Archive for the ‘Sweet Stuff’ Category

Birthday Al Fresco w/ Prosciutto and Spam

After much consideration of what to eat and drink on my birthday, I settled on: small bits of things to eat, and small bits of things to drink. The warm weather demanded al fresco – which meant cooking on a fire. Skewers of veg, beef steak, tomatoes straight from the plant, Oka cheese, and more ended up on the menu – but here are some highlights that hit the camera. On the left: grilled prosciutto steak. I bought a copious amount of prosciutto for very little money which permitted us to play with such otherwise-ridiculous concepts. Very salty, but very very tasty. A few of the other things we enjoyed:
Grilled spam, grilled pineapple, topped with Edouard Artzner ‘compotine de fruits secs’ [Edouard Artzner is an Alsatian foie gras producer - which is the intended pairing of their compotine]. The odor of the spam reminded my brother and I of canned foie gras – hence the relationship. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Prosciutto-wrapped pineapple. Clearly on the ‘bacon-wrapped-whatever’ line of thought. Prociutto fat flares up more than I’m used to from other meats for whatever reason. Useless fact for ya. Honestly, I like the look of the fire so much in this photo that I’d have posted it no matter what was on the grill.
Chocolate-espresso cheesecake. Oops, I overcooked this big guy. Luckily, it was but one of the 2kg+ of cheesecakes I made last night. The individual portions in ramekins were cooked properly in a water bath, thankfully.

Grateful for the warm weather. Grateful for the friends and family. Having a grateful kinda day.

Dinner Party Menu

A breakdown of the menu for some new friends that came by for dinner last night. Excluding the first course – a salad from the garden…forgot the photo. The first three courses were paired with an alsatian riesling, the following 3 with a right-bank bordeaux. Overall, a lovely night:

berkshire tenderloin on white bean purée, crispy sage
pickled whitefish, dill & chervil
seared antelope, fleur de sel, baby italian parsley
korean kalbi-style antelope on rice
camembert on lovely bread our guests made
chocolate espresso swirl cheesecake with vanilla latté

Born-Again French-Pastry-Lover

I never thought I’d write this, but I have to admit that ever since a wonderful pastry shop finally opened up in our town [ICS], I’ve been jaded about eating pastries in France. It’s a loss I’m having to deal with. ‘Not bad, but I can get it better at home‘ is a thought I wish upon nobody who loves to travel and eat. Very similar to making pistachio gelato better than I’ve had it in Italy. Blissful disappointment.

That said – France not to be outdone – showed me two new favorites that I had no idea exsited. Starting with #2 favorite: the Suisse. I had many after the one in the photo [Paris], but this one was the best. Kinda creamy [custard?], chocolate chipy, and croissanty. I’m a fan. If anyone knows how to score one in my province, please advise.

#1 spot, however, went to the Religieuse. The one in the photo had been abused by the box. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a marriage of pate a choux classics: an eclair ball topped with a cream puff. Genius. This genius happened to me in Eguisheim, Alsace.

I owe a debt to both of these items and the people who made them. Perhaps I need to go on a gelato quest to restore my faith in that department.

About this many


So how many vanilla beans does $19.99 USD buy you online?

153. Yeah. Crazy.

I’m used to paying $7 or so for two beans. So these 153 beans would normally have a cost of about $535 in my world. Not only that, they’re nicer than those in the little test tube thingers at the supergrocers. I bought mine here, upon a food blogger recommendation. Seemed a little too good to be true, to be honest.

And what will I do with so many vanilla beans, you ask? At that price…whatever the heck I feel like. Car air freshener anyone?

Lemon Sorbet

Sorbets normally don’t get me too excited. When I’m in Italy, 9 times out of 10, I’m choosing pistachio and/or anything chocolate over any fruit option. But having been served a lemon-thyme sorbet by Kenny during a long multi course meal, I thought a similar approach might be nice to break up my Christmas menu [which I'm very excited about]. So I had to test-run it.

First, let me say that this is ridiculously easy to make – and it will be made again in my kitchen. I was stunned by the purity of the lemon flavor profile. The balance seems good on the palate, although I’m pretty sure the cold is covering up for an overabundance of sweetness. It’s hard to eat much more than what you see in the photo, it’s so sweet. I’ll likely scale back the sugar next time to tone that aspect down. And now that I know how easy it is, I’m likely going to be trying sorbets with other fruit juices soon.

1 part lemon juice [I used 6]
1 part sugar [next time less]
1 part water
1 tbsp or so of lemon zest per batch

Heat the water. Dissolve the sugar in the hot water. Cool. When cool, add lemon juice and zest. Introduce it to your handy ice-cream machine until the texture looks good.

