Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ultimate or Proper Ceasar Salad

What makes a ceasar salad ultimate or proper? Is it the fact that the recipe came from Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Heaven? Or is it attention to detail, the elements of a dish all fully understood, made from scratch and combined in a way that is more inspired by a recipe rather than being the recipe? I think it's a little of both. Ramsay certainly has more imagination and skill than me when it comes to food.

As you know, ceasar salad is very simple: lettuce (the celebrity chef calling for baby gem lettuces but the resourceful me settling with organic romaine), croutons, some sort of bacon, and dressing. The dressing is really the make or break here. That crap they sell in bottles which overpowers everything is NOT ceasar salad dressing; that's what it says on the bottle but they're lying. Real ceasar salad dressing is garlic to taste, Parmesan cheese, eggs, Dijon mustard, lemon, anchovy fillets or paste, and olive oil. The egg and the olive oil make a sort of mayonnaise while the other elements add most of the flavour.

What the recipe called for afterwards was:
- baby gem lettuces (see note above)
- ciabatta loaf to make croutons (I just used some stale bread I had on hand)
- pancetta thinly sliced and crisped (which I replaced with crisped prosciutto)
- soft-poached eggs (no modifications there)
- fresh anchovy fillets (the canned variety was I don't know if I've ever seen a fresh sardine)
- Parmesan cheese shavings (all out unfortunately)

The only thing I added to the salad was pork which I'd thought would be necessary in order to make this salad a meal; it wasn't.

What I find interesting about salads is their versatility. They're fresh, usually healthy, and when done right they're arguably better than a steak dinner. Unfortunately, proper salad, like proper soup, is something people are no longer used to. We've been accustomed to crap imitations which are just as expensive as the real deal. But I don't feel like going off on a rant tonight. Just know that this salad was good and proper. There.

Homemade Crumpets

As far as I can tell, crumpets aren't really a Canadian thing. Maybe it's because I'm not in the least bit British and so don't have an innate appreciation for all things tea time. Now what I'd tasted before were ready made crumpets in a cellophane wrapper and little cardboard brandishing the Union Jack. I enjoyed these in the morning, toasted and covered in honey which would get into all the little holes and absorbed by the sponge-like texture of the crumpet. Like most things, crumpets are a million times better when made at home.

The recipe I used came from

Though I thought the whole thing would be difficult, it wasn't. To prove that it wasn't difficult, I totally ignored the whole greased crumpet ring thing - going instead with the ever so versatile free form - and I am usually useless as pastries. These crumpets turned out great. They were easy to prepare, easy to cook, had the perfect texture and absorbed the honey I spooned over them.

Now I all need is tea, cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches. Oh and a tea set.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Guillons de canard

What do you get as a bi-product of rendering fat from duck skin? Crispy bits of duck skin. What do you do then? Why you add a bit of duck meat, onion, salt and pepper, put the whole in a terrine mold, bake and eat as you would creton. This invention of my favourite charcutier is smooth textured and has a taste which reminds me of pork rinds though a million times more sophisticated. This is the breakfast of champions and those unafraid of cardiac arrest for sure.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Before my local, organic farmer closed shop for the season, I bought some winter squashes from her. This was back in September. One of the squashes was my beloved sweet dumpling squash. As the name would suggest, this squash is not of the savory sort but could almost qualify as desert if you baked it into a pie or muffins. However, even roasted it's terribly delicious.

The fact that I'm writing this in February about a food item I bought in September is amazing for me. This is what seasonal eating is all about. I can't say I'm the best spokesperson for eating within the season but I'm easing my way into it since I believe that in order to move away from the globalised system of food we currently rely on, it's essential for people to make these sort of changes in their diets. The more people eat local, organic food in season, the more we will support our communities and fight the modern monsters of industrial agriculture, monoculture, pesticide use, homogenization of food and the disastrous impacts that moving all that food has on the environment.

So sweet dumpling squash in winter. Asparagus in the spring. Tomatoes in late summer. It's all very logical.

Gahan House's Honey Brown Ale

On our trip to PEI before the holidays I took the opportunity to purchase some beer from Gahan House, the island's microbrewery. Sir John A's (as in John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister and a key player in the establishment of our 1867 Confederation which just so happened to having been signed in Charlottetown) Honey Wheat Ale is a great example of this sort of beer; light, slightly sweet with a pleasant roasted grain taste. In order to properly test the valour of this beer, I would have to have a taste test with Gahan House taking on Sleeman's variety of the same type of beer. In my opinion, the microbrewery's version should be better than Sleeman's mass produced variety. If it isn't, something's wrong. I'll keep you posted.

