Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Walkabout Part 1

            Okay my sweet readers, this one goes out to my hometown readers in Victoria BC. This one’s for you.

            So here is a bit of fun... well, what I think is fun. We will call it a bit of adventure into the realm of food. I am talking about finding new and old places to find all of the tasty stuff you want to cook with. This is how I spend my days off, cruising around, trying to find sources of all things edible. I love finding little shops that specialize in great cheeses, meats and veggies. This is always a good thing. So here is a little tour of the places that I have found and love to haunt in Victoria. Now bear in mind that these are just some of my favourites and that the find of a great shop, going in and chatting with the people that work there. These are the people who will give you suggestions and they will advise about what you want to cook and how to do it properly. You must remember to be brave my gentle readers, try something that you have never tried before, you may like it, you may not, but at the very least you will know.

            I know that you have heard this statement before but I will say it again, try, at the very least try, to buy as local as you can. Not only will you get a better product, which is always good, but you will be supporting your people. That is a great thing.

            So now a little tour as dictated by the making of a sandwich. My love for sandwiches is epic. In my mind there is very little in this world that is as satisfying as sitting down and eating a sandwich. I think that is why I love Charcuterie as much as I do, it is a deconstructed sandwich.  So we have to deal with two major components: the bread and the filling. So I will start with the bread. I am a huge fan of Bond Bond’s bakery on Blanchard. I start off by saying that the product at this joint is simply awesome. From sourdough to baguette, I have never bought anything in this shop that is not top notch. The other fun thing about this place is that they have a daily offering which is only made on a specific day of the week. You want a triple rye, head in on Wednesday.  I use their buns for my pulled pork sammies, check out the picture that will make your mouth water post, and their French bread is a key ingredient to making my Bailey’s French toast. On top of offering a great product, the staff is exemplary. They are quick and efficient and will greet you with a smile. I give a double plus good for Bond Bond’s bakery.

            So now that we have our bread we must find something to go in between the slices, this means meat and cheese. For the meat part I would recommend Choux Choux Charcuterie on Fort St. Okay I love this place because it offers stuff that is a little different than the North American palate is used to and they cure a ton of their meats in house. These two reasons alone are reason enough to check them out. I have yet to go in and not find something that is interesting and fun. You have never tried rabbit pate? They have it. This is an awesome place to explore and try something that is a little out of the ordinary. You can check them out online at http://www.chouxchoux.ca/ they are totally worth checking out.

            Choux Choux does sell cheeses in their shop however I take a quick run up Fort St to Hilary’s cheese. A place that started up in Cowichan Bay, Hilary’s offers some of the best artisan cheeses that I have found in Victoria and are ridiculously delicious. The staff there is super helpful in matching your cheese to the meaty goodness that is going into your sandwich. You can check out what they have to offer at http://www.hilarycheese.com/

            Sometimes you want a one stop sort of shop and do I have the spot for you. Moseying out of the downtown core of Victoria and up into Oak Bay we find the grand daddy of delis, in my mind anyway. I am talking about Octavio. Those who have been there know that this place is awesome, like so good it left awesome three miles back. They offer great cheeses, meats that they cure in house and bread that is baked on site. The folks, who work there, are knowledgeable to the point of excess and this is a good thing. The best thing is that they are willing to help you pick out exactly the right thing for whatever you are doing. If I could I would live there. That is how good this place is. Check them out at http://www.ottaviovictoria.com/

So there are some of my favorite spots. Give them a try and if you have any suggestions of places I should check out feel free to share. Go forth and make sandwiches.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Bringing You Back.... Food From Back in the Day

            It is cold outside and I am brought back, once again to my youth. I remember coming in from the cold after a good morning of play, and it being a Saturday, the smell of my mom cooking lunch. Now what you are going to be given here my lovely readers is not what my mom used to cook however it is inspired by the greatness of processed cheese slices and canned soup that I remember. I think that everyone has a soft spot for this sort of lunch. It has sort of a universal quality and every time I mention that I am making it a smile creeps across the face of the listener. It feels like this meal should be mentioned in the Book of Awesome because there is something about it that warms you up from the inside out. If you haven’t figured it out I am talking about grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

            My mom would contend that she made this meal due to its quick and easy preparation and as a single mom I am sure that that is true, time was in short supply. This fact did not diminish my love for this simple and delicious meal. What I have done is take those memories and tried to make something that reminds me of that meal but is a little bit more homemade but is still relatively quick and easy. So here we go Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup. Throw on some Jaime Cullum and enjoy.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup to the tune of Twentysomething by Jaime Cullum.

Tomato Soup

6 good ripe tomatoes blanched, peeled, and diced
1 small can crushed tomatoes or half a large can
1 clove of garlic minced
½ an onion diced
8 basil leaves diced
1cup vegetable stock
1 cup milk
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Okay so I blanch and peel my tomatoes out of habit and seeing that we are going to be straining this soup at the end you don’t really have to. Just chop them up and chuck them in.

