Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op

Just Us! is, simply put, really great. Their coffees are delicious and their ethical basis is certainly worth applauding. I mean their products are from free-trade origins, mostly organic and produced by a co-op which believes in people before profits. How could you not support that?! I really have to dwell on the fact that the people at Just Us! think of everything in regards to their business. On the flipside, there is a local coffee roaster here in Moncton that treated me to a rant when I asked if his coffee was free-trade. He argued that it didn't change the taste so he couldn't really be bothered. That is an extremely short sighted view but, then again, businesses tend to be short sighted and disregard any social responsibility. So that's why I'd rather buy my coffee from the Annapolis Valley rather than from right here in Moncton. Ethics trump locally produced.

We visited the Just Us! factory in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia and found it to be a really nice spot worth the stop. They had the café with a whole selection of coffees and teas that we don't get here in Moncton, a really neat little museum about fair-trade and coffee growing processes which was really nice and showcased the thought that goes behind Just Us! coffee. There's also a large window where you can watch the guys roasting and bagging the coffee. Pretty neat.

Now if I hadn't been on a budjet, I would have bought everything in the store. As it were, I limited myself to buying three varieties of coffee that we don't have in stores here, some organic free-trade sugar and rooibos tea. The first coffee, Rainforest Rhapsody, is a light roast and is therefore light in taste. It's a good coffee for someone who likes a mild coffee but I'm into a bit more body; that's why the Jungle Blend or Rise Again coffees are more along my tastes. They're both rich and earthy, each with their own characteristics. But so far - and here I speak of ALL coffee I've ever tasted in ALL of my years of coffee drinking - the Mocha Java is hands down the best coffee ever! It's full bodied, rich and has strong notes of chocolate with an slight aftertaste of fruit. Really a great coffee. I'm going to do my damndest in the next weeks to get the friendly people at Just Us! to ship the Mocha Java to my local co-op food market from now on.

Norwegian Gjetost Cheese

While driving through the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, we were looking for things to see. We visited the Just Us coffee roasting factory (see next post), a few stores in Wolfville, and Foxhill Cheese House. At first we couldn't get to the cheese factory because a transport had sort of capsized in the ditch. But we went up to the Look Off, couldn't look off because of the fog and then returned back into the valley to find the transport gone. That's when we emerged into the cheese house.

Foxhill makes a bunch of cheeses including some quark (a sort of cream cheese), various havarti, cheddar, gouda, curds and others. To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed by Foxhill's own brand of cheeses. I mean they were ok - certainly better than the crap at the supermarkets- and their curds were fresh, squeeky and what you would expect from quality curds. But their other cheeses were just alright. What really caught my attention were the little samples of brown cheese that they had alongside the samples of their own cheeses.

You can get a full description at http://www.norwegiancheeses.co.uk/ski_queen.htm but suffice it to say that the Norwegian Gjetost cheese is boiled down whey which caramelizes and ends up tasting like a cross between caramel and cheese. It's really unique and really good. They say that you're supposed to eat it thinly sliced on hot toast which I'll really have to try. So far, it's just good on it's own in big slices.

Another product they had at Foxhill was gelato. Now here is where the cheese house shone for us. Their gelato was rich and creamy but light enough so that you don't confuse it with really creamy ice cream. I had pumpkin to celebrate the season which was nicely flavoured, not overpowering like some pumpkin products can sometimes be. My girlfriend had the coconut flavour to celebrate, um, her love of coconuts I guess.

So to recap, Foxhill gelato good, Foxhill cheese ok. Gjetost really, really cool.

Real Sushi at Hamashi Kita in Halifax

We've eaten sushi before but it usually comes from the supermarket and isn't really closely related to raw fish sushi. These tend to be made with vegetables or fake crab. To our delight, a little day trip to Halifax gave us the opportunity to taste real sushi for the first time.

