Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wait for it ...

Warning: No recipe, no photographs. Not for the weak of mind. Carry forth brave one.

Okay, so I don't have a post this week. I know. I know

In lieu of my predicament, I have decided to fess up and beg for your forgiveness (insert me here begging please). It was certainly not for lack of trying mind you. I really tried. Really really hard. Really (one too many?). And ... fell flat on my hard trying behind. But, dear reader, I tell you, I had no comprehension of the monumental force that I was up against. I have spent the last three weeks, yes, count them, three, weeks, searching. 

For what exactly was I searching, you ask? How does that concern you in any way, shape or form when all you want is the story this week, you ask? Well, in the holiday (choose yours) spirit it is always kind to exercise that patience muscle (I have to use anything I can get here) and moreover, what I have finally found (miraculously and after some serious stunts) is truly worth waiting for. I promise.

Wait for it ...


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bottoms up ...

Confession: 

Could not retrieve most pictures from camera despite best efforts (arghh!) so gear up your vivid imaginations ... ready? Here we go ...

Beginning:

I did not know how I was going to swing this one. Frankly, I do not know if I did swing this one (you will let me know, yes?)... In my attempts (five) to put this story together, I found myself entangled in such abundant, colorful tales, experiences and characters that at one point during the process, I stared (a little intimidated) at my laptop and realized I was in imminent danger of spawning a novel. Page, after page, after page of people and food and people and food. It was dizzying.

I mean really, here is a taste of just a few:

Selwyn, the across the street cook who was perpetually happy, perpetually late (to the very vocal dismay of his very old lady boss), was a little (well, perhaps little … is a touch … understated) pickled at all times (perhaps this explains his perpetual happiness), free flowing with waves, hugs, Frankie Paul and who incidentally, made the best hamburger in the world. Really.

Jean-Marc Davis, the jovial, heavily accented, suspiciously white, pure Bajan (family here since the 1400’s he swears! after narrow eyed interrogation on how with such a name and big blue eyes he could make a claim like that) who served the greatest sticky, spicy, fatty, meaty, fall off the bone ribs (I am working on recipe extraction as we speak dear readers).

Jon, the smiling (yet stingy!) chef extraordinaire who was at the fish market every morning for the latest catch (which we tried to bargain away from him without success hence stinginess) which he then proceeded to choose, gut, fillet on the spot and take to his restaurant for the evening meal (to the great appreciation of his customers - aka, us).


The evening's featured star ...

He could have given us one, or half, a quarter maybe ...

The monkeys, on the tennis courts chomping voraciously on fruit and running towards me mid game in apparent friendliness while I fled for my life… yes…

I have at least ten more. Ten. Modestly. Each one with at least a page of affiliated escapades.

I had to regroup. A choice had to be made. And it was. The choice was, well, to choose. So I did. Please allow me to share with you what was to me, the very best story of all.

It all started one hot, sweltering, humid, muggy (you get the point) reggae filled Friday evening at Oistins fish fry. Friday night at Oistins is one of Barbados’ most infamous “limes” (local speak for good times). Legendary for its culinary delights, reggae, free flowing rum and lively locals we gravitated towards it like, well, like me to pork. I had one mission that evening dear readers and one mission alone: barbecued pig tails. I had been waiting a whole week and my pork penchant was at an all time high. As I scouted, glanced, examined, questioned and compared numerous tail offerings, Axel (glorious, lovely husband) was on the hunt for a table.

You can imagine said task was a considerable one. It was shaping up to be on the verge of impossible when I spotted a man (isn’t this how it always starts).
This man was sitting alone at the only empty table in the place (we are talking hundreds of them or at least one hundred) ... Picture it ... Immediately the rush hit me, you know the one, your heart starts beating faster, you scan the crowds searching the eyes of others you will possibly have to tackle should they have spotted your prize … Nearly running (while trying to appear calm as to not alert anyone to my goal of table procurement) pig tails in hand, I made a beeline straight for him. Out of breath and hungry I say my first words to him: Excuse me sir, is it alright if we sit here? (epic yes?) Yes, of course, please do, he says. Score!