-In a large saucepan add oil over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent.

-Add in tomatoes, both diced and crushed and basil. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes.

-Add in stock and milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and let it work for about an hour, salt and pepper to taste.

-About five minutes before you remove it from the heat add in the cheese so it melts down.

-Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. An immersion blender works great here and you can do it right in the pot. Then strain to catch all of the lumpy bits, seeds and tomato skin that may be left in the soup.

This recipe works great in a slow cooker as well. Just chuck all of the ingredients into your cooker except for the cheese and set it for 6 or 8 hours on low. Add the cheese at the end and blend and strain

Like that you have an awesome creamy tomato soup that will remind you of being a kid.
Now on to the sandwich…

I think everyone knows how to make a grilled cheese and has their own take on what is the best cheese or bread to use. That being said this is how I make mine

Grilled Cheese

Thick slices of French Bread
Aged apple wood smoked cheddar
Some brie

-heat up a frying pan over medium high heat

-butter one side of your bread

-fire your bread butter side down into the pan, top with your cheeses, I
 go cheddar, brie, cheddar and then top with another slice of bread butter side up.

-fry until golden brown and then flip and fry until golden brown on the other side.

And just like that you have a meal that will bring you back to when you were a kid and will guaranteed put a smile on your face. Give it a go.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Back to the Grind

            Okay my wonderful people, I have resigned myself to the fact that this post is going to be basically a running “that’s what she said” joke but I press on none the less. After giving you all a little love in the vegetarian area of cooking we head back into the realm of the little animals, specifically our friend the pig. Now I am a big fan of all things pork. Bacon has saved my life on more than one occasion and as you have seen by the photo I loves me a good pulled pork sandwich.  So with this love for pork in mind I give to you the awesomeness of making and stuffing your own sausage. Heh Heh. Yes I know I am like a kid but funny is still funny.
            So this kitchen experiment started with gifts. My Mom and my Grandfather went in together and got me a Kitchen aid stand mixer and my friends Toby and Tiffany gave me the grinder and sausage stuffing attachments for said stand mixer. So I must say thank you all. My friend Toby is my partner in all things culinary. He and I often try to take on things that are a little out in left field and see if we can pull them off. So as I gazed at my new toys I knew Toby and I would be trying to figure out how to make sausage from scratch.
            My next stop on this little journey was to my local butcher shop.A good butcher is the best resource that you could possibly have because, surprise, they know a lot about meat and if you are trying something that you have never attempted before they can guide you in regards to what cuts would work best, cooking times, and even proportions of fat to lean meat. I will say here that you should love your butcher, bring them coffee or a snack of some sort, because they are the ones who will let you know what is good and will 9 times out of 10 get a hold of whatever you want. On top of that they have the same manic glee in their eyes that I do when you tell them you want to try something out of the ordinary. What my butcher told me was the sausage that they make in house have about 10% fat in them, any less than that when you cook them they will come out dry and fairly unappetizing. We talked about casings. You can get synthetic, collagen based, or natural (basically intestines). Toby and I got the collagen based and the natural to see which we liked best. Finally we talked about cuts, my butcher extolled the virtue of pork shoulder because of the meat to fat ratio was just about perfect so you wouldn’t have to add any more fat to the grind. I added bacon to the mix anyway but that is just the kind of guy that I am. So away I go back to my tiny kitchen armed with 8ish pounds of pork shoulder, some double smoked bacon and a crazy smile on my face. Let get to it, It is time to make some sausage.
            So Toby and I started out not really knowing what the hell we were doing. We knew the basic principles: grind meat, stuff it into a casing. Here are some things we learned. After tasting go natural with the casings the collagen ones were okay but the pig guts tasted better and their texture was more appealing. For my weak stomached readers I am sorry if it sounds gross but it is the truth. Watch how long you marinate your pig and what you use as a marinade. If you use something like red wine and leave it over night that is all that you will taste in the sausage. We found that just a couple of hours of marinating in the fridge works great. I tend to lean towards a course grind for hot or sweet and a finer grind for your breakfast style but all of that is just preference. Finally prep what you can and be a little patient. We are not talking about industrial equipment here so take your time, have things ready to go and have some tunes going this is supposed to be fun after all. Now for the recipe...

