creton (a pork meat paté). So I guess I'll have to wait till next year to finish this section.

Our must see places in Kap start with Thong La's Restaurant. Unlike other Chinese-Canadian food, I grew up on this stuff, with the children of the owners, and so it's the unchallenged best. Sure they'll give you toast with your meal if you want but that's just some Kap thing. I always take the Szechuan beef. It's a spicy mix of beef, vegetables, an oyster sauce based sauce and grilled noodles. It's something I could probably make at home but I can never make it like Sam, Tan or Gung makes it for me at Thong La's.

Our second place in Kap is Great Northern Pizza. If Thong La's is the unchallenged champion of Chinese-Canadian food, Great Northern Pizza is the unchallenged champion of Canadian style pizza anywhere. What do I mean by Canadian style pizza? It's heavy and a real belly stuffer meal. Not some flimsy waffer with a millimetre of toppings on it (pardon my betrayal Italian pizza). My favourite is the wango tango. I loved this as a kid because of the name - I mean, how cool does wango tango sound when you're 10 - and because it's got a bit of a kick. Well it used to have a kick. Now I even find Tabasco sauce to be sort of bland. Damn endurance. Anywho, the wango tango is pepperoni, ham, salami, bacon, ground beef, green peppers, mushrooms, and hot banana peppers pilled high with mozzarella and tomato on a crispy bottomed and just-thick-enough pizza. Sure it's full of way too many proteins. But it's good. Pizza is not about toppings. It's about texture. And Great Northern Pizza has got it down pat.

Another favourite of mine at Great's is their panzorottos. I simply take mine with pepperoni, mozzarella and sauce. But it's so good. The crust is like warm, fresh bread and the inside are all hot and gooey. I'm pretty sure they deepfry it but this is like Santa Claus for me only comes but once a year. So I think my arteries can take it. For now.

Yet another great place to eat in Kap is at my father in law's. His wife is from Hermosillo in Mexico so when she makes Mexican food, it's authentic. Plus the setting is really different cause my father in law works for the lumber company in the bush so he's always at least a hundred kilometers in no man's land with his trailer and three bear dogs (who actually fight with and chase away black bears...though little fuckers they are). His wife accompanies him some times and she did when we were there. So here we all are, in a trailer, in the middle of the bush (by the way middle of the bush in Kap means that if there are only gravel roads leading to a town an hour away so it's real bush), fishing walleye and eating Mexican food. Weird mix, I know. But cool nonetheless.

We ate tortillas with pork soaking in achiote and orange juice, Mexican rice, salsa verde, avocado, refried beans, and freshly made tortillas. I've already went on long enough about fresh tortillas so suffice it to say that I was in heaven. If only I didn't have to keep my hot sauces refrigerated for 2 weeks while we traveled if I opened them, I'd have been burning my tongue with glee. But it was delicious even without a huge kick.

We were also prepared some huevos rancheros one morning. Basically, my step-mother-in-law fried tortillas, prepared fresh salsa, soacked the tortillas in the salsa for a bit, topped them with eggs, refried beans, and the salsa. Now that's a breakfast.

Oh and it turns out that I can eat as spicy as a Mexican. My step-mother-in-law's friend joined us one day with her husband (who was hunting bear with his son) and they took out El Yucateco hot sauce while we ate yet another Mexican feast and they were crying "Ah! Es muy picante!" while I wolfed the stuff down. Ha! Bring the tequila. We're having a fiesta.

Sudbury and Manitoulin Island

Another destination on our map was Sudbury where my mom lives. Though we lived in Sudbury for 4 years, there was really only 1 place we absolutely had to go. That place is Herc's Greek Eatery on Notre Dame.

You'll find the expected here but like pizza, greek food is something that alot of people make but which few people make well. The friendly people at Herc's make Greek food well. Though we lost the photos, I had a pork souvlaki which was beautifully marinated and grilled, wrapped in a soft pita with tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. It sat upon some rice, marinated lemony potatoes, and greek salad which has a really great dressing. Simple. Everyday. But they make it really well. And that's the key isn't it.

From Sudbury we travelled to my mother's camp on Manitoulin Island. Though this popular vacation spot is known for many things, it's the ice cream that I long for. Farquar's ice cream is made from real cream with none of the nasty stuff they make in watery ice creams we find in supermarkets. My favourite is peanut butter flavour that has nice big chuncks of peanut butter through the best chocolate ice cream ever. And the best place to get this creamy delicacy is not on the island but at a trading post which is on the Trans Canada highway just before you turn for Espanola beside the Tim Horton's (like that helps...;). They make their own waffled cones and drop a bit of their homemade fudge in the tip of the cone. Plus they really aren't shy about loading the cones with something like 2 pounds of ice cream. It's great.


