Butcher’s Cake

A slice of butcher's cake with a dollop of crème fraîche and a salad.I’ll mention right off the hop that this concept is from the brain of Emmanuel (Manu) Thériault.  He might have made this when he was at Woodwork, but I’m not sure.  He calls it “Butcher’s Cake”.  He told me about it and I think it’s one of the most brilliant food ideas I’ve heard in a very long time.

Part of the reason I am so enamored with butcher’s cake is because I work in a sandwich shop. When you work in a sandwich shop, you have at least three significant sources of possible waste.  The first is bread.  Bread is a problem ingredient because it has such short shelf life.  It can be difficult to maintain fresh inventory, and some bread invariably gets stale before it can be used.

The other potential sources of waste are meat and cheese ends.  When using a commercial meat slicer, the last inch of a roast or block of cheese is difficult to get through the slicer without putting your fingers at risk.  For some items you might not even want to slice and serve the outermost part.  For a roast or a ham, the very end is often harder, smokier, and generally less succulent that the rest of the meat.

Ham endsThis butcher’s cake is an ingenious and delicious preparation that uses all these waste products.  It is basically a savoury bread pudding studded with little chunks of cured meat and cheese.  I use trim pieces from ham, salami, mortadella, roast beef, even prosciutto and speck.  Of course, if you don’t work in a sandwich shop you can use plain old ham and cheese; there’s no reason it needs to be the trim or waste.

When Emmanuel told me his idea I knew immediately how I could go about making it: by adding chopped meat and cheese to Serviettenknödel, the Austrian bread dumplings discussed here.  I’ve found that a bit of black pepper and chopped herbs like parsley and rosemary are a nice addition.

Butcher’s cake makes a fantastic lunch, especially when served with with a refreshing salad.  I have a sneaking suspicion it would also be good for breakfast (bread, egg, milk, ham, cheese…. sounds like a breakfast pastry to me.)

Thanks, Manu!

 

 

Butcher’s Cake
Concept by Emmanuel Thériault
Recipe by Allan Suddaby

Ingredients

  • 8 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 lbs stale bread
  • 1 lb cured meat ends, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz cheese ends, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Combine the whole eggs, yolks, melted butter, milk, and salt in a large measuring cup.  Whisk thoroughly until eggs are completely incorporated.
  2. Put the bread, meat, cheese, herbs, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands until all the milk has been absorbed by the bread.
  3. Move the mixture to the fridge for one hour.  This will give the liquid ingredients time to fully soak into the bread.
  4. Butter a large casserole dish.  Lightly press the soaked bread mixture to the casserole.  If you like you can top the bread with more grated cheese and herbs at this time.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior is cooked and the exterior is golden brown and crispy, maybe 50-60 minutes.
  6. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Yield: Butcher’s Cake for about 12 people

A casserole of butcher's cake, fresh out of the oven.

 

Schmalzfleisch

Mixing cured meat and lard to make SchmalzfleischSchmalzfleisch is one of the staple Aufstriche (spreads) at an Austrian Heuriger.  If that sentence made absolutely no sense to you, read this post before proceeding.

Schmalzfleisch literally means “fat-meat”.  It is one of several dishes Austrians have developed to use up irregular scraps of cured meat, like the very end of a ham that can’t quite be passed through the meat slicer.

The process for making Schmalzfleisch is simple: pieces of cured meat are ground, then mixed with rendered lard to form a cohesive paste that can be spread on bread.  Traditionally cured meat and fat are the only two ingredients.  I like to add a touch of mustard for balancing acidity.

If you grew up in eastern Canada and spent any time in a church basement, you’re probably familiar with minced ham.  Schmalzfleisch is similar to minced ham, only it is bound with lard instead of mayonnaise.

 

Schmalzfleisch

Master Ratio – 3:1 ground cured meat, lard

Ingredients

  • 240 g leftover charcuterie (see Note below)
  • 80 g warm lard
  • 8 g mustard

Procedure

  1. Cube the charcuterie and grind once through a 1/4″ plate.  Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Add the warm lard and mustard to the bowl and mix briefly with the paddle attachment, until the ingredients are combined and the ground charcuterie has formed a spread.
  3. Transfer to serving dish, garnish with chives.  Consume on light rye bread.

Note:  “Ham-type” charcuterie, ie. pork that has been brine-cured and cooked, works best.  A small amount of air-dried meat like salami can be used, but not more than 1/4 of the total weight.  Fresh (un-cured) cooked meat like pork chops and roast beef give the mixture a mushy texture and should be used sparingly.

