Posted in Dishes of Note

Cold Pig Ear Shreds

This little dish is an appetizer from the fairly extensive ‘Authentic Chinese’ section of the menu at the Best Chinese Restaurant here in Halifax. I am fairly sure I have featured pig’s ears in a previous restaurant review sometime during the past several years, but this preparation deserves a bit of a mention…

Pig’s ears, often served cold, are enjoyed in Chinese cuisine primarily for their texture. The taste is somewhat negligible, and chiefly overshadowed by accompanying ingredients, but the sheet of cartilage below the thin, soft skin, yields a bite that is a bit like breaking the skin of a knackwurst… it seems tough and unyielding at the first pressure, but then suddenly gives way with a satisfyingly crisp crunch.

These ones were prepared much as others I have had; that is to say, in red chili oil (it appears as  红油耳丝  on the menu), and also includes scallion and garlic. What differentiated this particular one in my mind is the sheer amount of raw garlic… there were thick slices of it all throughout the dish and they really added a sharp note in addition to the fire of the flakes of chili in the oil.

As much as I enjoyed this, though, I think I would be willing to forego the raw garlic in order to have this served as a hot dish rather than a cold appetizer… I think the pleasure of the dish would be enhanced (for me at least). There is a decent Chinese market I recently discovered not far from my new home that may have the raw pig’s ears from time to time, and if I come across them, I will see what I can do with them…

Posted in Recipes

Octopus Pasta Salad

Today’s post features one of the sorts of dishes that comes together out of a need to finish of various foodstuffs that might otherwise go to waste. Here, I had some leftover grilled octopus tentacles (which actually would have been eaten one way or the other) along with some tomatoes that were getting very ripe indeed, and some basil leaves left after pruning the plants in my kitchen window.

The basil and tomato suggested a Caprese Salad sort of affair and, while I didn’t quite go that way, the basic idea did inspire the pasta salad I eventually created. To make it, I first boiled, drained, rinsed and cooled some fusilli pasta (rinsing is only employed when using pasta in cold dishes). I then tossed this with just a little olive oil and some dried thyme, savory, and black pepper. Later, just before final assembly of the dish, I tossed the pasta once again with just a tiny amount of mayonnaise to give the whole a creamier consistency, and then stirred in some diced tomato and basil cut chiffonade.

The tentacles of the octopus had already been prepared by blanching and were subsequently grilled on skewers. The majority (already eaten at this point) were threaded whole onto the skewers, while the remainder, used here, were sliced crosswise and grilled with just a little oil and seasoning. Once cooled, the meat, still on the skewers was marinated with a little more oil, some garlic, rosemary and lemon juice. The total margination time was no more than a few hours (basically long enough to make the salad), and, to serve, I just popped a few skewers atop a mound of the salad and, on this occasion, I garnished one of the bowls with some basil flowers.

Anyway, the result was very nice. The salad was simple and tasty and would easily make a great starter dish all by itself. The same was true of the octopus, which was very tender and enhanced by the combination of herbs and lemon juice. The only thing I was less keen on was the pairing of octopus with basil…. That would be something I may rethink in the future…

Posted in Dishes of Note

Seared Scallops at Lapointe

I had this appetizer of grilled scallops at Lapointe Seafood Grill in Ottawa’s Byward Market way back in the summertime. In truth, the dish wasn’t especially memorable and I might well have not featured it in a post except for the fact that it employed a couple of interesting additions that I thought would be worth trying at home and thus deserving of a mention here…

The dish was described on the menu as follows:

Now, first, I have to say that the plating job in this case was really sub-standard, which really detracted from the overall enjoyment. The arugula was largely placed with spinach that was haphazardly strewn on the platter, as were with the scallops and the ragged pieces (not sections) of orange.

The scallops, however, were very nicely grilled, having been seared to a caramelized crispiness on the outside while being tender, and still slightly translucent on the inside. I am not sure what happened to the ‘maple espresso’ dressing promised in the menu description as neither of these flavors were apparent in what I was served. Possibly the kitchen had none on hand due to some disaster or other, and had to improvise. As it happened, the dressing I did receive was tangy and very nice so, while I was a bit disappointed at not getting the interesting sounding dressing that was promised, I still enjoyed this part of the dish.

