Dandelion Crowns

We’ve tried a lot of things with dandelions.  The leaves are great.  Hopefully everybody knows that by now.  I’ve made syrups with the flowers, but truthfully they don’t have much flavour and are only good for their sunny colour.  The roots are delicious roasted and useful in bitter infusions, but they are such a bitch to harvest I rarely bother.  The flower buds can be pickled, but while they look a good deal like capers they don’t actually have much flavour of their own, and certainly don’t have the distinct mustard-like pop of their Mediterranean look-alikes.

Dandelion crowns might be the tastiest part of the plant.

The crown is where the root transitions to the stalks.  It is only slightly easier to harvest than the root, and probably more difficult to clean, but it delivers a serious flavour payoff.

Fresh dandelion crowns.

 

Pan-roasted, dandelion crowns remind me of rutabaga: soft, savoury, and faintly bitter.

The dish below was entirely conceived and executed by my partner Lisa.  She sautéed the crowns, then added a bit of water to the pan and covered.  Once the crowns were tender she added dandelion greens and cooked until they were wilted but still vibrant green.  She finished the dish with balsamic vinegar.

A dandelion dish: sautéed crowns with wilted greens.

 

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Arm of Lamb

Roast lamb foreleg, or "arm of lamb"One of the great things about purchasing your meat as a whole animal and cutting it yourself (besides getting high-quality ethically produced meat for a fraction of its farmers’ market price) is that you have total control over how the meat is divided.

I’ve written about this before (Alternative Pork Primals) but I have another great example of an unorthodox meat-cutting practice: arm of lamb.  While lambs have four legs, the traditional roast leg of lamb is always a hind leg.  The shank meat is trimmed away, leaving relatively tender, lean meat that is best roasted medium rare.

The foreleg is a very different piece of meat.  It could simply be billed as “foreleg of lamb” but I think we need a better way to properly distinguish it from the hind part.  So I propose “arm of lamb”. [1]

The foreleg of lamb is typically broken up in the meat shop: the butcher uses a bandsaw to cut across the bones so that the uppermost part is left on the shoulder, the lowermost part is removed as a bone-in shank, and everything in between is trim for sausages.

You can, however, remove the entire foreleg in one piece.  It looks rather similar to the hind leg, with the characteristic club shape, but the meat is completely different: tough and fatty, with several small, irregular muscle groups.  So instead of being roasted at high heat to medium rare, the foreleg is best braised, or slow-roasted until it is falling-apart-tender, like a lamb shoulder.

I probably get a bigger kick out of this than most, but I like that it looks like a leg of lamb, but it is a braise instead of a roast.

Arm of lamb is harder to carve tableside, as it contains the shoulder blade, but the meat is tender enough that careful carving isn’t really necessary: if you cook the meat till it is thoroughly tender you can push a fork into the joint and pull and shred as much meat as you please.

 

  1. I’ll concede that “arm” doesn’t quite have the same appetizing ring to it as leg, and that it somehow even sounds cannibalistic.  I suppose the reason is that legs are for locomotion, arms are for manipulation of objects; animals do not manipulate objects the same way humans do; their four limbs are used chiefly for locomotion; ergo they do not have arms; only humans have arms.  That’s why is sounds weird to eat an arm.  That being said, the lamb’s humerus is often referred to as the arm bone, and the sub-primal cut that contains the humerus can be called the lamb should arm, but these are technical meat-cutting terms that would never appear on consumer packaging.
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Greek Food

Any country that pickles its national cheese in brine and adulterates its national wine with pine pitch should order dinner at the local Chinese place and save its energies for other things.

-Jeffrey Steingarten, on Greek food

Dawn at the harbour at Iraklio, Crete

As the above quote from Vogue’s food critic demonstrates, Greek food is not often taken seriously in North America.[1]  In fact, a trip to a Greek restaurant is not even about the food, as the food is more or less the same at all Greek restaurants.  In our part of the world, dining at a Greek restaurant is about the experience, an experience that usually involves tables for twelve, bazuki music, belly dancing, liquor, repetition of the phrase “Opa!”, smashing plates, and of course setting cheese on fire.  All of this commotion invariably occurs between whitewashed walls supporting plastic grape vines.

