Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Read a Recipe: Chimichurri

A friend asked me for an opinion on a recipe that his girlfriend wanted him to make.  This is not an uncommon occurrence for me for two reason; one, I have an opinion on everything and two, I have a lot of good riffs on standard food.

People often ask how they can be more creative or go away from the recipe and so I think I am going to do a series of these.  If you have any recipe that you are looking for new ideas, just let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Here was the original recipe.

Can you beat this for a starter recipe:

 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
 8 cloves garlic, minced
 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
 1 lemon wedge (juice of)
 1 tablespoon diced red onion
 1 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
 1 teaspoon black pepper
 1/2 teaspoon salt


 Pulse parsley in processor to chop.
 Add remaining ingredients and blend.
 Separate sauce into equal parts.
 (Use half for basting or marinade).
 (Use other half for table service).

So, for starters, this recipe is basically an Argentinian herb sauce to accent beef or lamb. It is to brighten and enliven an otherwise heavy and plain cut of meat.  Many culture use acid to cut through the fat and richness of a dish. Google helps with finding that out if you didn't already know.  One of the ways to get a feeling for what a recipe does is to check a bunch of the recipes out and see what appeals to you. Sometimes you will find other cultural analogues; my favourite sauce with steak is a salsa verde which is a green salsa made with tomatillos.

Think of it this way.  Unless you are doing something incredibly picky, the chances are the recipe you are using is just someone's interpretation of how they cook.  They write something down and then a recipe tester gets to it to try and clarify it.  What we are trying to do it work backwards...

Essentialist Approach: What is essential in this recipe?  Let's look at the ingredients and pare them down to the bits that are needed. Parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt.  These are the basic ingredients, everything else is just flourishes or improvisation.  You could go even more into the components; herbs, fat, acid and flavour enhancers but that is a little further than we are going today.  I just put it here for your consideration.

Locavore/Seasonal: Replace the garlic with garlic scapes, drop the lemon and use vinegar, add other fresh herbs as available. Parsley, basil and any other that seem to taste good to you.  Hell, add some lavender flowers or a little of something you find around.  If it were later in the season, turn this into a red chimichurri by adding tomatoes or red peppers.

Umami Boosting: If you want to mess with the flavour by boosting the savoury (umami) or adding spice then add chipotle pepper juice, pepper flakes or hot pickle juice instead of vinegar.  Cheese, tomato paste, some nuts or mushrooms could add the umami that will make the meat taste meatier.

Flavour Matching: If you want to match the meat spicing then you'll have to figure out what you are spicing your meat with and determine the flavours that you want to accent.  So, if you are doing Montreal steak spice then pick more lemony flavours to accent the garlic, dill and coriander in the spice mix.

Literalist Approach:  This is a playful approach where you try to figure out where the original recipe may have come from and work from that.  Other times it is taking the name and using it as a way of developing a recipe.  Wikipedia states that the origin of the word could mean give me salsa or give me curry.  There is a start right there - use more Mexican ingredients or Indian spicing.  Another line talks about adding a mixture of things in no particular order.  Right back to the grandmother in the kitchen trying to make her steak taste good...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Restaurant Review: Jetsun's Juicyburger

There are a number of Jetsun's Juicyburgers in Toronto but the one that really struck my fancy for many reasons was the one located  at the Golden Mile.  I find this location especially fascinating because of the history of the area and what that type of area meant for food culture.  So, onwards to the food review but if you are interested in what makes this place so damn interesting to me, read on.

The Golden Mile began its existence in the mid 50's. This type of area creation where the new living environment that would be close to work was innovative.  Mass housing to follow as living close to industry was a positive. That's right, the creation of the suburbia was so innovative that it was visited by the Queen. That it was worthy of a visit at all speaks to the importance of strip malls in particular and suburbia in general.   This visit also gave a boost to the area's growing mythology.

Strip plazas where celebrated as modern conveniences.  Toronto's first strip mall was at Sunnybrook Plaza at Eglinton and Bayview avenues.

Industrial areas within suburbia gradually morphed into strip malls everywhere.  Today, the working class and industrial ethic lives on in the idea of big boxes where the process of shopping and eating are unabashedly commercialized and mechanized.

1958 was the beginning of the roll out of McDonalds.  Before that,  Mom and Pop shops had varying degrees of success. Diners where opening up in the suburbs because people were moving there from the cities.  Jobs and homes could be had.

