Thursday, September 30, 2010

Death by fowl and swine with a hint grain, wheat and veggie

My first recipe challenge from Chef Jason Laurin, actually a meal, is going to take a week to prepare. It’s pork belly confit with farro and black rice with roasted autumn squash.

There are multiple steps in this meal. There’s making the pork belly confit, the farro, black rice and roasted autumn squash. I’m afraid to see how Jason is going to follow this one up.

As an aside, and commercial moment, I invite you to visit Jason’s own blog (Sticky Fingers), his company’s website (Essence Catering) and follow him on Twitter (@chefjayl).

I started off with the pork belly confit, because if did the farro, rice and squash, they’ll be cold and stale after a week – which is how long the confit has to sit.

The confit, as I note, will only take a week to complete and has 11 ingredients. The ingredients include black pepper, ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, sprigs of fresh thyme, garlic, salt, skinned pork belly, white wine and duck fat (first photo).

Most of this doesn’t intimidate too much, but I do know one thing: get the right ingredients from the right locations and keep it fresh. I also made an attempt to be sustainable in the making of all this.

Call me observant, but even I know the skinned pork belly is the central piece. I head straight to Aubrey’s Meat Merchants on York Street in The Market. Without question owner Brian Kennelly and his butchers offer great product.

In another commercial moment, Dianna and I have shopped at Aubrey’s in the past, but a walk-through The Market in July with Paola St. Georges (C’est Bon Cooking, @cestboncooking) gave us the opportunity to chat with Brian. It was very interesting and I invite you to take Paola’s tour to find out.

Step 2 with the pork, after gathering all needed, was making the dry cure rub by mixing all those ingredients. I then placed the pork belly in a bowl and thoroughly rub the dry cure all over (second photo). I cover and let sit eight hours in the fridge.

Special mentions now about the pork belly: 1. I didn’t notice until I got home that the sticker on the brown paper said “side of pork”. I panicked! What the heck is side of pork? I sent quick note to Jason, figuring he’d now be pulling his hair out wondering why he got involved with me. I also decided to call Aubrey’s. The butcher who served me said he meant to tell me it was pork belly, but he printed the wrong sticker. 2. The piece of pork has ribs in it. Jason told me to make sure they take the skin off, but didn’t mention there would be bones. He was surprised too. So now I had to take out the bones.

I’m now on my third pot, because I couldn’t find one that made sense. The third step involved pouring in enough white wine, one that I would actually drink, over the pork enough to cover it (third photo). This now sat for 24 hours.

In the fourth step, I took the pork out of the marinade and patted it dry with paper towels. I then melted enough duck fat to cover the pork belly (fourth photo). I placed it in the oven at a low temperature for three hours (fifth photo). I left it to cool in the pot and then placed it in the fridge for a week (sixth photo from the next morning).

Now we wait until this Sunday -- one week -- before plating the pork belly confit with faro, black rice, roasted autumn squash and a simple broth.

I’m actually quite pathetic at making rice, as easy as that is, so that will be interesting. I’m also curious for the squash and broth.

That will be next week’s entry.

See you then.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tools … The kitchen conspiracy uncovered

Doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do, unless you have the right tools you just can’t do it.

Backgammon, chess, cards – maybe you can get away with it. But try to compete in the Olympics without the best swimming suits, or downhill skills, skates, curling rock, and so on.

Alas, that’s why I never made it past junior B hockey – I just didn’t have the proper equipment growing up. Sure, some might point out that I was 5-9, 140 lbs (soaking wet with equipment on), or that you could read the puck label when I took a slap shot… But if I had had the best pair of Tacks tube skates, who knows? I could have been dishing out saucer passes instead of news releases and hors d’oeuvres.

And your tools in the kitchen, it’s no different. Surely you’ve seen the cooking shows with all those gas stoves, perfect pots and pans, those suitcases with chef’s knives. They got the touch and tools.

But it began with a conspiracy

But of course, the genesis of having the proper tools/toys in the kitchen is a conspiracy born by the female gender.

Think about it: Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Julia Childs – cooking’s early heroes were women (no offence to today’s Giada De Laurentiis, Ina Garten, Rachel Ray, etc., but it’s my conspiracy). And today it’s Ricardo, Michael Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay, Chef Boyardee – men.

So how did those crafty women pioneers of the pots get men in the kitchen? Toys.

And I’m a sucker for it, too. Year two or three of my now 24-year marriage, my wife Dianna brings home a coffee grinder and pasta maker. The indoctrination began then, the brainwashing… and I went for it.

Of course, you’re talking about a guy who uses five battery-powered units just to go for a run (Nike+ and Polar HRM), who has one of those awful converters that unifies all the components’ converters into one. So, getting me to use hand-powered and electrical tools in the kitchen was the easiest way to get me interested in sauces and soups.

Our tools

I believe we’ve got a great kitchen. Not too big. Good working areas. Large Subzero fridge (came with the house). I would love a gas stove, but I played without those Tacks tube skates, so I’ll have to make do.

