17 October 2009

Borlotti Beans

There was a time in my life when, in my Hedonistic response to prior poverty, that I rarely ate beans. I even asked they be omitted from my burritos at Taquerias. Ridiculous, I know. But let's be fair. Years of Lentils every day, refried beans on tortillas, and even bean spread sandwiches? It's the same type of aversion one has to Vodka after a blood poisoning bender. Beans were the main ingredient (often the ONLY ingredient) in every day life for so long, they just lost their appeal.

However, I have since rediscovered the bean. When used with the sensibility of a finer palate, (rather than the one that used stolen Taco Bell sauces to vamp up their flavour), beans take an entirely diverse and splendid role in cuisine.

For the next few weeks, I will be focusing my posts on the elegant bean. From hearty stews, to light sandwiches and salads, beans will take a centrifuge role in a series that I have coined:

The Poor Food Movement.

For the first installment, I am sharing a simple recipe that celebrates the bean as a dish unto itself.

Borlotti beans

1 cup dried Borlotti beans
2 oz Pancetta, diced
1 onion, quartered
1 Bay leaf
3 or 4 whole cloves of garlic
7 cups water, or broth of choice
olive oil
sea salt
sprig of rosemary

Soak beans overnight. Rinse and drain and set aside. In a medium sauce pan, cook pancetta until beginning to crisp, and fat is rendered. Add onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add beans, water or broth, Bay leaf, some olive oil, and sea salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about two hours, until beans are tender. During the last 30 minutes, add rosemary. When tender, remove onion, rosemary, and garlic. Mash about 1/3 of the beans and adjust salt to taste.

This is great over Ciabatta toasts, served alone, as a side dish, or when doubled, as a requisite to tomorrow's post, Tuscan Country Bean Soup.

30 August 2009

The Anatomy of a Burger

About a year ago, I decided that my occasional home made burger was always lacking something, no matter how creative I was. So, I began to look at the fundamentals. To begin my research, I spent several months eating burgers from all over town with a near embarrassing and gut busting frequency. Then, I began the odyssey of perfecting the burger at home.

Forget all the fancy burger recipes that litter magazines in the summer. (I've made them all, believe me).

In my quest to make the best burger, I have come to the conclusion that the slider is the superior choice.

There are some very important elements to a burger, and due consideration to give them.

Let's begin with:

The Meat

If grinding your own meat is an option, do it. Aside from the innumerable horrid realities of packaged ground meat, there is after all, taste to consider. If you are unable to grind your own, visit a local butcher shop and ask them to grind it for you. There is no comparison of fresh ground meat, to pre-purchased ground trimmings of thousands of cows with a flavourless fat ratio.

Which brings up a very important point.

Lean meat is not always better. The flavour is in the fat. Remember, this isn't a salad we're talking about. It's a burger. I have found that a 30% ratio of fat is nonpareil for a burger. To achieve this best, use chuck roast and brisket. I use 1.5 lb. of chuck to .5 lb.. of brisket. The fat marbleized in the chuck gives great flavour while the brisket adds a nice beefiness.

Size matters, and big isn't necessarily better. Too much meat is overwhelming to the rest of the ingredients. Also, a burger charred just on the outer layer and pink throughout is more easily achieved in smaller sizes. An average sized scoop of ice cream (slightly less than .25lb.) is the inimitable amount of meat. It will cook perfectly and be easy to hold in the bun.

It is also important to note, that you want to handle the meat as little as possible. To preserve the flavour and texture, you need to let it be loose. Over handling presses the meat together, and breaks down the fat, leaving you with a hockey puck as a result.

This is the most crucial factor in a burger.

The Cheese

I love it.
I like it raw, stinky, and strong. The more a cheese smells like a corpse, the better it is.

But not on a burger.

I find sharper cheeses steal all the glory of the meat. Alternately, mild cheddar disappears in the end product. Medium cheddar is veritably delicious. The balance of flavours takes centre stage here. American Cheese Food is neither cheese, nor food, so I will not give it any consideration.


Go ahead, call me a Commie.

The Toppings

Here, there are no rules. It's what you like. However, stick to the principle of simplicity. I like a little burger sauce, sometimes with Dill Pickle, and Umami Ketchup (recipes below). Maybe some slices of my home made Zucchini pickles (post forthcoming), or a tomato slice with mustard. (Home made Dijon is the bomb!)

Not to be overlooked is:

The Bun

I prefer a simple bun as well. Again, it's about balance. Too much bun ruins it. No potato, sesame, or sweet onions for me. Maybe a sea salted brioche once in a while, but mostly I use Franz Bakery. Fairly generic yet always fresh and soft. And it's local.

And so we have:


2 lb. Chuck Roast or 1.5 plus .5 lb. of Brisket
Salt and Pepper
Medium Cheddar Cheese
Burger Sauce
Sliced whole Dill Pickles (Pickled Planet is the best)
Umami Ketchup
10 buns


Preheat grill to high. If grinding your own meat, place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Make the burger sauce, and any other preparations while chilling beef. Cut lengthwise in to 1 1/2" to 2" strips and grind. Using cold wet hands, gently toss the meat to combine, and season with salt. Scoop an ice cream scoop's worth of meat on to a plate (you can use a scoop if desired), and carefully form a patty, using your thumbs to press down the middle and your fingers to keep its shape. You should be able to get 10 to 12 patties out of the 2 lbs. meat. Place in the refrigerator for an additional 30 minutes. Once you are ready to grill, generously salt (and then pepper to taste), both sides of each patty, being careful not to break them apart.