What I really enjoyed, here, was the pairing of orange, nuts and scallop. I am not a huge fan of pistachios, and would prefer, say, hazelnuts, or the like, but the flavor combination here worked very well. I actually resurrected my notes for this appetizer while looking for ideas to use with some lovely sea scallops I received as a gift. I am not sure exactly how I will go about it as yet, but I do wish to capture something of that very pleasant pairing with at least some of my scallops. I will be sure to share the results of any experiments along those lines, of course …

Posted in Wine

Château Verdignan Haut-Médoc 2005

Last May, I reviewed a very decent Moulins de Citran Haut-Médoc 2009 and gave a broad overview of the red blends of Bordeaux in general, and the wines of the Haut-Médoc AOC in particular. Today’s selection is another Haut-Médoc and is a good representative of the typical left-bank blend, being made up of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. It cost me a few cents under $40 at an LCBO outlet in Ottawa and was thus a bit more expensive than my usual upper limit of thirty dollars or so. Because of that, I was a little more critical than I might have been with a cheaper bottle, but I still found it a decent purchase.

The nose features sour plum and faint hint of strawberry along with notes of cedar, sharply herbaceous undergrowth and an underlying musky barnyard funk. It is medium bodied, with tannins that are very dense, gripping, and bordering on astringent. Happily, the harsher effect of the tannins is fairly well balanced and rounded out by the moderate acidity. The palate mirrors the fruit in the nose but with more sour cherry than strawberry and the whole is very aromatic with notes of wood, coal smoke and tobacco. There is also a very faint oily quality with hints of petroleum here and there, which while unusual (for a red Bordeaux, at least), wasn’t unpleasant at all.

Overall, I was left with the impression that this selection probably won’t find much favor with those who shy away from very densely tannic wines, but will be enjoyed by those who do both as a sipping wine in its own right and as an accompaniment to rich, hearty foods. At a lesser price, I would likely give this vintage a very high rating and make a personal note to purchase more bottles for ageing. However, when taking the actual price into consideration against the quality, I will probably spend my wine allowance trying something else.

Posted in Recipes

Honey Chili Shrimp

You may already well know that shrimp cooked in the shell can often be much for flavorful than the pre-shelled variety in the same way that meat cooked on the bone is generally much better than boneless cutlets from the same source. Indeed, eating shrimp that is still in the shell can be a bit fiddly, and even quite messy, but, at an outdoor barbecue, or a casual meal with friends, this often enhances the pleasure of the meal…

Today’s little dish is very easy to prepare and could be served as a light snack, or appetizer with drinks. It is somewhat Asian in spirit, especially with the splash of soy sauce used to give saltiness, but there is no garlic or ginger used (though you certainly could, if desired) and the preparation could just as easily feature in a tapas meal as it could as one of a series of dim sum type dishes.

Basically, you just flash-fry the de-veined shrimp in oil until nicely pink and then add in thin slivers of red chili pepper (or sweet bell pepper for a less fiery result). Once the latter are softened, quickly stir in a splash of soy followed by enough homey to coat the shrimp and, just before serving, a generous sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

That’s it …

Posted in Ingredients

Foodstuff- Ostrich Meat

I have seen Ostrich steaks offered on restaurant menus a few times within the past decade or so, but, on each occasion, other items were more appealing for one reason or another. Accordingly, I had always passed on the opportunity and it was not until recently that I saw ground Ostrich meat offered for sale in the freezer cabinet in a local store.

The product is Canadian, as it turns out. The company, Blue Mountain Fine Foods, is located in Thornbury, Ontario, but, unfortunately, I was unable to learn whether they were actually raising ostrich in that location or just packaging meat raised elsewhere. In any event, while I would have preferred to be trying steaks, or other whole, cuts of meat, I was pleased to see that the ‘Burger’ meat they were selling contains just ‘100% Ostrich’, with no seasonings or other ingredients listed. As such, I was at least going to be able to taste the bird without other flavorings getting in the way … Continue reading “Foodstuff- Ostrich Meat”

Posted in General

Grilled Soy Tempeh at Play,Food & Wine

This lunch dish I had at Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa marked another first for me… this time, it was the Indonesian fermented soy bean cake known as Tempeh. I have read about it many times, but this was the first time I had ever seen it in a restaurant, or anywhere else.

