Product Review: Aurora Brand™ Giardiniera

Aurora Giardiniera 1

Giardiniera is an Italian mixed pickle that I have been long been meaning to try making for myself, but which, alas, remains one of the many projects still on my to-do-someday list. The version you see here is a product of the United States made available in Canada by Aurora Importing and Distributing. This company lists quite a wide range of products on their Website, and I have often purchased their Anchovy Paste in a tube.

The basic Giardiniera consists of a melange of cut vegetables that are first brined and then pickled in a seasoned oil and vinegar mix. Sometimes the vegetables are cut quite large and the result is consumed as ‘bite-size’ pickles, and in other cases, as here, the pieces are quite fine and the product is more of a relish used as a condiment on things like sandwiches, or burgers, and so forth.

Olive tends to the olive oil of choice but, here, soybean oil is used. The mix contains sweet peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery and gherkins (which is a pretty common sort of blend), but hot peppers are included in many versions. The ingredients merely list ‘spices’ for the seasoning, but it does add (a bit ominously) ‘MAY CONTAIN: Mustard’.

This particular product is very well brined and the first impression of is a definite, but not unpleasant saltiness. The vinegar is used fairly lightly, and the original taste of the vegetables is still ‘somewhat’ apparent, but what I found curious is that there is actually a rather sharp bite here that suggests hot peppers were used, if only sparingly. Perhaps this is the mustard they warned as about…

Anyway, I quite liked this and, after the initial taste test, I used it as a jazzy condiment on a vegetarian pizza, and also on a series of sandwiches. The one sort of ‘failing’ here is that the colors are a bit muted and not as vibrant as would more likely be the case in a homemade, short pickle version. In less than two weeks from the date of writing this, I shall be in Ottawa and may well try a different brand or two from one of the excellent Italian food shops there…. I will report 😊

Notable Nosh: The Luxe ‘Surf and Turf Burger’

Luxe Surrf and Turf Burger 1

I first reviewed Ottawa’s Luxe Bistro nearly 7 years ago and I have eaten quite a few times since. One item on their menu that caught my eye some time ago was a special burger with a patty topped with lobster meat. I had forgotten about it until I stopped in to sample some oysters on my Christmas vacation and I ended up giving it a try.

Actually, Luxe also does a ‘Lobster Poutine’ that features shoestring frites with Béarnaise sauce, cheese curds and chunks of sautéed lobster that also sounded interesting but I asked my server about both dishes and she said that, while she loved the poutine, it was a very substantial, and very rich dish… She actually shivered in a decadently delighted sort of way and said … it’s all butter! Anyway, I took that to mean it would mean an evening of dyspepsia for me if I tried to take it in on top of the Chianti I had already sampled and so I plumped for the famous ‘Surf and Turf’ Burger, only to find that it was pretty damn rich itself …

Well, the picture doesn’t do it justice, but to describe it … it is basically a beef burger, where the beef patty is slathered with bacon jam, generous amounts of chunked lobster meat are added, and the whole is drizzled with a rich, creamy Béarnaise sauce. Shredded lettuce and a thick slice of tomato are also added, but I took the last off as the assembly was already a little top heavy and looked like it would easy start shooting stuff out here and there with each bite as it was.

Well, to cut to the chase, as it were, this was probably the richest burger I have ever had and, sad to say, I couldn’t finish it. Had it been just the beef and the lobster, with perhaps just a smidgen of the sauce, I might have managed it all, but, as it was, it was all just a bit much of a muchness. One thing that really made it all a bit overpowering was that the bun (a sweet brioche type, perhaps) was grilled after being slathered with butter. I am not keen on this at the best of times but just a plain toasting over the grill would have been fine. The bacon jam was tasty in and of itself, and lent a nice smoky touch, but it was just another layer of richness that you probably don’t need with the lobster and béarnaise.

I don’t want to sound overly critical here … this is actually a pretty decent, if gimmicky idea … and, on a different occasion, I might have scarfed it down whole and enjoyed it immensely. Still, those thinking to give it a try should be aware of its utterly decadent nature … on this occasion, the sheer richness of this burger defeated me.

