I’m back! With tomato sauce!

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Oh dear. Well, it appears that I’ve neglected this little blog. Summer has come and gone without an update, and I feel terrible about it! I won’t bore you all with my feeble excuses, except to say:

1)It appears that there are THINGS TO DO in the summertime. And blogging ended up lower on the list than I’d hoped. I did, however, get a fair bit of cooking done, some of which was even successful! Since I last posted I had a greatly successful wine and meat and cheese party. I made my first ceviche, this fantastic pork roast, a pretty good first-time paella, mozzarella cheese, panzanella, a cherry pie and who knows what else. So don’t worry. I ate well this summer.

2)I GOT A NEW CAMERA! I think part of the reason I didn’t bother posting throughout the summer was the photo situation. I like cooking and I like writing, but I’ve yet to catch the photography bug. This was due, in part, to having to choose between my sub-par camera phone, and Matthew’s monster of a DSLR. So, in order to remedy this, I bought a new camera! Something small and easy to use, but that produces high quality photos. So we bought a nifty Canon EOS M, and I’ve already been quite pleased with the results.

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So. Onwards to the tomato sauce. This year, I was lucky enough to be included in Matt’s family’s annual tomato canning. We did 4 bushels total, two for ourselves and two for Matt’s parents. We ended up with just about 90 one litre jars of tomato sauce. Not too shabby!

Now, from what I can tell, every single Italian family has their own way of doing the tomatoes, and Matt’s family has tried a few different methods over the years, before settling on this one, which results in a tomato sauce in its purest form. Just tomatoes, maybe with a few sprigs of basil or oregano added, resulting in a sauce that tastes incredibly fresh whenever you open pop open a jar.

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First, the tomatoes are layed out to ripen for about a week, or maybe even more. Then they’re washed, and everyone pitches in to chop all the tomatoes roughly into pieces that can easily be fed through the machine. The photo above shows the bushels of tomatoes chopped and draining in their baskets, to avoid a sauce that is too runny.

Then the tomatoes are fed into the machine. As far as I can tell, these machines are literally just referred to as “tomato machines” or “tomato milling machines”. Matt’s family has one with a big ole engine, to expedite the process a bit.

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Once all the tomatoes are transformed into this luxurious sauce, it goes straight into the jars, fresh and uncooked, lightly seasoned with salt, and fresh herbs if you wish.

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Then we put every single jar into a giant barrel, set atop a propane burner, filled with water, and bring it to a boil for about 30 minutes. I think. We were eating a delicious lunch of Matt’s Nonna’s homemade pizza, alongside coldcuts, olives, and cheese around this time, so I may have been distracted.

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And then you end up with the final product! Fantastic, of course, course for pasta sauces of all kinds, I like to add garlic and onions, and dried herbs, and cook it down for about a half hour for a quick week night sauce. I also throw in some red wine or balsamic vinegar, depending on what I have on hand, to add a little richness and depth of flavour, especially if I’m making a meatless sauce. I also use this sauce as is, or with some dried oregano as a fantastic pizza sauce.

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Bresaola Part III: An Italian dinner

On tuesday, we weighed our bresaola for the final time and with about a 37% decrease in weight, IT WAS READY. So we took it down and unwrapped it. The pieces of meat were not the prettiest things at this point, there were some salt deposits on the outside of the meat, leaving white spots all over the outside, plus a little bit of (healthy) mould. But once we wiped them down with a bit of red wine vinegar, and then rinsed them off a bit, they were looking pretty good. Then came the moment of truth: slicing into it!

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Looks pretty good, no? Not as lean inside as I’d hoped, but it doesn’t really bother me. But more importantly, how does it taste? Now, I should be clear that before this, I’ve never actually had bresaola before, so I can’t say whether it tastes how it’s supposed to, but I can say that it tastes pretty good! It’s earthy and spicy. You can really taste the juniper berry and the cloves from the salt cure mixture.

