Friday, 24 April 2009

How to get a head!

It is not often I go to a restaurant and pretty much ignore the menu but that is exactly what I did last week. I left the confines of downtown Toronto and ventured out in the wilds of suburbia to a restaurant located in a mall, yes a shopping mall. I was there for this –

Roasted Pig’s head and tail. James Chatto, local restaurant critic and bon vivant told me I had to try this dish. As soon as he began describing it I knew it was the dish for me, so with several other intrepid foodies, some of whom already knew about the delights at Villa Allegro, we headed for the 'burbs.

We began with– the cherry wood smoked quail, flattened and grilled over cherry wood. It comes right to the table hot coals and all. Poached quail's eggs on toasts and cherry tomatoes completed the dish. I love quail, missed the bones 'though, but it still made great tasty finger food.

Here are the pig's heads, that followed the quail. Notice how the staff expertly carve them, no half a head plunked on a plate. I love silver service, please note this restaurant has stools for your handbag, it reminds of France. We were given a choice of pieces; I of course, had everything. Two types of lentils, yellow and black, were served along with the head and there was cabbage as well. This was no place for a vegetarian but we did eat our veggies.

Here is my plate, from the front in a clockwise direction it holds cheek, belly (yes they added roast pork belly in case we were really hungry) lentils, tongue, tail and that cabbage mixture. Needless to say I wasn't paying too much attention to the vegetables. A piece of ear was added later, but by that time I was too busy eating to photograph it, sorry. It was all it should be - crispy skin, a thick layer of fat and moist melting meat, chewy cartilage (the ear) - James was right.

One of our group had called ahead to order brains. First these calf’s brains arrived in a crisp crumb coating. The sauce was buttery with capers a classic match and some chopped capers in the coating. Look! Even more vegetables, favas and a caramelized onion.

Then came the real show stopper - A huge wooden platter with six roasted lamb's heads, here is a close up view. The natural containers for the lamb’s brains and while this might put some of you off, one of our party wasn’t up to it, but then she wasn’t even up for the quails, you must admit it is great presentation.

If it wasn't the heads themselves it was the sight of the brains being scooped directly from them that did her in. I, on the other hand, was delighted. The brains were cooked longer than normal, turning them into the consistency of thick creamy – just wonderful. I would have liked to try the cheeks too, but nobody offered them and I was getting rather full.
There was pasta, tasty merlots from Chile, dessert and even grappa for the brave but all that faded into the mist. This was an evening about getting a head and eating it.
You can of course go to this restaurant and enjoy more regular fare, pasta, risotto, and great beef. And you should owner Felice Sabatino is the consummate host; the staff professional and you could spend the rest of your life reading the wine list. If you want a read a review of this restaurant that constantly makes Toronto's top ten list look here.
However if you want to experience dishes that rarely appear on menus on this side of the Atlantic call ahead and order, the roasted pig's head and tail, the brains, the horse meat or if you're lucky the lamb's testicles and discover how delicious these overlooked pieces are.

This last photo was taken by the team of Adjey/Correia - thank you.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What to eat?

I was sent this link today from edible communities - it made me think again about what I am buying. I really hate this time of year - all the fruit and vegetables look rather sad. I've had enough of winter roots and I've eaten kilos of rapini, black kale (organic I'm happy to say) and their relatives - too far north for any local asparagus yet. The choice of fruit is even worse, hothouse rhubarb is the only thing that is new but the supply is spotty. Local apples are tired and soft and the others are worn out and bruised from their long voyage from the southern hemisphere. And I don't want to eat them or the pears, I've had my fill last autumn and I remember how wonderful they tasted. A few blood oranges are still around and mangoes galore. I am not a tropical fruit lover but my husband is so it's more mangoes and today I broke down and bought a pineapple - I just wanted some fruit I liked. With relief I note they are on low in pesticides.
Out in my garden, despite the return of frigid temperatures, signs of spring are emerging. My hardy gooseberry bush is covered in leaves and blossoms, the red currant and the raspberry canes are sending out green shoots, even my wild strawberries are waking up from their winter slumber. Out on my deck my fig tree, covered in bright green leaves, is bravely resisting the cold winds. My home-grown fruit however is a long, long way away. So for the next week, until we leave for Paris, it is pineapple and mangoes. I know, on the other side of the Atlantic there will be white asparagus and cherries, baby peas and new potatoes - I can hardly wait.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Power of Bacon

I'd like to thank my friend Mary in Belgium for sending me this link scroll down and watch the video. Another example of how the internet can keep you up to date with the advances in modern science!
Seriously, there are a lot of people who should just be eating their bacon rather than playing with it. And before you point it out, I do know that prosciutto isn't bacon and let me assure you that I'll be eating mine not using it to cut up my baking sheets. Still it does show, yet again, that the pig is an amazing animal.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Dandelions with ham fat

No photo with this post because my husband and I wolfed down the dandelions before I could even think of grabbing the camera. We ate them with potatoes cooked in duck fat, and two blood sausages, homemade and bought. The homemade sausage still needs some work but it was way better than the one we purchased in the market. I don't like the Eastern European style of adding lots of kasha, my preference is blood, fat and a little a little spice, but more of that latter. The dandelions were delicious. Usually I make a salad, but recently I've just cut them up into manageable pieces and cooked the gently in fat with some salt and pepper and sliced garlic. The fat from my ham was perfect, no salt was necessary, they were rich with a bitter edge a good foil to the blood sausage and potatoes.

