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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!

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Hey Mister Tally Man, Tally Me GELATI

4 Oct

I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was a relief to be on the last leg of gelato after 2 weeks.  My extra pudgy muffin top is solid proof!  I’m actually not a big fan of sweets (cheese and wine much better), but I was propelled to do my own share of gelato tasting in my recent trip to its motherland.  What I’ve come away with is that what’s awesomely fabulous to one person might be simply okay to another, and that as long as you are open to trying new and non-mainstream flavours and go straight to Venchi Gelato, there is no way you could possibly go wrong.

I highly recommend trying the Frutti Di Bosco (Yogurt style).  It’s important that you try the yogurt style as the regular gelato type is not the best medium for the berries.  Frutti di bosco (FROO-tee dee BOHS-koh) – These aren’t fruits belonging to some guy named Bosco, this means “fruits of the forest,” generally things like blueberries and blackberries.  My other fave is Cocco –which is Coconut and not chocolate.  Cocco gelato is heaven in a cup.  Or a cone –whichever you prefer.

Positano

10 Sep

The drive to Positano from Salerno takes about 1hr, shooting west through the Amalfi coast, out past the spectacular views of the shores, cliff side residences, restaurants, and thick, gravity-defying orchards of lemons and olive trees.  Every dwelling, plant or billy-goat in the coast is pretty much built, grown and live cliff-side, all of what looks to be carved into the mountainside.  It is absolutely one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  The ride was a bit scary (ok, it was frightening) on the coast due to the extremely narrow roads and the fact that the local drivers (scooters included) are so used to driving these streets, they lack caution one would normally have. Thankfully, we had a private driver –a local!

                                                                           

We stayed at La Fenice (La Feh-Nee-Cha), a piece of paradise, in my opinion.  The property is built separately (split by the road which runs through it), extending up 300 feet above sea level with white stucco villas with varying dimensions, all with terraces, reached by many steps up and long-term cottages situated many steps below the dividing road.   Descending yet more steps, you’ll come to the curved seawater pool and Jacuzzi carved against the rock of the mountain with a terrace partly covered with grapevines and bougainvilleas with picturesque views of Positano’s colourful houses and the spectacular coastline.  And descending yet more stairs, you will find the most enchanting, small, private lagoon, accessible only by guests of La Fenice.  There you’ll find blue and white striped beach umbrellas with loungers, kayaks and row boats, all at your disposal, at any time of the day. *The picture is of the private lagoon. 

Food Stuff: Restaurants here are extremely proud to serve traditionally prepared seafood.  You can taste the freshness just like it was brought in that very morning by the fishermen.  Our first couple of nights, we dined at La Cambusa, which came highly recommended by our driver, and at Buca di Bacco.  They are located on the Spaggia Grande Beach (thus an outstanding view), across from each other.  It’s in the center of the main square and staffed by some of the friendliest waiters you can find in Italy.  In fact, our waiter in La Cambusa spontaneously serenaded a couple sitting behind us and he wasn’t too bad at all!  *In the picture above, La Cambusa is located left of the orange awninng (upstairs and Buca di Bacco is in the centre, second floor under the white awning. 

You must try the clams in this region.  They are slightly smaller, but the sweetest I’ve ever tasted.  All of the seafood dishes we ordered were never too overdone –all very simply and traditionally prepared done to showcase the freshness.  Our favourites: Whole Sea Bream, Carpaccio of what local fish they offer, Frutti di Mare (Buca di Bacco’s is to die for) and of course, the clams!

