Backlit by the winter sun, Seville orange marmalade
“If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had supped he would breakfast in Scotland.” -Dr. Samuel Johnson as quoted in John Thorne’s Mouth Wide Open
In the chapter “Maximum Marmalade” in his book Mouth Wide Open, John Thorne describes marmalade as being the most masculine of breakfast preserves and shares his theory of how it evolved in Scotland to replace the morning snort of whisky. To agree with Thorne’s writing on food is like agreeing with Hemingway on fishing and so I’ll just fall back on quoting his description:
“It is, after all, the only fruit preserve with an attitude problem. Where the others are all lambs, this one is a lion. Ordinarily, sugar works as a calmative, soothing everything into unctuous fruitiness. With marmalade, it plays the lion tamer, which with whip and chair just manages to keep its bitterness at bay.”
If we accept this description–and I do–and extend the analogy further it goes without saying that if it’s suitably masculine to attend this breakfast circus by eating marmalade it has to be even more manly to go behind the scenes as the ringleader and create our own recipe. For both scotch and marmalade we appreciate that the careful craftsmanship involved is integral to their balanced natures. I don’t think I’ll ever make my own fifteen year-old whisky but in today’s post I’ll take another shot at creating a perfect marmalade recipe. I’m after a finished product which assertively presents thick-cut, fragnant, yet bitter Seville orange peel as the main act and not just a bitter garnish suspended in a sweet jelly. (more…)
The pile of sausages starts to build
On the third-most important Sunday of the football calendar (conference championships next weekend and the Super Bowl in three) I made my way to Oakville for a very appropriate cooking collaboration: Sausage Fest 2010. One of my earliest posts was about grinding beef for hamburgers and I have made homemade sausages before but this time Alex and I were going all out. Some might even say overboard. But they’re wrong.
Pork shoulder ready to go under the knife
If you come from a sausage-making tradition and have been participating in multi-generational sausage parties for years you probably don’t need to hear much more from me on the matter–except perhaps that pork shoulder is on sale and can be had for as little as seventy-nine cents a pound in some places–otherwise some research is in order. Online, the best place to start is a remarkable website called Hunter Angler Gardener Cook created by a gentleman named Hank Shaw. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that most of the sausages he makes feature deer, bear, and squirrel–the process is the same for grocery store pork. He wrote this dead-simple guide to making sausages on Simply Recipes, an advanced guide on his own site, and for those who prefer books here is his sausage and charcuterie library.
Every guide to making sausages stresses the need to keep everything involved as cold as possible. All the equipment should be refrigerated, the meat should be chilled for an hour in the freezer and added fat can even be frozen solid. As described in Hank Shaw’s excellent guide the goal is to keep the fat as a separate phase that doesn’t melt or smear. (more…)
My ham came from this locally-raised pig at Sanagan's
During the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons those giant waist-level refrigerated bins at grocery stores fill with hams of all shapes and sizes. Over the past several years the selection has improved, in my opinion at least, away from those re-constituted, mechanically-formed miniature satellites towards a lot more options that have a bone and look like they may once have belonged to an animal. But finding a fresh (uncured, unsmoked) leg of pork is still a tall order here in Toronto.
Being a good citizen of the 21st century I turned to Twitter and asked the first three purveyors I could find: Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Olliffe Butcher Shop, and Fiesta Farms. On top of the amazing mental picture of a butcher in a heavy-duty, blood-spattered apron replying to my questions (with his vacuum packed iPhone, of course) I also received prompt answers from all three. Fiesta is considering carrying fresh pork legs in the future but don’t now, and luckily the other two had what I needed. Wanting to support the new guy on the block (of Baldwin, a street I lived on in the not-so-distant past) I made my way down to Sanagan’s.
The characteristic that impresses me most about this butcher shop is how efficiently they use a small space. There’s meat everywhere and definitely no sauce and spice rub aisle in which the timid customer could hide. To underline this point the large, free-standing butcher block to the right of the door displayed an entire pig, split into three primal sections (head and forequarter, rib and loin, and hind legs). As you can tell from the picture at the top of the post this pig looked much more like Babe than like the 250-pound behemoths we might usually think of as slaughter size. (more…)
Il Fornello's Bayview Village location
Yesterday, I offered my cheat sheet to surviving Winterlicious and today I’m going to take a look at what is out there for those who decide to go a different dining route over the next few weeks. Thanks to the hospitality of Il Fornello and Knot PR I was given the opportunity this week to kick the tires on Il Fornello’s Winterdelicious (note the “de”) menu. This promotion is running at all Il Fornello locations (except King St.) on Sunday through Thursday from January 12 to February 11.
Like most prix fixe menus Il Fornello’s $25 (of which $0.75 goes to charity) version is divided into appetizers, mains, and dessert. Diners can choose between four appetizer options, the same number of mains, and one dessert. I was lucky enough to sample all nine dishes in thankfully smaller-than-usual portions. Well, except the dessert which was full-size and for this, no complaints emanated from my corner of the table. (more…)
Quince: The scene of last year's Winterlicious meal
Winterlicious reservations open this week and Twitter (or at least the collection of people I follow on Twitter) can’t talk about anything else. Winterlicious (and Summerlicious) are annual promotions that were originally designed to help the Toronto restaurant industry get through SARS in 2003 and kept around to increase business during the slow seasons.
Complaints are numerous and range from customers who feel rushed, crowded, and under-fed to servers who feel over-worked and under-tipped. Last year Ivy Knight had this article in the Toronto Star that provided an inside look at how restaurant insiders feel about Winterlicious.
I understand that it can be a tough slog but think the promotions are golden opportunities for restaurants. For once they know that pretty much every customer in the house belongs to the same value-oriented market segment. Set food costs and and price (within the City’s pre-defined brackets) to make money or consider the endeavour advertising. If customers aren’t buying enough wine let’s see some value-added effort like by-the-glass pairing suggestions for each course or a focus on local wine or the wine of a region relevant to the restaurant’s cuisine. The bottom-line really is that the promotions are still running and attracting more participating restaurants than ever. In other words, owners are signing up, servers are working, and customers are filling the seats. (more…)