Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recipe: Shortbread with Elderberry Jam

Fifth and final pairing at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing event. This was going to be the dessert round, so one of I wanted one of my favourite beer Péché Mortel from Dieu du Ciel.

What is it? 
A vanilla blackpepper shortbread with Nutella and homemade elderberry jam served with an imperial coffee stout.

Why did you choose this?
Can't leave a meal without some dessert and coffee. Vanilla and chocolate bring out the nuances in coffees. Often my wife will add a little instant coffee to chocolate desserts, not enough to taste, but it enhances chocolate really well. Since this was about small bites and pairing things that might not be obvious, cookies seemed like it could be a good choice.

Why this tasting?
The coffee stout is roasted, bitter with a strong coffee taste. There is some vanilla notes that I wanted to play off. So, added vanilla and black pepper to a standard shortbread recipe. The black pepper was to break up the sweetness of the whole bite. Nutella has hazelnuts and chocolate. Both of those flavours are a great match it espresso. On top, added some elderberry to add some tartness. I am not sure it was necessary but I was thinking about LU Pim's cookies - the pear in particular. So, I was shooting for that type profile.

So, what is the recipe?
I'm not a natural baker so I ripped off Leiths Baking Bible again. I adjusted their recipe to add cracked black pepper (enough to see) and about a teaspoon of vanilla. Here is a recipe that someone else has done based on a variation of Leiths. Put down the biscuit. Spread some Nutella. Take a spoon to put on some elderberry.

So, you could change the jam or jelly to match the porter or stout. If you have a raspberry porter, think about adding raspberry jam. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Recipe: Cold Noodle Salad

Fourth pairing at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing event. The beer that this salad was paired with was St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale.

What is it? 
Soba noodles with green onions, ginger and an asian type dressing.

Why did you choose this?
Fourth course and there had been no "potatoes". No starch. Every meal needs a little starch.

One of the first craft beers I had ever tried was St. Ambroise's Apricot Wheat Ale. This was the gateway beer. These beers are seasonal. So, when we were planning this event, no pumpkin beers had showed up yet and we thought it would be a good way to bridge the gap between summer and autumn. Autumn is the time for pumpkins. I had made a cold noodle salad with slightly different ingredients in the summer with sweet potato noodles to go with a seasonal wheat beer and I thought this might be the time to make another buckwheat noodle salad.

Why this tasting?
Pumpkin is a savoury ingredient in most areas of the world except North America. Here we jam it in a pie shell with lots of sugar and call it dessert. Asian cuisine treats it like a squash. I had tried the sweet potato soba noodles as a test but they got lost with the dressing that was needed to bring out the pumpkin in the beer. Round two went to a plain noodle. It worked. This was one of the only ingredients in the whole night that I bought. Just feeling a little defensive I suppose. Anyways, in order to amp up the pumpkin flavour, ginger was added to the noodles.

By itself, the pumpkin in the ale is subtle and only shows up as an aftertaste. When paired with the pungent ginger and the toasty, earthy taste of buckwheat, the pumpkin jumped up and saved the ale from being overpowered. What seemed like a mild ale turns into a more intense brew. 

So, what is the recipe?
Do up the soba noodles according to package. If you feel like trying it yourself, here is a recipe that looks like it will work. Cool off the noodles quickly. If you are making the dish ahead, add pumpkin seed oil and sesame seed oil to coat. This will keep the noodles from sticking. If you are doing it right ahead, add less of the oils. All the next are to taste. Add some chopped green onion. Grate ginger and lemon into noodles. Add ponzu (yuzu based sauce), mirin (rice wine), lime juice, small amount of fish sauce and some salt. Add a little at a time and taste until you get to the point where you put your whole face into the bowl of noodles. That means it is good.

If you can't find ponzu, make a lime based sauce with lime, soy sauce, rice vinegar and a little fish sauce. That will come close to tasting right. You just want to boost the moreish flavour. Moreish is the english word for umami. Click the link, check ze google and whatever else to figure that out. I can think of a lot of variations that work. You could vary those to match the profile of the beer you are having. This could replace beer and wings. At least I think so.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Recipe: Poached Scallop with Coconut Raita

This was the third pairing that was offered at the Only Cafe beer and food pairing. The beer that was paired with the scallop was Denison's Weissbier.

