Monday, December 27, 2010

A dose of summer after a gluttonous Christmas...

Baby new potatoes, peas, lemon, olive oil, green onions, Italian parsley, mint.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Turkey Pot Pie (Day 5)

I know it looks like I skipped some days, but like I mentioned here, I had dinner plans with a friend on Wednesday. On Thursday, I ate the remainder of the split pea soup.

But last night's dinner was straight out of the freezer, boy! And it was gooood.

This is why after Thanksgiving or Christmas, no matter how sick of turkey or ham (or whatever) you may be, it's really important to make something cool out of the leftovers and freeze them in that prepared state. That way, you're not just reheating random bits and bobs that aren't appealing and don't really have a good place to go. You're reheating a dinner. A dinner that's new and enticing and not exactly the same thing you were eating before.

Last October, after I had eaten my fill of roast turkey, stuffing, gravy and mash, I decided to dice the leftover turkey, mix it with leftover gravy, frozen peas, frozen corn and even the last of the leftover stuffing, then transferred that to a freezer-safe pyrex container. Then I dolloped leftover mashed potatoes over top and smeared it cover the top, like a shepherd's pie. Then I slapped the lid on and froze it. You could also sprinkle with cheese.

Potatoes don't actually have a reputation of freezing very well, but I find if there's enough fat in the mix, they do OK in the freezer especially if after reheating in the oven, you throw the whole thing under the broiler to brown for a few minutes. 

Crispiness fixes everything.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Split Pea Soup with Smoked Sausage (Day 2)

So have I mentioned that I'm a bit of a soup genius? Because – not to toot my own horn or anything – I sort of am.

OK, maybe not a genius, but it's something I enjoy making and playing around with quite often. And I'm pretty good at it. 

Seriously – enter me into the World Soup Championships (and if there are no such championships, we should change that) and just watch. I might not win, but I would definitely get an honourable mention or something.

Take Tuesday's dinner, for example. I knew I had dried split peas in the cupboard, some kielbasa in the fridge, stock in the freezer and some veggies in the fridge. So this is what I did:

I rinsed 2 cups of split peas through a sieve and then simmered them, along with 4 bay leaves, in 2 L of water for an hour.

Then I added 4 cups of chicken stock, 2 large onions, 3 stalks of celery, 3 carrots (all finely chopped), 4 cloves garlic, minced and 4 red potatoes, cubed. Simmered that for 30 min.

Added 1 tsp. of poultry seasoning (it has all the perfect herbs for pea soup already in it!) and about 12 oz of diced smoked sausage. Simmered until the peas and potatoes were falling apart, about another 30 min.

Removed bay leaves. Seasoned very aggressively with salt (I think I used about a tablespoon for that amount of liquid... soup needs a scary amount of salt to taste good) and freshly ground black pepper. Splashed in about a tablespoon of cider vinegar. 

Aaaand... soup!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Day 1

It was while I was trying to cram an accidentally-purchased third bag of peas into my freezer that an idea came to me:

This week, I will not buy any groceries and only cook with what I already have on hand in the fridge or freezer!

Firstly, I'm not really a frozen food person. My freezer is where perfectly good food goes to die. 

But, really, I have loads of prepared food in the freezer, so that alone could/would/should carry me for a month. But rather than just reheat leftovers, I'm going to attempt to bust out my creative skillz with my re-purposed food. Ew, that sounds horrible. Second-hand? Gently-used? I'm going to stop now.

Tonight, I decided to revisit some braised short ribs in tomato sauce that I had leftover from Saturday night. The short ribs, although time-consuming, were dead easy:

  • Brown salted and peppered short ribs in a mixture of olive oil and butter; transfer to plate. 
  • In leftover fat in pan, fry up some mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, celery) until softened. 
  • Deglaze with a 28-oz can of tomatoes (crushed slightly) and 3 cups beef stock. Stir in a small can of tomato paste and minced fresh rosemary.
  • Add ribs and any juices back to pan; bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Thicken with a little beurre manié*, if needed.
  • Season with salt, pepper and a sploosh of balsamic. Done. 

Sorry there's not photo for that part, but you see... this is an afterthought. Just stay with me.

Originally I'd enjoyed these short ribs over smashed potatoes. Enjoyed is probably an understatement, actually. But after two meals of short ribs and potatoes, I was ready for something new. 

So tonight, as night 1 of Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer (in my best "Pigs in Space" voice), I took the leftover saucy ribs, added a package of frozen spinach and reheated until bubbly. I then tossed this mixture with hot cooked kamut penne. 

