Wednesday, 29 February 2012


They say looking into a man's fridge is like getting a glimpse into his soul. For the unafraid, here is a glimpse into mine.

Black Bean & Chorizo Burritos

A lot of people say there is not much difference between canned and dried beans once they are cooked, but there definitely is the way I make them. Normally, you'd boil the beans in three times their volume of water for about 3 hours, less if you soak them overnight. I like making them in my slow cooker and infusing them with flavour instead of plain old water. Chicken stock, thyme and garlic have always worked well for me, and because it is a slow cooker, you don't need as much liquid.

After 4 hours on high, they come out pretty soft with a bit of liquid remaining. That is perfect because in this instance, we are making re-fried beans. Refried means well fried, not fried twice. It comes from the Spanish prefix 're' not the English language version.

To make refried beans, you only need to saute the beans in some spices until all the liquid is gone and the beans lose their form. I like adding meat at this point. I used bacon only because I was experimenting with espresso yesterday and had leftovers. Fry bacon until crispy and remove from the pan. Add the meat from three Mexican chorizo sausages. I found mine in a Latin food store in Kensington market. Once well browned and separated, I added sliced shallots because I was out of onion and a morado chili I picked up from the same store. Once shallots soften, add all the beans and bacon, simmer until all the liquid disappears, stirring regularly. Season to taste if necessary. Now you have refried beans!

You can use the beans in a layer dip, but my favourite way to eat them is wrapped in a burrito. Lay one tortilla flat on a surface. I added guacamole first, then Oaxaca cheese (more often than not I use old cheddar but I went a little nuts at the Latin store), a small layer of spinach, a large layer of beans, then some more spinach to make the rolling a bit less messy. Then wrap them up. Here is where you'll regret overfilling your tortilla so don't go overboard. Grill with the seam side down to seal your meal in a neat packet until golden and crispy. I used a George Foreman grill, but you could also use a panini press or a non-stick pan. Mine looked like this:
Stretchy Oaxaca cheese in a messy burrito.

They were a bit messy to eat, especially for a bearded gentleman such as myself. The Oaxaca cheese was significantly stretchier than I was expecting. I'm not sure if I liked its expansile nature, but the flavour was mild and worked well with the other ingredients. It was a bit like elastic curd cheese. Honestly, I prefer old cheddar in my burrito.

The chorizo added a great spicy meat flavour. Ladypants thought my guacamole had too much lime in it, which it did, but I would have missed the guacamole if it wasn't there. Overall, a success, and Ladypants can leave the guacamole out if she wants another tomorrow. I have a ton of this stuff, who wants to come over for a burrito? Seriously. I'm drowning in beans over here.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Bacon Espresso

In the heart of the Jewish section of town, we have done the unthinkable, infused Brian's Steampunk espresso with smoked Bacon. That's right, Bacon. Always capitalized, always delicious. The idea came to us over pints of seasonal Darkside Black IPA at the local Granite micro brew pub. This morning it still sounded good, so I fried some up nice and crispy to try out.

With a good healthy pinch on the bottom of the holder, the espresso struggled to escape its super hot pressurized puck. It was well worth the effort because the resulting brew was better than expected. Few smells are better than frying bacon and brewing coffee. Imagine them combined and you pretty much know the aroma. A mild smokiness combined very nicely with the strong brew.

Bacon made the shot a bit oilier than normal. Not to an unpleasant or even disagreeable degree, but noticeably. The smoky bacon umami lingered on the palate aside the normal coffee aftertaste for quite some time. I liked it quite a bit. While I wouldn't drink it every day, I could see myself enjoying a cup once a week, but Brian didn't like it nearly so much. Possibly to do with the smokey taste. Don't worry bacon lovers, I'll try to turn him around so you can have a taste.

Monday, 27 February 2012


Salt is one of those miracle crystals everyone loves to hate. It can be used to enhance other flavours, cure meat, conduct electrical signals in the nervous system (electrolyte), form clouds, and ward off evil, but it can also increase your blood pressure, cause stomach cancer, stroke or heart disease if taken in excess.

There are also many kinds of salt. Having only sea salt in the house, I nicked off to the corner store to pick up something a little more suited to a gourmet espresso experience. I would up buying a 6 variety sampler. Eurasian Black Salt tasted like eggs so we immediately gave it a failing grade and moved on. It definitely has some sulfur in it, and I'm not sure what to do with it. You know, besides witchcraft.

Up next was Himalayan Pink Salt. I expected it to bring out the natural flavours of the coffee and that's exactly what it did. I thought it tasted intensely nutty and the flavour profile really popped. Brian had a somewhat different experience. He is sensitive to salt in a way that I am not. He tasted the saltiness quite intensely to the point of feeling it on his lips. I didn't get the lip thing, and got the distinct impression that I enjoyed it much more than he did. My blood will probably explode from my body in a gruesome display of pressure at some point.

