08/25/14

Gravlax

Let’s talk gravlax!

Are you familiar with this lovely stuff?

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Scandinavian by heritage, gravlax is a type of cured salmon.

This delectable treat is not to be confused with smoked salmon, because there is no smoking in the process.

Gravlax isn’t lox either, though I would say that they’re pretty much cousins. Lox, a Jewish staple from what I hear, gets it name from the German word for salmon, lachs. Gravlax gets it’s name from the Danish, Norwegian, Swedish term for salmon, lax. (The gravad prefix means grave, because back in the day part of the making of gravlax involved burying it in the ground! But that’s just a ghoulish side note!)  The difference between the two, though, is in the cure. Lox is salt cured salmon. In my reading, it is somewhat disputed as to whether or not sugar is to be allowed in the cure even. Gravlax on the other hand, is known to include the sugar as well as other seasonings like dill, black pepper, aquavit, caraway, or juniper.

Take notes guys, I can’t be the only geek who wonders about this stuff, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll post a quiz!

How to make it:

Gravlax

(a recipe in ratios!)

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For every 500 grams of salmon, please use:

30 grams kosher salt

25 grams sugar

5 grams cracked black peppercorns

and a big bunch of dill

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Directions

  • Examine your salmon for any remaining pin bones. If they are present, remove with some clean needle nose pliers or tweezers.
  • Combine the salt, sugar and dill.
  • Lay out a fairly large sheet of cling film.
  • Set down a layer of dill fronds about the size of your piece (or pieces) of salmon.
  • Apply the cure to both sides of the salmon, half to each side.

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  • Top the salmon with an additional layer of dill.
  • Seal up the cling film packet. Double wrap if you’re feeling like it isn’t sealed up really well. It is extremely unlikely there that the package won’t leak at least a bit through the curing process, so pop the curing packet into a container.
  • Pop your soon to be gravlax into the fridge, preferably at the bottom of the fridge, where it will stay coolest.
  • Cure for at least two days. Some people will cure for up to a week, or longer, but the longer you cure for the more intensely flavored your gravlax is going to be.
  • Strip off the layers of cling film, peel away the dill and discard it, and rinse your gravlax thoroughly with cold water.
  • Slice thinly on the bias and eat. The gravlax will be much easier to slice if you slice towards what would have been the tail end of the fish.

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On first taste, I found gravlax almost too intense. I packed it back up into the fridge and had to think on how I was going to eat it.

The combination of bagel and lox, emphasis on the cream cheese used on the bagel, was developed because lox is often bracingly salty and the dairy cuts come of the intensity from it. So, I followed the knowledge of the New York deli, toasted up a mini bagel, doctored up my cream cheese schmear with some horseradish and a little bit of leftover dill and sliced up some gravlax. (Bagel and grav-lox mashup anyone?) Boy that was delicious.

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By the time I had come up with that idea, a few days had passed, and the gravlax seemed to have calmed itself in flavor. I cannot really say if this was a change in how I was percieving it, or if it actually mellowed a bit once taken from the cure and rinsed. Either way, I liked it a lot better. So to be honest, a good portion of it has been eaten out of hand, just like this:

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(Or you know, if we’re feeling civilized sliced onto a plate, and then eaten out of hand.)

The next time I get a hankering to make some blini I know what I’m going to be draping over top of them.

A word on the salmon you are using: yes, this fish is cured but never cooked. Fish can sometimes carry parasites that can make people sick. Generally, when a fish is alive, any parasites would be using the fish as a host would be found in it’s digestive tract. Once the fish is, ahem, dispatched the parasites may start to migrate into the meat, the parts of the fish that we would eat. This is why fish are gutted quite quickly once caught. Most parasites that live in fish do not also infect humans, but some do. Almost all of fish sold as fresh in North America (hey, it’s where I live!) has been flash frozen to -35º C to kill any parasites that may have been present. So the fish you buy should be perfectly fine to make into gravlax. If you are still feeling nervous, fellow scaredy cats,  purchase farm raised salmon, studies show that it is much less likely to carry parasites than wild salmon. For your reference!

