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Rice Bran Oil

About a year and a half ago I ordered a book called Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work that has become one of my staple cooking references. Their recipe for cold-smoked fried chicken sent me on a bit of a wild-goose chase for rice bran oil because at that time it wasn’t carried very widely in Toronto grocery stores. The Hansells Group and their Alfa One brand of rice bran oil is now working to change that.

From the preview event they held a couple weeks ago at the Sub Zero & Wolf Showroom in Toronto I took home a sample of the product. They were demo’ing examples of the oil used for sauteeing, baking, in a salad dressing and as part of the sauce for Thai curry mussels and everything tasted but I wanted to test the oil out at home.

Eggplant fritter frying in rice bran oil.

Eggplant fritter frying in rice bran oil.

On our trip to Spain last April we managed to develop a low-level addiction to fried eggplant fritters with honey. Since we’ve been back we’ve made them at least once a month. Most recipes like the berenjenas con miel in Claudia Roden’s The Food Of Spain call for soaking eggplant slices in milk, dusting them with flour and then frying in sunflower oil. Because the coating is so light and the other flavours are so neutral this seems like an ideal situation for a side-by-side test. (more…)

Pancakes with Kentucky Fried Chicken

Bits of fried chicken skin in a stack of pancakes.

Fried chicken and waffles, like they do it at The Stockyards, are a classic duo that I wanted to see if I could improve upon. It’s pancake Tuesday this week and waffles would be a fine stand-in–whether as a last indulgence before the deprivation of Lent or just for the breakfast-for-dinner thrill–but I’m not sure they’re an ideal pair. Perhaps weekly eaters of fried chicken and waffles have developed some especially delicate approach. I haven’t and halfway through the meal it looks like a toddler has had an especially vigorous food tantrum.

Also waffles are light and crisp and need to be eaten quickly. Fried chicken has bones and is a finger food and that doesn’t match well with waffle’s buddy syrup.

Not only do I think pancakes would be a better match but I wanted to find a way to make fried chicken (of all things) more indulgent. Why not take the work out of it and focus on the best part by crusting and frying only the skin? A gluttonous version of popcorn chicken. (more…)

Deep Fried Pickles with Cheese and Bacon

Dill Pickles stuffed with cheddar cheese and bacon, coated in panko bread crumbs and deep-fried.

Listen, I know I’m treading dangerously close to cliche territory here but deep fried pickles are actually one of those dishes that you either love or you hate. When I let it slip that I was working on a new adaptation of this trashy pub classic a large majority of respondents went all googly-eyed and lost control of their saliva glands.

A small but vocal minority (who happen to be some of the wine experts I respect most–coincidence?) were having none of it. Objections tended towards they’re too salty and acidic but my favourite has to be: Who wants a hot pickle?

Well, I do. In those chain sports-bar-pubs, deep-fried pickles can be just as awful as the other frozen garbage but if you make them at home, especially with homemade pickles, you’ll be a super-star. I find that deep-frying my wild dill pickles brings out the garlic, dill, and black pepper flavours. You do get more of the acid but because they’re lacto-fermented it’s that intriguing funk instead of just the sharpness of the distilled stuff they use in mass production. (more…)

Service à l’Italienne

Two centuries ago gourmands and gluttons were heatedly debating the style of service at formal meals.  Should dishes be brought out together (service à la française) or as separate courses (service à la russe)?  Anyone who has been to a wedding reception, diner, or formal restaurant in the last eighty years knows which side won. Sure, we still see the occasional buffet but this kept-warm and replenished system is not the true a la francaise one.

In our Anglo-American culture and my home growing up in particular there .  Meals generally started with a green-heavy salad and were followed by a course which is protein, a starch, and at least two vegetables all on one plate.

Along with other influences my recent experience with Massimo Bruno’s supper club has me considering the Italian idea for larger family meals.  As I perceive it this means a meal proceeds from antipasto to a starch course of pasta or sometimes pizza or risotto, to the protein course of meat or fish, and then a green vegetable secondi. A sweet dessert, or dolce, concludes the meal.


Pig Ear and Pear Salad

Fried pig ear and pear salad on a slices of pig loaf

Fried pig ear and pear salad on a slices of pig loaf

I love eating the unusual and delicious parts of cows and pigs–especially when Chef Grant van Gameren turns his hand to tongues and snouts.  But I can’t think of another occasion when I have cooked a skin-on mammal body part.  I know for a fact that I have never used a Bic lighter to burn the hair off an ingredient.  Only about a square inch between the two ears had a few hairs left so this was just a new experience and not drudgery.

Two lovely pig ears

Two lovely pig ears

Squeamishness didn’t affect me but I was struck by how odd it was to have two pieces of meat that very obviously are pig ears on my cutting board. I reminded myself that for every pork tenderloin we eat there is also an ear and respectful meat eating should incorporate an effort to balance our consumption of the “undesirable” parts with the “desirable” ones. (more…)