Tahiti lime pie (or key lime pie if you’ve got key limes)

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baking / dessert / recipe

I never made key lime pie before. I don’t know why, it just never popped up on my radar… ’til this past weekend when I made one for Thanksgiving. Well, that and I’m not a big fan of the huge meringue topping normally associated with these pies. But this one is sans meringue. I made a quick and easy Tahiti lime pie (not key lime pie, because I couldn’t find any). I’m sure it would taste different using key limes, which do have more aroma, and are more acidic. But here it is.

Firstly the crust, which is made of Graham crackers, but could just as easily be made of (British) digestive biscuits, crumbed sugar cones, or maybe even cornflakes? Turn the oven on to 350°F.

100g butter, melted
2 cups Graham crackers
¼ cup superfine sugar
¼ tsp. salt

Turn the crackers into crumbs, and place in a large bowl with the sugar and salt. Mix in the melted butter, until well combined. Place the crumb mixture into a 9″ pie dish, and press down using a fork, up to the rim of the dish. Bake this for about 10 minutes, remove from the oven, and allow to cool.

Now onto the filling:

1-1½ tbsp. fresh lime zest
3 egg yolks
1 can (300g) sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup lime juice

Whip together the lime zest and egg yolks in a bowl (I did this with a whisk for about two minutes). Then add the condensed milk, and mix for another 3 minutes (I swapped to the Bamix here). Finally add the lime juice, and mix. Pour the lime mixture into the crust. Now the interesting part of this is that the combination of the egg yolk, condensed milk, and lime juice causes the filling to thicken without any baking. We do bake the pie for 15 minutes though, just because we are using raw egg yolks. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 30 minutes before refrigerating for at least 3 hours.

Once set, the pie can easily be removed from the dish. Serve with whipped cream, or just by itself, it’s soooo good.

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Norway Trip (xiv) : Food

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food / travel / vacation

Norway’s food is good. The food, like much of what can be found in Nordic countries, is wholesome, and of course the seafood is fresh. Norway’s national diet harks back to its days as a poor country, with a focus on preserving fish and meats in salt, lots of potatoes and simple sauces. There is of course, *lots* of seafood – from tiny shrimp salad to pre-fried fish cakes.

When we went to Bergen, we stayed at an AirBnB for five nights, which allowed us to cook some nights (and have breakfast at home). This meant shopping! We shopped at REMA 1000, which seems to be a popular grocery store. While not super large, shopping in Norway was better than both Denmark and Iceland. Prices aren’t terrible, but some things just cost more.

Like Copenhagen and Reykjavik, there seem to be few independent butchers or cheese shops. There are some greengrocers about, usually attached to shops that sell more ethnic groceries. In Oslo, the more gourmet end of the spectrum can be found in Mathallen Oslo, the food hall in Grünerløkka. There you can find butchers like Annis Pølsemakeri. A bit further north of Mathallen Oslo is another butcher, Strøm-Larsen. (These are suppose to be the best independent butcher shops in the city).

For basic food there are hundreds of convenience stores. Here are some costs from basic foodstuffs:

– 500g Yoghurt NOK 18.90 (C$3.00)
– 4 pack Coca Cola  NOK 49.90 (C$7.90)
– 750g Muesli NOK 49.90 (C$7.90)
– 1L lactose-free milk NOK 33.40 (C$5.30)
– 1L apple juice NOK 13.90 (C$2.20)
– small yoghurt NOK 12.90 (C$2.00)
– pack of fusilli pasta NOK 6.20 (C$1.00)
– bananas NOK 25/kg (C$4/kg)

There were also some amazing pastries: Norwegian pancakes, Skillingsbolle (cinnamon buns), pastries, and a classic Norwegian “Skuffekake”.

Cider fish pie

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baking / cooking / fish pie / pie / recipe

There are numerous fish pies in the world of baking. This is one I made last year for the “night of pies” (cider fish pie, chicken and leek pot pie, Guinness pie). It can be made with any white fish, and salmon, and the shrimp could be swapped out for a smoked fish, like hot smoked salmon. It’s easy to make.

Chicken and leek, Guinness, and Cider fish pie

filling:
750ml fish stock or water
400g white fish (haddock, cod)
250g salmon, or Arctic char
200g raw, peeled med. shrimp (sustainable)
1 large onion, diced 
60g butter

sauce:
50g butter
50g flour
500ml cider
175ml cream
1 tbsp. mustard
3 tbsp. capers (optional)

lid:
1kg mashing potatoes
100g butter
milk, fresh herbs, e.g. parsley, dill
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, gently warm the fish stock, and then add the white fish and salmon to poach. Near the end, add the shrimp. As an alternative, all the seafood could be sous vide (this has the benefit of not overcooking it). Next slowly sauté the onion in the butter.