The menu described the tempeh as being served with pear kimchi, mushrooms, and almond oil. The mushrooms, which were the ‘oyster’ type, also came with green beans and pea shoots (not mentioned on the menu) and, together, these formed a bed for the tempeh. I am not sure where the almond oil came into the picture as I could neither see nor taste anything along those lines and I suppose it may not have been used on this occasion. The pear kimchi, of which more in a moment, was the little amber pools you see at the edges of the vegetables.

The pieces of tempeh, as you can see, rather have the appearance of granola bars and, indeed, this is very much what the cake was like. It was much softer in texture than granola, but with a similar contrast of consistencies, and the taste was a lot like light toast with hints of nuts. Many people are cautious around anything fermented as such things are often very strongly flavored but this was very mild and inoffensive, and I would say that very few will take a strong dislike to it.

The tempeh was dry to the point that it needed a little something and this was where the pear kimchi came in… I had to enquire as to what exactly it was, and I was told that it was a puree of spiced, fermented pear. It tasted, in my opinion, a bit like miso to which a little garlic and chili had been added. It was excellent and a really well-chosen accompaniment to the tempeh.

My only criticism of my experience with this dish was that it had lingered a little too long between the kitchen and my table and was almost cold. For the tempeh, the beans, and the pea shoots this did not matter too much but it rather spoiled my enjoyment of the mushrooms a little. Still, that was only a minor flaw and I was very pleased to give tempeh a try. I may also try turning my hand to fermenting pears myself …

Posted in Wine

Thirty Bench Riesling 2016

For the past year or so I have been slowly drinking my way through central France, metaphorically speaking, but occasionally I make the odd detour. This present selection is one I sampled at the Brasserie Metropolitain in Ottawa in March of this year.

This Riesling is a VQA (or Vinters Quality Alliance) wine produced by the Andrew Peller Estate on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, and more specifically the Beamsville Bench Sub-region of that wine production district. I do not recall the price I paid at the restaurant, but it retails for $22.95 at the LCBO and is listed, on the LCBO website, as having 11.1% Alcohol and a Sugar content of 20 g/L.

The body is fairly light with medium sweetness and a bright acidity that offsets the sugar quite decently. The nose features golden apples, dark honey and straw, and all these qualities are continued on the palate with green apple also coming through with notes of cedar. There is also a floral presence and another additional quality that makes the wine rather unique. Some reviews have noted a ‘petrol’ component in this vintage, which is not uncommon in Rieslings and reflects the presence of a chemical compound known as TDN, or Trimethyl Dihydronaphthalene. I did not get that here, but there was a very faint hint of formalin along with a stronger, and most curious hint of saffron. I very much enjoyed the effect and, overall, this was a very pleasant and interesting sipping wine.

UPDATE: One of my blogging friends Stefan, at Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, who has much more experise in wine than do I has informed me that “This type of Riesling is called Feinherb in Germany. It is all about the interplay between sugar and acidity.”

Posted in General

Lunch at Play, Food & Wine

Play, Food and Wine is one of my favorite restaurants in Ottawa and many dishes I have enjoyed there have been featured in posts here at one time or another. On my most recent visit, I went with a companion in the early afternoon and we sampled three of the dishes from the lunch menu. One was decent enough, one was outstanding, and the third… very surprisingly for this particular restaurant … was nothing short of awful. For a more particular description of all three, read on… Continue reading “Lunch at Play, Food & Wine”

Posted in Recipes

Pasta Gricia with Truffle

A while ago, I did a post featuring the Italian cured hog jowl meat known as Guanciale and I included a picture of a Spaghetti Carbonara I made using it. There are two fairly famous Italian dishes made using Guanciale (or sometimes Pancetta, or else regular bacon) and these are the aforementioned Pasta Carbonara and Pasta Amatriciana. Both of these are descendants of a simpler dish known as Pasta alla Gricia, which is basically pasta tossed in the pan with cooked Guanciale, generous amounts of pepper, grated cheese and sufficient pasta water to make a rich ‘sauce’.

Today, I am using the ‘alla Gricia’ style as my base but I am creating a ‘descendant’ version by adding sliced black truffle along with some brocollini for a little color and texture… Continue reading “Pasta Gricia with Truffle”