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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Poke Bowl 101: An Introduction to Awesomeness

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron.
Tuna Poke Bowl

Depending on where you live, poke bowls could be anything from a curiosity you’ve seen popping up at local restaurants or sushi counters to a mainstay part of your culinary world.

While they are ubiquitous in Hawaii, where the dish originated as a blend of Japanese and Hawaiian culinary traditions, a quick Google search shows a growing number of poke bowl shops in Toronto. Alas, in my hometown of London, Ontario, there isn’t a poke bowl shop to be found -- although I was lucky enough to discover the dish as a special at the best craft beer bar in town.

In Hawaiian, “poke” means “to cut crosswise into pieces” or even just “to cut or to slice”, and that alone should give you a pretty good idea of what the dish is and what you are in store for when preparing it. You can think of it as deconstructed sushi if that helps, but to me, the way a poke bowl eats makes it an even more satisfying meal.

For starters, the bed of rice served as the base of the bowl is warm, which gives the dish a balance of hot and cold that most sushi doesn’t have. From there, every mouthful is a wonderful mixture of salty and sweet, soft and crunchy. So, when I saw the beautiful, little piece of tuna below frozen and vacuum packed at my local Farm Boy, I knew it was time to make my first poke bowl. 



tuna


Before I got to work on all the cutting (with my slow and cumbersome but relatively effective knife skills), I got everything I needed together for a group photo:

poke bowl ingredients

First up, the marinade, so it can go back into the fridge to marinate the tuna while you do the rice and all your slicing. It was dead simple but very flavourful:


¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

Ginger root is one of my absolute favourite things and something I find more and more pleasing with each passing year. The lesson? Being old kicks ass. The is what is looks like:


grated ginger

And this is what the marinade looks like:

soy ginger marinade

Now, onto the star of the show: the tuna! I am by no means an expert in the kitchen or with a knife, which is why I’m the Beer Baron and not the… Butchering Baron? Anyway, I still have a few tips to share:

  1. Put the tuna in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes. Not enough to freeze it solid, just enough to help it keep its form a little bit better and make your life easier when cutting it.
  2. Decide how thick you want to cut the pieces. If you LOVE raw tuna, then go a bit thicker at about ½ an inch (just more than a centimeter too all you hosers) and if you are new to it and want a little bit less of the raw texture or fishy taste, go smaller. 
  3. When you are cutting the tuna, pull your knife backwards towards you, starting at the heel of the blade and use the longest, sharpest knife you have. The goal is to try to make the cuts in one slice and avoid a front-and-back sawing motion.
Not all my slices were perfect, but I enjoyed the process and did ok:


sliced raw tuna

Going from the thin slices to the cubes was a little more challenging, as the tuna was getting warmer having been out of the freezer for longer, as I’m so slow, but they were decent:
raw tuna

The tuna goes into the marinade and into the fridge. 



tuna in soy ginger marinade

Start your rice cooking while you work on the rest of your cutting / poke-ing. Traditionally, you’d use short-grain sushi rice. But one of the great things about poke bowls is that there is really no right or wrong. It’s not a science like baking. I had long grain rice, so that’s what made it into my bowl.

Dice the mango:
diced mango

Slice the red onions (or leave them out altogether if they are too strong for you and you aren’t crazy about red onions like I am):


sliced red onion

Slice the jalapeno (which provide a nice bit of crunch as well as a little bit of heat):

sliced jalapeno

Chop the green onions:

sliced green onions

Slice the avocado: (I got lucky and mine was a perfect ripeness, which is a miracle unto itself. You kind of get used to picking the ever so slightly soft ones with experience, but if you want help, the internet is all about avocados: https://www.californiaavocado.com/blog/how-to-ripen-an-avocado.)

sliced avocado

Now, it’s time to assemble your masterpiece. Keep in mind that no poke bowl is perfect for everyone but do your best to make it perfect for you. If you like more or less of any one ingredient, go for it. (Also, I dumbly didn’t include cucumbers in this dish, which would have been perfect. Radishes too, for that matter.) Lay down your bed of warm rice:


rice

Top it with your marinated tuna:


Surround the tuna with the mangos and avocado:

poke bowl

And then add your final garnishes, including a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a little bit of freshly squeezed lime juice. (Don’t use the lime juice in the marinade or earlier in the process. The goal isn’t to cook the tuna with it, just add a nice hit of acid.) 

tuna poke bowl

As the Beer Baron, I was thinking that a session IPA (nothing too crazy to wreck your palate), a fruity sour, or a weissbier with tropical notes would all be nice pairings -- and they certainly would have been. In the end, I chose a Riesling, as they tend to be great with lightly spicy foods and the balance of minerality and fruitiness was a perfect complement to the balance of the poke bowl. However you make your poke bowl and whatever you pair it with, I hope you enjoy it. Cheers!



how to make a poke bowl


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes

I was never a big fan of scalloped potatoes growing up.  I had a thing about mushy food, so that's probably why I didn't appreciate them.  As with so many things, my tastes have changed over the years.  It also helps that I am making my own recipes so I know what goes into them and can appreciate the finished product more. 

Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

This is not a simple weeknight recipe, but it's not that complicated and the results are definitely worth the effort!  This is the perfect choice to serve with ham, and I'm going to halve the recipe for Easter dinner for two this weekend. 


A large gratin dish is great for this recipe, or you can use any glass baking dish. 

sliced potatoes

I find that slicing the potatoes in the food processor with the slicing blade really simplifies things.  But you can slice by hand or on a mandoline if you prefer.  It just takes more time. The important thing is to have thin, even slices of potato. 

Scalloped Potatoes

The potatoes are boiled in milk, then placed in a buttered gratin dish.  I like lots of black pepper. 

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

The potatoes are then covered in the scalded milk and shredded gruyere cheese, then baked until brown and bubbly.  The cheese gets shredded in the food processer too, to make life easy.  

Scalloped Potatoes

You end up with these amazing, creamy, cheesy potatoes.  The crispy edges are the best part!

Here's the recipe.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
3 pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes
3 cups whole milk
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup whipping cream
150 grams gruyere cheese, shredded
salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:
Peel and thinly slice potatoes using a food processor with the slicing blade or a mandoline.  Place potato slices in a large pot and cover with milk. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Occasionally gently scrape the bottom of the pot so the potatoes don't stick, but be careful not to break up the potato slices.  

Drain the potatoes in a colander over a bowl to reserve the milk. You should have 2 cups of milk remaining.  If not, add additional milk to make 2 cups.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Use a large oval gratin dish or rectangular glass baking dish. Slice the garlic clove in half and rub the cut halves all over the inside of the baking dish.  Brush the melted butter all over the inside of the dish. 

Carefully layer the potatoes in the baking dish.  Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper.  Pour milk and cream over potatoes.  Top with shredded cheese. 

Bake for about 90 minutes until milk has become creamy and thick but not dry, and cheese is deep golden brown.  If the cheese begins to become too brown, you can cover the dish loosely with foil to finish cooking.  

Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. I suggest serving with glazed ham

cheesy scalloped potatoes

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Pan-Seared Chicken with Maitake Mushroom Cream Sauce

chicken with maitake mushrooms

I love finding local treasures - especially foods produced close to home.  I recently discovered that a company is producing maitake mushrooms right around the corner from our house!  

maitake mushrooms

Also known as "hen-of-the-woods" mushrooms, maitake are tasty and said to have cancer-fighting properties.  Here's an article about the local production facility here in London. 

maitake mushroom

The mushroom has a thick base but is topped with petal-like segments that are thin and delicate.  Cut off the base or pick off the tops to separate pieces easily. 

chicken with maitake mushrooms

In this recipe the mushrooms are sauteed and then cooked with wine and cream into a thick, rich sauce served with crisp-skinned chicken.  It's delicious!

chicken with maitake mushrooms

I cut the chicken into 8 parts - 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and split each breast in two, keeping the wings on. I ended up taking the bone out of the breasts, which makes a lovely presentation. 

This isn't the most quick and simple recipe, but it's definitely doable for Sunday dinner and impressive for company.  I served it with roasted cauliflower, but it would be nice with a green salad or steamed broccoli.  

Here's the recipe...

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup whipping cream
230g maitake mushrooms (or mushroom of your choice)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place them, skin side down, in the sizzling butter. Cook for 10 minutes until deeply browned, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove chicken to a baking sheet and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, add the diced onion to the pan drippings and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine is mostly evaporated. Add the stock and cream and simmer about 10 minutes until thickened. 

Break apart the maitake mushroom.  Heat the last two tablespoons of butter in a separate pan and add the mushrooms. Cook until slightly browned, about 8 minutes. Toss the mushrooms with the cream sauce.

Put some mushrooms and sauce on the plate and place the chicken on top. Drizzle sauce over top. 

Enjoy!  

chicken with maitake mushrooms




Thursday, February 15, 2018

Movie Cocktails - Wakandan Aviator

This post is by Matt, the Beer Baron. He loves to make cocktails based on superhero movies. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @geekcanuck

Black Panther cocktail


Special movies call for special cocktails. Just as we did for Wonder Woman with Themyscira Wonder Punch, now it is time for Black Panther with our newly created Wakandan Aviator -- although I made the process of putting it together more difficult due to my stubbornness.


How do you create a cocktail to celebrate Black Panther? For me, I immediately thought of creating a purple cocktail to acknowledge his regal status as King. The fact that the Black Panther premiere in Los Angeles was on a purple carpet and that the character’s suit glows purple in the movie sealed the deal.


A purple cocktail is easy, right? They are a dime a dozen if you Google them. Alas, that is where my stubbornness played its part. I didn’t want to use food colouring, digitally alter the photos or use Blue Curaçao (which I haven’t had since I was a teenager). That meant our starting point was a classic cocktail called an Aviation, which uses Creme de Violette to imbue a purple tint.  