John A. in bronze on a bench in Charlottetown. Canada rocks!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Duck Prosciutto

So for Christmas I got something I really, really wanted: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book is all about prosciutto, pancetta, sausage (fresh and dried), bacon, pâtés, smoking, etc. etc. etc. I've already read the whole thing from front to back and have recently purchased my very own manual meat grinder. For my first stab at the fine art of charcuterie, I wanted something simple, something I wouldn't totally mess up and that wouldn't cost me a fortune. When it comes to artisinal food making, I like baby steps. It's like bread. There's a learning curve there and it's no use trying to overrun it.

So I decided to go with something cured. Curing is simply leaving something in salt long enough that some liquid is extracted and the salt penetrates the meat in order to stop any harmful bacteria from forming (or something like that). Above is a photo of duck aiguillettes which is the tenderloin of the magret which is the breast of a duck raised for foie gras. I decided to go with the smaller aiguillettes first because they're cheaper and smaller which means that there's less chance that I'll mess things up. Or so I thought.

My charcutier friend at the market told me that 1 or 2 hours would be fine for curing the meat. However, this being my first venture into the world of charcuteries, I left the aiguillettes in kosher salt for about 4 hours (the recipe in the abovementioned book calls for magrets and 24 hours). After this, I rinsed the aiguillettes and patted them dry. I then wrapped them in cheesecloth and strung them up. Now the ideal location for hanging drying duck meat is a cool (8 to 15 degrees Celcius), humid place. The only part in my apartment that sort of fit the bill is the drafty window in the dining room. So up went the aiguillettes, my roommates looking on and wondering what in the world I was doing...I didn't tell them.

After 4 days, the aiguillettes were hard as a rock. As you can see above, they were done though they weren't the rich, soft texture of prosciutto but rather the chewy texture of jerky. And oh my god were they ever salty. A white crust of salt had coated the exterior of the aiguillettes which I scraped off thus making the duck edible.

Though I did leave the aiguillettes in the salt too long to start with and didn't use a thick enough piece of meat, I now feel confident in moving onto the full magret. Through the salt the rich taste of the duck came shining through. It was really a decent first taste at the potential of my charcuterie skills.

So next stop, real duck prosciutto and then fresh morning sausage with ginger and sage. Oh yeah!

P.S. Michael Ruhlman, the co-author of Charcuterie, maintains a pretty shnazzy blog at Check it out.

Honey Art

local honey + bubbles = pretty

Unpasteurized Milk From My Own Cow

Google it: Ontario farmer not guilty of selling raw milk.

That's right. If you buy a share in a cow - as I've recently done - you technically own the cow. You therefore do not buy milk from the farmer but rather pay for room and board and maintenance of your cow. Not only is this a great way of running a farm (just one of many possible forms of Community Supported Agriculture in which the cooperative community takes the risk instead of just the farmer) it has earned me some raw milk.

I'm not a health expert. All I know is that anything raw is usually better than pasteurized or otherwise heated or cooked. The milk is basically still alive; enzymes, bacteria and all.

If you stumble upon the CBC article of the abovementioned Ontario farmer, you might come across this quote: "health officials and the province's milk marketing board, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, have argued that raw milk isn't fit for widespread distribution". I don't know about this particular farmer but really, wake up people! Widespread distribution of any agricultural product isn't the proper way of doing things. Raising 500 heads of cattle for milk in stressed environments with buzzing machines and no access to the outdoors is far worse than 5 Jersey cows living on a family farm and supplying a small number of community members.

I say fuck industrial agriculture! Support a farmer and your community! It's the only way to undo the destrutive practices of faceless corporations, the relevant ones here (Monsanto et compagnie) who destroy whole ecosystems, have declared all out war on biodiversity and give us crap unsustainable food which relies on a crap unsustainable system. I'm all worked up...


There are two things which I know for certain are wonderful: 1) my girlfriend and 2) pork belly in all it's forms. Though it seems to be something of a fad in the world of haute cuisine for the working man, I simply love trying something new. While at the market with my girlfriend I saw some unsmoked, uncured pork belly in my favourite meat purveyor's fridge. I said, with a giddy smile on my face, "Is that pork belly?" He said yes. I said "I'll take it!"

Pork belly, for the uninitiated, is the cut of pork with which one makes bacon. I first tasted it at Lot 30 (see previous post) and loved it. It's full of fat and oh-my-god deliciousness. In the hands of my girlfriend, it was marinated in soya sauce, rice wine vinegar, lots of brown sugar and garlic. Popped into the a low oven for a few hours, the whole thing became a chewy and sweet treat that's not as fatty as you'd think. In particular, something in the simple marinade and this particular cut of pork tasted authentically Asian. I can't describe it. You'll have to try.

We served it simply with white basmati rice and steamed veggies tossed in a quick soya sauce, a dap of sesame oil and a bit of oyster sauce. If it weren't for the risk of my arteries clogging up, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life and be a very happy man.