It’s cyclical and self-perpetuating: the public has come to expect a zany, raucous, experience, so Greek restaurants deliver to make a buck, which reinforces our ridiculous idea about Greek cuisine and culture.

I haven’t done any solid research on the issue, but I’m pretty sure the initial misconception comes from a movie that is a half-century old: Zorba the Greek.  Based on a Kazantzakis novel, the movie is about a stuffy half Greek half English writer who moves to Crete to run a lignite mine. In Piraeus he is approached by a Macedonian named Zorba who offers his services as a mining crew chief.  Zorba: the name itself is wild.  He is obsessed with women and wine and dancing and in short drinks deeply and lustily from the cup of life.  This has become a stereotype throughout television and film, in everything from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

In the movie, Zorba is the Greek spirit teaching the prudish Englishman how to enjoy life.  Interestingly in the book, both of the main characters are Greek.  Zorba is perhaps the ancient Greek spirit, standing in stark contrast to his contemporary compatriots, who are all fettered by the Orthodox Church, superstition, and poverty.

But I digress.

The day after I wrote my last university exam I departed for a five week trip to southern Greece with my girlfriend Lisa.  My degree was in electrical engineering.  At the time I had a part time job in a kitchen.  Our time in Greece did a lot to make me forget about engineering and work as a cook when we returned to Canada.

Before the trip I considered the word “cuisine” a fancy way of saying “food”, and to me the two terms could be used interchangeably.  The trip (by which I mean the reading I did beforehand, the five weeks of travel, and the hundred or so meals Lisa and I ate in Greece, almost entirely at markets and tavernas) taught me that cuisine was a cohesive set of traditions that informed how a society interacted with the natural world.

I learned that there was a seasonal rhythm to the traditional food of Greece.  One restaurant owner explained that true Greek salad is actually just raw onion, feta, and olive oil, ingredients that are available year round.  Only in the height of summer were flourishes like tomatoes and cucumbers added.  This seems so obvious to me now having spent the last eight years immersed in food, but at the time it was a revelation.[2]

I was fascinated to see how these traditions were interpreted differently by each taverna. Saganaki, for instance, which is essentially just fried cheese, was different in every place we ate.  Sometimes it was made with kefalotiri and flamed with brandy so that the cheese melted into a gooey mat.  At a beachside taverna on the island of Syros it was made with a firm local cheese called San Michiali and gently warmed in the oven, simply to heighten the aroma and flavour.

If I had to characterize Greek food I would say it is above all else simple and elemental.  Your salad is tomatoes, capers, potatoes, and corn.  Your dinner is fish, or octopus, and lemon, and herbs.  Your dessert is melon and raki.  Of course there are exceptions (one does not easily whip up a batch of baklava) but generally food is prepared with minimal intervention using simple techniques that don’t significantly alter or mask the ingredients.

Likewise meals are served without any ostentation.  The entire trip I didn’t see a single belly dancer (maybe one in Plaka…)  No plates were smashed.  The meals were always outside, on a sidewalk or in a garden (Tamam was literally the only exception, the only time we ate indoors in an entire month).  Rarely was there music playing.  Our meals were quiet, humble, and (again) elemental.

One of the most memorable parts of our trip to Greece was the August full moon.  We were staying on the island of Paros, in a small town called Dryos.  For several days leading up to the lunar event the owner of our hotel told us that the August full moon was one of the greatest, most festive nights of the summer.  We had absolutely no idea what to expect, and we let our imaginations run wild with visions of a beachside bacchanalia.  The reality was much more restrained (we ate dinner and went out for drinks with some other tourists) but we remember it fondly.

Every full moon in August Lisa and I eat Greek food and take some time to reflect on that trip.  Some years it’s just a glass of ouzo and water with some small mezze, maybe tzatziki and pita. Other times it’s a full meal, with roast lamb with wine.

Today happens to be this year’s August full moon, which is why I have Greece on the brain.

A Greek dinner for the August full moon: roast lamb shoulder, potatoes, olives, tzatziki, and horiatiki.