A Port ‘Demi-Glace’

Port Demi-Glace 1

A ‘Demi-Glace’ is a very rich sauce that is itself used as a base for other sauces in traditional classic French cuisine. At one time, it would be expected to be one of the essential skills for a chef to master but it seems to be far less commonly employed than was once the case. Indeed, back in the day, when I had quite a few jobs in the food service industry, I can recall only one chef actually making his own. A few kitchens used commercially prepared concentrates in lieu of the real thing, and the rest seemed unconscious of its existence.

Part of the reason for the decline in usage is, I am sure, that the traditional preparation is so dauntingly complex as to be intimidating, and actually requires such time and expense to make it impractical for the home cook. The basic form is the result of blending reduced brown stock with an Espagnole Sauce (which is itself based on brown sauce), and then further reducing it to a thick ‘half-glaze’. The result can then be used as the basis for many classic French sauces such as Bordelaise, or Sauce Robert, or else added to stews or ad hoc sauces for a major flavor infusion.

Anyway, the ponderous and complicated process of Escoffier’s day is now frequently supplanted by methods that dispense with the traditional Espagnole sauce and either thicken the basic stock with a light starch, or else rely entirely on reduction to concentrate and thicken. Today’s post is an experiment I tried in my own kitchen using the latter process, and which produced a pretty decent result …. Continue reading “A Port ‘Demi-Glace’”

Notable Nosh: Octopus Appetizer Duo

Octopus Duo 1

I very much like visiting the E18teen restaurant in Ottawa. Last time I was there, I tried an appetizer named an ‘Octopus duo’, which featured grilled octopus and something that was referred to as a ‘Carpaccio’. I was a bit intrigued by the latter, but, after sampling it, I am still a little unclear as how I came to be given that name…

Anyway, the menu description elaborated a  little and described the presentation as including ‘Citrus Fennel, Harissa Aioli, Sweety Drops and Torched Orange’. The ‘Sweety Drops’ , it turns out, were the pretty little tear-drop shaped red peppers scattered here and there. They were lightly pickled and were tasty enough, but didn’t really complement the main features in any significant way, I thought. I also found that to be the case with the Harissa Aioli … it was nicely spiced and pleasant enough, but just not a particularly good accompaniment.

In contrast, I liked the torched orange quite a bit… it added just a nice hint of smoke, and the ‘Citrus Fennel’ was a very good addition. This consisted of the very small slices of stem that, like the peppers, were lightly pickled. Here the pickling, though not especially suggestive of citrus, had a nice sweetness contrasting the acidity and was very pleasant.

The grilled octopus tentacles were the best part of the dish, being expertly grilled to yield the perfect chewiness of texture and  a lovely sweetness. The ‘Carpaccio’ however, was a disappointment, It was not, as I imagined, thin slices of raw octopus, but rather consisted of the unusual slice of ‘jellied’ octopus laid beneath the tentacles. When I first saw this, I asked if they pieces had been prepared in aspic but was told that the octopus tentacles had been simmered and then cooled in the simmering liquid until it congealed into a gel. It was sliced nicely, I suppose,  but, though I love octopus in many different styles, this was the first time that I have ever actually disliked it…

Well… this dish just didn’t work much for me, as you can probably tell. Still, I won’t fault E18teen too heavily for that. Not every dish is going to be a winner and usually I love everything they do. Better luck next time, I guess…

New Year’s Greetings to All

Happy New Year

Hey Folks … I hope everybody survived the New Year’s Eve’s festivities relatively painlessly. This month commences Sybaritica’s seventh year of publication and I thought I might usher in 2019 by introducing a few changes I will be making for the future …

By the way, before I begin, the picture I chose for today’s post shows the view from my front door. The picture was actually taken on Christmas Eve two years ago, but I rather think it captures the season. As you can see, there were ‘sun dogs’ when I snapped the shot, although you can only see one of them… I’d have to be out in the middle of the road to see both…

Anyway, I have decided to revamp some stuff around here … My graphics library at WordPress finally became absolutely jam-packed with images, and I had hundreds of posts that were basically read once and never looked again. Accordingly, I started a major clean-out and have already got rid of a lot of stuff. I will be continuing with that process and have also begun making changes to my ‘Menu’s … already, they reflect the new simplicity I will going for as I continue blogging …

After these many years, it has become clear to me that the posts that people keep coming back to are the ones I have done on various foodstuffs. My posts on things like Chinese dried Squid, or Dried Scallop, get visited again and again, week in and week out. My recipe posts, in contrast, tend to get looked at once by my regular readership, and then never again. With that in mind, along with a few other things, I am going to change my blogging focus just a little:

I began Sybaritica mostly to post restaurant reviews, and only started with recipes and foodstuff posts later. The reviews are still my favorite blogging activity (both of restaurants, or single dishes I have been served), and I will continue doing that for as long as I can still type. I am still going to do the odd recipe post, but I think, after over 6 years, that I will slow that down quite a bit. I know other food bloggers will be familiar with the work that that entails … I must say that, of all the difficulties, delaying eating because you have to take picture after picture gets a bit tiresome.