Yield: 320 g schmalzfleisch

A ramekin of Schmalzfleisch

Cornbread Stuffing and Cornbread Pudding

A casserole of cornbread stuffingIn the extremely unlikely case that you have leftover cornbread that is a couple days old and a bit too dry to be enjoyed, you have two choices.

Look deep into the tepid pond of your soul and ask, sweet or savoury?

If the response comes back sweet, you make cornbread pudding.  If the answer is savoury, you make cornbread stuffing.

Leftover cornbread and the dishes made therefrom are quite different than stale bread and its children.  As cornbread is a quick bread, the baker went out of his or her way to avoid gluten development, and no doubt added sugar and fat in the form of butter or buttermilk or sour cream.  This kept the fresh cornbread tender, but it now makes the dried cornbread extremely crumbly.

In my post about traditional stuffing I discuss a textural continuum.  On one end is the loosely-bound style in which the individual bread pieces tumble over each other, and on the other is the highly-bound style in which the bread is moistened and mixed into a cohesive paste.  Cornbread stuffing is always highly bound, because as soon as you drop the bread into the pot, it disintegrates into a very fine meal.  In fact to make cornbread stuffing is almost like reverting the cornbread back to its elemental cornmeal, and then remaking it.  Think of it as a phoenician rebirth.[1]

Moisture in the from of milk or stock, in conjunction with eggs, helps reform the crumbs into a cohesive, sliceable dressing.

The stuffing is very close to the original bread, only a bit more moist, and a bit eggier, but with the same characteristic granular texture.

Cornbread Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 7 oz sliced onions
  • 5 oz sliced red bell peppers
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried summer savoury
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 20 oz stale cornbread (preferably this cornbread)
  • 4 oz smoked pork stock (or any type of stock, really…)
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Add the onion, peppers, salt, herbs and spices.  Sweat over medium heat until the onions and peppers have become limp.
  2. Crumble the stale cornbread into the pot.  Add the stock and mix until the cornbread starts to come together.
  3. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool briefly.  Beat in the eggs.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole and bake at 375°F until the interior has set.  If the top is not quite crusty enough, give the casserole a pass under the broiler.

 

For cornbread pudding, forgo the onions, peppers, herbs, and spices; replace the stock with cream or milk; add a handful of sugar.

Cornbread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 20 oz stale cornbread
  • 4 oz heavy cream or whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Heat a pot of water on the stove.
  2. Whisk the eggs together.
  3. Crumble the stale cornbread into a large bowl.  Add the cream and whisked eggs and mix until the cornbread starts to form a cohesive paste.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole or terrine.  Set the dish into a large roasting tray.  Pour the hot water from the stove into the roaster to make a hot bath for the casserole.  Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior of the pudding has just set.
  5. Once cool, the pudding is best served by slicing and pan-frying.  Consume with poached apples, whisky caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream.  And maybe reserve the peels from your apples and gently fry them until they’re crisp and crumble them on top.  As below.

Cornbread pudding with poached apples, vanilla ice cream, and whisky caramel sauce

 

1. I started to write “phoenix-like,” but then “phoenician” came to mind.  Perhaps “phoenician,” with no capitalization, can be used to mean “of or pertaining to a phoenix,” as in the mythical creature?  Or can it only mean “of or pertaining to the ancient nation of Phoenicia”?

Stuffing, or Dressing

A casserole of Thanksgiving stuffing, or dressingI say this without exaggeration: I hold stuffing as one of the greatest culinary traditions of the New World.  I know the British and French and many others make similar dishes, but stuffing, or dressing, is an indispensable dish for the Thanksgiving table.  Technically it is an accompaniment to the turkey.  I often have to remind myself of this.

So.  What is stuffing?  Stuffing is bread.  As the name implies, it was originally crammed into the cavity of poultry, absorbing the juice and fat exuded from the bird during cooking.  While this method is still common in Canadian homes, it is giving way to “stuffing” that is prepared in a casserole instead of a bird.  There are two reasons for this trend.  Most importantly: even a bird as large as a turkey cannot accommodate the volume of stuffing that is required to sate the appetite of the typical North American family.  Also, by the time the stuffing cooks through the surrounding meat is overcooked and dry.

Making stuffing in a casserole solves these problems, but the cook needs to find a way to get turkey flavour into the dish, which is why I cut up my raw bird and make stock from the carcass a day or two before Thanksgiving.

Flavour.  Essential flavours: poultry stock or jus, onion, celery, and herbs, especially sage, thyme, rosemary, and savoury.  I recommend deeply toasting the bread before moistening it with the poultry essence.

