Sunday, December 27, 2009

top chef experiment: take two (georgia style braised pork shoulder)

My blog related absence this past week or more was due to one thing: Christmas.

I was suffering my way through some first Christmas without Mom depression that had me feeling very sleepy and unmotivated.

This sad state was very helpfully balanced though by an extreme nervousness surrounding the preparation of my first Christmas turkey (first turkey in general, actually.) These nerves had me constantly making lists, revising lists, adding to lists, realizing that the scope of my lists were bordering on insane, editing lists and finally sucking it up and dragging my pile of lists along on numerous shopping trips.

Just because I make lists does not mean that I am actually, in any way, organized. 

The lists only mean that I can actually pin-point what I forgot when I get home and realize that the sinking feeling of having forgotten something major was, in fact, totally accurate.

So yeah, basically there was no way I was pulling myself together to post anything!

Christmas now being safely behind us (with a New Year's roast looming over my head) I can tell you all that my turkey was delicious (is it bad manners to say that about your own food?) That I  somehow managed to still by WAY too much food. And that all of my family members made it through our first holiday minus the centre of our small universe mostly unscathed.

A couple of days before Christmas I tackled my second top chef experiment: Georgia Style Braised Pork Shoulder.

I went with another Kevin Gillespie recipe (let me tell you now that there will be no rhyme nor reason to the dishes I choose to cook other than what local ingredients I have to choose from and what sounds tasty at the time.) 

Kevin's food is really appealing to me in it's flavour profiles and also in the simplicity of the preparations. As a home cook I feel comfortable with his recipes.

Pork Shoulder
1 pork shoulder roast
4 pieces celery diced
3 onions diced
1 very large carrot diced
1 cup yellow mustard
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
dash black pepper
8 cups water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Slice pork shoulder into 8 oz. portions.
Season with s&p
2 tbsp. oil in large stock pot.
Heat oil to sear pork shoulder portions until browned.
Transfer to large vessel to collect juices.
Add vegetables to same stock pot and carmelize until golden.
Return pork shoulder (and juices) to pot on top of vegetables.
Add in remaining ingredients.
Mix well.
Place in oven for 2 1/2 hours.
Remove from braising liquid and shred.

Serve with Eli's potato salad (recipe to follow)

I found my shoulder a little dry so I decided to add light coating of a Georgia style (vinegar based) barbecue sauce. It ended up going really beautifully with the flavours of Eli's potato salad and really brought the two components together.

Georgia Style Barbecue Sauce
3 1/2 tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp white sugar
2 tsp butter
1/4 of 6 oz. can tomato paste

Combine everything but tomato paste in small pot.
Bring to boil.
Add tomato paste and stir until well blended and thickened.

Eli's Potato Salad
1 lb. russet potatoes
1/2 red onion julienned
1 piece celery small diced
2  hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup yellow mustard
1/16 cup pickled relish
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/8 cup sour cream

Boil potatoes and red onions in salted water until tender.
Shock in ice bath and drain.
In a large bowl mix vegetables and egg..
Mix together mayo, mustard, relish, vinegar and sour cream.
Season dressing with s&p.
Add to salad and mix until potatoes cream together.

Serve with Kevin's pork shoulder on top.

My verdict on the dish: Deliciously tasty. The only potato salad I generally enjoy is my mother's but this one was wonderful and creamy, the mustard adding a nice boost of flavour. 

The pork shoulder was subtly seasoned with the pork flavour really coming through. It had a beautiful texture.

I couldn't stop snacking on it and SeaBass was totally into it. Definitely worth trying.

Next up: Michael Voltaggio's cod with dashi broth.

P.S. If anyone wants to suggest a dish or has tried a dish they'd like to post about on my blog, let me know!

Friday, December 18, 2009

top chef experiment: take one (roasted beets and carrots with carrot top puree)

I love Top Chef.

It's like the most perfect combination of guilty reality television and food porn.

