Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pucker up! Pickling and Fermentation Cookbooks

Sour flavors are growing in popularity in the US and there’s a whole bunch of great cookbooks to help satisfy this flavor fixation.

Karen Solomon has done it again. She has written yet another very informative and useful book in her inimitable personable and upbeat style. She balances solid information with a down-to-earth sometimes playful approach. Her books are always fun. In this book she offers up recipes for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian pickles. There are very traditional recipes for things like Miso Pickles or Green Mango Pickle as well as her own creative “inspired” pickles like Five Spiced Pickled Carrots and Sichuan Cucumbers with Orange and Almonds. You’ll also find chutneys and sauces. 

Bottom line? KEEPER unless you really don't like anything pickled. 

The subtitle to this book is krauts, kimchis, brined pickles, chutneys, relishes and pastes. Interspersed in the book are visual guides and profiles of people who make pickles and the like. It’s a wonderful resource and filled with both the usual as well as the unexpected. If you have a subscription to a CSA or a bountiful garden you will particularly enjoy how this book provides recipes to use your overabundance of everything from basil leaves to winter squash. There are even some wacky dessert recipes like Sauerkraut Coconut Macaroons. I particularly like the suggestions for how you can create your own recipes using the ones in the book as a guide. 

Bottom line? KEEPER especially if you are adventurous. 

If you’re looking for something a little less exotic, Pickles & Preserves, a slim volume from the Savor the South series might be just the thing. It has recipes for classic Southern style pickles, relishes and chutneys. Dilly Beans, Pickled Okra, Watermelon Rind Pickles and Chow Chow. The recipes are easy to follow and well written. It's a short book, and narrowly focused. 

Bottom line? MAYBE KEEP only if you’re a Southern pickle fan

What is kombucha? It’s a fermented tea with sugar and bacteria from a starter culture. This book, one of the first of its kind, not only shows you how to make kombucha but also what to do with it. There are recipes for kombucha based juices and smoothies, cocktails, dressing and even both savory and sweet dishes that use it as an ingredient. The recipes such as Long Kombucha Iced Tea and Vegan Kombucha Chèvre Spread are creative and appealing—so long as you like kombucha! 

Bottom line? MAYBE KEEP only if you are an avid kombucha fan (even though I love sour flavors, I'm not)

Disclaimer: These books were provided as review copies, there are affiliate links in this post. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tofu Feta Tomato Bake Recipe

Recipes for tofu fall into two camps, those that highlight it versus those that hide it. While I do sometimes add tofu to recipes to increase moisture and tenderness, I don’t need it to be camouflaged to enjoy it. I like both the soft and firm textures and I appreciate how it plays well with others. While we are used to it in Asian dishes, the truth is it gets along with lots of other flavors too. I’ve been playing around with some products from Pulmuone, a company that makes quite a few soy products and this is one of my favorite creations. I used Wildwood sprouted tofu, which is made from sprouted organic soy beans. It has more calcium, iron and protein than conventional tofu and is a pleasantly firm. Anything but the softest tofu should work fine in this recipe. 

I got the idea to use tofu and feta together because they have a similar texture, then I found a member submitted recipe for Baked Tofu with Feta and Spicy Greens in the Epicurious database and decided to take it in a slightly different direction. Basically I used the ingredients I had in my fridge at the time, and hoped for the best. I was not disappointed. Sometimes cooking works like that, other times, well, it turns out ok, but nothing you’d necessarily bother repeating. I try to take good notes of what I’m doing and measure as I go, just in case I hit upon a winner. 

I would now like to implore you DO NOT FOLLOW THIS RECIPE. Change something or everything. The amounts and the kinds of green herbs would be a good place to start. Throw in some caper or olives if you like them. Use sundried tomatoes instead of fresh ones. Use white onions instead of green onions. Omit the cilantro or add parsley instead. Skip the feta altogether and make this your very own vegan masterpiece. This recipe is as forgiving as they come. It would be really hard to mess up. 

Tofu Feta Tomato Bake
Serves 2-4 

10 ounces firm tofu, preferably sprouted 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup basil chiffonade (thin slices)
1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro 
2 teaspoons minced serrano chile, optional 
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
3/4 cup diced fresh tomatoes 
1 cup crumbled feta cheese 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice the tofu in pieces to fit in a one quart casserole. Sprinkle the tofu generously with salt and pepper. Add the greens and drizzle with olive oil. Top the tofu with the diced tomatoes and finally with feta cheese. Transfer casserole to the oven and bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until feta begins to turn brown and gets crusty. 


Disclaimer: My thanks to Pulmuone for providing me with soy products to use

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spirit Works Barrel Aged Gin: Drinks on Friday

Barrel aged gin has been gaining popularity the past couple of years. It started perhaps with Seagram’s Distillers’s Reserve and then a handful of craft distillers got in on the act and more recently Beefeater began producing one. Some distillers use charred new American or French oak barrels, others use barrels that once held red wine, whisky or bourbon, and even Lillet, but I have to admit, on the surface barrel aging gin seems like an odd move. 