I will continue doing foodstuff articles, but I am also going to redo some of my earlier posts. Some are to be rewritten so that they can be expanded but others, especially the older ones, because they could really be improved. Similarly, I started a series of posts that I called ‘Dim Sum Identification’ that I added to only sporadically and half-heartedly. I am going to restart that project again and make it a bigger ‘thing’.

Finally, for a while, I was doing reviews of wines… I stopped though, mostly because it was quite time consuming due to the way I was doing the graphics. I also got a bit tired of rating and writing about the wines I didn’t very much like. I am going to start that again very shortly, but I am going to limit myself to writing only about the wines I really enjoy and worry less about ‘rating’ them rather than discussing their respective backgrounds and technical information.

Anyway … it will be interesting to see how things develop and I look forward to having my readers stay with me

Notable Nosh: Aloo Tikki Chaat

KCH Aloo Tikki Chat

I had this Indian appetizer dish in Ottawa way back in September and have only just now  got around to writing up my notes. I am not sure if this looks especially appetizing to you or not, but it rather caught me off guard as it was not at all what I was expecting. It was, though, really, really good.

The word ‘tikki’ in Indian cuisine generally refers to a cutlet of sorts and, since ‘aloo’ means potato, a ‘chaat’ (or snack) involving ‘Aloo Tikki’, basically means a fried patty of spiced potato. At the Curry Kebab House in Ottawa’s Byward Market, they described their version on the menu as patties ‘topped with tamarind sauce and chick peas’. This was, in fact, what I got, but it was also a good deal more.

It is not possible to see the patties in this dish, so you will just have to trust me that they were there. I was rather expecting a visible fried patty with a sprinkling of chick peas and a drizzle of sauce. As it was, my potato was smothered in not just tamarind sauce, but also coconut cream and mint chutney. This may sound like a bit of overkill, perhaps, but, in fact, all three worked very nicely together and offered a sweet and sour counterpoint to the spice. In addition to chickpeas, there were also chopped tomato, onion and coriander leaf, and, the effect was as satisfying to the eye as it was to the palate.

The potato patty was quite nicely spiced and, though the blend was fairly complex, I could only specifically identify chili and cumin. The chili was added with a fairly light hand, and the overall heat was not much more than the typical hot-wings you would find in a tavern. The best part of the patty, though, was the texture. I had been expecting something a bit like the sort of potato patty you can find for breakfast in a supermarket freezer. The ones here may have initially been like that (crisp outside and tender in), but the effect of the heavy sauce changed it entirely. There was still a semi-crispness to the outer surface but the inside was transformed into something that was delightfully chewy. It surprised me and I really enjoyed it very much. It will probably take me a number of attempts to duplicate this but, once I do, I shall be sure to post the results.

Dim Sum with Lung

Tripe and Lung 1

I love Dim Sum meals but, in all honesty, I am not crazy about the traditional cart service that is still popular in the more old-school Dim Sum houses. I will probably do a blog rant about this sometime but, for now suffice it to say, that I find the procedure rushes the diner and often causes one to make selections of less interesting things just because you have no idea when, or if, what you really want is going to come rolling by…

Anyway, at my last Dim Sum brunch, a young cart lady sang out ‘Beef Tendon’ as she was passing. Now, the place was very busy and the time lag between cart-visits was pretty lengthy, so I signalled that I would take a dish even though I was really waiting for some other favorites that hadn’t yet appeared. Dutifully, my server handed across a bowl appearing just as you see it on the picture on the left…

Well, although there was definitely Beef Tendon in the bowl (down at the ‘bottom’ in the foreground), it was also clear that the dish contained honeycomb tripe as well. This is something I don’t dislike, exactly, but I have had it plenty of times before and I just don’t care for it enough to order it again. Still, I had already asked for a portion and, at this point, it seemed a bit rude to reject it. So, with something of an inward sigh, I accepted the bowl.