Thank god for a reality show that leaves me feeling inspired and not like I started out having a civilized glass of wine,

Which turned into a crazy drinking binge,

The decision to take scissors to the tightest, shortest, most man-made fibrous dress that I own,

Go out on the town,

Black out,

And finally end up in some stranger's apartment with no bloody clue how to get home.

Thank you Jersey Shore.

(Also: I would like to make it clear that I have never worn a drunkenly customized polyester dress. As for the rest - well let's just say my memory is a little fuzzy.)

Back to the topic at hand. Every season of Top Chef has outdone the last. After Top Chef: Vegas I'm not sure how it could get any better. 

The talent on the show was incredible. The food produced was both beautiful and, more importantly, yummy.

Or at least I think it was yummy. I'm mostly taking the judges' word for it that having to decide a winning dish based on basic use of salt and pepper as seasoning because the overall taste level was so high means that the food was incredibly good.

Why didn't it occur to me until now to actually attempt to cook some of my favourite dishes from the show? 

I'm gonna go with the old stand-by and say that my general lack of the use of logic had a lot to do with it.

But no more will I sit idly by and drool at my television.

Of course, that's partly because the Top Chef season is over (and I'm crying inside).

Last night marked my first experiment with a Top Chef recipe and I will continue to experiment with the recipes once a week.

I, once a week it is. 

I think I have a commitment problem.

I started with Kevin's recipe from the second last episode. I was totally in love with the dish the moment I saw it. It was gorgeous on the plate and a beautiful showcase of the flavours of carrot and beet.

Roasted Beets and Carrots with Carrot Top Puree

1 pound Beets (I used the local golden and candy-cane beets I had)
1 lb Baby carrots
2 tablespoons Butter
* 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Syrup
1 cup carrot tops
** 1/3 cup green onion (green parts only)
1/3 cup parsley
1/3 cup tarragon
1Z2 cup honey
2 cups olive oil
*** Dubliner cheese

* I made a syrup by cooking down apple cider until thick.

** The original recipe called for chives, which I couldn't find.

*** Original recipe called for San Andre cheese - a no go for me. As a note, San Andre is apparently made in the style of a pecorino so the next time I make this, I'll be going with that type of cheese. 


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Trim ends off beets making one side a flat surface.
Place beets in a large pan with the flat side down 
Cover the bottom with 1/8 inch of water. 
Cover pan with foil.
Cook at 400 degrees for 90 minutes.

When cooked keep covered with foil until beets reach room temp. 
Remove beet skins.

Peel carrots and halve.
Cut into similar shapes.

Place carrots in single layer in deep saute pan.
Cover with water, butter and apple cider syrup. 
Cook uncovered on medium high heat until liquid is absorbed and carrots are just tender. 
If carrots are not tender add more butter, water, syrup and cook a little longer.

Remove from pan immediately and let cool.

Carrot Top Puree:

Combine carrot tops, green onion (chives), parsley and tarragon in blender.
Add 6 ice cubes.
Add enough olive oil to cover 3/4 ingredients.
Blend on high.
Add water if mixture gets too thick.

Season with s&p. 
Strain mixture.
Put strained mixture in covered container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Honey Vinaigrette:

Boil honey in pot.
Keep close eye on honey to observe it darkening by stages.
When it has darkened a few stages add apple cider vinegar.
Bring to boil
Season with s&p.
Whisk in 1 cup olive oil.

Putting it all together

Toss the carrots and beets with vinaigrette.
Spoon puree on to plate.
Top with vegetables.
Add thinly shaved cheese. 

The verdict:

This was SO good. I had to beg SeaBass to leave me enough veggies to take photos today. Immediately after posting this I will be finishing that little bit off! 

I'm looking very forward to the next experiment.

One last pic I had to share

Just loved the way the trees from my backyard got reflected in the bowl. An unexpected photographic surprise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

guanciale - post cure and ready for hanging (caution: contains graphic pork images)

Personally I think pork jowls are a thing of beauty. 

