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Archive for December, 2008

Tuna Salad

This is a bit of a twist on a traditional favourite – pieces are based on Michael Smith (Food Network Canada); it’s a lovely alternative to the traditional mayo-infused goodness that is slathered on crust-free wonder bread or Subway’s bread bombs (credit to Rob of F’Coffee for that term).  This is just simple goodness.

There’s no room for measuring to make Tuna Salad – use your best judgement, have some fun with it.  If you like it spicy, add more hot pepper flakes – if you don’t, feel free to skip. 

1 Can of Tuna.  You could use the real deal and get some sushi-grade tuna and do this raw.
Mustard seed (Anton Kozlik’s Triple Crunch Mustard is my favourite)
Lemon Juice
Hot Pepper Flakes
Fresh Parsley – I like flat leaf.  The gentle giant uses cilantro instead.
Olive Oil.  The flavour is important – choose one you like and that will come through the Tuna.  This will be a deal maker or breaker.
Finely diced gherkins or other pickles
Green onions or chives
Salt and Pepper

If you want to make the spice come through further (not necessarily hotter – though that’s certainly possible), marinate your chilli flakes in the olive oil covered for 24 hours in advance.  This will infuse the oil with the spice and will radically transform the flavour – this can also add a lot of heat depending on the amount of chilli you have set in the oil.

Chef Smith recommends rice paper wraps – I’ll have it on anything, including a spoon.

Enjoy!

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I am not a die-hard Foie Gras fan, though it is something that raises my curiosity.  I’ve had some fabulous fois gras and some not-so-great.  I haven’t had a tonne of it but enough to know what it is and that some people love it.  I also know why people hate it (the whole force feeding thing and the practice of some “farmers” who actually staple geese to the ground).  It can be a guilt-inducing food.

It was outlawed in Chicago for some time.  A famous Hot Dog store (Hot Doug’s actually classifies itself as an encased meat emporium) actually got charged daily as it sold a foie gras hot dog in the middle of the ban.

Dan Barber is a chef who travelled to Spain and met a third generation farmer named Eduardo Sousa.  Eduardo’s family has figured out how to raise an ethical version of foie gras – it’s also award winning and controversial as it challenges the definition of foie gras and the people making it.  I love how they have coloured the foie gras as well.

Eduardo has changed the rules.  He sticks his nose up at the traditional methods, farmers and chefs who chase foie gras.  He has catered the diet of his livestock and worked with nature to get the best of it. 

Here’s a video of a 20-minute speech that walks you through the whole thing (of course it’s free).   The explanation of the title of this blog is at the 14 minute mark of his speech.

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This is a companion to the piece written a few days back on jam making – here are 10 tips to live bye when learning to make jam…  This has come from much trial and error and the learning process continues add your own to the comments of this post to share with others.

First, jam is not just for breakfast.  Nor is it for lunch.  I’m not a giant fan of all things breakfast and lunch gets better when it resembles dinner – yet I’ve made 14 or 15 different types of jams this year.  I have some special jams designed for desert (i.e. peach butterscotch) that would taste awful on toast (or would it?).  It is, however, wonderful with ice cream.  My cherry jelly is nice on chicken and I can’t keep a jar of Raspberry Jalapeno jam in the house once the brie comes out.

Jarring jam is simply a way of keeping summer’s flavour’s on hold to be used later in the year.  The taste of fresh peach is amazing in August – it’s enough to make you cry in February when everything resembling a peach sat in a transport truck for more than 2,000 miles.

My second insistence – it does not take long. I am out of the house 12+ hours during the week and make a batch of jam after work on a week day.  I’m usually done in 1.5-2.5 hours.  It’s simple and straightforward.

For tip #3, avoid commercially sold pectin such as Certo.  Pectin (a structural heteropolysaccharide) is a complex carbohydrate that naturally occurs in fruits, plants and some vegetables.  It is pectin which is the magic gelling agent that transforms a fruit “juice” to a jam.  If you are making a jam which is primarily fruit based you do not need to add a product like certo (a red pepper jelly may need such commercial products).

I have two problems with adding pectin.  The first is that it is an unnecessary step that adds cost and chemical ingredients that you cannot control to your food.  One of the pleasures of jarring is the ability to control what you are consuming and allow you to avoid all the “gunk” added to mass produced jams.  The second is the taste of CERTO – raw pectin is insanely bitter.  By adding commercial pectin you also have to add much more sugar to your jam – as much as two times the amount of sugar compared to not adding an ingredient that exists naturally in the fruit itself!

Tip #4.  Use fresh ingredients – as fresh as possible.  In some cases this even means pre-ripe.  For example, the best blueberry jam comes from blueberries picked while still slightly purple – a few days away from full ripeness.

Tip #5.  Know what you are going to do with your jam before jarring.  If you plan to give away tasties and jar your jam in 500 ml jars you will have to make a lot of jam to pass it around.  I like larger jars for my fridge and small jars for gifts – I prefer to give someone 3 different tastes instead of one large one.