Why kamut penne, you ask? Because I had some that had been sitting in my cupboard for about 7 months and in the spirit of "use it up", decided to... well, you know.

Also, there was shaved Parm.

Behold! Kamut penne with short rib sugo, spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano. Sounds all restaurant-y doesn't it?

So good! Seriously! I shocked myself! Exclamation point!

Stay tuned for (hopefully) more fridge and freezer fun. Please note that Wednesday night, I'm having dinner out with a friend and will not be eating from my F&F. Don't judge.

*Beurre manié is a mixture of equal parts softened butter and all-purpose flour that can be added to sauces and stews near the end of the cooking process. Sort of like a roux for forgetful people. Not that I'm forgetful, but I'm just sayin'. Just add a little knob of the mixture to the hot sauce and stir until smooth. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to cook out the raw floury taste and fully thicken the sauce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photoless ratatouille

I keep forgetting to take photos when I cook! I know photos aren't required on this thing, but it really does bring the food to life when you do. Whatevs -- you're getting a photoless post. Learn to love it.

Ratatouille. Ah ratatouille! I'm pretty sure the first time I tried you was at my friend Lisa's Bat Mitzvah. I know it was at some sort of Mitzvah and since Lisa's birthday is at the end of September, a stew of late summer veggies being on the menu would make complete sense. Either way, you were very delicious. I was very very lucky to have a successful version of you on my first time around. Especially now that I know how very gross you can be.

I won't get into the details of why ratatouille can be so bad, but you can probably figure it out, especially if you've had the misfortune of eating overcooked zucchini. Which most people have. Which is why most people claim to not really like zucchini.

I, personally, adore zucchini. I think it's fab. It's one of the veggies I aim my fork at first, when approaching a grilled vegetable platter. There's something about both its texture and its ability to soak up flavour. Good good stuff.

You can do ratatouille on top of the stove, or baked. I do it both ways, but do enjoy the convenience of baked, since you can just bung it in the oven and forget about it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Here's how I make a baked ratatouille:

In a saucepan, fry 1/2 lb of diced pancetta in a little olive oil, over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy. (Ok, there was obviously no pancetta in the Bat Mitzvah version, so this step is clearly optional, but highly delicious.) Drain and set aside.

In the fat rendered from the pancetta (or olive oil), fry one large sliced onion and about 8 cloves of thinly sliced garlic over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3 tbsp of tomato paste and 1 tsp of anchovy paste (hello secret ingredient!); cook and stir until the tomato paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and take on some colour, about 3 minutes.

Add about 3 cups of chopped (peeled, if desired) fresh tomatoes. Return the pancetta to the pan and simmer until a sauce forms, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in some dried herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Meanwhile, slice one small head of fennel into paper-thin slices. Slice 2 red peppers and 3 not-too-large zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.

Pour the tomato onion sauce into a large (3 L) casserole dish and spread to cover the bottom. Nestle the fennel, zucchini and pepper slices, overlapping each other, into the casserole. Season the top generously with salt and pepper -- all those water-filled veggies will need it.

Bake, uncovered, in a 375 F oven until the sauce bubbles up around the vegetables and the fennel is tender-crisp, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 5 or 10 minutes (always a good idea with any casserole... just to let things settle). Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil or drizzle with a bit of homemade pesto before serving.

I served this ratatouille with smashed red potatoes and pan-fried chicken scallopini, but it's substantial enough to be a meal, even without the chicken. Mashed potatoes are a perfect side, since they soak up all the lovely vegetable juices.

And here's the part where I'd show you a lovely photo that you'd all make yum-yum noises at.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Temporarily out of service

Hi friends. 'Memba me?

I've been tremendously busy working on an important project and I have to admit... I've gotten a bit lost in it. I'll update as soon as I stop running around like a headless chicken. Which I hope will be relatively soon. Dang it, I miss doing this! I won't promise a post-splosion, but I definitely want to get back to bloggerizing.

And you'll be the first to know when I do.

In other news, my coffee grinder broke, so check out how I ground my coffee beans on Sunday morning:

Is that hardcore, or what? I felt like an ancient Mayan.

Oh and it took forever, so a new coffee grinder is priority one.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The perfect antidote to a fatty trip to New York?

Ripe Ontario tomatoes, grainy mustard, salt and pepper on a freshly baked bagel.

Last brunch in Brooklyn... and some thoughts about trends

You're probably thinking, "Why another brunch? What happened to dinner in between?" Well, the truth is, later that day we went to browse the market:

Try one!