What is it? 
It was a chilled poached scallop topped with smoked salt and served on a dollop of spiced coconut and yoghurt sauce.

Why did you choose this?
We were into the third course and this is where you generally have your main. Since we were doing tastes, it made sense to have a nice small protein that didn't have to be heated (remember no kitchen). Fabian at the only originally suggested scallops and I balked a  little bit because I wasn't sure that I could sear off site and expect the sear to maintain its texture for an extended time. I knew that I really liked Denison's and white beers and seafood really go well. So, I tried poaching the scallops in a few liquids and too many left the scallop flat tasting. Then I remembered wine poached scallops, so why not beer? 

Why this tasting?
Witbier, weisse, and white beers tend to share some common attributes. Banana smells with clove tastes. These flavours seem to go well with the subtle tastes of fish and seafood. To further the tropical spicing and notes, nutmeg, cinnamon and fresh coconut were mixed with coconut milk. For many people, these spices are banana bread spices that I feel deepens the beer. After all, beer is bread. Often with a lighter tasting brew, there is little notice of anything more than the hops, malt and obvious spice. This was my favourite pairing of the night.

So, what is the recipe?
Poached Scallop
Get a quantity of scallops. Cover scallops with beer (drink the rest). Poach until firm. Timing depends on size of the scallop but ten minutes is probably too long and 1 minute is too little. Do this step by feel. Chill the scallop. <aside>I often use the poaching liquid as a stock or reduce it, adjust seasonings and make it into a sauce. </aside>

Coconut Raita
Take about 150ml of coconut milk. Add 2 Tbsp thick yoghurt. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Let sit overnight in fridge. Taste again and adjust sweetness/sourness to your palette.

Putting it all together
Dollop of raita. Scallop on top. Drop or two of lime juice. Few grains of smoked salt.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Drunk Review: McDonald's Big Mac (tm)

After a good meal at Pachuco, I stopped by Sauce on the Danforth for a few cocktails (old fashioned, gin fizz and a Sazerac). The next few blocks after leaving reminded me that there may be too much liquid in my alcohol system so I repaired to the local fine restaurant to use the water closet. In order to be inconspicuous, I decided to try my first Big Mac (tm) since 1999.

That was the year I found myself in Florence, Italy on a Sunday. It turns out that that part of Italy is still fairly Catholic and the only "restaurant" open was the heathen Scottish restaurant. It tasted like home.

Ever since then, I have not availed myself of their culinary delights. Lately, I have been questioning my food snottiness. Is McD's really evil incarnate or have I hyperinflated its regressive and unholy tendencies? Full of alcohol and uric acid, I decided to find out. The sandwich that has generated ear worms of all beef patties lived up to my memories.

Before I launch into my review of the revered sandwich, I wish to let you gentle readers know that the first time I acquainted myself with this most North American of restaurants was on a field trip when I was in grade 8. That was the first time I had ever had McDonald's. We were travelling to Toronto for a big trip to the zoo. The highlight could have been the food or the blue footprints, I can't rightly remember which.

Anyways, back to the current time. Sponge like bread with accents of of slight creamy sourness gave way to crisp lettuce and salty granularity that was almost beeflike in flavour. A slight pause where my teeth break through the pickles and the saline vinegar that provides a break in texture.

Still there is something comforting about the consistency regardless of your location on the Planet Earth. There is no despair when eating the burger. There are calories, carbohydrates and sodium chloride. My mouth tingles and my nerves buzz with the final swallows. There is an aftertaste of unremembered onions. Maybe there are specially bread alliums to prevent sharp tastes or rather a quick bath in overhot water to remove their distinctive aromas and taste. Regardless, the pieces are too small to distinguish on the Mac and blend with all the other small bits of matter. Only the chlorophyll remnants of the iceberg lettuce fix themselves in my memory.