This time last year: Squash, Sage, and Chili Honey Tart

2 years ago: Drunken Cherries

3 years ago: Plums Under Meringue

4 years ago: Sushi Triangles

08/4/14

Everything is Not Quite What it Seems

I find it amusing when people like Bob Blumer, the Surreal Gourmet, would make a cake that looked like a hamburger, or oppositely, make something that looked like it was a cake, but was really rounds of meatloaf iced with mashed potato.

Historically speaking, it can’t be just me that finds the concept fun: if you’ve watched Heston’s Feasts, with the ever whimsical Heston Blumenthal, making foods that are not quite what they seem has been around since at least the middle ages. He makes a fruit bowl of meat fruit, and also cleverly disguises a dessert course as tableware, and even makes Willy Wonka’s lickable wallpaper!

Now I don’t have Heston’s laboratory kitchen at my fingertips (if only!), but I do have a sneaky little dessert at hand. Peaches and cream are a natural duo, but they are presented as though they were a perfectly pleasant sunny side up egg. Huevos falsos means false eggs, after all.

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Huevos Falsos

(This recipe will make dessert for two people. Magnify upwards accordingly if you have more intended eaters)

1 ripe yellow fleshed peach

2 Tbsp (1 oz) peach vodka

1 Tbsp (1/2 oz) grapefruit white balsamic vinegar (ingredient optional due to it’s oddballness)

2 Tbsp vanilla sugar

1/2 Cup whipping cream

2 Tbsp vanilla sugar

Directions

  • Blanch the peach in order to peel it: cut an ‘x’ in the end of the fruit opposite to the stem, immerse in recently boiled or very hot water for about 30 seconds, and remove, and then immerse in ice water for another 30 seconds. The heat and then cold loosens the skin, so that you can peel the skin off quite easily from the points made from cutting the ‘x’.

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  • Cut the peach in half longitudinally and remove the pit, which will leave you with two lovely, round, yellow hemispheres. Set aside.
  • Stir together the marinade for the peaches; combine the peach vodka, grapefruit vinegar, and vanilla sugar in a bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

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  • Add the peach halves to the bowl, and set aside to marinate for at least half an hour.

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  • In the intervening time, whisk the whipping cream and second measure of vanilla sugar to voluptuous soft peaks.

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  • When it is time to serve, divide the whipped cream between two small plates or shallow bowls, spreading it into a round shape using the back of a spoon.
  • Nestle a peach half, the ‘yolk’, into the middle of each of the ‘whites’, the whipping cream.
  • Set upon with spoons!

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In the summer, I eat a peach almost every day. Those orbs of sunshine are too good not to enjoy in season. I have a bad habit of buying them by the carton, and when they all ripen within a 24 or so hour period, there are a lot of peaches to consume. It’s a task I’m up to, though.

If you aren’t going to eat your peaches straight out of hand, which is what I am most prone to to, huevos falsos is a delightful, simple little dessert. And if it is as hot out for you as it is for us lately, the fact that you don’t need to turn the oven on at all is to be appreciated too! Traditionally, the false eggs are made with poached or even canned peaches, but because I prefer them in a more natural state (and being the cook means that I get to be the boss), I just steeped them in a quick marinade. The sour from the acid and the bit of alcoholic burn play well with the fruit and against the mouth coating creaminess of the whipped cream.

Mr says: A delicious dessert for a summer dinner!

