March 29, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Spring Has Sprung, Maple Syrup Is Here!

Maple Sap Dripping Into Collection Bucket

Spring has sprung, the sap is flowing and it’s time for maple syrup and another Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 post! Each month Foodbuzz hosts a wonderful event whereby 24 bloggers post about 24 different meal experiences in 24 hours. It was easy for me to pick a topic this month as it’s maple syrup collection time. Canadian cuisine may be difficult to define but one food item that I associate strongly with Canada is maple syrup. And when you live in the country, surrounded by maple trees, it’s impossible not to have an appreciation for the sweet stuff.

Wood Fired Oven Used to Boil Sap Into Syrup

A memory that I’m sure is shared by many Canadians is a springtime visit to the sugar bush on an elementary school class trip. There you got to see not only how maple syrup is produced, but you also, (and most importantly) got to sample all sorts of maple products. The only problem is that too much maple candy can make anyone crazy. In retrospect, I feel bad for any teacher who has ever had to take their class to a maple sugar bush because that bus ride home is anything but pleasant. Want to know what a maple sugar high is like? Just watch this clip of Friends where Ross and Chandler stay at a fancy hotel, six hours away from home and on the way hit up every maple candy stand they see. Ross overdoses on maple candy and is completely nutty. Now picture Ross, times 30, in child form and you’ve got one of the worst ideas for a class trip ever. But also one that creates lots of memories.

Pouring Freshly Made Maple Sryup

In an effort to recreate some childhood memories, I recently visited a local sugar bush and was treated to a tour of the sugar shack, complete with mandatory maple taffy tasting, (a classic sugar shack treat, made by boiling maple syrup and pouring it over fresh snow). Bob and Mary-Beth Gray of Kemble Mountain Maple Products collect sap from their maple trees and boil it down to syrup in enormous pans, heated by a wood fired stove. The amount of wood they go through in one day is astounding, requiring them to constantly feed the fire with long logs. The fire heats the sap and it reduces, flowing down a gradient, becoming thicker at each level until it can be poured out as syrup at the other end. Tasty, tasty syrup.

Making Maple Taffy

I left the sugar shack eager to return to my kitchen and to create a meal full of maple flavour. The options were endless but I eventually narrowed my choices down to include a maple flavoured cocktail, salad dressing, two maple glazes and a maple cookie. Let’s begin with the cocktail, shall we? It’s a good one and it’s called a Maplelito, a riff on the class mojito but it’s made with maple syrup instead of mint. In my version, I combined the juice of 1 lime, an ounce of white rum and an ounce of maple syrup and served it over crushed ice. Delicious.


Next up was the salad course. In general, salad is for rabbits, but when you add maple cured bacon, homemade croutons, red peppers and freshly made maple vinaigrette, salad is awesome. The vinaigrette recipe is an inexact science but contained the following: maple syrup, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, paprika, dry mustard and salt.

Maple Dressed Salad with Maple Cured Bacon Bits

The main course featured a double dose of maple syrup with maple glazed carrots, (recipe from Bon Appetit) and soy and maple glazed duck breast served over garlic mashed potatoes with a wild mushroom ragout. Making the duck breast couldn’t be easier. Simply season on all sides with salt and pepper and score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Place fat side down in a skillet and allow some of the fat to render out and the skin to become crispy. Drain off most of the fat, flip with duck breast, glaze with equal parts maple syrup and soy sauce and put in a 400 degree oven for about 6-8 minutes, glazing again half way through. Remove from the oven and let rest before slicing and serving.

Maple and Soy Glazed Duck Breast with Maple Glazed Carrots, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Ragout

For dessert I made Chewy Maple Cookies from the always enticing blog, Habeas Brûlée. Danielle says these cookies, which were initially created by her partner Dave, are basically maple candy in the guise of chewy cookies. And although mine looked nothing like hers, they were still addictive and definitely along the lines of maple candy. After a couple of these cookies you started to feel a little loopy and doped up on maple sugar.

Chewy Maple Cookies

An all around sweet evening.

All of the maple syrup I used to create this meal came from:
Kemble Mountain Maple Products
“Produced with pride from the forests of Ontario’s beautiful Niagara Escarpment.”
Bob and Mary-Beth Gray

March 28, 2009

And the Winner Is...

BC of Beans and Caviar who commented:

"Ohh, this would be wonderful. My favourite spring recipe would be fiddleheads and young asparagus sauteed in butter."

Congratulations! Be sure to check your email and send me your address so I can get your brand new Vita-Mix 5200 in the mail and on its way to your kitchen.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, I discovered a lot of new bloggers to follow and great ideas for spring recipes.