The sauce is basically a white-sauce made with cider and cream. For the sauce, melt the 50g butter in  heavy-based saucepan, then turn off the heat and stir in the flour. Once thoroughly mixed, turn the heat back on and cook for 1 minute, forming a smooth roux. Gradually stir in the cider, and whisk until smooth. It should not be too thick at this point, simmer on low for 5-7 min, add the cream, and simmer for 10 minutes more until it starts to thicken (you want a sauce consistency, that is able to coat all the filling, too thick and the pie might seem dry). Stir in the mustards and allow to cool for 5-10 min.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Mix the poached fish, shrimp, sautéed onions and capers in with the sauce, spoon into a pie dish (rectangular, 8″×10″?). Make the mash potatoes, using a ricer or mouli to process the potatoes. You can add more butter if you wish. Top the pie with the mashed potatoes, and baked until golden brown, about 30-40 min.

These pies are fairly free-form, in that you can add lobster if you like, or just use salmon, whatever takes your fancy. The capers add a nice bite of saltiness to the pie, although one could also add some vegetables, like spinach, or sautéed fennel. The basic pie is actually all cooked before it goes in the oven, that’s really just to brown the mash potatoes… which you could also swap for puff-pastry if you like.

Which frying pan to buy?

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cooking / kitchen tool

Buying a frying pan (or skillet) can be a daunting task. I have bought a number of them over the years, from inexpensive commercial kitchen pans, to Swiss Diamond, and WOLL. Mostly non-stick, and here-in lies the problem. The companies that manufacture these pans usually use some sort of hard materials like titanium, or diamond in their marketing, but they are still based on the use of PTFE, with Teflon being the most famous PTFE. Now PTFE isn’t suppose to be toxic, but at a certain (high) temperatures it starts breaking down. Now I’m over synthetic coatings, because it doesn’t matter how much you pay for the pan, or how “tough” the pans surface is suppose to be, they all end up with small chips. So what pan to buy, in a life-time-of-use sort of way?

The options other than synthetic non-stick are quite extensive, although many people tend to avoid them because they often require some work, i.e. seasoning. The gamut of pans is normally split between cast iron, and steel pans. Cast iron pans had their heyday in the early 20th century with brands like Vollrath, Wagner and Griswold. These pans are well sought after in the used market. Unfortunately they were put on the wayside by the like of aluminum and steel cookware. Recently however there has been a resurgence in the use of cast iron, which has lead to the appearance of a number of handcrafted cast-iron manufacturers. An alternative to cast iron, is carbon steel – lighter, and more robust pans. The difference? Carbon steel is 99% iron to 1% carbon, whereas cast iron is 97-98% steel to 2-3% carbon, the extra carbon making it more brittle. Cast iron pans are made by casting, carbon steel pans by cutting and pressing.

Here is a list I have compiled of the best known manufacturers in both cast iron and carbon steel (not including enamelled cast iron manufacturers such as Staub or Le Creuset) :

Smithey Ironware Co. – cast iron skillets (South Carolina, USA)
FINEX – cast iron dutch ovens, skillets, frying pans (Oregon, USA)
Willow Creek Forge – carbon steel frying pans (Alberta, Canada)
Field Company – cast iron skillets (USA)
BLŪ Skillet Ironware – carbon steel pans, small-batch, pans sold through lottery (Washington State)
Lodge Cast Iron – inexpensive cast iron (USA)
Solid Teknics – wrought iron pans (Australia)
Stargazer – cast iron skillets (USA)
de Buyer – iron fry pan (France)
Mauviel – carbon steel frying pans (France)
Butter Pat Industries – cast iron skillets (Maryland, USA)
Victoria Cookware – cast iron skillets (Columbia)
Blanc Creatives – carbon steel cookware (Virginia, USA)

To get a sense of the basic information on these, I have put together some information in the table below:

Some of these pans are cheaper than others, but that doesn’t make them any less useful. In some respects pans like those from Lodge have a rougher surface, than say those from Butter Pat Industries, whose surface has been ground down to a fine finish. Obviously I don’t have the facility to test them out, but I do suggest looking at reviews, like this recent one from Gear Patrol. They chose the Butter Pat 10″ pan as the best “all-round cast-iron skillet”, due in part to the smoothness of the cooking surface.