So as I sat there savoring my pigs tails and waiting for very patient husband (I get cranky when hot and hungry) to come back with a southern and diet coke, another man comes to join the first one. Smiling, with a beautiful accent, he sat down and they proceed into conversation. Of course, one cannot help eavesdropping (you know you do it!) when one is sitting right beside someone who’s conversation seems lively and interesting. I deduced from said eavesdropping, that they were locals and that they were witty and … well, fun. And then, it happened. I was sure I had been busted, and was ready with mortified apologies and red face to boot. However, the second gentleman turns to me and smiling (good sign) says: That looks marvelous, what are you eating? Dear readers, when someone starts a conversation complimenting and curious about food, they have my heart (never mind that when it was disclosed that pig tails was the delicacy of choice it was greeted by laughing grimaces, they still have my heart). An instant friendship was born. By the time Axel was back, we were planning the next day’s activities and (to my great delight) were starting on a newly purchased bottle of fine Bajan rum.

About three quarters of the way through the bottle of rum and many laughs later (I loved these men), we thought it might be appropriate to introduce ourselves. Hence we arrived at the usual. After Axel and I introduced ourselves: 

Gentleman number one
Name: Gene
Status: In a relationship 
Occupation: U.S. Consul General to the Eastern Caribbean States, Eugene Paul Sweeney (ummm ...pardon?). 

Gentleman number two 
Name: Alessandro Maffei
Status: In a relationship (with Gene) 
Occupation: Tuscan Architect and present professional spouse (sorry ...what?)

After the initial gasps and numerous proclamations of really’s and are you serious’es (such wonderful, down to earth, sweet and genuinely kind people are a rare find in such serious titles), it was time to get down to business. It was time for questions. I may as well confess now as I will inevitably be outed... I (pause here please for dramatic effect) am a lover of learning. I am interested in everything. I want to know. To understand. To appreciate. Hence, I ask questions. Lots of them. So, I proceeded in asking my myriad of questions, rapturously listening to tales of travels, a multitude of culinary adventures, Bajan gossip and planning the next adventure. It was heaven. A little while (and a lot of rum) later, heaven came to a temporary end when I suspiciously started seeing 2 bottles of rum on the table but was pretty sure there was only one there…yes … At this point, very happy and hot, we went home and yours truly spent the rest of the night thinking about the next days agenda …a journey to an ancient coral beach called Bottom Bay.

I could barely contain myself.


Gratuitous fish pic ...

Middle, almost:


The next morning, I was up bright and early, dragged myself into the ocean (body felt like a sack of potatoes after night of pig tails and rum) and then proceeded to pester husband into consciousness. We met Ale and Gene at the local grocery where they picked us up and after the initial greetings (and relief that they were just as awesome if not more so the next day, you know how that can go) our adventure began. The drive was long, green, bumpy (we thought this was bumpy but we had not seen bumpy yet), filled with Ale’s inspired architectural commentary and simply beautiful. The air smelled of sweet flowers, rain, salt and the occasional cow.

Our arrival brought us onto a “parking lot” in a “field”. I took a look around me and for the life of me could not understand how in the world we were going to get to the ocean way below. We were quite high up and I saw no signs of a humanly possible, on the ground decent. At this point, for an instant, I started having thoughts of: What have I gotten myself into? These people are strangers. They can say anything, be anybody! Maybe they have climbing gear in the trunk and expect me to climb down? Maybe they are adrenalin junkies and expect me to cliff dive! Maybe … At this point, angel Ale mercifully interrupts my thoughts and magically steers us towards a bulky bunch of tropical plants that, yes, magically concealed natural coral steps, leading all the way down to the beach. Thank goodness!


The path ... thank goodness ...


The opening ... thank goodness ...

As we made our way down this ancient path, tucked into the tropical forest, giant trees and their winding roots enveloped us, lizards were scuttling past, frogs were unseen but chirping, Ale was pointing out the magnificent natural fossils in the corals, Gene was ever so graciously urging us along, Axel and I were transported into a wild paradise. After a while everything opened up and we were greeted by an enchanting Robinson Caruso’esque beach with immense coral cliffs and big rolling waves. Big ones. Really big ones. In fact, being the semi obsessive that I am, I glanced at Ale and right after the ooohhh’s and aaahhh’s, the spectacular look around (a lot of it at the big waves) and the discarding of our possessions, I asked him if we could swim in there because the waves were, well, so huge! My answer came from all three of them and being the men that they are, they looked at me in that “awww isn’t she so cute and scared” way and immediately proclaimed it safe.

