Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

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Tough cuts are best cooked low and slow

I’m cold this winter. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s me, but it seems to take longer for heat to reach the extremities. Fingers and toes chill faster. I can’t believe that I consider spending as much on mittens (not gloves) as I might on shoes and that I find myself lusting for those thick SmartWool socks. That’s why cooking is even more of a treat in the winter. Having the oven for a long time at a low heat makes for great food and a warm me.

The real question is, how low can I go? Our gas range is about 25 years old. It cooks surprisingly evenly for what was a fairly inexpensive model. We talk of upgrading. Something with more insulation and an oven handle that doesn’t fall off would be nice.

Below 200F, the oven is fitful and I’m never sure whether food is cooking. Above 300F and I might as well go into roast mode. There really isn’t a middle ground.

Either I want my meat seared outside and rare within or I want it to cook low and slow. 425F for 15 minutes and then lowered to 325F to 350F is fine for chicken or a roast.

Tough cuts like chuck or shoulder are best cooked low and slow. Heat a Dutch oven or cast-iron frying pan with a little oil, cut the meat into cubes, then sear at high heat to brown the meat.

Remove the meat, cook chopped vegetables (onions, garlic, carrots, red peppers, parsnips, and celery are all good), deglaze the pan with chicken stock and red wine, put back the meat, cover and put it in the oven for several hours at about 200F. The same goes for chili (brown the ground meat, remove, add veggies and spices, deglaze with stock, add the meat, and cook at a low heat for a long time).

Just before serving, I might make a roux or mix cornstarch with water and add it to the gravy or just use tomato paste to thicken the sauce.

This gives me a hearty meal, probably one that will last several days.

The next day, I can add leftover stew to more stock and make soup, or take the remnants and mix them with rice or pasta. More than that, this approach to cooking gives me a toasty room to walk into even as simple food is transformed. This is what changes a house or an apartment into a home. It is the existential element of cooking and you can’t get this kind of nourishment from takeout.

If I am what I eat, then what I am cooking reveals my character. These days, I am content to go low and slow, to sleep in, to enjoy winter. I’ll wait for warmer weather before I get out the BBQ and aim for a little more of that hot and fast.

And here’s a little extra warmth: Grandma’s Potato Kugel.

My mother-in-law would have grated by hand, but it’s the food processor for Celina. This makes one 8” round pan. Use a spring form if you can.

Preheat oven to 350º.

• 5 med. potatoes, peeled & quartered. Cover with water until ready to use.

• 1 med. onion, peeled & quartered

• 2 eggs

• 1/4 cup oil

• 1tsp. lemon juice. (This keeps potatoes from discolouring.)

• 1tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. white pepper

• 2 tbsp. flour

• 3/4 tsp. baking powder

Coarsely shred the potatoes and onions in a food processor. Remove the mix from the processor. Add the lemon juice to the potatoes and onions and put them back into the processor bowl and reprocess with a steel blade until the mix is medium chopped. Remove this mixture to another bowl.

Add everything else to the food processor and mix till smooth with the steel chopping blade. Remove this from the processor and mix it into the potatoes and onions with a large spoon or spatula.

Spray the baking pan with Pam.

Transfer the kugel mixture to the baking pan and bake for one hour.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. Email him at Flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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Transform your food, then let it transform you

December, 2009

Fundamentally, cooking is about transformation.

I was thinking about this while eating lunch. Lunch, chez nous, is invariably a transformation: last night’s roast beef, sliced thin and served cold with salad, or an omelet wrapped around day-old cooked vegetables and freshly grated cheese.

More often, the transformation is in the guise of soup. The process begins several meals back. For the first, I focus on the freshness of the market – vegetables simply prepared and fish or meat, dashed with salt and pepper and broiled or fried quickly to sear in the flavours. Next day, the cold salmon gets chopped into salad or the chicken supplements pasta. The day after that, I heat up broth and serve chicken noodle soup, or with the fish and salad I might add stock plus Thai seasonings or Vietnamese fish sauce and head in an oriental direction.

Today’s lunch brought together chicken broth, itself a reduction of water, vegetable ends and bones from last week’s roasted chicken, with leftover fried rice and frozen shrimp. The fried rice was initially served steamed, so it has now gone through two transformations. With each version I add a new dynamic. It could be soy sauce or a curry, a spicy tomato sauce, perhaps highly seasoned bits of smoked meat, a can of lentils or chick peas. We are now into the realms of stews, gumbos, chowders and chili. If I want something more refined, I throw everything into the blender. Then I heat up the slurry, sprinkle chopped herbs (celery, chives, parsley or marjoram are all great) and spoon on a dollop of yogourt or sour cream at the table.

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home. When it comes to home cooking, there are approaches more comforting than Hamersley’s, which leans toward gourmand rather than gourmet. Here is a version of his bistro-style steak, which we made recently with a small piece of prime rib (1.5 kilos or about three pounds – perfect for two) we got on sale at Metro.

First, make garlic butter. This will have a dozen uses, so it is worth the effort. Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt, pepper and thyme. I use a mortar and pestle for this, but a food processor works well, too. Mix this into a softened stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter. Mold the butter into a log and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Take a thick steak (or, in our case, the roast) and let it come to room temperature. Dry any moisture with a paper towel and pat it liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Melt half the garlic butter in a small pan. Heat the oven to 425F (about 220C). When the oven is ready, take an oven-proof frying pan big enough for the meat, pour in several tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat until the oil is very hot, but not smoking. Put the steak in and cook it for five minutes on one side. Be sure not to move it – it will from a beautiful crust. Turn the meat over, brush the crust with some of the melted garlic butter then put it in the oven for five to 15 minutes more, depending on the thickness. Remove it every few minutes to brush it with more garlic butter and check the temperature. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, take the meat from the oven when it reaches 130F (about 55C). If you are not using a thermometer, insert a sharp, thin knife into the meat. If the blade is cool to the touch, the meat should cook more. It is ready (and rare) as soon as the blade is too hot to touch. Let the meat rest for five to 10 minutes on a warm plate before carving. This ensures that the juices stay in the meat when you slice it.

While the meat rests, pour the fat from the pan, add the rest of the melted garlic butter and a half cup of red wine or chicken stock. Heat the sauce, scraping any caramelized bits of meat from the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid to a quarter cup. Pour this over the meat while serving. Eat slowly. It’s a transforming experience.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@thesenior times.com.

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You say vegivore, I say tunatarian

In the beginning was the lamb, and it was good. Also the chicken. I didn’t know that I was part of a trend until someone asked me if I was a locavore. I had to think about that. I do consider myself a carnivore (i.e., someone who eats meat) but when someone asks “are you a vegetarian?” I usually reply “no, I’m an omnivore” meaning that I eat just about anything. (And why isn’t it vegivore or omnitarian? Cue the Howard Richler column, please).

Locavore is the buzzword for someone who eats food grown locally. If you spend more time shopping at the Atwater or Jean-Talon Markets than you do at Loblaws or Metro, you may qualify as a locavore. Of course, it’s hard to be a locavore and a tunatarian or a pescivore (which is what I call someone who chews fish but eschews meat) since most locally caught fish would be from the St. Lawrence.