There is no satisfaction in completing this 'wich. Only the profound sadness of knowing that the 5.30 spent could have gone a long way to providing a more complete umami experience elsewhere. However, I remember my cold student days when three hamburgers could be had for two dollars. It feels that the slight incompleteness of the burger is what keeps you coming back. Each time, you wish that you could finally reach the promised land of the advertisements and the smell. However, each time, it will fall flat. Maybe it is the reminiscence of young unrequited teenage love walking back from a night on the couch with a nubile young woman with blue balls. McDonald's is just an immature cocktease. As I have gotten older, I have learned that there are more rewarding experiences with a more mature woman.

McDonald's on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Arugula and Basil Salad with Berliner Weisse

So, salad and beer as a pairing? This post will not really be about the recipe itself but it is the pairing that makes this work. This is from the beer and food pairing that I did at the Only Cafe.

What is it? 
It's a freaking salad served with a beer! More importantly, it tastes good.

Why did you choose this?
We were looking for a second course. I was looking for a way to put a sour beer on the list. Also, I have messing around with some of the micro-*shudder*-greens from Cookstown. Although I don't like the name and hesitate to call it a micro-salad, I really like the intensity of the baby greens and sprouts.

Why this tasting?
I have only tasted about a handful of Berliner Weisse but have had plenty of sour beers. The flavour ranges anywhere from an almost SweeTart to a downright lemon puckery. Nickel Brook made a sour called Green Light Berliner Weisse. I suspect that the green light name came from the colour. It was somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. There was a soft lemon tart taste. There are some that would label this a fairly one note beer. We wanted a salad course.

The thing is, there is more to this beer. It is supposed to be refreshing and really quaffable at around 3-4% alcohol. The few comments were around how people had tried this beer and didn't really like it but I thought we could use the lemon in a good way and find a way to somehow neutralize it so that the wheat beer underneath could get a good taste. Most of those that thought the beer was meh before changed their opinion when trying the pairing. The two worked together to make each other taste better. Good sign.

So, spicy arugula and the aggressive peppery basil pair well with lemon. The salad was dressed lightly with salt and a buttery macadamia nut oil. The acid in the beer completed the vinaigrette and the carbonation on the beer lifted all the tastes. Ripe pear was added to provide a little sweetness and to add a classic pairing or arugula and pear.

So, what is the recipe?
Another salad recipe. The second in a week. Friends are going to start thinking that I have become vegetarian and the beer swilling, barbeque crowd will shun me or at least demand that I bring the salad. So, equal parts baby arugula greens (mild bitterness), basil seedlings (peppery and slightly sweet). Toss with macadamia nut oil or some other milder oil. Add salt to taste. Garnish with some pear slices.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Restaurant Review: Andrea's Gerrard St. Bakery

There are some foodie things that I am a complete nutter about. Butter tarts. I have had very many in my life growing up in Eastern Ontario. The Platonic ideal is a lard based shell that is flaky and put into one of those muffin tins. The filling is two thirds up; gooey with raisins and crust. There is always a few loose strands of the filling that caramelizes along the shell. There is buttery goodness with the sweetness broken up with currant raisins. That's it.

There are no good butter tarts in Toronto. I know, now many people are going to say well you haven't tried so and so, and who likes raisins anyways. Save it. The closest to the ideal are in Apsley at Swiss Bear Restaurant.

But Andrea's Gerrard St. Bakery has me rethinking Plato and his Theory of Forms. Look at the tart sitting on the pedestal; it doesn't look like a butter tart. There is a French crust and traditional French tart form. A thin layer of butter pastry with a rather dark and slightly crackly surface looks a little like a small indentation in a slough. TRUE butter tarts don't look pretty either. The whole filling to crust ratio is off and there is no raisins. This has to be a failure.

My God, I am so wrong. The filling is rich because it uses real butter. There is a slight firmness that is just past gooey but way before firm, kind of like a perfectly scrambled egg. This is topped by the slightest of crusts. Hints of brown sugar make the appearance as the fine filling coats your tongue. The ratio of the buttery and flaky crust is perfect. Even though the filling is probably just a smidge past twice the depth of the crust, any more filling and it would be cloying, any less and it would taste of tart shell. I am wrong. This makes me rethink what I love about the traditional butter tart.