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It also looks really lovely, I think. Not the deep red colour we’d seen in other pictures online, but nice and pink and pretty nonetheless. The texture seems pretty spot on to me. Nice and soft in the middle, but clearly cured. Nice and salty, but not overwhelmingly so. I officially declare it a success! I think we want to do duck prosciutto next.

So, with a nice supply of bresaola on hand, I decided I wanted to have a nice Italian meal to feature it. Doing some research online, it seems it’s commonly served, thinly sliced, on arugula, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. So that’s exactly what I did.

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The salty, earthy taste of bresaola, the bite of the arugula and tang of the lemon juice, worked really, really nicely together. And then of course, we had to top it with shaved parmesan reggiano. A perfect starter.

Then I followed it up with a pasta carbonara, super rich and fancy, but pretty darn easy. I added some asparagus, because we love asparagus around here, and Matthew could eat it every day if he had the choice. All you need to do, really, is fry up some bacon, or pancetta with some garlic. Once it was done, I added some white wine to the pan, and let it boil down so that it wasn’t too liquidy. Mostly because I was holding a glass of wine, and I thought, “why not?” and splashed it in there. Then add some chopped, cooked, asparagus to the pan. You can cook the asparagus however you like. I blanched mine for about 4-5 minutes. At some point in the midst of all of this, you want to grate a cup of parmesan, and separate 4 eggs, keeping the yolks, and doing whatever you want with the whites. Mix the yolks with the grated cheese. Add a generous splash of cream. This is going to be your sauce. Set it aside. Then you add your cooked pasta to the pancetta-asparagus pan. I used linguine, but you can use whatever you like, really. This next part is the important part that makes it so rich and delicious. Turn off the heat on the pan. And then pour your sauce mixture overtop of pasta, and use some tongs or a pasta ladle to mix it around right away. You want the heat from the hot pasta to essentially cook the egg yolk as you mix it, but you don’t want it too hot, otherwise the egg will cook too fast and it will separate from the cheese and create a lumpier sauce. This is fine, and still tasty, but if you can get a silk smooth sauce, then why not, right?

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asparagus and pancetta

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We finished this meal off with a nice little cannoli from a bakery, which I didn’t take a picture of, and had an all around successful Italian meal.

Weeknight meal: Poor and/or Lazy Man’s Bulgogi

Alrighty. So in my last post I mentioned a dish that I like the call Poor Man’s Bulgogi. I call it this because you use ground beef, which is often dirt cheap. But it could also be called Lazy Man’s Bulgogi, because it’s really easy as heck. No slicing beef, no marinating it, NOTHIN’. I can make this meal in less than 30 minutes if I’m really on top of shit.

My bestie Cassie made this, after I recommended it, and she returned with the following review:

Okay what the hell that bulgogi was SO easy and SOO GOOD”

It really is. Really really.

ImageSo, I basically use this recipe,  from Damn Delicious which I found by googling “ground beef + bulgogi” because that’s exactly what I wanted to cook. And I used the very first recipe that came up, which was this one. And it was pretty perfect. I like to double the sauce, because SAUCE, and also add some sriracha (because sriracha. On everything. Yes). And I garnish with some sesame seeds, AND AND AND piece de resistance: A CRISPY BOTTOMED, RUNNY-YOLKED EGG. UGH. OH MY GOD. It’s so tasty. The spiciness from the sriracha against the runny yolk, with a hint of green onion and salty-sweet, fragrant bulgogi sauce? IT’S ALMOST TOO MUCH TO HANDLE.

I literally just ate this minutes ago, and I’m feeling pretty passionate about it.

So grab all your ingredients together. Chuck the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and brown sugar into a bowl, and mix it all together. Note that you can also just use dried ginger and garlic powder for a somewhat decent result, if you’re in a bind. Also you can play with the amount of each of the ingredients to make it just how you like: a bit sweeter, saltier, spicier, whatever.

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Then just brown your ground beef right up.

ImageYou’ll probably want to drain a bit of the fat off. I used extra lean, and there was still a fair amount. You want to avoid a greasy sauce. Once it’s nice and browned and drained, throw that beautiful sauce right on that meat. Mix it all up. Let it bubble.