My girlfriend is warming up to raw food and such previously yucky stuff like salmon roe. I even tested her readiness by ordering a unagi maki roll which contains grilled eel. We've never eaten eel before and to tell you the truth, a slimy aquatic snake-like creature doesn't really wet my appetite. But it was good. The fish wasn't really distinct but it was still good.

For our main course, my girlfriend and I shared the assorted maki combination and the assorted sushi combination (the restaurant's full menu is available through http://www.hydrostonemarket.ca/Foodpages/sushi.html or at http://www.hamachihouse.com/). In addition to containing raw red snapper, tuna and salmon, these rolls had some nice crunchy stuff - possibly panko - delicious nori and all sorts of other good things. This was certainly a treat for the foodies in us. But it's even better when you consider how healthy sushi is. And the exquisitely crisp Asahi beer certainly helped alot.

The restaurant itself is nice and small, situated in the quaint Hydrotone Market on Young Street in Halifax. There are a small bunch of really nice locally owned shops that make block stores look like the consumer cattle houses that they are. And peppered through these shops are restaurants (we also visited the Spring Garden Road shopping district which is also really nice and refreshing). Everyone in the stores, even young shop clerks, were kind and helpful which certainly includes our waiter who was helpful, non-intrusive and always right on cue.

All in all, Hamashi Kita has made it into my repertoire of "restaurants I like and will always go back to" or in layman's terms, a 10 out of 10.

Caramelized Pears in Crepes

I find it hard to get up in the morning and only have cereal. I mean, it's cold and so unimaginative. As a response, I often make breakfast. Nice and hot.

For this recipe, I simply caramelized pears in sugar, butter and a hot frying pan. I then prepared my crepes in another pan and stuffed them with the pears. Simple yet delicious.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Maple Syrup, Ancho Chili and Rum Caramelized Salmon

Sugar, spice, booze and arguably the best fish ever to swim in water are a match made in heaven. Or in my kitchen.

There's nothing too complicated about this recipe. I fried salmon in a bit of canola oil, flipped it over then poured in some maple syrup, a generous few pinches of smoky dark ancho chili powder, and a splash of white rum (be careful if you have a gas range...you don't want to flambé your forehead). I then turned the salmon in it, letting the edges caramelize as it cooked, making sure not to overheat the sauce thus causing it to burn. Maybe a bit of garlic would have been a good addition. But this worked nonetheless. Simple and yummy.

Mussel, Wine and Tomato Pasta

We bought these nice (and cheap) mussels at the farmer's market yesterday. We had wine on hand but figured it would be better with something a bit more than just a typical wine and herb sauce. So out came the ingredients. And this time it wasn't me who was experimenting. It was my girlfriend.

She started out by frying up some mushrooms, onions, a shallot and some garlic in a frying pan and then dropping a got glass of local white wine and French vermouth. In another pot (don't ask me why she didn't just use one pot) she put in some organic chicken stock (not the bland Campbell's crap), a can of organic crushed tomatoes and the wine soaked aliums and mushrooms. I then advised her to reduce it by at least half and then add some oregano and thyme that we'd picked up at the market. That and cleaning up was my contribution.

She then cooked up some long macaroni while I cleaned and bearded the mussels. We just dropped the mussels in the now sputtering sauce and stired them once in awhile till they opened up and added even more flavour to the sauce.

Everything turned out to be delicious. With a bit of grated parmesan cheese, this simple plate would put to shame any chain Italian restaurant any day. At least our sauce didn't come out of a plastic bag. Plus we got to work together in the kitchen. Which is not alway the case when I'm in charge. I have a "my kitchen, my rules" sort of attitude that's somewhat out of character. I get real posessive about my kitchen sometimes.

Eton Mess

I rarely make deserts. But with all of the egg whites I had left over from my failed attempts at making pasta (Mr. Oliver wanted a half a dozen egg yolks), a meringue was an obvious and delicious choice. Plus it allowed Mr. Oliver to redeem himself from his result-less pasta recipe.