Some notes:

◊ Some come pre-seasoned, and others need seasoning – here is a good article on the chemistry of cast-iron seasoning.
◊ If you are looking for information of vintage Canadian cast iron, check out Cast Iron Canada.
◊ Avoid cooking things like scrambled eggs, and fish in cast iron pans (and even carbon steel pans unless they are well seasoned).
◊ Here’s another article on Cooking in Carbon Steel, from Cook’s Illustrated.

A Norwegian apple cake – Eplekake

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British baking / cake / Nordic

The Eplekake is a classic Norwegian apple cake, ideal for the fall, when apples come into season. Eple is Norwegian for apple, and they seem to have a long history in Norway. In 1903 a well preserved Viking ship from circa AD 820 was found in Oseberg, Norway. The archeological finds included four highly decorated sleighs, a wooden cart, three beds and a bunch of wooden chests. Also included was a bucket made of yew, containing wild apples. Apples of course are one of the ideal fall fruits – they can be baked, fried, boiled, or dehydrated. This is an exceptionally easy cake to make and I’m going to try and bake a few versions of this cake over the next few months.

Ingredients

 1½ cup  general purpose flour
 1½ tsp  baking powder
  ¼ tsp  salt
  ½ tsp  ground cinnamon
  1 cup  brown sugar
    85g  butter, melted
  ¾ cup  buttermilk
      2  eggs
  1 tsp  vanilla extract
    1-2  apples
 1 tbsp  cinnamon sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Take a 8″ cake tin, butter and flour the sides, and put a parchment on the bottom.

2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples (I use Granny Smith, or Royal Gala).

3. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. (I tend to use powdered buttermilk because it is easy to make and doesn’t require me to buy a litre of buttermilk). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones slowly.

4. Pour the cake batter into the cake tin, place the sliced apples on top, and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over.

5. Bake for 30-35min, until the cake is golden brown, and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake rest for 5-10 minutes in the pan before removing. Serve with cream, or even custard.

 

The usefulness of the mouli

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cooking / kitchen tool

One of the most useful tools in my kitchen is the mouli. Also known as a food mill, or passe-vite, it’s designed to sieve fruit and vegetables. The design is very simple, with three parts: a bowl, a sieve plate, and a crank with a partial auger (which makes it is easy to dismantle and clean). The crank handle drives a spiral auger-type plate that pushes food through a plate pierced with holes. The “holey” sieve plates are interchangeable with varying sized holes. The food mill does less damage to the cellular structure of food, because food is squeezed through holes rather than cut.

The classic mouli.

The first food mill was invented by the French company Moulinex, which was started by Jean Mantelet in 1932. The Moulinette vegetable mill was introduced at the Lyon Fair in 1932. The company was originally called Société d’Etudes Chimie et Méchanique, and wasn’t changed to Moulinex until 1957. Mantelet also deigned a number of other products including a nutcracker (Mouli-Noix), vegetable scraper (Mouli-Râpe), and salt grinder (Mouli-Sel). He received a US patent for a “masher” in 1933, and a subsequent patent for an improved version “pressure-sieve” in 1936.

A small plastic bowled mouli, and a larger metal mouli, showing the graduated sieves.

The mouli is best for pureeing soft foods like tomatoes, or producing exceptional mashed potatoes, or apple sauce. Using the finer sieve plate, it’s possible to puree fruit with the skin still on, the skin will be retained in the upper portion of the mouli. The finest sieve plate is able to puree tomatoes without seeds, or skins passing through the sieve. Why go through the process of de-seeding and skinning a tomato? From experience, a mouli also makes the *best* mashed potatoes, partially because it results in less gluten development.

Making apple sauce.

Tomato puree the easy way.

 

Eating indigenously – at Kū-Kŭm Kitchen

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indigenous food / restaurant

Last week we ate out at a local indigenous restaurant, Kū-Kŭm Kitchen. Eating here is an experience every Canadian should have, and we are lucky to have such a fine restaurant a mere 10 minutes walk away. Now this restaurant is different because the ingredients are not what people are use to eating, per se. On the menu are ingredient such as seal loin, caribou, venison, and Pemmican. We started with wild rice salad, and Pemmican as appetizers. The wild rice salad was very refreshing, and a good accompaniment to the Pemmican.

Wild rice salad with berries and roasted beets.

Pemmican is traditionally a high-energy food made of dried meat, fat, and berries – in this case made with blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries. It was served with toasted bannock, and was an interesting taste sensation – it had a rough texture, and needed to be carved out of the ramekin using a knife.

