Saturday, September 5, 2015
Once again, I'm behind the times in food trends. But, as time goes on, some of them seem to stay in place so I don't feel completely uncool blogging about them. In this case, I'm talking about Tapas. I'm not sure when they came into vogue in the U.S. or Canada, but they've come onto my radar in the last 10-15 years or so (as usual, the Internet is woefully inadequate in the realm of culinary history), Tapas are Spanish small plates, made for sharing, usually served as bar food or appetizers. Some can be very outlandish and luxurious, others quite simple. Of course, nothing says you can't make a mess of Tapas for dinner or lunch, they're certainly satisfying enough.
I can't say exactly what inspired me to throw together a Tapas feast for the family, I'll pin it on getting a box of fancy Spanish meats from the Carnivore Club that included Serrano and Iberico ham (more on Iberico Ham here), as well as chorizo. I can't remember if it was in a book or on the Internet, but the first thing that jumped out at me was asparagus wrapped in serrano ham.
That sounded delicious!!!!! As I salivated over that idea, I contemplated what I could do with chorizo, and on the ideas went. Luckily, I also had a Tapas cookbook I got as a gift many moons ago and looked through it for inspiration.
A trip to the local shops later and we were ready to move ahead with Tapasian wonderment. Admittedly, I didn't know much about what might constitute an 'authentic' Tapas plate, so I relied on my cookbook to give me some ideas. Some of them were mostly direct adaptations, others were creative riffs. In the interest of concision (and actually getting this post out less than six months after I made the food), I'll be presenting two dishes in this post and three more in a subsequent post.
Serrano ham is basically Spanish prosciutto: salty and rich and a little crispy when cooked. The combination with asparagus might not seem super-evident, but it's a tapas standard, especially when served with an aioli-style dipping sauce (basically, a fancy term for mayo, sort of).
- 12-24 asparagus stalks, washed and trimmed of woody ends
- 12-24 slices serrano ham (or prosciutto), about 1-2 inches (3-6 cm) wide by 4-5 inches long (12-15 cm)
- 1-2 tbsp cheaper olive oil, divided in two
- fresh ground pepper (optional)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp cheaper olive oil
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp high quality olive oil
- juice from 1/4 lemon
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Coat bottom of cookie sheet or roasting pan with olive oil.
- Place asparagus in pan and drizzle rest of olive oil over top and top with pepper if desired.
- Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes until asparagus in slightly tender and ham is crispy.
- While baking, quickly pan fry garlic in cheaper olive oil until golden, and whisk together with mayo, high quality oil and lemon juice until smooth.
It's pretty obvious that this is a really tasty, salty, fatty, sensuous dish, just bursting with umami from the ham and mayo, but nicely cut with the herbal bitterness of the asparagus. Very decadent and very easy, which probably sums up the existential state of Tapas nicely.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
OK, after more than 6 months of procrastinating on the second part of a New Year's Eve post, I'm taking a simpler route and only presenting the best thing on the menu, which was the Beef Carpaccio.
Basically, beef carpaccio is a hunk of beef tenderloin, the cut of meat that filet mignon is cut from, quickly seared and pounded flat to an almost paper-like thickness (or thinness, I guess?).
Now, as tasty as a simple piece of high quality beef, it needs a bit of a tangy and vegetable counterpoint. Almost every version of the recipe that I've seen includes a salad of some kind or another, but the most prominent pairing I could find was arugula, so I used that and tried to put together a good dressing that would elevate the beefy goodness.
Truth is, you can't really beat the flavours of lemon and garlic in a dressing, especially when you're knee-deep in the cuisines of the Mediterranean that so prominently feature them.
Beef Carpaccio w. Arugula and Lemon-Garlic Dressing
- 1 lb. beef tenderloin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp. olive oil (as high quality as possible)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- juice of half a lemon
- pinch dried basil
- pinch dried oregano (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups arugula, washed and dried
- Remove meat from the fridge at least an hour before cooking. Rub meat with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt, pepper and fennel seeds and let sit.
- Mix dressing ingredients with a whisk and refrigerate.
- Once your meat is ready to be cooked, heat a frying pan on medium-high/high heat and heat the other 1 tbsp of oil until very hot.
