Sunday, 31 March 2013

une affaire hollandaise...

Today, I rekindled a long-lost love affair with Hollondaise. It had been a long time since a brunch date over a plate of Eggs Benedict, but today it was almost like old times again. As with many what-went-wrong-with-us relationships, happier times once existed between "Holly" and I. Time, distance, and extenuating circumstances, however, separated us as excess heat or acidity separates her emulsified yolks. How did this affair come to be, pass, and come back to life? Join me as I recount our decade-plus long journey.

Holly and I met when I was a cook at the Sandbar in Mana, a beachy suburb of Wellington. I don't know how I never met her in years before, but she was a regular feature of our weekend brunches. I learned of her fickle nature: when treated right, she would be smooth, silky, and satisfying; treated just a shy wrong and she would completely fall apart on you, pleasing no one in the process.
Holly traveled with me to Queenstown and later Christchurch where I learned that she was also the mother of so many other egg-and-butter-based sauces. Her daughter Bearnaise once showed up as a sauce for broccoli on our buffet, but it was to brunch with Holly I would always turn to on days when too much wine was enjoyed the night before, or sometimes just as a special treat when no one else was around.

Then it was I who took a break from Holly during my 6 months of backpacking through South America. (Eggs Benny isn't much of a thing among the backpacking sort). After a few months of resettling in Vancouver, Holly and I once again crossed paths as I took the role of Manager/Exepditer at a chain restaurant famous for its world-famous-in-Canada brunches. I fell in love once again with Holly, but two adages came true: absence can make the heart grow fungus, and you can have too much of a good thing. No longer responsible for her creation, I instead had to deal with Holly as she sat on line, bubbling away for several hours. In short, I quickly grew tired of Holly; her lemon-buttery perfume permeating my hair and clothes every Sunday for 3 years. I shied away from her smooth touch on my Eggs Benedict, instead opting for a Chimichurri-inspired, Argentine hottie there called gaucho sauce (also great on pan-fried potatoes, by the way).

Leaving the restaurant industry to pursue a career in wine retail, I never spoke to or of Holly again. The mere thought of her made me ill to my stomach. She was welcome at the tables of my friends, but I wanted nothing further to do with her; I had had my fare share. Such was the case for three and a half years.

August long weekend, 2012, and a brunch in Deep Cove with a visiting friend brought Holly back in my life. Fresh crab bennies on a summer, seaside patio seemed the way to go, so I put aside outstanding issues to welcome - albeit briefly - Holly back into my life. I savoured the warm reunion, remembering but only the good times. A chance encounter that set me on the path to today.
A perfect storm of spinach-on-sale, soon-to-expire eggs, and oxidised-wine is what it took to bring Holly back into my home. Our first time together was clumsy to say the least; i lost concentration for a moment and she fell apart. Our second attempt, however, was pure magic; the perfect balance of rich, creamy butter blended with fresh egg yolk and the zip of freshly squeezed lemon poured over perfectly poached eggs, steamed spinach, and homemade toast:

"Holly's" Hollandaise
2 egg yolks              2 tsp. lemon juice          1 tbsp. white wine          salt, pepper, & cayenne to taste
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. butter          1 tbsp shallots, chopped          1 clove garlic, chopped

1) Whisk together yolks, lemon juice, wine, salt, pepper, and cayenne. The liquids should be completely integrated into the yolk;
2) Melt 1/4 cup butter over low heat in a saucepan. Once melted, keep warm over very low heat;
3) In a double broiler/thick-bottom saucepan, heat remaining butter over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and fry until opaque and fragrant. Reduce heat to medium-low;
4) Add yolk mixture to shallots/garlic, and whisk thoroughly. Slowly add melted butter while continually whisking the eggs. This is important so as to completely emulsify the sauce and prevent cloying or separation;
5) Serve over poached eggs, green veggies (asparagus), or grilled fish.

It may not be the classic sauce I met so many years ago in Wellington, but I think I am rather fond of the new, updated version of her because, at her very essence (butter, lemon, egg yolk), she is still the same Holly I fell in love with so many years ago.

Monday, 25 March 2013

rolling out rouladen...

The fresh smell of spring in the air awakens our olfactory senses, connecting us to memories of our youth, the springtime of our lives. Out for a walk the other day among the farms of South Surrey, the smell of freshly fertilised fields (ie. manure) set my train of memory to when I was an exchange student in Switzerland. Plucked from the centre of Canada's largest city, I suddenly found myself in the thriving metropolis that is Berlincourt; a hamlet of 150 people and just about as many cows. My favourite chore was to take a handful of francs to the stables at the start of the street (yes, start of the street - city-slicker me walked past a dairy barn everyday for 3-months), place them on a plate, and fill the container with the freshest milk you could possibly imagine; we'd pour the milk through a strainer into our glasses, leaving the curdled fat from heating behind. But that's another story.

