01/4/16

Adieu and Bienvenue

It’s amazing the way the time passes. Just a few short days ago, we bid 2015 farewell. And now we’re into the swing of 2016.

No pointed resolutions for me this year. No list of goals no score against a rubric.  No report card.

I’ve been meditating on these words from William Saroyan’s The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze for these few preliminary days of the year, and so I think that that’s what I’m going to stick with.

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

That last sentence, while true, is a little bit fatalistic for this rose-coloured glasses wearer, I’m feeling some resonance in the rest of the sentiment. And so, I toast to embracing opportunities and, rather than just living, to be wholly alive with all our might. I hope we all have a great year!

Maple Ice Cream

(Recipe adapted from my friend Trish, the ice cream expert!)

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3/4 Cup maple syrup

1 1/2 Cups milk

1 1/2 Cups table cream

2 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

pecans (optional for sprinkling overtop)

Directions

  • Pour the maple syrup into a medium sized saucepan, and set it over medium-high heat. It’s only 3/4 Cup, but it will bubble up a lot, so stick with a medium sized pan. Boil the syrup for 5-10 minutes until it has reduced by around 25%, leaving you with ¬2/3 Cups of reduced syrup.

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  • Stir the milk, cream, vanilla, and salt into the saucepan and bring the mixture just up to a boil.
  • While the milk, cream, and syrup are heating, crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, and whisk until they are light and fluffy.

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  • Temper the eggs by drizzling in about a ladleful of the hot dairy into the eggs, mixing like mad all the while. Because the eggs have been brought up to a closer temperature to the syrupy milk, they’re less likely to scramble when you pour them into the saucepan.
  • Heat future ice cream, stirring constantly, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Chill for at least two hours (overnight is even better).

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  • Pour the mix into your ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If you are going to use the pecans, add them to the ice cream maker in the last few minutes of churning, or stir them into the ice cream once it’s been poured into the container in which it will be stored. (Living with someone who has a nut allergy, I just sprinkled a few on top of my scoop but left the ice cream untainted so that we could share.)

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I feel as though a number of the last recipes posted up here have included maple syrup, but it’s just so good! This ice cream came out so sublimely silky smooth and delicious. This is the flavour I am most likely to order at an ice cream shop, so I’ll be sure to be making more maple ice cream in the future.

11/15/15

Hiking Trails and Root Vegetable Dumplings

I had an overnight trip to Kenora with work at few nights ago, and as is the trend, I had a mostly sleepless night. Luckily though, I had the good fortune of ending up in a hotel room that had a jacuzzi tub. And, less rare for a hotel room, cable! Who needs sleep when you can tilt the television on it’s stand and have a luxurious bubble bath and late night Food Network at the same time?  It was quite a treat! That’s what I call making lemonade out of lemons.

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In the morning, after some breakfast and a nice cup of tea, I still had a lot of morning to deal with before returning to work. So I explored downtown Kenora and went for a hike. Though it would have been just slightly nicer had I had the proper footwear with me for the 5 kilometers, it was really lovely to take in some beautiful Canadian Shield scenery and have some meditative mental quiet.

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And I saw a deer!

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I wish so hard that I lived alongside a body of water. It just feels so right.

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It was really nice to come home too! I missed Mr and Trooper the Wonder Puppy.

Root Vegetable Dumplings with Super Sauce

(Recipes adapted from Leanne Wong’s Dumplings All Day Wong)

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Dumplings

115 g carrots

115 g parsnips

115 g turnip

115 g beet

45 g leek

2 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp grated ginger

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp five spice powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

1 Tbsp honey

1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp corn starch

dumpling wrappers

1/2 Tbsp butter

1/2 Cup water

  • Peel the carrots, parsnips, turnip, and beet. Cut all of the peeled vegetables, as well as the leek into rough chunks of a size that will be manageable for a food processor.

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  • Pulse the vegetables in the food processor until they are reduced to a relatively uniform fine rubble.