“Come on in! All you have to do is get past the crashing point!” they said. Phhftt! No way my friends. I laughed, waved, and stood safely on the beaches edge watching my peeps get thrown around, toppled, laughing, smiling and waiving me in as I shook my head mmmm mmmmm and took in the massive waves and rolling water. It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. In the end, I finally went in (only for a bit and screaming) due to peer pressure and the fact that I was roasting. It was wonderful. 
Terrifying and wonderful, at the same time.
If you will allow me a mini “you see?!” moment here, when arriving back home (Montreal) I immediately checked out Bottom Bay and the “swimming conditions” and what do I see? This. This, dear reader, is the warning on the “swimming conditions”: “Bathing here is not recommended, as the waves are very strong, and great care should be shown by those who choose to do so”.  Hah! …

Anyhow, back to paradise. After getting knocked around, ahem, excuse me, swimming in the ocean, we ran for our lives, sorry, excuse me, walked out of the water and onto the beach we sat down and as all beach dwellers in my world naturally do, broke out homemade rum punch (Ale and Gene’s dynamite recipe) and proceeded to discuss food. We spoke of crepes made in earthenware, of lemon trees, of Gene’s memorable trip to Italy with Ale where he had ribs that he has not forgotten to this day. Ribs from a pig that they chose themselves. A pig that fed on plump acorns and wild grass. Of plantain lasagna. Of cooking classes in an ancient water mill. Of the local unpasteurized goats milk for making cheese. Ale had made some and was aging it for shaving on pasta (I of course attempted it the next day and failed miserably but it was glorious and I am going to give it a second attempt here at home).

This was it friends. Here it was. I had achieved my dream on earth. My perfection. Sitting here, in this prehistoric paradise, with my love smiling contentedly at me, Ale smoking a cigar, Gene dusting himself off of sand, jade ocean, sunshine, wild coral beach, salty breezy air, rum punch, discussing food. Glorious food. This was it.

Then, all of a sudden out of my blissed out stupor comes a contented sigh from Ale and a casual “one day, I would love to have a bonfire here and grill some food under the stars…”. Well, his wish was my command. I hoped. Enter Sam.

Junior Sam Gittens ...

Junior Sam Gittens to be exact. The easy smiling, ya man talking, smooth singing, Bottom Bay guardian Rasta. Sam was the man here along with second Rasta in command, Esra. He greeted you upon arrival, took care of anything you needed. Most beaches you go to these days have some evidence of urban interference and you can be fairly certain that food and drink are not far away. Not here. Sam sent the local people to get what you needed. Do not ask me where because there was nothing in sight for miles.

I spot him and walk towards him, tap him on the shoulder and (practically jumping) ask: Sam, we want to have a bonfire here one evening. Do you think you can arrange something? Of course man! he says smiling. When you want to do it man! he asks smiling. I then tapped Ale on the shoulder and (practically jumping) said: Ale! He can do it! He can do it! Can you do it?! When can we do it?! Gene, when can we do it?! Tomorrow? The next day?! At this point, I think I actually was jumping and to my great delight, after some discussion of times, dates, best possible weather, what food and drink we were each to bring, it was set. The four of us were scheduled for a private bonfire in the coral cave, in two days! I could (can you guess?) hardly contain myself.

Almost end:

It was decided that Ale and Gene would bring fish to grill, the rum punch, of course, and a local delicacy called Ground Provisions Salad. We were going to bring Grandfathers Salt Fish Cakes (see previous post for recipe) and lots of rum. We were limited in what we could carry as we insisted on taking the bus, you know, for the local experience. Who was it that said to us that whenever we travel we move in …?


Just one more ...

I will take you two days forward, to the fish market bus stop, where the bus is picking us up and ask you to imagine this scene: Us on the bus. One hundred degree heat. Axel with a beer and three bags in hand, me with my rum and coke (the bus arrived faster than we anticipated!) and my fritter dish in hand, squashed cheek to cheek, sweat bead to sweat bead with everyone on the bumpiest bus on this planet. The locals took one look at us and had mercy on our souls. The old ladies took my fritter plate so I could finish my rum and coke (bless their souls) and made space for Axel to put the bags down so he could finish his beer (I love these people).

