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.

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.

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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