Internet people who have tried smoked salt say that it is really nice on brownies (with chocolate in general), and in vegetarian dishes lends a meaty quality. I don't know about that, but it smells a bit like stale campfire. Of course it should work with espresso. Whoa! This time the salt hit me in the face hole. The smokiness was quite nice. Now to find a way to get it without curing my tongue.

Arbol Peppers & Nutmeg

In our earlier experiments with cayenne infused in espresso, the peppers had come from my friend and ukulele enthusiast Marc's city garden. We liked the flavour quite a bit, but part of this whole thing is to make signature drinks that are commercially viable, not vulture back yard cultivations.

So, I took a trip up to Kensington Market to see what I could find. After speaking with a shop owner about his various pepper wares, I settled on the Arbol chili as a suitable substitute. Wikipedia agrees it was a good choice. I couldn't help myself and also picked up some Ancho and another smoky chile to make BBQ sauce with.

I removed the seeds of one pepper, ground it to a powder and measured it at half a teaspoon. Then grated a full teaspoon of fresh nutmeg, mixed them together, and headed to the Mad Bean for some mad science. It was a packed house, with standing room only, with the last few tunes of The Mad Bean Jazz Band being played. They were quite good, with a scat singer and an upright bassist playing a travel bass that comes apart with his mouth wide open in concentration. The guitarist and saxophonist were also quite good from what I heard. I'd hear them again without convincing.

After the band finished and the crowd subsided, we tried a cup. The pepper flavour came through, as did the nutmeg, but without the spicy intensity of the cayenne peppers. Brian felt it a bit on the tip of his tongue, but I was too much of a spice nut to notice that particular subtlety. We tried again with a higher concentration.

This time the pepper soared through on the trumpet with the nutmeg accompanying playfully on harpsichord. I never felt the spiciness, but the flavour was great! Perhaps the chilis I picked up were old enough for their spice to temper, or the seeds I removed contain most of the heat. Pepper, and necessarily coffee, lovers must visit The Mad Bean to try this unique combination once it is officially on the menu.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chicken and Mashed Potaters

I have a great butcher in my neighbourhood. Apart from the complete lack of pork and inexpensive fish, they are pretty much the best. They get some amazing chicken from a local farmer just outside the city. It has way more flavour than anything I've had from the supermarket. They cut up whole chickens there, so the thighs (my favourite part of the chicken) end up with a bit of spine in them, and that means delicious marrow to eat later.

I tried a different marinade than the traditional buttermilk, thinking the beer and yogurt would act the same way to tenderize the chicken. I patted them dry, coated them in barbeque sauce and cornmeal, and baked the thighs for 50 minutes at 350 in the oven. I grilled the drumsticks in my George Foreman grill for 30 minutes. They both turned out really well.

Mashed potatoes needed a bit of a kick, so I caramelized some onions and bacon to add. Instead of butter, I added the chicken drippings from the baked thighs and a few dashes of hot sauce. I will have a hard time going back to regular potatoes. These have raised the bar quite significantly. Next time I'll make them with cauliflower instead of potatoes to help with the nutrition factor.

Here is a picture of Ian eating with super fast, ninja-like hands. His plate was full when I raised the camera; It must have been really tasty.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Udon vegetable stir fry

Ingredients are to the left as well as a lime and sesame oil. You can barely see the ginger, and the bottles are soy and oyster sauce.

Saute in this order:
sesame oil with ginger
thyme (stripped from the stem) & cauliflour
red pepper, garlic, lime & bok choi
add sauces
udon noodles, with more oyster sauce on them.

This turned out ok, but was missing something. I put a bit of hot sauce on it but it was still only ok. Maybe a sweet element would work, but I'm loathe to add sugar to anything. It's why my jams always fail to gel. I ate some leftovers for lunch but it still didn't really do it for me. The bok choi was chewy and hard to eat. I'd separate the leaves or cut them in halves or quarters next time. Maybe mustard would have pulled it all together? The vegetables were at a well cooked for my taste but the flavour wasn't there. Suggestions in the comments please.

*Update* I added a bit of orange zest and Arbol peppers to the leftovers. It was tastier than before and quite enjoyable. My beard liked it too, catching a rather large slice of carrot to save for later.

Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns were recommended by a friend, Amanda, as a possible pairing with espresso. She explained they have a mild spiciness similar to that of black pepper, but with a sweet twist. They can and are used in desserts. As I found out yesterday at Kensington Market, they are also very expensive and hard to come across.  One shopkeeper explained she only had it in a pepper mix because it was $60/lb for her to buy. The shopkeeper next door bit the bullet and was selling them for $75/lb. I bought the minimum amount, a $3 baggie, so we could try it out.

At first we tried the tiniest pinch, thinking that the pepper flavour would storm through like a bull through a glass-wares counter. Apart from a hint of aroma, it was undetectable. 

