Monday, January 25, 2010

Candied Bacon Ice Cream

One of my very favorite co-workers had his last shift last night, and so he and the rest of the guys in the kitchen came over for some beers after the restaurant closed. My mom wanted to know what I was serving, and let me know that having a bunch of adults over for drinks without offering them edible sustenance was trashier behaviour than my advanced years allowed. I already had a nice dinner planned for Mike and I (chicken roasted with lemons, potatoes with green onions, dilled carrots, pan gravy), plus I had already cooked all day at work, and so didn't particularly feel like figuring anything else out.

So I made ice cream. Figured it was appropriate, since I had inherited my ice-cream maker from my outgoing co-worker.

Candied bacon ice cream, to be precise. With butterscotch sauce.

The ice cream was incredible: a brown sugar & whiskey custard ice cream with just a hint of cinnamon- I don't love cinnamon, but did think that a bit of the spicy would be nice, so I reduced the already miniscule amount called for by half. I tossed in the chopped up crisp, brown-sugar slicked bacon at the last minute (after removing a couple of portions for some vegetarian guests), and the results were heavenly. Rich and smooth, with interestingly toothsome bits of sweet/smokey candy, with a salty finish. A winner, I think.

And there's really no way of arguing with butterscotch sauce, made with brown sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, butter and blended scotch. It really complemented the ice cream, and I think I could eat this combination all day, every day.

I wouldn't, of course, given how strenuously I seem to object to going back to the gym, but definitely, in an alternate universe, I could.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spotty Posting

Not much from me in the last week. Don't worry, I haven't lost enthusiasm. Not like last time.

More, I've been sick and hiding in the house. I've been cooking soup. Which, while deeply satisfying, wasn't any kind of culinary revelation by any means.

I did, however, make a meatloaf the other day. It was good, and it was even better the next day. Unfortunately, I continue to struggle with my photographic ambitions for this weblog, so there is no evidence that the thing ever existed.

Here's how to make a very good meatloaf:

Preheat your oven to 350F
Get some ground meat. About 2 pounds. Whatever kind you want. I like 1 pound ground beef (medium, not lean - the extra fat keeps it moist), and then the rest ground venison, pork, chicken, a mix of the above if possible. Put the meat in a bowl, with 2 raw eggs, 1 finely diced onion, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, a good amount of salt, ground black pepper, about 3/4 cup bread crumbs, a healthy pinch each dry sage and thyme, about 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp hot sauce (unless you have a nuclear-grade hot sauce, in which case you'd want to use less).

Moosh it all together until mixed, and lay it out in a flattened log shape on a baking sheet that you've covered in foil. Or don't cover it, if you're a masochist and/or have hours to spend scrubbing your baking sheet.

Here's the thing that makes this here meatloaf superior to it's more pedestrian brethren: Rather than a potato chip crust, or a ketchup glaze, this meatloaf is finished with bacon. Get a package of bacon, thick-cut if possible, and lay slices side by side, over the top of the the meat, diagonally. Then on the opposite diagonal slant, lay more bacon, weaving them over and under the bacon you've already put down. Tuck the hanging edges under the meatloaf, and pop the sheet into the oven.

The meatloaf is done when the bacon on top is fully cooked, but not crisp. The bacon juice will keep the meatloaf moist, protecting it from the drying oven. And it's pretty. And bacon generally improves everything, right?

I should have taken pictures.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti on my mind.

Yesterday, a powerful earthquake (7.0) left Haiti in ruins. Already impoverished, Haiti is ill-equipped to deal with the material and humanitarian consequences of this catastrophe. Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres/MSF) was already operating in Haiti, bringing much-needed health care to the struggling island nation. Their hospital has been compromised as a result of the earthquake, and staff from their sister offices around the world are packing inflatable surgery suites and rushing to help meet the increased emergency relief needs.

"MSF is a medical relief organization dedicated to bringing help to people in the worst circumstances in the world. MSF goes where other relief organizations (NGO's) will not. Where circumstances are the most desperate, the most dangerous and the most hopeless... you will find Médecins Sans Frontières. MSF is transparent and neutral without any political or religious affiliations, and does not accept donations from Pharmaceutical companies or companies that make Tobacco or Alcohol. Part of their job is to witness and report violations of human rights and dignity. MSF helps all persons who need them, regardless of their race, religion, politics or gender. MSF won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999." -Knitters without Borders.

Doctors Without Borders just received my donation of $67, about what I would have spent on this week's Wednesday night dinner. Mike and I will have a more modest dinner in our cozy home, with our cats, our roof intact over our heads. Think about what luxuries you could go without this week, and maybe Doctors Without Borders (or the Red Cross, or the Mercy Corps etc...) could have it instead.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday Night Dinner

Dinner tonight: assorted canadian cheeses - L'Artisan Oka (quebec), Salt Spring Island 'Juliette' chèvre (b.c), Glengarry Barely Blue (ontario) and Cooke's 2-year Cheddar, with crackers and olives from Pasta Genova. Also, pan-roasted duck breast with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus and a red wine-cherry sauce. And tiramisu.

Tiramisu is a well-known Italian dessert, whose name translates literally to 'pick me up'. It is rich, boozy and caffeinated, and as far as I'm concerned, perfect at any time of day (there's enough food groups in it to be suitable for breakfast, even). Commonly made with brandy and rum, I don't love those flavours, so I substitute Amaretto and Kahlua.