Some of the echoes of these concerns show up in popular culture. Soylent Green, pills as food (think about our vitamin and supplement culture), the idea that synthetic food will save us all and of course,Cyndi Lauper's She-bop

So, from there we go to a focus on how view of the future has changed.  Let's talk about the allusion in the name.  In 1962-3, the Jetsons, a futuristic prime time cartoon series was on television.  It was set in the far off time of 2062.  We are halfway there.  It showed a future of flying cars reflecting the techno utopianism of which we now tend to make fun. Jeffrey Tucker of the Ludwig von Mises Institute has argued that "The whole scene – which anticipated so much of the technology we have today but, strangely, not email or texting – reflected the ethos of time: a love of progress and a vision of a future that stayed on course."

There is a rumoured Jetsons movie to be made.  Universal and Warner Bros. set a 2012 release. It was put on hold by Rodriguez in favor of a fourth Spy Kids film. Universal's involvement in the project is a result of having previously acquired the film rights in the late 1980s, the resulting film being Jetsons: The Movie.

The Jetsons futurism stems from the situation within the Atomic age (1945) where there was  a great optimism that nuclear was the way to go.  Bombs would save us and bring peace, safe food through irradiation, power us and treat all cancers through nuclear medicine.  All our problems looked like nails because we had found the cosmic hammer. Couple this belief with the new Space age beginning around 1957 and you can see how all our futures were so much brighter.

In this area now, Vietnamese restaurant, Sally Ann, flea market, jewellery exchange and a courthouse now rub shoulders with the rest of the big box stores.  There is a move to redevelop some of these low rise buildings into condominiums.  The future from here looks different than it did.

So, WTF does this have to do with the restaurant and food?

Well, when you walk into Jetsun's Juicyburger, it is a kind of back to the future. But what the future was like imagined in the 1950's.  If McDonalds had never happened this would be the alternate universe restaurant.  The burgers are "handmade" and a note lets you know it might take a while.  The fries and the burgers are a good value.  What really impressed us, as a family, was that the meals were right sized. The small meal was perfect for my littlest one and anyone who wasn't particularly hungry.  There was enough variety in the toppings for the hamburger that I could have a decent burger topped with hot peppers and sriracha and the rest of my party could as they would.

The place was quite kid friendly and the fries... The fries were good.  Crisp and slightly sweet not from added sugar but rather the type of potato chosen.  The food does not taste like food supply company stuff but honest potatoes, meat and bun.  Meat was moist and juicy, sometimes bordering on the perfect medium cooked and always slightly salty and very beefy.  The bun was soft enough to sop the juices but thick enough not to dissolve in pasty tastelessness.

This is what a Mom and Pop shop would have been had fast food not been commodified to a machine driven process.  This is not to say that this is the best burger and fries that I have tasted and you should go out and get it.  But it is cool that the one that I tried on the Golden Mile a few times - first when it was lonely in a strip mall and later when Walmart and all the big boxes sprouted up around, reminds me of honesty and goodness in the land of the hard sell.  I would choose this place over so many more of those fast food places. It is nostalgic now.
Jetsun's Juicyburger on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Session 99 - 2012 Edition

Went on a beer excursion yesterday and I feel like writing a little bit about it.  Sessions 99 is the little festival that marks the end of Ontario Craft Brewery (OCB) week.  There are two three hour sessions where you can taste a lot of different beers and have a few bites.  This year, you bought one ticket and it was one ticket to rule them all.  It bought you unlimited tastes of some 100 beers.  I didn`t count them, that is just what the ad said.

The crowd was varied, from hipsters to a few wanting to get a good buzz on to craft beer lovers.  There were a lot of one-offs and collaboration beers that we may never see again.  But what is really interesting is getting to talk to the brewers directly to understand where they are coming from and what they are up to.

Hogsback from Ottawa told me the sad story of an ale gone bad.  They had tried it earlier in the week and it wasn't tasting so good.  The whole thing had to be poured out.  They had one of the only tapped lagers at the show.  Fresh lager tastes better than I remember.  That was the first beer of the session.

I love sours and there was an Amsterdam called Maverick and Gose that I had for my second beer.  I remembered it for the rest of the session and it made it onto my favourite beer voting card.

A small break from beer and I was able to indulge another of my beverage passions - coffee.  There was a coffee van from Wandering Bean Coffee.  I talked to the owner for a bit and she and her husband are doing some interesting things.  At the show, there was a hopped lemonade that worked pretty well.  She has smoked her own coffee and that is something that I have been wanting to try.  Also, she is working on doing a Louisiana style cold coffee that is cold brewed with chicory.  That I have tried and loved.  A line up had formed and so she was done talking to the drunk (me) and on to serving other drunks.  It turns out that the Bean is based out in Buckhorn, which is on our way to visit my mother.  Means that there may be some side trips.

Now, back to beer.  I was happy to see different beers from Spearhead.  They are the guys that do the Hawaiian Pale Ale.  They brought a brown and a stout.  These guys may be slow at getting stuff done but it is okay when they can put out this quality of beer.  They got my vote for best brewer.

