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Refrigerator Soup Q&A

October 6, 2009

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So I’ve been fortunate enough to be the first blogger that Refrigerator Soup is featuring in a 20 question Q&A here.  Refrigerator  Soup is all about bringing the best photos & food blogs to you!  It’s a great way to browse around and find cool and interesting food blogs.  Check it out!  And a great big thanks to those guys for featuring me.

Tuesday night dinners

October 4, 2009

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Here is a fun concept…get a bunch of friends together on a random night for a fantastic meal!  I’ve been inspired to break out of the weekend entertaining and to try something different.  The idea of eating together on any given night isn’t new so why are we not doing it more?  It’s simple. Make time every week to invite people over to have a meal together.  Some people won’t make it every week but keep at it.  This is exactly what happened at my place.  I kept doing the dinners and slowly people could hardly wait for Tuesday night to come around.  Make it as complex or as simple as you want. Get people to bring something along or do all the cooking.  Basically do whatever you feel you’re capable of doing and not just once but week after week.   For me it’s all about trying new dishes or things I’m really excited about.  I get my friends to bring $10 each and a bottle of wine.  Very affordable and it means that I can experiment but still remain thrifty.  The result; three or more courses at a very reasonable price.

Fall has set in and so the menu for this Tuesday dinner was inspired by harvest and warm comforts.  Bresaola, a cured beef thinly sliced with fresh shaved Parmesan and lemon juice starts the meal off.  Gnocchi with butternut squash brings smiles while the aromatic roast pork with fennel, cinnamon and chili round off the meal on a savoury note.  Finish it off with a Tarte Tatin topped with cardamon spiced vanilla bean ice cream and you’ve got some happy happy friends!

I’ve included the roast pork recipe from this dinner as I felt that it was this that I built everything else around.  So here’s the challenge…what would you build around this dish?

Roast Pork with fennel, chili and cinnamon

This recipe was inspired by the flavours of southern Italy.

Pork Loin – You get about 3 servings per 1lb of loin with the bone in and about 3.5 for boneless
fresh cracked pepper
dried chili flakes
kosher salt
cinnamon powder
dried fennel seeds

Mix equal amounts of all the ingredients (except salt)  in a pestal & mortar and bash up a bit.  Lay the mixture on a chopping board and roll meat until completely covered.  Sprinkle a few pinches of salt all over the loin.  Sear the pork in a stainless pan until completely brown.  Roast in a roasting pan for 20-30 mins for each pound at 350 F.  Remove from oven when you’ve got an internal temperature reading of between 160-170F if you have a thermometer or follow the roasting guide.  De-glaze roasting pan with some white wine and add stock.  Reduce rapidly to desired thickness, strain off and return to stove on low temp until ready to serve.  You could add a knob of butter to the sauce at the end to mellow it out.  Serve with your favourite side dishes in season.

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Everyday meals under $15 – Tonight, Pappardelle with ragu

September 22, 2009

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One of the things I have noticed while talking to friends is that most people have a hard time making great tasting, everyday meals on a small budget.  This got me really excited because this is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing for many years now.  It just takes a bit of creativity and some practice working with limited ingredients.  But it can be done.  So this is the first of many recipes I will post on this subject and my hope is that you’ll try them, mix them up and get inspired to try new things yourself.  I’ll focus on seasonal meals as things in season are always cheaper than when their out of season.  I want to share recipes that excite me, are affordable and taste great. So the first recipe is Pasta with ragu sauce done my way.

There are few cooking pleasures that equal making your own fresh pasta.  The confidence and pride that comes with being able to make something from scratch is amazing.  Pasta made with fresh eggs is  silky and delicate and is preferred over dried pasta for this recipe.  I love my ragu with a mixture of wild mushrooms with not too much tomato in it.  The result is a very savoury and rich ragu screaming for a gorgeous Chianti, Southern Italian red, full bodied Grenacha from Spain or a spicy Shiraz from Australia.  I’ve added a super simple side dish of steamed broccoli with chili, garlic and olive oil that cuts the richness of the pasta.  Enjoy!

Fresh Pappardelle Pasta

300g Flour
3 eggs
splash of olive oil

Place flour in a bowl or on your counter and create a well in the middle.  Crack the eggs into the well along with the splash of olive oil and mix with fork until the mixture comes together.  At this point it will look like a shaggy mass of dough.  Knead the dough by squashing it with the heal of your hand, stretch it, pull it, flip it, squash it some more, fold it over and keep doing this until your shaggy mass has transformed into a smooth ball of dough.  The kneading helps develop gluten which gives the pasta a nice springy texture.  Wrap in plastic cling film and rest in fridge for at least 30 mins.