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Of course, at this point I should probably mention that this is supposed to be served over rice. So before you start cooking the meat, put on a pot of rice. However much you desire. Once the rice is done, you can just turn off the burner, and let it sit there until you need it. Letting it sit somehow allows the rice to de-stick from the bottom of the pot. This is a good tip.

Next, we want to fry up that perfect egg. I am really into eggs. IT’S A FOOD WITH A BUILD IN CREAMY HEAVENLY SAUCE. Eggs are wonderful. Anyway, so heat up a bit of oil in a pan, and let it get nice and hot. We want the bottom of that egg to be super nice and crispy. Trust me. Once it’s nice and hot, crack the egg in there, and immediately cover the pan with a lid. Leave it for a couple of minutes. Usually enough time to scoop some rice into a bowl, and top it with out meat and some extra sauce. Then take the lid off. The top of the egg should be cooked from the steam, and the bottom should be nice and crispy, but you want the yolk still runny.

I didn’t get any pictures of cooking the egg.

But anyway, once it’s done, throw the egg on top of your bowl of rice and meat. Garnish with sesame seeds, green onion, and a zig-zag of sriracha, or more if you want.

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AND THEN YOU GET TO EAT IT.

Okay, now go cook this. Right away. And come back and tell me how darn good it was.

Dinner Party – Seared scallops, coq au vin, clafoutis

I have had such good intentions for this blog! I have had two different recipes planned, that I wanted to post about! I made the meals, and photographed every step of the process, but alas, I was not happy with the end result.

Good Friday, Matt’s family came over for dinner, and the salmon cannelloni that I made kind of fell a bit flat. Or at least I thought so. And then, a few nights ago, I made one of my favourite curries: a butternut squash, chickpea, and spinach curry. But I rarely use a recipe, and in my attempt to peg one down for this blog, I ruined it! So I wasn’t happy with this particular variation. Though it certainly looked good. I’ll work on the spice variations and get back to you on this one.

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And then, of course, I made a really great weeknight meal, but wasn’t expecting it to be so good, so of course I didn’t take any pictures. (But, thankfully, Matt did!)

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This was what I like to call a “Poor man’s bulgogi”, because it has essentially the same flavours but with ground beef instead. It’s super quick and tasty. Top it with sriracha, a crispy fried egg, some sesame seeds and green onions, and it’s aces. Super super good. Again, I want to come back with a full post about this one.

But that’s not what today’s post is really about. This post is about a dinner party I held over the weekend. Three pairs of us have started hosting rotating dinner parties every couple of months. This past weekend it was my turn, and the theme was french. So the menu consisted of seared scallops, coq au vin, and a nice clafoutis. And I broke the rule of never trying anything out for the first time for company, but I did, with every dish. And it turned out okay! I declared it a success.

I used Deb Perelman’s recipe for Coq au vin, over at Smitten Kitchen. And it turned out perfectly. I used all chicken breasts, cut in half, with skin and bones, and I dredged them in flour before browning them. Other than that, I followed the recipe pretty exactly. The trick is really reducing the sauce to get that delicious concentrated flavour. It’s damn good.

Somehow some mushrooms, onions, bacon, chicken and a fair amount of red wine turn into something amazing. Actually, it’s not really that surprising.

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I went pretty simple with the sides, with some green beans and new potatoes, tossed with some butter and sauteed shallots.

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Dessert was Orangette’s lovely recipe for brown sugar clafoutis with pears. It was good, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t blow me away. Part of me thinks this was because I don’t have a blender, so I made it in my mixer, and it left some lumps. It was tasty though, and looked mighty pretty right out of the oven. Despite the lumps :\

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And personally, my proudest moment was the seared scallops we started with. On a bed of greens, with a nice little white wine pan sauce. I’m really glad these worked out, because they would have been an expensive mistake.

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My friend Andrea brought some nice cheeses (a fucking DELECTABLE triple creme brie, and a great aged cheddar), and I supplied a nice Ontario pecorino for a local shop. I also put out some nice little spreads courtesy of my dad: a sweet chili pepper jelly, a red onion relish type thing, and the favourite, a spiced tomato jam. The cheese board was definitely one of my favourite parts of the evening.

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(I need a cheese board that’s not just my cutting board)

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It was just a really nice night.

Apartment 1A: The Kitchen Tour

So, I thought it might be a nice idea to do a bit of a tour of my kitchen. I feel like people who cook always like to see what other people have in their kitchens. Or at least I do. Mostly I like to covet fancy things. Most of my things aren’t that fancy, but I’ve got some gems here and there. And a pretty sweet kitchen, I might add.

It’s pretty small, as far as kitchen go. But for a kitchen in an apartment in a city, it’s actually a pretty decent size.

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You’ll have to excuse the bike to the left (again, apartment in the city). But this is my kitchen. The giant butcher block peninsula is pretty much a life saver and basically makes the kitchen as great as it is. It’s HUGE, and I can prepare stuff on it at multiple stations, and store stuff on it, and there’s even room for seating on one side. Other things I like about my kitchen are the gas oven and stove, and the DISHWASHER. I don’t care what anybody says, having a dishwasher is the BEST. When it comes down to it, there’s not much about my kitchen I don’t like. Sure, I could always use some more storage, but we get by okay, and the pot rack we installed gives us some great extra space. The one other thing is that it doesn’t very much natural lighting, which makes taking pictures for this blog a bit of a pain, and means I’m often cooking in my own shadow. But all in all, it’s a pretty great kitchen.

This is the peninsula in all it’s glory:

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This is the lovely little pot rack we installed when we moved in:

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It’s nice to be able to display my nice cookware, a great 10 piece Lagostina set I got for a really great deal at Kitchen Stuff Plus.

And here is the true star of the kitchen:

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Apart from the kitchen itself though, there are lots of things IN my kitchen that I love and am really partial too. This one is a big one:

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I was lucky enough to get this beauty for Christmas this year. Because I am spoiled. And I know it. But I’m pretty okay with it if it means I get to use this swanky machine. Here are some other beautiful things in my kitchen:

A lovely glass cake platter

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These wee little cat plates I found at Value Village. I discovered that I can buy the complete set at the Sanko store on Queen West.

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 Our tiny Le Creuset collection

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 These are danish dough Whisks!

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My favourite milk glass vase

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And here’s a bonus – a badly behaving cat

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Bresaola Part 2

ImageSo, it’s been over a week since my last post. I was hoping to post 1-2 times a week, but I guess, as it turns out, I don’t always cook the most interesting stuff. There has been good food this past week, don’t get me wrong. There’s been crock-pot pulled pork with jalapeño cornbread and homemade slaw, there’s been cabbage, bacon and egg hash, and there’s been some damn good pappardelle at an east side italian restaurant. But either they just weren’t quite good enough for sharing with you all, or I forgot to take any pictures. And if there are no pictures THEN WHAT’S THE POINT!?

But I did take pictures of last night, when Matt and I began the next step of making the Bresaola. You guys, it’s going to be SO GOOD. It’s pretty reassuring when hunks of meat that have been sitting in our fridge for over two week still smell GREAT. It smells like mulled wine and nature and meat. All the best things, really. Last monday we applied the second  batch of dry cure to the meat and sealed it in fresh bags. By the time we took it out of the fridge last night it was sitting in a fair amount of juices, drained from the meat.

ImageImageAfter rinsing the cure off of the meat and thoroughly drying it, it was time to wrap it up. Some people get either natural or synthetic casings for their meats, others simply tie the meat. We chose to wrap ours in cheesecloth.

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ImageThen we tied them (with the help of a few youtube videos) with some simple butcher’s knots so that they’re all ready for hanging.

ImageWe then hung the meat in our “curing unit”, i.e. converted wine fridge. Right now it’s sitting at about 11 degrees and about 58% humidity, which is a tad bit lower that we want, so we’re going to experiment with adding some more containers of water, or maybe a sponge or two to bring it up a bit higher. Ideally, for curing meat, you want the temperature between 10-15 degrees celsius and the humidity between 60-70%. But I think we’ll be just fine. Now we just have to weigh the meat weekly, and once it’s lost about 35-40% of it’s original weight, we’ll know it’s ready. I’ll make a final post about it at that point!