It turns out that I’ve been a trendy food eater for years, but I didn’t know it. It started with Phil. He’s a friend who lives about 60 kilometres from Montreal. He farms, sells antiques, and keeps lambs and chickens. His lambs are raised in fields or on hay, depending on the season. Over the years I’ve learned to distinguish the autumn cull, which have an herbal flavour after spending a summer in the meadows, from the more earthy spring lambs wintering on hay.

When they are about a year old – past lambhood but not yet mature or gamey enough to be called mutton – Phil trucks them to market. The routine that follows is always the same: a rushed phone call that the lambs are ready and a scramble among friends to see who would like one since I have to drive anyway. Finally, a trip over the Ontario border to Phil’s butcher in L’Orignal or to the farm if I don’t get to the butcher in time. In that case, Phil keeps it frozen and I return home with “lamb in a box.” When I visit the farm in the off season I make it a point not to get friendly with the animals. I don’t want to know my dinner’s name.

I’ve learned a lot from eating Phil’s lambs. I’ve watched a whole lamb get divided into meals and worked with the butcher to cut it the way I like. I’ve learned to savour both the tough but tasty shoulder chops and succulent tender ribs. Chunks are bagged for brochettes. Leftover bits get ground. Bones are set aside for the seder table. I used to keep everything – until I opened the freezer a while ago and found a half dozen heads looking back. I had kept them for years thinking that eventually I would make a Greek lemon soup I once had at Meracles, a steam table restaurant on Park Ave. Now both it and the heads are gone.

I’m also learning that each part of the animal yields its own bounty. I never knew what to do with the shanks, the tough narrow part of the legs. Recently, I found shanks served as a $20+ special in some of our better bistros. Why not make this incredibly flavourful slow cooking dish at home?

Here’s a version from The Good Cook series: Take 4 lamb shanks and 20 unpeeled garlic cloves. Brown the shanks with a little olive oil in a pot just big enough to hold them. The pot needs a thick base and a tight-fitting lid. A Dutch oven is great. Add the garlic cloves and cook everything slowly, over the lowest heat possible. Cover the pot and turn the lamb occasionally. It cooks in its own juices. After an hour or two (the longer the better) the liquid evaporates and the lamb sizzles in its own fat. Add some salt, pepper and a dusting of dried herbs such as marjoram, thyme, or oregano. Add a little water. Cook another hour or so. When the meat is falling off the bones, remove it to a platter and scrape the caramelized bits from the pan as you stir in some dry white wine. Pour the liquid through a strainer. Force the garlic through the strainer into the liquid. Skim fat from the sauce and reduce the liquid in a small pan until it thickens. Pour the sauce back into the pot, stir in the shanks, and reheat. Add a squeeze of orange or lemon and chopped fresh parsley just before serving.

This meal goes great with garlic toast, good wine and winter. Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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Weight loss secrets of the stars

October, 2009

“Did you know that it is now possible to drop up to 14 POUNDS in only 7 DAYS? That’s right … Negative Calorie Diet can make it happen!”

That’s the message that came into my e-mail inbox. First, you should know that I am in favour of negative calories – the anti-matter of the food world. I am sure that they are out there, along with the milky way (not the candy bar), the Loch Ness Monster, and really great Montreal barbecue – all things that I never expect to see. Negative calorie foods – and their evil spawn, the negative calorie diet – all promise the same thing: Eat as much as you want and lose weight.

What a great idea! I’ll just load up on watermelon (less than 100 calories for a wedge), celery (6 calories to a stalk), grapefruit (about 70 for half) or asparagus sans hollandaise (20 for a few stalks). I’ll munch until either my jaw hurts or I’m stuffed, literally. Not happy, mind you, but full. Pass the sawdust, please, and watch the salt.

Those pushing negative calorie diets claim I’ll expend more energy chewing than consuming. I’ll also be drooling over your plate when we go to dinner, but don’t let that bother you. It’s negative calorie drool.

As we head into the hibernating season, I’ve noticed that some of my professional cooking friends – chefs, food critics – have shed pounds. One told me that she ate nothing past 6 pm until she attained her desired svelte-ness. Another claimed that getting eight hours of sleep a night decreased his food intake. This isn’t as silly as it sounds. We do eat more when we are awake (duh!) but we also tend to eat more when we are tired and have to remain awake. Think of all that munching on long car trips.

Another “weight loss secret” I’ve never emulated is that of the slow eater’s society. The idea here is enforced mastication. According to Internet sources (and if it is on the Internet, it must be true) chewing each mouthful 15 to 20 times drops your calorie intake by about a quarter pound in half an hour. I liked a comment on one weight-loss site that if extended chewing is good, chewing your food 20 times and spitting it out is even better.

My favourite weight loss secret was revealed in a story about John Travolta. He claimed that when he wanted to lose weight he ate half of what was on his plate: half a salad, half a cheese-burger, half a piece of pie. In my dreams, I am in a foodie heaven restaurant in California, say, Chez Panisse or The French Laundry, which, like Nessie, I’ve heard of but don’t expect to see. I have no money, but John Travolta is at the next table. I tell the waiter “I’ll take the rest of whatever he’s having…”

Personally, I’ve given up on diets. After several weeks of self-denial I always gain the weight back. Instead of negative calorie foods, I now go for tasty positive calorie dishes: a cheese soufflé made with freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, bread with schmecks appeal – a crusty rye or baguette. It is surprising how little I need of something that tastes good to feel full. Oh yeah, and late at night, I like a square or two of first-rate dark chocolate. After all, I deserve it.

It’s October and time to think of soup. (Another weight loss secret – think of soup as stew-lite!) First, plan ahead. When you cook vegetables in water (asparagus, corn, peas, beets, potatoes, etc.) keep the water and freeze it for stock. This also works for meat stock, preferably made from left over beef, lamb or chicken. Otherwise, add water.

Defrost a quart of stock. Peel and then chop a cup or more of root vegetables into pieces, about the size of dice. Use whatever combination you like: parsnips, carrots and beets are all good. Put a little oil in a large pot and roast the veggies slowly. The carrots will turn a bright orange. Don’t scorch them, but cook them well. This strengthens their flavours and inherent sweetness. Put them aside. Chop an onion and a clove or two of garlic and barely brown these. Put the veggies back in. Cover with three or four cups of stock or water. Add two whole medium-size tomatoes. Bring to a slow boil and then simmer. When the skin on the tomatoes splits, remove them, but let the veggies continue cooking. Cool the tomatoes and peel them, chop them up and return them to the pot. Add more stock or water if you want. The thickness is up to you. Add a cup of diced potato, a bay leaf, some herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano and marjoram are all good), pepper (white or black) and salt. Stir, taste and adjust the seasonings. At this stage you can add refrigerator leftovers: a can of beans, frozen peas, cooked rice or pasta, that last piece of chicken. When the potato is barely done, remove the soup from the stove. Ladle it into serving bowls. Toast a few slices of bread, one for each bowl of soup. Put the toast on the soup just before serving and sprinkle on freshly grated cheese.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@seniortimes.com

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If pre-cooked is the way of the future, what kind of future will it be ?