I use a hand crank pasta machine but if you don’t have one you can always roll it out with a rolling pin. The trick is to cut off smaller pieces off the main ball of dough so you’re not trying to hand roll a piece that is 6 feet long!  You want to roll your dough out to the thickness of between a drink coaster and a playing card and about 12inches long and 4 inches wide.  Flour the long piece of thin dough and roll from one end until you have a cigar shaped piece of dough.  Use your knife to cut 1 inch slices.  Unwind the Pappardelle and dust with more flour and put to the side until you are ready to cook the pasta.  The same applies if you’re using a pasta machine.  Continue to roll it to the same thickness as per the hand rolling technique.

Ragu Sauce & Broccoli with chili

250g ground pork
250g ground beef
4 cups rough cut mushrooms (wild & brown mushrooms)
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
handful of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 broccoli crown
1 red chili diced
1 clove garlic diced
olive oil, salt and pepper
parmesan (optional)

Sautee onions and garlic with a generous pinch of salt until translucent.  Add the pork and beef and continue to fry.   Add mushrooms & thyme, increase heat and add some fresh ground pepper and cover with lid making sure to stir it every couple of mins for 10 mins.  Add balsamic vinegar turn down heat slightly and continue to simmer for another 10 mins.
At this point you can just leave it on a low heat and allow the sauce to concentrate and get richer!

Boil two big pots of salted water and add the pasta to one and boil for 3-5 mins and the broccoli to the other.  After about 2 mins the broccoli should be ready.  It should look bright green, not army green.  Drain off broccoli, add diced chili, diced garlic, a splash of olive oil.  Mix together and season with salt & pepper to taste.  Serve on small platter or dinner plate. Drain pasta, arrange on plates or pasta bowls, scoop generous amounts of ragu over pasta and finish the dish with a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan if you’ve got it.

Serves 4
Wine Pairings – Australian Shiraz, Italian Chianti, Spanish Grenacha, Negroamaro from Southern Italy

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Feta, my way!

September 19, 2009

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I adore all kinds of cheeses.  Creamy, hard, salty, blue, stinky..it doesn’t matter.  I love them all.  This recipe is just a simple, no fuss way to serve something before a meal when you’ve got some friends over or as a tapa when you’re on your own.  It’s really inexpensive but fairly impressive and most importantly, it taste unreal.  You can do it low budget and get cow’s milk feta or go all out and get a local sheep or goat feta when you feel like spoiling yourself or your friends.  Saltspring Cheese Co. makes an amazing feta that you can get at most supermarkets.  The feta in this picture is called “Macedonian Feta” and it’s available at Ottavio in Oak Bay.  It’s a sheep’s milk feta that is incredibly creamy and not too briny.  If you haven’t tried it yet then do it!  So here is my recipe for Feta, my way.

1 block of Macedonian Feta – as much as you feel like you can eat in one go!
Handful of fresh chopped herbs – Oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary
1 Red Chili Chopped and diced
zest of 1/2 lemon
Cracked pepper

Arrange feta on a small platter or dinner plate, sprinkle herbs, chili, lemon zest and pepper and drizzle with loads of olive oil.  Serve with warm crusty bread.

Plum Crostata

September 18, 2009

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I have had a real affinity for plums ever since I was a kid and my Grandmother and Mother would use them in various desserts and treats.  My favourite plum is the purple, Italian prune plum.  They taste great fresh and are amazing when used for baking.  The taste of these gorgeous plums straight off the branch, warm from the sun baking them all afternoon is just stunning! We’re lucky enough to have a beautiful tree growing right in our backyard making the inspiration to use plums very easy.

Now, I’m not particularly drawn to baking, however, this recipe is so simple and impressive that it’s in my small repertoire of baking!  This recipe is adapted slightly from “Baking with Julia” and it really reminds me of the rustic, straight-forward desserts I’m used to eating when in Italy.  There’s cornmeal and sour cream in the crust that gives it a really nice crunch along with a zing from the sour cream.  I also use a bit of lemon zest to further lighten and freshen every bite.

Seriously try this recipe! It’s perfect for when you’ve got people coming over and it’s really inexpensive to make.  It will also give you a boost of confidence in the kitchen as it’s pretty much fool proof.

Crostata dough –

3 tablespoons sour cream 0r yogurt
1/3 cup ice water
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

stir the sour cream and water in a small bowl and put to the side.  Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the butter in small pieces.  Use a pastry blender or work between your fingers till you get a mixture that looks like coarse bread crumbs.  (see pic above for reference)  Add sour cream and water mixture a little at a time mixing with a fork.  Pat the dough into a small ball and try not to knead it too much or over work it.  You want it to have nice light layers.  Wrap in cling film and rest for 2 hours.