The brewers really stepped up their game.  I had a few surprising beers this year including two from Flying Monkeys; a grape ale and a peaty scotch ale. The grape worked and reminded me of KoolAid in a good way.  The scotch ale was getting a bad rap from some who had tried it and steered me away.  That, of course, drove me closer to it.  I am not much of a scotch drinker but you could taste the scotch on the beer. It was a little sweet but not burnt in the way that I had been led to believe by my conversations.

Black Oak hopes to have a saison in the store shortly.

The three regrets were: Watermelon Ale, Sour Cherry Collab from Amsterdam and Venskab from Beau`s.  Did not get to try but I will be able to get the Beau`s from their brewery in Ottawa.

This event has ironed out some of the kinks from last year and I am looking forward to next year.  Especially as craft beer continues to get stronger in Ontario.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal

This book could be called Leftovers and What to do With Them instead of An Everlasting Meal.  Hey, that is not a bad thing, the subtitle of this book by Tamar Adler is Cooking with Economy and Grace.  While it is modeled after MFK Fisher, I am not sure that it quite achieves that affect.

This book has its own virtues. Adler pays mind to the modern way of life and so this book is more of an anti-cookbook.  In truth, there are few recipes and most appear to be pauses in the conversation about food.

Chapters are arranged around ingredients or classes of ingredients and given whimsical names such as How to Build a Ship or How to Teach an Egg to Fly.  Each piece outlines approaches to cooking these things as a series of progressive dishes or to embellish a meal or even tips to save a bad dish.  Because of this conversational and non reliance on recipes, this would make a good read for those who want to cook without recipes but aren't sure how to go about it.  The philosophy is sound but will drive people who needs the measures mad.

There is more in this book to hook the eye rather than hook the mouth.  Every so often, an apt phrase stops the reading cold and makes you relish the morsel on the page.  Since I have two young boys, I will include a sample from a place that is close to their heart...
Once the sun has set and risen, drain the beans through a colander and cover them by two inches with fresh, cold water. What gets flushed out of the beans on their overnight wallow is what inspires musicality in eaters. Feed their soaking water to your plants, who will digest it more quietly, if you like.
This is by no means the best but rather one that struck me as I was making a Farter's Day (Father's Day) menu at the time.

Even if you are an accomplished home cook, there is always time for gentle reminders to challenge your beliefs.  Her challenge for cooking vegetables just a little more will get some consideration in my house.  She suggests that too often, vegetables are left a little too al dente.  In my reading of Greek cookbooks in the last while, at least one culture appears to agree with her.

There were three takeaways that I was happy to have.
1. I had forgotten what a joy boiled meats were.
2. Dress a salad by starting with the more substantial ingredients.  Dress them and then add the greens to prevent overdressing.
3. The grease off stock can be used in a similar manner to bacon grease or butter.

All in all, I found this to be a decent read.  I can see how it could provide a similar comfort to reading MFK Fisher but somehow feels a little more relaxed and lazy approach to cooking.  But I think that we could all relax a little around the kitchen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Menu: 5 Beer 5 Bites

A friend who was doing some fundraising asked me to come up with a beer food pairing and this is the menu that we chose.

1st Pairing
Beer: Homebrewed Witbeer (coriander, orange peel, grains of paradise)
Non-Alcoholic Drink: bottle green's Ginger and Lemongrass Cordial
Food:  White Beans with fresh herb salad and arugula on a baguette

2nd Pairing
Beer:  Homebrewed Elderberry Witbeer (same as above with elderberries)
Non-Alcoholic Drink: bottle green's Elderflower Cordial
Food: Three crackers.
Cracker 1: with homemade Rhubarb Beer Jam and Manchego cheese
Cracker 2: with Guava Paste and Manchego
Cracker 3: with Quince Paste and Manchego

3rd Pairing
Beer:  Mill Street Paradise IPA
Non-Alcoholic Drink:  bottle green's Spiced Berry Cordial
Food:  Chips and Dips
Dip 1: Feta and Hot Pepper 
Dip 2: Curried Lentil 
Dip 3: Salsa Guisada with Fresh Herbs (Lemon Thyme, Lavender, Oregano and Basil)

4th Pairing
Beer:  Bellwoods Brewery Toil and Trouble Dubbel
Non-Alcoholic Drink:  Sanpellegrino Chinotto
Food:  WTF round
Taste 1: Nilla Wafer cookie
Taste 2: Milk Chocolate
Taste 3: Chocolate covered coffee bean
Taste 4: Red wine vinegar

5th Pairing
Beer:  Bellwoods Brewery Lost River Baltic Porter
Non-Alcoholic Drink:  Vanilla Cream Soda
Food:  Vanilla Ice-Cream with the opportunity to turn it into a beer float