And special thanks to the people at Vita-Mix for making this happen!

Happy Spring!

March 20, 2009

Vita-Mix Giveaway!

Oh yes, you read that correctly, I’m giving away a Vita-Mix! After a long dreary winter we could all use some cheering up and in an attempt to make one lucky person especially happy, I’m giving away a brand new Vita-Mix 5200. If you’ve never heard of Vita-Mix then you live under a rock. Seriously. It’s a high powered blender that can chew up virtually anything. How do I know this?
Quick Raspberry Ice Cream

Recently the wonderful people at Vita-Mix offered to let me try one out and I jumped at the chance. I love kitchen toys and this is a particularly awesome one. After playing around with it for a while, (and pretty much throwing everything in my fridge and cupboard into the canister just to watch it blend) I decided it was selfish of me to keep something so great all to myself. But I didn’t want to give it up though either. So I asked Vita-Mix if they would be willing to give away another blender to one of my readers. They graciously agreed and there you have it.

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Soup

I’m not the only one who thinks highly of Vita-Mix. Michael Ruhlman lists their blender as one of his favourite kitchen gadgets, (besides his hands that is). And I could give you a list of all the things you can do with your Vita-Mix, but we’d be here forever.

Almond and Lemon Macaron

Here are a few random suggestions:

  • Grind your own almonds and then proceed to make Almond and Lemon Macarons.
  • Whip up a homemade prune and Armagnac bbq sauce and then smother it on ribs.
  • Whir together some cream, sugar and frozen fruit and you’ve got soft serve ice cream, freeze it a little longer if you want to be able to scoop it.
  • Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies.
  • Soup! You can make hot soup, from raw ingredients in about 5 minutes. And the texture is out of this world, super smooth.
Homemade BBQ Rib Sauce In Blender, After Blending and On Ribs

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Want a chance to win? There are lots of ways:
  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me your favourite Spring recipe.
  2. Twitter about the giveaway, linking to this post and leave me another comment to let me know. Or follow me on Twitter! @jumboempanadas
  3. Post about the giveaway on Facebook, linking to this post and leave me another comment to let me know.
  4. Post about the giveaway on your own blog, linking to this post and leave me another comment to let me know.
I'll give you an entry ballot for each way that you enter the contest. Unfortunately the contest is only open to readers in the USA and Canada, (but I love you all equally). Make sure you leave an email address,(or link to your blog if you have one) so that I can contact you if you win. The contest will run until Saturday, March 28th, at which point I’ll use a random number generator to determine a winner. Good luck everyone! Happy Spring!

Banana Berry Smoothie

March 18, 2009

Sunny Shrimp Tacos

I’m one of those people that need sunlight in order to function properly. Rainy, snowy and dreary days make me grumpy. Call me a bad Canadian, but I can’t stand the cold, (though to be fair, my version of cold is a few degrees cooler than say, an Australian’s). It’s not that I hate winter, I just wish snow were warmer. And after way too many months of winter, all I want are sunny days so that I can get out and ride my bike and leave the house without having to put on nineteen layers of clothing. Eating habits change with the seasons too and just like I crave the sun after a long winter, I also crave fresh flavours and bright colours. We’ve had a couple sunny days here recently, (I’ve even ridden my bike twice!) and for some reason I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to make fish tacos. Once the idea was swimming around, mingling with my daily thoughts, I knew I had to make it before it drove me crazy. As frequently happens though, what I initially plan for and what I ended up with were slightly different and shrimp was used in place of fish.

Despite the fact that I like to use recipes when working at the restaurant, I don’t necessarily use them at home. There’s a reason for this; at the restaurant each dish needs to be consistent regardless of who makes it and I don’t want to mess that up. At home where I don’t have anyone judging me, (at least not too critically) it really doesn’t matter. So I made these shrimp tacos without a recipe and if you want to make some of your own, I suggest putting together a salsa made out of things like mango, avocado, tomatoes, lime, cumin, smoky paprika and fresh cilantro. The shrimp were quickly pan fried after marinating in flavours similar to that of the salsa, with the addition of white wine. I also caramelized some onions and fried red peppers to add to the tortilla shells. The shrimp tacos were not the easiest things to eat, (bibs are required) but I thought they were pretty good and definitely put me in a sunnier mood with all those bright colours and tastes.

What kind of foods do you think of for Spring time?