September, 2009

There have been several stories recently proclaiming the end of food. Not food as nutrition, of course. We will always have to eat, something. The warnings are that we will no longer need to cook. We will regard Grandma’s wonderful babka recipe as amusingly archaic since we’ll be able to get “Grandma’s Babka”™ from the frozen food section of any supermarket.

The fastest growing – and most profitable – section of supermarkets is prepared food. In a rush after work? I can pick up salads, ribs, chicken and dozens of other presumably freshly cooked dishes on the way home. In the mood for lobster salad? Damn! Last time I checked, I still have to buy the pre-cooked lobster, crack it open and put the meat onto the pre-washed and packaged mixed greens. Well, at least I can say I “made” it myself.

What concerns the Flavourguy in me, however, is that there is a level of cooking before we even get to the recipes. That’s where we turn on the heat. If cooking food led to civilization – another current hot topic – what happens when we lose that skill?

The Flavourguy knows how to light a fire – and a barbecue Photo: Scott Philip

I write this from PEI, where we have spent much of the past several summers renovating a cottage. Toward the end of this summer, our daughter invited some of her friends from Charlottetown for a beach fire. “Dad, if they don’t know how to make one, can you do it?”

This question is provocative. How do 20-year--olds raised in the Maritimes not know how to make a beach fire? What happens when they actually want to cook something? When the crew arrived, I loaded them up with wooden matches, newspaper, several armloads of dried brush, and a few stout pieces of lumber that we no longer needed and herded them to the beach. They soon had a roaring fire and were scuttling in the dark looking for driftwood. I heard one of them chortle, “Look what I found; it came from a pile of wood with a sign saying ‘please do not remove.’ ” That’s the campfire equivalent of illicit downloading.

Soon they were roasting marshmallows and playing guitar. These are deeply subconscious traits that remain even if we don’t quite remember how to make a fire.

Walking away from the inferno, I passed my fire-making contraptions. There was an old and cranky Weber, which, like me, when prodded in the right places, still does great bbq-ing. There was also an insane, propane-fuelled wok burner purchased mail order from a Chinese graduate student. Dongsheng Zhou was studying in the USA and couldn’t get his apartment kitchen wok to the high level of heat required for decent stir frys so he built one that can out-power a jet engine. Last night I cooked 10 pounds of mussels in a few minutes. On most stoves, it would need a half-hour.

We have an old propane stove in the cottage and even a microwave oven, but, for me, serious summer cooking is done outdoors on one of these finicky fire-burners. The Weber must be checked frequently. Wood and charcoal burn unevenly and those Weber baffles, great for maintaining an even heat, rusted away years ago. The wok needs constant watching. It can turn a noodle dish into scorched earth in less time than it takes to chop a garlic clove.

Each of them demands an involvement with my meal beyond eating. Consumption is a fine thing, but preparation is passionately rewarding. Here is the secret that cooking teaches: I know how to use fire and therefore I create. In creating, I am.

Slow-cooked brisket:

This makes a smoked meat that my clan liked better than Schwartz’s!

Coat a 4-pound brisket with a thick layer of salt, cracked pepper, cracked coriander seeds, finely chopped garlic and onion (or garlic and onion powder). Use a cup each of salt and pepper and about 1/4 cup each of the rest. My nose guides me. Cover the meat and cure it in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Heat the bbq to about 135C (275F). Leaving the spice rub on, put the meat on a rack in a pan. The heat should circulate around the meat without fat hitting the fire. Put the pan on the grill, pull the lid over and cook for 6 hours, adding smoking chips or wood two or three times. If you have to lift the lid frequently (as I do on my old Weber), add another hour of cooking time.

Remove the meat and let it come to room temperature. It will be tasty but tough. Steam it in a covered pot for 2 hours. Serve by slicing thinly across the grain. This is important; if it is still tough you are likely cutting in the wrong direction. It should slice easily, falling apart as it comes off the knife. Serve with mustard, rye bread and pickles.

Reach the Flavour Guy at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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Will my quest for the perfect cherry ever come to fruition?

July 2009

I am sitting here with some wonderful cherries, a bowlful of ripe red sweet ones from British Columbia. There is something truly magnificent about a good cherry: the dark red almost primal colour that flows evenly through the interior. Unlike an apple – green or red skin but white within, sweet or tart, delicious or not (who knows what I will bite into?) – the cherry is an honest fruit. (A young George Washington allegedly did chop down a cherry tree, after all). Other fruits have different shades of ripeness, but when it comes to cherries, you’ve either got a good one or you haven’t.

Then there is the pit. You have to be careful of the pit. One false bite and it’s crown time. We bite eagerly into an apple (none of us really believe that there could be a worm in there anymore) but we take our time with a cherry. We have learned to be careful, to savour each one. The cherry is a basic slow food. It tells us “don’t take me for granted.” And, of course, there is the succulent taste. A good cherry is rich and winy with a burst of juice in the mouth. It should be a touch tart, but mostly sweet with a deep, complex flavour. This is Flavourguy food and, since it is at its best seasonally, I indulge to excess.

But the problem isn’t eating too much. If it is all good, why not? A handful has fewer than 100 calories. The problem is deciding how much is enough. At a certain point I know that I have had my fill of cherries and yet still I keep eating. What am I looking for? Does my body have a cherry deficiency? I think not.

A couple of years ago I helped make a film called Chez Schwartz, about Montreal’s legendary Schwartz’s Deli. In it a young man talks about how he used to go regularly with his father. “One day,” he says, “I was eating a smoked meat sandwich and I had the perfect bite. I knew that there would never be another just as good. But what could I do? I couldn’t stop eating the sandwich. I had to finish it although I knew that it would never be the same.”

I knew just what he meant. I follow the same pattern with roast chicken, rare roast beef, and smoked salmon. There are certain foods that practically force me to keep munching long after I have eaten. You’ll see me in the kitchen, scoring an extra nibble of crispy skin as I bring the platter back, or late at night slicing off a little bit more from the roast resting in the refrigerator.

There is a delicious decadence in this but really, why do I want more? The answer, I think, is that I am searching for that original primal taste that lured me to love that food in the first place. Back in my mind’s archetype, a cell retains my first memory of a wonderfully delicious cherry. Put a bowl beside me today and a nerve ending explodes with longing. I eat all of those cherries looking for that original cherry. Ditto for smoked turkey, Stilton cheese, rice pudding and really fresh rye bread.

There are certain foods that the Flavourguy could live happily without, such as anything in aspic, sea urchin, and (yup) chocolate flavoured beer. One sip of that was plenty. But cherries are another matter. I’ll cheerfully eat them every summer and when I encounter a bad batch or a handful of bruised fruit, it doesn’t mean that cherries have gone bad. Nope, I keep munching away, knowing that somewhere is that perfect, impossible fruit, the one that captures the past of indelible memory.

My wife Celina makes a wonderful berry pie with whatever fruit is seasonal. We invariably have too much at the end of the summer so she freezes the fruit and we enjoy her pies all year long. She likes a mix of cranberries, blueberries and service berries (also known as Saskatoon berries), but any combination should do.

For one standard pie crust (she prefers Tenderflake), mix 5 cups of fresh or defrosted berries with a half cup of sugar (if you are worried about the sugar, substitute half of it with a no-calorie sweetener such as Splenda). Add an eighth of a cup each of arrow root powder and flour. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C) Pour the berry mixture into the pie crust and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven to 350F (175C) for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/barrylazar

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To tweet or to eat? My modern-day diet dilemma

June 2009

“How do I tweet thee, let me count the ways.” That’s what Elizabeth Barrett Browning might write if she were around today.

150 years ago, however, a lass sent a sonnet by Royal Mail knowing it would get to her man. Today, she could use Canada Post (with but one delivery a day and none on weekends), but she’d more likely send Robert Browning a love note by email or Twitter and she’d keep in touch with him throughout the day on social networking sites such as LinkedIn (where “relationships matter”), Facebook and MySpace. You need to use all of these to make sure something gets through.

But what does this have to do with the FlavourGuy? What does this have to do with cooking? Lately, I have been on Twitter. People who use twitter put out “tweets”. These are messages of 140 characters. That’s short for any message. Mrs. Browning’s would be limited to haikus. Those who write tweets might be called twits but I haven’t seen this term listed officially. In joining Twitter, I read comments by people with similar interests. For example, I follow fellow food writers and those with sharp opinions on local politics and culture. And some of them follow me.

From what I read, some people have thousands of followers and may in turn follow thousands of others – tens of thousands sometimes. Where do they get the time? Or as the Firesign Theatre once noted “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

Now, I can do many things while I am at the keyboard – work, watch TV, listen to the radio or music, network – often all at the same time. One thing I can’t do is cook. And this is where the FlavourGuy gets worried.

Recently I have noticed that I am making larger meals, enough to last several days. Steak for two? Why do this when I can cook one for 10 and have lunch ready for the next several days. Or fruit. “Wham!” goes the knife as pineapple, cantaloupe, apples, oranges and bananas are diced into a fruit salad large enough to last a week. If this looks sluggish after the second day I can always throw in yogurt and ice and blend up a smoothie. After the third day, it’s not bad as a topping on ice cream. As it slides from compote toward compost, I freeze it at the penultimate moment and have it ready for muffins. Nothing is wasted and hours are gained for more tweeting.

But does this does make sense? After all, the FlavourGuy lives to eat. I don’t eat so that I can spend more time talking, or rather tapping, about eating to people I’ve never met. My Twitter “followers” currently include an Aussie urging me to buy real estate in Melbourne and a woman in Texas who can show me “how to make $37,000 from your computer in just a few short hours.” Enough. I am putting myself on a Twitter diet (and ditto for all social networking sites). I will ration my time at the keyboard so that I can increase my time at the stove – and maybe squeeze in more time for Browning and love. Let me count the ways.

In the meantime, with Father’s Day approaching, I share a family favourite that my dad whipped up following a European trip many years ago: curried herring. It’s simple and so good every deli should stock it. Thanks, Dad.

Take a jar of marinated herring. Drain off the liquid. Add a few tablespoons of sour cream and a tablespoon of curry powder. Mix this together and let it sit overnight. It should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and is great on toasted rye bread or bagel slices.

Contact flavourguy@theseniortimes.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/barrylazar

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Confessions of a smokin’ addict

May, 2009

A confession: I’m addicted to smoking. Not cigs, not weed (OK, maybe the occasional cigar) – usually I just stick to chickens.

I love smoked food, but I can’t quite figure out why. Of course I enjoy the complex flavours with which smoking imbues meat or fish; the heady scents of apple, hickory, mesquite and maple combined with the slow cooking process that softens the textures and makes each morsel almost melt in my mouth. But if it were just for the flavour, I could throw a few drops of liquid smoke into the seasoning and rub it into anything that I’m planning to cook.

No, there is something primal about smoking that speaks to my inner boy scout. I like to think that you could drop me off in the woods and I’d survive. I’d snare a rabbit or pick off a grouse, set up a grill and build a fire.

Sure. In reality, my idea of living off the land extends to carrying a debit card into a supermarket.

And yet, there is a mythic Flavourguy in me who comes from an earlier time – and a barbecue brings him out. It’s the aroma of burning wood, of charcoal turning into embers, of a chicken or a tough cut of meat slowly becoming something ambrosial over a fire.

Smoking makes me realize how human I am. It lets me connect with a time when cooking took patience and persistence. Smoked food is slow food. It tells me I might make mistakes in a way that fast-food cooking (whether it’s frying a burger or opening up a can) does not. The heat can be too low and the meat partially raw (so I have a last minute dance with the microwave) or it cooks at too high a heat and is scorched (so I reach for sauce to smother the burnt bits). Smoking makes me remember that I can’t take food for granted, but when I get it right, there is nothing better than making it at home.

When I smoke a chicken I require three things: a brine, a rub, and heat. First, I put the chicken into a large pot to see how much brine I need. I cover the bird with water, remove the chicken and am left with the right amount of liquid. To make each gallon of brine I take a gallon of water, add a half cup each of brown sugar and salt, and various spices (bay leaf, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, pepper corns, a garlic clove and dried chili pepper or two – they are all good). I boil the water until the salt and sugar have dissolved then let it cool to room temperature. I then put the chicken in the pot and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I prepare a dry rub by mixing salt, black pepper, chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder. I drain and dry the chicken and rub the mix over the bird as well as inside the cavity. I let this sit for a few hours in the fridge.

In the early afternoon I start a small fire in the charcoal grill. Gas works well, too. In either case, the key is low, indirect heat. If this is difficult, place a pan of water between the fire and the food. Some grills allow this, or you may have to improvise a rack. I soak the wood or chips in water (use hard woods – no pine, spruce or plywood) and put some on the fire when the coals are ready. Gas grills often have a box or chamber for smoking.

Aim for low and slow, around 210F or 100C. Place the chicken on the grill away from the heat and put the cover back on. A small chicken takes a couple of hours. The lower the heat (anything above 180F is fine), the longer it will take to cook – and the tastier it should be. When a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160F (72F), it’s done.

While I’m waiting I pull up a chair and get into a routine. Maybe a good book, maybe some music I’ve been waiting to hear. Every hour, I add a little wood and some more charcoal. On a regular basis, I take out another can of beer. On a nice warm day if I have a big enough chicken and if I can keep the heat low, it might take five or six hours to reach perfection.

