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”→
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”→
The Hong Kong Express opened at 242 Rideau Street sometime within the last two years and happens to be located very close to the hotel I always stay at in the capital. On my last visit, I didn’t feel like going very far and so I stopped in for light lunch… Continue reading “Snacks at the Hong Kong Express”→
Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasts dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is Guanciale… which are salted and dry-cured hog jowls, or ‘pig-cheeks’ for the more genteel among you.
The preparation of guanciale is a bit more complex than for the belly pork equivalent represented by Pancetta. The fatty jowls are rubbed with salt, sugar and spices (pepper, thyme and fennel are common), and then hung and air-dried for three weeks or so. In the above picture, you can see a 200 gram piece I bought in Ottawa… You should be able to make out the mixed herb and spice mixture that was used, as well as the string that was looped through one corner in order to hang it.
The beauty of Guanciale, in contrast to the belly, is the dense, white, very creamy fat that lends a lovely sweet unctuousness to pasta carbonara, or, indeed, to any other dishes where it is employed. As the product is cured, it can also be eaten ‘raw’ as is and, before cooking myself a carbonara with some of my current chunk, I tried doing so… I was a little hesitant as the cut has a very high ratio of fat to meat, but it actually proved to be delectable. I cut it a little thicker than paper-thin and it was delightfully chewy and unctuously tender at the same time, with the sweet, slightly apple-like flavor of a good prosciutto.
Today’s recipe was inspired by one I saw in a fairly old Japanese cookery book. It is Enoki Mushrooms (Enokitake in Japanese) which are braised in rice wine and soy, and it generally follows the Japanese recipe except that, instead of Mirin, I uses Chinese Rice Wine, and, rather than cooking oil, I use butter. Butter does occasionally get used in some Japanese preparations, but it is an uncommon ingredient and I have used it here because it lends a nice depth of flavor and richness…
I began with a 100 gram package of Enoki. I cut away the dense, somewhat fibrous common ‘root’ and then separated the individual mushrooms from each other, leaving some of the tiniest still grouped together.
Cooking is easy… Just melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a pan on medium heat, add the mushrooms and stir until coated, then add about three tablespoons of rice wine (or mirin if you prefer), a teaspoon of light soya sauce, then cover the pot and let the mushrooms braise until tender and limp. Finally, before serving, add in a little finely sliced or shredded green onion (green part only).
I did up this little appetizer using a couple of octopus tentacles I had left over from using the rest of the beast in a different recipe. I first thought of doing something sort of Asian with ginger and soy, but I decided, instead, to marinate my sections of tentacle with lemon juice and herbs before gilling them on skewers.
The tentacles had been blanched and frozen before use and so needed no further tenderizing. I cut each into sections and then marinated the pieces in a few tablespoons of olive oil, along with a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, a quarter teaspoon of pureed garlic, and about one eighth of a teaspoon of dried thyme with just a few needles of rosemary crushed into the mix with a pinch of salt. I let this sit for about a half hour so.
Finally, I threaded the pieces on skewers and grilled them over high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, basting with the marinade as I did so. I served them, as you can see, over thinly sliced lemon and the result was very pleasant indeed. I have not used thyme with octopus or squid before and I liked the combination. Next time, I think I may try a more complex Herbes de Provence blend…
Recently, our local supermarket has been carrying some very nice cocktail sized shrimp and, since they don’t appear that often, I have bought quite a few packages and have been using them in different ways. I opened one pack to make scrambled eggs with shrimp and, since I didn’t need the whole package, I put together the little fritters you see above. They are somewhere half-way between an Indian Pakora and Japanese Kakiage, and, for this recipe, I kept everything very simple and clean… the only seasoning in the fritters is a dash of salt and the batter is made very light with egg-white rather than whole egg… Continue reading “Shrimp Bites”→
Today’s wine is another ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux and I am featuring it because it turned out to be very nice, and something I will likely purchase again if I can. It is a bit expensive, running for $56.75 at SAQ in Montreal, but I was very happy with it thought it well worth the price.
As you may recall from previous posts, red wines from the so-called ‘left-bank’ region of Bordeaux are mostly blends, which mostly have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal. This particular wine is from the Paulliac AOC, in the famous Medoc wine-making district, and it is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 27% Merlot, and the final 3% rounded out with Cabernet Franc. It is a dry wine, with just 2.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and the alcohol level is about 13%.
The nose here is a bit muted with the fruit component being dark plum and blackcurrant. It has a very earthy quality, with a faint touch of the barnyard, and there are very strong mushroom notes interspersed with highlights of violet. On the palate, it is smooth and fully bodied with lively acidity and rich tannins, and the blackcurrant on the nose is supplanted with sour cherry against the plum. There are rich woody tones of both oak and cedar, with some spice in the finish, but what I really liked here were some interesting notes of ripe grains and light toast.
Overall, I found this a complex and very enjoyable sipping wine as is, but I am sure it has great prospects for becoming even better with a little more ageing. If I can lay my hands on a few more bottles on my next travels south, I will certainly ‘cellar’ at least one for a few years or so. The 2016 vintage is also supposed to have been a stunning one for Pauillac, so I will keep my eyes out for those as well…