Plum Filling –

17-20 medium plums pitted & sliced into quarters
few tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of butter
zest of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out pastry so that it’s about 1/4 inch thick, place it on a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with sugar and grate the lemon zest.  Arrange plums however you feel fit to making sure to leave about an inch or more so that you can fold the edges in.  Fold edges over and sprinkle the whole crostata with more sugar.  Cut up small pieces of butter and arrange within fruit. Bake for about 30 mins.  It should look nice and brown but not too brown.  Serve it slightly warm with some vanilla ice cream or gelato!

Fennel recipes

September 14, 2009

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Driftwood Brewery

September 10, 2009

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I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with one of the most passionate and intelligent guys I know!  I thought I had a unusually large resource of random and useful information but nothing compares to Jason Meyer, Owner/Brew Master of Driftwood Brewery.  His passion and understanding of beer just floors me and the proof is in the final product.  Jason’s motivation and experience is a result of an apprenticeship that has taken him all over Canada along with travels through Europe on beer geek expeditions.  The result: Beers that are crafted with great skill, uniqueness, passion and enthusiasm.

I heard of Jason and Driftwood beers through a mutual friend who mentioned he had a friend who was a real foodie and philosopher and kept telling me I should meet him.  Jason and I met one night at our mutual friends surprise birthday party and starting talking food, wine and our philosophy on these topics and found that we share the same ideas.  The whole time I didn’t realize that this was the “Jason” I was supposed to meet!  It was only after seeing the bottles upon bottles of Driftwood beer he brought that finally clued me in.  This is how my love for his beer and our friendship started.

The following is a sit down chat that we had recently.  I find that having insight into his passions and inspirations has made his beer taste better!  Not that it’s needed but I just love stories.

1. Why beer?  Why that and not some other passion of yours?

I guess because brewing was my first foodie/making stuff interest. Who know, maybe if I had got into sausage-making as a young man I would be running a charcuterie now!

2. Where did you get your start?

I got my first “brewing” job working at a Brew-on-Premises in Fort St. John. From there I managed to get a job in Montreal, and eventually in Edmonton at a brewery called Alley Kat.

3. What are your favourite beer styles?

Man, tough question as there is a beer for every mood or meal. I enjoy the challenge of brewing Barleywine, and I love to drink it too. Anything hoppy is welcome. I like the Sour Browns of Flanders…to many to list really.

4. What is a brief story behind starting Driftwood Brewery?

Really Driftwood is the realization of the dream of owning my own brewery, which I’ve had since I was in my early 20’s. My partner Kevin Hearsum and I were working together at Lighthouse for 4 years. We talked a lot about our dream of having our own place and it slowly morphed into a real desire to make it happen. So we started working on a business plan and eventually everything fell into place. During the three month startup we were fortunate to see our third partner, Gary Lindsay come aboard and we were ready to take Victoria by storm!

5. What are the most important values and goals for Driftwood?

By far the most important thing for us is to produce beer we are truly proud of. We have an un-compromising approach when it comes to the quality and uniqueness of the beers. We will never brew boring beer. We believe (call us crazy) that what is inside the bottle is actually the most important thing!

6. What are you doing currently with Driftwood beers that you are really proud of?

We are unafraid of using multiple strains of yeast, including Brettanomyces, which scares the shit out of some brewers. We have embraced Belgian styles more than most of the other breweries in the region, and are sort of staking out our place as the brewer of Belgian style beers around here.

7.  How do you and continue to set driftwood apart from your competitors?

By always, always putting the beer first. No compromise.

8. Where would you like to see the brewery in 5 years?

Being established enough to brew an even greater variety of beers and have the resources to innovate further. To have a small and dedicated crew of beer geeks working here with us. To have won a place amongst some of the best breweries in North America as having a reputation for brewing  world-class beers.

9. Tell me about yourself, what are your inspirations, your idols?

Brewer/owner Jean-Pierre Van Roy of Cantillon in Brussels because he brews beer by his rules and has a waiting list of customers! Michael Jackson (our Michael Jackson, the deceased beer writer) because he did so much to elevate beer in people’s minds in the 80’s and 90’s.

10. What are some of your other passions?

Music, charcuterie, cheese-making, gardening, cooking, coffee…

11. How does your love of food play in your life?

Love of food translates to love of life! What greater joy is there than preparing a beautiful meal and sharing it with the people you love?

You can find Driftwood Beers through this really cool map on their site.