Note: Beef can handle a lot more salt than most people realize. When salted just before cooking, it helps retain the moisture (ie; fat) in the meat. If salted too early, it will dry it out.

Grill patties for about 4 minutes and turn. Grill an addition 4 minutes for medium rare, adding cheese during last minute.

During the last 4 minutes, grill insides of buns for one minute or until toasted.

Place patties in the buns and serve with accompaniments.

Burger Sauce

1/2 cup of mayonnaise
3 T. of chili sauce (I use Hommade brand)
1 T. Dijon
1 t. Horseradish
some chopped Dill Pickle

(Amounts are approximate)

Mix all ingredients.

And now, for the amazing UMAMI KETCHUP! I would like to say that this is the most delicious ketchup. It is deep, earthy, umami goodness. This is like a good sauce. My friend Andy wants me to serve it over pasta! No tart vinegar here. We've now moved beyond that.


Umami Ketchup
(recipe courtesy of Saveur Magazine and Umami Burger in Los Angeles, CA)

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 1⁄2 cup cider vinegar 1⁄3 cup packed dark brown sugar 2 tbsp. tomato paste 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste 2 tsp. tamari 2 tsp. worcestershire 2 tsp. oyster sauce 5 anchovies, finely chopped and mashed into a paste

1. Purée tomatoes in a blender; set aside. Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomato purée, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 hour.

2. Purée cooked tomato mixture in a blender. Transfer to a bowl; season with salt and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill before using.


This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #122

22 July 2009

Pizza Margarita

The quintessential Pizza Margarita is perhaps the most important dish to ever come out of Naples. First created in 1889 during a visit there by Italy's Queen Margherita, it is considered by many to be the most venerable of pies. There are as many interpretations as there are Pizzaoli, and I have made a variety of them. Here is a version I like when it's time to grill the pizzas and the tomatoes are still green on the vine.

See Grilled Pizza post for complete recipe of pie...

1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
Fresh whole milk Mozzarella di Bufala, pressed and sliced 1/4" thick
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Fresh Oregano, minced
Fresh Basil, torn
Sea salt


Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and add garlic. Sauté for one or two minutes and add tomatoes. Reduce heat to a medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add some sea salt and some oregano and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Once your dough is prepared and your grill is hot, lightly brush with olive oil. Spread tomato sauce evenly over pie and place slices of cheese on top. Do not over crowd with cheese. Grill pizza and add fresh basil as soon as it comes off the fire and serve immediately.

20 July 2009

Eat Your Garden

If you have a garden, like I do, you're probably eating a lot of salads right now. (And giving neighbours a lot of extra Kale, in my case). If you do not have your own garden, head to one of the numerous Farmers' Markets in your city, and take home a happy bounty of affordable fresh produce. Every Saturday, you can find The Erudite Eater casually perusing the Hollywood Farmers' Market in search of the few produce items I am lacking in, for the week. For example, I never did get around to making that new bed for Italian Squash.

The greatest thing about eating your garden is the immense satisfaction and nourishment that one has provided one's self. Planting, tending, and harvesting have deep ritualistic ties to my inner contentment. And let's face it, I love to eat.

I've seen a lot of recipes floating around lately that are based on fresh ingredients and salads in particular. Try picking up a food magazine that doesn't dedicate a fair amount of space to produce this time of year. The problem I find is this. I don't want to go spend $50.00 at the market to supplement my garden salad with a bunch of frou frou ingredients to make it special. What makes it special for me is inherent in what I already have. And I'll work from that.

Simplicity is at the core of what I consider a good salad.

Keep in mind that a salad should reflect what you have to work with at the time. I go out, and pick until I have whatever I feel I need. This is a somewhat organic process, in that it changes, based on what feels natural (or necessary), to pick. Then, I compose the salad.

Here is a simple variation on a rather popular type of salad to try.

Green Salad with Beets and Goat Cheese

Greens (I use a variety of baby lettuces, escarole, kale, etc...)
3 or 4 Beets
Goat Cheese (Trader Joe's has a log of Silver Goat at an easy to digest price)
Olive oil
Red Wine Vinegar
Sea Salt


Wash and peel beets. Cut into bite sized wedges, drizzle and toss with some olive oil and roast at 400 F until tender, (about 40 minutes). Cool. Wash greens, and tear into pieces in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and red wine vinegar. Think 3 parts oil to one part vinegar as a general rule. Toss with greens, toss in beets and sea salt and crumble cheese over the top.

It's all you really need.

09 July 2009

Grilled Pizza

Pizza is a perfect food. The delicate balance of molten cheese, fresh sauce or quality olive oil, and charred, springy crust harmoniously brings all the pleasure sensations together. And while everyone seems to offer it, from haute cuisine to low brow bars, its resurgence in the restaurant scene is often muddled by pretentious ingredients, arrogant staff, and condescending menus.

Due to its recession proof appeal, many chefs have added pizza to their menus. I've even seen it in Asian fusion restaurants.

