Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hang'er High

[A warning to vegetarians and those with sensitivities, this post includes pictures of raw meat.]

Am I the only person who thinks that messing up a perfectly good ingredient is a heart-sickening crime? Not a premeditated one, mind you, but a crime nonetheless... You know what I'm talking about : when you spend a small fortune on two roasts of local lamb for your father's 60th birthday and you cook the living daylights out of it because you haven't programmed your thermometer properly? Ugh. I still feel sick about that one. Or when you simmer some beautiful organic chicken bones for the perfect stock and at the end of the evening, when the simmering's done, you put the colander in the sink, dump out the stock and bones and realize you forgot to put a bowl under the colander? Yaaaaaaaaargh!

So it's with a bit of dread in my heart that I embarked on a simple yet intimidating venture the other night: the hanger steak. I'd been curious about it for months. It's such a hot cut of meat right now. HOT I tell you! It's all over the foodie magazines. And all over restaurant menus. Coincidentally, it was all over my sister's wedding last week (kudos to Epicuria - great job, and gutsy, considering you had 120 people to feed!) But I digress.

The hanger steak is a tougher cut of meat, coming from the area beneath the ribs on a steer. It hasn't had the pretty, sheltered life of a filet mignon - it's actually been busy working and moving. It's tough. Marlon Brando tough. I was scared. Scared to screw it up. But I carried on. I had to experience the amazing flavour it promised. Like Brando, it was just a question of approaching it the right way - when you do it right, it can be reeeeeeeeal nice.

My daring attempt began with a whole hanger steak purchased through the MSRO at Lochaber's Ferme Brylee, a local producer of grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free beef. At approx. $15, I had enough to generously feed four people - cheap! After reading up a bit on the hanger steak online (thank you, New York Times!), I got to work.

The Beast

1. I removed as much of the silver skin and large chunks of fat as I could. The meat is so beautifully marbled that I figured all of the extra fat really wasn't necessary (that was a gamble - it paid off, thank goodness). 
2. As instructed by Suzanne Hamelin's article in the NYT, I carefully butterflied the meat (in the same direction as the meat fibers), to make sure that it was no more than 1/2 inch thick. I'd decided to trim out the big white cartilage thingie from the centre, but chickened out halfway. I ended up with a big piece with the thingie still attached, and a few smaller pieces that I'd cut off from the butterflied ends (cut crosswise from the meat fibres).

4. Before putting these lovely steaks on the heat, I made sure I followed these bits of information provided by Hamelin: 
  • because it's a tougher cut, the hanger steak can't be served rare, nor can it be served well-done. It's medium-rare or nothing for maximum chewability and flavour.
  • to insure that the heat is distributed quickly and evenly through the meat, the steak has to have been resting at room temperature for at least an hour.
  • a cast-iron skillet set on high for searingly hot heat is the best option. Cast-iron insures even heat distribution and can take the higher temperature.
5. So with my hood fan on maximum, my cast-iron hot and my steaks salted and peppered, I threw a splash of canola oil and a knob of butter in the pan (the oil helps to keep the butter from burning), and put on the steaks. Lowering the heat to medium high, I cooked each steak for no more than two minutes per side and promptly removed them from the heat to let them rest in a plate for five minutes, covered with foil (this allows the juices to redistribute through the meat and prevents their loss when you cut into the steak).

Bonus: as a quickie sauce, once the steaks were resting under the foil, I turned the heat down to low and threw a good splash (about 1/4 cup) of white vermouth in the pan (white wine would have been fine too) to help scrape off the tasty bits left behind by the meat. Once all the tasty goodness had been scraped off and the vermouth had had a minute or so to burn off its alcohol, I took the pan off the heat, threw in a generous teaspoon of Dijon mustard, stirred it around, and added about 1/4 cup of 35% cream, plus five or six generous grinds from the pepper mill. I poured the sauce into two little dipping bowls to accompany the steak.

I served the steak with some steamed organic green and yellow beans (splashed with a bit of olive oil instead of butter) and some be-oootiful tiny oyster mushrooms from Le Coprin. There was no way around it for those - they were sautéed in butter.

Et voilà:

I'm very proud to say that the hanger steak turned out beautifully. It was crisp and caramelized on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. And the flavour? Simply delicious; rich and beefy, like a steak should taste. The following picture was taken at great risk - I actually had Marc postpone a bite for the sake of documenting doneness. I nearly lost a finger. I swear.

One last little tip: in order to get maximum tenderness out of every bite, you must - MUST! - slice the steak crosswise from the grain, and in thin slices, to reduce the amount of resistance in the muscle fibres. Think of it as cutting through a bunch of elastic bands; if you slice through them crosswise, they ain't so stretchy now, are they? Hah!

So the great hanger steak gamble was a success. I'm so very glad I stopped being a wuss and gave it a go. It wasn't hard at all, and the beautiful, highly flavourful end product was the perfect reward. We both look forward to having it again soon.

À la prochaine!

GMZ - Marché de solidarité régionale de l'Outaouais

One of the things that I found most intimidating about changing my eating habits to a more local and organic beat was the simple challenge of finding what I needed without having to quadruple the amount of mileage I had to do to get it. What's the point of buying local eggs if I have to drive 45 minutes one-way to get them?

So along came the Marché de solidarité régionale de l'Outaouais, a fantastic concept that was started in Sherbrooke and that has been taken up in the Outaouais. Here's the deal: the MSRO is a common online marketplace where local producers of every sort (veggies, bread, fish, meat, milk, cheese, mushrooms, sprouted legumes and grains, honey, maple syrup, cranberries, wine, etc.) display their wares, and where you can browse and pick and choose what you'd like to buy on a weekly basis. Not everybody's organic, but a lot of them are, and everyone's from the region, so you're eating locally. Basically, every week, you visit the website, check off whatever you'd like in your weekly basket, and either on Thursday or Friday, you drop by the pick-up point (on rue Frontenac in old Hull on Thursdays, or on rue Notre-Dame in old Gatineau on Fridays) and get your goodies! It costs $20 a year to be a member, and they charge a small percentage on your overall bill just so they can keep things running (just FYI, you pay the same kind of charge on the cost of the food you buy at a regular grocery store).

Since Marc and I have been members of the MSRO, we've been enjoying tons of stuff including some fantastic organic veggies, local cheeses, Le Coprin mushrooms (fabulous!), beautiful local maple syrup and, on the occasions where we do eat meat, amazingly flavourful grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef (if you're gonna eat meat...)

So I highly recommend giving it a try. All you've got to lose is twenty bucks and a drive to old Hull (or old Gatineau). Just remember that you're eating locally, so the fruits and veggies do get a bit scarce in the winter months (but the root veggies and potatoes are plentiful!) and the meats are almost always frozen, as the producers can't risk spoilage. 

Finally, I can't say enough about the farmers and producers themselves. Often present at the old Hull pick-up point on Thursdays, they're always happy to discuss their products with you, and may even have some samples for you to try. I find it a great privilege to be able to meet and speak to the person who is directly responsible for the food I'm about to eat. And it's reassuring to know my tummy is in good hands.

I do hope you give it a try. I'm still very happy I did.

About GMZ

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An embarrassment of riches...

The garden's exploded. There's food everywhere. As Marc and I filled our harvest bowls to the brim with green and purple beans, I couldn't help but giggle as I was reminded of that beautiful line from Casablanca that was made oh-so-much more entertaining when recited by Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun: "It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans... But this is OUR hill! And these are OUR beans!!"

*Sniff* Beautiful. So the beans were packaged up for another time, as the harvest also included the following:

Golden nugget, Kenosha, Black Russian, Black from Tula, Ottawa 39

Chantenay, Yellowstone and Cosmic Purple!

Chioggia and Touchstone Gold

The tomatoes were put aside for tasty sandwiches, a cherry tomato and bocconcini salad with basil (an oldie but unbeatable goodie - that's for din dins tomorrow with some nice baguette) and, of course, a ratatouille (as soon as Dad drops off another truckload of courgettes). So what was left? The beautiful, glorious root vegetables. I couldn't help myself; I had to create a tableau...:

Don't you just want to dive in?

Now, I think I've made it abundantly clear that turning on the oven when it's stinking hot outside goes against my deepest convictions. However, I had to make an exception. I just cringed at the thought of boiling all of this stuff for dinner... The time! The dishes! The lost flavour and nutrients! THE HUMANITY! 

So I lazily tossed everything together with olive oil and some leftover cauliflower I had hanging around the fridge, and I set that sugar-packed jewel box of a meal to roast. 


Oh, stop looking so good! You're embarrassing yourselves!

By the way, have you ever tried roasted cauliflower? Sorry for going off on a tangent here, but OMG. It's like eating buttery bits of sweet sweet caramelized and burnt goodness that could only be described as what a strapping young fireman's lips must taste like after a hard day's work of putting out five alarm blazes. Honest. It's mind blowing. But you have to be patient. They have to roast until they're soft enough that you can squish them between your fingers (hypothetically speaking, of course - don't burn yourself).

Woo! Is it getting hot in here? Right. My oven's on. 

Back to veggies. If you'd like to give roasted vegetables a go, I highly recommend it. Here are some  pointers:

1. No matter what the veggie (potatoes included), set your oven to 400 F and stick the baking sheet in there as the oven heats up; this will ensure that the sheet is searingly hot when the veggies hit it, which will help with caramelization (the delicious brown! The delicious brown!)
2. Cut all of your veg at the same thickness, so everything cooks at the same time. Keep into account the density of your veg as well - a cauliflower floret can be cut a lot bulkier than a slice of denser beet.
3. Make sure your veggies are nice and dry before you splash oil on them (you're just adding enough oil to coat them); a quick go with a tea towel usually does the trick. If they're still wet, the heat will be wasted on evaporation rather than caramelization. We don't want that.
4. Don't salt your veggies ahead of time; the salt draws out moisture and may slow or even - heaven forbid - prevent the delicious browning. Wait until they're done and salt them as soon as they come out of the oven, while they're still hot and glistening (like that fireman's lips). Pepper, herbs and/or spices are fine anytime, beginning or end.
5. Once your oven is at 400 F, pull out the pan and throw a good knob of butter in there - it should sizzle and slightly brown when it hits the hot surface. That's when you add your veggies and stick the pan back in the oven.
6. You can flip the veggies halfway through the cooking process, but I'm usually too lazy, so I rarely do. Forty minutes is a good cooking time, but I recommend you start checking for doneness as soon as 25 minutes in, depending on the type of veggie and thickness of the cut.
7. No matter what you're roasting, it's never a bad idea to add a thickly cut onion to the mix. Those are just awesome no matter what dish you're going to serve.

Once your veggies are roasted, you can do a ton of things with them:
- Serve them alongside some nice protein like fish, tofu or meat. 
- Mix them around with a grain like bulgur, millet or couscous, or some quinoa, throw in some herbs, some nuts, and give everything a splash of white wine vinegar and olive oil and - POOF! - you've got yourself a salad.
- Whizz them up with the stock of your choice (veggie, chicken, whatever) using an immersion blender, add some cream or plain yogurt if you're feeling naughty (full fat, please), and you've just made a roasted vegetable cream soup.
- Or stick'em between two slices of baguette or any other type of nice bread, with some goat cheese and some sprouts or microgreens (and maybe a slice of bacon if you're Marc) for an awesome sandwich.

By the time roasting was done, I just sprinkled some goat cheese on these particular veggies and served them as a main course with some lovely rosemary and garlic baguette from Art is In. If it hadn't been dark outside, I would have gone to the garden for an addition of freshly chopped parsley, but that was too much work.

The light was getting a bit low - sorry!

Voilà! See you next post!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How a profusion of beans pulled him back from the meat brink.

My pole beans plants have finally exploded. They'd been teasing me for a while, sprouting one or two beans here and there, never giving me enough to make a decent meal. I'd cursed them and call them names - why weren't they coming out?! They'd bloomed enough, dammit! But this morning, during my usual daily sashay through the garden, they'd finally succumbed to my horticultural bullying. I was confronted with clusters of beans. Big clusters... So I grabbed my little bowl and picked every last one of them - purple and green. And tonight, I made a salad. A really, really tasty salad.

This recipe has benefited from some hefty inspiration, I must say. First there was the proliferation of beans. Then, the discovery of a first tomato off the Ottawa 39 plant (nothing to write home about, by the way - not getting those next year.) But most importantly, there was the challenge posed by Marc who, following his first meeting with a personal trainer, came home to tell me that he'd been instructed to eat meat. Lots and lots of meat. (insert rolling eyes and puffed cheeks with a slow exhale here.)

Feeling mildly suspicious, and not-so-mildly annoyed that someone was about to undo all of the hard conversion-to-flexitarian work I'd accomplished on the home front, I decided to make a salad that could rival a steak on protein and flavour anytime - with a fraction of the cholesterol and hormones, and tons more fibre. Pffff. Meat. WHATever!

Green bean and bulgur salad with toasted almonds and tomato (serves three generously)

First thing:
Set 1 cup of medium bulgur to cook and let it cool once it's done (if you're in a hurry, just spread it on a cookie sheet and stick it in the fridge while you get on with the rest of the recipe).

While the bulgur cooks:
- Steam three large handfuls of fresh green beans until al dente and throw them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.
- Roughly chop up about 3/4 cup of whole almonds and toast them in a pan over low heat until they're fragrant. Watch'em! Once they start to burn, they burn fast! Let them cool in a plate so they don't burn in the hot pan.

While the bulgur cools off:
- In the salad bowl, whisk up one minced garlic clove, some sherry vinegar (about 2 tbsp) and some olive oil (1/4 cup - these are approximate measurements. You may like your dressing a little more or a little less tart).
- Chop the tomato and the beans into bite sized pieces. Toss'em in the bowl.
- Finely chop a handful of parsley and a handful of basil. In the bowl they go.

Add the cooled bulgur and the almonds, adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper) and combine everything into a fluffy, green flecked thing of beauty. Done-zo.