A winter's view of bovine-bustling Berlincourt
My journey down Swiss memory lane instead inspired me to make rouladen for dinner. Although German in origin, it is a dish that we would occasionally have for Sunday dinner in the French-speaking Jura. Made from thin slices of topside or round steak, rouladen are rather like mustard-spiced beefy maki-sushi rolls stuffed with bacon and pickles, slow simmered in a red-wine sauce for several hours. Often served with spätzle or boiled potatoes, the Swiss-family version was served with the überly Swiss German rösti; pan-fried grated potatoes.

Today, however, I made a few twists to these rolls of beef based on what my pantry provided. The recipe below is based on the traditional rouladen, and I've noted in italics my adjustments:


4 thin slices top round beef, approx. 150g each          2 tsp Hungarian paprika
2 tsp mustard powder                                                  Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices bacon (or turkey bacon)                                 1 small onion, sliced
2 large dill pickles, sliced (2 pickled beets, sliced)     2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil                                                                      2 tbsp flour
1 cup beef stock                                                           1 cup red wine
(or 2/3 cup each stock, red wine, and pickling juice - my beets pickled in vinegar, thyme, and caraway)
1)      Season beef with paprika, mustard, salt, and pepper.  Flatten with tenderiser until 1/3 cm thick, being careful not to puncture holes through meat.

2)      Arrange 1 slice of bacon lengthwise on each slice of beef. Place sliced pickles and onions crosswise over each slice of beef.

3)      Roll each slice of beef, being careful not to loose any filling. Secure rolls with toothpicks inserted on top and sides of each roll.

4)      Heat butter and oil in large, oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Add rolls and fry until brown. Remove and set aside.

5)      Add flour to frying pan and cook over medium low until thick and flour is golden brown.

6)      Slowly stir in stock and red wine until a smooth liquid is formed. Bring to a boil and add rolls.
Cover pan and cook in 350F oven for 1 ½ hours.

And since Switzerland introduced me to the wonderful world of wine (well, alcohol in general), what would rouladen be without a glass of wine? Inspired by my adobong tasting exercise, I sampled the following to see how they would work with rouladen (listed in order from best to least):

Barolo (Mauro Veglio 2007, Piedmont Italy) - Germany is Italy's number 1 customer when it comes to importing red wine, so no surprise the Barolo worked so well! Barolos are a natural friend to slow cooked meaty stews, and high-acidity played nicely with my vinegared-broth;
Hermitage (Guigal 2005, Northern Rhone France) - Similar flavour profiles to the stew (white pepper, acidity, meatyness), but the Barolo was just slightly better;
Syrah (Nichol 2010, Okanagan BC) - Syrah is the grape of Hermitage, so why not try the Northern Rhone-inspired Nichol? A very close third, but someone always has to take home bronze;
Dry Riesling (Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley AU) - Sufficient acidity to balance with the rouladen broth, but too delicate a wine to stand up against the more intensely flavoured stew;
Pinot Noir (Cambria 2009, Santa Barbara CA) - A nice wine in itself bu much too light and delicate a wine to stand up to the weight of the stew. 

Overall, a delicious dinner. It's just sad to say that the whole idea came from the smell of manure-laden fields. In the end, it just goes to show you that inspiration can truly be found anywhere.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

why did the adobong pair with the sauvignon blanc?....

Red with red, white with white; the basic mantra we have been taught when choosing a wine for our meal. While this rule is still generally applicable, our modern, multicultural kitchens require more insight into the complexities of food and wine pairing. If fish is white, then where do salmon or tuna fit? If beef is red, what about its baby version, veal? In my last blog, why did the beef-based adobong pair well with a white Sauvignon Blanc? If you are saying to yourself "I don't know; why did the adobong pair with the Sauvignon Blanc?", then let's look at key components to consider when buying your dinner bottle:

The Cutting Edge of Acidity: Acidity in wine has a dual effect on food. First, wines that are high in acid match well with foods that are high in acid. The duelling acids cancel each other out, resulting in more concentrated flavours in both the food and the wine.
          Second, acidic wines (as above) match well with foods that have a high protein or fat content. Think about why you squeeze lemon over your fried calamari or malt vinegar on your chips. The same concept works with wines;