So, we doubled down and tried again with twice as much. This time the aroma came through strongly and mingled well with that of the alluring Steampunk coffee blend. There was a slight tickle of spice at the back of the throat, and a very mild peppery taste, but none of the sweetness came through. It didn't take anything away from the brew, but it didn't add anything either. The mild pepper sharpness was perhaps a bit unnerving. As Brian put it, "I wouldn't recommend this as a relaxing cup of coffee." Well said. This one is a pass, sorry Amanda. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Cheddar tomato sandwhich

Lunch time is sammich time here at the Zen household. By household, I mean the small collection of rooms I triple lock against the crazy neighbours and homeless people of the outside world. Today's version is a classic old cheddar and tomato sandwhich with arugula and pesto. Pile them onto lightly toasted multi-grain bread from the local bakery and it will look like this:

Simple, quick (under 5 minutes), and delicious. 

Cardamom Coriander Espresso or Spice Mix Round 4

The final version of the spice mix removed cinnamon entirely and just focused on coriander and cardamom. It is a simple 2:1 ratio (measured before pulverizing) that made this mix perfect. The resulting brew was balanced to the point of being sophisticated. This one is now final, so you will be able to try it at The Mad Bean soon. And you really should! It is a great cup of coffee that will make you think about it without being cerebral.

That makes two commercially viable, tested, great tasting, and finalized specialty espresso shot recipes to date. A third recipe has been made but needs to be made commercially viable: Chili Nutmeg. The cayenne peppers I used for that recipe so far were from my friend's garden, so I have to find a good way to acquire dried peppers without seeds or where seeds can be removed easily that have a great pepper flavour without being too spicy. A challenge, but one I'm up to. I think a trip to Kensington market is in order.

Soy marinated chicken with vegetable fried rice and bok choi

Phase 1: Chicken - 50 minutes
Marinate chicken (4 pieces of separated and trimmed leg) in mixture of dark mushroom soy sauce, 5 minced cloves of garlic, and 1" piece of minced ginger for at least 4 hours. Preheat oven to 350F. Sear in hot cast iron pan with a bit of frying oil. Flip over, add bok choi and finish in oven for 30 minutes, flipping bok choi halfway through. Rest meat for 10 minutes outside pan to keep it juicy and so it doesn't hurt when you eat it.

Phase 2: Fried Rice - 50 minutes
Boil 3C water and add 1.5C brown rice. Turn heat down to minimum and let sit for 45 minutes. Instead of water, you can also use chicken stock or add flavour. I added a drop of sesame oil and 3 bay leaves to scent the rice.

In wok, saute 1" nub of minced ginger in olive oil (and a touch of sesame oil) for one minute, then add half a spanish onion. When onions are translucent, add 2 chopped carrots. Continue on medium heat until carrots start to soften. Separate florets of broccoli from their stem, peel and chop the stem before adding it to the pot. Chop one red bell pepper and add it along with broccoli florets. Add small amount of soy sauce and oyster sauce to veggies.

Pour cooked rice into wok and add 2Tbsp oyster sauce and 1tbsp soy sauce. Mix well. Vegetables should be cooked but not too soft at this point and the chicken should be resting.

Phase 3: Eat - Variable
Put results of all phases on a plate and eat until full. Louis C.K. claims the meal isn't over when he's full, it's over when he hates himself. So, keep eating if you must.

Phase 4: Results
A guest in my house for this meal known as the Yeddi (spelling not a mistake) couldn't believe I made the sauce for the chicken myself. It is so easy and quick. I called it Teriyaki at the time, but it doesn't have mirin rice wine and wasn't cooked. It is almost as flavourful and way easier than Teriyaki sauce. Sauce from the store doesn't count as easier in this blog.

The rice is still pretty great the next day, so I consider that a win. All the vegetables were the perfect tenderness. I like my red peppers soft, otherwise they would have stayed out until the end. Oyster sauce may sound scary but it is what gives it that authentic Chinese food flavour. Try it! It costs under $10 for the best bottle and you'll get many flavourful meals out of it. It is quite salty, so don't season other food too much.

Try this one out. If you remember the marinade in the morning (5 minutes max), this healthy, satisfying and wholesome meal can be cranked out in under an hour. And chances are you'll have leftovers to enjoy tomorrow. You could put the chicken in a sammich with avocado and cheddar (anchovies?), fry the rice up again until crispy on the edges (possibly in balls stuffed with chicken pieces and breaded first), or be boring and just reheat it.

Pork noodles in vegetable (and tomato) sauce

If you can't read my chalk writing, speak now or forever hold your peace. The chalkboard is how I keep track of what I use in the kitchen and methinks it is here to stay. Spelling mistakes are inevitable because it is usually written in a hurry, please ignore those.

This is a one pot dish. Start by lightly browning the onion in a large non-stick wok. Mine is cast aluminum. It has no coating so I can use metal tools on it and it won't scratch. Best kitchen thing ever for a one pot dish! Add the pork once the onions start to have some colour. When pork starts to brown and is all separated into small pieces, add chopped carrots. When they get a bit tender, add tomatoes, pepper, thyme (stripped from the stem) and beans. I threw in my last small handful of spinach to use it up as well.

