Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lacto Fermented Turnips Two Ways – Shawarma and Japanese Style

Quick post before work! Rural Southern Ontario can really bite the big one if you have exotic tastes, or cravings. This was no exception. While attending George Brown Chef School, I pretty much lived off of Shawarma . I love the stuff, I cannot get enough of it. When friends of mine visit Toronto from Woodstock they bring me hours old soggy Shawarma, and I couldn’t be happier!
It actually wasen’t till after I moved back from Toronto that I started researching this this heavenly fast food, and I could admittedly never figure out what those weird purple pickled things were! Those purple things were turnips all along! Who would have thought?
Well long story short, I’ve been craving it, thirsting for it, it makes me drool… So like all things time to just make it myself with a twist. Typically most of these pickles are done in a vinegar brine solution, I wanted to try my hand at some lacto fermentation. We are almost a week in and they are starting to taste great.

What you need:

2L worth of Jars, I used a 1500 ml, and a 500 ml jar.
10 Turnips (give or take)
1 Beet
1 piece of Kombu (seaweed used for making Dashi)

The Brine

The ratio I have been using is about 1.5 tablespoons of salt per 2 cups of water.  Simply heat up the water and salt to a boil, once the salt has dissolved, let it cool. You will need about 4 cups worth of brine to do 2L worth of veg. It is also worth noting that the salt will draw extra moisture out from the vegetables so keep an eye on it, or it could overflow and you will have a mess on your hands. 

Shawarma Style

These are pretty easy, and made purple with the addition of a beet. Cut your turnips into finger size batons, put into a jar. I like the addition of about 3 cloves of sliced garlic  as well. Peel your beat and cut similar to the turnips. Fill with cooled brine till turnips are covered, and weigh down with something that will fit inside your jar (I used a smaller mason jar, but glasses, cups, ever a ziplock bag filled with water will work). Loosely cover with cheesecloth and let sit for about a week, after which put in fridge. They should last 3-6 months but will lose their crunch.

Japanese Style

Japanese culture loves pickles; they have stores dedicated to them. In fact, if anyone has a good book on Japanese pickles please send me the title (I am currently going through a Japanese cuisine learning phase). Traditionally these pickles are sliced very very thing, and a small piece of kombu sandwiched between each slice. That is what I would have done had I not left my mandolin at work. So I simply rough chopped them, added about a 4 inch square piece of kombu, filled with brine, and bobs your uncle. Follow as per instructions for the beets.


-          These will not taste exactly like the vinegar pickles you may be accustomed to, if they are not to your liking simply add vinegar to taste. Serve them as a side dish, condiment, frankly I keep just eating them out of the jar and they aren’t even finished yet.
-          If you have some cabbage lying around, break off a leaf, fold it in half, or quarter (depending on size) and shove it on top of the vegetables. This will help keep them submerged and also add some healthy bacteria to the mix (it naturally grows on cabbage leaves)
-          Press firmly, and gently shake your jars to get rid of all air bubbles, as this could cause mold.
-          Last note, this all seems very counter intuitive to what you are used to (leaving veg out for a week), but have a little faith, you won’t get sick…. In fact… you’ll be better for it! Don't over think it, and if in doubt there are many resources on the internet addressing lacto fermentation.
Thursday, September 6, 2012

Seared Duck Breast with Highbush Cranberry Sauce, Double Cream Brie, Candied Walnuts, Arugula, Thyme Honey, and Raisin and Apple Bread

Ingredients (see recipe where applicable)

Duck Breasts
Double Cream Brie
Candied Walnuts
Thyme Honey (any other type is acceptable)
Raisin and Apple Bread (recipe possibly forthcoming)


Begin by patting your duck breasts dry, and cross hatching the layer of fat. To do this lay the knife flat against the surface of the fat and slightly push down while dragging the blade across. Continue every ¼ inch or so and then proceed to do the same thing on an angle perpendicular to the incisions you just made. You should end up with little ¼ inch diamonds over the surface of the skin. Do not cut all the way through the skin to the meat. The purpose of this is while cooking to let the excess fat render off and escape leaving you with beautiful crispy skin.

To cook the duck start with a cool pan (nonstick actually works rather well here, and this will probably be the only time I recommend nonstick, and a cold pan). The duck contains enough fat to cook itself in, so you will not need to add a cooking fat. Place the duck skin side down, and gently raise the temperature. As the pan heats the duck will render out the fat and you can increase the heat. When the skin is crispy (much like bacon), flip the breast over for a quick sear on the other side, remove, and slice.

For the candied walnuts, put 1/2 cup of sugar in a pan with just enough water to immerse the sugar in water (if you put in more it will just take longer). Bring to a simmer. While this is going on butter the sides of a large bowl, and save a few nubs. When the sugar has reached a brown color toss in a few nubs of butter, the walnuts and quickly toss them in the caramel. Transfer to the bowl and toss vigorously until the walnuts have cooled, you may have to use your fingers to break up some of the more stubborn ones. 

For the other ingredients simply arrange them as you would for any other salad.


You will have leftover duck fat, either save it in the fridge or take left over bread and fry it in the duck fat. When it is crispy top with brie and put in the oven till the brie melts, drizzle with honey and prepare for either a culinary orgasm, a food coma, and/or a heart attack.