Full of Character: When thinking of the food you are making, choose a wine that has similar flavour profiles. This is particularly true for marinades and sauces. For example, Syrah tends to have flavours of white pepper and herbs (rosemary, thyme), so a rosemary-rubbed lamb would be a natural pair;

The Power of Intensity: Strongly flavoured foods require wines of equal intensity.The timid and restrained Muscadet would be overpowered by a complex and flavourful beef stew, whereas the exotic aromatics of Gewurztraminer has the courage to stand up to the power of a Thai curry;

Sweet on Sweet:  Sweet food requires wines that are greater than or equal to its sugar levels. Cheesecake and Sauternes, Tokaji with Creme Brule, or a personal favourite, Icewine with triffle show that rich, sweet desserts become that much better when matched with the right wine;

Terrific (or Terrible) Tannins: Tannins are a result of prolonged skin contact during fermentation, and are a key component of red wines; the stronger the tannins, the better the wine will match with high protein foods (picture a Cab Sauv with a juicy steak). However, tannins have their downside too: tannin with and spice is nothing nice, making a kiss that is certainly not sweeter than wine. 

With the above in mind and a plate of soy-and-vinegar stewed beef with spicy coconut milk simmered spinach, I decided to play around with not one but seven different wines (for the record, only about 2 ounces of each!) to see which would work best. Here's how things worked (with country and brand in brackets):

Shiraz (Australia - Molly Dooker): Beef with red should work, but in this case, the bold tannins and high alcohol of the Shiraz clashed with the subtle spice of the adobong;
Chianti Classico (Italy - Carpineto): A second attempt at reds, and an "official" recommendation by Filipinos, the acidity of both the wine and the adobong balanced nicely, but this was a lesson in a failure of flavour harmony; Chianti doesn't like to play with soy or coconut milk;
Gewurztraminer (Alsace - Trimbach): Adobong is "exotic," and so are the flavours of Gewurztraminer, but the failure of this pair is Gewurztraminer is a relatively low-acid wine, so the vinegar-based sauce of the adobong resulted in a flabby Gewurz;
Chardonnay (Chablis - Brocard): A lesson in intensity, the delicate and restrained Chablis could not stand up to the flavours of the adobong, but it did work well with the bicol spinach;
Riesling Spatlese (Rheingau - Balthasar): Unlike Gewurztraminer, Riesling is high in acid and should complement the adobong and cut through the coconut milk of the spinach. Unfortunately, the high-sugar Spatlese proved to be too sweet;
Riesling (Hardy's - Australia): Australian Rieslings are distinct from their German cousins; dry with an intense flavour of lime. The green character and acidity matched both the spinach and the stew, but the intensity of the meal was just too much for the wine;
Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand - Giesen): High-acid wine to match the vinegar and cut through the coconut milk? Check. Dry wine with a low-sugar dish? Check. No tannins to clash with the spice? Check. Intense flavours in both food and wine? Check (NZ Sauvignon Blanc is among the most intensely flavoured of wines). Flavour character combination? Check - greengauge notes of the Sauvignon Blanc are slightly reminiscent of spinach and bay leaf (used in the adobong sauce).

And that, dear reader, is why the adobong dinner paired with the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

feeling filipino?...

I’m not entirely sure why I got in a Filipino mood this past week. Not so much that I’ve started confusing my f’s as p’s or v’s like b’s, but more likely from watching the Philippine-inspired concept Urbano win Restaurant Wars on Top Chef last week. This episode made reflect on my 2000 Habitat for Humanity trip to the Bicol region in southern Luzon. Unlike the chaos of the 1999 visit (that’s another story), this week-long visit to Naga City was a smaller, more intimate build that allowed time for local sightseeing:  live-radio interview, visit with the mayor, day trip to the Mayon volcano, beach BBQ and, of course, a lesson in Filipino cooking
At its most basic, Filipino cuisine can be considered among the first in fusion food. A taste of the tropics (coconut, peppers, mango) meet  Chinese influences (soy, pork) with Spain adding some of its colonial touch to bring about a culinary cornucopia that is yet to be explored by Western palates. 
A nation of more than 7,100 islands, regional diversity certainly exists in the Philippines. Despite this, there is no question that the national dish is the adobo: a slow-cooked, hearty stew that is defined by a refreshing tartness from a strong  serving of vinegar in the broth.  From my class to my plate, I decided on a beef adobo variation called adobong as follows:
1kg stewing beef                                                           4 cloves garlic, minced                                                  
1 tbsp. fresh-grated ginger                                          1/3 cup vinegar
2 tbsp. oil                                                                        1 small onion, finely chopped                                    
½ cup beef stock                                                            ¼ cup soy sauce
2 bay leaves                                                                     8 peppercorns, crushed
½ tsp. cinnamon

1) Marinade beef in garlic, ginger, and vinegar for at least 1 hour. Remove beef and reserve marinade.
2) In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add beef and fry until all sides are brown to seal in the juices. Remove beef and set aside.
3) Add onions the pot and fry until onions are golden.
4) Add marinade, stock, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.
5) Add beef, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cinnamon. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 hours. The lower and slower you cook it, the better it gets!