This time last year: Particularly Delicious Chili

Two years ago: Thai Peanut Sauce

Three years ago: Stacked Summery Salad

Four years ago: Pomegranate Lemonade Slush

07/15/14

Bumping Around the Province Adventure

Captain’s Log, Adventure Date 1:

Hawthorne Jelly is delicious. Note to self: my one day future dream house will have an orchard that includes: pears, saskatoons, apples, cherries, chokecherries and now apparently hawthorne. Also got to taste some home tapped and boiled maple syrup and birch syrup (very unique and complex flavour. If you have a chance to have a taste, don’t pass it by!), as always, I wish to be a person who can make all the things. Note to Mr: we are going to need a big yard at the future dream house.

Had some fantastic deer sausage as well. Advice from a sausage maker with years more experience than myself is to use a higher ratio of pork to venison than I had been using, by weight work with half venison and half fatty pork.

Walking up to the wedding we were attending at the Big Woody Hall, under the big white tent, I see a familiar structure. I say to Mr, “That looks like the fabric from the chuppah at our wedding.” Mr takes a closer look. It looked like the fabric from the chuppah at our wedding because it was the chuppah from our wedding. As it turns out, the bride and groom had been looking for a canopy of some sort, and Mr’s mum said, “I’ve got one in the garage!” It was a nice surprise. It was quite sweet seeing friends of ours start their marriage under the same symbol of a home as Mr and I did. Congratulations to Terri and Ryan! I wish Mr and I could get married over and over again.

Sidealong to the wedding, there were two lovely gentlemen roasting a whole pig that was soon to become dinner. Part of me felt a little bit guilty eyeing up the pig as it came out of their giant roasting apparatus, but all that guilt washed away when Mr and his brother broke the floodgates and paid them a visit. That clandestine taste of crispy skin and pig cheek before dinner was even served was utterly fantastic. Seriously good. Pigs are magical animals.

Captain’s Log, Adventure Date 2:

The day began with Bambi Benedict; just out of the oven buttermilk biscuits, with a slice of 21 day aged venison, a soft boiled egg, and Hollandaise. I immediately decide to adopt our hosts, David and Michelle, as family. I could be convinced to stay in Swan River with this.

Shot a target from 500 meters with a 300 ultra magnum. On the second try. Unsure whether I feel more surprised or more boastful. Those were big bullets.

At this point on the voyage Mr, Trooper, and the rest of the Winnipeg family head for home. I remain because I have three days of work to follow, bumping around the province. Being a sappy crying type, it was hard to watch them leave. My last night in Swan River includes tasty meatballs, going visiting in the neighborhood, meeting two adorable Yorkies, and the Tempest. Helen Mirren is a great actress.

I wake up every 45 minutes to an hour that night, worried I have missed my alarm. Open my eyes, think “Nope, it’s still dark out.”, try to go back to sleep, and repeat.

Captain’s Log, Adventure Date 3:

I depart from my fantastic hosts with a gift of chokecherry syrup. That stuff is delicious on waffles, but that’s a story for a different episode. What worries I had about going to stay with people I didn’t know very well had long since passed. If they ever need a house to stay at in Winnipeg, I hope I could keep them half as well (though they would have plenty of places to stay in Winnipeg).

I work the morning away just North of town, before departing for Wellam’s Lake in Duck Mountain. I make a wrong turn and get a little lost. Hiro the little  Nissan Versa that could gets me across two washed out roadways and I still manage to get to my second testing location on time.

After all of my work is completed, I head for Dauphin, spotting a bear and a coyote along the way.

Captain’s Log, Adventure Date 4:

Continental breakfast is uninspiring: Tea, orange juice, and a soggy lemon poppyseed muffin.

Work in Dauphin sails by smoothly.

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I get to drive through one of the most beautiful places! Riding Mountain National Park! The whole way through makes me smile. I spot a moose, as well as a mama black bear with three baby bears. Three baby bears seems like a lot of baby bears to have at once, she must have her hands (paws?) full.

The drive makes me think a lot about the summer I spent in that neck of the woods as a camp counsellor. It was a magical summer. It also made me think of all of my friends from there that I haven’t seen in too too long. I have some calls to make.