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  • Heat a medium sized pot over high heat. Add the sesame oil, ginger, garlic and sesame seeds. Stir and let sizzle until delightfully fragrant (~1 minute).
  • Tip the root vegetable rubble into the pot and stir fry for about 5 minutes, until the allium smell from the leek goes from being raw and sharp to mellow and sweet.
  • Add to the vegetable all of the dry seasoning: five spice, cumin, allspice, pepper and salt. Stir to coat, and give the vegetables another minute to cook before adding in the rice wine, honey, and fish sauce.
  • Remove the pot from heat and allow the filling to cool to room temperature. If you are in a rush, spread the filling out flat, on something like a cookie sheet. The greater the surface area there is, the faster it will lose it’s heat.
  • When cooled, sprinkle the cornstarch over and then stir it into the filling.
  • And then comes the pinching! Prepare your work surface by gathering together the filling, the dumpling wrappers, a tablespoon, a cookie sheet, and a small bowl of water (optional: you can also just use your fingertips to wet the edges of the dumpling wrappers, it depends what you like to do). These dumplings are done with with the puck-shaped fold.
    • Lay out a dumpling wrapper and scoop ~1 Tbsp of the filling onto the centre.
    • Wet the pastry brush (or your finger tip) with water, and then wipe it along the edge of the dumpling to moisten.
    • Fold one edge of the wrapper toward the centre of the filling, holding it in place with your thumb.
    • Continue folding the edges of the dumpling wrapper toward the first fold in small increments, overlapping and pressing down.
    • When the entire perimeter of the wrapper is folded down to the center, pinch the edges together to create a seal.
    • Give the dumpling a gentle squish between your palms so that it is more flat than round (like the shape of a hockey puck).
    • Put your finished dumpling onto the cookie sheet, and keep making more dumplings until you run out of filling!

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  • To cook: heat a wok or heavy bottom pan (either must have a lid) over high heat. Add 1 Tbsp of butter, tilting the pan once it melts to coat the cooking surface. Add a layer of dumplings, and cook until browned on the bottom before flipping and browning the other side. Pour in the 1/2 cup of water and clamp the lid over the dumplings to steam until the water is absorbed and the dumpling wrappers have cooked through.
  • Serve with Super Sauce! (See recipe below.)
  • Dumplings that you do not eat immediately can be frozen for later use! Just pop the cookie sheet of dumplings into the freezer, and once they have frozen they can be put into a bag or resealable container. This way they won’t freeze all stuck together.

Super Sauce

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6 Tbsp butter

1/2 Cup sour cream

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sugar

  • Brown the butter.
  • Let the butter cool for a few minutes. It should still be quite liquid, not solidifying, but cool enough that it won’t make the sour cream separate.
  • Whisk together the brown butter, sour cream, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and sugar.
  • Serve to accompany the dumplings.

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These dumplings are really lovely. I always find root vegetables so homey, comforting, and soul warming, and having them make up a dumpling filling is a fun change up from the generally animal protein heavy fillings once tends to get with dumplings. Where the carrot, parsnip, turnip and beet are naturally sweet, there are the flavour counterpoints from the saline funk of fish sauce and the nuttiness of sesame oil. Balance is delicious.

When I read the recipe, I didn’t initially get very excited about the accompanying dipping sauce. The original recipe calls for crème fraîche where I ended up using sour cream, but I was dubious about dairy plus rice vinegar and soy sauce. It read really strange to me. But I was so wrong. It is really, really tasty. I will admit, my household is pretty brown butter friendly, as well as sour cream friendly, so we’ve been using this super dipping sauce on peirogi as well as these dumplings.

In the recipe book, it is recommended that the browned butter be left to cool until it just starts to set and resolidify. I found that adding the sour cream in at that temperature resulted in a sauce that was quite solid and chunky. I quite prefer the looser, dippable rather than scoopable sauce that resulted from not cooling the browned butter quite so much. But that’s just my two cents, of course.

 

10/24/15

In the Smoking Section

It seems like a day made for a Vanilla Maple Cinnamon latte.