The time passed and bus started to empty out (I tell you, this was the never ending bus ride) and eventually, after an indeterminable amount of time and several how much further is it (answer was always “far”), we were the last ones left. As we were being shaken like little pebbles in a gold sifter, much worse now that the bus was empty, Axel looking particularly green, I could not help wondering who thought this was a good idea again. Why didn’t we just impose and take the car ride offered? But, as always, as things were looking their worst and I was contemplating emptying a plastic bag for Axel just ...in case, at last we arrived and every bump (so many) and all the time (it was long) it took was worth it when the bus stopped and dropped us off at the top of a road.

Smiling, a bit wobbly and green, we thanked the driver picked up our considerable belongings and bid him good day.

Ahead of us was a small, narrow, country road with fat little goats happily munching on the long, bountiful (and apparently quite tasty) grasses. As we started the long walk down, I took a deep breath of the salt air and thought to myself, how wonderful. How wonderful is it to be walking down a small country road, goats around, sun shining, ocean waves crashing in the background, with my beloved, carrying a plate of just made salt fish fritters, about to embark down coral steps to a secluded paradise for an evening beach bonfire. Life was beautiful.

We reached the beach and Sam was there to greet us with his big, easy smile and “How ya doin’ man!” Put all your stuff here man and go enjoy the beach man. But first come and let me show you what we did for you man” We follow him into the coral cave and see that they had carved out a pit in the sand for us and placed some driftwood on either side to hold the makeshift grill. It was gorgeous. It was awesome. There was also a “table” for us to store our things. The dream was off with a bang…

The bang ...


Men work ...

As we waited for Ale and Gene to arrive the men began their men work. I swear! One minute I am basking in the sunshine and thoughts of things to come and the next I am watching Axel and Sam carrying an entire palm tree log to the cave for the fire and collecting other beach wood for anything we might need in terms of fuel. I was sure I was on Gilligan’s Island for a moment. Then, as if it was a beautiful sonata winding its way up to a glorious crescendo, the evening sky took hold and Ale and Gene arrived with native friend in tow. Smiling, with lots of goodies in hand we greeted one another and then got down to the beautiful business of food. We examined each others bounty, thanked Sam repeatedly, strategized on the best timing for each dish, marveled at the glory that was this place and the fortune that was ours in meeting one another and poured large, stiff drinks.

We even experienced a slight pre-dusk storm where we all had to hide in the cave and watch the storm come in and rain pass us by. I mean come on. Once the storm passed, amid the stories, laughter and natural kinship, night had fallen. The sky was clear. The ocean, black. The moon and stars were lighting up the sky. The ocean gracefully offered a soft breeze that was moist with sea water. At this point Ale decided it was time for the fire to really burn and the men went to work. It was not long before we had two beautiful fires. One bonfire for our visual pleasure and one grill fire for our soon to come culinary delights.


The fire ...


The storm ...

The cave ...

Those two magnificent fires, combined with sensorial overload from the natural beauty around us and the good friends laughing hysterically and strolling the evening beach were enough of a whollop to send me into another “I cannot believe the camera stopped working and I can’t take pictures of any of this and how can this happen and I have to fix it etc etc ” rant. Because I was quite vocal and quite obviously dismayed (well, as dismayed as you can be in paradise after several (many) rum punches, of course) at the inability to take pictures so I could forever capture the moment, the men went into action.

All of a sudden I see huddling, lights are moving and then …there they all are, I kid you not, shining beams (yes, someone actually brought a shining beam), cell phones and camera lights in my face all in an attempt to light me up enough so they could take a picture! It was so touching and wonderfully odd.… Here is the result …



The result ... bless their hearts ...

This being the eventful evening that it was thus far, we were all famished and it was time to grill. First were the Bajan fritters (which were soggy after the long, foil enclosed bus ride but nevertheless got recipe requests from the Rastas!). Then there were the swordfish skewers grilling on the fire which were absolutely gorgeous. Finally, there was Ale’s Ground Provision Salad which was, creamy, savory, spicy, sweet and absolutely delicious. We were literally scraping the container. Just imagine it ...

Blatant attempt to distract you from the no provision salad photo predicament ...

This story closes with stomachs full, hypnotized by the fire (and endless bottles of rum) Sam and his friends singing songs of long ago, beauty in our hearts and rum glasses (of course) in hand … dear readers, Ale, Gene, dear friends, these are the days of our lives (sorry, sorry I got carried away a little) until the next time cheers and bottom’s up.

End. Really. I swear.