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Just south of the park, in a town called Onanole, is a lovely shop called Poor Michael’s. I remember it from all those years ago as a store that sold used books, which it still does. But since then it has expanded into a cafe as well, and has local pottery and global artwork and great atmosphere. The sign outside says “Great coffee here!” Not one to partake, you’ll have to take their word for it. But if you are ever in the neighborhood of Onanole, make sure to stop by that spot.

South to Brandon, I have another bit of feeling turned around. My map does not take into account bridge closures due to flooding, but I found my way.

One more sleep, and what is building itself up to be an arduous day of work and then I’m homeward bound. I can’t wait to give Mr and Trooper a kiss, and to get back into my kitchen.

Bumping Around Granola

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2.5 Cups steel cut oats

1 Cup rice puffs

1 Cup quinoa puffs

1/2 Cup sunflower seeds

2/3 Cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 Cup hemp hearts

1/2 Cup ground flax

1 1/2 Tbsp sesame seeds

1/4 Cup dried blueberries

1/4 Cup dried cranberries

1/4 Cup dried apricot

1/4 Cup currants

2/3 Cup packed brown sugar (dark brown if you have!)

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 Cup maple syrup

1/2 Cup vegetable oil

Directions

  • Get a large mixing bowl out!
  • Stir together the oats, rice puffs, and quinoa puffs.
  • Then add in the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, sesame seeds and flax.
  • If you like the fruit component of your granola fairly fine, like I do, pour out your dried fruit onto a cutting board and give it a bit of a chop before adding it into the bowl with the grains and the nuts and seeds. Make sure to give it all a good stir after this addition. The fruit will want to clump up, but dispersing the fruit amongst the much less sticky grains and seeds will help to prevent that.
  • Add the brown sugar, salt and nutmeg, once again stirring to spread and integrate.
  • Pour the maple syrup and vegetable oil over top, stirring until everything is sticky.
  • Dump the granola onto two baking vessels (believe me, using only one may save you a dish to wash, but it will make the mixing throughout the baking a messy business), flattening into even layers.

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  • Bake in a 300º oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until everything is toasty and golden (~50 minutes).
  • Take the granola out of the oven, and let cool and harden before breaking it up and eating.

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 I really enjoy some granola and yogurt for breakfast, especially for a morning where there isn’t much time to actually get cooking. And this is my quintessential granola. Not very chunky, my granola leans toward a crunchier, looser, more museli like texture because that is the way I like it. The way I assemble my granola ensures it’s texture being the way I like it. The ingredients are added in steps: grains, seeds, fruits, seasoning, wet. If you like your granola to be clumpier and stickier: add the fruit earlier on in the mixing of the ingredients so that it will stick to the other ingredients to form clumps, mix more gently so as to not break up the clumps that will form, use more maple syrup and less brown sugar so that the mixture will be stickier heading into the oven, and bake the granola for a shorter period so that it dries out less.

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I suppose I’m a good Canadian because I love love love some maple syrup. And I think the flavor of maple does granola a better service than many of the other sweeteners you could use, such as honey or corn syrup.

The nutmeg makes the granola so warm and inviting, and I think nutmeg and maple are flavors that are quite friendly to each other.

Granola is one of those sort of things you can make that is utterly customizable. Mr is allergic to most nuts, so the granola at our house is pretty heavily seed based. Also, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds are all delicious. But if you want to put nuts in your granola it’s as easy as tossing them into the bowl when you’re putting in any other seeds or nuts you are using. If you have different dried fruits in your pantry, use them!

Mr admits he’s “not much of a granola person”: he doesn’t generally eat breakfast that religiously, and when he does he likes it to involve bacon, but he says my granola is “tasty stuff”!

This time last year: Perfect Breakfast Parfaits

2 years ago: Caramel Sauce

3 years ago: Shrimp, Feta, and Watermelon Salad

4 years ago: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins