East Coast Night: Donairs and Garlic Fingers

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About a month ago, Matt and I went on a trip to the maritimes. Our good friends Kait and Graham were getting married, and we decided to take the opportunity to make a trip out of it. I went to university in New Brunswick so it wasn’t my first trip out east, but we rented a car and I have a bit more disposable income these days, so it was the first time I really had the chance to see the sights and enjoy anything other than Sackville.

Kait got married in Hopewell Cape, and from there we got to see the Hopewell Rocks and Cape Enrage, and I took Matt through Sackville and showed him the little blue house I used to live in with 4 other girls and 3 cats. From there we hit up Cape Breton Island, and did the Cabot Trail, then on to Halifax to visit friends, Lydia and Jenna, with a day trip to Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg.

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It was a fantastic trip, and I really didn’t want it to end.

BUT. This is not a travel blog. I’d have to do a lot more travelling for it to be that. It’s a food blog. So I thought I’d better do a little east coast themed post. I wanted to try my hand at cooking something that we ate during on our trip, and I can’t just be buying lobster willy-nilly here in Toronto. So donairs and garlic fingers it was.

For those of you who don’t know, the key ingredient to both donairs and garlic fingers is donair sauce. A distinct and garlicky sauce made from sweetened condensed milk and vinegar. People seem to love it or hate it, but either way, you can’t have Garlic fingers out east without it.

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To make the donair meat, I found this recipe over on allrecipes, and it was pretty good. They key is to slam the ground beef repeatedly into a metal bowl or pot, to kind of meld it together. This makes it so the beef is sliceable rather than a crumbly meatloaf texture. It’s also fun.

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Once the beef is sliced, wrap into a pita, chuck in some lettuce, diced tomatoes, onions and, of course, donair sauce. Some people also like to add cheese.

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Some recipes for donair sauce tell you to use evaporated milk and add sugar, and others suggest just going straight for sweetened condensed milk, and skipping the sugar. I opted for the latter. So one can of sweetened condensed milk and then garlic powder and vinegar to taste really. Around 4 tablespoons, but whatever.

Garlic fingers are ridiculously easy. Pizza dough, garlic butter, mozzarella cheese. This isn’t garlic bread though, it’s garlic fingers. So you have to cut them into finger shapes. Makes ’em easy to dip into the sauce.IMG_2226

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I ended up with a ridiculous amount of food after making all of this though. I used to the leftover donair meat to make an impromptu poor man’s bulgogi.

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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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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.

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.

Two Recipes for Winter

You guys, winter has been an asshole this year. A real asshole.

As a result, my soul needs beige carby foods. I’m sorry, it just does. It needs filling buttery goodness that allows me to hibernate under my duvet, or in front of my fireplace and stuff something warm and comforting into my maw. Not every day, not every night, but often enough to remind me that warm, comforting things do still exist.

Now winter is also mostly over. We got snow last night, but despite that, finally, mercifully, the end is nigh. Tuesday after next is supposed to go up to 12 degrees. TWELVE. Twelve. But until then, if you need a little something, or two, to bury yourself in until winter is really, truly over, I offer you two recipes:

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 The first one is pastina. Oh my goodness. In case you don’t know, pastina is really just the type of pasta used, a tiny pasta often used as a soup pasta, that comes in little shapes like stars or squares or, as in our case, the alphabet.

It all started when, a little while ago, Matt was telling me about how his Nonna used to make him pastina when he was little, and how we could never get enough of it. “More, Nonna. MORE” he’d demand. I’d never really had pastina made in the way he was describing, so I figured I’d try it out. It’s really easy and so, so gratifying. It’s like crack.

The key to making it super delicious and soul-warming, I think, is boiling the pastina in chicken broth. I’m sure you could use veggie broth too if you wanted. Boil up a pot of chicken broth, and then add the pastina. I just kind of eyeball it, but the box usually has instructions. The pastina absorbs most of the broth, and once it’s cooked, there shouldn’t be a lot of broth left in the pot. The first time I made it, I didn’t put enough liquid in and had to add a few cups as it cooked. Once it’s done, you just scoop the pasta into some bowls with a slotted spoon. You want just enough liquid to make it nice and slippery, kind of like a sauce, but not too much. Then you just add a ton of butter and grated parmesan and mix it up and then literally stuff it down your gullet. It’s so velvety and smooth, like a kind of mac and cheese, and it just slides down your throat. Seriously guys, it’s so good.

If you wanted to kind of seem healthy, I’m sure you could add veggies to the pot. But whatever.

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My next offering is equally delicious and satisfying in a completely buttery, warm way.

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 I’ve not usually been a huge fan of banana bread. It’s okaaay. But usually just okay. But then, a few years ago I found this recipe. It uses buttermilk, and butter and the result is…fluffy? And buttery and banana-y and so darn good. It’s just different and better than most other banana bread recipes I’ve found.

I usually follow the recipe fairly closely, though depending on whether or not I feel like buying an entire litre of buttermilk for the 4 tablespoons this recipes calls for, I might just do the ole milk and lemon/vinegar combo. But I do make one change:

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Adding booze to recipes is another great way of making yourself feel better in the bitter cold months. Why would you NOT but bourbon in a banana based recipe?! It just makes sense. So screw the vanilla. Add the bourbon.

So anyway, chuck it in the oven for about 50 minutes, or usually more for me, and then when it’s done, it comes out with a beautifully caramelized crust, and even though there’s already a fair amount of butter in it, you can smear more on a slice, and then you can munch on it and feel at peace with the world again.

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Yea. You’re welcome.