I find this all (in a way), amusing, given the price of a pie in most restaurants. Even on the lower end, finding a pizza for under $15.00 is nearly impossible.

As my imaginary inner Italian Grandmother would tell you, "You want a pizza? Make a pizza!"

Pizza is an art. It requires passion to create it properly. Papa Murphy's doesn't come anywhere close to resembling pizza.

To make it, you'll also need patience.

And a grill.

Seriously, unless your oven reaches at least 900 degrees F, you will be wasting your efforts there. And no, you do not need a stone. A grill can reach up to 550 or 650 degrees F, and a stone requires more to actually be effective. I have used a stone in a brick, wood fired oven that reached 850 degrees, and that was the proper application, (in fact, it was the perfect crust). Any temperature less than that, and the stone will steam the crust, locking in the moisture, yet not charring the outside.

In this recipe a perforated pan works best. This allows your coals, or gas flames to char the crust. You can find them in the BBQ section of most stores.

I prefer making my own dough, but this is not always practical. For this recipe, I use a purchased dough. (Think Pastaworks, New Seasons, Trader Joe's)...

A favourite of anyone who's had it:

Pizza di Funghi

1 or 2 Packages of dough of choice, rested at room temperature for one hour

Olive oil

Quattro Formaggio (Fontina, Asiago, Provolone or Mozzarella, Parmesan)

2 oz of dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted, and all moisture gently pushed out

Truffle oil


This recipe is for two pizzas. If you prefer a Napoleon style crust as I do, divide dough into two equal parts. This will give you two 13" pizzas. If you prefer a bit more tooth to your crust, use entire amount per pie. (The picture I took was made with an entire package, which makes a more Sicilian style crust). On a lightly floured surface, gently press the dough from center out, using your fingers to create a rim around the outside. Spread the dough until it reaches the correct size. Be very careful not to knead the dough. If the dough is resilient, and shrinks back on you, wait a few minutes and begin again. Never use a rolling pin. The idea is to spread the dough without removing the air in it. This is essential for a proper crust. I've lost patience and used a pin, only to find myself unequivocally disappointed. Once dough is spread out, place on a perforated pan. Drizzle olive oil over the dough. Spread the cheeses evenly over the pie. If you are using fresh mozzarella in your blend, I recommend pressing the moisture out of the cheese before mixing it in. This isn't a soup recipe. Sprinkle the pie with the mushrooms and place over a hot grill and cover. Check the pizza in 4 or 5 minutes and turn if necessary. Cooking time will vary, depending on your grill. Char the pizza, without over doing it. Carefully remove from pan and drizzle with Truffle oil. Allow to set for a few minutes before slicing.

Serve with sea salt and Calabrian Peppers on the side.


26 March 2009

Pasta all'Arrabiata

Angry pasta. Traditional of inexpensive cafés and street vendors in Rome, all'arrabiata relies heavily on the pungency of fresh garlic and red peppers. This is a simple and delicious pasta dish that gratifies both the 'comfort food' and the 'desire food' cravings. It is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. An excellent choice for an impromptu mid-week dinner, or a perfect Saturday lunch.

The way I do it:

1 lb. Pasta of choice. (I typically use dried Linguine)
1/4 cup Olive Oil
4 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and diced
4-6 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
6 or to taste Calabrian Peppers, seeded and chopped or
Red Pepper flakes
Fresh Basil leaves, julienned
Sea Salt
Pecorino Romano, freshly shaved

Bring well salted water to a boil and cook pasta al dente. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat oil and sauté garlic and peppers over medium-high heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in tomatoes and basil. Toss with pasta and serve, sprinkled with sea salt and shaved Romano.

Romano is salty. I just like the crunch of the sea salt flakes. I don't use too much of either. If you like a lot of cheese on your pasta, omit the salt, if desired. Also, the minty basil adds an intricate contrast to the peppers. Use it only if it's fresh.

I enjoy this with a full fruited Barbera. Cascade Cliffs of Washington (2006 vintage), makes the most plum forward variety I've had. It is immediately approachable and quells the heat of the dish effectively, without diminishing the flavour.

This wine can be found at my neighbourhood wineshop, The Blackbird. Incidentally, I highly recommend their Nebbiolo 2005, as well.

08 March 2009

De Lasanis

A little history.

Macaroni and Cheese, or Macaroni Pudding as it was once called in The States, has a long and somewhat unclear history. Thomas Jefferson is oft times incorrectly accredited with the invention of Mac and Cheese. This is a semi charming American fable that is derived from a trip that he took to Europe, where he was introduced to the dish. He can in all fairness, be given attribute for the fact that he did return to The United States with a pasta machine. And who wouldn't have? There is something quite magical that happens to cheese, when given the proper opportunity to meld with pasta. Macaroni and Cheese, as it was subsequently coined, became an American staple. It was even considered a matter of social station, and common at White House dinner parties. There are even those that claim it is the original American Food.

There have as a result, been as numerous interpretations of the dish, as there are stars above. Naturally, even in its simplicity, recipes are coveted, secret to all but perhaps one lucky family member to carry on the legacy. These closely guarded secrets enrich the cultural integrity of the dish, lending to great story telling.