Boil whole wheat pasta until just under al dente. Add a ladle of pasta water to the sauce. Drain and add pasta. Add pesto and work it into the pasta a bit before mixing in with the rest of the sauce. When pasta is fully cooked, remove from heat and serve with freshly grated parmesan and homemade habanero hot sauce if desired.

I added the beans for fibre, and while they were a bit out of place, I think they would have worked better than any other type of bean. Perhaps lentils would have been better because they are smaller and have a mild peppery flavour that would have worked. I like making these types of dishes with spaghetti or some similar pasta broken into quarter strands. It allows for easy eating, as it doesn't discard vegetables when twirled on a fork as full strands do. Sorry, no picture for this one. It disappeared pretty quickly.

Buttermilk baked chicken with bashed potatoes and broccoli

Another batch of beer brewing, this one is cream ale, calls for a feast. I made some chicken, half friend and half baked, cheesy bashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli.

Marinate the chicken (8 leg pieces, cut and trimmed by butcher) in buttermilk for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. I added a few tablespoons of salt to the buttermilk so it brined the chicken as well. This makes it extremely tender and juicy once cooked. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, coat in egg wash (4 beaten eggs, 1Tbsp pesto, 1tbsp mustard) and roll in bread crumbs (4 slices stale bread ground fine as you can get it), repeat. Bake half on a greased sheet for 30min at 450, then 30 min at 350. Pan sear and finish other half in the oven at 350 for 30 min. Once done, let meat rest for 10 minutes so it stays juicy and doesn't hurt to eat.

Boil potatoes until fork tender. Add 1/2C butter, 1/2C old cheddar, a few tablespoons of milk for consistency, and a few dashes of habanero hot sauce. Season to taste and bash until uniform. I like mine a bit lumpy to remind me it used to be potatoes.

Peel skin from stem of broccoli and cut head into quarters or other manageable size. Steam over hot water. I used a bamboo steamer I picked up in Chinatown for $4 with a pinch of salt. Put it all on a plate and it should look something like this:

I liked the baked chicken better than the pan seared. The chicken must have had daddy issues because it couldn't keep its bread clothes on. The breading was delicious, pesto really works here, but the bottom part stuck to the pan and the top part mostly came off in one piece unless special attention was given to make that not happen. Ladypants told me I had "outdone myself", so that sounds pretty good. Potatoes really can't be bad with that much butter and cheese, but the hot sauce lent a slight spiciness that put it over the top. Steamed broccoli is green. This is an extremely tasty dish, especially when washed down with a pint of homemade IPA.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Spice Mix Round 3

Attempting to balance out the cardamom as described yesterday, I modified the spice mix recipe to have more cinnamon and coriander. I may have overcompensated. The espresso tasted heavily of cinnamon that left a bit too much of a bitter aftertaste for either of our liking.

Brian suggested that it might be better with milk because a lot of customers sprinkle cinnamon on their cappuccinos and lattes. So, I punched up the strength of the infusion with approximately double the regular espresso amount and Brian mixed us up a couple macchiatos.

Delicious! The spices came through the milk cloud for a really balanced and flavourful drink. Cinnamon really does taste great in a milky coffee, which tends to mute most of the more interesting coffee notes. The spices replaced them with something worth tasting besides milk. I wouldn't use this spice mix for espresso again, but I think it is a keeper for a macchiato.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Spice Mix Round 2

This time around I measured the spices to make a recipe. It is really good, but the cinnamon didn't quite come through except in the aroma. I will amend the recipe to include 1/2 teaspoon more cinnamon to balance it out, maybe a 1/4 teaspoon more coriander too. 

This drink is warm, complex, nuanced, light and heavy all at the same time. First, the warm smell of cinnamon and cardamom hits your nose. Then, you taste complicated, hard to work out, but quite good coffee with citrus notes from the coriander. The cardamom cascades over your palate leaving you with an aftertaste  that constantly changes in your mouth for minutes. 

I love this spice mix with Sidamo because all the flavours work so well with the natural blueberry flavour. It is an entirely different beast than Steampunk. 

Caramelized Onion & Spinach Olive Oil Quick Bread

I found this recipe by Cookin Canuck on Pinterest  this morning and had to try it right away. I used feta instead of myzithra cheese but otherwise followed the recipe to a scraggly and poorly formed T.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Avocado Egg & Salad with Braid Roll

1 Tomato
1/2 Avocado

1/2 Avocado
1 Egg
salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of pesto (see earlier post)
1 teaspoon of cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper 

Preheat oven to 350F. Halve avocado unevenly. Crack an egg into large half of the avocado, put in oven until egg is cooked, about 15 minutes (broil for colour if desired). Cube rest of avocado and toss with greens in pesto dressing. Wedge the tomatoes and put on top. Eat salad, spread avocado egg thing on braid roll, enjoy.

Pretty good and healthy lunch. I'm not sure I'll do the egg avocado thing again. It wasn't bad, but I prefer avocado raw.

