Tuesday, March 22, 2016

from Rome to Toronto and back again

bello di mamma
You see that hotdog up there? It’s not a hotdog, it’s a salsiccia or sausage, homemade, the way we like it at home. I choose my meat and I mince it with the tip of a sharp knife. I then add some spices, they may be hot or mild. There’s always a bit of lemon rind and I never miss out on the fennel seeds. Fennel seeds. What’s this world without fennel seeds?! Maybe once in a while I'll add paprika or saffron, a hot, really hot, chili or just salt and pepper. Once, I made sausages entirely with vegetables, vegan style, giving it a kick with pistachios. Try with boiled beets and potatoes, chop them up and once they’re in the pork’s intestine (ok, not entirely vegan), you’ll confuse them with the meat version, at least the sight of it. And if you think this is just too much work, go out and buy your sausages because today it’s not about my homemade hotdog salsicce. It’s about the caviar mustard that goes with it.

My friend Antonella intrigued me with her mustard caviar when she posted it on instagram. It would have been so much better if she was on this side of the globe to share more of our passion for food. We did have a chance that time she came to Rome when we went for an aperitivo on the beautiful terrace of a Hotel overlooking the roman rooftops. The sun was settling down, the sky was tinted gold and the Vatican's cupola was right there before our eyes. Easy and laid-back, drinks and apetizers kept coming as we conversed the night away. Between a bite and a sip, our food thoughts met as we mentioned a few cookbooks, a favorite brand for knives, a good restaurant, where to buy some excellent chocolate in Rome, a particular spice and a Chef. Chef Ema.

Chef Ema works at the George Brown Culinary school in Toronto.  She's from Italy and lives and works in Toronto. I'm from Toronto and I live and work in Rome. Antonella, who lives in Toronto too, takes cooking classes at the George Brown Culinary school where Chef Ema works.  All three of us have a passion for food and everything that goes with it. This, is what brought us in connection. I've learned so much from Chef Ema only steeling with my eyes what she posts on her instagram. Sometimes I'm so inspired that I try to recreate what she does in the little corner of my kitchen. Which brings me back to the caviar mustard.

It's to die for! I had to try it immediately. Chef Ema sent me the recipe and that same day I ran out and bought the mustard seeds. Now, I always have a jar ready and I'm ready to make more when I'm about to run out of stock. I use it for so many things which I'll show you sooner or later here on the blog, but this is how I first tried it. On this homemade salsiccia, with a homemade bun, some stir fried cabbage and ok, I bought the ketchup. Nobody's perfect!

To give you an idea of its tastes. It's just like caviar.  Once you bite into it, it pops on your tongue. The heat spreads in your mouth while the flavor fills your nose. Then, it hits you all at once, the sweet, the salty, the spiciness, the sage, the honey and the bourbon. You must try!
mustard caviar
caviar mustard
Here's the recipe the way Chef Ema gave it to me.

Mustard Caviar

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup water
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 large spring of thyme
1 bay leaf
20 black peppercorns
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
2-3 tbsp bourbon
1.5 tsp maple syrup or honey
up to 3/4 tsp salt

Step 1
Combine vinegar, water garlic, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse.

Combine mustard seeds, and bourbon in a glass bowl. Strain vinegar water mixture over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight and up to 2 days.

Step 2 
Stir in maple syrup or honey and transfer mustard to a sterilized container and let stand at room temperature until it achieves desired spiciness, then refrigerate for months. Or leaving a head space of 2.5 cm (for 1 cup jars) seal and boil 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Rest in hot water 10 minutes then remove and cool.

Monday, March 7, 2016

this chicken ate better than me

A free range organic raised chicken. That’s all I ask for. Sometimes it seems impossible to find one that even looks close to a chicken, but then, one day at the farmer’s market, right behind the cashier, a sign catches my attention. “Qui si vendono polli, quelli veri!” Here we sell chickens, the real kind! As I hand over the money to pay for the crate of oranges I’ve gone there for, I ask the cashier what they meant by the real kind. She walks over to the other side of the counter and pulls out a chicken holding it from its neck. A whole chicken, head and feet included, was slapped on the counter before my eyes.  The cashier looks at me and says, do you find these at the supermarket? Of course, no! “These chickens eat better than me, they’re certified organic”, she says. Direct and straight to the point,“Signora, i polli li ammazziamo di venerdi’, se viene sabato o domenica ne trova quanti ne vuole, ma venga presto!” ...we slater our chickens on Fridays, you’ll find quite a few on Saturday or Sunday but make sure you’re here early!”  

Wrap one up for me, thanks! Soon later, the oranges and the chicken were on the back seat of my car as I chauffeured them home with me. 

For this chicken, I thought I'd dust off mom’s clay pot. The last time she used it was back in the 80s for a duck, I can’t remember if she ever used it again after that.  Any kind of oven pot will do, but a clay pot goes that extra mile you're looking for. The pot is soaked in water for at least 20 minutes, the time to absorb as much water as possible. It then goes in a cold oven and as the temperature rises the chicken cooks within the humidity that slowly builds and  releases from the pot itself. The flesh remains moist without any need of extra fat to do the job. A squeeze of a couple of oranges, a bunch of fresh herbs with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil are rubbed on every inch of the meat. After 50 minutes the lid is removed, allowing the skin to brown, and after a total one hour, this is what it looks like.