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August, 2010:

Spit Roast

“We can learn to be cooks but we must be born knowing how to roast.” -Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin as quoted in Jeffrey Steingarten’s “As the Spit Turns” in It Must Have Been Something I Ate (Knopf).

“Some people roast a chicken and then peel off and discard the skin.  What is the point?  If you can’t stand the skin, stay out of the chicken.” -Steingarten himself in “As the Spit Turns”

I shudder a bit when the oven in our backyard at the cottage is referred to as the “pizza oven”.  I do it myself because “wood-fired oven” is cumbersome and “outdoor brick oven” even more so but I really don’t want it to be thought of as some one-trick pony.  The oven’s on an island away from the tentacles of the homogenized orange pizza delivery empire but still it was a lot of work and uses a lot of wood to just make one dish, no matter how delicious.  That’s why when the oven was being lead through the curing process (days of low, long fires to gently drive the moisture out of the masonry) I made a point to cook a variety of dishes.  Pulled pork for tacos, steak grilled over coals, and probably best of all, roast chicken.

The guys at The Paupered Chef have written more than one post about roast chicken (my favourite of their methods is the recipe that calls for croutons under the chicken to catch the fatty drippings).  I’m not as roast chicken obsessed as they are but it is a dish I think a lot about and I thought I might be able to use a rotisserie to roast a chicken in the brick oven. (more…)

Blueberry Grunt

The hot weather this summer has made it an especially good season for fruit.  The great thing about desserts featuring fresh fruit is that they are so flexible that I have gone an entire summer and made a different dessert almost every weekend.  I have combined blueberries with peaches to make a cobbler that was the first dessert from the pizza oven but wanted to try a recipe that is more traditionally for blueberries so I tracked down a recipe for the blueberry grunt.  This classic preparation was popular with those who settled the Canadian maritime provinces and the New England states.

Desserts often put to the test the axiom that successfully cooking decent food is only about closely following instructions.  Without even considering souffles or custards, pie dough can often confound the beginner.  This recipe is a definite exception.  As easy or easier than blueberry pancakes–a staple of the kitchen-wary bachelor–this recipe has three basic steps: cook fruit with water and sugar; mix batter; drop blobs of batter onto cooking fruit, cover and finish cooking. (more…)

Not Far From the Tree

I wrote last summer about my experience picking apples with the community organisation, Not Far From the Tree.  That was a positive one for me but with some reflection I have to admit that it’s novelty had a lot to do with that judgment.  The apples we picked (and I preserved using a recipe for spiced apples) were, quite frankly, under-mature and despite my wishful thinking the sharp mallic acid taste and starchy texture didn’t improve in the Mason jar. I read in Jeffrey Steingarten’s Ripeness Is All that apples are well-suited to ripening after harvest as they convert starch to sugar so we must have been truly early in picking these.  I also now know how to tell if an apple is ripe: Cut it through its equator and if the seeds are brown it is ready to be harvested.

This really wasn’t NFFTT’s fault; I’m sure that the combination of scheduling a limited volunteer pool and home owners who declare that their tree absolutely must be picked immediately so that all the fruit doesn’t litter their yard means that mine wasn’t the only group picking under-ripe fruit. Complaining about free food seems ungracious but on the other hand isn’t that preferable to wasting apples that in the next-best scenario would have fallen and fed animals, birds, and the tree itself? (more…)

Petersburg Pickles

Back in December at the Foodiemeet bake-off I was lucky enough to win a gift certificate from the Samovar Room for bottle service vodka.  I went back with friends a month later and enjoyed a bottle of Russian Standard.  This isn’t really the usual bottle service experience because the waitress brings a tray full of glasses, traditional Russian mixers, a dish of olives, and a small pitcher of pickle brine that she claimed we were meant to chase the vodka shots with.

On one hand I figured this was an insider trick to fool the uninitiated into making asses of themselves but on the other I really like pickles and will shoot just about anything (see my Chalet sauce near-addiction; thankfully I’ve been clean for going on eighteen months).  Taste-wise (and who care about anything else?) this is a great idea.  The vodka smooths the sharp saltiness of the brine which in return highlights vodka’s (few) good qualities. (more…)

Basil Oil

This recipe has been on my mind for a long time.  Back in March I had the opportunity to try Massimo Bruno’s Italian Supper Club and there were a lot of dishes that stood out but one technique that I knew I wanted to replicate at home.  The mozzarella and tomatoes that he served together were powerfully supported by the essence of basil but I couldn’t find any trace of the third, green musketeer on the plate.

Possibly inspired by one too many glasses of wine, I assumed that some combination of particularly potent basil and a long exposure time had caused the cheese and tomatoes to soak up the basil’s flavour.  Obviously, it was basil oil behind the magic of delivering the herbal aroma and flavour while eliminating the off-putting texture. (more…)