To start, you have to make the meringue. Now this really isn't difficult. All you have to do is make sure that you whip the egg whites and sugar long enough so that the sugar is completely dissolved. You then have to decide if you prefer a spongy or a chewy meringue. By spongy I mean the stuff you find piled a mile high on top of lemon pie (look at me, I'm a poet). I prefer a chewy meringue so I make a flat meringue or many little meringues. Basically, I'm just trying to increase the amount of crust I'll have.

For the Eton Mess, yet another recipe from Mr. Oliver's Cook with Jamie, you need to bash or mush up the meringue (depending on whether you have a chewy or spongy meringue). You then whip some whipping cream up and mix it with fruit and a small bit of balsamic vinegar. You could put vanilla in your cream or in the meringue as well as alot of other flavours but I didn't have any vanilla and I thought that simple would be best. I wasn't wrong.

For the fruit, I had some yellow prunes, pears and grapes. I don't see why you can't make up your own mix. Mash up half of the fruit in with the balsamic vinegar and leave the other in chunks. Then just mix the fruit, fruit mixture and cream together and layer with the bashed up meringue. It's relatively light as far as deserts go but it's oh so delicious.

Cream, fruit and sugar. There's no way you can go wrong.

Zucchini and Goat Cream Cheese Soup

I got the general outlay of this very simple recipe from Laura Calder's French Food at Home on Food TV here in Canada. She used French "vache qui rit" cheese which is a sort of cream cheese whose name means "the cow who laughs". I didn't want to make a special trip to the supermarket for this cheese (I'm a farmer's market convert) so I bought some goat cream cheese from my local goat cheese purveyors.

Though I used the best products, all organic and/or local, zucchini tends to be bland. And Campbell's organic chicken stock doesn't have much body either. So I guess you can say that it's subtlety was what I should have appreciated. But I like my food to whack me around a bit. None of this soffisticated pallet crap.

Oh and if you do want to try this soup out, it couldn't be easier. Onions, zucchini, chicken stock, goat cheese, salt and pepper. That's it. Purée and top with some paprika. Nothing complicated but nothing really special either.

Applewood Smoked Beef Rib Roast with Creole Sauce

What could be better than sitting outside on a cool autumn day reading and smelling a nice rib roast smoke away? Smoking is a long process but the end result is so worth it. That smoky flavour is like cranking your bbq's flavour up 5000 times. Plus with the sweet, mustardy creole sauce caramelized all over the roast, this beef was truly delicious.

I don't have special equipment for smoking. Just my beef on the top rack on the opposite side of the heat and smoke-box where the wet applewood chips slowly charred. I had a meat thermometre stuck into the beef and pulled it out when it was about medium.

Along with some bbq sweet potato wedges, my first serious foray into smoking went alot better than I could have expected. Long live the versatility of the grill!

My pickles are done! And I haven't died of botulism!

September 23rd was the date my pickles were ready. They turned out pretty much exactly how I expected them to. They were a bit mushy in the middle but hopefully, next time, with kosher or pickling salt and not cutting the pickles they might turn out better. And everything stayed sealed. Next summer, I'm canning soup, tomatoes, and who knows what else.

Pickling. It's not just for grandma anymore!

Ravioli with Minted Peas and Lamb

I know you're asking yourself the question. And yes. It was as good as it sounds.

I basically just cooked some frozen peas in a bit of water with the mint. I then drained these and smothered them in olive oil, letting them sit for a bit with a bit of salt and pepper. In the meantime, I boiled my market bought ravioli and pan fried my tiny lamb chops. Nothing magical here.

The fresh, bright flavours of the mint and peas went perfectly with the rich lamb, tender raviolis and salty parmesan. Like I said, not really anything extraordinarily complicated about this dish. But was it ever good.

Plus it was supposed to be made with homemade pasta but that failed. My dough was as stiff as, well, stiff dough. Jamie Oliver's pasta recipe in Cook with Jamie is as useless as any pasta recipe I've come across before. It's the sort of thing that someone has to show you how to do. And the nice little Italian lady at the market was kind enough to give me a few pointers. Even though I pointed out to her that she's helping train her competition. ;)