Lot 30, Charlottetown and Poached Salmon Niçoise

Just before the holidays, I proposed to my girlfriend. Though it really hasn't changed anything, we are now engaged. I took her to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. For any of my fellow Canadians and even those interested in visiting Canada, you have to visit Charlottetown. Not only did people look at you and say hi when you crossed them in the street, but they smiled! This is a big deal. Charlottetown and PEI in general was full of great, kind people with beautiful scenery. If we weren't moving back to Ontario in the fall, I'd be moving to PEI.

In Charlottetown, we ate at Lot 30 The atmosphere was great, with a television over the bar where you could see a live feed of what was going on in the kitchen's plating table...a great idea! The service was also fantastic though I wouldn't expect anything less from Charlottetown. As for the food, it was good. I particularly liked the fact that we took the tasting menu and they didn't give us a choice of what we wanted; they just said, "Is there anything you don't want?" to which my girlfriend said offal (to my dismay). They then presented us with a five course meal where every dish was a surprise. Though the food was good, I found that at times the dishes were overly complicated by too many sauces. The dishes felt like they were competing against themselves; they felt aggressive and lacked the simplicity which is, in my opinion, what higher class restaurants should strive for. I was unsatisfied. Just not thoroughly impressed.

When we arrived back home, I had prepared a little 3 course meal of my own. As is the case when I cook for myself, I tend to make too much. Therefore, when preparing a 3 course meal, it is not useful to have heaping plates full of food; one dish just ruins it for the others. Well anyways, after a whole day of preparation, my first course rolled out. It was Gordon Ramsay's "poached salmon niçoise with boiled quail's eggs". I decided to skip the egg. Despite this, the result was amazing. I love tiny potatoes in cold salads. I don't know what it is about them that just get to me. This salad was composed of boiled small potatoes, blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes, black olives, thinly sliced shallots, all tossed in a basic vinaigrette (olive oil and white wine vinegar) and topped with salmon poached in fish stock, thyme, basil, lemon, and lemon grass. This salad was simple, elegant and delicious. Next time I'll do the egg. I'm sure it would make things even more delightful.

The following coarse was not so much of a hit. First mistake, the previous salad was really big. Secondly, the beans. The recipe is from Cook with Jamie and called "grilled fillet steak with the creamiest white beans and leeks". Being a purist or slow food dude or some other pompous foodie title I could give myself, I thought of doing things the "right" way and not getting lima beans from a can but rather buying them drying and cooking them the good-old-fashioned-way. I don't think I've ever had any luck with dried beans. They never fully cook. Maybe it's because I'm too used to the texture of canned beans but I guess I'll never know.

Anyways, the recipe goes something like this: sweat leeks, thyme and garlic in olive oil and butter; dump in some wine, bring to a boil, add CAN of lima beans along with some water; simmer; add parsley, crème fraîche and olive oil; meanwhile, grill or pan fry steak to desired doneness; serve with a lemon for squeezing. This is a simple enough recipe with nicely matched flavours. Next time, however, I'll go with the can. My bad.

Finally, to round out what I'd planned to be a delicate yet delicious dinner, I served cooked custard ramekins which the French cookbook calls "petits pots de crème". If you can swing custard, there is nothing simpler and more beautiful in the world. It's light and sweet and rich. Just lovely. Here's the recipe.

Petits pots de crème

410ml (1 and two-third cups) milk
1 vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
1 egg
one-third cup caster (superfine) sugar

1. Preheat oven to 140. Put milk in a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in two lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add the pod and seeds to the milk (or be a cheap cheater and give a little squirt of vanilla extract). Bring the milk just to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, egg and sugar. Strain the boiling milk over the egg mixture and stir well. Skim off the surface to remove any foam.

3. Ladle into one-and-a-half cup ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custards are firm to the touch. Leave the ramekins on a wire rack to cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Catching up

It's been almost 2 months since my last blog entry. The holiday season, the New Year and a whole slew of details of my daily life have gone by un-journaled. I sometimes wonder about those people in the past who wrote about the daily occurances of their lives as if to make sure that if one day they became a world renowned personality, that future scholars would have material. But I guess any form of journal keeping - blogs included - are a narcissistic practice. I would argue that, in general, people care about the day to day occurances of only a handful of other people. The shallow ones care about those of celebrities or themselves. Most care about those of family and friends.

Above is a photo of one of the cookies we made for the holidays. I called them "The Peanut Butter People" and they'd been attacked by the "Peanut Butter Cup Army". Yes, fun times. The other cookies we made were the shortbread cookies out of Cook with Jamie (awesome!), some pecan balls in which we'd spooned jam, and chocolate macaroons which kept oozing Eagle Brand. Also for the holidays, I'd prepared some tourtières (minced pork meat in a pie crust to which I'd added mirepoix and wine - not to the delight of my family's palate). Anywho, that's the holidays. Onwards!