Time to dish:

Ale’s Spectacular Ground Provision Salad

What you need:

  • 3 large sweet potato (purple skin) chopped into hunks
  • 3 large plantain (semi-ripened) sliced into pieces
  • 1 large taro root, chopped in large chunks
  • 2 medium sweet green pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 3 large Celery stalks, finely sliced
  • 2 medium Onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup Spring Onion, finely diced
  • 3 cups Pumpkin cubed
  • 3 small garlic cloves, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon green seasoning (Caribbean herb mix ground in blender, recipe below)

Peanut oil for frying
A bowl of ice water for blanching the sweet potato and taro
Salt and hot sauce, of course, to taste


What to do:

  1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Start boiling the sweet potato until soft. Retrieve cooked potato with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl with enough ice water to cover it. Using the same boiling water cook the taro and once it’s softened, transfer it to bowl of ice water.
  2. Next, fry the plantain slices in a skillet until the sugars contained have browned, but not blackened, flipping over once.  Transfer onto a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Repeat for the cubed pumpkin. Once the two batches are fried, drain almost all the frying oil, leaving enough of it to brown the onion. Once browned, remove the cooked onion and set aside.
  3. Once the  sweet potato and the taro have reached room temperature, drain and transfer to a bowl and gently mix them together. Add the remaining ingredients (browned onion, raw spring onion, green & red pepper, celery, pumpkin, minced garlic and fried plantain), very lightly mashing them up. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve lightly chilled.

Carribean green dressing

1 bunch of Cilantro
1 stalk of celery, include leaves if you have it
1 small head or garlic
4 green onions
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1/4 cup of water
pinch of salt
2-3 shallots
2 pimento peppers, 1 banana pepper and 1 Cubanelle


Roughly chop and blend all ingredients in a blender and you will have a gorgeous, emerald, herby, spicy warming dressing that you can use for the ground provision salad as well as a marinade for lamb, chicken and fish. Freeze for up to 3 months. Enjoy with loved ones.






Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Promises ...

This week dear readers, I come to you with an amuse-bouche. Of sorts. A figurative and literal one. 

Figurative because all I can give you are little nibbles of stories to come because alas, at the most inopportune time (as they always are yes?) my camera has broken down and I am on a quest to retrieve the photos. And literal because I will share with you a recipe I made for our bonfire adapted from an old Bajan grandfather.

So, as part two of my Bajan adventures, I come to you (once camera back in action, pray for me) with promises of stories of tropical forest paths with coral steps leading down to a Robinson Caruso’esque beach with immense coral cliffs and big rolling waves (I have a rant to go with this one which I can’t wait to share with you). Of Rasta’s and solitary bonfires in caves with the grill carved in the sand that roasted fish as we drank rum and listened to the waves crashing.

Of picking up a chef (who just happened to be the owner of one of Barbados best rated Zagat restaurant’s, total fluke!) at the local fish market and trying to negotiate for his fish but hesitantly winding up at his restaurant instead, to one of the most magnificent Bajan meals you can imagine. Of little, black hummingbirds who suckle every morning on the most fertile plants I have ever seen (it loses all its flowers every afternoon and every morning it is in full bloom).

Of roadside, church parking lot spareribs. 

Of exquisite, hot, crunchy, golden flying fish fingers. Heaven.

Of brilliant Ambassadors and glorious Tuscans (and us of course) on the coral sand beach, sipping homemade rum punch while discussing Asian crepes, ancient water mills, lemon trees and where to obtain fresh, unpasteurized goats milk for making cheese (I did it and failed miserably but it was divine) and more typical food obsessed beach conversation.

And of course, of the kind and wonderful people that make Barbados such a unique place to visit.

Now, onto the literal one.

Bajan Grandfather's Salt Fish Cakes ala dish …

What you need:
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter (plus extra for sautéing the onions)
  • 1 small onion finely minced
  • 1 cup flour (plus extra to adjust batter consistency)
  • Salt and pepper to your taste (if you can find Caribbean black pepper, do it)
  • ¼ cup finely diced fresh green pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons of Bajan hot sauce
  • 1 ounce of dark rum
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup old cheddar cubed into ¼” cubes
  • ¼ cup mozzarella cubed as the old cheddar
  • 2 cups saltfish, boiled 3 times and flaked
  • Peanut oil for frying
 