Highbush Cranberry Sauce

1 lb Highbush Cranberry
2 ¼ cup Sugar
¾ cup Water
¼ packet Pectin

Whilst on one of my forays into the bush I stumbled on these beauties among a few other treats I have yet to write about. Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is actually not a cranberry at all, or even in the same family. The name comes from the fact that is looks, and tastes very similar to cranberries. It is not without its differences however. The highbush cranberry has a certain muskiness about it that, in fact when you are stemming, sorting, and boiling them down they smell a lot like a high school boys locker room -but dont let this stop you from giving it a shot. This plant was used extensively by Native Americans, is extremely high in vitamin C, and with a little sweetness can be quite tasty.

Start by stemming your berries, followed by a good wash!

Next, take the berries and put them into a pot with the water and bring to boil. While waiting for them to come to the boil grab your trusty potato masher and start squishing the berries. They will not squish like most berries and more or less pop and/or explode -be prepared for the ensuing cranberry atomic bomb going off on your stove.

After 10 minutes or so of simmering, put your highbush cranberries into a jelly bag or cheese cloth and let drain for a quite a few hours. If you are not overly concerned about the clarity of the sauce feel free to give it a squeeze to help it along.

Bring your highbush cranberry liquid back onto the stove, add pectin and sugar, bring to the boil.

Either let cool in a container and refrigerate until it “sets,” or follow the typical procedure for hot bath preservation.

*you may have to use more or less pectin to get desired consistency,  or use an immersion blender to break it up. It would also be acceptable to use gelatin or agar agar.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing - Ruhlman

Charcuterie is the old art of curing pork, and making preserves. It has recently gone back into vogue, and not only are restaurants serving charcuterie platter -they are making it themselves. There are now entire restaurants devoted to this type of food, my favourite being The Black Hoof in Toronto.

This is not a new book by any means, but I have used it over and over again, and spurred me on in what can only be described as obsession. Needless to say with Ruhlman and Polcyn's upcoming release of Salumi this review is long over due.

The downfall of many charcuterie, and meat curing related books is that often it falls into the realm of food science. Our society as a whole is almost deemed unworthy to understand the principals behind processed food. There are many decent books done by the Marianskis, which will give you better comprehension of the science behind these things; however, it will scare off most first time dabblers. Realising this gap Ruhlman and Polcyn teamed together to create the first modern day, everyday man's book on everything porky, cured, smoked, salted, and stuffed.

One might ask themselves why we need the knowledge of food preservation? We have freezers, and refrigerators -it is no longer needed. Perhaps not, but its delicious. I for one am not willing to go my life without bacon.

The book is smartly divided into seven sections (not including the introduction): salt-cured, smoked, sausages, dry-cured, pates and terrines, confits, and accompaniments. Each section contains very informative instruction on techniques that are relevant, followed by some killer recipes, and usually additional related information. The salt-cured section begins with the history behind salted food, followed by the science behind it. Ruhlman follows this up with not only the economy and weight of buying whole hogs, but how these cuts differ in uses. Next up to bat is the dry cure recipe, and within a few seconds you know how to make your own bacon. After a veritable laundry list of culinary delights such as pancetta, guanciale, duck proscuitto, etc. We are inaugurated into the art of brining and everything from the perfectly brined chicken, to fermented sauerkraut, to lemon confit. At the end of the chapter you may not be getting a PhD in food chemistry, but you will have a great deal of understanding over the "what, where, why, how, and when," of everything salt cured.

The rest of the book follows suit.Whether you are an aspiring French chef trying to master duck confit, and pork rilletes, or an inspired barbeque pit master attempting to perfect a barbeque sauce you will get something out of this book. Cant find grandma's dill pickle recipe? This one is likely better. Definately a must have!
Saturday, April 28, 2012

Understanding Leaveners - Yeast, Baking Soda, and Egg Whites

To the home baker, this is often a conundrum “Shit, I ran out of baking soda what else can I use?” We have all been there, and this is all a matter of understanding what is actually going on inside your recipe. Some of this believe it or not is grade school science, and I am here simply to reiterate something that seems elaborate but is not. Leaveners are the things that make our baked goods rise, in short.

Fundamentally, all of these things achieve one thing: they produce (usually carbon dioxide, or incorporate gas.) This is can be achieved three different ways: microbial, chemical, or mechanical.


Microbial leavening is achieved through yeasts. The same things that produce two of our favourite things: alcohol, and bread. This is fermentation. Yeast leavening can be complicated by going down a baking aisle, and seeing fast acting yeast, cake yeast, brewers yeast, sourdough etc. I will delve into that more complicated bit after. What is important is to understand that yeasts eat sugars. These can be sugars from starches (carbohydrates), table sugar, honey, etc. Some of these sugars are more digestible then others, but for our purposes, that is not important. When a yeast eats a sugar it farts, vomits, and procreates (much like a frat house). It farts carbon dioxide, vomits alcohol, and produces more yeast.

If left in a liquid with a sugar, it will produce alcohol and the carbon dioxide will escape. This is how we get beer. Bread is much like beer, and bread dough is even mildly alcoholic. The different is that when we knead a dough together we create gluten, and this gluten traps the carbon dioxide which causes the bread to “rise,” much like blowing up a balloon. When the bread is baked, the alcohol is burned off.

This brings us to the next topic -types of yeast. There are different strains of yeast, some are better are producing alcohol, some better at producing carbon dioxide. There are also wild yeasts (yes they watch you while you are sleeping). For baking purposes we are interested in the ones that produce carbon dioxide. Now we have a selection to choose from, and without getting into all of them it fundamentally comes down to how fast they wake up and do their thing. Think normal yeast as sleepy factory workers, and thing of super active yeast as the Incredible Hulk. Our Hulk is the same as our Average Joe yeast, except he is packed with beneficial nutrients that wake him up and get him going faster. If we gave our factory yeasts Red Bull (ie yeast nutrients) the same thing would happen.