March 10, 2009

Happy in the Kitchen

Deep Fried Bison Burger

I think it’s pretty obvious that I have a love of food. Until recently though, my love of cooking and baking was restricted to my own kitchen. Since I started at the restaurant I’ve been asked by a lot of people whether or not I enjoy working in a professional kitchen. That’s a tricky question. I usually reply with something to the effect of, “I like work when we’re not doing work.” What’s that supposed to mean? Well, it means I like Chef Challenges and learning new things and playing around with different ideas. I like the silly days in the kitchen when we get our work done but have fun doing it. For example, one of my least favourite jobs is chopping herbs. I know it has to be done though. On silly kitchen days, the herbs get chopped, but they might morph into other shapes on their way to being finely chopped into, as one of the guys likes to say, dust!

Thyme Heart... Making Herb Chopping Bearable

On slower days when we find ourselves with a little extra time on our hands, a question that frequently comes up is “What can we deep fry?” I don’t think I ever get tired of that one. There have been some interesting things to go in the deep fryer, with varying results. Deep fried cheesecake was fun and completely decadent, especially after it was topped with chocolate and caramel sauce. Besides being decadent, it was really pretty too. Dropping the batter covered cheesecake into the deep fryer was a messy affair that resulted in ‘tails’ that were an arty accident. Times like those inch me closer to buying a dSLR and learning how to use it so that my pictures can reflect how cool food really looks.

Deep Fried Cheesecake with Caramel and Chocolate Sauce

One of the best things to come out of the deep fryer was a bison burger. I’m still having dreams about that burger. What was so special about it, besides being a deep fried burger? Let me break it down for you, from top to bottom: Ace bakery bun, a blend of mustards, lettuce, heirloom tomato, red onion, bacon, applewood smoked chedder cheese, a panko breaded deep fried housemade bison burger, gourmet housemade ketchup and an ace bakery bun. Wow. You don’t even know how amazing that burger was. We decided that it could in fact be improved upon though, by adding caramelized onions, a grilled portobello and embedding cheese in the centre of the burger. One day soon this must happen and when it does, it will be glorious.

Deep Fried Bison Burger with All the Fixings

Right up there with, “What can we deep fry?” is, “What can we fry in duck fat?” Duck fat is an ingredient I’ve come to have an appreciation for since working at the restaurant. I just didn’t know what I was missing before then. A more difficult question might be, “What can’t we fry in duck fat?” Because I think the answer might be nothing. Potatoes in duck fat are basically the best French fry in the world but a lot of other items have been fried in duck fat at work too.

I find I get the most random creations from Chef after he’s been cooped up in his office for a while and hasn’t been in the kitchen cooking. When he finally makes an appearance and I ask him to teach me something new or make me something awesome he gets a certain glint in his eyes and comes up with Spaghetti Bolognese or Turkey Pizza. Of course, neither of those things sounds very unusual until you see them made his way. Spaghetti Bolognese was turned inside out and became a beef tenderloin and tomato confit wrapped in spaghetti and pan fried in duck fat. It had the flavours of spaghetti Bolognese but looked nothing like the classical version.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Most recently Chef made turkey pizza, which is to say, not really pizza at all. He butterflied a turkey breast, pan fried it in duck fat and brown butter before topping it with more traditional pizza toppings like mushrooms, onions, salami, tomatoes, basil puree and bocconcini. Turkey pizza! Sort of.

Turkey Pizza

Every now and then actual work is kinda fun too, even if it’s completely different from just playing around at home. Recently there was a function that required 75 portions of white chocolate mousse in dark chocolate cups. That’s clearly not something I’m going to be making at home on a regular basis, (at least not in that quantity) so getting to make something new and seeing the process is fun for me. The ‘cupcakes’ so to speak, were then garnished with sugar glass, a sprig of mint and a little fruit salad of oranges, blueberries and strawberries. I’m sure if you ask me again in the middle of summer when I have to make a million of them if I like making white chocolate mousse cups, you may get a different response, (and possibly a cupcake in the face) but who knows? Hopefully I’ll like it just as much. When work is fun, I’m happy in the kitchen.

White Chocolate Mousse in Dark Chocolate Cups

March 07, 2009

Peanut Butter and Caramel Smores

As I’ve said before, I find blogging events useful when I’m looking for inspiration. Sometimes the theme alone is enough to get me thinking in different directions. Although whether or not those different directions actually make sense is another matter entirely. When I found out The Peanut Butter Boy is hosting The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition #5 and the theme is sandwiches I immediately had an idea of what to make. It was like a cartoon light bulb went on above my head. For some reason all I could think of was a peanut butter, apple and cheddar panini. It’s not completely out of left field though, there’s a logical train of thought that brought me to that idea. It went something likes this: I like granny smith apples with peanut butter. I like apple pie with cheddar cheese. I keep seeing paninis on all the blogs and don’t use my panini maker nearly enough. Therefore, if apples are good with both peanut putter and cheddar cheese, all three should also be good together. And what better way to put them together than in a panini? Once I had the thought, I knew the only way to get it out of my head was to actually make this concoction.