Try another one!

Yum, yum, yum and yum.

... then we went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in Prospect Park and never really ate a proper dinner, so we just ordered pizza when we got in:

And can I just take a moment to linger here? ... 

I would just like to have a little sidebar, actually. And it's not to do with the pizza, which was amazing, by the way. But I do have to say that it feels sort of sacrilegious to be critical of anything to do with New York food. Well, New York anything, really. You know... it being the Mecca of cool and all.

I mean, let's be honest. As a good friend of ours said over dinner last night, seeing an emerging trend in Toronto is always accompanied by a sick feeling that the trend only exists because someone went to New York three years ago and brought it back with them. I expect fried chicken – which was on every single menu, everywhere – will be overtaking Toronto in two to three years. But, that's a whole nother issue, so don't get me started.

New York is looked at as this untouchable place where you're lucky to even be allowed to go there so just consider yourself blessed, shut up and take all the 'tude we dish out... and get the hell out quickly so we can turn your table over... and by the way, your shoes are sooooo two years ago... and aren't you a bit old and fat to be in here? ... and where exactly ARE your skinny jeans? ... and I can't believe you've never heard of macanudo. A feeling I left almost every restaurant with, by the way – mainly from the servers. None of whom, I'm willing to bet, were actually from New York. But hey. That's hipster-ville for you. I'm fine with that part. Par for the course.

But it does feel a bit strange and ballsy (especially for a mild-mannered Canadian) to point out that a trend isn't really working. I'm going to try not to make blanket statements, because we were only there for three and a half days and only went to a handful of places. But I was still left with... a feeling.

Don't get me wrong. Every single thing we ate during our stay was delicious. It was all prepared with lots of thought, care and love. You could tell. The quality was incredible. Nothing was mediocre. 


Everything we ate was absolutely deadly rich. To the point where you'd feel your throat start to close up after a few bites. Everything was just soaked in fat. Which usually, I'm all for! Typically, I'm all about adding ridic amounts of fat. I'm the first one to put butter on something. I could butter a cupcake. But it was just... out of place and frankly, unbalanced. Take our brunch at Roberta's for example.
Soft scrambled eggs, hen of the woods mushrooms and Taleggio with "grilled" bread (which apparently means toast buttered ON BOTH SIDES)

Roasted potatoes with the saltiest, richest pork hash known to man

Buttermilk biscuit with honey butter and would you please look at the amount of honey butter? Just look at it. And most of it is hiding under the "lid" of the biscuit. I assure you – it was enough to choke an ox.

Now, if our trip had fallen anywhere between November and April, this menu would have thrilled me. But during a heat wave in August with the added temperature of the subway rising up out of the concrete like the fires of hell? No. Just... no.

This pork fat/bacon/butter/cream trend is great and everything. And almost every part of me is all "yay!!" In fact, when I first arrived, I was all "yay!!" Any growing evidence of real unrefined food on this continent is very promising. But the time of year and seasonality is arguably THE most important thing to consider when developing a menu. And after a couple of meals of heart-stopping richness, I started to actually feel sick at the thought of eating. Me!

Where is the balance? It feels like the fat-and-meat-friendly trend is outweighing what should be just common sense. Where's the produce?? In the middle of August! I just went to a market just loaded with amazing produce and hardly any of it was anywhere to be found. And when it was to be found, it was to be found in the wrong places and in piddly portions. 

Truthfully, all our other meals in Brooklyn were over-rich and lacking in freshness/coolness, too. Maybe it was the places we were choosing to eat, but it felt like this was going on everywhere. Practically the only fruit and veg at Roberta's was on a pizza, smothered in cheese. And bibb lettuce soaked in dressing and laden with Gorgonzola and walnuts doesn't count. A spot of grilled pear salad with a fried duck egg and mortadella sandwich doesn't count, either. There was one mushroom in my eggs. One. There was about a pound and a half of Taleggio, though.

Come on Roberta's. Come on Brooklyn! You have so much going for you. Passion, youth, a huge market of people, just waiting to try what you have to offer. Keep up the real food and the care for quality. But it doesn't have to be heirloom and grown on your rooftop to make it on the menu. Go buy some vegetables and use them. Stop trying too hard and being overly concerned with trends and start thinking about the fact that it's 8 zillion degrees outside and if I eat one more teaspoon of bacon fat, I'm going to hurl.

I think I need to go back during the winter and eat my words. Hopefully they won't have moved on to fresh salsas and baby lettuces as "the big trend".