On the other hand, I can totally see how many people might not agree. So, a warning in advance that this post contains some unadulterated and extremely graphic images of pork in all its natural glory.

If you're not into photos of large chunks of partly cured meat - well - you should probably just skip this one.

'Cause here it comes

Today I released my guanciale. 

A week after mixing up a very simple salt cure (recipe to follow) and throwing my pork jowls into two separate ziploc bags with equal amounts of said cure; I removed the jowls from their refrigerated holding cell, washed off the remaining cure and hung them to dry further.

I have to say that the entire inside of my fridge smells like the salt cure right now. Not that I mind in the least. The fridge smells like thyme and garlic and pepper and chili flakes - totally covers up for any smells of boiled cabbage or salt beef, or salt fish - or any other smelly Daddy delicacy that I could swear permeates the actual structure of the refrigerator. 

I wanted to show you a couple of photos of the guanciale before I washed off the excess cure and left it to hang.

First up we have the skin side of the jowl:

Yum. I can't wait to slice into that goodness!

And the meaty flesh side of the jowl:

All that salty fat is going to be amazing in carbonara - which I'm counting the days until I can make in the traditional fashion.

Of course that's just the beginning of my adventures with guanciale - not to mention with home charcuterie.

I'm might be jumping ahead a few steps in difficulty, but I'm totally thinking about taking on nduja as my next challenge.

I should really not watch television. Especially No Reservations. Especially episodes that involve Chris Cosentino. Especially when he's cooking with offal. 

Too late now. 

I'll just keep that in mind for next time.


Guanicale Cure (for 2 pork jowls)
Adapted from Charcuterie: Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

1 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
4 cloves garlic (mashed with flat side of knife)
30 black peppercorns (cracked with pan or flat side of knife)
2 large bunches of thyme
My addition: Handful of crushed pepper flakes 

Rinse jowls and pat dry.
Remove stray tissue.
Remove glands (smally fatty discs).
Prepare cure, combine ingredients.
Place jowls in two non-reactive containers or ziploc bags.
Pour cure (1/2 for each jowl) in the ziploc bag.
Distribute over jowl and rub in thoroughly.
Refrigerate jowls until they fell stiff all through (4-7 days).
Redistribute cure over jowls every other day.
When ready remove from container or bag.
Rinse well under cold water to remove residual cure.
Pat jowl dry.
With knife poke hole in one corner and slip long piece of butcher's string through it.
Hang jowls in cool dry place until completely stiff to touch but not hard (1-3 weeks).
Can be refrigerated upo to 3 weeks or frozen 4 months or longer.

Guanciale (Cured Pork Jowl) on Foodista

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

5 months (155 days)

I woke up today feeling more than a little odd, and not just because it's now 5 months since Mom passed.

I'm pretty sure I forgot to take my - lovingly referred to by SeaBass as - "crazy pills" yesterday. This tends to leave me wandering aimlessly through a day of dizziness, fogginess and general lack of focus.

Oh, and also extremely emotionally unbalanced.

SeaBass will usually be the one to first realize that I've perhaps forgotten to pop my pills. This typically occurs very shortly after I've laughed hysterically with him, screamed at him, broke down sobbing, and then attacked him the course of about 5 minutes.

Then, when I am reduced to babbling through tears once more, begging for forgiveness for slapping him and asking the universe to explain to me what the hell is wrong with me; SeaBass will quietly and gently ask if it's possible that I perhaps forgot a part of my morning routine in the last day or so.

When you combine this pharmaceutically induced haziness with the anniversary of Mom's death you're pretty much looking at one hell of a day.

I haven't broken down bawling (yet) but I've looked at everything today through a haze of tears that has remained under control but ready to burst into a cascade down my cheeks.

