Category Archives: Cooking & Canning

No Alligator Fritters in the Everglades??!!

For whatever reason, I manage to find myself being taken on adventures on a semi-frequent basis, by people who love life, eat well, and want me around. I’m not going to start questioning it anytime soon. This most recent rendition included the Florida Everglades. The last time I was in Florida was when I was about 8, with my family. We went on a day trip to the Everglades and took one of those crazy airboat tours to see alligators, migratory birds, fig vines hugging huge oak trees, and mangrove trees with their fingerlike roots reaching into the still, green, brackish waters below. When I was little, we got to do all of that AND eat alligator fritters. I thought it was one of the most succulent creatures I had ever eaten. So, for the past 20-odd years, I have dreamed about one day eating alligator again.

Unfortunately I don’t frequent Southwest Florida, don’t have a snowbird grandparent to go visit, and generally try to avoid supporting the US economy. And then, I found myself positioned in the company of one very generous ladyfriend who needed a getaway, knew someone with a house to stay at down south, and whisked me away to the sunny Gulf Coast. She was dead set on paddling a canoe in the Everglades. Being pretty game myself, I agreed that it would be an excellent day trip. We managed to avoid being taken hostage on highway 41, rented a canoe, drew our paddles along the sleepy surface of Turner River, and paddled through the narrow and winding passage of the mangroves. We chilled out in the canoe mere feet away from many alligators. We saw a mommy alligator with two of her babies, we even got so close that I tapped one with my paddle, unknowingly. Alligators are very good at camouflaging themselves in the swamp. We were followed back up the river by a red-shouldered hawk, examined a colourfully painted turtle sunning itself on a log, and collected snail shells floating on the surface. After our foray into the wilds of the mangrove in a tippy canoe, nose-to-nose with sea monsters, we decided it was time to go in search for any alligator delicacy we could sink our teeth into. We arrived in Everglades City. It was a depressed little town, the main attraction being airboat touring companies along the water, but we managed to find a cafe with a table on the porch outside, and cold beer. A leathery and ancient old lady with very few teeth came to our table to take our order, I asked for the alligator fritters as advertised on the menu. “No alligator here.” “Oh, really? I had my heart set on it,” I said. “We ain’t got any cause they can’t sell the leather. You know it’s illegal to make anything with the hides, so nobody has any meat. I ain’t lying to ya’ honey, you can try the other places, they won’t have any either.” Disappointment set it. And so it went, because alligator hunters can’t do anything with the hides, they don’t bother hunting them. No fritters for us. Once again food politics trumps lunchtime satisfaction. I guess I can understand why. I’ll just have to go hunt me an alligator all by myself. You might expect a photo of a nice new leather purse in the next post… Just kidding.

Our five minutes of fame… god help us.

So, maybe many of you have already sought this out and laughed at our expense, but seeing as the Food Network Canada continues to air this episode of Dinner Party Wars, I thought it fair game to post this for your giggling pleasure.

http://www.foodnetwork.ca/video/index.html?releasePID=Rbzxpkd88kgelIhF_5xsmuWUiYsZaKYE

The Gift that Keeps on Quacking

Merry Christmas! A time of happiness, joy, far too much booze, and of course, eating. Thinking that I would be spending this festive season all by my lonesome (Bah Humbug), I prepared an elaborate plan to stuff myself silly with things I enjoy to numb the fact that I am so far away from my family. I trucked out to Martock Glen Farm, a small scale abattoir and butcher shop just outside of Windsor, Nova Scotia. The Oulton family takes pride in raising its animals “the old fashioned way”, with no antibiotics or hormones, and with access to the great outdoors, grain feed, and green forage. Their products are distributed around the Valley at choice locations, but generally frozen, and a bit pricey. I decided to go down there myself to fill my fridge for a special Christmas weekend of over-consumption.

Continue reading

Getting Sauced

Before

So, I was hanging out with my parents at their B&B in Wolfville, when offered a box full of pears from the garden there. Who was I to refuse such a generous offer from the lovely couple at Tattingstone Inn. I took them happily with me, back home to my little kitchen and conjured up a plan. Instead of studying for the evening, I decided to painstakingly cut out every beautiful imperfection, bruise, seed, stem and skin to simmer down to a perfect sauce. Three hours later I ended up with three pints… THREE PINTS…. of exquisite pear sauce. Perhaps not the most economical of time spent to product produced, but nice to have them sitting on the shelf, put up for winter, and a special occasion. Continue reading

Nice Rack!

Head out of the gutter readers, it ain’t my rack you’ll be reading about today! This one’s about LAMB!

Nice Rack!

Due to an unfortunately poor response and cancellation of the workshop “Meet your Meat” scheduled to take place on May 31st with Dan DeMatteis and Alex Johnston of Provenance Regional Cuisine, Dan and I decided to play anyway and break down the tiny 31lb lamb that had been custom slaughtered for the event. So sad that we couldn’t do it with a group, but fun none the less!

It all started with Mark Trealout, of the Kawartha Ecological Growers, delivering the fully dressed animal, guts swinging in the wind from chest cavity, eyeballs popping out of the skinned head, and tongue twisted and turned around sticking out through the jaw bone akin to faces a six year old makes when he is angry about going to school that day. It was a Dorsett/Suffolk cross produced by Leroy Zehr slaughtered last Tuesday

It's the Happy Lamb Show! (Insert jazz hands here)

Having a farmer pull up in a big truck on a residential street, and then pulling out a naked lamb, was certainly good entertainment for the neighbours. Mark took hold of the four skinny ankles and laid it to rest, like it was no big deal, on my kitchen table. The neighbours will have lots to talk about regarding the creepy girl who lives underground in the house next door.

Fridge contraption to keep the door closed from the kicking beast inside.

Crisper drawers removed from the fridge, and everything else shifted about to make space, I stuffed little lamby into a clear garbage bag and squeezed him in. This is the contraption I skillfully created to keep the door closed (serious lack of duct tape in my apartment).

We prepared the harvest table for dissection and wrapped it in parchment paper, got out multiple dishes to collect all of the good bits, and sharpened our knives. Armed with cleavers and saws we went to it, Chateau des Charmes non-oaked Chardonnay at the ready. Dan is an excellent teacher and patient beyond patient as I fumbled my way along muscles, tendons, and fascia.

Bodacious Belly Bits

He let me do the fancy parts like the tenderloins and meat from around the neck explaining to me how to create a beautiful roast all tied up with string like a pretty little package. We laughed a lot, and enjoyed Jenny Whitely singing to us from the radio. There were certainly a few cuts that we didn’t get quite right. Namely figuring out how to separate the chops from the vertebrae, without having to saw the whole back bone in half. And forgetting to leave that portion of shoulder meat attached to the rack instead of cutting it off with the shoulder leaving a gash in the skin around the ribs.

My hardcore new tattoo - Ontario Approved.

It was pretty simple once we figured out that we could just cleave our way down each side of the backbone and the rack would stay together. Unfortunately there were little shards of bone everywhere around the kitchen due to our having to learn that the hard way.

Note to all aspiring butchers: saws made to cut through wood for home building projects are NOT, I repeat, NOT, designed to cut through lamb bones.

Dan's Diligent Dissection

Dan snapped the rib cages, to show how manly he was, and to break up the chops from the short ribs and belly meat, cut off chunks of shoulder meat for stewing, and removed the shank leaving a big hunk of roast ready rump. Boy did he prove his manliness to me!

Yummy!

After a few hours of hacking our way through little lamby, it was time for din dins. I don’t generally eat meat, although that seems to be quickly changing, but I couldn’t wait to taste the earthy flavour of lamb at the tail end of this beautiful spring. We whipped together a simple arugula and radish salad, some spongy buckwheat crepes,

The delicious end result - lamb chops and Dan's ever-capable hands.

and sweet potato mash, seasoned the lamb rack with rosemary from the garden, and harvested mint for a simple syrupy sauce. Together with two little kidneys, Dan offered up perfectly grilled chops from the BBQ that melted in our mouths.It was indescribable, but I’ll do my best. The most delicate and crispy skin enveloped a thin but substantial layer of flavourful fat, which housed tender, juicy morsels of meat falling off of the bones and through our lickable fingers. There was just enough pink sea salt to balance out the satisfying sweetness, as well as gamey and musty qualities for which lamb is so highly sought after. The juices ran down our chins as we sucked every last ounce of perfect meat from the ribs. Swimming in freshly made mint sauce, the meal was a perfect treat for all of our hard work breaking down little lamby. My landlord came out to join us on the patio out back, cheekily introducing herself to Dan by hollering “Nice rack!”.We lingered for a while al fresco in what was arguably a lamb coma or newly coined term “loma”, then faced the clean up that awaited us in the kitchen.

Jake the Splake

Jake the Splake

Our mascot, Jake, slung on the bottom shelf of the fridge, haphazardly stuffed into a ziploc bag, looked longingly at me as I pondered dinner this evening. Having risen from an unplanned and extensive Sunday nap, my belly still growling from Mother’s Day Brunch and a week of recipe testing, dinner parties, and severe competition, I couldn’t decide what to prepare. The jar of crunchy peanut butter and the loaf of sourdough rye, well past its best before date, seemed to be a good option. But then, Jake caught my eye again through his ziploc jail cell and I mustered all the energy left in me to do the daunting.

I had not yet gone through the process of cleaning, scaling, boning, and filleting a whole fish. From tooth to tail, I got my hands dirty, carefully unwrapping the perfectly formed specimen. This little, 8lb fish was nicknamed Jake by Chef Corbin on the set of a show that Amanda and I just filmed for the Food Network. Jake became the joke on set, he was coddled by an alarmingly enthusiastic etiquette “expert”, swung like a bat in the kitchen, shown off to complete idiots to help them understand that food is magnificent, and then basically forgotten when we wrapped, and had to whip the set (our friend’s kitchen) back into tip top shape when I threw him into my knapsack.

On Thursday afternoon, I had the ultimate pleasure of going to Dufferin Grove market with a production company’s $350.00 to spend on most of the ingredients we needed for our big do on Friday. I had ordered 4lb of filleted splake from Andrew and Natasha Akiwenzie, and asked also for a small whole fish so that we could give our guests a visual of where their food came from. Freshly caught that morning in Georgian Bay, Jake’s eyes glimmering and crystal clear, were ready for a camera debut.

Zara and parts of Jake

I referred to my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook for the play by play on how to prepare a fish. Step One – cleaning, easy peasy, very little blood, and Andrew had already made the first cut up the belly, so not very difficult at all. Step Two – scaling. At first I couldn’t even tell if their were scales on little Jake. They were so small, and in my dimly lit kitchen I was utterly confused, but after figuring out the correct angle of my dull knives, I quickly got the hang of it and scales were coming out like a golden retriever’s fur in springtime! Unfortunately I have probably the most dull knives in the universe, so Step Three – taking the fins off and boning, proved to be difficult. I finally got preliminary cuts in around the fins, and then ripped them out with my fingers. Boning the fish with a dull knife was also pretty awkward. I had to peel away the flesh from the bones, scraping around each one to release it from the fillet. It certainly didn’t end up being two perfect, shiny, smooth fillets fit for Whole Foods, but I did it, and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, a good rub of olive oil and a sprinkling of rosemary from the garden, I am very pleased with the results!

Perhaps this is inspiration enough to arrange a fish and seafood prep workshop. I think that would be fun, and lord knows I could use some serious instruction. Anyone interested?

Cooking Workshops

Click on the photo to enlarge or zoom.

Know your organs?

TEN POINTS awarded to the first person to identify this organ and the type of animal it came from correctly.

?????

P.S. The points only count for my love and affection towards you and little else… yes, it’s a points system…no, I will not tell you your current score.

Chia recipe gone terribly wrong…

This weekend has been one recipe disaster after another. First my almonds decided to be jerks and be too dusty to cooperate with the almond-butter making process… Then the chia thing, my goodness. At least the weekend was saved by the fact that I actually remembered, from 8 months ago, how to make gyoza.

I have been eating far too much very good food recently, and as a result, I have packed on some extra insulation for the winter season. It would be fine if I could afford to buy a whole new accommodating wardrobe, but currently I can’t do up my pants, or sit comfortably in my jeans… Alas, I am looking to the “superfoods” I promote every day through work to¬†supply me with the nutrients I need, without all of the calories. I focused in on chia (Salvia Hispanica L.) this weekend, trying to come up with interesting ways of incorporating this antioxidant and Omega-3 rich seed into my new streamlined diet. The mucilaginous properties of these little seeds inspired me to create some sort of dessert quenching treat, like a pudding. I thought about using chocolate as a flavour enhancer, but reconsidered since I’m trying to go easy on the calories. So, I used spiced tea to flavour my experimental Chai Chia Pudding. I also just liked the way that it sounded…

Here’s what I did, which I highly discourage you from trying at home:

1 cup water, 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened), 6 Tbsp Chia seeds (whole), 1 Tbsp brown cane sugar (could use honey or agave syrup as well), 2 Chai tea bags.

Brew the tea in the liquid until nice and flavourful. Add sugar until dissolved and chill until room temperature. Add Chia seeds. stir and chill, stirring occasionally for a few hours. Blend in a food processor until evenly mixed up, and spoon into serving dishes. Let set in fridge about 2 hours. Sprinkle ground cinnamon on top to serve.

If you really like the consistency of snot, then this recipe is for you! Chia can hold 14 times its weight in water, which turns into a jelly surrounding the seed. It is quite strange and kind of intriguing. There is a myriad of health benefits to take into consideration, but they still remain a funny texture. When I showed my friend what I was doing, he said “well what do you expect, Zara? Look what you put in it!” I laughed out loud and scraped the bowl clean to spite him. It didn’t taste bad at all, but the texture is something that may be an acquired affection.

The saving grace of the weekend was the gyoza. I picked up ground turkey from Rowe Farms, and used the veg I had in the fridge (onion, red cabbage, enoki mushrooms, spinach, sweet potato, zucchini). It took forever to get the hang of it, but they turned out pretty good looking. The real test will come tomorrow when I fry them up for the fam for my sister’s welcome home dinner!

Memories of Eigensinn - Turkey Gyoza

Battle of the Baguettes – Toronto Edition

One morning over lattes (a burgeoning theme on this blog…honestly, unintended), David, Amanda and I decided that we wanted to find out, once and for all, who baked the finest baguettes in the city. A baguette-off was called and the tasting, crunching, ripping and buttering all happened last night. I share with you the process and the results.

The contenders:

The Line Up

The criteria:

  • The Crust (crispiness, firmness, not roof-of-mouth-cutting)
  • The Crumb/innards (moistness)
  • Elasticity
  • Airiness
  • Stickiness (whether there is a satisfying stick to the roof of the mouth)
  • Scent
  • Taste (balanced, not too flavourful, but not too bland)
  • Aesthetics/Visual Appeal
  • Rippability
  • Colour (golden brown was the goal, too yellow not good, too brown/burnt not good)

There was no category for organic ingredients, locality, or cost, but in retrospect, these would have been really good as well. We’ll make sure to include them for the next battle (maybe croissants?).

After testing each contender against each criterion, the results were tallied. Each baguette was scrutinized  with a highly sophisticated rating system. Smiley face for good, neutral face for average, sad face for not good, or a skull and cross-bones for just plain bad.

The Sophisticated Baguette Rating System

After all of the testing, the results were interpreted on a scale of -10 to +10. One point was given for a smiley face, no points were awarded for a neutral face, and one point was subtracted for each sad face. A skull and cross bones, of which there was only one for the Airiness factor of the Rahier baguette, was a reduction of two points.

The RESULTS:

  • Rahier -7
  • Bonjour Brioche +1
  • Pain Perdu -2
  • Chabichou +1
  • St. John’s Bakery +9

And the winner is…drum roll please (who needs the Oscars, anyway?)… St. John’s Bakery, which incidentally uses organic red fife wheat flour sourced as locally as possible. But St. John’s was also a sourdough. So, we hummed and ha’d about whether it was even eligible for the Battle of the Baguettes, and kept it in the running because it was just so effing good. That being said, if the sourdough number from St. John’s was ineligible, Bonjour Brioche would have made it out on top. Rahier took a beating, but it was agreed that they do sweets, pastries and fancy little cakes very well and we won’t write them off completely. Chabichou was a serious disappointment as it was limp, lifeless, and bland, but David swore to us that it was uncharacteristic of baguettes he had procured there at other times. Pain Perdu was decent, but nothing to write home about (although their croissant would give most bakeries a run for their money any day, so it won’t be written off either).

Judgette "Daintily Frosted"

The discussion that followed the contest culminated in the

Judge "Bicycle Baron"

realization that there isn’t a VERY GOOD baguette the city (based on the handful that we got our hands on), and that bread-making in Toronto has a way to go in order to compete on a global scale. Memories of perfect, crusty, chewy, bubbly, can’t-wait-to-break-the-end-off, long, slender loaves from Montreal, New York and Paris surfaced for each of us causing serious cravings for travel and finely baked goods.

In the end, we had a great time, focusing all of our collective energy on getting to the bottom of the matter. Adding freshly churned butter from Cheese Boutique, and two lovely raw sheep’s milk cheeses, Bonnechere from Back Forty (Lanarck, ON), and Allegreto from Quebec, both available at About Cheese on Church just south of Wellesley, made each baguette even better. We finished by feasting on the rehearsal dinner (see Blue Egg post) and paired our breaking of the breads with a 2008 Gamay from Malivoire, and a 2007 Triomphe Syrah from Southbrook Vineyards; both certified organic and from the Niagara Region.

Please offer your two cents in the comments section on baguettes you have found to be of superior quality, or bakeries to avoid at all costs.