 

  1.  This quote is from The Man Who Ate Everything, an article in which Steingarten tries to learn to appreciate his least favourite foods, which include (among many others) kimchi and Greek food.  Here he is referring to feta, which is aged and stored in brine (not actually that weird…) and retsina, a wine from Attica that is flavoured with pine resin.
  2. Of course, this seasonality is a thing of the past, and whether you are in Athens Greece or Athens Ontario (look it up), and whether it is July or January, a Greek salad always has cucumber and tomato.
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Squash Blossoms

Originally published August 17, 2011.

A squash blossom, still on the plantIf any food can be described as ephemeral, it’s squash blossoms. They’re only around for a short while, and once picked they deteriorate rapidly, which is why you usually can’t get them at grocery stores, only farmers’ markets and neighbourhood gardens.

Squash plants actually produce two different types of flowers: male and female.  The male flowers grow on the end of long, slender stems.  The female flowers grow on thicker stems that buldge where they meet the flower.  This bulge is what will eventually become a squash.

Generally there are more male flowers than female.  The male flowers can be picked without affecting the production of fruit, so long as a few are left behind to pollinate the females.  Some sources say to remove the stamens from the interior of the male flowers before eating.  I don’t.  I hope it’s not a safety thing.  Picking the female flowers will prevent fruit from developing on that stem.  Even so, it’s worth picking a few females, especially once the buldge on the stem has grown into a tiny, malformed squash.

The flowers of both summer and winter squash are edible.  (Summer squash are varieties that are picked young, and therefore have tender, edible seeds and skin, like zucchinis and pattypans.  Winter squash are varieties that are mature when picked, and therefore have tough, inedible seeds and skin, like butternut squash and pumpkins.)

While they can be eaten raw, squash blossoms are usually lightly battered and fried.  They can also be stuffed.

Below are some blossoms from a zucchini plant.  The female flowers are distinguished by the tiny zucchinis attached to their bases.  The male flowers have their characteristic long, slender stem in tact.

In the final picture below the blossoms are filled with a homemade cottage cheese (something my ancestors would have called “clabbered milk”) mixed with green onions and a bit of lemon juice.  I used a piping bag to stuff the flowers.

The batter is just skim milk with flour and salt.  The flowers are lightly coated with the batter, then fried in canola oil at 350°F.  You can shallow fry in a straight-sided pan (just add enough oil to come about half way up the side of the flowers) or deep fry in a pot.  Once the batter is crisp and the interior hot, maybe one minute, remove the flowers to a bowl lined with paper towel.  Season and consume immediately.

August on a plate:

Male blossoms, and some female blossoms with the nascent sqash

Squash blossoms, filled with cottage cheese and onions, battered and fried

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Burger Freak-Out

Originally published September 29, 2012.

Burger: A Sneak PeekThis summer I had a little burger freak-out.  I thought about hamburgers more in the last few months than my entire life previous, and I came to realize that, despite eating them for about twenty five years, I knew very little about them.

The following burger info will be obvious to many of you, but circumstances conspired to stunt my burger knowledge from a very young age.  For instance, the burgers I ate growing up were a bit like squished meatballs: they contained bread crumbs and eggs and were mixed to bind the ingredients together.  They were tasty and comforting, but they hampered my understanding of proper hamburger flavour and texture for years.  To aggravate the situation, I make sausages at work every week, and in days past I would often apply the same theories and practices to hamburgers.

In other words I had to unlearn everything that I thought I knew about burgers.

Let’s start at the beginning.

 

Beef.  The best burgers are made from quality beef that you’ve ground yourself.  Chuck usually forms the bulk of the mixture.  Fat is important as a source of beefy flavour and moist mouthfeel, so I usually spike the mix with a bit of brisket.  I aim for roughly 25% fat by volume.  There’s no science to this: you have to eyeball it.   I trim my chuck and brisket of all connective tissue, then give it one pass through a 1/4″ plate.  If you’re using meat from which you can’t remove all the silverskin, like shank, you’ll need at least two passes through the grinder to tenderize properly.

Of course, you can make good burgers with pre-ground meat, just make sure it’s not lean or, God forbid, extra-lean.  I’ll say it again, in case the recent E. coli outbreaks haven’t already convinced you: only buy quality beef from trusted producers!

