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Monday, September 28, 2015

Holy Scotch Bonnet Pepper (Batman)!

I'm not one of those macho dudes who loves chili peppers.

You know those people, I'm sure you've been out to a restaurant, or over for dinner somewhere, and there's that one (secretly insecure) guy or girl who makes it his or her mission to make sure everyone in the room knows that they can handle any capsaicinoidal heat.


That said, however, I do like a chili pepper now and then.

Particularly with dishes that might otherwise be a little bland.  Like lentils or beans.  Or even pasta.

But the trick, and what I always try to do, is to complement the dish with heat, rather than overpower it.

Anyway... I bought a HUGE bag of little Serrano peppers a very long time ago, and have kept them in freezer to bring one or two out now and then as needed.  They have kept surprisingly well.  Oh sure, I'm not under any delusions that they are 'fresh', but they are considerably tastier than dried chilies... and they have the added bonus of being on-hand ALL the time.

I'm still working my way through that bag.  ;)

At least once a month though, I'll buy a fresh pepper or two, and cook up something deliciously fresh.

My go-to is just plain old jalapeño chili peppers, because the wife doesn't love spicy chilies... and contrary to what most people believe, the jalapeño is actually quite LOW on the spiciness.

We're talking the SCOVILLE scale here.  A handy, fairly-accurate and representational, listing of peppers from low to high in terms of capsacin-causing spicy spicy heat.

Anyway, you can see that jalapeños are not all that hot.  In fact, I always love them for the fact that you get a little bit of heat, PLUS a little bit of the acrid bitter pungency of a bell pepper, all in one package.  It's like a half-and-half pepper, or at least that's how I like to think of them.

So, for the spicy heat of death, I tend to go for something much hotter.  Like I said, I have a fair penchant for Serrano peppers, but my favourite are Habaneros.  I love Habenero chili peppers. They're always so colourful and delicious, and can turn any dish into a feisty fiesta of flavours!

One thing I'd never tried before though (at least, myself, at home) is a Scotch Bonnet.  They are supposed to be really really hot... but looking at the Scoville scale, it seems they are still only somewhere in the middle (of the naturally-occurring sources anyway... chemically extracting the capsaicinoids can yield some ridiculously hot substances...) probably wouldn't even want to have that pure chemical stuff come into contact with your skin...

Anyway...  here's a lovely little bitty Scotch Bonnet pepper I picked up the other day:

I think part of why I love chilies so much is they're always so beautiful !  I mean, doesn't that just look like CANDY?  And that's an organic pepper too!  So no artificial waxes or industrial cosmetic tricks at work there.  Nature made that.  YUM!

Anyway, I chopped it up, and only used HALF of this in one dish, saving the other half in a ziploc baggie in the crisper.

The dish that got blessed with a half a scotch bonnet?

Just a lowly legume casserole... a couple different kinds of beans, some onion and garlic and cumin... not a whole heckuva lot going on there.

Until the pepper, of course!


So freaking good.

The thing I love about cooking with peppers is that I really can taste the difference between an artificially added heat (like from a hot sauce or something), or an 'after-the-fact' heat added later, compared to stewing it right up in the pan together.  The flavours combine so much better.

It's much... warmer... for lack of a better word.  Cooking it in there literally makes it seem mellow, as opposed to sharp and bold and in-your-face.

Sometimes you want that... like putting some freshly cut jalapeños on a grilled panini or something... but for the most part--especially in sauces and stews and such--I prefer the mellow, warm, pleasantness of a subtle spiciness.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Golden Roma Tomatoes in a Shallot-Butter-Red Wine Sauce.

I don't know what it is about heirloom varietals, but there's something really cool about getting something 'off-the-beaten-path' from your regular run-of-the-mill produce.

Perhaps it was my very sheltered upbringing; I was just talking the other day about how my suburban town had literally two grocery stores ('Safeway' and a 'Super A'), and my mom only ever shopped at one of them.  Of course, when I got older and moved into the city, I quickly discovered how cool ethnic groceries from the Asian and Italian superstores can be.

Well, moving to THIS city is even crazier with grocery options.  It is entirely conceivable that you could get anything edible at all here (perhaps even a fair few inedible items as well?)


Anyway... it always feels nifty to get an heirloom this or that... partly because of the novelty arising from my above-mentioned upbringing, but partly also because of my own particular interest in husbandry and the gradual evolution of plants.