- Sear meat on high heat until you get a good crust on all sides of the meat, reduce heat as needed to prevent oil from smoking. Expect the meat to be very rare, nearly raw in the middle; don't worry, it's supposed to be like that.
- Remove from heat and set to rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Now that your meat is seared, that's when the knife skills come into play. Using a sharp knife, cut meat against the grain as thinly as possible.
- Place slices of meat on cutting board and pound with a meat hammer until paper thin. Don't go crazy or you'll tear the beef to shreds.
- Arrange slices of beef in a circle on a nice plate or serving tray (as opposed to the boring plate I used).
- Remove dressing from fridge. Take garlic out, whisk again and toss with the arugula. Using your hands or tongs, arrange the arugula in the middle of the serving plate.
|Yes, the meat is close to raw, but it's awesome.|
The best way to eat the carpaccio is with your fingers. Using a fork or something (like clean fingers or the Force), place a small bit of the arugula on the meat, maybe wrap it, and eat the heck out of it.
The flavour is, well, super-beefy, with the zing of the dressing and the peppery flavour of the arugula rounding out the bite perfectly. It was a fantastic dish and easy to prepare, make it if you get the chance. Trust me.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!
Saturday, June 13, 2015
As I've stated a few times before, I'm still pretty new and clumsy at this whole "dessert" deal. I can make a pretty good brownie, but that's about it...
But one of the cornerstones of life is learning, right?
So, in my quest to broaden my sugary horizons, I thought I should try my hand at making fudge. Because fudge.
Now, being a good Canadian boy, I decided that my first attempt should be Maple Fudge.
I took to the Internet and had little trouble finding multiple recipes, but I found myself a little intimidated by the complexity of the recipes. Yeah, there were only a few ingredients, but there were ice baths involved and electric implements of all kinds... Yikes! You mean you can't make fudge with just a fork and elbow grease?!?!? Apparently not quite...
Fortunately, after a bit of tooling about on google, I was able to find a straightforward version that was easy enough for my rookie arse at, logically enough, maplesyrupworld.com. But, being not so flush with syrup or nuts and basically being a cheap sonofagun, I tooled around with the ingredients a bit by replacing half the syrup with brown sugar and using bacon in place of nuts... I had a lot of bacon in the fridge... Also, bacon. And guess what? I was able to make it with just elbow grease (and a candy thermometer). It might not have been as smooth as a baby's butt and I doubt I'd sell it, but GODDAMN IT WAS TASTY; especially with bacon, even if the bacon-on-things food fad is super-passé.
Makes about 24 small pieces
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 2-3 strips bacon, cooked and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
- In a small pot or saucepan, melt sugar, butter and syrup together on medium heat and bring to a gentle boil for about 5 minutes.
- Add cream and let cook until candy thermometer shows a temperature of 118°C (245°F).
- Stir in nuts (if using) and remove from heat.
- Beat mixture with an electric beater, or a whisk and elbow grease (the Brennan Method), for about 10 minutes until mixture stiffens up.
- Grease a square baking dish or similar receptacle, pour fudge in.
- Top fudge with cooked bacon and push in to make sure bacon stays on.
- Cool completely in fridge (about 1 hour), remove and cut into pieces and snarf the bejongus out of it!
|Snarfy snarfy snarf snarf!!!!|
Friday, February 6, 2015
Knowing that it was very unlikely that I'd be leaving the house that evening, Kari and I started brainstorming our plan for what we were going to stuff in our gobs. I thought it might be fun to go with a small plate/hors d'oeuvre/buffet style-meal. She agreed and the ideas started flowing.
- Charcuterie Board w. Iberico Jamon, Pingue Proscuitto, Iberico Salchichon, Milkhouse Tomme Cheese and Pickled Onions
- Veggie Plate -Cauliflower and Broccoli w. Basil-Goat Cheese-Balsamic Dip
- Beef Carpaccio w. Arugula and Lemon-Garlic Dressing
|Not sure there's enough food for two people... Clockwise from top: Charcuterie plate w. baguette slices, Veggie Plate, Caramelized Onion Toastettes, Beef Carpaccio, Stuffed Mushrooms|
So, what *is* all this stuff? Well, let's break it on down.