Sadly, and far more commonly, processed cheese powder in a box has become a household staple; a replacement in war times, for the authentic comfort of the original. This can be blamed on Kraft Foods, whom first packaged it in 1937, and represents the dissolved culture of food, due to mass homogenization and factory processing that began (and forgot to end), during the 30's and 40's.

Thankfully, awareness is on the rise. And Macaroni and Cheese is not to be excluded. In recent years, it has re-gained cult status. It is highly popular with the "Foodie" crowd, and there are restaurants that achieve their bottom line just for having it on their menu. I know of one here in Portland, that would have met its demise years ago, if not for their interpretation, (one very close to the original), and the fact that they stay open late enough to cater to a particular crowd, that craves it as a finish to their imbibing.

The earliest recorded recipe is entitled, 'de lasanis.' It is found in the anonymously authored Italian, "Liber de Coquina," the second half of a text, written in Latin, and preserved in The Bibliothéque, in Paris, France. It was written, along with its French counterpart, "Tractatus," the first half of the text, in the late 13th or early 14th century. This version calls for Lasagne sheets of fermented dough cut in small squares, cooked in water, then tossed with cheese, and layered with powdered spices.

There are a great many paths we could go down here, drilling into the history of Macaroni itself, which is often associated with the Etruscan Era, Ancient China, The Greeks, The Romans, and The Arabians, as early as 800 BC.

Let us instead, discuss Method

To roux or not to roux, that is the question.

My personal odyssey to perfect Macaroni and Cheese, came a few years ago. A friend had purchased a nice and rather expensive 3 lb brick of aged white Cheddar. He was hoping I could reproduce a version similar to his recently estranged girlfriend's, a molten dish of cheese and macaroni, with a crusty, almost leather like top coating of extra cheese. I remembered this version from my Mom's own style, and proceeded to fail miserably. The reason? I am roux inclined. I also thought it would be nice to incorporate a bread crumb topping, completely foiling the point of the craving, entirely. I have since been on the mission of perfecting the dish I then failed to accomplish, and have come to the realization, (and through much experimentation of both schools), that though the molten non-roux version harkens to my memory senses as well, what I was experimenting in was a seminal step in a more gratifying conclusion. Setting sentimentality aside, I continued my course.

The iconoclastic food critic, John Thorne, famously wrote in his description of roux in Macaroni and Cheese as, "a noxious paste of flour thickened milk, that diminishes this dish, flavoured with a tiny grating of cheese."

Sir, I feel you were mistreated; as it is clear to me, you have not had a proper roux, especially in relationship to the genius of a roux-based Macaroni and Cheese. Allow me to amend.

Before I begin to disclose the most valuable recipe in my culinary cache, I feel compelled to discuss the variable elements that I found myself wanting to represent.

For example, Truffles. I love them. They belong in a dish with a lot of cheese. It's elementary though, not for the faint of palate. Now, bacon. Specifically, Pancetta. The fat, the flavour, it is a natural accompaniment. A dairy venerating Vegetarian can omit this, and not feel anything missing, though I just like its presence here.

The warm and gooey that is Macaroni and Cheese manifested, deserves something to give it some contrast. I found this in using Blue Cheese and more importantly, capsicum. It is exactly this combination that sets my recipe apart. Without capsicum, and the bite of the blue cheese, my recipe would be fantastic. With these two elements, used as fundamentals, it is something more. I believe this combination, is what makes this version better. In my ever so humble opinion.

The Recipe

1 lb Ciocciolle or other short, tubular pasta
3 to 4 oz Pancetta, diced
1 T. olive oil
1 small white onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 t. white pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 T. flour,
2 T. melted butter, combined
2 cups whole milk,
1 cup heavy cream, combined
3 cups sharp white cheddar
2 cups Rouge Creamery's Oregonzola, or a good gorgonzola available
2 T. white truffle oil
1 oz white truffles, shaved, if available


3 cups fresh bread crumbs or 2 cups Panko
1 cup aged white cheddar
1 cup parmigiano reggiano
1/2 stick (4 T.) butter, melted

If using fresh bread crumbs, bake in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes. This dish is baked at 400 degrees, as well, so leave it on or preheat now. Bring salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until par done, about 2 to 3 minutes less than recommended for al dente. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat milk and cream to a simmer, being careful not to boil or scald. In a large pot, heat olive oil and cook Pancetta until just beginning to crisp. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, red pepper and continue to sauté for a minute. Add wine, and cook until nearly evaporated. Stir in butter and flour mixture until incorporated and thick. Add milk and cream, whisking in, until flour mixture is combined. Add cheddar, stirring until combined. Add Gorgonzola, and stir in truffle oil and 1/2 of the truffle shavings if using. Stir in white pepper.

Combine with pasta. Place in a deep sided oven proof dish and mix toppings. If using truffles, add remaining 1/2 oz to topping mixture and spread evenly over dish. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until sizzling and golden brown on top. Allow to rest 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

Relish in your gluttony. It is the ultimate guilty pleasure food.

26 February 2009

Oh Boy! It's NOT Oberto

Every so often, a friend will gift me with Venison Jerky (home smoked), Salami, Pepperoni, and of course the much coveted and incredible Elk Steaks. (The tenderloin is to die for, especially served with hand picked Morels, sautéed in olive oil). Another friend, makes beef jerky regularly, in his little dehydrator at home. He was my inspiration to try it myself, and recently, I have been experimenting with my own recipes.