Our last night there, we had the pleasure of dining at La Sponda.  You cannot prepare yourself enough for what you are stepping into at La Splonda.  The restaurant is straight out of a Julia Roberts  movie.  There are, literally, hundreds of candles lit all around you, there are men serenading you romantic Italian songs (at a good volume and not intrusive at all) and we had about 4 waiters attending to us and a sommelier.  It was almost funny (in a good way).  They were prompt, attentive and managed to do it all without creating a stuffy atmosphere.  Here, you drink champagne, you order entrées with shaved truffles, served amuse-bouches with complimentary pre-dessert, then the actual dessert, followed by yet another complimentary (ready for this) POST-dessert!  The location, atmosphere, food and service created a very memorable dinner.  I will never forget one of our many waiters as he looked so much like Anthony Bourdain!  Post-dinner was also most memorable because we took the elevator instead of the stairs and somehow hopped off on the wrong floor and it took a good half hour and many goofy pictures to escape the hotel.  The champagne, bottle of wine, limoncello and vin santo probable hampered our departure or maybe deep down, we really didn’t want to leave.

Do As The Romans Do

8 Sep

I haven’t gone back to Italy since 2003.  I tried to, but then I had to be a responsible, tax-paying adult and abandon my go-with-the-wind, backpacker lifestyle. Then – poof! – 8 years had gone by and I’ve been back everywhere but there.

P. and I had been talking about going to Italy pretty much since we started to travel together.  We first casually talked about it in-flight to New York, daydreamed about it while we sipped on our hot chocolate in Lake Louise, envisioned the hills of Tuscany while digging our toes in the sandy beaches of Mexico and thought of the Mediterranean Sea as we rode the Chicago Architectural Cruise.  P.’s not one for all hat and no cattle and so he booked the trip to seal the deal.  So what was booked a few months then, Italy felt a millennia away.  We put our noses to the grindstone, looked up for a second and – boom! – it was time to go!

In 2 weeks, we ate our way through all the amazing places we visited making for an unforgettable epicurean experience that resulted in more photos of food than of myself.  First up, Rome.  For most people, Rome is the natural starting point to a trip to Italy.  And why not?  It’s full of amazing things to see, and equally amazing things to eat.  And while few things ruin an appetite like jet lag, we still managed to pack quite a bit of eating into three days.  Okay, we ate a lot in three days.  So rather than bore you with every detail, I’m only going to talk about the highlights.

Our first stop was Gusto-Osteria.  We were only one hour from landing and we badly needed to have our first taste of Italy.  Gusto-Osteria is known for their tasting plate-style menu, Italian charcuterie and a cheese boutique to-die-for served with homemade breads; and a trendy loft wine bar stocked wall-to-wall (literally) with a solid selection of wines.  This is the place you can pop into at any time of the day, for a coffee, snack, an indulgent meal or a late night cocktail.  It is overall very warm and welcoming.  We had (if I remember correctly) the, “Cinque Formaggio Tipo della Regione” (5 regional cheeses) e “Piatto di Tre Salumi” (3 cured meat platter).  The entire menu was in Italian and we figured that since our craving for a nice glass of Italian wine was greater than the need for nourishment, what better (safer) way than to order the cheese and meat boards.  Right? 

The cheese board was a decadent mix of strong, mild, old and young cheeses (names we will never know, but all from the region of Roma –I think), accompanied by some honey, black currant compote; and the meat platter had prosciutto di Parma, mortadella and a Tuscan finocchiona (a handmade fennel salami) which all made for the perfect snack.  It was especially good paired with their red house wine which was very smooth, almost no tannins –which I really like.  In Italy, at times in the summer, they serve their red wine cooler than room temperature.  It was particularly nice since August temperatures often climb above 85F/30C.

 

When in Rome, it’s only polite, and possibly also advantageous, to abide by the customs of their society when one is a visitor.

Gusto-Osteria, Via della Frezza, 16 vicolo del corea, Rome, Italy.

Baker’s Man, Buy Me A Cake As Fast As you Can….

3 Jun

….roll it, pat it, mark it with a “P”

….put it in the oven for the doggies and me!

Because many (many!) of you have inquired about the mysterious “P.’s’” littered amongst my posts, this here post is an introduction.  World, meet P.  P is for Prince.  The prince who stole my heart, that is.  Since this is a food blog and not an emo blog, I’ll try to keep this post in line with culinary musings.