Other Ingredients.  As I mentioned above, I grew up on homemade burgers that contained eggs and bread crumbs.  Some burger joints swear by Worcestershire and granulated garlic.  For reasons that will be discussed in the “Mixing” section below, I currently add two ingredients to my ground beef: salt and pepper.

One big way that burgers differ from sausages is salt content.  If you season a burger mix as you would a sausage mix, for some reason the burgers taste way too salty.  The right amount of salt is also important for the final texture of the patty.  Salt aids in protein-extraction, and helps bind the ground meat together.  This is something that we encourage in sausage-making, but discourage in burger-making.  Again, this will be discussed further in the “Mixing” section.  For sausages I take the weight of the meat and fat, divide by 60, and that is the amount of salt I add.  For burgers I divide by 90.  In other words my burgers have 2/3 the amount of salt that my sausages do, about 1.11% of the weight of the beef.  Even this is fairly aggressive seasoning for a burger.

If you want to taste pepper in the final patty, add 0.2% of the weight of the meat in freshly ground black pepper.

Mixing.  This is where my sausage-making background seriously affected my understanding of burgers.  Sausages are ground meat, combined with salt and water, then mixed to develop a cohesive, springy texture.  The large dose of salt helps extract proteins.  The water and the mixing develop those proteins into a strong network, very much like kneading bread.  Sausages are usually stuffed into casings.  Sausage patties are not stuffed into casings, but they are still combined with salt and water and mixed prior to shaping, so that they have the resilient texture of a sausage.

Burgers are emphatically not sausage patties, because they have not been mixed.  They have a texture all their own.  To quote Harold McGee: “the gently gathered ground beef in a good hamburger has a delicate quality quite unlike even a tender steak.”

The most critical part of burger preparation, once the right grind has been selected, is to season and shape the patties without developing a protein network.  We have lowered the amount of salt added because salt extracts protein from the meat.  We have omitted all liquids, whether egg yolks or Worcestershire sauce, to discourage protein development.  Now we must minimize mechanical agitation.

When grinding my own meat for burger mix, I add the salt and pepper to the cubed meat, before grinding.  This way the salt is evenly distributed through the grind, without my having to mix the meat and develop the protein.

Working with pre-ground meat, I add the salt and pepper, then, instead of folding and compressing the meat, I pretend I’m tossing a delicate salad.  I lift the ground meat, then let the individual strands fall between my fingers so that they don’t get pressed together.

A raw beef patty

Shaping.  Gather the desired amount of seasoned, ground beef, then gently compress it between your palms, using your fingers to maintain the round shape of the patty.

The diameter of the patty should be tailored to the diameter of the bun.  The height of the patty should be tailored to the size of the diner’s mouth.  A lot of people like tall, messy burgers that you can barely get your mouth around.  I don’t.  I find that once the bun and condiments are in play, a final patty height of 3/4″ is all I can handle comfotably.

Remember that the burger will shrink in diameter and grow in thickness as it cooks.  The raw patty should therefore a bit wider than the bun, and very thin.  I start with a patty that is 5″ across, and 1/2″ tall.  After cooking it will be 4″ across, and 3/4″ tall.

Cooking.  The cooking of hamburgers is taken very seriously.  Anthony Bourdain says to order a burger anything besides medium-rare is “un-American.”  On the other hand it is actually illegal to serve a burger anything less than well-done in Canada, though apparently a few places are doing it.

Frankly I think the whole issue is overblown.  Well-done burgers can be moist and tender, as long as they contain the right amount of fat and haven’t been over-mixed.  Medium-rare burgers are safe to eat as long as the meat as been handled properly.  I would never buy factory-raised, ground beef from a grocery store and eat it anything but well-done.  At home, using quality beef that I have cut and stored myself, I aim to cook my burgers through, but if there’s some pink meat in the middle, I don’t freak out.

If you subscribe to Bourdain’s jingo and absolutely must prepare a medium-rare burger, here’s Harold McGee’s suggested method:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, immerse the pieces of meat in the water for 30-60 seconds, then remove, drain and pat dry, and grind in a scrupulously clean meat grinder.  The blanching kills surface bacteria while overcooking only the outer 1-2 millimeters, which grinding then disperses invisibly throughout the rest of the meat.