Oh yeah, it sells a bunch of other stuff. Some good - none horrible. If Andrea does nothing else in her life but make those butter tarts, she's good. Guy Fieri remarked that they often picked only the best dishes to show on the triple D and that often he wasn't fond of the other dishes. I wouldn't say that about Andrea's. The bakery makes a decent savoury scone and I would love to try her sandwiches but I may never get past the beast that made me so skeptical.

Andrea's Gerrard Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recipe: Gazpacho with Cold Grilled Cheese

Here is a recipe from the beer and food pairing that I did at the Only Cafe a week ago.

What is it? 
Aside from being a poor artist's rendition, mine, of a sandwich sitting atop of a cappuccino cup, it was a roasted gazpacho served with a speck and Jarlsberg cheese sandwich that paired with Creemore's Altbier.

Why did you choose this?
My grandmother used to drink lager and tomato juice. Altbier is a lagered ale and I thought that would be a good play. Fabian from the Only and I decided that we would structure the tastes like a mini meal and so soup would be the first course. The Only doesn't have a kitchen so all food would have to be cold or room temperature. So cold soup and sandwich it was. 

A little afraid of the cold grilled cheese sandwich, especially after finding out it was a thing on the urban dictionary, but still went ahead with it because who doesn't like tomato soup and grilled cheese.

Why this tasting?
Creemore's altbier is pretty balanced. Many altbiers play up the maltiness but this one has a nice balance of bitterness and malt. When it was tried with a traditional gazpacho, the soup didn't hold up to the malt and it tasted watery so I roasted most of the vegetables and added a little raw tomato to retain the fresh flavour. 

The bread was made with the beer and when tasting it alone, it brought out a lot of bitterness. So, added some salt in the form of speck and when eaten with the roasted tomatoes, it provided a balanced dish that mimicked the beer.

So, what is the recipe?

Take 1 pint of tomatoes, couple red peppers, 2 - 4 poblanos or jalapenos and roast them. I took a hand blender and got it chopped so there was still a little bit of chunks like a fine salsa. Added half pint of raw tomatoes and 1 English cucumber or 2 garden cucumbers. Added 2 tbsp sherry vinegar. Blitzed it again. Put it in the fridge overnight then tasted. Added salt and balsamic vinegar to achieve desired taste. This recipe made around 8 cups. Of course, this is one variation, there are so many more... Hmm, maybe this would make a good post for How to Read a Recipe.

Beer Bread
Modified a recipe that I found in Leiths Baking Bible. It was on p.514. So, about that copyright... It is a standard recipe where I substituted brown ale for the altbier and then split the wholemeal flour into Red Fife wheat and rye. 

Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Really? So, I got some speck, Jarlsberg cheese and the bread. Made a grilled cheese and chilled it. Brought it to room temp to serve. The slight nuttiness of the cheese accented the bread and the nuttiness in the beer. It worked.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Read a Recipe: Watermelon Feta Salad

I sat down with a friend for a quick bite the other day and I scrounged about a little unsuccessfully. Eventually, we put together two salads; a slightly ordinary green salad and a salad of plum, feta and basil. He was quite happy about it and it tasted quite good. Of course, he wanted a recipe. So, it is time for another How to Read a Recipe moment.

The idea of the soft fruit salad comes from a standard recipe for Watermelon Feta Salad.  This salad is taking three fresh ingredients, mixing them together and maybe splashing some olive oil and/or vinegar and maybe some salt if your cheese isn't salty enough. That's it.

What I find interesting is that this approach of fruit, salt, herb and cheese plays out in many other classic salads - the granddaddy being Caprese Salad. This is a helpful frame of reference when you are going to start thinking for other salads like this. How would you begin to pair and create these type of salads?