I am a very lucky, or clever, fellow because I came across a fun little service back in the Summer called the Carnivore Club and signed up without a second thought. I regret it not at all; I've had the joy of tasting tasty cured meats from all across the country even the world, from Canadian salmon jerky to South African biltong to French Rosette de Lyon sausage. But the latest box might have been the best yet, with Spanish meats galore. It came with two huge cured sausages, one a Chorizo, the other a "Salchichon" (Spanish for sausage, I'm guessing), some Prosciutto from Pingue Prosciutto out of Niagara and a sampling of Iberico Jamon, one of rarest hams in the world. We'd already eaten most of the Chorizo so I saved it for another day, but the rest of the box had barely been touched. So, on the board you go! We also had a bit of a "Tomme" French-style sheep's milk cheese from Milkhouse Farm and Dairy left over in the fridge, nearly begging to be thrown into the NYE festivities so that was added, but we also needed a little bit of pickly vegetation on there. I almost picked up some gherkins, but decided instead to pickle some onions. I chose wisely.
So how did it all taste? I'll start with the Proscuitto, which I've had before at various restaurants but is somehow better at home. It was delicate and buttery, with a melt-in-your-mouth quality and a beautiful restrained saltiness.
The Salchichon was reminiscent of summer sausage, but of a quality beyond anything I'd had before. Part of this was because of the Iberican pigs it came from, called "pata negra" or black hoof pigs. These are among the most prized pigs in the world and their diet consists mainly of acorns, lending their meat a wonderful nutty quality. This came across in the salchichon, as well as its fat having a soft, silky almost creamy texture and flavour. I don't usually rave about pig fat, but holy crap, PIG FAT!!!
Which brings me to the Iberico Jamon. Jamon is Spanish for ham, but there's no way I'm calling this 'ham'. Maybe us North Americans have degraded the true goodness of what ham is supposed to be by using this bland, processed stuff that is only truly delicious when smothered in dijon mustard or maybe the Spaniards just love to pimp their cured pork leg. Either way, to call this 'ham' doesn't come even close to evoking the delicacy and flavour of this meat. It was like a kiss from a salty, nutty, black-hoofed faerie queen. The meat pretty much melts in your mouth leaving a lingering flavour but not heavy on the tongue. I have no idea how they make this stuff, but it's a must-try for any discerning meatatarian. It's important to note however that the Iberico Jamon should be eaten by itself (with some good red wine, naturally) - no cheese or condiments or pickles should be paired to interfere with the nigh-ephemeral flavour. Yeah, that was some good-ass ham...
|Hello delicious piggie!|
It's a bit hard to describe the Tomme cheese because it had so many flavours at play. It had the dry saltiness of a parmesan, but much more restrained. Yet on top of that, there was a cramy, velvety quality that counterplayed against with the distinct "barnyard" aroma and flavour from the sheeps'milk. All in all, a really interesting bite.
To top the whole thing off, I pickled some onions, garlic and lemon, as described here:
- 1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 bulbs garlic, very thinly sliced
- 1/4 lemon, scrubbed clean and very thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- pinch ground nutmeg
- pinch ground allspice
- 1 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp thyme leaves, fresh or dried
- Place onions, garlic and lemon in a large clean mason jar.
- Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Place a funnel over the jar's opening and pour boiling liquid into jar.
- Using a knife or spoon or stick or something, make sure all veggies are covered by liqiuid. - Allow to cool to at least room temperature before serving or refrigerating.
These onions are *very* tasty (I frankly surprised myself with how good they are) and add a nice acidity to counter all the salt from the meat. That being said, the delicacy of the delicacy that is Jamon Iberico was not a good pairing with the onions. I've since found the onions also make a good side for meatloaf and pierogies.
