Mumbai Moose

Thursday, February 12. Thus far this winter we have been spared the snow and cold normally endured by this time of the season. According to our local meteorologist that’s all about to come an end. We are in for a few days of relentless pummeling by high winds accompanied by an unceremonious burial in the white stuff.

IMG_1707Rather than simply watch my outside surroundings get obliterated during this blizzard, I decided to do something I have longed to do since last hunting season and make a moose curry dish. A friend gave me a quarter of his moose after a short and successful trip to the west coast of the island. He downed the animal in the first half hour of the hunt and in the next hour we were all back at the cabin hanging the quarters and ready to celebrate for the next 3 days.

IMG_1696This particular animal, a young bull, was the finest tasting moose I can recall. Growing up in Newfoundland, we ate a lot moose. Most of it was dry, mealy and in my view, not properly cooked. However from this moose we have already made batches of excellent homemade sausage with fennel, caraway, coriander and added pork fat, ground meat mixed with creamy beef fat for mind blowing burgers and raviolis from slowly braised moose ribs. Moose is a truly organic, flavorful meat.

Today’s wicked weather inspired me to live vicariously through this dish and transport myself to India, a country of unique and fantastic foods. While planning this dish I could almost visualize Mumbai, Delhi, a deserted beach in Goa, that’s the power of food and cooking. The smell and tastes of toasted spices are extremely powerful agents in the war against winter.

IMG_8770With a grin and general feeling of happiness undoubtedly rare on such a day, I carted my box of whole spices to the kitchen. Based on a Madras style curry I measured out small handfuls of cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom pods, turmeric and a cinnamon stick.Toasting the spices in a dry pan is essential for awakening their flavors. Buying bags of whole spices is not only vastly cheaper but also best for long term storage.

IMG_8828Moose is extremely lean meat. Fat is almost non-existent. As such it’s best processed using charcuterie methods, canned or slow cooked with liquid. If high temperature quick cooking, be mindful of the temperature as anything over medium rare will be develop the texture and moisture of shoe leather. There is a fair amount of sinew around the muscles so you will need to trim this out.

IMG_8812The smell of coconut oil melting in the dutch oven, although not traditional in an Indian curry, kick started the transformation from snow to sand. A patient and thorough browning of the meat adds depth of flavor to stewed and braised dishes.

IMG_8819In the mortar and pestle I made a spice paste by adding  fresh ginger and garlic to the toasted spices with enough olive oil to give a smooth and ‘spreadable’ consistency.

IMG_8843This paste is fried with the cardamom pods, cinnamon and an onion until tender. A curry gravy base is made by blitzing canned tomatoes, beef broth and an onion in a food processor. The meat is added back to the pan along with the gravy base. Season well with salt and fresh pepper, cover and simmer for an hour.

Vegetables can be added to round out the dish if you are just serving this with rice. I added sweet potato and red pepper and cooked until tender.

IMG_8867I made raita which is a condiment served with many Indian curries. It provides a cooling effect against the savory bite of those spices. It is quick to make using plain thick yogurt, grated cucumber and mint.

IMG_8888Outside the dining room window the wind is screaming and heavy snow is being blown around like a dancing devil. My house smells like a Delhi curry house and I am thousands of miles away about to enjoy a long awaited meal, a combination of local Newfoundland moose and exotic Indian spices.

IMG_8900Soon the magic and warmth of this meal will wear off and a growing feeling of guilt will have me looking for my winter boots and parka and heading to the shed to gas up the snow blower.

 

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Bobby, Bobby wake up, its lobster season!!!

In all parts of the island, save those shores still encased in ice, fishermen are hauling traps containing one of the most delectable creatures known to man. Sure, in some far off Borneo jungle there may be a water beetle that tastes something like shellfish, but I’m talking about he real thing here. Although we ate plenty of them, lobsters were regarded as a prized, slightly ethereal thing growing up in our household. In fact sometimes we would practically gorge ourselves on a pile of fresh and perfectly cooked lobster with no food accompaniments whatsoever.  As a kid, that was probably my favorite “meal”.

