Month: April 2016

Pasta with Truffles

Truffle Pasta 1

I was planning to use some of my limited truffle supply in a pasta dish and anticipated doing something fairly simple so as to preserve the delicate flavor of the truffles.  Originally, I was thinking of just adding them to a simple oil and garlic sauce, but then I decided to take things up a notch. I borrowed the egg and cream combination from a traditional Carbonara and switched out olive oil in favor of plenty of butter… Continue reading “Pasta with Truffles”

Smoked Mussel Appetizer II

Mussel Appy II

It has been over three years since I posted my appetizer recipe for Smoked Mussels with Cream Cheese but the post still receives a fair number of hits and I have long since enjoyed playing around with the basic idea. I have always meant to combine sea-food with my homemade Bacon Jam at some point and, after a bit of experimenting, I came up with the smoked mussel appetizer you see pictured above.

Rather than crackers, I used circles of Cantaloupe for the base as I thought that both the fruity flavor and the color would work nicely. I cut the cantaloupe into rounds and then smeared over a dollop of my bacon jam. I next used some chiffonade cut basil over the jam and then added a smoked mussel. For a little additional flavor and garnish, I added a drop or two of lemon juice followed by just a ‘dot’ of chili paste.

The taste of these was pretty good, actually, but I think the cantaloupe rounds need to be improved a bit. I just cut them by hand with a paring knife and the result is a little clunky and amateurish. I suppose this can be improved somewhat but it may be that some other ‘base’ would be better… any ideas?

Grilled Scallop with Truffle and Lemon Butter

Scallop with Truffle 1

Having two very small black truffles to play with, I decided to use a very small amount to enhance some scallops grilled with lemon butter. At first I thought of serving each scallop on a bed of wilted spinach but then it struck me that a simple cushion of pureed potato with scallions would absorb the lemony richness of the butter very nicely and present no risk of overwhelming the delicate flavor of the truffle… Continue reading “Grilled Scallop with Truffle and Lemon Butter”

Notable Nosh: Linguine Carbonara

Mezzalune Linguine Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara is one of my favorites in Italian cuisine and I have made it many times with many different variations… some good and some not so great. I frequently make it with standard smoked bacon, which is good but not very traditional, and I have also made it with Guanciale (cured pig jowl) which is absolutely exquisite. The Italian bacon known as Pancetta is the most widely used, and most traditional meat for a Carbonara sauce but the only times I have used it myself is in the form of the paper-thin slices one gets from the Deli section of the supermarket.

At Café Mezzaluna in Ottawa, recently, I was served the Linguine Carbonara you see pictured above. It was made, according to the menu, using Onions, pancetta, eggs and black pepper in a cream sauce and, while it was not the best I have ever had, it still employed some features that I would adopt for future renditions in my own kitchen. Foremost, they used a proper, good-quality Pancetta, and instead of thin slices, or the matchstick pieces into which I cut standard bacon, they added it in postage-stamp size chunks about the twice thickness of your basic bacon rasher. I found that it really made for a much meatier and tastier result than smaller sections.

The other feature I liked was the addition of onions. I have seen them used in the odd recipe here and there but they are definitely not standard and I expect many purists might frown on their use. I haven’t actually used them myself either but, after tasting this version, I think I might try a little thinly sliced onion in future versions as I found it really worked well. The only thing I really didn’t care for about the Mezzaluna Carbonara was that it used far too much cream. It is a fault I have found in many versions, including some of my own attempts, and I think that in future I may entirely omit cream, or just add a tablespoon or two to the eggs before beating them along with cheese. As I say, this dish I tried at Mezzaluna may not have been top-notch but it certainly gave me food for thought…

 

Foodstuff: Preserved Black Truffles

Preserved Black Truffles 1

Truffles are one the most highly prized of cooking ingredients and, it should come as no surprise, are one of the costliest. They are particularly associated with the cuisines of Italy and France, each of which produces some of the best varieties, but they are also favored in Greece, Spain and the Middle East. There are actually many different species but, generally, you hear them of them as either being ‘White Truffles’ (chiefly Italian) or ‘Black Truffles’ (from the Perigord region in France). In point of fact, though, one of the more common, and thus cheaper, varieties is the ‘Summer Truffle’, which is the type you see pictured above. These are also sometimes referred to as ‘Summer Black Truffles’ and, by appearance at least, can be loosely be classed as a Black Truffle, even though they are held in lesser esteem than the Perigord type.