Basil Pesto

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Banana Walnut Bread

Curried butternut squash soup

Ladypants has a tooth issue and can't chew, so I made her a soup she can eat through a straw. Soup is easy, throw a bunch of things in a pot and simmer for about half an hour, puree and eat it. Couldn't be simpler. For this soup, I boiled the the things to the left.

I used the core and leaves of the cauliflower but took them out before pureeing because I didn't like the look of their texture. So to speak. I'll serve it with a dollop of plain yogurt.

It was sweet with a good balance of spice. I didn't add any sugar, so the sweetness must have come from the butternut squash. I used Madras curry powder; very mild, floral and aromatic. I wasn't a huge fan of the balkan yogurt I used. It turned all grainy and it looked like my soup curdled.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Chili and Nutmeg

Hoping to capture a balance between spicy and earthy bright complexity that would not need chocolate, I blended nutmeg and cayenne pepper. I used about a teaspoon of grated nutmeg to the flesh of one dried pepper.

A tiny pinch resulted in pretty much exactly what I'd hoped for. The spice was not overpowering, just tickling the back of the throat. My lips are still pleasantly burning ever so slightly. The flavour of the pepper really goes well with espresso. The nutmeg flirted with the nutty notes of the coffee producing a new flavour profile. Some of its bright notes came through, lifting up the mid palate.

In our last experiment with chili required chocolate to balance out the spiciness. Nutmeg is a great replacement that performed admirably on the high wire. I prefer it chocolate because there is no sugar or syrup involved, only infusion. Pure, simple, and at the same time incredibly complex. I consider this a major win.

Squeaky Cheese Pulled Pork Poutine in Ottawa

While visiting some friends of mine in Ottawa, we decided to make pulled pork. In a bit of a time crunch, we skipped the brine step. It turns out this is a really important one. Not only does it make the meat taste better in the end, but it cuts down the cooking time. It still worked out, you just have to season and flavour your meat more than otherwise.

Barbeque sauce is also really important. While I used a smokey Texan BBQ sauce when I made it, in Ottawa we used a sweet garlic sauce. The flavour was completely different, so choose your sauce wisely. In the end, my favourite dish of the weekend was a poutine with squeaky curd cheese, homemade beer gravy, caramelized onions & peppers, baked homemade fries, and our hero pulled pork.

The next morning we broke our fast at a French Bistro with handmade croissants and amazingly delicious jam.  The French sure know their food.

 Unfortunately, my morning shot of double espresso left much to be desired.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Chai inspired spice mix

After yesterday's chai disappointment left a quite literal bitter taste in my mouth, I refused to give up on what I thought chai should have been able to do to the coffee. So, I created my own spice mix to mimic the good qualities of chai and remove those elements we already know don't work.

The result was a mix of cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon. I'm hoping for the crisp, almost spicy bits of the cardamom; fresh, lemony notes of coriander; and warm complexity from the cinnamon. Just a little goes a long way with spices this assertive.

It worked like a charm. The first sip was clean and fresh, then "something weird" happened as Brian put it, and finished with citrus. Wonderful! The complexity was there. Citrus built throughout the shot and lingered a good five minutes in the aftertaste. I'd describe the "weird" bit as a swirl of complexity. All the flavours mixed in new and interesting ways on your tongue that takes a little while to sort out.

This is a shot you will enjoy for a while. It changes in your mouth like a good wine. An intense wine aged in a nutty espresso grave. The spices didn't take any of the nutty qualities of the espresso away, just added multiple levels to it. I really loved the way the three spices interacted with the coffee and each other. It reminds me of turbulent fluid motion, a pipe of some sort with a liquid swirling and rushing through it, spinning around in a flurry of activity. Top five, easily.

Peanut butter, jelly & banana pita pizza

Alright, this is my last pizza for a while, I promise. I didn't put pulled pork on this one either. I smothered my last pita in a light layer of crunchy peanut butter, topped it with strawberry jam and a sliced banana. I added a bit of homemade scotch ale caramel to help the bananas caramelize and some swiss chocolate bits. Broil it until edges turn dark.

It tasted exactly like it sounds. The bananas didn't caramelize. Next time, if there is a next time, I'll put a small amount of brown sugar on top of each banana instead of the caramel. This is easy food for a group of stoners, but it was too sweet for regular me last night.

Spinach fettuccine vegetale

Spinach fettuccine with sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, rapini, garlic and more spinach looks like this:

 And when covered in parmesan cheese, this:

Spaghetti squash vegetale

In an effort to make something besides pizza, I ventured into the realm of the healthy for something vegetarian.