E-mail Barry Lazar at Flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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From sentimentalist to minimalist: a few good tools are all I need

April, 2009

I’m going to call it the new minimalism. What happens ifwe get back to basics. A good knife – sharp, balanced, it feels good in the hand. Heck, it feels like an extension of the hand. It’s a chef ’s knife, 8 or 9 inches long with the tang – the metal of the blade – filling all the way into the handle. The metal is carbon steel, which needs more sharpening but keeps its edge better. It requires work.

A pot, large enough for pasta or soup stock. Finally, a frying pan, cast iron ideally. If that’s too heavy, a good quality non-stick one. Both the pan and the pot have heavy bases so that there are few if any hot spots. You want heft in a frying pan, you want heft in a knife. Cooking is a physical activity. You can “sing for your supper” all you want, but if you don’t work for it, nothing is going to get to the table.

I look at how many pots I have, how many pans, how many of the 200 or so cookbooks I really use and wonder what I need. The new minimalist in me laughs. However, the new minimalist is battling with the sentimentalist. The sentimentalist remembers that his mother gave him the Connecticut banquet cookbook, which was handed down from her mother. The sentimentalist looks at his impressive array of coil bound church supper cookbooks and wonders when he is ever going to make that upside down cake from Burnt Islands Newfoundland.

If I were on a desert island, what would I take with me? If I seriously decided to clean up the house, what would I give away, bring down to the Sally Ann or just throw out?

Sure the three-foot-long paella pan is impressive, but paella tastes just as good from a frying pan or casserole. And there are some things I have never bought, nor do I want. An espresso machine, for example. I’ll never make it as good as I can get at Café Italia. Similarly, I’ll never make a crème brulée with the perfectly torched topping. That’s why I enjoy eating it at a restaurant.

Too many home kitchens are built for caterers these days. As if Martha Stewart was going to pop in to bake us a coffee cake and we wanted to make sure she would have exactly what she needed. Could Martha get by with a basic set of pots and pans and a few knives? You betcha.

So, the Flavour Guy is evolving (or perhaps devolving) to new minimalism, working with what I have and not buying anything new. Great cooking comes from using everything to its fullest potential, not finding the perfect whisk to beat the egg whites. Besides, if the soufflé falls, we just call it a frittata and bring it out.

Here’s a basic roasted chicken I’ve been making a lot. Start by getting the best chicken you can – free range, organic if possible. It is more expensive but there is a difference in the taste. Let it come to room temperature. Salt and pepper the cavity and skin. Slather duck or goose fat over it. Good butchers carry this.

Now here is the key. If the chicken is small (let’s say 3 pounds, or a kilo and a half) and the oven is standard (about 30 inches), you want high heat and a quick roast at 450F. It will cook in about 40 minutes. If the chicken is bigger (at least 4 pounds or 2 kilos) and the oven is smaller, slow cook it for a couple of hours at 325F. If you have a 6- or 7- pound chicken, cook it at 300F.

That’s the equation. Small chicken, big oven = quick roast. Big chicken, small oven = slow roast. In either case, cook it breast side up and baste every 15 minutes. The fat will crisp the skin and mix with the juices at the bottom of the pan. Use this for basting and later for gravy. Check the inside of the thigh with a thermometer. Take the chicken out when it reaches 170F. Let it rest on a warm platter for 15 minutes before carving.

And, of course, keep the bones for soup.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at Flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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Browning meat adds taste

March 2009

I have a bone to pick with Vikram Vij, or rather a bone to brown. Vij is one of Canada’s top chefs. His Indian- fusion restaurant – Vij’s – in Vancouver has been a hit since it opened in 1994. His cookbook practically wafts turmeric, coriander and cumin as you turn each page. His easy-to-make masala – a basic curry sauce – is worth the purchase on its own. But Vij does not brown meat.

Browning (turning the food more than grey, less than burnt) caramelizes the natural sugars in any food, whether it’s onions or oxtails. When you make toast, you’re browning it. Browning does not sear the meat and “lock in flavour.” Browning changes flavour. It makes food sweeter. Every stew I make has something browned in it, always the onions and always the meat.

Vij makes his sauce and tosses in the chicken, beef, lamb or goat. It’s very tasty, but it lacks the depth that browning delivers. I asked him about this once when we happened to meet in Montreal. “My wife’s family browns,” he told me. “I don’t. It’s quicker to cook without browning.” Well yes, browning takes time, but the Flavourguy is after, umm, shall we say … flavour? This is a major philosophical position. Do I want speed or schmecks appeal?

Do you want the kitchen to ooze an aroma that says “I’ve been at this stove all afternoon and boy is dinner going to be great”? Or are you simply after “Hey, I made this and it only took me a few minutes”? It’s your choice, but I know where I want to go for dinner. So the mitts come off for this one. While Vij’s recipes are a little long for this column, you can find some of them at vijs.ca. I like them, but I brown the meat.

In the meantime, how about an oxtail stew? You can get the ingredients at most Caribbean grocery stores. If you drop into Arawak at 5854 Sherbrooke W., you get cooking advice, too. Here’s a variation on their recipe.

For 2 people: Take 4 large pieces of oxtail, a couple of onions and some garlic, carrots, potatoes and acorn squash (as much as you want of the veggies). Dredge the oxtails in seasoned flour (I like thyme, salt, pepper, and dried chilis). Brown the meat in fat (oil, butter, ghee – I like shmaltz) in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic and carrots. Brown the onions. Deglaze the pan with a cup of wine or stock (it doesn’t matter which, each has a different but tasty accent – OK, I use red wine).

Cover the pot and put it into a low oven (around 225F or 110C) for at least five hours or until the meat falls off the bone. After the first couple of hours, pour off the liquid, separate the fat and return the gravy to the pot. Check the stew regularly and add a little more liquid if it gets too low. Just remember: You are braising the dish, not drowning it.

In the last hour, cut the potatoes and squash into fork-size pieces and add them to the pot. Add whatever other vegetables you like (red peppers, leeks, etc.)

You can make the same dish with short ribs or veal shanks or even chicken thighs, but if you use chicken don’t cook it as long. Now, try this recipe again without browning. See, you’ve lost nothing but the flavour.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at flavourguy@the seniortimes.com

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Comfort food: sin, guilt, lardoons

I write this as I push through a head cold. The appetite is dulled. The diet leans towards liquids and thin flavours: soup over steak, tea instead of coffee, and, above all, comfort foods.

Each of us has a comfort level established long ago. Mine starts with a thick Swiss cheese sandwich on freshly buttered pumpernickel. This brings me back 50 years to the Snowdon Deli, where my father got our weekly Sunday brunch to take home. It took a while because his routine required a long schmooze with the Marantz brothers, who owned the deli, while I was hived off to my own table with a glass of milk and my sandwich.

What else? Oreo cookies, rice pudding, even congee, which is a Chinese rice gruel with pieces of fish or meat and bits of preserved salty vegetables. Some, but not me, revert to Spam or Marmite as comfort foods. Each of us has a couple of dishes to get us through a rough day.