Having a Hulk yeast is not always a beneficial thing. This is an important principle in bread making. Time equals Taste. The longer your bread ferments, the more flavour it will have. This is the reason store bought white bread tastes so different than a sourdough (which we will get into soon).

So hypothetically, we want a flavourful bread but all we have is the Hulk. How can we achieve this?

A big factor in microbial action, and fermentation is temperature. The higher the temperature (that they can survive happily,) the faster they will work. The reverse is also true. If we put our dough the fridge, it will take longer to rise, and produce more flavour. If we need it to rise faster we put it in a warmer spot in the house. Simple non?

So what then is sourdough, and why is it so tasty. Sourdough is the homeless yeast, the teenager, or the Iggy Pop, it is wild and fairly untamed. It is produced by creating a substance that will attract the ambient yeasts living in your house, and cause them to colonize it. This is usually accomplished by a mixture of flour and water, left out in the open for several days until it either molds (in which case it was colonised by other microbials,) or begins to bubble and ferment. When it begins to do this you basically have another pet. You have to feed it, nourish it, and give it a place to sleep. I will not go too in depth to the art of sourdough. Because this yeast really does not “want” to work, the dough takes a long time to ferment, and produces a very fermented flavour. This flavour is unique because more then likely this yeast is unique to your specific area. This is why San Francisco sourdoughs are so popular, they produce a different strain of yeast! Not to say “Your House” sourdoughs cant be better.

To add to the confusion, often you will see the word starter, biga, poolish, or sponge. These are all basically the same thing, they are “pre-ferments”, it is a middle of the road for flavour. How this is achieved it by starting a “dough” ahead of time, letting the yeasts age and establish themselves and then using this “dough” to ferment your actual dough. If we wanted to make a pre-ferment we would take a small portion of yeasts, and water out of our recipe, put our yeasts in that, and let it do its thing overnight on the counter or in the fridge. Where all these strange names differ is in what ratio of flour to water that is in the pre-ferment. Some bakers prefer it more liquid, some prefer it more dough-like in consistency. Another way to achieve this is to make your initial dough, and save a tiny piece for the next batch of dough; they downside however is the reliability.

The things we can take away from this is: Yeasts produce carbon dioxide, that carbon dioxide gets trapped in our dough and causes it to rise, the longer it takes to rise the more flavour it will have.


Chemical leavening is usually achieved by using either baking soda or baking powder. I find the easiest way to explain this is to go back to a grade school science fair where without a doubt, someone made a “volcano.” If you remember the reaction was created by taking baking soda, and vinegar putting them together and watching the mess ensue. This is what happens when you mix an acid (vinegar), and a base (sodium bicarbonate) This is exactly what happens when you use them in baking. If a recipe calls for baking soda, it will always have an acid accompanying it. This is usually lemon juice, buttermilk or cream of tartar (which is actually tartaric acid). What happens is our volcano reaction happens in our mixture creating carbon dioxide which is trapped and baked. This can be accomplished using baking soda and any acid you can think of (well as long as it is food friendly). The chemical responsible for this is sodium bicarbonate.

The difference between baking soda, and baking powder is that baking powder contains both sodium bicarbonate, and tartaric acid (cream of tartar). It often uses an inert starch as a drying agent as well.

So we have a recipe that calls for baking powder, but all we have is baking soda. How can we create our own baking powder?

1 part baking soda
1 part cornstarch
2 part cream of tartar

Ok, but I am out of cream of tartar, and cornstarch. What else can I use? If we require one teaspoon of baking powder we can use these substitutions:

1/2 tsp baking soda +1/2 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or soured milk (1/2 cup milk + 1 1/2 tsp vinegar/lemon juice)
1/2 tsp baking soda +1 1/2 tsp lemon juice, or vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda + 1/3 tsp citric acid

More often then not you will use 1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour. When we substitute using liquid you must also adjust your recipe by taking out other liquids. The problem with substitutions is although some can be straightforward others can change the texture/flavour of the recipe. Technically it is an exact science, realistically not so much.

There are also single acting, and double acting baking powders. Single acting only activates when applied with heat (ie being baked), whereas double acting will react at room temperature AND when applied with heat. Also note that self rising flour is normal flour with the addition of baking powder. To make your own take normal flour and add 1 1/4 tsp of baking powder, and a 1/4 tsp of salt.

What we can take away from chemical leavening is this: Baking soda is a base, when this base is combined with acid it will produce carbon dioxide and cause our recipe to rise (with the application of heat), baking powder is baking soda combined with acid already. Now that you understand the “why” it should be much easier to understand what is going on in your recipes, and how to substitute the various ingredients.


Mechanically leavening something is probably the simplest of all processes. We use mechanical movement to introduce air, and then gently heat it to cement it together. Mainly what we are talking about are egg whites. Whipped egg whites are responsible for many delicacies such as souffles, macarons, meringues, sponge cake, etc. Cream is not generally baked while whipped, however ice cream is an example where air is whipped into the ice cream mixture which increases its volume and then frozen. We will concentrate on egg whites.