Thank you all so much for indulging me in such a long, drawn-out review of my stay in NY. I enjoyed every second of it. Even the near-death of my gall bladder from all the fat. I'm ready to move on now. I promise.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brunch at No. 7

Can I just say that I love appetizers? Not that I really need much in the way of appetizing. I'm usually pretty game to eat. At any time. Really, ever. But still. The idea of eating something that gets you ready for more eating? Yes. And at breakfast? Even yesser. 

Not quite hungry enough for breakfast? Oh here, eat this:

Blueberry-buttermilk doughnuts with citrus glaze

OK, before you say anything, I know this is not a flattering photo. A bit turdy, right? But believe me when I say, this was one of the most delicious things that I've ever eaten that resembled a turd. And I've eaten a lot of things that resembled turds.

Now that my tum was ready for more food, thanks to the appetizer doughnuts, I thought I'd try a little of this:

Moo shoo scrambled eggs with snow peas
First of all, it's rare that anyone gets scrambled eggs right, these days. Well done, No. 7. They were creamy and soft and perfect. Nestled in a crepe with some Asian-flavoured veg and a little house-made prune sauce? Even better. I would eat this again, in a heartbeat.

My friend M and I did sharesies with the moo shoo and this:

House Made Naan with fried tofu, scrambled eggs and cannelini beans
Very very good. And I'm not a tofu person. But the yogurt was the perfect tangy companion to the spices, the savoury beans and the creamy eggs.

The boyfriend had this:

Waffle with smashed berries and malted ginger streusel
The separating of everything into little ramekins was a little strange, but perfect if you're five and don't like things touching. My guy isn't five, but he did put a blueberry in each waffle pocket, which was (as M. was quick to point out) the same thing that the little girl at the next table did.

Great minds think alike.

The streusel part absolutely killed. I could have eaten a truckload of those sweet little cookie nugs.

Oh, can I also say that I love to drink with breakfast?

Lemon Lavender Spritzer

Appetizers and breakfast cocktails... the way of the future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brooklyn, NY: Meal 1

OK, my long weekend in Brooklyn was awesome. My boyfriend and I were there visiting an old friend who moved there several years ago. She's moving back to Canada, soon. So, not only was it appealing to see her cute little face in person again, it was also a bonus to get some cheap New York hook-ups while I still had the opportunity.

A weekend with my friend is always just obscenely fun, no matter what city we're in. She's in food, too (went to Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and has worked at some swank places in NY, mostly in pastry), so if there's anyone who I can nerd-out with, as far as food goes, then she's in my top two, for sure.*

Throw a little New York and a little August into the mix and you get one sweaty, fatty, fun-filled, wine-soaked food frenzy. My poor boyfriend. He just sort of rode out the weekend in a state of stunned silence. I think, based on his body language, that he enjoyed himself, but you can never really be sure with men. Whatever.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and after cramming a deeeelicious Penn Station Auntie Anne soft pretzel into my maw – during which time I spilled yellow mustard all over my suitcase – we took the subway to my friend's apartment.

Once we got there and realized the intensity of the heat that we were about to be living in over the next 3 days, we decided to crack open a couple of bottles of pear cider and spend some time relaxing and talking about what we were going to do for basically every meal of the weekend. I can't remember what brand the pear cider was, but yum. We also ate these things, which were completely awesome:

I also feel like they were healthy because of the seaweed. Yes, let's go with healthy. I need to figure out where I can buy these things. My friend ordered a bunch from Fresh Direct and I rammed my suitcase full of them before we left.

We finally decided to go to a local resto called Marlow and Sons for dinner that night. A quirky little restaurant featuring a tiny menu with lots of words like "local", "heirloom" on it.

Our server told us about the specials and after a brief misunderstanding that I'm pretty sure was caused by a mixture of her American accent, our Canadian ears and a loud, under-lit restaurant where reading lips was nearly impossible, we decided not to order the thing that sounded like "macanudo".

Instead, we got a few different apps and a few different mains.

As is the case with so many restaurants, these days, they completely blew their wad with the apps. The main courses were nice, but nothing outstanding. The dessert was a little disappointing. I think if I ever go there again, I'll just get appetizers.

These shells once contained delicious oysters, but we ate them before I remembered to take a photo. You get the idea.

Amaaaazing salad of mixed beans, crusty croutons, heirloom tomatoes, basil and an anchovy vinaigrette. Could have licked the plate.
This may look like chocolate ice cream, but it was actually chicken liver paté. Fantastic, although their bread to paté ratio was a bit off. Thankfully Macanudo Lady brought us more bread so we didn't have to eat the rest of the paté with a spoon.

