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!