Without going too scientific (if you wish to, buy On Food and Cooking by Harold Mcgee) when egg whites are whipped two chemicals in the egg whites are attracted to each other and form the framework through molecular bonds. If baked right away (usually very low gentle heat,) this framework is solidified, and leaves us with a light airy product. Although it is not exactly that simple, the same forces that create this network can also become too tightly bonded and cause the whites to collapse. To further complicate things whites have water, and if contaminated by yolk, fat. Both of these things will have a negative effect on the end product, and work against your desired results.

Commonly it is advised both most French pastry chefs that in order to get the best egg whites, the eggs must be older, room temperature and aged. Harold McGee notes that your eggs should be in a chilled bowl, and if needed a tiny bit of acid added to them -1/2 tsp cream of tar tar. This is kind of contradictory and unfortunately I do not have an answer. As eggs age, they actually become less acidic, and warm eggs have a harder time bonding together. Take what you will from that, I am not going to argue with neither a Pastry chef, nor the Godfather of food science.

One thing that sounds like an old wives tale which does have scientific merit, if the belief that a copper bowl should be used when whipping eggs. This is true.

“It turns out that along with a few other metals, copper has the useful tendency to form extremely tight bonds with reactive sulphur groups: so tight that the sulphur is essentially preventing from reacting with anything else. So the presence of copper in foaming eggs whites essentially eliminates the strongest kind of protein bond that can form, and makes it harder for the proteins to embrace each other too tightly.” On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee

In a nut shell, the copper makes it very hard for the whites to collapse. McGee also notes that silver has the same effect as copper (for those of us that can afford silver, let alone copper bowls). I've only briefly touched on this subject because it is either a very simple straightforward topic, or a highly scientific one. My copy of On Food and Cooking, is currently lent out, so perhaps ill post one on the science of it when I get it back.

I hope this answers more questions, then it makes. Hopefully never again will someone ask me about baking soda substitutions, or at least I will have a place to steer them. Cheers.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Baked Beans with Home cured Bacon and Maple Syrup

Spring has been tossing us red herrings for the last few weeks, teasing us with promises of warmth followed by days of cold and wet. On one such rainy cold day I needed to stave off the chill with something. Although baked beans are known the world over there is something quintessentially Canadian about baked beans with bacon, and maple syrup. In Ontario maple syrup season has just wrapped up, and I am lucky enough to have Jakeman's Maple Syrup  just down the road from me (meaning quality maple syrup is always to be had!) I also cured and smoked some bacon this week, meaning this match was just meant to happen.


1 lb – Navy, or Great Northern Beans
1 lb – Slab Bacon (sorry didn't document bacon making, perhaps another time.)
1/2-3/4 cup – Maple Syrup
1 can – Whole Tomatoes
1 can - Beer
3 – Medium Onions (chopped)
10 cloves – Garlic (sliced)
1 tbsp – Ginger (grated)
1 bunch – Sage (chopped)

In a spice bag put:

1/2 – Cinnamon Stick
3 – Cloves
1 – Star Anise
2 – Bay leaves

Begin by soaking your beans over night, or use the quick soak method by bringing them to a boil for ten minutes, and then leave in the water for an hour or two (until grow in size). Cut your bacon into 1/4 size pieces, and add to your cooking vessel. Render out the majority of the fat, and drain leaving 2 or more spoonfuls. Add your onions and garlic, and under medium to medium low heat sweat them until just turning translucent. Add ginger. When those are cooked add beer, and increase heat to high. Reduce by half. Add in tomatoes, beans, spice bag, sage, and maple syrup. Season with pepper, but no salt (see note). Add water and/or stock until beans are covered by an inch or so. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, partially cover and let simmer slowly for 6-8 hours, or until beans are soft.

This recipe works great with any cured pork product. It is great for leftover ham, picnic shoulder, or smoked ham hock. If you use a ham or picnic shoulder it is always great to add the bone in to the beans and any ham “jelly” leftover. It really is a versatile recipe. You could also use a slow cooker, or bake in the oven.

One reason I use whole canned tomatoes, is because more often then not your beans will be close to done once the tomato has pretty much disintegrated into the mixture. If you don’t have maple syrup, you could add 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Hope everyone enjoys this as much as I do.

*Note: When cooking beans do not add salt until the end of the cooking process. The salinity blocks the pores of the beans and they will not be able to absorb moisture and get soft.
Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dryad's Saddle - Polyporus squamosus

Spring brings a great many things, and for the mushroom hunter there is nothing greater then the morel. However there is an edible mushroom that appears even before the morel, and that is the dryad's saddle.  Generally considered not a “choice” edible mushroom with a little love and care can be quite delicious.

The Dryad's saddle is a polypore, meaning it has little holes instead of gills. These holes are visible to the naked eye on this species. It usually grows out of dead or dying hardwoods (ie not on the ground). It has a yellow and brown variegated pattern on the cap, and is white underneath. They can grow quite large, but the edible ones are the smaller variety. This is an easy mushroom to identify, is often the first in spring. The tell tale you have the right mushroom is this is the only mushroom that smells like watermelon. That is right it smells like watermelon.

This is a rather tough, tasteless mushroom (aren't most of them tasteless?), so its a good idea to treat it like a tough cut of meat. Cut into smalls pieces, marinate if you chose, and/or chose a long cooking method. Be sure if you have never had this before to try just a small piece at first, as different people can have different reactions to wild mushrooms. Also never consume wild mushrooms with alcohol, some mushrooms are “edible” as is but alcohol can unlock some nasty effects in them.