Sausage Italian Style to the tune of Romeo and Juliet by the Dire Straits
4lbs Pork shoulder cut into cubes
4 strips of double smoked bacon cut into chunks
4 cloves of garlic minced
Salt and pepper
1cup red wine
3tbsp chilli flakes
1tbsp cayenne pepper
Fresh chillies (optional)                                                              
Heat to taste
1cup white wine
3tbsp coarsely ground fennel seeds

In a large mixing bowl combine all of the ingredients and either you hot or sweet mix. Cover and let sit in your fridge for a couple of hours
Set up your grinder with the course plate and grind your meat. Watch for clogs and remove them.
Salt and pepper a little more.
Set up your stuffer using the largest tip. Feed your casing over the tip and puncture the end to allow any air to escape. Turn on your machine and feed in your ground meat. Gently guide the newly stuffed sausage away to allow more casing to fill. Once all of your grind is through twist into links alternating the direction that you twist.
There you have it: Homemade Italian sausage. It  is freaking delicious. Enjoy my lovely people

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cooking a Little Vegetarian Food In The House That Meat Rules

            There is nothing worse than seeing one of your friends forced to eat a plate full of side dishes while everyone else is gobbling down massive portions of roast beef, steak, or chops. This is the sucky nature of being a vegetarian. You can spot one at your dinner party in one of two ways they either have a sort of down trodden face when everyone is eating like no one loves them or they are overly enthusiastic about the stuff that they can eat. Sort of like “Oh my god yams are my favorite thing in the world.” When I have folks over for a meal the point is to try and feed everyone and have them enjoy it. So here I go, cooking a little vegetarian.
            I am going to qualify a bit here by saying that I am a total carnivore. I love my pork, beef and all other sources of meaty goodness. With that being said, I know and care for a great number of vegetarians and I want them to be well fed just like my meat eating friends. So this is an attempt to put a smile on my “veggie only” friends’ faces, something tasty without the meaty goodness.
            This recipe was inspired by the trying to recreate the only veggie burger that I really enjoyed. I was in Winnipeg and we found an underground cafe. I was shocked at how good it was. The other cool thing about this is that once you are done you can freeze the patties so if you have a vegetarian show up at your door you can feed them something tasty. About the music: I love this band and I enjoyed the city of Winnipeg you’ll get why I am saying this when you listen to the song. So he we go vegetarian recipe number one....

Homemade Veggie Burgers to the tune of “One Great City” by the Weakerthans

So a little qualifying statement in making this recipe I don’t use any real measurements, it is sort of a chuck the stuff in a bowl and mix it up kind of thing. As long as everything holds together you are sound. You can totally adjust the spices to fit your taste.

1 can of red kidney beans drained
1 can of white kidney beans drained
1 good handful of finely chopped walnuts
1 good handful of chopped sunflower seeds
6 shitake mushrooms finely diced
2 oyster mushrooms finely diced
1 small onion finely diced
2 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg- this is optional but it binds everything together a little bit better.

Quickly sauté mushrooms and onion in a small frying pan until the onion is translucent and let cool

In a large mixing bowl mash the kidney beans using a potato masher or a fork, keep them a little bit chunky you don’t want a smooth paste.

Add in all of the other ingredients and mix together. Make sure that all the ingredients are incorporated though out.

Form into patties just like you would a burger. Salt and Pepper those little bad boys.

Throw them on a grill or a stovetop grill pan and cook until they are warmed all the way through. Just like you would a burger.

Give it a try. I hope your vegetarian friends enjoy it as much as mine did.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Just a Pic to Make Your Mouth Water

I just wanted to share a pic my friend Tina snapped at our latest "family dinner" I made some pulled pork and it turned out really well. There will be a recipe for this coming soon so stay tuned.

It Is Time to Talk About.... Garlic

            Okay when it comes to certain things I am a little bit spoiled. This happens to be the case when it comes to one of my favorite ingredients to cook with: Garlic. The reason that I am spoiled is that my Uncle John grows the stuff in his garden and is obsessed with the stuff almost as much as I am. Around twice a year I get a care package which includes some root veggies, a braid of his Italian garlic and bulbs of whatever varieties he is experimenting with that year. This year it was a variety that originated in the former Yugoslavia. I will not lie; I am like a kid at Christmas when I get my hands on these beautiful piles of garlic that my dear, sweet Uncle John has sent to me. My mind starts to reel a little bit with all of the possibilities.
            My love for garlic comes from Uncle John. The man used to have garlic parties for god’s sake. They were wonderful and very smelly. We would get together at the farm of the time, a place called the Griz in the interior of BC, and we would taste garlic in all of its forms, from raw to roasted. This also lead an embarrassing moment with me on a bus the day after. To the old lady sitting next to me, I am sorry and you were very nice to endure me. But as I look back it was my uncle’s passion for this ingredient that made me love it all the more. He told me that garlic was the ultimate illustration of how a thing can change and evolve into something wonderful. Garlic goes from being harsh and pungent in it raw state to beautiful, sweet and comforting when it is cooked correctly. It is kind of like growing up. So there is the homespun philosophy for the day and I smile as I write it because it is both correct and cheesy all at the same time. I love it when that happens. So on to the food. This is for my Uncle John, garlic in its simplest form. It is also super easy and you will look like a cooking stud if you serve it as an antipasto when you have people over for dinner. So throw on some Van the Man and enjoy.

