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WINNING PUMPKINS

22 Nov

I normally don’t toot my own horn, but I’m going for it anyway.  I’ve been known to carve a few pumpkins and this year, I went over the top and carved Rob Ford, Toronto’s current mayor.   It won this year’s United Way Pumpkin Carving Contest and my third first-place win since it began 4 years ago.  Meet Mr. Rob F@#d.  It took me 3 hours to carve his fat jowls and double chin.  It was a bit of a struggle to shape the eyebrows and lips without carving right through the pumpkin (which is a common way to carve a Jack o’lantern).  I find that the method of carving just enough to thin-out the “meat” of the pumpkin is not only easier, but safer!  Since I started this method, I haven’t stabbed, sliced or bled all over my pumpkins *fingers crossed.  Though the blood would be a cool effect!

This year marks many “Firsts” for P and I as a couple.  Our first thanksgiving dinner with his family was great fun and I can’t say enough how gracious and welcoming his family has been to me.  I carved them a pumpkin named One-eyed Wally.  I found a small white pumpkin at the farmer’s market and had to get it!  I love how the natural veins are green which makes for great tooth decay.  It adds a little spookiness to his googly expression.  He stared at us all throughout dinner.

This one here was my winner from 3 years ago for United Way: Peter-Peter Office Supplies-Eater. 

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BRAISED OXTAIL

22 Nov

As someone who just wants a plain, unaltered cut of meat to prepare, I grow tired of seeing so much fridge space in “boutique” butcher shops being taken up by kebobs and steaks coated in gloppy marinades. I understand that many folks don’t want to fuss with their own seasoning, but for the rest of us, it usually means fewer options and hopeless predictability.

My go-to butcher, St. Lawrence Market’s Uppercut Meats, was kind enough to give me a (very) generous 4 kilo heap of oxtails last week.  Uppercuts Meats has the best people running the show.  They are reliable, high quality, traditional, no-nonsense butchers.  P.’s been a loyal customer for 7 years now and I’ve recently joined the bandwagon.  They really do make you feel like family there and your specific cut is always accommodated.  Say you need the skin perfectly reserved for that perfect porchetta crackling…or the perfect thickness for a stuffed grilled bourbon veal, they ask you to walk around from the front counter to stand by the massive central butcher block and talk them through it, just to make sure that you have the cut, just the way you like it.  That’s service!  These people are the consummate professionals.  Look for Rita with the pink hat.  She’s awesome and very patient with my “special” cut requests.

Cooking with oxtail is very common within Asian cuisines and with the meat to bone ratio and all the skin, gristle and fat that comes along with ox tail, it is only made edible through incredibly long cooking.  The end result is worth the wait, I promise.  It’s hard to believe that oxtail was considered pauper food when it’s hard to find a kilo for anything under $10!  Oxtail is country fare, and as such, is just one of the many foods that I was brought up on through my mother’s loving hands.

People who say that cooking oxtail is difficult aren’t far off the mark.  Personally, I think that what it comes down to is the fact that you can’t rush cooking especially when it comes to special ingredients.  Period.

UPPERCUT OXTAIL

Ingredients: For 5-6 people

4kg oxtail (approx. 4 tails) *ask the butcher to cut up the joints for you. This is the common cut for oxtail and it’s most likely already cut this way already.

1 ½ cups Cooking Soy Sauce (Light Soy is fine)

½ cup of Malt Syrup

1 large onion

2 Asian Pears or Bartlett Pears

2 Fiji Apples

1 medium-size Daikon (Chinese radish)

2 tablespoons Sesame oil

1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

4 cups of water

4 medium-size carrots

2 large onions

4 potatoes

 Procedures:

1.) Trim any fat, as desired, from the outside of each joint.  Don’t worry about the tendons, the slow braise will disintegrate these during the cooking process.  Once trimmed, soak in cold water for an hour.  This removes most of the blood from the meat.  As you’ll see, the water will turn very bloody after a while.  Also, the soaking will get rid of the meaty smell.

 2.) After soaking for an hour, drain.  Then bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add the tail joints, boil for 10 minutes.  Drain for 30 minutes.  This parboiling process also removes the smaller pieces of fat and gristle.

 3.) While the joints are draining, prepare your marinade.  Pour soy sauce, malt syrup, sesame oil and ground pepper into a medium-sized pot.  Use a food blender to pulse the pears to a pulp.  This will take a minute or two on the purée setting.  Add the pulped pears into the pot of soy sauce mix.