Pemmican

For mains I had the seal loin, and it was awesome. This was not my first encounter with seal meat – I tried it on vacation on Îles de la Madeleine some years ago, and at Manitoba in Montreal. So… it was not a new taste for me, although considering that it is not that common, it is always an indulgence. Note that seal meat garners a lot of controversy, as does the sustainable harvesting of caribou, and deer. Any of these game meats are traditional indigenous foods, and from the perspective of nutrition, seal meat is phenomenal – with less than 2% fat, and super high in protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Seal loin and beets.

For dessert I ordered the sweet grass creme brulee. Now sweet grass is an aromatic herb found in both North America and Eurasia. I like the way a classic French dish has been infused with a native ingredient. My wife and daughter shared the pine needle sorbet, which has quite an astringent taste (I ended up finishing it). It is different, and that’s the whole point. One could opt to do many traditional types of dishes, but one can also push the envelope a bit and create new dishes, taking influences from other food cultures.

Pine needle sorbet.

Montreal – a gastronomic adventure (part 2)

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Montreal / restaurant

On the final night we ate at Liverpool House, at the bar. This place is busier than a bee-hive, and the bar is a great place to watch the action unfold. Oysters are shucked as needed at the bar, and again you get to see what others have ordered before you. This is about people watching and food. There is a good balance of seafood and meat, and from what we were told by others, has dishes very similar to Joe Beef (for those, like us, who couldn’t get a booking there). The house specialty is a rich lobster spaghetti, which I had last time… and I mean lobster spaghetti, with a good amount of lobster. This time around I started with the Breakfast sandwich, which is essentially a great vehicle for a slice of foie gras, more than anything else. IT WAS AWESOME. I followed this up with the half-rabbit, on a bed of sautéed vegetables and spatzli. Lastly a watermelon sorbet on base of pickled watermelon, and finished with cream. A great way to cut through the richness of the appetizer and main. John had the eel salad, followed by the lobster spaghetti, and the Basque tart for dessert.

Breakfast sandwich (top), rabbit loin, and lobster spaghetti (bottom)

Montreal has hundreds of good places to eat. Some require you to forage a little further away from the comfort zones of tourist Montreal. The places we eat aren’t heuty-tauty type places, they are welcoming, down-to-earth establishments where people care about serving good food, with exceptional service. For those looking for “lighter” fare, I highly recommend Manitoba, a restaurant on Mile-End. They have adventurous fare like venison, and seal. The atmosphere is more industrial-chic, as the restaurant is in an industrial area, but the service is great, and one can also sit at the bar and kitchen-watch. I had two plates – the seal (seal, buckwheat, smoked butter, mint, day lily) and the beef (mushrooms and potatoes).

The seal, and the beef.

Want more of a sweet adventure? There are numerous places to eat good patisserie, I mean it *is* Montreal. Top of my list include the likes of Patrice Pâtissier, Butterblume, and Mamie Clafoutis.

Butterblume cookie and awesome patisserie from Mamie Clafoutis.

 

Montreal – a gastronomic adventure (part 1)

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Montreal / restaurant

With the dying vestiges of August, me and my buddy John found ourselves heading east for a gastronomic adventure in Montreal. This trip really was all about food, but for me it was just as much an Anthony Bourdain pilgrimage. We had three reservations, and the Airbnb we stayed at just happened to be above Liverpool House. The first night we dined at Foiegwa, the foie gras kingdom near Atwater Market. This was followed by a booking at Au Pied du Cuchon (or PDC for short) on night two, and Liverpool House on the final night (because despite trying we still couldn’t get into Joe Beef). We interspersed this with some cafes (is Olimpico really that good?). Look, we survived, but just barely.

Note that if you don’t like gluttony, I wouldn’t read any further. This was an exceptional experience which we don’t do that often. But if you are in Montreal, these restaurants offer a true rendition of what Quebec, and Canadian cuisine has to offer.

This was our first time at Foiegwa – I had wanted to go another time, but they only take bookings for two, and no one under 18. On the flip-side it is open until 2am. The restaurant is deceptively small, from outside it just looks large because of the wall of mirrors inside. It has a diner style menu, where foie gras can be added to *anything* for $9.95. The atmosphere is great, and the food is awesome.  I had the zucchini flower stuffed with foie gras for an appetizer, a fried chicken for entree, and apple tarte tatin with vanilla creme fraîche for dessert.

Stuffed zucchini, fried chicken, and tarte tatin.