Having lived on the prairie for the past 25 years, our enjoyment of lobster meat was rare. We did on occasion splurge at the local supermarket and take a couple of comatose specimens home to cook. Even since moving back to Newfoundland I have shamefully resorted to purchasing scrawny cooked lobsters to get a fix. Of course you contemplate them differently when there are only two sets of beady eyes looking up at you instead of six. When you have only one or two, and they are not fresh from the trap and bulging with meat you have to consider other ingredients. However the best accompaniment for a lobster is unmistakably another lobster. It is simply unscrupulous to place anything next to it on a plate. For God’s sake, restaurants have to plunk down a perfectly seared cut of beef tenderloin on the plate next to these things just to divert your attention.

IMG_6675 So with my two anemic store bought friends, I set out to stretch their existence across a new dimension for me. Instead of a marathon shell cracking sitting, I would maybe end up with a more refined form of enjoyment.

Even though I make fresh pasta dough regularly, pre-made fresh pasta are a good cheat. If you wish to deepen the illusion, buy fresh lasagna sheets, roll them up and cut them into ribbons by hand.  Extract the lobster meat and reserve the shells, legs and bodies. Remove any roe and all tomalley from the bodies. Go ahead, lick it off your finger but do not urge over your cooking pan.

IMG_6691 Saute these shells in oil for a couple of minutes and then add a tablespoon of tomato paste and cook.for another 2 minutes. Add 1/3 cup white wine, 2 springs each of tarragon, thyme and parsley, 2 tablespoon of white or tarragon vinegar and 2 large plum tomatoes, chopped. I usually use part of a can of tomato and freeze the remainder. Avoid using fresh Roma (plum) tomatoes unless you have a full greenhouse or live on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. The canned version is much better. Its picked when ripe and doesn’t suffer during shipping.

IMG_6685 Add enough whipping cream to give you a required volume of sauce. For two or three people, a cup is plenty. Simmer for 20 minutes to infuse the cream. Cook fresh pasta in heavily salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook your pasta. It should have some slight resistance to the bite. Drain solids from sauce and return to the pan. Drain pasta and add to the sauce and toss to coat. You can add some pasta water to give a silky texture and loosen your sauce if required. Because of the amount of tomato and cream be sure to taste for seasoning. These two things will diminish the perceived saltiness. Combine in your roughly cut lobster meat and serve. If you have it to spare, the meat from a perfectly extracted claw makes a nice garnish. Practice, practice, practice!

IMG_6700For years I bought and enjoyed store made garlic bread. Easily recognized as the obese loaf in the space suit. If you want a healthier and tastier, crusty vampire repellent try this. Buy a French baguette. Slice it on a bias  (45 degree angle) into 1 cm wide slices. This gives you more surface area to work with. Lay them in a roasting tray and drizzle both sides with olive oil. Bake them in a preheated 400C oven for 3-5 minutes until just getting firm then flip. Bake until just starting to crisp and color on both sides. Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub onto the bread surface. It will give you all of the pure garlic flavor you can handle, delivered with a great texture to accompany your soft pasta.

Like a 10 year old boy on Dec 24th I’m giddy with excitement.  May your heart and home be filled with gladness and merriment this joyous season.

Modo di Marco Pollo

Scallops are a hermaphrodite and so have both male and female sex organs.The scallop shell is the emblem of Saint James and is worn by pilgrims making their way along  “El Camino de Santiago”, in Spain through the countryside  to the namesake cathedral in Galicia. The scallops shell makes a good ashtray. Scallops are delicious.

Now that you’ve learned something, lets talk about this dish. It has a personal history

For 2 years I’ve had a small package of black sesame seeds in my pantry. I bought them at the Calgary Farmers Market after seeing them mixed with the regular white variety on some cooking show. The visual image of them mixed together had set the hook deep. I kept my eye out for them for months until I spied a small package for a couple of bucks. Fortunately the black seed is more resistant to rancidity than the white.

IMG_6830I brought them across the country when we moved from Calgary to St. John’s, so they definitely had formed a bond.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I carted my pantry of unusual and luxe items with me. Out of that larder I also used palm sugar, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. I did manage to track down vermicelli noodles at my local supermarket. The remaining ingredients of garlic, ginger, soy and green onions are of course ubiquitous.