Anything heirloom is, by definition, NOT a mass-produced, engineered-for-industry-and-feeding-the-world type of crop.  And I think that's cool.  Some determined farmer somewhere decided to hold on to (or ingeniously acquired) some long-lost strain of food that just isn't all that popular anymore.

Well, the other day I found some golden roma tomatoes.  I mean, these aren't THAT special, it's not the coolest heirloom food I've ever found, but I found it particularly noteworthy because I love roma tomatoes.

In fact, I just wrote a post about it the other week:


Sure, I've had yellow tomatoes before.  I'm not even sure if they're considered heirloom or not, they're so prevalent.  But yellow ROMA tomatoes?  Never seen those before.


I turned the bulk of these into a delicious shallot-butter-red-wine sauce.

Here are some photos:

Butter, onion, shallots, and then (later) garlic.

Déglacer the pan with (in this case) a relatively generous portion of red wine, cook it down while scraping the pan periodically, for at least five minutes.

Add to delicious golden roma tomatoes.

Serve on pasta... or whatever really.  Delicious stuff.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Autumnal livin'

I freakin' love freakin' fall.

The temperature gets bearable, the air gets crisper (and I swear, feels cleaner), and the sky gets grayer.  

Yes, I like gray skies and rain.  

I don't get carried away by the hype that the rain-haters spout, trying to brainwash everyone into thinking that the rain needs to be gloomy or dreary.  

(BTW - did you count the number of puns in that sentence?  heh heh heh)

Instead, I like to think of the rain from a more natural perspective, and I tend to associate rain with things like freshness, cleanliness, and fragrant greenery.  The smell of decaying leaves, paired with the earthy fresh dirt and grass smell kicked up by a recent rainfall... well that's probably my favourite smell in the whole world.

ANYWAY... I appear to be digressing.  Although this IS one of my rhetoric posts (see attached label to this post).  Thankfully (for you, the reader being subjected to this), I don't really do a whole lot of rhetorical posts.  So much rambling prose, even if written with passionate conviction, does not really make for page-turning reading. 


The point I want to make, and I may make this every year, is that I love Autumn.  A lot.  I love everything about it.  Especially the food.  I mean, if ever there was a time to feast and revel in a crap tonne of bountiful food, it would be the fall harvest.  

Do you think that when farmers first started to reap their fall harvests, they were like "Holy shit this is a lot of food.  Should I save it all so that my family and friends don't all starve through the winter? Maybe I'll just have a nibble right now.  Hmmm... well there IS so much of it, maybe just a titch more..." Until finally:  "Ahh, Fuck it!  IMMA HAVE A FEAST SUCKAS!  That's right, GOD!  You'll probably try to murder me and my entire community come January, but that's Starving-in-January-Farmer's problem, not mine!!!"

Heh heh heh heh.

I'm pretty sure that's how it went down.

I mean, maybe there weren't adequate storage capabilities back then.  Right?  You can only store in silos and preserve in jars so much... maybe the point of the Autumnal Harvest Feasts is to just put a big dent into the total amount (and possibly to put a big bulge into everyone's waistlines) while you could.

In any case, it's an old timey tradition that I am ecstatic to perpetuate.  

Ye Olde Autumnal Feast.

Of course, I'm not a farmer.  But, what Autumn DOES yield for me is a plethora of cheap, high-quality, locally grown, produce.  In abundance.  Apples, pears, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, corn (normally... this year was weird), even scallions (oh, and garlic!  I almost forgot garlic!), are all excellent harvests here in the fall.

Anyway, I often like to get swept up in the Ontario seasonal produce craze, and will regularly use the opportunity to try making some (relatively) ambitious new projects and culinary experimentations.

This year I think I'm going to try making a few pies, and maybe even some apple or pear cider.

Yay fall!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Holy Garlic Varietals (Batman)!

I love garlic.

And, unlike oh so many other really-good-for-you vegetables, this one I've enjoyed as far back as I can remember. If you know me, you'll know that there were many vegetables I couldn't quite appreciate in my youth; but garlic, I have always loved.

Well, for such a long love affair, you'd think I would know more about this delicious, bulbing root.  I mean, I know how to cook it up in several ways, and I know how to eat it up in even more ways... but that's about as far as it went.

It is garlic season here in Ontario.

I went to a garlic festival over the weekend, and damn if there wasn't a lot of info about garlic; I suppose I would have been disappointed otherwise.