I am alone today. That helps. I can breathe when I'm alone. I can focus. I can turn away when I need to. I can be weak. I can drop to the floor. I can crumple in a heap. I can laugh. I can kick things. I can punch the wall. I can stare into space and beg to go back 155 days and save Her. I can admit that I'm not sure what the point is. I can sob as loud and as hard as I need to and wait to feel the comfort of my Mother's arms. I can know that I will never feel them again. 

I can hold steady through all of that and regather my strength. I know I can do that because my Mother gave me that ability and I know that while I won't ever feel her arms around me again I won't ever forget the feeling of them either. 

And that's all I need to get through one more day.

But would be a whole lot easier if I could just remember to take my crazy pills!

Monday, December 14, 2009

carrots - a revelation

My culinary life to this point has been a sham.

My palate existed in a vast wasteland of ignorance that knew no end.

Until, well, until said wasteland abruptly ended - with the arrival of two simultaneous bounties:

1) heirloom carrots

2) braising of said heirloom carrots

Up until last night my experience with carrots could be summed up thusly: orange carrots steamed, orange carrots roasted, orange carrots buttered, orange carrots raw. To be followed with a round of orange carrots steamed, roasted, buttered, raw...and then, well, you get the picture.

This left me feeling pretty apathetic about carrots in general.

Of course I was not oblivious to the whole heirloom veggie movement, I just hadn't had the opportunity to get my greedy little hands on any beautifully coloured heirloomy goodness of the carrot variety.

And then last week there they were. Erin, of Karma Marketplace, had bunches of locally grown purple and golden carrots. I still wasn't convinced that I even liked carrots all that much but the physical beauty of the carrots alone is way too much for my superficial self to resist. So, home with me they came.

As pretty as they are on the outside, it just gets better when you cut into them.

I bit into a purple carrot first, expecting...well...not much really.

Total shock - purple carrots are heavily sweet with an amazing carroty aroma.

Golden carrot next.

Surprise again - a medium sweetness and again just a sense of carrot-ness that is so often absent from supermarket varieties.

Good lord! Where have these carrots been all my life?

I couldn't decide for a few days how I wanted to cook the carrots. They were so damn pretty that I didn't want to do anything other than peel and slice in half. I also really wanted to enjoy the different flavours so I didn't want to bury them in other ingredients or a larger dish.

A quick glimpse through my Joy of Cooking, the go-to when I'm looking to go back to basics with an ingredient, and I decided to braise my veggies.

And here we arrive at my second revelation.

Holy crap, braising is the greatest thing ever!!!!!

The sweet carrots release their sugars into the braising liquid and the whole dish becomes infused with the essence of carrot.

I am so in love with braising (and with carrots) that I'm doing the rest of them  tonight.

Braising Recipe
1 1/2 pounds carrots
1 cup stock or water or both
3 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Peel and halve carrots.
Lay them in a large saute pan in a single layer.
Add stock, butter, sugar, salt.
Heat to a simmer.
Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer for approx. 20 minutes or until all braising liquid is absorbed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

dilemma of the day - the first christmas

When you are in a situation such as mine; that is, living in your parents' home in the wake of the loss of your mother -

Always keeping in mind of course that there is a good chance that I'm the only one in the history of mankind with strong enough self destructive tendencies to put themselves in such a precarious position -

What is your duty when decorating for the holidays? 

In general we, as a family, have decided to be low key this year. We don't want to avoid the holiday all together -

Although it definitely wouldn't be difficult. It's not that I'm feeling hostile towards the holidays or saddened by them or any other emotion really. There is just an incredible numbness about the whole thing. It's like I'm behind glass that nothing can penetrate.

So, Dad and I discussed less decorating (I can't think of anything sadder than a house full of Christmas  paraphernalia and no Christmas spirit), no presents and a general sense of just getting through this one.

My father has referred to the question of a tree for weeks now as "my tree;" asking if will be getting one and insisting that he has nothing to do with Christmas trees in general or any tree I procure for the house in specific.