Crème Brulée


I can’t believe how beloved this dish seems to be to dinner guests around here, and how few actually make it. And by few, I believe zero would be fair. So either I’ve unintentionally deceived them into thinking it’s ridiculously difficult to make – or they’re lying to me about how much they really like it.

I own the CIA’s Professional Chef, and I use their recipe. When I first set eyes on the recipe, I thought ‘wow, if I could make this, I’d be AWESOME’. Awesomeness achieved. Sweet.

I’ve since made it countless times, trying vanilla bean, vanilla extracts of varying qualities, combinations of bean and extracts, and maple syrup variations. I’m also a serious enough geek to have done some math, and know that it costs about $3.50 to make the whole batch, and it contains about 1400 calories. At 4 portions, that’s $0.89 and 358 cal per portion. Like I said. I’m a geek.

You will not find this ingredient list or method in the CIA book. The ratios are the same, but reduced, and the method is what I’ve found works for me.

fills 3 Emile Henry dishes in photo above quite full, will make 4 portions
300 ml heavy cream
1/8-1/4 vanilla bean
57 g plain old sugar
71 g egg yolk, beaten [roughly 3] [use a big bowl here]

Preheat oven to 325.

De-seed vanilla bean and toss the guts into the cream. The pod generally goes in my vanilla sugar.
Add half the sugar, and heat over medium to just barely a simmer. It’ll take a while.

While the cream is heating, whisk the other half of the sugar into the egg yolks. For quite a while. Keep going. You want them really thick and foamy and lightened in color. Get a couple dish towels/wash cloths to cup the base of the bowl, which will help with the next step.

Once the cream is ready, remove from heat, and very slowly, drop by drop whisk it into the egg mixture. Increase your drops in size to a light pour as you go. When you hit half-way, a dump is acceptable. Scrape out all the vanilla seeds with a spatula. They sink.

Pour into ramekins set in a bain marie, and bake for roughly 45 minutes. I hit my oven handle with the side of my fist, and gauge doneness by the jiggle of the custard. Such are the advantages of experience.

Remove, cool. I make them a day ahead. Add sugar [too much, then dump off excess works for me]. Add fire. Eat.

It is fall, therefore I am tired.


Photo of the day: some lovely baking from Manuel Latrouwe in Calgary. Any place that makes a seriously good pain au chocolat is in my good books.

I’m back, recuperating from my holiday, and getting pounded by a million and one demands at work. Fall always seems to be busy at work, with gardening harvest, and with hunting and game butchering. And I’m packing up and getting ready to leave again.

I’m heading up north to go moose and elk hunting tomorrow morning, so more blog absence is imminent. The guys have been up north hunting for a while now, and the elk are plentiful. My 83-year-old grandfather got an elk last week! Well done grandpa! But the coveted moose calves are apparently far more scarce. So this won’t be as easy as it was last year.

My next post: summary of my 2007 calf moose hunt.

Pear Pie and Home-made Vanilla Ice Cream

My experience with pie is limited. Other than the fact that I’ve made a fair number, I really only have used the crust recipe on the box of Tenderflake. And although I’m a huge fan of anything that boldly displays ‘pure lard’ – this will be my last time with Tenderflake. Why? Well I plan on making topless pies, to reduce the fat and up the fruit per slice – which means one box of Tenderflake makes 6 pies. That’s a lot of pies. What if I just want to make one? The answer, as to many questions in life: butter. I always have butter on hand. One can make crust of butter. Future pie crusts will be made of butter.

I realized during this project that my love for pears really lies in Bartlett pears. There are many other fine kinds, but when I smell these, it brings me back to cleaning cases of them for my mom’s preserves and pies when I was a kid. And when a food brings back fond childhood memories, it’s gonna be tough to beat.

Recipe? Make the dough listed on the back of the Tenderflake box. Add fruit. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake. I used cake flour as recommended, and actually cut the lard in with knives. I usually use my food processor, but my guess is this would overwork it. I was right. The knife gig makes for some very fine crust. My mom’s pear pie is better, but this is a fine second.