Note that if you’re cooking a burger mid-rare, there will be less patty-shrinkage.

While there is a time and a place for cooking burgers on the barbecue, most afficianados maintain that very hot griddles or skillets are the ideal cooking surface.  These methods don’t develop the open-flame char flavours of the barbecue, but you can get a very heavy, uniform crust on the flat sides of the burger.  The crust has good flavour and a distinctive crunch.  Burger-freaks call this “burger candy.”

Bun.  My childhood burger was placed on a lean kaiser roll.  We have gone to great length to avoid developing the protein in the meat so that we have a loose, tender amalgam of beef.  If we put this burger on a kaiser bun, with its lean, glutenous chew, we have ruined dinner.

True burger buns are a bit like cake: pains have been taken to avoid the development of gluten.  Fat and sugar have been added to the recipe to interrupt gluten strands.  The batter has been mixed only to combine the ingredients, not a stroke further.  Burger buns are therefore rich, sweet, and tender.

I’ve never tried my hand at baking my own burger bun.  My understanding is that the dough is quite runny, and very hard to work with by hand.  Many joints around town use brioche batter for their burger buns.  I use commercial hamburger buns (sorry…)

Whichever bun you decide to use, show it some love and toast it.  One of the advantages of cooking your patty on a griddle or in a skillet is that you’ll have a bit of burger fat in which to fry the bun.

Condiments.  These are obviously a matter of personal taste.  My own thoughts:

Some form of tomato is necessary.  If I have fresh tomatoes, I use fresh tomatoes.  If I don’t, I use ketchup.  I don’t like using both.  If I use fresh tomatoes, I add mustard.  Raw onion and dill pickles are also required.

While I do have a soft-spot for processed cheese, I usually use gouda, Gruyere or Emmenthal for cheeseburgers.  The younger versions have better melting properties.  I find that the cheese-flavour is stronger if the slices are only partially melted.  Overheating will thin out the cheese and make it run off the burger.

Money Shot

The finished burger, top bun removed for full photographic affect

My burger, half eaten

 

Addendum: Cherry Coke

Traditionalists will argue that I’m ruining coke; locavores will say I’m ruining Evans cherries.

This is my perfect cherry Coke, the ideal accompaniment for burgers, Montreal smoked meat, and fried chicken:

 

Sources

My two main sources of burger info were Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking and Heston Blumethal’s In Search of Perfection episode on the burger, which you can watch here.

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That Scene in Ratatouille

I work in a kitchen that is built into a sort of warehouse.  It has terrible ventilation and gets stiflingly hot in the summer.  We’ve found that if we raise the large bay door in the receiving area behind the kitchen, then prop open the door in front of the kitchen, we can sometimes wrangle a decent cross-breeze to cool us down.

One hot afternoon we were running this system, and riding a beautiful cross-breeze.  So much so that the catering menus and prep lists pinned to the walls were flapping and waving at us.  I was cutting chickens at a work bench opposite another cook who was slicing fennel.  I was downwind, so to speak, and during one warm gust the anise-type aroma of the fennel hit me with the breeze.

It was a strange and swift collision of circumstances: the distinct smell of anise, the warm rushing air, and in the periphery, the fluttering papers.  I stopped working for just a moment.

~

Lisa and I arrived in the village of Dryos, on the island of Paros, after a long ferry ride that had us curing in cigarette smoke under a sweltering Mediterranean sun.  When we reached our temporary residence in the village, the sun had set, and the wind had picked up.  Our apartment adjoined a courtyard with lime trees.  We sat in the yard, and a waiter named Jack served us ouzo mixed with ice water.

I remember very distinctly the smell of the anise liqueur, the warm rushing wind, and in the periphery, the fluttering leaves of the lime orchard.

 

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Blood and Sand Cocktail

The ingredients and equipment needed to make an interesting twist on the classic Blood and Sand cocktail.This is the tedious origin story of a cocktail, or rather my version of a cocktail.

I’ll start apologetically and admit that I don’t know very much about cocktails.  I read one book about them last year (Imbibe!), and then started mixing them at home.  Probably no book has had such a deleterious effect on my liver and general health.  Anyways, I think the drink described in this post is delicious, but I acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top.  I have absolutely no idea how it would play in the real world with real bartenders and patrons.

Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail, typically composed of equal parts blended scotch, orange juice (often blood orange juice), cherry liqueur (usually Cherry Heering), and sweet vermouth.  The standard version is delicious, but through a variety of circumstances I have developed a unique take on the drink.

Last year we hosted a private dinner at Little Brick.  The organizer wanted a custom cocktail served to welcome the diners, and she knew that the guest of honour loved big, peaty Scotch.  I racked my brain, and then the internet, to try and find a list of components for the drink whimsically called “For Peat’s Sake”, one of the signature cocktails served at Three Boars in years past.  Naturally, I wanted to copy it and pass it off as my own, under a different pun-name.  My brief, private brainstorm session for a new name was pretty embarrassing.  “Peat Sampras” was the best I came up with, which doesn’t even really make sense.

Unable to find a recipe or think of a clever name, I pondered the classic scotch-based cocktails.  I could think of only two: the Rusty Nail (Scotch and Drambuie…. an acquired taste) and The Godfather (Scotch and Amaretto).  Nate knew of a third: Blood and Sand, which sounded ten times sexier than the others, so I set out to make a Blood and Sand using a smoky Scotch, instead of the usual blended Scotch.

Most of the components were pre-determined by what we had on hand: Ardbeg (very smoky), a homemade cherry liqueur which would take the place of the usual Cherry Heering, Carpano Vermouth, and a bag of navel oranges. That was the form the drink took for the event at Little Brick, and really all that made it unique was that we used an Islay peat-bomb for the Scotch, and the cherry liqueur was homemade, with local cherries.  Otherwise, it was just a Blood and Sand.

Several months later I tasted a cocktail conjured up by Nich Box at District Café.  It was called Flatbush, and one of the ingredients listed on the menu was “saline”.  In other words, a salt solution.

I don’t know why, but this absolutely blew my mind.  It’s not so weird to put salt in a cocktail, now that I’ve had time to think about it.  After all, I’ve had margaritas with salted rims, and Caesars with Clamato and Worcestershire.  Salt in a cocktail, in and of itself, is not revolutionary.  But dissolving the salt right into the drink in such a measured, purposeful way, so that the drinker can’t dance around the salt as one might do with a salt rim…  it was an epiphany, and I really really liked it.

To Make Saline.  One part kosher salt and five parts water by volume.  Heat on the stove until the salt dissolves.  This is just about the most concentrated salt solution you can make by this method.  The 1:1 and 2:1 ratios common for sugar syrup are quit impossible with salt.  I might have learned this in a grade eight science class.  I had to relearn it when making saline.

The first drink that I tried at home with a touch of saline was the Blood and Sand.  Now, most people find the campfire-smoke flavour of Ardbeg too much to begin with, so by adding something as distinctive and unusual as salt, this is admittedly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

The drink tastes of salty, smoky cherries.  If you’ve ever had the salty preserved plums at a Chinese grocery store, you can imagine what this tastes like.  It’s peculiar, but delicious.  And I especially love that the hint of salinity puts the “blood” into the Blood and Sand.

Certainly not something that I would drink everyday, but still, a synthesis of which I’m rather proud.  In fact, I keep having this daydream in which I am a barkeep and maybe have tatoos, and someone comes in and asks for something that tastes utterly unique and unlike anything they’ve had before.  This is what I serve them in that fantasy.

 

Blood and Sand Cocktail, Button Soup-Style

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Ardbeg Scotch (or another suitably smoky Scotch from an Islay producer)
  • 1 oz Carpano Vermouth (or another suitably prestigious sweet, red vermouth)
  • 1 oz homemade cherry liqueur, preferably made from Evans cherries (or Cherry Herring, or another suitably delicious cherry liqueur)
  • 1 oz Navel orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 tsp saline solution (see description above)

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients on ice.  Stir swiftly until thoroughly chilled, about 20 seconds.
  2. This is where I might belie my ignorance of the cocktail craft.  I think the Blood and Sand is usually served “up”, ie. without ice.  I almost always take all of my cocktails, event classic “uppers” like a Manhattan, on ice.  Likewise for this number.
  3. Garnish with orange peel and sour cherry.