As you can see, adobo is meaty and lacking in green veg. To compliment my meal, I made a coconut-simmered spinach side based on a Bicol recipe (highlighted by the use of coconut milk and chilis) for stewing taro leaves:

2 tbsp. oil                                                                          1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced                                                   1 tbsp. fresh-grated ginger
1 can coconut milk                                                          1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili pepper                                                            2 bunches spinach

1) In large frying pan, heat oil over medium-high. Fry  onions, garlic, and ginger and fry until opaque and fragrant.
2) Add coconut milk, salt, and chili pepper. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil.
3) Add spinach (whole leaves). Cook until leaves are wilted and coconut milk has reduced.

Naturally, both should be served with rice and, as I discovered, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc brings the right balance of powerful flavours and sharp acidity to match these delicious dishes.
As the say in the Philippines: "Von Affetit!"

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

of parents and children in a bowl...

Growing up on a steady meat-and-potato diet whose only exotic reprieve was a weekly Italian pasta or Swiss cuisine (a la quarter-chicken dinner), I often wonder what it would be like to have been part of a broader culinary culture. To me, a culinary culture is the sum of key ingredients prepared in a myriad of ways, the technique of which is passed down from one generation to another.

For example, the ABCs of Japanese culinary culture is summed up in the ordinal letters of SA-SHI-SU-SE-SO: 'sa' - さ -for sato (sugar); 'shi'  - し - for shio (salt); 'su' - す - for o-su (vinegar); 'se' -せ -for sesame (which is actually goma in Japanese); and 'so' - そ - for o-soyu (soy sauce, more often pronounced o-shoyu). Upon these ingredienents is built a delicate and sublime culinary tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. Like anywhere else, regional variances and specialties exist alongside new foods introduced to Japanese culture (they are among the world's largest consumers of curry, for example), but these five staples are found in every kitchen.

As an exchange student in Yokosuka, exchanging recipes with a Japanese family has greatly impacted my own culinary repertoire. Introducing my host family to a few of my successful dishes(lasagna was a big hit) led to lessons in the basics of a few key homestyle dishes. The communal Sukiyaki stew has long been a favourite, but other dishes like the art of dashi (kelp and bonito-based stock),the delicate-balance of a tempura batter, or preserving veggies in rice vinegar and rice bran are skills I regularly employ even today. 

A recent visit from Australian family provided me with the opportunity to show my 11-year old cousin how to make a basic Japanese dinner. Presented by my mother the secret basket ingredients of the ever exotic boneless chicken and bell pepper, nothing could be more symbolic of passing down culinary skills from parent to child (or, in this case, host mother to exchange student to cousin) than a big bowl of oyako: a chicken-and-egg stirfry that literally translates as "parent (oya) and child (ko)."  Not only do I love the dark nature of the name of the dish, but it is also an easy stirfry that anyone parent and child can do together:

Ingredients - Stir-fry
2 tablespoons oil
300g Boneless Chicken, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 shiitake mushrooms (or 8 button mushrooms), thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
4 eggs, beaten

Ingredients - Simmering Stock
1/2 cup stock (dashi, chicken, or vegetable)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin (cream sherry as a substitute)
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon sugar

1) Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add onions and fry until opaque.
2) Add chicken. Stir-fry until no longer pink
3) Add mushrooms and green pepper. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
4) Add all but 2 tablespoons of the simmering stock. Bring to a boil and cook 2 - 3 minutes
5) Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of stock into beaten eggs. Pour egg mixture over stir-fry and cook for 1 minute until eggs have set.

Serve over rice and with a German Riesling (the slight sweetness will balance the salty/umami flavours of the stir-fry).

So, there you have it. The perfect parent-to-child recipe to share with your family in hopes that you too will develop your own culinary culture, even if it is passed on from a Japanese host mother to an Australia girl by way of a Canadian exchange student cousin.