The ultimate comfort food has to satisfy basic requirements. It must be filling. Celery sticks don’t qualify. It must be gratifying in the sense that we are grateful to eat it, which means we probably don’t enjoy it everyday. We save comfort for solace. This also means that it is, perhaps, a private sin. “This is really good,” we think as we eat. “I need it.” It might not be good for me, in terms of nutrition (how much ice cream do I need to feel good?) but it is good for me in the sense that it reaches a deeper level. Comfort food is, at its essence, soul food.

Comfort food is rarely a pure food, in the sense that an apple, a piece of toast or a slice of chicken is a food by itself. Comfort food involves preparation. It brings together different textures and flavours. As we eat slowly,we move through one level to another. While a slice of chicken does not rate high on the comfort food scale, a piece of last night’s roast, still with a crackling skin, warmed just a little,maybe with a bit of grease, salt and garlic to chew on, is much more comforting.

This brings up another point. Comfort food must have fat – melted cheese on toast, the buttery flavour of a good cookie, a dollop of whipped cream on hot chocolate. Fat does two major things: It spreads the flavour around and it helps us feel full. Then there is the sin quotient. If you want a little comfort you might feel a little guilty. Fat gives us that reassurance as well. “I shouldn’t but…it tastes so good.” This is important: Something that tastes good makes us feel better, which is why we seek out comfort foods in the first place.

As the Flavour Guy, my ultimate comfort food keeps changing. Currently it is a Tartiflette – a dish made with cheese, onions, potatoes, cream, and lardoons or bits of smoked bacon. You could layer it, bake it in the oven and present it in a casserole or onion soup dish, but I like it best the way it was recently served to me, ladled from a huge cauldron that was stirred constantly. Here’s a home version: Use a large fry pan, wok or deep cooking dish. For each person, take two medium-sized boiled potatoes (you want them soft but not crumbly), a small to medium-sized onion, and Reblochon cheese. It’s available in Montreal cheese shops, but if you don’t find it, use a good Emmenthal and add a little grated Parmesan.

Heat the pan over medium heat and add enough butter to give it a coating. Add the bacon bits and the sliced onions and cook them until they are soft. You can throw in some finely chopped garlic, too, if you like. Slice the potatoes moderately thin, add them to the pot and cook until they break easily. Add a thick slice of cheese and a tablespoon of table cream (about 15%). Grind a little black pepper over this. Stir slowly until the cheese is completely melted.

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We didn’t always eat this way

Latkes, chruschich, pfefferneus, fruitcake, baked ham with a pineapple glaze, turkey with oyster stuffing … we didn’t always eat this way.

The Flavour Guy is grumpy, trying to put things in balance knowing that the end of the month will bring on a couple of kilos of parties, family fêtes, and late night, very enjoyable binges.

The festive season is for feasting. We once balanced feasts (from the Latin for joyful or merry) with fasts (meaning self-control). Christians have Lent, Jews look to the 9th of Av, the Fast of Esther, and Yom Kippur. Muslims celebrate Ramadan. Many Hindus fast when there is a full moon. I remember when good Catholics did not eat meat on Friday. For Erev Shabbos (Sabbath Eve), we might serve chicken but there was a large jar of gefilte fish if my friend Jean-Pierre came over.

While this was partly religious – it’s hard to be penitent with a full belly – there just wasn’t the amount of food we take for granted.

When grandfather Berel arrived from Eastern Europe a century ago, he left behind a village where greens were eaten in the summer, root vegetables in the fall and fresh meat or fish was, at best, a weekly indulgence. Forget about “the hundred mile diet.” If it grew, swam, flew, or walked (with varying restrictions) you ate it.

The smoked meat we drool over in Montreal is made with one of the toughest cuts from a cow. This is peasant fare. No one back then said “I’d like it lean.” The Yiddish proverb “When a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick” makes sense in any poor country today.

Early immigrants to North America were astonished that they could get meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner: bacon and eggs, a hamburger, a nice piece of chicken. What a country! In the old land, only the very rich could eat meat daily. Here anyone could... and three times a day! This was a sign that they had arrived in the promised land. It was the end of the fast.

Those caught in the transition – from old country to new – relished this unending feast because they remembered doing without. It’s there in images, in photographs of older generations who look a little thinner, a little smaller than us. It’s there in the steady gaze, a remonstration that we have it good.

Today, having lost the memory of the fast, the grump in me asks: are we really enjoying the feast? Fortunately there are a couple of bummers coming around – Advent, the 10th of Tevet – check your religious calendar. With so much feasting ahead, there might be a day or two to push the plate away.

Most fasts don’t mean doing completely without, but restricting the diet to basic foods – no meat, no oil – to aid contemplation. As Satchel Paige put it “Don’t eat fried food, it angries up the blood.”

Here’s a dish to help set things in balance. It’s strong on flavour but weak on indulgence. Take a thick piece of stale bread, toast it severely but not burnt. Rub a half clove of garlic over both sides while it is still hot. The garlic will ooze into the toast. Put the toast on top of a bowl of hot vegetable or chicken broth. Add a little grated cheese. Sip slowly and think sublime.

You can reach the Flavour Guy at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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A mango, a cup of coffee, and a carrot

Adam Leith Gollner wants to make the case for mangoes. Gollner is the author of The Fruit Hunters, a wonderfully bizarre voyage through the realms of those obsessed with fruit. The book is a great read – how many of us will travel to the Seychelles in search of the Lady Fruit? Gollner takes us there and a dozen other places we’re unlikely to visit, all in search of a nice piece of fruit!

Gollner, a Montrealer, was back in town recently, speaking at a public meeting sponsored by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. I was the moderator and one person asked about the current movement toward eating local food. Some have described this as the 100-mile diet, but it’s not that trendy. 50 years ago most food came from local farmers. No one had much of a choice.

Now we have options. If I buy cheese from the Charlevoix, it means that my money stays here rather than going to Provence. Ditto for Quebec versus New Zealand lamb, and fruit harvested from Chateauguay Valley orchards instead of hauled in from Florida.

The Flavourguy is willing to pay a little more for food that’s local and likely fresher and tastier. Quebec garlic has a sharp sweet zest. Chinese garlic reminds me of last night’s bad breath.

But then along comes Gollner. He agrees that buying locally has its benefits but argues that it poses problems. As an example, he offers mangoes.

If I’m shopping for dessert, I’ll probably skip the mangoes and spend my grocery money on something local like Quebec apples, now available year round. But Gollner asks us to think about the political ramifications of only buying locally. He reminds us that Haiti, which is a banker’s note away from bankruptcy, has only one decent export crop left – mangoes, which he says are delicious.

And this makes me reconsider how I shop. No matter how much I buy locally, I am not going to stop having my morning tea or coffee. It will be a long time before global warming means that I can buy these from a Quebec producer. So, already I’m willing to compromise. Actually Haiti does have one other major food export. It’s coffee. So, as I seek out Haitian food products, I’m helping to hold a fractured nation together.

Gollner brings common sense to the 100-mile diet. He’s urging us not to go overboard. Other countries depend upon us too. The 100-mile diet is great at motivating us to support local food producers but, as with everything, sensibility and moderation are equally important as we push our carts through the supermarket. Buy locally when it makes sense but think globally and look for food that tastes great, wherever it’s from.