Unless you happen to live near to a harvesting region, obtaining fresh truffles is very difficult, not to mention highly expensive, as they do not keep well without being frozen, dried, or otherwise preserved. Most people, in fact, will generally only encounter truffles in the form of Truffle Oil (which is often actually synthetic), or perhaps in a processed condiment of some sort. The one way in which whole, real truffles are made available to the average kitchen is in brine or oil preserves. The two tiny ones I purchased for this post are Italian brine preserves and they cost $20.00 in a specialty market in Ottawa. The quality of the preserved sort is noticeably less than fresh, it must be said, but this is still a worthwhile tradeoff for not having access to the fresh delicacy in the first place… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Preserved Black Truffles”

Chrysanthemum Drink

Chrysanthemum Drink 1

Many years ago, when I was still in Law School, I had a room-mate from Hong-Kong who routinely used to get ‘care packages’ from his mother containing all sorts of foodstuffs I’d never seen before. One article he received regularly was dried Chrysanthemum leaves. He would brew these into a tea and then drink it the belief that it would cure his rampant acne. Frankly, I could never see that it made any difference to his complexion at all but, later, I always wished that I had asked to taste it.

I found the can you see above in a small store in the Chinatown district of Ottawa in January and only just now got around to tasting it. It is a product of Malaysia, manufactured by Yoke Food Industries, and I see that the company also makes a wide variety of different beverages including ‘Water Chestnut’, and ‘Winter Melon’, and even one made with Bird’s Nest. When I first saw the drink, I half-expected it to be either artificially flavored, or possibly have nothing to do with Chrysanthemums at all, but the ingredients do indeed specify ‘Extract of Chrysanthemum’.

The extract, one notes, is third in the ingredient list and follows water and sugar as the primary components. Essentially then, what you thus have is sugar water flavored with a little chrysanthemum. The flavor of the flower is actually quite nice and reminded me of the sweet aroma of straw bales on a hot day but, unfortunately, that taste is just a fairly faint note, Overall, the beverage was pretty much like the ‘tea’ made from sugar and water my sister used to serve at doll tea-parties when she was a kid. It was insipid and not very good at all. Perhaps if they boosted the Chrysanthemum flavor, and maybe offset the sweetness with a sour acid taste, the company might have something I would enjoy…

 

Notable Nosh: Veal Puttanesca

Mezzalune Veal Puttanesca

Not long ago, when I published a post featuring Ocean Brand™ Puttanesca Sauce, I promised that I would be following up with my own version of a Puttanesca pasta dish. That post is still in the offing but, in the meantime, I had the opportunity to try a variety at the Café  Mezzaluna in Ottawa and I thought I would share it with you here. Typically, a Puttanesca sauce is served over spaghetti, or other pasta, but there is no reason why it can’t be used elsewhere and, at Mezzalune, they served their version over thinly sliced veal. It was a pretty good idea, I thought, but it was, to my mind, not terribly well executed.

One curious feature of the dish was the absence of black olives. Olives and capers are both typically used but, if one is to be omitted, it is almost invariably the capers. The rich flavor of olive is, I feel, integral to the final result and the lack here was a real disappointment.

The veal was nicely cooked but it had a curious flavor a bit reminiscent of the aroma of freshly cured leather. I couldn’t place this, at first, but then I realized it was the anchovy. Anchovy paste, or mashed fillets, are standard in the preparation of a Puttanesca sauce (and many other Italian dishes), but usually the flavor only operates in the background without giving the final dish any sort of ‘fishy’ taste. In this case, it was quite pronounced and I can’t say I like it over much.

My last criticism was the acidity of the dish. I think fresh tomatoes were used and the result was a sauce that was very thin, brittle and sharp. It lacked the richness and rounded quality of a tomato sauce that has been cooked down for a longer period. I will be mindful of this, and the other mentioned criticisms, when I prepare my version shortly. I’ll share the result with you in due course…

Spicy Beef with Sea Cucumber

Beef and Sea Cucumber 1

I have had an already reconstituted Sea Cucumber in my freezer for a while now, and it was high time I got around to using it. A little over a year ago, I posted a recipe for Sea Cucumber with Beef-balls and Mushrooms and I decided to do something very similar, except in this case, I have produced a much spicier result… Continue reading “Spicy Beef with Sea Cucumber”