Moving on, our next appetizer was the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms
I'd had king crab legs sitting in my freezer for a while and I really wanted to use them up sooner than later. Now, way back in the way back, I used to work for a middling seafood restaurant and one of their offerings was a crab-stuffed and cheese-topped mushroom appetizer. It was by no means a particularly creative or revolutionary recipe, but it works and it's a tasty way to use up a not-so-huge portion of crab meat. So, being a fan of mushrooms, cheese and seafood (and don't anyone tell you that seafood and cheese don't go together!), I put them together the old-school way, with some personal touches; specifically I added the light crunch of panko instead of regular bread crumbs and threw in some garlic and lemon juice to boot. Also, Olivia loves crabmeat. So proud! *wipes tear*
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2-3 legs worth of king crab meat
- 1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs
- 1-2 tbsp butter, melted
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 12-15 mushrooms, stems removed (save the stems for whatever you might need mushrooms for)
- 1/2 cup cheese, grated (Swiss or extra-old cheddar)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Fry garlic in oil or butter until golden
- In a bowl, mix together crab meat, garlic, panko, melted butter, lemon juice, parsley (if using; I didn't have any in the house, but I would have used it if I had) and salt and pepper.
- Stuff mushrooms with mixture and top with cheese.
- Cook in oven for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve hot!
|Caramelized Onion "Toastettes" on the left, Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms on the right|
The flavours of the mushrooms were very straight forward and complimentary: garlic, butter, crab, lemon and mushroom all play well together. Next up were the Caramelized Onion, Cranberry and Brie "Toastettes" (I have no better name for them), which were basically a variation on bruschetta, consisting of a kind of compote with caramelized onion and dried cranberries, topped with melted brie. It's just about the simplest way to whip together a quick appetizer. Here's the recipe!
Caramelized Onion, Cranberry and Brie "Toastettes"
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, minced
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp port
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch dried thyme
- pinch cinnamon
- 12-14 or so pieces of baguette, about 1/2 cm thick
- 12-14 thin slices of brie
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Melt butter and sauté onions and garlic for about 2-3 minutes, reduce heat to low-medium.
- Stir in cranberries, port, brown sugar and seasonings and simmer for 15 minutes
- Spoon onion mixture onto baguette pieces, top with brie and bake in oven for 10 minutes until cheese is melted and golden. Serve hot!
A fantastic mix of rich and sweet, this appetizer is a stalwart in my recipe book, especially since it's so damn easy to make.
So that does it for part 1 of our NYE snarf-o-rama! I'll be back next time to show off my carpaccio-making and more!
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Back atcha with part 2 of our grand tour of Charlottetown and Moncton!
For Friday night's dinner, we partook of delicious sushi from a place called, in all its originality, Mr. Sushi. It was very good, better than anything I've had in Ottawa (but not quite as good as Banff), especially this one buttery bite of sashimi deliciousness that I think was white tuna. Not sure, but holy moley was it good!
Saturday was carb loading time in preparation for Kari's big race on Sunday! We started with pierogies for lunch at the local farmer's market, but that was insufficient. So, how do you carb load effectively? With a metric buttload of pizza, of course! To preamble, we'd taken to using Food Network's 'You Gotta Eat Here!' as inspiration to finding places to snarf some scran (on top of Tripadvisor) and we came across an episode (go to about 8:18) describing the wacky pizza-making skills of one Famous Peppers pizzeria. Their use of a maple-cream sauce as a base for a pizza had Kari practically licking the screen. So, when it was time to load the carbs, we took to tracking down the pizzeria (which turned out to be about a block from our apartment/hotel). Now, the menu is quite daunting and it took a couple of minutes to decide what we wanted. Kari's first choice was The Spud Islander, loaded with "thinly sliced potato, bacon and caramelized onions" on the aforementioned maple-cream sauce. Me, I went for the Donair Pizza, considering that I was in the Maritimes where donair originated in Canada (granted, in Halifax, close enough...); it seemed appropriate, especially when it consists of a "garlic butter base (who needs tomato sauce?), donair meat, red onion & mozzarella, topped with fresh iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and donair sauce". We also figured a third pizza would be in order; y'know, just to be safe. After a bit of hemming and hawing we decided on The Caribbean with "jalapeño, mozzarella, mango, seasoned chicken strips, jerk seasoning, red onion and a dusting of toasted coconut". Now, funny thing happened: they forgot the red onion while making it so they decided to give it to us for free and make another Caribbean for us! So, four pizzas for the price of three! Heck ya!