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I knew I wanted to coat the scallops in the mixture of black and white seeds for a visual effect but also knew that the Asian flavor would fundamentally work well with the scallops. After a quick press into the seeds I seared them in grape-seed oil. I use this oil for high heat cooking. It is somewhat hard to find can be a bit pricey, but from what I have researched, a better choice over olive oil for high heat searing.

IMG_6839When planning out this dish I thought hard about the other possible elements. Spinach is a popular bed for scallops, and a simple slice of cucumber acting as a pedestal looks clean and interesting, but unsatisfying . I was going in a full on Asian direction here, bearing due east. The rice noodles slicked with a sauce of soya, sesame oil,  ginger and garlic would give it the background it needs.

IMG_6837I soaked the rice noodle in hot water but in hindsight should have boiled it for 5 minutes as it was a bit more al dente than I wanted.

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the assembly is just a quick toss of the noodles in the sauce and then wrapped onto a plate to form a bed. A generous portion of scallops perched on top, and a garnish of diced red pepper and green onions for some color made this a very enjoyable dinner.

IMG_6875Like many of its components, they ventured far to the east seeking adventure and a new world.

 

God Bless the Swiss

Switzerland. Birthplace of my favorite cheese and a creation that unearths its savory depth. I swear I could live on Gruyere if accompanied with good bread and a drinkable wine.  My family would only slightly quibble until gotten past the quirkiness of the idea. I’ve been wanting to make a cheese fondue for a while and the recent cold weather amplified this craving beyond tolerable levels.

IMG_6591With many visits to The Grizzly House in Banff during ski season as a basis for appreciation, my family demands a seasonal fondue experience. So much so that I sought out and procured the same vessels, stands and burners of which we were familiar. The Swissmar fondue gear holds a respected place among the All Clad and Le Creuset cookware in the cupboard. We would leave that restaurant that time forgot, our clothes reeking with a greasy smokiness from ostrich, bison and alligator cooked on superheated slabs of granite. However our only desire there were the molten cheese and chocolate that reliably left us all in a contented stupor.

I use a half and half mix of grated Swiss Gruyere and other cheeses such as Appenzeller, Emmental, and even Jarlsberg depending on availability. I’ve resorted to the later as an accompaniment to the Gruyere out of necessity for now. A decent white wine is required here as well. I regularly use this Chardonnay in recipes where a white is suitable.

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Before heating, rub the inside of your fondue pot with a half clove of garlic, then bring 1 1/2 cups of white wine to a simmer. In a large bowl grate 2 cups each of your selected cheeses and mix by hand with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. This should help with emulsification of the cheese and wine.

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Melt the cheese by the handful in the wine and stir in a figure eight pattern to prevent the cheese from balling up. A low heat, constant stirring and patience is required to achieve a smooth and even texture. A 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg will enhance the flavor.

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My traditional bites for dipping into this divinity are apple, pear, roast potatoes and of course bread. Be inventive and suit your own palate but you cannot go wrong with these proven selections.

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There’s nothing left to do but enjoy! There are many different punishments that have been devised for dropping your morsel into the pot. There are even games revolving around fondue. Look them up and have fun.

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Now back for dessert and of course fondue serves itself up perfectly. Using a double boiler, melt  a cup of chunked dark chocolate with 1/3 cup of whipping cream and you have a decadent ending. Pour the chocolate into a fondue pot to keep warm and to serve.

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I use pieces of store bought pound cake or whole strawberries. Sorry, got to go…everyone’s at the table.

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Shrove Tuesday

Its “pancake day” and that means its time to make fish tacos! I could die a perfectly happy man if I did not consume another pancake in my lifetime. Perhaps it was all those years spent at the much hyped pancake breakfasts during Stampede. It was a culture I couldn’t assimilate into or digest.

As a kid I do recall sitting at the evening table magically digging dimes and pennies out of my supper. In the end it was a small sum but it felt like we had somehow earned it and those coins were treasured. To top it off the following day we could parade around with ashes smudged across our foreheads. It was like Christian warpaint and we felt ready for battle, fortified with our bellies full of pancakes.

A few weeks ago I spied fresh swordfish steaks in a local supermarket. Minutes later I was swiping my card at the register as my mind was trying to pare down the massive list of accompaniments that could help fill a tortilla. I decided on the traditional cabbage and cilantro of course but my wife hinted that something sweet would make it shine. Luckily we has a reasonably ripe mango at home along with some avocados. After all a fish taco is not actually about the fish. Those tacos came out quite well and today I purchased some fresh cod loins to try them again.