This is a delicious and healthy treat. It's also incredibly easy to make, far more affordable than purchased jerky, and it gives you complete control over what you put on it. Personally, I can't eat jerky unless it is all natural. The nitrates, high levels of sodium, and sugar that packaged jerky contains, makes it unpalatable to me.

Jerky can be made with many different cuts and many different types of meat. For example, I enjoy pork jerky, using whole loin, and marinated in a Chili Ginger Honey Sauce. Some like the lean benefit of turkey or chicken. I prefer my jerky a little "gamey" and use mostly beef with little or even no marinade. Elk and Deer, if I can get it, is by far my favourite.

For jerky, it is crucial that you choose the leanest cuts. Fat will become rancid very quickly. With that in mind, any one you choose will work. I use a London Broil or other Top Sirloin and remove all fat prior to marinating. It takes around 3 lbs of meat to make 1 lb of jerky.

Freezing the meat for 30 minutes before slicing will help you cut it thin. Now, slice meat 1/8" to 1/4" thick against the grain. If you are marinating, place in an air proof container and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. Remember, the point is to dry the meat so, if you marinate, it is important to know that it will increase the drying time.

The oven method is what I use, as I don't own a dehydrator. Setting your oven to its lowest temperature and leaving the door slightly ajar, is a great substitute. Even if you are an apartment dweller, you can make your own jerky. Most ovens have a low temperature of 170 Degrees F. Anything from 150 to 180 is fine. Obviously, the higher the temperature, the less time it takes. There is no set method here. At 170, it takes me 6 to 8 hours depending on the type of meat and the cut. Be sure to turn meat over after about 3 or 4 hours to ensure even drying. Additionally, it is important to be mindful of the second half of the drying time. You don't want to over do it. You'll end up with meat crackers.

You will need 1 or 2 baking sheets, rimmed. I recommend covering with foil. If you have cooling racks, place them on sheets. If not, remember to turn meat over during the drying process, as previously stated.

Some ideas:

Sweet Hot Beef Jerky

3 lbs London Broil, Top sirloin, or cut of choice
1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce (organic uses far better ingredients. If you're using non-organic, you're getting all the bad stuff in packaged jerky)
1/2 cup Soy Sauce (or Teriyaki, omit brown sugar below)
3 cloves garlic, minced
T. red pepper flakes
T. brown sugar
sea salt to taste
liquid smoke (optional. Personally, I don't like it)

Slice and marinate beef. sprinkle with salt and dry in oven.

Peppered Beef Jerky

sea salt
black or red (or both) pepper

Slice and sprinkle with salt and pepper(s) and dry in oven.

Pig Jerky

3 lbs Whole Pork Loin
1/2 cup cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 lemon
2 T. honey
1 T. raw sugar
1" by 1" piece ginger, minced
1/2 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. red pepper flakes
sea salt

Slice pork. Process all other ingredients and marinate.

Lay out the strips and start getting excited.

16 February 2009

Homemade Soy Cheese

As a follow up to my last post, and in the interest of some of my readers, I have decided to add a method I use to make Soy cheese.  

I'm not much for substituting Gluten for meat, or other "fake" substitutes. Morning Star Bacon? Give me a break.  Some things however, I do like, such as Tofu, Garden Burgers (with Bacon) and Bocca Burger, which I like soft, un-fried, and is excellent with Hummus, avocado, and sprouts.  The point here, is that if you don't eat meat, why try to emulate it? Which brings us to Soy cheese. Like Tofu, it may be used as a substitute, but it is not pretending to be anything other than what it is.  And like the Garden Burger, it is not a cheap copy and it is delicious in its own right.

Evidence of the production of Soy cheese dates back as far as 25- 220 AD in the Henan Province in Northern China.  Dairy was not considered fit for human consumption, and didn't really appear in the Chinese diet until early in the 20th Century, fabled to be encouraged by an entrepreneur, whom wanted to import Paneer from India.  

So, I say, eat Soy cheese.  It is delicious, easy to make, and won't make you feel like a poseur. 

The following method is adaptable to your liking.  You can add/omit as you desire.  If you want something likened to Pepper Jack for example, add jalepeños...

Soy Cheese -adapted from the Zen Soy Cheese Recipe

You will need:

Filtered or Artesian  water.  (Tap water contains contaminants such as Iron, minerals, and the ever controversial Flouride, which can taint the colour and have a sour effect on the flavour).
3 (15 oz) packages firm or extra firm tofu
2.25 fluid oz soy powder
1 1/3 T. Grapeseed Oil (or any vegetable oil. I have used canola, olive...)
sea salt, to taste
3.4 fluid oz tamari
2.8 fluid oz apple cider vinegar
2.8 fluid oz raw tahini
2.8 fluid oz honey or agave nectar 

Drain tofu and cut blocks into thirds.  Bring water to a boil and boil tofu for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk all other ingredients together until smooth and all lumps have vanished. Drain tofu in a mesh colander, or a cheese cloth or cotton lined colander, for about ten minutes, gently pressing out any excess moisture. Transfer tofu to a large bowl and mash well until it has the consistency of cottage cheese.  Be sure not to leave any large lumps, nor to mash it too fine. Add the other ingredients and stir to combine.  Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  Use as you like.