 Fried corn. It was swimming in this incredible butter sauce. Again, came dangerously close to licking the plate. I decided on swiping everything else at the table through the sauce before eating it, which was a really good idea. Terrible photo. Like I said, it was dimly lit in there and my friend was really on me about my obnoxious flash photography. Understandably. I hate those people, too.

I think this might have been sea bass. I can't exactly remember because I was pretty drunk on a combination of wine and butter at this point in the evening. It was lovely, but nothing extraordinary.

Berry shortcake with lemon verbena ice cream. Meh. I mean it was OK, but, again, the ratios were all off. Do you see enough berries there? Because I don't. For something called "berry shortcake" with local berries, I was expecting some serious hot berry-on-berry action. Something that really showcases the local seasonal fruit, rather than a big dry biscuit. The ice cream was nice, but there was waaaaay too much of it. But it tasted better than I expected. The lemon verbena was very subtle and not at all citronella candle-ey. 

There's more to come from my fun weekend, so sit tight. Next up: No. 7's brunch!

*Strangely, the other friend in my top two also went to Cordon Bleu. I have a couple of theories about why Cordon Bleu produces fun food companions, the main reason being this: there's something about going to a fancy French chef school that eradicates any hesitation about eating copious amounts of delicious fatty food. Neither of these chicks is a sissy about fat or food. There is no "dressing on the side." There is no "hold the mayo." In fact, we usually end up eating everything on our plates and then start looking at the menu again to see if there's anything we missed. They're hardcore. They love it as much as I do. And I love them.

Post-splosion fail

OK, worst excuse for a post-splosion, ever. I haven't even had a moment to dedicate to this blog since I got back from NY and I'm at a conference all this coming weekend long. Gar!!

I think, rather than try to put everything from NY into one post, which may very nearly kill me, I'm going to dribble it out a bit more slowly. Just to stay sane.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So much to say

I have so many things I want to post about right now! Many delicious things! But it's after midnight! And I'm working all day tomorrow! Followed immediately by a four-day trip to New York! Why am I yelling!

When I get home, it's gonna be on. I'm gonna post on this blog soooo hard. It's going to be post city up in here. Post-o-rama. Especially with all the New Yorkness and what not. It's gonna be a post-splosion.

Until then, adieu.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Flavour bomb: Powdered mushrooms

It's always a bit awkward when a culture has a word to describe something really basic, but for which we, as English speakers, have no word. Example: umami. The Japanese have aptly come up with a word to describe something we all understand, but sound really silly trying to describe in our own language. Meaty? Savoury? Earthy? Brothy? Slow-cooked? Protein-ey? You know when you start adding on the suffix "ey" where it doesn't belong that you have succeeded in sounding like a complete doofus. I should know, since I do it all the time.

We all know that savoury taste... that, for lack of a better word, "meatiness" that is associated with foods high in glutamates, (yes – natural MSG!) such as tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and, of course, meat. It's just that none of us has ever thought to put a word to it until the Japanese came along and did it for us. Well thank you, once again, Japan! You can add this to the list of awesome stuff you've invented, including ramen noodles and ninja stars. You even chose a word that sounds like "Oooh, Mami!", which is just downright appropriate.

Umami is the newest addition to list of basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It might even be my favourite of the basic tastes. I mean come on – mushrooms, tomatoes, slow-cooked meats, cheese? Cheese?! Yeah, it's definitely my favourite taste. It's no wonder MSG is one of the most common food additives, today. Food is more palatable when it includes an umami element, which is probably why MSG, as a chemical additive, is associated with obesity.

The great news is that you can achieve a toned-down, natural, non-chemical version of that MSG taste in many ways. My favourite shortcut way to add savouriness is with mushrooms. Mushrooms are frequently described with those same descriptors that we use for umami: meaty, earthy... all that good stuff. Dried mushrooms are even more intensely flavoured than their fresh counterparts, so you're getting a double whammy of mushrumami by using them. I like to grind dried mushrooms into a powder using a coffee grinder. From there, just sprinkle them into sauces and stews to add an instant and significant depth of flavour.

Another cool way to use mushroom powder is by mixing it, half-and-half, with a good sea salt. Mushroom salt is killer sprinkled over scrambled eggs. Or dust it onto a steak before searing it. Use it wherever you'd like to inject some insta-flavour.