We have several categories of cooking toys: books, pots and pans, knives, cutting boards, spoons, etc., small electric appliances, computer (for internet), iPad (for internet) and television (for ideas and inspiration). I’ve pictured some of them here and rate them as follows:
1 – Television: Can’t tell you enough how much inspiration I’ve had from watching all kinds of cooking shows. And the more cooking shows I see, the cooler I believe cooking is. And the less intimidating it is, too.
2 – Cutting boards: Only slightly ahead of our knives in importance, but that’s because I got in trouble for cutting raw chicken on a plain counter. I must have washed that counter for an hour. We’ve got wood cutting boards, black hardboard, and some kind of plastic.
3 – Knives (and wet stone for sharpening): Don’t mess with our Misono knives. We’ve got a longer and shorter Chef knife and a paring knife. We also have some Henkels and with my sharpened sharpening skills, they are still pretty sharp.
4 – Cookbooks: The masthead above is a photo of most of our cookbooks. They are certainly our most used ones. They are invaluable companions to prepare meals. I believe they are not only the best in paint-by-number cooking, but also give you a chance to cook like Picasso. We use they them regularly as resources, for ideas, for direction, to swear at. But I wouldn’t do without them.

5 – Pots and pans: Picture me coming back from a trip to the US with a hockey bag full of All-Clad pans I bought at Macy’s. Now, I’m all for supporting local businesses, but I bought an 11-piece at a great price. We’ve since kept Grace in Kitchen and C.A. Paradis in business. I’m not going to get into the sizes and number of pots and pans you should because I really don’t know. It depends on how you cook.
6 – Small electrical appliances: I couldn’t live (in the kitchen) without our KitchenAid mixer and food processor. I can whip up a batch of pasta (linguine, ravioli, spaghetti) in less than 20 minutes with these two appliances. We have other ‘electrical’ units that are quite useful: scale, grinder, juicer, etc.
7 – Spoons (wood and measuring ones), measuring cups, salt and pepper grinders, ladels, spatulas, etc.: Just get some good ones and use them.
8 – Computer and iPad: Both of these are great for resourcing recipes, ingredients, finding great people and making some cooking friends. Also extremely important when you’re sick and tired of cooking and you’re looking up the phone number for Betcka, Navarra, Murray Street, Town, Saint O, Black Cat, Manx, Mellos, etc.
9 – Cooking classes: I throw this one in at the end. I love going to cooking classes and learning something different with hands-on classes or just observation. We’ve had some great classes at Urban Element and other locations. They have always inspired and influenced in the kitchen.
1A – Wife: Oh boy, could you image if I forgot to mention Dianna! She has dragged me kicking and screaming in the kitchen – thank goodness. I learned a lot from being told what to do, ah, in the kitchen.
1B – Parents: Now, I’m just going for brownie points. My parents always like to see us in the kitchen. I remember being 13 or 14 years old making pizza from those Kraft Pizza boxes that provided you with the flour for dough, pizza sauce and cheese. My dad, being an chef in the army, was a master at using everything, and I mean everything. It’s probably why to this day, I enjoy making all kinds of stock (chicken, venison/moose/beef, vegetable, fish) – nothing goes to waste.

So there it is. I may have been brainwashed by this dastardly conspiracy to bring me in the kitchen but I have the tools to make great food and have fun in the kitchen.

I’m hoping my next blog will be a recipe challenge from Chef Jason Laurin of ‘essence catering’. Jason looks to be so busy lately, that I may need to figure something else until he’s available. Maybe I’ll walk you through my favourite Michael Smith recipe for scone-like biscuits from his first cookbook.

Remember, the best food you can eat is the ‘Food by you’.


Updated Monday, Sept. 20: I forgot to mention a special event. Capital CupcakeCamp 2.0 will be held at Ottawa's City Hall Sunday, Sept. 26. The event is an "unconference" that aims to gather together local bakers (professional and amateur) and cupcake enthusiasts and raise funds for a pair of local non-profit organizations: Woman Alive/Femme Active Program and The Youth Services Bureau. Please visit this website for details - Capital CupcakeCamp 2.0.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Welcome and thanks for reading this first post.

As my brief outline above notes, I love all things food. So, it goes without saying, that I will share with you my humble happenings with "all things food".

What prompted me to start this sharing forum was the many times I've heard friends, females and males alike, young and old, say that they couldn't cook.

I believe you chose "not to cook". Preparing a meal, anyone of them you should have at least three times a day (that's the extent of my nutrition and fitness contribution), can be easy, can be complex, can be quick, can be time consuming ... But most of all, the "Food by you" has to be fun.

So, my goal here is to share a lot my experiences with food. It may be Chef Jason Laurin's (Essence Catering, Sticky Fingers blog) recipe adventures, a walk through the Byward Market with Paola St-Georges (C'est bon cooking), a visit to some of our favourite restaurants (Beckta, The Manx, Town, Play Food and Wine, Navarra, Murray Street), a critique of a new kitchen toy, or just how I follow my wife Dianna's directions in the kitchen.

I hope to make food a fun four-letter word experience for you.