That is all for now, recipes forthcoming!
Sunday, August 21, 2011

Once in a Lifetime Video


Duck Breast Salad with Arugula, Goats Cheese, and Blueberry Compote

A perfectly tasty salad which an abundance of flavours and textures. Im not going to go overly crazy with the description and recipe writing but I will give you the basics.


Duck Breast (scored)
Goats Cheese


Cook duck breast skin side down on a medium heat to render out all the fat, and leave you with a crispy skin. When skin is crisp give the meat side a quick sear and remove from heat. The arugula was dressed with a simple wildflower honey vinaigrette. Take about a 1/2 pint of blueberries, and two tbsp of sugar with just a touch of water. Bring to boil and let reduce to compote/jam like consistency. Put it all together and enjoy with a nice pinot.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb, with Crispy Leeks and Nasturtium Puree

This is another dish I couldn’t up for my visiting friends. It turned out damn near perfect, and is a simple variation on many dishes I’ve already posted. For the Lamb proceed with this recipe. For the Nasturtium puree process as for this recipe, but keep the liquid to a minimum.

Crispy Leeks

Crispy leeks are simple, easy to make, and even better to eat. The trick with getting them right is not to try and bread and deep fry them, but to take a two step approach. Julienne the white parts of the leeks. While prepping your leeks prepare a blanching station: a pot of boiling water, and an ice bath with a strainer in it. Blanch the leeks for 35-40 seconds and put in the ice bath to cool. Squeeze any excess moisture from the leeks and allow to dry on paper towelling. When your leeks are relatively dry, deep fry at 325 until crispy.

Duck Maki Roll with Lumpfish roe, Candied Orange, and Tamari

Ducks have tenderloins too! Problem is when they are on the breast it can make for slightly uneven cooking, so we have duck sushi. I was inspired to do this from an amuse bouche I once had to do in a rice paper wrap, so I figure this translates well. I wont go into huge detail about the sushi making process as there are countless videos on youtube how to make it.


2 – Duck tenderloins
1 – Orange zest (cut into thin strips)
Sushi rice
Rice vinegar
Lumpfish Roe (any roe will work)


Make your rice according to the directions on the box. Usually its a 1:1 ratio +10% more water, however you should read the directions. While your rice is cooking away, heat about a 1/4 cup of rice vinegar and a tbsp of sugar until dissolved. Do not allow this to boil, or it will mare the flavour. The actual amounts will vary depending on how much you are making, this should be enough marinate for a cup of rice (use less, taste, add more if needed). Combine the two together, and “cut” the rice so it cools faster. Traditionally as well as cutting the rice you would fan it. Im lazy.

In a hot skillet very quickly sear off your tenderloins. I mean seconds. You want them to have a seared outside but medium rare interior.

For the orange zest, put them into a pot with water, and bring to a boil. When it begins boiling strain and repeat 2 more times. This cooks out the bitterness. Make a simple syrup solution and bring to a boil once more. Strain. Don't waste the simple syrup. When cool add the two back together and refrigerate until needed.

Put together your maki roll. Simple! =)

The Luther

Ok, I am afraid to eat this. It is the first time I have said that in years. Ive eaten chicken feet, squid tentacles, raw organs, but this.... a burger sandwiched between a honey glazed donut has taken my to my level. There is a possibility lurking out there that maybe after too many pints of joy juice I would step up to the plate, and then on to the stretcher. This was made at Big Als Snack Shack in Woodstock, Ont. It is the only place I can think of in this town where not only can you get a decent burger, but if you wish to... they have burgers that will challenge even the most darling of eaters. It brings me back to times at Dangerous Dan's in Toronto. A scuzzy hole in the wall, renown for its delicious albeit artery clogging fare. Its like, a dingy punk bar with the lights turned on with local brew and tasty food.
Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kvass - Tasting

It was time to reap the benefits of yet another crazy experiment -stale bread hooch. The kvass has undergone a slight carbonation, but not enough to be noticeable. The aroma was better then I had expected, it has the unmistakable lemon and mint flavours on the nose, which a touch of yeasty sourdough in the background. What I found most interesting, was the mouthfeel. It felt almost thinner then water. Of the three people that dared to try we all kind of got a different flavour out of it. My palate was comprimized as I had had a smoke and a beer before hand (you need to prepare for this somehow!) What I got out of it was a very weakly made lemonade flavour, with an acidity comparable to that of a sourdough. For me it was good, not great but had potential. I found everyone but me got the flavour of the bread prodominatly, but in different ways. One commented on the yeasty flavour, and the other that it tasted like dough. Needless to say no one was really in agreement with the flavours, and perhaps that is due to the foreign nature of the flavours. No one knew what to think. Did everyone like it? Absolutly not. Two thirds could finish it, and I believe the other person choked it down for postarity sake.

I will try this experiment again (its not like its expensive) but there are a few tweaks I will need to make in succession. This drink could definatly do with some sweetness, and I believe with more sugar there is a chance to bring more flavours out of the lemon and mint -provided it dosent increase the alcohol content, which was virtually undetectable. The flavour base of lemon and mint worked really well together, but I felt there wasent enough of it, next time I throw in some more rind. I am worried the addition of more lemon juice may make the enviroment to acidic for the yeast to florish. Finally, the yeast. Bread yeast has this unmistakable flavour, that I wouldnt describe as complementary. Next I will either make it traditionally from sourdough or purchase a pilsner, or wine yeast to do the dirty work. Was it a success? Yes. Is there work to do? Definatly.
Friday, August 12, 2011

Nocino - The Beginning

Seasonality is a lost perspective in modern day society. It is important to be able to know the seasons, and see them changing. Many great foods in this world have a very short window of opening its door to delicious consumption. All to often I discover great things researching new foods, but that door has already closed. I have to make a mental note to persue that goal in another year. This one I caught the tail end of. Driving to work one day I noticed a green walnut laying in a freshly mowed lawn, and the wheels began to turn. Technically the very tail end of unripe walnut season I was fortunately to find a relatively young tree still bearing fruit, and a day later might have been too late.