My favourite mushrooms to powder are porcini and shiitake, but you can use any variety of dried mushroom, such as morels, black trumpets, chanterelles, cepes, lobster or a mixture of several different kinds. Just remember, the stronger they taste, the more of a flavour punch they'll pack. If they're not terribly strong-tasting mushrooms, they won't go very far in flavouring something.

For you mushroom haters: the resulting taste after adding powdered mushroom isn't really all that mushroomy. It almost acts like a powdered bouillon. And there is none of that mushroom texture that seems to freak you all out so much. So just suck it up and try it, OK? OK, good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slow-cooker pulled pork PLUS an easy pork sugo!

During the summer, I'm not so into heating up my kitchen, however, I do still crave slow-roasted flavours, even in the heat. Sometimes I turn to my grill so I can roast something over indirect heat (like this delicious pork belly recipe), but generally, I don't grill very often. I don't own a gas grill at the moment and firing up coals is something I don't usually bother with, unless it's a very special occasion.

So what, you may ask, do I do? Well, if the title of this post hasn't already given it away, here's the answer: I use my slow-cooker! It doesn't generate much heat and can roast an inexpensive, less-tender cut of meat to perfection, all while I'm doing other more important things. Like getting a mani/pedi. Or, like, working... or whatever.

One of my favourites is pulled pork. And come on - summertime is the perfect time for pulled pork on a bun, right? I know some people may cringe at the idea of cooking a pork shoulder in a slow-cooker when you could slow-roast it over a fire, but generally, on a weekday, I don't have time for all that nonsense. With the slow-cooker, I can quickly rub it before work (no, not that, you dirty thing!) and throw it in the crockpot and by the time I get home, it's ready to be pulled and sauced.

OK, so I make a quick rub out of the following: two spoonfuls each of sweet paprika, smoked paprika, garlic and onion powder, 1 spoonful each of dried Greek oregano and sea salt and 1 tsp of cayenne powder. 

Then take a skinless, bone-in pork shoulder roast (I either look for a skinless one or I trim the skin off, myself. It won't get crispy in the crockpot, so why bother?) and I rub it with a tiny bit of olive oil, then with the spice rub. Pour about 1/3 cup water in the bottom of your slow-cooker, then plop in the pork roast. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 - 10 hours or until fall-off-the-bone tender.

When it's nice and tender and yields easily to a fork, remove from the cooker, and shred the meat. I use two forks, since it's a bit too hot to do with your hands, at this point. If you come across any huge glops of fat, remove them - they won't have a nice mouth-feel. Plus, the fat has done its job, at this point. It has given its life to keep this roast nice and succulent. It can now be dismissed from class. You can skim the fat from the juices left in the slow-cooker, or you can leave them where they are. Up to you. I won't judge.

Return the shredded pork to the juices in the slow-cooker with some barbecue sauce (preferably home-made – remind me to post about that in the near future) and a touch of water, if necessary, to make a nice saucy mixture. Cover and cook on HIGH for about 20 minutes, just to warm it through and allow the flavours to meld.

Now that, right there, is some yummy pork. That alone is worth trying.

But! It's smart to also pull some of the pork and set it aside before making it all barbecue-ey so you can use it in other non-barbecue-flavoured recipes. Like my easy pork sugo (basically, a pork ragout):

In a saucepan, sauté 10 thinly sliced cloves of garlic in olive oil or butter (or a mixture of the two) until softened, but not browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 small can of tomato paste and  sauté until the tomato paste begins to stick slightly to the bottom of the pan and become brown. This will dramatically sweeten the tomato paste and take away any overly acidic or acrid notes.

Deglaze with 2 oz of white wine (optional). Add 1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, with their juice, 1/2 tsp ground fennel seed, a pinch of cinnamon and 2 cups or so of leftover shredded pork. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes or until thick and heavenly-smelling. Season again, to taste. Toss with some hot, freshly-cooked al dente pasta and generously grate some pecorino romano over the top.


This post has been part of the Two For Tuesday Blog Hop. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Classic Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise sauce is an example of a mother sauce. Meaning it has its own technique that is the basis for many possible variations. It's delicious, as is, but you can also build on it by adding a different acid or herb and get a whole new flavour profile. It is truly one of the quickest sauces, although you do have to mind it for the few minutes it takes to make it. It's also arguably the most delicious way to get lots of butter down your gullet, post-haste.

You'll need:
  • 1/2 cup good-quality unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • A pinch each salt and white pepper

Remove 1 tablespoon of the butter and keep cold. In small saucepan, melt the remaining butter; keep warm and set aside. Technically, Hollandaise is made with clarified butter, but I'm not one for wasting and I don't mind using all parts of the melted butter one bit. Especially if I'm using good-quality butter that isn't full of water and impurities.