Essentialist: Watermelon, feta and basil. These are the classic. I will add a little olive oil if the watermelon is a little sub par or dry. This recipe works because of the feta and watermelon pairing. The slight saltiness of the feta makes the watermelon taste more watermelon-y. Salt is to enhance flavour. In this case, because the base flavour tends to be err-watery, you don't often get much flavour.

Locavore/Seasonal: I have replaced watermelon with soft stone fruits fairly successfully (Peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries). In the winter, I am not sure if Ontario is the right place to try this. Maybe it is best to walk away from these type of salads in the winter.

Replacement Approach: Just as it says. Take one ingredient and replace it with a like ingredient. Watermelon for another type of melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, etc).  Feta for another cheese - just make sure that the cheese is salty or you will have to add a little salt (bonconcini+salt, parmesan chunks, aged gouda, blue). Change the herbs - parsley, coriander/cilantro, arugula. Change watermelon for other type of soft pulpy fruit (strawberry, cherry, halved kiwi berries).

I know that some are now saying, well I really like melon with parma ham or strawberries and black pepper really go good. Wait a sec, hold on. That idea explosion is supposed to happen but if it doesn't, just note each experiment and remember or write down the stuff you like. If you are unsure, try a little bit of each of the ingredients together before mixing a huge bowl that gets ignored on the table. I won't do that again. So to address those people who have started to wander off into ham/melon or any other classic variety way ...

Classic Flavours + 1: This recipe is three flavours that work together. Another way to look at it, is that there is a classic pairing with an additional taste. So, take any flavour match that you like and go at it. If you can add a third flavour that works as another pair, all the more likely that it will work. So, that prosciutto melon thing - add mint. Strawberry, black pepper - add basil and balsamic. Pears, blue cheese and watercress. I often use The Flavor (sic) Bible to get a pairing and add on from there.

Utilitarian Approach: What is a salad for? What are dangling participles for? Both, often mark a digression from the main point and they are often a result of an afterthought or poorly thought out article or meal. It is just something you are supposed to have. I realize that there is a whole other bunch of reasons but I am ignoring those right now.

Salads are a refreshing course that often help to reset your palate. So, change your salad to a sorbet. Watermelon ice with feta crema and basil. Kiwi granita with thai basil and vanilla ice cream. You could flip it around and make the ice cream with soft cheeses - blue ice cream with applesauce and walnuts.

Reductionist Approach: We are starting to get very far from that watermelon or Caprese salad at the top, so let's start getting to really basic. Take fresh fruit, dress with a good olive oil and salt. Done. Take fresh herb and toss with good olive oil and salt. Done. Take cheese -- oh hell, you get the message. Enjoy. Play with your food. You don't have to have the same green salad from the bag every day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: Fermenting Revolution

Christopher Mark O'Brien is pulling our leg. Maybe that statement is only partially false or potentially true but it goes a little towards describing what it is like to read his book, Fermenting Revolution. This book is a manifesto, history lesson and full of frank pranks.

The style reminds me of a Robert Anton Wilson book or something by a Discordian. There are ways of telling a story using dissonance and hyperbole to jar readers - especially those that agree with you, out of their stupor. Discordians love to use this method like a good koan. Even the Dalai Lama talks about humour and the divine.

Now moving onto the divine. One of the early thesis is that beer is divine - both literally and figuratively. It is only in an industrial, consumerist society that beer has been delinked from the traditional brewing by women for ritual and tradition. Beer was and will be the glue for community, hearth and home. This new/old view of local brewing tradition in season leads to better lives; health, happiness, local, organic and eco-friendly. I have broken the book into an earnest plea but it is told in the more humourous style that I noted above. It bombastically claims that the removal of beer from the home has caused many ills.

Like I said, there is more preaching to the masses but this book does it in such a way that allows you to raise your glasses and say "Hell, yeah. I am saving the universe, the divine, the earth and society by drinking beer. Get me another, please!". A good example of the tomfoolery that I am talking about is the incessant renaming of common ideas: Female, Globeerization, Beerodiversity and Sbeeritual. Silly but serious.