If you make this, let me know what you think.  I've often enjoyed this as a mid-day meal by itself, or the following, is a favourite lunch of mine:

Sprouted Wheat Bread
Soy Cheese (I often add caraway to the above recipe)
Beat Kraut (Pickled Planet, or homemade)
Brown Mustard (also homemade)

Makes a delicious, nutritious sandwich. 

09 February 2009

Fresh Homemade Ricotta

Any time you make a lactic acid/rennet separated cheese, the left over whey can be used to make Ricotta, which is Italian for "twice cooked" or "to cook again." It is a cheese traditionally made from sheep's or cow's milk, which lends to it's softness. It is an unripened cheese and can be eaten immediately. 

A great thing to try, would be to make fresh Mozzarella and then use the left over whey to make fresh Ricotta, and then use the left over whey again in a bread recipe, using Ricotta or Mozzarella....   Hmm.

Another way it can be made, is to simply curdle fresh milk. It's cheaper than buying it in a tub, a breeze to do, it's quick, and even a great way to get the kids involved with cooking as well. There is a weird little giddy feeling that happens to me each time I make it.  

All you need is:

1/2 gallon of whole milk, minimally processed (fresh and organic is of course preferred)
1 to 1 1/2 t. ground Kosher salt, or to taste
3 T. fresh lemon juice 

Bring milk and salt to a simmer in a large pot. Do not boil or it will foam up. Add lemon juice and stir. Allow to simmer until curds form, around 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer curds to a mesh colander, or a cheese cloth or cotton lined colander, and allow to cool at room temperature. Cover and chill. This will keep in the fridge for a few days. You should have about 2 cups.

You can use this cheese in any way you would typically use Ricotta. I like to drizzle it with honey and serve with crackers.

The whey from this method can not be used again to make cheese, as the acid precipitated process removes all of the albumin proteins from the milk.  

You can however, use it as a soup stock, to cook pasta or beans in, mix in bread recipes, water your roses (or any other acid loving plant), feed your chickens, add to falafel mix, use to make sopas or tortillas, cook oatmeal, and many other things. The point is, it is packed with water soluble proteins, minerals, and vitamins.  Please, do not just waste it. I have even frozen it, and plan on experimenting with it as a bisque base soon. We'll see how that goes.  

Here's something to try that I made this weekend.

Fresh Ricotta Fusilli

1 lb Fusilli or other small pasta (I used Bionature's Whole Wheat Durum)
2 T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
nice pinch of red pepper flakes 
sea salt, to taste
fresh Ricotta cheese
1/2 gallon whey
Make the cheese earlier in the day and reserve the whey in pot, covered.
Bring whey to a brisk boil and add Fusilli. I always salt my water but I didn't feel it was necessary with whey. Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a pan and add garlic and red pepper and sauté for a minute. When pasta is drained, toss with oil and garlic mixture and sea salt. Top with Ricotta and enjoy. Serves 4 to 6.

08 February 2009

French Onion Soup

Lately, I have been contemplating French Onion Soup. This is not a dish I consider lightly. I have tried every worthy seeming recipe I can find, played with many styles (including vegetarian), and have decided that frankly, the classic version as interpreted by me, is hands down the best and only way. That sound pompous, to be sure, so try it.

I first fell in love with French Onion Soup back in the late 80's. There is this little French Bistro here called Cafe Du Berry. I used to go there for lunch when I worked at OPB across the street. I loved their French Onion Soup. I haven't been there in 20 years and I've often thought of going back. I think instead, I wish to keep the memory (that showed itself to be the seminal moment in soup appreciation for me), unchanged.

The most important elements in this soup are beef stock and yellow onions.  These are the two ingredients in which there can be no deviation. When you do, the soup is significantly inferior.

Now, there are two approaches to this soup. One is to use purchased broth. I will entertain this, as I use it when I have the craving, and making my own doesn't fit the time schedule. The other, is to make your own stock. This is my preferred method, as I enjoy extracting flavour from the morrow of the bones. However, with a little doctoring, purchased broth can be excellent too.

Here are the recipes for the stock:

2 quarts beef broth (Pacific is good)
2 cups water
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 T. beef base (recommend Superior Touch)

Next, the homemade variety. Remember, you should make this in advance, portion and freeze. That way, you almost always have it on hand. Makes 1/2 gallon to 3/4 gallon.

7 to 8 lbs. beef bones (shank, short ribs, oxtail)
2 onions, quartered, skins on
2 stalks celery, chopped coarse
2 carrots, chopped coarse
several whole peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, halved, skins on
4 bay leaves
small handful fresh thyme sprigs
1 1/2 gallons water
sea salt

Note: You may still want to add the concentrated beef base in this version as well. It depends on how meaty your stock turns out. My most recent batch needed a little kick in this way. I served it first without and was not the only one disappointed. This stock needs to be rich and beefy.

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F. Roast bones for 1 hour. Add vegetables and roast 30 minutes additional. Pour off any excess fat. Transfer to a large stock pot. Add seasonings, herbs, water, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, and immediately reduce heat and simmer for about 4 hours, occasionally skimming fat. Be careful to ensure that you do not continue to boil, or you will lose too much volume and "burn" the flavour. Strain, discarding the solids. Allow to cool at room temperature, uncovered. Cover, and refrigerate over night. Remove any fat that has separated on top, portion and store the extra broth for another time and use.