In a stainless steel bowl or in the top of a double-boiler (does anyone, except me, under the age of 60 actually have a double boiler anymore?), whisk the egg yolks until pale. Whisk in 1 tbsp. of the lemon juice and the water. Set the bowl or double-boiler top over saucepan of just-simmering water over medium-low heat; whisk until the yolk mixture starts to lightly cling to the whisk, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the reserved cold butter to stop the yolks from cooking.

Off the heat, dribble in the melted butter very slowly, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken to consistency of a nice thick pancake batter. You can thin the sauce with a dribble of water if it's getting very thick. Season with salt, pepper and a little more lemon juice, if needed, for your desired amount of zing.

If you would like to make a Béarnaise sauce, start by bringing 3 tbsp each of tarragon vinegar and water and a finely minced shallot to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce until almost all the liquid is gone. Then continue with your recipe, using that dribble of reduced vinegar (straining out the shallots) in place of the lemon juice. Add a teaspoon of minced fresh tarragon to the finished sauce.

And you know what? Don't stop there... try other acid/herb combinations too, like lime and dill,  white balsamic and basil, or lemon and thyme. Go nuts!

Serve the Hollandaise (or your preferred derivative thereof) with a nice seared steak. Or grilled or poached fish. Or fresh steamed lobster, crab or shrimp. Or, spoon a blanket of it over softly poached eggs. Or smear it all over your body and have some lucky SOB lick it off.

This post is appearing as a part of the Two for Tuesday Blog Hop. There's lotsa great recipes in that thar link. Click it!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hanoi 3 Seasons on Queen St. East

I got together with a friend for dinner last night and we decided to try a Vietnamese restaurant in the east end of Toronto that has gotten some pretty stellar reviews: Hanoi 3 Seasons. We went to the Leslieville location, which is their second location (rather than the original one on Gerard St.), but the menu is identical and apparently, so is the execution of the menu. Plus, they have a patio, which was the clincher. I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine to begin with, so going to a place that has been named the best Vietnamese in Toronto by Now Magazine several years in a row was quite exciting for a geek like me.

We started with the spring rolls and calamari patties. The cha gio (spring rolls) at Hanoi 3 Seasons are just your garden-variety spring roll wrapper, stuffed with a minced pork and taro filling and then deep-fried. They aren't like the traditional cha gio rolls I've had before - they lack that bubbly wrapper that is somehow the perfect hybrid of crunchy and chewy. You know... the kind they have at Saigon Palace. I'm not sure if that's because Hanoi 3 Seasons is a North Vietnamese restaurant and they do their cha gio differently there, or what. But suffice it to say, they aren't the best spring rolls ever.

The calamari patties (which are actually more like nuggets), on the other hand, are very interesting. They have a nice flavour and a meaty texture that isn't at all rubbery... refreshing, considering anything squiddey that you find in restaurants these days is usually about as tender as Indian rubber.

The fresh shrimp rolls are your standard salad rolls and therefore, are completely awesome. Nice crunchy lettuce, fresh mint and fresh coriander and three big plump shrimp, nestled in a tender rice paper wrapper. A generous bowl of very addictive sweet and vinegary dipping sauce garnished with finely shredded carrot and chilies sits alongside it. So simple and perfect for a little patio eating on a hot summer night.

What isn't perfect for a hot summer night, since it made me sweat like I was going through 18 menopauses, all at once, is a big bowl of spicy pho. But I ordered it anyway, because that's how I roll, baby. But seriously, how do Vietnamese people do it? Vietnam is hot, isn't it? Like really hot? Jungle hot? Anyway, I'll move on.

I didn't bother with any of the usual suspects, as far as pho goes. You know... the rare beef, the well-done beef, the chicken with basil and lime leaves, or that weird little tough meatball version – all of which were on the menu. I had a special soup. An amaaaazing soup. Oh. Mama. Chubby rice noodles and big chunks of grilled grouper, rubbed with a flavourful dill and shrimp paste, all floating in a silky, slightly spicy, very dilly broth. Soooo good. So so delicious. This soup is worth the trip down there and I will most definitely be returning to slurp down another bowl, directly.

Overall, the experience was absolutely worth repeating and I definitely plan to go back to taste more of that menu. I'll just be skipping the cha gio.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A healthy relationship

OK, so I just talked about how you can get pork belly in Chinatown, but one of the commenters on that post raised a good point – what if you don't live anywhere near a Chinatown? This gives me an opportunity to talk about a really important relationship in any serious food-lover's life: the relationship between you and your butcher.