How to make them:
  1. In a heavy frying pan, sauté the onions in butter until they are translucent an luscious (you’ll know).
  2. Place flour in a big bowl and make a well in center. Pour in eggs, butter and milk. 
  3. Mix together lightly and then add the onions and all other ingredients to the bowl and stir gently until a beautiful batter forms. The consistency should be something between cookie dough and muffin batter.
  4. Once done, drop tablespoon by glorious tablespoon full into the hot oil. Please give them space and do not crowd them in. Fry until they are a beautiful golden color.
  5. Serve hot hot hot! (for the extra heat loving peeps out there,  mix mayonnaise with some of the Bajan hot sauce, add a squirt of fresh lime juice and dip on in)
 Until we meet again ...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

13º 10 N 59º 32 W …

No matter where I am in the world (right now it happens to be Barbados) it always comes down to the simple things. The things that make life beautiful to me. Like homemade Bajan hot (insane hot) sauce, sitting on the floor with Axel eating blackened bluefish caught just this morning wrapped in chinese cabbage that was picked, you guessed it, just this morning. Tiny little limes that burst with juice. Bouquets of the local herb mix of thyme, marjoram, chives and hot peppers. All bought from little old ladies selling their food goodies on the street.

It's very hot here. So hot, that it took all my effort to write said paragraph. This being the case dear reader, if you will indulge me, I am going to tell the rest of my story in pictures.

Little things that have captured my heart here so far...

The local reggae blasting Dolmus ...

Beehive glasses ...

This one speaks for itself n'est ce pas ...

Obama nike's on Rasta's ...

Pac   pac    pac  ...
The local Bluefish ... thank you sea ...
People and fish ... and signs ...
Long roads ...

Next week dear readers, if all goes as planned, I hope to come to you with recipes and stories of barbecued pigs tales, macaroni pie, flying fish and a possible petition to keep the hamburger across the street thick. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oh sweet pig ...

Beginning was difficult today. It took me all morning to extract those three tiny, little title words from my over stimulated brain. We (I take liberty, it may just be me) always travel the most complicated paths before coming back to what usually makes the most sense. Simplicity. The path, of least resistance.

I had visions of so mysterious must read titles such as In the strangest places … then, I shifted and went for the one word wonder of Gratitude … then, I went to the possibly poetic Every day at 5am a man wakes up … then, because I was driving myself up the wall, I stopped. I sat quietly for a moment and asked myself a simple question: what do I want to say? Genius, I know.

The answer came back whispering (in an odd Eat Pray Love'ish sort of way): Pig … oh sweet pig … tell them about the beautiful, *fat (see rant later), succulent little breakfast sausage that fed seven hungry soccer players on the weekend. So here I am dear readers, with my story.

It all started last year, with these same seven hungry men, sitting around my breakfast table in silence. Silence.

Now, if you have ever been around a group of men, you know this is a very rare occurrence. So rare in fact, that I can almost picture David Attenborough’s voice (as always he would of course be ever so conveniently placed in the perfect observing position) in the background with “here, we have a group of men participating in a most elusive ritual, silence… watch carefully now and you will witness one of life’s most mysterious states amongst men in their packs

Yes … anyhow, I went outside hoping to witness the cause of this extreme rarity and there it was staring me right in the face. The one thing, the most powerful force, the culinary kryptonite that can render the most verbosely inclined men silent. Meat.

There, in the middle of the mountainous pile of eggs, plates of feta and sweet, fall tomatoes nesting and happily glistening in olive oil and fresh basil, lay a sizzling plate of Soujouk (soujouk dear readers, is a lovely, stinky, gorgeous cured sausage of Armenian origin).

All around me were faces planning their next move. What was the fastest way to the soujouk? How much could be taken without offending the rest of the pack? What was the best strategy for fastest plating to retain maximum heat? Who would have to go down once the last piece battle began? It was awesome. So marked was I by this extraordinary experience that back in present day, with looming breakfast ahead, here I am with another secret to expose (starting to get a liiiittle concerned about this confession theme here …).

I dear reader, am a selfish individual.

There, I’m out. I’ve said it.

There are very few things in life that give me as much pleasure as watching people relish food. Especially when this relishing is collective and it involves food directly from a farm. It literally makes me happy. So selfish as I am, I jumped at the chance to recreate last years meatty joy. But naturally, I could not present the same sausage again (God forbid, I know!). This time I wanted to make the little bundles of meat joy myself.