At the same time Dad monitored my movements closely yesterday as I retrieved the Christmas decorations from their storage place and was quick to note that there seemed to be fewer boxes than in normal years (please refer back to my earlier mention of the repeated discussions of engaging in less decorating than in normal years...and my father's apparent agreement with said plan.) And is now generally hovering over my every activity and questioning my plans for decorating.

What is my role here?

My mother was the spirit of Christmas in this house. I cannot and will not attempt to take on that role - especially not this year. I'm just trying to get by like everybody else. I know that Dad is too.

Maybe I'm asking for a Christmas miracle here, but does anyone have any advice for how to navigate this situation? How do I get myself through this holiday, do only as much as I can and still make my father happy?

Friday, December 11, 2009

and now back to our regularly scheduled programming - food

A sign of how poopy I was feeling this week: I was perfectly content to allow my father to make things like Kraft Dinner and store bought chicken wings whilst I survived on baguettes with balsamic and vinegar.

Yes, it was that bad.

I had absolutely no energy - not even enough to worry about the cause of the mysterious disappearance of my will to live.

But I'm done with that now. I'm actually exhausted with dealing with my own exhaustion and so I declare an end to the ennui. I say sionara to the insidious sleepiness. 

This week has not been a total loss on the food front though. Last weekend while in the metropolis of Toronto (said visit being the instigator of the slippery descent into depression and the inevitable escape in dream-time) I took the opportunity to pick up a couple of pork jowls so that I could begin my first experiment with home curing (an endeavour I feel confident in thanks to the arrival of my copy of Charcuterie by Michael Rhulman and Brian Polcyn a couple of weeks ago.)

I am in the process of making guanciale, the traditional cured pork used in carbonara dishes. At this point the jowls are in the fridge absorbing salts and spices - I will be posting pics upon their release from this phase of the curing.

The fact that I had to go all the way into the middle of Toronto to buy my lovely jowls was a little troubling to me. 

The thing is, I live in the middle of rural farm land. 

I'm surrounded by the smells of cow, horse and pig poop on a daily basis.

So why did I have to venture into heavily populated, very urban land smelling of exhaust fumes and greasy take-out to get my hands on some tasty pig?

This irritating question was really the last straw for me in terms of taking an active interest in local food.

I live in an amazing area of central Ontario, filled with producers of local food as well as artisans and craftspeople. It's also an area that seems to get overlooked a lot surrounded as Simcoe County is by some of the better known tourist areas.

The Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance doesn't even list Simcoe County amongst it's culinary regions!

So, what am I babbling about? 

Basically I'm going to do my best through this site to continue the kind of writing and cooking that I've been doing but with an added focus on local yumminess. Besides the inescapable logic of eating locally, when you live in area as full of goodness as I do it's really silly not to promote it.

This week was my first picking up a Good Food Box from Karma Marketplace so I'll be doing a lot of cooking based on the seasonal, local produce from the box.

Finally, I'll be cooking something other than pork for a least until the guanciale is ready!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

absence makes the heart grow fonder - i hope

I apologize for my absence.

I have no excuse except that I spent this weekend visiting SeaBass' family in the metropolis that is Toronto and it has taken me until this afternoon to recover.

I'm sure that sounds ridiculous. It sounds ridiculous to me and I'm the one who experiences it every goddamn time we visit. But it's the truth.

The fact is that I don't do well
1) away from home
2) in the city (especially in the suburb I grew up in where I feel the world closing in on me as I enter)
3) in the vicinity of my in-laws

I wish I could this. I'm working on it (sort of) but so far, no luck.

So basically I've been attempting to regain my equilibrium and I've been spending an awful lot of time sleeping; making up for the fact that I don't sleep well when away from my little sanctuary up here in the great white north.

I hope you missed me as much as I missed you!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

the sound of my heart

Each day now there is a moment when I consider my mother's place in my thoughts.