A propos local food, I was given a foot-long, two-inch-thick carrot by a farmer at the Jean Talon Market the other day. “Cook it in the oven,” he said. I set the oven to 350°F, brushed the carrot lightly with olive oil and loosely folded it in foil. I then did the same thing with a dozen small onions. After 45 minutes, they were sublime. I’m going to be doing a lot of vegetables this way from now on: broccoli, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes. It’s easier and tastier than boiling or steaming and needs much less oil or butter than sautéing or stir frying. Best of all, if I forget them for bit, they may get a little softer but the flavour will still be intense.

You can reach Barry Lazar at

flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Oil's well that tastes well?

I received a bottle of olive oil in the mail a while ago. I don’t often get food products delivered by courier, but a local importer wanted my opinion on a new product. As the Flavourguy, I am predisposed to food that tastes good and costs little. I am not keen on forking over fistfuls of dollars for colourful labels and exaggerated claims. Olive oil – along with its sneaky cousin balsamic vinegar – leads the line in the over-hyped aisle.

“Extra virgin olive oil” is ubiquitous. The adjectives tell us that there should be lower acidity and better quality; that noted, it gets a little slippery.

Technically, regular olive oil is more acidic than virgin which is slightly more acidic than extra. The lower the acidity, the less chance of olive oil going rancid (and yes, it can turn rancid in a warm kitchen after a long time on the shelf). Extra virgin should also be cold pressed which means that it was processed with as little heat as possible. But it really comes down to taste.

The brand delivered to my door was MonteAntico. It is available locally for $16.95 for a 500 ml bottle and it’s even on eBay. Price-wise, it’s not bad since olive oils of this quality can easily sell for more than a decent bottle of Chianti. The real question is, why would you pay more than you need to?

Maybe it’s a gift to impress your friends. In that case, go for what you can afford. Just hope that they like it. Maybe it’s to add a subtle aromatic note to your salads. Well, if you cut it with lemon juice, salt, pepper, vinegar, or Dijon mustard (mmmm…) how much of that extra virgin finesse will make it to the table?

Most extra virgins are meant to be consumed sparely. Italian bread is a good match because it usually has less salt (and less flavour) than a baguette. Or try it on romaine where the bitterness of the lettuce compliments the sweetness, succulence and flavours of good olive oil. Never in the frying pan – as soon as olive oil reaches a useful cooking temperature, the flavours burn off - better to use canola.

So the other night we set up some bottles and asked a half dozen dinner guests to sample them. The mix included a Loblaw’s President’s Choice from Spain, and two with similar names: the MonteAntico and a $3.99 Antica Bontà.

All three are basically OK. Each looks and tastes different. MonteAntico has grassy and herbal flavours; it is a little peppery at the back of the throat with a distinctive style. This is an olive oil that you can appreciate on its own. I liked the flavour but none of the others did. They found it overpowering. The President’s Choice Cataluña was a favourite and is mild. It would work well with most salad dressings. The lowest priced oil – Antica Bonità was hit and miss. In fact, it is not necessarily from Italy. I usually like its mild, slightly grassy taste but I have found that bottles can change. This is because it is packed in Italy.

Here is the caveat. Read the label. “Packed in Italy” is not the same as “Product of Italy.” Almost all olive oil comes from the Mediterranean. So although a bottle claims to be packaged in Italy, the oil could be Tunisian, Lebananese, French or from any country with olive trees. It might even be Italian! The Cataluña uses Abrequina olives and is from Catalonia in Spain. The Monte Antico is even more specific and has its own Italian pedigree.

This authenticity guarantees a level of quality you won’t find in most generics. However, the bottom line is - would I buy the MonteAntico? Probably not. As the only one in my household who appreciates it, I’m not going to save it, like a fine cognac, for when the right palate drops over. But I will continue to look for good quality olive oils. There are tasty ones in other countries, each with its own character. French olive oils tend to be lighter and peppery. Greek ones are heavier with a ripe olive flavour. Many people blend Greek olive oil, at home, with a lighter oil.

In the meantime: try this – crush a clove of Quebec garlic (yes look for it!) with a little salt until it is mushy. It’s worth while buying a mortar and pestle for this. Add some freshly ground black pepper and a half cup or so of olive oil to make a liquid paste. Add white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (the ratio will be about 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar). Put in a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard to bind the dressing. Let it sit for a half hour before putting it on the salad. Forget Newman’s Own. This stuff is great.

You can reach Barry Lazar at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Potluck Pizza: how to astound your friends and keep it simple

The request was cottage country basic. "We're doing potluck. Bring over what you have." A simple request but we were at the cottage and the store was half an hour away. The cupboard was almost bare: a package of whole wheat flour – now why had I bought that? – lots of tomatoes, and some cheese from the farmer's market. Some salad stuff, but someone else was bringing a salad.

A-ha! Pizza. Everyone loves pizza, but few make it. Frankly, after you've baked it a couple of times, you won't want to buy it. I had to make the dough from scratch at the cottage, but the Flavour Guy isn't averse to last-minute inspiration, and will buy raw pizza dough at the supermarket or even beg it from a pizza parlour.

For cottage country pizza, I was going to prep everything and then bring it to the neighbour's for baking. The neighbour had pans and, most importantly, an oven – something lacking chez nous.

For the toppings, the simpler the better. Take fresh tomatoes, 1/3 of a pound or 150 g per person, cut them into small chunks, salt them and let them drain in a strainer or colander for an hour or so. Add fresh herbs – basil and oregano are nice – and ground black pepper. For the cheese, grate a half cup per person of soft cheese such as Mozzarella, mild cheddar, Gouda, Bel Paese, Fontina – these all work well – and mix in a little freshly grated Romano or Parmesan. Mild goat cheese (not feta) is good instead of the others but break it into small pieces and dot it over the pizza. Remember, this is potluck – work with what you have. If you don't have tomatoes try canned or fresh asparagus, thin slices of sweet pepper, cooked broccoli, sliced mushrooms, etc. But don't overload the pie or the crust will be soggy.

The flavour punch comes from the oil: heat a cup of olive oil in a small pot and add a tablespoon or more of finely chopped garlic and a teaspoon or less – depending upon your personal heat quota – of chili pepper flakes. Cook this slowly until the garlic just starts to sizzle and remove the pot from the stove. This spicy oil is fantastic brushed on any flat bread, like stale pita, and cooked on a baking sheet in the oven at a moderate heat – 375°F or 190°C – until the bread is golden.

When everything is ready, turn the oven to as high a temperature as it will take without broiling, around 500°F or 260°C. For baking, a pizza stone is nice but the Flavour Guy is adept with cast iron frying pans or a thick cookie sheet or whatever is handy. Use two oven racks, one at the oven's highest level and the other at the lowest. After the oven is at the right temperature, put the pans in for about 10 minutes and be careful. Use thick oven mitts to bring them out just before you put in the dough. The hot pans give the pizzas a great crust.