Monday, 13 April 2009

The best thing about Easter Ham?

This is my Easter ham with the Orange Dijon glaze recipe from Bones. We managed to demolish a good part of it for Easter lunch with my in-laws. I think their eyes were glazing over as I kept on talking about fat, but I have seen margarine in their fridge so they need all the help they can get. Ham fat, English butter on the table and organic milk in the potato gratin, olive oil with the braised rapini and garlic. More good fat by way of the pavlova with its topping of whipped cream and lightly poached hot house rhubarb. However, the best thing of all about Easter lunch yesterday is what I have here.
Yes, this wonderful Berkshire ham fat, white, smoky flavoured and absolutely delicious, I've already used it to cook some carrots to go with leftovers tonight. That's what I love about ham - there are always leftovers and a thousand recipes using a slice or two of good ham. This is going to be a great eating week.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns

Every Easter I become very cross about hot cross buns. They appear in the stores far too early, I saw some for sale back in January and are never very good, the best I’ve found and they are just okay, are in our local Jewish bakery!
Bring back the Tudor law that prohibited the sale of spiced buns except on Good Friday, at Christmas and for burials. If the government is so keen to legislate fat and salt out of our lives they should do something useful like ban the sale of seasonal foods out of season.
The baking of special breads for Spring dates back to ancient Greeks and it was generally assumed that this custom was appropriated by Christians, like many pagan rites, who then added the cross to tie them to the crucifixion. Good Friday was the day to eat them -
“9 Apr. an. 1773 Being Good Friday, I breakfasted with him and cross-buns.” James Boswell in his Life of Johnson.
While always served hot that adjective was only added to the buns in the nineteenth century, the cross however, may have been there all along. The round bun represented the sun and the two right-angled lines divided it into four to represent the seasons.
I’d been thinking about making my own buns and then stumbled across this recipe by Elizabeth Baird.
Knowing her recipes to be solid I made some today. Yes I know its not Good Friday, but I’m not selling them. I didn’t have any currants so I used a mixture of dried fruits I had left from Christmas – Thompson raisins, mixed peel, I believe peel should be in hot cross buns, and some dried cranberries. Not what I’d normally reach for but they were there and they are colourful and I chopped the mixture to make everything currant-sized. I was pleased Elizabeth advised making the cross with a sharp knife I’ve never been a fan of piped or icing crosses. And do make those cuts deep, my crosses are a little hard to see. I did add a glaze made with icing sugar and lemon juice, just to make them shine.

Verdict? I just ate one with a cup of Earl Grey tea. Good, but still not as I remember from my childhood but no doubt that memory is better than the real bun. Try making some yourself and let me know what you think. And to make them hot again? Hot cross buns are always better toasted.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

You Won! Congrats Jennifer!

That was the email I received late last night from my publisher in Denver - sent from his iphone, you have to love technology. I went to bed happy and shocked. I hope Mr Keller will still let me eat at The French Laundry or Per Se one day.
This morning I am chilling the champagne and congratulating my friends and fellow Torontonians Jeff and Naomi on their win and hoping to meet the other Canadian winner Montrealer Taras Grescoe soon. I am sure all four of us would enjoy a lively discussion.
Check out all winners here.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

New York New York

You might be wondering why a photo of butter goes along with a post titled New York? Well, unlike in Toronto, in NYC I can get just about any butter I want, well almost. As I am going to France next month I bought butter from elsewhere in Europe, Italy, England and Ireland. One of my favourites is Kerrygold,a butter that is widely available throughout the States. They helped sponsor my event with the New York Women's Culinary Alliance. It rains a lot in Ireland and there is lots of green grass, the basic building block of butter. We often forget on this side of the Atlantic that cows were designed to eat grass. Grass, flowers and herbs add the flavour to butter and the most flavourful late summer milk goes into Kerrygold salted butter - taste it and you'll know the cows has a wonderful diet plus you will be getting healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well. A big thank you to Suzen at Cooking by the Book and the members who cooked recipes from my book for everyone to taste, leaving me with nothing to do but talk about fat. Here is a photo of the flavoured pork fat and one member's comments on the event. I made everyone think again about animal fat and definitely convinced them of the importance of good quality butter. I made more converts at the French Culinary Institute, where I was lucky enough to talk to the students and explain the benefits of cooking with animal fat. I haven't been neglecting my home town. Back in February I was praising fat to a very favourable audience at Coupe Space and last week I was at Cowbell restaurant, where chef Mark Cutrara cooked a delicious fatty meal and I was able to talk about fat again. You can't really stop me, and I am not finished yet - details of upcoming events with the Weston Price and Slow Food groups here in Toronto will be posted soon.