P. is my partner in crime, fellow restaurant critique and collaborator in the kitchen.  He has a highly educated palate and a growing wine collection to match.  He prefers Reidel over Eisch and a tawny vintage must be drunk from a port glass.  Though he’s particular with many things, his taste in restaurants is not limited to the Michelin-starred or the private supper clubs.  Aside from fine dining, we also hunt for the holes-in-the-wall (a green pass a must), hidden spots where a lot of the authentic and delicious cuisine live.  We’ve also greatly enjoyed sharing bags of potato chips with the Mayans after a day of diving into the Cenotes.  To him, good food is good food –no matter the location and as long as he’s with good company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If at any time I’m too exhausted to cook supper, I can turn to him for help in the kitchen –but he’ll already have the lemon risotto cooking and the steaks on broil.  He is phenomenal in the kitchen and very creative without the help of a recipe.  But P. is no baker of cakes, nor maker of pastry.  I’m convinced that he doesn’t have the hands for it.  They are far too warm.  With the hottest oven one can find, he is the one guy who doesn’t really need a pair of protective oven mitts.  His hands –asbestos.  He’ll melt the butter in a dough with just a touch!

While this means he can warm my freakishly frozen fingers and toes no matter where we are (being a girl means being in constant cryonic suspension) it means that he has no chance of making pastry.  Baking is an exacting process.  It’s not like cooking really, it’s pure science which through trial-and-error and endless repetition gives you the expertise for the flakiest choux puff pastry, filled with a velvety pastry cream for a towering croquembouche or the lightest angel cake, covered with the smoothest lavender fondant.

Baking Puff Pastry and Angel Cakes is definitely not P.’s area of culinary art expression.

Of course, the great thing about no-bake-P, is that he obviously just buys a cake, which is P.’s preferred manner of baking.  His taste for patisserie is of course, just as decadent as his salty tooth, and we’ve all been spoiled by the delicacies from one of his favourite spots:

DT (Dessert Trends) – Bistro-Patisserie. 154 Harbord Street (at Brunswick Avenue), Toronto, 416 916-8155 ****

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minimalist decor leaves centre stage for the main event: exquisite cakes and pretty pastries that line glass showcases.  P. says their brunch menu is as good as everything in their showcase.  I’ve yet to try.  My favourite P. – DT Bistro treat: Almond Brittle.  Goddamn, it is good!  I had no idea a simple brittle could be so good.  It’s melt-in-your-mouth addictive!  It needs nothing but a cup of tea and a quiet place where no one can hear you moaning, and in my case swearing, with pleasure.

I’d have taken a picture of the brittle but I ate it before I had the chance.

Shoot One’s Breakfast

1 Jun

Breakfast, as we know, and been told by our mothers, is the most important meal of the day.  So I’ve made a list of breakfast favourites for the awesome worldwide web.

There was a time when breakfast for me meant one thing. The breakfast of champions; a coffee (at least 3 cups) and an artery defying fry up of quite simply gigantic proportions. This is especially good after a night of drinking.  I’ve reached the age now where the notion of ending your night with copious amounts of alcohol and/or starting the day with a couple of things that might kill you is probably a bad idea.   So I’ve been poking around for the alternatives. Firstly, I have to get over the fact that my body doesn’t seem to be very good at waiting to eat after 11 o’clock a.m.. It gets grouchy, it rumbles and generally makes a nuisance of itself  -and to others around me.

Breakfast Choice #1: Starting with the traditional, I’ve been tucking into some Marmite on toast in the morning. Yes.  You read correctly.  I actually find it very good and if it starts the English off in the morning, it’s probably not a bad thing.   Marmite came late in life –until I met P., that is.  It isn’t something you found in the average Filipino household and even reaching Canada, it was still alien English stuff in the supermarket.  In fact, when I tried to buy a jar at Loblaws, they had it in the baking aisle as opposed to the condiments aisle.  I’m sure the “Yeast Extract” and the absence of the nutritional facts chart can throw anyone off.   You must try it on buttered toast, thinly spread. Try.  It.  Now.  In case you can’t find it in the aisles, this is what it looks like:

Breakfast Choice #2: Bagels seem a good option, a hint of the metropolitan, something to be eaten fresh-from-the-oven, slathered in cream cheese with lox and fresh red onions.  You will need to go to St. Urbain Bagels at St. Lawrence Market.  It is by far the freshest, most generous helping of lox and cream on a bagel, one could ever ask for in this city.