Anyway, I learned a lot about planting, growing, harvesting, storing, braiding, preparing, and consuming garlic.

But, today, I just want to talk about the sheer volume of VARIETALS out there.

Sure, I'd experimented with about three or four different kinds of garlic, available locally at my grocer or even a few imported to specialty food stores... but I had no idea that there were so many varieties of garlic.

Technically, there are only about 10 distinct varieties, but there are literally hundreds of sub-varieties (cultivars) within these 10 overarching categories!!!!

I really did get lost among the definitions of hard-necked vs. soft-necked, Asian vs. European, Artichoke vs. Silverwhite, Porcelain vs. Puple Striped, Creole vs. Rocambole... and so on.

I tried to listen to as much of the lectures, and to pick up as much literature, as I could, but as I left, I felt still woefully ignorant.

What I did feel great about though, in leaving, was the samples I brought home.  Decidedly few, to be sure, but they were all I could purchase in good conscience for one trip; truly, even for a garlic-lover like myself, ten bulbs is more than I could safely store before anything started to spoil.

Despite the poor overall representation of my samples, I did try to get as much variety as possible within those ten bulbs.

I bought a few mild, a few spicy, and a few purported as being unparalleled in pungency.


Here are some pics:

I've arranged them according to (what I remember, at any rate, could be a little off on one or two) potency.  Music being the mildest, and the Blanak being the strongest (of these, anyway).

I bought multiples of each of the three strongest varietals there, and have already tried a couple.

In fact, the wife and I made a meal of roasting up a couple bulbs (along with some fresh crostini, some truffled pecorino, and some fresh dancing-with-smurfs tomatoes).  

I was anxious to try the Blanak.  Of course, when roasting, the spiciness gets mellowed considerably but it was still a very flavourful garlic.

Anyway, I will definitely be experimenting with these over the course of the next few weeks!

Here are a couple more styled shots of them:

Also, I took some close-ups of each type, and I'll include them here, starting again, with the Music.







Oh... and I bought some shallots too.  They were three for a dollar.  :)


I'm going to try really hard to make a variety of garlic-heavy dishes over the next little while.  And, no I won't just roast them all.  

I'm thinking I might try making some Sopa de Ajo, a Spanish garlic soup that I tried from a vendor there at the festival, and really enjoyed.  Although I'll probably make it vegan as the chunks of pork hock that were in mine were not super awesome.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Holy Organic Roma Tomatoes (Batman)!

I am so excited that it is tomato season.

I love tomatoes.

A lot.

I never used to... I mean I've always loved a good tomato sauce or soup, but I definitely had to 'grow into' eating tomatoes raw.

I'm not sure why.

Especially since I eat them in such large quantities.

In fact, lately it has sort of become a source of yearly anticipation for me to await Ontario's bountiful Autumnal harvest.

Growing up out west, there wasn't a whole lot of crops to look forward to in terms of harvest.  I mean, the prairies put out a lot of agriculture, arguably more than Ontario, but the kinds of crops are very different.

As an end-user consumer you don't really look forward to the latest crop of canola for example...  My family always had a decent garden though, so it's not like we didn't have good organic food available... it just wasn't a massive bounty harvest...

So it happens that I have become a fan of Ontario's growing abilities, given the sheer number of (delicious) foods that it puts out in the fall.

Not the least of these, is TOMATOES.

Oh man.

I am so excited that it is tomato season.


Although I love tomatoes in many different forms and dishes, my favourite is (of course) tomato sauce.

And my favourite tomato for tomato sauce?  ROMA.

It shouldn't be a surprise that a Roma tomato should be best for an Italian-based tomato sauce.

They are an absolute must for my Pomodoro Rustico Ragu.

But I like them for anything which requires blending or smooshing them up. 


Well, they have a low water-to-flesh ratio.  So that makes for a meaty tomato sauce.

You still have to cook it down a bit, if you want it thick, but that's the fun part!

Just yesterday I made a version of my rustic tomato sauce.  I wanted to use up some garlic that I had on hand (I'll tell you why in a second).  Oh nevermind, I'll tell you know.  I am planning on getting a whole bunch (and hopefully great variety) of great organic local garlic this weekend at the Stratford Garlic Festival.  

Garlic, in case you were wondering, is of course one of those other things I've been delighted to discover is part of this wonderful Ontario Autumn harvest bounty.  

(I am likely going to have to do some serious preserving of things this fall...)