The beef tendon was fine, if unremarkable, and the tripe was predictably unexciting, with both being served in a broth that had been seasoned (thankfully lightly) with five spice powder. What caught me off guard, however, was that after removing the top-most pieces I uncovered a bit of an unexpected ‘bonus’ as you can see in the rightmost picture. It took me a minute or so, but then I was able to identify the dark pieces as lung…

I have only once tried lung before in a dish called Husband and Wife Lung Slices, which frequently does not actually contain lung at all. The version I tried apparently did, as far as I could tell (you will have to go back and follow the blog post link to see what I mean), but, in any event, the pieces there were very small and covered in chili oil, which didn’t allow me to get much of a sense of what I was eating. This, then, was going to be a first…

To make a long story short, I can cheerfully tell you that, having finally experienced this delicacy, I am not inclined to seek it out again. The texture was soft, with very little in the way of al dente resistance, and the best I can come up with as a comparison is the texture of the edging of fat on a steak. The taste, however, did not suit me at all; It was something like very dark poached poultry meat but with a very strong taste of blood. Honestly, I am surprised that this would be a popular dish in China as many cuisines there take great pains to rid meats of any sort of ‘bloody’ taste. I like a good rare and bloody steak, but this was a bit beyond my enjoyment level. I shan’t bother again, I don’t think…

 

 

 

Notable Nosh: Rajasthani Champ

KCH Rajasthani Champ 1

I decided to share this particular appetizer dish with you, not because it was really all that special taste-wise, but rather because I really like the novel method of service. The dish is called Rajasthani Champ and is essentially tandoor-cooked spiced lamb chops. The twist here, though, is that once done in the tandoor, they are served in what the restaurant in question also called a ‘tandoor’. Strictly speaking, this name is probably not that accurate since a proper  tandoor is traditionally a large clay oven that is heated to over 500 F degrees, and the little table-top devise you see pictured here is made from copper and really more decorative than functional. It is heated with charcoal (you can see the little fuel slot at the bottom), but I really don’t see it doing much more than keep the food toasty warm rather than effectively cooking it.

 

KCH Rajasthani Champ 2.jpg

Anyway, the lamb chops in this case were skewered after being coated with a Garam Masala from Rajasthan. They were cooked very well done (which you generally expect with meats in Indian cuisine) and there was some nice charring from the oven. In truth, though, the spice coating here had a slightly ‘raw’ taste, although the blend itself was quite nice. There was mint chutney supplied for dipping but, really, the spices were already complex enough that anything else as strong tasting as mint would inevitable be overkill. The buttered roti you see off to the side did not come with the meal but was ordered separately. It was very good, though..

Anyway, as I mentioned, the lamb itself was not particularly special but I very much liked the little mini ‘tandoor’. If I see them in a shop sometime, I may pick a couple up for my own kitchen.

Beef Carpaccio at E18teen…

E18teen Beef Carpaccio

Well, I have start out by saying that E18teen is one of my favorite restaurants in Ottawa. The ambience is great, the service always top-notch, and the dishes I have been served have all been pretty much excellent. Occasionally, though, every good restaurant is going to produce a ‘clanger’ or two, and the Beef Carpaccio interpretation I had on my last visit sadly fell into that category …

The menu described the selection as follows:

 

Beef Carpaccio

Smoked oyster emulsion, fried caper, harissa aioli, pickled shallot, garnished with baby shiso leaf

 

Well … to unpack this, I can say that the beef was sliced well and laid out nicely, which makes this pretty good so far a ‘Carpaccio’ dish, but, from there, unfortunately, things started to go downhill.

The pickled shallot was nice, and added a bit of tang to the overall effect and the fried capers had a nice smoky taste. The smoked oyster aioli, however, did not work. The idea of making a mayo type emulsion using the oil from smoked oysters was a truly inspired idea, I thought,  but the pairing here was a bit unfortunate. Somewhere else, perhaps, but not for this dish …

The real mistake was the olive oil. In other carpaccia, there is almost always a drizzle of olive oil over the beef slices but here, the drizzle became a river … everything was basically swimming in the stuff so that all the delicate flavors were overwhelmed and the textures largely lost in an unctuous mess… What a shame.

Sorry E18teen. I will be back, but this one was not a winner …