So how was the pizza? Simply put: amazing! The Spud Islander had rich, classic flavours reminiscent of a potato-bacon chowder, with a sweet twist coming from the maple-cream sauce. The Donair Pizza tasted like, well, a donair! A really, really tasty donair! Special kudos for the addition of the lettuce, tomato and donair sauce on top; they totally made the pizza unique with a crunch and juiciness that I've never had before. The Caribbean was another truly unique flavour combo; who has mango on pizza!?!? The whole combined for a kind of Thai-Jamaican fusion, which was pretty cool. All in all, a very impressive pizza feast.
|Carb loading on Famous Pepper's pizza|
So Race Day Sunday came and my girl KICKED BUTT!!!! She improved her previous half-marathon time by 30 minutes! (which, according to runners, is no mean feat!). To celebrate, we returned to the Big Orange Lunchbox, as mentioned before, for lunch and I can't for the life of me remember what we had for dinner, but I suspect it was leftovers from all the earlier feasts in the week, and possibly because Kari was done moving for the day.
Monday was travel day, we had to drive back to Moncton but decided to take the long way which was a lot of fun and it allowed us to track down what may have been the best peanut butter cookies ever at a gas station/convenience store, possibly in or near Crapaud.
And then there was the Confederation Bridge, Part 2 - The Windening. You know what's scarier than driving over a bridge suspended 100+ feet over the goddamn ocean? Doing it with a stiff wind pushing the car towards the side wall of the bridge!!! ACK!!!! But, we got over alive. Amen. Moving on...
So we drove in to Moncton to stay at the New Brunswick Casino and Hotel (mama deserved to play some slots as a reward for her half-marathon performance) and got there in time for an early dinner. We were a little disappointed to discover that the casino's buffet was located within the casino and was thus off-limits to our little Nutster. But Plan B! We'd assembled a list of restos to visit when we got back to Moncton and topping the list was a seafood joint called Skipper Jack's. It was a very 'mom and pop' kind of place, the decor reminded me of the old Ponderosa steakhouses that used to abound (they still exist in the States though). I partook of a giant "fisherman's platter" type deal, basically a mess of fried seafood (shrimp, scallops, clams and haddock) with coleslaw and fries. Healthy! I got about halfway through before calling it quits.
Finally Tuesday came along and it was time to partake of our final super-duper fancy meal of epicness (at 5 pm, because that's Olivia's dinner time) and not knowing where else to go, we made our triumphant return to the Tide and Boar. Whereas the week before we'd dedicated ourselves to partaking of a simple lunch, now it was time to get a little crazy.
I'd been mentally prepping myself for a plate that had been featured on their online menu: Bone Marrow!!!! Alas, it was not to be...
But, there was MORE than enough deliciousness to go around. So, first of all, we wanted to go full out with the house specialities, particularly their "boards". There was the Tide Board (seafood) and the Boar Board (charcuterie), or we could get them together as the Tide and Boar Board!!! DINGDINGDING!!!! I'll admit that after so many months, I can't remember exactly what was on the plate. I remember on the "boar" side of things, there was a serving of rilettes (duck, I believe), a dry sausage dealie made from boar (obviously) and all kinds of delicious...
The "Tide" side was, personally, far more impressive. Yes, I love my smoked and cured land beasties and charcuterie, but we were in the freakin' Maritimes and seafood is what I was there to eat! The Tide plate had so many tasty items: raw oysters on the half shell, scallops, smoked salmon, mussels and more. Also, one absolutely crazypants condiment: dulse. What is dulse? Well, basically, it's seaweed. But in the capable hands of the Tide and Boar's cooks, it becomes unbelievably good, treated with soy sauce and other delicousnesses. Apparently it's a totally common snack in the Maritimes, but over here it's 10 bucks for a tiny potato chip-sized bag. All in all, YAY TIDE!!!
We also needed to feed our little petunia, so we went with a cup of their Atlantic Tide Chowder, consisting of smoked haddock, mussels, shrimp, fennel and dill in a super-tasty creamy broth. Needless to say, she *loved* it. She also loves ice cubes (possibly because she was teething?) so she naturally did this:
|A mouthful of Chowder and ice|
We also had to partake of the in-house Boar Bologna. Yeah, you read that right, Boar freakin' Bologna!!! It was rich and super-tasty with a homemade mustard, but maybe a little grainy from the grinder. But so what? NOMZ!!!!
Well, there it is, a grand tour of the Maritimes filled with deliciousness. I wish I was rich enough to do this about 3 or 4 times a year.