Tip #6.  Invest in simple technology – a very few simple tools will make your life easy and pay for themselves in the first season of a moderate jam-maker.  There will be articles and reviews later – start with a pressure cooker, some new mason jars, seals and rings, a food funnel, jar racks, jar magnet, jar tongs and a candy thermometer.  Rings can be reused, seals cannot.  I bought a ridiculously large pressure cooker – the cost of all of my equipment is approximately $200.  I created about 100 jars of goodies this year with another $100 or so of ingredients – $3 a jar is a definite payoff already.

Tip #6A.  For jams, pressure cookers are not a necessity.  For vegetables (that aren’t pickled), they are required – you cannot make heat low-acid foods high enough to safely protect you from bacteria without one without a pressure cooker.  Do your research and throw out your Grandma’s unsafe old cooker (same goes for one you bought at a garage sale).  The new technology makes these vessels incredibly safe compared to the past and are well worth the investment.  I will share more on these later.

Tip #7.  Use care – you are going to cook fruit and sugar on the open stove.  Splatters hurt.  With proper care you will never be burned.  Well, almost never.

Tip #8.  Clean as you go.  Once jam sets from hot to cold on your counter (or in your pot) it becomes tough to clean.  Be vigilant, clean often.

Tip #9.  Follow a recipe.  Some sources say it’s unsafe to invent your own, despite our grandparent’s doing it.  Start with others and do your research before deciding if you want to venture to your own inventions.  I have made my own as does my Grandmother – that’s not advice, it’s simply my decision.

Tip #10.  Lemon juice is an acid that will help kill any potential bacteria in your jam.  Despite my dislike for commercial products which use preserves and chemicals, I recommend using bottled lemon juice.  Most don’t have a lot of additives and come with a significant advantage – a consistent amount of acidity.  Using real lemons does not allow you to control the acidity as every lemon is different and can change the safety and flavor of your food uncontrollably.

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Happy Sunday.

Many who read these pages will know a few names in the cooking world – if not many more than me.  I like to know what the world’s top and most innovative food people are up to – regardless of how complex their technique or equipment, I find that one can pick up something practical from most of the truly elite.  If nothing else, their pure passion and creativity inspires me.

Here are four names that fit my bill of inspiring and have learned practical cooking skills from despite the fact that they are so far out of my league that I couldn’t carry their knife bags (although I would for a free meal of course :)):

Ferran Adria.  His name is becoming more of the household variety as of late.  He’s a Spanish Chef and owner of a restaurant named El Bulli.  Voted the top restaurant in the world 3 years running, Ferran is a pioneer of technique and flavour.  El Bulli is famed to have up to 2.5 staff members per guest.  The restaurant seat 8,000 guests per year and has 2,000,000 requests for reservations.

Heston Blumenthal.  Chef proprietor of The Fat Duck in England.  Heston is raving mad, has a wonderful food show on the BBC (and now Food Network) called In Search of Perfection.  His Christmas special knocked me off my chair – he travelled to Jordan to trace the Wise Men and get gold, frankincense and myrrh to cook with.  He created special food for two specific geese (including grinding up Douglas Fir trees so they would taste a bit like Christmas) and went to Northern Russia to the land of the reindeer.

Thomas Keller.  Owns The French Laundry (California) and Per Se (New York).  One of only two chefs in the world who owns two restaurants with 3 Michelin stars at the same time.  America’s best chef by Time Magazine in 2001, Best Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation in 1996, Best Restaurant in the World twice.  You get the idea.

Harold McGee.  He’s an American scientist, not a chef.  On Food and Cooking is just simply my favorite cook book of all time.  There are no real recipes – I have learned more about cooking and ingredients from this single source than any other.  He explores misconceptions and fallacies passed through kitchen folklore and tradition.

These four individuals (amongst few others including Herve This, who will be a tale for a later day) are credited with changing the landscape of modern food.  Many credit them for inventing molecular gastronomy – a term they decidedly steer clear from.  This over-simplification leads to misunderstanding on what they are trying to do and many write them off as elitists, snobs or otherwise.

I read a wonderful article written by all 4 in 2006 which is a sort of mission statement for what they are trying to achieve.  Their 4 principles can be applied by any cook – be it professional chef or one who cooks for family or self.

Assuming you have read that article, you will understand why we will use the molecular gastronomy term very carefully here, if at all.  🙂

I understand people being turned off at some of the approaches that are used by these guys and the price that comes with it.  My take is that it’s neat, exciting and not for everyone.  I am here to learn and they are clearly capable of teaching, so I’ll pull up a chair.  I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

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Last Christmas Joel gave me a 100lb+  small tabletop  showcard press, with two trays of type (weighing in at least 12lbs each). It’s definitely the heaviest gift I’ve ever received, also the oldest and grubbiest but I love it. I tried to explain it to our parents who were spending Christmas with us, I don’t think they understood, but they saw how excited I was so didn’t question that he’d scored big time in the boyfriend department. Since then people have asked if i’ve printed anything and i’ve explained that I had to order ink from the U.S. or find a table that could take the weight of the press, or just think of something to print! I finally got everything i needed, and set up in a small corner of my home office,  but it took a while to wrap my head around what to print.