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It’s the cup that cheers.

So what have you all been keeping busy with?

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I made some bacon! Want to see how? (Methodology from Cedar at Let’s Make Something Awesome)

First: obtain some pork belly. Mr. picked this lovely one up at Karpaty Meats & Deli.

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In my research I was warned to not be alarmed to find a nipple or two on the pork belly. Ours was sans nipples. Is it awful that I was a little sad not to find one?

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Second: mix up your cure! The piece of pork belly we were working with started out at 1.75 kg. I mixed together 1/2 Cup kosher salt, 1/4 Cup packed brown sugar, 2 Tbsp coarsely ground black pepper, and 3/4 Cup maple syrup. (This is more cure than you will need for a similar amount of bacon, but you want to ensure a good, solid coating of the cure on all surfaces, so you want to have more than you need!)

Third: Rub the cure over all surfaces of the pork belly, giving it a nice massage. You want a good coating of cure on all surfaces, including any nooks or crannies.

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Fourth: Assemble your curing apparatus! Put a wire rack onto a baking sheet. A baking sheet with sides is essential here, as your bacon cures it will weep a lot of moisture, and the baking sheet will catch the forming puddle. The rack allows air on all sides of the pork belly. Place your proto-bacon onto the curing apparatus.

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Fifth: Put the curing apparatus into the fridge. Refrigeration is important because botulism is not your friend!

Sixth: Leave the bacon to cure for a week. I flipped it over once a day, but this may not necessarily be a required step. It did help to quell my impatience, though! The first few days will see the most moisture weeping out of the proto-bacon, so you may also want to check the baking sheet to see if it needs tipping out should it threaten to overflow.

Seventh: Once the week of curing has lapsed, give your almost-bacon a good rinse with fresh, cool water. Pat it dry, and then put it back into the fridge for at least one more night (or 8 hour period) to form a pellicle.  A pellicle is a tacky, tangled net of proteins on the surface of the meat and it soaks in and holds onto the smoke like a sponge.

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Eighth: To the smoker! We used applewood (it’s my favourite wood to use for smoking so far!). Smoke the bacon until the internal temperature reaches 68.5 ºC (155 ºF). To do this, the smoker was kept at ~95 ºC for 2 hours. As with any time you use a smoker, addition or rejiggering of coals and/or wood chips, or adjustment of the fire may be required as time passes to keep the temperature at the right level and to keep it producing smoke. Smoking is also a useful tool for those not friendly with Botulism! 

Ninth: Take the slab of bacon out of the smoker. It’s decision time: leave the skin on, or take it off? We ended up removing the skin. It takes a sharp knife and a little time, but upon conversing with Mr we decided we weren’t fans of the toughness along the edge.

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Tenth: Slice it up! This can be done with just a knife and a cutting board, or if you are lucky enough to have a meat slicer you can breeze through this step easily. With either slicing method, though, life is made easier if you toss the bacon into the freezer for a little while to firm up a bit (don’t freeze it all the way through, though, the goal is firmness, not a brick).

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Just look at that. My inexperience with meat slicers lead to some raggedy cuts, but practise improved my efforts as I merrily sliced away.

Of course, with excitement I couldn’t help cooking a bit of bacon up to see how it had turned out. It was certainly worth the effort! Much of the bacon bought at the grocer’s is wet cured in a brine, almost like a pickle. This bacon is dry cured, and so is quite intense and salty. I think next time I might adjust the cure recipe a little.

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Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about the curing process and the skin on the outside of the pork belly. If the skin is going to be removed anyway, would it be a good idea to take the skin off before even starting the curing process? I would imagine that the cure would penetrate through the subcutaneous fat on that side of the bacon more easily instead of first passing through a layer of skin. Skin is a semi-permeable membrane after all… but maybe there’s a reason why the skin is left on (other than some people leave it on their bacon for eating). Needless to say, I’m going to have to do some more research.

In the meantime, we have bacon!

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I’d really like to thank Mr for building me our smoker. It’s pretty fortunate to have a partner who is so handy.