 

 

4.) Next, cut and purée the apple, onion and daikon in the same way as the pear.  Do not add this directly to the pot.  You must put it through a fine metal sieve and collect only the liquid.  Add only the liquid from the pulped apple, onion and pear to the soy sauce mix.  Bring to a low simmer until malt syrup is dissolved completely.  Set aside the marinade to cool.

 

 5.) While the marinade is cooling, peel and cut the carrots and potatoes into roughly even pieces.

 

 

 

 

6.) Once marinade has cooled down, add to a large pot (essentially the one you will be cooking the ox tail in) with the joints and leave to marinate for 30 minutes to I hour.  The longer it marinates, the better, of course!  Then add the water, put the lid on and bring to a boil.  Once brought to a boil, bring the temperature down to the lowest simmer possible for one hour (lid on).  Turn every 20 minutes to ensure the marinade takes evenly to the meat.

 7.) Add veggies and stir through.  Continue to braise at very low heat for another hour.

 This marinade also goes well with beef short ribs, cooked the very same way.  It can be refrigerated in a tight-lid container for 2 days.  It’s a good way to cut down on prep time!  Enjoy!

Proof Is In The Pudding

7 Nov

Here is a picture of my sister, Mom and I.  They are my top favourite people to be in the kitchen with and over the years of experimenting/perfecting recipes, oil burns, spills, flat souffles and even a few kitchen fires, I can’t imagine any family weekend, holiday or just an ordinary night of hashing it out in the kitchen with anyone else in the world.  This post is in honour of my beautiful Mom and chef extraordinaire.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a month now, but I’ve been busy with decompressing from a recent 2-week trip, work, joining a co-ed soccer league, having a grand time with P. planning our next few get-a-aways and of course, experimenting in the kitchen.  Of course, always with the intention of blogging more recipes, as requested, but the always-accompanying wine aids in taking too many blurred pictures or forgetting how a camera works altogether.  But I am back!

This post was especially requested by MANY of you who have, 1.) over the years, had the pleasure of tasting Mom�s famous bread pudding and want the recipe, 2.) tasted said bread pudding from one of her daughter’s kitchen and need the recipe; or 3.) stalked Edith at work for the recipe!  For years now, my poor Mother has been inundated with requests for the recipe and I can understand why.  It is the best damn bread pudding you will ever have.  I’ve never been a big fan of bread pudding, but this one finally made me understand what bread pudding should be.  Take note, kids!  The satisfying crunch of the caramelization is key –makes the contrast of the creamy, doughy parts.  It is crisp yet doughy with butterscotch syrup.  It is magical, it is drool-worthy, always a popular desert especially during the holiday season and at last, so very easy to make!

This is the only Bread Pudding recipe you’ll ever need.

Edith’s Caramel Bread Pudding

Main ingredients:

15 pcs. plain croissants (cubed)

1/2 cup raisins

1 litre 2% milk

1/2 litre 35 % cream

6 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Topping

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup almonds, slivered

Caramel:

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

PROCEDURES:

Caramel:

1.) Boil sugar and water until golden brown (amber colour).  DO NOT STIR AND DO NOT TOUCH as it will burn your fingers fast  Immediately pour into baking pan and let cool.

Custard:

2.) Boil milk and cream on medium heat (160 F).  Remove from fire once it boils.

3.) Beat eggs with a whisk.  Slowly add sugar while beating until color turns pale yellow.  *Temper this mixture by adding 2 ladles of the hot milk-and-cream mixture slowly while still whisking, to prevent the mixture from curdling.  Pour this tempered mixture back into the remaining milk/cream.

4.) Whisk a little bit, then add croissants and raisins. Let soak briefly and pour this mixture into baking pan with the already cooled caramel. Sprinkle brown sugar and almonds on top.  Cover the baking with foil and bake in a *bain-marie at 350F for 30-45 minutes.  Remember to remove the foil covering on the last 10-13 minutes of baking.  This will allow parts of the top to crisp-up.

Tempering — to gently heat egg yolks before adding to a hot sauce by adding a small bit of the sauce and beating well. This technique prevents curdling.

Bain-marie (water bath) — consists of placing a container (pan, bowl, souffle dish, etc.) of food in a large, shallow pan of warm water, which surrounds the food with gentle heat. The food may be cooked in this manner either in an oven or on top of a range. This technique is designed to cook delicate dishes such as custards, sauces and savoury mousses without breaking or curdling them. It can also be used to keep cooked foods warm.

Simple Mussels and Clams

29 Sep

I absolutely adore almost anything that comes from the sea, and this love is particularly strong when it comes to anything that resides in a shell.  Crayfish, scampi (also known as slipper/shovelnose lobsters), crabs, prawns, conch – they’re all marvellous, but one shell-residing critter that I adore but seem to rarely enjoy are the mussels and clams.

At the T & T market last week, I was meandering around the fish vendors when I spotted a metal water fountain-like box filled to the brim with these live beauties and I couldn’t help but wander over. Their gleaming black shells looked so beautiful under the rippling water that without any further hesitation, I nabbed a half-kilo, eager to cook them up for another feast with the family.

The recipe is much sparser than any other poached mussel recipes that I’ve tried, but if you’re looking for a simple preparation that will take these babies from sink to plate in less than 10 minutes, give this a try.
 
Simple Clams and Mussels in Red Wine Sauce

Ingredients:
250g fresh, live mussels
250g
1 cup light red wine (Don’t get fancy! Cheap red wine is best.)
A few sprigs of Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp salted butter
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Parsley
Lemons to serve

1. Clean those clams and mussels – scrub and debeard them and discard any that appear dead and/or have cracked shells (clams mussels very quickly become toxic once they die).

 

2.  Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat and once hot, add the thyme (with sprigs as you will fish them out later anyway), garlic, onion. Fry till the garlic and onions have softened, then add the wine and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce by 25%., pour diced tomatoes and let simmer, then first toss in the cleaned clams.  Clams take one minute longer to cook than mussels.  Then throw in some Parsley, then the mussels.  Put on a tightly fitting lid and allow to steam for 4-5 minutes.

3. Once time is up, turn off the heat and remove the lid of the pot. Remove the cooked and open mussels and plate up, then strain the poaching liquid over the top. Serve with wedges of lemon to freshen the flavour, and more chopped parsley for a little colour.  

An Italian State of Mind

28 Jun

Lately these days, I have been feeling the need to overly indulge in spicy food; could it be that I have a massive alien baby in my belly?  Maybe?  [ps. I’m NOT pregnant] But because of this craving, I have been putting Pepperoncini (peh-per-ron-chee-nee) on EVERYTHING like it is going out of style.  What is Pepperoncini you ask?  Well, it’s just the best thing the Italians have brought to this earth!  It is one of my recent flavour obsessions.  The Italians call it one of two things: Pepperoncini or Olio Piccante.

It’s most frequently served in traditional Italian restaurants or pizzerias. The first time I tasted Pepperoncini, I had it with some homemade pasta dish, spooned out of a mason jar, made by and given to P. by an actual Italian NonnaOkay maybe not an actual Nonna, but that’s how I imagine it and that’s what it tastes like: Like-a-Nonna-Made-PEH-Per-Rohn-CHEEEE-neeh!

Go on…say it like Joey Tribbiani.  It’s fun!

I add it to everything -Pasta, pizza, sauces, meats, everything!  You can also use the pepper-infused oil for making salad dressing.  Since getting my first taste of the homemade stuff, I searched high and low for a recipe so I can stock up on my own.  I had to make it or I would have had to find a Nonna and steal one from her cupboard!

                                                                          Since the fresh Italian pepperoncini is harvested in late August or early September, I thought to give my Olio Piccante a little Asian twist.  Instead of using the pepperoncini, I bought some Siling Labuyo.  It’s better known as Bird’s Eye Chili, and frequently seen in Thai cooking.  Chili peppers are seasonal and generally very inexpensive, so if you find a chili you want to pickle in oil, grab it and get your Nonna on.  Had I known how much joy they would bring me, I would have made a bushel’s worth!

I read up on the best way to make hot pepper oil, but it took me a while to really find a recipe that stood out as exceptional or authoritative.  I asked an actual Nonna!  Teresa and her husband, Gaetano, had been kind enough to share their Pepperoncini recipe (with a small sample, straight from Gaetano’s cupboard.  A Nonno!).

This is how I made my Pepperoncini.  Be sure to have plastic gloves on if you’re handling the hot peppers:

1. Cut chilli peppers in small pieces and lay out onto a tray, sprinkle with salt, and let it fry out for a couple of days.  If you want to speed up the process, you can preheat your oven to 140F and bake dry for about an hour (which I did).  If baked dry, let the peppers cool to room temperature.

2. Wash your container (mine: glass bottle) out with hot soap and water.  If you can, boil it in water to sterilize properly or throw it into your dishwasher.

    3. Pour your oil of choice (seed, corn, peanut, olive) into your clean container.  Note: Using a high-quality (extra virgin) olive oil is not suggested as the hot pepper will override any nuances in the oil – i.e., it won’t harm the final product, but it won’t improve it, either, so save your money.  A canola or other seed oil is a good choice, too.
    4. Pour the dried pepper pieces into the oil. I didn’t include the stems, but I think you could if you like. The seeds are the spiciest part of the pepper so they will help keep things nice and hot!

