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Foodstuff: Canary Melon

canary-melon-1

For as long as I can remember, the type of melons routinely available in my local stores have been Cantaloupe, Honeydew, and Watermelon, with other varieties only sporadically appearing (and then only just briefly). Just recently, I saw plastic covered trays of sliced melon at my supermarket and I assumed they were Honeydew until I saw the label, which identified them as ‘Canary Melon’ slices. It was only then that I looked around and saw the fruit you see pictured above.  The sticker on each fruit specified ‘Juan Canary’ and I took this to be a brand name until I learned that it is simply an alternate appellation… I gather you can call them just ‘Canaries’, or else ‘Juan Canaries’, if you want (assuming, I suppose, you have been properly introduced first).

Anyway, the fruits are cultivated in Korea, Japan, Morocco and, Mexico, and I gather that they are related to both the Honeydew and the Winter Melon, which is used extensively in Chinese cookery. The flesh looks superficially like Honeydew but it has a softer texture, a little bit like a pear. The aroma, even before slicing is very sweet and pleasant and it actually made my whole kitchen smell wonderful in the twelve hours or so it was sitting on the counter.

When I finally did cut in to it, there was a considerable amount of juice and the taste was every bit as sweet as the smell. It was, I have to say, most reminiscent of Honeydew, but there was also a very noticeable additional component that is a little hard to describe. It was a finishing note that had a somewhat flowery, aromatic quality to it… something like the acetone-sweetness you get with bananas ripening in a bag. There was also a faint woody highlight in places (again aromatic, like cedar), and the whole effect was very nice indeed. I prefer the texture of cantaloupe and honeydew, to be honest, but this variety makes for a pleasant change.

Broccolini in XO Sauce

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When I recently featured Broccolini in a post some weeks back, I mentioned that it is a hybrid of broccoli and Gai Lan. I also mentioned that Gai Lan is one of my best-loved greens and so, today, I am featuring a simple preparation inspired by a perennial dim sum favorite, Gai Lan in Oyster Sauce. Here, though, aside from using Broccolini instead of the Chinese greens, I am replacing the Oyster sauce with the much more decadent XO Sauce and some rice wine as well… Read more

Foodstuff: Beef Shank

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Beef shanks haven’t traditionally been popular cuts in western cookery and one only infrequently sees them in supermarkets. The cut, sometimes called the ‘shin’ when taken from the front leg, is quite sinewy and shot through with tendons so it commonly ends up getting ground up for burger meat. This is a little unfortunate, really, as the meat can be very flavorful. If you get an opportunity to try it in Chinese restaurants, you will see why many Asians prize the meat for its collagen rich texture.

Here you can see some shin meat that I came across at my local marker recently. The display cases were only offering pre-cut ‘Shank-Steaks’ for sale but the butcher was quite happy to prepare me a longer section, which you can see in the above picture. Although foreshortened, the larger piece (which I shall henceforth simply call ‘the shank’), is about 8 inches long and weighs in at just over 3 pounds. I was very happy to be able to buy the two different types of cut as it will allow me to make a few different meals, and show you how this underused cut can be prepared… Read more

Foodstuff: Cheshire Cheese

Cheshire Cheese 1

When I posted my Ploughman’s Lunch recently, I mentioned that the cheese I used was a nice Cheshire Cheese. It occurred to me after the fact that said cheese deserves a bit more of a mention, particularly as it is not especially well known here in Canada. This is a bit surprising really because, in Britain, whence it hails, it is very nearly as popular as Cheddar cheese. Cheshire Cheese originates in the English county of Cheshire but is nowadays made farther afield. Like Cheddar, it is made in a ‘White’ form (actually an off-white, really), and also a ‘Red’ form, where Annatto Seeds are used to dye the product a deep orange color. Traditionally, there was also a blue-veined variety (a la Stilton, for example), and, while this almost disappeared for a long time, it is apparently making something of a comeback.

By the way, the variety I recently discovered in my local supermarket is a product of Coombe Castle™ , whose logo I have added to the picture above. I can’t speak with vast experience on all the different versions of Cheshire Cheeses, but I can say that this particular product is broadly representative of the class as best as I can distinguish.

Cheshire Cheese is generally classed as a ‘crumbly’ cheese but, while this is generally true, it will vary in ‘crumbliness’ depending on the manufacturer. The cheese you see above has a texture that is not terribly dissimilar to a typical cheddar except that, rather than cut cleanly, will flake and crumble slightly under the knife blade… not to the same degree as, say, a dry Feta, for example, but in a way that is noticeable in the mouth-feel. Some describe Cheshire as being a bit like a mild Cheddar but I really don’t see that at all (not the least because both cheese types vary from mild to strong, dependent on aging and the like). Cheddar tends to be a little sharper, with more of a lactic acid ‘bite’, in my experience, while Cheshire is distinguished by more of a pungent quality that is slightly reminiscent of ‘blue’ cheeses (albeit much more delicately).

