Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lobster, Morels, Radish, Fennel, Ramps

Undoubtedly, my favourite ingredient is mushrooms. Their earthy complexity, meatiness and diversity of flavour is unrivalled. A lot of people I know dislike the delicious fungi which I find puzzling because they are awesomely delicious. No ingredient is as versatile as the humble mushroom. It comes in hundreds of edible varieties, each with a different shape, texture and flavour. None that I've eaten have come close to the perfection that is a morel mushroom. These curious fungi grow in the late spring here in Toronto, until early summer. The season is short, so it's best to eat them up before they disappear until next year. I picked some up for 39 dollars a pound at St. Lawerence Market, along with some lobster.

The specimens I bought at the Market!
My favourite way to appreciate the special flavour of a morel is by sauteing it in butter - ALOT of butter. It's ridiculously easy. Heat a generous amount of butter until very hot, then add the morels and let them bubble in the warm butter for several minutes until they have been cooked throughout. Don't eat them raw or undercooked - they will mildly poison you (vomiting and stomach pains), but through cooking they are 100% edible. You will know when they are done, the butter will have glazed them, they will be tender and have wilted almost. The next step is to take a high quality salt like Maldon or Fleur de Sel and generously sprinkle them with it. Serve morels with practically anything, meat, fish, vegetables. I served them with fennel puree, made by cooking fennel in milk with salt, then pureeing and straining the results. The lobster was taken out from the shell and reheated in it's juice and butter (I didn't want to bring home a live lobster myself, then kill it). It was a good dish, the lobster was tender and juicy, the morels earthy and rich like a meat. The fennel puree was smooth and subtle. Pickled ramps provided acidity to balance out the morels and lobster. Radishes added some pungency.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Summer weather finally has arrived in Toronto after a moderately cold winter. All those heavy winter clothes get shoved back in the closet till next year. Likewise, all those hearty winter foods get replaced by fresh and vibrant seasonal foods. For me, Vietnamese spring rolls are really representative of summer food. They are light and crisp and perfect for hot weather. You can eat them anywhere because they are portable. What really makes them is a salty, sweet, tart and complex dipping sauce. Something that's irresistible and delicious.

Slicing all the vegetables is usually the longest part of the process. Thankfully, my Nonna's meat slicer did the job nicely and created uniformly textured and sized strips of cabbage, carrot and onion. Thai basil and bean sprouts were also added.
The dipping sauce was a spicy tomato jam, made by cooking down tomatoes with onion in sesame oil, then adding fish sauce, thai basil stems (from flavour), rice vinegar, salt and sugar. The sauce simmered until it was thick and enormously flavoured.
From there I rolled out the spring rolls, adding a handful of the sliced vegetables into each rice paper roll. The rolls are really enjoyable and fun to make, albeit slightly repetitive. About 30 rolls later, I was done. In the end, these came out great. The filling was fresh, multicoloured and slightly bitter from the cabbage. The tomato jam was excellent - acidic, sweet, salty and refreshing on a hot day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Black Hoof Review

I've been dying to go to the Black Hoof. Finally, my Mom took me there. What a great meal. There are no reservations, so that can mean having to wait in hour long line-ups for a taste of nose-to-tail eating. Luckily, Thursday nights are relaxed. We arrived at 6:00 (when it opens). Our server was Ian. He was very friendly and answered all our questions about the food. We were seated behind the open kitchen, so I could watch the cooks cooking our food. We started with the charcuterie platter. Shortly, the various charcuterie delights arrived along with bread, whole-grain mustard and lavender whipped lardo; ranging from mild to robust. First was a cappicollo. It was mild, rich and salty, however did not taste much different from the store bought stuff. Gorgeous blankets of cured duck breast were the highlight; their fat dissolving as it grazed your lip. They were incredible. Dry-cured fennel salami was sublime and porktastic. Horse bologni was good, yet not that great texturally. The bologni was more like a pate than a cured meat. It fell apart and was too soft. The lardo was interesting, it tasted like porky butter with a frothiness to it. The bread was really good. Our second order was the foie gras torcheon with honey gastrique and brioche. It was my first real foie gras experience. My first bite was mind-blowing. I just loved the texture. Silky, soft and melted as it warmed in your mouth. Truly a luxury product. It's flavour was indescribable. Not livery, not butter-like, but slightly sweet and unami-packed. My mom found the foie too rich and only had two bites. By the time I finished, I was really full. The foie was uber-delicious but need acidity desperately. The honey only help richen the dish not relieve richness. A beautiful compote of cherry, or some other fruit would have really worked wonders. Glazed pig belly was next. It arrived atop apple puree, ramp kimchee and generously glazed with a soy/hoisin glaze. Wow. The belly was sensational. The best dish of the night. Meltingly tender, salty and rich best describe it. The ramp kimchee was a perfect acidic addition and the apple puree was sublime. Next came N'duja sausage, a calabrese specialty with plentiful amounts of parsley, deep fried brussel sprouts and parmigiano cheese stacked over toast and arugula pesto. The sausage really was one of the best I've had. Taken out of the case, still moist then seared. I really enjoyed the bold seasoning in the dish, with parsley, garlic and arugula pesto. It was punchy and bold. All the flavours well incredibly well, the salty cured sausage, crisp toast, crunchy brussles sprouts, vibrant parsley, and smooth pesto. Next were salty nuggets of sweetbreads fried in butter came scattered along with slightly chewy ramps, tender fiddleheads and creamy potatoes. The sweetbreads really benefited from the smoking which added a layer of complexity to this relatively simple dish. A really delicious dish. All together, the Black Hoof is a definite come back. It's affordable, casual, and awesome. It's pretty surprising how this place still uses a four-burner electric stove to pump out food. I also loved the open kitchen, so I could see what the cooks were up to, searing the sweetbreads, glazing the pig belly, slicing the charcuterie. I would highly recommend.