1 spaghetti squash
olive oil
1 carrot, 6thed
some red pepper, finely diced
handful of spinach
small handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
fresh thyme
bit o butter
1/2 C fresh grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400. Split squash in two, hollow out halves and discard seeds. Brush or spoon oil over cut side of squash, salt and pepper it to taste. Pile carrots under overturned halves to steam and roast with the squash until soft, about 40 minutes. Let cool a bit, then scrape out flesh with a fork to get lots of long squash strands. Chop carrots and add to squash with all the other ingredients and mix up. Stir in parmesan last and serve right away. Mine looked something like this:

The crunch of the walnuts and uncooked red peppers was very nice against the soft texture of the squash and other vegetables. Walnuts go really well with thyme. I think I roasted the squash too long or mixed it too much because the 'spaghetti' strands got kinda mushy. Never a good word when describing food.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Pulled Pork Pita Pizza #4 & Pulled Pork Recipe

I've been stuck in a loop like a skipping record. All I've made for days now, it seems, has been these pulled pork pizzas. I'm not complaining, they are absolutely delicious! The smokiness of the Texan BBQ sauce compliments the tender pulled pork perfectly. And you can put pretty much whatever you have laying around on top of that as I've shown here.

Avocado was really fantastic, and red pepper has really tied some of the other ingredients to the pulled pork and I missed it when I left it out. One of the best toppings I've found is thinly sliced zucchini. Its delicate freshness with a touch of sweet against the smoky sauce was fantastic. Mixed with spinach, red pepper, and cheddar cheese, this is what I ended up with:

The moisture of the pulled pork keeps the pita from getting fully crispy as it often does as a pizza bottom. It is far from soggy, finding a balance in the chewy zone. Especially when made using a pizza stone. The stone heats from the bottom, preventing any possibility of sogginess. Putting cheese on the bottom as well as the top helps keep its structural integrity and holds the toppings in place. Don't over do the BBQ sauce, a very light coating, about a tablespoon and a half, is all you need.

Spinach worked better pre-wilted than just thrown on under the cheese. This was really easy when blanching a vegetable as you can put a handful in the bottom of the strainer before pouring off the water into it. I actually like that technique for spinach in a lot of dishes.

I highly encourage you to make this. But I suppose I need to tell you how to make pulled pork first. Brine a pork shoulder, one of the cheapest cuts of meat in the supermarket, for 12-24 hours in a mixture of half salty water and half cider vinegar. Drain off the liquid and slow cook for 10-12 hours on low in a mixture of salty red wine and cider vinegar. You could use beer too, that would be good. Pull apart pork with two forks. I saved the skin to use as a cooking fat, and scraped the marrow from the bones for extra flavour. That's it. Dead simple.

No more excuses, make this pizza already!!

Chai tea espresso

Judging by the warming aromas coming from the tea jar sitting on the counter of the permanently coffee scented Mad Bean, I expect chai tea to be a big hit. Cinnamon and cardamom have already been proven to work well infused in espresso, so it just remains to be seen how well black tea and the other organic flavours mix.

Not so well, as it turns out. While the smell was mildly pleasant, the brew turned intensely bitter to the point of unpalatable. Don't get me wrong, I finished it, but immediately regretted it. The aftertaste is brutal, very much the same as that of cloves. It lingers on your palate like an unwelcome guest.

Then I thought, what if we added milk and turned it into a macchiato? This would loosen up the flavours, take away the bitter edge and allow the good aromatics to shine through the cacophony of unpleasantness. That is exactly what happened. An unpalatable shot turned into a pleasant drink. Not good enough for me to want to drink it over a regular Steampunk macchiato.

It is a technique that I think will be interesting to play with, making an overpowering shot and diluting it with micro-foamed milk. Tomorrow I'll try to recreate the good bits of the chai tea with a spice mix and put this theory to the test.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Fennel Revisited

Trying to figure out a way to standardize the amount of each flavour infused into the espresso, today I brought in a pepper shaker filled with well pestled fennel seeds. I also wanted to make sure fennel was still great as it was one of our first experiments.

Yes, it is still great. At 4 shakes, the aroma and flavour were mild but definitely present, 8 shakes was more pronounced but far from overpowering. It tastes more like we are tricking the coffee bean into having natural fennel notes than directly flavouring the brew. It blends seamlessly with the nutty and bitter elements of the espresso. A playful aftertaste sweeps the palate, changing constantly for minutes after the last sip. The complexity is nothing short of delightful. 

Today's experiment reaffirmed Fennel's place at the top of the ranks. So, of course, I had to try it with my current favourite coffee bean, Ethiopian Sidamo. Unfortunately, the licorice taste conflicted with it's natural blueberry notes. I guess Sidamo isn't infallible after all.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Pulled Pork Pita Pizza

Over the weekend I made some pulled pork in the slow cooker. So far I've just been eating it in sammiches, but today I thought I'd do something a little different. Pizza.

Take a large pita bread, smother it in your favourite BBQ sauce. I'm using some that Ladypants brought be back from Texas, Ironworks. It is smokey, sweet and delicious. Top it with a small layer of cheese. I'm using old cheddar because I think mozzarella doesn't taste like anything, at least the cheap stuff I usually buy. Add pulled pork, soy sauteed mushrooms, spinach, red peppers, and hot sauce if desired (I did).