I like gin, especially London dry gin, and the reason I do is because of the botanicals. I like a touch of clean bracing juniper, the freshness of the citrus, the brightness of coriander combined with delicate floral aromas. Barrel aging adds richness and roundness to spirits, not something I necessarily look for in gin. But Timo and Ashby Marshall proprietors of Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastapol are fans of gin too, and in fact, Timo told me his favorite gin was the same as mine, so I was particularly curious to try their barrel gin. 

Spirit Works is a family affair, run by Timo and Ashby Marshall with their little bundle of energy, Bandit, a Boston terrier who runs circles around the place. Ashby is the head distiller and she makes a base gin using organic California Red Winter wheat and a proprietary blend of botanicals. She uses classic spices like cardamom and coriander plus painstakingly hand peeled lemon and orange zest, as well as angelica, orris root and hibiscus. The gin is aged for several months in new American oak.  

The result is really lovely. There is a slight mellowness to the gin, but the freshness is still intact. The barrel aging emphasizes those baking spices plus it layers on some vanillin and caramel. It’s a gin so smooth you can actually sip it, but try it in either a gin or a whisky cocktail such as a Negroni or a Manhattan, or use a splash of it in eggnog.

I highly recommend a visit to Spirit Works Distillery, not only because you are sure to be charmed by the adorable Bandit on a tour, but because you'll get a chance to see some of the very interesting things they are doing, like hooking up headphones to barrels to see how the musical vibrations of say the Nutcracker versus Metallica affect the spirits (personally I’m rooting for the Nutcracker). You can even sign up to help with bottling if you like. And even if you only visit the tasting room you can pretty much see the entire operation from large picture windows.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Spirit Works Distillery for inviting me to be part of the historic first bottling line for their barrel gin and for providing me with a bottle for review purposes. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Taste of Toronto

This Summer I got a chance to visit Toronto and to attend the Taste of Toronto food festival. Lucky me! Quite a few years ago I attended Taste of London so I had a sense of what it would be like. The Taste food festivals are not your typical free for all food event, because the restaurants are really consistently high quality and included by invitation only.

This event is a particularly good one if you want to familiarize yourself with the Toronto restaurant scene. Here were some of my favorite dishes and the restaurants I would surely like to visit, on my next trip.

One of the first things I tried was a gazpacho like soup from The Harbord Room. The crushed heirloom tomato soup with spicy wild watercress, creamy buffalo mozzarella, crunchy toasted sourdough crumbs and a refreshing dollop of tomato and white balsamic sorbet was perfect on a fairly steamy evening. Truly a winner.

Khao San Road was the one booth where I tried all three offerings, starting with the cooling iced Thai shake. The crispy rice salad with ginger, cilantro, sour pork sausage, lime leaf and peanuts was the knock out dish for me, it was just an explosion of flavors and cooked to order so fresh and crunchy.

The final dish I tried from Khao San Road was the spicy shrimp salad with onion, red pepper, fish sauce, chili, garlic and cilantro. It was cool and perfectly cooked, but a tad too spicy.

I was curious to try something from Anthony Rose, the chef and restaurateur with three successful spots in Toronto. From Rose & Sons came a BLT with Dr. Pepper bacon (more like pork belly) fresh tomatoes, lettuce and a feta and herb mayonnaise. It was extremely succulent and I could understand why this nice Jewish boy is revered for his sandwiches, and the BLT in particular.

Two of my favorite dishes came from Yours Truly a cutting edge restaurant which sadly just closed. Needless to say I will keeping my eyes peeled for the next venture with chef Lachlan Culjak. The first dish was a creamy fresh made "queso" with early Summer garnishes and an orange blossom vinaigrette. It was bright and had layers of texture. The freshness of the produce including ramps, fiddle heard ferns, mushrooms and berries shone brightly. And the plating was gorgeous.

The other dish from Yours Truly was charred sous vide BC octopus with chorizo and green mango.

While I didn't necessarily think of maple syrup and Toronto before, I do now. Thats's because I got to try the maple products from Ninutik. They were serving a variety of cheese wrapped in maple taffy, thanks a bed of fluffy snow. The thick maple syrup is usually poured over fresh snow to make a chewy candy, but in this case, a popsicle stick with a piece of cheddar or blue cheese (yes!) was wrapped in ensconced in maple. It was divine! 

So too were the little buttons of maple sugar that melt in your mouth, nothing like the dry crusty maple sugar candy I was used to eating. They can also be used in cocktails. 

And best of all? Maple Supreme, something I've seen elsewhere before and which I have had in other parts of Canada too. But it never quite as good. It looks white and creamy but it really has the consistency of butter, and the flavor of maple. Divine! Wonderful on buttered toast, but also over ice cream or oatmeal. 

Toronto, you sure are a delicious town. And Taste of Toronto was only the tip of the iceberg... 

Disclaimer: My thanks to Tourism Toronto for hosting me on this trip.