Our second night was at PDC. This was my third visit. Now Bourdain’s 2006 episode on No Reservations that introduced me to the food of Martin Picard. The first time my wife and I went we sat at the counter, watching the kitchen. Now PDC is not for the faint-of-heart, and what I mean by this is that portions are generous, and the food is rich. This is not a tasting-menu kind of place. We could tell there were a lot of newbies eating there, likely people who had watched No Reservations, or maybe The Layover. Many ordered the ubiquitous “Duck in a Can“, which is exactly what it sounds like, a duck breast cooked with foie gras, and various other vegetables in a can. It is served with a ceremonious can opening, and then turned upside down on a plate. From the minute it lands on the plate, you know full well that many a diner is overwhelmed.  I have both Picard’s cookbooks – and likely would never even try to cook most of the food in them – better to leave that to the professionals.

The food is rich, but that means one has to think a little before ordering. Servers suggest ordering family style, and if your party is 3-4 people, I would (strongly) heed their advice. Dishes like the boudine and foie gras tart are *heavy*, and anything with the word “shank” in it will not be a light dish. John made the mistake of mishearing “pork shank and risotto” as lamb shank and was surprised when the dish arrived. To his credit he finished the pork shank (with a tiny bit of help). We shared two starters. The first was Cromesquis de Foie gras, which basically translates to croquettes of foie gras. These exploded as you bit into them. The second appetizer was Plogue a Champlain. This is basically a small buckwheat pancake, layered with melted cheese, roasted fingerling potatoes, bacon, all topped with a slab of seared foie gras and drizzled with maple syrup. Did I mention how awesome this was?

Cromesquis de Foie gras and Plogue a Champlain (top); Quenelle and Pork shank with risotto  (bottom)

For the main I had the Quenelle made with sturgeon. It is hard to describe how tasty this was. John had the pork shank and risotto – a *whole* pork shank accompanied by an uber-rich cheese risotto. We were originally going to nix the dessert, but something refreshing was in order, so we both had the maple ice-cream and raspberry sorbet. Overall, you can’t fault the great service at PDC, and the food is exceptional. Some of their produce is now grown at the gardens at the Sugar Shack, so it truly is local food. If I would give some advice, I would say to avoid eating too much bread… don’t get me wrong, it’s phenomenal as well, but you don’t need to fill up on it. Secondly choose what you eat wisely… check to see what others have ordered, and check the dish sizes. For example the photo of the pork shank could lull you into a false sense of security – because it seems a reasonable size next to the fork – but the fork is a serving fork, with 3″ tines.

 

 

A brief note on protein in flour

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baking / biscuits / bread

Not all flours are created equal. Using the wrong type of flour for baking a particular item may lead to a not so happy result, and it is partially to do with protein. Protein is directly associated with how much gluten will form in the dough – which affects both structure, and texture. Flours with low protein contain less gluten, and those with high protein contain more. If you want a light-and airy bake, as in the case of a sponge cake, then low protein is the flour to use. A more chewy structure, as is the case in breads, you need high protein. There are basically three core types of (white) flour, all with differing levels of protein (let’s assume wheat flour).

→ bread flour: 14 – 16%
→ all-Purpose (AP) flour: 10 – 12%
→ cake and pastry flour: 7-9%

Calculating protein is not hard, but you do have to watch the nutritional information on the package. Sometimes it’s as simple as 12 grams of protein per 100g, which means the protein level is 12%. Normally though, protein level is expressed in some other manner, such as 4% per 34g. So now we have to divide 100 by 34, and multiply this by 4. Now we get 11.8% protein. Here are two flours I use for baking. The Italian flour on the left, farina tipo is 10% (on the lower end of AP), and the Bob’s Red Mill AP flour on the right is 11.8%. For fine cookies, I would lean towards the lower protein content, whereas for choc-chip cookies, using the AP flour is fine.

Using AP flour for bread is likely not such as good idea, because it won’t develop enough gluten, and the bread may not turn out as well. Again, some types of bread are more forgiving than others. In Canada, Robin Hood makes an, “All-Purpose Unbleached Flour”, which is 4g/30g, which gives it a protein content of 13.3%, which I think is way too high for making cookies (Five Roses All Purpose has the same amount of protein). Better to use Robin Hood’s “Best for Cake & Pastry Flour”, which is only 10% protein. There is no standardized system in Europe, and so each country has its own methodology for designating flour (usually based on ash content): a cake and pastry flour with low protein  might be equivalent to a 405 flour in Germany (soft wheat 8-10% protein), and T45 flour in France, and an Italian OO flour.

Baking is as much a science as it is an adventure in experimentation. Knowing how protein works in flour is one of the keys to successful baking!