When I went to get my panini maker out of the cupboard it had the waffle plates on as opposed to the panini plates and I decided that a waffle shaped sandwich was the way to go. I then built my sandwich on homemade bread, with a thick layer of peanut butter, thin slices of granny smith apples and smoked applewood cheddar cheese. I squished the whole thing into the panini/waffle maker and waited for it to do its thing. The result? Ah… it was ok. It seemed like pure genius in my head but once it was on the plate I just wanted to deconstruct it into apple slices smeared with peanut butter and a grilled cheese sandwich. The sum was not greater than its parts. Sigh.

But I couldn’t submit a less than stellar sandwich to the Peanut Butter Boy so something else had to be made. It was about at that time that I reverted back to my love of desserts for inspiration. I had some caramel sauce in the fridge, leftover from making apple strudel and I knew there were graham crackers in the cupboard, leftover from making cheesecake and before you knew it I had built a peanut butter and caramel smore. Now that’s a sandwich to be proud of! As if smores weren’t already good with layers of graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate, I jacked them up with caramel sauce and peanut butter too! The only problem is that I now believe that all smores should be made like that… After you try it my way you’ll be a believer too.

March 03, 2009

Monthly Mingle: Caribbean Cooking

In my quest to find inspiration by resuming participation in food blogging events I thought it seemed only fitting that I partake in one being hosted by Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? Her Monthly Mingle was the first blogging event that I ever entered and when I saw that the theme for this month was Caribbean Cooking, I decided I should definitely be able to figure out something to make for it.

When I think of the Caribbean the first thing that comes to mind is Cuba. Cuba, si! It’s the only place I’ve been in the Caribbean and I’ve been three times. Although I can’t believe over two years have passed since I was there last, (and according to that post, over two years since I started baking from Dorie’s book!). I need to go back. I need to feel that soft white sand between my toes and sip on a mojito, or perhaps a Cuba Libre at inappropriately early times of day, (ie- 10am). I need to spend some time walking the beach, floating in the ocean, playing a little volleyball and then returning to my room to find swans made of towels. What else do I need? Tropical fruit! And that’s where the Monthly Mingle comes in. Despite the fact that I dislike pineapple upside down cake, I love pineapple, particularly fresh pineapple. Ideally I would eat all my pineapple fresh from the tree, but given that I live in cold and snowy Canada and it’s still the middle of winter here, that’s not going to happen. What that means is that by the time a pineapple has travelled from the tropics to my house, it’s likely not at the pinnacle of ripeness. Fortunately, it can still be salvaged with the addition of sugar, dark rum and roasting. While we’re at it, let’s throw in some more tropical flavours with coconut and bananas. What do you get? Roasted Pineapple with Coconut and Banana Ice Cream. It’s as close as I’m going to get to the Caribbean anytime soon and it’s delicious!

If you’re hosting a food blogging event, let me know! And Peanut Butter Boy? Don’t worry, I’ve got something planned for The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition

Roasted Pineapple (Adapted from Michael Smith)

1 Pineapple skin and ends trimmed off and cut into rings, core removed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup dark Cuban rum
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup flaked coconut
Banana ice cream, preferably homemade :)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place sugar, rum and allspice in a bowl and stir together. Toss pineapple slices in mixture and lay into a 9" by 13" baking pan. Pour the remaining syrup overtop. Roast for 1 hour, or until pineapple is caramelized and tender, flipping half way through. When pineapple is completely tender sprinkle a little extra sugar on top and stick under the broiler to caramelize. Put a slice of pineapple into a bowl, sprinkle some coconut onto the middle and top with a scoop of banana ice cream. Serve immediately.

March 01, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Five Courses, Five Primary Tastes

It’s time for another round of Foodbuzz 24, 24,24, whereby 24 bloggers post about 24 different meal experiences in 24 hours. This month I proposed to make a five course meal, with each course highlighting one of the five tastes, which are bitter, salty, sour, umami and sweet. The folks at Foodbuzz thought that was a good idea so here we are! Let’s get right into it.

European Imported Beers

The first taste that I wanted to highlight was bitter. The bitter taste can also be described as sharp and can be detected in chocolate, coffee, olives, beer, bitters and some leafy greens. Since it’s my dinner to host I’m allowed to say that liquid courses count! That means it’s time for beer. To whet our appetite for more good things to come, we sampled some European imports. Beer always makes me hungry for snack food so it’s a good thing the salty course was up next.