So naturally, this meant I had to hunt the perfect pig, or at least (let’s be real here) our farmer who reared one. In comes farmer extraordinaire Jean-Pierre who’s farm La Ferme le Crepuscule is responsible for feeding me (you will be hearing more about him). This week, he had the most beautiful ground pork ever (seems I didn’t have to hunt far) and so it was my duty to showcase its pure magnificence with the proper preparation. That said, I am about to share a little gem with you that could not be easier to make and is gorgeously delicious. This is a simple sausage recipe adapted from Alton Brown that will knock your socks off (I dare you to try to figure out where the citrusy hint comes from, because frankly I’m stumped).

Warning: if you do not have a meat grinder, ask your butcher to grind the required fat into the pork. I realized too late that I don’t have one (how could I possibly not know that I do not have a meat grinder for heaven’s sake you ask … I mean really, it’s just one of those things you just know you have or don’t have you say …) so I had to leave out the extra fat (sacrilege - I hate myself - from freaky not knowing no meat grinder incident I know!)

The lesson: please, remember the fat or you will (if you are obsessive like me) wind up making the whole thing again, yes, like I did (the “fat free” version was so flavorful and awesome but a tad, well, sans fat). This second batch resulted in full, plump, bronzed, succulent fatty glorious sausage. Thank you dear pig.



Okay, I’m done. Time to dish.

Here is what you need:

2 pounds pork butt, ground
1/2 pound fat back, ground with the pork
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon organic light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (Turkish if you can please)

Special equipment: meat grinder (yeah … I don’t know how I missed that ...)

Here is what to do:

Combine glorious pork with all other ingredients and chill for 1 hour. Form into perfect sausage shapes. Refrigerate and use within 1 week or freeze.
For immediate gobbling, sauté little bundles of sausage joy over medium high heat. Sauté until brown and golden turning on all sides to ensure an even tan (approximately 10 minutes. Keep warm covered in aluminum foil until ready to serve.

Yield
Enough for 7 hungry men.

Was meat induced silence achieved you ask? No. This year ravenous bunch diving into everything leaving crumbs in wake was achieved, but very noisily. This year, I had stiff competition that I had not planned for and am convinced I would have persevered given the following elements had been eliminated: Big screen TV, football, soccer and hockey (seriously, how many critical sporting events can be on at the same time!).

Even the most heavenly meat does not render man silent when in his most beloved state, watching sports, with his pack, in front of a big screen TV. David, are you there?




In the end, this is what it’s all for yes?


For those of you curious about the rest of the morning Menu, it was:

Farm eggs (24!) with cream scrambled in organic butter with feta and fresh dill
Pancetta crispy and lovely
Moroccan Olives
Sliced Lebanese cucumbers with lemon zest and sea salt
Creamy, ooozy Bulgarian triple cream feta with drizzled olive oil and Turkish red pepper flakes
Greek, farm extra thick and creamy yogurt
36 hour French baguettes
(Seems like the United Nations here … yes!)
Bagels (Montreal only please if you can, I have to discriminate here, they are the best)
Ferme Reid raspberry jam
And beer

Lots and lots of beer …


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The chip is out of the bag ...

Success. My closet guilty pleasure is now, well, let's just say the chip is out of the bag. We have achieved the very elusive complete culinary conversion dear readers.  The chip bag is empty. I repeat, the chip bag is empty.

I knew I had it in the proverbial chip bag when I started to pile on the cheese. Picture this: the bottom slice was broiled, oiled, rubbed with garlic, cheesed, topped with chips and cheesed again. Then, it started. The subtle peeks over the shoulder, the what did you put on top of that it looks not too bad proceeding to wow, that looks really really good proceeding to when will it be ready? (either they were hooked or they were really hungry).

Between you and me, I made sure to open the oven at the most opportune times allowing for maximum olfactory advantage. When your battle is this epic you have to pull out all the stops.

The moment of truth:





Let the crumbs speak for themselves.

Fellow food lovers, you should have seen it. The senses kicked in and salivating, savoring, crunching began and sounds were coming out.  Then, behold, the widening of eyes, the flavors registering and, the ultimate compliment:  this would make great pub food, you know, in a bar, after beer, and lots of drinking ... soooooo goood ... Yes!

For those of you who are looking at this thinking you shouldn't ... you totally should. I'll give you a few reasons so you can sleep at night. Laugh as loud as you will but this is the perfect fall food (yes I dare) in moderation because it replenishes salt lost during the summer months of heat and sweating. It gives the needed fat (yes, needed fat) to prepare the skin for the moisture depletion of the next 6 months of dehydration (at least on the east coast Canadian end). It gives you antioxidants from the fresh garlic and the good fats from the olive oil.