If you value good ingredients, do yourself a favour and make friends with the people who sell you your food... your butcher, your greengrocer, your fishmonger, etc. Building good relationships with these people, at the end of the day, is going to get you better quality ingredients at better prices. Plus, you'll probably learn a thing or two about the ingredients in question, which is a great way to add to your arsenal of food knowlege. If you're nice to your butcher, he or she will likely remember you and next thing you know, you're getting the inside scoop on what's come in fresh that day, what's the best cut for the dish you're making, what's the best value for your dollar...etc. A downright treasure trove of information.

What does "make friends" mean? Well, introduce yourself, talk to them, ask questions, smile – if you're the opposite sex, it doesn't hurt to flirt a little (or the same sex if you're getting a gay vibe). Make them feel like you trust their opinion, which you should, considering they're the expert in their field.

Now this doesn't mean you should start wearing cleavage tops and luring the 17-year old boy who works in the meat department of your supermarket into some kind of lurid conversation about pork. Well, OK, you totally should do that... but don't expect to get a useful relationship out of it. When I say "butcher" I mean a proper butcher, in a butcher shop. It's worth going to a specialty store for ingredients if you want quality. Supermarkets have their place, but nothing replaces a shop that is run by people who know their craft.

Now get to flirtin'!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A good place to start? The basics: i.e. scrambled eggs.

I might as well start with the ultimate 101 basic recipe. That's right, it's scrambled egg o'clock! Raise your hand if this is the first thing you were taught to make. Hey, me too!

Properly scrambled eggs are one of the joys of life. Properly scrambled eggs are unlike anything you've ever eaten in a restaurant, unless you've had them in a very very good French restaurant, prepared lovingly by an actual chef. If you did, they probably involved truffles. These are not the kind of eggs you'll find sitting next to a couple of strips of burnt bacon, a side of home fries and dried out, under-buttered toast in a harshly-lit all-night pancake house at 3 am. These eggs are not to be eaten with ketchup. If you do eat them with ketchup, I don't want to know about it. You can keep that little tidbit to yourself.

This is how I make scrambled eggs:

In a bowl, briskly whisk 2 or 3 eggs with a fork, just until you don't see any big areas of unbeaten white. Don't over-whisk, as it will toughen the eggs. Don't add salt at this point, for the same reason.

Be entirely ready to cook the eggs and don't have any distractions. It only takes about 120 seconds, so don't answer the phone or try to do two things at once. Anything less than perfect scrambled eggs are not worth eating, as eggs are cheap and quick. If you screw them up, feed them to your dog and try again.

In a small cast-iron or stainless steel skillet or omelette pan, melt a large pat of good, unsalted butter (or bacon fat) over high heat, just until melted and foamy, but not at all browned. Pour in your eggs.

Now, there are two ways to do this. You can either whisk the eggs in the pan with a fork and keep them moving constantly, just until they are thickened but very soft (not even cooked, really), or you can use one of those nifty silicone spatulas that are heatproof and use it to briskly scrape the bottom of the pan as the eggs cook and thicken into large soft curds. I do the spatula.

When they are still very soft and liquidy, but thickened, throw in another big pat of butter and stir in. Or, if you're a dairy fiend and you feel like something different, you can add a dollop of room-temperature creme fraiche, sour cream, mascarpone, or soft fresh goat cheese at this point.

By this time, the eggs will still be very soft, but forming soft curds and they should be at a point where you should turn them onto a warm plate. They will keep cooking, so don't keep them in the pan too long because you're worried they will be runny! Eggs should never be cooked past soft, unless you're some sort of rubber-loving masochist. Not only does the texture suffer, but the taste does too.

Sprinkle with your favourite salt and a little freshly ground black pepper, if desired.

Oh yes.

If you want to get fancy, you can sprinkle on a few snipped chives or a couple of drops of truffle oil. But seriously, good scrambled eggs are fine, just as is.

If you want a French rolled omelette, it's basically the same method. Only, just after adding the second knob of butter, remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for about 10 or 15 seconds. At this point, you can add some chopped fresh herbs, like thyme or tarragon, if you like, or a few gratings of your favourite cheese. Then, lift the pan and tilt it towards your warmed plate, resting one edge of the pan on the plate. Starting at the top, take a spatula and start folding the omelette over until it rolls out of the pan and onto the plate. Ta-da! Omelette!