I have a lot of ideas, the trouble with letterpress is I have to  commit wholeheartedly to one of those ideas to the exclusion of all the other ones swimming in my head, it’s an exercise in focus. The process is long and arduous and messy. It’s completely the opposite of the way i’m used to working. People find it funny that i’m compelled to design this way for fun, when i spend most of my time as a designer creating similar things on a computer. I’m pretty sure this is the reason WHY i want to do letterpress. It’s imperfect and slow and messy, but it’s tactile and considered, and in a world where everything is smooth and perfect and glossy it’s…well, yummy. You can feel every step that goes into the process and know every ingredient. I’m pretty sure it’s a similar reason why Joel likes to make jam instead of buy it at the store. He hardly even eats jam! But he loves the long slow, messy process of simmering fruit with sugar and getting the temperature just right and pouring it into a perfectly sterilized jar to give away for people to enjoy.

I’ve printed a few things in the past few months, a lot of lino block prints and experiments i wont share. But this Christmas I decided (at the last minute) to combine the art and craft of printing with the  craft of Joel’s preserves. It seemed like the perfect combination. So this year we gave our parents his homemade jams and jellies and pickles with a little label printed imperfectly with a 100 year old press and some old metal type. I’m sure i’ll get better at it with practice, but i kindof like that the ink bleeds a little and it’s crooked.

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Happy Holidays!

This first post is a real high-level overview of making jam.  There will be more detail later but let’s start with the basics.

  1. Prepare fruit and put it in a pan with sugar.  Add heat.  Bring to boil – let boil for 10-20 minutes.  The longer it cooks the thicker your jam will be – unless you overcook and that’s not good.  There are multiple testing methods such as the drip method, quick freeze and temperature (that’s the candy thermometer’s role).
  2. Put seals under hot water (I take a bit from the boiling pressure cooker and leave them on the counter for 5 minutes or so).  This softens the seal.  Do not do this over direct heat or you could melt these.
  3. Drain jars and add jam while jars are still hot.
  4. Add seals (without touching the “rubber” bit).
  5. Screw rings on.
  6. Put all jars in a big pot (called a waterbath) covered with 2-3 inches of water above the rims.  Avoid placing the jars directly on the bottom of your pan as this may cause breakage – many people use racks or attach a series of jar rings together using twist ties (start by making a shape similar to the Olympic Rings and then continue until you cover most of the bottom of your pot) to remove this direct contact.  Seal and bring to a boil once steam escapes for 10- minutes, set to 10 pounds of pressure and steam a further 10 minutes.  This will add the seal – the pressure cooker is needed for jams (i.e. anything that is not jarred with a heavy acid content).
  7. Take off direct heat and remove pressure cooker cover only once safe (consult manufacturer).
  8. Let jars cool on a rack – never directly on a flat surface.  Flat surfaces lead to a multitude of problems, most which can end up with craked or broken – usually from a rapid cooling or from pools of water which gather from the jars.  Enjoy the popping sound – it’s a fantastic sound that lets’ you know the process is working.
  9. Check your jars the next day – the seals should seel “pulled in.”  You should be able to remove the rings and the seal should stay for years to come.  Many store without the rings.  If your jam looks liquid at first – don’t panic.  Some jams can take several days before they set.

Enjoy!

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Well Preserved

I’m not a chef, in fact I don’t like to cook at all (that’s Joel’s obsession), left to my own devices i will go out to eat, or  i’ll make toast if i suddenly feel the hunger pangs. Often i’ve forgotten to make dinner when i’m doing something I find ‘more interesting’, and go hours past dinnertime without noticing. But one of my favorite things to do is enjoy a good meal with friends, to hear about their experiences with food, try different tastes, cultures and environments. I’ve always been interested in the other senses that come into play besides taste, the experience of food.

For the past 12 years I have worked as a graphic designer, and unintentionally my career has involved food in many ways, from designing wine and beer labels, bread bags, coffee tins, chocolate boxes, grocery store interiors and signs, to restaurant menus and branding. These projects always really resonate with me.  I’ve always found that place where food and design intersect really interesting, which one pushes the other? How does a beautiful package impact your decision to try something new or stick with an old favorite. Does the interior of a restaurant, the music they choose, the paper the menu is printed on impact your experience of a meal. I’ve watched people at farmers markets and grocery stores, touch and smell produce, turn a box to contemplate ingredients, stand in front of a plethora of product their hand hovering over the choices.

Everyone needs to eat, but what we choose and who we choose to eat it with is personal. Food unites cultures and people, it’s basic and essential but the choices are so complex.

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