For the soup (serves 4 to 6)

4 T. unsalted butter
5 lbs yellow onions, sliced 1/8" thick
2 1/2 quarts of homemade stock or purchased recipe
1 cup dry white wine
2 T. cognac (you may substitute with brandy or sherry if necessary)
sea salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
olive oil
good Artisan bread (a French Batard or Como style is great)
cave aged gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup per serving)

Using 2 large Dutch Ovens or Sauté pans, divide butter and melt. Add onions between two pans and cover, cooking slowly until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove lids, add about 1/4 tsp sea salt to each and brown, stirring frequently until dark, 45 minutes to 1 hour. I do not recommend the oven method of browning onions. I find the flavour is not as nuanced. 

Meanwhile, in a large pot bring stock to a simmer until reduced to 2 quarts, about 45 minutes. If using purchased recipe, strain and return broth to pan. Add wine and cognac and continue simmering 45 minutes. Add onions and simmer 20 minutes longer.

During the time the onions are simmering in the broth, place bread slices, brushed with olive oil on a rack and bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, turning over 1/2 way. Rub with garlic clove.

Lay bread over soup in oven safe bowls and add cheese.  Place bowls on a sheet pan and broil in upper third of oven until cheese is beginning to brown and serve immediately.

Try this with a Pinot Gris or, for something a little more exciting and playful, I like it with champagne.

Recently, I served this for some friends with a Domaine De Martinolles-Blanquette De Limoux, Le Berceau. This Brut is an excellent value and I found it particularly delicious when paired in contrast to the umami of the soup. 

01 February 2009

How To Stay Sharp In The Kitchen

The most important tools in the kitchen, in my opinion, are one's knives. Therefore, it is crucial to take proper care of them. If you don't, everything from the flavour of your food, to your annual expenses will suffer for it. 

If you believe in gimmicky blades, with lifetime guarantees of sharpness, serrated edges, and paper thin shafts with plastic handles, you need not read any further...

In many cultures, the first thing a Swordsman is required to do, upon the completion of his training, is to forge his own sword, or to select one deemed appropriate for his individual style. Without this ability, he would not be worthy of the title. This is sensible for the obvious reason that one should know, fundamentally, the tools of their trade, or art if you will.

My understanding of this principle is rooted in the brief time in which I fancied myself a Macrobiotic. I, like many, was a vegetarian at this time and mistakenly believed that this was a prerequisite to being Macrobiotic. This, I later discovered was untrue, and began the task of understanding Macrobiotics more fully. I was also interested in The Way of The Samurai. In Bushido, all organisms are regarded as equal to the Samurai. This lends one to a new level of respect. Remember, your food is a cellular compound, as are you. A dull knife will cause pain, whereas with a sharp blade, there may be a lot of blood, yet there will be no pain. Using a sharp knife will leave more cells intact, thus improving the quality of flavour, as well as aesthetic. 

I've personally never made a knife, but I have carefully selected the ones I own, and have taught myself to sharpen and hone them.

I began my knife collection one at a time. I was young, and forking out over a $100.00 per knife was not an option for me at all, though I managed to do it. It took a few years. I still have each one of them, eight in all. This collection accommodates all of my needs. The number of knives, as well as the types one chooses, is a personal decision that should be made in as informed a way as possible. I started safe with a 6" Chef's knife. This gave me the most versatility, as it was large enough for most things while small enough to almost substitute for a paring knife. I used it exclusively for 4 or 5 years before I purchased my second knife, a 10" version. Then came the 10" bread knife, the paring knives, the tomato knife, and the 4"Chef's. Then, a second 10". Sometimes, I need two.

A good quality knife will typically come with a lifetime guarantee. It can also last a lifetime if it is properly cared for. Once I dropped one of my 10" blades. It hit the Terra Cotta tiled floor tip first and broke off about a 1/4" of the point. I took it back, (2 or 3 years after purchasing), and it was replaced. So, initially investing in a good knife will even save you money in the long run. 

To best keep your blades in the optimal condition in which they came, they must be honed regularly and sharpened 2 or 3 times a year. If you are spending a lot of time using them, you should have a honing steel. I have a wonderful antique Dickeron steel from Germany. It was a gift to me years ago and I absolutely treasure it. 

Honing realigns the metal of the existing edge, returning folds and burrs to the blade angle in which it was cut. Sharpening actually creates a new edge by removing the damaged metal. I hone my knives nearly daily. I sharpen them with a dry stone in three stages from coarse to fine, changing the angle from wide to narrow with each step. Never oil your stones. The metal gets trapped in the oil and damages your edge. Once a year, I have my knives professionally sharpened. Perhaps if I had more time, I could avoid this expense, but I am not a professional knife sharpener. This skill is one I respect and ultimately put my trust in those whom have made it their craft.

It is also important to be mindful of the type of surface you use with your blades. Wood is best. Never, and I mean never use plastic. It will destroy your knife. It is a myth that plastic is more sanitary as well. Nothing is wrong with wood if you keep it oiled and wash it with soap after each use. Besides, the chemicals in plastic boards do transfer to your food affecting the healthiness and taste. I use a large Mahogany board and oil it with a combination of refined seed oil, lemon oil, vitamin E, and carotene. I use this on all of my wooden utensils as well. 

