Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bury your meat!!

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing first hand one of the delights of country living: outdoor cooking. Most who know me know that I am a city mouse through and through but the occasional jaunt outside of the city fills this urban girl with child-like wonder and excitement (maybe a touch of fear as well). 

On this particular jaunt, I had the honour of assisting in a culinary country adventure that was composed of a combination of muscle, earth, stones, wood, fire, blood, sweat, tears and 2 days to turn a budget-cut hunk of meat into mouth-watering, tender, tasty, beefy deliciousness. 
So with no further ado, this is what you need to properly "bury your meat"...

1 Piece of land that you can dig a hole into
1-2 Shovels
1-3 Strong young men to dig, bury and unbury your bounty
8-12 Large flattish granite stones 
1/4 Cord of hard wood (approximate)
2 Rolls of heavy-duty wide (25") aluminum foil
10 ft length of chicken wire

20-30 lb inexpensive piece of Beef or Pork
3-4 Bulbs of peeled fresh garlic
3 Tablespoons of salt
¼ Cup of cooking oil (grape seed, canola, olive, etc…)

Day 1
1.   Put your hunk of meat on a large piece of foil

2.   Combine garlic, salt and oil in a processor or blender until it’s a spreadable paste.
3.   Rub it all over the meat (that’s what she said!)
4.   Wrap the meat in at least 7 sealed layers of heavy-duty foil.
5.   Store in refrigerator.
6.   Bribe 1 or 2 strong men with beers and the promise of future delicious meat to dig a hole at least 3 feet in diameter and at least 3 feet deep.
7.   Set your alarm clock for 7:30 and go dream about tender, meaty goodness.

Now for day 2, you’ll have to calculate 3 hours to burn down your wood, 6 hours to cook and about 1 hour of resting time. So if you plan on eating at 7:00pm you need to light your fire by 8:30am at the very latest to account for handling and cutting time.

Day 2
7:30 - Wake up, make coffee and head to your hole.

8:00 - Line your hole with the granite stones to form an oven big enough to fit your hunk of meat. Save a few stones to form the top of the oven

8:30 - Fill the oven with hardwood, light it up and place remaining stones loosely on the fire

11:00 - Burn the fire until the wood is broken down into burning embers of charcoal this should take about 3 hours. While you wait, sit back, poke the fire and drink your coffee. Why not roast some marshmallows or breakfast wieners over the raging fire.

11:30 - With a shovel remove and put aside the loose top stones and as much charcoal as possible from inside the “oven”.

12:00 - Place the wrapped meat on the chicken wire hammock and lower into the "oven" of hot rocks.

Place the hot stones over the meat and cover with all the charcoal embers. 

Fill hole with dirt and pack it down by doing a little dance on the mound of dirt.

*For the next 5 hours or so, go swimming, biking, take a nap or do whatever else you do in the country on a hot summer day.

5:30 - Find the same or another strong young accommodating man, hand him a beer and after he takes a sip, hand him the shovel you were hiding behind your back.  By this time, he’ll be hungry enough to be motivated to dig up the hunk of meat.

6:00 – Once you’ve removed most of the dirt and some of the top stones, gently lift the chicken wire hammock out of the hole. 

Place the foil wrapped treasure on a table to rest. I can’t emphasize how important the rest period is. It must sit untouched for at least 40 minutes.

6:45 – Unwrap the foil and start slicing up the tender delicious meat.

Put out soft buns and side salads to accompany your masterpiece then throw down some bails of hay to sit on and ring the dinner bell!!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gone fishing!

Actually, this weekend I am riding my bicycle 280KM to Quebec City to raise money for cancer research. 

I know I haven't been around here lately but with the training and all, there's just no time.

I promise to show off my growing vegetable garden and gab incessantly about food as soon as this is over.
See y'all on the flip side. xox

Sunday, July 4, 2010


This will be short and sweet. I just want to vent. I just cut open a perfectly ripened avocado that had a ridiculously large pit. There was virtually no more than 3 cm of soft flesh between the seed and the skin. What a burn!!!

Thankfully the second one I opened had a reasonable ratio.

How can one tell before buying it?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Strained Yogurt

I sometimes refer to using "strained yogurt" in some dishes. The process of straining yogurt is to draw out water which turns regular old plain runny yogurt into a rich unctuous ingredient or dish. It is a suitable replacement for sour cream with lower fat and little extra zing.