What really got me thinking is the portrayal of how conservative the beer movement really is in some ways. It is trying to push back on the modern and roll back large corporate companies. Through these ideals, there is a push towards more local employment, better environment, more sexual equality and a strong idea of community, family and the divine. It's strange to see how radical an idea that has become. Holding the fort on old ideas has become new again.

There are many examples in the book around early colonial American figures who strove for a particular view around brews. It seems that like the previous beer book I reviewed, Brew North, that there is something in terms of how alehouses work that foment and ferment good government and humane ideals.

The other thing that this book did for me, is give me a few new (to me) ideas for brewing. An all dark roasted malt beverage and using local herbs for bittering. Granted, I have already stuck my head in the alternate bittering options, (used cocao nibs for a few brews), but I am thinking now about some type of sour brew with myrtle, rose or other female named herb. Rosemary beer anyone?

I found this book fun but a little too rah rah for me. I would recommend it for anyone trying to figure out what the whole brewhaha is about the new beer order.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Brew North

I picked up Brew North at the local library at the beginning of Toronto Beer Week. There was another book that I picked at the same time and it will probably make another post. Brew North has an awesome cover that spoke to my inner hoser.

It traces the history of beer in Canada or maybe that is Canada as it was created because of brewing. The tone is light and flows. The pictures of breweriana (old beer stuff) are awesome. I often found that I was transported back to my Eastern Ontario roots as talks of taverns, cheap beer and painted barns went by.  In some ways this book is a conversation and love note to the good old days that seem to be coming back.

The point in this book echoes the point that is made in the next beer book that I will review, that the pub and beer have often been the centre of the community or small town life. There is a bit of lamentation around the tavern and how it used to be post office, hotel, community government and centre of the village in days gone by. I am not sure that Ian Coutts has spent enough time in the great vast small communities. Even twenty years ago, there was a tavern culture in Eastern Ontario that exists somewhat to now.

In Barry's Bay, there was the Balmoral where older gentlemen would drink their pints and younger ones just home from the bush or the work crews would have a quick one. Shuffleboard was still there and the requisite tables and chairs.

In Wilno, just a few klicks up the road, it has become the place for city folk to come and celebrate Kashubian (a region in Poland) culture. There is a live and thriving weekend scene that is dominated by booze, home cooking and smatterings of a language that was almost lost. You are as likely to hear a Polish dialect as English on those nights.

The second piece that struck me was his descriptions of the beer parlour. It is basically a dour place where you sit, order your beer through windows, and drink with no music or anything. I thought the description and pictures were hilarious. I think that an old style beer parlour serving only serious craft beers could make a go of it in Toronto - as a hipster post-ironic statement on the state of alcoholism and partying. It was that and the fact that it reminded me of some of the remnants of these windows that I have seen at many church bazaars and other converted restaurants along the byways of older communities.

I must thank Ian Coutts for writing this. I will be reading more from him, as the style was excellent and it took me down an understanding of current trends and where they came from. I often wondered about the disappearance of the big brewers but never thought to go further than the business pages. Thanks.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Poor Neglected Blog

I have not been posting for the last couple of weeks. Been working on the tasting menu for the Only Cafe and messing around with canning. I do have a few posts planned in the next while if I can chain myself down for a few hours.

- reviews of Absolute Restaurant @ St. Clair and Yonge, Andrea's Bakery, and Shawarma Fresh
- another dissection of a recipe. This time, it will be watermelon and feta salad
- approaches to cottage going and food
- maybe a review of Lucky Peach
- posting of the tasting menu recipes broken down.

I have more ideas than time. Just thought I'd try to keep the blog up to date with a quick post.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Menu: 5 Bites @ the Only

I am putting on a joint tasting event at the Only Cafe on Sunday, September 16th at 5 pm.  Here is the working menu.

Creemore Springs Altbier
Gazpacho with Cold Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Nickel Brook Green Light Berliner Weisse
Arugula and Basil Salad

Denison’s Weissbier
Poached Scallop with Coconut Raita

St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale
Cold Noodle Salad

Péché Mortel
Shortbread with Elderberry Jam