I guess this would be a good time to dish so:

Here is what you need:

2 slices of bread of your choice (crusty outsides and soft insides are my loves)
1 small clove of garlic
1 bag of lays ( big or small depends on how grand pow!pow!pow! you want your sandwich to be)
peppery olive oil 
extra old cheddar (shaved or grated), no mild will do.
mayo (good stuff please, it is a chip sandwich after all)
yellow mustard (go retro!)

Here is what to do:

1. Pre-toast both slices of bread in the oven at 350 to your desired crispiness. Drizzle the "bottom toast" with olive oil, rub it with a fresh clove of garlic and top it with cheese. Gingerly place the chips on top of the cheesy bread (they drop like lead if you are not careful).Then, you guessed it, gingerly, place the cheese on top of the barely balanced chips (if you lose some, cheese or chips, panic not, just pick up, discard and replenish).

2. Once perfect, place cheesed chip bread in a 350 oven for as long as it takes the cheese to melt (for me, 1.5 minutes on broil and on the very top rack)

3. At this point, adorn the "top toast" with mayo and yellow mustard and place (I know you know what's coming here) gingerly, on top of your perfectly finished chip sandwich.

Bon appetit dear reader.

And thank you for keeping an open mind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Humble beginnings ...

Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with food. My earliest childhood memory is of raiding the cupboards for the freshly delivered yogurt from the milkman. My grandmother took great care to place the jugs out of reach on the highest cupboards possible but at the tender age of four, I had a plan. The stories of my being caught precariously balancing on teetering books, jug in hand, little palms covered in yogurt because I stuck my hand inside the jar to get it out (how else could it be done) and guilty look on my face topped of with a thick creamy yogurt mustache always bring me a smile. Good times.
 
I was the cause of great drama in the kitchen to the dismay of all the elders in the house, with incessant nagging about how and why. Not paying attention to me was not an option.  I was this mini fireball whirling around with a thousand questions. I loved the noise, the smells, the colors and textures, the arguments the ladies would get into when there was a question about what the best way to do something was. I was right there with my opinion should they need it.
 
You can imagine then, how well this went off in Romania in the very early eighties with very stern Eastern European grandmothers and aunts trying to prepare for company. The occasional threats of spankings and being chased around the house with a shoe in their hand waiving furiously and mumbling something I could not quite make out due to running for it were well worth it.
 
As a teenager, my tastes were not so discerning (aka: I was broke) but even when I made my mac and cheese out of a box or my hamburger helper, yes, out of a box, I felt compelled to make them my own. I was adding all kinds of things to them, some good and some not so good but always experimenting with textures and flavors. I am about to let you in on a secret. Only three people in the world know this about me. One of my favorite things discovered during this frugal period was the chip sandwich. Yes, you heard right. The chip sandwich. To the horror of the one person who has actually witnessed my creation (the other two know only through legend), and to be frank, to mine because I cannot believe my first dish shared will be a chip sandwich for goodness sake but here we are, I would bite ravenously into what I consider to be the snack of all snacks.
 
Now, you have to be brave to try this. You will battle food snobbery, face disbelieving friends, deal with grimacing faces and shouts of are you nuts! and how could you eat that! but if you can get past these things, you will discover one of life’s very guilty pleasures.
 
The original, in all its plastic 60’s style glory, was composed of the whitest sugary Wonder Bread (yup, here I am with Wonder Bread in my blog) so soft that if you pinched it, it would be thin as paper and super salty and crispy regular lays chips. Step one, separate your bread slices. Step two, place a mountain of chips on top of one slice. Step three, place your other slice on top of the pile, squish down hard and voila! I tell you the soft texture and sweetness of the “bread” against the crunchy crispiness and saltiness of the chips …perfection. When I was feeling fancy, I would add yellow mustard. Mmmmmm …

 
 Okay, nostalgia and shock aside, since it seems that by some cosmic joke this was meant to be the first recipe I share with you dear readers (I hope you don’t judge me and tune in for the next one) I will write here a more shall we say … delicate version of the abovementioned so you can have high class snack with your beer. I am going to test the recipe tonight on two unsuspecting dinner guests and let you know how that went. Steadfast food snobs or complete culinary converts … stay tuned…