Strained yogurt is traditionally used in popular mediterranean and middle eastern recipes such as tzatziki (tzatziki is that rich white cucumber, garlicky stuff that oozes out of a proper souvlaki while you're trying to eat it). It is called Labneh in the Middle-East, but its name varies depending on the country where it's made : Chakka (India), Skyr (Iceland), Mastou (Iraq), Sakoulas (Greece), etc...

Many years ago I brought a container of labneh and some flatbread to a dear Lebanese friend's house for snacks only to be told, "we never buy labneh, we just put a paper towel in a strainer, dump yogurt on top and let it sit over a bowl overnight". She added "my grandmother would sometimes drizzle some cream over the yogurt to add a bit of richness". That was not the last time I bought a ready-to-eat $10 container of Phoenicia brand labneh because sometimes, I want to eat/serve it now and don't have a couple hours or overnight to wait for the water to draw out. But it is fairly infrequent that I don't strain my own.

Use it to make your favourite sour cream based dip recipes or add a touch of garlic, salt, coarsely ground pepper and drizzle with olive oil and serve, as is.

Personal Notes:

Yogurt: I like Liberty brand yogurt. It is full in flavour and does not contain gelatin or other thickeners. It is what yogurt should be: milk product and bacterial culture. I like to mix their Mediterranean (10% m.f.) with their 2% to what I consider a happy medium. It still tastes rich and sinful but has almost half the fat of most store bought labneh.

Flatbread: a local chef, and good friend Q, introduced me to a little gem in my own neighbourhood. Momoi, a Sri-Lankan bakery, bakes fresh nan, roti and chapati flatbreads daily. Before I even tasted the nan I was enamoured by the soft bouncy feel of it through the bag, but once I tasted it, I was hooked. Slightly warmed served with labneh...divine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oh, where art thou?

Pine nuts. I love them. Toast 'em and throw'em in anything from salads to stir-frys to add delightful toasty nuttiness to any dish. And comes in many flavours...but none as compelling as the classic Genovese basil/pine nut power coupling.

In my garden I grow a lot of basil. Specifically to make pesto, to eat in the summer and freeze for the winter. Late summer when the basil is perfectly mature, I am in full production for weeks, smashing basil leaves in my mortar and pestle to combine with perfectly calculated proportions of raw pine nuts, Padano parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic.

This year as I am starting my garden and rounding up ingredients to begin this annual ritual, I discovered that pine nuts are impossible to find. Due to an increase in global demand of this little gem, supplies are meager and prices are soaring. Most of my usual haunts have opted to not carry them rather than to charge 3 times more than they priced them no less than a year ago.

This had to happen when I was finally ready to carve my pesto recipe in stone. Last fall, after 2 years of careful attentions, weighted measures and controlled variations, I finalized the formula for what my palate considers to be the perfect pesto. Now with the disappearance of this integral component, I find myself struggling between buying pine nuts at the price of gold or going back to square one and developing another formulation using a readily available and more affordable ingredient.

On top of this, I've also heard from a reliable source that Padano parmesan cheese that I determined was the best type for my pesto is having quality issues that have also affected supply and pricing. It is currently priced above it's upper class sister Reggiano parmesan.

This must be a sign for me to make a new discovery...coming soon at a blog near you: "Playing With Nuts?" or should it be "You're going to love my nuts!!"

Ack! I digress.

Pictures to follow

Just wanted to let my 5 followers (btw, thanks guys!!) know that I will start adding and incorporating pictures to lighten up these "read-heavy" posts.
That said...stay tuned!

For now, "Deconstructed Pesto" for your visual enjoyment:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ol' King Coleslaw

So simple. So good.
Coleslaw adds a zing to any meal. It's a great, "make in advance" dish that can be served as a side or directly in a sandwich. Made in advance it is even better to allow harsher flavours and tougher fibres to soften but even made fresh, it's good to go. I often use maple syrup to sweeten cold dishes because it blends in easily but It doesn't really change the flavour. If you use other types of sweeteners like sugar or honey but you may want to add it slowly and keep tasting it because they all have different intensities of sweetness.
Update (added July 4th, 2010): Although coleslaw has a terrific shelf life, I have reduced this recipe to a more manageable quantity.

½ Head of Cabbage julienned (white and/or red)
  (or ¼ + ¼ Regular with Nappa cabbage for softer texture)
1/3 Cup of Maple Syrup (use less if honey)
1/3 Cup of light coloured Vinegar
2 Teaspoon of Salt
3 Tablespoon Cup of Oil (olive, canola, grape seed...whatever ya got!)
 ½ Clove of finely minced Garlic

Toss and let sit to soften and blend.

P.S. Add 1/4 a cup of mayo to make a creamy slaw!