Nocino is a walnut liquor that hails from Modena, Emilia Romanga. It is made by steeping unripe green walnuts in spirits, and usually used as a cold weather, or after dinner beverage. There are many recipes on the web for making this, but I chose to stick very close to tradition. I was scouring my copy off Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi, which is the first mass marketed cookbook in Italy published in 1891, and found a recipe for Nocino:

30 Walnuts
1.5L Spirits
750g Sugar
2g Cinnamon
10 Cloves
400ml Water
1 Lemon Peel

Being a cook, I simply cant afford to donate 1.5L of distilled alcohol to a science experiment. The alcohol they used was probably around 80-85%, so I figured with a 40% alcohol I could probably negate the water out of the recipe. If it ends up being to strong, I can always add but not take away (without distillation). Vodka is probably the most tasteless alcohol available in Ontario, we are not able to get Alcool or Everclear (Ontario liquor laws are retarded for lack of a better term). So I decided on a 750ml bottle of 40% vodka. The only other change, is in the form of addition. A very good Chef of mine always paired cinnamon and cloves with star anise, which both marries and adds flavours in a very luscious way. So I added star anise to the recipe as well.


15 Green Walnuts
750ml Vodka -40%
375g Sugar
1 Cinnamon stick
5 Cloves
1 Star Anise
1/2 Lemon rind (cut into strips)


Halve the walnuts, on a plastic cutting board (this stuff will stain badly) and add to a 1.5L jar. Pour in the rest of your ingredients, and shake well. This stuff goes black quick! Leave in a warm place for 1.5 - 2 months. After this strain out all the solids through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and bottle. Age for six months to a year or more as the flavours mellow.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chipotle Chilli

Who doesn’t love a big bowl of red? Its a comfort food, but spicier... like a stew in lingerie. Ok, maybe that is taking the analogy a little far. Chilli traditionally is nothing more then a hunk of beef with some chilli peppers. That is it. You'll never find anyone in North America become as passionate about food until you get into a debate about chilli. Beans, typically a no go. Tomatoes are sitting on the sidelines. This is not that chilli, but perhaps one day ill make that authentic southern stew. Debate all you want, I do not care. If cowboys were chefs, then Texas would be named New Gascony. This is the type of chilli we as Canadians have learned to love.

I choose to use Chipotle peppers which is not traditional, but to capture that feel. The smoke of the chipotle puts you in that mental state of tending a camp fire with a pot of chilli on it. Some may say that "Smoke is a barbecue thing," well perhaps your right; however, it was cooked over a camp fire, and if smell is most of what we taste then we can assume that chilli defiantly had a smoky element to it. Ok, rant complete. I always use a roast, pound for pound its usual cheaper then mince, but you know where on the animal its coming from and how its going to perform. I recommend sirloin tip, inside or outside round, but any tough cut packed with flavour and gelatine will do. I like to take it out of the vacpack or styrofoam and air dry in the fridge for a day or two. It will really help remove some of the excess moisture, give it better flavour, and more importantly give you the best sear. As always adjust the recipe to what you have on hand, and your preferences.


1/2 lb Beef (cut into a one inch dice)
2-3 Medium Onions diced
8 cloves Garlic finely chopped
2-3 Scotch Bonnet peppers (adjust varieties and amounts to your tastes)
1/2 L Beer (the darker the better, but whatever is around, or use tequila or whisky)
2 cans San Marzano tomatoes (they really are the best)
2 Chipotle Chilli
3 cups Red Kidney Beans


Heat up a large cast iron dutch oven with a touch of oil. When its hot add your meat to sear in batches, if you dump them in all at once they are going to steam, release juices, and not form a proper sear. Reserve the seared meat in a bowl. Lower your heat, and add your onions cook until they begin to turn translucent. At this point you can add your garlic and peppers. When those are done deglaze with the beer, and add your meat back in. At this point I prefer to give my canned tomatoes a good chop, it will help them break down faster...and into the pot they go. Add in your kidney beans. I use dried and let them soak overnight, however canned works just as fine. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium low, and simmer partially covered for about two and a half hours. After which, remove the lid and allow the liquid to start reducing. It should take about three hours exactly for your meat to be tender, your tomatoes broken down, and your beans cooked -but use your own judgement. I prefer my chilli to have a thick stew consistency, and not soupy like some chain restaurants. Hope you all enjoy beware, its a creeper!


If someone asked me, what would you like on your pizza there is a likelihood I will reply “Olives, capers, and anchovies.” So it would come as no surprise that tapenade is up there on my list of favourite things. Tapenade hails from Provence, France, and is one of the simplest and most enjoyable things you could heap on a piece of bread. At its heart its only three ingredients: olives, capers, and anchovy. There is a word of caution though -do not cheap out on ingredients! The success or failure of this dish is completely relative to the quality of ingredients, there is no where to hide. Find the best black olives you can find, and avoid the mass market tinned ones (they taste like... well nothing). You might have to experiment with what anchovies work the best for you, however preserved in salt or olive oil (not vegetable or soy), is a good place to start. I have not ran into too many issues with 'bad' capers myself.