As with most days, my kitchen endeavors are not limited to one item. Earlier in the day, I purchased a 10lb shank piece of pig leg for just under $10. Awesome. I removed the skin, deboned it, separated the muscles from each other, trimmed it, and cut into rough 2-3″ dice. While mucking about, I noticed there is a huge difference in the leg muscles’ fat content in pork. The center shot shows my hand touching some very lean reddish meat. And to the right, some seriously marbled pieces that remind me of some photos of Kobe I’ve seen recently. The vintage 70′s Creuset has the bone and the b-grade cuts [read: lean] ready for Texas style bbq. The Emile Henry pot in the foreground containing the lovely fatty pieces turned into a Vietnamese kho. Oven at 250F for a few hours, and it makes me wonder why I don’t just forget everything else and just live off slow cooked pork. Really.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2007


Thanksgiving in Canada is actually on Monday. But we’re celebrating it early, due to scheduling ‘issues’. This being our first year with our very own child at home, I’m eager to start our own family traditions. So we spent a leisurely fall day as a family, doing as little as possible. The simple 2 course menu for our thanksgiving dinner:

Poulet a la Creme
Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Les Halles Cookbook’ had recommended reading that led me to page 64 of Jaques Pepin’s ‘The Apprentice: my life in the kitchen’, and I am eternally indebted. This dish quickly became an all-time favorite in our home, even clinching top spot as my wife’s choice for her birthday dinner. Today we sourced the chicken fresh from Sunworks Farms – our favorite local family farm. ‘Non believers’ can poo-poo high quality, and therefore relatively expensive, ingredients all they want – some of us can tell the difference. And this kind of meal is a good place to pull out a stop or two and buy ‘the good stuff’. This chicken just smells exceptional. The ‘thyme rice’ that accompanies this dish has become a staple pairing with game tenderloin cuts in the fall. I miss this dish dearly. It somehow seems to be elegant, rustic, simple, complex, and luxurious – all at the same time.

Crème Brulée
The recipe I use and adapt to my whims is from the Culinary Institute of America’s ‘Professional Chef’ tome. It’s been a standard in my kitchen for a few years now [both the book and this recipe] – and crème brulée pleases both gourmets and fussy eaters – just tell them it’s pudding.

But there’s a very important reason I’m making it tonight. My good friend Yen knocked on my back door last night carrying a ziploc bag with 6 Madagascar vanilla beans he’d acquired from a generous chef in a city 3 hours away [long story]. The beans, which you can smell even with the bag sealed tight, are plumper than any I’ve seen. The texture reminds me of a raisin, and they have a earthy smell to them that took me aback. I’ve worked with a lot of vanilla beans – but nothing that approached these in quality. To not use them respectfully right this moment would be blasphemous. As you can tell, the photo was an afterthought. Eating it was the priority.

My baguette
I used to bake all my own bread. Then we had a baby. And when you’re getting punished with a serious case of colic, paying $2-3 for a loaf seems like a really good idea. But I’m back at it. And it feels good. My basic bread recipe actually originated from learning to bake a decent baguette. And holy-good-god was it good tonight. Maybe I was just hungry.

Wine pairing: Babich Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Fragrant, bright, and pleasant – it’s ‘pear meets yellow grapefruit’ on the nose with a little grass. The palate shows more grass, and the grapefruit shows up behind it. The initial mouthfeel is not as grippy as I like, but the mid-palate is good, and it has a nice long finish. It’s pretty straight-ahead, very good white, and right up my alley. 87-88

No recipes today. Both courses deserve it, and I will resolve to post them in the coming weeks. But not now. I have a brandy to enjoy.

Antipasti-pasta & Poached Peaches

Some food bloggers have ‘standards’ and only publish wonderful content. Not me. I post everything, whether it’s good or not.

Tonight’s dinner was an ‘antipasti-pasta’. See, we stock up at the local Italian market on Friday mornings – immediately following an espresso and fresh pastry [we show up when they open, and the pastries are melty, but that's another story]. So it being Thursday, we had odds and ends that needed to be used up so that we could feel justified in buying more tomorrow! So in went roasted Sheppard peppers, genoa salami, spicy green olives, basil and chives from the garden, topped with some good tuscan olive oil. I think I’ll be looking forward to another antipasti pasta next week. It’s dang tasty, and would always be a bit different depending on what tickled our fancy at the deli counter.

That same wonderful Italian market carries fantastic semi-local seasonal produce in big boxes at low prices. Last week, I picked up some peaches, and poached them whole. My wife’s a raw-fruit fan. I’m a cooked-fruit guy, no contest. A few days ago, I had some, and topped it with sweet clover honey. Holy crap is it good. Better than good. If it was a wine, I’d give it a 92+. Tonight, I upped the ante a little and took my brulée torch to the top for a bit of crunch. This is one simple-assed dish that I’d be proud to serve at a posh multi-course event. The flavor really delivers.

Last item of the day. I got an email from an uncle this afternoon, putting me on call. Apparently the Canada Geese are feeding heavily on the section of land my dad lives on again this year. My uncle is a hardcore goose hunter. And I mean hardcore. He lives for this stuff. So in the coming week or so, I’ll be up far before the sun to go hunt some geese. I’ll post more about this when the time comes.