Anyway, Cheshire Cheese is well worth the try if you haven’t done so already. It is not quite as versatile as a generic Cheddar, I find,  (most varieties don’t melt quite as nicely, for example), but it is nicely rounded without any of the ‘extreme’ notes that might put off all but the most ardent cheese lovers. It will always make a great addition to a cheese board…

A Truffle Hunter’s Fricassee

Truffle Hunter Fricasee 1

I probably should have called today’s dish ‘A Disgruntled Truffle Hunters Fricassee’, especially as there are no actual truffles in the recipe. Many truffle hunters use pigs to help sniff out their quarry but, as you can imagine, not all hunts will be successful and, occasionally, one must make do with truffle oil and mushrooms, as I do here. As you will see, pork is the main feature in this particular fricassee, and so perhaps this dish is made in the spirit of a truffle hunter who came home empty handed one day and then took it out on his poor, hapless pig … Read more

Foodstuff: Sambal Ikan Bilis

Sambal Ikan Bilis 1

I have featured a fair number of ‘Sambals’ in the pages of this blog, most notably Sambal Oelek, the simple chili paste I use constantly, and Sambal Terasi, which builds upon the Oelek base and incorporates dried, fermented shrimp paste. Today’s feature is very similar to the latter except that the chili paste base is enhanced with dried anchovies. It is popular as a condiment in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it regularly accompanies Nasi Lemak, one of the national dishes, but, like Sambal Oelek, and other derivations, it can also be used as an ingredient in more complex recipes… Read more

Rumbledethumps

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Rumbledethumps is essentially the Scottish equivalent of Colcannon and, like the Irish original, sometimes includes mashed turnips (and even carrots) as well. Indeed, with the basic Colcannon being a mix of mashed potatoes and greens, and the Scottish ‘Clapshot’ being turnips and ‘taties’ mashed together, you could probably think of Rumbledethumps with turnip as being a bastard child of the two.

In some versions of Rumbledethumps, things get even more complex than merely upping the veggie count, and the basic blend is cooked again by baking, often with cheese being melted on top. My version is a little simpler… Read more

Notable Nosh: The Ploughman’s Lunch

Ploughmans Lunch 1

Almost anyone in Britain will be familiar with the pub special known as the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ (or some version thereof), but fewer people have ever heard of it on this side of the pond. I actually remember the name from my childhood in England but, just this summer, I came across it on pub menus in both Ottawa and Halifax …

The rather pastoral name of this simple meal makes it sound as though it has roots far back in medieval times but, in fact, it is not a great deal older than I am. Certainly, bread, cheese and ale have been combined to make repasts for field hands and other laborers for centuries but the actual ‘lunch’ combo was an invention of the British Cheese Marketing Board back in the 1950’s as a way to get cheese served more often in public houses.

Anyway, the basic lunch (ideally served with beer) is centered around good, fresh bread, butter, cheese of some sort, and a pickle. Pickled onions are a great favorite (although sometimes raw onion slices are served) but any sort can be substituted, with Branston Pickle being quite common these days. Meat, in the form of cold ham, Scotch Eggs, or Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, also make regular appearances, and even fruit slices or small salads get used as enhancements to the ‘traditional’ plate. Once you get too elaborate, though, the original notion of a simple, working person’s lunch, seems to get lost in culinary translation…

Today, I put together a little plate for myself consisting of a hunk of just baked Baguette (baked my local supermarket, not me), butter, a very nice Cheshire Cheese, and some pickled onions of the cocktail variety. I would have preferred the larger, more robustly flavored,  sort but, sadly, I just can’t seem to find them anywhere locally. With a cold beer on the side, this made a lovely lunch…

Foodstuff: Broccolini

Broccolini 1

Given the appearance of Broccolini, and the clear ‘diminutive’ suffix on the name, most would be excused for thinking that this product is simply an immature Broccoli … or a ‘Baby Broccoli’ as it is sometimes known. In fact, it is actually a hybrid, or cross-breed, of the more standard vegetable and the leafy, but slender-staled Gai Lan, which is one of my favorite greens. Indeed, from a distance, and with my aging eyesight, I thought this Broccolini was Gai Lan when I first saw it and I might have been disappointed if I didn’t know that the hybrid can be every bit as good … Read more

Pork and Onion Baozi

Pork and Onion Baozi 01

Bao, or Bao Zi, as I have mentioned elsewhere, are steamed Chinese buns, one very popular variety of which is the famous Cha Siu Bao (叉燒包), which comes stuffed with Chinese BBQ Pork. During my summer vacation, I got to try a variation on the traditional at a little place called Tomo in Ottawa’s Byward Market. These particular sort, rather whimsically called ‘Bao Wows’, were enhanced with the addition of caramelized onions and, though I wasn’t especially taken with them, they did inspire me to try something similar. Today, I present my own twist on the theme using pork belly and Crispy Fried OnionsRead more

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