Breakfast Choice #3: Oatmeal is something that just fills me with dread. There is possibly no more boring foodstuff on God’s clean earth and I avoid it when I can. The sole exception to the rule being the Oatmeal goodness of Tim Horton’s.  I’m not kidding.  It’s made me love oatmeal on a whole new level and since Tim’s Mixed Berry Oatmeal Bowl, oatmeal is back in the breakfast equation.  It’s served warm with a syrupy berry mix.  Not too sweet and not too gluey.  Try it!

Breakfast Choice #4:  Bacon, of course, is probably the ultimate breakfast food. A thick peameal bacon sandwich, in squishy bread, a runny sunny-side-up egg and a layer of cheese would be the healthiest way to start the day if I was in charge. There really isn’t a more satisfying way to start the day. The smell alone is enough to get me the hell out of bed with a grin on my face and if there is a side of pickles in the bargain then you could probably ask me for my first born. Unfortunately, it’s not, so it is relegated to weekends before a good long walk around the market.  Hands down, Carousel Bakery at St. Lawrence (at second level) is The Ultimate Breakfast Peameal Sandwich in Toronto.

See the thing is I don’t want to be one of those people that eats an energy bar and a can of red bull for breakfast (you know who you are!). I imagine myself sitting at a white starched linen draped table with soft boiled egg and crumpets with Devon’s cream and fresh baked scones every morning.  I also want a toned ass and a flat stomach, so let’s not go there.

In Which I List More Food Need Be Eaten

1 Jun

I was asked today if there was anything that I hadn’t eaten that I really wanted to. Some strange culinary treat that I had never tried or never come across. It stumped me slightly, I mean I’ve eaten some pretty weird shit in my time and never being one to deny myself much in the way of food, there isn’t much I haven’t come across.  I’ve sampled the delights of brains and various offal goodness from a host of animals and prehistoric sea creatures. I’ve eaten gold leaf laced caviar and octopus barnacles fresh from the sea.  I’ve been pretty adventurous but then again, there’s always something you haven’t tried yet.

Some are geographical considerations. I’ve never eaten real gumbo in Louisiana.   I’ve never been to the Tsukiji Fish Market and eaten tuna marrow scooped from the spine of one the great silver tuna.  Still in Japan I’ve never drunk tea prepared in the formal ceremonial way, what is called Ichgo Ichie.  I’ve never eaten a steak in Argentina or ducks feet in China.  Never sampled a bolognaise in Bologna or a Bouillabaise in Marseille.  Then, this struck me as cheating. I mean it’s just a simple matter of not having been somewhere and naming things that places are famous for, which means I could go on for ever.  In the same sort of category there are all those restaurants I’ve never eaten in.

Another would be edible animals that I had never eaten that theoretically I could get in this country and that I would actually want to eat.  Squirrel perhaps, or some sort of garden snake? Hmm, maybe. I seem to remember eating earth worms when I was small, so they are out.  A stag? Yeah, that seems more like it, a great big slab of stag.  Or is that just venison?  A hedgehog? Now, there’s something quite evocative, baked in clay round a gypsy campfire. Probably not something that happens a great deal these days.

On the vegetable and plant front, there are probably a million odd things that grow in these Canadian fields that I have never heard off that would be good to eat.  I imagine peppery leaves, succulent weird shaped tubers and strange, twisted fungi. This is where I need to do some serious looking in the culinary weird stuff as I imagine I’m missing out on some pretty cool stuff, not that I’ll find it in the supermarket.  Time to find a walking schtick, a wicker basket, grab my fave pair of Wellies, a book on botany and get muddy.