Well that's it for the most part. I've left some out, like my meal at Highlander's Pub in Ottawa where I sampled locally microbrewed beer with really delicious bangers and mash or the cholate shop in Kagawong on Manitoulin where they made the absolute best handmade chocolates and where I bought chocolate covered espresso beans which I then fed to my little brother before we left (heehee), but there will be other posts and other trips. All that I know is that this trip not only proved that my neck of the woods has it's worth but that family is crucial to having a nice life. You can have a life of riches or a life of adventure but family connects you to something. Especially when they're still, for the most part, in your hometown. There's a reason why they have all of those cheasy sayings about family and home. Repeating advice and sayings tend to have a very large grain of truth. That's why they persist. Nuff said.

Panko Shrimp with Pineapple Cream Sauce

My girlfriend loves shrimp. She also loves them breaded with coconut and dipped in a sweet sauce. Plus this gave me a great excuse to buy some panko bread crumbs that I found at my neighbourhood natural food store. You know you've heard of this stuff. All the chef's on TV are always yapping on about panko this and panko that. They're basically Japanese style bread crumbs made with no crust. They're crustless. And delicious when used for frying.

We basically just created a breading station (flour, eggwash, panko breadcrumbs) and then fried the shrimp till curly and crispy. The restaurants where I've eaten this have used coconut flakes for the breading. It would work. Would probably be better even. Especially considering the ingredients of the dipping sauce.

For the sauce, we tried thickening cream with orange juice but it doesn't work as well as lemon juice (the lemon reacts with the cream to thicken it). Anyways, we added crushed pineapples and a bit of sugar to the unthickened cream. It made a nice, relatively light dipping sauce for the hot and crispy shrimp. Not the healthiest stuff but better than any meal-in-a-box. Maple Leaf Listeria monocytogenes contaminated food anybody?

Tomato and Basil Sandwich

Seeing as we were rolling into tomato and basil at the time where I made this sandwich (about a month ago), the making of this was not that inspired. But it's cooking within the season. Which is good. Tomatoes in February taste like crap. Tomatoes right now, and especially organic tomatoes, taste like tomatoes should taste. Not like water and fertilizers.

Anyways, there's nothing magical about his sandwich, just tomatoes, basil, mayonaise, unbleached multigrain bread, and onion sprouts which are the king of sprouts in my opinion. Way better than that rabbit food alfalfa. The real beauty of this sandwich is in the dehydration by osmosis of the tomatoes. I've said it before but let me say it again: tomatoes which have been drained of a bit of their water content are better. Just slice, spread in a colander, salt and let sit. They concentrate their flavour by losing some of their water. Genius, non?

Here's a photo of the amount of water you can extract from just one or two tomatoes. Enough to make a tomato and basil sandwhich basically. This is about 3 tablespoons!

Popcorn, the right and easy way

I haven't done any research but I'm sure that a simple web browsing will reveal a million things that are wrong with microwave popcorn. Hell! Just using the microwave apparently alters your food on the cellular level. So I don't own a microwave. I use a toaster-oven now. And my stove of course.

Anyways, popcorn is really easy and fun. Just melt enough oil or mixture of oil and butter in the bottom of a pot, sprinkle one layer of popcorn in the bottom, heat, shake it up, and let it pop. Even if you cover this stuff with a pound of melted butter, it would probably be healthier than whatever is in those microwave bags. Think about it a minute; butter at room temperature melts; microwave butter popcorn is not in liquid form; A+B = what the fuck, man!?

Jamie's wife's favorite Saturday afternoon pasta

Yet another recipe from Cook with Jamie, this pasta dish is simple, quick and pretty good. It's not of the same oh-my-god-this-is-the-greatest-thing-ever caliber (see Sticky Finger Lobster) but it was pretty good. Jamie himself admits that he can't see what his wife sees in this dish but she loves it and so, being the good husband that he undoubtedly is, he added it to his cookbook.

As always, I'm not going to give you his exact recipe but I will tell you what the ingredients are. Basically you've got red onion, red chilli, cinnamon, fresh basil, canned tomatoes (or try fresh, they're in season right now up here in the North Hemisphere), canned tuna in olive oil (I bought some lovely line caught, selective fishing tuna which, fingers crossed, might have less mercury in them), penne, lemon zest, olive oil and the pasta cheese of cheeses parmigiano reggiano. Combine as your cook logic dictates and you should be fine. And maybe not providing amounts is actually a good thing. You're not following some Brit's scientific equation. You're actually going at it for yourself...more or less. Anyways, it's worth trying. Really simple and good.

Grilled Pizza Pt. 2

So following my success with the grilled pizza, I figured I'd try my hand at a barbecued panzorotto which you could also call a calzone or really whatever you's basically a stuffed pizza dough. There.

Now the danger with anythint stuffed, as all of you pastry pros will undoubtedly know, is that the crust does not always seal properly. So here I am, standing at my barbecue, trying to figure out how I'm going to flip over this damn thing without having half of its innards drop to the greasy depths of my barbecue. Well I managed somehow to do it. The end product, even with contents intact, wasn't all that great.

You see the beauty about the grilled pizza was that it was grilled and therefore crunchy on 2 sides. This panzo was more like an ordinary pizza but with the dough only half cooked. Not all that great. Stick to what works I guess is the lesson for today children. Stick to what works.