Once the pans are in the oven, go into action. Lightly flour your hands and the counter surface. Take a wad of dough about the size of a small grapefruit. Flatten it between your hands and stretch it to a 6-inch circle. Then roll the dough using a rolling pin. No pin? Try a wine bottle! If the dough sticks, shake a little flour over it. Turn the pizza 90 degrees after each pass to keep from overstretching one side. You're aiming for a shape no larger than the pan you're putting it in.

Timing is everything. Take the pan from the oven and put something under it – a wire rack, a trivet, a towel – to not burn the counter. Put the dough in the pan, and slip the pan back to the top rack in the oven. Wait a couple of minutes until the dough comes easily off the pan and the bottom starts to brown. Remove the pan, flip the dough, brush it all over with the spicy garlic oil, then cover it with a handful of tomatoes and another of cheese. Put the pan back on the top rack for about 5 minutes or until the top of the dough starts to brown. Work on the next pizza. When that's ready, take the one from the top rack and put it on the lower rack. Keep doing this until you have them all done. Serve at once with a salad, a bottle of wine and a towel to wipe the sweat from your brow. This is pizza that you've worked for, and it's worth it.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy. You can reach him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Yesterday's food is today's new experience

The coffee is fresh. The toast is hot. The butter spreads across the toast in thin rivulets and puddles. Coarsely textured and creamy richness come together in that first delicious bite.

We fix the coffee to our liking, creating perfection in the first cup – a second cup is never the same – with cream and sugar or strongly flavoured, bitter and black. But what if the coffee is from yesterday’s pot, the toast cold (as they often prefer it in Britain)? Do we throw it out? I once had a wonderful summer dinner at a friend’s that featured lamb chops – far too many – from the grill. When the latter, still filled with food, was hauled back to the kitchen, I asked what he would do with it – thinking of how good a cold chop would taste for lunch the next day, or perhaps cutting the meat from the bones and using it as the base for a stew or curry, or slicing it thin and serving it au jus as the lamb equivalent of a hot beef sandwich, or crisping the slices to rid them of any extra fat and then tossing them with lettuce leaves and an oil and vinegar dressing or… But he said nothing. “Nothing. I’ll throw them out. I don’t eat used food.”

Well, he was doing well for himself and could afford never to eat “used” food. But I knew what he was missing. Flavour changes as food gets “left over” – sugars caramelize further when reheated, textures mutate. Cooking is about making the best with what you have, not making what you have with the best. Think of an apple. The crunch and juiciness and perky sourness of that first Macintosh, or sliced and cooked to golden in a little butter with a sprinkling of sugar and served with pancakes and French toast, or cored and then filled with a mess of raisins, rum, brown sugar, cinnamon, a dab of butter, a pinch of salt, and baked. Yesterday’s apple is not yesterday’s food. It is tomorrow’s compote and the following day’s applesauce.

Even coffee, even toast. Sometimes we need to appreciate how good these are on their own terms. That first cup tastes great but why throw what’s left over down the drain? Just because it’s yesterday’s food?

I put it in the fridge for iced coffee and add whatever’s brewing to the cold pot. Last night’s decaf goes down very well with the day before’s caf. Add ice, a dash of milk and just maybe a spoonful of sugar if aiming for a liquid dessert. Want more? Add a shot from that bottle of hazelnut liquor that was a house-warming gift eons ago and has been sitting on the bottom shelf. Yesterday’s food, indeed! And you’ve saved about $10 off the corner barista.

Yesterday’s toast? Surprise! It tastes good cold. Try it – particularly if it comes from a really good loaf – by itself. Savour the nuttiness and texture. Dry toast, tasted simply and eaten slowly, makes a great snack. Or, cut it into cubes, leaving the crusts on, and fry it in a little oil (or the morning’s bacon drippings) into which you’ve slowly browned a finely chopped clove of garlic. Lightly brown all sides of the cubes, toss them with a little salt and then let them cool on a paper towel. Bag them in the freezer for tomorrow’s salad croutons.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy. You can reach him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Search out local food and drink

Excuse my wine-ing… but did someone make a decision that liquids and solids are no longer to be consumed at the same time? Am I a better person if I detect the herbal notes from a high-priced “extra virgin” (which means low acidic) olive oil? Have I failed to achieve a level of wine-aficionado satori because I can’t tell my Gris from my Albarino? When did food start being work and stop being fun?

The Flavour Guy likes food, likes to eat, likes to chew the fat and then some. The Flavour Guy likes going into an Italian grocery store and having the clerk advise him that the $39.99 bottle of olive oil is actually pretty tasty and would work nicely with whatever salad or meat marinade is going towards dinner. Sure a $39.99 bottle of olive oil is sharp, earthy, buttery, grassy, peppery (choose your adjectives here) and tastes pretty nice on its own – just like that magnificent 1998 Pomerol makes for ambrosial sipping and self-satisfied inhaling – but few people make a dinner of a mere chunk of bread dipped in olive oil and washed down with a glass of wine.

Food tastes best when it’s enjoyed in the company of other food (and other people). Even Château Dépanneur is acceptable in the right company – hamburger for instance, or almost any strongly flavoured dish. The more garlic in the main course, the less likely the Flavour Guy appreciates a sincere Sancerre.

Here’s how to do it: eat some food, drink something refreshing, pause and then do it all over again. Repeat as often as necessary until either the plate is clean or the stomach is full. After a little practice you are likely to be able to achieve both conditions at the same time. The idea is to enjoy what we eat and not be cowed because we don’t know what Angus beef is (it’s a popular breed of cattle).

Why are we looking outside – and feeling ill at ease inside – because we can’t choose the perfect liquid to go with our solids? We live in a region blessed with great beer, superb apple cider, and frankly, lousy wine – however we ignore our natural riches and spend fortunes on imported wines and olive oils (often at the same price). The Flavour Guy favours searching out local foods and supporting indigenous agriculture: PEI mussels steamed with a St. Ambroise blond and later, maybe a slice of mignon de Charlevoix cheese with a small glass of very cold Pinnacle ice cider on the side.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy: flavourguy@montrealfood.com

Mussels for two

  • A tablespoon of butter
  • A cup of finely sliced Quebec seasonal vegetables (all or some of onion, tomato, leek, garlic, celery, red peppers, carrots)
  • Lots more chopped garlic (make sure it’s from Quebec, it’s worth it).
  • A half bottle of beer (I’m afraid you’ll have to drink the rest).
  • A ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • A kilo bag of mussels (if the mussels come in a 5 pound bag – double the other ingredients). Make sure the mussels are tightly closed when you buy them.
  • A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Melt the butter and cook the veggies over low heat until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the beer, salt and mussels. Bring it to a boil and then quickly reduce it to simmer. Cover. Stir the mussels once or twice. It’s ready when the mussels are open. If a few don’t open, discard them. Sprinkle parsley over the mussels. Serve with a baguette, Quebec cheeses and a green salad.

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