It'll be my first time at this garlic festival, so hopefully it won't disappoint.  If there is garlic there, though, it probably won't... ;)

Onion, garlic, fennel, chili, and some ground oregano, thyme and parsley.  Of course the onion and fennel gets cooked (sweated) first.  

Oh and some truffle oil.  Can't go wrong with truffle oil!!!

Blend that up, and then cook it down.

I like to put a splatter guard on it, rather than a tightly fitting lid.  The idea is to have the moisture evaporate, after all.

Culinary Spatterings' culinarily approved spatter guard.

Heh heh heh heh,

After an hour or two simmering away on super low heat, it really does thicken, but you have to stir it up from the bottom to see just how much.

On to some pasta you shall go, and then into my belly!

Muah hah hah ahh hah hah!

Ahhhhhh... tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Falafels with Hummus and Pita (Vegan)

I have always liked falafels; indeed, before I even liked chick peas.  Strange that... don't you agree?

Although, when you consider these fancy, flavourful bundles of fried goodness wrap together all those other warm and sensual flavours, perhaps it is not all that strange.

To be a falafel, I think all that is required is that you be smooshed chickpeas formed into a patty and then fried or baked.  Everything else is just additional.  That said, you'd be silly not to put at least some garlic and onion in there with them.

Myself, I made some rather complex falafels actually.

I had made a chick pea stew the other night, when it was a little chilly there last week.  It was basically, and if I remember correctly in the following order of concentration (highest to lowest): chickpeas, refried pinto beans, onion, garlic, tomato, roasted red pepper, jalapeño, cumin, oregano, salt.

I was a little inebriated when I made it though, so I could be off a little bit on the ingredients... but I don't think I am.  Anyway, I had stewed that for a few hours in a crockpot and then pulsed it briefly in my food processor before serving it atop some flatbread.

It was delicious in and of itself.

But, today I figured I could quite easily turn this into some falafel 'batter'.

Indeed, all I needed to do was add flour, basically.

You know me, though, I had to intensify a few flavours as well.

So I toasted some cumin, and then sauteed a bit more onion and garlic and oregano.  Those were the flavours I wanted to come out most in the falafels, after all.


You could add this to pretty much anything and make it delicious.

So, I stirred this into my 'batter' and then added maybe a cup or two of whole wheat flour (it was all I had).

You can see it is substantially 'stickier' and less moist.

Good for making patties.

Now, you can bake falafels.  At least... if you wanted to... but why?  That delightful crisp crust only really comes from frying.

Truly there are very few things I fry.  In fact, the same tin can of 'waste oil' or grease has sat in the cupboard under my sink for close to five years now.  And it is not even half full.

But, I had a craving for fried falafels.


I felt a little better about frying these boys in cholesterol-free low-in-fat, avocado oil.  Which is generally my oil of choice for any high-heat cooking.  

It has a very high smoke point, which is good for high-heat cooking.  In case you didn't know this, whenever your oil is emitting smoke, that's bad.  Bad for the oil, bad for your food, and bad for your health.  As in carcinogenic.  So, when you're cooking something on high heat, be sure to use a high-smoke-point oil like avocado, safflower, or even canola oil.

So yah, frying is bad... but frying in avocado oil is at least somewhat mitigating of that badness.


Cause you're going to need a lot.

Enough to cover at least a third of the patty/ball, I'd say.

I mean, if you have a deep-fryer, that's great for you... but I'm not talking deep-frying here.  Of course, total submersion in hot oil would make for some perfectly spherical, and probably very uniformly crisped, falafels... but how many of us have our own deep fryers?

So, for us plebs, we're going to have to flip/turn these bad boys over at least a few times to make sure they get cooked on all sides.  And that usually ends up making them a little more cube shaped rather than round and ball shaped.  :(

But oh well.  They still taste great!

When they've fried on each of four (or six if you're taking pains) sides, take them out with a slotted spoon and let them dry on a stack of paper towels.

That's it.  These babies are great on their own, or between bread (like falafel burgers), or what is generally done, stuffed into a pita with some hummus.

I didn't have any pita, but I did have some whole-wheat flatbread that was vaguely naan-like.

And some freshly made hummus!


Ideally these would be shoved into the 'pocket' of a pita, but you could just wrap em up like I did.

Or eat them with a fork and knife works too!

Totally hearty, totally vegan, totally delicious.  Totally falafel! 

heh heh heh