Top with more old cheddar and fresh grated parmesan. Broil for 5 minutes or until the top cheese turns golden brown and looks as below:

Oh yes, this does taste as good as it looks. The sweetness of the pork mixes with the smoky BBQ sauce balances the spiciness of the hot sauce. Red peppers, mushrooms and spinach are great, but they could easily be almost anything else. Next time (tomorrow) I think I'll replace the mushrooms with rapini to give it a bit more nutritional value.

*Update* This made a come back with red pepper rings, blanched rapini, and only parmesan cheese on top. Ladypants and the beard both enjoyed this quite a bit even though it is significantly healthier with less sodium and cheddar cheese fat.

*Update the second* I can't get enough of these. I made another version for supper today. I call it The Hulk because it is angry green. Blanched rapini, spinach, avocado, feta & old cheddar cheese, and pulled pork:

Rooibos, Take Two

Last time we tried rooibos it was straight out of the tea tin. This time I gave it a good dose of both mortar and pestle to grind it up. Rooibos tea has some woody bits that didn't take well to pulverization, but for the most part it powdered well. A light coating on the bottom of the holder.

As expected, the flavour was more intense when using the powderized version. It still lent the espresso that smooth quality as it did before, not changing the taste of it but adding a few layers of complexity. The earthy taste built up, becoming quite strong in the bottom third of the shot, and lingering in the aftertaste. It hit me at the back of the throat, making my gullet tingle for a few moments. I love it when a drink toys with your senses like that!

The aftertaste kept moving around the palate, shimmering around my taste buds. Lisa, Brian's partner in crime, quite appropriately described the effect as dancing, and reported that it was particularly intense on the left side of her tongue. I didn't taste the vanilla much at all this time, but the complexity was still there so I didn't miss it much. This is a great shot of espresso! 

I still haven't found a place to try Red Espresso. Not even Rick knows where to find it in the city, and he knows everyone in Toronto's coffee world. The search continues.

Not quite Jewish latkes

Today's recipe will be mostly in picture form. Also, awkwardly formatted.

Grate potatoes, carrots and onions and drain for a while, pressing to remove as much juice as possible. This is a great way to make a mess of your kitchen. I used an ancient box grater. Two hours later and I'm still tearing up from the onions.

Run the piece of stale bread through the food processor. I tried the box grater but it didn't work at all. Mix everything up in a bowl, adding lots of salt and pepper. I ended up doubling up the thyme showing.

Pan fry large spoonfuls in a mixture of butter and olive oil. The oil prevents butter from burning while keeping the great taste of butter. One thing I learned about pan frying on an electric stove top is to give them a half turn, halfway through the fry time. This ensures even browning. Also, be sure to pat down the patties firmly to keep them together better.

Serve them up with loads of sour cream, fresh cracked black pepper immediately; eat; and enjoy. Grating the root veggies ensures maximal crispy bits on the outside. The thyme really came through and grating the onion helped boost the flavour level significantly without having any big pieces. This would also be great served on a bed of spinach, and or, with bacon. Garlic would have been a good addition too.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Mini Beer Fest

The beer tasting at The Only Cafe last night was ale heaven. Craft brewers from in and around Toronto got together on the small back patio of a pub in the east end to showcase their seasonal (I'd say winter, but it's not looking that way) ales, one off casks and specialty beers. Very intimate set up. $1 per 5oz tasting sample.

I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of brew masters and other beer connoisseurs, often at length. It turned out those specialty beers and one off casks are incredibly high in alcohol content, something mostly unadvertised. I ended up spectacularly drunk. Caught me by surprise, though in hindsight it really shouldn't have. 

One of the highlights was McAuslan's Scotch Ale. A touch of sweetness brough out the best qualities of the scotch flavour without overpowering its subtleties. I've never enjoyed scotch ale, but this one blew my mind and the competition away. 

Wellington had a one off cask IPA (India Pale Ale) that was also quite remarkable. Beneath the strong grapefruit overtones, were more subtle melon and blueberry flavours. The hops cascaded across my palate back to front in a playful display of the brewer's talent. I love the creamy mouth feel of a good cask ale. There really is nothing like it. I hope this ale makes into Wellington's regular lineup. 

Beau's had a couple interesting beers. At some point, the guy pouring and I got to discussing beer mixtures. I thought it was a sign of maturity for the craft beer industry, adopting a long standing wine tradition of blending different fermentations to accentuate the best flavours in each for a unique pint. Of course we had to try it right then and there. Treading Water was born, a mixture of their Bog Water and Lug Tread ales. Not bad! I had a whole pint of it, though by the end the novelty was wearing a bit thin. Definitely a unique taste experience though. The blend was surprisingly fruity. 

Sawdust City Brewing Co. had a few really tasty ales. My favourite of theirs was an espresso flavoured imperial stout called Uranus. At 8.5% it packed quite a punch. The espresso was balanced by dark chocolate but remained, as they put it, "ass puckeringly bitter and dry as a bone." I learned how to dry hop a beer from this guy. I've always wanted to know how to do that. Turns out it is just hops inside tea bags or pantyhose infused into the fermenting beer. I'm definitely going to try this in an upcoming batch of home brew.