Texture.  Though stuffing is made in almost every home in North America, in my experience no two stuffings are the same.  There is in fact a broad stuffing continuum.  On one end are the highly bound stuffings which have a relatively high moisture content, and have been worked so that the bread becomes a cohesive paste.  This form of stuffing resembles an Austrian Knödel in texture.  (In a strictly academic sense I consider stuffing to be a type of dumpling, though few North Americans would recognize it as such.)

On the other end of the spectrum the stuffing has much less moisture and is not bound at all, but is crumbly, with the individual cubes of bread falling over each other.

All stuffings are located at some point on this spectrum, and a diner’s preference has a lot to do with the style that his mother made when he was young.  Some of the most impassioned conversations I’ve had about food have revolved around stuffing, and which style is best.

I think that most of the recipes my friends cook at home were written in the last twenty years, and were gleaned from glossy cookbooks and television shows.  Stuffing is one of the few recipes that people still learn from their moms.  And for some reason it almost never appears on restaurant menus.  Most comfort foods have been co-opted by even the fanciest restaurants (think: truffled mac and cheese…), but stuffing has escaped this fate, for now.  This is a special dish.

 

Stuffing

 

Lisa’s Turkey Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 qt whole wheat bread, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 2 cups bacon lardons
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • a small fistful of fresh marjoram or oregano, minced
  • a small fistful of parsley, minced
  • a small fistful of sage, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups turkey stock
  • salt

Procedure

  1. Render bacon until crispy.  Remove from pot.  Sautée mushrooms in fat until browned.  Remove from pot.
  2. Add butter, the remaining vegetables, and the paprika and sautée until the onions are just turning translucent.
  3. Return the bacon and mushrooms to the pot.  Add the bread and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the hot turkey stock and mix well.  Cover and cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until bread cubes have broken down.  Slow cooking and frequent stirring are the keys for this cohesive style of stuffing.  Add the herbs for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  5. Transfer to a buttered casserole and chill.  To serve, bake casserole in a 425°F until the top of the stuffing is crisp, about 15-20 minutes.

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

It’s amazing how a dish that is considered boring, almost proverbially boring, can be so good when it’s made properly.

Yes, chicken salad is boring when you buy it in a tub.  But when you have the cold leftovers of a properly roasted bird, and thick, homemade mayonnaise, nothing beats the clean flavours of a chicken salad sandwich.

Sure, the chicken skin is no longer crisp, but it’s still tender and salty. Besides, the crispiness comes from the celery.

And the round creaminess of the mayo is spiked with raw onion, and black pepper, and vinegar, and herbs.

It’s good when the leftovers are as coveted as the original dish.

Leftover chicken

Making the chicken salad

The finished chicken salad on toast, with tomatoes and lettuce

Cottage Cheese

I’m starting my foray into cheese-making with a few simple, fresh cheeses. First I’d like to cover the basics.


Cottage cheese, mixed with wilted spinachCheese: A Blunt Introduction

Cheese is curdled dairy. “Curdling” is the coagulation of proteins. In cheese-making, heat, acid, and certain enzymes are used to coagulate the major protein in dairy, casein. Subjecting dairy to heat and acid or enzymes (or both) will separate the mixture into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds contain most of the protein, fat, and nutrients of the original dairy product. From an anthropological perspective, the principle benefit of cheese-making is that most of the energy and nutrients of the milk are solidified into a longer-lasting, easily-transported mass (that happens to taste amazing).

The whey, while mostly water, does retain a small part of the fat, protein, and nutrients, which brings us to today’s project: cottage cheese.

Cottage Cheese v. Ricotta

Ricotta cheese is made from the whey produced in the making of other cheeses. The word actually means “recooked”. The most famous example is ricotta romana, which was once made from the whey of a hard ewe’s-milk cheese called pecorino. Later in the week I hope to have the whey from a few fresh cheeses, at which time I can try a traditional ricotta. In the meantime I am using whole milk, which to my understanding makes this cottage cheese.

Speaking of which, this is a fantastic way to extend the life of a milk surplus.

Cottage Cheese

Master Ratio – 4:1 whole milk, buttermilk

Ingredients

  • 4 L whole milk
  • 1 L full fat buttermilk

Procedure

  1. Combine the milk and buttermilk in a large, stainless steel, heavy-bottomed pot.  Place on the stove over medium-high heat.
  2. Periodically stir the milk and scrape the bottom of the pot with a rubber spatula to prevent scorching.
  3. Once the milk has separated into curds and whey, remove from the heat and let stand at least 15 minutes.
  4. Line a colander with cheese cloth and strain the mixture to separate the curds and whey.

Yield: roughly 1.5 L cottage cheese

The finished product had an exceptionally clean, mild taste. While the curd formed the characteristic granular clumps, it had a very smooth mouthfeel. Not rich or creamy, really, but smooth.

A bowl of fresh cottage cheese