 

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River City Kir

cider_cherry_liqueur_2.JPGSparkling hard apple cider with a splash of cherry liqueur: something so simple shouldn’t need a complicated origin story.

[Pauses awkwardly, before rapidly relating a complicated origin story]

A Kir is a French cocktail, a glass of white wine with a bit of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).  There are a number of common variations.  The Kir Royal, for instance, uses Champagne instead of still white wine.  The Kir Breton uses hard cider.  So this most recent invention was inspired by the Kir Breton.

I’ve tentatively titled this drink the River City Kir.  I’m open to other suggestions.  This is the first cocktail I tried with my homemade cherry liqueur.  It’s a knockout.  My cider is bone dry, and quite tart, so it takes the sweetness of the liqueur beautifully.  And the colour is fantastic.

I can see the River City Kir becoming my house apéritif for the summer months.

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Homemade Cherry Liqueur

cherry_liqueur.JPGIn retrospect this is a pretty straight-forward homemade cherry liqueur, but it was actually inspired by a drink from Normandy called pommeau.  To make pommeau, Normans combine two parts fresh apple juice with one part Calvados (apple brandy), then age the resulting mixture in barrels for several months before bottling.  You can purchase this traditional, aged pommeau at fine liquor stores, but fresh pommeau made with just-pressed cider and consumed without barrel-aging has become one of my favourite parts of the cider season.

This formula (two parts fresh juice, one part spirit made from that juice) occurs in a number of other places.  Pineau de Charentes is another famous example, made with grape must and Cognac.

So I wondered if the same could be done with our local cherries.  I ran fresh Evans cherries through a food mill to make a viscous juice, added a bit of white sugar, then mixed in Kirsch, which is pure cherry distillate.  Not having any local cherry spirit, I used Hugel Kirsch, from Alsace.

The liqueur is the very essence of sour cherry.  It is supremely well-balanced, the bright acidity of the raw cherry juice mellowed by the sugar.  While delicious on its own, it reminded me a great deal of the Danish liqueur Cherry Heering, which suggests that this homemade cherry liqueur is probably useful in mixed drinks.

Hm…

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Boning Out Rabbit

In my experience rabbit is usually hatcheted into quarters and saddle, as described (and lamented) in this post.

One year Lisa and I were in Piedmont in northwestern Italy in September, and it seemed that every restaurant was serving rabbit, and all of them had boned-out the entire animal, then rolled it into a cylinder and braised it, usually in Nebbiolo wine.  It’s a beautiful, thoughtful way to prepare the animal.  At first it didn’t make sense to me: I was hung up on theoretics, asking ridiculous questions like, “Won’t the tiny, slender loin get over-cooked before he belly tenderizes?”  This might be true of pork, but I can tell you from empirical study that it is not an issue with rabbit.

So: To Bone a Rabbit.

Make an incision along the breast bone.  Remove the flesh from the breast by following the rib cage from the breastbone to the underside of the foreleg.  Bend the foreleg up as you go.

Boning rabbit: removing meat from the breast

Continue to remove the meat from the rib cage, moving down the rabbit, folding the meat up and away from you.  Once you have removed the meat form the last rib you will then be at the belly flap.  Fold this up and away from you as well.

Bend the hind leg up and away from you.  Snap and cut through the joint where the thigh and hip meet.

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Carefully remove the loin from the backbone.  At this point you have removed half of all the meat from the main body.

Flip the rabbit and repeat all these steps to the other side.  The meat should only be connected to the skeleton in one place, a line along the top of the rabbit’s backbone.

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Remove the last connections at the top of the spine.  At this point you have a relatively uniform sheet of meat, but the fore- and hind-legs still contain bones.

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There’s no trick to removing these bones: make small cuts following the bones as closely as possible.

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You now have an entire rabbit sans bones.  Season assertively with salt, pepper, and herbs.  You can roll the entire thing into one large spiral, or your can roll each side in towards the centre to achieve a double-scroll, with the two loins protected in by the centre of each roll.

Braise this little bundle in red wine.  The meat will be tender in only a couple hours.

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