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I marinated the fish in a mixture of 1/3 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons each of smoked paprika, chili powder and ground cumin. This is my go to taco spice blend. Salt and pepper round out the mix. As my daughter does not like fish generally, I also smeared this over a chicken breast.

I fired up my griddle pan on the gas cooktop and disconnected the fire alarm!. This method of cooking is an inconvenience but there’s no substitute for the flavour that a good charring gives to meat and fish. The swordfish was much better behaved on the griddle pan than the cod as expected. The density of the swordfish allowed me to flip it like a ribeye.

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Masa is the dough mixture from which fresh tortillas are made. I decided to make my own and combine strong white flour with finely ground corn flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, salt and a scant cup of water. I used a tablespoon of shortening as I did not have lard lying around (how times have changed).

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The tortilla press was lined with plastic wrap and I cranked out enough tortillas for the 3 of us in short order. Lesson learned here is they cannot be pressed too thin. Cook in a dry cast iron pan until well bubbled on the top side and turn over and cook for another minute.

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For me, tacos are all about the condiments and the tortilla. The tortillas themselves came out ok for a beginner and I’m certain they will be much better the next time around. The sweetness of the mango really elevated the whole thing to become something special. There were no coins or buttons to be found as we loaded up one taco after another. Unfortunately tomorrow I will have to forgo the ashes but will likely ponder forgiveness and suffering, but at some point will chuckle at a recollected image of a child crusader, sword in hand and ready for battle.

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Lambheads Unite!

At our house we eat a lot of lamb and until now it has been sourced through Costco. The amazing thing is that you can buy “fresh” lamb that has been shipped around the globe from Australia, but each of those meals has an enormous carbon footprint.

Raising sheep is a longstanding tradition on this island as well, though on a much smaller scale than the expansive sheep stations down under. Not long ago most outports would have a flock of sheep roaming about. Today fewer people are raising the animals but the meat is still prized by restaurants chefs and home cooks alike. Lamb has a cult-like following. They are the Grateful Dead of the meat world with a supportive following of lambheads. Those who enjoy the rich flavor do so with zeal. It was my daughter’s first solid food protein and her favorite still.

I was excited to source some local meat from Rushmere Farms in Portugal Cove. We purchased a full lamb, cut and wrapped for $5/lb. There was some delay in getting the product ready for pick up as local butchers had their hands full in the midst of moose hunting season. I picked up my order at the owners house one evening and grinned all the way home. I had images of roasted racks and legs, braised shanks as well as pots of lamb vindaloo on my brain. In this case sheep would keep me awake rather than help usher in a sound sleep.

First up was a full shoulder cut. With the help of a few simple aromatic additions and adequate time in the oven, this tough hunk of muscles can transform into a fall apart tender roast. Ensure you have 5 hours of oven time to commit to this dish. I added only chopped celery, onion and garlic for flavorings as well as the requisite herbs, rosemary and thyme. Although I would almost never add plain water to any dish, I did so here. When roasting chicken or even beef I always add a half bottle of wine and some stock to ensure a flavorful gravy or sauce and ratchet up the flavor and aroma a notch. There is enough flavor in this meat to skip it. Instead have another glass when you are marveling at how tender this becomes.

IMG_6298The prep work is very simple. Cut the celery and onion into large pieces, dice the garlic and throw in a handful of fresh herbage. Add a centimeter of liquid to the pan and season the meat with generous amounts of salt and freshly ground pepper.I try to form a trivet using either carrot or celery stalks to elevate the meat out of the liquid. Wrap with foil and roast at 325F for 5 hours. No basting, prodding or poking required. In the end you will be rewarded with this succulent cornerstone to your Sunday dinner.

IMG_6325I don’t think I have boiled a potato or carrot in the last 10 years. Not that I don’t eat them but I find roasting root veg at high heat to be the best preparation. Its the only way to eat a parsnip in my opinion. Parsnip and carrot become candy-like with proper carmelization. Don’t overcrowd the pan and use high heat 400-425C and convection helps.There’s a lot of sugar there that begging to be brought to the forefront. Again simple additions of garlic and rosemary add subtle flavoring.