What I am going to show you is a very basic recipe, and if you stick close to these proportions you can not go wrong. I will also show you common additions relative to the recipe if you wish to jazz it up bit. Also note that this is probably the one and only time I will ever say “You do not need to add salt.” All the ingredients are either the fishy embodiment of salt, or they sit around in it.


1/2 cup Black olives, pitted
1 tsp Capers
1 Anchovy

Possible Additions

1 clove Garlic
3-5 leaves Basil
2-3 leaves Oregano
1 tsp Lemon (zest and/or juice -just watch the consistency with liquid ingredients)

How you want to process this into its delicious tasty paste-like consistency is up to you. Either finely chop, use a food processor, or mortal and pestle. I prefer to do things old school. You’ll have approximately 1/2 a cup yield of tapenade after all is said and done. If the consistency seems too think, feel free to thin it out with a touch of olive oil. Bon Appetite.

Wild Fermentation - Sandor Katz

I have really been waiting for this book for years and never knew about it. I have many books on the subtle science of fermentation, filled with charts and numbers that can really turn you off of the whole thing. Sandor Katz takes a very no nonsense approach to the art of fermented foods and drinks, everything from kosher pickles, to miso, to how to reuse old bread to make Kvass.

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture FoodsWhen you go into the culinary arts, you learn quickly about food safety, proper holding temperatures, and how to keep things safe. This is almost totally counter intuitive to how I was taught, until you understand the science, and tradition behind it. He debunks many myths around botulism and food poisoning and teaches you very clearly how to do things safe, and the benefits gained from eating these foods. Common pasteurised foods keep you safe, however it is non partial to destroying good bacteria as well as bad bacteria; you must also remember that in any case you are eating dead bacteria which from what I hear isn't that great for you either. In the past ten years we have been making a leap forward in the right direction with foods like pro biotic yogurt, kefir, pro biotic pills to aid your digestion, or help people dealing with gastric diseases, or harmful drugs that kill your natural bacteria. Not only are these things very good for your digestive tract, but they are also incredibly easy (and cheap) to make yourself.

The benefits of miso, a Japanese fermented bean were observed by a Doctor in post Hiroshima to counter and heal severe radiation poisoning. Lets hope we just need it because its delicious.

I found for me, there was a timidness about approaching these kinds of things, in the back of my head all that I could think was I was going to end up with food poisoning, no matter how much I understood the processes going on. I started off small, cultivating a sourdough starter; then I moved on to sauerkraut. Still alive, there must be something to this. I was flabbergasted to realize I could make my own yogurt with nothing more then probiotic yogurt and milk -also a much cheaper way. I was hooked. Now I have at least one little foodie science experiment on the go, and its all thanks to the guidance, and assurances of Sandor Katz. I have read, reread, and used many of the recipes in this book. None of them disappoint, well the Kvass was different...maybe not AS enjoyable as proper beer. Take baby steps in this direction, you wont be disappointed.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kvass - The First Day

After only a few hours you can see the fermentation taking place.
Over the centuries stale bread has always found a use: croutons, crostinis, bread pudding, etc. This use of stale bread takes the cake though -alcohol. In many parts of Russia this low alcohol beverage was been drank for hundreds of years. It makes slight cameos in all the great Russian from Chekhov, through to Tolstoy. So needless to say when I discovered it while reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, my eyes lit up, and it was so simple I had to try it. Ive adapted my recipe slightly due to the availability of ingredients. Traditionally hearty rye bread was used, but any will do. I will be sure to do a follow up of this post in a weeks time to let everyone know how it turned out.


½ lb Stale bread (cubed)
7 Mint leaves
½ Lemon
3 tsp Sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 tbsp Active Dry Yeast (or about half a packet)


Grab a 1.5L mason jar, and fill it with the stale bread, mint, and lemon. Fill with boiling water, cover and let steep for 8-12 hours. After your waiting period is up, strain the mixture using a fine mesh strainer, or cheesecloth. Clean the jar, and add the mixture back in. I ended up with one litre of liquid exactly. To this add your sugar, salt, and yeast. Cover and let ferment for 2-3 days. Bottle ¾ full using whatever you have available, but be warned the fermentation is still taking place and pressure will build up. Add a few raisins to each bottle before sealing. Im not sure what the purpose of the raisins are. I can speculate that they are added for extra yeast, or sugar for the yeast to feed on, but what I have learned is that when the raisins float the Kvass is ready to drink.
Monday, August 8, 2011

Rack of Lamb with Herbed Garlic Potato Salad, Marinated Cucumber, Preserved Lemon, and Wildflower Salad

On occasion I may have to opportunity to cook for someone, and in this case for a person who has never had lamb before. Ive never felt the need to experiment too much with the ways that I have done rack of lamb because they just simply work so well. The hardest part about this dish was trying to balance all the flavours out. There is a bit of acidity from the preserved lemons, marinated cucumbers, and salad dressing which offsets the rich creaminess of the potato salad.  Likewise the nasturtium is peppery and kind of bitter which is why I added wildflower honey into the dressing. Overall this dish has some great summery fresh flavours, and was nice and light.