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:  Some of you may have heard about botulism and how there is a risk when canning at home (more info here). I am not an expert or nutritionist, so please make sure to take the necessary precautions and inform yourself when canning or making infused oils, with whatever method you choose. Be on the lookout for cloudy or mouldy particles in the oil. ON A SIDE NOTE: While researching this, I was shocked to realized that Botox is actually a purified version of this bacteria!

A Good Egg

28 Jun

There’s something about an egg. Apart from the fact that they come out of a birds bum that is.  There is something wholesome and good about an egg, something noble about one.  “He’s a good egg”, you might have said in the 50’s, if referring to someone you liked or respected, and I think, yes, all the qualities of an egg are the ones I want in a friend.  Singular in purpose, yet incredibly versatile, strong in some ways yet fragile and always able to surprise me.  Not surprise me literally, I don’t scream when ever I see an egg, but surprise me in just how good they can be, and particularly in the simplest ways.

 Take a soft-boiled egg.  Once you have figured out the delicate process of making one and peeling one (safely without breaking it), you have something magical.  The addition of a soft-boiled egg to almost anything gives it a lift.  A nice salad with smoked fish? Plop one on top.  Soup on a cold winters night? Suspend one in there for added comfort.  Boom, Pot-Au-Feu!  Of course, just on a piece of toast with some bacon and mushrooms will do just as well.  Breaking the yolk and watching that liquid gold spilling out over your toast is possibly one of the finest sights in the morning.

There is something wonderfully uplifting about the process of gently simmering an egg, pulling it out of the water, cutting off the top, then sitting down with this single egg and spooning it out of its shell. 

How to Make Soft Boiled Eggs: In a small/medium saucepan, bring water to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  With a slotted spoon, gently lower the eggs into the water.  Be sure the water covers the eggs by at least an inch.  Simmer for five minutes.  Pull the eggs out of the water and briefly run under cold water.  Slice the tops with a sharp knife (I have had the best luck cutting the egg in the egg cup with a paring knife, although some think it is easier to lay the egg on its side on a towel and slice the top off before transferring it to a cup.)  Sprinkle the egg with salt and pepper

2011 Mac & Cheese

10 Jan

Comfort food. It means different things to different people. This post is dedicated to Paul and Fabio, my two favourite boys whom I spent New Year’s Eve with, when I decidedly made my Mac & Cheese for carb-loading in anticipation for a night of drinking and dancing. There is something so comforting about a crusty gooey cheese that melts with that crunch from toasted cheesy topping that I crave after a night of good bevys.

For me, macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Like most people, I grew up on the blue box of Kraft Dinner mac and cheese. But I’m all grown up now, and decidedly had to outdo the KD and use a variety of tasty cheeses to bring harmonious macaroni and cheese bliss.

I have made this mac and cheese several times now and can tell you that it’s easy enough for a mid-week dinner yet sophisticated enough to serve for company, especially when paired with a side salad and red wine. It isn’t so gourmet that it loses the homey comfort of pasta bathed in cheese, but it’s gussied up enough to make the Kraft mac and cheese seem like child’s play.

If you are looking for a diet-friendly, low-calorie mac and cheese, please move on because this has 23 ounces of cheese. Yes, that is almost 6 cups of cheese! Here’s a peek of this cheesy monstrosity: 5 oz. (1 ¼ C.) Pecorino Romano and (18 oz. (4 ½ C.) old sharp White Cheddar.

Below, you will find all of the ingredients I used with the exception of the 5 ½ C. of Milk and ½ C. of Flour, and for the seasoned cook, the basis for Roux for the Béchamel. Here you will see: 8 Tbsp of Butter (and a bit more for dish), Nutmeg, Cayenne Pepper, S/P –all to taste. I prefer to load up on the nutmeg as it compliments the sharpness of the cheeses. I also like to add some Cayenne to add that bit of punch to it. I love the aromas of the Shallots and Garlic in all of my pasta dishes so why not the mac and cheese?

With a pound of al dente elbow macaroni and a generous coating of grated Pecorino Romano and toasty olive oil-soaked breadcrumbs, this mac and cheese is tantalizingly crusty on the outside. The crust, however, gives way to a luscious, soft cheese filling flecked with nutmeg and a bite of peppery punch -just the heat it needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a constant stream of 2011’s parties, birthdays, holiday celebrations and now nearing the end of the Year of The Tiger, this comfort food is the best way to ring-in the New Year. It sure helps with the hang over, a perfect aid with Advil and a movie marathon under the duvet.