Aviation cocktail



We made a standard Aviation (2 oz gin, ½ oz lemon juice, ¼ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur, ¼ oz Creme De Violette) first, using a recipe I found here. It was nicely aromatic but fairly weak and hardly worthy of a King.

Aviation cocktail



Thankfully, we had help in the form of both an awesome book (Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold) and an awesome friend (who happens to certified cicerone and experienced mixologist). The variation above used ¼ oz more lemon juice balanced out by a ¼ oz more maraschino liqueur to bring the total to 2 oz gin, ¾ oz lemon juice, ½ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur and ¼ oz Creme de Violette. We also swapped out the pretty neutral London dry gin we used in the first version for The Botanist, which is a more herbaceous and flowery gin.

pineapple aviation



Things were getting better. There was more body and complexity but we weren’t just there to make a good Aviation. To start creating our own variation worthy of the name Wakandan Aviator, we started with the Liquid Intelligence recipe, but this time added pineapple simple syrup and Ms. Better’s Pineapple Star Anise Bitters and used an egg white to soften the edges and give it a pleasingly smooth mouth feel. Alas, the end result was too sweet.


cassis aviation



I tried a version with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) for added vibrancy but then tried to balance out the added sweetness with even more lemon juice and the whole thing was a train wreck. (Not a train wreck I didn’t happily drink, but a train wreck nonetheless.)


blueberry gin fizz

This is when panic (and possibly drunkenness) started to set in. My go-to booze is bourbon but I was thankfully overruled before we went down that particular rabbit hole. Instead, we ditched the entire concept of the Aviation and decided to try muddling blueberries to make a purple Gin Fizz. As you can see above, it was certainly pretty and verging on purple, but not something any of us would seek out, let alone serve to a King.

Wakandan Aviatior


In the end, the Gin Fizz did give us an element we all liked in the muddled blueberries. Now, we just needed to combine it with the other things we liked best from our previous attempts to come up with our Wakandan Aviator, which turned out alluringly aromatic, nicely balanced between sweet and sour, pleasingly smooth, and more-or-less purple:

2 ounces gin (in this case, The Botanist)
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
¼ ounce Creme De Violette
Handful of muddled blueberries
1 egg white

Shaken over ice
Poured into a martini glass and garnished with a frozen red star


Why garnished with a frozen red star (made with cranberry and pineapple juice), you ask? Well, that is because I am a super geek. At the end of Captain America: Civil War, Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) is taken to Wakanda and placed into cryostasis until Wakandan scientists can figure out how to reverse his brainwashing. The frozen red star represents Bucky and how technologically advanced Wakanda is. Duh.


Winter Soldier



So, what did we learn through the process of making our Wakandan Aviator?

  • Use good gin
  • Egg whites in cocktails (as in bourbon sours) are wonderful
  • It’s always good to have friends that kick ass
  • Never set out to make a vibrant purple cocktail unless you are willing to be vaguely disappointed in the colour or just break down and cheat
  • Buy lots of lemons


spent lemons



Obviously, many lemons were hurt in the making of this cocktail.


Cheers and have fun at Black Panther. Wakanda Forever!
Black Panther cocktail




Sunday, February 4, 2018

Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding

A few years ago we took a trip to Nashville and tried Banana Pudding for the first time.  It's an iconic Southern dessert that's simple to make and very comforting!

Glazed ham with pineapple

Recently for Matt's birthday dinner his wish was to have an old school glazed ham with pineapple and cherries. I served it with scalloped potatoes and black-eyed peas, and banana pudding for dessert. 

scalloped potatoes

It was a great meal.  The banana pudding should be made in advance, so it's a great dessert for a dinner party.  The wafers soften in the custard and make a lovely-textured treat.  You can assemble it the day before for the best texture. 

banana pudding

I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as inspiration, but I didn't make my own vanilla wafers, I used store-bought Nilla Wafers


Making the custard is the most challenging part, but it's pretty simple.


Definitely try this simple, fun dessert! 


Here's how to make it:

Ingredients
6  egg yolks
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
4 ripe bananas
1⁄2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

Equipment:  8 6-oz ramekins or jelly jars for serving

Instructions
To make the custard, place the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium pot. Whisk them together, then whisk in the milk in a slow stream until combined.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring.  I like to use a rubber spatula for this.  Keep stirring as it simmers for about 5 minutes until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Once thick, remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and bourbon. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the custard and chill for 4 hours or overnight.  

Nilla wafers

To assemble, place wafers in a layer in the bottom of each ramekin.  You can also make this in one big dish if you don't have individual serving dishes.  You may need to break some cookies to make a full layer, that's ok! 

On top of the wafers, dollop a layer of custard, then a layer of sliced bananas.  Repeat with a layer of wafers, custard and bananas until all the bananas and custard are used up.  Cover the dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but even better overnight.  

banana pudding

When ready to serve, whip cream with sugar and bourbon until soft peaks form.  Dollop whipped cream on top of puddings and place a Nilla wafer on top.  

Creamy, rich and not too sweet. This is a perfect dessert! Enjoy.