Each day I pause to wonder if I've brought Her to mind since waking.

Each day the answer is the same.

"Mom" is the breath of each of my exhalations.

"Mommy" is the sound that fills the space between my each beat of my heart.

There is no thought, no moment, that is not filled with the essence of my mother.

That's what keeps me going.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

letting squash back in my heart (butternut squash pizza)

A single lonely butternut squash had been sitting on the kitchen counter staring forlornly at me for weeks. I just couldn't bring myself to do anything with it after my mysterious, seemingly squash related, illness a little while back.

I'm still relating the horrid details of that experience to friends, family members and acquaintances...for which I am sure they are all hugely grateful.

Really, what is the point of suffering if you can't sharing with the ones you love...and the ones you like...and even the ones you barely know?

A couple of nights ago I just couldn't take the squash staring pitifully at me every time I walked through the kitchen anymore. I knew it was unfair to put my own fears on this poor, innocent vegetable so I peeled and chopped it up. I tossed it with some olive oil, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne and s&p and roasted it up.

Then I added it to some mixed greens, toasted walnuts and blackberries to make a nice little salad for my supper.

There was still quite a bit of squash left over though. was a big squash. I had big plans for it before the violent attack on my gastrointestinal system.

Yesterday I went back and forth considering a pasta filling or possibly a gnocchi when inspiration struck and I decided to throw together a squash pizza.

It was a super easy supper to throw together, especially if you make things easy on yourself (which I never do) and buy your pizza dough.

Personally, I enjoy making life more difficult, so I made my own.

Pizza Dough
1 pkg yeast
500 grams bread flour
280 ml water
1 oz. olive oil
10 grams raw sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water (as per directions)
Mix together flour, water, olive oil, sugar and salt
Then add activated yeast
Knead dough until it reaches a smooth elastic texture and does not stick to your hands or the board (about 5 to 10 minutes)
Place dough in well oiled bowl (large enough for dough to double in size)
Cover bowl with plastic and put in warm place for 3 hours to rise
After 3 hours punch dough down and separate into 2 (for large pizzas) or 4 (for personal sized) equal balls.
Cover the dough balls with a sprinkling of flour, cover with plastic wrap and allow to double in size again (about 1 hour)
After 1 hour work each ball of dough out into pizza shape (take your time with the dough, don't rush it or you'll rip the dough)

Now for my butternut squash pizza.

I basically raided my cupboards and fridge and this is what I came up with. The flavour combination was really great though, each bite had a great balance and even SeaBass had only good things to say (that's pretty much as close to enthusiasm as I get from him....not that I'm bitter.)

Butternut Squash Pizza
1 pkg. fresh mozzarella
mixed greens (I stuck mostly with arugula and baby spinach for the bite and balance they added)
1 small onion (sliced and carmelized)
roasted butternut squash (diced in bite sized pieces)
toasted pine nuts
bacon (diced to bite sized pieces)
* balsamic reduction (recipe at end of post)
manchego cheese (grated and sprinkled on top) (parmesan or any other nutty, salty cheese would work)

Preheat oven to highest internal temp
Carmelize onion and fry bacon while you roll out pizza dough
Break up mozzarella and distribute over rolled out pizza dough
Add onion and chopped bacon
Add bite sized pieces of squash
Add mixed greens
Add pine nuts
* Drizzle balsamic reduction over everything
Sprinkle on manchego (or alternative cheese)

Pop pizzas in oven (my oven goes to 550 degrees and pizzas take about 5 minutes to cook to my liking.)

* Balsamic Reduction
There's no actual recipe. I just boiled down a little balsamic vinegar (much to the chagrin of my father who looked like he was going to puke when he smelled it!) It happens very quickly (within a couple of minutes) so just keep an eye on the pot and reduce the vinegar until you get a consistency you like.

Butternut Squash Pizza on Foodista