IMG_634030 minutes in a hot oven and you have your accompaniment.

IMG_6361January is quickly becoming my least favorite month. It’s not only the after Christmas blues to endure but the disappearance of roadside vegetable stands here in the community that really gets me down. I guess in some corner of the earth parsnips are being pulled fresh from the ground.

The juices from the roasting pan are destined for the sauce pan to be reduced and pulled in a few different directions with the addition of fig or current jam, a swig of balsamic or red wine vinegar. You can add a glass of wine here and it will pay you back big time.

img_6333.jpgIt was a fantastic dinner and the best lamb I have ever eaten. The quality and flavor of the meat was out of this world and needed such simple help to become truly outstanding. Support your local enabler of the lambhead movement. Buy local. Its here and its the best.

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Cesare Cardini was a madman

The cerebellum – toasted, the grey matter – mealy, the medulla – gone off. A sound mind could never have come up with an impromptu combination as “out there” as this. The mighty salad created in a hurried attempt to provide an offering to the table on a Fourth of July long ago. Needless to say, those familiar with the makings of this vinaigrette can be often sent into a tailspin attempting to juggle and balance some very strong flavors. Anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and lemon can create a tongue splitting clash or meld into a sublime dressing. You can either be lucky or give it the scientific precision it needs to be successful and repeatable.

My best experience was served table side in a restaurant in Ixtapa, Mexico. All ingredients were pre-measured into tiny vessels and combined with flair by our mariachi styled server. Obviously he took the later approach and reveled in it. White teeth grinning under the canopy of a black mustache. It was memorable indeed and I would be very happy to serve that again and again. However, feeling that measuring spoons stymie creativity and that I am stubbornly “above” all of this I continue to bang my head on Caesar Cardini’s front door. One day I hope to create a truly fine Caesar vinaigrette by taste, before my family finds me lying incoherent and drooling on the kitchen floor.

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The Ingredients
I gave up looking for decent Romaine heads, as the vast majority of lettuce greens in this town are wilted almost beyond recognition on the shelves. We eat a lot of salad so we needed an immediate fix for this problem. Luckily the good old Tupperware lettuce crisper can work its saintly miracle and revive any salad green on its death bed.

I usually have a decent selection of cheeses in my refrigerator. At least 4 cheeses in there always. One of which is a large wedge of parmigiano reggiano to be used here. Others would include gruyere (my fave), goat’s milk cheese (chevre), havarti for sandwiches and aged cheddar for nibbling with salami, fig jam and olives. Sorry to digress. Cheese is …well cheese. The remaining ingredients were easy to procure including the anchovies. Found the canned version but would have preferred a jar for longer storage life. Another welcome find was the availability of garlic not grown in China. It’s my socio-political-economic-environmental preference.

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The Method
Split a garlic clove in half and rub around the interior of your serving bowl. This gives a subtle (for garlic) fragrance and still enough garlic flavor to know your eating a Caesar salad. I mince 3 anchovies fillets and add to the bowl along with one egg yolk (some folks afraid of ingesting salmonella will coddle the egg first to kill any bacteria on the shell). Next add a  tablespoon of Dijon to aide in emulsification of the oil and vinegar. Add a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and  2 tablespoons of good red wine or sherry vinegar. Generally a vinaigrette will consist of 1 part vinegar and flavorings to 3 parts of oil. Mix all well before drizzling the olive oil into the bowl. I generally add about half a cup but when you have a smooth dressing with body have a taste and adjust for sourness or richness. I err on the rich side here as I always add a good squeeze of lemon juice after the salad is assembled. Toss in the torn romaine leaves , add croutons of your choice (homemade of course), and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Liberal twists of the pepper mill add some spice. Now the luxurious aspect of this dish, shaving strips of that giant nugget of aged parmigiano onto the plated salad. guaranteed to impress!

The Result
I find this vinaigrette challenging and have tried many variations. In fact I don’t think I have made the same dressing exactly the same way twice. The blabber above is simply a guideline to cater to your personal tastes. Some like raw garlic, other don’t. There are actually some people out there (there’s no need to name them) that despise anchovies although you will never taste them in this dressing. I wish you success!

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