Charcuterie Platter to the tune of “Moondance” by Van Morrison.

So the amounts of each of these ingredients varies with the amount of people you are feeding so I advise that you just get a whack of stuff and let your people go wild on it.

Salamis of your choice- I lean towards a couple of choices gypsy, cappicolla, and a mild Hungarian. But it is totally up to you. Get what you like to eat.

Another meat option- again this is something you can play with, if you can find a joint in your home town that makes their own corned beef that is a great choice.

Cheese baby- you should have a couple of options here too. I go with something soft like a goat cheese and something a little firmer like a very sharp old cheddar.

Bread of some sort- baguette or whatever you think looks good when you go into your bakery.

Olives- grab an assortment.

Roasted Garlic- simple to make and the only thing you really have to cook. Take a bulb of garlic, cut the top off, fire it into a 400 degree oven until it is soft. I always roast one more bulb than I think that I will need because it always goes faster than you think it will.

Place all of these things on a nice wooden cutting board and stick it in the middle of the table and let your people go at it. All of the parts become a beautiful whole. The sweetness of the garlic marries with creaminess of the cheeses, the saltiness of the olives and the richness of the meats and allows your people to find the combination that suits them best. Like that you have a very simple yet awesome way to start a meal. So there you go Uncle John I hope this brought a smile to your face.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Little Love From Me and My Grand

            This was originally posted on my buddy Toby’s blog which you can find at www.bigrecipeslittlekitchen.blogspot.com. But I wanted to share it again because the weather is getting cold and this will warm you up people. Sorry there are no pics on this one I will add some next time I make this dish. Check out Toby’s blog too there are some great recipes and thoughts on it. May I recommend his Pad Thai recipe it is awesome. Okay on to the stew....
            As the weather continues to grow a little colder I look to start cooking warm up foods. These are the types of dishes that my Grandmother called comfort foods. I remember coming in from the cold days of my youth and being greeted by the smell of my Grand’s cooking. The thought still brings a smile to my face. One of my favourite of her “Go To” dinners was and still is beef stew. So here are two recipes to try out. The first is my Grand’s and the second is my take on Grand’s stew. Give them a shot and enjoy.

Grand’s Beef Stew

4-6 potatoes                                        2-3 carrots
2 onions                                               3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 turnip                                                3 stalks of celery
1 1/2 pounds of stewing beef             4 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper                                   ½ cup of frozen peas
2 tbsp vegetable oil                             ½ gallon of water

1.      Chop potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, and turnip into fairly uniform chunks
2.      Put flour, a pinch of salt and pepper into a mixing bowl and dredge beef to coat.
3.      Heat oil in a stock pot or dutch oven. Add beef and onions to brown over medium high heat.
4.      Add garlic to the beef.
5.      Once the beef has turned golden add the carrots and 1/3 of the potatoes. (By the time that the stew is done cooking these spuds will have broken down and will have thickened it without adding more flour or cornstarch.)
6.      Add water and bring to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes.
7.      Add the rest of the chopped veggies.
8.      Season to taste and simmer until it has thickened (25-30 minutes.)
9.      Add the frozen peas and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
10.  Serve with rolls so you can mop up your bowl. Grand means it when she says clean up your plate.

That is my Grand’s beef stew and it is awesome. That being said I have played with the recipe over the years and made it a little more of my own. I am also of the philosophy that food and music go hand in hand, so I recommend that you throw on some Billy Joel while giving this one a go. The Joel’s tunes seem to somehow fit the dish for some reason.

Beef Stew to the tune of “Only the Good Die Young”

1-2 onions                                           4 cloves minced garlic
1 ½ lbs stewing beef                           5 strips of bacon cut into matchsticks
3 tbsp flour                                          3 carrots cut into chunks
4-6 potatoes cut into chunks               2 yams cut into chunks
½ cup frozen peas                               ½ cup of frozen corn              
2 bay leaves                                         2 sprigs of thyme
1 litre beef stock                                 ½ litre water
Salt and pepper                                   2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bottle of dark “beer flavoured” beer. No chocolate porters or raspberry lagers.

1.      Heat oil in the bottom of a stock pot. Dredge beef in flour salt and pepper. Add beef and bacon to the pot and let brown.
2.      Add onions, 1/3 of the potatoes and carrots to the mix, stir and then add the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Let cook for 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
3.      Add stock and water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes.
4.      Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and the beer. Cook until the vegetables are fork tender.
5.      Add frozen veggies and cook for another 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
6.      Fish out the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs. (They have done their work.)
7.      Serve with sourdough bread for the same reason Grand served rolls. Enjoy.