Marc crumbled some goat cheese in his salad and was as happy as a clam. He didn't bring up the meat idea once. HAH! Take that, trainer-lady! I left my salad just as it was. Delicious. Especially with a nice glass of Blanche de Chambly. Peeerfect.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The curse of the giant zucchini, or, The night I discovered I'd never be an animal photographer

So Dad's just being a showoff. He dropped these off last weekend.

I tried to show the scale of these monsters by placing a pen next to them, but somehow, it just didn't do them justice. So I looked outside... Ah. There we go :

Oh! Hey mom!

What the ?!?!?

Behemoths, I tell you! My father wins in the quantity department, that's for sure. But he doesn't have as pretty beets and carrots as I do! *grumble grumble*

So what was I to do with such a bounty of horribly large cucurbits? I got to work, that's what! Here's a mash-up of a few things I did.

1) I roasted them. 

First up, a roasted zucchini and quinoa salad. 
  • I cooked one cup of quinoa in water with a dash of salt. Once cooked, I set it aside to cool.
  • While the quinoa cooked, I cut the courgettes lengthwise into 5mm slices, tossed them with a little canola oil, salt and pepper and cooked them straight on the barbecue grill until they were softened but still toothsome (i.e. not mushy!) Once done, I cut them into bite-size pieces.
  • I chopped up a palmful (smaller than a handful) of basil and a handful of parsley from the garden.
  • In a salad bowl, I whisked together some sherry vinegar (white wine vinegar would have been nice too) and some olive oil (ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 part oil is usually good.)
  • Finally, I tossed everything in the bowl with the dressing, adjusted the seasoning with more salt and pepper and POOF! Done. 
Sadly, Marc, my sister and I ate the salad much too quickly for me to remember picture-taking. Here's what I managed to get, post-meal. You'll have to trust me on this. It was beautiful and it was tasty. Reeeeeeal tasty.

Second up, another roasted zucchini salad, this time with barbecued tofu. And I remembered the pictures that time!
  • I sliced the zucchini lengthwise into 5mm slices, and did the same thing with the tofu (firm), only slicing crosswise instead. I made sure I squeezed the tofu between sheets of paper towel to remove any excess water. I then tossed the tofu and the zuckes together with a bit of canola oil and some Montreal steak spice (thaaat's right - steak spice!) 

  • Next came grill time, where I decided at the last minute to throw on a few slices of leftover red onion that had been lying at the back of the fridge. Best decision ever.

  • Once the tofu had turned golden with some good, darker grill marks, and the zukes had softened without being mushy, I pulled them off, along with the onions, and threw them back in their pre-cue bowl to cool off a bit.
  • After I chopped the zucchinis and tofu into bite-size pieces, I added the following to the bowl:
    • a chopped golden tomato
    • some chopped romaine lettuce
    • a splash of balsamic vinegar and some olive oil
    • salt and pepper
And voilà! A warm roasted zucchini and tofu salad with red onion and golden tomato. Faboo.

And finally, tonight, 
2) I baked with the zucchinis

I just went to my go-to gal for bundts, The Food Librarian, and got the recipe for a Zucchini Olive Oil Bundt. I dropped the lemon glaze because I ran out of sugar, but compensated by serving the cake with some home-made whipped cream (whip 35% cream with a drop of vanilla and a bit of sugar). Mmmmm... Satisfactorily delicious replacement.... Again, apologies for the lack of "before" pictures. It was just that damned good.

But wait! Are those toasted almond bits I see? Why yes, Timmy, those are!

Just check out this moist and tender crumb. COME ON! IT'S GORGEOUS!

The evening ended beautifully with Marc taking care of the dishes while I tried to replicate the "doggie to zucchini scale" picture of Ti-Gars with what was left of Gigantor, the Ridiculously Large Courgette. Sadly, that's when I discovered that any hopes I may have had of one day being an animal photographer were probably a waste of time... Oy. I leave you with samplings of the disastrous photo shoot. 

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Je m'appelle Ca-rotte-rotte-rotte...

I couldn't help humming this little song from my childhood when I began pulling out the first carrots from my garden... They were just so pretty, the childish enthusiasm took over! I'd wandered down to the veggie patch as Marc was finishing up the last bits of dinner (nothing says "Honey, dinner was delicious" like the sound of a fork scraping the bottom of the salad bowl), and found a big orange carrot top staring back at me from under its bright green fronds. I took a chance and yanked - it was ready! So I yanked a few more, and found a few specimens of each colour, ready for the tasting. Yummy crunchiness.

So here are a few snaps I gleefully took while munching. Stay tuned for a carrot "something" soon in an upcoming post!

P.S. Apologies for the long delay between posts - it's just been bananas lately. Not literally, though. I promise, I'll get better at this.

See you next post!