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Anticipating Summer: Lazy(ish) Fish Tacos

I have many plans for the summer. One of these plans is to eat many fish tacos. There is something delightfully summery about them. So spicy and bright tasting. It just satisfies you. Add a margarita to the mix, and you’re gold. 

Often, when I’m craving fish tacos, I go to straight to the experts: La Carnita’s fish taco, “In Cod we Trust” plagues my mind on a pretty constant basis. In fact, pretty much everything they do plagues my mind. I’ve never had a bad taco there, but their fish taco is my favourite. They also do a mean margarita, and their street corn is pretty boss as well. If I could go there all the time, I would. But I can’t so I don’t. So every once in a while, I have to try my hand at my own fish taco.

I am no fool. You cannot improve upon perfection. And I don’t entertain ideas of being able to replicate perfection. So I went on a hunt for a recipe for fish tacos that I could replicate or at least approximate. I needed something that had the same satisfying array of flavours, blending so well but still distinct. And spicy. A fish taco has to be spicy. It just does.

So anyway, after a bit of research (ie: googling) I came across a recipe that seemed to capture most of what I wanted in my fish tacos. Bobby Flay’s Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw, Tomato and Avocado Salsa and Pineapple Hot Sauce is what I use as a rough guide for my much lazier (and probably just as delicious) fish taco. It’s a weeknight taco. Or a weekend taco. Or a midnight taco. Or an every minute of your life taco, really.

Here’s a rough overview of my recipe: Tilapia fish tacos with “whatever slaw”, pineapple jalapeño “salsa”, avocados, and a sriracha “crema”. 

First, assemble your toppings. Slice up dem avocados. Here’s a nice tip I read somewhere on the internet once: to make sure an avocado isn’t overripe, pop off the little nubbin/stem/whatever, and if it’s still white underneath, it’s all good. If it’s brown, put it down. HANDY. 

For the slaw, use whatever is easiest. In an ideal world, it’d be red cabbage slaw. But I don’t want to buy an entire damn red cabbage for a cup of slaw. So I pick up a bag of slaw from the store. Sometimes they have red cabbage, but mostly they don’t. Today I used a carrot-cabbage combo. So long as it’s crispy and colourful, you’re all good. Chop up some cilantro and mix it in with the slaw, then add a generous splash of rice vinegar and good amount of lime juice. Half a lime or a whole lime. Up to you! Let that marinade while you do the rest. 

Next chop up the pineapple and some jalapeños (canned, jarred, fresh, whatever, no judgement here) and fry them up in a pan until they get all delicious looking, charring and caramelizing a bit. Most foods are better if you can somehow get them to caramelize. Once that’s done put it in a bowl. That is my pineapple jalapeno “salsa”.

Grab a couple of tablespoons of sour cream, and mix it with sriracha sauce to taste. It should be pretty spicy. This is the “crema”.

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As for the fish. I usually use tilapia fillets, because they’re cheap and easy to find, but you could use any old white fish you wanted, I’m sure. Season both sides with salt and pepper. I like to grab some breadcrumbs and zest a lime into them, and a good squeeze of lime juice. Mix that good stuff all together. Then I simply dredge the fish in these breadcrumbs and fry it up in a tiny bit of oil. Both sides. But you could also do the fish any old way you want, really. If you’re a better man that I, you could actually batter the fish! But that’s too much work. For even less work, you could just skip the breadcrumbs and do salt, pepper and some lime zest/juice.

Once the fish is done, grab a pile of corn tortilla and stick them on a plate. Cover them with a damp dishtowel, and microwave it for about 2 minutes. This kind of steams them and makes them lovely and pliable. 

Now, YOU ARE READY. Throw everything onto a pita and GOBBLE IT UP. It’s good right? Super good. Yea.

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