Now, go give your knives some love.

27 January 2009

Crespella al Mascarpone con Bacche

For many years, many years ago, some friends and I would hold a weekly Sunday Potluck Brunch. The people that planned to attend would call, and they would be guided to bring whatever was needed. The core of us whom held the Brunch always took care of the crêpes, the Dutch Babies, the decks of cards, Cricket Sets, and the coffee. I won't mention the names of the types of card games we played, (E.R.F. anyone?), but I will talk about the crêpes. Wayde and I would make anywhere from 20 to 60. Add a couple of Dutch Babies to that, well, you get the idea. We could have charged admission, to watch us flinging it all around in that tiny apartment kitchen. It was poetry.

Sunday, in my home, is still a day of grand morning meals, now often followed by day long braising, stock making, and of course, Prosecco Mimosas (in place of beer). One of my favourite things to make are still crêpes. I don't do this as often as I used to, which for me, makes it that much more enjoyable when I do.

I had been thinking about crêpes since my young friend Hesperus was visiting. She had hoped I would make them and sadly, left disappointed. Hesperus, I want you to know that I thought about you this last Sunday, as I was making these. Next time you are here, we will eat crêpes every meal! Or, at least once...

Though this version is more Italian than French, I felt that in honour of La Chandeleur (or Candlemas, which has also come to be known as Crêpe Day), on February 2nd in France, I would humbly share one of my favourite versions of this ancient food. 

It is believed that, if you catch a crêpe with your pan after tossing it with your left hand whilst holding a piece of gold in your right hand, you will prosper in the year. Considering the state of our current economy, I'm giving it a go.

There are infinite ways to serve crêpes. Sweet, savory, plain, fancy; you name it. As well, you can use any type of flour you like. Cake flour (or Wondra instant flour), makes the most delicate of crépes while buckwheat the hardiest. For the crêpes pictured here, I used an organic all purpose flour that I first sifted to lighten it up a little...


1 cup flour
2 eggs (I use 1 entire egg and only the yolk of the 2nd. Less eggy that way).
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 t. salt
2 T. unsalted butter, melted

Mix the flour with the eggs and slowly stir in the milk and water. Add the salt and butter and whisk until smooth. Allow mixture to rest awhile. About 20 to 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a non stick skillet over med-high heat. Pour enough batter, all the while swirling to cover pan to make one thin crêpe. (I find that just under 1/4 cup for each crêpe gives me 6 to 8, eight inch crêpes).

Cook for about one minute, flip and cook for another minute or two. Place on a warm plate and repeat.

Mascarpone filling

4 0z softened Mascarpone
1 t. confectioner's sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. orange zest 
1 t. Grand Marnier
1/8 t. cinnamon 
pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients together until smooth.


Juice of one orange (blood oranges are great in this)
2 pints berries. I used one pint of blueberries and one pint of strawberries
1 t. cardamom pods
1/2 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Place berries in a glass oven-proof dish. Toss with cinnamon, and orange juice and stir in cardamom pods. Bake for about 30 minutes. Keep warm, until ready to serve.

Lemon Wedges (preferably Meyer)

I lightly spread filling over 1/2 of each crêpe with a rubber spatula and fold in 1/2. Then I spread 1/2 again and fold, making a triangular shape.

Place crêpes on plates and top with berries, a sift or two of confectioner's sugar and serve with a lemon wedge.

Don't forget the Mimosas. Tangerine-Pomegranate for me, please.

10 January 2009

Tagliata di Manzo con Rucola

My signature dish, prepared 2 to 3 times a month, is Steak Salad. 

For the kids, it's Steak, Salad, and Couscous. This consists of a lemony Caesar Salad, with home made dressing and croutons, and Pecorino Romano; couscous cooked in broth, garlic, and Parmesan Reggiano; and Steak, crusted with Sea Salt and fresh ground Black Pepper, grilled rare.  

Anytime I make the mistake of asking any of my kids what they want for dinner, this is invariably the answer.  It is also every special occasion dish, whether it is a Birthday or some achievement. This is the selected choice, without fail.  

Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

For such occasions, I'll typically take the liberty of varying the adults' plates with Tagliata di Manzo ( sliced Steak) with Arugula.  The combination of Grilled Steak and fresh Arugula, finished with Pecorino shavings and lemon is magnificent. 

It is also a great meal when the kids are away, as I eat later, it's quick to make, and it's great with wine. 

Here is my version:

Steaks, at least 1 1/2 inches thick (either T-bone, New York Strip, Tenderloin, or Sirloin), rubbed with a bit of Olive Oil and sprinkled with Course Sea Salt and fresh ground Black Pepper

Fresh bunch of Arugula, stems removed or Baby Arugula leaves

Olive Oil

Lemons (Meyer if you can get them)

Pecorino Romano

Sea Salt for finishing

Rest steaks with oil, salt and pepper while grill heats up to 450 to 500 degrees F. Grill to Rare or liking and rest 5- 10 minutes.  Slice 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick against the grain and lay over bed of Arugula that has been drizzled with olive oil.  Finish with sea salt and shavings of Romano and serve with lemon wedges.

Simple, brilliant, and delicious.