Rack of Lamb

2 - Racks of Lamb
1 - Bunch of Parsley
¾ - L of Breadcrumbs
Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper

It is important when cooking any cut of meat to butcher it properly, meat processing plants often forgo doing the fine butchery because it cost too much money in time and waste. Chances are your rack will already be frenched, but be covered with excess fat, and silver skin. The best approach in to cut a small line into the fat about half of an inch from the beginning of where the meat is. The idea is to keep that top bit of fat near the ribs. After you strip away all that extra fat we don’t want, you will see a silvery lining covering the muscles of the meat -this too must go. There is also sometimes an little muscle near the bottom that conceals some more silver skin underneath it, I like to remove this as well. By doing with we are going to ensure a very tender piece of meat. Keep this in the fridge until we are ready to use it.

Wash your parsley and pick off all the leaves from the stem, add this to a food processor followed by the bread crumbs. It make take more or less of either the parsley or bread crumbs to get the colour you want, which is a nice herby green. Blitz this in the processor until uniform in colour and size (might take a little longer then you think, don’t worry its almost impossible to mess this up.

Take the lamb out of the fridge and get a pan very hot with a dash of olive oil and butter. Liberally season every part of the lamb. Sear until golden brown on all sides, and let cool.

When the lamb is cool brush it with the Dijon mustard (not out of the jar, cross contamination!). Put some of your herbed bread crumbs on a plate, along with a little salt and pepper for seasoning. Delicately place your Dijon covered racks on the bread crumb mix until covered with mix.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 15-20 minutes depending on preference (I like mine rare), when done let rest for a few minutes then serve.

Herbed Potato Salad

Depending on preference you can use any waxy potato, fingerlings work very well, but in this case I just happened to have plain old white potatoes. Feel free also to use whatever herbs you feel like.

4-5 medium White Potatoes
1 cup Aioli
1 Shallot
3 Sage leaves
4-5 French sorrel leaves
Sprig of Thyme
Dijon mustard

Gently boil your potatoes until perfectly cooked, undercooked is no good, and overcooked will cause the skins to tear away. Allow these to cool for thirty or so minutes or until room temperature. Allowing them to sit in the fridge for awhile will also firm up the starch a bit. Dice these up. Chiffonade your herbs, and give your shallot a fine brunoise. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and as much aioli as needed until it reaches a good consistency. Season. Can be eaten right away or allowed to marinate in the fridge.


1 Egg yolk
1 cup Olive oil
5 cloves of Roasted garlic
1 clove of Fresh garlic
1 Lemon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Add egg yolk, juice of one lemon, mustard and garlic to a food processor. Start blitzing. Slowly drop by drop add oil. Season. For troubleshooting refer to the Rosemary Sage Aioli post.

Marinated Cucumber

½ Cucumber
1 Shallot
White wine vinegar

Cut the cucumber into about two inch pieces cross wise and each of those pieces in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds using a spoon. Gently push the pieces flat and cut in half. Cut these pieces into strips lengthwise. They should be about 2 inches long by a quarter inch wide. Finely dice the shallot and add to cucumber. Just cover with white wine, and allow to marinate in the fridge.

Preserved Lemon

1 piece of Preserved Lemon

Refer to the recipe for this ingredient here. If you don’t have this laying around the skin of ¼ of a lemon will do. Using a sharp knife carefully scrape away all the pith. Laying the knife flat as well as the lemon slice out all the pith (white stuff). Be Careful. Cut into fine strips.

Wildflower Salad

Feel free to use dandelion leaves, arugula, whatever you are comfortable with will substitute. I didn’t really size any of this out, but it was mostly a small handful of things I had growing in the garden.

Nasturtium leaves (the young ones are best)
Nasturtium flower petals
Lemon Balm
Wood Sorrel
1 tbsp Olive oil
¼ tbsp White wine vinegar
Drizzle of Wildflower honey

Wash your greens, leaves the flower petals out. Most of this stuff is delicate, so you must be to. Just before serving combine everything together, and gently toss by hand.

Parlsey Oil

½ bunch Parsley
½ litre Grapeseed oil

Heat up a pan of boiling water with a touch of salt. Quickly blanch the parsley leaves in the boiling water, and then add to a bowl of ice or cold water to stop cooking. Squeeze the herbs together to ring out all the water, or use a salad spinner. Roughly chop the parsley and add to a blender with the oil. Grapeseed oil is a very neutral tasting oil so its very good for infused oil, however feel free to use what you have. Blitz until the mixture turns a dark green colour. Strain this through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter.


Simple, elegant, and a taste of summer. Kinda. Bruschetta is actually what we in North America would call garlic bread. Nothing more than grilled bread drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. Realistically you can add any concoction on top of this and it would still technically be a bruschetta. However for the sake of simplicity well stick with our normal conception of the dish involving tomato, basil, and garlic. I picked all these ingredients up at the local market, and would suggest you do the same. Its also good to note that the ‘sh’ in Italian makes a K sound, and not the commonly mispronounced “shhh” sound. 

Slice of bread
Olive Oil
4-6 Basil leaves
Clove of Garlic
Salt and Pepper

I use a cast iron grill to do mine, however a bbq, or even a toaster will do the job. The Italians have a specific grill they use known as a brustolina. However you choose to do it, toast, grill, or roast your bread and rub with a clove of garlic. Take that clove and mince it very finely.  Dice your tomato into quarter inch pieces, and chiffonade your basil. Throw is all in a bowl together with a good pinch of salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of oil. It is nice to let it sit for awhile so the flavours can marinade together. Simply top your bread with this deliciousness and enjoy your snack.