I ran into a fellow Bishop's grad who recognized me as the guitar player from Doppelganger Effekt. What a coincidence! But I suppose beer has always brought Bishop's alum together. Then Ladypants arrived and took me out for Greek food. Spanikopita! All in all, a pretty great evening! It is still on tonight starting at 5pm. Check it out if you get the chance!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Polish Poutine & Tomato Feta Salad

I love perogies! They are pretty much the perfect food. Noodles on the outside, creamy potatoes on the inside with flavours of onion, cheese, bacon, or pretty much anything you want to put in them. The best way to eat them is in a dish I like to call the Polish Poutine: Fried perogies topped with loads of sour cream, crispy bacon, deeply caramelized onions and fresh ground black pepper. My heart beats faster every time I think about it. I'm not sure if it from pleasure or palpitations.

This is an incredibly satisfying meal in itself. Sometimes I add spinach, cilantro and/or peas to it just to get some green in there. I made an actual perogie poutine with squeaky curd cheese and rich gravy, but after the first bite novelty wore off it wasn't so great.

You don't really need anything else, but if you don't want to feel like a sac of potatoes yourself, make part of your meal a salad. I know, you don't make friends with salad, but luckily I already have lots of friends. So, here it is. A salad of baby spinach; tomatoes; feta; cilantro; black pepper; and a light homemade dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and orange ponzu (flavoured soy sauce).

I love avocado in this salad, but I didn't have a ripe one today. Asparagus is also quite nice. Very refreshing.


Hoping for its natural sunny sweetness to shine through, today Brian and I attempted a Mad infusion of coconut into his nutty and aromatic house blend Steampunk espresso. I pictured myself being transported to a caribbean island. A coconut falls from a tree, cracking open hilariously on one of my dumber friends heads. Some of its delicate and sweet milk finds its way into my expertly pulled shot of espresso and my palate is obliterated with the pleasure of the drink.

None of that happened. Coconut gave the coffee a funny smell and made it taste almost burnt. None of the coconut flavour or natural sweetness came through. There was no caribbean beach or dumb friends, it just turned a great cup of espresso into an unpleasant experience. It transformed the brew in a similar way as the coriander seed did yesterday. Only worse, much worse. I still have that bad taste in my mouth.

Coconut in coffee is definitely not worth exploring. Perhaps as a Malibu mixed drink, possibly on ice, but absolutely not with our infusion method.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Coriander Seeds

I was hoping this spice would impart a lemony taste without actually being lemon, similar to yesterday's Rooibos with vanilla. Another patron of The Mad Bean enlightened me, saying Turkish coffee often has coriander seed added to it. A dark, harsh roast, I can imagine how a lighter flavour could brighten up the brew to make it easier to drink.

A generous thumb-forefinger pinch softened the shot significantly. It didn't take anything away from the taste of the coffee, rather mixed it up a bit, and added another layer of complexity. It had similar effects as nutmeg, but I liked this one much better. The lemony flavour I was expecting poked its head up for a look around, but didn't fully present itself. 

Normally a great shot of espresso on its own, Steampunk has distinctive nutty, floral and bitter coffee notes to it. Coriander seemed to flip them around so it seemed as if I was drinking a completely different blend of coffee. It tasted great, but the transformation was nothing short of remarkable. This is a flavour definitely worth pursuing. It has cracked my top five, stealing in at the fourth spot!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Pass on the Pasta Nicoise

Don't make this recipe because it wasn't that great, apart from the noodles. It was quick and I wanted quick. Look at my new thing in the kitchen. Cupboard chalkboard!

 And the resulting dish:

Spinach egg rolls

Looks like it's time to do groceries again. Still have to eat, so I'm making something with what I have.

1 package frozen spinach
1 portabella mushroom cap, sliced
1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced
1 carrot, batons
cilantro leaves
olive oil
orange ponzu (flavoured soy sauce)
9 Egg roll wraps
oyster sauce
asian hot pickled red pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Defrost spinach in half of skillet while sauteing onions and carrots in the other half. Saute mushrooms in orange ponzu. Mix all together and saute for a bit. Roll into egg rolls like this:

Bake seam side down in oven for 20 min in olive oil, flipping half way to brown both sides.

Serve with a dipping sauce made of oyster sauce, ponzu and asian pickled crushed hot peppers, eat, and enjoy.

The egg roll wrappers got so crispy. It was seriously amazing how crispy they got, and they stayed that way for however long it took me to eat them. No soggy spots even though they were piled on top of each other. Not enough mushrooms and the onions should have been caramelized before sauteing with other ingredients. Cheese probably wasn't necessary. The dipping sauce was way too salty. I'll try mixing the oyster sauce with mustard and lemon (or lime) juice next time. I couldn't taste the cilantro at all.