Here's how:
Get some espresso or really strong brewed coffee, and make sure it's good and cool. Once cool, add some Kahlua or other coffee-flavoured liqueur, and set aside. You want the espresso cool because there are uncooked eggs in this recipe, and you don't want to expose them to warm temperatures that might put them in the warm-ish temperature range that encourages the growth of not-delicious bacteria.

In a stand mixer, beat 3 egg whites until they keep a stiff peak, and set aside. Make sure that the bowl and whisk attachment are clean and free of grease, otherwise your whites won't develop nicely. If you do the whites first, you don't have to wash your equipment before moving on to the yolks.

Then, beat the yolks with 1/3 cup white sugar until the egg gets thick and pale yellow. Add 1 tub of mascarpone cheese and a healthy slug of Amaretto. Mascarpone is a delicious, thick, rich and INCREDIBLY expensive Italian cheese ($11 for a 500 mL tub). If that sounds unreasonable, you can get a tub of full-fat Ricotta cheese instead, and drain it in a sieve lined with coffee filter, placed over a bowl, in the fridge overnight. Beat until smooth.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the sweet yolk/cheese mixture, being careful not to deflate the whites.

This process makes a fluffy, smooth, rich and light cream, but raw eggs may not be a fabulous choice for the elderly, infirm or immunocompromised. If raw eggs are really worrisome for you, you can gently cook the yolks with the sugar over a double boiler, just until they lighten in colour, thicken slightly, and a whisk drawn through them leaves 'ribbons'. Cool slightly, and resume the recipe.

A really dedicated keener would probably make the ladyfinger cookies herself out of a genoise sponge cake batter piped into finger shapes. I find it easier to open a package of Savoiardi (Italian ladyfinger cookies), and you can get really decent ones in the grocery store.

To assemble: First of all, decide on the vessel you would like to contain your tiramisu- you can use a baking pan, a bowl, a coffee cup, a martini glass, what have you. Quickly dunk the Savoiardi, one at a time, in the cooled espresso mixture (do it really quick: these things are mostly made out of air, and will get really soggy and start to disintegrate if you let them swim in the delicious coffee for any length of time.) Make a layer of soaked ladyfingers, then spread some of the glorious mascarpone stuff on top, and repeat. 2 layers is plenty. obviously, more is better! Refrigerate the thing for at least 2 hours so the flavours really settle in. To serve, sift some plain cocoa powder, or grate some chocolate on top. Delish!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Discussing Religion at the Dinner Table.

I was raised in a traditional-ish Jewish family with a fairly idiosyncratic approach to Kashrut, the compendium of Jewish dietary law: two sets of plates and cutlery (plus others for Passover, and still others for the High Holidays), but take-out pepperoni pizza would be eaten on the meat plates. It would have raised some eyebrows to eat it on the dairy plates, even though the meal itself is completely not Kosher, and neither plate choice is appropriate. Cheese on a hamburger = o.k in my folks' household, but a glass of milk to wash it down = not o.k. Bacon = o.k, so long as it's not cooked in the house, but a pork chop = treif. Similarly, my family (with the exception of my brother and his wife, who have a more observant lifestyle) are lovers of shellfish and crustaceans, none of which are Kosher, but Passover and Yom Kippur, with their attendant eating/not eating rules are observed strictly. I don't think this is my family cherry-picking religious practices in terms of their convenience, but rather their way of making sense of the competing and contradictory religious and secular worlds they inhabit. All of this makes sense to me, and I have no trouble navigating the religious/cultural expectations of eating in my parents house.

There is not a lot of widespread agreement on the rationale behind Kashrut, and there is even disagreement on whether or not we, as mere mortals, should even be seeking to understand G-d's law. Operating on the assumption that it always preferable to seek to understand, rather than to blindly obey, I find some arguments for the purpose of Kashrut way more compelling than others. In fact, the two that make most sense to me are, while not mutually exclusive, at least incompatible. On the one hand, Mary Douglas, in her book, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1966) suggests that the Kashrut laws are a set of prescriptions and proscriptions designed to establish a pattern of wholeness (and therefore holiness) reflective of G-d's own holiness and perfection. Every act of eating, and even menu planning becomes a meditation on holiness. Animals that are kosher to eat are animals that conform perfectly to descriptions of wholeness. Land mammals that are good to eat have cloven hooves and ruminate, tasties from the water have fins and scales, birds have feathers and are capable of flight, and edible insects have to locomote by hopping, not swarming. Potentially delicious meals that either do not conform to these categories of cleanliness, or inhabit a grey area, fall short of perfection, and are therefore not Kosher.

On the other hand, it also makes sense to me that the Kashrut laws might be a way of maintaining a distinct society, rather than a holy one. Creating a very specific set of rules governing what may, or may not be eaten is an effective way of minimizing contact between different groups. For example, pigs don't offer much in the way of wool, milk or hide, and they consume grain: they probably weren't kept as livestock by the Israelites. The injunction against eating the flesh of pigs (and other strange animals) is maybe a way of keeping the Israelites separate by preventing them from sitting down to eat with other groups and cultures. Familiar and homegrown = kosher and delicious, strange and unfamiliar = contrary to G-d's will.

And while I think that these arguments are coherent and intelligible, they don't do much for me in terms of guiding my behaviour. I think all of G-d's creatures are delicious (with the possible exception of the strange and unfamiliar hopping insects, to say nothing of the swarming ones), and they all taste even better with butter on top.

I hope this doesn't offend you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I am not a food snob. Just saying.

Mike is cooking dinner for us. He's making Hamburger Helper, which he loves, and which I've never had before. I'm fully prepared to love it, too. And I certainly appreciate his effort.

So there.