Roasted Potatoes with Bacon, Cheese and Parsley

Salty tastes are produced predominantly by the presence of sodium ions. My favourite example of the salty flavour is bacon and I seriously debated for a while about just serving a few different slices of homemade bacon on a plate. Who wouldn’t love that? My somewhat rational side eventually vetoed that idea but only because I decided to enhance bacon with other delicious things like potatoes and cheese. Roasted Potatoes with Bacon, Cheese and Parsley from Gourmet complimented the beer perfectly and it began to become clear why it’s essential to combine all five tastes for ultimate enjoyment.

Lemon Raspberry Sorbet

After all of that saltiness we needed a palate cleanser. Sour taste buds to the rescue! Sour is the taste that detects acidity. The most common food group containing sour tastes is fruit like lemons and limes but wine can also have it. One bite of this mouth puckering Lemon Raspberry Sorbet is all you need to know exactly what sour tastes like. It’s definitely not dessert and you wouldn’t want a whole bowl of it but it was a great way to prep the mouth for umami. U-ma-what??? Just keep reading.

Roasted Veal Chops with Morels

Umami is the 5th taste, although it is only as recent as 2002 that it has been included in culinary textbooks and literature as such. The concept, however, is not new. Escoffier identified sauces made with veal stock as having a flavor distinct from the four primary tastes although it took another hundred years before this fifth taste was finally accepted as valid. The word umami is Japanese and can mean yummy or delicious and has been described in English as meatiness, relish or savouriness. The umami taste is produced by compounds such as glutamate and is commonly found in fermented and aged foods, among others. Some examples of food containing glutamate are beef, lamb, mushrooms, parmesan and Roquefort cheese as well as soy sauce and fish sauce. I decided to take a cue from Escoffier and made Roasted Veal Chops with Morels to give my main course that umami taste.

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumbs and Candied Kumquats

Finally, we end our meal with the sweet taste, one that is generally regarded as a pleasurable sensation. Sweetness is found in sugar rich foods and naturally in things like fruit, honey and maple syrup. I chose to go the less than natural, (but still very sweet) route with White Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumbs and Candied Kumquats. Even the sour foods have been made sweet in this dessert, as kumquats are transformed into candied bites of sweetness with the aid of a simple syrup. I usually find white chocolate almost too cloyingly sweet to bear but combined with the tanginess of cream cheese it was actually quite enjoyable. Which reminds me, although each of the primary tastes can be delicious on their own, they’re at their best when combined with one another for a more complete and well rounded flavour. And although I enjoyed my five courses of tastes, I like how they play off of each other best as opposed to being sampled separately.

Be sure to check out the other 24, 24, 24 meals, there are sure to be some interesting ones that no doubt make full use of all five primary tastes. And if you’re looking for umami, look no further than the following recipe for Roasted Veal Chops with Morels.

Roasted Veal Chops with Morels, (From Gourmet, Adapted from Jean-Jacques Rachou and Charlie Palmer)

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/4 oz dried morels (about 1 1/3 cups)

2 (1 1/3-inch-thick) veal rib chops

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 thyme sprig

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoon Cognac

1/2 tablespoon chopped chives

1 teaspoon chopped tarragon

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pour boiling water over morels in a small bowl and soak until morels are softened, about 30 minutes. Transfer morels with a slotted spoon to a medium-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press on morels with back of spoon to remove excess liquid (be careful not to squeeze out all the moisture), then add to soaking liquid and reserve. Rinse morels to remove any grit. Reserve morels and liquid separately, allowing liquid to settle.

While morels soak, let veal chops stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Pat chops dry and season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (total). Heat an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat until hot. Add oil and heat until smoking, then add veal chops and sear underside well, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn chops over and sear 1 minute.

Add butter, garlic, and thyme to skillet and baste veal with melting butter. Transfer skillet to oven and cook, basting every few minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of chop registers 130 to 135°F for medium-rare, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer chops to a plate to rest. Discard garlic and thyme, keeping juices and fat in skillet, and return to burner over medium-high heat. (Handle will be very hot.) Add morels and sauté 1 minute. Add shallot and sauté 1 minute.

Remove from heat briefly and add Cognac, then return to heat and deglaze, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until most of liquid has evaporated. Slowly pour in reserved soaking liquid, being careful to leave last tablespoon (containing sediment) in bowl. Add meat juices from plate and boil until liquid has reduced to about 1/3 cup.

Stir in crème fraîche, swirling to incorporate, and boil until morels are lightly coated and liquid is slightly thickened. Stir in chives and tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Serve chops smothered with morels.